THE LITERATURE OF THE ENGLISH RESTORATION, INCLUDING MILTON.
By HAUOLD H. CHILD, B.A., late Scholar of Brasenose College, Oxford.
The full fruit of the English Renaissance. Milton's youth . 116
Milton's early poems . . 117
His travels . 118
His prose works . . 119
His Sonnets . 120
Paradise Lost . . 121
Paradise Regained . . 122
Samson Agonistes . . 123
The age succeeding Milton, and its experiments . 124
The Restoration theatre and the French drama .125
Dryden and the heroic drama .126
Crowne, Lee, and Otway . .127
Restoration comedy . . 127
Jeremy Collier's Short View .128
Sir George Etherege . . 129
Dryden, Wycherley, and Congreve . 130
Vanbruph and Farquhar . .131
Politics in the drama . . 131
Lyrical poetry. Rochester. Cowley. Dryden .132
Literary criticism. Dryden's critical work .132
Satire. Butler 133
Dryden's satires . . 134
Dryden's religious poems . .135
The novel and the Characters .136
THE LITERATURE OF THE ENGLISH RESTORATION, INCLUDING MILTON.
THE Renaissance did not bear its perfect fruit in England till late. Long after in Italy it had been defeated in its protracted struggle with the reactionary element in the Church, it continued in England to find fuller expression not only in the minds but in the characters of men. In the Florence of Milton's day the spirit of the Renaissance lingered only in the intellectual pastimes of the Academies. In England, where the study of the classics continued hand in hand with that of the Bible, the freedom won refused to stop short at the acquirement of mental elegance. It embraced the whole man, raising before him an ideal of life and conduct largely Hebraic in its consciousness of duty to a Deity who had selected a nation (and, according to some, here and there a person) for favour. At the same time, the chivalric ideals were not dead. The memory of Sir Philip Sidney, the Elizabethan perfect knight, was still active; Dante and Petrarch, "lofty fables and romances," and The Faerie Queene, were still consulted for moral guidance as well as for pleasure. And the study of the classics had encouraged certain notions of the Stoic philosophy, which were assimilated into the ideal. Of this ideal, the result of the joint action of Reformation and Renaissance, John Milton in his early years was the supreme example. That there were others, Mrs Hutchinson's record of the youth of her husband, who was born seven years after Milton, helps to show. There was little in it of what we now imply by the name Puritan. The arts were freely practised. Milton, who inherited a love of music from his father, preserved it to the end of his life and formed a friendship with Henry Lawes, a Court musician. And the great heritage-as it had already come to be-of Elizabethan imagination as lavished in the Elizabethan drama was in his youth still a matter of glory, not, as it became later, of shame. If Milton hissed academical comedies at Cambridge, he hissed them not because they were stage-plays, but because they were silly. If he wrote nothing for a theatre which had already begun to show signs of decadence and immorality, he wrote (and that not long after the publication of Histriomastix) two masques for performance, meditated
The humanist and the Puritan are often spoken of as two elements at war in Milton. Rightly regarded, they would rather seem to be interdependent, forming together the peculiar and beautiful result of the interaction of Reformation and Renaissance. So early as 1630 we find the two wrought into perfect harmony in the poem, At a solemn musick. The time was to come when they would be forced into opposition. Meanwhile, the youthful Milton is almost, if not entirely, such a man as he has been declared to have been-one who would not unnaturally have sided with the Cavaliers against the Puritans. His disinclination to take Orders may have been due partly to his inherited Calvinism, and his dislike of the growing Arminianism which followed Laud's elevation to the archbishopric ; the final motive seems to have been his desire to reserve himself for something higher. He retired to his father's house at Horton, and there, while preparing for a greater task, he wrote, among other things, two poems, I?Allegro and II Penseroso (1633 c.), which bring back into a world of decadence and barren conceits (conceits which his manuscripts prove him to have been at pains to avoid) something of the freshness of the Spenserian time, but chastened, scholarly, and informed with the constant suggestiveness of classical allusion. The poems paint nature as seen through two moods in the mind of a young scholar ; they foreshadow, too, the coming conflict between those moods as expressed in Cavalier and Roundhead. To the same years of preparation belong the two masques, Arcades (1633 c.) and Comus (1634). The former is a work of the Jonsonian type : the latter is more interesting, not only for its superior poetry, but for the vision of the age that shows through it. Comus has been described as a double allegory. If it represents the conflict between virtue and vice, it represents also the conflict, now growing yearly sharper, between the two parties in religion and politics. In Lycidas (1637) we have a still stronger sign of the cleavage. Here, into the perfect pastoral, the last expression of the Spenserian influence, comes the first genuine note of the sublime passion for order in liberty which inflamed the remainder of Milton's life. Laud's insistence on uniformity was filling the pulpits with obsequious and greedy hirelings. The " sacred office of speaking " was " bought and begun with servitude and forswearing " ; and the prophet, who formed so large a part of the poet as Milton conceived him, speaks for the first time in direct reference to national affairs. This was before the final separation. There were many afterwards to be found upon the other side who must have agreed with the passage in Lycidas concerning St Peter ; and the two voices are still one.
