Lives of the Poets, Vol. 1
Part 5 out of 10
His images are not always distinct; as, in the following passage, he
confounds love, as a person, with love, as a passion:
Some other nymphs, with colours faint,
And pencil slow, may Cupid paint,
And a weak heart, in time, destroy;
She has a stamp, and prints the boy:
Can, with a single look, inflame
The coldest breast, the rudest tame.
His sallies of casual flattery are sometimes elegant and happy, as that
in Return for the Silver Pen; and sometimes empty and trifling, as that
upon the Card torn by the Queen. There are a few Lines written in the
Dutchess's Tasso, which he is said, by Fenton, to have kept a summer
under correction. It happened to Waller, as to others, that his success
was not always in proportion to his labour.
Of these petty compositions, neither the beauties nor the faults deserve
much attention. The amorous verses have this to recommend them, that
they are less hyperbolical than those of some other poets. Waller is not
always at the last gasp; he does not die of a frown, nor live upon a
smile. There is, however, too much love, and too many trifles. Little
things are made too important; and the empire of beauty is represented as
exerting its influence further than can be allowed by the multiplicity of
human passions, and the variety of human wants. Such books, therefore,
may be considered, as showing the world under a false appearance, and, so
far as they obtain credit from the young and unexperienced, as misleading
expectation, and misguiding practice.
Of his nobler and more weighty performances, the greater part is
panegyrical: for of praise he was very lavish, as is observed by his
imitator, lord Lansdowne:
No satyr stalks within the hallow'd ground,
But queens and heroines, kings and gods abound;
Glory and arms and love are all the sound.
In the first poem, on the danger of the Prince on the coast of Spain,
there is a puerile and ridiculous mention of Arion, at the beginning; and
the last paragraph, on the Cable, is, in part, ridiculously mean, and in
part, ridiculously tumid. The poem, however, is such as may be justly
praised, without much allowance for the state of our poetry and language
at that time.
The two next poems are upon the king's behaviour at the death of
Buckingham, and upon his navy.
He has, in the first, used the pagan deities with great propriety:
'Twas want of such a precedent as this,
Made the old heathen frame their gods amiss.
In the poem on the Navy, those lines are very noble, which suppose the
king's power secure against a second deluge; so noble, that it were
almost criminal to remark the mistake of _centre_ for _surface_, or to
say that the empire of the sea would be worth little, if it were not that
the waters terminate in land.
The poem upon Sallee has forcible sentiments; but the conclusion is
feeble. That on the Repairs of St. Paul's has something vulgar and
obvious; such as the mention of Amphion; and something violent and harsh;
So all our minds with his conspire to grace
The Gentiles' great apostle, and deface
Those state-obscuring sheds, that, like a chain,
Seem'd to confine, and fetter him again:
Which the glad saint shakes off at his command,
As once the viper from his sacred hand.
So joys the aged oak, when we divide
The creeping ivy from his injur'd side.
Of the two last couplets, the first is extravagant, and the second mean.
His praise of the queen is too much exaggerated; and the thought, that
she "saves lovers, by cutting off hope, as gangrenes are cured by lopping
the limb," presents nothing to the mind but disgust and horrour.
Of the Battle of the Summer Islands, it seems not easy to say whether it
is intended to raise terrour or merriment. The beginning is too splendid
for jest, and the conclusion too light for seriousness. The versification
is studied, the scenes are diligently displayed, and the images artfully
amplified; but, as it ends neither in joy nor sorrow, it will scarcely be
read a second time.
The Panegyrick upon Cromwell has obtained from the publick a very liberal
dividend of praise, which, however, cannot be said to have been unjustly
lavished; for such a series of verses had rarely appeared before in the
English language. Of the lines some are grand, some are graceful, and all
are musical. There is now and then a feeble verse, or a trifling thought;
but its great fault is the choice of its hero.
The poem of the War with Spain begins with lines more vigorous and
striking than Waller is accustomed to produce. The succeeding parts
are variegated with better passages and worse. There is something too
far-fetched in the comparison of the Spaniards drawing the English on,
by saluting St. Lucar with cannon, "to lambs awakening the lion by
bleating." The fate of the marquis and his lady, who were burnt in their
ship, would have moved more, had the poet not made him die like the
Phoenix, because he had spices about him, nor expressed their affection
and their end, by a conceit, at once, false and vulgar:
Alive, in equal flames of love they burn'd,
And now together are to ashes turn'd.
The verses to Charles on his Return were doubtless intended to
counterbalance the Panegyrick on Cromwell. If it has been thought
inferiour to that with which it is naturally compared, the cause of its
deficience has been already remarked.
The remaining pieces it is not necessary to examine singly. They must be
supposed to have faults and beauties of the same kind with the rest. The
Sacred Poems, however, deserve particular regard; they were the work of
Waller's declining life, of those hours in which he looked upon the
fame and the folly of the time past with the sentiments which his great
predecessor, Petrarch, bequeathed to posterity, upon his review of that
love and poetry which have given him immortality.
That natural jealousy which makes every man unwilling to allow much
excellence in another, always produces a disposition to believe that the
mind grows old with the body; and that he, whom we are now forced to
confess superiour, is hastening daily to a level with ourselves. By
delighting to think this of the living, we learn to think it of the dead;
and Fenton, with all his kindness for Waller, has the luck to mark the
exact time when his genius passed the zenith, which he places at his
fifty-fifth year. This is to allot the mind but a small portion.
Intellectual decay is, doubtless, not uncommon; but it seems not to
be universal. Newton was, in his eighty-fifth year, improving his
chronology, a few days before his death; and Waller appears not, in my
opinion, to have lost, at eighty-two, any part of his poetical power.
His Sacred Poems do not please like some of his other works; but before
the fatal fifty-five, had he written on the same subjects, his success
would hardly have been better.
It has been the frequent lamentation of good men, that verse has been too
little applied to the purposes of worship, and many attempts have been
made to animate devotion by pious poetry. That they have very seldom
attained their end, is sufficiently known, and it may not be improper
to inquire, why they have miscarried. Let no pious ear be offended if I
advance, in opposition to many authorities, that poetical devotion cannot
often please. The doctrines of religion may, indeed, be defended in a
didactick poem; and he who has the happy power of arguing in verse, will
not lose it because his subject is sacred. A poet may describe the beauty
and the grandeur of nature, the flowers of the spring, and the harvests
of autumn, the vicissitudes of the tide, and the revolutions of the sky,
and praise the maker for his works, in lines which no reader shall lay
aside. The subject of the disputation is not piety, but the motives to
piety; that of the description is not God, but the works of God.
Contemplative piety, or the intercourse between God and the human soul,
cannot be poetical. Man, admitted to implore the mercy of his creator,
and plead the merits of his redeemer, is already in a higher state than
poetry can confer.
The essence of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing
something unexpected, surprises and delights. The topicks of devotion are
few, and, being few, are universally known; but, few as they are, they
can be made no more; they can receive no grace from novelty of sentiment,
and very little from novelty of expression.
Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to the mind than
things themselves afford. This effect proceeds from the display of those
parts of nature which attract, and the concealment of those which repel
the imagination: but religion must be shown as it is; suppression and
addition equally corrupt it; and such as it is, it is known already.
From poetry the reader justly expects, and from good poetry always
obtains, the enlargement of his comprehension and elevation of his fancy;
but this is rarely to be hoped by Christians from metrical devotion.
Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name
of the supreme being. Omnipotence cannot be exalted; infinity cannot
be amplified; perfection cannot be improved. The employments of pious
meditation are faith, thanksgiving, repentance, and supplication. Faith,
invariably uniform, cannot be invested by fancy with decorations.
Thanksgiving, the most joyful of all holy effusions, yet addressed to a
being without passions, is confined to a few modes, and is to be felt
rather than expressed. Repentance, trembling in the presence of the
judge, is not at leisure for cadences and epithets. Supplication of
man to man may diffuse itself through many topicks of persuasion; but
supplication to God can only cry for mercy.
Of sentiments purely religious, it will be found that the most simple
expression is the most sublime. Poetry loses its lustre and its power,
because it is applied to the decoration of something more excellent than
itself. All that pious verse can do is to help the memory, and delight
the ear, and, for these purposes, it may be very useful; but it supplies
nothing to the mind. The ideas of Christian theology are too simple for
eloquence, too sacred for fiction, and too majestick for ornament; to
recommend them by tropes and figures, is to magnify, by a concave mirror,
the sidereal hemisphere.
As much of Waller's reputation was owing to the softness and smoothness
of his numbers, it is proper to consider those minute particulars to
which a versifier must attend.
He certainly very much excelled in smoothness most of the writers who
were living when his poetry commenced. The poets of Elizabeth had
attained an art of modulation, which was afterwards neglected or
forgotten. Fairfax was acknowledged by him as his model; and he might
have studied with advantage the poem of Davies[m86], which, though merely
philosophical, yet seldom leaves the ear ungratified.
But he was rather smooth than strong; of "the full resounding line,"
which Pope attributes to Dryden, he has given very few examples. The
critical decision has given the praise of strength to Denham, and of
sweetness to Waller.
His excellence of versification has some abatements. He uses the
expletive _do_ very frequently; and, though he lived to see it almost,
universally ejected, was not more careful to avoid it in his last
compositions than in his first. Praise had given him confidence; and
finding the world satisfied, he satisfied himself.
His rhymes are sometimes weak words: _so_ is found to make the rhyme
twice in ten lines, and occurs often as a rhyme through his book.
His double rhymes, in heroick verse, have been censured by Mrs. Phillips,
who was his rival in the translation of Corneille's Pompey; and more
faults might be found, were not the inquiry below attention.
He sometimes uses the obsolete termination of verbs, as _waxeth,
affecteth_; and sometimes retains the final syllable of the preterite,
as _amazed, supposed_, of which I know not whether it is not to the
detriment of our language that we have totally rejected them.
Of triplets he is sparing; but he did not wholly forbear them: of an
alexandrine he has given no example.
