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Nathanael Lee, two references to Rochester

Nathanael Lee, two references to Rochester

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He was the Spirit of Wit—and had such an Art in guilding

his Failures, that it was hard not to love his Faults: He

never spoke a witty thing twice, tho’ to different Persons;

his Imperfections were catching, and his Genius was so

luxuriant, that he was forc’d to tame it with a Hesitation

in his Speech to keep it in view—But, Oh! how awkward,

how insipid, how poor and wretchedly dull is the Imitation

of those that have all the Affectation of his Verse, and

none of his Wit!

(‘The Princess of Cleves’, Dramatick Works of Nathanael Lee (1733) i. 17–18)


John Dryden on Rochester

1673; 1678

The first and second of these passages were written when Dryden was enjoying Rochester’s patronage.

The exact cause of the estrangement between the two poets, which led to Dryden’s sharp attack on

Rochester in the Preface to All for Love, is not known. There may have been resentment that Dryden

sought the patronage of Rochester’s enemy, the Earl of Mulgrave, and Dryden’s references to Rochester’s

Allusion to Horace in the Preface suggest that the poet laureate resented the criticisms of himself contained

there (see Introduction pp. 5–6). For whatever reason relations continued to deteriorate, Dryden aiding

Mulgrave in his attack on Rochester in the Essay upon Satire (see note on Mulgave, No. 7). In December

1679 Dryden was attacked by a gang in Rose Alley, London, probably at Rochester’s instigation.

Rochester is not mentioned by name in the ‘Preface’ —it would have been too risky to oppose a nobleman

of such eminence openly—but there has never been any doubt for whom the attack was intended.

Rochester’s best work, the formal satires, were written after the two pieces of flattery and before the

attack in the Preface.

(a) Extract from Dedication of Marriage à la Mode (March 1673)

But, my Lord, I ought to have considered, that you are as great a judge, as you are a patron; and that in praising you ill,

I should incur a higher note of ingratitude, than that I thought to have avoided. I stand in need of all your accustomed

goodness for the dedication of this play; which, though perhaps it be the best of my comedies, is yet so faulty, that I

should have feared you for my critic, if I had not, with some policy, given you the trouble of being my protector. Wit

seems to have lodged itself more nobly in this age, than in any of the former; and people of my mean condition are only

writers, because some of the nobility, and your Lordship in the first place, are above the narrow praises which poesy

could give you. But, let those who love to see themselves exceeded, encourage your Lordship in so dangerous a quality;

for my own part, I must confess, that I have so much of self-interest, as to be content with reading some papers of your

verses, without desiring you should proceed to a scene, or play; with the common prudence of those who are worsted

in a duel, and declare they are satisfied, when they are first wounded. Your Lordship has but another step to make, and

from the patron of wit, you may become its tyrant; and oppress our little reputations with more ease than you now

protect them. But these, my Lord, are designs, which I am sure you harbour not, any more than the French king is

contriving the conquest of the Swissers. (Dramatic Works of John Dryden, ed. Scott-Saintsbury, 18 vols., Edinburgh 1882,

iv. 256–7.)

(b) Extract from letter from Dryden to Rochester, April/May 1673:

And now the Shame of seeing my self overpayd so much for an ill Dedication,1 has made me almost repent of my

Addresse. I find it is not for me to contend any way with your Lordship, who can write better on the meanest Subject

than I can on the best. I have onely ingag’d my selfe in a new debt, when I had hop’d to cancell a part of the old one:



And shou’d either have chosen some other Patron, whom it was in my power to have oblig’d by speaking better of him

than he deserv’d, or have made your Lordship onely a hearty Dedication of the respect and Honour I had for you,

without giveing you the occasion to conquer me, as you have done, at my own Weapon. My onely relief is, that what I

have written is publique, and I am so much my own friend, as to conceale your Lordship’s letter for that which would

have given Vanity to any other poet, has onely given me confusion. You see, my Lord, how far you have pushed me; I

dare not own the honour you have done me, for fear of showing it to my own disadvantage. You are that Rerum Natura

of your own Lucretius, Ipsa suis pollens opibus, nihil indiga nostri:2 You are above any Incense I can give you; and have all

the happiness of an idle life, join’d with the good Nature of an Active. Your friends in town are ready to envy the leisure

you have given your self in the Country: though they know you are onely their Steward, and that you treasure up but so

much health, as you intend to spend on them in Winter. In the meane time you have withdrawn your selfe from

attendance, the curse of Courts. You may thinke of what you please, and that as little as you please; (for in my opinion),

thinking it selfe, is a kind of paine to a witty man; he finds so much more in it to disquiet, than to please him. (The

Letters of John Dryden, ed. C.E.Ward (Durham N.C., 1942), pp. 8–9.)

