1699 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dryden

Charles Gildon, in Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1699) 40-47.



This Gentleman, who was Poet Laureat, and Historiographer to the late King James, is of a good Family, (if I mistake not) in Northamptonshire, was Bred at the University of Cambridge, and had some thoughts once (as I have been told) of entring a more profitable state of Life than Poetry, where Learning met with more Encouragement, I mean the Church: How early his Genius led him to Poetry, I am not able to inform you; but he was above thirty before he gave us his first Play, which met with so little Success, that if he had not had a peculiar force of Inclination to Writing, he had been Discouraged, for that Play indeed made no Promises of that great Man he was afterwards to be. He is a Poet that has met with Applause often above his Merit; tho' in many of his Writings, it must be confess'd, he deserv'd the highest: But I must own, I think, his Dramatick Pieces, if we must take our Standard of their Excellence from the Ancients, the most incorrect of his Productions. There is generally indeed the sublime, but very rarely the Pathetick; for in all his Plays he has not touch'd Compassion above thrice, and that but weakly; Terror he has often hit on; but 'tis not for me to Censure a Man of no Vulgar Genius; but what is necessary for the making this of a piece in its Impartiality. I shall give some Instances of his playing the Plagiary, omitting all those scurrilous and Digressory Reflections with which Mr. Langbain has bespatter'd him, and through which indeed runs all along a great evidence of private and ungenerous Malice, brought in, tho' nothing to the Business before him.

On the other hand, it must be confess'd, that he has, (where he detects his Thefts) urged a great deal of Truth; for Mr. Dryden has borrow'd from the French, at the same time that he seems to contemn them; unless it may be pretended, that he has us'd them as Virgil did Ennius of old, to extract Gold out of their Dung. For I never found him in any Theft indeed, but what he gave a new Lustre too, when taken, ev'n from the best of the Ancients; and I may therefore believe the same of what he has taken from the French. I shall not therefore pursue Mr. Langbain's steps in his Excursions; only at the Foot of each Play, lay down the places from whence he has borrowed. But the Reader must not expect I shall give him all that he owes for in each Play, for that wou'd exceed the Limits of this Compendium; it must suffice that I give some Instances of each, to put him in mind of his own Deeds, and so mollify his Reflections on those young Men that are now coming up, and who may think it not below them to follow that Path which they have seen Conduct him to so much Glory; of which in their Order.

Albion and Albanus, an Opera, fol. 1685. presented at the Queen's Theatre in Dorset-Garden.

All for Love, or The World well Lost, a Tragedy, 4to. 1678. For the Plot and some of the Descriptions, especially Cleopatra's sailing down the Cydnus, see Plutarch's Life of Antony, Suetonius in Aug. Dion Cassius, lib. 48. 51. Orosius, lib. 6. c. 7. Cluny, lib. 4. c. 11. Appian de bellis Civilibus, l. 5.

Amboyna, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1673. acted at the Theatre Royal, see Purchas's Pilgrimage, Vol. II. l. 16. c. 16. Sanderson's History of King James, p. 577. Stubb's Relation of the Dutch Cruelties to the English at Amboyna; Wanley's History of Man, lib. 4. c. 10. ex. 1. The Rape of Isabinda by Horman, is built on a Novel of Cynthais Gyraldi, Idea 5. Nov. 10.

Amphitryon, or, The Two Socia's, a Comedy, 4to. from Moliere and Plautus of the same Name.

Assignation; or, Love in a Nunnery, a Comedy, 4to. 1678. Acted at the Theatre Royal. Most of the Incidents borrowed, as well as Characters. The Characters of the Duke of Mantua, Frederick and Lucretia, from Constance the fair Nun in The Annals of Love, p. 81. those of Aurelian, Camillo, Laura, and Violetta, from Scarron's Comical Romance; San's Destiny, and Madam Star. cap. 13. p. 43. Benito's Affectation of Musick, from Quinault's Jadolet, in his Comedie sous Comedie, Frontonas throwing Water on Laura, from Les contes de M. de la Fontaine, Par. 1. Nov. 11. p. 74. See likewise Les Cent. Novelles, La Damoiselle a ceur ouvert, &c.

