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not been so diligently cultivated in England, as it has been in the present century, some essays had been made to ascertain and teach its principles, and a few strictures on English versification had appeared. Gascoigne, before 1575, had given "Certain Notes of Instruction concerning the making of Verse or Rime in English." About the year 1580, Sir Philip Sydney displayed great ingenuity and good sense in his excellent DEFENCE OF POESY, against which so furious an attack had been made by the Puritans, that, as he tells us, "from the highest estimation of learning it had fallen to be the laughing-stock of children:" a work in which, amidst many judicious observations on the various kinds of poetical composition, he has introduced the principal precepts of Aristotle on the subject of the drama. Webbe a few years afterwards (1586) published " a Discourse of English Poetry, together with the Author's judgment touching the reformation of our English Verse;" and Puttenham, in 1589, had more largely and methodically treated of the same subject in his ART OF ENGLISH POESY. A small tract, containing some Observations on this Art, by Thomas Campion, in 1602, the object of which was to recommend the absurd practice of making English verse "halt ill on Roman feet," (which a few years before had found some warm advocates,) drew from Daniel, the poet, in the following year, his elegant DEFENCE OF RHYME. The fourth part of Edmund Bolton's HYPERCRITICA professes to treat of
the merits and defects of our principal English writers in prose and verse, or, as the author quaintly expresses himself, to mark out "the prime gardens for gathering English, according to the true gage or standard of the tongue about fifteen or sixteen years ago:" but from this piece, which contains several just observations delivered in a hard and affected style, the poetical student could derive no instruction; for though written in or about the year 1616, it was not published till above a century afterwards. The next work of this nature that appeared in England, was, I think, Ben Jonson's DISCOVERIES, which was written about. the year 1630, though not published till after the author's death; and displays more good sense than all the other writings of that author.-Still, however, no regular treatise had clearly and methodically delivered the elements of criticism, or established those great principles on which a true judgment concerning the various works addressed to the imagination, might be formed; nor had scenick exhibitions engaged much of the attention of any of the writers who have been mentioned, except Sydney and Jonson: whilst in France, Hedelin and Corneille had furnished their countrymen with express disquisitions on the principal laws of the drama. Our author's ESSAY OF DRAMATICK POESY therefore, beside its other merits, had also in some
5 It was first published by Antony Hall, at the end of the Continuation of TRIVETI ANNALES, 8vo. 1722.
measure the attraction of novelty. The colloquial form which he adopted, has been always acknowledged to be attended with some inconvenience; which, however, he has so happily overcome, that none of his critical works have been more generally read and admired than this Essay, for it passed through three editions in his life-time, and has since his death been frequently reprinted. Nor has its success been disproportioned to its value; for perhaps our language does not furnish us with any discoursive treatise more nearly resembling
the excellent models which the ancients have left us, in this difficult species of composition: the introduction, particularly, need not shun a comparison with the best proems of Plato's or Cicero's dialogues.
In this piece, written, as the author has modestly said, "when he was but in the rudiments of his poetry, without name or reputation in the world, having rather the ambition of a writer than the skill," his great object was, " to vindicate the honour of the English Poets from the censures of those who unjustly preferred the French before them :" an object which he has completely attained. Nor should it be forgotten, that he was the first who, in this dialogue, had the hardihood to displace Jonson from the eminence to which by the unanimous voice of Dryden's contemporaries he had most unjustly been elevated, and to set Shakspeare far above him, in that admirable character, which, as his last great biographer has truly f
observed, " may stand as a perpetual model of encomiastick criticism; - - - - a character so extensive in its comprehension and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors or admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome of excellence, of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value, though of greater bulk."
The Colloquists in this Dialogue being all real persons, though concealed under feigned names, as Dryden has hinted in the introduction, we are prompted by that curiosity which delights in the investigation and discovery of literary secrets, to try whether by some circumstance or other the persons whom he had here in contemplation, may not be ascertained. "It was," says our author, "the fortune of EUGENIUS, CRITES, LISIDEIUS, and NEANDER, to be in company together; three of them persons whom their wit and quality have made known to all the town, and whom I have chose to hide under these borrowed names, that they may not suffer by so ill a relation as I am going to make of their discourse."—EUGENIUS, Prior has informed us," was meant to represent Charles, Lord Buckhurst, better known afterwards by the title of the Earl of Dorset. CRITES was
Dedication of his Poems to Lionel, Earl of Dorset, 8vo. 1709.
indsputably Sir Robert Howard; as is proved not only by his having recently before this Dialogue was written, published a critical preface concerning one of the subjects here discussed, (then a mvelty,) but by the very arguments which he hac advanced against rhyme, being put, almost in the same words, into the mouth of the personage intended to represent him. By NEANDER it is equally clear our author himself is shadowed; a nane which his modesty led him to assume, and whch he may have borrowed either from a romance of he former age, or from a publication of his own tine. The other speaker is much more difficult
'I once thought that Lord Roscommon was shadowed under this name; but I soon saw and have acknowledged myerrour. See vol. i. p. 117.
In the Notes on the ESSAY ON DRAMATICK POESY, vol i. pp. 34, 118, I have remarked, that NEANDER represented our author; and in confirmation of my theory bon with respect to him and the other interlocutors, it may be observed, that when the Dialogue is concluded, he and CRITES, being somewhat of a more grave deportment, retire to their respective lodgings; while EUGENIUS and LISIDEIUS, suitably to their gay characters, go “to sone pleasurable appointment they had made."
Since that Essay was printed, I have found that the ceebrated Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas, in an Elegy on Dryder's death, and in a poem addressed to Captain Gibbons on the same subject, calls him NEANDER. See also LICTUS BRITANNICI, fol. 1700. p. 13.
In 1594 was entered in the Stationers' Register, and probably published about the same time, "NEANDER,