Milton's enthusiasm for freedom in religious matters was probably
Milton reached home in August, 1639. He had intended to include Sicily and Greece in his travels, but was recalled, as he himself records, by a sense of duty to his country, where lovers of liberty were 'preparing to strike a blow. His journey bore no immediate fruit ; it was not till two years later that he put forth the first of his pamphlets.
The resolve to lay aside poetry to a more fitting time was not yet definitely formed; but the publication of the first pamphlet, Of Reformation touching- Church discipline in England (1641) raises the question how far Milton deserted his first ambition in order to write his controversial prose works. More than any other man of his time, he had the consciousness of being dedicated. In his view, all men were dedicated to the service of the great Taskmaster; himself in particular was chosen for "the accomplishment of greatest things." He abstained
It is not within the province of this chapter to discuss the pamphlets in detail. It will be enough to refer briefly to one or two general characteristics of Milton's prose works. His argument is not clearly conducted, nor is it truly philosophic. A constant discrepancy is to be noticed between the aspiration that possesses him and the theorem that he has to advance. The Areopagitka, for instance, shows no special knowledge and advances no practical schemes; in the Tractate on Education there is a deep fall from the principle to the scheme proposed. Of rhetoric there is plenty, sometimes magnificent, at others merely tinkling, at others tawdry. To read Milton's prose is to find frequent cause for wonder how the poet who chastened and solidified English blank verse after it had fallen into decay, could run so wild in working without the restrictions of metre. The want of arrangement, of construction, and of order, is almost as remarkable in the uncontroversial as in the controversial works. And the grossness, the malignity of the vituperation in which he occasionally indulged cannot be wholly excused even by a remembrance of the age in which he wrote, the enemies he was attacking, or the life and death struggle in which he engaged them.
In Milton's prose we find, it has been said, the poet in the politician. If the arguments are weak and the practical value small, the prose works are aglow with the highest purposes of the greatest mind of his time. The vision of the poet breaks through the question of the moment to the expression of a vast idealism inherited from the less hampered aspirations of the Elizabethans. However much this enthusiasm may be superficially affected in Milton's case by party spirit or the need of the moment, personal or political, it renders his prose more passionate and, at its best, more lofty than any other prose in the language. In arrangement and style we must mark a decline from the ordered dignity of Hooker ; it is not so rich as Jeremy Taylor; for tempestuous passion, striving to force expression from an insufficiently developed medium, it has no equal. The passion at the root of it is the passion of liberty- liberty always conditioned by the Divine Law as revealed in the "double Scripture" of the Bible and the Spirit that is given to each man as a
If it is impossible to read Milton's prose without as much pain and disappointment as pleasure, it is also impossible not to realise that its whole effect was greatly for the good of English prose. His lowest vituperation, hardly less than his loftiest flights, helped to stretch the capacity of the tongue ; and the application of Milton's scholarship to his own language resulted in the fortifying and enriching of it for the benefit of those that came after.
In the twenty years of battle, almost the only poetry produced by him consists of a few sonnets; not founded, like those of the Elizabethans, on accepted conceits and fashionable ardours, but struck out from the poet's heart. Perhaps for the first time in English literature we find the sonnet used for an expression of genuine personal feeling which owed nothing to Italian or French originals ; Milton's sonnets were written not because the poet would, but because he must ; and no more passionate or truly lyrical sonnets are to be found in the language. And, when the battle was over and the cause practically lost, the poet returned, old, blind and unhappy, to the work to which he believed himself dedicated.
