This illustrious Poet was son of Erasmus Dryden, of Tickermish in Northamptonshire, and born at Aldwinckle, near Oundle 1631, he had his education in grammar learning, at Westminster-school, under the famous Dr. Busby, and was from thence elected in 1650, a scholar of Trinity-College in Cambridge.
We have no account of any extraordinary indications of genius given by this great poets while in his earlier days; and he is one instance how little regard is to be paid to the figure a boy makes at School: Mr. Dryden was turned of thirty before he introduced any play upon the stage, and his first, called the Wild Gallants, met with a very indifferent reception; so that if he had not been impelled by the force of genius and propension, he had never again attempted the stage: a circumstance which the lovers of dramatic poetry must ever have regretted, as they would in this case have been deprived of one of the greatest ornaments that ever adorned the profession. The year before he left the university, he wrote a poem on the death of lord Hastings, a performance, say some of his critics, very unworthy of himself, and of the astonishing genius he afterwards discovered.
That Mr. Dryden had at this time no fixed principles, either in religion or politics, is abundantly evident, from his heroic stanzas on Oliver Cromwel, written after his funeral 1658; and immediately upon the restoration he published Astraea Redux, a poem on the happy restoration of Charles the IId; and the same year, his Panegyric to the king on his coronation: In the former of these pieces, a remarkable distich has expos'd our poet to the ridicule of the wits.
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we the tempest hear.
Which it must be owned is downright nonsense, and a contradiction in terms: Amongst others captain Radcliff has ridiculed this blunder in the following lines of his News from Hell.
Laureat who was both learn'd and florid,
Was damn'd long since for silence horrid:
Nor had there been such clutter made,
But that his silence did invade.
Invade, and so it might, that's clear;
But what did it invade? An ear!
In 1662 he addressed a poem to the lord chancellor Hyde, presented on new-years-day; and the same year published a satire on the Dutch. His next piece, was his Annus Mirabilis, or the Year of Wonders, 1668, an historical poem, which celebrated the duke of York's victory over the Dutch. In the same year Mr. Dryden succeeded Sir William Davenant as Poet Laureat, and was also made historiographer to his majesty; and that year published his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, addressed to Charles earl of Dorset and Middlesex. Mr. Dryden tells his patron, that the writing this Essay, served as an amusement to him in the country, when he was driven from town by the violence of the plague, which then raged in London; and he diverted himself with thinking on the theatres, as lovers do by ruminating on their absent mistresses: He there justifies the method of writing plays in verse, but confesses that he has quitted the practice, because he found it troublesome and slow. In the preface we are informed that the drift of this discourse was to vindicate the honour of the English writers from the censure of those who unjustly prefer the French to them. Langbaine has injuriously treated Mr. Dryden, on account of his dramatic performances, and charges him as a licentious plagiary. The truth is, our author as a dramatist is less eminent than in any other sphere of poetry; but, with all his faults, he is even in that respect the most eminent of his time.
The critics have remarked, that as to tragedy, he seldom touches the passions, but deals rather in pompous language, poetical flights, and descriptions; and too frequently makes his characters speak better than they have occasion, or ought to do, when their sphere in the drama is considered: And it is peculiar to Dryden (says Mr. Addison) to make his personages, as wise, witty, elegant and polite as himself. That he could not so intimately affect the tender passions, is certain, for we find no play of his, in which we are much disposed to weep; and we are so often inchanted with beautiful descriptions, and noble flights of fancy, that we forget the business of the play, and are only attentive to the poet, while the characters sleep. Mr. Gildon observes in his laws of poetry, that when it was recommended to Mr. Dryden to turn his thoughts to a translation of Euripides, rather than of Homer, he confessed that he had no relish for that poet, who was a great master of tragic simplicity. Mr. Gildon, further observes, as a confirmation that Dryden's taste for tragedy was not of the genuine sort, that he constantly expressed great contempt for Otway, who is universally allowed to have succeeded very happily in affecting the tender passions: Yet Mr. Dryden, in his preface to the translation of M. Du Fresnoy, speaks more favourably of Otway; and after mentioning these instances, Gildon ascribes this taste in Dryden, to his having read many French Romances. — The truth is, if a poet would affect the heart, he must not exceed nature too much, nor colour too high; distressful circumstances, short speeches, and pathetic observations never fail to move intirely beyond the highest rant, or long declamations in tragedy: The simplicity of the drama was Otway's peculiar excellence; a living poet observes, that from Otway to our own times,
From bard to bard, the frigid caution crept,
And declamation roar'd while passion slept.
