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LIFE OF DRYDEN.
JOHN DRYDEN,* the son of Erasmus Dryden, of Titchmersh, was born at the parsonage house of Oldwinkle, near Oundale, on the 9th of August, 1631. He is said to have inherited the Anabaptist religion, and an estate of two hundredt a year. He was one of the king's scholars at the Westminster institution; became a member of Trinity college, Cambridge, in 'May, 1650; was suspended a fortnight, for disobedience and contumacy, in July, 1652; and received his bachelor's degree, in January, 1653. He returned to the university, in 1656; and afterwards became a clerk to his kinsman, Sir Gilbert Pickering,—a furious puritan, who undertook to be a reformer, and became a regicide. In 1658, the Heroic Stanzas on Cromwell first introduced Dryden to public attention; and the same author, who could thus eulogize the late lord protector, found no difficulty in writing, soon after, ASTREA REDUX; a poem on the happy Restoration of his most sacred Majesty King Charles the Second.
Our poet came to London in a coarse drugget
*The old orthography was Driden. Our poet's grandfather is said to have been a schoolmaster, and a friend of Erasmus; who stood godfather to one of his sons. Scott's Dryden, vol. i. p. 22. Mr. Scott claims him as of partly Scotch descent. Ib.
Only sixty, according to Mr. Scott, vol. i. p. 30.
coat; and is said to have lodged with one Heringham, a bookseller, in the New-Exchange; for whom he wrote prefaces, and other occasional pieces. At length Sir Robert Howard rescued him from his degradation; and, not only exerted himself to promote his reputation,-but to preserve his fortune. Dryden was always attached to experimental philosophy; and his election to a membership of the Royal Society, Nov. 26, 1662, was the means of still farther enlarging the circle of his fame and of his acquaintances. In 1663, he took the stage; and, for many years, fought manfully to keep possession. His first dramatic production was the comedy of the Wild Gallant; the second, a rhyming tragedy, called the Rival Ladies, which appeared in 1664. The Indian Queen, another tragedy in rhyme, was written jointly by Dryden and Sir Robert Howard; and the Indian Emperor, written by Dryden alone, and published in 1667, was, as its title imports, a mere supplement to the Indian Queen. Our poet was, at first, a steady defender, both in theory and in practice, of dramatic rhyme; but a writer, whose avowed object is to please, cannot long maintain a contest against common sense; and, in spite of his patron, Lord Orrery, Dryden was, at last, content to suit the taste of the public, with plays in the ordinary style..
His dramatic labours were, for a short time, interrupted by the composition of the Annus Mirabilis,—the most elaborate, and, perhaps on that very account, one of the least successful, of his performances. We are particularly offended with the string of puerile conceits, by which he has contrived to destroy the sublimity of the great fire in London. First, the scattering seeds of fire are blown about,' 'big' with future flames. Next, we find it 'creeping along in a close pent room, and feeding in silence.' Now, the infant monster exalts his head upright and walks boldly' forth. In the next stanza,
it is some rich or mighty murderer,' who 'breaks his prison with gold,' and 'escapes through small outlets.' The winds, like crafty courtezans,' increase its violence by 'faintly' holding it in; but it soon leaps up,' takes a 'wide survey' of the 'neighbours,' and stalks along, nodding at every house.' The inhabitants 'run stumbling' through the streets after him; but, aided by a Belgian wind, he 'soon leaves his foes behind.' The wondering fish in shining waters gaze:' and Father Thames, after raising up his reverend head,' bethinks him of Simois' fate, and 'shrinks back to his sedgy bed.' The fire, in the mean time, wades the streets;' and, opening his wings,' and extending his hands, 'reaches across from one side to t'other.' Now, he sends forth, colonies' to take possession of some adjacent squares; and, then, dividing into 'squadrons,' one detachment, attracted by the powerful charms of gold and silver,' advances against Lombard street and the Exchange; another falls 'backward' upon the Tower; while the main body,' with the most vindictive republicanism, marches against the imperial palace.'
The Essay upon dramatic poetry was published in the same year with the Annus Mirabilis. Secret Love, a tragi-comedy, appeared in 1668; the comedy of Sir Martin Morrall, in the same year; and the Tempest, an alteration from Shakspeare, in 1670. About this time, Elkanah Settle crossed his path, with the Empress of Morocco,—a rhyming tragedy, which was acted with much applause on the theatre; was afterwards published with sculptures, and a swaggering preface; and, to fill the cup of indignities, was performed by the court ladies, at Whitehall. This was enough to make Dryden think Settle, an animal of a most deplored understanding;' and, in order to make other people think as much, he deemed it his duty to write a most scurrilous pamphlet against the poor author. His poetry is por
ridge, 'tis a receipt, 'tis a pig with a pudding in his belly, 'tis I know not what: for, certainly, never any one that pretended to write sense had the impudence before to put such stuff as this into the mouths of those that were to speak it before an audience, whom he did not take to be fools; and then to print it too.' And with sculptures and a preface! That was the unkindest cut of all.
The comedy of An Evening's Love appeared in 1671; and, in the following year, the rhyming tragedy of Tyrannic Love, with the two parts of the Conquest of Grenada;—a tragedy written in open defiance of all probability and good taste. The theatrical critics now had their turn. One Martin Clifford addressed to the author a series of Letters; in the first of which he says, 'you do live in as much ignorance and darkness as you did in the womb; your writings are like a jack-of-all-trade's shop; they have a variety, but nothing of value; and if thou art not the dullest plant-animal that ever the earth produced, all that I have conversed with are strangely mistaken in thee.' In the second, after asserting, that Almanzor is more like Pistol than Achilles, he proceeds to say, that he is strangely mistaken if he had not this very Almanzor in some disguise about this town, and passing under another name. Pr'ythee tell me true, was not this Huffcap once the Indian Emperor? and, at another time, did he not call himself Maximin? Was not Lyndaraxa once called Almenia? I mean under Montezuma, the In. dian Emperor. I protest and vow they are either the same, or so alike, that I cannot, for my heart, distinguish one from the other. You are therefore a strange unconscionable thief; thou art not content to steal from others, but dost rob thy poor wretched self too.' With so worthy an auxiliary, Settle had nothing to fear; and he accordingly took the field, with a quarto pamphlet of ninety-five pages. After abusing Dryden in detail, he at last reverts to the