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well is at the other extreme from their swift, impetuous invective. By this change of tone Dryden showed his wonderful versatility, a versatility that modern readers, unused to the couplet in its classic form, are not apt fully to appreciate. On the arguments of the poem critics like Dr. Johnson and Mr. Christie, devoted to the tenets of the Anglican Church, have bestowed high praise: to the present editor Religio Laici seems inferior, both in logical consistency and in depth of feeling, to its successor The Hind and the Panther. More interesting than any theological reasoning is Dryden's refusal to believe that the heathen who die without hearing of Christ must be damned to everlasting punishment. The authorities, that “good old man ” Bishop Athanasius among the number, will have it so; but the kindly, genial, albeit somewhat wayward English gentleman, who writes satires only to serve his political party, or when roused by insults from his personal enemies, cannot force his charity to accept their cruel verdict.
Deprived of his income from the theater, Dryden busied himself with various sorts of miscellaneous writings. During his dramatic period he had won a reputation as a writer of prologues and epilogues, and had turned many an honest penny by furnishing them for his friends' plays. In 1680 he had begun work as a translator, by contributions to a small volume of Ovid's Epistles. He had all his life, as is proved by his notes to Annus Mirabilis, and by numerous passages in his critical works, been an attentive reader of the Latin poets, so that this new occupation was much to his taste. His versions were sure to find a ready acceptance among a public accustomed by school training, and by the whole trend of contemporary criticism, to look on the Latin writers as the standards of literary taste. He now aided Tonson in preparing a volume of Miscellany Poems, which appeared in 1684. The book, of which Dryden was probably the editor, opened with new editions of Mac Flecknoe, Absalom and Achitophel, and The Medal, and contained very many of Dryden's prologues and epilogues, some of them apparently here printed for the first time. Of new work by Dryden it included only a few small translations from Theocritus, Ovid, and Virgil. Encouraged by the success of this volume, Tonson in the next year issued one of similar character, but devoted exclusively to new poems and poetical translations. For this Dryden wrote an important critical preface, and translated long extracts from Lucretius and Virgil, and smaller selections from Theocritus and Horace. In his attempts with the last two writers Dryden is not happy: Horace's exquisite urbanity and Theocritus's union of elegance with rusticity are both beyond his reach. With Lucretius he has better fortune: his version has much of the dogmatic force and dramatic intensity of the original. In the course of these years Dryden also produced some hack work in prose: a Life of Plutarch, prefixed to a coöperative translation of Plutarchs Lives, and a translation of Maimbourg's History of the League, executed by order of the king.
On February 6, 1685, Charles II died. Dryden lamented his dead master in Threnodia Augustalis, a poem in the irregular “Pindaric” verse made popular by Cowley. The work has some interest as Dryden's first experiment in the versification that he brought to perfection in Alexander's Feast. For the rest, few modern readers will be inclined to quarrel with Dr. Johnson's verdict: “ It has neither tenderness nor dignity; it is neither magnificent nor pathetic. He seems to look round him for images which he cannot find, and what he has he distorts by endeavoring to enlarge them.”
Just before the death of the king, Dryden had prepared an opera, Albion and Albanius, which was to celebrate the triumph of the brothers Charles and James over their Whig opponents. After a few changes, to suit altered circumstances, the work was produced in June, 1685; its sixth performance was interrupted by the news of Monmouth's rising in the West. Though Albion and Albanius has but slight literary merit, the preface pub
lished with it is important for the understanding of the author's critical work. Nothing could be more repugnant than opera, with its numberless conventions offending against common sense, to the principles of the French criticism with which Dryden was now in hearty agreement. But, finding that opera would serve his turn, Dryden forsook for the moment the tenets which he elsewhere had defended so stoutly, and justified opera, against reason, by the argument from authority. The inventors of opera must give law to it, as Homer did to his successors in epic poetry. Dryden's passion for logic here yields to his talent for gratifying the taste of the passing moment.
The Catholic James II was now King of England. The new monarch soon made it evident that he would do all in his power to spread his own religion among bis countrymen, and that he would show most favor to its adherents. During this same year (1685) Dryden became a Catholic. For this change of faith he has been repeatedly denounced, by men like Macaulay and Christie, whose judgment commands our respect, as a hypocritical time-server. Whether this accusation be just or not it is of course impossible to determine with certainty; perhaps Dryden himself could not tell us whether he acted wholly from conviction. Nevertheless, the question is so important for our whole view of Dryden's character that we must consider it in some detail.
