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comed by the public with the avidity that had been expected; and the second edition of them was not published till long after the poet's decease.
Augustus Wilhelm Schlegel, in his estimate of Dryden's mind and works, has done him flagrant injustice. He denounces his reputation as altogether disproportionate to his true merit, and his knowledge as undigested. He more than half asserts that he was an habitual plagiarist. He condemns him for irregular living, though all the facts of his life prove the contrary. His consciousness of power, which he shares in common with the highest intellects, is decried as “immeasurable vanity," however cunningly disguised. His magnificent prefaces and treatises he degrades as confused chatterings. He questions his originality in the invention of the Heroic Drama, -asserting, on the other hand, that tragedy, from its nature, had been always heroical ; adding, that “if we are to seek for an heroic drama which is not peculiarly tragic, we shall find it among the Spaniards, who had long possessed it in the greatest perfection.” His plays Schlegel altogether depreciates with the most extravagant censure, and describes him as a poet resembling" a man who walks upon stilts in a morass.” Such extreme censure manifests a “vaulting ambition that overleaps itself, and falls on the other side."
Johnson ascribes to Dryden more genius than to Pope; but he had less than Milton and Spenser. Nay, he was not of the same order of minds. He had neither their invention nor their ideality. It is to be feared that if his proposed epic had been completed, it would not have answered expectation. He appears to have depended rather upon the machinery than the action. This was doubtless a serious mistake at the beginning; for a good epic is possible without any machinery at all. The kind of machinery proposed by him would have been merely formal and lifeless. Very different was the machinery employed by Homer, and the faery machinery of later poets; there is even passion in the Grecian polytheism, and the Gothic elves have character and interest.
Nothing of the kind pertains to the guardian angels of kingdoms, who are the coldest possible impersonations of mere abstract notions. Nor can we liken Dryden to the great poets of bis own day,--to Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, or Keats. He laid no claim to their imagination. He comes nighest to Byron, but was under far different influences, and was the advocate of an opposite cause. The change which the noble poet welcomed was that which the loyal laureate would have prevented. Respectability was still with him a decent though oldfashioned garment, albeit concealing hypocrisies and leprosies, which after-times found it needful to expose to the common gaze, in order to their speedy and final removal. The moral tendency of Dryden's writings was conservative, not revolutionary. He had had some experience of the latter element, and no wish to encounter a new avatar of similar influences. Society was likewise in the same state of indifference to forward movement; and this state was reflected in that of Dryden's mind.
Within the limited circle that we have described, Dryden was a conscious artist, and exercised dominion with conscious facility. He had attained to perfect mastery over his medium. Poetic diction and facile rhyme were at his command, and the poet exulted in their use, showing neither effort nor exhaustion in his work. His work was mainly intellectual. He scarcely attempted any that aimed at a boundary, beyond that which circumscribed the usual processes of the understanding. His mind, within such limits, moved with logical precision ; but to what has been since called the “ Vision and the Faculty divine” he was a stranger. It was neither the gift of his age nor of his genius. The former had to wait for a new birth of the creative power, and attained it in due course. The life of Dryden closed before the development could take place in him. The new wine was wisely destined for new vessels. The work appointed for him, he had done wisely, bravely, with willing ardour, and impetuous force; the work that remained to do belonged to a future century and to other men, who were qualified with the proper dispositions, and furnished with the powers and cultivation requisite to do it well. Let us recognise in Dryden his mental vigour, his vivid touch, his willing service, his impassioned courage, his detestation of vice and meanness, his fiery eloquence, his subtle rhetoric, his steady pursuit of what appeared to him to be truth, and the progress that he made in the direction that led to the desired goal. If, in the last article, he were in error, let it be conceded that he erred in company with many of the good and the wise, and that the points in dispute are yet very far from having arrived at a satisfactory settlement.
UNDER A CLOUD.
TALBOT BULSTRODE and his wife came to Mellish Park a few days after the return of John and Aurora. Lucy was pleased to come to her cousin; pleased to be allowed to love her without reservation; grateful to her husband for his gracious goodness in setting no barrier between her and the friend she loved.
And Talbot,—who shall tell the thoughts that were busy in his mind, as he sat in a corner of the first-class carriage, to all outward appearance engrossed in the perusal of a Times leader?
I wonder how much of the Thunderer's noble Saxon English Mr. Bulstrode comprehended that morning? The broad white paper on which the Times is printed serves as a convenient screen for a man's face. Heaven knows what agonies have been sometimes endured behind that printed mask. A woman, married, and a happy mother, glances carelessly enough at the Births and Marriages and Deaths, and reads perhaps that the man she loved, and parted with, and broke her heart for, fifteen or twenty years before, has fallen, shot through the heart, far away upon an Indian battle-field. She holds the paper firmly enough before her face; and her husband goes on with his breakfast, and stirs his coffee, or breaks his egg, while she suffers her agony,—while the comfortable breakfasttable darkens and goes away from her, and the long-ago day comes back upon which the cruel ship left Southampton, and the hard voices of wellmeaning friends held forth monotonously upon the folly of improvident marriages. Would it not be better, by the by, for wives to make a practice of telling their husbands all the sentimental little stories connected with the pre-matrimonial era? Would it not be wiser to gossip freely about Charles's dark eyes and moustache, and to hope that the poor fellow is getting on well in the Indian service, than to keep a skeleton, in the shape of a phantom ensign in the 87th, hidden away in some dark chamber of the feminine memory
?? But other than womanly agonies are suffered behind the Times. The husband reads bad news of the railway company in whose shares he has so rashly invested that money which his wife believes safely lodged in the jog-trot, three-per-cent-yielding Consols. The dashing son, with Newmarket tendencies, reads evil tidings of the horse he has backed so boldly, perhaps at the advice of a Manchester prophet, who warranted putting his friends in the way of winning a hatful of money for the small consideration of three-and-sixpence in postage-stamps. Visions of a wall that it will not be very easy to square; of a black list of play or pay engagements; of a crowd of angry bookmen clamorous for their dues,
and not slow to hint at handy horse-ponds, and possible tar and feathers, for defaulting swells and sneaking welshers ;-all these things fit across the disorganised brain of the young man, while his sisters are entreating to be told whether the Crown Diamonds is to be performed that night, and if“ dear Miss Pyne” will warble Rode's air before the curtain falls. The friendly screen hides his face; and by the time he has looked for the Covent Garden advertisements, and given the required information, he is able to set the paper down and proceed calmly with his breakfast, pondering ways and means as he does so.
