This celebrated critic was born in London in the year 1657, his father being a Sadler, and an eminent citizen.
He received his early education at Harrow on the Hill, under the pious and learned Dr. William Horn, having for his schoolfellows many young noblemen, who afterwards made a considerable figure in the slate. He removed from Harrow to Caius College in Cambridge, where he was admitted January 13, 1675, in the 18th year of his age. In due time Mr. Dennis took the degree of bachelor of arts, and after quitting the university he indulged a passion which he had entertained for travelling, and set out for France and Italy. In the course of his travels he, no doubt, made such observations upon the government and genius of the people whom he visited, as enabled him to make a just comparison between foreign states and his own country. In all probability, while he was in France and Italy, he conceived an abhorrence of despotic government, the effects of which he then had an opportunity more intimately to discern; for he returned home still more confirmed in Whig principles, by which his political conduct was ever governed.
Our author in his early years became acquainted with some of the brightest geniuses which then illuminated the regions of wit, such as Dryden, Wycherley, Congreve, and Southern. Their conversation was in itself sufficient to divert his mind from the acquisition of any profitable art, or the exercise of any profession. He ranked himself amongst the wits, and from that moment held every attainment in contempt, except what related to poetry, and taste.
Mr. Dennis, by the instances of zeal which he gave for the Protestant succession in the reign of King William, and Queen Anne, obtained the patronage of the duke of Marlborough, who procured him the place of one of the Queen's waiters in the Custom-house, worth £120 per annum, which Mr. Dennis held for six years. During the time he attended at the Custom house, he lived so profusely, and managed his affairs with so little oeconomy, that in order to discharge some pressing demands, he was obliged to dispose of his place. When the earl of Hallifax, with whom he had the honour of being acquainted, heard of Mr. Dennis's design, he sent for him, and in the most friendly manner, expostulated with him upon the folly, and rashness of disposing of his place, by which (says his lordship) you will soon become a beggar. Mr. Dennis represented his exigencies, and the pressing demands that were then made upon him: which did not however satisfy his lordship, who insisted if he did sell it, it should be with some reversion to himself for the space of forty years, a term which the earl had no notion Mr. Dennis could exceed. But he was mistaken in his calculation upon our poets constitution, who out lived the term of forty years stipulated when he sold his place, and fulfilled in a very advanced age, what his lordship had prophesied would befal him. This circumstance our author hints at in his dedication of his poem on the Battle of Ramellies, to lord Hallifax, "I have lately, says he, had very great obligations to your lordship, you have been pleased to take some care of my fortune, at a time when I most wanted it, and had the least reason to expect it from you." This poem on the Battle of Ramellies is a cold unspirited performance; it has neither fire, nor elevation, and is the true poetical sister of another poem of his, on the Battle of Blenheim, addressed to Queen Anne, and for which the duke of Marlborough rewarded him, says Mr. Coxeter, with a present of a hundred guineas. In these poems he has introduced a kind of machinery, good and bad angels interest themselves in the actions and his hero, the duke of Marlborough, enjoys a large share of the coelestial protection.
Mr. Dennis had once contracted a friendship with Sir Richard Steele, whom he afterwards severely attacked. Sir Richard had promised that he would take some opportunity of mentioning his works in public with advantage, and endeavour to raise his reputation. When Sir Richard engaged in a periodical paper there was a fair occasion of doing it, and accordingly in one of his Spectators he quotes the following couplet, which he is pleased to call humorous, but which however is a translation from Boileau.
One fool lolls his tongue out at another,
And shakes his empty noddle at his brother.
The citation of this couplet Mr. Dennis imagined, was rather meant to affront him, than pay a compliment to his genius, as he could discover nothing excellent in the lines, and if there was, they being only a translation, in some measure abated the merit of them. Being fired with resentment at this affront, he immediately, in a spirit of fury, wrote a letter to the Spectator, in which he treated him with very little ceremony, and informed him, that if he had been sincere in paying a compliment to him, he should have chosen a quotation from his poem on the Battle of Ramellies; he then points out a particular passage; of which he himself had a very high opinion, and which we shall here insert as a specimen of that performance.
