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LIFE OF DRYDEN.
THE REVEREND JOHN MITFORD.
THE biography of Dryden was not composed by any of his contemporaries, nor were any materials collected by them which could throw light on his opinions and sentiments, which could inform us of his personal habits, or afford familiar sketches of his private and domestic character. The little that is to be found in the narratives of his life has been gleaned from occasional notices in party pamphlets, and satirical libels, or from what has incidentally been mentioned by himself. Doctor Johnson, who composed the first authentic life of our poet,* complained that nothing could be known of Dryden beyond what casual mention and uncertain tradition supplied. Since that time many mistakes have been rectified, and omissions supplied, by the diligent researches of Malone; and we are now probably in possession of all the information which it is possible to produce. Sir Walter Scott has justly founded his narrative on the facts recorded in Malone's biography; while he has taken a more comprehensive view of the genius and writings of the poet, and the influence which he exercised on the literature of the age. When we therefore consider the fairness and felicity of Johnson's critical disquisitions; the truth elicited, or errors rectified by Malone's diligence; and the lively, interesting, and instructive narrative of Scott, we may justly consider that Dryden has been fortunate in his biographers. It is to be hoped, that in the present more compendious memoir, the facts are stated with accuracy, and that the opinions on the different productions of the poet are formed with the care, and delivered with the temperance and respect which are due to the reputation of so great a writer.
JOHN DRYDEN, the poet, was the eldest son of Erasmus Driden, and Mary, daughter of the Rev. Henry Pickering. It is supposed that he was born on the 9th of August, 1631, but no
The life of Dryden, in the Biographia Britannica, preceded that by Dr. Johnson, being published In 1747-66.
diligence of inquiry has hitherto been able to discover with exactness the place or date of his birth. He has himself told us, that he was born in a village belonging to the Earl of Exeter, and A. Wood has added, that the village mentioned by Dryden was Aldwinckle, in Northamptonshire, not far from Oundle. His age is best ascertained from a passage in the preface to his fables, where, speaking of a gentleman of eighty-eight years of age, he observes that, by the mercy of God, he had already come within twenty years of that number. This preface was probably written in November, 1699, thus placing his birth in the latter end of
the year 1631. The family was originally settled in Cumberland*-a marriage of John Dryden, of Staff hill, with the daughter of Sir John Cope, in the early part of Elizabeth's reign, brought them into possession of CanonsAshby, in Northamptonshire; quently, in the reign of Charles the First, they were proprietors of the Chesterton estate in Huntingdon. John Dryden, the poet's cousin german, frequently represented that county in parliament, between 1670, and 1707.
Dryden received the earlier part of his education at the small school of Tichmarsh. He was afterwards removed to Westminster, and admitted a king's scholar, but at what period is not exactly known. He remained some years under the tuition of the venerable patriarch of schoolmasters, old Busby, was then elected to one of the scholarships of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted under the Rev. Mr. Templer, and was matriculated on the 6th of July following.
During the time he was at Westminster, he
David Driden, or Dryden, married the daughter of William Nicholson, of Staff hill, and was the great-great-grandfather of our poet."
↑ A. Wood says, that John Dryden was a schoolmaster, and that the great Erasmus stood godfather for one of his sons. He appears to have been a puritan; in his will, he bequeaths his soul to his Creator, with this singular expression,- The Holy Ghost assuring my spirit that I am the elect of God. These puritanical principles descended to his family.
translated the third Satire of Persius, a task imposed upon him by Busby, it is said, from a conviction that Dryden possessed talents equal to the difficulty of the subject. In 1649, he joined some other poets in a volume called Tears of the Muses, or the death of Henry, Lord Hastings.' His lines are uncouth, and rugged in their measure; they have the forced conceit, unnatural thoughts, and false wit of the time, which Donne and Cowley had borrowed from Jonson and rendered fashionable; -but they are not wanting in sense or cleverness; and are curious in their early display of the native bent and disposition of Dryden's mind. He could not restrain himself from ar
gument and satire, on a subject that would have induced most youthful poets to luxuriate in elegiac complaints, and to indulge themselves in florid descriptions of departed excellence; more especially to enlarge upon that incident which gave a romantic interest to the death of Hastings; its taking place a day previous to that which had been designed for his marriage: the names of Marvell, Denham, and Cotton are found in the list of contributors, and R. Brown was, I believe, the collector of the volume.
