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tions, by inferior and coarser artists, in later times. There must be a certain measure of allowance made for the errors of Genius when it was working as the galley-slave of its position and period, and when it had not yet received the Divine Light which, shining into the world from above, has supplied men with higher æsthetic as well as spiritual models and principles, and revealed man's body to be the temple of the Holy Ghost. To look for our modern philanthropy in that “Greek Gazette," the Iliad of Homer— to expect that reverence for the Supreme Being which the Bible has taught us, in the Metamorphoses of Ovid—or to seek that refinement of manners and language which has only of late prevailed amongst us, in the plays of Aristophanes and Plautus—were very foolish and very vain. In ages not so ancient, and which have revolved since the dawn of Christianity, a certain coarseness of thought and language has been prevalent; and for it still larger. allowance should be made, because it has been allied to simplicity rather than to sensuality—to rustic barbarism, not to civilised corruption—and carries along with it a rough raciness, and a reference to the sturdy aboriginal Past-just as acorns in the trough suggest the immemorial forests where they grew, and the rich greenswards on which
In two cases, it thus appears, should the severest censor be prepared to modify his condemnation of the bad taste or the impurity to be found in writers of genius—first, in that of a civilization, perfect in its kind, but destitute of the refining and sublimating element which a revelation only can supply; and, secondly, in that of those ages in which the lights of knowledge and religion are contending with the gloom of barbarian rudeness. Perhaps there are still two other cases capable of palliation--that of a mind so constituted as to be nothing, if not a mirror of its age, and faithfully and irresistibly reflecting even its vices and pollutions; or that of a mind morbidly in love with the morbidities and the vile passages of human nature. But suppose the case of a writer, sitting under the full blaze of Gospel truth, professedly a believer in the Gospel, and intimately acquainted with its oracles, living in a late and dissipated, not a rude and simple age-possessed of varied and splendid talents, which qualified him to make as well as to mirror, and with a taste naturally sound and manly, who should yet seek to shock the feelings of the pious, to gratify the low tendencies, and fire to frenzy the evil passions of his period—he is not to be shielded by the apology that he has only conformed to the bad age on which he was so unfortunate as to fall. Prejudice may, indeed, put in such a plea in his defence; but the inevitable eye of common sense, distinguishing between necessity and choice, between coarseness and corruption, between a man's passively yielding to and actively inviting and encouraging the currents of false taste and immorality which he must encounter, will find that plea nugatory, and bring in against the author a verdict of guilty.
Now this, we fear, is exactly the case of Dryden. He was neither a “barbarian " nor a "Scythian.” He was a conscious artist, not a high though helpless reflector of his age. He had not, we think, like his relative, Swift, originally any diseased delight in filth for its own sake; was not-shall we say?-a natural, but an artificial Yahoo. He wielded a power over the public mind, approaching the absolute, and which he could have turned to virtuous, instead of vicious account-at first, it might have been amidst considerable resistance and obloquy, but ultimately with triumphant success. This, however, he never attempted, and must therefore be classed, in this respect, with such writers as Byron, whose powers gilded their pollutions, less than their pollutions degraded and defiled their powers; nay, perhaps he should be ranked even lower than the noble bard, whose obscenities are not so gross, and who had, besides, to account for them the double palliations of passion and of despair.
In these remarks we refer principally to Dryden's plays; for his poems, as we remarked in the Life, are (with the exception of a few of the Prologues, which we print under protest) in a great measure free from impurity. We pass gladly to consider him in his genius and his poetical works. The most obvious, and among the most remarkable characteristics of his poetic style, are its wondrous elasticity and ease of movement. There is never for an instant any real or apparent effort, any straining for effect, any of that “double, double, toil and trouble," by which many even of the weird cauldrons in which Genius forms her creations are disturbed and bedimmed. That power of doing everything with perfect and conscious ease, which Dugald Stewart has ascribed to Barrow and to Horsley in prose, distinguished Dryden in poetry. Whether he discusses the deep questions of fate and foreknowledge in
Religio Laici," or lashes Shaftesbury in the “Medal,” or pours a torrent of contempt on Shadwell in “MacFlecknoe,” or describes the fire of London in the “Annus Mirabilis,” or soars into lyric enthusiasm in his “ Ode on the Death of Mrs Killigrew," and "Alexander's Feast,” or paints a tournament in “ Palamon and Arcite," or a fairy dance in the “Flower and the Leaf,”—he is always at home, and always aware that he is. His consciousness of his own powers amounts to exultation. He is like the steed who glories in that tremendous gallop which affects the spectator with fear. Indeed, we never can separate our conception of Dryden's vigorous and vaulting style from the image of a noble horse, devouring the dust of the field, clearing obstacles at a bound, taking up long leagues as a little thing, and the very strength and speed of whose motion give it at a distance the appearance of smoothness. Pope speaks of his
"Long resounding march, and energy divine." Perhaps “ease divine” had been words more characteristic of that almost superhuman power of language by which he makes the most obstinate materials pliant, melts down difficulties as if by the touch of magic, and, to resume the former figure, comes into the goal without a hair turned on his mane, or a single sweat-drop confessing effort or extraordinary exertion. We know no poet since Homer who can be compared to Dryden in this respect, except Scott, who occasionally, in “ Marmion," and the “ Lay of the Last Minstrel,” exhibits the same impetuous ease and fiery fluent movement. Scott does not, however, in general, carry the same weight as the other; and the species of verse he uses, in comparison to the heroic rhyme of Dryden, gives you often the impression of a hard trot, rather than of a long-resounding" and mag
nificent gallop. Scott exhibits in his poetry the soul of a warrior; but it is of a warrior of the Border-somewhat savage and coarse.