In none of Dryden's writings is there the least sign of the religious temperament. He was emphatically a man of this world, kind-hearted, and, as things go, honest; he had no overmastering sense of spiritual problems, and no inclination to make himself miserable by brooding upon them. In our time he would either not have meddled in religious discussion at all, or he would have written as a freethinker, unattached to any church. In his own time such indifference was impossible; a man who took sides in politics must take them in religion as well. Now Dryden, a sceptic in half his nature, had been brought up a Puritan, and had joined the Church of England only in consequence of his general conversion to the Royalist party. On the other hand, he had, as his writings plainly show, a constant and ever increasing regard for the principle of authority; the whole movement of his mind is the reverse of revolutionary. Such a man could have no clinging affection for the church of his adoption. Hence his defense of that church in Religio Laici is, as Scott points out, but half-hearted. He will not himself argue to the bitter end the question of the relative importance of Scripture and Tradition:
I think (according to my little skill,
(Page 166, lines 318-325.) Thus Dryden's conversion to Catholicism was, as Scott shows, not from an enthusiastic belief in the doctrines of the Church of England, but from “a state of infidelity, or rather of Pyrrhonism.” He saw so clearly the difficulties of Scripture authority without an infallible interpreter that he was well prepared to accept the claims of the Catholic Church to be such. Without impulse from external circumstances, in the shape of a Catholic king and Catholic influences predominant at court, he would hardly have made the change; yet the change involved no violence to his inner nature, no sacrifice of intellectual honesty. Once he had recognized the element of the irrational in religious faith, in the doctrine of the Trinity, he could find no difficulty in accepting all the dogmas of the Catholic Church:
Good life be now my task: my doubts are done :
(Page 219, lines 78-86.)
Dryden has sketched his own religious development in the following lines of The Hind and the Panther :
My thoughtless youth was wing'd with vain desires,
(Page 219, lines 72-77.)
Here the “ thoughtless youth” apparently refers to a period of boyish indifference to religion; the “ false lights” and “wand'ring fires" to a manhood of philosophic scepticism, probably of the fashionable type, based on the doctrines of Hobbes; and the "new sparkles” to the poet's attempts, of which we see something in Religio Laici, to reason himself into an acceptance of the Anglican doctrines. For these sparkles he exchanged the clear light of authority and constant tradition that he found in the Catholic Church. Perhaps, without being too fantastic, we may apply the same passage to Dryden's literary development. In his early poems he followed the “ false lights” of the school of Cowley; later he “struck out new sparkles of his own " in the bombastic tirades of the heroic plays; at last he adopted an ideal of chastened elegance of style, and of literary construction limited by exact rules, imposed by critical authority, which is in all essentials that of the school of Boileau. These doctrines he was unable to carry out consistently in practice, so that his later poems and plays show many departures from them. This partial failure he excused, somewhat inadequately, by the necessity of accommodating his productions to the taste of the British public; a writer to whom the new theories were fundamentally congenial would have been able to make the public taste bow to him. So the adoption of Catholicism made no change in Dryden's temperament; the sceptic peers out from beneath the robes of the convert. His later writings show little of the devout spirit that we expect in a man who has been converted to a new religion in his mature years; they are full of the same coarseness, the same sneers at BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
1 Scott understands " false lights' as referring to Dryden's early “puritanical tenets," and the “new sparkles " to his philosophic scepticism. (Life of Dryden, in Scott-Saintsbury edition, i. 255-263.) Professor Firth, on the contrary, explains “false lights" as "the fashionable scepticism of the period, based on the theories of Hobbes." (See note in Select Poems by Dryden, ed. Christie and Firth, Oxford, 1893, page 283.) This view is the more probable, although it entirely omits to take account of Dryden's Puritan period in his young manhood. It would be attractive to see a reference to this in “wand’ring fires,” but Dryden's language seems to indicate that these were contemporary with the “false lights," not precedent to them. In general the
passage is so vague, perhaps intentionally, that it must not be rigorously interpreted as an account of each stage in Dryden's mental development
priests and their office, that soil his earlier work. But Dryden's intellectual acceptance of the principle of authority, both in literature and in religion, was sincere and lasting.
Dryden gained no new offices or pensions as the price of his adoption of Catholicism: whether, without this change of faith, he would have been deprived of those he already possessed, it would be idle to discuss. ' His conversion bore fruit in his longest original poem, The Hind and the Panther, published in April, 1687. The plot of this work is absurd enough: the gentle and inoffensive Hind, representing the Catholic Church, and the fierce yet beautiful Panther, representing the Church of England, discuss between them questions of controversial divinity; the debate ending, of course, in the triumph of the Hind. But the poetic style of the piece places it very high among Dryden's compositions. A certain emotional fervor fills the debate, very different from the dry, intellectual, detached tone of Religio Laici. More than this, in his address to the Deity, defending his own sincerity, Dryden rises to true pathos, even to sublimity:
What weight of ancient witness can prevail,
(Pages 218, 219, lines 62-71.) In consequence of his conversion Dryden was employed to defend, against Stillingfleet, a paper by Anne Hyde (the first wife of James II), announcing her adoption of Catholicism, which was published in 1686 by the command of the king. He also translated from the French the Life of St. Francis Xavier of the Jesuit Bouhours.
