Obrazy na stronie

The last capital work which he executed, was his Fables, collected from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, and Chaucer, for which old Jacob Tonson gave him down 250 guineas ; and there being something very singular in the instrument that passed between the bard and the bookseller on this account, we have transcribed it from the original now in Mr. Tonson's hands, as a piece both entertaining and curious.

[ocr errors]

Do hereby promise to pay John Dryden, Esq;

or order, on the 25th of March, 1699, the fum “ of two hundred and fifty guineas, in consideration is of ten thousand verses, which the faid John Dry“ den, Esq; is to deliver to me Jacob Tonson, when “ finished, whereof seven thousand five hundred verses “ more or less, are already in the said Jacob Ton“ fon's possession. And I do hereby farther promise and engage myself to make up the said sum of two “ hundred and fifty guineas, three hundred pounds “ sterling to the said John Dryden, Esq; his execu

tors, administrators, or assigns, at the beginning of “ the second impression of the faid ten thousand 66 verses. w In witness whereof I have hereunto set

my hand “ and feal this twentieth day of March 169%.


Sealed and delivered, being

first stampt, pursuant to the acts of parliament for that purpose, in the prefence of


March 24th. 1698.

[ocr errors]

of two hundred sixty-eight pounds fifteen shillings, in pursuance of an agreement for ten u thousand verses, to be delivered by me to the faid “ Jacob Tonfon, whereof I have already delivered to « him about seven thousand five hundred, more or

less; he the said Jacoh Tonson being obliged to “ make up the forefayd sum of 2681. 155. od. three “ hundred pounds, at the beginning of the second “ impression of the foresayd ten thousand verses.

65 I say received by me


250 Guineas at il. 1s. 6d. -- is - - 2681. 155. od.

This was a very considerable price for poetry in those days; and, together with the bookseller's specifying barely the number of lines, without restricting them either to subject or revise, shew that our author's reputation was in very high esteem.

To complete the number of lines, he inserted the epistle to his cousin John Dryden of Chesterton, for which that gentleman made him a present of 500l. and his ode for St. Cecilia's day, entituled Alexander's Feaft, which is unanimously allowed to be the most finished poetical performance in our, or perhaps, in any other modern language. Mr. W. Moyle, who wrote the efsays, used to say, “That it was composed

for the Cicilian concert, and that our author " for the use of it received 40l.This volume was introduced into the world with a poetical address to the dutchess of Ormond, who rewarded the poet with a bill of 500 l. as I have been credibly informed by one of his collateral descendants.

In a manuscript letter to Jacob Tonson, now under my eye, our author speaks thus of his Alexander's Feaft: “I am glad to hear from all hands, that my

of ode is esteemed the best of all my poetry, by all " the town : I thought so myself when I writ'it; but

being old, I distrulted my own judgment. I hope “ it has done you service, and will do you more."

Besides what we have here enumerated, our author published a vast variety of other poems both tranNations and originals, all which will be found in this edition of his works. He also wrote in prose a preface to Wallh's dialogue concerning women, and the Lives of Plutarch and Lucian, prefixed to the translation of their respective works by several hands; and also that of Polybius, before a translation of that hiftorian by Sir Harry Sheers. The same gentleman published a Tacitus, the first book of whith was done by our author; and other things were passed upon the world for his which really belonged to one John Davies, a writer of those days, who encouraged the mistake, in which to be sure he found his advantage, by printing in the title-page only the initial letters of his name, which might be equally applied to Dryden and Davies.

Our author married the lady Elizabeth Howard, a daughter of the earl of Berkshire, and sister to Sir Robert Howard, the honorable colonel Philip Howard, and to Edward Howard Efq; author of the British Princes. She survived him several years; and by her he left three sons; Charles, who was drowned swimming across the Thames at Windsor, in his twentyeighth year ; John, who wrote a play called the Husband his own Cuckold, and wlio died in the pope's houshold, being one of his guard ; Henry Erasmus, who was in priest's orders, and lived to inherit the family title. There was something superstitious in Dryden's cha

for he calculated the nativity of his for Charles, who was his favorite ; and found that he should be in danger of death every feventh year. The event verified the prediction. He had three very narrow escapes at the æras foretold ; the fourth accident was fatal.


racter ;

This great poet died of a mortification in his foot, at his house in Gerrard's street, Soho, on the first of May, 1701, aged seventy: and when he first felt the pain, pronounced it to be the stroke of death. Dr. Sprat bishop of Rochester requested that his lady would order the body to be interred in Westminster-abbey, and he would remit the fees for opening the ground, &c. which came to upwards of forty pounds. Lord Hallifax also undertook the expence of his funeral, and ordered a velvet hearse with eighteen mourning coaches to attend for that purpose.

The procession was now beginning to move forward, when Lord Jeffries, son to the famous chancellor, chancing to pass by with some revelling companions, swore that so great a poet should not be thus privately buried; but that he would undertake it in a manner much more splendid, and more worthy of such a celebrated character. He even intruded with this dee claration upon the privacy of lady Elizabeth ; but she rejected the offer, and actually swooned at his extraordinary procedure. He then went down stairs; and, pretending that her ladyship had consented, ordered the body to one Russel's, an undertaker in Cheapfide, where it lay for some time, without his taking any further notice of it; and when solicited about it, he pleaded ignorance and a drunken frolic. Thus the body lay above-ground near three weeks; when, with her ladyship's leave, Dr. Garth had it removed to the College of Physicians, where a subscription being made to defray the burial-expences, the Dr. pronounced a fine Latin oration in praise of the deceased. His remains were then conveyed to the abbey, with a long train of coaches, and interred in a confused disorderly manner : for the bishop, disgusted at the affront put upon him, as he supposed, by my lady before, when he attended with the choir, the abbey being lighted up, declined assisting; and it has been confidently asserted, that so little was decorum attended to, a Westminster scholar sung an ode of Horace over the grave.

[ocr errors]

a monument to


Mr. Charles Dryden challenged the lord who had deported himself thus meanly ; but he, to avoid worse consequences, left town thereupon, and afterwards the kingdom. The Earl of Hallifax, influenced by the same reason that prevented Dr. Sprat from attending the funeral, no longer thought of laying out five hundred pounds, as he had at first intended, in the memory of our poet ;

but Sheffield, duke of Buckingham, at length set un

his bust in the Abbey with this inscription :


Natus Aug. 9. 1631.

Mortuus Maii 1. 1701.
Johannes, Sheffield Dux Buckinghamienfis fecit.
He took the hint of so doing from this line, relating
to Dryden, in Pope's epitaph on Rowe.

Beneath a rude and nameless stone he lies.
And his grace originally intended for the monumen-
tal inscription, these two lines :

This Sheffield rais’d: the sacred dust below
Was Dryden once ; the rest who does not know.

Tom Brown, in a pamphlet, entituled, “ The late “ Converts exposed, or, the Reasons of Mr. Bayes' “ changing his Religion,” insinuates, that Dryden follicited to be ordained in the Protestant church, but was refused; and that he also miscarried in attempting to be appointed to the provoftship of Eton-College, near Windsor. Langbaine also bears testimony to this, but I dare fay the reputation of these witnesses will have but little weight with the judicious reader, who cannot but see that this great man's enemies spared no opportunities of striving to make him ridiculous ; and if truth failed, they feldom scrupled having recourse to invention. Envy is a vice peculiar to little minds, and falsity its best iupport.

« PoprzedniaDalej »