Some commendatory verses were prefixed by Dryden to the poems of John Hoddesden, in 1650, which Malone has inserted in his life. The four lines which I now extract, give no promise of the correct car, or command of language, that was hereafter to give such harmony and variety to the English couplet, as no succeeding poets have ever excelled, and even Pope himself scarcely hoped to rival:
And, making heaven thy aim, hast had the grace To look the sun of Righteousness i' th' face, What may we hope, if thou goest on thus fast, Scriptures at first, enthusiasms at last.
During his residence at college, nothing concerning him has been recorded, but that he suffered a temporary disgrace for disobedience and contumacy.* His name does not appear in the list of the contributors to the verses which the university composed upon public occasions; he obtained no fellowship, but he took his bachelor's degree at the regular time in January, 1653, and was M. A., by dispensation, in 1657. Malone accounts for his not contribut
Malone has given the order for putting Dryden out of commons, from the Conclusion Book, in Trinity College, see p. 221. That J. Dryden be put out of commons for a fortnight, at least; and that he goe not out of the college, excepting to sermons, without express leave from the master, or vicemaster; and that at the end of the fortnight, he read a confession of his crime, in the hall, at dinner time, at three fellowes table.'
ing to the Oliva Pacis, in 1654, from his being absent from college, to attend his father in his illness. Owing to some cause of dislike, with which we are not acquainted, he never in after life mentioned his university with affection or respect. In one of his late prologues, a contrast unfavourable to Cambridge is thus strongly portrayed:
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be,
That this compliment to Oxford was as sincere as it was elegant, has been doubted or denied by Dryden's contemporaries; and he is accused of having ridiculed, among the wits in town, that learning which, on the Banks of Isis, he had mentioned with reverence and esteem; but the charge, I believe, is unfounded; amid the poetical and political squabbles, petty intrigues, libels, lampoons, and satires of the time, it is not safe to take assertion for truth.
By the death of his father, our poet succeeded to an estate in Blakerly, in Northamptonshire. Two thirds of the whole were devised to him, worth about 60l. a year, and one third to the widow for the term of her life. Ten sisters, and his three brothers, were provided from a separate bequest of about 12007. old gentleman is supposed to have been a zealous and severe presbyterian ;-some of Dryden's political adversaries asserted that his family were anabaptists, but it is reasonably supposed that the accusation was one incapable of proof, and that the term of bristled baptist' was a calumny, invented by those whose cnmity was too bitter to be always accompanied by truth.
Dryden had now nearly attained his twentyfourth year, and was in possession of his patrimony; yet he appears without reluctance to have retired to the restraints and seclusion or an academic life. He had a cousin, Honor Driden, who was a rich and celebrated beauty. The youthful poet was attracted by these combined charms, and paid, though unsuccessfully, his addresses to her. She sent him a present of a silver inkstand, which he received from her fair hand,' and which called forth, in 1655, the next slight specimen of his poetical powers.* Here he runs a parallel between the excellen
* In Malone's note on the date of this letter, is a highly amusing instance of his persevering and mi. nute exactness. The lady had erased the two latter figures, 16(55,) lest they should discover her age, but Malone, by viewing them through a microscope, rendered her caution vain, and convicted her of be ing 18. Dryden's Prose W. ii. p. 3.
LIFE OF DRYDEN.
cies of his fair Valentine,' and the properties which were subsequently joined to those of of sealing wax:
You fairest nymph are wax. Oh! may you be As well in softness as in purity,
Till fate and your own happy choice reveal Whom you so far shall bless to make your seal.
Having now resided seven years at Cambridge, he removed to London about the middle of the year 1687. That he was obliged to quit the university, from having traduced the son of a nobleman in a libel, is supposed to be nothing more than the calumnious assertion of a mean and enraged antagonist. He had resided for three years beyond the usual period, and we should rather inquire what could have induced him to remain so long: at any rate, it is an unsupported charge, coming from a very suspicious quarter.
