Izaak Walton was born at Stafford, on the 9th of August, 1593. In his earlier life he was a linen-draper, but he had made enough for his frugal wants by his shop to enable him to retire from business in 1643, and then he quietly assumed a position as pontifex piscatorum. His fishing-rod was a sceptre which he swayed unrivalled for forty years. He gathered about him in his house and on the borders of fishing streams an admiring and congenial circle, principally of the clergy, who felt it a privilege to honor the retired linen-draper. There must have been a peculiar charm, a personal magnetism about him, which has also imbued his works. His first wife was Rachel Floud, a descendant of the ill-fated Cranmer; and his second was Anne Ken, the half-sister of the saintly Bishop Ken. Whatever may have been his deficiencies of early education, he was so constant and varied a reader that he made amends for these.
THE COMPLETE ANGLER.—His first and most popular work was The Complete Angler, or, The Contemplative Man's Recreation. It has been the delight of all sorts of people since, and has gone through more than forty respectable editions in England, besides many in America. Many of these editions are splendidly illustrated and sumptuous. The dialogues are pleasant and natural, and his enthusiasm for the art of angling is quite contagious.
HIS LIVES.—Nor is Walton less esteemed by a smaller but more appreciative circle for his beautiful and finished biographies or Lives of Dr. Donne, Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, and Bishop Robert Sanderson.
Here Walton has bestowed and received fame: the simple but exquisite portraitures of these holy and worthy men have made them familiar to posterity; and they, in turn, by the virtues which Walton's pen has made manifest, have given distinction to the hand which portrayed them. Walton's good life was lengthened out to fourscore and ten. He died at the residence of his son-in-law, the Reverend William Hawkins, prebendary of Winchester Cathedral, in 1683. Bishop Jebb has judiciously said of his Lives: "They not only do ample justice to individual piety and learning, but throw a mild and cheerful light upon the manners of an interesting age, as well as upon the venerable features of our mother Church." Less, however, than any of his contemporaries can Walton be appreciated by a sketch of the man: his works must be read, and their spirit imbibed, in order to know his worth.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE AGE.
George Wither, born in Hampshire, June 11, 1588, died May 2, 1667: he was a voluminous and versatile writer. His chief work is The Shepherd's Hunting, which, with beautiful descriptions of rural life, abounds in those strained efforts at wit and curious conceits, which were acceptable to the age, but which have lost their charm in a more sensible and philosophic age. Wither was a Parliament man, and was imprisoned and ill-treated after the Restoration. He, and most of those who follow, were classed by Dr. Johnson as metaphysical poets.
Francis Quarles, 1592-1644: he was a Royalist, but belongs to the literary school of Withers. He is best known by his collection of moral and religious poems, called Divine Emblems, which were accompanied with quaint engraved illustrations. These allegories are full of unnatural conceits, and are many of them borrowed from an older source. He was immensely popular as a poet in his own day, and there was truth in the statement of Horace Walpole, that "Milton was forced to wait till the world had done admiring Quarles."
George Herbert, 1593-1632: a man of birth and station, Herbert entered the Church, and as the incumbent of the living at Bemerton, he illustrated in his own piety and devotion "the beauty of holiness." Conscientious and self-denying in his parish work, he found time to give forth those devout breathings which in harmony of expression, fervor of piety, and simplicity of thought, have been a goodly heritage to the Church ever since, while they still retain some of those "poetical surprises" which mark the literary taste of the age. His principal work is The Temple, or, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations. The short lyrics which form the stones of this temple are upon the rites and ceremonies of the Church and other sacred subjects: many of them are still in great favor, and will always be. In his portraiture of the Good Parson, he paints himself. He magnifies the office, and he fulfilled all the requirements he has laid down.
Robert Herrick, 1591-1674: like Herbert, Herrick was a clergyman, but, unlike Herbert, he was not a holy man. He wrote Anacreontic poems, full of wine and love, and appears to us like a reveller masking in a surplice. Being a cavalier in sentiment, he was ejected from his vicarage in 1648, and went to London, where he assumed the lay habit. In 1647 he published Hesperides, a collection of small poems of great lyric beauty, Anacreontic, pastoral, and amatory, but containing much that is coarse and indelicate. In 1648 he in part atoned for these by publishing his Noble Numbers, a collection of pious pieces, in the beginning of which he asks God's forgiveness for his "unbaptized rhymes," "writ in my wild, unhallowed times." The best comment upon his works may be found in the words of a reviewer: "Herrick trifled in this way solely in compliment to the age; whenever he wrote to please himself, he wrote from the heart to the heart." His Litanie is a noble and beautiful penitential petition.
Sir John Suckling, 1609-1641: a writer of love songs. That by which he is most favorably known is his exquisite Ballad upon a Wedding. He was a man of versatile talents; an officer in the army of Gustavus Adolphus, and a captain of horse in the army of Charles I. He wrote several plays, of which the best are Aglaura and The Discontented Colonel. While evidently tinctured by the spirit of the age, he exceeded his contemporaries in the purity of his style and manliness of his expression. His wit is not so forced as theirs.
Edmund Waller, 1605-1687: he was a cousin of John Hampden. By great care and adroitness he seems to have trimmed between the two parties in the civil war, but was suspected by both. His poetry was like himself, artificial and designed to please, but has little depth of sentiment. Like other poets, he praised Cromwell in 1654 in A Panegyric, and welcomed Charles II. in 1660, upon His Majesty's Happy Return. His greatest benefaction to English poetry was in refining its language and harmonizing its versification. He has all the conceits and strained wit of the metaphysical school.
Sir William Davenant, 1605-1668: he was the son of a vintner, but sometimes claimed to be the natural son of Shakspeare, who was intimate with his father and mother. An ardent Loyalist, he was imprisoned at the beginning of the civil war, but escaped to France. He is best known by his heroic poem Gondibert, founded upon the reign of King Aribert of Lombardy, in the seventh century. The French taste which he brought back from his exile, is shown in his own dramas, and in his efforts to restore the theatre at the Restoration. His best plays are the Cruel Brother and The Law against Lovers. He was knighted by Charles I., and succeeded Ben Jonson as poet laureate. On his monument in Westminster Abbey are these words: "O rare Sir William Davenant."
Charles Cotton, 1630-1687: he was a wit and a poet, and is best known as the friend of Izaak Walton. He made an addition to Walton's Complete Angler, which is found in all the later editions. The companion of Walton in his fishing excursions on the river Dove, Cotton addressed many of his poems to his "Adopted Father." He made travesties upon Virgil and Lucian, which are characterized by great licentiousness; and wrote a gossiping and humorous Voyage to Ireland.
Henry Vaughan, 1614-1695: he was called the Silurist, from his residence in Wales, the country of the Silures. He is favorably known by the Silex Scintillans, or, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations. With a rigid religious tone, he has all the attempt at rhetorical effect which mark the metaphysical school, but his language is harsher and more rugged. He has more heart than most of his colleagues, and extracts of great terseness and beauty are still made from his poems. He reproves the corruptions of the age, and while acknowledging an indebtedness, he gives us a clue to his inspiration: "The first, that with any effectual success attempted a diversion of this foul and overflowing stream, was that blessed man, Mr. George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, of whom I am the least."
The Earl of Clarendon, 1608-1674: Edward Hyde, afterward the Earl of Clarendon, played a conspicuous part in the history of England during his life, and also wrote a history of that period, which, although in the interests of the king's party, is an invaluable key to a knowledge of English life during the rebellion and just after the Restoration. A member of parliament in 1640, he rose rapidly in favor with the king, and was knighted in 1643. He left England in charge of the Prince of Wales in 1646, and at once began his History of the Great Rebellion, which was to occupy him for many years before its completion. After the death of Charles I., he was the companion of his son's exile, and often without means for himself and his royal master, he was chancellor of the exchequer. At the Restoration in 1660, Sir Edward Hyde was created Earl of Clarendon, and entered upon the real duties of his office. He retained his place for seven years, but became disagreeable to Charles as a troublesome monitor, and at the same time incurred the hatred of the people. In 1667 he was accused of high treason, and made his escape to France. Neglected by his master, ignored by the French monarch, he wandered about in France, from time to time petitioning his king to permit him to return and die in England, but without success. Seven years of exile, which he reminded the king "was a time prescribed and limited by God himself for the expiation of some of his greatest judgments," passed by, and the ex-chancellor died at Rouen. He had begun his history in exile as the faithful servant of a dethroned prince; he ended it in exile, as the cast-off servant of an ungrateful monarch. As a writer of contemporary history, Clarendon has given us the form and color of the time. The book is in title and handling a Royalist history. Its faults are manifest: first those of partisanship; and secondly, those which spring from his absence, so that much of the work was written without an observant knowledge. His delineation of character is wonderful: the men of the times are more pictorially displayed than in the portraits of Van Dyk. The style is somewhat too pompous, being more that of the orator than of the historian, and containing long and parenthetic periods. Sir Walter Scott says: "His characters may match those of the ancient historians, and one thinks he would know the very men if he were to meet them in society." Macaulay concedes to him a strong sense of moral and religious obligation, a sincere reverence for the laws of his country, and a conscientious regard for the honor and interests of the crown; but adds that "his temper was sour, arrogant, and impatient of opposition." No one can rightly understand the great rebellion without reading Clarendon's history of it.