Aureng-zebe, a Tragedy, 4to. 1676. Acted at the Theatre Royal; for the Plot consult Tavernier's Travels, vol. 1. part 2. C. 2. I will not determine with Mr. Langbain, that the Characters of Anreng-zebe and Nourmahal, are borrowed from Seneca's Phaedra and Hippolytus; since I see nothing alike through their whole Story, but the Love of a Son-in-Law, and his Aversion; but thatdoes by no means constitute the Character, (which is a thing Mr. Langbain seems never to understand) Hippolytus has an Aversion to Love, Aureng-zebe is in Love, and much more Polite; Hippolytus was a Hunter indeed, and Aureng-zebe a Warrior: Nourmahal is a degree beyond the Lewdness of ev'n Seneca's Phaedra, who Degenerated extremely from her Original in Euripides, and indeed shews none of her Qualities, but Revenge for disappointed Love: It must be own'd, that these Lines which Mr. Langbain instances are borrowed from Seneca in that place;

Aur.
Heavens! Can you this without just Vengeance bear?
When will you Thunder, if you now are clear?
Yet her alone let not your Thunder seize,
I too deserve to dye, because I please.

Hip.
Magne Regnator deum
Tam lentus audis scelera tam lentus vides
Ecquando saeva fulmen emittes Manu
Si nunc serenum est
—Me velox cremet.
Transactus ignis sum Nocens; merui mori
Placui Novercae.

Here, what is uncommon with Mr. Dryden, he seems to have lost the Beauty of Seneca's Expression of "Me velox cremet Transactus ignis," which gives you some Image of the stroak of a Thunder-Bolt, whereas Mr. Dryden

Yet her alone let not your Thunder seize,

looks more like the taking a Thief or Debtor by a Constable or Bayliff; for seizing is too calm, and impotent a word to express the force of a Bolt sent from the Arm "Trisulci Jovis." But this is the effect of Writing in Rhime; for I'm confident he had never us'd that word in Blank Verse.

Hipp.
—Thesei vultus amo
Illos priores, quos tulit quondam puer
Cum prima turas signare barba Genas.

I am not chang'd, I love my Husband still,
But love him as he was when youthful Grace,
And the first Bloom began to shade his Face.

Again from Milton's Sampson Agonistes.

Dal.
I see thou art implacable, more Deaf
To Prayers, than Winds and Seas; yet Winds to Seas
Are reconcil'd at length, and Sea to Shoar
Thy anger unappeaseable still rages;
Eternal Tempest never to be calm'd.

Eng.
Unmov'd he stood, and deaf to all my Prayers,
As Seas and Winds to sinking Mariners:
But Seas grow calm, and Winds are reconcil'd;
Her Tyrant Beauty never grows more mild.

Cleomenes, The Spartan Heroe, Trag. 4to. Acted at the Theatre Royal, 1692. and Dedicated to the Right Honourable the Earl of Rochester, Knight of the most Noble Order of the Garter: To which is prefix'd the Life of Cleomenes, Translated from the Greek of Plutarch, by Mr. Creech. This Play was by some Enemies of the Poets, so misrepresented at Court, that it was stop'd; but by the generous Friendship of the late Lord Falkland, clear'd from the Aspersions cast on it, and Acted with great Applause. As for the Plot or Story, the Author in his Preface owns it taken from Plutarch, and that he has closely followed the Truth as he found it there; only that he has chang'd, for the sake of their sound, some Names, as that of Agathoclea, the King's Mistress, into Cassandra, and that of Nicagoras into Caenus. To the Story he has added the Love of Cassandra for Cleomenes, and has given him a second Wife, which the Story only gave him a small hint for. And indeed our Author has trod upon Plutarch so close, that the very words of that Author, are Transplanted with little variation, into the Play. You may read more of Cleomenes in Polybius, and Cornelius Nepos in his Life.

Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards, Two Parts, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1678. Acted at the Theatre Royal. Almanzor is very like Ponce de Leon, in Almahide, as Mr. Langbain observes; but in my Opinion, tho' there may be many Features like Ponce in the Draught, yet Almanzor seems rather to be a Copy of the Achilles of Homer, ill understood, for he does more alone, and without an Army to back him, than Achilles with his Myrmidons; Achilles was injur'd, and desisted from fighting, but Almanzor goes over to their Enemies; nor is he fix'd there, but receiving another Injury from Abdalla, returns to Boabdelin, takes it ill that he is mistrusted, and tells them he will again change his side, if provoked: But of him enough, since no Man of good sence can think that Play's Success owing to the Excellency of the Poet's Performance, but the Extravagance; for I have always observ'd it to have the Effect of Comedy on the Audience: But Mr. Langbain will indeed have him a Knight of the Shire almost, and Represent the Extravagant Heroes of two or three Romances more; as the Osmin of Gusman, and Artaban of Cleopatra, Boabdeline, Almahide, Ferdinand, Isabella, Arcos, Hamet, Gomel, from the Romance of Almahide, Ozmin and Benzaida, from Ozmin and Alibech in Ibraim, &c. See also Grand Cyrus, S. ix. Book 1. for Abdelmelech, Lydaraxa, &c. So much for the Characters, now for the thoughts; the Description of the Bull-Feast, if allowing for the Rhime, almost entirely taken from Gusman's Iuego de Toores, and Cannas; Consult the Story of Ozmin and Daraxa, Pt. 1. page 82, 85. The Description of the Factions from Almahide, page 1. The four ensuing lines spoke by Boabdeline, from Prince Massa's Advice to Almahide, p. 6. The King's Speech going betwixt the Factions, p. 5. taken from Almahide, pt. 3. p. 63. Tariffa and Ozmin's Quarrel, and the Rise of the Famlies, from Abindacray's Speech, Al. p. 2. Almanzor's killing Gomel, his quelling the Tumult, from Alm. p. 64, 65. His Victory, Act 2d. and taking Acaos Prisoner, ibid. The Scene betwixt Lindaraxa and Abdalla, from Al. p. 62. and from the Story of Elibesis in Cyrus, pt. 9. B. 1. p. 20. Zulemus Plea for Abdalla's Right to the Crown, which one wou'd scarce think is so childish a fancy, from Al. p. 62. and Cyrus as above; Almanzor's Description of Boabd. p. 18. from Al. p. 55. &c. nay, the Alarm after the Zambra-Dance, in which there is an absurdity of bringing in the Images of a Heathen Deity. The first meeting of Alman. and Almahide, p. 69. of Abdalem and Almanzor, p. 71. and the Controversy betwixt Almanzor and Zulema, ibidem, and his returning to Boabdelin, from the same Romance, p. 72. Abdelmeleck's Visit to Lynidaraxa, in Disguise, from Elibesis in Grand Cyrus, p. 25. and Abdalla's Visit, from the same, p. 67. Almanzor's deliv'ring Almahide, copied from Almahide, p. 73. Abdalla's Converse with Lyndaraxa, under the Walls of Albayzin, from the fore cited Story of Cyrus, p. 61. his flying to the Christians from p. 72. of the same; Osmin and Benzaida's Flight, from p. 8. of Ibrahim.

This is enough for the two Parts, to give a taste of how many Feathers are borrowed from other Pieces; now I shall proceed to another.

Don Sebastion King of Portugal, a Tragedy, 4to. 1690. Acted at the Theatre Royal; Founded on a French Novel of the same Name. See also Vasconcellos's Anacephaleosis, sine summa capitum Actorum Regum Lusitaniae. Anace. 20. and other Writers of that time, it being 1578. when Sebastian was kill'd.

