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DR Y DE N.
F the great poet whose life I am about
to delineate, the curiosity which his réputation 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 supe plied.
JOHN DRYDEN was born August 9, 1631, at Aldwincle near Oundle, the son of Erasmus Dryden of Tichmeríh ; who was the third son of Sir Erasmus Dryden, Baronet, of Canons Alhby. 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 fufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony, or confidered as a deserter from another religion. I am therefore inclined to believe that Derrick was misinformed.
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 Haltings 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,
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 purposed 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 gratitude; but in a prologue at 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 occafion, 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 facred 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.
year he praised the new king in a second poem on his restoration. In the ASTRÆA was the line,