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And tho' by tempests of the prize bereft,
In heaven's inclemency some ease we find: Our foes we vanquish'd by our valour left, And only yielded to the seas and wind.
In this manner is the sublime too often mingled with the ridiculous. The Dutch seek a shelter for a wealthy fleet: this surely needed no illustration, yet they must fly, not like all the rest of mankind on the same occasion, but like hunted castors; and they might with strict propriety be hunted; for we winded them by our noses—their perfumes betrayed them. The Husband and the Lover, though of more dignity than the Castor, are images too domestick to mingle properly with the horrors of war. The two quatrains that follow are worthy of the author.
The account of the different sensations with which the two fleets retired, when the night parted them, is one of the fairest flowers of English poetry. The night comes on, we eager to pursue
The combat still, and they asham’d to leave: Till the last streaks of dying day withdrew, And doubtful moon-light did our rage de
ceive. In th’ English fleet each ship resounds with
joy, And loud applause of their great leader's fame: In firy dreams the Dutch they still destroy,
And, slumbering, smile at the imagin'd flame. Not so the Holland fleet, who, tir'd and done,
Stretch'd on their decks like weary oxen lie; Faint sweats all down their mighty members
run, (Vast bulks which little souls but ill supply.) In dreams they fearful precipices tread,
Or, shipwreck’d, labour to fome distant shore: Or, in dark churches, walk among the dead; They wake with horror, and dare sleep no
more. It is a general rule in poetry, that all appropriated terms of art should be sunk in general expressions, because poetry is to speak an universal language. This rule is still stronger with regard to arts not liberal, or confined to few, and therefore far removed from common knowledge; and of this kind, certainly, is technical navigation. Yet Dryden was of opinion that a sea-fight ought to be described in the nautical language; and certainly, says he, as those who in a logical disputation keep to general terms would hide a fallacy, so those who do it in any poetical description would veil their ignorance.
Let us then appeal to experience; for by experience at last we learn as well what will please as what will profit. In the battle, his terms seem to have been blown away ; but he deals them liberally in the dock:
So here some pick out bullets from the sides, Some drive old okum thro' each seam and
rift: Their left-hand does the calking iron guide,
The rattling mallet with the right they lift. With boiling pitch another near at hand (From friendly Sweden brought) the seams
instops: Which, well laid o'er, the falt-sea waves
withstand, And thake them from the rising beak in drops.
Some the galld ropes with dawby marling
bind, Or fear-cloth masts with strong tarpawling
coats: To try new shrouds one mounts into the
wind, And one below, their ease or stiffness notes.
I suppose here is not one term which every reader does not wish away.
His digression to the original and progress of navigation, with his prospect of the advance. ment which it shall receive from the Royal Society, then newly instituted, may be considered as an example feldom equalled of seasonable excursion and artful return.
One line, however, leaves me discontented; he says, that, by the help of the philosophers, Instructed ships shall fail to quick commerce, By which remotest regions are allied.— Which he is constrained to explain in a note, By a more exact measure of longitude. It had better become Dryden's learning and genius to have laboured science into poetry, and have shewn, by explaining longitude, that verse did not refuse the ideas of philosophy
His description of the Fire is painted by resolute meditation, out of a mind better formed to reason than to feel. The conflagration of a city, with all its tumults of concomitant distress, is one of the most dreadful spectacles which this world can offer to human eyes; yet it seems to raise little emotion in the breast of the poet; he watches the flame coolly from street to street, with now a reflection, and now a simile, till at last he meets the king, for whom he makes a speech, rather tedious in
a time fo busy; and then follows again the progress of the fire.
There are, however, in this part some parsages that deserve attention; as in the beginning.
The diligence of trades and noiseful gain
All was the night's, and in her filent reign
The expression All was the night's is taken from Seneca, who remarks on Virgil's line, Omnia noctis erant placida composta quiete, that he might have concluded better, Omnia noctis erant.
The following quatrain is vigorous and animated. The ghosts of traytors from the bridge def
cend With bold fanatick spectres to rejoice;
About the fire into a dance they bend And sing their fabbath notes with feeble voice.
His prediction of the improvements which shall be made in the new city is elegant and poetical, and, with an event which Poets cannot always boalt, has been happily verified. The poem concludes with a simile that might have better been omitted.
Dryden, when he wrote this poem, seems not yet fully to have formed his versification, or settled his system of propriety.
From this time, he addicted himself almost wholly to the stage, to which, says he, my genius never much inclined me, merely as the most profitable market for poetry. By writing tragedies in rhyme he continued to improve his
diction and his numbers. According to the opinion of Harte, who had studied his works with great attention, he settled his principles of versification in 1676, when he produced the play of Aureng Zéb; and according to his own account of the short time in which he wrote Tyrannick Love, and the State of Innocence, he soon obtained the full effect of diligence, and added facility
exactness. Rhyme has been so banished from the theatre, that we know not its effect upon the passions of an audience; but it has this convenience, that sentences stand more independent on each other, and striking passages are therefore easily selected and retained. Thus the description of Night in the Indian Emperor, and the rise and fall of empire in the Conquest of Granada are more frequently repeated than any lines in All for Love, or Don Sebastian.
To search his plays for vigorous sallies, and fententious elegancies, or to fix the dates of any little pieces which he wrote by chance, or by solicitation, were labour too tedious and minute.
His dramatick labours did not so wholly abforb his thoughts but that he promulgated the laws of translation in a preface to the English Epistles of Ovid, one of which he translated himself, and another in conjunction with the earl of Mulgrave.
Absalom and Achitophel is a work so well known, that particular criticism is superfluous. If it be considered as a poem political and controversial, it will be found to comprise all the excellencies of which the subject is sufceptible; acrimony of censure, elegance of