JOHN DRYDEN, an illustrious English poet, was son of Erasmus Dryden, of Tichmersh, in Northamptonshire, third son of Erasmus Dryden, of Cannons-Ashby, in the same county, baronet; and born at Aldwincle, near Oundle, in that county, according to the general opinion, August 9, 1631, although Mr. Malone seems inclined to remove his birth to a prior year. He was educated in grammar-learning at Westminster-school, being king's scholar there, under Dr. Busby; and was thence elected, May 1l, 1650, a scholar of Trinity-college, Cambridge. During his stay at school, he translated the third satire of Persius for a Thursday night's exercise, as he tells us himself, in an advertisement at the head of that satire; and the year before he left it, wrote a poem on the death of the lord Hastings; which however was but an indifferent performance, and particularly defective in point of harmony. He had before this, in 1649, wrote some verses, which have been preserved. In 1652 he was slightly punished for disobedience and contumacy. In January 1654, he took his degree of B.A. but not that of M.A. until June 17, 1668, and then by a dispensation from the archbishop of Canterbury, in consequence of a letter from Charles It. By the death of his father in 1654, he inherited a small estate in Northamptonshire, and after residing seven years at Cambridge, removed to London in 1657. In consequence of his kinsman, sir Gilbert Pickering, being a favourite of Oliver and Richard Cromwell, Dryden in 1658 published "Heroic Stanzas on the late lord Protector," written after his funeral: and in 1660, "Astraea Redux," a poem on the happy restoration and return of his sacred majesty Charles the Second. A remarkable distich in this piece exposed our poet to the ridicule of the wits:
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we the tempest fear.
In 1661 he produced his first play, "The Duke of Guise," which was followed the next year by the "Wild Gallant." In the same year, 1662, he addressed a poem to the lord chancellor Hyde, presented on new-year's-day; and, the same year also, published a satire on the Dutch. His next production was "Annus Mirabilis," the year of wonders, 1666; an historical poem: printed in 1667. His reputation as a poet was now so well established, that this, together with his attachment to the court, procured him the place of poet-laureat, and historiographer to Charles II. of which accordingly he took possession, upon the death of sir William Davenant, in 1668, but his patent was not signed till 1670, The pension of the two offices was £200 a year. In 1667 he published "An Essay on Dramatic Poesy," dedicated to Charles earl of Dorset and Middlesex. In the preface we are told that the purpose of this discourse was to vindicate the honour of our English writers from the censure of those who unjustly prefer the French. The essay is drawn up in the form of a dialogue. It was animadverted upon by sir Robert Howard, in the preface to his "Great Favourite, or Duke of Lerma," to which Dryden replied in a piece prefixed to the second edition of his "Indian Emperor."
Although his first plays had not been very successful, he went on, and in the space of twenty-five years produced twenty-seven plays, besides his other numerous poetical writings. Of the stage, says Dr. Johnson, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession; 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. These plays were collected. and published in 6 vols. 12mo, in 1725; to which is prefixed the essay on dramatic poetry, and a dedication to the duke of Newcastle by Congreve, in which the author is placed in a very equivocal light.
In 1671 he was publicly ridiculed on the stage under the character of Bays, in the duke of Buckingham's famous comedy called the "Rehearsal." The character of Bays, as we are told in the key printed with that satirical performance in 1735, was originally intended for sir Robert Howard, under the name of Bilboa: but a stop being put to the representation by the breaking out of the plague in 1665, it was laid by for several years, and not exhibited on the stage till Dec. 7, 16 During this interval, 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, which had appeared since the first writing of it, and particularly some of Dryden's. He affected to despise the satire, 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 the Rehearsal, because I knew the author sat to himself, when he drew the picture, and was the very Bayes of his own farce; because also I knew, that 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 gentlemen 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." Insensible, however, as he affected to be, he did not fail to take a full revenge on its author, under the character of Zimri, in his "Absalom and Achitophel."
