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by advice of my Doctour, takeing twice the bitter draught, with sena in it, and looseing at least twelve ounces of blood, by cupping on my neck, I am just well enough to go abroad in the afternoon; but am much afflicted that I have you a companion of my sickness : though I’scap'd with one cold fit of an ague, and yours, I feare, is an intermitting feavour. Since I heard nothing of your father, whom I left ill, I hope he is recover'd of his reall sickness, and that your sister is well of hers, which was onely in imagination. My wife and sonn return you their most humble service, and I give mine to my cousin Steward.-Madam,
Your most obliged and
John DRYDEN. [The superscription has not been preserved.]
TO MRS. STEWARD.
Dec. 12th. -98. All my letters being nothing but acknowledgments of your favours to me, 'tis no wonder if they
indelicate and improper. When Shakspeare wrote the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia, in which he has been accused of coarseness and indelicacy, there are very good grounds for believing that he only made the Prince of Denmark talk to the daughter of Polonius in the same style in which his patron, Lord Southampton, addressed the fair Mrs. Vernon, whom he married.
are all alike : for they can but express the same thing, I being eternally the receiver, and you the giver. I wish it were in my power to turn the skale on the other hand, that I might see how you, who have so excellent a wit, cou'd thank on your side. Not to name my self or my wife, my sonn Charles is the great commender of your last receiv'd present : who being of late somewhat indispos’d, uses to send for some of the same sort, which we call heer marrow-puddings, for his suppers ; but the tast of yours has so spoyld his markets heer, that there is not the least comparison betwixt them. You are not of an age to be a Sybill, and yet I think you are a Prophetess; for the direction on your basket was for him ; and he is likely to enjoy the greatest part of them : for I always think the young are more worthy than the old; especially since you are one of the former sort, and that he mends upon your medicine.I am very glad to hear my cousin, your father, is comeing or come to town ; perhaps this ayr may be as beneficiall to him as it has been to me: but you tell me nothing of your own health, and I fear Cotterstock’ is too agueish for this season.My wife and sonn give you their most humble thanks and service; as I do mine to my cousin Steward ; and am, Madam, Your most oblig'd obedient Servant,
: 3 Cotterstock is situated near the river Nyne, and, I believe, in a low wet country.
For Mrs. Steward,
Att Cotterstock, near Oundle, in the county of Northton, These. To be left with the Postmaster of Oundle.
TO MRS. STEWARD.
Candlemas-Day, 1698 (-9.] MADAM, Old men are not so insensible of beauty, as it may be, you young ladies think. For my own part, I must needs acknowledge that your fair eyes* had made me your slave before I receiv'd your fine presents. Your letter puts me out of doubt that they have lost nothing of their lustre, because it was written with your own hand; and not heareing of a feavour or an ague, I will please my self with the thoughts that they have wholly left you. I wou'd also flatter my self with the hopes of waiting on you at Cotterstock some time next summer ; but my want of health may perhaps hinder me. But if I am well enough to travell as farr northward as Northamptonshyre, you are sure of a guest, who has been too well us'd, not to trouble you again.
* Mrs. Steward was at this time but twenty-seven, and very handsome. Soon after the Revolution, she was esteemed one of the finest women that appeared at Queeni Mary's Court.
My sonn, of whom you have done me the favour to enquire, mends of his indisposition very slowly; the ayr. of England not agreeing with him hetherto so well as that of Italy. The Bath is propos'd by the Doctours, both to him and me: but we have not yet resolv'd absolutely on that journey; for that city is so closs and so ill situated, that perhaps the ayr may do us more harm than the waters can do us good : for which reason we intend to try them heer first ; and if we find not the good effect which is promis’d of them, we will save our selves the pains of goeing thether. In the mean time, betwixt my intervalls of physique and other remedies which I am useing for my gravell, I am still drudgeing on : always a poet, and never a good one. I pass my time sometimes with Ovid, and sometimes with our old English poet, Chaucer; translateing such stories as best please my fancy; and intend besides them to add somewhat of my own : so that it is not impossible, but ere the summer be pass'd, I may come
4 Here, it is observable, our author speaks of himself with that modesty, which was natural to him, and truly part of his character. It was only among the Criticks in Coffee-houses, or in his letters to his bookseller, or when he was decried and run down by his adversaries, that he considered it necessary to keep up a proper port, and not to abate a jot of his poetical pretensions. In those cases, he seems to have thought it fair to follow the example, and adopt the language, of Horace,–Sume superbiam quæsitam meritis. See vol. i. part i. p. 477.
down to you with a volume in my hand, like a dog out of the water, with a duck in his mouth.As for the rarities you promise, if beggars might be choosers, a part of a chine of honest bacon wou'd please my appetite more than all the marrow puddings; for I like them better plain ; haying a very vulgar stomach.—My wife and your Cousin, Charles, give you their most humble service, and thanks for your remembrance of them. I present my own to my worthy Cousin, your husband, and am, with all respect,
Mrs. Stewart, att Cotterstock
s In Bridges's HISTORY OF NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, vol. ii. p. 438, the following passage is found. The author is speaking of Cotterstock :
" Mr. Steward hath here a good estate, and a seat built by Mr. Norton. At this house Mr. Dryden wrote his FABLES, and spent the two last summers of his life.”
We here see, how lightly traditional stories run round the world. On examination, I believe, they will very generally be found, like this account, to be compounded of truth and falsehood. In the autumn of the year 1698, Dryden made an excursion from Tichmarsh to Cotterstock, and appears to have passed a few weeks there;