A coelestial spirit visits the Duke of Marlborough the night before the battle, and after he has said several other things to him, goes on thus,
A wondrous victory attends thy arms,
Great in itself, and in its sequel vast;
Whose echoing sound thro' all the West shall run,
Transporting the glad nations all around,
Who oft shall doubt, and oft suspend their joy,
And oft imagine all an empty dream;
The conqueror himself shall cry amaz'd,
'Tis not our work, alas we did it not;
The hand of GOD, the hand of GOD is here!
For thee, so great shall be thy high renown,
That fame shall think no music like thy name;
Around the circling globe it shall be spread,
And to the world's last ages shall endure;
And the most lofty, most aspiring man,
Shall want th' assurance in his secret prayers
To ask such high felicity and fame,
As Heav'n has freely granted thee; yet this
That seems so great, so glorious to thee now,
Would look how low, how vile to thy great mind,
If I could set before th' astonish'd eyes,
Th' excess of glory, and th' excess of bliss
That is prepar'd for thy expiring soul,
When thou arriv'st at everlasting day.
The quotation by Mr. Dennis is longer, but we are persuaded the reader will not be displeased that we do not take the trouble to transcribe the whole, as it does not improve, but rather grows more languid. How strangely are people deceived in their own productions! In the language of sincerity we cannot discover a poetical conception, one striking image, or one animated line in the above, and yet Mr. Dennis observes to Sir Richard Steele, that these are the lines, by quoting which, he would really have done him honour.
But Mr. Dennis's resentment did not terminate here; he attempted to expose a paper in the Spectator upon dramatic conduct, in which the author endeavours to shew that a poet is not always obliged to distribute poetical justice on this very reasonable account, that good and evil happen alike to all men on this side the grave. To this proposition our critic objects, "that it is not only a very false, but a dangerous assertion, that we neither know what men really are, nor what they suffer. Besides, says he, let it be considered, that a man is a creature, who is created immortal, and a creature consequently that will find a compensation in futurity, for any seeming inequality in his destiny here; but the creatures of a poetical creator, are imaginary, and transitory; they have no longer duration than the representation of their respective fables, and consequently if they offend, they must be punished during that representation, and therefore we are very far item pretending, that poetical justice is an equal representation of the justice of the Almighty." In support of this opinion our critic produces the example of Euripides, and the best poets amongst the ancients, who practised it, and the authority of Aristotle, who established the rule. But nature, or Shakespear, which is another word for nature, is by no means in favour of this equal distribution. No character can be represented in tragedy absolutely perfect, as no such character exists; but a character which possesses more virtues than vices, may be upon the whole amiable, and yet with the strictest propriety may be made the chief sufferer in the drama. If any passion strongly predominates in the heart of man, it will often expose him to such snares, entangle him in such difficulties, and oppress him with such wants, that in the very nature of things, he must sink under the complicated weight of misery. This may happen to a character extremely amiable, the passion which governs him may be termed unhappy, but not guilty, or if it should partake the nature of guilt, fallible creatures cannot always combat with success against guilty passions.
The drama being an imitation of nature, the poet causes a composition of characters formed in his imagination to be represented by players; these characters charm, or displease, not only for what they do; during the representation of the fable, but we love, or hate them for what they have done before their appearance; and we dread, or warmly expect the consequences of their resolutions after they depart the stage. The illusion would not be sufficiently strong, if we did not suppose the dramatic persons equally accountable to the powers above it; as we are ourselves. This Shakespear has taken care forcibly to impress upon his audience, in making the ghost of the murthered king of Denmark, charge his son not to touch his as mother's life, but leave he, to heaven; and the re flexions of her own conscience to goad and sting her.
Mr. Dennis's reasoning, upon the whole amounts to this, that no perfect character should suffer in the drama; to which it may be answered, that no perfect character ever did suffer in the drama; because no poet who draws from nature, ever introduced one, for this very good reason, that there are none in existence.
Mr. Dennis, who was restless in attacking those writers, who met with success, levelled some more criticisms against the Spectators; and amongst the rest endeavoured to expose Mr. Addison's illustrations of the Old Ballad, called Chevy Chace; of which we shall only say, that he performed this task more successfully than he executed his Animadversions upon Poetical Justice.