DRYDEN, AND THE RESTORED STUARTS.
The Court of Charles II. Dryden's Early Life. The Death of Cromwell. The Restoration. Dryden's Tribute. Annus Mirabilis. Absalom and Achitophel. The Death of Charles. Dryden's Conversion. Dryden's Fall. His Odes.
THE COURT OF CHARLES II.
The antithetic literature which takes its coloring from the great rebellion, was now to give place to new forms not immediately connected with it, but incident to the Restoration. Puritanism was now to be oppressed, and the country was to be governed, under a show of constitutional right, more arbitrarily than ever before. The moral rebound, too, was tremendous; the debaucheries of the cavaliers of Charles I. were as nothing in comparison with the lewdness and filth of the court of Charles II. To say that he brought in French fashions and customs, is to do injustice to the French: there never was a viler court in Europe than his own. It is but in accordance with our historical theory that the literature should partake of and represent the new condition of things; and the most remarkable illustrations of this are to be found in the works of Dryden.
It may indeed with truth be said that we have now reached the most absolute of the literary types of English history. There was no great event, political or social, which is not mirrored in his poems; no sentiment or caprice of the age which does not there find expression; no kingly whim which he did not prostitute his great powers to gratify; no change of creed, political or religious, of which he was not the recorder—few indeed, where royal favor was concerned, to which he was not the convert. To review the life of Dryden himself, is therefore to enter into the chronicle and philosophy of the times in which he lived. With this view, we shall dwell at some length upon his character and works.
EARLY LIFE.—Dryden was born on the 10th of August, 1631, and died on the 1st of May, 1700. He lived, therefore, during the reign of Charles I., the interregnum of Parliament, the protectorate of Cromwell, the restoration and reign of Charles II., and the reign of James II.; he saw and suffered from the accession of William and Mary—a wonderful and varied volume in English history. And of all these Dryden was, more than any other man, the literary type. He was of a good family, and was educated at Westminster and Cambridge, where he gave early proofs of his literary talents.
His father, a zealous Presbyterian, had reared his children in his own tenets; we are not therefore astonished to find that his earliest poetical efforts are in accordance with the political conditions of the day. He settled in London, under the protection of his kinsman, Sir Gilbert Pickering, who was afterward one of the king's judges in 1649, and one of the council of eight who controlled the kingdom after Charles lost his head. As secretary to Sir Gilbert, young Dryden learned to scan the political horizon, and to aspire to preferment.
CROMWELL'S DEATH, AND DRYDEN'S MONODY.—But those who had depended upon Cromwell, forgot that he was not England, and that his breath was in his nostrils. The time of his departure was at hand. He had been offered the crown (April 9, 1656,) by a subservient parliament, and wanted it; but his friends and family opposed his taking it; and the officers of the army, influenced by Pride, sent such a petition against it, that he felt obliged to refuse it. After months of mental anxiety and nervous torture—fearing assassination, keeping arms under his pillow, never sleeping above three nights together in the same chamber, disappointed that even after all his achievements, and with all his cunning efforts, he had been unable to put on the crown, and to be numbered among the English sovereigns—Cromwell died in 1658, leaving his title as Lord Protector to his son Richard, a weak and indolent man, who, after seven months' rule, fled the kingdom at the Restoration, to return after a generation had passed away, a very old man, to die in his native land. The people of Hertfordshire knew Richard Cromwell as the excellent and benevolent Mr. Clarke.
Very soon after the death of Oliver Cromwell, Dryden, not yet foreseeing the Restoration, presented his tribute to the Commonwealth, in the shape of "Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Oliver Cromwell; written after his funeral." A few stanzas will show his political principles, and are in strange contrast with what was soon to follow:
How shall I then begin, or where conclude, To draw a fame so truly circular? For, in a round, what order can be showed, Where all the parts so equal perfect are?
He made us freemen of the continent, Whom nature did like captives treat before; To nobler preys the English lion sent, And taught him first in Belgian walks to roar.
His ashes in a peaceful urn shall rest; His name a great example stands, to show How strangely high endeavors may be blest, Where piety and valor jointly go.
THE RESTORATION.—Cromwell died in September: early in the next year these stanzas were written. One year later was the witness of a great event, which stirred England to its very depths, because it gave vent to sentiments for some time past cherished but concealed. The Long Parliament was dissolved on the 10th of March, 1660. The new parliament meets April 25th; it is almost entirely of Royalist opinions; it receives Sir John Granville, the king's messenger, with loud acclamations; the old lords come forth once more in velvet, ermine, and lawn. It is proclaimed that General Monk, the representative of the army, soon to be Duke of Albemarle, has gone from St. Albans to Dover,
To welcome home again discarded faith.
The strong are as tow, and the maker as a spark. From the house of every citizen, lately vocal with the praises of the Protector, issues a subject ready to welcome his king with the most enthusiastic loyalty.
Royal proclamations follow each other in rapid succession: at length the eventful day has come—the 29th of May, 1660. All the bells of London are ringing their merriest chimes; the streets are thronged with citizens in holiday attire; the guilds of work and trade are out in their uniforms; the army, late the organ of Cromwell, is drawn up on Black Heath, and is cracking its myriad throat with cheers. In the words of Master Roger Wildrake, "There were bonfires flaming, music playing, rumps roasting, healths drinking; London in a blaze of light from the Strand to Rotherhithe." At length the sound of herald trumpets is heard; the king is coming; a cry bursts forth which the London echoes have almost forgotten: "God save the king! The king enjoys his own again!"
It seems to the dispassionate reader almost incredible that the English people, who shed his father's blood, who rallied round the Parliament, and were fulsome in their praises of the Protector, should thus suddenly change; but, allowing for "the madness of the people," we look for strength and consistency to the men of learning and letters. We feel sure that he who sang his eulogy of Cromwell dead, can have now no lyric burst for the returning Stuart. We are disappointed.
DRYDEN'S TRIBUTE.—The first poetic garland thrown at the feet of the restored king was Dryden's Astraea Redux, a poem on The happy restoration of his sacred majesty Charles II. To give it classic force, he quotes from the Pollio as a text.
Jam redit et virgo, redeunt saturnia regna;
thus hailing the saturnian times of James I. and Charles I. A few lines of the poem complete the curious contrast:
While our cross stars deny us Charles his bed, Whom our first flames and virgin love did wed, For his long absence church and state did groan; Madness the pulpit, faction seized the throne.
* * * * *
How great were then our Charles his woes, who thus Was forced to suffer for himself and us.
* * * * *
Oh happy prince whom Heaven hath taught the way, By paying vows to have more vows to pay: Oh happy age! oh, times like those alone By Fate reserved for great Augustus' throne, When the joint growth of arts and arms foreshow The world a monarch, and that monarch you!
The contrast assumes a clearer significance, if we remember that the real time which elapsed between the publications of these two poems was less than two years.
This is greatly to Dryden's shame, as it is to Waller's, who did the same thing; but it must be clearly pointed out that in this the poets were really a type of all England, for whose suffrages they wrote thus. From this time the career of Dryden was intimately associated with that of the restored king. He wrote an ode for the coronation in 1661, and a poetical tribute to Clarendon, the Lord High Chancellor, the king's better self.
