« PreviousContinue »
no cur." His poetry is the poetry of truth and wisdom. It has the condensation of proverbs, and the force of philosophy. His subjects are few-love, death, and duty; and they are treated with a sort of didactic solemnity. One listens to him as to an inspired prophet; his sanctions are brought, alike from old mythology, from the Jewish and Christian codes, and from the books of legends, and all introduced in the tone of one having authority, though for himself he constantly claims the title of a "Chrestio molt devot."
Mossen Jaume Roig is a poet of another order. His "Libre de les Dones" is a bitter and humourous satire upon women. He was physician to Maria, the Queen of Alonso the Fifth, and wrote his book, as appears by his own statement, in 1460. Notwithstanding the credit which is given him by the Catholic Ximeno, for the solid doctrine, sacred learning, and piety of this volume, it appears to be written rather in ridicule than admiration of high orthodox faith. It is dedicated to "the miraculous conception," of which he professes himself a most decided votary. The versification is singularly artificial and laconic, and is known by the title of Cudolada. His motto is "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among daughters." Two translations have been made into Spanish. As a specimen of the original we will give part of the concluding chapter, in which he turns the schools into ridicule.
To hear and see
As e'er could be.
The bright amount
We perceive it is necessary to bring the present article to a conclusion, and with it we close this part of our subject. In the succeeding number, we shall commence our review of the Castillian era of Spanish poetry.
si en pecat
Dits Den Pertusa (a)
Den Lull (b) la Musa
Llur vari vot
Coses molt primes
plau à les gens
Profit no gens
Of wealth to count
(b) Raymond Lully.
(c) William Occham or Occam.
De tal preycar
à mon parer
es tal plaer
com lo contar
è dels oins
bè han sonat
bè han precat
(a) Pertusa-A Valencian nobleman. He wrote a book on the Trinity, Incarnation, and other misteries of faith.
ART. III. Of Dramatic Poesie, an Essay, by John Dryden, Esq. London, 1688.
Fungar vice cotis, acutum
Horat. De Arte Poet.
Select Essays on the Belles Lettres, by Mr. Dryden. Glasgow, 1750.
The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden, now first collected; with Notes and Illustrations; an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, grounded on Original and Authentic Documents; and a Collection of his Letters, the greater part of which has never before been published, by Edmond Malone, Esq. 4 vols. 8vo. 1800.
It has sometimes struck us with a feeling of regret, when fresh from the perusal of Dryden's prose, and under the recent impression of its unrivalled strength and freedom, that prescription should have confined the student of our language so exclusively to the period when it had assumed a more correct and regular character. We are far from meaning to deny the generally admitted supremacy of the writers of the succeeding age, and are orthodox enough in our opinions to agree, that the prose of Addison is the purest well of English at which we can possibly drink-still, however, vixere fortes ante Agamemnona multi-we must be allowed to exclaim against the monopoly which he exercises to the exclusion of some, who deserve an almost equal share of our attention. Besides, we cannot help thinking, on a comparison of the style of Dryden with that of the wits of Queen Anne, that the refinement to which our language attained in the writings of the latter, tended not a little to impair its vigour; and that, in being trained to a more "measured mood," and confined within stricter rules of courtly elegance, it has lost some of the free graces and lively expression of its earlier and less cultivated state.
Correctness and propriety are doubtless necessary to the perfection of style, but they are too often the concomitants of languor and imbecility; and are seldom obtained without the sacrifice of those occasional felicities, which, like flowers in the clefts of a barren rock, are often found in the inequalities of a more rugged and careless composition.