We have already taken notice of the warm attachment Mr. Dennis always had to the Whig Interest, and his particular zeal for the Hanoverian succession. He wrote many letters and pamphlets for the administration of the earl of Godolphin and the duke of Marlborough, and never failed to lash the French with all severity natural to him.
When the peace (which the Whigs reckoned the most inglorious that ever was made) was about to be ratified, Mr. Dennis, who certainly over-rated his importance, took it into his imagination, that when the terms of peace should be stipulated, some persons who had been most active against the French, would be demanded by that nation as hostages; and he imagined himself of importance enough to be made choice of, but dreaded his being given up to the French, as the greatest evil that could befall him. Under the influence of this strong delusion, he actually waited on the duke of Marlborough, and begg'd his grace's interposition, that he might not be sacrificed to the French, for, says he, "I have always been their enemy." To this strange request, his grace very gravely replied, "Do not fear, Mr. Dennis, you shall not be given up to the French; I have been a greater enemy to them than you, and you see I am not afraid of being sacrificed, nor am in the least disturbed." Mr. Dennis upon this retired, well satisfied with his grace's answer, but there still remained upon his spirits a dread of his becoming a prey to some of the enemies of Great Britain.
He soon after this retired into the country, to spend some time at a friend's house. While he was walking one day by the sea side, he saw a ship is full sail approaching towards the shore, which his distracted imagination dictated, was a French ship sent to carry him off. He hurried to the gentleman's house with the utmost precipitation, upbraided him with treachery, as being privy to the attempts of the French against his life, and without ceremony quitted his house, and posted to London, as fast as he could.
Mr. Dennis, who never cared to be an unconcerned spectator, when any business of a public or important nature was in agitation, entered the lists with the celebrated Mr. Sacheverel, who in the year 1702 published at Oxford a piece called the political Union, the purport of which was to shew, that the Church and the State are invariably connected, and that the one cannot subsist without the other. Mr. Dennis in answer to this, in a letter to a member of parliament, with much zeal, force of argument, and less ferocity than usual, endeavours to overthrow the proposition, and shew the danger of priestcraft, both to religion and government [quotation omitted].
He shews that the moderate part of the Church of England are the truest church; and that violent party which differs from the moderate ought to be called Dissenters, because they are at a greater distance from charity, which is the characteristic of a true church, than any Dissenters. By which, says he, "It appears that Mr. Sacheverel has made a rod to whip himself, for if only the true Church of England is to remain, and if the moderate part is the true church, the most violent ought the least to be tolerated, because they differ from charity; and consequently are more ready to disturb the public peace."
In 1703 he published proposals for putting a speedy end to the war, by ruining the commerce of the French and Spaniards, and securing our own without any additional expence to the nation. This was thought a very judicious, and well designed plan.
In 1706 our author published an Essay on the Italian Opera, in which, with an irresistible force, he shews the extreme danger that a generous nation is exposed to, by too much indulging effeminate music. In the preface he quotes a passage from Boileau, in which that satirist expresses himself with much severity against emasculating diversions; and the Italian music in particular.
He observes, "That the modern Italians have the very same sun and soil with the antient Romans, and yet are their manners directly opposite. Their men are neither virtuous, wise, or valiant, and they who have reason to know their women, never trust them out of their sight. 'Tis impossible to give any reason for so great a difference between the antient Romans, and the modern Italians, but only luxury; and the reigning luxury, of modern Italy, is that soft and effeminate music, which abounds in the Opera."
In this Essay Mr. Dennis remarks, that entertainments entirely made up of music can never instruct the mind, nor promote one excellent purpose in human nature. "Perhaps, says he, the pride and vanity that is in mankind, may determine the generality to give into music, at the expence of poetry. Men love to enjoy their pleasures entirely, and not to have them restrained by awe, or curbed by mortification. Now there are but few judicious spectators at our dramatic representations, since none can be so, but who with great endowments of nature have had a very generous education; and the rest are frequently mortified, by passing foolish judgments: But in music the case is vastly different; to judge of that requires only use, and a fine ear, which the footman oft has a great deal finer than his master. In short, a man without common sense may very well judge of what a man writes without common sense, and without common sense composes." He then inquires what the consequence will be if we banish poetry, which is, that taste, politeness, erudition and public spirit will fall with it, and all for a Song.
