The Political Rhetoric of the Translations
Most of Dryden's verse between 1692 and 1700 is in his translations: the Satires, Virgil , and Fables , and two miscellanies, Examen Poeticum and The Annual Miscellany: For the Year 1694 , were published in these years. The political innuendos in these works have already been extensively annotated; I wish to comment only on their function, which has I think been often mistaken. Most critics have scanned Fables in search of unifying themes, so that they may claim that Dryden has created from these borrowed fragments an original "great work." Judith Sloman has taken this argument furthest, claiming that Dryden "imposes his own personality" on the translations, and uses them as "a form of oblique self-expression." On the contrary, Dryden is, I think, interested in rhetoric rather than self-expression and is attracted to translation because it allows him the rhetorical advantage of appearing before his public as a poet and only a poet. Plot, character, setting—everything that might be susceptible to a political interpretation, or imply a view of the world based on controversial principles—was the work of another poet in another age; Dryden
ostensibly contributed only the diction and the versification, the purely stylistic qualities for which he was almost universally admired. He did sometimes alter his originals in such a manner as to make them appropriate to his own concerns, but with rare exceptions he is careful not to draw attention to himself: he consistently presents these poems as the work of others. In his prose Dryden admits that his translations are not literal, but in doing so he repeatedly assures us that his alterations are purely stylistic. The translators of the Satires have "follow'd our Authors, at greater distance" than Holiday and Stapylton, for "A Noble Authour wou'd not be persu'd too close by a Translator. We lose his Spirit, when we think to take his Body. The grosser Part remains with us, but the Soul is flown away, in some Noble Expression or delicate turn of Words, or Thought" (Discourse , pp. 87–88). Dryden's contribution consists of noble expressions and delicate turns. Similarly in the Dedication of Examen Poeticum he contrasts his translation of Ovid to that of Sandys, who "leaves him Prose, where he found him Verse" (p. 370). Of his Virgil he tells us that his additions "will seem (at least I have Vanity to think so,) not stuck into him, but growing out of him." They are necessary because "Modern Tongues, have more Articles and Pronouns, besides signs of Tenses and Cases" than the Latin. Dryden is forced to "forsake the Brevity" in order to "pursue the Excellence" of Virgil's poetry (p. 1054). The additions to Chaucer in Fables are to be explained by "want of Words in the Beginning of our Language" to give Chaucer's thoughts "their true Lustre" (p. 1457). Indeed, throughout the Preface he implies for his translations a transparency through which the originals are plainly visible: he invites the reader to confirm Chaucer's superiority to Boccaccio by comparing his own translations of a passage from each on the same subject.
Dryden, then, claims responsibility in his translations only for poetic style; social and political criticism is always the work of his originals. If his ideas happen to coincide with theirs, we may attribute the similarity to the fact that poets preserve the same function in all ages. Thus Chaucer's attack on the clergy is part of a general poetic responsibility:
I cannot blame him for inveighing so sharply against the Vices of the Clergy in his Age: Their Pride, their Ambition, their Pomp, their Av-
arice, their Worldly Interest, deserv'd the Lashes which he gave them, both in that, and in most of his Canterbury Tales : Neither has his Contemporary Boccace , spar'd them. Yet both those Poets liv'd in much esteem, with good and holy Men in Orders: For the Scandal which is given by particular Priests, reflects not on the Sacred Function. Chaucer 's Monk , his Chanon , and his Fryar , took not from the Character of his Good Parson . A Satyrical Poet is the Check of the Laymen, on bad Priests.
Dryden's translations invite us to see his views on politics in his own time as the views of all poets on politics in all ages. His topical innuendos against standing armies, mob rule, war and taxes, tyranny and usurpation, are almost always expressed as general observations applicable equally to Augustan Rome, Renaissance Italy, and ancient and modern England.
Further, these observations arise incidentally from works that vary widely in their subjects and purposes; whatever their immediate ends, Dryden's poets frequently find occasion for remarks on political subjects. In the Virgil , for example, the Pastorals, Georgics , and Aeneis all include versions of usurpation. Threatened with dispossession by army veterans, one of Virgil's shepherds asks,
Or shall we mount again the Rural Throne,
And rule the Country Kingdoms, once our own!
In the third Georgic , the behavior of a bull competing for a heifer is described in the same terms:
Often he turns his Eyes, and, with a groan,
Surveys the pleasing Kingdoms, once his own.