In 1673, his tragi-comedies, entitled the "Conquest of Granada" by the Spaniards, in two parts, were attacked by Richard Leigh, a player belonging to the duke of York's theatre, in a pamphlet called "A Censure of the Rota," &c. which occasioned several other pamphlets to be written. Elkanah Settle likewise criticised these plays; and it is remarkable that Settle, though in reality a mean and inconsiderable poet, was the mighty rival of Dryden, and for many years bore his reputation above him. To the first part of the "Conquest of Granada," Dryden prefixed an essay on Heroic Plays, and subjoined to the second a Defence of the Epilogue; or, an essay on the dramatic poetry of the last age. In 1679 was published an "Essay on Satire," written jointly by the earl of Mulgrave and Dryden. This piece, which was handed about in MS. Contained severe reflections on the duchess of Portsmouth and the earl of Rochester; and they, suspecting Dryden to be the author of it, hired three men to cudgel him; who, as Wood relates, effected their business as he was returning from Will's coffee-house through Rose-street, Covent-garden, to his own house in Gerrard-street, Soho, at eight o'clock at night, on the 16th of December, 1679. In 1680 came out an English translation in verse of Ovid's epistles by several hands: two of which, viz. Canace to Macareus, and Dido to Aeneas, were translated by Dryden, who also wrote the general preface; and the epistle of Helen to Paris by Dryden and the earl of Mulgrave.
In 1681 he published his Absalom and Achitophel. This celebrated poem, which was at first printed without the author's name, is a severe satire on the contrivers and abettors of the rebellion against Charles II. under the duke of Monmouth; and, under the characters of Absalom, Achitophel, David and Zimri, are represented the duke of Monmouth, the earl of Shaftesbury, king Charles, and the duke of Buckingham. There are two translations of this poem into Latin; one by Dr. Coward, a physician of Merton college in Oxford; another by Mr. Atterbury, afterwards bishop of Rochester, both published in 1682, 4to. Dryden left the story unfinished; and the reason he gives for so doing was, because he could not prevail with himself to shew Absalom unfortunate. "Were I the inventor," says he, "who am only the historian, I should certainly conclude the piece with the reconcilement of Absalom to David. And who knows, but this may come to pass? Things were not brought to extremity, where I left the story: there seems yet to be room left for a composure: hereafter, there may be only for pity. I have not so much as an uncharitable wish against Achitophel; but am content to be accused of a good-natured error, and to hope with Origen, that the devil himself may at last be saved. For which reason, in this poem, he is neither brought to set his house in order, nor to dispose of his person afterwards." A second part of Absalom and Achitophel was undertaken and written by Tate, at the request and under the direction of Dryden, who wrote near 200 lines of it himself.
The same year, 1681, he published his Medal, a satire against sedition. This poem was occasioned by the striking of a medal, on account of the indictment against the earl of Shaftesbury for high-treason being found ignoramus by the grand jury at the Old Bailey, November 1611, for which the whig-party made great rejoicings by ringing of bells, bonfires, &c. in all parts of London. The whole poem is a severe invective against the earl of Shaftesbury and the whigs; to whom the author addresses himself, in a satirical epistle prefixed to it, thus: "I have one favour to desire of 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 to break a custom, do it without wit. — If God has not blessed you with the talent of rhyming, 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 upon me, and, in utter despair of your own satire, make me satirize myself." Settle wrote an answer to this poem, entitled "The Medal reversed;" and is erroneously said to have written a poem called "Azariah and Hushai," against "Absalom and Achitophel." This last was the production of one Pordage, a dramatic writer. In 1682, Dryden published a poem, called "Religio Laici; or, the Layman's Faith." This piece is intended as a defence of revealed religion, and of the excellency and authority of the scriptures, as the only rule of faith and manners, against deists, papists, and presbyterians. The author tells us in the preface, that it was written for an ingenious young gentleman, his friend, upon his translation of father Simon's "Critical History of the Old Testament." In October of this year, he also published his Mac Flecnoe, an exquisite satire against the poet Shadwell.
