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Tue“ Royal Martyr” is one of Dryden's most characteristic productions. The character of Maximin, in particular, is drawn on his boldest plan, and only equalled by that of Almanzor, in the “ Conquest of Granada.” Indeed, although, in action, the latter exhibits a larger proportion of that extravagant achievement peculiar to the heroic drama, it may be questioned, whether the language of Maximin does not abound more with the flights of fancy, which hover betwixt the confines of the grand and the bombast, and which our author himself has aptly termed the Dali. lahs of the theatre. Certainly, in some of those rants which occasionally burst from the emperor, our poet appears shorn of his locks; as for example,
Look to it, Gods; for you the aggressors are :
Indeed, Dryden himself acknowledged, in the Dedication to the “ Spanish Friar,” that some verses of Maximin and Almanzor cry vengeance upon him for their extravagance, and heartily wishes them in the same fire with Statius and Chapman. But he pleads in apology, that he knew they were bad enough to please, even when he wrote them, although he is now resolved no longer to seek credit from the approbation of fools. Johnson has doubted, with apparent reason, whether this confession be sufficiently ample; and whether the poet did not really give his love to those enticing seducers of his imagination, although he contemned them in his more sober judgment. In the Prologue, he has boldly stated and justified his determination to rush forwards, and hazard the disgrace of a fall, rather than the loss of the race. Certainly a genius, which dared so greatly as that of Dryden, cannot always be expected to check its flight upon the verge of propriety; and we are often hurried along with it into the extravagant and bombast, when we can sel
dom discover the error till a second reading of the passage. Take, for example, the often quoted account of the death of Charinus ;
With a fierce haste he led our troops the way;
Although this passage, upon examination, will be found to contain much tumid bombast, yet, like others in the same, tone, it conveys, at first, a dark impression of grandeur and sublimity, which only vanishes on a critical examination. Such passages, pronounced with due emphasis on the stage, will always meet with popular applause. They are like the fanciful shapes into which a mist is often wreathed; it requires a near approach, and an attentive consideration, to discover their emptiness and vanity. On the other hand, we meet with many passages in Maximin, where the impression of sublimity becomes more deep, in proportion to the attention we bestow on them. Such is tlxe speech of St Catharinę to her mother:
Could we live always, life were worth our cost;
In the same scene occurs an instance of a different kind of beauty, less commonly found in Dryden. The tender description given by Felicia of her attachment to her child, in infancy, is exquisitely beautiful.
The introduction of magic, and of the astral spirits, who have little to do with the catastrophe, was perhaps contrived for the sake of music and scenery. The supernatural has, however, been fashionable at all periods; and we learn, from a passage in the dedi
cation to “ Prince Arthur,” that the Duchess of Monmouth, whom Dryden calls his first and best patroness, was pleased with the parts of airy and earthy spirits, and with that fairy kind of writing, which depends upon the force of imagination. It is probable, therefore, that, in a play inscribed to her husband, that style of composition was judiciously intermingled, to which our poeb knew the duchess was partial. There is much fine description in the first account of the wizard; but the lyrical dialogue of the spirits is rather puerile, and is ridiculed, with great severity, in the “Rehearsal.”
Mr Malone has fixed the first acting of this play to the end of 1668, or beginning of 1669. It was printed in 1670, and a revised edition came forth in 1672.
MOST ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE,
DUKE OF MONMOUTH AND BUCCLEUGH,
ONE OF HIS MAJESTY's MOST HONOURABLE PRIVY-COUNCIL; AND KNIGHT
OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, &c*.
SIR, The favourable reception which your excellent lady afforded to one of my former plays t, has encouraged me to double my presumption, in addressing this to your grace's patronage. So dangerous a thing it is to admit a poet into your family, that you can never afterwards be free from the chiming of ill verses, perpetually sounding in your ears, and
* For some account of the Duke of Monmouth, we refer our readers to the poem of Absalom and Achitophel, in which Dryden has described that unfortunate young nobleman under the character of Absalom.
+ See the Dedication to the “ Indian Emperor."