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The pieces which appeared on this occasion at Paris, probably suggested the subject to Jeremy Collier, a nonjuring clergyman, whose censures of Dryden, Congreve, and Vanbrugh, in his "Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage," which appeared in March, 1697-8, drew from the two latter a several Defence of
About two months after the appearance of Collier's book, Dryden thus noticed it, in an Epistle to Motteux, prefixed to his play, entitled BEAUTY IN DISTRESS, which was published in June, 1698 (London Gazette, No. 3402):
'Tis hard, my friend, to write in such an age, “Which damns not only poets, but the stage. "That sacred art, by Heaven itself infused, "Which Moses, David, Solomon, have used, "Is now to be no more: the Muses' foes "Would sink their Maker's praises into prose. "Were they content to prune the lavish vine "Of straggling branches, and improve the wine,
Who, but a madman, would his thoughts defend? "All would submit, for all but fools would mend. "But when to common sense they give the lie, "And turn distorted words to blasphemy,
They give the scandal; and the wise discern "Their glosses teach an age too apt to learn. "What I have loosely or profanely writ, "Let them to fires, their due desert, commit:
Nor, when accused by me, let them complain; "Their faults, and not their function, I arraign.
Rebellion, worse than witchcraft, they pursued; "The pulpit preach'd the crime the people rued: "The stage was silenced; for the Saints would see "In fields perform'd their plotted tragedy.”
their plays; but Dryden so far yielded to his opponent, as not to make any formal reply, acknowledging, with great candour, whatever was exceptionable in his dramatick compositions, which he wished wholly expunged from his writings; yet stating some circumstances in extenuation of the offences against morality, with which he did not deny his plays were in some instances justly charge. able. Collier's book, though extremely ill written, had however a very salutary effect; and from that period, the gross licentiousness and indecency, which from the time of the Restoration had disgraced the theatre, were banished from the scene.
A few weeks before Collier made his attack upon the stage, Dryden honoured George Granville, who afterwards was created Lord Lansdowne, with an Epistle prefixed to his tragedy called HEROICK LOVE. Having said in these commendatory verses, that he should resign his laurels to the youthful poet with less regret, as they had already become withered on his brows, and he hoped would revive on those of his friend, this second bequest of his poetick crown did not escape the notice of one of the performers at the theatre
4 See his Epilogue to THE PILGRIM, written two years afterwards.
5 Published, February 19, 1697-8. London Gazette, No. 3368.-The Prologue was written by Henry St. John, afterwards Viscount Bolingbroke.
in Drury-Lane, who appears to have been highly exasperated by the following lines :
"Thine be the laurel, then; thy blooming age "Can best, if any can, support the stage;
"Which so declines, that shortly we may see
Players and plays reduced to second infancy.
Set up some foreign monster in a bill:
"Thus they jog on, still tricking, never thriving, "And murd'ring plays, which they miscall-reviving. "Our sense is nonsense, through their pipes convey'd; "Scarce can a poet know the play he made,
'Tis so disguis'd in death; nor thinks 'tis he
"That suffers in the mangled tragedy:
"Thus Itys first was kill'd, and after dress'd
After having completed the review of his Virgil, to which he devoted nine entire days, he for some
In the Preface to a tragedy entitled THE FATAL DISCOVERY, OR LOVE IN RUINS, 4to. 1698, (written by an anonymous author, on the same subject with Lord Orford's MYSTERIOUS MOTHER,) George Powel, the principal actor, at this time, at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-lane, retaliated on our author by the following animadversions, which doubtless he thought extremely witty and sarcastick:
Here I am afraid he makes but a coarse compliment, when this great wit, with his treacherous memory, forgets, that he had given away his laurels upon record twice before, viz. once to Mr. Congreve and another time to Mr. Southerne: Pr'ythee, old Edipus, expound this
time probably fluctuated between different projects, one of which certainly was the translation of
mystery! Dost thou set up thy transubstantiation miracle in the donation of thy idol bays, that thou hast them fresh, new, and whole, to give them three times over?
For the most mortal stroke at us, he charges us with downright murdering of plays, which we call reviving. I will not derogate from the merit of those se nior actors of both sexes, of the other house, that shine in their several perfections, in whose lavish praises he is so highly transported: but, at the same time, he makes himself but an arbitrary judge on our side, to condemn unheard, and that under no less a conviction than mur. der, when I cannot learn, for a fair judgment upon us, that his reverend crutches have ever brought him within our doors since the division of the companies . 'Tis true, I think, we have revived some pieces of Dryden, as his SEBASTIAN, MAIDEN QUEEN, MARRIAGE A-LAMODE, KING ARTHUR, &c. But here let us be tried by a Christian Jury, the Audience, and not receive the bow. string from his Mahometan Grand Signiorship. 'Tis true, his more particular pique against us, as he has declared himself, is in relation to our reviving his AlmanZOR. There, indeed, he has reason to be angry, for our waking that sleepy dowdy, and exposing his nonsense, not ours; and if that dish did not please him, we have a Scotch proverb for our justification, viz. 'twas rotten roasted, because, &c. and the world must expect, 'twas very hard crutching up what Hart and Mohun before us could not prop. I confess, he is a little severe, when he will allow our best performance to bear no better fruit than a crab vintage. Indeed, if we young actors spoke but half as sourly as his old gall scribbles, we should be all crab all over,"
Homer. His former antagonist, Mr. Montague, had now risen to be First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer; and affecting to be a general patron of literary men, could not neglect the first poet of the age. His name, therefore, is found among the Subscribers to the translation of Virgil, and our author probably had received other pecuniary favours from him. Dryden appears to have understood one well-known foible of the Prime Minister, and submitted about this time some verses to his perusal and judgment. My thoughts (says he, in a letter to this gentleman, written apparently in 1698 or 1699,) at present are fix'd on Homer: and by my translation of the first Iliad, I find him a poet more according to my genius than Virgil, and consequently hope I may
'This work had been suggested to him in the conclusion of the anonymous verses prefixed to his Virgil in 1697:
"For this great task our loud applause is due,
8" Mr. D[ryden] (says Milbourne) since lie received Mr. Montague's stamp, is of another clan; a mere renegado from monarchy, poetry, and good sense."