To Dryden, as a writer of plays, we shall recur in a later chapter, when the other dramatists of the age will be considered.
A concurrence of unusual events in 1665, brought forth the next year the "Annus Mirabilis," or Wonderful Year, in which these events are recorded with the minuteness of a chronicle. This is indeed its chief value; for, praised as it was at the time, it does not so well bear the analysis of modern criticism.
ANNUS MIRABILIS.—It describes the great naval battle with the Dutch; the fire of London; and the ravages of the plague. The detail with which these are described, and the frequent felicity of expression, are the chief charm of the poem. In the refreshingly simple diary of Pepy's, we find this jotting under date of 3d February, 1666-7: "Annus Mirabilis. I am very well pleased this night with reading a poem I brought home with me last night from Westminster Hall, of Dryden's, upon the present war: a very good poem."
Dryden's subserviency, aided by the power of his pen, gained its reward. In 1668, on the death of Sir William Davenant, he was appointed Laureate, and historiographer to the king, with an annual salary of L200. He soon became the most famous literary man in England. Milton, the Puritan, was producing his wonderful visions in darkened retirement, while at court, or in the seat of honor on the stage, or in his sacred chair at Will's Coffee-house in Covent Garden (near the fire-place in winter, and carried into the balcony in summer), "Glorious John" was the observed of all observers. Of Will's Coffee-house, Congreve says, in Love for Love, "Oh, confound that Will's Coffee-house; it has ruined more young men than the Royal Oak Lottery:" this speaks at once of the fashion and social license of the time.
Charles II. was happy to have so fluent a pen, to lampoon or satirize his enemies, or to make indecent comedies for his amusement; while Dryden's aim seems to have been scarcely higher than preferment at court and honored contemporary notoriety for his genius. But if the great majority lauded and flattered him, he was not without his share in those quarrels of authors, which were carried on at that day not only with goose-quills, but with swords and bludgeons. It is recorded that he was once waylaid by the hired ruffians of the Earl of Rochester, and beaten almost to death: these broils generally had a political as well as a social significance. In his quarrels with the literary men, he used the shafts of satire. His contest with Thomas Shadwell has been preserved in his satire called McFlecknoe. Flecknoe was an Irish priest who wrote dull plays; and in this poem Dryden proposes Shadwell as his successor on the throne of dulness. It was the model or suggester of Pope's Dunciad; but the model is by no means equal to the copy.
ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL.—Nothing which he had yet written is so true an index to the political history as his "Absalom and Achitophel," which he published in 1681. The history may be given in few words. Charles II. had a natural son by an obscure woman named Lucy Walters. This boy had been created Duke of Monmouth. He was put forward by the designing Earl of Shaftesbury as the head of a faction, and as a rival to the Duke of York. To ruin the Duke was their first object; and this they attempted by inflaming the people against his religion, which was Roman Catholic. If they could thus have him and his heirs put out of the succession to the throne, Monmouth might be named heir apparent; and Shaftesbury hoped to be the power behind the throne.
Monmouth was weak, handsome, and vain, and was in truth a puppet in wicked hands; he was engaged in the Rye-house plot, and schemed not only against his uncle, but against the person of his father himself. To satirize and expose these plots and plotters, Dryden (at the instance of the king, it is said,) wrote Absalom and Achitophel, in which are introduced, under Scripture names, many of the principal political characters of the day, from the king down to Titus Oates. The number of the names is 61. Charles is, of course, David, and Monmouth, the wayward son, is Absalom. Shaftesbury is Achitophel, and Dr. Oates figures as Corah. The Ethnic plot is the popish plot, and Gath is that land of exile where Charles so long resided. Strong in his praise of David, the poet is discreet and delicate in his handling of Absalom; his instinct is as acute as that of Falstaff: "Beware! instinct, the lion will not touch a true prince," or touch him so gently that the lion at least will not suffer. Thus, Monmouth is represented as
Half loath, and half consenting to the ill, For royal blood within him struggled still; He thus replied: "And what pretence have I To take up arms for public liberty? My father governs with unquestioned right, The faith's defender and mankind's delight; Good, gracious, just, observant of the laws, And heaven by wonders has espoused his cause."
But he may, and does, roundly rate Achitophel, who tempts with satanic seductions, and proves to the youth, from the Bible, his right to the succession, peaceably or forcibly obtained. Among those who conspired with Monmouth were honest hearts seeking for the welfare of the realm. Chief of these were Lord Russel and Sidney, of whom the latter was in favor of a commonwealth; and the former, only sought the exclusion of the Roman Catholic Duke of York, and the redress of grievances, but not the assassination or deposition of the king. Both fell on the scaffold; but they have both been considered martyrs in the cause of civil liberty.
And here we must pause to say that in the literary structure, language, and rhythm of the poem, Dryden had made a great step toward that mastery of the rhymed pentameter couplet, which is one of his greatest claims to distinction.
DEATH OF CHARLES.—At length, in 1685, Charles II., after a sudden and short illness, was gathered to his fathers. His life had been such that England could not mourn: he had prostituted female honor, and almost destroyed political virtue; sold English territory and influence to France for beautiful strumpets; and at the last had been received, on his death-bed, into, the Roman Catholic Church, while nominally the supreme head of the Anglican communion. England cannot mourn, but Dryden tortures language into crocodile tears in his Threnodia Augustalis, sacred to the happy memory of King Charles II. A few lines will exhibit at once the false statements and the absolute want of a spark of sorrow—dead, inanimate words, words, words!
Thus long my grief has kept me drunk: Sure there 's a lethargy in mighty woe; Tears stand congealed, and cannot flow. ........ Tears for a stroke foreseen, afford relief; But unprovided for a sudden blow, Like Niobe, we marble grow, And petrify with grief!
DRYDEN'S CONVERSION.—The Duke of York succeeded as James II.: he was an open and bigoted Roman Catholic, who at once blazoned forth the death-bed conversion of his brother; and who from the first only limited his hopes to the complete restoration of the realm to popery. Dryden's course was at once taken; but his instinct was at fault, as but three short years were to show. He gave in his adhesion to the new king's creed; he who had been Puritan with the commonwealth, and churchman with the Restoration, became Roman Catholic with the accession of a popish king. He had written the Religio Laici to defend the tenets of the Church of England against the attacks of papists and dissenters; and he now, to leave the world in no doubt as to his reasons and his honesty, published a poem entitled the Hind and Panther, which might in his earlier phraseology have been justly styled "The Christian experience of pious John Dryden." It seems a shameless act, but it is one exponent of the loyalty of that day. There are some critics who believe him to have been sincere, and who insist that such a man "is not to be sullied by suspicion that rests on what after all might prove a fortuitous coincidence." But such frequent changes with the government—with a reward for each change—tax too far even that charity which "thinketh no evil." Dryden's pen was eagerly welcomed by the Roman Catholics. He began to write at once in their interest, and thus to further his own. Dr. Johnson says: "That conversion will always be suspected which apparently concerns with interest. He that never finds his error till it hinders his progress toward wealth or honor, will not be thought to love truth only for herself."
In this long poem of 2,000 lines, we have the arguments which conducted the poet to this change. The different beasts represent the different churches and sects. The Church of Rome is thus represented:
A milk-white hind, immortal and unchanged, Fed on the lawns, and in the forest ranged; Without unspotted, innocent within, She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.
The other beasts were united to destroy her; but she could "venture to drink with them at the common watering-place under the protection of her friend the kingly lion."
The Panther is the Church of England:
The Panther, sure the noblest, next the hind, And fairest creature of the spotted kind; Oh, could her inborn stains be washed away, She were too good to be a beast of prey!
Then he Introduces.—
The Bloody Bear, an Independent beast; the Quaking Hare, for the Quakers; the Bristled Baptist Boar.
In this fable, quite in the style of AEsop, we find the Dame, i.e., the Hind, entering into the subtle points of theology, and trying to prove her position. The poem, as might be supposed; was well received, and perhaps converted a few to the monarch's faith; for who were able yet to foresee that the monarch would so abuse his power, as to be driven away from his throne amid the execrations of his subjects.
