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at which some have taken offence, we do permit and give leave for the time to come that all women's parts be acted by women on the stage.” For his new company Davenant remodelled his “ Siege of Rhodes," and also produced a second part, in which, instead of blank verse for the dialogue, he adopted the French use of rhymed couplets.
“In the “Siege of Rhodes,” says Morley, “ Davenant held by the extension of that theory of Hobbes's to contending nations as well as to contending men of the same country, which he had made the ground of Gondibut's ambition to subdue the world. His life was too much given to low pleasures, and he was called upon to entertain the frivolous. If Davenant could have felt with Milton that he who would excel in poetry should be himself a poem, his genius had wings to bear him higher than he ever reached. Among the musical love-passions of “The Siege of Rhodes' he was still aiming at some embodiment of his thought that the nations of Christendom failed in their work for want of unity. They let the Turks occupy Rhodes because they could not join for succour. In his dedication of the published play to the Earl of Clarendon, Davenant (referring with humour to “the great images represented in tragedy by Monsieur Corneille ') says: 'In this poem I have revived the remembrance of that desolation which was permitted by Christian princes, when they favoured the ambition of such as defended the diversity of religions (begot by the factions of learning) in Germany; whilst those who would never ad mit learning into their empire (lest it should meddle with religion, and intangle it with controversy) did make
Rhodes defenceless; which was the only fortified academy in Christendom where divinity and arms were equally professed.?”
Davenant's latest literary efforts were in an unfortunate direction—the adaptation of Shakespeare to the taste of the Court of Charles II. In these efforts he displayed not only a corrupt task, but a singular want of the dramatic instinct. He died at the age of 63, on the 7th of April, 1668.
In another chapter we have had something to say of the cause of Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset. Among the poets he claims notice as one of the earliest of our writers of society verse; and probably no English Anthologies will ever fail to include those bright, brisk stanzas, beginning :
"To all you Ladies now at land
We men at sea indite ;
How hard it is to write:
We must implore to write to you." The fame they enjoyed well deserved their absolute and genuine excellence; but probably owes something to the alleged romantic circumstances of their composition. They are entitled a “ Song written at Sea, in the First Dutch War, 1665, the Night before an Engagement,” the engagement being supposed to be the bloody battle off the coast of Suffolk, fought, on the 3rd June, between the English fleet, under the Duke of York, and the Dutch under Opdam. But from the diary of Pepys it is evident that they were written six months before this great sea fight, and their connection with it was an invention of the poet Prior. As a matter of fact, the fifth stanza disposes of the “ night before the battle” theory :
“Should foggy Opdam chance to know
Our sad and dismal story,
And quit their fort at Goree,
From men who've left their hearts behind ?" The Earl's literary performance was not equal to his literary promise. He had a fine taste, much skill in composition, and abundant leisure; but he accomplished little. A few satires, more remarkable for violence than vigour, and a few graceful songs, are all that bear his name. When Prior asserts that, “ there is a lustre in his verses like that of the sun in Claude Lorraine's landscapes,” his language is that of a friend, not of a critic. All that can truly be said of them is that neither in polish nor point are they deficient. A characteristic specimen of Lord Dorset's verse, and of the kind of verse that pleased his contemporaries, is found in the following song:
“Dorinda's sparkling wit and eyes
United cast too fierce a light,
Pains not the heart, bu hurts the sight.
Smooth are his looks, and soft his pace;
That runs his link full in your face.” Lord Dorset was a generous patron of literature, and literary men, who, by the way, have never fared so well in England as during the latter half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries. He assisted almost all the poets of his time, from Waller to Pope, and counted among his intimates and friends “ glorious John ” and “Matt Prior." His clear judgment recognised the
trenchant wit and profuse power of Butler's “Hudibras,” which he helped to make popular at Court. He loved to gather round him a brilliant circle of men of letters at Knowle, his seat near Sevenoaks, where Shadwell wrote his best comedy. A pleasant story is told of one of their symposia, whereat it had been agreed that each person present should write an impromptu, and that Dryden should decide which was the best. While the others were laboriously cudgelling their brains, Dorset penned only a line or two, and threw his paper towards the judge, who, on reading it, easily obtained the assent of the company to his decision in its favour. For it ran thus :-“I promise to pay Mr. John Dryden, or order, £500 on demand. DORSET.” This was a golden impromptu, about the merits of which there could be no mistake.
Pope speaks of this accomplished nobleman as “the grace of courts, the muses' pride;"* and Horace Walpole says, “ he was the first gentleman in the voluptuous court of Charles II., and in the gloomy one of King William. He had as much wit as his first master, or his contemporaries Buckingham and Rochester, without the King's want of feeling, the duke's want of principle, or the earl's want of thought.”
When Dorset became William III.’s Lord Chamberlain in 1689, one of the first acts which official duty imposed upon him was peculiarly painful to a man of his generous sympathies, a man so loyal to his humblest friends. Dryden could no longer remain poet-laureate. He was not only a Papist, but an apostate, and the country would not have him among the subjects of their Majesties.
*“ Blest courtier, who could King and country please,
Yet sacred keep his friendship and his ease.”
“He had aggravated the guilt of his apostasy by calumniating and ridiculing the Church which he had deserted. He had, it was facetiously said, treated her as the Pagan persecutors of old treated her children. He had dressed her up in the skin of a wild beast; and then baited her for the public amusement.” Accordingly, he was deprived of his place; but the bounty of Dorset bestowed on him a pension equal in amount to the salary which he had lost.* ,
It must be owned that the aristocracy of seventeenth century England was, whatever its faults, an aristocracy of culture; its members loved literature with a generous affection, cherished men of letters with a fervour which had no humiliation in it, and themselves wooed the Muse with ardour and not wholly without success.† Among these noble poets I own to a particular respect for Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon, upon whom Pope has bestowed no common eulogium :
"In all Charles's days
Roscommon only boasts unspotted lays.” His judgment was sound and clear, his taste accurate, and he wrote with ease and smoothness, if not with any degree of fervour or with any of the passion of genius. The nephew and godson of the great Earl of Strafford, he
* An ill-natured allusion to Dryden's reception of this beneficence occurs in Blackmore's ponderous “Prince Arthur” :
“Sakil's high roof, the Museg' palace, rung
Dispised the flatterer, but the poet fed.” “ Sakil ” of course is Sackville; and “ Laurus" Dryden,-either in allu. sion to the lost Laureateship, or as a translation of his celebrated nickname Bayes.
+ So Lord Mulgrave wrote: “Without his song no fop is to be found,”—but all the singers were not fops.