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[TO MR. DRYDEN:-These lines, of which Johnson says, "in his twentysecond year he first shewed his power of English poetry by some verses addressed to Dryden," hardly deserve the careful examination which Hurd has bestowed upon them. They were probably called forth by the publication of Tonson's Third Miscellany, which contained of Dryden's, beside a few songs, the first book of the Metamorphoses, with part of the ninth and sixteenth. Dryden, whom his politics and change of religion had driven, in his old age, to earn his bread by translating, was gratified by the applause of a promising scholar from the University of which he had writ
and an intercourse began, which if Macaulay's conjecture be true, had a decisive influence upon Addison's fortunes; for Dryden presented him to Congreve, and Congreve to Montague, afterwards Lord Halifax, one of his earliest and most efficient patrons.-G.]
TO MR. DRYDEN.
How long, great poet, shall thy sacred lays
Damp thy poetick heat, and quench thy rage?
Not so thy Ovid in his exile wrote,
Grief chill'd his breast, and check'd his rising thought;
Prevailing warmth has still thy mind possest,
Thou mak'st the beauties of the Romans known,b
a It would not be fair to criticise our author's poetry, especially the poetry of his younger days, very exactly. He was not a poet born; or, he had not studied, with sufficient care, the best models of English poetry. Whatever the cause might be, he had not the command of what Dryden so eminently possessed, a truly poetic diction. His poetry is only pure prose, put into verse. And
"Non satis est puris versum perscribere verbis."
However, it may not be amiss to point out the principal defects of his expression, that his great example may not be pleaded in excuse of them.
b Thou makest, vide after, Thou teachest. This way of using verbs of the present and imperfect tense, in the second person singular, should be utterly banished from our poetry. The sound is intolerable. Milton and others have rather chosen to violate grammar itself, than offend the ear thus unmercifully. This liberty may, perhaps, be taken sometimes, in the greater poetry; in odes especially. But the better way will generally be to turn the expression differently: As, 'Tis thine to teach, or in some such way.
Thy lines have heighten'd Virgil's majesty,
Now Ovid boasts a th' advantage of thy song,
And tells his story in the British tongue;
Thy charming verse, and fair translations, show
And frighted at himself, ran howling through the woods.
Have liv'd a second life, and different natures try'd.
A nobler change than he himself can tell.e
Mag. Coll. Oxon. June 2, 1693.
The Author's age 21.
a —th' advantage of thy song. An instance of unpoetical expression. b Thy charming verse and fair translations. The epithets too general and prosaic.
Alexandrines, as they are called, should never be admitted into this kind of verse. But Dryden's unconfined genius had given a sanction to
O mayst thou still, &c. See note in the preceding page. have stood thus: "Still may thy muse the noble task prolong.' ereveal-tell. Bad rhymes. There are other instances in this short poem; and in general Mr. Addison was a bad rhymist.
AN ACCOUNT OF
THE GREATEST ENGLISH POETS.
TO MR. H. S.1a APRIL 3, 1694.
SINCE, dearest Harry, you will needs request
That, down from Chaucer's days to Dryden's times,
To speak the undertaker's want of strength,
1 The Sacheverell to whom these lines were addressed, was, according to one account, a Manxman, who died young, leaving a history of the Isle of Man. He left his papers to Addison, and among them the plan of a tragedy on the death of Socrates. In this. case, Johnson's sarcasm is at fault, though it is somewhat strange that with the voucher for this fact among his own papers, he should not have corrected his mistake.-[Vide note to Johnson's Life of Addison.] But as is more generally believed, he was the celebrated Dr. Sacheverell, whose trial excited so much attention; and Addison is said, on the authority of Dr. Young, to have been in love with a sister of his.
This piece was first published in a miscellany, and never reprinted by Addison himself, who probably saw reason, in after years, to change some of his opinions. Johnson says he never printed it. The omission of Shakspeare's name has been often noticed. The finest passage is the lines on Milton.-G.
Henry Sacheverell, whose story is well known. Yet with all his follies, some respect may seem due to the memory of a man, who had merit in his youth, as appears from a paper of verses under his name, in Dryden's Miscellanies; and who lived in the early friendship of Mr. Addison.
b The introductory and concluding lines of this poem are a bad imitation of Horace's manner-Sermoni propiora. -Sermoni propiora. In the rest, the poetry is better than the criticism, which is right or wrong, as it chances; being echoed
from the common voice.
I'll try to make their several beauties known,
Long had our dull forefathers slept supine,
Old Spenser,1 next, warm'd with poetic rage,
Great Cowley then' (a mighty genius) wrote,
1 Old Spenser. Addison is said to have confessed that when he wrote this judgment, he had never read Spenser. In the Spectator he puts Spenser "in the same class with Milton."-G.
2. Great Cowley then. But if he had not read Spenser, he evidently had read Cowley, whose prose he must have admired, if for nothing else, for its freedom from the faults which are here so justly condemned in his