Page images
PDF
EPUB

Dryden, to whom he gave a Dissertation on Virgil's Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the laws of French versification.

In 1705, he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very early the power of poetry. Their letters are written upon the pastoral comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing to publish.

The kindnesses which are first experienced are seldom 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 judgement to his gratitude. 4. 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. 11. A Collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called

[ocr errors]

Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.

To his Poems and Letters is prefixed a very 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.

[ocr errors]

DRYDEN

3

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.

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 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 *.

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. 1

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. He probably 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

* He went off to Trinity College, and was admitted to a bachelor's degree in 1653.

[ocr errors]

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 gratitude; but, in a prologue át Oxford, he has these lines :

Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
Than his own mother-university;
Thebes did his rude, unknowing youth engage:
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 line,

1

1!. An horrid-stillness first invades the ear,

And in that silence we a tempest fear

« PreviousContinue »