The twenty years had left their mark. If there is much of the poet in the politician and theologian, there is a great deal of the theologian in the poet. It is a useless but fascinating task to speculate what the great epic or drama would have been like, had Milton produced it ten years earlier, after years of peace and retirement. One thing is certain: that the poem would have lacked certain priceless touches of self-revelation. The best-known passage in Paradise Lost is that in which the poet speaks directly of his own blindness (in. 1-55). On the other hand, it is easy to imagine that the poem, whether epical or dramatic, historical or sacred, would have been a more human poem. Aristocratic and aloof, "nice of nature, honestly haughty and self-esteeming" as Milton had always been, he found himself between 1658 and 1663 more out of sympathy with the world about him than he had been before. The principles that were the passion of his life were denied ; he was blind, poor, surrounded by enemies and, during part of the time, in
Paradise Lost is the last and belated voice of a great age that was gone. It gathers up all the idealism, all the poetic labours, all and far more than all the learning of the Elizabethans ; it takes the instrument which from the days of Surrey onwards had grown slowly towards perfection, and rescues it from misuse in order to employ it on greater themes than it had ever known. If the debt of the poem to the Renaissance is great, its debt to the Reformation is hardly less great, though it contains in it the seeds of decay. The spiritual scope of the poem could only be commanded by the choicest of the minds which were able to understand and assimilate all that was vital in the Genevan doctrine- the realisation of the justice and might of God and His direct concern with the affairs of man ; the malignity and persistence of the Powers of Evil ; the vastness of the scheme in which man is a minute, but responsible and therefore important, element. Of the world into which the poem was born, it shows no impress, though here and there a bitter reference recalls it. The nature of that world will be seen shortly ; it was a world in which Calvinism was, except for an inarticulate remnant, as dead as the tradition of the English Renaissance. That the poem was read, we know ; and it is to Dryden's honour that he saw its merit. But, so far as actual effect went, it fell on deaf ears. For its public appreciation, Paradise Lost had to wait not only till the Revolution but even later, till Addison, the mouthpiece of the greatly changed party of the Whigs, expounded such of its beauties as he and his age could grasp.
Paradise Lost, if Milton's greatest, was not his last message to the faithful remnant and the host of foes that surrounded them. Paradise Regained, his own favourite, and Samson Agonistes, published together in one volume, followed. And it is difficult not to see in these two very different works a kind of alternative suggested to the losing side. Paradise Regained, a " poets' poem," has been even less widely read, but more enthusiastically admired by a few, than Paradise Lost. Its severity is greater, its display of imagination, learning, and poetic adornment less; its nakedness being partly perhaps a protest against the false poetry, as Milton considered it, in fashion during his later years, and partly due to a feeling that the word of truth was sufficient of itself. Paradise Regained has, however, a unity and a closeness of form that have induced Wordsworth and Coleridge, among others, to rank it higher
The play, then, is a tragedy on the Greek lines ; it has been accused of lacking strength of design and vigour of handling. Read in the light of Milton's life and times, it becomes the most passionately personal expression he has left. Of direct symbolism the play contains much. The Philistines have triumphed over the chosen people ; Samson is blind and at the mercy of his foes. Moreover, his chief fault is his marriage with a Philistine woman ; and there can be no doubt that to some extent Dalila stands for Milton's first wife, Mary Powell, and that Samson's self-reproaches addressed to the Chorus and to Manoah and his scene with Dalila represent a recrudescence of the old wound. The Chorus, indeed, that follows the t-.cene between Samson and Dalila is taken almost literally from the pamphlets on divorce.