The harmony of Dryden and the power of James could control progressive England no longer. Like one man, the nation rose and uttered a mighty cry to William of Orange. James, trembling, flies hither and thither, and at length, fearing the fate of his father, he deserts his throne; the commons call this desertion abdication, and they give the throne to his nephew William and his daughter Mary. Such was the end of the restored Stuarts; and we can have no regret that it is: whatever sympathy we may have had with the sufferings of Charles I.,—and the English nation shared it, as is proved by the restoration of his son,—we can have none with his successors: they threw away their chances; they dissipated the most enthusiastic loyalty; they squandered opportunities; and had no enemies, even the bitterest, who were more fatal than themselves. And now it was manifest that Dryden's day was over. Nor does he shrink from his fate. He neither sings a Godspeeding ode to the runaway king, nor a salutatory to the new comers.
DRYDEN'S FALL.—Stripped of his laureate-wreath and all his emoluments, he does not sit down to fold his hands and repine. Sixty years of age, he girds up his loins to work manfully for his living. He translates from the classics; he renders Chaucer into modern English: in 1690 he produced a play entitled Don Sebastian, which has been considered his dramatic master-piece, and, as if to inform the world that age had not dimmed the fire of his genius, he takes as his caption,—
... nec tarda senectus Debilitat vires animi, mutat que vigorem.
This latter part of his life claims a true sympathy, because he is every inch a man.
It must not be forgotten that Dryden presented Chaucer to England anew, after centuries of neglect, almost oblivion; for which the world owes him a debt of gratitude. This he did by modernizing several of the Canterbury Tales, and thus leading English scholars to seek the beauties and instructions of the original. The versions themselves are by no means well executed, it must be said. He has lost the musical words and fresh diction of the original, as a single comparison between the two will clearly show. Perhaps there is no finer description of morning than is contained in these lines of Chaucer:
The besy lark, the messager of day, Saleweth in hir song the morwe gray; And firy Phebus riseth up so bright That all the orient laugheth of the sight.
How expressive the words: the busy lark; the sun rising like a strong man; all the orient laughing. The following version by Dryden, loses at once the freshness of idea and the felicity of phrase:
The morning lark, the messenger of day, Saluted in her song the morning gray; And soon the sun arose with beams so bright That all the horizon laughed to see the joyous sight.
The student will find this only one of many illustrations of the manner in which Dryden has belittled Chaucer in his versions.
ODES.—Dryden has been regarded as the first who used the heroic couplet with entire mastery. In his hands it is bold and sometimes rugged, but always powerful and handled with great ease: he fashioned it for Pope to polish. Of this, his larger poems are full of proof. But there is another verse, of irregular rhythm, in which he was even more successful,—lyric poetry as found in the irregular ode, varying from the short line to the "Alexandrine dragging its slow length along;" the staccato of a harp ending in a lengthened flow of melody.
Thus long ago, Ere heaving billows learned to blow, While organs yet were mute; Timotheus to his breathing flute And sounding lyre Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
When he became a Roman Catholic, St. Cecilia, "inventress of the vocal frame," became his chief devotion; and the Song on St. Cecilia's Day and An Ode to St. Cecilia, are the principal illustrations of this new power.
Gray, who was remarkable for his own lyric power, told Dr. Beattie that if there were any excellence in his own numbers, he had learned it wholly from Dryden.
The Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, also entitled "Alexander's Feast," in which he portrays the power of music in inspiring that famous monarch to love, pity, and war, has to the scholar the perfect excellence of the best Greek lyric. It ends with a tribute to St. Cecilia.
At last divine Cecilia came, Inventress of the vocal frame: Now let Timotheus yield the prize, Or both divide the crown. He raised a mortal to the skies; She drew an angel down,
Dryden's prose, principally in the form of prefaces and dedications, has been admired by all critics; and one of the greatest has said, that if he had turned his attention entirely in that direction, he would have been facile princeps among the prose writers of his day. He has, in general terms, the merit of being the greatest refiner of the English language, and of having given system and strength to English poetry above any writer up to his day; but more than all, his works are a transcript of English history—political, religious, and social—as valuable as those of any professed historian. Dryden married Lady Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of an earl, who, it is said, was not a congenial companion, and who afterwards became insane. He died from a gangrene in the foot. He declared that he died in the profession of the Roman Catholic faith; which raises a new doubt as to his sincerity in the change. Near the monument of old father Chaucer, in Westminster, is one erected, by the Duke of Buckingham, to Dryden. It merely bears name and date, as his life and works were supposed to need no eulogy.
THE RELIGIOUS LITERATURE OF THE GREAT REBELLION AND OF THE RESTORATION.
The English Divines. Hall. Chillingworth. Taylor. Fuller. Sir T. Browne. Baxter. Fox. Bunyan. South. Other Writers.
THE ENGLISH DIVINES.
Having come down, in the course of English Literature, to the reign of William and Mary, we must look back for a brief space to consider the religious polemics which grew out of the national troubles and vicissitudes. We shall endeavor to classify the principal authors under this head from the days of Milton to the time when the Protestant succession was established on the English throne.
The Established Church had its learned doctors before the civil war, many of whom contributed to the literature; but when the contest between king and parliament became imminent, and during the progress of the quarrel, these became controversialists,—most of them on the side of the unfortunate but misguided monarch,—and suffered with his declining fortunes.
To go over the whole range of theological literature in this extended period, would be to study the history of the times from a theological point of view. Our space will only permit a brief notice of the principal writers.
HALL.—First among these was Joseph Hall, who was born in 1574. He was educated at Cambridge, and was appointed to the See of Exeter in 1624, and transferred to that of Norwich in 1641, the year before Charles I. ascended the throne. The scope of his writings was quite extensive. As a theological writer, he is known by his numerous sermons, his Episcopacy by Divine Right Asserted, his Christian Meditations, and various commentaries and Contemplations upon the Scriptures. He was also a poet and a satirist, and excelled in this field. His Satires—Virgidemiarium—were published at the early age of twenty-three; but they are highly praised by the critics, who rank him also, for eloquence and learning, with Jeremy Taylor. He suffered for his attachment to the king's cause, was driven from his see, and spent the last portion of his life in retirement and poverty. He died in 1656.
CHILLINGWORTH.—The next in chronological order is William Chillingworth, who was born in 1602, and is principally known as the champion of Protestantism against Rome and Roman innovations. While a student at Oxford, he had been won over to the Roman Catholic Church by John Perse, a famous Jesuit; and he went at once to pursue his studies in the Jesuit college at Douay. He was so notable for his acuteness and industry, that every effort was made to bring him back. Archbishop Laud, his god-father, was able to convince him of his errors, and in two months he returned to England. A short time after this he left the Roman Catholics, and became tenfold more a Protestant than before. He entered into controversies with his former friends the Jesuits, and in answer to one of their treatises entitled, Mercy and Truth, or Charity maintained by the Roman Catholics, he wrote his most famous work, The Religion of Protestants a Safe Way to Salvation. Chillingworth was a warm adherent of Charles I.; and was captured by the parliamentary forces in 1643. He died the next year. His double change of faith gave him the full range of the controversial field; and, in addition to this knowledge, the clearness of his language and the perspicuity of his logic gave great effect to his writings. Tillotson calls him "the glory of this age and nation."
TAYLOR.—One of the greatest names in the annals of the English Church and of English literature is that of Jeremy Taylor. He was the son of a barber, and was born at Cambridge in 1613. A remarkably clever youth, he was educated at Cambridge, and soon owed his preferment to his talents, eloquence, and learning. An adherent of the king, he was appointed chaplain in the royal army, and was several times imprisoned. When the king's cause went down, and during the protectorate of Cromwell, he retired to Wales, where he kept a school, and was also chaplain to the Earl of Carberry. The vicissitudes of fortune compelled him to leave for a while this retreat, and he became a teacher in Ireland. The restoration of Charles II. gave him rest and preferment: he was made Bishop of Down and Connor. Taylor is now principally known for his learned, quaint, and eloquent discourses, which are still read. A man of liberal feelings and opinions, he wrote on "The liberty of prophesying, showing the unreasonableness of prescribing to other men's faith, and the iniquity of persecuting different opinions:" the title itself being a very liberal discourse. He upholds the Ritual in An Apology for fixed and set Forms of Worship. In this he considers the divine precepts to be contained within narrow limits, and that beyond this everything is a matter of dispute, so that we cannot unconditionally condemn the opinions of others.