The general character of his poetry is elegance and gaiety. He is never
pathetick, and very rarely sublime. He seems neither to have had a mind
much elevated by nature, nor amplified by learning. His thoughts are such
as a liberal conversation and large acquaintance with life would easily
supply. They had, however, then, perhaps, that grace of novelty which
they are now often supposed to want by those who, having already found
them in later books, do not know or inquire who produced them first. This
treatment is unjust. Let not the original author lose by his imitators.
Praise, however, should be due before it is given. The author of Waller's
life ascribes to him the first practice of what Erythraeus and some
late criticks call alliteration, of using in the same verse many words
beginning with the same letter. But this knack, whatever be its value,
was so frequent among early writers, that Gascoigne, a writer of
the sixteenth century, warns the young poet against affecting it;
Shakespeare, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, is supposed to ridicule it;
and, in another play, the sonnet of Holofernes fully displays it.
He borrows too many of his sentiments and illustrations from the old
mythology, for which it is vain to plead the example of ancient poets;
the deities which they introduced so frequently, were considered as
realities, so far as to be received by the imagination, whatever sober
reason might even then determine. But of these images time has tarnished
the splendour. A fiction, not only detected but despised, can never
afford a solid basis to any position, though sometimes it may furnish a
transient allusion, or slight illustration. No modern monarch can be much
exalted by hearing that, as Hercules had his club, he has his navy.
But of the praise of Waller, though much may be taken away, much will
remain; for it cannot be denied that he added something to our elegance
of diction, and something to our propriety of thought; and to him may be
applied what Tasso said, with equal spirit and justice, of himself and
Guarini, when, having perused the Pastor Fido, he cried out "if he had
not read Aminta, he had never excelled it."
As Waller professed himself to have learned the art of versification from
Fairfax, it has been thought proper to subjoin a specimen of his work,
which, after Mr. Hoole's translation, will, perhaps, not be soon
reprinted. By knowing the state in which Waller found our poetry, the
reader may judge how much he improved it.
Erminia's steed (this while) his mistresse bore
Through forrests thicke among the shadie treene,
Her feeble hand the bridle reines forlore,
Halfe in a swoune she was for feare, I weene;
But her flit courser spared nere the more,
To beare her through the desart woods unseene
Of her strong foes, that chas'd her through the plaine,
And still pursu'd, but still pursu'd in vaine.
Like as the wearie hounds at last retire,
Windlesse, displeased, from the fruitlesse chace,
When the slie beast Tapisht in bush and brire,
No art nor paines can rowse out of his place:
The christian knights so full of shame and ire
Returned backe, with faint and wearie pace!
Yet still the fearfull dame fled, swift as winde,
Nor ever staid, nor ever lookt behinde.
Through thicke and thinne, all night, all day, she drived,
Withouten comfort, companie, or guide,
Her plaints and teares with every thought revived,
She heard and saw her greefes, but nought beside.
But when the sunne his burning chariot dived
In Thetis wave, and wearie teame untide,
On Jordans sandie bankes her course she staid,
At last, there downe she light, and downe she laid.
Her teares, her drinke; her food, her sorrowings,
This was her diet that unhappie night:
But sleepe (that sweet repose and quiet brings)
To ease the greefes of discontented wight,
Spred foorth his tender, soft, and nimble wings,
In his dull armes foulding the virgin bright;
And love, his mother, and the graces kept
Strong watch and warde, while this faire ladie slept.
The birds awakte her with their morning song,
Their warbling musicke pearst her tender eare,
The murmuring brookes and whistling windes among
The ratling boughes, and leaves, their parts did beare;
Her eies unclos'd beheld the groves along
Of swaines and shepherd groomes, that dwellings weare:
And that sweet noise, birds, winds, and waters sent,
Provokte againe the virgin to lament.
Her plaints were interrupted with a sound
That seem'd from thickest bushes to proceed,
Some iolly shepheard sung a lustie round,
And to his voice had tun'd his oaten reed;
Thither she went, an old man there she found,
(At whose right hand his little flock did feed)
Sat making baskets, his three sonnes among,
That learn'd their father's art, and learn'd his song.
Beholding one in shining armes appeare,
The seelie man and his were sore dismaid;
But sweet Erminia comforted their feare,
Her ventall vp, her visage open laid.
You happie folke, of heau'n beloued deare,
Work on (quoth she) vpon your harmlesse traid,
These dreadfull armes, I beare, no warfare bring
To your sweet toile, nor those sweet tunes you sing.
But father, since this land, these townes and towres,
Destroied are with sword, with fire and spoile,
How may it be, unhurt, that you and yours
In safetie thus, applie your harmlesse toile?
My sonne (quoth he) this pore estate of ours
Is euer safe from storme of warlike broile;
This wildernesse doth vs in safetie keepe,
No thundring drum, no trumpet breakes our sleepe.
Haply iust heau'n's defence and shield of right,
Doth loue the innocence of simple swaines,
The thunderbolts on highest mountains light,
And seld or neuer strike the lower plaines:
So kings haue cause to feare Bellonaes might,
Not they whose sweat and toile their dinner gaines,
Nor ever greedie soldier was entised
By pouertie, neglected and despised.
O pouertie, chefe of the heau'nly brood,
Dearer to me than wealth or kingly crowne!
No wish for honour, thirst of other's good,
Can moue my hart, contented with my owne:
We quench our thirst with water of this flood,
Nor fear we poison should therein be throwne:
These little flocks of sheepe and tender goates
Giue milke for food, and wooll to make us coates.
We little wish, we need but little wealth,
From cold and hunger vs to cloath and feed;
These are my sonnes, their care preserues from stealth
Their father's flocks, nor servants moe I need:
Amid these groues I walke oft for my health,
And to the fishes, birds, and beastes giue heed,
How they are fed, in forrest, spring and lake,
And their contentment for ensample take.
Time was (for each one hath his doting time,
These siluer locks were golden tresses than)
That countrie life I hated as a crime,
And from the forrests sweet contentment ran,
To Memphis stately pallace would I clime,
And there became the mightie Caliphes man,
And though I but a simple gardner weare,
Yet could I marke abuses, see and heare.
Entised on with hope of future gaine,
I suffred long what did my soule displease;
But when my youth was spent, my hope was vaine,
I felt my native strength at last decrease;
I gan my losse of lustie yeeres complaine,
And wisht I had enjoy'd the countries peace;
I bod the court farewell, and with content
My later age here have I quiet spent.
While thus he spake, Erminia husht and still
His wise discourses heard, with great attention,
His speeches graue those idle fancies kill,
Which in her troubled soule bred such dissention;
After much thought reformed was her will,
Within those woods to dwell was her intention,
Till fortune should occasion new afford,
To turne her home to her desired lord.
She said, therefore, O shepherd fortunate!
That troubles some didst whilom feele and proue,
Yet liuest now in this contented state,
Let my mishap thy thoughts to pitie moue,
To entertaine me, as a willing mate
In shepherd's life, which I admire and loue;
Within these pleasant groues, perchance, my hart
Of her discomforts may vnload some part.
If gold or wealth, of most esteemed deare,
If iewells rich, thou diddest hold in prise,
Such store thereof, such plentie have I seen,
As to a greedie minde might well suffice:
With that downe trickled many a siluer teare,
Two christall streams fell from her watrie eies;
Part of her sad misfortunes than she told,
And wept, and with her wept that shepherd old.
With speeches kinde, he gan the virgin deare
Towards his cottage gently home to guide;
His aged wife there made her homely cheare,
Yet welcomde her, and plast her by her side.
The princesse dond a poore pastoraes geare,
A kerchiefe course vpon her head she tide;
But yet her gestures and her lookes (I gesse)
Were such as ill beseem'd a shepherdesse.
Not those rude garments could obscure, and hide
The heau'nly beautie of her angel's face,
Nor was her princely ofspring damnifide,
Or ought disparag'de, by those labours bace;
Her little flocks to pasture would she guide,
And milke her goates, and in their folds them place,
Both cheese and butter could she make, and frame
Her selfe to please the shepherd and his dame.
[Footnote 82: Preface to his Fables. Dr. J.]
[Footnote 83: This speech has been retrieved, from a paper printed at
that time, by the writers of the Parliamentary History. Dr.J.]
[Footnote 84: Parliamentary History, vol. xii. Dr. J.]
[Footnote 85: Life of Waller prefixed to an edition of his works,
published in 1773, by Percival Stockdale. C.]
[Footnote 86: Sir John Davies, entitled, Nosce Teipsum. This oracle
expounded in two elegies; 1. Of Humane Knowledge: 2. Of the Soule of Man
and the Immortalitie thereof, 1599. R.]
[Footnote 87: It has been conjectured that our poet was either son or
grandson of Charles, third son of sir John Stepney, the first baronet of
that family. See Granger's History, vol. ii. p. 396. Edit. 8vo. 1775. Mr.
Cole says, the poet's father was a grocer. Cole's manuscripts, in Brit.
Of Mr. John Pomfret nothing is known but from a slight and confused
account, prefixed to his poems by a nameless friend; who relates, that he
was the son of the Rev. Mr. Pomfret, rector of Luton, in Bedfordshire;
that he was bred at Cambridge, entered into orders, and was rector of
Malden, in Bedfordshire, and might have risen in the church; but that,
when he applied to Dr. Compton, bishop of London, for institution to a
living of considerable value, to which he had been presented, he found
a troublesome obstruction raised by a malicious interpretation of some
passage in his Choice; from which it was inferred, that he considered
happiness as more likely to be found in the company of a mistress than of
This reproach was easily obliterated; for it had happened to Pomfret, as
to almost all other men who plan schemes of life; he had departed from
his purpose, and was then married.
The malice of his enemies had, however, a very fatal consequence: the
delay constrained his attendance in London, where he caught the smallpox,
and died in 1703, in the thirty-sixth year of his age.
He published his poems in 1699; and has been always the favourite of that
class of readers, who, without vanity or criticism, seek only their own
His Choice exhibits a system of life adapted to common notions, and equal
to common expectations; such a state as affords plenty and tranquillity,
without exclusion of intellectual pleasures. Perhaps no composition in
our language has been oftener perused than Pomfret's Choice.
