Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
The Dedication to Examen Poeticum, 1693
To the Right Honourable My Lord Radcliffe

    My Lord,
  THESE 1 Miscellany Poems, are by many Titles yours. The first they claim from your acceptance of my Promise to present them to you; before some of them were yet in being. The rest are deriv’d from your own Merit, the exactness of your Judgment in Poetry, and the candour of your Nature; easie to forgive some trivial faults, when they come accompanied with 2 countervailing Beauties. But after all, though these are your equitable claims to a Dedication from other Poets, yet I must acknowledge a Bribe in the case, which is your particular liking of my Verses. ’Tis a vanity common to all Writers, to over-value their own Productions; and ’tis better for me to own this failing in my self, than the World to do it for me. For what other Reason have I spent my Life in so unprofitable a Study? Why am I grown Old, in seeking so barren a Reward as Fame! The same Parts and Application, which have made me a Poet, might have rais’d me to any Honours of the Gown, which are often given to Men of as little Learning and less Honesty than my self. No Government has ever been, or ever can be, wherein Timeservers and Blockheads will not be uppermost. The Persons are only chang’d, but the same juglings is State, the same Hypocrisie in Religion, the same Self-Interest, and Mis-mannagement, will remain for ever. Blood and Mony will be lavish’d in all Ages, only for the Preferment of new Faces, with old Consciences. There is too often a Jaundise in the Eyes of Great Men; they see not those whom they raise in the same Colours with other Men. All whom they affect, look Golden to them; when the Gilding is only in their own distemper’d Sight. These Considerations have 3 given me a kind of Contempt for those who have risen by unworthy ways. I am not asham’d to be Little, when I see them so Infamously Great. Neither, do I know, why the Name of Poet should be Dishonourable to me, if I am truly one, as I hope I am; for I will never do any thing, that shall dishonour it. The Notions of Morality are known to all Men; None can pretend Ignorance of those Idea’s which are In-born in Mankind: and if I see one thing, and practise the contrary, I must be Disingenuous, not to acknowledge a clear Truth, and Base, to Act against the light of my own Conscience. For the Reputation of my Honesty, no Man can question it, who has any of his own: For that of my Poetry, it shall either stand by its own Merit; or fall for want of it. Ill Writers are usually the sharpest Censors; For they (as the best Poet, and the best Patron said), When in the full perfection of decay, turn Vinegar, and come again in Play. Thus the corruption of a Poet is 4 the Generation of a Critick: I mean of a Critick in the general acceptation of this Age; for formerly they were quite another Species of Men. They were Defenders of Poets, and Commentators on their Works: to Illustrate obscure Beauties; to place some passages in a better light; to redeem others from malicious Interpretations: to help out an Author’s Modesty, who is not ostentatious of his Wit; and, in short, to shield him from the Ill-Nature of those Fellows, who were then call’d Zoili and Momi, and now take upon themselves the Venerable Name of Censors. But neither Zoilus, nor he who endeavour’d to defame Virgil, were ever Adopted into the Name of Criticks by the Ancients: what their Reputation was then, we know; and their Successours in this Age deserve no better. Are our Auxiliary Forces turn’d our Enemies? Are they, who, at best, are but Wits of the Second Order, and whose only Credit amongst Readers is 5 what they obtain’d by being subservient to the Fame of Writers; are these become Rebels of Slaves, and Usurpers of Subjects; or to speak in the most Honourable Terms of them, are they from our Seconds, become Principals against us? Does the Ivy undermine the Oke, which supports its weakness? What labour wou’d it cost them to put in a better Line, than the worst of those which they expunge in a True Poet? Petronius, the greatest Wit perhaps of all the Romans, yet when his Envy prevail’d upon his Judgment, to fall on Lucan, he fell himself in his attempt: He perform’d worse in his Essay of the Civil War, than the Authour of the Pharsalia; and avoiding his Errours, has made greater of his own. Julius Scaliger wou’d needs turn down Homer, and Abdicate him after the possession of Three Thousand Years: has he succeeded in his Attempt? He has indeed shown us some of those Imperfections in him, which are incident to Humane Kind; But who had not rather be that Homer than this Scaliger? You see the same Hypercritick, when he endeavours to mend the beginning of Claudian (a faulty Poet, and Living in a Barbarous Age), yet