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The kindnesses which are first experienced are setdom forgotten. Pope always retained a grateful memory of Walsh's notice, and mentioned him in one of his latter pieces among those that had encouraged his juvenile studies :
Granville the polite, And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write. In his essay on criticism he had given him more splendid praise; and, in the opinion of his learned commentator, sacrificed a little of his judgment to his gratitude.
The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between 1707, when he wrote to Pope, and 1711, when Pope praised him in his essay. The epitaph makes him forty-six years old: if Wood's account be right, he died in 1709.
He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by any thing done or written by himself.
His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of Women ; which Dryden honoured with a preface.
Esculapius, or the Hospital of Fools, published after his death.
A Collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.
To his poems and letters is prefixed a yery judicious preface upon epistolary composition and amorous poetry.
In his Golden Age Restored, there was something of humour while the facts were recent'; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned ; and in all his writings there are pleasing passages. He has, however, more elegance than vigour, and seldom rises higher than
to be pretty.
Of the great poet whose life I am about to delineate the curiosity which his reputation must excite will require a display more ample than can now be given. His contemporaries, however they reverenced his genius, left his life unwritten; and nothing therefore can be known beyond what casual mention and uncertain tradition have supplied.
John DRYDEN was born August 9, 1631,* at Aldwinkle, near Oundle, the son of Erasmus Dryden, of Titchmersh; who was the third son of sir Erasmus Dryden, baronet, of Canons Ashby. All these places are in Northamptonshire ; but the original stock of the family was in the county of Huntingdon.f
He is reported by his last biographer, Derrick, to have inherited from his father an estate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as was said, an anabaptist. For either of these particulars no authority is given. Such a fortune ought to have secured him from that poverty which seems always to have oppressed him; or, if he had wasted it, to have made him ashamed of publishing his necessities. But though he had many enemies, who undoubtedly
* Mr. Malone has lately proved that there is no satisfactory evidence for this date. The inscription on Dryden's monument says only natus 1632. See Malone's Life of Dryden, prefixed to his “ Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works," p. 5, note. C.
† Of Cumberland. Ibid. p. 10. C.
examined his life with a scrutiny sufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony. He was indeed sometimes reproached for his first religion. I am therefore inclined to believe that Derrick's intelligence was partly true, and partly erroneous.*
From Westminster school, where he was instructed as one of the king's scholars by Dr. Busby, whom he long after continued to reverence, he was in 1650 elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at Cambridge.t
Of his school performances has appeared only a poem on the death of lord Hastings, composed with great ambition of such conceits as, notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the example of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the small pox; and his poet has made of the pustules first rosebuds, and then gems; at last exalts them into stars ; and
says, No comet need foretell his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious subjects or publick occasions. Heprobably considered, that he who proposed to be an author ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the college. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the college with
* Mr. Derrick's life of Dryrlen was prefixed to a very beautiful and correct edition of Dryden's miscellanies, publisired by the Fonsons in 1760, 4 vols. 8vo. Derrick's part, however, was poorly exeeuted, and the edition never became popular C.
He went off to Trinity college, and was admitted to a bachelor's degree in Jan, 1653-4, and in 1657 was made master of arts. C.
gratitude ; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines :
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
He chooses Athens in his riper age It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a publick candidate for fame, by publishing Heroick Stanzas on the late Lord Protector ; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
When the king was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published AsTREA Redux, a poem on the happy restoration and return of his most sacred majesty king Charles the Second.
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace! if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The same year, he praised the new king in a second poem on his restoration. In the AsTREA was the lines,
An liorrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we a tempest fear---for which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deserved. Silence, is indeed mere privation ; and, so considered, cannot invade ; but, privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold ; yet poetry has never been refused the right of ascribing effects or agency to them as to positive powers. No man scruples to say that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death, is also privation ; yet who has made
any difficulty of assigning to death a dart and the power of striking?
In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty; for even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication ; the time of writing and publishing is not always the same; nor can the first editions be easily found, if even from them could be obtained the necessary information.*
The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was, some years afterwards, altered and revived; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may be inferred; and thus, it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirty-second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage ; compelled undoubtedly by necessity, for he appears never to have loved that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas.
Of the stage, when he had once invaded it he kept possession for many years ; not indeed without the competition of rivals who sometimes prevailed, or the censure of criticks, 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 publick. His first piece was a comedy, called The Wild Gal
He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.
I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, or tracing the mean
The order of his plays has been accurately ascertained by Mr. Malone. C.