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Ægeus, he says, independently of Chaucer, and as if with a shrug of the shoulders,
“ With words like these the crowd was satisfied; And so they would have been, had Theseus died” (III.,
Nor are we sure that the lines which have been taken as indicating absurdity on Dryden's part,
“Dry sorrow in his stupid eyes appears, For wanting nourishment, he wanted tears ” (I., 524),
are to be regarded as altogether serious. Dignity, too, is a quality which we find in many passages, even in the very inappropriate dying speech of Arcite. In spite of its fustian, one feels, after the moralizing farewell to Emily, a good deal of reserve in the knight's commendation of Palamon to his lady (III., 817-829). The subject, however, is hardly worth pursuing; one speedily falls into a discussion of qualities common to both poets, and here Chaucer's superiority is evident.
Possibly in the foregoing discussion there has been implied an unevenness in Dryden's treatment of the story. The fact demands a word. Setting aside any thought of Chaucer, a student feels on reading “ Palamon and Arcite” that Dryden is far from being equally good in all ways. Vigorous and dignified as is the poem at its best, there are many places which fall far below the general average of felicity. Such passages, and they are not infrequent, as
“The prince I mentioned, full of high renown,
are careless, and the verses,
“For this advantage age from youth has won,
are positively obscure, the worst couplet in the poem. These citations go to show that Dryden probably wrote with a good deal of haste; it was just a year after he contracted to furnish the “Fables” that the volume appeared, with its twelve thousand verses. The conclusion is supported by the large number of free rimes in the poem: in Dryden's time war was often made to rime with words like care, and joined rimed with trined represents a usual pronunciation; but love, move, Palamon, sun, alone and the like, which we find over and over again, are surely to be regarded as indicative of haste or carelessness. Such instances, however, by force of contrast, emphasize the power of Dryden at his best.
In sum, we find “Palamon and Arcite” to be an excellent story of one of the greatest of English story-tellers, retold by a modern poet, with many changes and weakenings, to be sure, and often carelessly, but also with a freedom, vigour, and life which make it a grand original poem, and we find its author possessed of an appreciation of his master which no man of his time equalled or in any way approached. Dryden gave his people what they would not have cared to get in any other way, for they regarded Chaucer's verse as uncouth and barbarous. That Dryden recognized Chaucer's merit, and changed his original only so far as was necessary to suit contemporary ways of thinking, showed him to be above his contemporaries; and that he produced, out of the recasting, poems in themselves really excellent is a striking proof of his greatness.
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHERS
“Palamon and Arcite,” or any one of the translations from Chaucer, is, though part of the last work of Dryden's life, the best point from which a young student may begin the study of the poet. Much of Dryden's best work, especially his satires, are so full of allusions to contemporary events as to need a very full commentary for the complete understanding of them. No reader, of course, can avoid being at once impressed by the vigour of “ Absalom and Achitophel ” or “MacFlecknoe,” but really to understand them in all details requires considerable study. In “ Palamon and Arcite,” the chief difficulty lies in the meaning of particular sentences and words, not in the allusions; and the poem can consequently be read with comparative ease. Again, a story like that of the two Theban knights and Emily is likely to interest the young student more than any other part of Dryden's work.
The method of treating "Palamon and Arcite” need not, in the opinion of the editor, differ from that employed for any of the books prescribed for “ reading.” He suggests that the pupil should first read the poem somewhat rapidly in three or four lessons, the corresponding recitations being devoted to the explanation and discussion of the text; that in a second reading, occupying about twice as many lessons, he should be taken over the same ground with great attention to detail; and that, in connection with a third reading and with the usual composition writing, his attention should be called to the structure of the narrative and to the main points of Dryden's style. Read
ing aloud should be encouraged; to do this readily a student need only bear in mind that Dryden elided vowels very freely and that his verse has five accents, the rhythm of which is usually the safest guide for the shortening or lengthening of a word in pronunciation. Pupils who are somewhat mature or have for any reason more time than is usual for their English work will, it is to be hoped, be encouraged to read parts or all of Chaucer's story. A few hours of additional instruction will give a clever boy or girl a sufficiently accurate idea of the pronunciation and enough insight into Chaucer's peculiarities to make the “Canterbury Tales” at least no longer a sealed book for him. All necessary information can be found in Morris and Skeat's edition of “The Knightes Tale” (Clarendon Press). A student wishing a third version of the story, from the dramatic point of view, would do well to glance at John Fletcher's “ The Two Noble Kinsmen,” a play in which Shakspere may have had a hand.
For further study of Dryden the following works may be cited. As regards his life, the best short account is that of Leslie Stephen, in the “Dictionary of National Biography.” Somewhat longer are the memoirs prefixed to Christie's “ The Poetical Works of John Dryden” (Globe Edition), and to his “ Select Poems by Dryden” (Clarendon Press). The standard life is that of Sir Walter Scott, occupying the first volume of his edition of Dryden's complete works. Saintsbury's “Dryden ” (English Men of Letters Series) is also valuable.
As to Dryden's works, the best, and in fact the only complete editions are Scott's and Saintsbury's revision of Scott's (1882). Christie's Globe Edition of the poems is a convenient volume, is probably the most accurate modern text, and has many valuable notes. That, with Malone's
The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden” (1800), and Congreve's six-volume edition of “ The Dramatic Works of John Dryden” (1717), consti
tutes about the only other method of conveniently getting together all the works of the poet. A small edition of the selected “Essays of John Dryden " has been made by C. D. Yonge.
The most interesting essays on Dryden are, in order of time, that of Johnson in “Lives of the Poets," that of Macaulay, that of Lowell, and that of J. Churton Collins in “Essays and Studies.”
. For Dryden and Chaucer, see Lounsbury's “ Chaucer in Literary History," in “Studies in Chaucer," Vol. III. As regards Dryden's place in literary history a student is referred, for various points of view, to Taine's “ History of English Literature,” Vol. III., T. S. Perry's “English Literature in the Eighteenth Century,” Edmund Gosse's “History of Eighteenth Century Literature," Beljame's "Le Public et les Hommes de Lettres en Angleterre," and to Ward's “ English Poets," Vol. II. An account of the pronunciation of rime words in Dryden's time is to be found in W. E. Mead's “ The Versification of Pope in its Relation to the Seventeenth Century."