In spite of the final words of the Chorus, the burden of the play is no message of resignation or patience. The prophet once more lifts up his voice to denounce, not only the victorious enemy but the half-hearted of his own side ; to draw a picture of the doom awaiting the oppressor; almost to advise a last desperate struggle. The play and poem issued in one volume represent what may be supposed to have been Milton's two main moods during the last years of his life : violent indignation, reaching almost to despair, and a withdrawal from the memories of the past,
The tragedy that was then occupying the theatres was of a very different kind ; but before it is examined the characteristics of the age as a whole may be briefly noted. In the age of Milton men had first fought with sword and pen for their ideals, and after vvards tried in many ways to find practical expression for them ; in the age of Dry den, the men of ideals were silent, and the defeated party had returned to prominence, some of them weary of exile and poverty, others of an order of things which had discouraged the decoration of life. Between the two periods comes one of the sharpest divisions in the history of arts and manners. It was natural that there should be among the Royalists a reaction in favour of pleasure too strong for moderation and fine taste. The ideals, again, that had sought for expression in revolt had sought for it unsuccessfully, and the failure disposed men against ideals of any kind and in favour, rather, of ease and security. And, in the third place, the years of Puritan rule had effected so sharp and complete a cleavage between what we may call the age of the English Renaissance and the age succeeding them, that the nation found itself, in matters of art and literature, beginning afresh, with no living or continuous standard of taste for reference. We have seen the significant change of Milton's attitude to Shakespeare ; by the time of the Restoration the spirit of the Elizabethan world was completely dead, and the only use of the Elizabethans which we find amounts practically to parody. The period, then, was one of low ideals; it was one in which the mind, starting anew, set to work to learn over again the world in which it found itself; it was one in which material aims and pleasures, things of certain if small return, were placed in the foreground ; and it was one which, feeling the necessity of a new technique for the expression of its thoughts and desires, chose its own models and developed them according to its own needs. We have passed into a prosaic, a curious, a materialist, and an experimental period. For something of the temper of the times, no doubt, Charles II in person was responsible. Charles was a man, as the epitaph ascribed to Rochester, and the information given by Pepys, Hamilton and others imply, of sound sense, low ideals, and shrewd taste, imbued with French feeling in matters of literature, and preferring wit to aspiration. His age is the age of the heroic drama-an attempt to nationalise an exotic ; of the comedy of wit and manners and the death of romantic comedy ; of the foundation of the Royal Society, of curiosity about natural phenomena, and of such curiosity about the arts as may be found in Evelyn's Sculptura, that strange book which not only deals with the minutiae of processes, but attempts to link up the arts and sciences in a " philosophy " which was the prominent need of the age. Later come the philosophy of Locke, a patient investigation of the actual facts of
The great representative of his age, the man who, like a journalist of genius, knew what his public wanted before they wanted it, and gave it them in the best possible form, was John Dryden. Instead of the remoteness and exaltation of Milton, we have the lower aims, the strong sense, the strange lapses of taste, and the frequent experiments of Dryden. Milton may be held, on the whole, to give the best expression to the best minds of his time ; Dryden to give the best expression to the reigning fashions of his. Neither spoke, as Shakespeare had spoken, for the nation. Milton was the voice of one of two opposed ideals, Dryden the voice of the Court and of what we should now call society.