In his other poems there is an easy volubility; the pleasure of smooth
metre is afforded to the ear, and the mind is not oppressed with
ponderous, or entangled with intricate, sentiment. He pleases many; and
he who pleases many must have some species of merit.
[Footnote 87: He was of Queen's college there, and, by the University
Register, took his bachelor's degree in 1684, and master's in 1698. His
father was of Trinity.]
Of the earl of Dorset the character has been drawn so largely and so
elegantly by Prior, to whom he was familiarly known, that nothing can be
added by a casual hand; and, as its author is so generally read, it would
be useless officiousness to transcribe it.
Charles Sackville was born January 24, 1637. Having been educated under a
private tutor, he travelled into Italy, and returned a little before the
restoration. He was chosen into the first parliament that was called, for
East Grimstead, in Sussex, and soon became a favourite of Charles the
second; but undertook no publick employment, being too eager of the
riotous and licentious pleasures, which young men of high rank, who
aspired to be thought wits, at that time imagined themselves entitled to
One of these frolicks has, by the industry of Wood, come down to
posterity. Sackville, who was then lord Buckhurst, with sir Charles
Sedley and sir Thomas Ogle, got drunk at the Cock in Bow street, by
Covent garden, and, going into the balcony, exposed themselves to the
populace in very indecent postures. At last, as they grew warmer, Sedley
stood forth naked and harangued the populace in such profane language,
that the publick indignation was awakened: the crowd attempted to force
the door, and, being repulsed, drove in the performers with stones, and
broke the windows of the house.
For this misdemeanour they were indicted, and Sedley was fined five
hundred pounds: what was the sentence of the others is not known. Sedley
employed Killigrew and another to procure a remission from the king;
but (mark the friendship of the dissolute!) they begged the fine for
themselves, and exacted it to the last groat. In 1665, lord Buckhurst
attended the duke of York, as a volunteer in the Dutch war; and was
in the battle of June 3, when eighteen great Dutch ships were taken,
fourteen others were destroyed, and Opdam, the admiral, who engaged the
duke, was blown up beside him, with all his crew.
On the day before the battle, he is said to have composed the celebrated
song, "To all you ladies now at land," with equal tranquillity of mind
and promptitude of wit. Seldom any splendid story is wholly true. I
have heard from the late earl of Orrery, who was likely to have good
hereditary intelligence, that lord Buckhurst had been a week employed
upon it, and only retouched or finished it on the memorable evening. But
even this, whatever it may subtract from his facility, leaves him his
He was soon after made a gentleman of the bedchamber, and sent on short
embassies to France.
In 1674, the estate of his uncle, James Cranfield, earl of Middlesex,
came to him by its owner's death, and the title was conferred on him
the year after. In 1677, he became, by the death of his father, earl of
Dorset, and inherited the estate of his family.
In 1684, having buried his first wife, of the family of Bagot, who
left him no child, he married a daughter of the earl of Northampton,
celebrated both for beauty and understanding.
He received some favourable notice from king James; but soon found it
necessary to oppose the violence of his innovations, and with some other
lords appeared in Westminster hall to countenance the bishops at their
As enormities grew every day less supportable, he found it necessary to
concur in the revolution. He was one of those lords who sat every day in
council to preserve the publick peace, after the king's departure; and,
what is not the most illustrious action of his life, was employed to
conduct the princess Anne to Nottingham with a guard, such as might alarm
the populace, as they passed, with false apprehensions of her danger.
Whatever end may be designed, there is always something despicable in a
He became, as may be easily supposed, a favourite of king William, who,
the day after his accession, made him lord chamberlain of the household,
and gave him afterwards the garter. He happened to be among those that
were tossed with the king in an open boat sixteen hours, in very rough
and cold weather, on the coast of Holland. His health afterwards
declined; and, on Jan. 19, 1705-6, he died at Bath.
He was a man whose elegance and judgment were universally confessed,
and whose bounty to the learned and witty was generally known. To the
indulgent affection of the publick, lord Rochester bore ample testimony
in this remark: "I know not how it is, but lord Buckhurst may do what he
will, yet is never in the wrong."
If such a man attempted poetry, we cannot wonder that his works were
praised. Dryden, whom, if Prior tells truth, he distinguished by his
beneficence, and who lavished his blandishments on those who are not
known to have so well deserved them, undertaking to produce authors of
our own country superiour to those of antiquity, says, "I would instance
your lordship in satire, and Shakespeare in tragedy." Would it be
imagined that, of this rival to antiquity, all the satires were little
personal invectives, and that his longest composition was a song of
The blame, however, of this exaggerated praise falls on the encomiast,
not upon the author; whose performances are, what they pretend to be, the
effusions of a man of wit; gay, vigorous, and airy. His verses to Howard
show great fertility of mind; and his Dorinda has been imitated by Pope.
George Stepney, descended from the Stepneys of Pendegrast, in
Pembrokeshire, was born at Westminster, in 1663. Of his father's
condition or fortune I have no account. Having received the first
part of his education at Westminster, where he passed six years in the
college, he went, at nineteen, to Cambridge[p], where he continued a
friendship begun at school with Mr. Montague, afterwards earl of Halifax.
They came to London together, and are said to have been invited into
publick life by the duke of Dorset.
His qualifications recommended him to many foreign employments, so that
his time seems to have been spent in negotiations. In 1692, he was sent
envoy to the elector of Brandenburgh; in 1693, to the imperial court; in
1694, to the elector of Saxony; in 1696, to the electors of Mentz and
Cologne, and the congress at Frankfort; in 1698, a second time to
Brandenburgh; in 1699, to the king of Poland; in 1701, again to the
emperour; and, in 1706, to the States General. In 1697, he was made one
of the commissioners of trade. His life was busy and not long. He died in
1707, and is buried in Westminster Abbey, with this epitaph, which Jacob
H. S. E.
GEORGIUS STEPNEIUS, armiger,
Ob ingenii acumen,
Virorum amplissimorum consuetudinem,
Linguae, styli, ac vitae elegantiam,
Praeclara officia cum Britanniae tum Europae praestita,
Sua aetate multum celebratus,
Apud posteros semper celebrandus;
Plurimas legationes obijt
Ea fide, diligentia, ac felicitate,
Ut augustissimorum principum
Gulielmi et Annae
Spem in illo repositam
Haud raro superaverit.
Post longum honorum cursum
Brevi temporis spatio confectum,
Cum naturae parum, famae satis vixerat,
Animam ad altiora aspirantem placide efflavit.
On the left hand,
Ex equestri familia Stepneiorum,
De Pendegrast, in comitatu
Westmonasterii natus est, A. D. 1663,
Electus in collegium
Sancti Petri Westmonast. A. 1676,
Sancti Trinitatis Cantab. 1682.
Consiliariorum quibus Commercii
Cura commissa est 1697.
Chelseiae mortuus, et, comitante
Frequentia, hue elatus, 1707.
It is reported that the juvenile compositions of Stepney "made grey
authors blush." I know not whether his poems will appear such wonders to
the present age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which the
world has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely
that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote; and the performances
of youth have many favourers, because the authors yet lay no claim to
publick honours, and are, therefore, not considered as rivals by the
distributors of fame.
He apparently professed himself a poet, and added his name to those of
the other wits in the version of Juvenal; but he is a very licentious
translator, and does not recompense his neglect of the author by beauties
of his own. In his original poems, now and then, a happy line may,
perhaps, be found, and, now and then, a short composition may give
pleasure. But there is, in the whole, little either of the grace of wit,
or the vigour of nature.
[Footnote 88: He was entered of Trinity college, and took his master's
degree in 1689. H.]
[Footnote 89: Earl of Dorset.]
John Philips was born on the 30th of December, 1676, at Bampton, in
Oxfordshire; of which place his father, Dr. Stephen Philips, archdeacon
of Salop, was minister. The first part of his education was domestick;
after which he was sent to Winchester, where, as we are told by Dr.
Sewel, his biographer, he was soon distinguished by the superiority of
his exercises; and, what is less easily to be credited, so much endeared
himself to his schoolfellows, by his civility and good nature, that
they, without murmur or ill will, saw him indulged by the master with
particular immunities. It is related, that, when he was at school, he
seldom mingled in play with the other boys, but retired to his chamber;
where his sovereign pleasure was to sit, hour after hour, while his hair
was combed by somebody, whose service he found means to procure.
At school he became acquainted with the poets, ancient and modern, and
fixed his attention particularly on Milton.
In 1694, he entered himself at Christ church; a college, at that time, in
the highest reputation, by the transmission of Busby's scholars to the
care first of Fell, and afterwards of Aldrich. Here he was distinguished
as a genius eminent among the eminent, and for friendship particularly
intimate with Mr. Smith, the author of Phaedra and Hippolytus. The
profession which he intended to follow was that of physick; and he took
much delight in natural history, of which botany was his favourite part.
His reputation was confined to his friends and to the university; till,
about 1703, he extended it to a wider circle by the Splendid Shilling,
which struck the publick attention with a mode of writing new and
This performance raised him so high, that, when Europe resounded with
the victory of Blenheim, he was, probably, with an occult opposition to
Addison, employed to deliver the acclamation of the tories. It is said
that he would willingly have declined the task, but that his friends
urged it upon him. It appears that he wrote this poem at the house of Mr.
Blenheim was published in 1705. The next year produced his greatest work,
the poem upon Cider, in two books; which was received with loud praises,
and continued long to be read, as an imitation of Virgil's Georgicks,
which needed not shun the presence of the original.
He then grew probably more confident of his own abilities, and began to
meditate a poem on the Last Day; a subject on which no mind can hope to
This work he did not live to finish; his diseases, a slow consumption
and an asthma, put a stop to his studies, and on Feb. 15, 1708, at the
beginning of his thirty-third year, put an end to his life.
He was buried in the cathedral of Hereford; and sir Simon Harcourt,
afterwards lord chancellor, gave him a monument in Westminster Abbey.
The inscription at Westminster was written, as I have heard, by Dr.
Atterbury, though commonly given to Dr. Freind.
His epitaph at Hereford:
Obijt 15 die Feb. Anno Dom. 1708., Aetat suae 32.
