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Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit.
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.' In satiric verse Dryden is unrivalled. It may be thought that poetry is unsuitable to satire; but the "closed couplet," as Dryden used it, by its very compactness and terseness allowed the quick, clean, rapier-like thrust. Every couplet carries a scorpion-like sting; and yet there is not the pervasive venom that characterizes Pope at his worst. Following close upon these satires appeared “ Religio Laici," an argumentative and didactic poem in defense of the Church of England. Only a few years later, however, after the accession of James II, Dryden became a convert to the Roman Church and wrote “ The Hind and the Panther,” in which, under the similitude of various animals, he ridiculed all sects except the Roman Catholic. This form of allegorical satire was well suited to Dryden's talents.
Of his shifting in politics and in religion it is difficult to speak. First he was a Parliamentarian, then a Tory; a Puritan, then an Anglican; later a Romanist; and in each case the change was coincident with the rising tide. To put it gently, he seems to have been "adaptable," and could change his political coat with the fashion. However, he remained steadfast in his last conversion; with the "Bloodless Revolution" of 1688 Dryden lost place and power, although the incoming government made tentative overtures to enlist his talents on the side of the Whigs. Deprived thus of his pension and the revenues of his collectorship, he set to work courageously to write whatever would bring an income.
Among the works of these later years is a complete translation of the “Æneid” and of several other of the Greek and Roman classics. Dryden's sense of linguistic form and a good verbal memory served him well as a translator. He died in 1700 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
While Milton still was Foreign Secretary, Dryden was just coming into fame. The lives of these men overlapped by forty-three years.
But in their aims and ideals how vast the difference! Milton, as truly as Cromwell, is identified with the Puritan struggle for civil and religious liberty; Dryden belongs wholly to the pleasure-loving, elegant, morally irresponsible " cavalier” element. In their poetic ideals they differed as greatly. Milton tells us: “I was confirmed in this opinion, that he, who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem, that is a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things." Milton regarded rhyme as rather a frippery ornament; Dryden rarely used blank verse,-indeed, even attempted in his play, “State of Innocence,” to recast Milton's majestic lines of " Paradise Lost” in rhyme. The result was tawdriness. If you seek moral earnestness and lofty spiritual truths look not for these in Dryden,-your seeking will be in vain; they are not to be found between the covers of his books. But to Dryden we are indebted for great advance upon the formal side, both in prose and verse.
His polished couplets, terse, effective, brilliant, became the fashion, and quite shut out any further attempts in the direction of fantastic stanza-forms such as had been a diversion among lesser versifiers since Elizabeth's time. His prose is chiefly literary criticism and discussion of the principles of literary art; except in a few essays it is to be found chiefly in prefaces and introductions to his own poems and plays. He freed the English sentence from the tortuous windings and involutions in which it had become enmeshed by writers whose linguistic notions were derived solely from their training in Latin, and who were unable to conceive what Dryden conceived and also demonstrated in his own work, that English prose, so“ fit for the speech of man," is best expressed in short, clear, direct, forceful sentences.
QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES 1. What did Dryden's readers desire above all else? 2. Compare Dryden's character and career with Bunyan's. 3. What is the great debt readers of English literature owe to Dryden? 4. What is a literary dictator ? 5. Who was Dryden's most famous predecessor as “the literary dictator
of London”? 6. What was the subject of “ Absalom and Achitophel”? 7. What was the outcome of publishing “ Astræa Redux”? 8. How did Dryden's versification differ from Milton's ? 9. Are these different types suited to similar subjects ? 10. Write an outline of Dryden's life, laying emphasis on his relations to
the religious and political issues of the times. Suggested Readings.- For satire read " Absalom and Achitophel "; for lyricism, “ Alexander's Feast” and “A·Song for St. Cecelia's Day.” In
Among My Books,” Lowell's “Essay on Dryden ” will amply repay the reader.
A CENTURY OF PROSE (1688–1789)
“Made poetry a mere mechanic art
-Cowper. IN 1688 the theory of the divine right of kings died in England. In that year James II was expelled from the throne by Parliament and an act passed which secured the succession to William, Prince of Orange, and his wife Mary, the daughter of the exiled king. Under this act William reigned until 1702, being followed by Anne, daughter of James (1702–1714), and by the four Georges (1714–1830), who were descended from the Electors of Hanover and the royal family of England. The expulsion of the Stuarts is called the English Revolution. Its significance lies in the fact that the crown was then practically stripped of power. The maxim that the king can do no wrong is derived from the assumption that the real responsibility of government rests on the shoulders of the prime minister. Anne, indeed, on one occasion ventured to veto an act of parliament, but the result was such that neither she nor any of her successors repeated the experiment.. George III (1760–1820) also tried to be king in fact as well as name, his method being to bribe parliament; but he was finally made by Edmund Burke, George Washington, and several millions of other gentlemen, to understand that the monarch is only the hereditary grand master of ceremonies. People often sneer at the eighteenth century as cold and formal, but in reality it was a very commendable century. Among other good things it produced Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, the Wedgewood potteries, the spinning jenny, the steam engine, Edmund Burke, the United States of America, and the French Revolution. This last event, which occurred 1789, marks the beginning of a new era in English literature as well as the end of the old régime in French politics.
In literature this period has been called with some justice a century of prose.
The spirit which dominated writers both of prose and verse was hostile to imagination, enthusiasm, decoration, and invention, but favorable to symmetry and uniformity. To be direct, clear, logical, reasonable, and sensible were their aims. Accordingly they produced an extraordinary development of journalism, a new form of the essay, the modern novel, the modern history, and a body of verse noteworthy by reason of its metrical excellence and its intellectual brilliancy but deficient in the highest qualities of poetry. Other forces, were, however, at work almost from the beginning of the century. Wonder, romance, and the love of nature found fitful expression, and toward the end of the period the age of prose was supplanted by an age of poetry.
Among the eighteenth century innovations, journalism began first and has lasted longest. The first number of the first daily paper, “The Daily Courant," was issued 1702, three days after the death of William III and the accession of Queen Anne. It was a little double-columned sheet, fourteen inches by eight, printed on one side. Almost at once it had a crowd of rivals. Though small in comparison with those huge modern sheets that threaten to deforest the earth by reason of their consumption of wood pulp, these early papers were quite large enough to supply all of the real news of that day or this. Unfortunately, they did nothing of the kind. Their columns, on the contrary, were filled with what purported to be foreign news, which was then, as it is now, easy to manufacture and the authenticity of which does not much matter. In point of fact the best of them,“ The Review,” was written by the author of “ Robinson Crusoe ” while he was in jail. To this journalistic peculiarity Joseph Addison playfully alludes in Number 18 of “ The Tatler” in words which might almost have been written in 1914 or 1915: “ The Case of these Gentlemen is, I think, more hard than that of the Soldiers, considering that they have taken more towns and fought more Battles. They have made us Masters of several strong Towns many weeks before our Generals could do it; and compleated Victories, when our greatest Captains have been glad to come off with a drawn Battle. Where Prince Eugene has slain his thousands, Boyer (of 'The Post-Boy ') has slain his Ten Thousands.
This Gentleman has laid about him