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masking, rebounding, breathing fleet; and, as if we had landed at Gotham, we meet nothing but fools and nonsense.
Such was the criticism to which the genius of Dryden could be reduced, between rage and terrour; rage with little provocation, and terrour with little danger. To see the highest minds thus leveled with the meanest, may produce some solace to the consciousness of weakness, and some mortification to the pride of wisdom. But let it be remembered, that minds are not levelled in their powers but when they are first levelled in their desires. Dryden and Settle had both placed their happiness in the claps of multitudes.
An Evening's Love, or the Mock Astrologer, a comedy, 1671, is dedicated to the illustrious duke of Newcastle, whom he courts by adding to his praises those of his lady, not only as a lover but a partner of his studies. It is unpleasing to think how many names, once celebrated, are since forgotten. Of Newcastle's works nothing is now known but his Treatise on Horsemanship.
The preface seems very elaborately written, and contains many just remarks on the fathers of English drama. Shakespeare's plots, he says, are in the hundred novels of Cinthio; those of Beaumont and Fletcher in Spanish Stories; Jonson only made them for himself. His criticisms upon tragedy, comedy, and farce, are judicious and profound. He endeavours to defend the immorality of some of his comedies by the example of former writers; which is only to say, that he was not the first, nor, perhaps, the greatest offender. Against those that accused him of plagiarism he alleges a favourable expression of the king:“He only desired that they, who accuse me of thefts, would steal him plays like mine;" and then relates how much labour he spends in fitting for the English stage what he borrows from others.
Tyrannick Love, or the Virgin Martyr, 1672, was another tragedy in rhyme, conspicuous for many passages of strength and elegance, and many of empty noise and ridiculous turbulence. The rants of Maximin have been always the sport of criticism; and were, at length, if his own confession may be trusted, the shame of the writer.
Of this play he takes care to let the reader know, that it was contrived and written in seven weeks. Want of time was often his excuse, or, perhaps, shortness of time was his private boast, in the form of an apology.
It was written before the Conquest of Granada, but published after it. The design is to recommend piety: “I considered that pleasure was not the only end of poesy; and that even the instructions of morality were not so wholly the business of a poet, as that precepts and examples of piety were to be omitted; for to leave that employment altogether to the clergy, were to forget that religion was first taught in verse, which the laziness or dulness of succeeding priesthood turned afterwards into prose. Thus foolishly could Dryden write, rather than not show his malice to the parsons.
The two parts of the Conquest of Granada, 1672, are written with a seeming determination to glut the publick with dramatick wonders; to exhibit, in its highest elevation, a theatrical meteor of incredible love and impossible valour, and to leave no room for a wilder flight to the extravagance of posterity. All the rays of romantick heat, whether amorous or warlike, glow in Almanzor, by a kind of concentration. He is above all laws; he is exempt from all restraints; he ranges the world at will, and governs wherever he appears. He fights without inquiring the cause, and loves, in spite of the obligations of justice, of rejection by his mistress, and of prohibition from the dead. Yet the scenes are, for the most part, delightful; they exhibit a kind of illustrious depravity, and majestick madness; such as, if it is sometimes despised, is often reverenced, and in which the ridiculous is mingled with the astonishing.
In the epilogue to the second part of the Conquest of Granada, Dryden indulges his favourite pleasure of discrediting his predecessors; and this epilogue he has defended by a long postscript. He had promised a second dialogue, in which he should more fully treat of the virtues and faults of the English poets, who have written in the dramatick, epick, or lyrick way. This promise was never formally performed; but, with respect to the dramatick writers, he has given us in his prefaces, and in this postscript, something equivalent; but his purpose being to exalt himself by the comparison, he shows faults distinctly, and only praises excellence in general terms.
A play thus written, in professed defiance of probability, naturally drew down upon itself the vultures of the theatre. One of the criticks that attacked it was Martin Clifford, to whom Sprat addressed the Life of Cowley, with such veneration of his critical powers as might naturally excite great expectations of instruction from his remarks. But let honest credulity beware of receiving characters from contemporary writers. Clifford's remarks, by the favour of Dr. Percy, were, at last, obtained; and that no man may ever want them more, I will extract enough to satisfy all reasonable desire.
In the first letter his observation is only general: “You do live,” says he, “in as much ignorance and darkness as you did in the womb: your writings are like a Jack-of-all-trades' shop; they have a variety, but nothing of value; and if thou art not the dullest plant-animal that ever the earth produced, all that I have conversed with are strangely mistaken in thee."
In the second, he tells him that Almanzor is not more copied from Achilles that from Ancient Pistol: “But I am,
says he, “strangely mistaken if I have not seen this very Almanzor of yours in some disguise about this town, and passing under another name. Pr'ythee tell me true, was not this Huffcap once the Indian Emperor ? and, at another time, did he not call himself Maximin ? Was not Lyndaraxa once called Almeira? I mean under Montezuma the Indian Emperor. I protest and vow they are either the same, or so alike that I cannot, for
my heart, distinguish one from the other. You are, therefore, a strange unconscionable thief; thou art not content to steal from others, but dost rob thy poor wretched self too."
Now was Settle's time to take his revenge. He wrote a vindication of his own lines; and, if he is forced to yield any thing, makes reprisals upon his enemy. To say that his answer is equal to the censure, is no high commendation. To expose Dryden's method of analyzing his expressions, he tries the same experiment upon the description of the ships in the Indian Emperor, of which, however, he does not deny the excellence; but intends to show, that, by studied misconstruction, every thing may be equally represented as ridiculous. After so much of Dryden's elegant animadversions, justice requires that something of Settle's should be exhibited. The following observations are, therefore, extracted from a quarto pamphlet of ninety-five pages:
“Fate after him below with pain did move,
And victory could scarce keep pace above. “These two lines, if he can show me any sense or thought in, or any thing but bombast and noise, he shall make me believe every word in his observations on Morocco sense. “In the Empress of Morocco were these lines:
“I'll travel then to some remoter sphere,
Till I find out new worlds, and crown you there. “On which Dryden made this remark:
“I believe our learned author takes a sphere for a country: the sphere of Morocco; as if Morocco