how short he comes of him, and substitutes such Verses of his own as deserve the Ferula. What a Censure has he made of Lucan, that he rather seems to Bark than Sing! Wou’d any but a Dog, have made so snarling a Comparison? One wou’d have thought he had Learn’d Latin, as late as they tell us he did Greek. Yet he came off with a pace tuâ, by your good leave, Lucan; he call’d him not by those outrageous Names, of Fool, Booby, and Blockhead: He had somewhat more of good Manners, than his Successours, as he had much more Knowledge. We have two sorts of those Gentlemen in our Nation: Some of them proceeding with a seeming moderation and pretence of Respect, to the Dramatick Writers of the last Age, only scorn and vilifie the present Poets, to set up their Predecessours. But this is only in appearance; for their real design is nothing less, than to do Honour to any Man, besides themselves. Horace took notice of 6 such men in his age: —— Non Ingeniis favet ille Sepultis; Nostra sed impugnat; nos nostraque lividus odit. ’Tis not with an ultimate intention to pay Reverence to the Manes of Shakespear, Fletcher, and Ben Johnson, that they commend their Writings, but to throw Dirt on the Writers of this Age: Their Declaration is one thing, and their Practice is another. By a seeming veneration to our Fathers, they wou’d thrust out us their Lawful Issue, and Govern us themselves, under a specious pretence of Reformation. If they could compass their intent, what wou’d Wit and Learning get by such a change? If we are bad Poets, they are worse; and when any of their woful pieces come abroad, the difference is so great betwixt them and good Writers, that there need no Criticisms on our part to decide it. When they describe the Writers of this Age, they draw such monstrous figures of them, as resemble none of us: Our pretended Pictures are so unlike, that it is evident we never sate to them: they are all Grotesque; the products of their wild Imaginations, things out of Nature, so far from being Copy’d from us, that they resemble nothing that ever was, or ever can be. But there is another sort of Insects, more venomous than the former. Those who manifestly aim at the destruction of our Poetical Church and State. Who allow nothing to their Country-Men, either of this or of the former Age. These attack the Living by raking up the Ashes of the Dead; well 7 knowing that if they can subvert their Original Title to the Stage, we who claim under them, must fall of course. Peace be to the Venerable Shades of Shakespear and Ben Johnson: None of the Living will presume to have any competition with them: as they were our Predecessours, so they were our Masters. We Trayl our Plays under them, but, (as at the Funerals of a Turkish Emperour) our Ensigns are furl’d or dragg’d upon the ground, in Honour to the Dead; so we may lawfully advance our own, afterwards, to show that we succeed: If less in Dignity, yet on the same Foot and Title, which we think too we can maintain against the Insolence of our own Janizaries. If I am the Man, as I have Reason to believe, who am seemingly Courted, and secretly Undermined: I think I shall be able to defend my self, when I am openly Attacqu’d. And to shew besides, that the Greek Writers only gave us the Rudiments of a Stage which they never finish’d: that 8 many of the Tragedies in the former Age amongst us, were without Comparison beyond those of Sophocles and Euripides. But at present, I have neither the leisure nor the means for such an Undertaking. ’Tis ill going to Law for an Estate, with him who is in possession of it, and enjoys the present Profits, to feed his Cause. But the quantum mutatus may be remembered in due time. In the mean while, I leave the World to judge, who gave the Provocation.
  This, my Lord, is, I confess, a long digression, from Miscellany Poems to Modern Tragedies: But I have the ordinary excuse of an Injur’d Man, who will be telling his Tale unseasonably to his Betters. Though at the same time, I am certain you are so good a Friend, as to take a Concern in all things which belong to one who so truly Honours you. And besides, being yourself a Critick of the Genuine sort, who have Read the best Authours in their own Languages, who perfectly distinguish of their several Merits, and in general prefer them to the Moderns, yet, I know, you judge for the English Tragedies, against the Greek and Latin, as well as against the French, Italian and Spanish, of these latter Ages. Indeed there is a vast difference betwixt 9 arguing like Perault, in behalf of the French Poets, against Homer and Virgil, and betwixt giving the English Poets their undoubted due of excelling Æschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. For if we, or our greater Fathers, have not yet brought the Drama to an absolute Perfection, yet at