Page:Notes and Queries - Series 11 - Volume 9.djvu/110

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104


NOTES AND QUERIES. [ii s. ix. FEB. 7, i9u.


Apart from Dryden's critical remarks, which are very favourable to Polybius, there are four passages of special interest to the student of Dryden.

1. One is a reference (p. 32) to his boy- liood, of which so little is known.

" I had read him," he says, speaking of Polybius, 41 in English with the pleasure of a Boy, before I was ten years of Age ; and yet even then, had some dark Notions of the prudence with which he con- ducted his design ; particularly in making me know, and almost see the places where such and such Actions were perform 'd. This was the first distinction which I was then capable of making, betwixt him and other Historians, which I read early."

2. The second passage (p. 44) is a reference to " our Prognosticating Almanacks " and

" the foretelling of Comets and Coruscations in the Air, which seldom happen at the times assigu'd by our Astrologers, and almost always fail in their Events."

The remark is interesting, since it comes from a man who himself practised astrology and is generally credited with considerable belief in it. (Cf. Johnson, ' Lives of the Poets,' Chandos ed., pp. 160-61, 193; 'Annus Mirabilis,' stanzas 291, 292 ; Prologue to

  • The Wild Gallant ' ; ' Palamon and Arcite,'

i. 500, an addition to Chaucer ; ' Absalom and Achitophel,' 230 ; ' Mrs. Killigrew,' 41-3; Malone, I. i. 404-21, I. ii. 57; S.-S., xviii. 134.)

3. Thirdly, there is an allusion to the last great literary work on which he had been engaged the translation of Juvenal. Speak- ing of Casaubon, he says (p. 47) :

"He is a vehement Friend to any Author with whom he has taken any pains : and his partiality to Persius, in opposition to Juvenal, is too fresh in my memory to be forgotten."

In the ' Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire' (S.-S., xiii. 70 ff. ; Ker, ii. 69 ff.), prefixed to his Juvenal, Dryden argues in detail against Casaubon's judgment, as was duly pointed out by Scott. The Juvenal was published in October, 1692 (S.-S., xviii. 296), and as the prefatory ' Discourse ' is dated 18 Aug., 1692, we may perhaps assume that the ' Character of Polybius ' was written between that date and 25 Nov., 1692, when the Polybius was licensed.

4. When reading Polybius, says Dryden, we are ready to think ourselves engaged in a conversation with men like Cato the Censor, Laelius, Massinissa, and the two Scipios (p. 51).

" This sets me so on fire," he continues, " that

I cannot hold from breaking out with Montaign, into this expression : ' Tis just, says he, for every honest man to be content with the Government, and Liws of his native Country, without endeavouring


to alter or subvert them : but if I were to choose where I would have been born, it shou'd have been in a Commonwealth.' He indeed names Venice ; which for many reasons shou'd not be my wish : but, rather Rome in such an Age, if it were possible, as that wherein Polybiu* liv'd : or that of Sparta, whose constitution for a Republick, is by our Author compared with Rome : and to which he justly gives the Preference."

This utterance ought to be compared with what Dryden wrote nearly five years later in the ' Dedication of the ^Eneis ' (S.-S., xiv. 152 ; Ker, ii. 171 ; Malone, iii. 452). Augustus, he says, must have been aware of the significance of certain events in Roman history, such as the expulsion of the last Tarquin,

" for such are the conditions of an elective, king- dom : and I meddle not with others, being, for my own opinion, of Montaigne's principles, that an honest man ought to be contented with that form of government, and with those fundamental con- stitutions of it, which he received from his an- cestors, and under which himself was born ; though at the same time he confessed freely, that, if he could have chosen his place of birth, it should have been at Venice ; which, for many reasons, I dislike, and am better pleased to have been born an Englishman."

In printing this passage Malone (iii. 453) recollected the earlier expression of the same opinion, but was unable to give the reference, which should be to p. 266 of the same volume. Scott -Saintsbury and Ker give no note at all. George R. Noyes, the painstaking American editor of Dryden (Cambridge edition, Hough ton Mifnin Com- pany, Boston and New York, 1908), refers to Montaigne's * Essais.' iii. 9, adding that he " cannot discover that Montaigne any- where expresses the preference for Venice that Dryden attributes to him " (p. 1003). The truth seems to be that Dryden confused in his memory what Montaigne says of his friend Stephen de la Boitie at the end of book i. chap, xxvii. :

" I know, that had it beene in his choyce, he would rather have beene borne at Venice, than at Sarlac ; and good reason why." Florio's transla- tion, " Everyman " edition, i. 209. The only other passages I can find where Montaigne expresses or hints an opinion about Venice are : " Everyman " edit., i. 303 ("as free as the Duke of Venice," book i. chap. xlii. ad fin.) and 357 (" Venice, . . . .the favour which I beare," concluding sentence of book i. chap. lv.). Other passages bearing on the broader question are : "Everyman " edition, i. 11415 (" every man is contented with the place where nature hath setled him," somewhat more than half-way through book i. chap, xxii.) ; 304 (" a well ordered common -wealth," book i. chap. xlii. ad fin.);