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the accumulation of testimony on the subject by the older generations. It was discussed between Hobbes and Davenant; it was meditated by the French poets; and Davenant in England, Chapelain and others in France, undertook to show by their example how the rules and principles of the Heroic Poem might be carried out in practice. Paradise Lost is one of those experiments. It is easy to pass by Gondibert, and to accept the unanimous judgment which disposes of Chapelain's Pucelle; but Milton's work was begun and carried out under the same critical principles, and no small part of his motive was the same learned ambition to embody the abstract form of Epic in a modern vernacular work. Like Ronsard and Tasso before him, like Davenant, like Chapelain, Desmarests, Scudéry, and Father Le Moyne, he was under the spell of the phantom Epic, the pure idea of a Virgilian poem. The heroic poem was an unbodied ghost that might choose for the habit of its earthly life either the story of Paradise or that of the Round Table; just as the tragedy which is Samson Agonistes might have. been Samson Hybristes or Pursophorus, or even Solomon Gynæcocratumenus, or any other of the inventions noted by Milton in his list of subjects in the Trinity MS. The abstract inspiration of the Virgilian form of Epic, or of the Euripidean form of Tragedy, before the subject was determined at all, must count for more than a little in the history of Milton's poetry; to realize the importance of these abstract ideas is one of the first requisites in coming to the study of Dryden's critical essays. His freedom cannot be rightly estimated except in relation to the potent authorities with which he had to deal.
Dryden's attitude towards the pure abstract Forms of Poetry is not very difficult to understand when once
their character has been appreciated. He had read and admired the Latin poets. He appreciated clear reasoning and exposition, such as he found in Rapin and Bossu, and he was not by nature inclined to dissent from established opinion without sufficient cause. He shows respect to the orthodox views wherever he can. The worship of the pure form and the ambition to realize it affected him strongly; for example, in his theory of Heroic Plays, and in his contemplated Epic on King Arthur. But he will not make it a point of honour or of faith to enforce the principles of Heroic Poetry. His original work is determined by present conditions of taste (among which of course a respect for orthodox literary canons must count for something), and his general criticism, having always a reference to his own present undertakings, follows his judgment of what is desirable and feasible for him (or for contemporary English authors) at the moment. The patterns of literature have to demean themselves accordingly. Dryden is willing to pay reverence to the Heroic Poem and to the ideal of Tragedy: it never occurs to him to hesitate. But he does not 'believe what he knows to be untrue,' and nothing is further from his thoughts than to impose on his fellows a bondage like that of Trissino in Italy or Gabriel Harvey in England -two similar spirits in their flat, uncompromising zeal for the purity of classical example, and in their abhorrence of anything like modern novelty. The rules of the pedants are a different thing from the genial influence of the great ancient poets, and they are treated by Dryden in a different way. He felt strongly the conventional obligation to admire the classical poets; but this element of convention or duty was corrected by his natural liking for good literature wherever he found it, and he was able to think of Virgil and Ovid without
prejudice when he came to close quarters with their works.
III. DRYDEN AND CORNEILLE.
Dryden's position in criticism is very like that of two of his forerunners, Tasso and Corneille, both of whom felt themselves obliged on the one hand to pay reverence to the Ancients, and on the other hand to consider their own genius and the claims of contemporary fashion. With Tasso's critical opinions, as stated in the book of 1587, Discorsi e Lettere Poetiche, Dryden was well acquainted, though they do not seem to have taught him anything that he did not know before; from Corneille's essays in the 1660 edition of his plays, Dryden seems to have got, if not the original impulse to write freely about his literary opinions, at any rate a quickening of interest in critical discussion which left its effects on all his later writings.
The history of Corneille's original work, and of his relation to literary ideals and criticism, is very like that of Dryden. He began writing before the Unities were much thought of, as Dryden began in the older 'metaphysical' manner, before the complete establishment of the reforms of Waller. He saw the progress of 'correct' ideas, and felt himself obliged to conform to them, as Dryden was obliged to withdraw from the variegated pattern of Annus Mirabilis, which is full of 'metaphysical' conceits, in favour of a more coherent and less capricious mode of poetical elocution, that of Absalom and Achitophel. Like Dryden, Corneille had to come to an understanding with himself about the meaning and the authority of the rules of Poetry; like Dryden, he had an original love of freedom; it was his business as a critic to find some compromise between freedom and authority, to explain the laws of Poetry
in such a way as to reserve for himself the faculty of doing his own work without undue sacrifices. The great difference between Corneille and Dryden is that Corneille in his criticism was limited to the Drama, to the kind of composition in which he was at home, for which he had a natural gift. It detracts somewhat from the value of Dryden's essays that so many of them are concerned with kinds of work for which he was not suited. Corneille is at the centre; he has made the province of Tragedy his own before he begins to write about it as an expositor. Dryden began to write as a critic of the Drama while he was still finding his way, and, unhappily, where there was no satisfactory way to be found. The difference in situation between Corneille and Dryden is that Corneille is a master reviewing the work he has already done and explaining it; Dryden is a master of forms of poetry not dramatic, trying in his dramatic essays to find his way into provinces not his own, to plant a new dramatic colony, by artifice if not by violence, in place of the older kinds of drama which he sees to be exhausted. The fault of his prefaces is that they make one disappointed with his plays, when one comes to them after his criticisms. This is not the case with his non-dramatic work; there the drawback is of another kind, namely, that so much of his Discourses on Satire (the Preface to Juvenal) and on Epic (the Dedication of the Æneis) is mere unoriginal learning, without the freshness of the earlier essays. For this, however, there is compensation, and something more, in the glorious Preface to the Fables, written more than thirty years after the Essay of Dramatic Poetry, and fully its equal in liveliness and vigour. The earlier essays are generally concerned with Drama, the later with other forms of composition. It may be remarked, however, that the distinction is rather a superficial one, for various
reasons, and principally on account of that worship of the Heroic Poem already referred to. The 'Heroic Plays' of the sixties and early seventies in that century had their origin in the Epic Poem: they were to transfer the ideal of Epic, as far as might be, to the stage. They were not from the beginning dramatic; the Heroic Plays were in their origin narrative, and the points most considered by their authors were not dramatic, but moral, such as the character of the Hero, or rhetorical, such as the proper sort of verse. Hence the Preface to Annus Mirabilis, with its notes on heroic poetry and on poetical expression, is not out of place among the dramatic criticisms, for much of Dryden's dramatic criticism is taken up with these non-dramatic subjects; the essay Of Heroic Plays is an essay on Epic Poetry. Hence, quite naturally, the Preface to the State of Innocence (Dryden's dramatic version of Paradise Lost) is An Apology for Heroic Poetry and Poetic Licence, with hardly a reference to Drama. Thus if Dryden's interest in the Drama is at times half-hearted, and different from the single-minded devotion of Corneille, he makes up for it by his digressions into the other kinds where he feels himself more at home. And also in another way: for if he cannot explain the secrets of the dramatic workshop with the same confidence and intimate knowledge as Corneille, he has more to admire in the authors of the previous generation, and more power of admiring them. Dryden on Shakespeare is unlike any other critic there are as yet no commentators, there is no general opinion on the subject, or none worth considering thought is free'; and what Dryden thinks about Shakespeare is, like Ben Jonson's estimate, on this side idolatry. But if Dryden speaks about Shakespeare with little anticipation of the vast multitude and the many voices that were to follow him with their praises,