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As country vicars, when the sermon's done,
In this alteration of the “ Tempest,” Dryden acknowledges his obligation to Sir William Davenant, whom he extols for his quick and piercing imagination. Sir William was the son of an innkeeper in Oxford, whose house was frequented by our immortal Shakespeare; and hence an ill-founded tradition ascribed to him a paternal interest in young Davenant: But this slander on Shakespeare's moral character has been fully refuted in the Prolegomena to Johnson and Steevens' edition of his plays. Davenant was appointed poet laureat upon the death of Ben Jonson. During the civil wars, he distinguished himself on the royal side, was lieutenant-general of ordnance to the earl of Newcastle, and was knighted by Charles at the siege of Gloucester. He was afterwards much trusted by Henrietta, the queen-dowager; and was finally made prisoner by an English man of war, in attempting to convey a colony of loyalists to Virginia. After a long captivity in the Tower, he was liberated through the intercession of the lord-keeper, Whitelocke; the wisest and most temperate of the counsellors of the ruling power. Through his countenance, Sir William was protected, or conuived at, in bringing forward certain interludes and operas, even during the rigid sway of fanaticism. After the restoration, he became manager of a company of players, called the duke of York's servants, in distinction to the king's company, which was directed by Killigrew. He introduced upon the stage
in dress, scenery, and decoration, as if to indemnity the theatrical muses for the poor shifts to which they had been reduced during the usurpation. Sir William Davenant died in 1668, at the age of 63.
"Goudibert,” his greatest performance, incurred, when first published, more ridicule, and in latter times more neglect, than its merits deserve. An epic poem, in elegiac stanzas, must always be tedious, because no structure of verse is more unfavourable to narration than that which almost peremptorily requires each sentence to be restricted, or protracted, to four lines. But the liveliness of Davenant's imagination, which Dryden has pointed out as his most striking attribute, has illuminated even the dull and dreary path which he has chosen; and perhaps few poems afford more instances of vigorous conceptions, and even felicity of expression, than the neglected “fondiberts.”
An excellent critical essay upon the beauties and defects of Davenant's spic, may be found in Aikiu's Miscellanies. Those who are insensible to the