Imagens da página

though Denham, Waller, and Cowley, had tried to give examples of a different practice.

In 1681, Dryden became yet more confpicuous by uniting politicks with poetry, in the memorable satire called Abfalom and Achitophel, written againft the faction which, by lord Shaftesbury's incitement, set the duke of Monmouth at its head.

Of this poem, in which personal satire was applied to the support of publick principles, and in which therefore every mind was interested, the reception was eager, and the sale so large, that my father, an old bookfeller, told me, he had not known it equalled but by Sachevereľ's trial. .. The reason of this general perusal Addison has attempted to derive from the delight which the mind feels in the investigation of secrets ; and thinks that curiofity to decypher the names procured readers to the poem. There is no need to enquire why those verses were read, which, to all the attractions of wit, elegance, and harmony, added the co-operation of all the factious passions, and filled every mind with triumph or resentment.

It could not be supposed that all the provocation given by Dryden would be endured without resistance or reply. Both his perfon and his party were exposed in their turns to the shafts of satire, which, though neither so well pointed nor perha

rhaps lo well aimed, undoubt. edly drew blood.

One of these poems is called Dryden's Satire on his Muse; afcribed, though, as Pope says, falsely, to Somers, who was afterwards Chancellor. The poem, whose soever it was, has


much virulence, and some spriteliness. The writer tells all the ill that he can collect, both of Dryden and his friends.

The poem of Absalom and Achitophel had two answers, now both forgotten ; one called Azaria and Hushai; the other, Absalom fenior. Of these hostile compositions, Dryden apparently imputes Àbsalom senior to Settle, by quoting in his verses against him the second line. Azaria and Huskai was, as Wood says; imputed to him, though it is somewhat unlikely that he should write twice on the same occasion. This is a difficulty which I cannot remove, for want of a minuter knowledge of poetical transactions.

The same year he published the Medal, of which the subject is a medal struck on lord Shaftesbury's escape from a prosecution, by the ignoramus of a grand jury of Londoners.

In both poems he maintains the same principles, and saw them both attacked by the same antagonist. Elkanah Settle, who had answered Absalom, appeared with equal courage in opposition to the Medal, and published an answer called The Medal reverfed, with so much success in both encounters, that he left the palm doubtful, and divided the suffrages of the nation. Such are the revolutions of fame, or such is the prevalence of fashion, that the man whose works have not yet been thought to deserve the care of collecting them ; who died forgotten in an hospital; and whose latter years we

s were 1pent in contriving shows for fairs, and carrying an elegy or epithalamium, of which the beginning and end were occasionally varied, but the intermediate parts were alU 2


ways the same, to every house where there was a funeral or a wedding; might, with truth, have had inscribed upon

Here lies the Rival and Antagonist of Dryden.

Settle was, for this rebellion, severely chaftised by Dryden under the name of Doeg, in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, and was perhaps for his fáctious audacity made the city poet, whose annual office was to describe the glories of the Mayor's day. Of these bards he was the last, and seems not much to have deserved even this degree of regard, if it was paid to his political opinions ; for he afterwards wrote a panegyrick on the virtues of judge Jefferies, and what more could have been done by the meanest zealot for prerogative?

Of translated fragments, or occasional poems, to enumerate the titles, or settle the dates, would be tedious, with little use. It may be observed, that as Dryden's genius was commonly excited by some personal regard, he rarely writes upon a general topick.

Soon after the accession of king James, when the defign of reconciling the nation to the church of Rome became apparent, and the religion of the court gave the only efficacious title to its favours, Dryden declared himself a convert to popery. This at any other time might have passed with little censure. Sir Keneim Digby embraced popery; the two Rainholds reciprocally converted one another; and Chillingworth himself was a while fo entangled in the wilds of controversy, as to retire for quiet to an infallible church. If men of argument and study can find such difficulties,


or fuch motives, as may either unite them to the church of Rome, or detain them in uncertainty, there can be no wonder that a man, who perhaps never enquired why he was a protestant, should by an artful and experienced disputant be made a papift, overborne by the sudden violence of new and unexpected arguments, or deceived by a representation which shews only the doubts on one part, and only the evidence on the other.

That conversion will always be suspected that apparently concurs with interest. He that never finds his error till it hinders his progress towards wealth or honour, will not be thought to love Truth only for herself. Yet it may easily happen that information may come at a commodious time; and as truth and interest are not by any fatal necessity at variance, that one may by accident introduce the other. When opinions are struggling into popularity, the arguments by which they are opposed or defended become more known; and he that changes his profession would perhaps have changed it before, with the like opportunities of instruction. This was then the state of popery ; every artifice was used to shew it in its fairest form; and it must be owned to be a religion of external appearance sufficiently a

It is natural to hope that a comprehensive is likewise an elevated soul, and that whoever is wise is also honest. I am willing to believe that Dryden, having employed his mind, active as it was, upon different studies, and filled it, capacious as it was, with other materials, came unprovided to the controversy, and wanted rather skill to discover the right than


virtue to maintain it. But enquiries into the heart are not for man; we must now leave him to his Judge.

The priests, having strengthened their cause by so powerful an adherent, were not long before they brought him into action. They engaged him to defend the controversial papers found in the strong-box of Charles the Second, and, what yet was harder, to defend them against Stillingfieet.

With hopes of promoting popery, he was employed to translate Maimbourg's History of the League ; which he published, with a large Introduction. His name is likewise prefixed to the English Life of Francis Xavier; but I know not that he ever owned himself the translator. Perhaps the use of his name was a pious fraud, which however seems not to have had much effect; for neither of the books, I believe, was ever popular.

The version of Xavier's Life is commended by Brown, in a pamphlet not written to flatter; and the occasion of it is said to have been, that the Queen, when she solicited a son, made vows to him as her tutelary saint.

He was supposed to have undertaken to tranNate Varillas's History of Herepes; and when Burnet published Remarks upon it, to have written an Answer ; upon which Burnet makes the following observation :

"I have been informed from England, that “ a gentleman, who is famous both for poe“ try and several other things, had spent three “ months in translating M. Varillas's History; “ but that, as soon as my Reflections appear“ ed, he discontinued his labour, finding the

" credit

« AnteriorContinuar »