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it was like the breaking away of a mighty dam, when the pentup torrent dashes headlong in its wild career, bearing everything before it in indiscriminate ruin. The tide of feeling and action that now overran the Puritan landmarks was not an angry torrent, but as impetuous and much more dangerous because alluring in its aspect. It was the mad rush of licentious pleasures. The sober livery of the Puritan was exchanged for the flaunting robes of the reveller.
It was the age of Louis XIV. in France-brilliant, witty, licentious. Charles II., in his exile, had been a guest in the court of Louis, and an apt scholar in the unlawful pleasures that marked French society at that time. Restored to the throne of England he tried to introduce into his own all the gayeties of the French court. The English character, by nature, is thoughtful and serious, the reverse of the French, so that the adoption of the manners of that lively nation set but ill upon the plain, blunt Englishman. Carried away, however, in the tide of unlawful pleasures, he could not see that, in the eyes of other nations, he was making of himself a mere mountebank to be jeered at and despised. Through all this abandonment to gayety and so-called pleas
ure, there ran a minor tone of sadness. How could it be otherwise ? Absolute abandonment to pleasure is as sad a thing as absolute abandonment to grief. Pepys, who had some office in the king's service, and kept a Diary, tells us :
"July 31st, 1666.- The Court empty, the King being gone to Tunbridge, and the Duke of York a-hunting, I had some discourse with Povy, who is mightily discontented, I find, about his disappointments at Court, and says, of all places, if there be hell, it is here. No faith, no truth, no love, nor any agreement between man and wife, nor friends."
In consequence of the unrestrained, luxuriant, and foul modes of living, it is not surprising that one of the greatest plagues that ever fell upon mankind visited London. It was followed the next year (1666) by one of the most terrible fires that ever devastated a city. Of the ravages made by both, Pepys gives minute details in his Diary. The plague is still raging when he gives the following account of the ordinary pleasures, which not even the presence of universal death could abate.
“August 14th, 1666.-After dinner, with my wife and Mercer, to the beare-garden, and saw some good sport of the bulls tossing of the dogs, and one into the very boxes. But it is a very rude and nasty pleasure. ... We supped at home and very merry; and then about nine o'clock to Mrs. Mercer's gate, where the fire and boys expected us, and her son had provided abundance of serpents and rockets, and there mighty merry till twelve o'clock at night, flinging our fireworks, and burning one another and the people over the way. At last we into Mrs. Mercer's, and there mighty merry, smutting one another with candle-grease and soot till most of us were like devils. That done, we broke up and to my house, and there I made them drink, and Mercer danced a jig, and Nan Wright, and my wife, and Pegg Pen put on perriwigs. Thus till three or four in the morning, mighty merry."
The Duke of York, brother to the King, much to the scandal of court circles, had married Anne Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon. They had two daughters, Mary and Anne. The former married William of Nassau, the latter, George of Denmark. After the death of Anne Hyde, his first wife, James married Mary of Modena. Their son was afterwards known in history as the Pretender.
Charles II. died in 1685, and was succeeded by his brother, the Duke of York, afterwards James II. The efforts of this
monarch to restore the Catholic religion made him most unpopular with the English people, who, in 1688, compelled him to abdicate in favor of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange. The latter was invited over from Holland to take the reins of English government. This result was not accomplished without bloodshed, and is known in English History as the REVOLUTION. Protestantism was now firmly established.
With the state of society such as has been described, it is not difficult to imagine the character of the literature. “The reigning taste,” says Macaulay, “was so bad that the success of a writer was in inverse proportion to his labor, and to his desire for excellence."
The theatres, which during the Puritan government were closed, were now reopened, not to give life again to Shakespeare's grand plays, but to admit a drama so corrupt that it would have shocked the ruder age of Shakespeare.
Pepys says: “Aug. 20th, 1666.—To Deptford by water, reading Othello, Moore of Venice, which I ever heretofore esteemed a mighty good play, but having so lately read ' The Adventures of Five Hours,' it seems a mean thing."