His tragedy of the " Duke of Guise," much altered, with the assistance of Lee, appeared again in 1683, dedicated to Lawrence earl of Rochester, and gave great offence to the whigs. It was attacked in a pamphlet, entitled "A Defence of the charter and municipal rights of the city of London, and the rights of other municipal cities and towns of England. Directed to the citizens of London. By Thomas Hunt." In this piece, Dryden is charged with condemning the charter of the city of London, and executing its magistrates in effigy, in his "Duke of Guise;" frequently acted and applauded, says Hunt, and intended most certainly to provoke the rabble into tumults and disorders. Hunt then makes several remarks upon the design of the play, and asserts, that our poet's purpose was to corrupt the manners of the nation, and lay waste their morals; to extinguish the little remains of virtue among us by bold impieties, to confound virtue and vice, good and evil, and to leave us without consciences. About the same time were printed also "Some Reflections upon the pretended Parallel in the play called The Duke of Guise;" the author of which pamphlet tells us, that he was wearied with the dulness of this play, and extremely incensed at the wicked and barbarous design it was intended for; that the fiercest tories were ashamed of it; and, in short, that he never saw any thing that could be called a play, more deficient in wit, good character, and entertainment, than this. In answer to this and Hunt's pamphlet, Dryden published "The Vindication: or, The Parallel of the French holy league and the English league and covenant, turned into a seditious libel against the king and his royal highness, by Thomas Hunt and the author of the Reflections, &c." In this Vindication, which is printed at the end of the play, he tells us that in the year of the restoration, the first play he undertook was the "Duke of Guise," as the fairest way which the act of indemnity had then left of setting forth the rise of the late rebellion; that at first it was thrown aside by the advice of some friends, who thought it not perfect enough to be published; but that, at the earnest request of Mr. Lee, it was afterwards produced between them; and that only the first scene, the whole fourth act, and somewhat more than half the fifth, belonged to him, all the rest being Mr. Lee's. He acquaints us also occasionally, that Mr. Thomas Shadwell, the poet, made the rough draught of this pamphlet against him, and that Mr. Hunt finished it.
In 1684 he published a translation of "Maimbourg's History of the League;" in which he was employed by Charles II. on account of the plain parallel between the troubles of France and those of Great Britain. Upon the death of this monarch, he wrote his "Threnodia Augustalis:" a poem sacred to the happy memory of that prince. Soon after the accession of James II. he turned Roman catholic; upon which occasion, Mr. Thomas Browne wrote "The reasons of Mr. Bayes's changing his religion considered, in a dialogue between Crites Eugenius and Mr. Bayes, 1688," 4to; and also, "The late converts exposed: or, the reasons of Mr. Bayes's changing his religion considered, in a dialogue; part the second; 1690," 4to. In 1686 he wrote "A defence of the papers written by the late king of blessed memory, and found in his strong box." This was written in opposition to Stillingfleet's "Answer to some papers lately printed, concerning the authority of the catholic church in matters of faith; and the reformation of the church of England, 1686," 4to. He vindicates the authority of the catholic church, in decreeing matters of faith upon this principle, that "The church is more visible than the scripture, because the scripture is seen by the church;" and, to abuse the reformation in England, he affirms, that "it was erected on the foundation of lust, sacrilege, and usurpation, and that no paint is capable of making lively the hideous face of it." He affirms likewise, that "the pillars of the church established by law, are to be found but broken staffs by their own concessions: for, after all their undertakings to heal a wounded conscience, they leave their proselytes finally to the scripture; as our physicians, when they have emptied the pockets of their patients, without curing them, send them at last to Tunbridge waters, or the air of Montpelier; that we are reformed from the virtues of good living, from the devotions, mortifications, austerities, humility and charity, which are practised in catholic countries, by the example and precept of that lean, mortified, apostle, St. Martin Luther, &c." Stillingfleet hereupon published "A vindication of the Answer to some late papers," in 1687, 4to; in which he treats Dryden with some severity; "If I thought," says he, "there was no such thing as true religion in the world, and that the priests of all religions are alike, I might have been as nimble a convert, and as early a defender of the royal papers, as any one of these champions. For why should not one, who believes no religion, declare for any,"
In 1687 he published his "Hind and Panther; a poem." It is divided into three parts, and is a direct defence of the Romish church, chiefly by way of dialogue between a hind, who represents the church of Rome, and a panther, who sustains the character of the church of England. These two beasts very learnedly discuss the several points controverted between the two churches; as transubstantiation, church-authority, infallibility, &c. In the preface he tells us, that this poem "was neither imposed on him, nor so much as the subject given him by any man. "It was written," says he, "during the last winter and the beginning of this spring, though with long interruptions of ill health and other hindrances. About a fortnight before I had finished it, his majesty's declaration for liberty of conscience came abroad; which if I had so soon expected, I might have spared myself the labour of writing many things, which are contained in the third part of it. But I was always in some hope the church of England might have been persuaded to have taken off the penal laws and the test, which was one design of the poem when I proposed to myself the writing of it." This poem was immediately attacked by the wits, particularly by Montague (afterwards earl of Halifax,) and Prior; who joined in writing "The Hind and Panther transversed to the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse." In 1688 he published "Britannia Rediviva;" a poem on the birth of the prince.