The declension of poetry in Greece and Rome was soon followed by that of liberty and empire; according to Roscommon in his Essay on Translated Verse.
True poets are the guardians of a state,
And when they said, portend approaching fate:
For that which Rome to conquest did inspire,
Was not the Vestal, but the Muses fire;
Heav'n joins the blessings, no declining age
E'er felt the raptures of poetic rage.
In 1711 Mr. Dennis published an Essay upon Public Spirit, being a satire in prose, upon the Manners and luxury of the times, the chief sources of our present Parties and Divisions. This is one of the most finished performances of our author; the intention is laudable, and the execution equal to the goodness of the design. He begins the Essay, with a definition of the love of our country, shews how much the phrase has been prostituted, and how seldom understood, or practised in its genuine sense. He then observes how destructive it is to indulge an imitation of foreign fashions; that fashions are often followed by the manners of a people from whom they are borrowed; as in the beginning of King Charles the IId's reign [quotations omitted].
In a pretty advanced age Mr. Dennis, who then laboured under severe necessities, published two volumes of letters, by subscription, which are by far the most entertaining part of his writings. They have more sprightliness and force in them than, from reading his other works, we would be disposed to imagine. They are addressed to persons distinguished by their fortune, genius, and exalted station; the duke of Marlborough, the lord Lansdowne, earl of Godolphin, earl of Halifax, Mr. Dryden, Mr. Prior Mr. Wycherley, Henry Cromwel Esq; Walter Moyle, Esq; and Sir Richard Blackmore. He entitles them Letters, Moral and Critical. The Critical are chiefly imployed upon Mr. Addison's Cato, which he censures in some places with great justice, and critical propriety: In other places he only discovers spleen, and endeavours to burlesque noble passages, merely from resentment to the author.
There is likewise published amongst there letters, an enquiry into the genius and writings of Shakespear. He contends for Shakespear's ignorance of the antients, and observes, that it would derogate much from his glory to suppose him to have read, or understood them, because if he had, his not practising their art, and not restraining the luxuriance of his imagination would be a reproach to him. After bestowing the highest panegyric upon Shakespear, he says, "That he seems to have been the very original of our English tragical harmony; that is the harmony of blank verse, diversified often by dissyllable and trisyllable terminations. For that diversity distinguishes it from heroic harmony, and bringing it nearer to common use, makes it more proper to gain attention, and more fit for action, and dialogue. Such verses we make when we are writing prose, we make such verse in common conversation."
One of the reasons Mr. Dennis assigns for Shakespear's want of learning, is, that Julius Caesar, in the play which goes by his name, makes but a third rate figure, and had he (says the author) consulted the latin writers, he could not have been guilty of such an error; but this is far from being conclusive, which might is well be owing to his having a contempt for Caesar's character, and an enthusiastic admiration for those of Brutus and Cassius.
Another prose Essay of Mr. Dennis's, which does him very great honour, is his Grounds of Criticism in Poetry. Amongst many masterly things, which he there advances, is the following. "The ancient poets (says he) derived that advantage which they have over the moderns, to the constituting their subjects after a religious manner; and from the precepts of Longinus, it appears that the greatest sublimity is to be derived from religious ideas."
Mr. Dennis then observes, that one of the principal reasons, that has made the modern poetry so contemptible, is, that by divesting itself of religion, it is fallen from its dignity, and its original nature and excellence; and from the greatest production in the mind of man, it is dwindled to an extravagant, and vain amusement. When subjects are in themselves great, the ideas of the writer must likewise he great; and nothing is in its nature so dignified as religion. This he illustrates by many examples from Milton, who when he raises his voice to heaven, and speaks the language of the divinity, then does he reach the true sublime; but when he descends to the more trifling consideration of human things, his wing is necessarily depressed, and his strains are less transporting.