Aeneas finds in hell
. . . They, who Brothers better Claim disown,
Expel their Parents, and usurp the Throne.
The mob that sells its allegiance appears in a wide variety of contexts:
How goes the Mob, (for that's a Mighty thing?)
When the King's Trump, the Mob is for the King
(Juvenal, Satyr X, 11. 112–113)
Hosts of Deserters, who their Honour sold,
And basely broke their Faith, for Bribes of Gold.
(Aeneis VI, ll. 832–833)
When Churls rebel against their Native Prince,
I arm their Hands, and furnish the Pretence;
And housing in the Lion's hateful Sign,
Bought Senates, and deserting Troops are mine.
(Palamon and Arcite , III.408–411)
So loyal Subjects often seize their Prince,
Forc'd (for his Good) to seeming Violence,
Yet mean his sacred Person not the least Offence.
(The Cock and the Fox , ll. 790–792)
This was the Way to thrive in Peace and War;
To pay his Army, and fresh Whores to bring:
Who wou'd not fight for such a gracious King!
(Ovid's Art of Love , Book I, ll. 153–155)
Whether concerned to describe the vanity of ambition, the torments of the damned, the blandishments of a flatterer, the powers of a god, or the processes of courtship, Dryden's poets cannot help but remark the venality of those who support illegitimate power for pay.
This sense of universal agreement among poets on political subjects emerges most clearly in Fables , where very different poems are thrown together without apparent order. Recent critics attempting to find thematic unity in this apparently random collection have, I think, missed the point entirely. The very miscellaneousness of the collection has an important rhetorical purpose. The thematic incoherence of Fables suggests even more powerfully than the prose Dryden's communion with poets of all ages and all kinds. Whatever their immediate object, Dryden's authors cannot seem to avoid manifesting their common views on such matters as tyranny and corruption. For example, we can trace through the collection a series of related observations on kings and the use of power that reflect clearly, though apparently by accident, on William and his supporters. Palamon and Arcite contains incidental observations on court corruption, on the king's neglect of the wor-
thy, and on the illegitimate use of force. Arcite invites Palamon to compete with him for Emily "as Courtiers . . . justle for a Grant" (I.346); Dryden makes Chaucer contrast Theseus's patronage of the arts with "Princes" who "now their poets should regard, / But few can write, and fewer can reward" (II.661–662); Palamon's defeat occasions a reflection on power and virtue:
The brave Man seeks not popular Applause,
Nor overpow'r'd with Arms, deserts his Cause;
Unsham'd, though foil'd, he does the best he can;
Force is of Brutes, but Honour is of Man.
The same three topics recur throughout Fables in the form of general observations suggested by the action. In Sigismonda and Guiscardo , Tancred has his guards murder his daughter's lover; and Dryden makes Boccaccio generalize on the acquisition of power through force and purchase:
For, (Slaves to Pay)
What Kings decree, the Soldier must obey:
Wag'd against Foes; and, when the Wars are o'er,
Fit only to maintain Despotick Pow'r:
Dang'rous to Freedom, and desir'd alone
By Kings, who seek an Arbitrary Throne.
Achilles's attack on Agamemnon in The First Book of the Illias is also given a generalized application:
'Tis Death to fight; but Kingly to controul.
Lord-like at ease, with arbitrary Pow'r
To peel the Chiefs, the People to devour.
In The Cock and the Fox , Chaucer is made to generalize from Reynard's flattery to all princes' patronage of unworthy poets and neglect of worthy ones:
Ye Princes rais'd by Poets to the Gods,
And Alexander'd up in lying Odes,
Believe not ev'ry flatt'ring Knave's report,
There's many a Reynard lurking in the Court;
And he shall be receiv'd with more regard
And list'ned to, than modest Truth is heard.
The processes of love in Cymon and Iphigenia are compared with those of conquering kings:
my Love disdains the Laws,
And like a King by Conquest gains his Cause:
When Arms take place, all other Pleas are vain,
Love taught me Force, and Force shall Love maintain.
All of these clearly reflect on William, but they are cast as general observations on the human condition that occur incidentally to various poets in various contexts. Dryden claims responsibility for them only as a poet, giving delicate turns and noble expression in his native language to a common store of political observation that transcends particular ages and nations.