Mr. Dryden seems to be sensible, that he was not born to write comedy; for, says he, "I want that gaiety of humour which is required in it; my conversation is flow and dull, my humour Saturnine and reserved. In short, I am none of those who endeavour to break jests in company, and make repartees; so that those who decry my comedies, do me no injury, except it be in point of profit: Reputation in them is the last thing to which I shall pretend."
This ingenuous confession of inability, one would imagine were sufficient to silence the clamour of the critics against Mr. Dryden in that particular; but, however true it may be, that Dryden did not succeed to any degree in comedy, I shall endeavour to support my assertion, that in tragedy, with all his faults, he is still the most excellent of his time. The end of tragedy is to instruct the mind, as well as move the passions; and where there are no shining sentiments, the mind may be affected, but not improved; and however prevalent the passion of grief may be over the heart of man, it is certain that he may feel distress in the acutest manner, and not be much the wiser for it. The tragedies of Otway, Lee and Southern, are irresistibly moving, but they convey not such grand sentiments, and their language is far from being so poetical as Dryden's; now, if one dramatic poet writes to move, and another to enchant and instruct, as instruction is of greater consequence than being agitated, it follows naturally, that the latter is the most excellent writer, and possesses the greatest genius.
But perhaps our poet would have wrote better in both kinds of the drama, had not the necessity of his circumstances obliged him to comply with the popular taste. He himself, in his dedication to the Spanish Fryar, insinuates as much. "I remember, says he, some verses of my own Maximin and Almanzor, which cry vengeance upon me for their extravagance. All that I can say for those passages, which are I hope not many, is, that I knew they were had when I wrote them. But I repent of them amongst my sins, and if any of their fellows intrude by chance, into my present writings, I draw a veil over all these Dalilahs of the theatre, and am resolved, I will settle myself no reputation upon the applause of fools. 'Tis not that I am mortified to all ambition, but I scorn as much to take it from half witted judges, as I should to raise an estate by cheating of bubbles. Neither do I discommend the lofty stile in tragedy, which is naturally pompous and magnificent; but nothing is truely sublime that is not just and proper." He says in another place, "that his Spanish Fryar was given to the people, and that he never wrote any thing in the dramatic way, to please himself, but his All for Love."
In 1671 Mr. Dryden was publicly ridiculed on the stage, in the duke of Buckingham's comedy, called the Rehearsal, under the character of Bays: This character, we are informed, in the Key to the Rehearsal, was originally intended for Sir Robert Howard, under the name of Bilboa; but the representation being put a stop to, by the breaking out of the plague, in 1665, it was laid by for several years, and not exhibited on the stage till 1671, in which interval, Mr. Dryden being advanced to the Laurel, the noble author changed the name of his poet, from Bilboa to Bays, and made great alterations in his play, in order to ridicule several dramatic performances, that appeared since the first writing it. Those of Mr. Dryden, which fell under his grace's lash, were the Wild Gallant, Tyrannic Love, the Conquest of Granada, Marriage A la-Mode, and Love in a Nunnery: Whatever was extravagant, or too warmly expressed, or any way unnatural, the author has ridiculed by parody.
Mr. Dryden affected to despise the satire levelled at him in the Rehearsal, as appears from his dedication of the translation of Juvenal and Persius, where speaking of the many lampoons, and libels that had, been written against him, he says, "I answered not to the Rehearsal, because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Bays of his own farce; because also I knew my betters were more concerned than I was in that satire; and lastly, because Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson, the main pillars of it, were two such languishing gentleman in their conversation, that I could liken them to nothing but their own relations, those noble characters of men of wit and pleasure about town."