We shall now take a view of Mr. Dennis, in that part of his life and writings, in which he makes a less considerable figure, by exposing himself to the resentment of one so much his superior; and who, after a long provocation, at last let loose his rage against him, in a manner that no time can obliterate. Mr. Dennis we have already observed, waged a perpetual war with successful writers, except those who were his friends; but never engaged with so much fury, and less justice, against the writings of any poet, as those of Mr. Pope.
Some time after the death of Dryden, when Pope's reputation began to grow, his friends who were sanguine in his interest, were imprudent enough to make comparisons, and really assert, that Pope was he greatest Poet of the two: Dennis, who had made court to Dryden, and was respected by him, heard this with indignation, and immediately exerted all the criticism and force of which he was master, to reduce the character of Pope. In this attempt he neither has succeeded, nor did he pursue it like a gentleman.
In his reflexions on Pope's Essay on Criticism, he uses the following unmannerly epithets. "A young squab, short gentleman, whose outward form tho' it should be that of a downright monkey, would not differ so much from human shape, as his unthinking, immaterial part does from human understanding — He is as stupid and as venomous as an hunch-backed toad. — A book through which folly and ignorance, those brethren so lame and impotent, do ridiculously look very big, and very dull, and strut, and hobble cheek by jowl, with their arms on kimbo, being led, and supported, and bully-backed, by that blind Hector impudence." The reasons which our critic gives for this extraordinary fury are equally ridiculous.
"I regard him (says he) as an enemy, not so much to me, as to my king, to my country, and to my religion. The epidemic madness of the times has given him reputation, and reputation is power; and that has made him dangerous. Therefore I look on it as my duty to king George, and to the liberties of my country, more dear than life to me, of which I have now been 40 years a constant assertor, &c. I look upon it as my duty I say to do, — Reader observe what, — To pull the lion's skin from this little ass, which popular error has thrown round him, and shew that this little author, who has been lately so much in vogue, has neither sense in his thoughts, nor English in his expressions." See his Remarks on Homer, Pref. p. 2. and p. 91.
Speaking of Mr. Pope's Windsor Forrest, he says, "It is a wretched rhapsody, impudently writ in emulation of Cooper's-Hill. The author of it is obscure, is ambiguous, is affected, is temerarious, is barbarous."
After these provocations, it is no wonder that Pope should take an opportunity of recording him: in his Dunciad; and yet he had some esteem for our author's learning and genius. Mr. Dennis put his name to every thing he wrote against him, which Mr. Pope considered as a circumstance of candour. He pitied him as a man subject to the dominion of invidious passions, than which no severer sensations can tear the heart of man.
In the first Book of his Dunciad, line 103, he represents Dullness taking a view of her sons; and thus mentions Dennis,
She saw slow Philips creep like Tates's poor page,
And all the mighty mad in Dennis rage.
He mentions him again slightly in his second Book, line 230, and in his third Book, line 165, taking notice of a quarrel between him and Mr. Gildon, he says,
Ah Dennis! Gildon ah! what ill-starr'd rage
Divides a friendship long confirm'd by age?
Blockheads, with reason, wicked wits abhor,
But fool with fool, is barbr'ous civil war,
Embrace, embrace, my sons! be foes no more!
Nor glad vile poets, with true critic's gore.
Our author gained little by his opposition to Pope, in which he must either have violated his judgment, or been under the influence of the strongest prejudice that ever blinded the eyes of any man; for not to admire the writings of this excellent poet, is an argument of a total depravation of taste, which in other respects does not appear to be the case of Mr. Dennis.
We shall now take a view of our author in the light of a dramatist. In the year 1697 a comedy of his was acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, called A Plot and No Plot, dedicated to the Earl of Sunderland. The scope of this piece is to ridicule the credulity and principles of the Jacobites, the moral of which is this, "That there are in all parties, persons who find it their interest to deceive the rest, and that one half of every faction makes a property in fee-simple of the other, therefore we ought never to believe any thing will, or will not be, because it is agreeable, or contrary to our humours, but because it is in itself likely, or improbable. Credulity in men, engaged in a party, proceeds oftner from pride than weakness, and it is the hardest thing in the world to impose upon a humble man."
