1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dryden

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 4 (1821) 55-56.



The style of Addison we would liken to a clear and transparent stream, whose motion is too gentle to ruffle the surface or sully the purity of its waters; whilst that of Dryden has the impetuosity of a torrent, which often tears the weeds from its banks, and stirs up the ooze from the bottom of its channel; but that ooze is mixed with grains of precious gold, and those weeds contain amongst them, flowers of the most delightful hue and odour; whilst the very swiftness of the current fixes our regard more intently than the tranquil surface of the gentler stream. He seems to have principally aimed at being strong and forcible, and to this object every minor consideration is sacrificed. To use the language of a noble poet, he wreaks his thoughts upon expression, and conveys them to the reader in the full force and energy of their first conception. He never appears to regard the mere structure of a sentence, nor is careful to wind it up in the neatest manner; neither are there marks of any subsequent labour, to polish and elaborate his style. We know, indeed, that he has been at the pains to revise some of his prose works, but his corrections are merely those of verbal inaccuracies, and ungrammatical structures, which crept into the most finished writings of the period; but, in general, he seems to have left his sentences just as they were struck off in the first heat of composition. There are, in consequence, some that have been roughly cast, which look rude and unfinished; sometimes there is a sharp edge, or abrupt projection, which a more fastidious taste might wish to see planed down, or rounded off; and, generally speaking, there is not that high polish, which is visible in the compositions of a later date; but all sense of this is lost in admiration of that matchless strength and occasional felicity, which are seldom found associated with strict correctness and undeviating propriety.