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ANNUS MIRABILIS;

THE

YEAR OF WONDERS,

1666,

AN HISTORICAL POEM.

VOL. IX.

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ANNUS MIRABILIS.

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This is the first poem of any length which Dryden gave to the public. Formerly he had only launched out in occasional verses, and, in some instances, on subjects of no prominent importance He now spread a broader canvas, and prepared to depict a inore extensive and magnificent scene.

The various incidents of an eventful war between two powerful nations, who disputed the trident of the ocean, and the tremendous fire, which had laid London in ashes, were subjects which still continued to agitate the bosoms of his countrymen. These, therefore, he ventured to assume as the theme of his poem; and his choice is justified by the eflects which it yet produces upon the reader.

There would have been no doubt, even had the author hiinselt been silent, that he followed D’Avenant in the choice of the elegiac stanza, in which the Annus Mirabilis is composed. It is sounding and harmonious to the ear; and perhaps Dryden still annexed to the couplet the idea of that harshness, which was so long its characteristick in the hands of our early English writers. But the fourlined stanza has also its peculiar disadvantages ; and they are admirably stated by the judicious critic, who first turned the Editor's eyes, and probably those of many others, on the neglected poem of “Gondibert.”---"The necessity of comprising a sentence within the limits of the measure, is the tyranny of Procrustes to thought. For the sake of a disagreeable uniformity, expression must constantly be cramped or extenuated. In general, the latter expedient will be practised as the easiest; and thus both sertiment and language will be enfeebled by unmeaning expletives.”

It is nevertheless true, that Dryden has very seldom suffered his poem to languish. Every stanza presents us either with vivid description, or with some strong thought, which is seldom suffered to glide intu tenuity. But this structure of verse has often laid him under an odd and rather unpleasing necessity, of filling up his stanza, by coupling a simile, or a moral, expressed in the two last lines, along with

Essay by Dr Aikin on the Heroic Poem of “Gondibert.”

the fact, which had been announced in the two first. When these comments, or illustrations, however good in themselves, appear to be intruded upon the narrative or description, and not naturally to flow out of either, they must be considered as defects in composition; and a kind of versification, which compels frequent recurrence to such expedients for filling up the measure, has a disadvantage, for which mere harmony can hardly compensate. In the passages which follow, there is produced a stiff and awkward kind of balance between the story and the poet's reflections and illustrations.

Lawson among the foremost met his fate,

Whom sea-green Sirens from the rocks lament:
Thus as an offering for the Grecian state,

He first was killed, who first to battle went.

To nearest ports their shattered ships repair,

Where by our dreadful cannon they lay awed :
So reverently men quit the open air,

Where thunder speaks the angry gods abroad.

Like hunted castors, conscious of their store,

Their way-laid wealth to Norway's coasts they bring;
There first the North's cold bosom spices bore,

And winter brnoded on the eastern spring.

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When, after such verses, we find one in which the author ex. presses a single idea so happily, as just to fill up the quatrain, thic difference is immediately visible, betwixt a simile easiiy and naturally introduced, and stanzas made up and levelled with what a poet of those times wouid perhaps have ventured to call the travelled earth of versification :

And now four days the sun had seen our woes;

Four nights the moon beheld the incessant fire;
It seemed as if the stars more sickly rose,

And farther from the feverish north retire.

Of all these difficulties our author seems to have been aware, from his preliminary epistle to Sir Robert Howard; and it was probably the experimental conviction, that they were occasionally invincible, which induced him thenceforward to desert the quatrain ; although he has decided that stanza to be more noble, and of greater dignity, both for the sound and number, than

ary

other verse in use among us.

The turn of composition, as well as the structure of the verse, is adopted from "Gondibert." But Dryden, more completely mas

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