(c) ‘Preface’ to All for Love (extract) (1678):

But, if I come closer to those who are allowed for witty men, either by the advantage of their quality, or by common

fame, and affirm that neither are they qualified to decide sovereignly concerning poetry, I shall yet have a strong party

of my opinion; for most of them severally will exclude the rest, either from the number of witty men, or at least of able

judges. But here again they are all indulgent to themselves; and every one who believes himself a wit, that is, every

man, will pretend at the same time to a right of judging. But to press it yet further, there are many witty men, but few

poets; neither have all poets a taste of tragedy. And this is the rock on which they are daily splitting. Poetry, which is a

picture of nature, must generally please; but it is not to be understood that all parts of it must please every man; therefore

is not tragedy to be judged by a witty man, whose taste is only confined to comedy. Nor is every man, who loves

tragedy, a sufficient judge of it; he must understand the excellences of it too, or he will only prove a blind admirer, not

a critic. From hence it comes that so many satires on poets, and censures of their writings, fly abroad. Men of pleasant

conversation (at least esteemed so), and endued with a trifling kind of fancy, perhaps helped out with some smattering

of Latin, are ambitious to distinguish themselves from the herd of gentlemen, by their poetry—

Rarus enim ferme sensus communis in illa Fortuna.1

And is not this a wretched affectation, not to be contented with what fortune has done for them, and sit down quietly with

their estates, but they must call their wits in question, and needlessly expose their nakedness to public view? Not

considering that they are not to expect the same approbation from sober men, which they have found from their

flatterers after the third bottle. If a little glittering in discourse has passed them on us for witty men, where was the

necessity of undeceiving the world? Would a man who has an ill title to an estate, but yet is in possession of it; would he

bring it of his own accord, to be tried at Westminster? We who write, if we want the talent, yet have the excuse that

we do it for a poor subsistence; but what can be urged in their defence, who, not having the vocation of poverty to

scribble, out of mere wantonness take pains to make themselves ridiculous? Horace was certainly in the right, where he

said, ‘that no man is satisfied with his own condition.’ A poet is not pleased, because he is not rich; and the rich are


The dedication of Marriage à la Mode, which Rochester had evidently liked. The letter from Rochester which this letter answers has

not survived.

2 ‘Strong in its own qualities, needing nothing from us’ (De Rerum Natura, ii. 650). A reference to Rochester’s translation of a few

lines from Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, II, 646–51 (Pinto, xi, p. 50).


‘For in those high places a feeling for others is rarely to be found’ (Juvenal Satires, VIII. 73–4).



discontented, because the poets will not admit them of their number. Thus the case is hard with writers: If they succeed

not, they must starve; and if they do, some malicious satire is prepared to level them, for daring to please without their

leave. But while they are so eager to destroy the fame of others, their ambition is manifest in their concernment; some

poem of their own is to be produced, and the slaves are to be laid flat with their faces on the ground, that the monarch

may appear in the greater majesty.

Dionysius and Nero had the same longings, but with all their power they could never bring their business well about.

’Tis true, they proclaimed themselves poets by sound of trumpet; and poets they were, upon pain of death to any man

who durst call them otherwise. The audience had a fine time on’t, you may imagine; they sat in a bodily fear, and

looked as demurely as they could: for it was a hanging matter to laugh unseasonably; and the tyrants were suspicious, as

they had reason, that their subjects had them in the wind; so, every man, in his own defence, set as good a face upon the

business as he could. It was known beforehand that the monarchs were to be crowned laureates; but when the show was

over, and an honest man was suffered to depart quietly, he took out his laughter which he had stifled, with a firm

resolution never more to see an emperor’s play, though he had been ten years a-making it. In the meantime the true

poets were they who made the best markets, for they had wit enough to yield the prize with a good grace, and not

contend with him who had thirty legions. They were sure to be rewarded, if they confessed themselves bad writers, and

that was somewhat better than to be martyrs for their reputation. Lucan’s example was enough to teach them manners;

and after he was put to death, for overcoming Nero, the emperor carried it without dispute for the best poet in his

dominions. No man was ambitious of that grinning honour; for if he heard the malicious trumpeter proclaiming his

name before his betters, he knew there was but one way with him. Mæcenas took another course, and we know he was

more than a great man, for he was witty too: But finding himself far gone in poetry, which Seneca assures us was not his

talent,1 he thought it his best way to be well with Virgil and with Horace; that at least he might be a poet at the second

hand; and we see how happily it has succeeded with him; for his own bad poetry is forgotten, and their panegyrics of

him still remain. But they who should be our patrons are for no such expensive ways to fame; they have much of the

poetry of Mæcenas, but little of his liberality. They are for persecuting Horace and Virgil, in the persons of their

successors; for such is every man who has any part of their soul and fire, though in a less degree. Some of their little

zanies yet go further; for they are persecutors even of Horace himself, as far as they are able, by their ignorant and vile

imitations of him; by making an unjust use of his authority, and turning his artillery against his friends. But how would he

disdain to be copied by such hands! I dare answer for him, he would be more uneasy in their company, than he was with

Crispinus, their forefather, in the Holy Way; and would no more have allowed them a place amongst the critics, than he

would Demetrius the mimic, and Tigellius the buffoon




Seneca, Epistulae Morales, 114.

