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The joy of the people upon the fallacious prospect of the king's recovery, is also a striking picture :
Men met each other with erected look;
There are many other fine passages in the "Threnodia;" though the general effect is less impressive than might have been expected. The description in the thirteenth stanza, for example, of the effects on poetry and literature produced by the Restoration, and that of the return of liberty,
Without whose charms even peace would be
are both striking.—The character of Charles; his wit, parts, and powers of conversation; his gentle manners, and firmness of disposition, which, like a well-wrought blade, kept, even in yielding, the native toughness of the steel, -are all themes of panegyric, which, though perhaps exaggerated, are weli-chosen, and exquisitely brought out. It is indeed a peculiar attribute of Dryden's praise, that it is always appropriate; while the gross adulation of his contemporaries gave indiscriminately the same broad features to all their subjects, and thereby very often converted their intended pane gyric into satire, not the less bitter because undesigned. Dryden, for instance, in this whole poem has never once mentioned the queen; sensible that the gaiety of Charles' life, and his frequent amours, rendered her conjugal grief, which some of the elegiasts chose to describe in terms approaching to blasphemy, an apocry phal, as well as a delicate theme. † He knew, that praise, to do honour to the giver and receiver, must either have a real foundation in desert, or at least what, by the skilful management of the poet, may be easily represented as such.
+ Perhaps the most extraordinary instance of flattery, wrought up to impiety, occurs in Mrs Behn's address to the queen on the death of her husband:
Methinks I see you like the queen of heaven,
So his blest memory o'er her soul still reigned;
Having discussed the melancholy part of his subject, the poet, according to the approved custom in such cases, finds cause for rejoicing in the succession of James, as he had mourned over the death of his predecessor. From his firmness of character, and supposed military talents, the poet prophesies a warlike and victorious reign: a sad instance how seldom the poetic and prophetic character, so often claimed, are united in the same individual! for James, as is well known, far from conquering foreign kingdoms, did not draw the sword even to defend his own. But very different events were expected, and augured, by the shoal of versifiers, who now rushed forwards to gratulate his accession.
The pindaric measure, in which the "Threnodia Augustalis" is written, contains nothing pleasing to modern ears. The rhymes are occasionally so far disjoined, that, like a fashionable married couple, they have nothing of union but the name. The inequalities of the verse are also violent, and remind us of ascending a broken and unequal stair-case. But the age had been accustomed to this rythm, which, however improperly, was considered as a genuine imitation of the style of Pindar. It must also be owned, that wherever, for a little way, Dryden uses a more regular measure, he displays all his usual command of harmony. The thirteenth stanza, for example, is as happily distinguished by melody of rhyme, as we have already observed it is eminent in beauty of poetry.
The Latin title of this poem, like that of the Religio Laici, savours somewhat of affectation; and has been taxed by Johnson as not strictly classical, a more unpardonable fault. †
These are even more numerous than the Elegiasts on Charles's death. In the Luttrell Collection there are the following rare pieces.
Panegyris Jacobi serenissimi, &c. regi ipso die inaugurationis."
"On Do. by a Young Gentleman."
A Panegyrick on Do. by the Author of the Plea for Succession." "A New Song on Do."
"A Poem on Do. by John Philips."
"A Poem upon the Coronation, by J. Baber, Esq."
"A Pindarique to their Sacred Majesties on their Coronation."
"A Poem on Do. by R. Mansell, Gent."
A Panegyrick on Do. by Peter Ker;" with whose rapturous invitation to
the ships to strand themselves for joy, we shall conclude the list:
Let subjects sing, bells ring, and cannons roar ;
Dryden, perhaps, recollected the poem of Fitzpayne Fisher on Cromwell's death, entitled, Threnodia Triumphalis in obitum serenissimi Nostri Principis Olivari, Anglia Scotia Hiberniæ cum dominationibus ubicunque jacenti
My learned friend, Dr Adam, has favoured me with the following defence of Dryden's phrase: "With respect to the title which that great poet gives to his elegy on the death of Charles, making allowance for the taste of the times and the licence of poets in framing names, I see no just foundation for Johnson's criticism on the epithet Augustalis. Threnodia is a word purely Greek, used by no Latin author; and Augustalis denotes, in honour of Augustus; thus, ludi Augustales, games instituted in honour of Augustis, Tac. An. 1, 15 and 54; so sacerdotes vel sodales Augustales, ib. and 2, 83. Hist. 2, 95. Now as Augustus was a name given to the succeeding emperors, I see no reason, why Augustalis may not be used to signify, in honour of any king. Besides, the very word Augustus denotes, venerable, august, royal:' and therefore Threnodia Augustalis may properly be put for, An Elegy in honour of an august Prince."
The full title declared the poem to be written " by John Dryden, servant to his late majesty, and to the present king;" a style which our author did not generally assume, but which the occasion rendered peculiarly proper. The poem appears to have been popular, as it went through two editions in the course of 1685.
bus Nuperi protectoris, (Qui obiit. Septemb. 3tio.) Ubi stupenda passim victoriæ, et incredibiles domi forasque successus, Heroico carmine, succinctim perstringuntur. Per Fitzpaynæum Piscatorem. Londini, 1658.
Our British heaven was all serene,
No threatening cloud was nigh,
We slept securely, and we dreamt of more;
The amazing news of Charles at once were spread,
At once the general voice declared,
An unexpected burst of woes, †
Should gape immense, and, rushing down, o'erwhelm this nether ball;
So swift and so surprising was our fear:
His pious brother, sure the best
Was newly risen from his rest,
And hoped to have them heard,
In honour, fame, and wealth:
Guiltless of greatness, thus he always prayed,
+ Note 1.
Alluding to the fable of Hercules supporting the heavenly sphere when Atlas was fatigued.