John Dryden Essay On Translation
but, this once agreed on by both Parties, each might have recourse to it, either to prove his own advantages, or discover the failings of his Adversary.He had no sooner said this, but all desired the favor of him to give the definition of a Play; and they were the more importunate, because neither Aristotle, nor Horace, nor any other, who writ of that Subject, had ever done it.When his famous Poem first came out in the year, I have seen them reading it in the midst of Change-time; many so vehement they were at it, that they lost their bargain by the Candles ends: but what will you say, if he has been received amongst the great Ones?I can assure you he is, this day, the envy of a great person, who is Lord in the Art of Quibbling; and who does not take it well, that any man should intrude so far into his Province.” “All I would wish,” replied Crites, “is, that they who love his Writings, may still admire him, and his fellow Poet: [who does not hate Bavius—ed.] is curse sufficient.” “And farther,” added Lisideius, “I believe there is no man who writes well, but would think himself very hardly dealt with, if their Admirers should praise anything of his: [For we detest praise that comes from those we detest—ed.]” “There are so few who write well in this Age,” said Crites, “that methinks any praises should be welcome; then neither rise to the dignity of the last Age, nor to any of the Ancients; and we may cry out of the Writers of this time, with more reason than Petronius of his, [If I may be permitted to say so, you were, of all, the first to lose the old eloquence]: you have debauched the true old Poetry so far, that Nature, which is the soul of it, is not in any of your Writings.” “If your quarrel,” said Eugenius, “to those who now write, be grounded only upon your reverence to Antiquity, there is no man more ready to adore those great Greeks and Romans than I am: but on the other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the Age I live in, or so dishonorably of my own Country, as not to judge we equal the Ancients in most kinds of Poesy, and in some surpass them; neither know I any reason why I may not be as zealous for the Reputation of our Age, as we find the Ancients themselves in reference to those who lived before them.Cowley; as for the Italian, French, and Spanish Plays, I can make it evident that those who now write, surpass them; and that the Drama is wholly ours.” All of them were thus far of Eugenius’s opinion, that the sweetness of English Verse was never understood or practiced by our Fathers; even Crites himself did not much oppose it: and every one was willing to acknowledge how much our Poesy is improved, by the happiness of some Writers yet living; who first taught us to mould our thoughts into easy and significant words; to retrench the superfluities of expression, and to make our Rime so properly a part of the Verse, that it should never mislead the sense, but itself be led and governed by it.Eugenius was going to continue this Discourse, when Lisideius told him it was necessary, before they proceeded further, to take a standing measure of their Controversy; for how was it possible to be decided who writ the best Plays, before we know what a Play should be?While French plays hew closer to classical notions of drama (adhering to the unities of time, place and action), Neander steps in to support English drama precisely because of its subplots, mixture of mirth and tragedy (in tragicomedy), and spirited, multiple characters.
The group arrives at a definition of drama: Lisideius suggests that it is “Each character then speaks in turn, touching on the merits of French and English drama, continuing the debate over ancient versus modern writers, and discussing the value of the “Unities” or rules of French drama.
For you hear your Horace saying, Indignor quidquam reprehendi, non quia crassé Compositum, illepidève putetur, sed quia nuper [I bristle when something is condemned, not because it is badly or obscurely written, but just because it is new—ed.].
“But I see I am engaging in a wide dispute, where the arguments are not like to reach close on either side; for Poesy is of so large extent, and so many both of the Ancients and Moderns have done well in all kinds of it, that, in citing one against the other, we shall take up more time this Evening, than each man’s occasions will allow him: therefore I would ask Crites to what part of Poesy he would confine his Arguments, and whether he would defend the general cause of the Ancients against the Moderns, or oppose any Age of the Moderns against this of ours?
if now and then he does not offer at a Catachresis or Clevelandism, wresting and torturing a word into another meaning: In fine, if he be not one of those whom the French would call ; one that is so much a well-willer to the Satire, that he spares no man; and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, yet ought to be punished for the malice of the action, as our Witches are justly hanged because they think themselves so; and suffer deservedly for believing they did mischief, because they meant it.” “You have described him,” said Crites, “so exactly, that I am afraid to come after you with my other extremity of Poetry: He is one of those who having had some advantage of education and converse, knows better than the other what a Poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily than any man; his stile and matter are every where alike; he is the most calm, peaceable.
Writer you ever read: he never disquiets your passions with the least concernment, but still leaves you in as even a temper as he found you; he is a very Leveller in Poetry, he creeps along with ten little words in every line, and helps out his Numbers with , and all the pretty Expletives he can find, till he drags them to the end of another line; while the Sense is left tired half way behind it; he doubly starves all his Verses, first for want of thought, and then of expression; his Poetry neither has wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in Martial: [Cinna wants to seem to be a pauper; and, sure enough, he is a pauper]: He affects plainness, to cover his want of imagination: when he writes the serious way, the highest flight of his fancy is some miserable Antithesis, or seeming contradiction; and in the Comic he is still reaching at some thin conceit, the ghost of a Jest, and that too flies before him, never to be caught; these Swallows which we see before us on the Thames, are just resemblance of his wit: you may observe how near the water they stoop, how many proffers they make to dip, and yet how seldom they touch it: and when they do, ’tis but the surface: they skim over it but to catch a gnat, and then mount into the air and leave it.” “Well Gentlemen,” said Eugenius, “you may speak your pleasure of these Authors; but though I and some few more about the Town may give you a peaceable hearing, yet, assure yourselves, there are multitudes who would think you malicious and them injured: especially him who you first described; he is the very Withers of the City: they have bought more Editions of his Works than would serve to lay under all the Pies at the Lord Mayor’s Christmas.