Only one more poem written by Dryden during the short reign of James II need here be mentioned. In Britannia Rediviva he celebrates the birth of a son to the king on June 10, 1688. This production, though written in the heroic couplet, is of essentially the same sort as Threnodia Augustalis : sentiments made to order, with far-fetched imagery, prevent it from having any value as literature.
IV The Revolution of 1688 brought ruin to all Dryden's worldly prosperity. As a Catholic, he could not take the oaths required of all office-holders under William and Mary. Already an old man, he was deprived of all his positions and pensions, and thrown back on his pen for support. He accepted the situation with dignity, making no attempt to conciliate the new government, but, except for a few petulant expressions, refraining from attacks on it, and applied himself manfully to work. Had he died just before the Revolution, his name would survive as that of the greatest writer of the Restoration period, but his character would apparently have little in it to attract men's love. Twelve years of toil remained to him, years hampered by old age, by poverty, and by illness. By his performance during this period Dryden showed himself still the undisputed prince of English letters ; his character, meanwhile, acquired a dignity in which it had hitherto been lacking, and commands our respect and admiration.
Dryden's first impulse was to return to the writing of plays, by which he had won his early fame. Between the years 1689 and 1693 he produced Don Sebastian, Amphitryon,
King Arthur (an opera), Cleomenes (with Southerne), and Love Triumphant. These dramas, notably Don Sebastian, contain work in no way inferior to that of the poet's earlier period, but they contribute no new elements of importance for the study of his genius, and may be dismissed without further analysis. They did not suffice to reëstablish their author's reputation as the chief English dramatist; the last of them, indeed, was a complete failure.
In his skill as a translator Dryden found a surer resource. Encouraged by his success with shorter pieces, he now undertook, aided by friends, a complete version of Juvenal and Persius, which appeared in October, 1692. He himself translated five of the sixteen satires of Juvenal, and the whole of Persius, and contributed an elaborate dedicatory preface, in which, following Casaubon, Heinsius, Dacier, and other critics, he gives an account of the rise of Roman satire and an analysis of its chief authors. In the next year, 1693, he translated three selections from Ovid's Metamorphoses and the episode of Hector and Andromache from the Iliad, and wrote a preface for a third miscellany volume, Examen Poeticum, published by Tonson. Dryden's powers of invective and of sententious moralizing fitted him to be the translator of Juvenal and Persius; though his versions are far from literal, they well reproduce in English the vigorous declamation of the Roman satire. With Ovid also, a writer of easy, rapid, somewhat rhetorical verse, Dryden had much in common.
Near the close of 1693 Dryden embarked on the greatest single task of his life, the translation of the complete works of Virgil, which occupied practically all his time for more than three years. The work was published by subscription, and was issued from Tonson's press in a handsome folio volume, early in July, 1697. To aid Dryden, Addison furnished an Essay on the Georgics, and the arguments in prose for the whole work; Dr. Knightly Chetwood wrote the Life of Virgil and the Preface to the Pastorals. The volume was illustrated with the same engravings that had once adorned the work of Ogleby, a previous translator whom Dryden heartily despised, but the plates were touched up for the occasion, and each was decorated with the arms of a subscriber to the book. In Dryden's correspondence with Tonson there are frequent references to the contract between them, but these are unfortunately so vague that we do not know precisely how much the poet received for his labors. In Spence's Anecdotes Pope is quoted as saying that the sum was about £1200, and this is not inconsistent with what we can gather from Dryden's own words. This reward, though small in comparison with the profit of about £9000 that Pope received from his Homer, was good pay for a literary man in those days. Dryden often writes to his publisher in a testy tone, once protesting, for example: “Upon trial, I find all of your trade are sharpers, and you not more than others; therefore I have not wholly left you.”
Despite many revolutions of public taste, Dryden's Virgil still remains practically without a rival as the standard translation of the greatest Roman poet; the only one that, like two or three versions of Homer, has become an English classic. It has, indeed, almost none of the grace and tenderness, or the high seriousness, of the Latin original, to which Wordsworth attained in large measure in his Laodamia. Thus the marvelous verse,
Sunt lacrimæ rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt, disappears entirely in Dryden's commonplace:
Our known disasters fill ev'n foreign lands :
(Page 530, lines 646-649.)