He was supposed, some time before this, to have been engaged in translating Varillas's History of Heresies, but to have dropped that work before it was finished. This we learn from a passage in Burnet's "Defence of the Reflections on the ninth book of the first volume" of that history: "I have been informed from England," says the doctor, that a gentleman, who is famous both for poetry and several other things, has spent three months in translating Mr. Varillas's history; but that, as soon as my 'Reflections' appeared, he discontinued his labour, finding the credit of his author was gone. Now, if he thinks it is recovered by his answer, he will perhaps go on with his translation; and this may be, for aught 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 Mr. 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 the author of the worst poem to become likewise the translator of the worst history that the age has produced. If his grace and his wit improve both proportionably, we shall hardly find that he has gained much by the change he has made, from having no religion to choose one of the, worst. 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 that any 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 on and finish his translation. By that it will appear, whether the English nation, which is the most competent judge in this matter, has, upon the seeing .our debate, pronounced in Mr. Varillus's favour or mine. It is true, Mr. Dryden will suffer a little by it; but at least it will serve to keep him in from other extravagances; 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." This passage, besides the information which it affords, shews the opinion, whether just or not, which Burnet entertained of Dryden and his morals.
At the revolution in 1688, being disqualified by having turned papist, he was dismissed from the offices of poet-laureat and historiographer, which were given to his antagonist Shadwell. The earl of Dorset, however, though obliged, as lord-chamberlain, to withdraw his pension, was so generous a friend and patron to him, that he allowed him an equivalent out of his own estate. This Prior tells us, in the dedication of his poems to lord Dorset, his descendant. In 1688 also he published the "Life of St. Francis Xavier," translated from the French of father Dominic Bouhours. In 1690 he produced his play of "Don Sebastian." In 1693 came out, in folio, a translation of "Juvenal and Persius," in which the first, third, sixth, tenth, and sixteenth satires of Juvenal, and Persius entire, were done by Dryden, who prefixed a long and beautiful discourse, by way of dedication to the earl of Dorset.
In 1695, while employed on his translation of Virgil, begun in 1694, he published a translation, in prose, of Du Fresnoy's "Art of Painting;" the second edition of which, corrected and enlarged, was afterwards published in 1716. It is dedicated to the earl of Burlington by Richard Graham, esq. who observes in the dedication, that some liberties have been taken with this excellent translation, of which he gives the following account: "The misfortune that attended Mr. Dryden in that undertaking was, that, for want of a competent knowledge in painting, he suffered himself to be misled by an unskilful guide. Monsieur de Piles told him, that his French version was made at the request of the author himself; and altered by him, till it was wholly to his mind. This Mr. Dryden taking upon content, thought there was nothing more incumbent upon him than to put it into the best English he could, and accordingly performed his part here, as in every thing else, with accuracy. But it being manifest that the French translator has frequently mistaken the sense of his author, and very often also not set it in the most advantageous light; to do justice to M. du Fresnoy, Mr. Jervas, a very good critic in the language, as well as in the subject of the poem, has been prevailed upon to correct what he found amiss; and his amendments are every-where distinguished with proper marks." Dryden tells us, in the preface to the "Art of Painting," that, when he undertook this work, he was already engaged in the translation of Virgil, "from whom," says he, "I only borrowed two months." This translation was published in 1697, and has passed through numerous editions in various forms. The pastorals are dedicated to lord Clifford; and Dryden tells his lordship, that "what he now offers him, is the wretched remainder of a sickly age, worn out with study, and oppressed with fortune, without other support than the constancy and patience of a Christian;" and he adds, "that he began this work in his great climacteric." The Life of Virgil, which follows this dedication, the two prefaces to the Pastorals and Georgics, and all the arguments in prose to the whole translation, were given him by friends; the preface to the Georgics, in particular, by Addison. The translation of the Georgics is dedicated to the earl of Chesterfield; and that of the Aeneis to the earl of Mulgrave. This latter dedication contains the author's thoughts on epic poetry, particularly that of Virgil. It is generally allowed that his translation of Virgil is excellent. Pope, speaking of Dryden's translation of some parts of Homer, says, "Had he translated the whole work, I would no more have attempted Homer after him, than Virgil; his version of whom, notwithstanding some human errors, is the most noble and spirited translation I know in any language." In the same year he published his celebrated ode of "Alexander's Feast," which is commonly said to have been finished in one night; but, according to Mr. Malone, occupied him for some weeks.