The theatre, falling lower and lower since the early years of the reign of James I, was revived at the Restoration, to be no longer a national institution, but the toy of the Court and the town. Sir William D'Avenant, in his tentative productions at Rutland House and elsewhere in and after 1658, had been led, partly by the necessity of a disguise, and largely by the influence of what he had seen in France and Italy, to introduce a form that lay between the heroic drama of France and the opera. The Restoration brought back to England a large body of men whose notions were French in character and origin. Lacking a tradition, and knowing enough of the Elizabethan drama only to misunderstand its form and aim, they turned to French models for guidance. It was not long before they introduced, mainly by the aid of Dryden, a form of tragedy which, though expressive in its native country of national ideas and aims, was in England an exotic. It is true that English heroic drama is far from strictly French or "classical" in form. The "unities" are a bondage which the English have never borne complacently. The Restoration dramatists studied Corneille and Racine only to dilute them, as it were, with something of the complexity of plot formerly learned of Spain and the freedom of movement characteristically English. The attempt to transplant the spirit of the French tragedy was more thorough in intention, but even less successful in result. The French Court of Louis XIV had at least an unbroken tradition of chivalry expressed in the typically French form of gallantry, an heroic past and a stately present. In France, Corneille's drama of the great problems of human life, Racine's drama of the ethical problems of a
Charles and his Court demanded heroic tragedy, and Dryden, who was not a dramatist of internal compulsion, gave it them, and gave it them, all things considered, very good. If he helped to turn The Tempest into an opera, he wrote All for Love on the basis of Antony and Cleopatra, and it is scarcely too much to say that All for Love is as good a play of its order as Antony and Cleopatra is. And, though there is a wide difference between The Conquest of Granada and the Scudéry romance on which it is founded, we cannot deny to it that " kind of generous and noble spirit " which has been claimed for it. How the "refined " age, which, in Evelyn's phrase, was "disgusted" with the "old plays", could have tolerated the lapses of taste to be found in these heroic plays would be hard to understand, were it not clear that, lacking its own tradition and standard, it took from another nation a standard which it misinterpreted. That there were some who deplored the resultant excesses, The Rehearsal (1671) is there to prove; but it is easy to overestimate the significance and effect of that burlesque. Aimed originally, not at Dryden but at D'Avenant, the character of its " hero " was a piece of patchwork. It has even been supposed that Sprat, Butler, and Clifford, three of the authors of the play, were not above making sly hits at the fourth, Buckingham. Dryden's first heroic drama, The Indian Emperor, had appeared in 1665; it was not till Aurengzebe (1675) that he announced his intention of deserting the heroic metre which was only one of the distinctive features of the heroic play, and so late as 1698 we find Crowne still employing that form. Dryden, with his unerrin^
Of the other writers of tragedy, Crowne is chiefly remarkable for the lyrics introduced into his plays. In Nathaniel Lee we find the popular bombast carried to extremes, though combined with "infinite fire." Otway, lacking Dryden's humour, has a more poignant tenderness than Dryden, quite as good a sense of character, and a greater sense of the theatre. The Orphan and Venice Preserved outlived all Dryden's plays on the stage, and showed what tragedy could achieve in this age, when it had cast off the heroic influence.
In the comedy of the period we find the reverse of the picture. Having exchanged, as it has been said, the telescope of the Elizabethans for the microscope, the Restoration authors used the microscope nowhere to better effect than in their comedy Romantic and poetic comedy were dead. The opera and the ballet had come to take their places. Jonsonian comedy, the comedy of "humours,1" or single characteristics carried to the point of eccentricity, survived in the wholesome but extravagant comedies of Shad well, whose Epsom Wells, and the comedies of which it is an example, are valuable pictures of contemporary manners. To some extent the Jonsonian principle of letting a characteristic btand for a character survives in the Restoration drama, at least as far
It was not till the Sentimental Comedy of Steelc, who followed up a
The pioneer in this new comedy was Sir George Etherege. The date of Etherege's return to England is, like many other facts in his life, uncertain, but there is reason to believe that he lingered in Paris long enough to see the production of some of Moliere's plays. On his return he wrote The Comical Revenge (1664), a tragi-comedy in which the serious portions are written in rhymed heroics. To Etherege, therefore, belongs the honour of writing the earliest regular play in which the use of rhyme was adopted. But his significance does not end there. He was the first to introduce to England the new comedy, which forsook eccentricities and moral castigation, and simply attempted to transfer to the stage the life of the time. A witty man himself, Etherege made the mistake of endowing all his characters with his own wit; and the fault persisted throughout most of the Restoration comedy; nevertheless his characters are portraits. Of them, as of the characters of Restoration comedy in general, it may be said that, so far from being abstractions, they represent the attempt to be as exact and realistic as possible. The few chances enjoyed by modern playgoers of seeing Restoration comedies acted are quite enough to prove these men and women very much alive indeed. In She Would if she Could (1668) Etherege developed the idea of the new comedy, and produced the brightest and gayest of his pictures of contemporary life. In the underplot of his only other play, The Man of Mode (1676)-the play which contains the first of a long line of fops-Etherege, says Gosse, virtually founded English comedy as it was understood by Congreve, Goldsmith, and Sheridan.
