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THE class of our English poets to which Dryden belongs is not the highest; it must be placed below the class comprising Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton; but he is the founder of his own school, and, on the whole, perhaps he may be allowed to stand at its head in the order of excellence as well as in the order of time. the least, he stands there with only Pope by his side.


John Dryden was born in 1631, it is conjectured on or about the 9th of August, at the parsonage house of Oldwinkle (or Aldwinkle) All-Saints, a village a few miles to the north-west of the town of Oundle, in Northamptonshire. The family of Dryden, or Driden, as the name used more commonly to be spelt, is traced to the county of Cumberland. John Dryden, the great-grandfather of the poet, was the first of them who settled in Northamptonshire, where he acquired the estate of Canons Ashby by marriage with Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Cope. It is said that this John

Dryden enjoyed the friendship of Erasmus, and that the illustrious scholar stood godfather to one of his sons. If so, it was probably to the eldest, who received the name of Erasmus, and who was made a baronet by James I. His third son also bore the name of Erasmus. This was the father of the poet, of another Erasmus, who eventually inherited the baronetcy and family estate, and of two more sons and ten daughters. Their mother was Mary, daughter of the Reverend Henry Pickering, who is stated to have been minister of Aldwinkle, from 1647 to 1657, when he died at the age of seventy-three. But the circumstance of Dryden having been born in the parsonage-house would seem to indicate that his maternal grandfather's incumbency had begun many years earlier than this account would make it to have done. The Reverend Henry Pickering was the younger son of a Sir Gilbert Pickering, who is said to have been in considerable favour with James I.Yet the Pickerings were furious puritans, and the Drydens also held the same principles. The families were connected otherwise as well as through the poet's mother; a sister of his father had married Sir John Pickering, the eldest brother of the minister of Aldwinkle. Sir Gilbert Pickering, son of Sir John, was one of the judges of Charles I., and was afterwards made by Cromwell Lord Chamberlain of the Household and a member of his House of Peers.

Dryden is believed to have been first sent to school at Tichmarsh, or Tickmarsh, in his native county. He was afterwards admitted a king's scholar at Westminster, under Dr. Busby; and he was still there when in 1649 he produced his first performance in verse, his poem on the Death of Henry, Lord Hastings. It was one of ninetyeight elegies on the same subject, which were all published together the following year, under the title of 'Lachrymae Musarum.'

Dryden's verses are highly curious. At his age he inevitably imitated the reigning style, which was what he himself afterwards baptized the metaphysical style of poetry originally, perhaps, a derivation from the subtleties and refinements of the scholastic philosophy, through

the medium of the punning and quibbling divines, casuists, and other prose writers of the time of Elizabeth and James-and first brought into vogue by Donne in the last age, from whom it was now perpetuated by Cleveland, Cowley, and their imitators. It caught and enveloped almost everybody as well as Dryden-writers and readers, young and old alike. Milton alone entirely

escaped; by nothing else is it shown more strikingly that his soul was like a star, and moved apart." Perhaps what put it down at last was its lucky adoption by Butler in his Hudibras, for the subject and sort of writing to which it is really appropriate. After such an example, it could not long continue to be employed in serious composition.

The truest description that can be given of Dryden's poem is to say, that it is a serious poem in the style of Hudibras. The principal difference is that the lines are of ten syllables instead of eight. The thoughts are quite as far-fetched, the images as multifarious and grotesque, as those which Butler accumulates for the purposes of satire and drollery.

Lord Hastings was cut off by small-pox, on the eve of his intended nuptials; and the verses are in part addressed to his betrothed bride. Here are some of them:

Was there no milder way but the small-pox,
The very filthiness of Pandora's box?

So many spots, like naeves on Venus' soil,
One jewel set off with so many a foil;

Blisters with pride swelled, which through's flesh did sprout,

Like rose-buds stuck i' the lily skin about.
Each little pimple had a tear in it,

To wail the fault its rising did commit;
Which, rebel-like, with its own lord at strife,
Thus made an insurrection 'gainst his life.
Or were these gems sent to adorn his skin,
The cabinet of a richer soul within?
No comet need foretell his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation.

Yet, with all its extravagance and absurdity, the poem

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