In 1679 came out an Essay on Satire, said to be written jointly by Mr. Dryden and the earl of Mulgrave; this piece, which was handed about in manuscript, containing Reflexions on the Duchess of Portsmouth, and the Earl of Rochester; who suspecting, as Wood says, Mr. Dryden to be the author, hired three ruffians to cudgel him in Wills's coffee-house at eight o'clock at night. This short anecdote, I think, cannot be told without indignation. It proved Rochester was a malicious coward, and, like other cowards, cruel and insolent; his soul was incapable of anything that approached towards generosity, and when his resentment was heated, he pursued revenge, and retained the most lasting hatred he had always entertained a prejudice against Dryden, from no other motive than envy: Dryden's plays met with success, and this was enough to fire the resentment of Rochester, who was naturally envious. In order to hurt the character, and shake the interest of this noble poet, he recommended Crown, an obscure man, to write a Masque for the court, which was Dryden's province, as poet-laureat, to perform. Crown in this succeeded, but soon after, when his play called the Conquest of Jerusalem met with such extravagant applause, Rochester, jealous of his new favourite, not only abandoned him, but commenced from that moment his enemy.
The other person against whom this satire was levelled, was not superior in virtue to the former, and all the nation over, two better subjects for satire could not have been found, than lord Rochester, and the duchess of Portsmouth. As for Rochester, he had not genius enough to enter the lists with Dryden, so he fell upon another method of revenge; and meanly hired bravoes to assault him.
In 1680 came out a translation of Ovid's Epistles in English verse, by several hands, two of which were translated by Mr. Dryden, who also wrote the preface. In the year following our author published Absalom and Achitophel. It was first printed without his name, and is a severe satire against the contrivers and abettors of the opposition against King Charles II. In the same year that Absalom and Achitophel was publshed, the Medal, a Satire, was likewise given to the public. This piece is aimed against sedition, and was occasioned by the striking of a medal, on account of the indictment against the earl of Shaftsbury for high treason being found ignoramus by the grand jury, at the Old Bailey, November 1681: For which the Whig party, made great rejoicings by ringing of bells, bonfires, &c. in all parts of London. The poem is introduced with a very satirical epistle to the Whigs, in which the author says, "I have one favour to desire you at parting, that when you think of answering this poem, you would employ the same pens against it, who have combated with so much success against Absalom and Achitophel, for then you may assure yourselves of a clear victory without the least reply. Rail at me abundantly, and not break a custom to do it with wit. By this method you will gain a considerable point, which is wholly to wave the answer of my arguments. If God has not blessed you with the talent of rhiming, make use of my poor stock and welcome; let your verses run upon my feet, and for the utmost refuge of notorious blockheads, reduced to the last extremity of sense, turn my own lines against me, and in utter despair of my own satire, make me satirize myself." The whole poem is a severe invective against the earl of Shaftsbury, who was uncle to that earl who wrote the Characteristics. Mr. Elkanah Settle wrote an answer to this poem, entitled the Medal Reversed. However contemptible Settle was as a poet, yet such was the prevalence of parties at that time, that, for some years, he was Dryden's rival on the stage. In 1682 came out his Religio Laici, or a Layman's Faith; this piece is intended as a defence of revealed religion, and the excellency and authority of the scriptures, as the only rule of faith and manners, against Deists, Papists, and. Presbyterians. He acquaints us in the preface, that it was written for an ingenious young gentleman, his, friend; upon his translation of Father Simons's Critical History of the Old Testament, and that the stile of it was epistolary.
In 1684 he published a translation of M. Maimbourg's History of the League, in which he was employed by the command of King Charles II. on account of the plain parallel between the troubles of France, and those of Great Britain. Upon the death of Charles II. he wrote his Threnodia Augustalis a Poem, sacred to the happy memory of that Prince. Soon after the accession of James II. our author turned Roman Catholic, and by this extraordinary step drew upon himself abundance of ridicule from wits of the opposite faction; and in 1689 he wrote a Defence of the Papers, written by the late King of blessed memory, found in his strong box. Mr. Dryden, in the above-mentioned piece, takes occasion to vindicate the authority of the Catholic Church, in decreeing matters of faith, upon this principle, that the church is more visible than the scriptures, because the scriptures are seen by the church, and to abuse the reformation in England, which he affirms was erected on the foundation of lust, sacrilege, and usurpation. Dr. Stillingfleet hereupon answered Mr. Dryden, and treated him with some severity. Another author affirms, that Mr. Dryden's tract is very light, in some places ridiculous; and observes, that his talent lay towards controversy no more in prose, than, by the Hind and Panther, it appeared to do in verse. This poem of the Hind and Panther is a direct defence of the Romish Church, in a dialogue between a Hind, which represents the Church of Rome, and a Panther, which supports the character of the Church of England. The first part of this poem consists most in general characters and narration, which, says he, "I have endeavoured to raise, and give it the majestic turn of heroic poetry. The second being matter of dispute, and chiefly concerning church authority, I was obliged to make as plain and perspicuous as possibly I could, yet not wholly neglecting the numbers, though I had not frequent occasion for the magnificence of verse. The third, which has more of the nature of domestic conversation, is, or ought to be, more free and familiar than the two former. There are in it two episodes or fables, which are interwoven with the main design, so that they are properly parts of it, though they are also distinct stories of themselves. In both of these I have made use of the common places of satire, whether true or false, which are urged by the members of the one church against the other."