least we have carried it much farther than those Ancient Greeks; who, beginning from a Chorus, cou’d never totally exclude it, as we have done; who find it an unprofitable incumbrance, without any necessity of Entertaining it amongst us; and without the possibility of establishing it here, unless it were supported by a Publick Charge. Neither can we accept of those Lay Bishops, as some call them, who, under pretence of reforming the Stage, wou’d intrude themselves upon us, as our Superiours, being indeed incompetent Judges of what is Manners, what Religion, and least of all, what is Poetry and Good Sense. I can tell them in behalf of all my Fellows, that when they come to Exercise a Jurisdiction over us, they shall have the Stage to themselves, as they have the Lawrel. As little can I grant, that the French Dramatick Writers excel the English: Our authours as far surpass them in Genius, as our Souldiers Excel theirs in Courage: ’tis true, in Conduct they surpass us either way: Yet that proceeds not so much from their greater Knowledge, as from the difference of Tasts in the two Nations. 10 They content themselves with a thin Design, without Episodes, and manag’d by few Persons. Our Audience will not be pleas’d, but with variety of Accidents, an Underplot, and many Actours. They follow the Ancients too servilely, in the Mechanick Rules, and we assume too much License to our selves, in keeping them only in view, at too great a distance. But if our Audience had their Tasts, our Poets could more easily comply with them, than the French Writers cou’d come up to the Sublimity of our Thoughts, or to the difficult variety of our Designs. However it be, I dare establish it for a Rule of Practice on the Stage, that we are bound to please those whom we pretend to Entertain; and that at any price, Religion and Good Manners only excepted. And I care not much, if I give this handle to 11 our bad Illiterate Poetasters, for the defence of their SCRIPTIONS, as they call them. There is a sort of Merit in delighting the Spectatours; which is a Name more proper for them, than that of Auditours. Or else Horace is in the wrong, when he commends Lucilius for it. But these common places I mean to treat at greater leisure. In the mean time, submitting that little I have said, to your Lordship’s Approbation, or your Censure, and chusing rather to Entertain you this way, as you are a judge of writing, than to oppress your Modesty with other Commendations; which, though they are your due, yet wou’d not be equally receiv’d, in this Satirical, and Censorious Age. That which cannot without Injury be deny’d to you, is the easiness of your Conversation, far from Affectation or Pride: not denying even to Enemies their just Praises. And this, if I wou’d dwell on any Theme of this Nature, is no vulgar Commendation to your Lordship. Without Flattery, my Lord, you have it in your Nature, to be a Patron and Encourager of Good Poets, but your Fortune has not yet put into your hands the opportunity of expressing it. What you will be hereafter, may be more than guessed, by what you are at present. You maintain the Character of a Nobleman, without that Haughtiness which generally attends too many of the Nobility, and when you converse with Gentlemen, you forget not that you have been of their Order. You are Marryed to the Daughter of a King, who, amongst her other high Perfections, has deriv’d from him a Charming Behaviour, a winning Goodness, and a Majestick Person. The Muses and the Graces are the Ornaments of your Family. While the Muse sings, the Grace accompanies her Voice: even the Servants of the Muses have sometimes had the Happiness to hear her; and to receive their Inspirations from her.  2
  I will not give my self the liberty of going farther; for ’tis so sweet to wander in a pleasing way, that I shou’d never arrive at my Journeys end. To keep my self from being belated in my Letter, and tiring your Attention, I must return to the place where I was setting out. I humbly Dedicate to your Lordship, my own Labours in this Miscellany: At the same time, not arrogating to myself the Priviledge of Inscribing to you 12 the Works of others who are join’d with me in this undertaking, over which I can pretend no right. Your lady and You have done me the favour to hear me Read my Translations of Ovid: And you both seem’d not to be displeas’d with them. Whether it be the partiality of an Old Man to his Youngest Child, I know not: But they appear to me the best of all my Endeavours in this kind. Perhaps this Poet is more easie to be Translated than some others, whom I have lately attempted: Perhaps too, he was more according to my Genius. He is certainly more palatable to the Reader, than any of the Roman Wits, though some of them are more lofty, some more Instructive, and others more Correct. He