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JOHN DRY DEN.
This illustrious Poet was son of Erasmus Dryden | Mr. Dryden on account of his dramatic perfor. of Tichmerish in Northamptonshire, third son of mances, and charges him as a licentious plagiary. Sir Erasmus Dryden of Canons-Ashby, in the same The truth is, our Author, as a dramatist, is less county, Baronet, and born at Aldwincle, near eminent than in any other sphere of poetry; but, Oundle, 1631. He had his education in gram. with all his faults, he is event in that respect the mar-learning at Westminster-school, under the fa- most eminent of his time. mous Dr. Busby, and was from thence elected, in The critics have remarked, that as to Tragedy 1650, a scholar of Trinity College in Cambridge. seldom touches the passions, but deals rather in
We have no account of any extraordinary indi-pompous language, poetical flights and descripcations of genius given by this great Poet while in tions, and too frequently makes his characters his earlier days; and he is one instance how little speak better than they have occasion, or ought to regard is to be paid to the figure a boy, makes at do, when their sphere in the drama is considered. school. Mr. Dryden was turned of thirty before And it is peculiar to Dryden (says Mr. Addison) to he introduced any play, upon the stage, and his make his personages as wise, witty, elegant, and first, called The Wild Gallants, met with a very polite, as himself, That he could not so intimately indifferent reception; so that, if he had not been affect the tender passions is certain, for we find no impelled by the force of genius and propension, he play of his in which we are much disposed to weep; had never again attempted the stage; a circum- and we are so often enchanted with beautiful stance which the lovers of dramatic poetry must descriptions, and noble flights of fancy, that we ever have regretted, as they would in this case have forget the business of the play, and are only attenbeen deprived of one of the greatest ornaments that tive to the Poet, while the characters sleep. Mr. ever adorned the profession.
Gildon observes in his Laws of Poetry, that when The year before he left the University he wrote it was recommended to Mr. Dryden to turn his a Poem on the death of Lord Hastings, a perform thoughts to a translation of Euripides rather than ance, say some of his critics, very unworthy of him- of Homer, he confessed that he had no relish for self, and of the astonishing genius he afterwards that poet, who was a great master of tragic simdiscovered
plicity. Mr. Gildon further observes, as a confirThat Mr. Dryden had at this time no fixed prin-mation, that Dryden's taste for tragedy was not of ciples, either in religion or politics, is abundantly the genuine sort; that he constantly expressed great evident from his Heroic Stanzas on Oliver Crom-contempt for Otway, who is universally allowed to well, written after his funeral 1658; and imme- have succeeded very happily in effecting the tender diately upon the Restoration he published Astræa passions : yet Mr. Dryden, in his preface to the Redux, a poem on the happy restoration of Charles translation of M. Du Fresnoy, speaks more favour. II.; and the same year his Panegyric to the King ably of Otway; and after mentioning these in. on his Coronation.
stances, Gildon ascribes this taste in Dryden to his In 1662 he addressed a poem to the Lord Chan- having read many French romances. The truth is, cellor Hyde, presented on New-year's-day, and the if a poet would affect the
heart, he must not exceed same year published a Satire on the Dutch, His Nature too much, nor colour too high. Distressful next piece was his Annus
Mirabilis ; or the Year of circumstances, short speeches, and pathetic obserWonders, 1668, an historical poem, which celebrat-vations, never fail to move infinitely beyond the ed the Duke of York's victory over the Dutch. In highest rant, or long declamations in tragedy. The the same year Mr. Dryden succeeded Sir William simplicity of the drama was Otway's
peculiar excelDavenant as Poet Laureate, and was also made lence. A living poet observes, that from Otway to Historiographer to his Majesty; and that year pub- our own times, lished his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, addressed to Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. Mr Dryden “ From bard to bard the frigid caution crept, tells his patron, that the writing this Essay served And Declamation roar'd while Passion slept." as an amusement
to him in the country, when he was driven from Town by the violence of the plague Mr. Dryden seems to be sensible that he was not which then raged in London; and he diverted born to write comedy; "For," says he, “I want hinself with thinking on the theatres, as lovers do that gayety of humour which is required in it; my by ruminating on their absent mistresses. He conversation is slow and dull, my humour saturnine there justifies the method of writing plays in verse, and reserved. In short, I am none of those who but confesses that he has quitted the practice because endeavour to make jests in company, and make he found it troublesome and slow. In the preface, repartees; so that those who decry my Comedies we are informed that the drift of this discourse was do me no injury except it be in point of profit: to vindicate the honour of the English writers reputation in them is the last thing to which I shall from the censure of those who unjustly prefer the pretend."* French to them. Langbaine has injuriously treated This ingenuous confession of inability, one
would imagine, were sufficient to silence the cla. Athen. Oxon. + He might have added, it was unnatural. • Defence; or, The Essay on Dramatic Poetry.