In 1699 he entered into a contract with Tonson, the bookseller, to supply him with 10,000 verses, which produced in 1700 his "Fables, ancient and modern;" translated into verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, and Chaucer. He tells us in the preface to this his last work, that "he thinks himself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of his soul, excepting only his memory, which," he says, "is not impaired to any great degree;" and he was then sixty-eight years of age. For this labour he was to get only £300 out of which 250 guineas were paid down, and he was to receive the remainder on the appearance of a second edition, which did not happen till thirteen years after his death. Besides the original pieces and translations hitherto mentioned, he wrote many other things, which have been several times published in the "Six volumes of Miscellanies" under his name, and in other collections. They consist of translations from the Greek and Latin poets; epistles to several persons; prologues and epilogues to various plays; elegies, epitaphs, and songs. In 1743 came out in two volumes 12mo, a new collection of our author's poetical works, under the title of "Original Poems and Translations, by John Dryden, esq. new first collected and published together;" that is, collected from the "Six volumes of Miscellanies" just mentioned. The editor observes, in his preface, that "it was but justice to the productions of so excellent a poet, to set them free at last from so disadvantageous, if not unnatural, an union; an union, which, like the cruelty of Mezentius in Virgil, was no less than a junction of living and dead bodies together." — "It is, now high time," says he, "that the partnership should be dissolved, and Mr. Dryden left to stand upon his own bottom. His credit as a poet is out of all danger, though the withdrawing his stock may probably expose many of his copartners to the hazard of a poetical bankruptcy." There is a collection of our author's original poems and translations, published in a thin folio, 1701; but, as it does not contain much above half the pieces, so it does not at all answer the design of this collection; which, with his plays, fables, and translations of Virgil, Juvenal and Persius, was intended to complete his works in twelve's. As to his performances in prose, besides essays and prefaces, some of which have been mentioned, he wrote the lives of Plutarch and Lucian, prefixed to the translations of those authors by several hands; "The Life of Polybius," before the translation of that historian by sir Henry Sheer; and the preface to the "Dialogue concerning Women," by William Walsh, esq.
He had for some years been harassed by the gravel and the gout; and in December, 1699, was afflicted with an erysipelas in one of his legs. Having recovered, however, from that disorder, he was sufficiently free from any complaint to apply again to his studies; but he was confined to his house by the gout during the greater part of March and April; and near the end of that month, in consequence of neglecting an inflammation in one of his feet, a mortification ensued, of which he died, after a very short illness, at three o'clock on Wednesday morning, May the 1st, 1700.
His leg having become mortified, his surgeon recommended an amputation of the limb, with a view to stop the further progress of the disorder; but he would not undergo the operation, saying, that as by the course of nature he had not many years to live, he would not attempt to prolong an uncomfortable existence by a painful and uncertain experiment, but patiently submit to death. This account, which was given by a contemporary writer, not long afterwards, is strongly corroborated by the unquestionable testimony of Mrs. Elizabeth Creed, his kinswoman; who informs us, that he received the notice of his approaching dissolution with perfect resignation and submission to the Divine Will; and that in his last illness he took the most tender and affectionate farewell of his afflicted friends, "of which sorrowful number she herself was one." Twenty-two years afterwards this very respectable lady, who was then in her eightieth year, erected a monument at Tichmarsh, in honour of our poet and his parents, on which these circumstances so much to his honour are recorded. (See CREED, Vol. X.)
Dr. Johnson conceived, that no description of Dryden's person had been transmitted to us; but, on the contrary, there are few English poets, of whose external appearance more particulars have been recorded. We have not indeed any original whole-length portrait of him, such as that very curious delineation of Pope, with which we have been lately gratified, whence a more perfect notion of that poet's external appearance may be obtained than from all the friendly drawings of Richardson; yet from various descriptions of Dryden's person that have come down to us, a very adequate idea of it may be formed. He was certainly a short, fat, florid man, "corpore quadrato," as lord Hailes some years ago observed to Mr. Malone, "a description which Aeneas Sylvius applied to James the First of Scotland." The same gentleman remarked, that that at one time he wore his hair in large quantity, and that it inclined to gray, even before his misfortunes; a circumstance which, he said, he had learned from a portrait of Dryden, painted by Kneller, formerly in the possession of the late Mr. James West. But perhaps his lordship here is not quite accurate. By "before his misfortunes" was meant before the Revolution; but the portrait in question was probably painted at a later period. From other documents, however, it appears that he became gray before he was deprived of the laurel. In Riley's portrait, painted in 1683, he wears a very large wig: so also in that by Closterman, done at a late period. By Tom Brown he is always called "little Bayes," and by Rochester, when he quarrelled with, and wished to depreciate him, he was nick-named "poet Squab." The earliest portrait of Dryden hitherto discovered is that in the picture gallery, Oxford, but the painter is not known. It is engraved in Mr. Malone's Life.
