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THE DOUBLE DISCOVERY.
Ut melius possis fallere, sume togam.-MART.
THE SPANISH FRIAR.
The Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery, is one of the best and most popular of our poet's dramatic efforts. The plot is, as Johnson remarks, particularly happy, for the coincidence and coalition of the tragic and comic plots. The grounds for this eminent critic's encomium will be found to lie more deep than appears at first sight. It was, indeed, a sufficiently obvious connection, to make the gay Lorenzo an officer of the conquering army, and attached to the person of Torrismond. This expedient could hardly have escaped the invention of the most vulgar playwright, that ever dovetailed tragedy and comedy together. The felicity-of Dryden's plot, therefore, does not consist in the ingenuity of his original conception, but in the minutely artificial strokes, by which the reader is perpetually reminded of the dependence of the one part of the play on the other. These are so frequent, and appear so very natural, that the comic plot, instead of diverting our attention from the tragic business, recals it to our mind by constant and unaffected allusion. No great event happens in the higher region of the camp or court, that has not some indirect influence upon the intrigues of Lorenzo and Elvira ; and the part which the gallant is called upon to act in the revolution that winds up the tragic interest, while it is highly in character, serves to bring the catastrophe of both parts of the play under the eye of the spectator, at one and the same time. Thus much seemed necessary to explain the felicity of combination, upon which Dryden justly valued himself, and which Johnson sanctioned by his high commendation. But, although artfully conjoined, the different departments of this tragi-comedy are separate subjects of critical remark.
The comic part of the Spanish Friar, as it gives the first title to the play, seems to claim our first attention. Indeed, some precedence is due to it in another point of view ; for, though the tragic scenes may be matched in All for Love, Don Sebastian, and else where, the Spanish Friar contains by far the most happy of Dryden's comic effusions. It has, comparatively speaking, this high claim to commendation, that, although the intrigue is licentious, according to the invariable licence of the age, the language is, in general, free from the extreme and disgusting coarseness, which our author too frequently mistook for wit, or was contented to substitute in its stead. The liveliness and even brilliancy of the
dialogue, shows that Dryden, from the stores of his imagination, could, when he pleased, command that essential requisite of comedy; and that, if he has seldom succeeded, it was only because he mistook the road, or felt difficulty in travelling it. The character of Dominic is of that broadly ludicrous nature, which was proper to the old comedy. It would be difficult to show an ordinary conception more fully brought out. He is, like Falstaff, a compound of sensuality and talent, finely varied by the professional traits with which it suited the author's purpose to adorn his character. Such an addition was, it is true, more comic than liberal; but Dryden, whose constant dislike to the clerical order glances out in many of his performances, was not likely to be scrupulous, when called upon to pourtray ono of their members in his very worst colours. To counterbalance the Friar's scandalous propensities of every sort, and to render him an object of laughter, rather than abhorrence, the author has gifted this reprobate churchman with a large portion of wit; by means of which, and by a ready presence of mind, always indicative of energy, he preserves an ascendence over the other characters, and escapes detection and disgrace, until poetical justice, and the conclusion of the play, called for his punishment. We have a natural indulgence for an amusing libertine; and, I believe, that, as most readers commiserate the disgrace of Falstaff, a few may be found to wish that Dominic's penance had been of a nature more decent and more theatrical than the poet has assigned him*From the dedication, as well as the prologue, it appears that Dryden, however contrary to his sentiments at a future period, was, at present, among those who held up to contempt and execration the character of the Roman catholic priesthood. By one anonymous lampoon, this is ascribed to a temporary desertion of the court party, in resentment for the loss, or discontinuance of his pension. This allowance, during the pressure upon the Exchequer, was, at least, irregularly paid, of which Dryden repeatedly complains, and particularly in a letter to the Earl of Rochester. But the hardship was owing entirely to the poverty of the public purse ; and, when the anonymous libeller affirms, that Dryden's pension was withdrawn, on account of his share in the Essay on Satire, he only shows that his veraci
* Collier remarks the injustice of punishing the agent of Lorenzo's vice, while he was himself brought off with flying colours. He observes, “ 'Tis not the fault which is corrected, but the priest. The author's discipline is seldom without a bias. He commouly gives the laity the pleasure of an ill action, and the clergy the punishment.” View of the Immorality and Profaner ness of the Stage, p. 100.
ty is on a level with his poverty *. The truth seems to be, that Dryden partook in some degree of the general ferment which the discovery of the Popish Plot had excited ; and we may easily suppose him to have done so without any impeachment to his monarchial tenets, since North himself admits, that at the first opening of the plot, the chiefs of the loyal party joined in the cry. Indeed, that mysterious transaction had been investigated by none more warmly than by Danby, the king's favourite minister, and a high favourer of the prerogative. Even when writing Absalom and Achitophel, our author by no means avows an absolute disbelief of the whole plot, while condemning the extraordinary exaggerations, by which it had been rendered the means of much bloodshed and persecutiont. It seems, therefore, fair to believe, that, without either betraying or disguising his own principles, he chose, as a popular subject for the drama, an attack
* To satire next thy talent was addressed,
Fell foul on all thy friends among the rest;
The Laureat, 24th October, 1678.
+ From hence began that plot, the nation's curse,
Bad in itself, but represented worse.
Believing nothing, or believing all,