In 1690, a tragedy called Rinaldo and Armida was acted at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, dedicated to the Duke of Ormond. Scene the top of a mountain in the Canaries. The hint of the chief characters is owing to Tasso's Gerusalemme, but the manners of them being by our author thought unequal in that great Italian, he has taken the liberty to change them, and form his characters more agreeable to the subject. The reasons for doing it are expressed in the preface and prologue to the play.
Our author's next tragedy was upon the subject of Iphigenia, daughter to Agamemnon King of Argos, acted at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn 1704....
The fourth play introduced upon the stage by Mr. Dennis, 1704, was, a tragedy called Liberty Asserted, dedicated to Anthony Henley, esq; to whom he says he was indebted for the happy hint upon which it was formed. Soon after this he wrote another tragedy upon the story of Appius and Virginia, which Mr. Maynwaring, in a letter to Mr. Dennis, calls one of our best modern tragedies; it is dedicated to Sidney Earl of Godolphin.
He altered Shakespear's Merry Wives of Windsor, and brought it on the stage under the title of The Comical Gallant. Prefixed to this, is a large account of Taste in Poetry, and the Causes of its Degeneracy addressed to the Hon. George Granville, Esq; afterwards Lord Lansdowne.
Our author's next dramatic production was Coriolanus, the Invader of his Country, or the Fatal Resentment, a Tragedy; altered from Shakespear, and acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane. This piece met with some opposition the first night; and on the fourth another play was given out. The second night's audience was very small, though the play was exceedingly well acted. The third night had not the charges in money; the fourth was still worse, and then another play was given out, not one place being taken in the boxes for any ensuing night. The managers were therefore obliged to discontinue it.
This usage Mr. Dennis highly resented; and in his dedication to the duke of Newcastle, then lord chamberlain, he makes a formal complaint against the managers. To this play Mr. Colley Cibber took the pains to write an epilogue, which Mrs. Oldfield spoke with universal applause, and for which poor peevish, jealous Dennis, abused them both.
Mr. Dennis happened once to go to the play, when a tragedy was acted, in which the machinery of thunder was introduced, a new artificial method of producing which he had formerly communicated to the managers. Incensed by this circumstance, he cried out in a transport of resentment, "That is my thunder by G—d; the villains will play my thunder, but not my plays." This gave an alarm to the pit, which he soon explained. He was much subject to these kind of whimsical transports, and suffered the fervor of his imagination often to subdue the power of his reason; an instance of which we shall now relate.
After he was worn out with age and poverty, he resided within the verge of the court, to prevent danger from his creditors. One Saturday night he happened to saunter to a public house, which he discovered in a short time was out of the verge. He was sitting in an open drinking room, and a man of a suspicious appearance happened to come in. There was something about the man which denoted to Mr. Dennis that he was a Bailiff: this struck him with a panic; he was afraid his liberty was now at an end; he sat in the utmost solicitude, but durst not offer to stir, lest he should be seized upon. After an hour or two had passed in this painful anxiety, at last the clock struck twelve, when Mr. Dennis, in an extacy, cried out, addressed himself to the suspected person, "Now sir, Bailiff, or no Bailiff, I don't care a farthing for you, you have no power now." The man was astonished at this behaviour, and when it was explained to him, he was so much affronted with the suspicion, that had not Mr. Dennis found his protection in age, he would have smarted for his mistaken opinion of him.
In the year 1705 a comedy of Mr. Dennis's called Gibraltar, or The Spanish Adventure, was acted unsuccessfully at Drury-Lane Theatre. He was also author of a masque called Orpheus and Euridice.