The Duke of Guise, a Tragedy, 4to. 1683. Acted by their Majesty's Servants. Mr. Lee join'd in this. For the Plot consult Davila, Mezeray, and other Writers of the Reign of Charles IX. or rather the Reigns of Henry III. &c. The ridiculous Story of Malicorn you may find in Rosset's Histoires Tragiques en la vie de Canope 8vo. p. 449.

Ev'ning's Love, or The Mock Astrologer, a Comedy, 4to. 1671. Acted at the Theatre Royal. Almost wholly made up out of Corneilles le feint Astrologue; Molliers depetit Amoreux; and Les Precieuses Ridicules; Quinault's L'Amant Indiscret; some hints too from Shakespear, Petronius Arbiter, and the main Plot on Calderon's El Astrologo fingido: But to be a little particular, Aurelia's Affectation in her Speech from Les Precieuses Ridicules; Scene between Alonzo and Lopez, p. 39. is from Mollieres de petit Amoreux, Act 2. Scene 6. Camilla's begging a Boon of Don Melchor, from the same; the Love-Quarrel betwixt Iacinta and Wild Blood, and Mascal and Beatrix, from the same Play, Act 4. Scene 3, 4. Aurelia's falling into Alonzo's Arms, from L'Amant indiscret Act 5. Scene 4.

Kind Keeper, or, Mr. Limberham, a Comedy 4to. 1680. Acted at the Duke's Theatre. Mrs. Faintlies discovery of Love All in the Chest; See pt. 1. Cynthio Giraldi, dec. 3. N. 3. Mrs. Brainsick's pricking and pickling him. See a Novel, call'd, The Triumph of Love over Fortune.

King Arthur, or The British Worthy, a Tragedy, Acted at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden, 1691. and Dedicated to the Marquess of Halifax. This Play is writ more for the sake of the Singing part and Machines, than for any Excellence of a Dramatick Piece; for in it shines none of Mr. Dryden's great Genius, the Incidents being all extravagant, many of them Childish; the Inchanted Wood, as well as the rest of the Wonders of Osmond's Art, he entirely owes to Tasso; where Rinaldo performs what Arthur does here. I shall not presume to expose any of the Faults of this great Man in this particular piece, he having suffered so much under the Hands of my Predecessor in this Undertaking. The fabulous Story of this King Arthur, you may read in Geffery of Monmouth, and in the Preface of a late famous Poem, that bears his Name, as well as in the first Volume of Mr. Tyrrell's History of England.

Indian Emperor; or, The Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, being the sequel of the Indian Queen, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1670. Acted at the Theatre Royal. For the true Story consult Lopez de Gamara. Hist. general de las Incas & de Conquista de Mexico, de Bry. Americae pars 9. l. 7. Ogilby's America, Chap. 3. Sect. 10. Mariana de Reb. Hisp. lib. 26. cap. 3. Sir Paul Ricaut's Hist of Inca's.

Love Triumphant, or Nature will Prevail, a Tragi-Comedy, Acted at the Theatre Royal by their Majesties Servants, 4to. 1694. Dedicated to the Right Honourable Iames Earl of Salisbury, &c. In the Epistle Mr. Dryden informs us, That it is the last he intends for the Theatre. I take this Play to be Founded on the Story of the King and no King of Fletcher, at least on the Corrections of the Fable of that Play made by Mr. Rymer, in his Reflections on the Tragedies of the first Age. Tho' this Play had not that Success which most of Mr. Dryden's met with, yet it must be confess'd, That in several parts the Genius of that Great Man breaks out, especially in the Scene of the Discovery of Alphonso's Victorious Love, and the very last Scene, where the Catastrophe is extremely moving, tho' contrary to Aristotle it be made from the change of Will in Veramond.

Marriage A-la-mode, a Comedy, 4to. 1673. Acted at the Theatre Royal. The serious part built on the Story of Sesostris and Timareta, in B. 3. pt. 9. of Cyrus. The Characters of Palamede and Rodophil from the Story of Tyrianthes and Parthenia, in the same Romance, pt. 6. B. 1. some Features at least of Doralice drawn from Nogaret, in the Annals of Love. Melanthus making Love to her self, from Les Contes D'Ouville, pt. 1. p. 13.