Dryden's first essay in comedy, The Wild Gallant (1663) is, in effect,
With Congreve we reach the summit of this form of expression. His output was very small, being checked partly by Collier's Short View and partly by the social ambitions of the playwright, whom offices and rewards had relieved of the necessity of work. The Old Bachelor (acted in 1693) had been highly praised and adapted for representation by Dryden. The Double-Dealer (1693) we have mentioned before. The skill and vigour with which the single plot is kept alive and full of interest to the end are masterly. With Love for Love (1695) he opened the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields after the secession of Betterton and others from Drury Lane; and in 1700, after the attack of Collier, appeared his finest play, The Way of the World. It was his aim in this play to substitute the folly of affectation for the folly of grossness, and the result is a severe satire on the world of fashion and foppery. Congreve cannot be acquitted of the charges of frivolity, cynicism, and indecency. On the other hand, he is never, like Wycherley, Vanbrugh, or Otway in his comedies, offensive, and Millamant, in his last play, is a woman so entirely fascinating in her wit and her wilfulness as to prove him aware of something higher than the gross attractions dwelt on by his fellows. It may be pointed out, too, that in The Double-Dealer virtue is rewarded ; and, on the whole, it may be said that the faults of Congreve are largely the faults of his age, while his merits are of his own contriving. In him the characteristic "wit" of the age finds its most perfect expression. Like Etherege, he suffers from too much of
It was in this age that the drama, especially the tragic drama, began to be used for political ends, if not with the virulence shown by Henry Fielding and others in the next century, at any rate with almost unabashed openness. In Dryden's own case we have, notably, Aniboyna (1673), which raked up an old story for the purpose of inflaming public opinion against the Dutch, and The Spanish Friar, a "Protestant play" (1681) ; and The Duke of Guise (1682), written by Lee with Dryden's aid, drew a parallel between Guise and Monmouth, and practically foretold for the latter-in spite of the disclaimer in the epilogue and the subsequent Vindication-an end similar to that of the former. Otway's shameful caricature of Shaftesbury as Antonio in Venice Preserved, though personal rather than political, is another instance. Even more frequently than the play itself the prologue and epilogue were used as political weapons. The curious custom by which the playwright spoke personally to the public through the mouth of an actor or actress was at its height during this period. The result was almost always inartistic, in some cases disgusting, as in the famous epilogue to Tyrannic Love or in the first version of that to The Duke of Guise ; the language was often indelicate, and the sentiments highly objectionable. At the same time, in the hands of Dryden the prologue and epilogue reached a very high level of epigrammatic point, and were admirably adapted in their freedom to inflame political passions by sneers, innucndos, or open attack or defence.
In the plays of the period, too, may be found embedded-to its disadvantage and neglect by posterity-most of the lyrical poetry of the time. In a self-conscious age, when feeling was at a low ebb and the passion of love debased by the prevailing mode, good lyrical poetry was rare. Marvell and Waller carried on the characteristics of the former awe ; for the rest, the lyrics of Dryden, Crowne, Congreve, Pordage, Rochester and others are both small in quantity and deficient in genuine lyrical quality. Rochester, indeed, is often worthy of comparison with Catullus ; but his lyrics, like those of his contemporaries, are rather neatly finished than spontaneous, and their harmony is a matter of rule more than of essence. A favourite form was the ode, and here, as elsewhere, Dryden outstripped his fellows. The Pindariques of Cowley were freely imitated by Sprat, and to Congreve belongs the honour of pointing out that a Pindaric ode proper was not of irregular structure. Dryden's odes are irregular in structure, but almost faultless in accomplishment. If Alexander's Feast (1697) is not poetry of the highest sort, it has been justly called "the best thing of its kind"; and the first portion of the Ode to the Memory of Mrs Anne Killigrew (1685-6) is famous as one of the most superb pieces of verbal organ-music in the language.
