Page images

besides that of Dryden. Otway, indeed, has left a poem on the subject, called "Windsor Castle ;" and he began a pastoral, which, fortunately for his reputation, he left unfinished. † From the laureat a deeper tone of lamentation was due. But whether the sense of discharging a task, a sense so chilling always to poetical imagination, had fettered Dryden's powers, or from whatever other reason, his funeral pindaric has not been esteemed one of his happiest lyric effusions. It is devoid of any appearance of deep feeling on the part of the author himself. This is the more remarkable, as the manners of Charles were eminently calculated to attract affection, and Dryden had been admitted to a greater share of royal intercourse than is usually necessary to excite the personal attachment of a subject to a condescending monarch. But whether Dryden, as he is sometimes believed to have owned, was unapt to feel or express the more tender passions, or whether he saw the character of Charles so closely, as to discern the selfishness of his hollow courtesy, it is certain that the poet seems wonderfully little interested

Duke, and others, also invoked Melpomene on this mournful occasion: but, perhaps, the most remarkable of all these lamentations is, "The Quaker's Elegy on the Death of Charles, late King of England, written by W. P. a sincere lover of Charles and James; (31st March, 1685.)" "Tears wiped off, a Second Part, on the Coronation, (22d April.)” This curious dirge begins thus:

What wondrous change in waking do I find,
For a strange something does my sense unbind;
Truth has possessed my darkened soul all o'er
With an unusual light, not known before;
And doth inform me, that some star is gone,
From whose kind influence we had life alone.
No sooner had this stranger seized my soul,

But Rachel knocked, to raise me from my bed,
And, with a voice of sorrow, did condole

The loss of Charles, whom she declared was dead;
Charles dost thou mean we King of England call,
That lived within the mansion of Whitehall?
Yes 'tis too true, &c.

"Windsor Castle, in a monument to our late sovereign, King Charles II.," contains some striking passages. But, for the tenuity of the pastoral, even the taste of the age can hardly excuse the author of "Venice Preserved." For example

Ye tender lambs, stray not so fast away;
To weep and mourn, let us together stay;
O'er all the universe let it be spread,
That now the shepherd of the flock is dead;
The royal Pan, that shepherd of the sheep,
He, who to leave his flock did dying weep,

Is gone! Ah! gone, ne'er to return from death's eternal sleep.

in the sorrowful theme. Even when he mentions his literary intercourse with the deceased monarch, he does not suppress a murmur, that he was niggard in rewarding the muses whom he loved; that

-little was their hire, and light their gain.

This absence of personal feeling on the part of the author, spreads a coldness over the whole elegy; which we regret the less, as the pensioned monarch ill deserved a deeper lamentation. It is chiefly owing to this want of sympathy, connected with an over indulgence in conceit, a fault which immediately flows from the other, being an effort of ingenuity to supply the want of passion, that the Threnodia Augustalis" has been neglected. We have to lament some overstrained metaphors and similes. The sun went back ten degrees in the dial of Ahaz ; a miraculous sign that Hezekiah was to live; and this is compared to the five days during which the disease of Charles gained ground, until it was obvious that he was to die. The prayers of the people carrying heaven by storm, and almost forcing heaven to revoke his decrees, is extravagant, not to say profane. Yet, with all its faults of coldness and conceit, this poem seems rather to have been under-rated. It appears to great advantage, when compared with others on the same subject. Otway, who affects a warmer display of passion, a particular in which Dryden is said to have acknowledged his superiority, has fallen into the opposite fault, of describing the deathbed rather of a tender husband or lover, attended by his wife or mistress, than that of a king waited on by his successor. Dryden's picture of the duke's grief is much more appropriate and striking:

Horror in all his pomp was there,
Mute and magnificent, without a tear.


+ We shall here insert the last meeting of the royal brothers, as described in "Windsor Castle," which the reader may contrast with the same theme in the "Threnodia :"

Here, painter, if thou can'st, thy art improve,
And show the wonders of fraternal love;
How mourning James by fading Charles did stand,
The dying grasping the surviving hand;
How round each others necks their arms they cast,
Moaned, with endearing murmurings, and embraced;
And of their parting pangs such marks did give,
'Twere hard to guess which yet could longest live.
Both their sad tongues quite lost the power to speak,
And their kind hearts seemed both prepared to break.

The joy of the people upon the fallacious prospect of the king's recovery, is also a striking picture:

Men met each other with erected look;
The steps were higher that they took;

Friends to congratulate their friends made haste,
And long inveterate foes saluted as they past.

