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You, like the stars, not by reflection bright,
I had the Grecian poet's happiness,
Who, waving plots, found out a better way;
EPISTLE THE FIFTH.
ON HIS TRAGEDY OF
THE RIVAL QUEENS, OR ALEXANDER THE GREAT.
"THE Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great," of Nathaniel Lee, has been always deemed the most capital performance of its unfortunate author. There is nothing throughout the play that is tame or indifferent; all is either exquisitely good, or extravagantly bombastic, though some passages hover between the sublime and the ludicrous. Addison has justly remarked, that Lee's thoughts are wonderfully suited for tragedy, but frequently lost in such a crowd of words, that it is hard to see the beauty of them. There is infinite fire in his works, but so involved in smoke, that it does not appear in half its lustre."
Lee and our author lived on terms of strict friendship, and wrote, in conjunction, "Edipus," and the "Duke of Guise." Lee's madness and confinement in Bedlam are well known; as also his repartee to a coxcomb, who told him it was easy to write like a madman:-"No," answered the poet, "it is not easy to write like a madman, but it is very easy to write like a fool." Dryden elegantly apologizes, in the following verses, for the extravagance of his style of poetry. Lee's death was very melancholy: Being discharged from Bedlam, and returning by night from a tavern, in a state of intoxication, to his lodgings in Dukestreet, he fell down somewhere in Clare-Market, and was either killed by a carriage driving over him, or stifled in the snow, which was then deep. Thus died this eminent dramatic poet in the year 1691, or 1692, in the 35th year of his age.
EPISTLE THE FIFTH.
THE blast of common censure could I fear,
That mutual vouchers for our fame 'we stand,
* Our author alludes to the copy of verses addressed to him by Lee, on his drama, called the "State of Innocence," and which the reader will find in Vol. V. p. 103. Dryden expresses some apprehension, lest his friend and he should be considered as vouching for each other's genius, in the same manner that Bessus and the two Swordsmen, in "King and no King," grant certificates of each other's courage, after having been all soundly beaten and kicked by Bacurius.
"2 Swordsman. Captain, we must request your hand now to our honours.
Bessus. Yes, marry shall and then let all the world come, we are valiant to ourselves, and there's an end." Act V.
So many candidates there stand for wit,
Who took the Dutchman, and who cut the boom.*
* The person thus distinguished seems to be the gallant Sir Edward Spragge, noted for his gallantry in the two Dutch wars, and finally killed in the great battle of 11th August, 1672. In -1671, he was sent to the Mediterranean with a squadron, to chastise the Algerines. He found seven vessels belonging to these pirates, lying in the bay of Bugia, covered by the fire of a castle and forts, and defended by a boom, drawn across the entrance of the bay, made of yards, top-masts, and cables, buoyed up by casks. Nevertheless, Sir Edward bore into the bay, silenced the forts, and, having broken the boom with his pinnaces, sent in a fire-ship, which effectually destroyed the Algerine squadron; a blow which was long remembered by these piratical states.
Prizes would be for lags of slowest pace,
Hard features every bungler can command;