Dryden can, for the nonce at least, assume the appearance, and display the spirit, of a knight of ancient chivalry-gallant, accomplished, elegant, and gay.
Next to this poet's astonishing ease, spirit, and elastic vigour, may be ranked his clear, sharp intellect. He may be called more a logician than a poet. He reasons often, and always acutely, and his rhyme, instead of shackling, strengthens the movement of his argumentation. Parts of his “Religio Laici” and the “ Hind and Panther” resemble portions of Duns Scotus or Aquinas set on fire. Indeed, keen, strong intellect, inflamed with passion, and inspirited by that “ardour and impetuosity of mind” which Wordsworth is compelled to allow to him, rather than creative or original genius, is the differentia of Dryden. We have compared him to a courser, but he was not one of those coursers of Achilles, who fed on no earthly food, but on the golden barley of heaven, having sprung from the gods—
Ξάνθον και Βαλίον, τώ άμα πνoιήσι, πετέσθην.
Τους έτεκε Ζεφύρω ανέμω "Αρπυια Ποδάργη. . Dryden resembled rather the mortal steed which was yoked with these immortal twain, the brood of Zephyr and the Harpy Podarga; only we can hardly say of the poet what Homer says of Pedasus
"Ος και θνητός εών, έπεθ' ίπποις αθανάτοισι. He was not, although a mortal, able to keep up with the immortal coursers. His path was on the plains or table-lands of earth-never or seldom in “cloudland, gorgeous land," or through the aerial altitudes which stretch away and above the clouds to the gates of heaven. He can hardly be said to have possessed the power of sublimity, in the high sense of that term, as the power of sympathising with the feeling of the Infinite. Often he gives us the impression of the picturesque, of the beautiful, of the heroic, of the nobly disdainful—but never (when writing, at least, entirely from his own mind) of that infinite and nameless grandeur which the imaginative
soul feels shed on it from the multitudinous waves of oceanfrom the cataract leaping from his rock, as if to consummate an act of prayer to God- from the hum of great assemblies of men—from the sight of far-extended wastes and wildernesses - and from the awful silence, and the still more mysterious sparkle of the midnight stars. This sense of the presence of the shadow of immensity—immensity itself cannot be felt any more than measured—this sight like that vouchsafed to Moses of the “ backparts” of the Divine—the Divine itself cannot be seen—has been the inspiration of all the highest poetry of the world of the “Paradise Lost," of the “Divina Commedia,” of the “ Night Thoughts,” of Wordsworth and Coleridge, of “ Festus,” and, highest far, of the Hebrew Prophets, as they cry, "Whither can we go from Thy presence? whither can we flee from Thy Spirit?” Such poets have resembled a blind man, who feels, although he cannot see, that a stranger of commanding air is in the room beside him; so they stand awe-struck in the "wind of the going” of a majestic and unseen Being. This feeling differs from mysticism, inasmuch as it is connected with a reality, while the mystic dreams a vague and unsupported dream, and the poetry it produces is simply the irresistible cry springing from the perception of this wondrous Some One who is actually near them. The feeling is connected, in general, with a lofty moral and religious nature; and yet not always, since, while wanting in Dryden, we find it intensely discovered, although in an imperfect and perverted shape, in Byron and Rousseau.
In Dryden certainly it exists not. We do not—and in this we have Jeffrey's opinion to back us-remember a single line in his poetry that can be called sublime, or, which is the same thing, that gives us a thrilling shudder, as if a god or a ghost were passing by. Pleasure, high excitement,--rapture even, he often produces; but such a feeling as is created by that line of Milton,
“ To bellow through the vast and boundless deep,” never. Compare, in proof of this, the description of the tournament in “ Palamon and Arcite”—amazingly spirited as it is —to the description of the war-horse in Job; or, if that appear