1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dryden

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 62-63.



From an original Picture in the Collection of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.

We unhesitatingly offer this portrait of DRYDEN, as superior to any extant. The original picture is in possession of the poet's celebrated editor, Sir Walter Scott, and has been engraved from it by his permission. If the reader will compare it with the other likenesses of Dryden, more particularly with reference to the character contained in it, he will be at once aware of its exceeding superiority. The eye is full of observation: the coarser part of Dryden's mind may be seen in the animal character of the mouth; and the whole forms, as will readily be allowed, an uncommonly striking picture. The dress is flowing, rich, and graceful, and even the artificial curls, which crown the poet's brows instead of laurel, have been tortured into no inconsiderable elegance. Dryden was a fine prose writer, and a magnificent satirist: his lines go floating onward, and sounding like the sea, grand, sweeping, and regular: he had a great grasp, if we may so say, over language, and flung his anathemas about, as fiercely and freely as though he had sate in the papal chair. But his style of poetry was not of the highest order, although excellent and possibly unequalled in its way. He was the Juvenal of his country, but not the Homer, the Virgil, the Dante, the Ariosto, or even the Catullus. He may be considered as better than some of these, perhaps, by a few; but they must be few indeed who can rank him, in his own country, with the four great spirits who preceded him, with Chaucer or Spenser, Shakspeare or Milton; or who can resist the divine evidence of the two last, claiming to belong to another and a loftier sphere than that in which Dryden and the satirists dwell. We know that there are high authorities in favour of Pope and Dryden, (and they were, in truth, men of whom their country may be proud,) but there is as much distinction between them and others, as there is between the task of correcting the follies of mankind and lifting their spirits to the stars.