There are many other fine passages in the "Threnodia;" though the general effect is less impressive than might have been expected. The description in the thirteenth stanza, for example, of the effects on poetry and literature produced by the Restoration, and that of the return of liberty,

Without whose charms even peace would be
But a dull quiet slavery,

are both striking.-The character of Charles; his wit, parts, and
powers of conversation; his gentle manners, and firinness of dispo
sition, which, like a well-wrought blade, kept, even in yielding,
the native toughness of the steel,-a
-are all themes of panegyric,
which, though perhaps exaggerated, are well-chosen, and exquisite-
ly brought out. It is indeed a peculiar attribute of Dryden's praise,
that it is always appropriate; while the gross adulation of his con-
temporaries gave indiscriminately the same broad features to all their
subjects, and thereby very often converted their intended pane-
gyric into satire, not the less bitter because undesigned. Dryden,
for instance, in this whole poem has never once mentioned the
queen; sensible that the gaiety of Charles' life, and his frequent
amours, rendered her conjugal grief, which some of the elegiasts
chose to describe in terms approaching to blasphemy, an apocry-
phal, as well as a delicate theme. † He knew, that praise, to do
honour to the giver and receiver, must either have a real founda-
tion in desert, or at least what, by the skilful management of the
poet, may be easily represented as such.

+ Perhaps the most extraordinary instance of flattery, wrought up to im piety, occurs in Mrs Behn's address to the queen on the death of her husband:

Methinks I see you like the queen of heaven,
To whom all patience and all grace was given;
When the great lord of life himself was laid
Upon her lap, all wounded, pale, and dead;
Transpierced with anguish, even to death transformed,
So she bewailed her god, so sighed, so mourned,

So his blest image in her heart remained,

So his blest memory o'er her soul still reigned;

She lived the sacred victim to deplore,

And never knew, or wished a pleasure more,

Having discussed the melancholy part of his subject, the poet, according to the approved custom in such cases, finds cause tor rejoicing in the succession of James, as he had mourned over the death of his predecessor. From his firmness of character, and supposed military talents, the poet prophesies a warlike and victorious reign: a sad instance how seldom the poetic and prophetic character, so often claimed, are united in the same individual! for James, as is well known, far from conquering foreign kingdoms, did not draw the sword even to defend his own. But very different events were expected, and augured, by the shoal of versifiers, who now rushed forwards to gratulate his accession. *

The pindaric measure. in which the "Threnodia Augustalis" is written, contains nothing pleasing to modern eais. The rhymes are occasionally so far disjoined, that, like a fashionable married couple, they have nothing of union but the name. The inequalities of the verse are also violent, and remind us of ascending a broken and unequal stair-case. But the age had been accustomed to this rythm, which, however improperly, was considered as a genuine imitation of the style of Pindar. It must also be owned, that wherever, for a little way, Dryden uses a more regular measure, he displays all his usual command of harmony. The thirteenth stanza, for example, is as happily distinguished by melody of rhyme, as we have already observed it is eminent in beauty of poetry.

The Latin title of this poem, like that of the Religio Laici, savours somewhat of affectation; and has been taxed by Johnson as not strictly classical, a more unpardonable fault. †

These are even more numerous than the Elegiasts on Charles's death. In the Luttrell Collection there are the following rare pieces.

"Panegyris Jacobi serenissimi. &c. regi ipso die inaugurationis." "A Poem on Do. by R Philips."

"On Do. by a Young Gentle man."

"A Panegyrick on Do. by the Author of the Plea for Succession." "A New Song on Do."

"A Poem on Do. by John Philips."

"A Poem upon the Coronation, by J. Baber, Esq."

"A Pindarique to their Sacred Majesties on their Coronation."

"A Poem on Do by R. Mansell, Gent "

"A Panegyrick on Do. by Peter Ker;" with whose rapturous invitation te the ships to strand themselves for joy, we shall conclude the list:

Let subjects sing, bells ring, and cannons roar;
And every ship come dancing to the shore.

Dryden, perhaps, recollected the poem of Fitzpayne Fisher on Cromwell's death, entitled, Threnodia Triumphalis in obitum serenissimi Nostri Principis Olivari, Angliæ Scotiæ Hiberniæ cum dominationibus ubicunque jacenti»

My learned friend, Dr Adam, has favoured me with the following defence of Dryden's phrase: "With respect to the title which that great poet gives to his elegy on the death of Charles, making allowance for the taste of the times and the licence of poets in framing names, I see no just foundation for Johnson's criticism on the epithet Augustalis. Threnodia is a word purely Greek, used by no Latin author; and Augustalis denotes, in honour of Augustus; thus, ludi Augustales, games instituted in honour of Augustis, Tac. An. 1, 15 and 54; so sacerdotes vel sodales Augustales, ib. and 2, 83. Hist. 2, 95. Now as Augustus was a name given to the succeeding emperors, I see no reason, why Augustalis may not be used to signify, in honour of any king.' Besides, the very word Augustus denotes, venerable, august, royal:' and therefore Threnodia Augustalis may properly be put for, An Elegy in honour of an august Prince."

[ocr errors]

The full title declared the poem to be written " by John Dryden, servant to his late majesty, and to the present king;" a style which our author did not generally assume, but which the occasion rendered peculiarly proper. The poem appears to have been popular, as it went through two editions in the course of 1685.

bus Nuperi protectoris, (Qui obiit. Septemb. 3tio.) Ubi stupenda passim victoriæ, et incredibiles domi forusque successus, Heroico carmine, succinctim perstringuntur. Per Fitzpaynaum Piscatorem. Londini, 1658.

« PreviousContinue »