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LIFE OF DRYDEN.
THE REVEREND JOHN MITFORD.
The biography of Dryden was not compos- diligence of inquiry has hitherto been able to ed by any of his contemporaries, nor were any discover with exactness the place or date of materials collected by them which could throw his birth. He has himself told us, that he was light on his opinions and sentiments, which born in a village belonging to the Earl of Execould inform us of his personal habits, or afford ter, and A. Wood has added, that the village familiar sketches of his private and domestic mentioned by Dryden was Aldwincklo, in character. The little that is to be found in the Northamptonshire, not far from Oundle. His narratives of his life has been gleaned from age is best ascertained from a passage in the occasional notices in party pamphlets, and preface to his fables, where, speaking of a gensatirical libels, or from what has incidentally tleman of eighty-eight years of age, he observes been mentioned by himself. Doctor Johnson, that, by the mercy of God, he had already who composed the first authentic life of our come within twenty years of that number. This poet, * complained that nothing could be known preface was probably written in November, of Dryden beyond what casual mention and 1699, thus placing his birth in the latter end of uncertain tradition supplied. Since that time the year 1631. The family was originally many mistakes have been rectified, and omis- settled in Cumberland*-a marriage of John sions supplied, by the diligent researches of Dryden, of Staff hill, with the daughter of Sir Malone; and we are now probably in posses- John Cope, in the early part of Elizabeth's sion of all the information which it is possible reign, brought them into possession of Canonsto produce. Sir Walter Scott has justly Ashby, in Northamptonshire ;t and, subsefounded his narrative on the facts recorded in quently, in the reign of Charles the First, they Malone's biography; while he has taken a were proprietors of the Chesterton estate in more comprehensive view of the genius and Huntingdon. John Dryden, the poet's cousinwritings of the poet, and the influence which german, frequently represented that county in he exercised on the literature of the age. parliament, between 1670, and 1707. When we therefore consider the fairness and Dryden received the earlier part of his edufelicity of Johnson's critical disquisitions ; the cation at the small school of Tichmarsh. He truth elicited, or errors rectified by Malone's was afterwards removed to Westminster, and diligence; and the lively, interesting, and in- admitted a king's scholar, but at what period structive narrative of Scott, we may justly is not exactly known. He remained some consider that Dryden has been fortunate in his years under the tuition of the venerable patribiographers. It is to be hoped, that in the pre- arch of schoolmasters, old Busby, was then sent more compendious memoir, the facts are elected to one of the scholarships of Trinity stated with accuracy, and that the opinions on College, Cambridge, where he was admitted the different productions of the poet are formed under the Rev. Mr. Templer, and was matriwith the care, and delivered with the tempe- culated on the 6th of July following. rance and respect which are due to the reputa- During the time he was at Westminster, he tion of so great a writer.
• David Driden, or Dryden, married the daughter John DRYDEN, the poet, was the eldest son
of William Nicholson, or Staff hill, and was the
great great-grandfather of our poet. of Erasmus Driden, and Mary, daughter of the + A. Wood says, that John Dryden was a schoolRev. Henry Pickering. It is supposed that he master, and that the great Erasmus stood goufather
He appears to have been a was born on the 9th of August, 1631, but no
puritan; in his will, he bequeaths his soul to his
Creator, with this singular expression, The Holy The life of Dryden, in the Biographia Britan. Ghost assuring my spirit that I am the elect of nica, preceded that by Dr. Johnson, being published God.' These puritanical principles descended to in 1747-66.
for one of his sons.
