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In his personal character Dryden was perfectly amiable ; he was modest even to diffidence; in friendship and generosity he was exceeded by none : no man had stronger feelings for the distresses of human nature, or greater propensity to alleviate them ; and to this noble turn of mind, the difficulties which he had to struggle with in life, and of which we often find him complaining, were probably mostly owing. His temper was mild, open, unsuspecting, and forgiving. He was very easy of access, and perfectly pleasing in his carriage. As his knowledge was great, and his memory strongly retentive ; so were his defires of communicating instruction, to such young writers as thought fit to consult him, extensive ; yet in his manner there was something so peculiarly agreeable that it doubled the obligation. He was himself always open to a conviction of error, and thankful for the remonstrance.
Among the many enemies who attacked his morals, bishop Burnet calls him a monster of impurities of all forts ; in answer to which lord Lansdown assures us, “ That he was the very reverse of all this, and that “ all his acquaintance could vouch his being a man “ of regular life and unspotted conversation.” No body will be doubtful whether to side with the peer spiritual or temporal, who remembers the dispute between the former and our author, which we have discussed in our notes.
He has been accused as a time-server and an hypocrite in religion, because it was his fortune at a particular season to conform to one partronised at court; but this charge must fall to the ground on recollecting that he always continued therein firm and unshaken, though he might have gained considerably by recanting after the revolution, and his writings on that head carry with them the strongest marks of fincerity. Perhaps before he declared himself a Roman Catholic, he had no settled form of religion ; and his
Religio Laici is not a defence of any particular fect of Chriftianity, fo much as of Christianity in general,
What a prodigious field for admiration opens upon us in contemplating our author as a poet! Here, in whatever light we view him, he is sure always to excel; and if univerfality of genius gives a title to preeminence, perhaps we shall be scarcely excused for admitting any to rank above him. In elegy he was plaintive and tender; in panegyric he had the art of throwing a luftre round a character that sunk all its imperfe&tions. In fatire he was strong, bold, penetrating, and fevere; in didactic or controverfial writing, concife, clear, and persuasive. His epistles are familiar, eafy, and entertaining. His prologues and epilogues abound with wit, pleasantry, and often excellent traces of criticism. In his songs the thoughts appear new; the phraseology unconstrained; and the conclufions pointed. His odes are strong, forceful, soaring, and sublime ; the numbers are happily varied, the harmony is įnimitable, and the whole seem to breathe the spirit of inspiration.
Laftly, in his dramatic writings, which are many, there is a great variety ; his characters are often finely marked, and the passions well wrought up; yet he deals more in the fublime than the pathos; and his tragedies are rather written from the head than the heart. In comedy, however, he is facetious and full of humour, Father Dominic is one of the best characters on our tage. In this fpecies of writing, he certainly failed moft: but his failings are easily pardoned when we consider, that he wrote his plays in a hurry; that he was for fome time obliged to furnith the stage with a certain number yearly and that he never had leisure fufficient to polish and correct up to the standard of his genius. It was not his fortune at any time to be able to use the
Nonum prematur in annum. Yet his imperfections, like spors in the fun, can never diminish his lustre ; and had he never written mors
than All for Love, or the Spanish Friar, these would have been suficient to secure him an elevated place among dramatic writers.
In profe he was equally excellent, his words were: always happily chosen, his periods round and flowing, his meaning clear, his arguments supported with mal-, terly elocution, and his conclusions well deduced. In his prefaces, indeed, we find him sometimes a deserter, and opposing his own arguments in a manner to which Dryden only was equal ; he has appeared unanswerable till he answered himself. Here he confesses that he was much obliged to archbishop Tillotson, who was, he says, the original from whom he copied. Impartiality will allow then that he often outgoes his master, and that none of our writers excel him.
His prose never deviates into blank verse; and disjoint his verse as you will, it is impossible to reduce it to prose. " Its essence, (says Congreve, in the dedication of his dramatic works to his grace the Duke of Newcastle) “ like that
of pure gold cannot be destroyed.” And Garth, in his preface to the Metamorphoses, justly remarks, “ that when he steals from others” (for he has been accused of plagiarism) “ it is no otherwise than like " those who steal beggars children only to cloath " them the better."
In a word, his fancy was always vigorous, his imagination fertile, his sentiments are spirited, his lan-, guage is elegant, and his versification smooth and graceful ; he was copious in invention
in tranflation he gives the spirit of his author. To the last: he maintained all his excellencies, and loft nothing of his strength. Mr. Pope beautifully observes, “ That his fire like the sun's shone clearest towards. “ its setting :” nay, the same great poet assures us, “ He never would have attempted to translate Homer
had Dryden completed that work.”
E gone, you slaves, you idle vermin go,
Fly from the scourges, and your master know;
While mighty Lewis find the pope too great,
What then have thinking honeft men to do,
Nor can th’Ægyptian patriarch blame thy muse,
But did that God (so little understood)
O! how much happier and more safe are they?
For better ends our kind Redeemer dy'd,
That Christ, who at the great deciding day, (For he declares what he resolves to say)