Dryden settled in London under the protection of his kinsman Sir Gilbert Pickering, a stanch republican, who was nominated one of the king's judges in 1649, and who was one of the thirty-eight counsellors of state named by the Rump parliaments to supply the place of the executive power after the king's death. Our Poet is said to have been clerk or secretary to his kinsman-that he was a member of one of the committees-a sequestrator or committeeman, does not, I think, clearly appear; for the words from which Malone draws his inference seem to me to bear a different interpretation, and to refer rather to his protector, than himself. He is said to have favoured the sects of anabaptists, and independents, whose religious opinions some of his relations had zealously adopted. In 1659, he published his heroic stanzas on the death of Oliver Cromwell,†
In a satirical pamphlet, The reasons for Mr. Bayes changing his religion,' 4to. 1688, p. 14. The following passage occurs alluding to Dryden at the time-Bayes. After some years spent in the university, I quitted all my preferment there, to come and reside at the imperial city, because it was likely to prove a scene of more advantage and business, and likewise because it was the fittest place in the whole island for a monarch to settle his court, issue out orders for his subjects at home, and enter. tain a commerce with his allies abroad. At first I struggled with a great deal of persecution, teok up with a lodging which had a window no bigger than a pocket looking-glass, dined at a threepenny ordinary enough to starve a vocation tailor, kept little company, and clad in homely drugget, and drank wine as seldom as a Rechabite or the grand Seig. nior's confessor. Much about this time, Mr. Crites as you may well remember, I made my first addresses in panegyric, and to Oliver Cromwell, '&c.
The first edition, 1659, 4to., is extremely rare. The full title is, 'A Poem upon the death of his late Highness Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, written by Mr. Dryden, London, printed for William Wilson, and are to be sold in Willgard's, near little St. Bartholomew's Hospital.'
Waller and Sprat. They consist of thirty-
Some of the stanzas, as the xxviith, are falsein taste, and forced in analogy; others display a purer system of thought, a greater strength and solidity of versification, and language more appropriate to the subject Waller and Sprat both employed their genius on the same argument. Sprat wrote in Cowley's long Pindaric Strophes, and in Cowley's style of ingenious conceits and quaint unnatural flights. Waller's was a poem of a different kind, the most manly and nervous of all productions. It is no disgrace to the youthful poet to assert, that the prize of writing has been adjudged to the veteran bard, yet the victorious poem has little in it It is singular,' says worthy of being envied.
Scott, that of those distinguished poets who solemnized by Elegy the death of the Protector, Dryden and Waller should have hailed the restoration of the Stuart line, and Sprat have favoured their most arbitrary aggressions upon liberty.
When the restoration took place, his kinsman retired without much loss, to his native county, and Dryden, now left on his own resources, hastened, in conjunction with his brother poets, to efface all memory of his former delinquency,
This edition does not materially differ from later, excepting that the spelling is modernized and the title abridged. Many years after one of Dryden's mean and malignant antagonists reprinted this Elegy with the hope of making Dryden appear an apostate. The title is An Elegy on the Usurper Oliver Cromwell, by the Author of Absalom and Achitophel.
by publishing his Astræa Redux in 1660. His Elegy on the Protector was never owned by him in the collection of his works, though not forgotten by his enemies. This poem is written in the taste and feeling of the former, one line
· A horrid stillness first invades the ear,
has been much ridiculed for the incorrectness and supposed absurdity of the thought; but I think it successfully vindicated by the reasoning of Johnson. Silence is a privation; and yet the poets give it an active influence and power over the mind-Simul ipsa silentia terrent-are the words of one whose exquisite propriety of expression and correctness of thought are yet unrivalled. Some of the similes,' says Scott, are brought out with singular ingenuity-one of the defects of Dryden's early versification is in the frequent use of the verb 'do' in its different tenses: it occurs in a very displeasing manner in this poem; and indeed was never fully aside, (for it requires some ingenuity to avoid, and some courage to resist its insertion) before it fell beneath the correcter taste, and more fastidious ear of Pope.