Lucy Bulstrode read a High-Church novel, while her husband sat with the Times before his face, thinking of all that had happened to him since he had first met the banker's daughter. How far away that old love-story seemed to have receded since the quiet domestic happiness of his life had begun in his marriage with Lucy! He had never been false, in the remotest shadow of a thought, to his second love; but now that he knew the secret of Aurora's life, he could but look back and wonder how he should have borne that cruel revelation if John's fate had been his; if he had trusted the woman he loved in spite of the world, in spite of her own strange words, which had so terribly strengthened his worst fear, so cruelly redoubled his darkest doubts.
“Poor girl!” he thought; “it was scarcely strange that she should shrink from telling that humiliating story. I was not tender enough. I confronted her in my obstinate and pitiless pride. I thought of myself rather than of her, and of her sorrow. I was barbarous and ungentlemanly; and then I wondered that she refused to confide in me.”
Talbot Bulstrode, reasoning after the fact, saw the weak points of his conduct with a preternatural clearness of vision, and could not repress a sharp pang of regret that he had not acted more generously. There was no infidelity to Lucy in this thought. He would not have exchanged his devoted little wife for the black-browed divinity of the past, though an all-powerful fairy had stood at his side ready to cancel his nuptials and tie a fresh knot between him and Aurora. But he was a gentleman, and he felt that he had grievously wronged, insulted, and humiliated a woman whose worst fault had been the trusting folly of an innocent girl.
I left her on the ground in that room at Felden,” he thought, “ kneeling on the ground, with her beautiful head bowed down before me. O my God, can I ever forget the agony of that moment?
Can I ever forget what it cost me to do what I thought was right?"
The cold perspiration broke out upon bis forehead as he remembered that bygone pain, as it may do with a cowardly person who recalls too vividly the taking out of a three-pronged double tooth, or the cutting off of a limb.
“ John Mellish was ten times wiser than I,” thought Mr. Bulstrode; “he trusted to his instinct, and recognised a true woman when he met her. I used to despise him at Rugby because he couldn't construe Cicero. I never thought he'd live to be wiser than me.”
Talbot Bulstrode folded the Times newspaper, and laid it down in the empty seat by his side. Lucy shut the third volume of her novel. How should she care to read when it pleased her husband to desist from read
“ Lucy,” said Mr. Bulstrode, taking his wife's hand (they had the carriage to themselves, a piece of good fortune which often happens to travellers who give the guard half-a-crown),—“ Lucy, I once did your cousin a great wrong; I want to atone for it now. If any trouble, which no one yet foresees, should come upon her, I want to be her friend. Do you think I am right in wishing this, dear ?"
“Right, Talbot !"
Mrs. Bulstrode could only repeat the word in unmitigated surprise. When did she ever think him any thing but the truest and wisest and most perfect of created beings?
Every thing seemed very quiet at Mellish when the visitors arrived. There was no one in the drawing-room, nor in the smaller room within the drawing-room; the venetians were closed, for the day was close and sultry; there were vases of fresh flowers upon the tables; but there were no open books, no litter of frivolous needlework or drawing-materials, to indicate Aurora's presence.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mellish expected you by the later train, I believe, sir,” the servant said, as he ushered Talbot and his wife into the drawingroom.
“ Shall I and look for Aurora ?” Lucy said to her husband. “She is in the morning-room, I dare say."
Talbot suggested that it would be better, perhaps, to wait till Mrs. Mellish came to them. So Lucy was fain to remain where she was. She went to one of the open windows, and pushed the shutters apart. The blazing sunshine burst into the room, and drowned it in light. The smooth lawn was aflame with scarlet geraniums and standard roses, and all manner of gaudily-coloured blossoms; but Mrs. Bulstrode looked beyond this vividly-tinted parterre to the thick woods, that loomed darkly purple against the glowing sky.
It was in that very wood that her husband had declared his love for her; the same wood that had since been outraged by violence and murder.
“The—the man is buried, I suppose, Talbot ?" she said to her husband. “ I believe so, my
dear." “I should never care to live in this place again, if I were Aurora.”
The door opened before Mrs. Bulstrode had finished speaking, and the mistress of the house came towards them. She welcomed them affectionately and kindly, taking Lucy in her arms, and greeting her very tenderly; but Talbot saw that she had changed terribly within the few days that had passed since her return to Yorkshire, and his heart sank as he observed her pale face and the dark circles about her hollow eyes.