Mr. Dryden speaks of his own conversion in the following terms;
But, gracious God, how well dolt thou provide,
For erring judgments, an unerring guide.
Thy throne is darkness, in th' abyss of light,
A blaze of glory that forbids the sight.
O teach me to believe thee, thus concealed,
And search no further than thyself revealed;
But her alone for my director take,
Whom thou hast promis'd never to forsake!
My thoughtless youth was wing'd with vain desires;
My manhood, long misled by wand'ring fires,
Follow'd false lights; and when their glimpse was gone,
My pride struck out new sparkles of her own.
Such was I, such by nature still I am,
Be thine the glory, and be mine the shame,
Good life be now my talk, my doubts are done.
This poem was attacked by Mr. Charles Montague, afterwards Earl of Hallifax, and Mr. Matthew Prior, who joined in writing the Hind and Panther, transversed to the Country Mouse, and City Mouse, Lond. 1678, 4to. In the preface to which, the author observes, "that Mr. Dryden's poem naturally falls into ridicule, and that in this burlesque, nothing is represented monstrous and unnatural, that is not equally so in the original." They afterwards remark, that they have this comfort under the severity of Mr. Dryden's satire, to see his abilities equally lessened with his opinion of them, and that he could not be a fit champion against the Panther till he had laid aside his judgment.
Mr. Dryden is supposed to have been engaged in translating M. Varillas's History of Heresies, but to have dropped that design. This we learn from a passage in Burnet's reflexions on the ninth book of the first volume of M. Varillas's History, being a reply to his answer.
I shall here give the picture the Dr. has drawn of this noble poet, which is, like a great many of the doctor's other characters, rather exhibited to please himself than according to the true resemblance.
The doctor says, "I have been informed from England, that a gentleman who is famous both for poetry, and several other things, has spent three months in translating Mr. Varillas's history; but as soon as my reflexions appeared, he discontinued his labours, finding the credit of his author being gone. Now if he thinks it is recovered by his answer, he will, perhaps, go on with his translation; but this may be, for ought I know, as good an entertainment for him, as the conversation he has set on foot between the Hinds and Panthers, and all the rest of the animals; for whom M. Varillas may serve well enough as an author; and this history and that poem are such extraordinary things of their kind, that it will be but suitable to see the author of the worst poem become the translator of the worst history, that the age has produced. If his grace and his wit improve so proportionably, we shall hardly find, that he has gained much by the change he has made, from having no religion, to chuse one of the word. It is true he had somewhat to sink from in matter of wit, but as for his morals, it is scarce possible for him to grow a worse man than he was. He has lately wreaked his malice on me for spoiling his three months labour; but in it he has done me all the honour a man can receive from him, which is to be railed at by him. If I had ill-nature enough to prompt me to wish a very bad wish for him, it should be that he would go and finish his translation. By that it will appear whether the English nation, which is the most competent judge of this matter, has upon seeing this debate, pronounced in M. Varillas's favour or me. It is true, Mr. Dryden will suffer a little by it; but at lead it will serve to keep him in from other extravagancies; and if he gains little honour by this work, yet he cannot lose so much by it, as he has done by his last employment."
When the revolution was compleated, Mr. Dryden having turned Papist, became disqualified for holding his place, and was accordingly dispossessed of it; and it was conferred on a man to whom he had a confirmed aversion; in consequence whereof he wrote a satire against him, called Mac Flecknoe, which is one of the severest and best written satires in our language.
Mr. Richard Flecknoe, the new laureat, with whose name it is inscribed, was a very indifferent poet of those times; or rather as Mr. Dryden expresses it, and as we have already quoted in Flecknoe's life.