‘I order you, Demetrius and you, Tigellius, to wail among the desks of your pupils.’ (Horace, Satires, I. x, 90–1.)

An Antique Stone he saw, the Common Bound

Of Neighb’ring Fields; and Barrier of the Ground.

(Virgil, Aeneid, xii. 897–8, in Dryden’s own translation, 1300–1.)


His knocking Knees are bent beneath the Load:

And shiv’ring Cold congeals his vital Blood,

The Stone drops from his arms: and falling short,

For want of Vigour, mocks his vain Effort.

(Virgil, Aeneid, xii. 905–7, in Dryden’s translation, 1308–1311.)



—Demetri, teque, Tigelli,2

Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.

With what scorn would he look down on such miserable translators, who make doggerel of his Latin, mistake his

meaning, misapply his censures, and often contradict their own? He is fixed as a landmark to set out the bounds of


—Saxum antiquum, ingens, —3

Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis.

But other arms than theirs, and other sinews are required, to raise the weight of such an author; and when they would

toss him against enemies—

Genua labant, gelidus concrevit frigore sanguis.4

Tum lapis ipse, viri vacuum per inane volatus.

Nec spatium evasit totum, nec pertulit ictum.

For my part, I would wish no other revenge, either for myself, or the rest of the poets, from this rhyming judge of the

twelvepenny gallery, this legitimate son of Sternhold,1 than that he would subscribe his name to his censure, or (not to

tax him beyond his learning) set his mark. For, should he own himself publicly, and come from behind the lion’s skin,

they whom he condemns would be thankful to him, they whom he praises would choose to be condemned; and the

magistrates, whom he has elected, would modestly withdraw from their employment, to avoid the scandal of his

nomination. The sharpness of his satire, next to himself, falls most heavily on his friends, and they ought never to

forgive him for commending them perpetually the wrong way, and sometimes by contraries. If he have a friend, whose

hastiness in writing is his greatest fault, Horace would have taught him to have minced the matter, and to have called it

readiness of thought, and a flowing fancy; for friendship will allow a man to christen an imperfection by the name of

some neighbour virtue—


A sixteenth-century versifier of the Psalms whose name became a stock word of abuse to describe the bad poet.

‘I would wish we could make such mistakes in friendship and that right feeling would have given an honourable name to a mistake

like that.’ (Horace, Satires, I. iii. 41–2.)

3 This clearly refers to lines in the Allusion to Horace (11, 41–3):


Of all our Modern Wits none seems to me,

Once to have toucht upon true Comedy,

But hasty Shadwel, and slow Wicherley.

Dryden misinterprets the passage, however. Rochester is referring to Shadwell’s brisk and Wycherley’s meagre output. Dryden

refers to Shadwell’s slowness in Mac Flecknoe, 11. 149–50.

4 ‘lazy hounds that are bald with chronic mange, and who lick the edges of a dry lamp, will be called “Leopard”, “Tiger”, “Lion”, or

any other animal in the world that roars more fiercely.’ (Juvenal, Satires, vii. 34–7.)



Vellem in amicitia sic erraremus; et isti2

Errori nomen virtus posuisset honestum.

But he would never have allowed him to have called a slow man hasty, or a hasty writer a slow drudge,3 as Juvenal

explains it

—Canibus pigris, scabieque vetusta4

—Lævibus, et siccæ lambentibus ora lucernæ,

Nomen erit, Pardus, Tigris, Leo; si quid adhuc est

Quod fremit in terris violentius.

(The Dramatic Works of John Dryden, ed. Scott-Saintsbury, v, 331–7)



Francis Fane on Rochester

1675; 1680

A grandson of Francis Fane, first Earl of Westmorland, Fane, after trying his hand at writing plays, retired

to his country estate. He wrote in 1686 that he had ‘long since devoted himself to a country life,…wanting

patience to attend the leasure of the stage’. He seems to have known Rochester personally. He died in or

about 1689.

