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seldom find him making love in any
of his scenes, or endeavouring to move the passions, his genius was too sullen and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he came after those who performed both to such a height. Humour was his proper sphere, and in that he delighted most to represent mechanics.
He was deeply conversant in the antients, both Greek and Latin, and he borrowed boldly from them : there is scarce a poet or historian among the Roman authors of those times whom he has not translated in Sejanus and Cataline. But he has done his robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a monarch, and what would be theft in other poets, 'is only vietory in him. With the spoils of these writers he so represents old Rome to us, in its rites, ceremonies, and customs, that if one of their poets had written either of his tragedies we had seen less of it than in him. If there was any fault in bis language, it was that he weaved it too closely and laboriously, in his comedies especially: perhaps too he did a little too much Romanize our tongue, leaving the
words which he translated almost as much Latin . as he found them: wherein, though he learnedly
followed their language, he did not enough comply with the idiom of ours.
If I would compare him with Shakespeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit*. Shakespeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets, Jonson the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare. To conclude of him; as he has given us the most correct plays, so in the precepts which he has laid down in his Discoveries, we have as many and profitable rules for perfecting the stage, as any with which the French can furnish us.
* Wit, in the time of Dryden, was often used for genius.
SINCE I began to consider so far as to make reflections upon myself, the most early and prevailing disposition which I observed, was an inclination to seriousness. And since I considered the nature of things, and the circumstances of human life, I found I had reason to thank the kind influence of my birth, for making that my temper, which otherwise I must have been at more cost to acquire.
For though it be generally reckoned ouly as a semi-virtue, and by some as no virtue at all, yet certainly nothing is of greater advantage, both as to intellectual and moral attainments, than to be of a serious, composed, and collected spirit. If it be not itself a virtue, it is at least the soil in which the virtues naturally grow, and the most visible mark whereby to know those who are virtuous. This is that which distinguishes a man from a child, and a wise man from a fool. For as the son of Sirach observes, “A man may be known by his look, and one that has understanding by his countenance when thou meetest him.” And again, “A fool lifts up his voice with laughter, but a wise man does scarce smile a little."
There is indeed a near relation between seriousness and wisdom, and one is the most exeellent friend to the other. A man of a serious, sedate, and considerate temper, as he is always in a ready disposition for meditation (the best improvement both of knowledge and manners) so he thinks without disturbance, and enters not upon a second notion, till he is master of the first. Whereas a man of a loose, volatile, and shattered humour, thinks only by fits and starts, when the serious mood comes upon him; and even then too, if the least trifle cross his way, bis desultory fancy takes the scent, leaves the unfinished and half mangled notion, and skips away in pursuit of the new game.
Indeed, nothing excellent can be done without seriousness; and he that courts wisdom must be in earnest. For to pretend to arrange a reasonable system of thoughts with an unsettled head, is as ridiculous as to think of writing straight VOL. I.
in a jumbling coach, or, to draw an exact picture with a palsied hand. Nay, he that will hit his mark, must have a steady hand as well as a quick eye; and he that will think to any purpose, must have a fixed and composed temper, as well as quick parts.
Accordingly we find that those among the philosophic sects, who professed extraordinary eminence in wisdom or virtue, assumed also a peculiar gravity of habit, and solemnity of behaviour; and the inost sacred and mysterious rites of religion were usually performed with silence, and that not only for decency, but for advantage. Thus the Italians, with gravity of behaviour, are also remarkable for uncommon politeness and ingenuity, especially for poetry, inusic, and painting, things which depend not only upon strength of imagination, but require also great justness of thought, and exactness of judgment. And it is a known observation of Aristotle concerning melancholy, that it promotes contemplation, and makes great wits. Thus again the discipline of silence was a considerable part of the Pythagoric institution.
But because a solemo deportment may sometimes disguise an unthinking mind, and grave, in some mens dictionaries, signifies the same as dull, Į sball define more closely wherein the true idea