He married the lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the earl of Berkshire, who died in June or July 1714, after having been for some years insane. By her he had three sons, Charles, John, and Erasmus-Henry, of all whom we shall take some notice hereafter. There are some circumstances, relating to Dryden's funeral, recorded in Wilson's memoirs of the life of Mr. Congreve, which have been generally credited. It is said that the day after his death, Sprat, bishop of Rochester and dean of Westminster, sent word to lady Elizabeth Howard, his widow, that he would make a present of the ground, and all the other abbey fees. Lord Halifax likewise sent to lady Elizabeth, and to Mr. Charles Dryden her son, offering to defray the expences of our poet's funeral, and afterwards to bestow £500 on a monument in the abbey; which generous offer from both was accepted. Accordingly, on the Sunday following, the company being assembled, the corpse was put into a velvet hearse, attended by 18 mourning coaches. When they were just ready to move, lord Jefferies, son of the chancellor Jefferies, with some of his rakish companions, coming by, asked whose funeral it was; and, being told it was Mr. Dryden's, he protested, that he should not be buried in that private manner; that he would himself, with lady Elizabeth's leave, have the honour of his interment, and would bestow £1000 on a monument in the abbey for him. This put a stop to the procession; and Jefferies, with several of the gentlemen who had alighted from the coaches, went up stairs to the lady Elizabeth, who was sick in bed. Jefferies repeated the purport of what he had said below; but lady Elizabeth absolutely 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 Jefferies, pretending to have gained 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 upon lord Halifax and the bishop, and endeavoured to excuse his mother, by relating the truth; but they would not hear of any excuse. Three days after, the undertaker, receiving no orders, waited on lord Jefferies, who turned it off in a jest, pretending, that those who paid any regard to a drunken frolic deserved no better; that he remembered nothing at all of the matter; and that they might do what they pleased with the corpse. Upon this, the undertaker waited on the lady Elizabeth, who desired a day to consider what must be done. Mr. Charles Dryden immediately wrote to lord Jefferies, who returned for answer, that he knew nothing of the matter, and would be troubled no more about it. Mr. Dryden applied again to lord Halifax and the bishop of Rochester, who absolutely refused to do any thing in the affair. In this distress, Dr. Garth sent for the corpse to the college of physicians, and proposed a funeral by subscription; which succeeding, about three weeks after Dryden's decease, Garth pronounced a Latin oration over his body, which was conveyed from the college, attended by a numerous train of coaches, to Westminster-abbey. After the funeral, Mr. Charles Dryden sent lord Jefferies a challenge, which was not accepted; and, Mr. Dryden publicly declaring he would watch every opportunity to fight him, his lordship thought fit to leave the town upon it, and Mr. Dryden never could meet him after. Mr. Malone, however, has very clearly proved that the greater part of all this was a fiction by Mrs. Thomas. The fact is, that, on May 1, a magnificent funeral was projected by several persons of quality, and the body was in consequence conveyed to the College of Physicians, whence, after Dr. Garth had pronounced a Latin oration in his praise, it was, on the 13th of May, conveyed to Westminster-abbey, attended by above one hundred coaches.
