1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dryden

Bryan Waller Procter, in "English Poetry" Edinburgh Review 42 (April 1825) 60-61.



DRYDEN was at the head of his line. As a bitter, biting satirist, as a writer of sensible, masculine, sounding verse, there is no one who goes beyond him. But as a poet, he was of a different order from those who illuminated the reigns of Elizabeth and James; and he occupied, in our opinions, a decidedly lower step. He was a writer of shrewd sarcasm and of excellent good sense, but he was deficient in imagination, in pathos, and in nature. He was more artificial, generally speaking, than his predecessors — and he ought to have been more natural, — for he resorted far more to common phraseology and existing people. Nevertheless, it is not too much to say that he failed signally in tragedy, and that he did not excel in narrative or in tender serious poetry many of inferior reputation who have preceded and followed him. But in the war of verse he was in his element. He fought well and effectively; he gave blow back for blow, and knew the weak side of his foes, and launched his sounding anathemas against their characters and persons. His "Absalom 'and Achitophel," and "Mac-Flecnoe" are each capital, are each excellent satires, though the palm must assuredly be awarded to the former poem. "The Hind and the Panther" also is a fine thing in its way; but it differs little in point of style from such of his productions as were merely satirical. His description of the Hind, at the commencement, is delightful, (the "many-winged wounds aimed at her heart," is even poetical,) and the account of the Panther—

The Panther, sure the noblst next the Hind
And fairest creature of the spotted kind;
Oh! could her in-born stains be washed away,
She were too good to he a beast of prey!
How can I praise, or blame, and not offend,
Or how divide the frailty from the friend;
Her faults and virtues lie so mixed, that she
Nor wholly stands condemned, nor wholly free

is terse and good, and seems to have been the parent of five hundred portraits of a similar kind.