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might lose the reputation which Lucretius had given him.
Of this charge we immediately discover that it is merely conjectural; the purpose was such as no man would confess ; and a crime that admits no proof, why should we believe?
He has been described as magisterially presiding over the younger writers, and assuming the distribution of poetical fame; but he who excels has a right to teach, and he whose judgement is incontestable may, without usurpation, examine and decide.
Congreve represents him as ready to advise and instruct; but there is reason to believe that his communication was rather useful than entertaining. He declares of himself that he was saturnine, and not one of those whose spritely sayings diverted company; and one of his censurers makes him say,
Nor wine nor love could ever see me gay;
There are men whose powers operaţe only at leisure and in retirement, and whose intellectual vigour deserts them in conversation ; whom merriment confuses, and objection disconcerts; whose bashfulness restrains their exertion, and suffers them not to speak till the time of speaking is past; or whose attention to their own character makes them unwilling to utter at hazard what has not been considered, and cannot be recalled. .
Of Dryden's sluggishness in conversation it is vain to search or to guess the cause. He certainly wanted neither sentiments nor language; his intellectual treasures were great, though they were locked up from his own use.
ertainly, walintellectual trio from his o
His thoughts, when he wrote, flowed in upon him so fast, that bis only care was which to chuse, and which to reject. Such rapidity of composition naturally promises a flow of talk, yet we must be content to believe what an enemy says of him, when he likewise says it of himself. But whatever was his character as a companion, it appears that he lived in familiarity with the highest persons of his time. It is related by Carte, of the duke of Ormond, that he used often to pass a night with Dryden, and those with whom Dryden consorted : who they were Carte has not told; but certainly the convivial table at which Ormond sat was not surrounded with a plebeian society. He was indeed reproached with boasting of his familiarity with the great; and Horace will support him in the opinion, that to please superiours is not the lowest kind of merit.
The merit of pleasing must, however, be estimated by the means. Favour is not al. ways gained by good actions or laudable qualities. Caresses and preferments are often bestowed on the auxiliaries of vice, the procurers of pleasure, or the flatterers of vanity. Dryden has never been charged with any personal agency unworthy of a good character: he abetted vice and vanity only with his pen. One of his enemies has accused' him of lewdness in his conversation ; but if accusation without proof be credited, who shall be innocent?
His works afford too many examples of dissolute licentiousness, and abject adulation; but they were probably, like his merriment, artificial and constrained ; the effects of study
and meditation, and his trade rather than his pleasure.
Of the mind that can trade in corruption, and can deliberately pollute itself with ideal wickedness for the sake of spreading the contagion in society, I wish not to conceal or excuse the depravity:-Such degradation of the dignity of genius, such abule of superlative abilities, cannot be contemplated but with grief and indignation. What consolation can be had, Dryden has afforded, by living to repent, and to testify his repentance.
Of dramatick immorality he did not want examples among his predecessors, or companions among his contemporaries; but in the meanness and servility of hyperbolical adulation, I know not whether, since the days in which the Roman emperors were deified, he has been ever equalled, except by Afra Behn in an address to Eleanor Gwyn. When once he has undertaken the task of praise, he no longer retains shame in himself, nor fupposes it in his patron. As many odoriferous bodies are observed to diffuse perfumes from year to year, without sensible diminution of bulk or weight, he appears never to have impoverished his mint of flattery by his expences, however lavish. He had all the forms of excellence, intellectual and moral, combined in his mind, with endless variation; and when he had scattered on the hero of the day the golden shower of wit and virtue, he had ready for him, whom he wished to court on the morrow, new wit and virtue with another stamp. Of this kind of meanness he never feems to decline the practice, or lament the
necessity: he considers the great as entitled to encomiaftick homage, and brings praise rather as a tribute than a gift, more delighted with the fertility of his invention than mortified by the prostitution of his judgement. It is indeed not certain, that on these occasions his judgement much rebelled against his interest. There are minds which easily sink into fubmifsion, that look on grandeur with undistinguishing reverence, and discover no defect where there is elevation of rank and affluence of riches.
With his praises of others and of himself is always intermingled a strain of discontent and lamentation, a sullen growl of resentment, or a querulous murmur of distress. His works are under-valued, his merit is unre. warded, and he has few thanks to pay his stars that he was born among Englishmen. To his criticks he is sometimes contemptuous, sometimes refentful, and sometimes submissive. The writer who thinks his works formed for duration, mistakes his interest when he mentions his enemies. He degrades his own dignity by shewing that he was affected by their censures,and gives lasting importance to names, which, left to themselves, would vanish from remembrance. From this principle Dryden did not oft depart ; his complaints are, for the greater part, general; he feldom pollutes his page with an adverse name. He condescended indeed to a controversy with Settle, in which he perhaps may be considered rather as affaulting than repelling; and since Settle has sunk into oblivion, his libel remains injurious only to himself.
Among Among answers to criticks, no poetical attacks, or altercations, are to be included : they are, like other poems, effusions of genius, produced as much to obtain praise as to obviate censure. These Dryden practised, and in these he excelled.
Of Collier, Blackmore, and Milbourne, he has made mention in the preface to his Fables. To the cenfure of Collier, whose remarks may be rather termed admonitions than criticisms, he makes little reply; being, at the age of fixty-eight, attentive to better things than the claps of a playhouse. He complains of Collier's rudenels, and the borse-play of his raillery; and asserts that in many places be bas perverted by his glosses the meaning of what he censures; but in other things he confesses that he is justly taxed; and says, with great calmness and candour, I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts or expressions of mine that can be truly accused of obscenity, immorality, or profaneness, and retračt them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he be my friend, be will be glad of my repentance. Yet, as our best dispositions are imperfect, he left standing in the same book a reflection on Collier of great asperity, and indeed of more asperity than wit.
Blackmore he represents as made his enemy by the poem of Absalom and Achitophel, which be thinks a little bard upon bis fanatick patrons ; and charges him with borrowing the plan of his Arthur from the preface to Juvenal, though be bad, says he, the baseness not to acknowledge bis benefactor, but instead of it to traduce me in a libel,