The style of Addison we would liken to a clear and transparent stream, whose motion is too gentle to ruffle the surface or sully the purity of its waters; whilst that of Dryden has the impetuosity of a torrent, which often tears the weeds from its
banks, and stirs up the ooze from the bottom of its channel; but that ooze is mixed with grains of precious gold, and those weeds contain amongst them, flowers of the most delightful hue and odour; whilst the very swiftness of the current fixes our regard more intently than the tranquil surface of the gentler stream. He seems to have principally aimed at being strong and forcible, and to this object every minor consideration is sacrificed. To use the language of a noble poet, he wreaks his thoughts upon expression, and conveys them to the reader in the full force and energy of their first conception. He never appears to regard the mere structure of a sentence, nor is careful to wind it up in the neatest manner; neither are there marks of any subsequent labour, to polish and elaborate his style. We know, indeed, that he has been at the pains to revise some of his prose works, but his corrections are merely those of verbal inaccuracies, and ungrammatical structures, which crept into the most finished writings of the period; but, in general, he seems to have left his sentences just as they were struck off in the first heat of composition. There are, in consequence, some that have been roughly cast, which look rude and unfinished; sometimes there is a sharp edge, or abrupt projection, which a more fastidious taste might wish to see planed down, or rounded off; and, generally speaking, there is not that high polish, which is visible in the compositions of a later date; but all sense of this is lost in admiration of that matchless strength and occasional felicity, which are seldom found associated with strict correctness and undeviating propriety. He is, indeed, the very reverse of that correct and frugal genius which he somewhere describes-he is no judge, to a hair, of little decencies, nor afraid to hazard himself so far as to fall-he does not move cautiously and carefully on, and deliberately put his staff before him to feel his way-his motion is that of a giant, who delights to run his course, and exults in his strength,-the elasticity of whose step, the firmness of whose tread, and the immortal vigour conspicuous in every motion, leave no eyes for any ungraceful attitude, or occasional impropriety of gesture.
It seems to us, that not even the most celebrated productions of his genius disclose a mind more forcible, or an imagination more ardent and fertile, than these off-hand compositions, where he used no effort, and intended nothing great. In a preface or a dedication, he sometimes appears to more advantage than in the elaborate drama to which they are appended; and whilst in the one, we have too often reason to sigh over the aberrations of genius, we cannot enough admire the vigorous intellect every where conspicuous in the other. Whatever topic he touches upon, no matter how barren or unpromising, the flowers are made to spring up on all sides, as in the most favourable soil;
and the fancy is every where at work, enlivening the most common-place subjects, and suggesting images of the greatest beauty. His mind must have been, indeed, inexhaustible, when he could thus afford to throw away upon his prose compositions a profusion of brilliant thoughts and lively conceptions, such as would have made the fortune of another writer. Yet, with all this, his style is neither florid nor over-wrought. A less powerful writer might have been encumbered with so much ornament, and one, of inferior judgment, have grown wanton amidst such boundless wealth; but Dryden disposes of the whole with the utmost ease; and the appearance of his strength is never diminished, nor the vigour of his course abated, by the trappings with which his fancy invests him. He never bewilders himself, nor loses sight of his purpose in the multiplicity of ideas that come crowding thick upon him, but hurries on without tarrying to examine them minutely, or being at the pains fully to develope them. His flowers are seen only in the bud
-his images rather hinted at than openly disclosed; he never dallies with a bright idea, or forsakes his argument to hunt it to the death, and exhilarate himself with the pleasures of the chase. This is the fault of writers whose fancy is less luxuriant, and invention less fertile. An excellent thought, with them, occurs too rarely to be lightly treated or speedily released. They are not satisfied without viewing it in every possible light, and pursuing it through all its varieties; they make the most of it whilst they have it, and, after many a fond parting look, dismiss it with reluctance. But Dryden had too rich store to have any occasion for such parsimonious frugality; and, as if his resources could never fail, he just glances at the lively thought he has started, and then abandons it with an indifference, that seems little short even of waste and extravagance.
The dedications which are prefixed to the several plays of Dryden are the most remarkable, if not the most meritorious, productions of which we shall have occasion to take notice. In an atmosphere where his genius might well be expected to droop, it flourishes as vigorously as in the most wholesome air; and round strains of the most egregious and unbounded adulation diffuses a glory, which dazzles by its brightness, and makes us admire where we ought only to feel disgust. His praises are not only lavished with a profusion which the most exalted merit could not justify, but he rains down a golden shower of virtues upon objects, which never enjoyed the least particle of what is so unsparingly attributed to them. Thus, Rochester is commended for delicacy of expression, and the decencies of behaviour-Danby, for financial skill and integrity-Leicester, for political neutrality-and that "ever unfortunate gentle