Obrázky stránek

ter of the English language, and a writer of much more lively imagination and expression, has, in general, greatly exceeded his master in conceiving and bringing out the far-fetched ideas and images, with which each has graced his poem. D'Avenant is often harsh and turgid, and the construction of his sentences extremely involved. Dryden has his obscure, and even unintelligible, passages ; but they arise from the extravagance of the idea, not from the want of power to express it. For example, D'Avenant says,

Near her scems crucified that lucky thief,

In heaven's dark lottery prosperous more than wise,
Who groped at last by chance for heaven's relief,

And throngs undoes with hopes by one drawn prize.

We here perfectly understand the author's meaning, through his lumbering and unpoetical expression; but, in the following stanza, Dryden is unintelligible, because he had conceived an idea approaching to nonsense, while the words themselves are both poetical and expressive :

Then we upon our globe's last verge shall go,

And view the ocean leaning on the sky;
From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know,

And on the lunar world securely pry.

In short, Dryden never fails in the power of elegant expression, till he ventures upon something which it is impossible to express.

The love of conceit and point, that inveterate though decaying disease of the literature of the time, has not failed to infect the Annus Mirabilis. That monstrous verse, in which the extinction of the fire is described, cannot be too often quoted, both to expose the meanness of the image, and the confusion of the metaphor; for it will be noticed, that the extinguisher, so unhappily conceived, is not even employed in its own mean office. The flames of London are first a tallow candle; and secondly hawks, which, while pouncing on their quarry, are hooded with an extinguisher:

An hollow crystal pyramid he takes,

In firmamental waters dipt above;
Of it a broad extinguisher he makes,

And hoods the flames that to their quarry drove.

Passages also occur, in which, from the author's zealous desire to be technically minute, the style becomes low and vulgar. There is no doubt, that, as Dryden has observed, the proper terms of art may be not only justly, but with the highest advantage, employed in poetry; but such technical phrases require to be se. lected with great judgment: they must bear relation to some striking and important object, or they are mean and trivial; and they must be at once generally intelligible, and more expressive in themselves than ordinary language, or they are unnecessarily obscure and pedantic. Dryden has failed in both these points, in his account of the repairs of the fleet. Stanza 148, in particular, combines the faults of meanness and unnecessary obscurity, from the affected use of the dialect of the dock-yard :

Some the galled ropes with dawby marline bind,

Or searcloth masts with strong tarpawling coals:
To try new shrouds one mounts into the wind,

And one below their ease or stiffness notes.

Other examples might be produced of the faults of this remarkable poem ; but it is time to say, that they are much overbalanced by its beauties. If Dryden is sometimes obscure, from the extravagance of his imagination, or the far-fetched labour of his similes, and if his desire to use appropriate language has occasionally led him into low and affected minuteness, this poem exhibits a far greater number of instances of happy and judicious illustration, beautiful description, and sublime morality. The comparison of the secret rise of the fire of London to the obscure birth of an usurper, is doubly striking, when we consider how closely the passage may be understood to bear reference to the recent domination of the Protector. + I will not load these preliminary observations, by inserting the whole of the striking passage, on the different manner in which the night, after the battle of the first of June, was passed on board the English and Dutch fleets ; but certainly the 71st stanza will not lose, by being an hundred times quoted :

In dreams they fearful precipices tread;

Or, shipwrecked, labour to some distant shore;
Or in dark churches walk among the dead;

They wake with horror, and dare ecp no more.

The verses, in which Prince Rupert and his enemy are compared to a greyhound and hare, after a course so desperate as totally to exhaust both, have been always considered as exquisitely beautiful. * The description of the Loyal London partakes of the beauties and faults which are dispersed through the poem. Nothing can be more majestic than her description, “firing the air with her sanguine streamers,” and “ riding upon her shadow in floating gold.” We lament, that the weaver should have been so fascinated with his labours as to commence seaman; and still more, that, after describing her “roomy decks," and " depth of draught,” she should furnish no grander simile than that of

* See stanza 146. and those which follow. + Stanzas 213, 214.

See stanzas 131, 132. I wish, however, our author had spared avouching himself to have been eye-witness to so marvellous a chase. The “ so have

a sea-wasp floating on the waves.

More unqualified approbation may be justly afforded to the whole description of the Dutch homeward-bound fleet, captured in sight of their desired haven; and the fine moral lessons which the poet takes the opportunity to inculcate, from so unexpected an incident. The 34th stanza has a tenderness and simplicity, which

every lover of true poetry must admire:

This careful husband had been long away,

Whom bis chaste wife and little children mourn;
Who on their fingers learned to tell the day

On which their father promised to return.

I will only point out to attention the beautiful and happily ex. pressed simile of the eagle in stanzas 107 and 108, and then, in imitation of honest John Bunyan,

No more detain the readers in the porch,

Or keep them from the day-light with a torch. The title of Annus Mirabilis did not, according to Mr Malone, originate with Dryden; a prose tract, so intitled, being published in 1662. * Neither was he the last that used it; for, the learned

I seen” should be confined to things which are not only possible, but, in a certain degree, of ordinary occurrence. Dryden's ocular testimony is not, however, so incredible as that of the bard, who averred,

So have I seen, in Araby the blest,

A Phænix couched upon her funeral nest. Sach chaces, if not frequent, have sometimes happened. In the north of England, in ancient days, a stag and a famous greyhound, called Hercules, after a desperate course, were found dead within a few paces of each other, and interred with this inscription :

Hercules killed Hart of grece,

And Hart of grece killed Hercules. * MALONE's Prose Works of Dryden, Vol. III. p. 250.


editor of “ Predictions and Observations, collected from Mr J. Partridge's Almanacks for 1687 and 1688,” has so entitled his astrological lucubrations,

The Annus Mirabilis was first printed in octavo, in 1667, the year succeeding that which was the sụbject of the poem. The quarto edition of 1688, which seems very correct, has been employed in correcting that of Derrick in a few trifting instances.









As, perhaps, I am the first who ever presented a work of this nature to the metropolis of any nation, so it is likewise consonant to justice, that he, who was to give the first example of such a dedication, should begin it with that city, which has set a pattern to all others, of true loyalty, invincible courage, and unshaken constancy. Other cities have been praised for the same virtues, but I am much deceived if any have so dearly purchased their reputation: their fame has been won them by cheaper trials than an expensive, though necessary war, a consuming pestilence, and a more consuming fire. To submit yourselves with that humility to the judgments of heaven, and, at the same time, to raise yourselves with that vigour above all human enemies; to be combated at once from above, and from

« PředchozíPokračovat »