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1650, matriculated on July 16th, and on October 2nd was elected to a Westminster scholarship. He was then nineteen, an instance, be it observed, among many, of the complete mistake of supposing that very early entrance into the universities was the rule before our own days. Of Dryden's Cambridge sojourn we know little more than of his sojourn at Westminster. He was in trouble on July 19th, 1652, when he was discommonsed and gated for a fortnight for disobedience and contumacy. Shadwell also says that while at Cambridge he "scurrilously traduced a nobleman
“ rebuked on the head » therefor. But Shadwell's unsupported assertions about Dryden are unworthy of the slightest credence. He took his degree in 1654, and though he gained no fellowship, seems to. have resided for nearly seven years at the university. There has been a good deal of controversy about the feelings with which Dryden regarded his alma mater. It is certainly curious that, except a formal acknowledgment of having received his education from Trinity, there is to be found in his works no kind of affectionate reference to Cambridge, while there is to be found an extremely unkind reference to her in his very best manner. In one of his numerous prologues to the University of Oxford-the Univerity of Cambridge seems to have given him no occasion of writing a prologue-occur the famous lines
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
It has been sought to diminish the force of this very lefthanded compliment to Cambridge by quoting a phrase of Dryden's concerning the "gross flattery that universities will endure." But I am inclined to think that most university men will agree with me that this is probably a unique instance of a member of the one university going out of his way to flatter the other at the expense of his own. Dryden was one of the most accomplished flatterers that ever lived, and certainly had no need save of deliberate choice to resort to the vulgar expedient of insulting one person or body by way of praising another. What his cause of dissatisfaction was it is impossible to say, but the trivial occurrence already mentioned certainly will not account for it.
If, however, during these years we have little testimony about Dryden, we have three documents from his own hand, which are of no little interest. Although Dryden was one of the most late-writing of English poets, he had got into print before he left Westminster. A promising pupil of that school, Lord Hastings, had died of small-pox, and according to the fashion of the time a tombeau, as it would have been called in France, was published, containing elegies by a very large number of authors, ranging from Westminster boys to the already famous names of Waller and Denham. Somewhat later an epistle commendatory was contributed by Dryden to a volume of religious verse by his friend John Hoddesdon. Later still, and probably after he had taken his degree, he wrote a letter to his cousin, Honor Driden, daughter of the reigning baronet of Canons Ashby, which the young lady had the grace to keep. All these juvenile productions have been very severely judged. As to the poems, the latest writer on the subject, a writer in the Quarterly Review, whom I certainly do not name otherwise than honoris causâ, pronounces the one execrable, and the other inferior to the juvenile productions of that miserable poetaster, Kirke
White. It seems to this reviewer that Dryden had at this tinie“ no ear for verse, no command of poetic diction, no sense of poetic taste." As to the letter, even Scott describes it as “alternately coarse and pedantic.” in hopeless discord with these authorities, both of whom I respect. Certainly neither the elegy on Lord Hastings, nor the complimentary poem to Hoddesdon, nor the letter to Honor Driden, is a masterpiece. “But all three show, as it seems to me, a considerable literary faculty, a remarkable feeling after poetic style, and above all the peculiar virtue which was to be Dryden's own. They are all saturated with conceits, and the conceit was the reigning delicacy of the time. Now if there is one thing more characteristic and more honourably characteristic of Dryden than another, it is that he was emphatically of his time. No one ever adopted more thoroughly and more unconsciously the motto as to Spartam nactus es. He tried every fashion, and where the fashion was capable of being brought sub specie æternitatis he never failed so to bring it. Where it was not so capable he never failed to abandon it and to substitute something better. A man of this temperament (which it may be observed is a mingling of the critical and the poetical temperaments) is not likely to find his way early or to find it at all without a good many preliminary wanderings. But the two poems so severely condemned, though they are certainly not good poems, are beyond all doubt possessed of the elements of goodness. I doubt myself whether any one can fairly judge them who has not passed through a novitiate of careful study of the minor poets of his own day. By doing this one acquires a certain faculty of distinguishing, as Théophile Gautier once put it in his own case, “the sheep of Hugo from the goats of Scribe." I do not hesitate to say that an intelligent reviewer in the year 1650 would have ranked Dryden, though perhaps with some misgivings, among the sheep. The faults are simply an exaggeration of the prevailing style, the merits are different.
As for the epistle to Honor Driden, Scott must surely have been thinking of the evil counsellors who wished him to bowdlerise glorious John, when he called it “coarse." There is nothing in it but the outspoken gallantry of an age which was not afraid of speaking out, and the prose style is already of no inconsiderable merit. It should be observed, however, that a most unsubstantial romance has been built up on this letter, and that Miss Honor's father, Sir John Driden, has had all sorts of anathemas launched at him, in the Locksley Hall style, for damming the course of true love. There is no evidence whatever to prove this crime against Sir John. It is in the nature of mankind almost invariably to fall in love with its cousins, and-fortunately according to some physiologists-by no means invariably to marry them. That Dryden seriously aspired to his cousin's hand there is no proof, and none that her father refused to sanction the marriage. On the contrary, his foes accuse him of being a dreadful flirt, and of making "the young blushing virgins die” for him in a miscellaneous but probably harmless manner. All that is positively known on the subject is that Honor never married, that the cousins were on excellent terms some half-century after this fervent epistle, and that Miss Driden is said to have treasured the letter and shown it with pride, which is much more reconcilable with the idea of a harmless flirtation than of a great passion tragically cut short.
At the time of the writing of this epistle Dryden was indeed not exactly an eligible suitor. His father had just died—1654--and had left him two-thirds of the Blakesley estates, with a reversion to the other third at the death of his mother. The land extended to a couple of hundred acres or thereabouts, and the rent, which with characteristic generosity Dryden never increased, though rents went up in his time enormously, amounted to 601. a year. Dryden's two-thirds were estimated by Malone at the end of the last century to be worth about 1201, income of that day, and this certainly equals at least 2001. to-day. With this to fall back upon, and with the influence of the Driden and Pickering families, any bachelor in those days might be considered provided with prospects, but exacting parents might consider the total inadequate to the support of a wife and family. Sir John Driden is said, though a fanatical Puritan, to have been a man of no very strong intellect, and he certainly did not feather his nest in the way which was open to any defender of the liberties of the people. Sir Gilbert Pickering, who in consequence of the intermarriages before alluded to was doubly Dryden's cousin, was wiser in his generation. He was one of the few members of the Long Parliament who judiciously at tached themselves to the fortunes of Cromwell, and was plentifully rewarded with fines, booty, places, and honours, by the Protector. When Dryden finally left Cambridge in 1657 he is said to have attached himself to this kins
And at the end of the next year he wrote his remarkable Heroic Stanzas on Cromwell's death. This poem must have at once put out of doubt his literary merits. There was assuredly no English poet then living, except Milton and Cowley, who could possibly have written it, and it was sufficiently different from the style of either of those masters. Taking the four-line stanza, which Davenant had made popular, the poet starts with a