In prose and verse was own'd without dispute,
Thro' all the realms of nonsense absolute.
This poem furnished the hint to Mr. Pope to write his Dunciad; and it must be owned the latter has been more happy in the execution of his design, as having more leisure for the performance; but in Dryden's Mac Flecknoe there are some lines so extremely pungent, that I am not quite certain if Pope has any where exceeded them.
In the year wherein he was deprived of the laurel, he published the life of St. Francis Xavier, translated from the French of father Dominic Bouchours. In 1693 came out a translation of Juvenal and Persius; in which the first, third, sixth, tenth, and sixteenth satires of Juvenal, and Persius entire, were done by Mr. Dryden, who prefixed a long and ingenious discourse, by way of dedication, to time earl of Dorset. In this address our author takes occasion a while to drop his reflexions on Juvenal; and to lay before his lordship a plan for an epic poem: he observes, that his genius never much inclined him to the stage; and that he wrote for it rather from necessity than inclination. He complains, that his circumstances are such as not to suffer him to pursue the bent of his own genius, and then lays down a plan upon which an epic poem might be written to which, says he, I am more inclined. Whether the plan proposed is faulty or no, we are not at present to consider; one thing is certain, a man of Mr. Dryden's genius would have covered by the rapidity of the action, the art of the design, and the beauty of the poetry, whatever might have been defective in the plan, and produced a work which have been the boast of the nation.
We cannot help regretting on this occasion, that Dryden's fortune was not easy enough to enable him, with convenience and leisure; to pursue a work that might have proved an honour to himself, and reflected a portion thereof on all who should have appeared his encouragers on this occasion.
In 1695 Mr. Dryden published a translation in prose of Du Fresnoy's Art of Painting, with a preface containing a parallel between painting and poetry. Mr. Pope has addressed copy of verses to Mr. Jervas in praise of Dryden's translation. In 1697 his translation of Virgil's works came out. This translation has passed thro' many editions, and of all the attempts which have been made to render Virgil into English, the critics, I think, have allowed that Dryden best succeeded: notwithstanding as he himself says, when he began it, he was past the grand climacteric! so little influence it seems, age had over him, that he retained his judgment and fire in full force to the last. Mr. Pope in his preface to Homer says, if Dryden had lived to finish what he began of Homer, he (Mr. Pope) would not have attempted it after him, "No more, says he, than I would his Virgil, his version of whom (notwithstanding some human errors) is the most noble and spirited translation I know in any language."
Dr. Trap charges Mr. Dryden with grossly mistaking his author's sense in many places; with adding or retrenching as his turn is best served with either; and with being least a translator where he shines most as a poet; whereas it is a just rule laid down by lord Roscommon, that a translator in regard to his author should "Fall as he falls, and as he rises rise." Mr. Dryden, he tells us, frequently acts the very reverse of this precept, of which he produces some instances; and remarks in general, that the first six books of the Aeneis, which are the best and most perfect in the original, are the least so in the translation. Dr. Trap's remarks may possibly be true; but in this he is an instance how easy it is to discover faults in other men's works, and how difficult to avoid them in our own.
Dr. Trap's translation is close, and conveys the author's meaning literally, so consequently may be fitter for a school-boy, but men of riper judgment, and superior taste, will hardly approve it; if Dryden's is the most spirited of any translation, Trap's is the dullest that ever was written; which proves that none but a good poet is fit to translate the works of a good poet.
Besides the original pieces and translations hitherto mentioned, Mr. Dryden wrote many others, published in six volumes of Miscellanies, and in other collections. They consist of translations from the Greek and Latin poets, Epistles to several persons, prologues, and epilogues to several plays, elegies, epitaphs, and songs. His last work was his Fables, ancient and modern, translated into verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, and Chaucer. To this work, which is perhaps, one of his most imperfect, is prefixed by way of preface, a critical account of the authors, from whom the fables are translated. Among the original pieces, the Ode to St. Cecilia's day is justly esteemed one of the most elevated in any language. It is impossible for a poet to read this without being filled with that sort of enthusiasm which is peculiar to the inspired tribe, and which Dryden largely felt when he composed it. The turn of the verse is noble, the transitions surprizing, the language and sentiments just, natural, and heightened. We cannot be too lavish in praise of this Ode: had Dryden never wrote any thing besides, his name had been immortal. Mr. Pope has the following beautiful lines in its praise.