Ossa si requiras, hanc urnam inspice:
Si ingenium nescias, ipsius opera consule;
Si tumulum desideras,
Templum adi Westmonasteriense:
Qualis quantusque vir fuerit,
Dicat elegans illa et praeclara,
Quae cenotaphium ibi decorat,
Quam interim erga cognatos pius et officiosus,
Testetur hoc saxum
A MARIA PHILIPS matre ipsius pientissima
Dilecti filii memoriae non sine lacrymis dicatum.
His epitaph at Westminster:
Herefordiae conduntur ossa,
Hoc in delubro statuitur imago,
Britanniam omnem pervagatur fama,
Qui viris bonis doctisque juxta charus,
Immortale suum ingenium,
Eruditione multiplici excultum,
Miro animi candore,
Eximia morum simplicitate,
Litterarum amoeniorum sitim,
Quam Wintoniae puer sentire coeperat,
Inter Aedis Christi alumnos jugiter explevit.
In illo musarum domicilio
Praeclaris aemulorum studiis excitatus,
Optimis scribendi magistris semper intentus,
Carmina sermone patrio composuit
A Graecis Latinisque fontibus feliciter deducta,
Atticis Romanisque auribus omnino digna,
Versuum quippe harmoniam
Antiquo illo, libero, multiformi,
Ad res ipsas apto prorsus, et attemperato,
Non numeris in eundem fere orbem redeuntibus,
Non clausularum similiter cadentium sono
Uni in hoc landis genere Miltono secundus,
Primoque poene par.
Res seu tenues, seu grandes, sen mediocres
Nusquam, non quod decuit,
Et vidit, et assecutus est,
Egregius, quocunque stylum verteret,
Fandi author, et modorum artifex.
Fas sit huic,
Auso licet a tua metrorum lege discedere,
O poesis Anglicanae pater, atque conditor, Chaucere,
Alterum tibi latus claudere,
Vatum certe cineres tuos undique stipantium
Non dedecebit chorum.
SIMON HAHCOUKT, miles,
Viri bene de se, de litteris meriti,
Quoad viveret fautor,
Post obitum pie memor,
Hoc illi saxum poni voluit.
J. PHILIPS, STEPHANI, S. T. P. Archidiaconi
Salop. filius, natus est Bamptoniae
In agro Oxon. Dec. 30, 1676.
Obijt Herefordiae, Feb. 15, 1708.
Philips has been always praised, without contradiction, as a man modest,
blameless, and pious; who bore narrowness of fortune without discontent,
and tedious and painful maladies without impatience; beloved by those
that knew him, but not ambitious to be known. He was probably not formed
for a wide circle. His conversation is commended for its innocent gaiety,
which seems to have flowed only among his intimates; for I have been
told, that he was in company silent and barren, and employed only upon
the pleasures of his pipe. His addiction to tobacco is mentioned by
one of his biographers, who remarks, that in all his writings, except
Blenheim, he has found an opportunity of celebrating the fragrant fume.
In common life he was probably one of those who please by not offending,
and whose person was loved because his writings were admired. He died
honoured and lamented, before any part of his reputation had withered,
and before his patron St. John had disgraced him. His works are few. The
Splendid Shilling has the uncommon merit of an original design, unless it
may be thought precluded by the ancient Centos. To degrade the sounding
words and stately construction of Milton, by an application to the lowest
and most trivial things, gratifies the mind with a momentary triumph over
that grandeur, which hitherto held its captives in admiration; the words
and things are presented with a new appearance, and novelty is always
grateful where it gives no pain.
But the merit of such performances begins and ends with the first author.
He that should again adapt Milton's phrase to the gross incidents
of common life, and even adapt it with more art, which would not be
difficult, must yet expect but a small part of the praise which Philips
has obtained; he can only hope to be considered as the repeater of a
"The parody on Milton," says Gildon, "is the only tolerable production of
its author." This is a censure too dogmatical and violent. The poem of
Blenheim was never denied to be tolerable, even by those who do not
allow its supreme excellence. It is, indeed, the poem of a scholar, "all
inexpert of war;" of a man who writes books from books, and studies the
world in a college. He seems to have formed his ideas of the field of
Blenheim from the battles of the heroick ages, or the tales of chivalry,
with very little comprehension of the qualities necessary to the
composition of a modern hero, which Addison has displayed with so much
propriety. He makes Marlborough behold at a distance the slaughter made
by Tallard, then haste to encounter and restrain him, and mow his way
through ranks made headless by his sword.
He imitates Milton's numbers indeed, but imitates them very
injudiciously. Deformity is easily copied; and whatever there is in
Milton which the reader wishes away, all that is obsolete, peculiar, or
licentious, is accumulated with great care by Philips. Milton's verse was
harmonious, in proportion to the general state of our metre in Milton's
age; and, if he had written after the improvements made by Dryden, it
is reasonable to believe that he would have admitted a more pleasing
modulation of numbers into his work; but Philips sits down with a
resolution to make no more musick than he found; to want all that his
master wanted, though he is very far from having what his master had.
Those asperities, therefore, that are venerable in the Paradise Lost, are
contemptible in the Blenheim.
There is a Latin ode written to his patron St. John, in return for a
present of wine and tobacco, which cannot be passed without notice. It is
gay and elegant, and exhibits several artful accommodations of classick
expressions to new purposes. It seems better turned than the odes of
To the poem on Cider, written in imitation of the Georgicks, may be given
this peculiar praise, that it is grounded in truth; that the precepts
which it contains are exact and just; and that it is, therefore, at once,
a book of entertainment and of science. This I was told by Miller, the
great gardener and botanist, whose expression was, that "there were many
books written on the same subject in prose, which do not contain so much
truth as that poem."
In the disposition of his matter, so as to intersperse precepts relating
to the culture of trees with sentiments more generally alluring, and in
easy and graceful transitions from one subject to another, he has very
diligently imitated his master; but he, unhappily, pleased himself with
blank verse, and supposed that the numbers of Milton, which impress the
mind with veneration, combined as they are with subjects of inconceivable
grandeur, could be sustained by images which, at most, can rise only to
Contending angels may shake the regions of heaven in blank verse; but the
flow of equal measures, and the embellishment of rhyme, must recommend
to our attention the art of engrafting, and decide the merit of the
redstreak and pearmain.
What study could confer, Philips had obtained; but natural deficience
cannot be supplied. He seems not born to greatness and elevation. He is
never lofty, nor does he often surprise with unexpected excellence: but,
perhaps, to his last poem may be applied what Tully said of the work of
Lucretius, that "it is written with much art, though with few blazes of
* * * * *
The following fragment, written by Edmund Smith, upon the works of
Philips, has been transcribed from the Bodleian manuscripts.
"A Prefatory Discourse to the Poem on Mr. Philips, with a character of
"It is altogether as equitable some account should be given of those who
have distinguished themselves by their writings, as of those who are
renowned for great actions. It is but reasonable they, who contribute
so much to the immortality of others, should have some share in it
themselves; and since their genius only is discovered by their works, it
is just that their virtues should be recorded by their friends. For no
modest men (as the person I write of was in perfection) will write
their own panegyricks; and it is very hard that they should go without
reputation, only because they the more deserve it. The end of writing
Lives is for the imitation of the readers. It will be in the power of
very few to imitate the duke of Marlborough: we must be content with
admiring his great qualities and actions, without hopes of following
them. The private and social virtues are more easily transcribed. The
life of Cowley is more instructive, as well as more fine, than any we
have in our language. And it is to be wished, since Mr. Philips had so
many of the good qualities of that poet, that I had some of the abilities
of his historian. The Grecian philosophers have had their lives written,
their morals commended, and their sayings recorded. Mr. Philips had
all the virtues to which most of them only pretended, and all their
integrity, without any of their affectation.
"The French are very just to eminent men in this point; not a learned
man nor a poet can die, but all Europe must be acquainted with his
accomplishments. They give praise and expect it in their turns: they
commend their Patrus and Molières, as well as their Condès and Turennes;
their Pellisons and Racines have their elogies, as well as the prince
whom they celebrate; and their poems, their mercuries, and orations, nay,
their very gazettes are filled with the praises of the learned.
"I am satisfied, had they a Philips among them, and known how to value
him; had they one of his learning, his temper, but above all of that
particular turn of humour, that altogether new genius, he had been an
example to their poets, and a subject of their panegyricks, and, perhaps,
set in competition with the ancients, to whom only he ought to submit.
"I shall, therefore, endeavour to do justice to his memory, since nobody
else undertakes it. And, indeed, I can assign no cause why so many of his
acquaintance, that are as willing and more able than myself to give an
account of him, should forbear to celebrate the memory of one so dear to
them, but only that they look upon it as a work entirely belonging to me.
"I shall content myself with giving only a character of the person and
his writings, without meddling with the transactions of his life, which
was altogether private: I shall only make this known observation of his
family, that there was scarce so many extraordinary men in any one. I
have been acquainted with five of his brothers, of which three are still
living, all men of fine parts, yet all of a very unlike temper and
genius. So that their fruitful mother, like the mother of the gods, seems
to have produced a numerous offspring, all of different, though uncommon
faculties. Of the living, neither their modesty, nor the humour of the
present age, permits me to speak; of the dead, I may say something.
"One of them had made the greatest progress in the study of the law of
nature and nations, of any one I know. He had perfectly mastered, and
even improved, the notions of Grotius, and the more refined ones of
Puffendorf. He could refute Hobbes with as much solidity as some of
greater name, and expose him with as much wit as Echard. That noble
study, which requires the greatest reach of reason and nicety of
distinction, was not at all difficult to him. 'Twas a national loss to be
deprived of one who understood a science so necessary, and yet so unknown
in England. I shall add only, he had the same honesty and sincerity as
the person I write of, but more heat: the former was more inclined to
argue, the latter to divert: one employed his reason more; the other his
imagination: the former had been well qualified for those posts, which
the modesty of the latter made him refuse. His other dead brother would
have been an ornament to the college of which he was a member. He had a
genius either for poetry or oratory; and, though very young, composed
several very agreeable pieces. In all probability he would have wrote as
finely, as his brother did nobly. He might have been the Waller, as the
other was the Milton of his time. The one might celebrate Marlborough,
the other his beautiful offspring. This had not been so fit to describe
the actions of heroes, as the virtues of private men. In a word, he had
been fitter for my place; and, while his brother was writing upon the
greatest men that any age ever produced, in a style equal to them, he
might have served as a panegyrist on him.