Mr. Dennis, considered as a dramatic writer, makes not so good a figure as in his critical works; he understood the rules of writing, but it is not in the power of every one to carry their own theory into execution. There is one error which he endeavoured to reform, very material for the interest of dramatic poetry. He saw, with concern, that love had got the entire possession of the tragic stage, contrary to the authority of the ancients, and the example of Shakespear. He resolved therefore to deviate a little from the reigning practice, and not to make his heroes such whining slaves in their amours, which not only debases the majesty of tragedy, but confounds most of the principal characters, by making that passion the predominant quality in all. But he did not think it safe at once to shew his principal characters wholly exempt from it, lest so great and sudden a transition should prove disagreeable. He rather chose to steer a middle course, and make love appear violent, but yet to be subdued by reason, and give way to the influence of some other more noble passion; as in Rinaldo, to Glory; in Iphigenia, to Friendship and in Liberty Asserted, to the Public Good. He thought by these means an audience might be entertained, and prepared for greater alterations, whereby the dignity of tragedy might be supported, and its principal characters justly distinguished.
Besides the works which we have already mentioned, Mr. Dennis is author of the following pieces, mostly in the Pindaric way.
Upon our Victory at Sea, and burning the French Fleet at La Hogne in 1692.
Part of the Te Deum Paraphrased, in Pindaric Verse.
To Mr. Dryden, upon his Translation of the Third Book of Virgil's Georgics. Pindaric Ode.
A Pindaric Ode on the King, written in the begining of August 1691; occasioned by the Victory, at Aghrim.
To a Painter drawing a Lady's Picture, an Epigram.
Prayer for the King's Safety in the Summer's Expedition in 1692, an Epigram.
The Court of Death, a Pindaric Poem; dedicated to the Memory of her Most Sacred Majesty Queen Mary.
The Passion of Byblis, made English from the Ninth Book of Ovid's Metamorphosis.
The Monument, a Poem; sacred to the Memory of the best, and greatest of Kings, William III.
Britannia Triumphans, or A Poem on the Battle of Blenheim; dedicated to Queen Anne.
On the Accession of King George to the Imperial Crown of Great Britain.
The following specimen, which is part of a Paraphrase on the Te Deum, serves to shew, that Mr. Dennis wrote with more elegance in Pindaric odes, than in blank verse.
Now let us sing a loftier strain,
Now let us earth and earthly things disdain,
Now let our souls to Heaven, repair,
Direct their most aspiring flight,
To fields of uncreated light,
And dare to draw empyreal air.
'Tis done, O place divinely bright!
O Sons of God divinely fair!
O sight! unutterable light!
O unconceivable delight!
O joy which only Gods can bear!
Heark how their blissful notes they raise,
And sing the Great Creator's praise!
How in extatic song they cry,
Lo we the glorious sons of light,
So great, to beautiful, to bright,
Lo we the brightest of created things,
Who are all flame, all force, all spirit, and all eye,
Are yet but vile, and nothing in thy sight!
Before thy feet O mighty King of kings,
O Maker of this bounteous all!
Thus lowly reverent we fall.
After a life exposed to vicissitudes, habituated to many disappointments, and embroiled in unsuccessful quarrels, Mr. Dennis died on the 6th of January 1733, in the 77th year of his age. We have observed that he outlived the reversion of his place, after which he fell into great distress and as he had all his life been making enemies by the ungovernable fury of his temper, he found few persons disposed to relieve him. When he was near the close of his days, a play was acted for his benefit. This favour was procured him by the Joint interest of Mr. Thomson, Mr. Martin, Mr. Mallet, and Mr. Pope. The play was given by the company then acting at the little Theatre in the Hay-market, under the direction of Mr. Mills sen. and Mr. Cibber jun. the latter of whom spoke a prologue on the occasion, written by Mr. Pope
Mr. Dennis was less happy in his temper, than his genius; he possessed no inconsiderable erudition, which was joined to such natural parts, as if accompanied with prudence, or politeness, might have raised him, not only above want, but even to eminence. He was happy too in having very powerful patrons, but what could be done for a man, who declared war against all the world? Dennis has given evidence against himself in the article of politeness; for in one of his letters he says, he would not retire to a certain place in the country, lest he should be disturbed in his studies by the ladies in the house; for, says he, I am not over-fond of the conversation of women. But with all his foibles, we cannot but consider him as a good critic, and a man of genius.
His perpetual misfortune was, that he aimed at the empire of wit, for which nature had not sufficiently endowed him; and as his ambition prompted him to obtain the crown by a furious opposition to all other competitors, so, like Caesar of old, his ambition overwhelmed him.