« AnteriorContinuar »
rhyme and two in blank verse. And Davenant is the author of twenty-five tragedies, comedies, and masques, produced between 1629 and his death, in 1668. But the most eminent dramatic names of this era are those of Thomas Otway, Nathaniel Lee, John Crowne, Sir George Etheridge, William Wycherly, and Thomas Southerne. Of six tragedies and four comedies written by Otway, his tragedies of the Orphan and Venice Preserved still sustain his fame and popularity as the most pathetic and tear-drawing of all our dramatists. Their licentiousness has necessarily banished his comedies from the stage, with most of those of his contemporaries. Lee has also great tenderness, with much more fire and imagination than Otway; of his pieces, eleven in number, —all tragedies, his Theodosius, or the Force of Love, and his Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great, are the most celebrated. Crowne, though several of his plays were highly successful when first produced, was almost forgotten, till Mr. Lamb reprinted some of his scenes in his Dramatic Specimens, and showed that no dramatist of that age had written finer things. Of seventeen pieces produced by Crowne between 1671 and 1698, his tragedy of Thyestes and his comedy of Sir Courtley Nice are in particular of eminent merit, the first for its poetry, the second for plot and character. Etheridge is the author of only three comedies, the Comical Revenge (1664), She Would if She Could (1668), and the Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter (1676); all remarkable for the polish and fluency of the dialogue, and entitled to be regarded as having first set the example of that modern style of comedy which was afterwards cultivated by Wycherly, Farquhar, Vanbrugh, and Congreve. Wycherly, who was born in 1640, and lived till 1715, produced his only four plays, Love in a Wood, The Gentleman Dancing Master, The Country Wife, and The Plain Dealer, all comedies, between the years 1672 and 1677. The two last of these pieces are written with more elaboration than anything of Etheridge's, and both contain some bold delineation of character and strong satiric writing, reminding us at times of Ben Jonson ; but, like him, too, Wycherly is deficient in ease and nature. Southerne, who was only born in the year of the Restoration, and lived till 1746, had produced no more than his two first plays before the close of the present period—his tragedy of the Loyal Brother in 1682, and his comedy of the Disappointment in 1684. Of ten dramatic pieces of which he is the author, five are comedies, and are of little value; but his tragedies of The Fatal Marriage (1692), Oroonoko (1696), and the Spartan Dame (1719), are interesting and affecting. It is hardly worth while to mention, under the head of the literature of the age, the seventeen plays of King William's poet laureate, Thomas Shadwell, better remembered by Dryden's immortal nick-name of Mac Flecknoe ; or the equally numerous brood of the muse of Elkanah Settle, the city poet, Dryden's
Doeg, whom God for mankind’s mirth has made;
or the nine of Shadwell's successor in the laureateship, Nahum Tate, the author of the worst alterations of Shakspeare, the worst version of the Psalms of David, and the worst continuation of a great poem (his second part of the Absalom and Achitophel) extant; or, lastly, although she had more talent than any of these, the seventeen pieces of the notorious Mrs. Aphra Behn— Pope's Astraea,
Who fairly puts all characters to bed.
This Mrs. Behn, besides her plays, was the authoress of a number of novels and tales, which, amid great impetuosity and turbulence of style, contain some ingeniously contrived incidents and some rather effective painting of the passions.
Eminent as he is among the poets of his age, Dryden is also one of the greatest of its prose-writers. In ease, flexibility, and variety, indeed, his English prose has scarcely ever been excelled. Cowley, too, is a charming , writer of prose : the natural, pure, and flowing eloquence of his Essays is better than anything in his poetry. Waller, Suckling, and Sedley, also wrote all well in prose; and Marvel's literary reputation is founded more upon his prose than upon his verse. Of writers exclusively in prose belonging to the space between the Restoration and the Revolution, Clarendon may be first mentioned, although his great work, his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars, was not published till the year 1702, nor his Life and Continuation of his History, before 1759. His style cannot be commended for its correctness; the manner in which he constructs his sentences, indeed, often sets at defiance all the rules of syntax; but yet he is never unintelligible or obscure— with such admirable expository skill is the matter arranged and spread out, even where the mere verbal sentence-making is the most negligent and entangled.
The style, in fact, is that proper to speaking rather than to writing, and had, no doubt, been acquired by Clarendon not so much from books as from his practice in speaking at the bar and in parliament; for, with great natural abilities, he does not seem to have had much acquaintance with literature, or much acquired knowledge of any kind resulting from study. But his writing possesses the quality that interests above all the graces or artifices of rhetoric—the impress of a mind informed by its subject, and having a complete mastery over it; while the broad full stream in which it flows makes the reader feel as if he were borne along on its tide. The abundance, in particular, with which he pours out his stores of language and illustration in his characters of the eminent persons engaged on both sides of the great contest, seems inexhaustible. The historical value of his history, however, is not very considerable; it has not preserved very many facts which are not to be found elsewhere; and, whatever may be thought of its general bias, the inaccuracy of its details is so great throughout, as demonstrated by the authentic evidences of the time, that there is scarcely any other contemporary history which is so little trustworthy as an authority with regard to minute particulars. Clarendon, in truth, was far from being placed in the most favourable circumstances for giving a perfectly correct account of many of the events he has undertaken to record: he was not, except for a very short time, in the midst of the busy scene: looking to it, as he did, from a distance, while the mighty drama was still only in progress, he was exposed to some chances of misconception to which even those removed from it by a long interval of time are not liable; and, without imputing to him any further intention to deceive than is implied in the purpose which we may suppose he chiefly had in view in writing his work, the vindication of his own side of the question, his position as a partisan, intimately mixed up with the affairs and interests of one of the two contending factions, could not fail both to bias his own judgment, and even in some measure to distort or colour the reports made to him by others. On the whole, therefore, this celebrated work is rather a great literary performance than a very valuable historical monument,
Another royalist history of the same times and events to which Clarendon's work is dedicated, the Behemoth of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, introduces one of the most distinguished names both in English literature and in modern metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy. Hobbes, born in 1588, commenced author in 1628, at the age of forty, by publishing his translation of Thucydides, but did not produce his first original work, his Latin treatise entitled ‘De Cive,’ till 1642. This was followed by his treatises entitled “Human Nature’ and ‘De Corpore Politico, in 1650; his Leviathan, in 1651; his translations in verse of the Iliad and Odyssey, in 1675; and his ‘Behemoth, or History of the Causes of the Civil Wars of England, and of the counsels and artifices by which they were carried on, from the year 1640 to the year 1660, a few months after his death, at the age of ninety-two, in 1679. Regarded merely as a writer of English, there can be little difference of opinion about the high rank to be assigned to Hobbes. He has