His Great Exemplar of Sanctity and Holy Life, his Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and of Holy Dying, and his Golden Grove, are devotional works, well known to modern Christians of all denominations. He has been praised alike by Roman Catholic divines and many Protestant Christians not of the Anglican Church. There is in all his writings a splendor of imagery, combined with harmony of style, and wonderful variety, readiness, and accuracy of scholarship. His quotations from the whole range of classic authors would furnish the Greek and Latin armory of any modern writer. What Shakspeare is in the Drama, Spenser in the Allegory, and Milton in the religious Epic, Taylor may claim to be in the field of purely religious literature. He died at Lisburn, in 1667.
FULLER.—More quaint and eccentric than the writers just mentioned, but a rare representative of his age, stands Thomas Fuller. He was born in 1608; at the early age of twelve, he entered Cambridge, and, after completing his education, took orders. In 1631, he was appointed prebendary of Salisbury. Thence he removed to London in 1641, when the civil war was about to open. When the king left London, in 1642, Fuller preached a sermon in his favor, to the great indignation of the opposite party. Soon after, he was appointed to a chaplaincy in the royal army, and not only preached to the soldiers, but urged them forward in battle. In 1646 he returned to London, where he was permitted to preach, under surveillance, however. He seems to have succeeded in keeping out of trouble until the Restoration, when he was restored to his prebend. He did not enjoy it long, as he died in the next year, 1661. His writings are very numerous, and some of them are still read. Among these are Good Thoughts in Bad Times, Good Thoughts in Worse Times, and Mixt Contemplations in Better Times. The bad and worse times mark the progress of the civil war: the better times he finds in the Restoration.
One of his most valuable works is The Church History of Britain, from the birth of Christ to 1648, in 11 books. Criticized as it has been for its puns and quibbles and its occasional caricatures, it contains rare descriptions and very vivid stories of the important ecclesiastical eras in England.
Another book containing important information is his History of the Worthies of England, a posthumous work, published by his son the year after his death. It contains accounts of eminent Englishmen in different countries; and while there are many errors which he would perhaps have corrected, it is full of odd and interesting information not to be found collated in any other book.
Representing and chronicling the age as he does, he has perhaps more individuality than any writer of his time, and this gives a special interest to his works.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE.—Classed among theological writers, but not a clergyman, Sir Thomas Browne is noted for the peculiarity of his subjects, and his diction. He was born in 1605, and was educated at Oxford. He studied medicine, and became a practising physician. He travelled on the continent, and returning to England in 1633, he began to write his most important work, Religio Medici, at once a transcript of his own life and a manifesto of what the religion of a physician should be. It was kept in manuscript for some time, but was published without his knowledge in 1642. He then revised the work, and published several editions himself. No description of the treatise can give the reader a just idea of it; it requires perusal. The criticism of Dr. Johnson is terse and just: it is remarkable, he says, for "the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtilty of disquisition, and the strength of language." As the portraiture of an inner life, it is admirable; and the accusation of heterodoxy brought against him on account of a few careless passages is unjust.
Among his other works are Essays on Vulgar Errors (Pseudoxia Epidemica), and Hydriotaphica or Urne burial; the latter suggested by the exhumation of some sepulchral remains in Norfolk, which led him to treat with great learning of the funeral rites of all nations. To this he afterwards added The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunxial Lozenge, in which, in the language of Coleridge, he finds quincunxes "in heaven above, in the earth below, in the mind of man, in tones, optic nerves, in the roots of trees, in leaves, in everything." He died in 1682.
Numerous sects, all finding doctrine and forms in the Bible, were the issue of the religious and political controversies of the day. Without entering into a consideration or even an enumeration of these, we now mention a few of the principal names among them.
RICHARD BAXTER.—Among the most devout, independent, and popular of the religious writers of the day, Richard Baxter occupies a high rank. He was born in 1615, and was ordained a clergyman in 1638. In the civil troubles he desired to remain neutral, and he opposed Cromwell when he was made Protector. In 1662 he left the Church, and was soon the subject of persecution: he was always the champion of toleration. In prison, poor, hunted about from place to place, he was a martyr in spirit. During his great earthly troubles he was solaced by a vision, which he embodied in his popular work, The Saints' Everlasting Rest; and he wrote with great fervor A Call to the Unconverted. He was a very voluminous writer; the brutal Judge Jeffries, before whom he appeared for trial, called him "an old knave, who had written books enough to load a cart." He wrote a paraphrase of the New Testament, and numerous discourses. Dr. Johnson advised Boswell, when speaking of Baxter's works: "Read any of them; they are all good." He continued preaching until the close of his life, and died peacefully in 1691.
GEORGE FOX.—The founder of the Society of Friends was born in 1624, in an humble condition of life, and at an early age was apprenticed to a shoemaker and grazier. Uneducated and unknown, he considered himself as the subject of special religious providence, and at length as supernaturally called of God. Suddenly abandoning his servile occupation, he came out in 1647, at the age of twenty-three, as the founder of a new sect; an itinerant preacher, he rebuked the multitudes which he assembled by his fervent words. Much of his success was due to his earnestness and self-abnegation. He preached in all parts of England, and visited the American colonies. The name Quaker is said to have been applied to this sect in 1650, when Fox, arraigned before Judge Bennet, told him to "tremble at the word of the Lord." The establishment of this sect by such a man is one of the strongest illustrations of the eager religious inquiry of the age.
The works of Fox are a very valuable Journal of his Life and Travels; Letters and Testimonies; Gospel Truth Demonstrated,—all of which form the best statement of the origin and tenets of his sect. Fox was a solemn, reverent, absorbed man; a great reader and fluent expounder of the Scriptures, but fanatical and superstitious; a believer in witchcraft, and in his power to detect witches. The sect which he founded, and which has played so respectable a part in later history, is far more important than the founder himself. He died in London in 1690.
WILLIAM PENN.—The fame of Fox in America has been eclipsed by that of his chief convert William Penn. In an historical or biographical work, the life of Penn would demand extended mention; but his name is introduced here only as one of the theological writers of the day. He was born in 1644, and while a student at Oxford was converted to the Friends' doctrine by the preaching of Thomas Loe, a colleague of George Fox. The son of Admiral Sir William Penn, he was the ward of James II., and afterwards Lord Proprietary and founder of Pennsylvania. Persecuted for his tenets, he was frequently imprisoned for his preaching and writings. In 1668 he wrote Truth Exalted and The Sandy Foundation, and when imprisoned for these, he wrote in jail his most famous work, No Cross, no Crown.
After the expulsion of James II., Penn was repeatedly tried and acquitted for alleged attempts to aid the king in recovering his throne. The malignity of Lord Macaulay has reproduced the charges, but reversed, most unjustly, the acquittals. His record occupies a large space in American history, and he is reverenced for having established a great colony on the basis of brotherly love. Poor and infirm, he died in 1718.
ROBERT BARCLAY, who was born in 1648, is only mentioned in this connection on account of his Latin apology for the Quakers, written in 1676, and translated since into English.
JOHN BUNYAN.—Among the curious religious outcroppings of the civil war, none is more striking and singular than John Bunyan. He produced a work of a decidedly polemical character, setting forth his peculiar doctrines, and—a remarkable feature in the course of English literature—a story so interesting and vivid that it has met with universal perusal and admiration. It is at the same time an allegory which has not its equal in the language. Rhetoricians must always mention the Pilgrim's Progress as the most splendid example of the allegory.
Bunyan was born in Elston, Bedfordshire, in 1628. The son of a tinker, his childhood and early manhood were idle and vicious. A sudden and sharp rebuke from a woman not much better than himself, for his blasphemy, set him to thinking, and he soon became a changed man. In 1653 he joined the Baptists, and soon, without preparation, began to preach. For this he was thrown into jail, where he remained for more than twelve years. It was during this period that, with no other books than the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs, he excogitated his allegory. In 1672 he was released through the influence of Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln. He immediately began to preach, and continued to do so until 1688, when he died from a fever brought on by exposure.
In his first work, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he gives us his own experience,—fearful dreams of early childhood, his sins and warnings in the parliamentary army, with divers temptations, falls, and struggles.
