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“Of dramatick immorality he did not want examples among his predecessors, or companions among his con. temporaries; but in the meanness and servility of hyperbolical adulation, I know not whether, since the days in which the Roman emperors were deified, he has been ever equalled, except by Afra Behn in an address to Eleanor Gwyn. When once he has undertaken the task of praise, he no longer retains shame in himself, nor supposes it in his patron. As many odoriferous bodies are observed to diffuse perfumes from year to year, without sensible diminution of bulk or weight, he appears never to have impoverished his mint of flattery by his expences, however lavish. He had all the forms of excellence, intel. lectual and moral, combined in his mind, with endless variation; and when he had scattered on the hero of the day the golden shower of wit and virtue, he had ready for him, whom he wished to court on the morrow, new wit and virtue with another stamp. Of this kind of meanness he never seems to decline the practice, or lament the necessity: he considers the great as entitled to encomiastick homage, and brings praise rather as a tribute than a gift, more delighted with the fertility of his invention than mortified by the prostitution of his judgment. It is indeed not certain, that on these occasions his judgment much rebelled against his interest. There are minds which easily sink into submission, that look on grandeur with undistinguishing reverence, and discover no defect where there is elevation of rank and affluence of riches."
In a conversation which I had a few years ago with the late Mr. Burke, talking of Dryden's Dedications, he observed, that the extravagant panegyricks which they contain, were the vice of the time, not of the man; that the Dedications, of almost every other writer of that period were equally loaded with flattery; and that no disgrace was annexed to such an exercise of men's talents, the contest being who should go furthest in the most graceful way, and with the best turns of expression. He added, that Butler had well illustrated the principle on which they went, where he compares their endeavours to those of the archer, who draws his arrow to the head, whether his object be a swan or a goose.—The plays, poems, and other productions which were issued from the press from the time of the Restoration to the reign of Queen Anne, fully confirm this remark.
The lines of HUDIBRAS alluded to by Mr. Burke, are these (P. II. c. i.):
“ This has been done by some, who those
“ Both of their sound and rotten sheep." Dr. Johnson, in the passage above quoted, has mentioned Afra Behn's Address to Nell Gwyn (prefixed to The Feign'd CURTIZANS, 1679,] as the highest flight of hyperbolical adulation. Perhaps the force of flattery could no further go. That panegyrick, however, though not surpassed, has been equalled in an Address to the same lady, prefixed to a scarce little volume, entitled, “ JANUA DIVORUM, or, the Lives and Histories of the Heathen Gods," &c. By Robert Whitcombe. 8vo. 1678.
On the exaggerated praises of Dedications written in what has been called the celestial style, Pope has an excellent paper in THE GUARDIAN, No. 4, March 16, 1713, at which time he was in his twenty-sixth year.
It has been the ordinary practice of the French poets, to dedicate their works of this nature to their king, especially when they have had the least encouragement to it by his approbation of them on the stage. But I confess I want the confidence to follow their example, though perhaps I have as specious pretences to it for this piece as any they can boast of; it having 'been owned in so particular a manner by his majesty, that he has graced it with the title of His play,* and thereby rescued it from the severity (that I may not say malice) of its enemies. But, though a character so high and undeserved has not raised in me the presumption to offer such a trifle to his more serious view, yet I will own the vanity to say, that after this glory which it has received from a
3 This play was acted at the King's Theatre, and first printed in quarto, in 1668. It has no Dedication.
+ See p. 202, n. 7.
sovereign prince, I could not send it to seek protection from any subject. Be this poem then sacred to him without the tedious form of a dedication, and without presuming to interrupt those hours which he is daily giving to the peace and settlement of his people.
For what else concerns this play, I would tell the reader that it is regular, according to the strictest of dramatick laws, but that it is a commendation which many of our poets now despise, and a beauty which our common audiences do not easily discern. Neither, indeed, do I value myself upon it, because with all that symmetry of parts, it may want an air and spirit, which consists in the writing, to set it off. It is a question variously disputed, whether an author may be allowed as a competent judge of his own works. As to the fabrick and contrivance of them certainly he may, for that is properly the employment of the judgment, which, as a master-builder, may determine, and that without deception, whether the work be according to the exactness of the model ; still granting him to have a perfect idea of that pattern by which he works, and that he keeps himself always constant to the discourse of his judgment, without admitting self-love, which is the false surveyor of his fancy, to intermeddle in it. These qualifications
s The author probably alludes to the frequent councils held at this time, (1668,) relative to the settlement of Ireland, at which the king was generally present.