As to Dryden's character, it has been treated in extremes, some setting it too high, others too low; for he was too deeply engaged in party, to have strict justice done him either way. As to his dramatic works, to say nothing more of the Rehearsal, we find, that the critics, his contemporaries, made very free with them; and, it must be confessed, they are not the least exceptionable of his compositions. In tragedy, it has been observed, that he seldom touches the passions, but deals rather in pompous language, poetical flights, and descriptions; and that this was his real taste, appears not only from the tragedies themselves, but from two instances mentioned by Mr. Gildon. The first is, that when a translation of Euripides was recommended to him instead of Horner, he replied, that he had no relish for that poet, who was a master of tragic simplicity: the other is, that he generally expressed a very mean, if not a contemptible, opinion of Otway, who is universally allowed to have succeeded in affecting the passions; though, in the preface to his translation of M. Fresnoy, he speaks more favourably of that poet. Gildon ascribes this taste in Dryden to his intimacy with French romances. As to comedy, he acknowledges his want, of genius for it, in his defence of the "Essay on Dramatic Poetry," prefixed to his Indian Emperor: "I know," says he, "I am not fitted by nature to write comedy; I want that gaiety of humour which is required in it. My conversation is slow and dull; my humour saturnine and reserved. In short, I am none of those who endeavour to break jests in company, or to 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." But perhaps he would have wrote better in both kinds of the drama, had not the necessity of his circumstances obliged him to conform to the popular taste; and, indeed, he insinuates as much in the epistle dedicatory to the Spanish Friar: "I remember some verses of my own Maximin and Almanzor, which cry vengeance on me for their extravagance. All I can say for those passages, which are, I hope, not many, is, that I knew they were bad enough to please, even when I writ them. But I repent of them among my sins; and if any of their fellows intrude by chance in my present writings, I draw a stroke over all those Dalilahs of the theatre, and am resolved I will settle myself no reputation by the applause of fools. It is not that I am mortified to all ambition; but I scorn as much to take it from halfwitted judges, as I should to raise an estate by cheating of bubbles. Neither do I discommend the lofty style in tragedy, which is naturally pompous and magnificent; but nothing is truly sublime, that is not just and proper." He tells us, in his preface to Fresnoy, that his "Spanish Friar was given to the people; and that he never wrote any thing in the dramatic way to please himself, but his Anthony and Cleopatra."
His translations of Virgil, Juvenal, and Persius, and his Fables, were more successful, as we have observed already. But his poetical reputation is built chiefly upon his original poems, among which his Ode on Saint Caecilia's Day is justly esteemed one of the most perfect pieces in any language. It has been set to music more than once, particularly in the winter of 1735, by Handel; and was publicly performed with the utmost applause, on the theatre in Covent-garden. Congreve, in the dedication of our author's dramatic works to the duke of Newcastle, has drawn his character to great advantage. He represented him, in regard to his moral character, in every respect not only blameless, but amiable; and, "as to his writings," says he, "no man hath written in our language so much and 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 seventy years of age; improving even in fire and imagination, as well as in judgment; witness his Ode on St. Caecilia's Day, and his Fables, his latest performances. He was equally excellent in verse and in prose. His prose had all the clearness imaginable, together with all the nobleness of expression; all the graces and ornaments proper and peculiar to it, without deviating into the language or diction of poetry. I have heard him frequently own with pleasure, that if he had any talent for English prose, it was owing to his having often read the writings of the great archbishop Tillotson. His versification and his numbers he could learn of nobody; for he first possessed those talents in perfection in our tongue. In his poems, his diction is, wherever his subject requires it, so sublimely and so truly poetical, that its essence, like that of pure gold, cannot be destroyed. What he has done in any one species or distinct kind of writing, would have been sufficient to have acquired him a 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 his kind." It may be proper to observe, that Congreve, in drawing this character of Dryden, discharged au obligation laid on him by our poet, in these lines:
Be kind to my remains: and, O! defend,
Against your judgment, your departed friend;
Let not th' insulting foe my fame pursue,
But shade those laurels which descend to you.
Pope had a high opinion of Dryden. His verses upon his Ode on St. Caecilia's Day are too well known to need transcribing. In a letter to Wycherley, he says, "It was certainly a great satisfaction to me, to see and converse with a man, whom in his writings I had so lung known with pleasure; but it was a very high addition to it, to hear you at our very first meeting doing justice to your dead friend Mr. Dryden. I was not so happy as to know him: 'Virgilium tantum vidi.' Had I been born early enough, I must have known and loved him; for I have been assured, not only by yourself, but by Mr. Congreve and sir William Trumball, that his personal qualities were as amiable as his poetical, notwithstanding the many libelous misrepresentations of them; against which, the former of these gentlemen has told me he will one day vindicate him." But what Congreve and Pope have said of Dryden, is rather in the way of panegyric, than an exact character of him. Others have spoken of him more moderately, and yet have probably done him no injustice.
