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“Aureng-Zebe," or the Ornament of the Throne, for such is the interpretation of his name, was the last descendant of Timur, who enjoyed the plenitude of authority originally vested in the Emperor of India. His father, Sha-Jehan, had four sons, to each of whom he delegated the command of a province. Dar-Sha, the eldest, superintended the district of Delhi, and remained near his father's person; Sultan-Sujah was governor of Bengal, AurengZebe of the Decan, and Morat Bakshi of Guzerat. It happened, that Sha-Jehan being exhausted by the excesses of the haram, a report of his death became current in the provinces, and proved the signal for insurrection and discord among his children. Morat Bakshi possessed himself of Surat, after a long siege, and Sultan-Sujah having declared himself independent in Bengal, advanced as far as Lahor, with a large army. Dara-Sha, the legitimate successor of the crown, was the only son of Sha-Jehan, who preferred filial duty to the prospect of aggrandisement. He despatched an army against Sultan-Sujah, checked his progress, and compelled him to retreat. But Aureng-Zebe, the third and most wily of the brethren, had united his forces to those of Morat Bakshi, and advancing against Dara-Sha, totally defeated him, and dissipated his army. Aureng-Zebe availed himself of the military reputation and treasures, acquired by his success, to seduce the forces of Morat Bakshi, whom he had pretended to assist, and, seizing upon his person at a banquet, imprisoned him in a strong fortress. Meanwhile, he advanced towards Agra, where his father had sought refuge, still affecting to believe that the old Emperor was dead. The more pains Sha-Jehan took to contradict this report, the more obstinate was Aureng-Zebe in refusing to believe that he was still alive. And, although the Emperor despatched his most confidential servants to assure his dutiful son that he was yet in being, the incredulity of AurengZebe could only be removed by a personal interview, the issue of which was Sha-Jehan's imprisonment and speedy death. During these transactions, Dara-Sha, who, after his defeat, had fled with his treasures to Lahor, again assembled an army, and advanced against the conqueror; but, being deserted by his allies, defeated by Aureng-Zebe, and betrayed by an Omrah, whom he trusted
in his flight, he was delivered up to his brother, and by his command assassinated. Aureng-Zebe now assumed the throne, and advanced against Sultan-Sujah, his sole remaining brother; he seduced his chief commanders, routed the forces who remained faithful, and drove him out of Bengal into the Pagan countries adjacent, where, after several adventures, he perished miserably in the mountains. Aureng-Zebe also murdered one or two nephews, and a few other near relations; but, in expiation of his complicated crimes, renounced the use of flesh, fish, and wine, living only upon barley-bread, vegetables, and confections, although scrupling no excesses by which he could extend and strengthen his usurped power.*
Dr Johnson has supposed, that, in assuming for his subject a living prince, Dryden incurred some risk; as, should AurengZebe have learned and resented the freedom, our Indian trade was exposed to the consequences of his displeasure. It may, however, be safely doubted, whether a monarch, who had actually performed the achievements above narrated, would have been scandalized by those imputed to him in the text. In other re spects, the distance and obscurity of the events gave a poet the same authority over them, as if they had occurred in the annals of past ages; a circumstance in which Dryden's age widely dif fered from ours, when so much has our intimacy increased with the Oriental world, that the transactions of Delhi are almost as familiar to us as those of Paris.
The tragedy of "Aureng-Zebe" is introduced by the poet's de claration in the prologue, that his taste for heroic plays was now upon the wane:
But he has now another taste of wit;
And, to confess a truth, though out of time,
Agreeably to what might be expected from this declaration, the verse used in "Aureng-Zebe" is of that kind which may be most easily applied to the purposes of ordinary dialogue. There is much less of ornate structure and emphatic swell, than occurs in the speeches of Almanzor and Maximin; and Dryden, though late, seems to have at length discovered, that the language of true passion is inconsistent with that regular modulation, to maintain
* Voyages de Tavernier, seconde partie; livre seconde.
which, the actor must mouth each couplet in a sort of recitative. The ease of the verse in "Aureng-Zebe," although managed with infinite address, did not escape censure. In the "just remonstrance of affronted That," transmitted to the Spectator, the offended conjunction is made to plead, "What great advantages was I of to Mr Dryden, in his Indian Emperor ?'
You force me still to answer you in that,
"And what a poor figure would Mr Bayes have made, without his Egad, and all that?" But, by means of this easy flow of versification, in which the rhime is sometimes almost lost by the pause} being transferred to the middle of the line, Dryden, in some measure, indemnified himself for his confinement, and, at least, muffled the clank of his fetters. Still, however, neither the kind of verse, nor perhaps the poet himself, were formed for expressing rapid and ardent dialogue; and the beauties of "Aureng-Zebe" will be found chiefly to consist in strains of didactic morality, or solemn meditation. The passage, descriptive of life, has been distinguished by all the critics, down to Dr Johnson;
Aur. When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat
Nor is the answer of Nourmahal inferior in beauty:
Nour. 'Tis not for nothing that we life pursue;
It might be difficult to point out a passage in English poetry, in which so common and melancholy a truth is expressed in such beautiful verse, varied with such just illustration. The declama
tion on virtue, also, has great merit, though, perhaps, not equal to that on the vanity of life:
Aur. How vain is virtue, which directs our ways
She trusts her balance, and neglects her sword.
To this account may be added the following passage from Davies' "Dramatic Miscellanies."
"Dryden's last and most perfect rhiming tragedy was 'AurengZebe. In this play, the passions are strongly depicted, the characters well discriminated, and the diction more familiar and dramatic than in any of his preceding pieces. Hart and Mohun greatly distinguished themselves in the characters of Aureng-Zebe, and the Old Emperor. Mrs Marshall was admired in Nourmahal, and Kynaston has been much extolled by Cibber, for his happy expression of the arrogant and savage fierceness in Morat. Booth, in some part of this character, says the same critical historian, was too tame, from an apprehension of raising the mirth of the audience improperly.
"Though I pay great deference to Cibber's judgment, yet I am not sure whether Booth was not in the right. And I cannot help approving the answer which this actor gave to one, who told him he was surprised, that he neglected to give a spirited turn to the passage in question:
Nour. "Twill not be safe to let him live an hour.
'Sir,' said Booth, it was not through negligence, but by design, that I gave no spirit to that ludicrous bounce of Morat. I know very well, that a laugh of approbation may be obtained from the understanding few, but there is nothing more dangerous than exciting the laugh of simpletons, who know not where to stop. The majority is not the wisest part of the audience, and therefore I will run no hazard.'
"The court greatly encouraged the play of Aureng-Zebe.' The author tells us in his dedication, that Charles II. altered an incident in the plot, and pronounced it to be the best of all Dry