Hear how Timotheus varied lays surprize,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!
While, at each change, the son of Lybian Jove
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love:
Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow
Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow;
Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found,
And the world's victor stood subdued by sound:
The power of music all our hearts allow;
And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.
As to our author's performances in prose, besides his Dedications and Prefaces, and controversial Writings, they consist of the Lives of Plutarch and Lucian, prefixed to the Translation of those Authors, by several Hands; the Life of Polybius, before the translation of that Historian by Sir Henry Sheers, and the Preface to the Dialogue concerning Women, by William Walsh, Esquire.
Before we give an account of the dramatic works of Dryden, it will be proper here to insert a story concerning him, from the life of Congreve by Charles Wilson esquire, which that gentleman received from the lady whom Mr. Dryden celebrates by the name of Corinna, of whom it appears he was very fond; and who had the relation from lady Chudleigh. Dryden with all his understanding was weak enough to be fond of judicial Astrology, and used to calculate the nativity of his children. When his lady was in labour with his son Charles, he being told it was decent to withdraw, laid his watch on the table, begging one of the ladies then present, in a most solemn manner, to take exact notice of the very minute the child was born, which she did, and acquainted him with it. About a week after, when his lady was pretty well recovered, Mr. Dryden took occasion to tell her that he had been calculating the child's nativity, and observed, with grief, that he was born in an evil hour, for Jupiter, Venus, and the sun, were all under the earth, and the lord of his ascendant afflicted with a hateful square of Mars and Saturn. If he lives to arrive at his 8th year (says he) "he will go near to die a violent death on his very birth-day, but if he should escape, as I see but small hopes, he will in the 23d year be under the very same evil direction, and if he should escape that also, the 33d or 34th year is, I fear" — here he was interrupted by the immoderate grief of his lady, who could no longer hear calamity prophecy'd to befall her son. The time at last came, and August was the inauspicious month in which young Dryden was to enter into the eighth year of his age. The court being in progress, and Mr. Dryden at leisure, he was invited to the country seat of the earl of Berkshire, his brother-in-law, to keep the long vacation with him in Charlton in Wilts; his lady was invited to her uncle Mordaunts, to pass the remainder of the summer. When they came to divide the children, lady Elizabeth would have him take John, and suffer her to take Charles; but Mr. Dryden was too absolute, and they parted in anger; he took Charles with him, and she was obliged to be content with John. When the fatal day came, the anxiety of the lady's spirits occasioned such an effervescence of blood, as threw her into so violent a fever, that her life was despaired of, till, a letter came from Mr. Dryden, reproving her for her womanish credulity, and assuring her, that her child was well, which recovered her spirits, and in six weeks after she received an ecclaircissement of the whole affair. Mr. Dryden, either thro' fear of being reckoned superstitious, or thinking it a science beneath his study, was extremely cautious of letting any one know that he was a dealer in Astrology; therefore could not excuse his absence, on his son's anniversary, from a general hunting match lord Berkshire had made, to which all the adjacent gentlemen, were invited. When he went out, he took care to set the boy a double exercise in the Latin tongue, which he taught his children himself, with a strict charge not to stir out of the room till his return; well knowing the task he had set him would take up longer time. Charles was performing his duty, in obedience to his father, but as ill fate would have it, the stag made towards the house; and the noise alarming the servants, they hasted out to see the sport. One of them took young Dryden by the hand, and led him out to see it also, when just as they came to the gate, the stag being at bay with the dogs, made a bold push and leaped over the court wall, which was very low, and very old; and the dogs following, threw down a part of the wall ten yards in length, under which Charles Dryden lay buried. He was immediately dug out, and after six weeks languishing in a dangerous way he recovered; so far Dryden's prediction was fulfilled: In the twenty-third year of his age, Charles fell from the top of an old tower belonging to the Vatican at Rome, occasioned by a swimming in his head, with which he was seized, the heat of the day being excessive. He again recovered, but was ever after in a languishing sickly state. In the thirty-third year of his age, being returned to England, he was unhappily drowned at Windsor. He had with another gentleman swam twice over the Thames; but returning a third time, it was supposed he was taken with the cramp, because he called out for help, tho' too late. Thus the father's calculation proved but too prophetical.
