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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

III. Political and Ecclesiastical Satire

§ 9. Dialogues

Next to these sham dramatic poems we may notice the dialogues, of which Marvell’s Dialogue between two Horses (1675) is justly celebrated. The witty humour of the piece blends well with an only too serious political indictment of Charles and his brother, and we may excuse the doggerel lilting metre as an echo of the clumsy canter of his brass and marble horses. Rochester, too, wrote a short dialogue, The Dispute, on the duke of York’s conversion to Catholicism, which contains his accustomed rankling sting. Curiously enough, there is a satire or two, consisting of alternate recriminations between the duchess of Portsmouth and Nell Gwynn (1682), conducted much to the advantage of the English and “protestant” mistress: but, in this species, the palm should be assigned to the octosyllabic Dialogue between James II and his Italian queen which is replete with vulgar humour.

Scarcely to be distinguished from the dialogues is the illdefined class of squibs. Their metres are varied. Some are lyric in character and form a link between compositions intended for reading and ballads intended for singing: some are in octosyllabic lines of a Hudibrastic kind. Indeed, although they go naturally together, it is hard to give a reason for thus grouping them; except that invective and indignation are markedly subordinate in them to the wish to ridicule and scoff. “Eminent hands,” as the booksellers would have said, were engaged in their production. Marvell made a striking success of the spirited ballad quatrains of his Poem on the Statue in Stocks-market (1672). Each stanza contains a separate conceit on the offering of a wealthy Londoner to Charles II, a statue of Sobieski (of all people) being altered for the purpose to suit Charles’s features. As usual with Marvell, the chief political grievances of the day are catalogued, but the prevailing tone of the indictment is one of witty pleasantry. Two of Rochester’s poems also may come under this heading, The History of Insipids (1676), which is the least revolting among the effusions said to have led to his banishment from court. Its cold and effective malice was, at least, dangerous enough to cause some royal displeasure. Later, he displayed the same mordant wit against the whigs in the epigrammatic Commons’ Petition to the King (1679). Still better as a work of art, and not so envenomed in substance, is the lampoon On the Young Statesmen (1680), otherwise, the “Chits,” who were Charles II’s chief advisers at the close of his reign. If not by Dryden, as the publishers claimed, the polish of this squib seems to indicate Rochester grown ripe. Two octosyllabic pieces also demand notice, one, On the Duchess of Portsmouth’s Picture (1682), for its wrathful pungency, the other, a parody of King James’s Declaration (1692), by Sir Fleetwood Sheppard, for its tolerant victorious humour. Lastly comes a group of poems in three-lined single-rimed stanzas. The metre was peculiarly suitable for sententious argument or a string of accusations, and some excellent talent went to their production. Instances of their effective employment may be seen in The Melancholy Complaint of Dr. Titus Oates, and in The Parliament dissolved at Oxford (1681), a pointed, if unmetrical, production.

Along with literary satires, attempts, in this nature, of the dramatist Thomas Otway may be ranked. Their form is somewhat unusual, and, in consequence, they do not easily fall into any of the groups distinguished above. The earlier is a Pindaric ode, The Poet’s Complaint to his Muse, written when, in 1679, the duke of York was banished, in consequence of the agitation about the Popish plot. Very long, hyperbolical, straggling and unmelodious, the Complaint is not an attractive piece of writing; but the name of its author and the furious attack on the potent “Libell,” who, of course, is a whig satirist only, lend it interest. Otway’s later satiric effort, the comic scenes in Venice Preserved (1682), where senator Antonio represents Shaftesbury, only shows to what depths of ineptitude he could descend; of the power to caricature he seems devoid.