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BEFORE THE RESTORATION.
John DRYDEN was born on the 9th of August, 1631, at the Vicarage of Aldwinkle All Saints, between Thrapston and Oundle. Like other small Northamptonshire villages Aldwinkle is divided into two parishes, All Saints and St. Peter's, the churches and parsonage-houses being within bowshot of each other, and some little confusion has arisen from this. It has, however, been cleared up by the industrious researches of various persons, and there is now no doubt about the facts. The house in which the poet was born (and which still exists, though altered to some extent internally) belonged at the time to his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Henry Pickering. The Drydens and the Pickerings were both families of some distinction in the county, and both of decided Puritan principles ; but they were not, properly speaking, neighbours. The Drydens originally came from the neighbourhood of the border, and a certain John Dryden, about the middle of the sixteenth century, married the daughter
and heiress of Sir John Cope, of Canons Ashby, in the county of Northampton. Erasmus, the son of this John Dryden—the name is spelt as usual at the time in half-adozen different ways, and there is no reason for supposing that the poet invented the y, though before him it seems to have been usually Driden- was created a baronet, and his third son, also an Erasmus, was the poet's father. Before this Erasmus married Mary Pickering the families had already been connected, but they lived on opposite sides of the county, Canons Ashby being in the hilly district which extends to the borders of Oxfordshire on the south-west, while Tichmarsh, the headquarters of the Pickerings, lies the extreme east on high ground, overlooking the flats of Huntingdon. The poet's father is described as of Tichmarsh,” and seems to have usually resided in that neighbourhood. His property, however, which descended to our poet, lay in the neighbourhood of Canons Ashby at the village of Blakesley, which is not, as the biographers persistently repeat after one another, “ near Tichmarsh,” but some forty miles distant to the straightest flying crow. Indeed the connexion of the poet with the seat of his ancestors, and of his own property, appears to have been very slight. There is no positive evidence that he was ever at Canons Ashby at all, and this is a pity. For the house-still in the possession of his collateral descendants in the female line-is a very delightful one, looking like a miniature college quadrangle set down by the side of a country lane, with a background of park in which the deer wander, and a fringe of formal garden, full of the trimmest of yew-trees. All this was there in Dryden's youth, and, moreover, the place was the scene of some stirring events. Sir John Driden was a staunch parliamentarian, and his house lay obnoxious to the royalist garrisons of Towcester on the one side, and Ban
bury on the other. On at least one occasion a great fight took place, the parliamentarians barricading themselves in the church of Canons Ashby, within stone's throw of the house, and defending it and its tower for several hours before the royalists forced the place and carried them off prisoners. This was in Dryden's thirteenth year, and a boy of thirteen would have rejoiced not a little in such a state of things.
But, as has been said, the actual associations of the poet lie elsewhere. They are all collected in the valley of the Nene, and a well-girt man can survey the whole in a day's walk. It is remarkable that Dryden's name is connected with fewer places than is the case with almost any other English poet, except, perhaps, Cowper. If we leave out of sight a few visits to his father-in-law's seat at Charlton, in Wiltshire, and elsewhere, London and twenty miles of the Nene valley exhaust the list of his residences. This valley is not
This valley is not an inappropriate locale for the poet who in his faults, as well as his merits, was perhaps the most English of all English writers. It is not grand, or epic, or tragical, but on the other hand it is sufficiently varied, free from the monotony of the adjacent fens, and full of historical and architectural memories. The river in which Dryden acquired, beyond doubt, that love of fishing which is his only trait in the sporting way known to us, is always present in long slow reaches, thick with water plants. The remnants of the great woods which once made Northamptonshire the rival of Nottingham and Hampshire are close at hand, and luckily the ironstone workings which have recently added to the wealth, and detracted from the beauty of the central district of the county, have not yet invaded Dryden's region. Tichmarsh and Aldwinkle, the places of his birth and education, lie on opposite sides of the river, about two miles from Thrapston. Aldwinkle is sheltered and low, and looks across to the rising ground on the summit of which Tichmarsh church rises, flanked hard by with a huge cedar-tree on the rectory lawn, a cedar-tree certainly coeval with Dryden, since it was planted two years before his birth. A little beyond Aldwinkle, following the course of the river, is the small church of Pilton, where Erasmus Dryden and Mary Pickering were married on October 21, 1630. All these villages are embowered in trees of all kinds, elms and walnuts especially, and the river banks slope in places with a pleasant abruptness, giving good views of the magnificent woods of Lilford, which, however, are new comers comparatively speaking. Another mile or two beyond Pilton brings the walker to Oundle, which has some traditional claim to the credit of teaching Dryden his earliest humanities, and the same distance beyond Oundle is Cotterstock, where a house, still standing, but altered, was the poet's favourite sojourn in his later years. Long stretches of meadows lead thence across the river into Huntingdonshire, and there, just short of the great north road, lies the village of Chesterton, the residence, in the late days of the seventeenth century, of Dryden's favourite cousins, and frequently his own. All these places are intimately connected with his memory, and the last named is not more than twenty miles from the first. Between Cotterstock and Chesterton, where lay the two houses of his kinsfolk which we know him to have most frequented, lies, as it lay then, the grim and shapeless mound studded with ancient thorn-trees, and looking down upon the silent Nene, which is all that remains of the castle of Fotheringhay. Now, as then, the great lantern of the church, with its flying buttresses and tormented tracery, looks out over the valley. There is no allusion that I know of to Fotheringhay in Dryden's works, and, indeed, there seems to have been a very natural feeling among all seventeenth century writers on the court side that the less said about Mary Stuart the better. Fotheringhay waits until Mr. Swinburne shall complete the trilogy begun in Chastelard and continued in Bothwell, for an English dramatic poet to tread worthily in the steps of Montchrestien, of Vondel, and of Schiller. Dryden must have passed it constantly, when he was at Cotterstock he must have had it almost under his eyes, and we know that he was always brooding over fit historical subjects in English history for the higher poetry. Nor is it, I think, an unpardonable conceit to note the dominance in the haunts of this intellectually greatest among the partisans of the Stuarts, of the scene of the greatest tragedy, save one, that befell even that house of the furies.
There is exceedingly little information obtainable about Dryden's youth. The inscription in Tichmarsh Church, the work of his cousin Mrs. Creed, an excellent person whose needle and pencil decorated half the churches and half the manor-houses in that part of the country, boasts that he had his early education in that village, while Oundle, as has been said, has some traditional claims to a similar distinction. From the date of his birth to his entry at Westminster School we have no positive information whatever about him, and even the precise date of the latter is unknown. He was a king's scholar, and it seems that the redoubtable Busby took pains with him-doubtless in the well-known Busbeian manner—and liked his verse translations. From Westminster he went to Cambridge, where he was entered at Trinity on May 18th,