mour of the critics against Mr. Dryden in that his soul was incapable of any thing that approach. particular; but, however true it may be that Dryden ed towards generosity; and when his resentment did not succeed to any degree in comedy, I shall was heated, he pursued revenge, and retained the endeavour to support my assertion, that in tragedy, most lasting hatred : he had always entertained a with all his faults, he is still the most excellent of prejudice against Dryden, from no other motive than his time. T'he end of tragedy is to instruct the envy. Dryden's plays met with success; and this mind as well as move the passions; and where there was enough to fire the resentment of Rochester, are no shining sentiments, the mind may be affect- who was naturally envious. In order to hurt the ed but not improved ; and however prevalent the character, and shake the interest of this noble passion of grief may be over the heart of man, it is Poet, he recommended Crown, an obscure man, to certain that he may feel distress in the acutest write a Mask for the court, which was Dryden's manner, and not be much the wiser for it. The
province, as Poet-Laureate, to perform. Crown in tragedies of Otway, Lee, and Southern, are irre- this succeeded; but soon after, when his play, sistibly moving, but they convey not such grand called The conquest of Jerusalem, met with such sentiments, and their language is far from being so extravagant applause, Rochester, jealous of his poetical Dryden's. Now, if one dramatic poet new favourite, not only abandoned him, but comwrites to move, and another to enchant and instruct, menced from that moment his enemy. as instruction is of greater consequence than being The other person, against whom this satire was agitated, it follows naturally that the latter is the levelled, was not superior in virtue to the former; most excellent writer, and possesses the greatest and all the nation over, two better subjects for genius.
satire could not have been found than Lord RoBut perhaps our Poet would have wrote better in chester and the Dutchess of Portsmouth. As for both kinds of the drama, had not the necessity of Rochester, he had not genius enough to enter the his circumstances obliged him to comply with the lists with Dryden, so he fell upon another mepopular taste. He himself, in his Dedication to the thod of revenge, and meanly hired bravoes to asSpanish Friar, insinuates as much. “I remem- sault him. ber," says he," some verses of my own Maximin In 1680 came out a translation of Ovid's Epistles and Almanzor, which cry vengeance upon me for in English verse, by several hands, two of which their extravagance. All that I can say for those were translated by Mr. Dryden, who also wrote the passages, which are I hope not many, is, that I preface. In the year following our author pubknew they were bad when I wrote them. But I lished Absalom and Achithophel. It was first repent of them amongst my sins, and if any of their printed without his name, and is a severe satire fellows intrude by chance into my present writ- against the contrivers and abettors of the opposiings, I draw a veil over all these Dalilahs of the tion against King Charles II. In the same year theatre, and am resolved I will settle myself no that Absalom and Achithophel was published, the reputation upon the applause of fools. It is not Medal, a satire, was likewise given to the public. that I am mortified to all ambition, but I scorn as This piece is aimed against sedition, and was ocmuch to take it from half-witted judges as I should casioned by the striking of a medal, on account of to raise an estate by cheating of bubbles. Neither the indictment against the Earl of Shaftsbury for do I discommend the lofty style in tragedy, which high treason, being found ignoramus by the grand is naturally pompous and magnificent; but nothing jury at the Old Bailey, November 1681; for which is truly sublime that is not just and proper."
