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His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.
I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical 'fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatick performances ; and indeed there is the less, as they do not appear in the collection to which this narration is to be annexed. It will be fit however to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity intrinsick or concomitant; for the composition and fate of eight and twenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.
In 1664 he published the Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer and a statesman. In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.
He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.
The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door ; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in the Rehearsal, when Bays tells how many reams he has printed, to instill into the audience some conception of his plot.
In this play is the description of Night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets.
The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced soon after the Restoration, as it seems, by the earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the Second, who had formed his taste by the French theatre ; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote, only to please, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than without it, very readily adopted his master's preference. He therefore made rhyming tragedies, till, by the prevalence of manifest propriety, he seems to have grown ashamed of making them any longer. .
To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatick rhyme, in confutation of the preface to the Duke of Lerma, in which Sir Robert Howard had censured it.
In 1667, he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which seems to be one of his inost elaborate works. • It is addressed to Sir Robert Howard, by a letter, which is not properly a dedication; and, writing to a poet, he has interspersed many critical observations, of which some are common, and some perhaps ventured without much consideration. He began, even now, to exercise the domination of conscious genius, by recommending his own performance : “ I am
" satisfied that as the Prince and General “ (Rupert and Monk) are incomparably the “ best subjects I ever had, so what I have writ“ ten on them is much better than what I “ have performed on any other. As I have “ endeavoured to adorn my poem with noble “ thoughts, so much more to express those " thoughts with elocution.”
It is written in quatrains, or heroick stanzas of four lines ; a measure which he had learned from the Gondibert of Davenant, and which he then thought the most majestick that the English language affords. Of this stanza he mentions the encumbrances, encreased as they were by the exactness which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much his custom to recommend his works, by representation of the difficulties that he had encountered, without appearing to have sufficiently considered, that where there is no difficulty there is no
* There seems to be in the conduct of Sir Robert Howard and Dryden towards each other, something that is not now easily to be explained. Dryden, in his dedication to the earl of Orrery, had defended dramatick rhyme; and Howard, in the preface to a collection of plays, had censured his opinion. Dryden" vindicated himself in his Dialogue on Dramatick Poetry; Howard, in his Preface to the Duke of Lerma, animadverted on the Vindication; and Dryden, in a Preface to the Indian Emperor, replied to the Animadversions with great asperity, and almost with contume. ly. The dedication to this play is dated the year in which the Annus Mirabilis was published. Here appears a strange inconsistency; S
but Langbaine affords fome help, by relating that the answer to Howard was not published in the edition of the play, but was added when it was afterwards reprinted ; and as the Duke of Lerma did not appear till 1668, the same year in which the Dialogue was published, there was time enough for enmity to grow up between authors, who, writing both for the theatre, were naturally r
He was now so much diftinguished, that in 1668 he succeeded Sir William Davenant as poet-laureat. The salary of the laureat had been raised in favour of Jonson, by Charles the Firft, from an hundred marks to one hundred pounds a year, and a tierce of wine ; a revenue in those days not inadequate to the conveniencies of life. :
The same year he published his Effay on Dramatick Poetry, an elegant and instructive dialogue ; in which we are told by Prior, that the principal character is meant to represent the duke of Dorset, The work seems to have given Addison a model for his Dialogues upon Medals.
. . Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen, is a tragicomedy. - In the preface he discusses a curious question, whether a poet can judge well of his own productions : and determines very justly, that, of the plan and disposition, and all that can be reduced to principles of science the author may depend upon his own opinion; but 'that, in those parts where fancy predominates, self-love may easily deceive. He might have observed, that what is good only because it pleases, cannot be pronounced good till it has been found to pleale.
Sir Martin Marall is a comedy, published without preface or dedication, and at first without the name of the author. Langbaine charges it, like most of the rest, with plagiarism; and observes that the song is translated from Voiture, allowing however that both the sense and measure are exactly observed.
The Tempest is an alteration of Shakespeare's play, made by Dryden in conjunction with Davenant, « whom, says he, I found of so “ quick a fancy, that nothing was proposed “ to him in which he could not suddenly pro• duce a thought extremely pleasant and sur“ prising; and those first thoughts of his, “ contrary to the Latin proverb, were not al“ ways the least happy : and as his fancy was “ quick, so likewise were the products of it
remote and new. He borrowed not of any “ other, and his imaginations were such as " could not easily enter into any other man.”
The effect produced by the conjunction of these two powerful minds was, that to Shakespeare's monster Caliban is added a sister-monster Sicorax; and a woman, who, in the ori. ginal play, had never seen a man, is in this brought acquainted with a man that had never seen a woman.
About this time, in 1673,Dryden seems to have had his quiet much disturbed by the success of the Empress of Morocco, a tragedy written in rhyme by Elkanah Settle; which was so much applauded, as to make him think his supremacy of reputation in some danger. Settle had not only been prosperous on the stage, but in the confidence of success had published his play, with sculptures and a preface of defiance. S 2