Page images

and yet they never suffer themselves to be appeased.

The revolution of 1688 arose from the scaffold Sidney, with the steam of the blood of the holocaust ! This bloody dew is now falling, and the England of 1688 is disappearing.




It may seem parodoxical to assert that English poetry suffered from the inroad of French taste, at the very moment when Dryden appeared upon the stage; but every language which divests itself of its originality, to addict itself to imitation, spoils, even whilst it improves, itself. Shakspeare and Milton remained purely English; how far have they not left Dryden behind them!

The spirit of the revolution of 1649 was derived from religious enthusiasm and moral austerity; the restoration of 1660 was that of indifference and libertinism. "You are the worst subject in my kingdom," said Charles II. to Shaftesbury; "Very true, Sire," was his reply; " your Majesty is not a subject."

These re-actions are unavoidable: the moroseness

of the close of the reign of Louis XIV. was followed by the corruption of the Regency. When the Reign of Terror ceased, the most barefaced immorality was at its height; in sight of the still warm and palpitating corpses of parents, whose heads were clasped in the arms or rolling at the feet of their children, these children indulged in the amusement of balls and dancing.

Dryden corrected and gave a finish to English poetry, in imitation of all civilised languages, which have called art to the aid of nature, and subjected the latter to rules. Pope thus characterises the merit of Dryden:

Dryden taught to join

The varying verse, the full resounding line,
The long majestic march, and energy divine.

This opinion proves that we are no longer in the unfettered days of the author of Macbeth, but that we have reached Boileau's academic age.

Dryden is himself the founder of criticism among his fellow-countrymen; his dialogues and dramatic poetry are still read. He laboured during thirty years for the stage, without attaining the nature and vividness of Shakspeare, or the pathos of Otway. "Dryden who was, in other respects, a great genius," says Voltaire," makes his enamoured heroes speak a language of rheto

rical hyperboles, or of indecency, both equally opposed to genuine tenderness."

Shirley, Davenant, Otway, Congreve, Farquhar, Cibber, Steele, Colman, Foote, Rowe, Addison, Moore, Aaron Hill, Sheridan, Coleridge, &c., exhibit the succession of English dramatic poets up to the present day. Tobin, Joanna Baillie, and a few others, have attempted to revive the old style and the old theatrical forms.

As for Dryden, the man, he was an unhappy creature; Prior, a young partisan of the house of Orange, attacked the old poet, who had turned Catholic, and remained true to his old masters. Assisted by his friends, the Duke of Buckingham composed the charming comedy of The Rehearsal. This piece assailed the author of Don Sebastian, and the ode of Alexander's Feast. Buckingham was proud of having injured Dryden's reputation Can it then be so great a satisfaction to mortify genius, and rob it of a share of the glory it has acquired, at the cost of such labours, mortifications, and sacrifices?

Waller, Buckingham, Roscommon, Rochester, Shaftesbury, and a few other licentious and satirical poets, were not the first literary characters of their day, but they gave the tone to the literature in fashion during the reign of Charles II. The son of Charles I. was one of those frivolous, witty,

careless, selfish men, devoid of all sincere attachments, of all inward convictions, who not unfrequently take their place between two historical periods, to close the one as it were, and to commence the other; one of those princes, whose reign serves as a transition to important changes in the institutions, manners, and ideas of nations; one of those princes expressly created to fill up the voids which frequently in the political order disjoin cause from effect. Exhumations and executions opened a reign which executions were destined to close. Twenty-two years of libertinism were passed beneath gibbets; they were the last years of joy, after the Stuart fashion, and resemble funereal orgies.

Disowned under James I., embrued with blood under Charles I., disgraced under Charles II., assailed under James II., liberty had nevertheless been preserved under constitutional forms; by these forms it was transmitted to the nation, which continued to fertilise the native soil after the expulsion of the Stuarts. These princes never could forgive the sufferings brought upon them by the English people; the people never could forget the attempts made by these princes to strip them of their rights; there existed on both sides too many causes of resentment and of offence. All mutual confidence was destroyed; each party silently

« EelmineJätka »