Of his great work, The Pilgrim's Progress, it is hardly necessary to speak at length. The story of the Pilgrim, Christian, is known to all English readers, large and little; how he left the City of Destruction, and journeyed towards the Celestial City; of his thrilling adventures; of the men and things that retarded his progress, and of those who helped him forward. No one has ever discoursed with such vivid description and touching pathos of the Land of Beulah, the Delectable Mountains, the Christian's inward rapture at the glimpse of the Celestial City, and his faith-sustaining descent into the Valley of the Shadow of Death! As a work of art, it is inimitable; as a book of religious instruction, it is more to be admired for sentiment than for logic; its influence upon children is rather that of a high-wrought romance than of godly precept. It is a curious reproduction, with a slight difference in cast, of the morality play of an earlier time. Mercy, Piety, Christian, Hopeful, Greatheart, Faithful, are representatives of Christian graces; and, as in the morality, the Prince of Darkness figures as Apollyon.
Bunyan also wrote The Holy War, an allegory, which describes the contest between Immanuel and Diabolus for the conquest of the city of Mansoul. This does not by any means share the popularity of The Pilgrim's Progress. The language of all his works is common and idiomatic, but precise and strong: it is the vigorous English of an unpretending man, without the graces of the schools, but expressing his meaning with remarkable clearness. Like Milton's Paradise Lost, Bunyan's allegory has been improperly placed by many persons on a par with the Bible as a body of Christian doctrine, and for instruction in righteousness.
ROBERT SOUTH.—This eccentric clergyman was born in 1633. While king's scholar at Dr. Busby's school in London, he led the devotions on the day of King Charles' execution, and prayed for his majesty by name. At first a Puritan, he became a churchman, and took orders. He was learned and eloquent; but his sermons, which were greatly admired at the time, contain many oddities, forced conceits, and singular anti-climaxes, which gained for him the appellation of the witty churchman.
He is accused of having been too subservient to Charles II.; and he also is considered as displaying not a little vindictiveness in his attacks on his former colleagues the Puritans. He is only known to this age by his sermons, which are still published and read.
OTHER THEOLOGICAL WRITERS.
Isaac Barrow, 1630-1677: a man of varied learning, a traveller in the East, and an oriental scholar. He was appointed Professor of Greek at Cambridge, and also lectured on Mathematics. He was a profound thinker and a weighty writer, principally known by his courses of sermons on the Decalogue, the Creed, and the Sacraments.
Edward Stillingfleet, 1635-1699: a clergyman of the Church of England, he was appointed Bishop of Worcester. Many of his sermons have been published. Among his treatises is one entitled, Irenicum, a Weapon-Salve for the Churches Wounds, or the Divine Right of Particular Forms of Church Government Discussed and Examined. "The argument," says Bishop Burnet, "was managed with so much learning and skill that none of either side ever undertook to answer it." He also wrote Origines Sacrae, or a Rational Account of the Christian Faith, and various treatises in favor of Protestantism and against the Church of Rome.
William Sherlock, 1678-1761: he was Dean of St. Paul's, and a writer of numerous doctrinal discourses, among which are those on The Trinity, and on Death and the Future Judgment. His son, Thomas Sherlock, D.D., born 1678, was also a distinguished theological writer.
Gilbert Burnet, 1643-1715: he was very much of a politician, and played a prominent part in the Revolution. He was made Bishop of Salisbury in 1689. He is principally known by his History of the Reformation, written in the Protestant interest, and by his greater work, the History of my Own Times. Not without a decided bias, this latter work is specially valuable as the narration of an eye-witness. The history has been variously criticized for prejudice and inaccuracy; but it fills what would otherwise have been a great vacuum in English historical literature.
John Locke, 1632-1704. In a history of philosophy, the name of this distinguished philosopher would occupy a prominent place, and his works would require extended notice. But it is not amiss to introduce him briefly in this connection, because his works all have an ethical significance. He was educated as a physician, and occupied several official positions, in which he suffered from the vicissitudes of political fortune, being once obliged to retreat from persecution to Holland. His Letters on Toleration is a noble effort to secure the freedom of conscience: his Treatises on Civil Government were specially designed to refute Sir John Filmer's Patriarcha, and to overthrow the principle of the Jus Divinum. His greatest work is an Essay on the Human Understanding. This marks an era in English thought, and has done much to invite attention to the subject of intellectual philosophy. He derives our ideas from the two sources, sensation and reflection; and although many of his views have been superseded by the investigations of later philosophers, it is due to him in some degree that their inquiries have been possible.
DIARISTS AND ANTIQUARIANS.
John Evelyn, 1620-1705. Among the unintentional historians of England, none are of more value than those who have left detailed and gossiping diaries of the times in which they lived: among these Evelyn occupies a prominent place. He was a gentleman of education and position, who, after the study of law, travelled extensively, and resided several years in France. He had varied accomplishments. His Sylva is a discourse on forest trees and on the propagation of timber in his majesty's dominions. To this he afterwards added Pomona, or a treatise on fruit trees. He was also the author of an essay on A Parallel of the Ancient Architecture with the Modern. But the work by which he is now best known is his Diary from 1641 to 1705; it is a necessary companion to the study of the history of that period; and has been largely consulted by modern writers in making up the historic record of the time.
Samuel Pepys, 1637-1703. This famous diarist was the son of a London tailor. He received a collegiate education, and became a connoisseur in literature and art. Of a prying disposition, he saw all that he could of the varied political, literary, and social life of England; and has recorded what he saw in a diary so quaint, simple, and amusing, that it has retained its popularity to the present day, and has greatly aided the historian both in facts and philosophy. He held an official position as secretary in the admiralty, the duties of which he discharged with great system and skill. In addition to this Diary, we have also his Correspondence, published after his death, which is historically of great importance. In both diary and correspondence he has the charm of great naivete,—as of a curious and gossiping observer, who never dreamed that his writings would be made public. Men and women of social station are painted in pre-Raphaelite style, and figure before us with great truth and vividness.
Elias Ashmole, 1617-1693. This antiquarian and virtuoso is principally known as the founder of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. He studied law, chemistry, and natural philosophy. Besides an edition of the manuscript works of certain English chemists, he wrote Bennevennu,—the description of a Roman road mentioned in the Itinerary of Antoninus,—and a History of the Order of the Garter. His Diary was published nearly a century after his death, but is by no means equal in value to those of Evelyn and Pepys.
John Aubrey, 1627-1697: a man of curious mind, Aubrey investigated the supernatural topics of the day, and presented them to the world in his Miscellanies. Among these subjects it is interesting to notice "blows invisible," and "knockings," which have been resuscitated in the present day. He was a "perambulator," and, in the words of one of his critics, "picked up information on the highway, and scattered it everywhere as authentic." His most valuable contribution to history is found in his Letters Written by Eminent Persons in the 17th and 18th Centuries, with Lives of Eminent Men. The searcher for authentic material must carefully scrutinize Aubrey's facts; but, with much that is doubtful, valuable information may be obtained from his pages.
THE DRAMA OF THE RESTORATION.
The License of the Age. Dryden. Wycherley. Congreve. Vanbrugh. Farquhar. Etherege. Tragedy. Otway. Rowe. Lee. Southern.
THE LICENSE OF THE AGE.
There is no portion of the literature of this period which so fully represents and explains the social history of the age as the drama. With the restoration of Charles it returned to England, after a time in which the chief faults had been too great rigor in morals. The theatres had been closed, all amusements checked, and even poetry and the fine arts placed under a ban. In the reign of Charles I., Prynne had written his Histrio Mastix, or Scourge of the Stage, in which he not only denounced all stage plays, but music and dancing; and also declaimed against hunting, festival days, the celebration of Christmas, and Maypoles. For this he was indicted in the Star Chamber for libel, and was sentenced to stand in the pillory, to lose his ears, to pay the king a fine of L5000, and to be imprisoned for life. For his attack there was much excuse in the license of the former period; but when puritanism, in its turn, was brought under the three spears, the drama was to come back tenfold more injurious and more immoral than before.