So corrupt was the general taste, that Shakespeare's plays, to please, must be adapted to the low instincts of the time. It was during the reign of Charles II. that women first appeared as actresses.
Says Pepys, “ Dec. 28th, 1667.—To the King's house, and there saw * The Mad Couple, which is but an ordinary play; but only Nell's* and Hart's mad parts are most excellent done, but especially hers; which makes it a miracle to me to think how ill she do any serious part, and in a mad part do beyond all imitation almost.”
Movable scenery, decorations, lights, music, and other external attractions were added to the stage, and here were reflected the morals and manners of the age; vice was crowned and virtue deemed a mere pretence.
Untrue to itself, the English head and brain could produce
* Nell Gywun.
nothing but deformities. The carnival of pure imagination was over. *
The philosophy of Hobbes was the guide to serious reflection. He taught that the King's will should be law in everything, and that all moral law was reducible to one central governing impulse-self interest. “No man gives except for a personal advantage.” “Friends serve for defence and otherwise.” “Not he who is wise is rich, but he who is rich is wise,” were favorite precepts inculcated by the doctrine of Hobbes.
The fire of genius that had illuminated the early part of the Elizabethan period grew cold towards the latter part of that age, producing dull, unmeaning poetry, with only here and there a gleam of poetic fire. Milton came and created for himself a new realm. He died and left no heir to his imperial throne.
Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, had written without rules of art. Each was a law unto himself. Superior genius guided these great originals more unerringly than all a rhetorician's rules. But now the spirit of the times was seeking methods-methods in art, methods in science, politics, and religion. The spirit was universal. In France the first school of criticism in poetry was established, under the influence of Boileau and other great French writers of this age.
DRYDEN To JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700) is attributed the establishment of a correct style in English composition. He disclaimed, however, receiving impulse or aid from contemporary writers in France, but claimed to have returned to the first models of classic style. Being but a second-rate poet, his genius constructed but did not create. This teaching, as will be seen in the following chapter, was carried so far by Pope and others that the art of polishing became of more importance than the art of creating or "making.”
Dryden's conscience was an easy one, permitting him to drift or float with the popular tide. Of his dramas he says he
*** Poetry," says Macaulay, “inflamed the passions ; philosophy undermined the principles; divinity itself inculcating an abject reverence for the court, gave additional effect to its licentious example."
“wrote bad enough to please.” His poems celebrate the heroes of the day. In 1658 he writes a lamentation for Cromwell, and in two years after hails, with the inconstant crowd, the accession of Charles II. He writes epistles which are merely exaggerated flatteries; and satires, directed not against an existing evil, but against personal enemies, or those less gifted than himself. In argument he especially shone, and acquired a remarkable power of reasoning in verse. His religious sentiments were as abiding as his political tenets. He was whatever his worldly interests demanded. During the Protectorate, his family being connected with Puritans, he gave no evidence of another faith. With the Restoration, he attached himself to the Church of England, and was a warm adherent. When James II. ascended the throne, Dryden became as ardent in his Catholic faith, not, perhaps, foreseeing that the revolution establishing Protestantism was so soon to follow. With that event, he had not the face to turn again, so in William and Mary's reign he simply lost his laureateship. Dryden, however, was but the type of his age. Milton was the type of a man for any age.
What Dryden might have been had he made the best use of his talents, is suggested by the marked growth in his writings, viewed in chronological order. He never put forth his best or greatest power, except, perhaps, once, when he wrote his last great poem, Alexander's Feast.
Dryden's first poem, except a few school performances, was written on the Death of Oliver Cromwell, whom he thus extols :
How shall I then begin, or where conclude,
To draw a fame so truly circular?
Where all the parts so equal perfect are?
“His grandeur he derived from Heaven alone;
For he was great ere fortune made him so:
Made him but greater seem, not greater grow.”