the Whig party made great rejoicings by ringing of says in another place, "that his Spanish Friar was bells, bon-fires, &c. in all parts of London. The given to the people, and that he never wrote any poern is introduced with a very satirical epistle to thing in the dramatic way to please himself but his the Whigs, in which the Author says, "I have All for Love."
one favour to desire you at parting, that when In 1671 Mr. Dryden was publicly ridiculed on you think of answering this poem, you would emthe stage in the Duke of Buckingham's comedy ploy the same pens against it who have coinbated called The Rehearsal, under the character of Bays. with so much success against Absalom and AchiThis character, we are informed in the Key to the thophel, for then you may assure yourselves of a Rehearsal, was originally intended for Sir Robert clear victory without the least reply. Rail at me Howard, under the name of Bilboa; but the repre- abundantly, and not break a custom to do it with sentation being
put a stop to by the breaking out of wit. By this method you will gain a considerable the plague in 1665, it was laid by for several years, point, which is wholly to wave the answer of my and not exhibited on the stage till 1671, in which arguments. If God has not blessed you with the interval, Mr. Dryden being advanced to the Lau- talent of rhyming, make use of my poor stock, and rel, the noble author changed the name of his poet welcome; let your verses run upon my feet, and from Bilboa to Bays, and made great alterations in for the utmost refuge of notorious blockheads, rehis play, in order to ridicule several dramatic per duced to the last extremity of sense, turn my own formances that appeared since the first writing it. lines against me, and, in utter despair, of my own Those of Mr. Dryden which fell under his Grace's satire make me satirize myself." The whole poem lash were, The Wild Gallant, Tyrannic Love, The is a severe invective against the earl of Shaftsbury, Conquest of Granada, Marriage à-la-Mode, and who was uncle to that Earl who wrote the CharacLove in a Nunnery. Whatever was extravagant, teristics. Mr. Elkanah Settle wrote an answer to or too warmly expressed, or any way unnatural, the this poem, entitled The Medal Reversed. How. author has ridiculed by parody
ever contemptible Settle was as a poet, yet such was Mr. Dryden affected to despise the satire levelled the prevalence of parties at that time, that, for at him in the Rehearsal, as appears from his Dedi. some years he was Dryden's rival on the stage. In cation of the translation of Juvenal and Persius, 1682 came out his Religio Laici; or, A Layman's where speaking of the many lampoons and libels Faith. This piece is intended as a defence of re. that had been written against him, he says, “I vealed religion, and the excellency and authority of answered not to the Rehearsal, because I knew the the Scriptures, as the only rule of faith and manauthor sat to himself when he drew the picture, ners, against Deists, Papists, and Presbyterians. and was the very Bays of his own farce; because He acquaints us in the Preface, that it was written also I knew my betters were more concerned than for an ingenious young gentleman, his friend, upon I was in that satire; and, lastly, because Mr. Smith his translation of Father Simon's Critical History and Mr. Johnson, the main pillars of it, were two of the Old Testament, and that the style of it was such languishing gentlemen in their conversation, epistolary. that I could liken them to nothing but their own In 1684 he published a translation of M. Maim. relations, those noble characters of wit and pleasure bourgh's History of the League, in which he was about Town."
employed by the command of King Charles II. on In 1679 came out an Essay on Satire, said to be account of the plain parallel between the troubles written jointly by Mr. Dryden and the Earl of Mul- of France and those of Great Britain. Upon the grave. This piece, which was handed about in death of Charles II. he wrote his Threnodia Aumanuscript, contained reflections on the Dutchess gustalis, a poem sacred to the happy memory of of Portsmouth and the Earl of Rochester; who that prince. Soon after the accession of James II. suspecting, as Wood says, Mr. Dryden to be our Author turned Roman Catholic, and by this the author, hired three ruffians to cudgel him extraordinary step drew upon himself abundance of in Will's coffee house at eight o'clock at night. ridicule from the wits of the opposite faction; and This short anecdote I think cannot be told without in 1689 he wrote a Defence of the Papers written indignation. It proved Rochester was a malicious by the late King, of blessed memory, found in his coward, and like other cowards cruel and insolent;
strong box. Mr. Dryden, in the above mentioned