The Mistaken Husband, a Comedy, 4to. 1675. Acted at the Theatre Royal. This is is not Mr. Dryden's, who only added a Scene; for the Plot consult Plautus's Maenechmi.

Oedipus King of Thebes a Tragedy, 4to. 1679. Acted at the Duke's Theatre. This Play was writ by Mr. Lee and Mr. Dryden; therefore to whom to attribute the Faults is difficult; and we have so little to accuse them of being Plagiaries here, that the most understanding Judges wish they had followed Sophocles yet closer, it had then been the best of our Modern Plays, as 'tis of the Ancients; but as it is, they have destroyed the Character of Oedipus, and made it absolutely Contradictory. For Oedipus that fled from a Crown, for fear of threatned Incest, and had pull'd out his Eyes on the Discovery of it, can relish an Embrace of Jocasta too well, in the 5th Act, till the Ghost of Laius frights him; but this place admits not all those just Criticisms that might be made on this Play.

The Rival Ladies, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1679. Acted at the Theatre Royal. The Dispute betwixt Amideo and Hypolito, and Gonsalva's fighting with the Pyrates, borrowed from Encolpius, Giton, Eumolpus and Tryphena's, on Boarding the Vessel of Lyca's, in Petronius Arbiter, and the Catastrophe resembles Scarron's Rival Brothers.

Secret Love, or, The Maiden Queen, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1679. Acted at the Theatre Royal. The serious part founded on Cleobuline Queen of Corinth, pt. 7. B. 7. Celadon, Florimel, Olinda, and Sabina, from the History of Pisistratus and Cerintha, in the said Cyrus, pt. 9. B. 3. and the French Marquess Ibra. Part 2. Book 1.

Fign'd Innocence, or Sir Martin Mar-all, a Comedy, 4to. 1678. Acted at the Duke's Theatre. The greatest part, both Plot and Language of Sir Martin and Warner, stol'n from Quinault's L'Amant indiscret, and Mollieres L'Etourdy ou le Contre temps. Sir Martin's foolish Discovery of his not Playing on the Lute, from Firmuron, L. 7. and Sir John Moody's being set up in their Altitudes, from Shakerly's Marmion's Fine Companions, Act 4. Sc. 1. &c.

The Spanish Fryar, or, The double Discovery, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1681. Acted at the King's Theatre. The Comical part built on the Novel, call'd, The Pilgrim.

The State of Innocence, or, The Fall of Man, an Opera, 4to. 1678. Taken from Milton's Paradice Lost, tho' guilty of many absurdities, which are not in Milton, whose being a Narration of things done long since, made room for several things, which had he placed it in Action, cou'd never have been brought in; to give one Instance; Mr. Dryden makes Lucifer (before the World was made, or at least before the Devil knew any thing of its Form, Matter or Vicissitudes,) compare the prostrate Devils to Leaves in Autumn, before there was an Autumn, &c.

The Tempest, or, Inchanted Island, a Comedy, 4to. 1676. Acted at the Duke's Theatre. This is an Alteration only of one of Shakespear's, by Sir William D'Avenant and Mr. Dryden.

Troilus and Cressida, or, Truth found out too late, a Tragedy 4to. 1679. Acted at the Duke's Theatre. One of Mr. Shakespear's, altered by Mr. Dryden. The Story is to be found in Lellius a Lombard, in Latin, and in our old Chaucer in ancient English.

Tyrannick Love, or, The Royal Martyr, a Tragedy, 4to., 1679. Acted at the Theatre Royal. For the Plot see Zosimus, lib. 4. Socrates, lib. 5. c. 14. Herodian, l. 6, 7; and 8. Jul. Capit. in cit. Mac. Jun.

The Wild Gallant, a Comedy, 4to. 1669. Acted at the Theatre Royal. This was his first Play, published 1669. being about Twenty eight Years since, and by which he was near Thirty eight years old when this was Play'd.