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overlap the metrical structure so that even the periods come sometimes into the middle of the lines, as is frequently the case in Chaucer's couplets, is called the overflow or mid-stopt verse, and is the style adopted by Marlowe in “Hero and Leander,” and later by Keats in " Endymion” and “Sleep and Poetry.” It is more flowing and graceful, but is likely to degenerate into rhythmic prose in which the rhymes are submerged by falling on unimportant words. Dryden in his plays uses almost exclusively the end-stopt rhyming couplet, and at his death, in 1706, and for a century afterward, it was accepted as the proper form for serious verse, and was carried to perfection by Alexander Pope.
Dryden's life was spent in London as a playwright and man of letters. He wrote a great number of plays, usually in rhyme. Most of them come under the head of heroic plays, the characters being historic or pseudo-historic. Of these “ All's for Love,” based on the Antony and Cleopatra story, is one of the best, but they all seem to us very tedious, and need be read only by those who wish to make a special study of the theater of this time. Bits of splendid declamation can be found, — Dryden is always vigorous,
but the plays are artificial structures, and their interest depended on a literary fashion which is past. There is not enough of the stuff of genuine human nature in them to give them vitality. At the same time we cannot fail to be struck with the excellence of the literary workmanship.
Dryden's earlier poems are, “ Astrea Redux,” on the return of the king, and “ Annus Mirabilis,” 1666, the year Dryden's
of the great fire in London. For some fourteen Earlier years after this he wrote little besides plays, in Poems.
which, indeed, are some beautiful songs, though
for the most part defaced by the coarseness of expression characteristic of the time. After 1680 he took up a form of writing in which he is held to be without an equal, political and social satire. “ Absalom and Achitophel,” “ Mac Flecknoe,” and “ The Medal” are very powerful satires. “ Absalom” is the Duke of Monmouth, and · Achitophel” is the Earl of Shaftesbury, and the other prominent personages of the day are represented by Hebrew
Of “ Doeg” (Elkanah Settle), a very minor poet of the day, he says:
“Doeg without knowing how or why
Dryden's satire in some instances seems to us too personal and coarse for the utterance of a gentleman, but he had received great provocation from Shadwell and Settle, and the age tolerated a vigorous personal invective which would now be regarded as beyond the limits of good taste. At the same time it may be doubted whether a slight injection of this astringent medicine would not benefit the health of our political society to-day. It would certainly reach many who are indifferent to tolerant criticism and veiled sarcasm. Fools and knaves must be hit hard, and, as far as we can judge, most of Dryden's victims
came under one of these categories. At all events he hit them pretty hard.
Dryden's final work consisted of two didactic or argumentative poems; “Religio Laici,”
Religio Laici,” a defense of the Church of England, and “The Hind and the
Panther," a defense of the Church of Rome, to which in his later years he became a convert. In consequence he lost his position as poet laureate upon the deposition of James II., and at the age of sixty was again compelled to turn to literary labor for a living. He translated Virgil and some other classical authors, and modernized portions of Chaucer's “ Canterbury Tales.” The work was well done, though of course very inferior to the originals, and was well received. At present Dryden is best known by two artificial lyrics, “ St. Cecilia's Day" and "Alexander's Feast."
Dryden's great service to letters was the development of prose. Previous to his day men of genius like Bacon, Jeremy Taylor, Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, and Richard Hooker had produced splendid and enduring works in English prose, but the style of all was highly Latinized and cumbrous, and their writings owe their vitality to poetical rather than to prose qualities. They have indefinite ideas about the proper construction of the English sentence, and the character and amount of the thought it should contain, and it is safe to say that Dryden set the model of a clear, strong, natural style of working prose for his successors. His letters, dedications, and prefaces are full of sound sense, wit, and judicious literary criticism in a form which, if it lacks the charm of Addison's quiet humor and urbanity, is a better type for every-day use than anything produced for a century after. The essentially manly quality of his mind is evident in every
line. In one of his prefaces he writes on the subject of translation :
“No man is capable of translating poetry who besides a genius to that art is not a master of his author's language and of his own: nor must he understand the language only of the poet, but his particular turn of thoughts and expression which are the characters that distinguish and as it were individuate him from all other writers. When we are come thus far it is time to look into ourselves, to conform our genius to his, to give his thought either the same turn if our tongue will bear it, or, if not, to vary but the dress, not to alter or destroy the substance. The like care must be taken of the more outward ornaments, the words. When they appear, which is but seldom, literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed; but since every language is so full of its own properties that what is beautiful in one is often barbarous, nay, sometimes nonsense in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author's words. It is enough if he choose out some expression which does not vitiate the sense. I
may stretch his chain to such a latitude, but by innovation of thought, methinks he breaks it. By this means the spirit of another may be transfused, and yet not lost.”
The vigor and straightforward common sense of Dryden's thought in the above is as evident as the modernness of the style. From Dryden's time down through Addison, Steele, Goldsmith, Johnson, Burke, Hazlitt, Lamb, Macaulay, Emerson, Hawthorne, Newman, Froude, Stevenson, and Pater, prose has been an instrument capable of expressing thought in an intelligible manner, varying of course in tone with the individual and with the age, but at least subject to a certain standard, and more and more recognized as a literary art. Much of the prose before Dryden's time has the charm of quaintness, and occasional passages rise to the level of poetry in dignity and melody of diction, but it lacks the true English form which Dryden gave it.
With the decadence of the Elizabethan drama, there came a disposition to prune extravagances of language
in poetry, to write according to a certain model Change in Poetio agreed on by literary authority, to look to Style.
France instead of Italy for inspiration, and to be governed by good sense, good taste, and classic, especially Latin, culture rather than to trust to individual inspiration or to make daring experiments.
This conservatism and formal correctness is in a greater or less degree characteristic of the entire eighteenth century (when letters were “polite,” that is, poli or polished) as distinguished from the seventeenth century. Dryden's use of rhyme in tragedy, and his confession that “ within Shakespeare's magic circle none durst tread but he,” and that the Elizabethan dramatists were “the great race before the flood,” are indications of the feeling he had that the spirit of the age had changed. The formal change in poetic style is evident even in his predecessor, Waller, who lived well into the latter part of the century. Poetry became unromantic and remained so with few exceptions until the time of Thomas Gray, 1750. The spirit of the eighteenth century will be referred to again when we speak of the Georgian period. The general tone of this change is illustrated by the song in “ Cymbeline” that William Collins substituted for the one Shakespeare wrote, and the change is the more striking because Collins was much more romantic and individual than most of his contemporaries.
Shakespeare's words are:
« Fear no more the heat of the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Home art gone and taen thy wages :