Thus Felton observes, that "he at once gave the best rules, and broke them in spite of his own knowledge, and the Rehearsal. His prefaces are many of them admirable upon dramatic writings: he had some peculiar notions, which he maintains with great address; but his judgment in disputed points is of less weight and value, because the inconstancy of his temper did run into his thoughts, and mixed with the conduct of his writings, as well as his life." Voltaire styles him "a writer whose genius was too exuberant, and not accompanied with judgment enough; and tells us, that if he had writ only a tenth part of the works he left behind him, his character would have been conspicuous in every part; but his great fault is, his having endeavoured to be universal." Dryden has made no scruple to disparage himself, where he thought he had not excelled. Thus, in his dedication of his Aurengzebe to the earl of Mulgrave, speaking of his writing for the stage, "I never thought myself," says he, "very fit for an employment where many of my predecessors have excelled me in all kinds; and some of my contemporaries, even in my own partial judgment, have outdone me in comedy. Some little hopes I have yet remaining (and those too, considering my abilities, may be vain), that I may make the world some part of amends for many ill plays, by an heroic poem," of which, however, he did not execute any part. Upon the whole, Mr. Malone appears to have examined and delineated his character as a, man, with most truth and precision; and as a poet it is impossible to refer to any thing equal to that masterly criticism given by Dr. Johnson in his life of our poet.
It is said, that he had once a design of taking orders, but was refused; and that he solicited for the provostship of Eton-college, but failed also in this. This we have upon the authority of Thomas Brown, who, in "The late Converts exposed, or the reason of Mr. Bayes's changing his religion," of which he was supposed to be the author, has the following passage in the preface: "But, prythee, why so severe always upon the priesthood, Mr. Bayes? You, I find, still continue your old humour, which we are to date from the year of Hegira, the loss of Eton, or since orders were refused you." Langbaine likewise, speaking of our author's Spanish Friar, tells us, that "ever since a certain worthy bishop refused orders to a certain poet, Mr. Dryden has declared open defiance against the whole clergy; and since the church began the war, he has thought it but justice to make reprisals on the church."
Of recent editions of his works, we may refer principally to the Prose Works, by Malone, 1800, 4 vols.: his poetical works, with notes by Warton, and edited by Mr. Todd, 1812, 4 vols. 8vo; and the whole works, by Mr. Walter Scott, 1808, 18 vols. 8vo.
Of Dryden's sons, CHARLES, the eldest, was born at Chariton, Wiltshire, and educated at Westminster-school, and King's-college, Cambridge, of which be was admitted a member in June 1683. In the following year he wrote some Latin verses addressed to lord Roscommon, which were prefixed to that nobleman's "Essay on Translated Verse:" and in 1685 contributed a Latin poem to the Cambridge Collection of Verses published on the death of Charles II. In Dryden's "Second Miscellany" published in the same year, we find another Latin poem by him, descriptive of lord Arlington's gardens. He also translated the seventh satire in his father's Juvenal. About 1692 he went to Italy, and was so well recommended to pope Innocent XII. that he was appointed chamberlain to his household. While at Rome, he wrote a poem in English, "On the happiness of a retired life," published in 1694, in his father's "Fourth Miscellany." He is supposed to have returned to England about 1698, and after the death of his father, administered to his effects, which probably did little more than pay his debts. In the following year Mr. George Granville having altered Shakspeare's "Merchant of Venice" to a drama, which he entitled "The Jew of Venice," he gave the profits of that piece to Charles Dryden; and two representations of it were performed for his benefit, a proof that his circumstances were far from good. A few years afterwards, unfortunately attempting to swim across the Thames, near Datchet, he was drowned, and was, buried at Windsor, August 20; 1704.
JOHN DRYDEN, our author's second son, was born probably in 1667 or 1668, and educated at Westminster-school, from which he was elected to Oxford, but instead of being matriculated of Christ-church, was placed by his father, now become a Roman catholic, under the private tuition of Obadiah Walker, master of University college, a concealed papist. It is supposed that he went to Rome about the end of 1692, and obtained some office under his brother in the pope's household. Previously to his leaving England, he translated the fourteenth satire for his father's Juvenal, and while at Rome, wrote a comedy, "The Husband his own Cuckold," which was acted in London, and published with a preface by his father. He made a tour in Sicily and Malta, of which his account, after remaining many years in manuscript, was published in 1776, in an 8vo pamphlet. Soon after his return to Rome from this excursion, in 1701, he is said to have died there of a fever.
ERASMUS HENRY, Dryden's third son, was born May 2, 1669, and educated at the Charterhouse, and, like his brothers, went to Rome, where he became a captain of the pope's guards. He succeeded to the title of baronet, by the death of sir John Dryden, and died on the 4th of December, 1710.