had Learning enough to make him equal in the best. But as his Verse came easily, he wanted the toyl of Application to amend it. He is often luxuriant both in his Fancy and Expressions, and as it has lately been observ’d, not always Natural. If Wit be pleasantry, he has it to excess; but if it be propriety, Lucretius, Horace, and, above all, Virgil are his Superiours. I have said so much of him already, in my Preface to his Heroical Epistles, that there remains little to be added in this place: for my own part, I have endeavoured to Copy his Character what I cou’d in this Translation, even, perhaps, farther than I shou’d have done; to his very faults. Mr. Chapman, in his Translation of Homer, professes to have done it somewhat paraphrastically, and that on set purpose; his Opinion being, that a good Poet is to be Translated in that manner. I remember not the Reason which he gives for it: But I suppose it is, for fear of omitting any of his Excellencies: sure I am, that if it be a Fault, ’tis much more pardonable than that of those, who run into the other extream of a litteral and close Translation, where the Poet is confin’d so streightly to his Author’s Words, that he wants elbow-room to express his Elegancies. He leaves him obscure; he leaves him Prose, where he found him Verse. And no better than thus has Ovid been served by the so much admir’d Sandys. This is at least the Idea which I have remaining of his Translation; for I never Read him since I was a Boy. They who take him upon Content, from the Praises which their Fathers gave him, may inform their Judgment by Reading him again, and see (if they understand the Original) what is become of Ovid’s Poetry, in his Version; whether it be not all, or the greatest part of it, evaporated: but this proceeded from the wrong Judgment of the Age in which he Liv’d. They neither knew good Verse nor lov’d it! they were Scholars, ’tis true, but they were Pedants. And for a just Reward of their Pedantick pains, all their Translations want to be Translated, into English.  3
  If I flatter not my self, or if my Friends have not Flatter’d me, I have given my Author’s Sense, for the most part truly: for to mistake sometimes is incident to all Men: And not to follow the Dutch Commentatours always, may be forgiven to a Man who thinks them in the general, heavy gross-witted Fellows, fit only to gloss on their own dull Poets. But I leave a farther Satire on their Wit, till I have a better opportunity to shew how much I Love and Honour them. I have likewise attempted to restore Ovid to his Native sweetness, easiness, and smoothness; and to give my Poetry a kind of Cadence, and, as we call it, a run of Verse, as like the Original, as the English can come up to the Latin. As he seldom uses any Synalephas, so I have endeavour’d to avoid them, as often as I cou’d: I have likewise given him his own turns, both on the Words and on the Thought; which I cannot say are inimitable, because I have Copyed them; and so may others, if they use the same diligence: But certainly they are wonderfully Graceful in this Poet. Since I have Nam’d the Synalepha, which is the cutting off one Vowel, immediately before another, I will give an Example of it from Chapman’s Homer, which lies before me; for the benefit of those who understand not the Latine Prosodia. ’Tis in the first Line of the Argument to the First Iliad.
        Apollo’s Priest to th’ Argive Fleet doth bring, &c.
There we see he makes it not the Argive, but th’ Argive, to shun the shock of the two Vowels, immediately following each other; but in his Second Argument, in the same Page, he gives a bad example of the quite contrary kind:
        Alpha the Pray’r of Chryses sings:
The Army’s Plague, the Strife of Kings.
In these words the Armies, the ending with a Vowel, and Armies beginning with another Vowel, without cutting off the first, which by it had been th’ Armies, there remains a most horrible ill-sounding gap betwixt those Words. I cannot say that I have every where observ’d the Rule of the Synalepha in my Translation; but wheresoever I have not, ’tis a fault in sound: the French and Italians have made it an inviolable Precept in their versification; therein following the severe example of the Latin Poets. Our Countrymen have not yet Reform’d their Poetry so far; but content themselves with following the Licentious practice of the Greeks; who, though they sometimes use Synalepha’s, yet make no difficulty very often, to sound one Vowel upon another; as Homer does in the very first line of Alpha. [Greek]. 13 ’Tis true, indeed, that in the second line in these words [Greek], and [Greek], the Synalepha in revenge is twice observed. But it becomes us, for the sake of Euphony, rather Musas colere severiores, with the Romans, than to give into the looseness of the Grecians.
