« PrécédentContinuer »
of Wales, who was doomed shortly to be distinguished through the English dominions by the ignominious appellation of Pretender, and abroad, by the dubious title of Chevalier de St George. It was peculiarly the part of our author, as poet-laureat, and a good Catholic, to solemnize an event of so much importance to the king, and those of his religion, and to bear down, if possible, the popular prejudice by the exertion of his poetical powers. “ Britannia Rediviva” was written, nine days after the event celebrated, and published accordingly. It is licensed on the 19th of June.
In this poem, our author assumes the tone and feeling which we have described as general among the Catholics, upon this happy and unexpected event. It is less an address of congratulation than a solemn devotional hymn; and, even considered as such, abounds with expressions of awful gratitude, rather for a miraculous interposition of heaven and the blessed saints, than for a blessing conferred through the ordinary course of nature. Dryden, who knew how to assume every style that fitted the occasion, writes here in the character of a devout and grateful Catholic, with much of the unction which marks the hymns of the Roman church. In English poetry, we have hardly another example of the peculiar tone which the invocation of saints, and an enthusiastic faith in the mystic doctrines of the Catholic faith, can give to poetry. To me, I confess, that communion seems to offer the same facilities to the poet, which it has been long famous for affording to the painter ; and the “ Britannia Rediviva,” while it celebrates the mystic influence of the sacred festivals of the Paraclete and the Trinity, and introduces the warlike forms of St Michael and St George, has often reminded me of one of the ancient altar pieces, which it is impossible to regard without reverence, though presenting miracles which never happened, or saints who never existed. These subordinate divinities are something upon which the imagination, dazzled and overwhelmed by the contemplation of a single Omnipotent Being, can fairly rest and expand itself. They approach nearer to humanity and to comprehension ; yet are sufficiently removed from both, to have the
The following poems are in the Luttrell Collection : « Votum pro Principe.
“ To the King, upon the Queen's being delivered of a Son; by John Baber, Esq.
“ To the King, on ditto ; by William Niven, late master of the music school of Inverness, in Scotland.” Surely the very ultima Thule of poetry.
“A Congratulatory Poem on ditto, by Mrs Behn.
full effect of sublime obscurity. Dryden has undoubtedly reaped considerable advantage from religion in the present poem. It must, however, be owned, that the effect of these passages is much injured by the frequent allusion to the deities of classical mythology; and that Dryden has ranked the gods and goddesses of ancient Rome with the saints of her modern church, in the same indiscriminate order in which they are classed in the Pantheon. We have the Giants' War immediately preceding the miracle wrought on the Shunamite's son ; and the serpents of the infant Hercules are classed in the very sentence with the dragons of the Apocalypse. On one occasion he has stooped yet lower, and condescended to pun upon the child's being born on Trinity Sunday, as promising at least a trine of infant princes.
Still, however, the strain of the poem is, upon the whole, grave and exalted. Besides the general tone of “ Britannia Rediviva, there are many passages in it deserving the reader's attention. The address to the queen, beginning, “ But you, propitious queen," has all the smoothness with which Dryden could vary the masculine character of his general poetry, when he addressed the female sex, and forms a marked contrast to the more majestic tone of the rest of the piece. It may indeed be said of Dryden, as he himself says of Virgil, that though he is smooth where smoothness is required, yet he is so far from affecting that general character, that he seems rather to disdain it.
The original edition of the “ Britannia Rediviva" is in quarto, printed, as usual, for Tonson, with a motto from the first book of ihe Georgics, which is now restored. The concluding lines refer to the death of so many Catholics by the perjured evidences of Oates and Bedlow:
satis jampridem sanguine nostro
Laomedonteæ luimus perjuria Trojæ. The word perjuria, as well as Puerum, in the preceding pas sage, are marked by a difference of type ; a mode of soliciting the attention of the reader to a pointed remark or inuendo, which was first used in Charles II.'s time, and seems to have been introduced by L'Estrange, who carried it to a most extravagant degree, chequering his Observators with all manner of characters, from the Roman to the Anglo-Saxon.
UR vows are heard betimes, and heaven takes care To grant, before we can conclude the prayer; Preventing angels met it half the way, And sent us back to praise, who came to pray.
Just on the day, when the high-mounted sun
Departing spring could only stay to shed
Last solemn Sabbath + saw the church attend,
Or did the mighty Trinity conspire,
Hail, son of prayers ! by holy violence
The sacred cradle to your charge receive,
Our wants exact at least that moderate stay; For, see the dragon t winged on his way, To watch the travail, I and devour the prey : Or, if allusions may not rise so high, Thus, when Alcides raised his infant cry, The snakes besieged his young divinity; But vainly with their forked tongues they threat, For opposition makes a hero great. To needful succour all the good will run, And Jove assert the godhead of his son.
O still repining at your present state, Grudging yourselves the benefits of fate; Look
and read in characters of light A blessing sent you in your own despite ! The manna falls, yet that celestial bread, Like Jews, you munch, and murmur while you feed. May not your fortune be, like theirs, exiled, Yet forty years to wander in the wild ! Or, if it be, may Moses live at least, To lead you to the verge of promised rest!
Though poets are not prophets, to foreknow What plants will take the blight, and what will grow, , By tracing heaven, his footsteps may be found; Behold, how awfully he walks the found ! God is abroad, and, wondrous in his ways, The rise of empires, and their fall, surveys; More, might I say, than with an usual eye, He sees his bleeding church in ruins lie, And hears the souls of saints beneath his altar cry.
+ Alluding only to the commonwealth party here, and in other
parts of the
poem. DRYDEN.-See Note II. | Rev. xii, v. 4.