(a) From the Dedication to Rochester of Love in the Dark:

All Poems in their Dedications, ought to return to your Lordship, as all Rivers to the Sea, from whose depth and

saltness they are season’d and supply’d: none of them ever coming to your Lordship’s hands, without receiving some of

the rich Tinctures of your unerring Judgement, and running with much more clearness, having past so fine a strainer. If

this receives any approbation in the World, I must ascribe it principally to your Lordship’s partial recommendations,

and impartial corrections. Your Lordship is the first person in the World, by whom I have been Highly and Heroically

oblig’d: and if the first Impressions of Gratitude, may be as strong and captivating, as those of the first Love; they must

needs be much more lasting and immutable, in my Passion for your Lordship; since the World affords no object so high

and admirable, ever to work a change; your Lordship being the most accomplish’d of all Mankind, that I ever knew,

read, or heard of, by Humane testimony. Eminent Beings are as hard to be believ’d, as they are to be understood and no

Man can speak Truth of your Lordship’s Superlative Endowments, without suspicion of Flattery; nor conceal them

without conviction of Ignorance. That famous Temper of weight, so rarely found in Bodies, appears most Illustriously in

your Lordship’s Mind. Judgement, and Fancy, seldom concurring in other Men, in any small proportion, are possest by

your Lordship in the highest degree that ever was allow’d the Soul of Man; yet with so happy and harmonious a

mixture, that neither of them predominate nor usurp; but, like two peaceful Col leagues in Empire, agree within

themselves, and govern the rest of the World, acting in your Lordship’s noble, and elevated Mind, like Fire and Air in

the upper Region, whose Purity makes them easily convertible, and mutually assistant, whilst they are always

quarrelling and preying upon each other in gross inferior Bodies. What was favourably said of my Lord Bacon in his

time, may much more justly be affirmed of your Lordship, in yours; that if ever there were a beam of Knowledge,

immediately deriv’d from God, upon any Man, since the Creation, there is one upon your self. Others, by wearisome

steps, and regular gradations, climb up to Knowledge; your Lordship is flown up to the top of the Hill: you are an

Enthusiast in Wit; a Poet and Philosopher by Revelation; and have already in your tender Age, set out such new and

glorious Lights in Poetry, yet these so orthodox and Unquestionable, that all the Heroes of Antiquity, must submit, or

Homer and Virgil be judg’d Nonconformists. For my part, I account it one of the great felicities of my life, to have liv’d

in your age; but much greater, to have had access to your Person, and to have been cherish’d and enlighten’d by the

influences, and irradiations of so great a Luminary. For I must confess, I never return from your Lordship’s most Charming

and Instructive Conversation, but I am inspir’d with a new Genius, and improv’d in all those Sciences I ever coveted the



knowledge of: I find my self not only a better Poet, a better Philosopher; but much more than these, a better Christian:

your Lordship’s miraculous Wit, and intellectual pow’rs being the greatest Argument that ever I could meet with, for

the immateriality of the Soul, they being the highest exaltation of humane Nature; and, under Divine Authority, much

more convincing to suspicious Reason, than all the Pedantick proofs of the most Learnedly peevish Disputants; so that, I

hope, I shall be oblig’d to your Lordship, not only for my Reputation in this World, but my future Happiness in the

next. (Love in the Dark (1675) Sigg. A 2r-A 3r.)

(b) To the late Earl of Rochester, upon the report of His Sickness in Town, being newly Recovered by His Lordship’s

advice in the Country. In Allusion to the Ode of Horace.

What means this tumult in my Veins,

These eccho’d Groans and Sympathetick pains?

Ah cruel Lord! Why do’st thou wound

Him whom so late thy pity found?

Or did’st thou spare my Life, that I

A nobler Death for thee should dy?

It is not possible, nor just,

The little Off-springs of the dust,

The Sun extinct should him survive,

By whose kind beams they’re kept alive;

Oh! rather let me dy before,

Perish Ten Thousand more,

To spy the Bounds of th’ indiscover’d shore,

Though with less hopes than they that sought the Indian Oar.

How dar’st thou bold disease surprize

The joy, and Glory of our eyes;

Mankind’s delight, wits utmost Goal,

Heav’ns Masterpiece, spirit of Soul:

We need thee not to make his Fame more bright

Officious Death, to lesser Stars requir’d,

Who never shine out clear, but in thy Night.

He is all Flame, all Light,

And lives unenvy’d, though by all admir’d:

Free as the Angels in their blest Estate,

What none can reach, there’s none will emulate.

Quench Feaver, quench thy too presumtuous heat,

Tremble to Ice at so August a name,

Or if thou need’st wilt be by mischiefs great,

Fire on, and set the World on Flame.

Had credulous England, fond of Foreign News,

And from remotest parts the World above,

Receiv’d the Indian Faith, which none else does refuse,

Did Men believe, that after their remove

From Earth, they should enjoy the Friends they Love;

With all their Wit, their Rhetorick, and sense,


Which with immortal ease they could dispence:

What Crowds would leap into his Funeral Pile,

London would desert, Kingless be the Isle;

The Strand instead of Men, would Acrons yield

Whitehall a Meadow be, th’ Exchange a Field.

(Poems by Several Hands, collected by Nahum Tate (1685), pp. 11–13)



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