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on his character. It was the "Astræa Redux," written "on the happy restoration and return of his sacred Majesty, Charles II." After his eulogy of Cromwell two years before, we are hardly prepared for such lines as these :
"For his long absence Church and State did groan;
Madness the pulpit, faction seized the throne:
In 1863 he began to write for the stage. Instead of seeking to elevate public morals, or to attain perfection in art, it is to the lasting discredit of Dryden that he pandered to the vicious taste of the time. His first play, “The Wild Gallant," was not successful; and Pepys, in his "Diary," pronounced it so poor a thing as ever I saw in my life." Without following him through the vicissitudes of his dramatic career, it is enough to say that he wrote in all twenty-eight comedies and tragedies, and at length established his position as the first dramatist of his time. For a long time he followed French models, but at last came to recognize and professedly to imitate the “divine Shakespeare." In his comedies, as he tells us, he copied "the gallantries of the court." When in later years Jeremy Collier severely attacked the immoralities of the stage, Dryden, unlike several of his fellow dramatists who attempted a reply, pleaded guilty, and retracted all thoughts and expressions that could be fairly charged with "obscenity, profaneness, or immorality.”
In his tragedies he imitated the heroic style of Corneille. They contain much splendid declamation, which too often degenerates into bombast. But frequently he reaches the height of genuine poetry. Only a poet could have written these lines:
That voice, methinks, I should have somewhere heard;
Beyond my ken of soul."
"I feel death rising higher still and higher
When he moralizes he is often admirable:
"The gods are just,
But how can finite measure infinite?
Reason! alas, it does not know itself!
Whatever is, is in its causes just,
Since all things are by fate. But purblind man
That poises all above."
But the drama was not Dryden's sphere. In his mind the judgment had the ascendency over the imagination. He was strongest in analyzing, arguing, criticising. He was a master of satire not indeed of that species which slovenly butchers a man, to use his own comparison, but rather of that species which has "the fineness of stroke to separate the head from the body, and leave it standing in its place." We shall say nothing of his "Annus Mirabilis," a long poem on the Dutch war and the London fire, except that it contains some of his manliest lines. It is not easy to surpass,
"Silent in smoke of cannon they come on;
"And his loud guns speak thick, like angry men;"
"The vigorous seaman every port-hole plies,
And adds his heart to every gun he fires."
In 1681 appeared the famous satire, "Absalom and Achitophel," the object of which was to bring discredit on the Earl
of Shaftesbury and his adherents, who were seeking to secure the succession to the throne for the Duke of Monmouth, Charles's eldest son. It has been called the best political satire ever written. There is no effort at playful and delicate art; the poem was composed in earnest, and it abounds in hard, sweeping, stunning blows. It was eagerly seized upon by the public, and in a year no fewer than nine editions were called for. The Earl of Shaftesbury figures as Achitophel :
"A name to all succeeding ages cursed:
For close designs, and crooked counsels fit;
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high,
He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit."
The Duke of Buckingham is Zimri, whose character is outlined with astonishing power:
"A man so various, that he seemed to be
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes."
In 1682 appeared the "Religio Laici," which is appended for special study. As an exposition of a layman's faith, it was
probably an honest presentation of Dryden's beliefs at the time. Whether intended to serve a political purpose or not, is a matter of dispute; but it attacks the Papists, and at the same time declares the "Fanatics," by whom are meant the Nonconformists, still more dangerous-a declaration that accorded well with Charles's policy of persecution. It is entirely didactic in character, and deservedly ranks as one of the very best poems of its class in English. Though it is closely argumentative throughout, it still contains passages of much beauty. The opening lines are justly admired : —
"Dim as the borrowed beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering travellers
Is Reason to the soul: and as on high
But guide us upward to a better day.
When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere,
So pale grows Reason at Religion's sight,
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light."
In the preface to the poem, Dryden has given us the ideal of style at which he aimed and which he largely realized: "If any one be so lamentable a critic as to require the smoothness, the numbers, and the turn of heroic poetry in this poem, I must tell him, that, if he has not read Horace, I have studied him, and hope the style of his Epistles is not ill imitated here. The expressions of a poem designed purely for instruction ought to be plain and natural, and yet majestic for here the poet is presumed to be a kind of lawgiver, and those three qualities which I have named are proper to the legislative style. The florid, elevated, and figurative way is for the passions; for love and hatred, fear and anger, are begotten in the soul by showing their objects out of their true proportion, either greater than the life or less; but instruction is to be
given by showing them what they naturally are. A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reasoned into truth."
On the accession of James in 1685, Dryden became a Roman Catholic. This conversion has given rise to considerable discussion. Did it result from conviction or from self-interest? It is impossible to determine. But, in the moderate language of Johnson, "That conversion will always be suspected that apparently concurs with interest. He that never finds his error till it hinders his progress towards wealth or honor, will not be thought to love truth only for herself. Yet it may easily happen that information may come at a commodious time, and as truth and interest are not by any fatal necessity at variance, that one may by accident introduce the other. When opinions are struggling into popularity, the arguments by which they are opposed or defended become more known, and he that changes his profession would perhaps have changed it before, with the like opportunities of instruction. This was then the state of popery; every artifice was used to show it in its fairest form; and it must be owned to be a religion of external appearance sufficiently attractive."
As a result of this conversion we have the "Hind and Panther," a poem of twenty-five hundred lines, which is devoted to the defence of the Roman Church. This church is represented by the "milk-white hind," and the Church of England by the panther, a beautiful but spotted animal. Published at a time of heated religious controversy, it had a wide circulation. It was regarded by Pope as the most correct specimen of Dryden's versification; and there can be no doubt that the author, knowing it would be criticised with the most unfriendly rigor, elaborated it with unusual care. The opening lines are beautiful:
A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged,
She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.