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merciless frequency. It had no notion of a unit of style in the sentence. It indulged, without the slightest hesitation, in every detour and involution of second thoughts and by-the-way qualifications. So far as any models were observed, those models were chiefly taken from the inflected languages of Greece and Rome, where the structural alterations of the words according to their grammatical connexion are for the most part sufficient to make the meaning tolerably clear. Nothing so much as the lack of inflexions saved our prose at this time from sharing the fate of German, and involving itself almost beyond the reach of extrication. The common people, when not bent upon fine language, could speak and write clearly and straighforwardly, as Bunyan's works show to this day to all who care to read. But scholars and divines deserved much less well of their mother tongue.
It may indeed be said that prose was infinitely worse off than poetry. In the latter there had been an excellent style, if not one perfectly suited for all ends, and it had degenerated. In the former, nothing like a general prose style had ever yet been elaborated at all; what had been done had been done chiefly in the big-bow-wow manner, as Dryden's editor might have called it. For light miscellaneous work, neither fantastic nor solemn, the demand was only just being created. Cowley indeed wrote well, and, comparatively speaking, elegantly, but his prose work was small in extent and little read in comparison to his verse. Tillotson was Dryden's own contemporary, and hardly preceded him in the task of reform.
From this short notice it will be obvious that the general view, according to which a considerable change took place and was called for at the Restoration, is correct, notwithstanding the attempts recently made to prove the contrary by a learned writer. Professor Masson's lists of men of letters and of the dates of their publication of their works prove, if he will pardon my saying so, nothing. The actual spirit of the time is to be judged not from the production of works of writers who, as they one by one dropped off, left no successors, but from those who struck root downwards and blossomed upwards in the general literary soil. Milton is not a writer of the Restoration, though his greatest works appeared after it, and though he survived it nearly fifteen years. Nor was Taylor, nor Clarendon, nor Cowley : hardly even Davenant, or Waller, or Butler, or Denham. The writers of the Restoration are those whose works had the seeds of life in them; who divined or formed the popular tastes of the period, who satisfied that taste, and who trained up successors to prosecute and modify their own work. The interval between the prose and the poetry of Dryden and the prose and the poetry of Milton is that of an entire generation, notwithstanding the manner in which, chronologically speaking, they overlap. The objects which the reformer, consciously or unconsciously, set before him have been sufficiently indicated. It must be the task of the following chapters to show how and to what extent he effected a reform ; what the nature of that reform was; what was the value of the work which in effecting it he contributed to the literature of his country.
EARLY LITERARY WORK.
The foregoing chapter will have already shown the chief difficulty of writing a life of Dryden—the almost entire absence of materials. At the Restoration the poet was nearly thirty years old, and of positive information as to his life during these thirty years we have half a dozen dates, the isolated fact of his mishap at Trinity, a single letter and three poems, not amounting in all to three hundred lines. Nor can it be said that even subsequently, during his forty years of fame and literary activity, positive information as to his life is plentiful. His works are still the best life of him, and in so far as a biography of Dryden is filled with any matter not purely literary, it must for the most part be filled with controversy as to his political and religious opinions and conduct rather than with accounts of his actual life and conversation. Omitting for the present literary work, the next fact that we have to record after the Restoration is one of some importance, though as before the positive information obtainable in connexion with it is but scanty. On the 1st of December, 1663, Dryden was married at St. Swithin's Church to Lady Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of the Earl of Berkshire.
This marriage, like most of the scanty events of Dryden's life, has been made the occasion of much and unnecessary controversy. The libellers of the Popish Plot disturbances twenty years later declared that the character of the bride was doubtful, and that her brothers had acted towards Dryden in somewhat the same way as the Hamiltons did towards Grammont. A letter of hers to the Earl of Chesterfield, which was published about half a century ago, has been used to support the first charge, besides abundant arguments as to the unlikelihood of an earl's daughter marrying a poor poet for love. It is one of the misfortunes of prominent men that when fact is silent about their lives fiction is always busy. If we brush away the cobwebs of speculation, there is nothing in the least suspicious about this matter. Lord Berkshire had a large family and a small property. Dryden himself was, as we have seen, well born and well connected. That some of his sisters had married tradesmen seems to Scott likely to have been shocking to the Howards; but he must surely have forgotten the famous story of the Earl of Bedford's objection to be raised a step in the peerage because it would make it awkward for the younger scions of the house of Russell to go into trade. The notion of an absolute severance between Court and City at that time, is one of the many unhistorical fictions which have somehow or other obtained currency. Dryden was already an intimate friend of Sir Robert Howard, if not also of the other brother, Edward, and perhaps it is not unnoteworthy that Lady Elizabeth was five-and-twenty, an age in those days somewhat mature, and one at which a young lady would be thought wise by her family in accepting any creditable offer. As to the Chesterfield letter, the evidence it contains can only satisfy minds previously made up. It testifies certainly to something like a flirtation, and suggests an interview, but there is nothing in it at all compromising. The libels already mentioned are perfectly vague and wholly untrustworthy.
It seems, though on no very definite evidence, that the marriage was not altogether a happy one. Dryden appears to have acquired some small property in Wiltshire ; perhaps also a royal grant which was made to Lady Elizabeth in recognition of her father's services ; and Lord Berkshire's Wiltshire house of Charlton became a country retreat for the poet. But his wife was, it is said, ill-tempered and not overburdened with brains, and he himself was probably no more a model of conjugal propriety than most of his associates. I say probably, for here, too, it is astonishing how the evidence breaks down when it is examined, or rather how it vanishes altogether into air. Mr. J. R. Green has roundly informed the world that “Dryden's life was that of a libertine, and his marriage with a woman who was yet more dissolute than himself only gave a new spur to his debaucheries.” We have seen what foundation there is for this gross charge against Lady Elizabeth ; now let us see what ground there is for the charge against Dryden. There are the libels of Shadwell and the rest of the crew, to which not even Mr. Christie, a very severe judge of Dryden's moral character, assigns the slightest weight; there is the immorality ascribed to Bayes in the Rehearsal, a very pretty piece of evidence indeed, seeing that Bayes is a confused medley of half a dozen persons ; there is a general association by tradition of Dryden's name with that of Mrs. Reeve, a beautiful actress of the day; and finally there is a tremendous piece of scandal which is the battle-horse of the devil's advocates. А curious letter appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1745, the author of which is unknown, though conjectures, as to which there are difficulties, identify him with