"This is all I think necessary to say of his family. I shall proceed to
himself and his writings; which I shall first treat of, because I know
they are censured by some out of envy, and more out of ignorance.
"The Splendid Shilling, which is far the least considerable, has the more
general reputation, and, perhaps, hinders the character of the rest. The
style agreed so well with the burlesque, that the ignorant thought it
could become nothing else. Every body is pleased with that work. But to
judge rightly of the other, requires a perfect mastery of poetry and
criticism, a just contempt of the little turns and witticisms now in
vogue, and, above all, a perfect understanding of poetical diction and
"All that have any taste of poetry will agree, that the great burlesque
is much to be preferred to the low. It is much easier to make a great
thing appear little, than a little one great: Cotton and others of a very
low genius have done the former; but Philips, Garth, and Boileau, only
"A picture in miniature is every painter's talent; but a piece for a
cupola, where all the figures are enlarged, yet proportioned to the eye,
requires a master's hand.
"It must still be more acceptable than the low burlesque, because the
images of the latter are mean and filthy, and the language itself
entirely unknown to all men of good breeding. The style of Billingsgate
would not make a very agreeable figure at St. James's. A gentleman would
take but little pleasure in language, which he would think it hard to be
accosted in, or in reading words which he could not pronounce without
blushing. The lofty burlesque is the more to be admired, because, to
write it, the author must be master of two of the most different talents
in nature. A talent to find out and expose what is ridiculous, is very
different from that which is to raise and elevate. We must read Virgil
and Milton for the one, and Horace and Hudibras for the other. We know
that the authors of excellent comedies have often failed in the grave
style, and the tragedian as often in comedy. Admiration and laughter
are of such opposite natures, that they are seldom created by the same
person. The man of mirth is always observing the follies and weaknesses,
the serious writer the virtues or crimes, of mankind; one is pleased with
contemplating a beau, the other a hero: even from the same object they
would draw different ideas: Achilles would appear in very different
lights to Thersites and Alexander. The one would admire the courage and
greatness of his soul; the other would ridicule the vanity and rashness
of his temper. As the satirist says to Hannibal:
"I, curre per Alpes,
Ut pueris placeas, et declamatio fias.
"The contrariety of style to the subject pleases the more strongly,
because it is more surprising; the expectation of the reader is
pleasantly deceived, who expects an humble style from the subject, or a
great subject from the style. It pleases the more universally, because
it is agreeable to the taste both of the grave and the merry; but more
particularly so to those who have a relish of the best writers, and the
noblest sort of poetry. I shall produce only one passage out of this
poet, which is the misfortune of his galligaskins:
"My galligaskins, which have long withstood
The winter's fury and encroaching frosts,
By time subdued (what will not time subdue!)
"This is admirably pathetical, and shows very well the vicissitudes of
sublunary things. The rest goes on to a prodigious height; and a man in
Greenland could hardly have made a more pathetick and terrible complaint.
Is it not surprising that the subject should be so mean, and the verse so
pompous; that the least things in his poetry, as in a microscope, should
grow great and formidable to the eye? especially considering that, not
understanding French, he had no model for his style? that he should have
no writer to imitate, and himself be inimitable? that he should do all
this before he was twenty? at an age which is usually pleased with a
glare of false thoughts, little turns, and unnatural fustian? at an
age, at which Cowley, Dryden, and I had almost said Virgil, were
inconsiderable? So soon was his imagination at its full strength, his
judgment ripe, and his humour complete.
"This poem was written for his own diversion, without any design of
publication. It was communicated but to me; but soon spread, and fell
into the hands of pirates. It was put out, vilely mangled, by Ben.
Bragge; and impudently said to be corrected by the author. This grievance
is now grown more epidemical; and no man now has a right to his own
thoughts, or a title to his own writings. Xenophon answered the Persian,
who demanded his arms: 'We have nothing now left but our arms and our
valour: if we surrender the one, how shall we make use of the other?'
Poets have nothing but their wits and their writings; and if they are
plundered of the latter, I don't see what good the former can do them.
To pirate, and publickly own it, to prefix their names to the works they
steal, to own and avow the theft, I believe, was never yet heard of but
in England. It will sound oddly to posterity, that, in a polite nation,
in an enlightened age, under the direction of the most wise, most
learned, and most generous encouragers of knowledge in the world, the
property of a mechanick should be better secured than that of a scholar!
that the poorest manual operations should be more valued than the noblest
products of the brain! that it should be felony to rob a cobbler of a
pair of shoes, and no crime to deprive the best author of his whole
subsistence! that nothing should make a man a sure title to his own
writings but the stupidity of them! that the works of Dryden should meet
with less encouragement than those of his own Flecknoe, or Blackmore!
that Tillotson and St. George, Tom Thumb and Temple, should be set on
an equal foot! This is the reason why this very paper has been so long
delayed; and, while the most impudent and scandalous libels are publickly
vended by the pirates, this innocent work is forced to steal abroad as if
it were a libel.
"Our present writers are by these wretches reduced to the same condition
Virgil was, when the centurion seized on his estate. But I don't doubt
but I can fix upon the Maecenas of the present age, that will retrieve
them from it. But, whatever effect this piracy may have upon us, it
contributed very much to the advantage of Mr. Philips: it helped him to
a reputation which he neither desired nor expected, and to the honour of
being put upon a work of which he did not think himself capable; but the
event showed his modesty. And it was reasonable to hope, that he, who
could raise mean subjects so high, should still be more elevated on
greater themes; that he that could draw such noble ideas from a shilling,
could not fail upon such a subject as the duke of Marlborough, "which
is capable of heightening even the most low and trifling genius." And,
indeed, most of the great works which have been produced in the world
have been owing less to the poet than the patron. Men of the greatest
genius are sometimes lazy, and want a spur; often modest, and dare not
venture in publick: they certainly know their faults in the worst things;
and even their best things they are not fond of, because the idea of what
they ought to be is far above what they are. This induced me to believe
that Virgil desired his works might be burnt, had not the same Augustus
that desired him to write them, preserved them from destruction. A
scribbling beau may imagine a poet _may_ be induced to write, by the
very pleasure he finds in writing; but that is seldom, when people are
necessitated to it. I have known men row, and use very hard labour, for
diversion, which, if they had been tied to, they would have thought
themselves very unhappy.
"But to return to Blenheim, that work so much admired by some, and
censured by others. I have often wished he had wrote it in Latin, that he
might be out of the reach of the empty criticks, who could have as little
understood his meaning in that language as they do his beauties in his
"False criticks have been the plague of all ages; Milton himself, in a
very polite court, has been compared to the rumbling of a wheelbarrow: he
had been on the wrong side, and, therefore, could not be a good poet. And
this, perhaps, may be Mr. Philips's case.
"But I take, generally, the ignorance of his readers to be the occasion
of their dislike. People that have formed their taste upon the French
writers can have no relish for Philips: they admire points and turns,
and, consequently, have no judgment of what is great and majestick; he
must look little in their eyes, when he soars so high as to be almost out
of their view. I cannot, therefore, allow any admirer of the French to be
a judge of Blenheim, nor any who takes Bouhours for a complete critick.
He generally judges of the ancients by the moderns, and not the moderns
by the ancients; he takes those passages of their own authors to be
really sublime which come the nearest to it; he often calls that a noble
and a great thought which is only a pretty and a fine one; and has more
instances of the sublime out of Ovid de Tristibus, than he has out of all
"I shall allow, therefore, only those to be judges of Philips, who make
the ancients, and particularly Virgil, their standard.
"But, before I enter on this subject, I shall consider what is particular
in the style of Philips, and examine what ought to be the style of
heroick poetry; and next inquire how far he is come up to that style.
"His style is particular, because he lays aside rhyme, and writes in
blank verse, and uses old words, and frequently postpones the adjective
to the substantive, and the substantive to the verb; and leaves out
little particles, _a_, and _the_; _her_, and _his_; and uses frequent
appositions. Now let us examine, whether these alterations of style be
conformable to the true sublime."
[Footnote 90: Isaac Vossius relates, that he also delighted in having
his hair combed when he could have it done by barbers or other persons
skilled in the rules of prosody. Of the passage that contains this
ridiculous fancy, the following is a translation: "Many people take
delight in the rubbing of their limbs, and the combing of their hair; but
these exercises would delight much more, if the servants at the baths,
and of the barbers, were so skilful in this art, that they could express
any measures with their fingers. I remember that more than once I have
fallen into the hands of men of this sort, who could imitate any
measure of songs in combing the hair, so as sometimes to express very
intelligibly iambics, trochees, dactyls, &c. from whence there arose
to me no small delight." See his treatise de Poematum Cantu et Viribus
Rythmi. Oxon. 1673. p. 62. II.]
[Footnote 91: This ode I am willing to mention, because there seems to be
an errour in all the printed copies, which is, I find, retained in the
last. They all read;
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium
O! O! labellis cui Venus insidet.
The author probably wrote,
Quam Gratiarum cura decentium
Ornat; labellis cui Venus insidet. Dr. J.
Hannes was professor of chemistry at Oxford, and wrote one or two poems
in the Musae Anglicanae. J.B.]
William Walsh, the son of Joseph Walsh, esq. of Abberley, in
Worcestershire, was born in 1663, as appears from the account of Wood,
who relates, that at the age of fifteen he became, in 1678, a gentleman
commoner of Wadham college.
He left the university without a degree, and pursued his studies in
London and at home; that he studied, in whatever place, is apparent from
the effect, for he became, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, "the best critick in
He was not, however, merely a critick or a scholar, but a man of fashion,
and, as Dennis remarks, ostentatiously splendid in his dress. He was,
likewise, a member of parliament and a courtier, knight of the shire for
his native county in several parliaments; in another the representative
of Richmond in Yorkshire; and gentleman of the horse to queen Anne, under
the duke of Somerset.