translated the third Satire of Persius, a task ing to the Oliva Pacis, in 1654, from his being imposed upon him by Busby, it is said, from a absent from college, to attend his father in his conviction that Dryden possessed talents equal illness. Owing to some cause of dislike, with to the difficulty of the subject. In 1649, he which we are not acquainted, he never in after joined some other poets in a volume called life mentioned his university with affection or * Tears of the Muses, or the death of Henry, respect. In one of his late prologues, a conLord Hastings.' His lines are uncouth, and trast unfavourable to Cambridge is thus strongly rugged in their measure; they have the forced portrayed ; conceit, unnatural thoughts, and false wit of the time, which Donne and Cowley had bor
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be,
Than his own mother university; rowed from Jonson and rendered fashionable ;
Thebes did his green unknowing youth engage, --but they are not wanting in sense or clever- He chooses Athens in his riper age ness; and are curious in their early display of the naiive bent and disposition of Dryden's
That this compliment to Oxford was as sinmind. He could not restrain himself from ar- cere as it was elegant, has been doubted or gument and satire, on a subject that would denied by Dryden's contemporaries; and he is have induced most youthful poets to luxuriate accused of having ridiculed, among the wits in in elegiac complaints, and to indulge them- town, that learning which, on the Banks of Isis, selves in florid descriptions of departed excel
he had mentioned with reverence and esteem; lence; more especially to enlarge upon that
but the charge, I believe, is unfounded ; amid incident which gave a romantic interest to the the poetical and political squabbles, petty indeath of Hastings; its taking place a day pre- trigues, libels, lampoons, and satires of the time, vious to that which had been designed for his
it is not safe to take assertion for truth. marriage: the names of Marvell, Denham, and
By the death of his father, our poet succeedCotton are found in the list of contributors, and ed to an estate in Blakerly, in NorthamptonR. Brown was, I believe, the collector of the
shire. Two thirds of the whole were devised volume.
to him, worth about 601. a year, and one third Some commendatory verses were prefixed to the widow for the term of her life. Ten sisby Dryden to the poems of John Hoddesden, in
ters, and his three brothers, were provided 1650, which Malone has inserted in his lifc. from a separate bequest of about 12001. The The four lines which I now extract, give no
old gentleman is supposed to have been a zealpromise of the correct car, or command of ous and severe presbyterian;—some of Drylanguage, that was hereafter to give such har.
den's political adversaries asserted that his fa. mony and variety to the English couplet, as no
mily were anabaptists, but it is reasonably succeeding poets have ever excelled, and even
supposed that the accusation was one incapable Pope himself scarcely hoped to rival:
of proof, and that the term of "bristled baptist
was a calumny, invented by those whose enmiAnd, making heaven thy aim, hast had the grace ty was too bitter to be always accompanied by To look the sun of Righteousness i' th' fare, What may we hope, if thou goest on thus fast,
truth. Scriptures at firsi, enthusiasms at last.
Dryden had now nearly attained his twentyDuring his residence at college, nothing con
fourth year, and was in possession of his patri
mony; yet he appears without reluctance to cerning him has been recorded, but that he suf
have retired to the restraints and seclusion or fered a temporary disgrace for disobedience
an academic life. He had a cousin, Honor and contumacy.* His name does not appear Driden, who was a rich and celebrated beauty. in the list of the contributors to the verses which the university composed upon public occasions; bined charms, and paid, though unsuccessfully,
The youthful poet was attracted by these comhe obtained no fellowship, but he took his his addresses to her. She sent him a present bachelor's degree at the regular time in Janua- of a silver inkstand, which he received from ry, 1653, and was M. A., by dispensation, in her fair hand,' and which called forth, in 1655, 1657. Malone accounts for his not contribut- the next slight specimen of his poetical powers.* • Malone has given the order for putting Dryden
Here he runs a parallel between the excellenout of commons, from the Conclusion Book, in Trinity College, see p. 221. That J. Dryden le put * In Malone's note on the date of this letter, is a out of commons for a fortnight, at least, and that highly amusing instance of his persevering and mihe goe not out of the college, excepting to sermons, nute exactness. The lady had erased the two latter without express leave from the master, or vice
16(55,) lost they should discover her age, but master; and that at the end of the fortnight, he
Malone, by viewing them through a microscope, read a confession of his crime, in the hall, at dinner rendered her caution vain, and convicted her of betime, at three fellowes table.'
ing 18. Dryden's Prose W. ll. p. 3.
cies of his fair Valentine,' and the properties which were subsequently joined to those of of sealing wax :
Waller and Sprat. They consist of thirty
seven stanzas, written in the measure, and You fairest nymph are wax. Oh! may you be somewhat in the manner of Gondibert. The As well in softness as in purity,
flow of his versification was improved, and his Till fate and your own happy choice reveal Whom you so far shall bless to make your seal. command of poetical language more extended,
but he still confined his ambition to subtleties Having now resided seven years at Cam- of thought, quaint allusions, and unexpected bridge, he removed to London about the middle combinations of remote images. His ideas are of the year 1687. That he was obliged to quit laboured, and his inventions curious. No marks the university, from having traduced the son of aro yet discovered of the luxuriance of early a nobleman in a libel, is supposed to be nothing genius, or the overflow of a mind full of poetry: more than the calumnious assertion of a mean
nor are there any traces in his language from and enraged antagonist. He had resided for which we may collect that his curiosity had three years beyond the usual period, and we been directed to the study of the great poets should rather inquire what could have induced who flourished in the preceding age. His him to remain so long : at any rate, it is an poetry was in the general style of the times in unsupported charge, coming from a very suspic which he lived; did not partake of any indicious quarter.