  I have tir’d my self, and have been summon’d by the Press to send away this Dedication, otherwise I had expos’d some other faults, which are daily committed by our English Poets; which, with care and observation, might be amended. For, after all, our Language is both Copious, Significant, and Majestical, and might be reduc’d into a more harmonious sound. But, for want of Publick Encouragement, in this Iron Age, we are so far from making any progress in the improvement of our Tongue, that in few years, we shall Speak and Write as Barbarously as our Neighbours.  5
  Notwithstanding my haste, I cannot forbear to tell your Lordship, that there are two fragments of Homer Translated in this Miscellany; one by Mr.Congreve (whom I cannot mention without the Honour which is due to his Excellent Parts, and that entire Affection which I bear him;) and the other by my self. Both the Subjects are pathetical, and I am sure my Friend has added to the Tenderness which he found in the Original, and, without Flattery, surpass’d his Author. Yet I must needs say this in reference to Homer, that he is much more capable of exciting the Manly Passions than those of Grief and Pity. To cause Admiration, is indeed the proper and adequate design of an Epick Poem: and in that he has excell’d even Virgil. Yet, without presuming to Arraign our Master, I may venture to affirm, that he is somewhat too Talkative, and more than somewhat too digressive. This is so manifest, that it cannot be deny’d, in that little parcel which I have Translated, perhaps too literally: There Andromache in the midst of her Concernment, and Fright for Hector, runs off her Biass, to tell him a Story of her Pedigree, and of the lamentable Death of her Father, her Mother, and her seven Brothers. The Devil was in Hector if he knew not all this matter, as well as she who told it him; for she had been his Bed-fellow for many Years together: and if he knew it, then it must be confess’d, that Homer in this long digression, has rather given us his own Character, than that of the Fair Lady whom he Paints. His Dear Friends the Commentators, who never fail him at a pinch, will needs excuse him, by making the present Sorrow of Andromache, to occasion the remembrance of all the past: But others think that she had enough to do with that Grief which now oppress’d her, without running for assistance to her Family. Virgil, I am confident, wou’d have omitted such a work of supererrogation. But Virgil had the Gift of expressing much in little, and sometimes in silence: For though he yielded much to Homer in Invention, he more Excell’d him in his Admirable Judgment. He drew the Passion of Dido for Eneas, in the most lively and most natural Colours imaginable. Homer was ambitious enough of moving pity; for he has attempted twice on the same subject of Hector’s death: first, when Priam and Hecuba beheld his Corps, which was drag’d after the chariot of Achilles; and then in the Lamentation which was made over him, when his Body was redeem’d by Priam; and the same Persons again bewail his death, with a Chorus of others to help the cry. But if this last excite Compassion in you, as I doubt not but it will, you are more oblig’d to the Translator than the Poet. For Homer, as I observ’d before, can move rage better than he can pity: He stirs up the irascible appetite, as our Philosophers call it; he provokes to Murther, and the destruction of God’s Images; he forms and equips those ungodly Man-killers, 14 whom we Poets, when we flatter them, call Heroes; a race of Men who can never enjoy quiet in themselves, ’till they have taken it from all the World. This is Homer’s Commendation, and such as it is, the Lovers of Peace, or at least of more moderate Heroism, will never Envy him. But let Homer and Virgil contend for the Prize of Honour, betwixt themselves, I am satisfied they will never have a third Concurrent. I wish Mr.Congreve had the leisure to Translate him, and the World the good Nature and Justice to 15 Encourage him in that Noble Design, of which he is more capable than any Man I know. The Earl of Mulgrave and Mr.Waller, two the best Judges of our Age, have assured me, that they cou’d never read over the Translation of Chapman, without incredible Pleasure and extreme Transport. This Admiration of theirs must needs proceed from the Author himself: For the Translator has thrown him down as low, as harsh Numbers, improper English, and a monstrous length of Verse cou’d carry him. What then wou’d he appear in the Harmonious Version of one of the best Writers, Living in a much better Age than was the last? I mean for versification, and the Art of Numbers: for in the Drama we have not arriv’d to the pitch of Shakespear and Ben Johnson. But here, my Lord, I am forc’d to break off abruptly, without endeavouring at a Compliment in the close. This Miscellany is, without dispute, one of the best of the kind, which has hitherto been extant in our Tongue. At least, as Sir Samuel Tuke has said before me, a Modest Man may praise what is not his own. My Fellows have no need of any Protection, but I humbly recommend my part of it, as much as it deserves, to your Patronage and Acceptance, and all the rest of your Forgiveness.
    I am,
            My Lord,
Your Lordship’s most
                Obedient Servant,
Note 1. 1693. [back]
Note 2. Considerations have] Considerations, have 1693. [back]
Note 3. accompanied with] accompanied, with 1693. [back]
Note 4. Poet is] Poet, is 1693. [back]
Note 5. Readers is] Readers, is 1693. [back]
Note 6. notice of] notice, of 1693. [back]
Note 7. Dead; well] Dead. Well 1693. [back]
Note 8. finish’d: that] finish’d. That 1693. [back]
Note 9. difference betwixt] difference, betwixt 1693. [back]
Note 10. Tasts in the two Nations] Some editors wrongly give Taste. [back]
Note 11. handle to] handle, to 1693. [back]
Note 12. Priviledge of Inscribing to you] Priviledge, of Inscribing to you, 1693. [back]
Note 13. [Greek]] 1693. This error has been carefully preserved by the editors. [back]
Note 14. Man-killers] Man killers 1693. [back]
Note 15. Justice to] Justice, to 1693. [back]
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