The age, however, was not an age of song-birds, but of enquirers, critics, prose-writers ; and the best prose of the time was the work of the critics. The men of "science" exercised an influence of their own, for it was one of the merits of the new Royal Society to exact from its members a "close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness." From the turbulent splendours of Milton we pass to the ordered, clarified prose, which is the work of men who use it for the purpose of saying what they have to say, of communicating their discoveries, thoughts, and arguments, as clearly as possible. It is, as befits its purpose, for the most part a plain and useful means of expression ; yet in the hands of Dryden, that great man of letters, it rises, with no professed aim at ornament, into a thing of dignity and beauty. Dryden used prose for many purposes : the Epistle to the Whigs that precedes The Medal is a piece of political argument so clear, forcible, and ordered that it is difficult to believe it a work not forty years younger than the Areopagitica. But his most important prose-works are in literary criticism, a new branch of activity introduced into England from France, partly by Charles and his Court, partly by a French exile, Saint-Évremoiid, who exercised a very important influence on the criticism of his time. Modern French writers find him too much dependent on prejudice imbibed in the France of his youth, on personal fancy and taste, and lacking in reason and conviction. To modern England, accustomed to an even more thoroughly "impressionist" style of criticism, such a verdict seems strange. Saint-Evremond's letters (for they are little more) on the English, French, and classical drama seem full of principle and reason, however little
Such an age as this makes fruitful ground for satire-a form of literature that looks not so much at the ideal itself as at the faults of those who depart from it. And it is due to Dryden that the satire of this period at its best is of supreme merit. The Hudlbras of Samuel Butler, much of which was written before the Restoration, is in some respects a voice from the age that had passed. Its versification has all and more than all the ruggedness of Donne or Marston at their worst : the author chooses deliberately to make his effects by jocular antics of diction, which his shrewd humour and close observation of detail carry off successfully. But we look in vain for elevation, dignity, or strong purpose. Butler shows to the full some of the worst characteristics of the age which laughed at Hudibras; its easy ridicule of externals, its want of conviction and of taste, its vulgarity and its scepticism. It is not Puritanism but Puritans that he attacks, and he attacks them rather with caricature than with satire. Neither Royalist nor Churchman, but sceptic and opportunist, he writes less from belief in a cause than from the desire to make fun of the external extravagances of its opponents, and there is as little principle in his message as there is plan or cohesion in the poem he took up and dropped and took up again. Reverence was not a characteristic of the man who could so use his models, Don Quixote and The Faerie Queene, as to debase them in Butler's manner. It might be objected that there was as little conviction at the bottom of Dryden's satires as of Butler's; and, allowing for all reasonable change of opinion, consistency can hardly be claimed for the man who wrote Amboyna with its prologue and epilogue in 1673, and eight years later attacked in Absalom and
Achitophel and The Medal the policy which he supposed to be Shaftes-bury's. But here Dryden's genius, the dignity of his mind, the actual superiority conferred on him, not by lofty purpose but by mere ability, came to his rescue. He took to satire late in life, and then, probably, rather on suggestion than from any ardent interest in politics; and the qualities of his mind and the nature of his training for the work were such that in his hands political satire reached its highest point.
Absalom and Achitophel, the first and greatest of these poems, was published in November, 1681. The "Popish Plot" and the rejection of the Exclusion Bill by the Lords had wrought popular feeling to a height not reached in any preceding period of Charles' reign. The Parliament at Oxford had been dissolved ; Shaftesbury was on his trial for high treason; and it is said that Charles himself suggested to Dryden that he should strike a blow in the fight. Dryden's blow was this satire, which, though it failed of its main object on the acquittal of Shaftesbury a few days after its publication, was one of the most powerful aids to the King in his resistance to the Exclusionists. The story of Absalom and David fitted aptly enough the circumstances of Monmouth and his father: Achitophel, considerably changed, became Shaftesbury, whom Dryden affected to regard as part inventor of the " Popish Plot " and the leader in the decision to make war on the Dutch. The Biblical story could not, of course, be closely followed, and the conduct of the fable, which ends with a speech from the King, is its weakest part. . Its strength lies in its masterly characterisation, the finest in an age which Clarendon and Saint-Evremond had helped to educate in a favourite field of literature, and in Dryden's ability in presenting a case. To celebrate the acquittal of Shaftesbury, a medal was struck, which formed the text of Dryden's next