vidual character, nor was it controlled by any Dryden* settled in London under the protec- presiding genius. It shows rather a vigorous tion of his kinsman Sir Gilbert Pickering, a understanding, and quick discernment, than a stanch republican, who was nominated one of rich imagination, or a fancy lavish of its youthful the king's judges in 1649, and who was one of stores. How little does it resemble the early the thirty-eight counsellors of state named by poems of Milton, which were published but a the Runp parliaments to supply the place of few years previous to this time. the executive power after the king's death. Some of the stanzas, as the xxviith, are false Our Poet is said to have been clerk or secretary in taste, and forced in analogy; others display to his kinsman-that he was a member of one a purer system of thought, a greater strength of the committees—a sequestrator or committee-, and solidity of versification, and language more man, does not, I think, clearly appear; for the appropriate to the subject Waller and Sprat words from which Malone draws his inference both employed their genius on the same arguseem to me to bear a different interpretation, ment. Sprat wrote in Cowley's long Pindaric and to refer rather to his protector, than him- Strophes, and in Cowley's style of ingenious self. He is said to have favoured the sects of conceits and quaint unnatural flights. Waller's anabaptists, and independents, whose religious was a poem of a different kind, the most manly opinions some of his relations had zealously and nervous of all productions. It is no disadopted. In 1659, he published his heroic grace to the youthful poet to assert, that the stanzas on the death of Oliver Cromwell,t prize of writing has been adjudged to the vete
ran bard, yet the victorious poem has little in it • In a satirical pamphlet, “The reasons for Mr. worthy of being envied. “It is singular,' says Bayes charging his religion,' 4to. 1688, p. 14. The
Scott, that of those distinguished poets who following passage occurs alluding to Dryden at the time--Bayer * After some years spent in the uni. solemnized by Elegy the death of the Protector, versity, I quitted all my prefermeni there, to come Dryden and Waller should have hailed the resand reside at the imperial city, because it was likely to prove a scene of more advantage and business,
toration of the Stuart line, and Sprat have faand likewise because it was the fittest place in the voured their most arbitrary aggressions upon whole island for a monarch to settle his court, is: liberty. sue out orders for his subjects at home, and enter. tain a commerce with his allies abroad. At first I When the restoration took place, his kinsman struggled with a great deal of persecution, took up retired without much loss, to his native county, with a lodging which has a window no bigger than a pocket looking.glass, dined at a threepenny or
and Dryden, now left on his own resources, dinary enough to starve a vocation tailor, kept little hastened, in conjunction with his brother poets, comp:iny, and clad in homely drugget, and drank to efface all memory of his former delinquency, wine as seldom as a Rech:bite or the grand Seig. nior's confessor, Much about this time, Mr. Crites as you may well remember, I made my first addresses This edition does not materially differ from later, in panegyric, and to Oliver Cromwell, '&c.
excepting that the spelling is modernized and the + The first edition, 1659, 4to., is extremely rare. title abridged. Many years after one of Dryden's The full title is, 'A Poein upon the death of his late mean and malignant antagonists reprinted this Highness Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scot- Elegy with the hope of making Dryden appear an land, and Ireland, written by Mr. Dryden, London, apostate. The title is An Elegy cn the Usurper Oliprinied for William Wilson, and are to be sold in ver Cromwell, by the Author of Absalom and AchiWillgard's, near little St. Bartholomew's Hospital.' tophel.
