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JOHN DRYDEN TO MRS. ELIZABETH
THOMAS, JUN. MADAM,
Nov. 12, 1699. The letter you were pleased to direct for me, to be left at the Coffeehouse last summer, was a great honour; and your verses were, I thought, too good to be a woman's : some of my friends, to whom I read them, were of the same opinion. 'Tis not over gallant, I must confess, to say this of the fair sex; but most certain it is, that they generally write with more softness than strength, On the contrary, you want neither vigour in your thoughts, nor force in your expressions, nor harmony in your numbers; and methinks I find much of Orinda in your manner; to whom I had the honour to be related, and also to be known. But I continued not a day in the ignorance of the person to whom I was obliged; for, if you remember, you brought the verses to a bookseller's shop, and inquired there how they might be sent to me. There happened to be in the same shop a gentleman, who hearing you speak of me, and seeing a paper in your hand, imagined it was a libel against me, and had you watched by his servant, till he knew both your name and where you lived, of which he sent me word immediately. Though I have lost his letter, yet I remember you live somewhere about St. Giles's, and are an only daughter. You must have passed your time in reading much better books than mine ; or otherwise you could not have arrived to so much knowledge as I find you have. But whether sylph or nymph, I know
not; those fine creatures, as your author, Count Gabalis, assures us, have a mind to be christened, and since you do me the favour to desire a name from me, take that of Corinna, if you please; I mean not the lady with whom Ovid was in love, but the famous Theban poetress, who overcame Pindar five times, as historians tell us. I would have called you Sappho, but that I hear you are handsomer. Since you find I am not altogether a stranger to you, he pleased to make me happier, by a better knowledge of you; and instead of so many unjust praises which you give me, think me only worthy of being, madam, your most humble servant and admirer,
JOHN DRYDEN TO MRS. ELIZABETH
THOMAS, JUN. MADAM,
[Nov. 1699. The great desire which I observe in you to write well, and those good parts which God Almighty and Nature have bestowed on you, make me not to doubt, that by application to study, and the reading of the best authors, you may be absolute mistress of poetry, 'Tis an unprofitable art to those who profess it; but you, who write only for your diversion, may pass your hours with pleasure in it, and without prejudice ; always avoiding (as I know you will) the licence which Mrs. Behn * allowed herself, of writing loosely,
* Mrs. Thomas had mentioned, in her letter to Dryden, that in her verses she had made Mrs. Behn her model. She meant, she says, to imitate only her numbers.
and giving, if I may have leave to say so, some scandal to the modesty of her sex. I confess I am the last man who ought, in justice, to arraign her, who have been myself too much a libertine in most of my poems; which I should be well contented I had time either to purge, or to see them fairly burned. But this I need not say to you, who are too well born, and too well principled, to fall into that mire.
In the mean time, I would advise you not to trust too much to Virgil's Pastorals; for as excellent as they are, yet Theocritus is far before him, both in softness of thought, and simplicity of expression. Mr. Creech has translated that Greek poet, which I have not read in English. If you have any considerable faults, they consist chiefly in the choice of words, and the placing them so as to make the verse run smoothly ; but I am at present so taken up with my own studies, that I have not leisure to descend to particulars; being, in the mean time, the fair Corinna's most humble and most faithful servant,
P. S. I keep your two copies, till you want them, and are pleased to send for them.
JOHN DRYDEN TO MRS. STEWARD.
Thursday, Dec. the 14th, 1699. WHEN I have either too much business, or want of health to write to you, I count my time is lost, or at least my conscience accuses me that I spend it ill. At this time my head is full of cares, and my body ill at ease. My book (the Fables) is printing, and my bookseller makes no haste. I had last night at bed time an unwelcome fit of vomiting; and my son, Charles, lies sick upon his bed with the colic, which has been violent upon him for almost a week. With all this, I cannot but remember that you accused me of barbarity, I hope, in jest only, for inistaking one sheriff for another, which proceeded from my want of hearing well. I am heartily sorry that a chargeable office (the shrievalty) is fallen on my cousin Steward. But my cousin Dryden comforts me, that it must have come one time or other, like the small pox; and better have it young than old. I hope it will leave no great marks behind it, and that your fortune will no more feel it, than your beauty by the addition of a year's wearing. My cousin, your mother, was here yesterday, to see my wife, though I had not the happiness to be at home. Both the Iphi. genias have been played with bad success; and being both acted against the other in the same week, clashed together, like. two rotten ships which could not endure the shock, and sunk to rights.--The king's proclamation against vice and profaneness is issued out in print; but a deep disease is not to be cured with a slight medicine. The parsons, who must read it, will find as little effect from it, as from their dull sermons : 'tis a scarecrow, which will not fright many birds from preying on the fields and orchards. The best news I hear is, that the land will not be charged very deep this year: let that comfort you for your shrievalty, and continue me in your good graces, who am, fair cousin, your most faithful, obliged servant,
JOHN DRYDEN TO MRS. STEWARD. MADAM,
Thursday, April the 11th, 1700. The ladies of the town have infected you at a distance: they are all of your opinion, and like my last book of poems (the Fables) better than any thing they have formerly seen of mine. I always thought my verses to my cousin Dryden were the best of the whole ; and to my comfort, the town thinks them so; and he, which pleases me most, is of the same judgment, as appears by a noble present he has sent me, which surprised me, because I did not in the least expect it.-I doubt not but he received what you were pleased to send him; because he sent me the letter which you did me the favour to write me.-At this very instant I hear the guns; which, going off, give me to understand that the king is going to the parliament, to pass acts, and consequently to