From the stern and gloomy morals of the Commonwealth we now turn to the debaucheries of the court,—from cropped heads and dark cloaks to plumes and velvet, gold lace and embroidery,—to the varied fashions of every kind for which Paris has always been renowned, and which Charles brought back with him from his exile;—from prudish morals to indiscriminate debauchery; from the exercisings of brewers' clerks, the expounding of tailors, the catechizing of watermen, to the stage, which was now loudly petitioned to supply amusement and novelty. Macaulay justly says: "The restraints of that gloomy time were such as would have been impatiently borne, if imposed by men who were universally believed to be saints; these restraints became altogether insupportable when they were known to be kept up for the profit of hypocrites! It is quite certain that if the royal family had never returned, there would have been a great relaxation of manners." It is equally certain, let us add, that morals would not have been correspondingly relaxed. The revulsion was terrible. In no period of English history was society ever so grossly immoral; and the drama, which we now come to consider, displays this immorality and license with a perfect delineation.
The English people had always been fond of the drama in all its forms, and were ready to receive it even contaminated as it was by the licentious spirit of the time. An illiterate and ignorant people cannot think for themselves; they act upon the precepts and example of those above them in knowledge and social station: thus it is that a dissolute monarch and a subservient aristocracy corrupt the masses.
DRYDEN'S PLAYS.—Although Dryden's reputation is based on his other poems, and although his dramas have conduced scarcely at all to his fame, he did play a principal part in this department of literary work. Dryden made haste to answer the call, and his venal muse wrote to please the town. The names of many of his plays and personages are foreign; but their vitality is purely English. Of his first play, The Duke of Guise, which was unsuccessful, he tells us: "I undertook this as the fairest way which the Act of Indemnity had left us, as setting forth the rise of the great rebellion, and of exposing the villanies of it upon the stage, to precaution posterity against the like errors;"—a rebellion the master-spirit of which he had eulogized upon his bier!
His second play, The Wild Gallant, may be judged by the fact that it won for him the favor of Charles II. and of his mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland. Pepys saw it "well acted;" but says, "It hath little good in it." It is not our purpose to give a list of Dryden's plays; besides their occasional lewdness, they are very far inferior to his poems, and are now rarely read except by the historical student. They paid him in ready money, and he cannot ask payment from posterity in fame.
On the 13th of January, 1667-8, (we are told by Pepys,) the ladies and the Duke of Monmouth acted The Indian Emperour at court.
The same chronicler says: The Maiden Queene was "mightily commended for the regularity of it, and the strain and wit;" but of the Ladys a la Mode he says it was "so mean a thing" that, when it was announced for the next night, the pit "fell a laughing, because the house was not a quarter full."
But Dryden, as a playwright, does not enjoy the infamous honor of a high rank among his fellow-dramatists. The proper representations of the drama in that age were, in Comedy, Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar; and, in Tragedy, Otway, Rowe, and Lee.
WYCHERLEY.—Of the comedists of this period, where all were evil, William Wycherley was the worst. In his four plays, Love in a Wood, The Gentleman Dancing-Master, The Country Wife, and The Plain Dealer, he outrages all decency, ridicules honesty and virtue, and makes vice always triumphant. As a young man, profligate with pen and in his life, he was a wicked old man; for, when sixty-four years of age, he published a miscellany of verses of which Macaulay says: "The style and versification are beneath criticism: the morals are those of Rochester." And yet it is sad to be obliged to say that his characters pleased the age, because such men and women really lived then, and acted just as he describes them. He depicted vice to applaud and not to punish it. Wycherley was born in 1640, and died in 1715.
CONGREVE.—William Congreve, who is of the same school of morals, is far superior as a writer; indeed, were one name to be selected in illustration of our subject, it would be his. He was born in 1666, and, after being educated at Trinity College, Dublin, was a student at the Middle Temple. His first play, The Old Bachelor, produced in his twenty-first year, was a great success, and won for him the patronage of Lord Halifax. His next, The Double Dealer, caused Dryden to proclaim him the equal of Shakspeare! Perhaps his most famous comedy is Love for Love, which is besides an excellent index to the morality of the age. The author was quoted and caressed; Pope dedicated to him his Translation of the Iliad; and Voltaire considered him the most successful English writer of comedy. His merit consists in some degree of originality, and in the liveliness of his colloquies. His wit is brilliant and flashing, but, in the words of Thackeray, the world to him "seems to have had no moral at all."
How much he owed to the French school, and especially to Moliere, may be judged from the fact that a whole scene in Love for Love is borrowed from the Don Juan of Moliere. It is that in which Trapland comes to collect his debt from Valentine Legend. Readers of Moliere will recall the scene between Don Juan, Sganarelle and M. Dimanche, which is here, with change of names, taken almost word for word. His men are gallants neither from love or passion, but from the custom of the age, of which it is said, "it would break Mr. Tattle's heart to think anybody else should be beforehand with him;" and Mr. Tattle was the type of a thousand fine gentlemen in the best English society of that day.
His only tragedy, The Mourning Bride, although far below those of Shakspeare, is the best of that age; and Dr. Johnson says he would go to it to find the most poetical paragraph in the range of English poetry. Congreve died in 1729, leaving his gains to the Duchess of Marlborough, who cherished his memory in a very original fashion. She had a statue of him in ivory, which went by clockwork, and was daily seated at her table; and another wax-doll imitation, whose feet she caused to be blistered and anointed by physicians, as the poet's gouty extremities had been.
Congreve was not ashamed to vindicate the drama, licentious as it was. In the year 1698, Jeremy Collier, a distinguished nonjuring clergyman, published A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage; a very vigorous and severe criticism, containing a great deal of wholesome but bitter truth. Congreve came to the defence of the stage, and his example was followed by his brother dramatists. But Collier was too strong for his enemies, and the defences were very weak. There yet existed in England that leaven of purity which has steadily since been making its influence felt.
VANBRUGH.—Sir John Vanbrugh (born in 1666, died in 1726) was an architect as well as a dramatist, but not great in either role. His principal dramas are The Provoked Wife, The City Wives' Confederacy, and The Journey to London (finished by Colley Cibber). His personages are vicious and lewd, but quite real; and his wit is constant and flowing. The Provoked Wife is so licentious a play that it is supposed Vanbrugh afterwards conceived and began his Provoked Husband to make some amends for it. This latter play, however, he did not complete: it was finished after his death by Cibber, who says in the Prologue:
This play took birth from principles of truth, To make amends for errors past of youth.
* * * * *
Though vice is natural, 't was never meant The stage should show it but for punishment. Warm with such thoughts, his muse once more took flame, Resolved to bring licentious life to shame.
If Vanbrugh was not born in France, it is certain that he spent many years there, and there acquired the taste and handling of the comic drama, which then had its halcyon days under Moliere. His dialogue is very spirited, and his humor is greater than that of Congreve, who, however, excelled him in wit.
The principal architectural efforts of Vanbrugh were the design for Castle Howard, and the palace of Blenheim, built for Marlborough by the English nation, both of which are greater titles to enduring reputation than any of his plays.
FARQUHAR.—George Farquhar was born in Londonderry, in 1678, and began his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, but was soon stage-struck, and became an actor. Not long after, he was commissioned in the army, and began to write plays in the style and moral tone of the age. Among his nine comedies, those which present that tone best are his Love in a Bottle, The Constant Couple, The Recruiting Officer, and The Beaux' Stratagem. All his productions were hastily written, but met with great success from their gayety and clever plots, especially the last two mentioned, which are not, besides, so immoral as the others, and which are yet acted upon the British stage.
ETHEREGE.—Sir George Etherege, a coxcomb and a diplomatist, was born in 1636, and died in 1694. His plays are, equally with the others mentioned, marked by the licentiousness of the age, which is rendered more insidious by their elegance. Among them are The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, and The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter.
The domain of tragedy, although perhaps not so attractive to the English people as comedy, was still sufficiently so to invite the attention of the literati. The excitement which is produced by exaggerated scenes of distress and death has always had a charm for the multitude; and although the principal tragedies of this period are based upon heroic stories, many of them of classic origin, the genius of the writer displayed itself in applying these to his own times, and in introducing that "touch of nature" which "makes the whole world kin." Human sympathy is based upon a community of suffering, and the sorrows of one age are similar to those of another. Besides, tragedy served, in the period of which we are speaking, to give variety and contrast to what would otherwise have been the gay monotony of the comic muse.
OTWAY.—The first writer to be mentioned in this field, is Thomas Otway (born in 1651, died in 1685). He led an irregular and wretched life, and died, it is said, from being choked by a roll of bread which, after great want, he was eating too ravenously.