by publishing his Astræa Redux in 1660. His At this time, Dryden is supposed to havo Elegy on the Protector was never owned by lived at the house of Herringham, in the New him in the collection of his works, though not Exchange, then the principal publisher of poforgotten by his enemies. This poem is writ- etry and plays. A friendship, for some time, had ten in the taste and feeling of the former, one been formed between him and Sir Robert Howline
ard, 'who (he says) had been always careful • A horrid stillness first invades the car,
of his fortune and reputation,' and whose sister, And in that silence we a tempest fear. Lady Elizabeth, he subsequently married. has been much ridiculed for the incorrectness
In 1661, he addressed some lines to the King,*
on his coronation, and on New Years Day and supposed absurdity of the thought; but I think it successfully vindicated by the reason
wrote a poem to the Lord Chancellor Hyde. In ing of Johnson. Silence is a privation; and
the following year, he prefixed some verses to
Dr. Charlton's account of Stonehenge; in this yet the poets give it an active influence and
poem, the ruggedness of his former verpower over the mind-Simul ipsa silentia ter
sification had been softened into elegance and rent-are the words of one whose exquisite pro harmony; his quaint allusions and elaborate priety of expression and correctness of thought conceits had disappeared, and many of the lines are yet unrivalled. “Some of the similes,' says Scoit, are brought out with singular ingenui
are pleasing both in thought and expression, t ty;'t--one of the defects of Dryden's early versification is in the frequent use of the verb 'do'
And happy men, who danced away their time
Fresh as their groves, and happy as their clime; in its different tenses : it occurs in a very displeasing manner in this poem; and indeed and the nightly visions of the Danish race' was never fully aside, (for it requires some in- seem to open, for the first time, into the regions genuity to avoid, and some courage to resist its of the imaginative and the picturesque. insertion) before it fell beneath the corrector The poem to the Lord Chancellor approaches taste, and more fastidious ear of Pope.
more closely to the metaphysical style of Cowley and his contemporaries, than any other of
Dryden's compositions. Scott ingeniously conCaptain Ratcliff has ridiculed this line in his jeciures that Dryden professedly wrote after the News from Hell.
Laureat, who was both learned and florid, manner of those poets with whose works the
fact, that he strove to please, by bringing again Inpade, and so it might, that's clear,
before the eyes of the aged statesman that glitBut what did it invade!-an Ear!
ter of sentiment which had delighted him in his And for some other things, 'tis true "We follow fute, that does pursue.'
youth. Johnson says Dryden never after strove The term invading the ear,' Dryden has used in Theod. and Honoria.
• There is an animation of language and an ener.
gy of style, it is said, in this poem, yet inixed up With more distinguished notes inrades his ear.'
with the conceits of his preceding productions. + Dryden was habitually careless in some of the The following couplet could not be easily surpassed provinces of his versification, the following incor. in the works of Flecknoe and Shadwell : rect rhyme occurs in this poem :
A Queen near whose chaste womb, ordain'd by Our healthful food the stomach labours thus,
fate, At first embracing what it straight doth crush. The souls of kings unborn for bodies wait. In one of his prologues.
* If, says Sir Walter Scott, the souls of any unborn Mangos and limes, whose nourishment is little
monarchs waited for bodies from Queen Catharine, Though not for food are yet preserved for pickle.
they waited long in vain ;' perhaps it was not her
fault, for, as the same writer sensibly observes, And in that to Albumazar,
for a woman to bear children, it is necessary that Here he was fashion'd, and we may suppose
some one should take the trouble of getting them.' He liked the fashion well, and wore the clothes.
See State Poems, vol. iii. p. 14. In Iphis and lanthe,
+'To taste the fraicheur of the purer air,' is an
affected and unnecessary gallicism. Dryden also My parents are propitious to my wish, And she herself consenting to the bliss.
uses veillard, paillard; and, in Pal, and Arcite,
that conscious larond,'from the French Launde; In the cock and the fox,
he has 'Semigres,' for affected contortions in the The time shall come when Chanticleer shall wish
Story of Acis. In his Life of Virgil, he has ' fierce
of the services,' for proud of the services, 'fier des His worus unsaid, and hate his boasted bliss.
services,' &c., but in revenge, 'en revanche.' Juv. 6th Sat.
The poet who flourished in the scene is damned in
the Ruelle, &c. The gaudy gossip when she's set agog, In jewels drest, and at each ear a bob.
# The following fine couplet is in this poem Denham rhymes transform'd' to 'return'd,' and Envy that does with misery reside, Sprung' to 'Rome.'