satire, The Medal, A Satire against Sedition (March, 1682), also suggested to him, as report declared, by Charles II. In the introductory Epistle to the Whigs and in the satire itself Dryden makes fun of the medal and attacks the party; he returns to his invective on Shaftesbury, and explains in a passage of great didactic force, sound sense and strong fancy, the unsuitability of republican institutions to the climate and temper of England. The Medal, like its predecessors, was not allowed to go unanswered by the Whigs, and among the answers was Shadwell's The Medal of John Bayes, a savage piece of scurrility. Dryden, for once, used his satire for personal ends, and replied to Shadwell in October, 1682, with Mac Flecknoe, or, a Satire on the True Blue Protestant poet. In this he fathers Shadwell on Flecknoe, an Irish priest and an indifferent poet, who had died not long before, and represents the sire handing on his mantle of dulness to his duller son. In the following month, he returned to the attack with some 200 lines on Shadwell, Settle and others included in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, the rest of which was composed by Nahum Täte, possibly (for the verse is above Täte's level) under Dryden's revision. And in the same month with this, his last satire and
We have only to compare the work of Oldham, who published his Satires upon the Jesuits the year before the appearance of Absalom and Achitophel, with the poems mentioned above, to see what Dryden did for satire and didactic poetry. Oldham, student of Marvell though he was, is a rugged writer. His hits are shrewd; but he has none of the "science" of Dryden in the art of attack, and none of his dignity and intellectual supremacy. He maintains throughout the tone to which Dryden descends in the regrettable attack on the son of Shaftesbury in Absalom and Achitophel. For the most part, only on the greatest provocation does Dryden stoop to personalities. He strikes from above, and condescends as he strikes. In most cases, though the individual sufferer is unmistakable, Dryden succeeds in treating him as the embodiment of a principle. He writes not as a moral reformer but as a man of sense, and hits hardest when apparently most cool. There is no calculating exactly the efl'ect of such a weapon as this of Dryden's in the victory of Charles over the Exclusionists. Besides the direct satire of Absalom and
Achitophel, its severe and logical expression of the political thought of the King's party, its scorn of popular rule and of such abstractions as " that golden calf-a state," and its glorification of monarchy and of Charles, account must be taken of the skill with which, by its very tone of ease and superiority, it contrives to put a social stigma on those whom it attacks in an age which was socially ambitious and socially sensitive. The place of these poems as pure literature has been almost universally acknowledged to be supreme in their kind. Poetry and argument go hand in hand in a manner never before achieved, and the management of the couplet-for which Dryden had been trained by years of work in the drama-is perfect. These didactic poems and the Fables from Chaucer and Boccaccio to which he turned after the Revolution may be regarded as the best poetry of a prosaic age. If skill in stating a case or telling a story does not constitute the highest form of poetry, it is to Dryden's honour that he gathered up all the reasoning power, the wit, and the polish of his age and gave them expression with the best of the taste that his labours had helped to form.
A last word must be added concerning another form of literary expression, which the following century brought to perfection-the novel. During the closing of the theatres after 1642, the heroic romances of France made their way into England and were translated and imitated freely by Orrery, Crowne, and others, while D'Avenant's Gondibert and Chamberlayne's Pharonnida are heroic romances in verse. The renascence of the drama affected the demand for romances; but in Mrs Behn we find an attempt to bring romance into touch with contemporary life. Her prose novel OroonoJco is a strange mixture of the romantic and the realistic; a mixture even more strangely marked in The Fair Jilt. This attempt was to bear little fruit. A more important work is Congreve's novel, Incognita, which reveals him as a humorist in prose fiction, and a parodist of the heroic style. On the other hand, we have the allegories of Bunyan, which have no parentage but the Bible and the vivid imagination of an untutored man. The voice of Bunyan is not the voice of his age. He has no affinities with Milton save his knowledge of the Bible ; he owes nothing to the other writers of his day. His imagination and sincerity made him forcible and arresting ; the Bible made him lucid and direct. "His immediate influence was nothing, and the temptation to dwell on his genius must be resisted. Despite the attempt of Mrs Behn and such close interest in the common facts of life as Bunyan shows in Mr Badman, the origin of the novel must be looked for not in the fiction of this age, but in its history and in its "characters." Clarendon and Burnet with their powers of characterisation and anecdote, Butler with his Theophrastian Characters, Halifax, Saint-Évremond, and the letter-writers and diarists, sowed the seeds of such work as the Spectator papers on Sir Roger de Coveiiey, and their development into the English novel.