Some of his verses show him to have been a zealous friend to the
revolution; but his political ardour did not abate his reverence
or kindness for Dryden, to whom he gave a Dissertation on Virgil's
Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the
laws of French versification.
In 1705, he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very
early the power of poetry. Their letters are written upon the pastoral
comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing
The kindnesses which are first experienced are seldom forgotten. Pope
always retained a grateful memory of Walsh's notice, and mentioned him,
in one of his latter pieces, among those that had encouraged his juvenile
Granville the polite,
And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write.
In his Essay on Criticism he had given him more splendid praise; and,
in the opinion of his learned commentator, sacrificed a little of his
judgment to his gratitude.
The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between
1707, when he wrote to Pope, and 1711, when Pope praised him in his
Essay. The epitaph makes him forty-six years old: if Wood's account be
right, he died in 1709.
He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by any thing
done or written by himself.
His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of
Women; which Dryden honoured with a preface.
Esculapius, or the Hospital of Fools, published after his death.
A Collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in
the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.
To his poems and letters is prefixed a very judicious preface upon
epistolary composition and amorous poetry.
In his Golden Age Restored, there was something of humour, while the
facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of
Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned; and, in all his writings,
there are pleasing passages. He has, however, more elegance than vigour,
and seldom rises higher than to be pretty.
Of the great poet whose life I am about to delineate, the curiosity which
his reputation must excite, will require a display more ample than can
now be given. His contemporaries, however they reverenced his genius,
left his life unwritten; and nothing, therefore, can be known beyond what
casual mention and uncertain tradition have supplied.
John Dryden was born August 9, 1631, at Aldwinkle, near Oundle,
the son of Erasmus Dryden, of Titchmersh; who was the third son of
sir Erasmus Dryden, baronet, of Canons Ashby. All these places are in
Northamptonshire; but the original stock of the family was in the county
He is reported by his last biographer, Derrick, to have inherited, from
his father, an estate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as
was said, an anabaptist. For either of these particulars no authority is
given. Such a fortune ought to have secured him from that poverty
which seems always to have oppressed him; or, if he had wasted it, to
have made him ashamed of publishing his necessities. But, though he
had many enemies, who, undoubtedly, examined his life with a scrutiny
sufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with
waste of his patrimony. He was, indeed, sometimes reproached for his
first religion. I am, therefore, inclined to believe that Derrick's
intelligence was partly true and partly erroneous.
From Westminster school, where he was instructed, as one of the king's
scholars, by Dr. Busby, whom he long after continued to reverence,
he was, in 1650, elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at
Of his school performances has appeared only a poem on the death of
lord Hastings, composed with great ambition of such conceits as,
notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the example
of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the smallpox;
and his poet has made of the pustules first rosebuds, and then gems; at
last exalts them into stars; and says,
No comet need foretell his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation.
At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical
distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious
subjects, or publick occasions. He probably considered, that he, who
proposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained,
whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the college. Why he was
excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought
himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the life of Plutarch he
mentions his education in the college with gratitude; but, in a prologue
at Oxford, he has these lines:
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
Than his own mother-university:
Thebes did his rude, unknowing youth engage;
He chooses Athens in his riper age.
It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a publick
candidate for fame, by publishing Heroick Stanzas on the late Lord
Protector; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller, on
the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the
When the king was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of
usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published Astrea
Redux; a poem on the happy Restoration and Return of his most sacred
Majesty King Charles the second.
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such
numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace! if he changed, he
changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his
reputation raised him enemies.
The same year he praised the new king in a second poem on his
restoration. In the Astrea was the line,
An horrid _stillness_ first _invades_ the _ear_,
And in that silence we a tempest fear--
for which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with
more than was deserved. _Silence_ is, indeed, mere privation; and, so
considered, cannot _invade_; but privation, likewise, certainly is
_darkness_, and probably _cold_; yet poetry has never been refused the
right of ascribing effects or agency to them as to positive powers. No
man scruples to say that _darkness_ hinders him from his work; or that
_cold_ has killed the plants. Death is also privation; yet who has made
any difficulty of assigning to death a dart, and the power of striking?
In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty; for, even
when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he
does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing
is not always the same; nor can the first editions be easily found, if
even from them could be obtained the necessary information.
The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known,
because it was not printed till it was, some years afterwards, altered
and revived; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in
which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may
be inferred; and thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the
thirty-second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage;
compelled, undoubtedly, by necessity, for he appears never to have loved
that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own
Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession for many
years; not, indeed, without the competition of rivals who sometimes
prevailed, or the censure of criticks, which was often poignant, and
often just; but with such a degree of reputation as made him, at least,
secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the
His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant. He began with
no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he
was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the
form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to
vindicate the criticks.
I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his
theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole
series of his dramatick performances; it will be fit, however,
to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are
distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsick or concomitant; for the
composition and fate of eight-and-twenty dramas, include too much of a
poetical life to be omitted.
In 1664, he published the Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the earl of
Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer, and a statesman. In
this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his
dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery
was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.
He then joined with sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in
rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.
The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme,
intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connexion notice
was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door; an
expedient supposed to be ridiculed in the Rehearsal, where Bayes
tells how many reams he has printed, to instil into the audience some
conception of his plot.
In this play is the description of night, which Rymer has made famous by
preferring it to those of all other poets.
The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced soon after the
restoration, as it seems, by the earl of Orrery, in compliance with the
opinion of Charles the second, who had formed his taste by the French
theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that
he wrote, only to please, and who, perhaps, knew that by his dexterity of
versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than without
it, very readily adopted his master's preference. He, therefore, made
rhyming tragedies, till, by the prevalence of manifest propriety, he
seems to have grown ashamed of making them any longer.
To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatick rhyme, in
confutation of the preface to the Duke of Lerma, in which sir Robert
Howard had censured it.
In 1667, he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which may be
esteemed one of his most elaborate works.
It is addressed to sir Robert Howard by a letter, which is not properly
a dedication; and, writing to a poet, he has interspersed many critical
observations, of which some are common, and some, perhaps, ventured
without much consideration. He began, even now, to exercise the
domination of conscious genius, by recommending his own performance:
"I am satisfied that as the prince and general [Rupert and Monk] are
incomparably the best subjects I ever had, so what I have written on
them is much better than what I have performed on any other. As I have
endeavoured to adorn my poem with noble thoughts, so much more to express
those thoughts with elocution."
It is written in quatrains, or heroick stanzas of four lines; a measure
which he had learned from the Gondibert of Davenant, and which he then
thought the most majestick that the English language affords. Of this
stanza he mentions the incumbrances, increased as they were by the
exactness which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much
his custom to recommend his works, by representation of the difficulties
that he had encountered, without appearing to have sufficiently
considered, that where there is no difficulty there is no praise.
There seems to be, in the conduct of sir Robert Howard and Dryden towards
each other, something that is not now easily to be explained.
Dryden, in his dedication to the earl of Orrery, had defended dramatick
rhyme; and Howard, in the preface to a collection of plays, had censured
his opinion. Dryden vindicated himself in his Dialogue on Dramatick
Poetry: Howard, in his preface to the Duke of Lerma, animadverted on the
vindication; and Dryden, in a preface to the Indian Emperor, replied to
the animadversions with great asperity, and almost with contumely. The
dedication to this play is dated the year in which the Annus Mirabilis
was published. Here appears a strange inconsistency; but Langbaine
affords some help, by relating that the answer to Howard was not
published in the first edition of the play, but was added when it was
afterwards reprinted; and, as the Duke of Lerma did not appear till 1668,
the same year in which the dialogue was published, there was time enough
for enmity to grow up between authors, who, writing both for the theatre,
were naturally rivals.
He was now so much distinguished, that, in 1668, he succeeded sir
William Davenant as poet laureate. The salary of the laureate had been
raised in favour of Jonson, by Charles the first, from a hundred marks
to one hundred pounds a year, and a tierce of wine; a revenue, in those
days, not inadequate to the conveniencies of life.
The same year he published his Essay on Dramatick Poetry, an elegant and
instructive dialogue; in which we are told, by Prior, that the principal
character is meant to represent the duke of Dorset. This work seems to
have given Addison a model for his Dialogues upon Medals.
Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen, 1668, is a tragicomedy. In the preface
he discusses a curious question, whether a poet can judge well of his
own productions? and determines very justly, that, of the plan and
disposition, and all that can be reduced to principles of science, the
author may depend upon his own opinion; but that, in those parts where
fancy predominates, self-love may easily deceive. He might have observed,
that what is good only because it pleases, cannot be pronounced good till
it has been found to please.
Sir Martin Mar-all, 1668, is a comedy published without preface or
dedication, and at first without the name of the author. Langbaine
charges it, like most of the rest, with plagiarism; and observes, that
the song is translated from Voiture, allowing, however, that both the
sense and measure are exactly observed.
The Tempest, 1670, is an alteration of Shakespeare's play, made by Dryden
in conjunction with Davenant; "whom," says he, "I found of so quick a
fancy, that nothing was proposed to him in which he could not suddenly
produce a thought extremely pleasant and surprising; and those first
thoughts of his, contrary to the Latin proverb, were not always the least
happy; and as his fancy was quick, so, likewise, were the products of it
remote and new. He borrowed not of any other; and his imaginations were
such as could not easily enter into any other man."
The effect produced by the conjunction of these two powerful minds was,
that to Shakespeare's monster, Caliban, is added a sister monster,
Sycorax; and a woman, who, in the original play, had never seen a man,
is, in this, brought acquainted with a man that had never seen a woman.
About this time, in 1673, Dryden seems to have had his quiet much
disturbed by the success of the Emperess of Morocco, a tragedy written
in rhyme, by Elkanah Settle; which was so much applauded, as to make him
think his supremacy of reputation in some danger. Settle had not only
been prosperous on the stage, but, in the confidence of success, had
published his play, with sculptures and a preface of defiance. Here was
one offence added to another; and, for the last blast of inflammation, it
was acted at Whitehall by the court ladies.