The joy and the revenge of ruin'u pride.
to bring on the anvil such stubborn and unma- work of a man of powerful intellect, and fine nageable thoughts.
genius ; it is full of fanciful images, ingenious In all the poems which Dryden had hitherto reflections, and majestic sentiments : Hobbes published, there are marks of carelessness and has praised its vigour and beauty of expression. innaccuracy in the versification, too frequent a Davenant indeed, in all his poetry, throws out repetition of the same rhymes, and, as I before gleams of loftier and brighter creations, pathetic observed, a most offensive and frequent recur- touches, sweet pensive meditations, imaginative rence of the expletive .do;' perhaps they derive and visionary fancies, and lines that run along their chief value from the proofs which they af- the keen edge of curious thoughts, such as comford of the alteration in poetic feeling that had manded the attention of Dryden beyond any commenced, and of a purer taste and manlier other poet of the age, and such as long after style superseding the false wit and glittering Pope was not 100 proud to transplant into the conceits that had charmed so long; he was shak- most impassioned, and the most imaginative of ing off the incumbering earth, and pawing to all his productions. This early style of Dry
den, or Davenant, is chiefly faulty, because The metaphysical productions (to use the the authors have not the courage, or inclination common phrase) of Cowley and Donne, their to reject an ingenious allusion, however remote, wild unlicensed Aights and strange inharmoni- or a brilliant thought, however superfluous. ous lines, once so admired as to eclipse even Hence the surface of their poetry glitters with Milton's fame, now found but few imitators,* similes,* is crowded with learned analogies, Waller, and especially Denham, had looked and surrounded with unnecessary illustrations ; back on Fairfax and our elder poets with ad- whatever is subtle, laboured, and unusual, is vantage, and had shown that a simpler and
forced into the subject. The interest of the easier style, a more melodious and smoother story is encumbered with imagery, and the system of verse might be attained without much progress of the narrative impeded by reflection. difficulty. The light and sprightly manner of Davenant himself confesses, that • Poetical exSuckling in his ballads and smaller poems was
cellence consists in the laborious and lucky remuch admired. In Marvell true poetry might sultances of thought, having towards its excelbe found ; nor must some of Withers's earlier lence as well a happiness as care, and not only notes be forgotten, though lost too soon by him. the luck and labour, but also the dexterity of They were full of the simplest melody, the thought, rounding the world like a sun with sweetest music. It was the gentle voice of his unimaginable motion, and bringing swiftly captivity, wild pastoral songs that beguiled his home to the memory universal surveys.' imprisoned hours, and then were heard no more.
The restoration of the monarchy now opened Dryden had evidently looked with somewhat of the gates of the theatre, the latest echoes of admiration or affection to the poetry of Dave
whose walls had been called forth by Shirley's nant, and notwithstanding the ridicule of the wits, muse : and which the narrow prejudices, and and with the confession of much that is absurd, dark religion of the Puritans, considered as one and more that is tedious, Gondibertt is the
of the practices offensive to God, and not to be
endured by a serious and godly people, Dry• Dryden calls' Waller the father of our English den soon availed himself of this new channel to Numbers,' he says, he mentions him for honour's sake; and that he is desirous on all occasions of profit and fume. • The first play (he says) I laying hold on his memory; and thereby acknow- undertook, was the Duke of Guise, as the fairledging to the world, that unless he had written, none of us could write.' See Pref. to Walsh's Dia.
est way which the act of indemnity had then logue. Fenton says Waller spent the greatest part left us of setting forth the rise of the late rebelof a summer in correcting a poem of ten lines: lion, and of exposing the villanies of it upou the those written in the Tasso of the Dutchess of York; Denham and Waller, says Prior, improved stage, to precaution posterity against the like our versification, and Dryden perfected it.
errors.' His friends, however, considered his I am glad to support my humble opinion by the great authority of the author of Marmion; Sir
first essay as not wrought with sufficient art to Walter Scott says, 'Gondibert incurred, when first ensure success, and it was in consequence laid published, more ridicule, and in latter !imes more
aside for some years. neglect than its merits deserve: an Epic poem in
Dryden's first attempt at dramatic poetry, or elegiac stanzas must always be tedions, because no structure of verse is more unfavourable to nar. rative, than that which almost peremptorily re. Dryden, vol. ill. p. 97; and Life of Dryden, vol. 1. p. quires each sentence to be restricted, or protracted to four lines ; but the liveliness of Davenant's ima. • Now here she must make a simile, where's the gination has illuminated even the dreary path which necessity of that, Mr. Bayes? Because she's surhe has chosen, and perhaps feuc poems a ford more prised. That is a general rule, you must ever make instances of vigorous conception and even felicity a simile when you are surprised, 'tis a new way of ofexpression, than the neglected Gondibert. Scott's writing. Rehearsal, act i. sc. 3.