Mr. Dryden died the first of May 1701, and was interred in Westminster-Abby. On the 19th of April he had been very bad with the gout, and erisipelas in one leg; but he was then somewhat recovered, and designed to go abroad; on the Friday following he eat a partridge for his supper, and going to take a turn in the little garden behind his house in Gerard-street, he was seized with a violent pain under the ball of the great toe of his right foot; that, unable to stand, he cried out for help, and was carried in by his servants, when upon sending for surgeons, they found a small black spot in the place affected; he submitted to their present applications, and when gone called his son Charles to him, using these words. "I know this black spot is a mortification: I know also, that it will seize my head, and that they will attempt to cut off my leg; but I command you my son, by your filial duty, that you do not suffer me to be dismembered:" As he foretold, the event proved, and his son was too dutiful to disobey his father's commands.
On the Wednesday morning following, he breathed his last, under the most excruciating pains, in the 69th year of his age; and left behind him the lady Elizabeth, his wife, and three sons. Lady Elizabeth survived him eight years, four of which she was a lunatic; being deprived of her senses by a nervous fever in 1704.
John, another of his sons, died of a fever at Rome; and Charles as has been observed, was drowned in the Thames; there is no account when, or at what place Harry his third son died.
Charles Dryden, who was some time usher to pope Clement II. was a young gentleman of a very promising genius; and in the affair of his father's funeral, which I am about to relate, shewed himself a man of spirit and resolution.
The day after Mr. Dryden's death, the dean of Westminster sent word to Mr. Dryden's widow, that he would make a present of the ground, and all other Abbey-fees for the funeral: The lord Halifax likewise sent to the lady Elizabeth, and to Mr. Charles Dryden, offering to defray the expences of our poet's funeral, and afterwards to bestow £500 on a monument in the Abbey: which generous offer was accepted. Accordingly, on sunday following, the company being assembled, the corpse was put into a velvet hearse, attended by eighteen mourning coaches. When they were just ready to move, lord Jefferys, son of lord chancellor Jeffreys, a name dedicated to infamy, with some of his rakish companions riding by, asked whose funeral it was; and being told it was Mr. Dryden's, he protested he should not be buried in that private manner, that he would himself, with the lady Elizabeth's leave, have the honour of the interment, and would bestow a thousand pounds on a monument in the Abbey for him. This put a stop to their procession; and the lord Jefferys, with several of the gentlemen, who had alighted from their coaches, went up stairs to the lady, who was sick in bed. His lordship repeated the purport of what he had said below; but the lady Elizabeth refusing her consent, he fell on his knees, vowing never to rise till his request was granted. The lady under a sudden surprise fainted away, and lord Jeffery's pretending to have obtained her consent, ordered the body to be carried to Mr. Russel's an undertaker in Cheapside, and to be left there till further orders. In the mean time the Abbey was lighted up, the ground opened, the choir attending, and the bishop waiting some hours to no purpose for the corpse. The next day Mr. Charles Dryden waited on my lord Halifax, and the bishop; and endeavoured to excuse his mother, by relating the truth. Three days after the undertaker having received no orders, waited on the lord Jefferys; who pretended it was a drunken frolic, that he remembered nothing of the matter, and he might do what he pleased with the body. Upon this, the undertaker waited on the lady Elizabeth, who desired a day's respite, which was granted. Mr. Charles Dryden immediately wrote to the lord Jefferys, who returned for answer, that he knew nothing of the matter, and would be troubled no more about it. Mr. Dryden hereupon applied again to the lord Halifax, and the bishop of Rochester, who absolutely refused to do any thing in the affair.
In this distress, Dr. Garth, who had been Mr. Dryden's intimate friend, sent for the corpse to the college of physicians, and proposed a subscription; which succeeding, about three weeks after Mr. Dryden's decease, Dr. Garth pronounced a fine latin oration over the body, which was conveyed from the college, attended by a numerous train of coaches to Westminster-Abbey, but in very great disorder. At last the corpse arrived at the Abbey, which was all unlighted. No organ played, no anthem sung; only two of the singing boys preceded the corpse, who sung an ode of Horace, with each a small candle in their hand. When the funeral was over, Mr. Charles Dryden sent a challenge to lord Jefferys, who refusing to answer it, he sent several others, and went often himself; but could neither get a letter delivered, nor admittance to speak to him; which so incensed him, that finding his lordship refused to answer him like a gentleman, he resolved to watch an opportunity, and brave him to fight, though with all the rules of honour; which his lordship hearing, quitted the town, and Mr. Charles never had an opportunity to meet him, though he sought it to his death, with the utmost application.