Dryden could not now repress those emotions, which he called indignation,
and others jealousy; but wrote upon the play and the dedication such
criticism as malignant impatience could pour out in haste.
Of Settle he gives this character: "He's an animal of a most deplored
understanding, without reading and conversation. His being is in a
twilight of sense, and some glimmering of thought, which he can never
fashion into wit or English. His style is boisterous and rough-hewn,
his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually harsh and
ill-sounding. The little talent which he has, is fancy. He sometimes
labours with a thought; but, with the pudder he makes to bring it into
the world, 'tis commonly stillborn; so that, for want of learning and
elocution, he will never be able to express any thing either naturally or
This is not very decent; yet this is one of the pages in which criticism
prevails most over brutal fury.
He proceeds: "He has a heavy hand at fools, and a great felicity in
writing nonsense for them. Fools they will be, in spite of him. His king,
his two emperesses, his villain, and his sub-villain, nay, his hero, have
all a certain natural cast of the father--their folly was born and bred
in them, and something of the Elkanah will be visible."
This is Dryden's general declamation; I will not withhold from the reader
a particular remark. Having gone through the first act, he says: "To
conclude this act with the most rumbling piece of nonsense spoken yet:
"To flatt'ring lightning our feign'd smiles conform,
Which, back'd with thunder, do but gild a storm.
"_Conform a smile to lightning_, make a _smile_ imitate _lightning_, and
_flattering lightning_: lightning, sure, is a threatening thing. And
this lightning must _gild a storm_. Now, if I must conform my smiles to
lightning, then my smiles must gild a storm too: to _gild_ with _smiles_,
is a new invention of gilding. And gild a storm by being _backed with
thunder_. Thunder is part of the storm; so one part of the storm must
help to _gild_ another part, and help by _backing_; as if a man would
gild a thing the better for being backed, or having a load upon his back.
So that here is _gilding_ by _conforming, smiling, lightning, backing_,
and _thundering_. The whole is as if I should say thus: I will make my
counterfeit smiles look like a flattering stonehorse, which, being backed
with a trooper, does but gild the battle. I am mistaken, if nonsense is
not here pretty thick sown. Sure the poet writ these two lines aboard
some smack in a storm, and, being sea-sick, spewed up a good lump of
clotted nonsense at once."
Here is, perhaps, a sufficient specimen; but as the pamphlet, though
Dryden's, has never been thought worthy of republication, and is not
easily to be found, it may gratify curiosity to quote it more largely:
"Whene'er she bleeds,
He no severer a damnation needs,
That dares pronounce the sentence of her death,
Than the infection that attends that breath.
"_That attends that breath_. The poet is at _breath_ again; _breath_
can never scape him; and here he brings in a _breath_ that must be
_infectious_ with _pronouncing_ a sentence; and this sentence is not to
be pronounced till the condemned party _bleeds_; that is, she must be
executed first, and sentenced after; and the _pronouncing_ of this
_sentence_ will be infectious; that is, others will catch the disease of
that sentence, and this infecting of others will torment a man's self.
The whole is thus: when she bleeds, thou needest no greater hell or
torment to thyself, than infecting of others by pronouncing a sentence
upon her. What hodge-podge does he make here! Never was Dutch grout such
clogging, thick, indigestible stuff. But this is but a taste to stay the
stomach; we shall have a more plentiful mess presently.
"Now to dish up the poet's broth, that I promised:
"For when we're dead, and our freed souls enlarg'd,
Of nature's grosser burden we're discharg'd,
Then gently, as a happy lover's sigh,
Like wand'ring meteors through the air we'll fly,
And in our airy walk, as subtle guests,
We'll steal into our cruel fathers' breasts,
There read their souls, and track each passion's sphere:
See how revenge moves there, ambition here!
And in their orbs view the dark characters
Of sieges, ruins, murders, blood, and wars.
We'll blot out all those hideous draughts, and write
Pure and white forms; then with a radiant light
Their breasts encircle, till their passions be
Gentle as nature in its infancy;
Till, soften'd by our charms, their furies cease,
And their revenge resolves into a peace.
Thus by our death their quarrel ends,
Whom living we made foes, dead we'll make friends.
"If this be not a very liberal mess, I will refer myself to the stomach
of any moderate guest. And a rare mess it is, far excelling any
Westminster white-broth. It is a kind of giblet porridge, made of the
giblets of a couple of young geese, stodged full of meteors, orbs,
spheres, track, hideous draughts, dark characters, white forms, and
radiant lights; designed not only to please appetite, and indulge luxury,
but it is also physical, being an approved medicine to purge choler: for
it is propounded by Morena, as a receipt to cure their fathers of their
cholerick humours; and, were it written in characters as barbarous as
the words, might very well pass for a doctor's bill. To conclude: it is
porridge, 'tis a receipt, 'tis a pig with a pudding in the belly, 'tis
I know not what: for, certainly, never any one that pretended to write
sense, had the impudence before to put such stuff as this into the mouths
of those that were to speak it before an audience, whom he did not take
to be all fools; and, after that, to print it too, and expose it to the
examination of the world. But let us see what we can make of this stuff:
"For when we're dead, and our freed souls enlarg'd--
"Here he tells us what it is to be _dead_; it is to have _our freed souls
set free_. Now, if to have a soul set free, is to be dead; then to have a
_freed soul_ set free, is to have a dead man die.
"Then gentle, as a happy lover's sigh--
"They two like one _sigh_, and that one _sigh_ like two wandering
"Shall fly through the air--
"That is, they shall mount above like falling stars, or else they shall
skip like two Jacks with lanterns, or Will with a wisp, and Madge with a
"_And in their airy walk steal into their cruel fathers' breasts, like
subtle guests_. So that their _fathers' breasts_ must be in an _airy
walk_, an airy _walk_ of a _flier. And there they will read their souls,
and track the spheres of their passions_. That is, these walking fliers,
Jack with a lantern, &c. will put on his spectacles, and fall a _reading
souls_, and put on his pumps and fall a _tracking of spheres_; so that he
will read and run, walk and fly, at the same time! Oh! Nimble Jack! _Then
he will see, how revenge here, how ambition there_--The birds will hop
about. _And then view the dark characters of sieges, ruins, murders,
blood, and wars, in their orbs: track the characters_ to their forms! Oh!
rare sport for Jack! Never was place so full of game as these breasts!
You cannot stir, but flush a sphere, start a character, or unkennel an
Settle's is said to have been the first play embellished with sculptures;
those ornaments seem to have given poor Dryden great disturbance. He
tries, however, to ease his pain by venting his malice in a parody:
"The poet has not only been so impudent to expose all this stuff, but so
arrogant to defend it with an epistle; like a saucy booth-keeper, that,
when he had put a cheat upon the people, would wrangle and fight with
any that would not like it, or would offer to discover it; for which
arrogance our poet receives this correction; and, to jerk him a little
the sharper, I will not transpose his verse, but by the help of his own
words transnonsense sense, that, by my stuff, people may judge the better
what his is:
"Great boy, thy tragedy and sculptures done,
From press and plates, in fleets do homeward come;
And in ridiculous and humble pride,
Their course in ballad-singers' baskets guide,
Whose greasy twigs do all new beauties take,
From the gay shows thy dainty sculptures make.
Thy lines a mess of rhyming nonsense yield,
A senseless tale, with flattering fustian fill'd.
No grain of sense does in one line appear,
Thy words big bulks of boist'rous bombast bear,
With noise they move, and from play'rs' mouths rebound,
When their tongues dance to thy words' empty sound.
By thee inspir'd the rumbling verses roll,
As if that rhyme and bombast lent a soul:
And with that soul they seem taught duty too;
To huffing words does humble nonsense bow,
As if it would thy worthless worth enhance,
To th' lowest rank of fops thy praise advance,
To whom, by instinct, all thy stuff is dear:
Their loud claps echo to the theatre:
From breaths of fools thy commendation spreads,
Fame sings thy praise with mouths of loggerheads.
With noise and laughing each thy fustian greets,
'Tis clapt by choirs of empty-headed cits,
Who have their tribute sent, and homage given,
As men in whispers send loud noise to heaven.
"Thus I have daubed him with his own puddle: and now we are come from
aboard his dancing, masking, rebounding, breathing fleet; and, as if we
had landed at Gotham, we meet nothing but fools and nonsense."
Such was the criticism to which the genius of Dryden could be reduced,
between rage and terrour; rage with little provocation, and terrour with
little danger. To see the highest minds thus levelled with the meanest,
may produce some solace to the consciousness of weakness, and some
mortification to the pride of wisdom. But let it be remembered, that
minds are not levelled in their powers but when they are first levelled
in their desires. Dryden and Settle had both placed their happiness in
the claps of multitudes.
An Evening's Love, or the Mock Astrologer, a comedy, 1671, is dedicated
to the illustrious duke of Newcastle, whom he courts by adding to his
praises those of his lady, not only as a lover but a partner of his
studies. It is unpleasing to think how many names, once celebrated,
are since forgotten. Of Newcastle's works nothing is now known but his
Treatise on Horsemanship.
The preface seems very elaborately written, and contains many just
remarks on the fathers of English drama. Shakespeare's plots, he says,
are in the hundred novels of Cinthio; those of Beaumont and Fletcher in
Spanish Stories; Jonson only made them for himself. His criticisms upon
tragedy, comedy, and farce, are judicious and profound. He endeavours to
defend the immorality of some of his comedies by the example of former
writers; which is only to say, that he was not the first, nor, perhaps,
the greatest offender. Against those that accused him of plagiarism he
alleges a favourable expression of the king: "He only desired that they,
who accuse me of thefts, would steal him plays like mine;" and then
relates how much labour he spends in fitting for the English stage what
he borrows from others.
Tyrannick Love, or the Virgin Martyr, 1672, was another tragedy in rhyme,
conspicuous for many passages of strength and elegance, and many of empty
noise and ridiculous turbulence. The rants of Maximin have been always
the sport of criticism; and were, at length, if his own confession may be
trusted, the shame of the writer.
