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. JOHN DRYDEN. y

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This illustrious Poet was son of Erasmus Dryden of Ticmerish in Northamptonshire, third son of Sir Erasmus Dryden of Canons-Ashby, in the same county, Baronet, and born at Aldwincle, 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 TrinityCollege in Cambridge, We have no account of any extraordinary indications of genius given by this great Poet 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, some of his critics say, 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 Cromwell, written after his funeral 1658; and immediately upon the Restoration he published Astraea Redux, a poem on the happy restoration of Charles II. and the same year his Panegyric to the King on his Coronation. In 1662 he addressed a poem to the Lord Chancellor Hyde, presented on New-year's-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 Laureate, 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 Pondon; 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 he confesses that he has quitted

* Athen, oxon.

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the practice, because he found it troublesome and
slow." In the preface, we are informed that the drift
of this discourse was to windicate the honour of the
English writers from the censure of those who un-
justly prefer the French to them. Langbaine has
injuriously treated Mr. Dryden on account of his dra-
matic 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
the most eminent of his time.
The critics have remarked, that as to Tragedy, he
seldom touches the passions, but deals rather in pom-
pous 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 enchanted with beauteous 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 Furipides 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 a great contempt for Otway, who is universally allowed to have succeeded very happily in effecting 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, Çildon ascribes this taste in Dryden to his having read ny, 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 infinitely beyond the highest rant, or long declamations in tragedy. The simplicity of the drama was Otway's peculiar excellence. A living poet chserves that from Otway to our own times,

f He might have added it was unnatural,

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“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 slow and dull, my humour saturnine ‘‘ and reserved. In short, I am none of those who “endeavour to break jests in company, and make

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