Captain Radcliff has ridiculed this line in his News from Hell.
Laureat, who was both learned and florid,
The term invading the ear,' Dryden has used in Theod. and Honoria.
'With more distinguished notes invades his ear.' + Dryden was habitually careless in some of the provinces of his versification, the following incorrect rhyme occurs in this poem :
Our healthful food the stomach labours thus, At first embracing what it straight doth crush. In one of his prologues.
Mangos and limes, whose nourishment is little Though not for food are yet preserved for pickle. And in that to Albumazar,
Here he was fashion'd, and we may suppose He liked the fashion well, and wore the clothes: In Iphis and Ianthe,
My parents are propitious to my wish,
In the cock and the fox,
The time shall come when Chanticleer shall wish His words unsaid, and hate his boasted bliss.
Juv. 6th Sat.
The gaudy gossip when she's set agog, In jewels drest, and at each ear a bob. Denham rhymes transform'd' to 'return'd,' and 'Sprung' to 'Rome.'
At this time, Dryden is supposed to have lived at the house of Herringham, in the New Exchange, then the principal publisher of poetry and plays. A friendship, for some time, had been formed between him and Sir Robert Howard, who (he says) had been always careful of his fortune and reputation,' and whose sister, Lady Elizabeth, he subsequently married.
In 1661, he addressed some lines to the King,* on his coronation, and on New Years Day wrote a poem to the Lord Chancellor Hyde. In the following year, he prefixed some verses to Dr. Charlton's account of Stonehenge; in this latter poem, the ruggedness of his former versification had been softened into elegance and harmony; his quaint allusions and elaborate conceits had disappeared, and many of the lines are pleasing both in thought and expression,†
And happy men, who danced away their time Fresh as their groves, and happy as their clime; and the nightly visions of the Danish race' seem to open, for the first time, into the regions of the imaginative and the picturesque.
The poem to the Lord Chancellor approaches more closely to the metaphysical style of Cowley and his contemporaries, than any other of Dryden's compositions. Scott ingeniously conjectures that Dryden professedly wrote after the manner of those poets with whose works the Chancellor had formerly been acquainted; in fact, that he strove to please, by bringing again before the eyes of the aged statesman that glitter of sentiment which had delighted him in his youth. Johnson says Dryden never after strove
There is an animation of language and an energy of style, it is said, in this poem, yet mixed up with the conceits of his preceding productions. The following couplet could not be easily surpassed in the works of Flecknoe and Shadwell :
A Queen near whose chaste womb, ordain'd by fate,
The souls of kings unborn for bodies wait.
'If, says Sir Walter Scott, the souls of any unborn monarchs waited for bodies from Queen Catharine, they waited long in vain;' perhaps it was not her fault, for, as the same writer sensibly observes, 'for a woman to bear children, it is necessary that some one should take the trouble of getting them.' See State Poems, vol. iii. p. 14.
To taste the fraicheur of the purer air,' is an affected and unnecessary gallicism. Dryden also uses veillard, paillard; and, in Pal. and Arcite, 'that conscious lawnd,' from the French Launde;' he has 'Semigres,' for affected contortions in the Story of Acis. In his Life of Virgil, he has fierce of the services,' for proud of the services, fier des services,' &c., but in revenge, 'en revanche.' The poet who flourished in the scene is damned in the Ruelle, &c.
The following fine couplet is in this poem
to bring on the anvil such stubborn and unmanageable thoughts.
In all the poems which Dryden had hitherto published, there are marks of carelessness and innaccuracy in the versification, too frequent a repetition of the same rhymes, and, as I before observed, a most offensive and frequent recurrence of the expletive 'do;' perhaps they derive their chief value from the proofs which they afford of the alteration in poetic feeling that had commenced, and of a purer taste and manlier style superseding the false wit and glittering conceits that had charmed so long; he was shaking off the incumbering earth, and 'pawing to get free.'