His style is extravagant, his pathos too exacting, and his delineation of the passions sensational and overwrought. He produced in his earlier career Alcibiades and Don Carlos, and, later, The Orphan, and The Soldier's Fortune. But the piece by which his fame was secured is Venice Preserved, which, based upon history, is fictional in its details. The original story is found in the Abbe de St. Real's Histoire de la Conjuration du Marquis de Bedamar, or the account of a Spanish conspiracy in which the marquis, who was ambassador, took part. It is still put upon the stage, with the omission, however, of the licentious comic portions found in the original play.
NICHOLAS ROWE, who was born in 1673, a man of fortune and a government official, produced seven tragedies, of which The Fair Penitent, Lady Jane Grey, and Jane Shore are the best. His description of the lover, in the first, has become a current phrase: "That haughty, gallant, gay Lothario,"—the prototype of false lovers since. The plots are too broad, but the moral of these tragedies is in most cases good.
In Jane Shore, he has followed the history of the royal mistress, and has given a moral lesson of great efficacy.
NATHANIEL LEE, 1657-1692: was a man of dissolute life, for some time insane, and met his death in a drunken brawl. Of his ten tragedies, the best are The Rival Queens, and Theodosius, or The Force of Love. The rival queens of Alexander the Great—Roxana and Statira—figure in the first, which is still presented upon the stage. It has been called, with just critical point, "A great and glorious flight of a bold but frenzied imagination, having as much absurdity as sublimity, and as much extravagance as passion; the poet, the genius, the scholar are everywhere visible."
THOMAS SOUTHERN, 1659-1746: wrote Isabella, or The Fatal Marriage, and Oronooko. In the latter, although yielding to the corrupt taste of the time in his comic parts, he causes his captive Indian prince to teach that period a lesson by his pure and noble love for Imoinda. Oronooko is a prince taken by the English at Surinam and carried captive to England.
These writers are the best representatives of those who in tragedy and comedy form the staple of that age. Their models were copied in succeeding years; but, with the expulsion of the Stuarts, morals were somewhat mended; and while light, gay, and witty productions for the stage were still in demand, the extreme licentiousness was repudiated by the public; and the plays of Cibber, Cumberland, Colman, and Sheridan, reflecting these better tastes, are free from much of the pollution to which we have referred.
POPE, AND THE ARTIFICIAL SCHOOL.
Contemporary History. Birth and Early Life. Essay on Criticism. Rape of the Lock. The Messiah. The Iliad. Value of the Translation. The Odyssey. Essay on Man. The Artificial School. Estimate of Pope. Other Writers.
Alexander Pope is at once one of the greatest names in English literature and one of the most remarkable illustrations of the fact that the literature is the interpreter of English history. He was also a man of singular individuality, and may, in some respects, be considered a lusus naturae among the literary men of his day.
CONTEMPORARY HISTORY.—He was born in London on the 21st of May, 1688, the year which witnessed the second and final expulsion of the Stuarts, in direct line, and the accession of a younger branch in the persons of Mary and her husband, William of Orange. Pope comes upon the literary scene with the new order of political affairs. A dynasty had been overthrown, and the power of the parliament had been established; new charters of right had secured the people from kingly oppression; but there was still a strong element of opposition and sedition in the Jacobite party, which had by no means abandoned the hope of restoring the former rule. They were kept in check, indeed, during the reign of William and Mary, but they became bolder upon the accession of Queen Anne. They hoped to find their efforts facilitated by the fact that she was childless; and they even asserted that upon her death-bed she had favored the succession of the pretender, whom they called James III.
In 1715, the year after the accession of George I., the electoral prince of Hanover,—whose grandmother was the daughter of James I.,—they broke out into open rebellion. The pretender landed in Scotland, and made an abortive attempt to recover the throne. The nation was kept in a state of excitement and turmoil until the disaster of Culloden, and the final defeat of Charles Edward, the young pretender, in 1745, one year after the death of Pope.
These historical facts had a direct influence upon English society: the country was divided into factions; and political conflicts sharpened the wits and gave vigor to the conduct of men in all ranks. Pope was an interpreter of his age, in politics, in general culture, and in social manners and morals. Thus he was a politician among the statesmen Bolingbroke, Buckingham, Oxford, Sunderland, Halifax, Harley, and Marlborough. His Essay on Criticism presents to us the artificial taste and technical rules which were established as a standard in literature. His Essay on Man, his Moral Epistles, and his Universal Prayer are an index to the semi-Christian, semi-Grecian ethics of an age too selfish to be orthodox, and too progressive to be intolerant. His Rape of the Lock is a striking picture of social life, sketched by the hand of a gentle satire. His translations of Homer, and their great success, are significant of a more extended taste for scholarship; not attended, however, with many incentives to originality of production. The nobles were still the patrons of literature, and they fancied old things which were grand, in new and gaudy English dresses. The age was also marked by rapid and uniform progress in the English language. The sonorous, but cumbrous English of Milton had been greatly improved by Dryden; and we have seen, also, that the terse and somewhat crude diction of Dryden's earlier works had been polished and rendered more harmonious in his later poems.
This harmony of language seemed to Pope and to his patrons the chief aim of the poet, and to make it still more tuneful and melodious was the purpose of his life.
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE.—Pope was the son of a respectable linen-draper, who had achieved a competency and retired to enjoy it. The mother of the poet must have been a good one, to have retained the ardent and eulogistic affection of her son to the close of her life, as she did. This attachment is a marked feature in his biography, and at last finds vent in her epitaph, in which he calls her "mater optima, mulierum amantissima."
Pope was a sickly, dwarfed, precocious child. His early studies in Latin and Greek were conducted by priests of the Roman Catholic Church, to which his parents belonged; but he soon took his education into his own hands. Alone and unaided he pursued his classical studies, and made good progress in French and German.
Of his early rhyming powers he says:
"I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came."
At the age of twelve, he was taken to Will's Coffee-house, to see the great Dryden, upon whom, as a model, he had already determined to fashion himself.
His first efforts were translations. He made English versions of the first book of the Thebais of Statius; several of the stories of Chaucer, and one of Ovid's Epistles, all of which were produced before he was fifteen.
ESSAY ON CRITICISM.—He was not quite twenty-one when he wrote his Essay on Criticism, in which he lays down the canons of just criticism, and the causes which prevent it. In illustration, he attacks the multitude of critics of that day, and is particularly harsh in his handling of a few among them. He gained a name by this excellent poem, but he made many enemies, and among them one John Dennis, whom he had satirized under the name of Appius. Dennis was his life-long foe.
Perhaps there is no better proof of the lasting and deserved popularity of this Essay, than the numerous quotations from it, not only in works on rhetoric and literary criticism, but in our ordinary intercourse with men. Couplets and lines have become household words wherever the English language is spoken. How often do we hear the sciolist condemned in these words:
A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or touch not the Pierian spring?
Irreverence and rash speculation are satirized thus:
Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead, For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
We may waive a special notice of his Pastorals, which, like those of Dryden, are but clever imitations of Theocritus and anachronisms of the Alexandrian period. Of their merits, we may judge from his own words. "If they have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old authors, whose works as I had leisure to study, so I hope I have not wanted care to imitate."
RAPE OF THE LOCK.—The poem which displays most originality of invention is the Rape of the Lock. It is, perhaps, the best and most charming specimen of the mock-heroic to be found in English; and it is specially deserving of attention, because it depicts the social life of the period in one of its principal phases. Miss Arabella Fermor, one of the reigning beauties of London society, while on a pleasure party on the Thames, had a lock of her hair surreptitiously cut off by Lord Petre. Although it was designed as a joke, the belle was very angry; and Pope, who was a friend of both persons, wrote this poem to assuage her wrath and to reconcile them. It has all the system and construction of an epic. The poet describes, with becoming delicacy, the toilet of the lady, at which she is attended by obsequious sylphs.
The party embark upon the river, and the fair lady is described in the splendor of her charms:
This nymph, to the destruction of mankind, Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind In equal curls, and well conspired to deck, With shining ringlets, the smooth, ivory neck.
* * * * *
Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare. And beauty draws us by a single hair.
Surrounding sylphs protect the beauty; and one to whom the lock has been given in charge, flutters unfortunately too near, and is clipped in two by the scissors that cut the lock. It is a rather extravagant conclusion, even in a mock-heroic poem, that when the strife was greatest to restore the lock, it flew upward: