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THE enmity between Dryden and Shadwell at first probably only sprung from some of those temporary causes of disgust, which must frequently divide persons whose lives are spent in a competition for public applause. That they were occasionally upon tolerable terms is certain, for Dryden has told us so; and Shadwell, in 1676, when expressing his dissent from one of our author's rules of theatrical criticism, industriously and anxiously qualifies his opinion, with the highest compliments to our author's genius. They had formerly even joined forces, and called in the aid of another wit, to overwhelm the reputation of no less a person than Elkanah Settle. † But, between the politics of the stage and of the nation, the friendship of these bards, which probably never had a very solid foundation, was at length totally overthrown. It is not very easy to discover who struck the first blow; but it may be suspected, that Dryden was displeased to see Shadwell not only dispute his canons of criticism in print, but seem to establish himself as an imitator of the old school of dramatic composition, and particularly of Jonson, on whom Dryden had thrown some censure in his epilogue to "The Conquest of Grenada," and in the Defence of these verses. It seems certain, that the feud had broke out in 1675-6; for Shadwell has not only made some invidious allusions to the success of "Aureng-Zebe," which was represented that season, but has plainly intimated, that he needed only a pension to enable him to write as well as Dryden himself. †
* See the whole passage, Vol. VII. p. 141. note.
See the Remarks on the Empress of Morocco, written in conjunction by Dryden, Crown, and Shadwell. They were printed in 1674.
These circumstances of offence occur in the prologue, epilogue, and preface to the "Virtuoso," which must have been acted in the same season with "Aureng-Zebe," as the dedication is dated 26th June, 1676. The prologue commences with an irreverend allusion to that play, and to our author's theatrical engagements:
You came with such an eager appetite
To a late play, which gave so great delight,
This assault, however, seems to have been forgiven; for Dryden obliged Shadwell with an epilogue to the "True Widow," acted in 1678. But their precarious reconcilement did not long subsist, when political animosity was added to literary rivalry. Shadwell not only wrote the "Lancashire Witches," in ridicule of the Tory party, but entered into a personal contest with our author on the subject of "The Medal," which he answered by a clumsy, though venomous, retort, called "The Medal of John Bayes." In the preface he asserts, that no one can think Dryden "hardly dealt with, since he knows, and so do all his old acquaintance, that there is not one untrue word spoke of him." Neither was this a single offence; for Dryden, in his "Vindication of the Duke of Guise," says, that Shadwell has repeat,
Our poet fears, that by so rich a treat
But this requires expence of time and pains,
For wit, like china, should long buried lie,
A thing we ne'er have seen since Jonson's days,
Now drudges of the stage must oft appear,
They must be bound to scribble twice a year.
That these insinuations might not be mistaken, Shadwell, in the epilogue, severely attacks rhyming tragedies in general; the object of which diatribe, considering the late success of "Aureng-Zebe,” could not possibly be misinterpreted:
But of those ladies he despairs to-day,
And snivelling heroes sigh, and pine, and cry.
Rant at the gods, and do impossible things;
Though they can laugh at danger, blood, and wounds,
The passage in the Dedication, in which he insinuates that the provision of a pension was all he wanted, to place him on a level with the proudest of his rivals, is as follows: "That there are a great many faults in the conduct of this play, I am not ignorant; but I (having no pension but from the theatre, which is either unwilling, or unable, to reward a man sufficiently for so much pains as correct comedies require) cannot allot my whole time to the writing of plays, but am forced to mind some other business of advantage. Had I as much money, and as much time for it, I might perhaps write as correct a comedy as any of my contemporaries."
edly called him Atheist in print. These reiterated insults at length drew down the vengeance of our poet, who seems to have singled Shadwell from the herd of those who had libelled him, to be gibbetted in rhyme while the English language shall last. Neither was Dryden satisfied with a single attack upon this obnoxious bard; but, having divided his poetical character from that which he held as a political writer, he discussed the first in the satire which follows, and the last, with equal severity, in the Second Part of " Absalom and Achitophel." These two admirable pieces of satire appeared within less than a month of each other; and leave it a matter of doubt, whether the bitter ridicule of the anointed Prince of Dulness, or the sarcastic description of Og, the seditious poetaster, be most cruelly severe.
"Mac-Flecnoe" must be allowed to be one of the keenest satires in the English language. It is what Dryden has elsewhere termed a Varronian satire; that is, as he seems to use the phrase, one in which the author is not contented with general sarcasm upon the object of attack. but where he has woven his piece into a sort of imaginary story, or scene, in which he introduces the person, whom he ridicules, as a principal actor. The posi tion in which Dryden has placed Shadwell is the most mortifying to literary vanity which can possibly be imagined, and is hardly excelled by the device of Pope in the "Dunciad," who has obviously followed the steps of his predecessor. Flecnoe, who seems to have been universally acknowledged as the very lowest of all poetasters, and whose name had passed into a proverb for doggrel verse and stupid prose, is represented as devolving upon Shadwell that pre-eminence over the realms of Dulness, which he had himself possessed without a rival. The spot chosen for this devolution of empire is the Barbican, an obscure suburb, in which it would seem that there were temporary theatrical representations of the lowest order, among other receptacles of vulgar dissipation, for the amusement of the very lowest of the vulgar. Here the ceremony of Shadwell's coronation is supposed to be performed with an inaugural oration by Flecnoe, his predecessor, in which all his pretensions to wit and to literary fame are sarcastically enumerated and confuted, by a counter-statement of his claims to distinction by pre-eminent and unrivalled stupidity. In this satire, the shafts of the poet are directed with an aim acutely malignant. The inference drawn concerning Shadwell's talents is general and absolute; but in the proof, Dryden appeals with triumph to those parts only of his literary character which are obviously vulnerable. He reckons up among his titles to the throne of
* See Essay on Satire, Vol. XIII. p. 65.
Flecroe, his desperate and unsuccessful attempts at lyrical composition, in the opera of "Psyche;" the clumsy and coarse limning of those whom he designed to figure as fine gentlemen in his comedies; the false and florid taste of his dedications; his presumptuous imitation of Jonson in composition, and his absurd resemblance to him in person. But the satirist industriously keeps out of view those points, in which perhaps he internally felt some inferiority to the object of his wrath. He mentions nothing that could recal to the reader's recollection that insight into human life, that acquaintance with the foibles and absurdities displayed in individual pursuits, that bold though coarse delineation of character, which gave fame to Shadwell's comedies in the last century, and renders them amusing even at the present day. This discrimination is an excellent proof of the exquisite address with which Dryden wielded the satirical weapon, and managed the feelings of his readers. We never find him attempting a despeXrate or impossible task; at least in a way which seems, in the moment of perusal, desperate or impossible. He never wastes his powder against the impregnable part of a fortress, but directs all his battery against some weaker spot, where a breach may be rendered practicable. In short, by convincing his reader that he is ight in the examples which he quotes, he puts the question at issue upon the ground most disadvantageous for his antagonist, and renders it very difficult for one who has been proved a dunce in one instance to establish his credit in any other.
I have had so frequently to call the attention of my reader to the sonorous and emphatic effect of Dryden's versification, that it is almost ridiculous to repeat epithets which apply to every poem which succeeded his Annus Mirabilis; yet I cannot but remark, that the mock heroic may be said to have owed its rise to our author, and that there is hardly any poem, before " Mac-Flecnoe," in which it has been employed with all its qualities of grave and pompous irony, expressed in solemn and sounding verse.
It is no inconsiderable part of the merit of" Mac-Flecnoe," that it led the way to the "Dunciad:" yet, while we acknowledge the more copious and variegated flow of Pope's satire, we must not forget, that, independent of the merit of originality, always inestimable, Dryden's poem claims that of a close and more compact fable, of a single and undisturbed aim. Pope's ridicule and sarcasm is scattered so wide, and among such a number of authors, that it resembles small shot discharged at random among a crowd; while that of Dryden, like a single well-directed bullet, prostrates the individual object against whom it was directed. Besides, the reader is apt to sympathise with the degree of the satirist's provocation, which, in Dryden's case, cannot be disputed; whereas Pope sometimes confounds those, from whom he had re
ceived gross incivility, with others who had given him no offence, and with some whose characters were above his accusation. To posterity, the "Mac-Flecnoe" possesses a decided superiority over the "Dunciad," for a very few facts make us master of the argument; while that of the latter poem, excepting the Sixth Book, where the satire is more general, requires a note at every tenth line to render it even intelligible.
Mr Malone has given us the title of the first edition of " MacFlecnoe," which the present Editor has never seen, as indeed it is of the last degree of rarity. It was published not by Tonson, but by D. Green, and entitled, "Mac-Flecnoe, or a Satire on the True-blue* Protestant Poet, T. S.; by the Author of Absalom and Achitophel." It consisted only of one sheet and a half, and was sold for twopence. The satire was too personal, and too poignant, to fail in attracting immediate attention, and accordingly the poem was quickly sold off. It was not republished until it appeared in Tonson's first Miscellany, in 1684, with a few slight alterations, intended either to point particular verses, or to correct errors of the press, or pen. It must have been generally known, that Dryden was the author of this satire, both because it is stated in the title-page to be by the author of "Absalom and Achitophel," and because there existed no contemporary poet to whom so masterly a production could have been ascribed, even with remote probability; yet Shadwell, in his dedication of the tenth satire of Juvenal, (a most miserable performance,) says, that Dryden, when he taxed him with being the author, "denied it with all the execrations he could think of;" an accusation which was echoed by Brown, though apparently upon the authority of Shadwell alone. † From this averment, which is probably made far too broadly, we can only infer, that Dryden, like Swift in the same predicament, left his adversary to prove what he had no title to call upon him to confess; for that he seriously meant to disavow a performance, of which he had from the very beginning sufficiently avouched himself the author, can hardly be supposed for a moment. It has indeed been noticed, that our author has omitted this poem, as well as the " Eulogy on Cromwell," in a list of his plays and poems subjoined to one of his plays; but Dryden might not think fit to admit a personal, and what he probably considered as a fugitive satire, into a for
*This epithet preceded the nickname of Whig. See Vol. IX. p. 211. +"I make bold to use his own expression in "Mac-Flecnoe," if it is his, I say, for Mr Shadwell, in the preface before his Translation of the Tenth Satire of Juvenal, has been lately pleased to acquaint the world, that he publicly disowned the writing it with as solemn imprecations as his friend the Spanish Friar did the Cavalier Lorenzo."-Reasons, &c.