The metaphysical productions (to use the common phrase) of Cowley and Donne, their wild unlicensed flights and strange inharmonious lines, once so admired as to eclipse even Milton's fame, now found but few imitators.* Waller, and especially Denham, had looked back on Fairfax and our elder poets with advantage, and had shown that a simpler and easier style, a more melodious and smoother system of verse might be attained without much difficulty. The light and sprightly manner of Suckling in his ballads and smaller poems was much admired. In Marvell true poetry might be found; nor must some of Withers's earlier notes be forgotten, though lost too soon by him. They were full of the simplest melody, the sweetest music. It was the gentle voice of his captivity, wild pastoral songs that beguiled his imprisoned hours, and then were heard no more. Dryden had evidently looked with somewhat of admiration or affection to the poetry of Davenant, and notwithstanding the ridicule of the wits, and with the confession of much that is absurd, and more that is tedious, Gondibert is the
• Dryden calls Waller the father of our English Numbers,' he says, he mentions him for honour's sake; and that he is desirous on all occasions of laying hold on his memory; and thereby acknow. ledging to the world, that unless he had written, none of us could write. See Pref. to Walsh's Dialogue. Fenton says Waller spent the greatest part of a summer in correcting a poem of ten lines, those written in the Tasso of the Dutchess of York; Denham and Waller, says Prior, improved our versification, and Dryden perfected it.
I am glad to support my humble opinion by the great authority of the author of Marmion; Sir Walter Scott says, 'Gondibert incurred, when first published, more ridicule, and in latter times more neglect than its merits deserve: an Epic poem in elegiac stanzas must always be tedious, because no structure of verse is more unfavourable to narrative, than that which almost peremptorily requires each sentence to be restricted, or protracted to four lines; but the liveliness of Davenant's imagination has illuminated even the drearypath which he has chosen, and perhaps few poems afford more instances of vigorous conception and even felicity of expression, than the neglected Gondibert.' Scott's
work of a man of powerful intellect, and fine genius; it is full of fanciful images, ingenious reflections, and majestic sentiments: Hobbes has praised its vigour and beauty of expression. Davenant indeed, in all his poetry, throws out gleams of loftier and brighter creations, pathetic touches, sweet pensive meditations, imaginative and visionary fancies, and lines that run along the keen edge of curious thoughts, such as commanded the attention of Dryden beyond any other poet of the age, and such as long after Pope was not too proud to transplant into the most impassioned, and the most imaginative of all his productions. This early style of Dryden, or Davenant, is chiefly faulty, because the authors have not the courage, or inclination to reject an ingenious allusion, however remote, or a brilliant thought, however superfluous. Hence the surface of their poetry glitters with similes,* is crowded with learned analogies, and surrounded with unnecessary illustrations; whatever is subtle, laboured, and unusual, is forced into the subject. The interest of the story is encumbered with imagery, and the progress of the narrative impeded by reflection. Davenant himself confesses, that 'Poetical excellence consists in the laborious and lucky resultances of thought, having towards its excellence as well a happiness as care, and not only the luck and labour, but also the dexterity of thought, rounding the world like a sun with unimaginable motion, and bringing swiftly home to the memory universal surveys.'
The restoration of the monarchy now opened the gates of the theatre, the latest echoes of whose walls had been called forth by Shirley's muse: and which the narrow prejudices, and dark religion of the Puritans, considered as one of the practices offensive to God, and not to be endured by a serious and godly people, Dryden soon availed himself of this new channel to profit and fame. The first play (he says) I undertook, was the Duke of Guise, as the fairest way which the act of indemnity had then left us of setting forth the rise of the late rebellion, and of exposing the villanies of it upon the stage, to precaution posterity against the like errors.' His friends, however, considered his first essay as not wrought with sufficient art to ensure success, and it was in consequence laid aside for some years.
Dryden's first attempt at dramatic poetry, or
Dryden, vol. ill. p. 97; and Life of Dryden, vol. i. p.
Now here she must make a simile, where's the necessity of that, Mr. Bayes? Because she's surprised. That is a general rule, you must ever make a simile when you are surprised, 'tis a new way of writing. Rehearsal, act i. sc. 3.