1701 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dryden

Anonymous, "To the Memory of Mr. Dryden" A Collection of Poems (1701) 319-27.



If Generous Gratitude could e'er excuse
The Sallies of a long neglected Muse,
Mine pleads that Case alone, and so should be
From Censure, or malicious Pity free:
For all the Pleasures she from Dryden knew
She pays this Tribute, and she thinks it due.

Still had she slept, unmov'd by all beside,
No Rhimes attempted, and no Numbers try'd,
If to another Man he could impart
His real Nature, and his wondrous Art:
Both did He temper right, and raise from thence
Unrivall'd Numbers, and unequall'd Sence.

Most that remains (for so to me they seem)
Are but the Shadows, and the Ghosts of him:
Some few, it is confest, have gain'd their Cause,
And justify'd their Merit to Applause;
'Tis true, their Diction's good, their Stile is clear,
And Art and Labour through the whole appear;
But let us search 'em well, where shall we find
His Force of Thought, His Energy of Mind?
The Words that move us with mysterious Charms
The Soul that actuates, and the Fire that warms?
A Ghost sometimes appears to mortal View,
And bears the shape of Humane kind, but not the Substance too.

Words are like Colours in two Artists Hands,
Of different Skill, where each the best Commands:
One Paints and Pleases, but the Pleasure lies
Not in the Mind, but only in the Eyes;
The Colours justly mixt, delude the Sight,
And, Gayly shining, give a false Delight;
For far from thence is Honest Nature chas'd,
Asham'd to see her self so much disgrac'd.

Not so the other, whose superior Art
To lifeless Colours can a living Soul impart:
Bold are his Stroaks, but manag'd still with Care,
For Nature always claims the better share;
Colours, Proportion, Distance are combin'd
To please the Sight, and Strength to charm the Mind.

Yet not the Best a full Perfection gain'd,
But in one Province still the Painter reign'd:
Water and Land a different Master own,
And History is always found alone:
Peculiar Hands give Trees and Flow'rs the best,
The Mimick Drolls below, distinguish'd from the rest.

Our wond'rous Bard, whose comprehensive Soul
Could reach All Nature, and describe Her Whole;
To single Beauties scorn'd to be confin'd,
But show'd the Vigor of extensive Mind.
In all the nice Proportions We behold,
Like Angelo correct, like Titian bold.

If homely Cots, or humble Shepherds Ways
Employ'd his Muse, how calmly did they please,
And sink our Passions to a rural Ease.
Or when He sung th' Excesses of the Great,
High Palaces, the trifling Pomp of State,
Th' ungovern'd Soul, her Reason laid aside,
Took the fond Hint, and was debas'd to Pride.
Landskip in all its various Face He show'd,
Here winding Rivers thro' the Meadows flow'd
And there the fruitful Trees complain'd th' unequal Load:
Here Mountains rise aloft, and dare the Sky,
There dreary Caves the Face of Nature fly;
Here Night a pleasing Horror does display,
And with its gloomy Charms excels the Day;
There the bright Morn expands its radiant Wings,
And gives new Vigor with the Light it brings;
His Universal Muse with equal Ease
Could paint, or dismal Storms, or calmest Seas,
The Miseries of War, and Joys of Peace.

But what nor Paint can tell, nor Pencil reach,
His larger Genius could divinely teach;
Describe the inner Passions of the Man,
And show the Steps from whence they first began.

Love He describ'd, tho' diff'rent are its Ways,
How the first flutt'ring pain disturbs our Days,
And gives our Nights but half their usual Ease;
Then our kind Thoughts improve the Passion high'r,
'Tis restless Rage, 'tis covetous Desire,
And Love unbounded, and impetuous Fire;
Till at the last with Extasy we find
Extremest Pleasures in one moment joyn'd,
And Joys immense, which leave all other Joys behind.

O Antony! how nobly dost thou charm?
O Cleopatra! how dost thou disarm
The roughest Spirits, and the coldest warm?
Nor shall she pass unmention'd, who maintain'd
The Cause of Love, and show'd her Love unfeign'd;
Who scorn'd t' excuse what she with Reason sought,
A certain Pleasure, and imagin'd Fault,
But boldly urg'd the Argument she shou'd,
Th' Impulse of Nature, and the Force of Blood.
So did He move the Soul, so touch the Heart
With Virgin Passions, not debauch'd by Art.

Thus could He talk of Love, and Lovers Deeds,
Yet give a Loose to Rage, and manly Rage succeeds.

His Satyr free, impartial and severe,
At once gave Pleasure, and created Fear;
Who would not read what He so justly writ?
But who would be the Subject of his Wit!

Could but our modern Satyrists have known
His way of Satyr, they'd despise their own:
Soon would they see the Sharpest Muse disclaims
Ill-manner'd Language, and opprobrious Names:
That sordid Railing is the poor Retreat
Of angry Malice, or unmanly Wit.
He shows, what we from him alone can feel,
Satyr may bite, and yet may be genteel.

Audacious Fancy fain would hurry on,
And tread those Paths which Reason ought to shun;
For Homer and the Mantuan are in View,
A dangerous Chase, nor must my Muse pursue:
O'er steepy Hills, tremendous to the Sight,
Their fiery Coursers kept an equal Flight,
His close pursu'd, nor fear'd the dismal Height.
My humble Muse looks upward with Despair
Admires their strength, but wonders how they dare
Attempt the Regions of the upper Air.
Suffice it Her to say, He never fail'd
Whereever His adventrous Muse assail'd,
And All attempting, He in All prevail'd.

What more had He to do! his conqu'ring Lays
Were above Censure, and commanded Praise;
Secure of Fame He laid the Laurel down,
Enough distinguis'd by his Sence alone;
And smil'd to see, with a disdainful Air,
Contending Rhymers use their utmost Care
To reach that Bays they want the Head to bear.

Fatigu'd with Life, with Pleasure He retir'd
From the vain World, both Envy'd and Admir'd.