Of this play he takes care to let the reader know, that it was contrived
and written in seven weeks. Want of time was often his excuse, or,
perhaps, shortness of time was his private boast, in the form of an
It was written before the Conquest of Granada, but published after it.
The design is to recommend piety: "I considered that pleasure was not the
only end of poesy; and that even the instructions of morality were not
so wholly the business of a poet, as that precepts and examples of piety
were to be omitted; for to leave that employment altogether to the clergy,
were to forget that religion was first taught in verse, which the laziness
or dulness of succeeding priesthood turned afterwards into prose." Thus
foolishly could Dryden write, rather than not show his malice to the
The two parts of the Conquest of Granada, 1672, are written with a
seeming determination to glut the publick with dramatick wonders; to
exhibit, in its highest elevation, a theatrical meteor of incredible love
and impossible valour, and to leave no room for a wilder flight to the
extravagance of posterity. All the rays of romantick heat, whether
amorous or warlike, glow in Almanzor, by a kind of concentration. He is
above all laws; he is exempt from all restraints; he ranges the world at
will, and governs wherever he appears. He fights without inquiring the
cause, and loves, in spite of the obligations of justice, of rejection by
his mistress, and of prohibition from the dead. Yet the scenes are, for
the most part, delightful; they exhibit a kind of illustrious depravity,
and majestick madness; such as, if it is sometimes despised, is often
reverenced, and in which the ridiculous is mingled with the astonishing.
In the epilogue to the second part of the Conquest of Granada, Dryden
indulges his favourite pleasure of discrediting his predecessors; and
this epilogue he has defended by a long postscript. He had promised a
second dialogue, in which he should more fully treat of the virtues and
faults of the English poets, who have written in the dramatick, epick, or
lyrick way. This promise was never formally performed; but, with respect
to the dramatick writers, he has given us in his prefaces, and in this
postscript, something equivalent; but his purpose being to exalt
himself by the comparison, he shows faults distinctly, and only praises
excellence in general terms.
A play thus written, in professed defiance of probability, naturally drew
down upon itself the vultures of the theatre. One of the criticks that
attacked it was Martin Clifford, to whom Sprat addressed the Life of
Cowley, with such veneration of his critical powers as might naturally
excite great expectations of instruction from his remarks. But let honest
credulity beware of receiving characters from contemporary writers.
Clifford's remarks, by the favour of Dr. Percy, were, at last, obtained;
and that no man may ever want them more, I will extract enough to satisfy
all reasonable desire.
In the first letter his observation is only general: "You do live," says
he, "in as much ignorance and darkness as you did in the womb: your
writings are like a Jack-of-all-trades' shop; they have a variety, but
nothing of value; and if thou art not the dullest plant-animal that ever
the earth produced, all that I have conversed with are strangely mistaken
In the second, he tells him that Almanzor is not more copied from
Achilles than from Ancient Pistol: "But I am," says he, "strangely
mistaken if I have not seen this very Almanzor of yours in some disguise
about this town, and passing under another name. Pr'ythee tell me true,
was not this Huffcap once the Indian Emperor? and, at another time, did
he not call himself Maximin? Was riot Lyndaraxa once called Almeira?
I mean under Montezuma the Indian Emperor. I protest and vow they are
either the same, or so alike that I cannot, for my heart, distinguish one
from the other. You are, therefore, a strange unconscionable thief; thou
art not content to steal from others, but dost rob thy poor wretched self
Now was Settle's time to take his revenge. He wrote a vindication of his
own lines; and, if he is forced to yield any thing, makes reprisals upon
his enemy. To say that his answer is equal to the censure, is no high
commendation. To expose Dryden's method of analyzing his expressions, he
tries the same experiment upon the description of the ships in the Indian
Emperor, of which, however, he does not deny the excellence; but intends
to show, that, by studied misconstruction, every thing may be
equally represented as ridiculous. After so much of Dryden's elegant
animadversions, justice requires that something of Settle's should be
exhibited. The following observations are, therefore, extracted from a
quarto pamphlet of ninety-five pages:
"Fate after him below with pain did move,
And victory could scarce keep pace above.
"These two lines, if he can show me any sense or thought in, or any
thing but bombast and noise, he shall make me believe every word in his
observations on Morocco sense.
"In the Empress of Morocco were these lines:
"I'll travel then to some remoter sphere,
Till I find out new worlds, and crown you there.
"On which Dryden made this remark:
"'I believe our learned author takes a sphere for a country: the sphere
of Morocco; as if Morocco were the globe of earth and water; but a globe
is no sphere neither, by his leave,' &c. So _sphere_ must not be sense,
unless it relate to a circular motion about a globe, in which sense the
astronomers use it. I would desire him to expound those lines in Granada:
"I'll to the turrets of the palace go,
And add new fire to those that fight below.
Thence, hero-like, with torches by my side,
(Far be the omen though) my love I'll guide.
No, like his better fortune I'll appear,
With open arms, loose veil, and flowing hair.
Just flying forward from my rowling sphere.
"I wonder, if he be so strict, how he dares make so bold with _sphere_
himself, and be so critical in other men's writings. Fortune is fancied
standing on a globe, not on a _sphere_, as he told us in the first act.
"Because 'Elkanah's similes are the most unlike things to what they are
compared in the world,' I'll venture to start a simile in his Annus
Mirabilis: he gives this poetical description of the ship called the
"The goodly London in her gallant trim,
The phoenix-daughter of the vanquisht old,
Like a rich bride does on the ocean swim,
And on her shadow rides in floating gold.
Her flag aloft spread ruffling in the wind,
And sanguine streamers seem'd the flood to fire:
The weaver, charm'd with what his loom design'd,
Goes on to sea, and knows not to retire.
With roomy decks, her guns of mighty strength,
Whose low-laid mouths each mounting billow laves,
Deep in her draught, and warlike in her length,
She seems a sea-wasp flying on the waves.
"What a wonderful pother is here, to make all these poetical
beautifications of a ship! that is a _phoenix_ in the first stanza, and
but a _wasp_ in the last: nay, to make his humble comparison of a _wasp_
more ridiculous, he does not say it flies upon the waves as nimbly as a
wasp, or the like, but it seemed a _wasp_. But our author at the writing
of this was not in his altitudes, to compare ships to floating palaces: a
comparison to the purpose, was a perfection he did not arrive to till his
Indian Emperor's days. But, perhaps, his similitude has more in it than
we imagine; this ship had a great many guns in her, and they, put all
together, made the sting in the wasp's tail; for this is all the reason I
can guess, why it seem'd a _wasp_. But, because we will allow him all we
can to help out, let it be a _phoenix sea-wasp_, and the rarity of such
an animal may do much towards heightening the fancy.
"It had been much more to his purpose, if he had designed to render the
senseless play little, to have searched for some such pedantry as this:
"Two ifs scarce make one possibility.
If justice will take all and nothing give,
Justice, methinks, is not distributive.
To die or kill you, is the alternative.
Rather than take your life, I will not live.
"Observe how prettily our author chops logick in heroick verse. Three
such fustian canting words as _distributive, alternative_, and _two ifs_,
no man but himself would have come within the noise of. But he's a man of
general learning, and all comes into his play.
"'Twould have done well too if he could have met with a rant or two,
worth the observation; such as,
"Move swiftly, sun, and fly a lover's pace,
Leave months and weeks behind thee in thy race.
"But surely the sun, whether he flies a lover's or not a lover's pace,
leaves weeks and months, nay, years too, behind him in his race.
"Poor Robin, or any other of the philo-mathematicks, would have given him
satisfaction in the point:
"If I could kill thee now, thy fate's so low,
That I must stoop, ere I can give the blow.
But mine is fixt so far above thy crown,
That all thy men,
Piled on thy back, can never pull it down.
"Now where that is, Almanzor's fate is fixt, I cannot guess; but,
wherever it is, I believe Almanzor, and think that all Abdalla's
subjects, piled upon one another, might not pull down his fate so well as
without piling: besides, I think Abdalla so wise a man, that, if Almanzor
had told him piling his men upon his back might do the feat, he would
scarce bear such a weight, for the pleasure of the exploit; but it is a
huff, and let Abdalla do it if he dare.
"The people like a headlong torrent go,
And ev'ry dam they break or overflow.
But, unoppos'd, they either lose their force,
Or wind in volumes to their former course.
"A very pretty allusion, contrary to all sense or reason. Torrents, I
take it, let them wind never so much, can never return to their former
course, unless he can suppose that fountains can go upwards, which is
impossible; nay, more, in the foregoing page he tells us so too; a trick
of a very unfaithful memory:
"But can no more than fountains upward flow;
"which of a _torrent_, which signifies a rapid stream, is much more
impossible. Besides, if he goes to quibble, and say that it is possible
by art water may be made return, and the same water run twice in one and
the same channel: then he quite confutes what he says; for it is by being
opposed, that it runs into its former course; for all engines that make
water so return, do it by compulsion and opposition. Or, if he means a
headlong torrent for a tide, which would be ridiculous, yet they do riot
wind in volumes, but come foreright back, (if their upright lies straight
to their former course,) and that by opposition of the sea-water, that
drives them back again.
"And for fancy, when he lights of any thing like it, 'tis a wonder if it
be not borrowed. As here, for example of, I find this fanciful thought in
his Ann. Mirab.
"Old father Thames rais'd up his rev'rend head;
But fear'd the fate of Simoeis would return:
Deep in his ooze he sought his sedgy bed;
And shrunk his waters back into his urn.
"This is stolen from Cowley's Davideis, p. 9.
"Swift Jordan started, and strait backward fled,
Hiding amongst thick reeds his aged head.
And when the Spaniards their assault begin,
At once beat those without and those within.
"This Almanzor speaks of himself; and, sure, for one man to conquer an
army within the city, and another without the city, at once, is something
difficult; but this flight is pardonable to some we meet with in Granada:
Osmin, speaking of Almanzor,
"Who, like a tempest that outrides the wind,
Made a just battle, ere the bodies join'd.
"Pray, what does this honourable person mean by a 'tempest that outrides
the wind?' a tempest that outrides itself. To suppose a tempest without
wind, is as bad as supposing a man to walk without feet; for if he
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