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The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between 1707, when he wrote to Pope; and 1721, when Pope praised him in his essay. The epitaph makes him forty six years old; if Wood's account be right, he died in 1709. He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by any thing done or written by himself. His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of Women; which Dryden honoured with a preface. Esculafius, or the Hosfital of Fools, published after his death. .4 Collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces. To his poems and letters is prefixed a very judicious preface upon epistolary composition and amorous poetry. In his Golden age restored, there was something of humour, while the facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned; and in all his writings there are pleasing passages. He has, however, more elegance than vigour, and seldom rises higher than to be pretty.
OF the great poet whose life I am about to delineate, the curiosity which his reputation must excite, will require a display more ample than can now be given. His contemporaries, however they reverenced his genius, left his life unwritten; and nothing therefore can be known beyond what casual mention and uncertain tradition have supplied. John DRYDEN was born August 9, 1631,” at Aldwinkle, near Oundle, the son of Erasmus Dryden of Titchmersh; who was the third son of sir Erasmus Dryden, baronet, of Canons Ashby. All these places are in Northamptonshire; but the original stock of the family was in the county of Huntingdon.f . He is #eported by his last biographer, Derrick, to have inherited from his father an estate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as was said, an anabaptist. For either of these particulars no authority is given. Such a fortune ought to have Secured him from that poverty which seems always to have oppressed him; or if he had wasted it, to have made him ashamed of publishing his necessities. But though he had many enemies, who undoubtedly examined his life with a scrutiny sufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony. He was indeed sometimes reproached for his first religion. I am therefore inclined to believe that Derrick's intelligence was partly true and partly erroneous.;
* Mr. Malone has lately proved that there is no satisfactory evidence for this date. The inscription on Dryden’s monument says only natus 1632. See Malone’s life of Dryden, prefixed to his “Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works,” p. 5, note. C.
t Of Cumberland. Ibid. p. 10. C.
# Mr. Derrick’s life of Dryden was prefixed to a very beautiful and correct edition of Dryden's Miscellanies, published by the Tonsons in 1760, 4 vols. 8vo. Derrick's part, however, was poorly executed, and the edition never became popular. C.
WOL. r. 29
From Westminster school, where he was instructed as one of the king's scholars by Dr. Busby, whom he long after continued to reverence, he was in 1650 elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at Cambridge.” Of his school performances has appeared only a poem on the death of lord Hasitngs, composed with great ambition of such conceits as, notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the example of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the smallpox; and his poet has made of the pustules first rosebuds, and then gems; at last exalts them into stars; and says, No comet need foretell his change drew on, Whose corpse might seem a constellation. At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious subjects or public occasions. He probably considered, that he who purposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the college. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the college, with gratitude ; but in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines; Oxford to him a dearer name shall be Than his own mother university; Thebes did his rude unknowing youth engage; He chooses Athens in his riper age. It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a public candidate for fame, by publishing heroic stanzas on the late lord firotector; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet. When the king was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published Astrea REDUx, a floem on the hafifty restoration and return of his most sacred majesty king Charles the second.
* He went off to Trinity college, and was admitted to a bachelor's degree in Jan. 1653-4, and in 1657 was made master of arts. C.
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace; if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The same year, he praised the new king in a second poem on his restoration. In the Astrea was the line,
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
for which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deserved. Silence is indeed mere privation; and, so considered, cannot invade ; but privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold; yet poetry has never been refused the right of ascribing effects or agency to them as to positive powers. No man scruples to say that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is also privation ; yet who has made any difficulty of assigning to death a dart and the power of striking : In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the same ; nor can the first editions be easily found, if even from them could be obtained the necessary information.” The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was, some years afterward, altered and revived; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may be inferred ; and thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirty second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage ; compelled undoubtedly by necessity, for he appears never to have loved that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas, Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession for many years; not indeed without the competition of rivals who sometimes prevailed, or the censure of critics, which was often poignant and often just ; but with such a degree of reputation as made him at least secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the public. His first piece was a comedy called The Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recal it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the critics. I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatic performances; it will be fit, however, to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsic or concomitant ; for the composition and fate of eight and twenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted. In 1664 he published The Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation, both as a writer and a statesman. In this play he made his essay of dramatic rhyme, which he defends, in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing ; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies. He then joined with sir Robert Howard in The Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished. The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard’s Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in The Rehearsal, where Bayes tells how many reams he has printed, to instil into the audience some conception of his plot. In this play is the description of night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets. The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced soon after the restoration, as it seems by the earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the second, who had formed his taste by the French theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote, only to please, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than without it, very readily adopted his master's preference. He therefore made rhyming
* The order of his plays has been accurately ascertained by Mr. Ma