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Sebastian had been dedicated to Lord Leicester, an old Cromwellian, so Amphitryon was dedicated to Sir William Leveson Gower, a prominent Williamite. Neither dedi. cation contains the least truckling to the powers
that were, but Dryden seems to have taken a pleasure in showing that men of both parties were sensible of his merit and of the hardship of his position. Besides these two plays an alteration of the Prophetess was produced in 1690, in which Dryden is said to have assisted Betterton. In 1691 appeared King Arthur, a masque-opera on the plan of Albion and Albanius. Unlike the latter, it has no political meaning; indeed, Dryden confesses to having made considerable alterations in it, in order to make it non-political. The former piece had been set by a Frenchman, Grabut, and the music had been little thought of. Purcell undertook the music for King Arthur with much better success. Allowing for a certain absurdity which always besets the musical drama, and which is particularly apparent in that of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, King Arthur is a very good piece ; the character of Emmeline is attractive, the supernatural part is managed with a skill which would have been almost proof against the wits of the Rehearsal, and many of the lyrics are excellent. Dryden was less fortunate with his two remaining dramas. In writing the first he showed himself, for so old a craftsman and courtier, very unskilful in the choice of a subject. Cleomenes, the banished King of Sparta, could not but awaken the susceptibilities of zealous revolution
After some difficulties, in which Laurence Hyde once more did Dryden a good turn, the piece was licensed, but it was not very successful. It contains some fine passages, but the most remarkable thing about it is that there is a considerable relapse into rhyme, which Dryden had abandoned for many years. It contains, also, one of the last, not the least beautiful, and fortunately almost the most quotable of the exquisite lyrics which, while they prove perhaps more fully than anything else, Dryden's almost unrivalled command of versification, disprove at the same time his alleged incapacity to express true feeling. Here it is :
No, no, poor suffering heart, no change endeavour,
Love has in store for me one happy minute,
Last of all the long list came Love Triumphant, a tragi-comedy, in 1694, which failed completely; why, it is not very easy to say. It is probable that these four plays and the opera did not by any means requite Dryden for his trouble in writing them. The average literary worth of them is, however, superior to that of his earlier dramas. The remarkable thing, indeed, about this portion of his work is not that it is not better, but that it is so good. He can scarcely be said to have had la tête dramatique, and yet in the Conquest of Granada, in Marriage à la Mode, in Aurengzebe, in Au
for Love, in the Spanish Friar, in Don Sebastian, and in Amphitryon he produced plays which are certainly worthy of no little admiration. For the rest, save in isolated scenes and characters, little can be said, and even those just specified have to be praised with not a little allowance.
Nevertheless, great as are the drawbacks of these plays, their position in the history of English dramatic literature is still a high and remarkable one. It was Dryden who, if he for the moment headed the desertion of the purely English style of drama, authoritatively and finally ordered and initiated the return to a saner tradition. Even in his period of aberration he produced on his faulty plan such work as few other men have produced on the best plans yet elaborated. The reader who, ignorant of the English heroic play, goes to Dryden for information about it, may be surprised and shocked at its inferiority to the drama of the great masters. But he who goes to it knowing the contemporary work of Davenant and Boyle, of Howard and Settle, will rather wonder at the unmatched literary faculty which from such data could evolve such a result. The one play in which he gave himself the reins remains, as far as it appears to me, the only play, with the exception of Venice Preserved, which was written so as to be thoroughly worth reading now for 150, I had almost said for 200 years. The Mourning Bride and the Fair Penitent are worthless by the side of it, and to them
may be added at one sweep every tragedy written during the whole eighteenth century. Since the beginning of the nineteenth we have indeed improved the poetical standard of this most difficult not to say hopeless form of composition ; but at the same time we have in general lowered the dramatic standard. Half the best plays
written since the year 1800 have been avowedly written with hardly a thought of being acted; I should be sorry
of the other half have either failed to be acted at all, or having been acted have proved dead failures. Now Dryden did so far manage to conciliate the gifts of the play-wright and the poet, that he produced work which was good poetry and good acting material. It is idle to dispute the deserts of his success, the fact remains.
Most, however, of his numerous hostile critics would confess and avoid the tragedies, and would concentrate their attention on the comedies. It is impossible to help, in part, imitating and transferring their tactics. No apology for the offensive characteristics of these productions is possible, and, if it were possible, I for one have no care to attempt it. The coarseness of Dryden's plays is unpardonable. It does not come under any of the numerous categories of excuse which can be devised for other offenders in the same kind. It is deliberate, it is unnecessary, it is a positive defect in art. When the culprit in his otherwise dignified and not unsuccessful confiteor to Collier, endeavours to shield himself by the example of the elder dramatists, the shield is seen at once, and what is more we know that he must have seen it himself, to be a mere shield of paper. But in truth the heaviest punishment that Dryden could possibly have suffered, the punishment which Diderot has indicated as inevitably imminent on this particular offence, has come upon him. The fouler parts of his work have simply ceased to be read, and his most thorough defenders can only read them for the purpose of appreciation and defence at the price of being queasy and qualmish. He has exposed his legs to the arrows of any criticaster who chooses
to aim at him, and the criticasters have not failed to jump at the chance of so noble a quarry. Yet I, for my part, shall still maintain that the merits of Dryden's comedies are by no means inconsiderable; indeed, that when Shakespeare, and Jonson, and Fletcher, and Etherege, and Wycherley, and Congreve, and Vanbrugh, and Sheridan have been put aside, he has few superiors. The unfailing thoroughness with which he did every description of literary work has accompanied him even here, where he worked according to his own confession against the grain, and where he was less gifted by nature than scores of other facile workers who could be named. The situation which he could manage has been already indicated, and it is surely not a thing to be wholly neglected that his handlings of this situation undoubtedly preceded and probably suggested the crowning triumph of English comedy, the sublime apotheosis of the coquette in Millamant. produce that triumph Dryden himself was indeed unable. But from sheer literary skill (the dominant faculty in him) he produced in Doralice, and in Melantha, and in Florimel, something not wholly unlike it. So, too, in the central figure of the Spanish Friar he achieved in the same way, by sheer literary faculty and by the skilful manipulation of his predecessors, something like an independent and an original creation. The one disqualification under which Dryden laboured, the disqualification to create a character, would have been in any lesser man a hopeless bar even to the most moderate dramatic success. But the superhuman degree in which he possessed the other and strictly literary gift of adoption and arrangement, almost supplied the place of what was wanting, and almost made him the equal of the more facile makers. So close was his study, so untiring his experiments, so sure his com