Mr. Dryden had no monument erected to him for several years; to which Mr. Pope alludes in his epitaph intended for Mr. Rowe, in this line. "Beneath a rude and nameless stone he lies." In a note upon which we are informed, that the tomb of Mr. Dryden was erected upon this is hint, by Sheffield duke of Buckingham, to which was originally intended this epitaph.
This Sheffield raised. — The sacred dust below,
Was Dryden once; the rest who does not know.
Which was since changed into the plain inscription now upon it, viz.
J. DRYDEN, Natus Aug. 9. 1631. Mortus Maii i. 1701. Johannes Sheffield, Dux Buckinghamiensis fecit.
The character of Mr. Dryden has been drawn by various hands; some have done it in a favourable, others in an opposite manner. The bishop of Sarum in the history of his own times, says, that the stage was defiled beyond all example. "Dryden, the great master of dramatic poetry, being a monster of immodesty and impurities of all sorts." The late lord Lansdown took upon himself to vindicate Mr. Dryden's character from this severe imputation; which was again answered, and apologies for it, by Mr. Burnet, the bishop's son. But not to dwell on these controversies about his character, let us hear what Mr. Congreve says in the dedication of Dryden's works to the duke of Newcastle: Congreve knew him intimately, and as he could have no motive to deceive the world in that particular; and being a man of untainted morals, none can suspect his authority; and by his account we shall see, that Dryden was indeed as amiable in private life, as a Man, as he was illustrious in the eye of the public, as a Poet.
Mr. Dryden (says Congreve) "had personal qualities, to challenge love and esteem from all who were truly acquainted with him. He was of a nature exceeding humane and compassionate, easily forgiving injuries, and capable of a prompt and sincere reconciliation with those who had offended him. — His friendship, where he professed it, went much beyond his professions. — As his reading had been very extensive, so was he very happy in a memory, tenacious of every thing he had read. He was not more possessed of knowledge, than he was communicative of it; but then, his communication of it was by no means pedantic, or imposed upon the conversation, but just such, and went so far, as by the natural turns of the discourse in which he was engaged, it was necessarily prompted, or required. He was extremely ready and gentle in the correction of the errors of any writer, who thought fit to consult him, and full as ready and patient to admit of the reprehension of others in respect of his own oversight or mistakes. He was of a very easy, I may say, of very pleasing access; but something slow, and as it were diffident in his advances to others. He had something in his nature that abhorred intrusion in any society whatsoever; and indeed, it is to be regretted, that he was rather blameable on the other extreme. He was of all men I ever knew, the most modest, and the most easy to be discountenanced in his approaches, either to his superiors or his equals. — As to his writings I may venture to say in general terms, that no man hath written in our language so much, and so various matter; and in so various manners so well. Another thing I may say, was very peculiar to him, which is, that his parts did not decline with his years, but that he was an improving writer to the last, even to near 70 years of age, improving even in fire and imagination as well as in judgment, witness his Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, and his fables, his latest performances. He was equally excellent in verse and prose: His prose had all the clearness imaginable, without deviating to the language or diction of poetry, and I have heard him frequently own with pleasure, that if he had any talent for writing prose; it was owing to his frequently having read the writings of the great archbishop Tillotson. In his poems, his diction is, wherever his subject requires it, so sublime and so truly poetical, that its essence, like that of pure gold cannot be destroyed. Take his verses, and divest them of their rhimes, disjoint them of their numbers, transpose their expressions, make what arrangement or disposition you please in his words; yet shall these eternally be poetry, and something which will be found incapable of being reduced to absolute prose; what he has done in any one species, or distinct kind of writing, would have been sufficient to have acquired him a very great name. If he had written nothing but his Prefaces, or nothing but his Songs, or his Prologues, each of them would have entitled him to the preference and distinction of excelling in its kind."
Besides Mr. Dryden's numerous other performances, we find him the author of twenty-seven dramatic pieces, of which the following is an account [list of works omitted, and Latin verses by Philips].