« PreviousContinue »
Clifford, master of the Charter House; Butler, author of Hudibras; Sprat, afterwards Bishop of Rochester, and others. The character in which Dryden is made to appear, is Bayes; and the humour turned upon hitting off his dress and manver, and. in quotations from some of his own rhyming plays.
On this occasion Dryden exercised an uncommon degree of philosophic coolness. He took not the least notice of the satire at the time; but in the preface to his Juvenal he says, “I answered not the Rehearsal, because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Payes of his own farce.”
In 1674 he published his “ State of Innocence," an opera, founded on the story of Paradise Lost; and Aubrey, who was personally acquainted with Dryden, informs us, that the latter waited upon Milton, with whom it seems he was on friendly terms, and requested his permission to put his great poem into rhyme; to which the blind bard answered, “Aye, you inay tag my verses if you will.”
One night, in the winter of 1679, Dryden was assaulted in the street, on his way home from Will's coffee house, by some ruffians, who were hired to beat bim, by the Earl of Rochester and the Duchess of Portsmouth, on a suspicion that he was the author of an “ Essay on Satire,” in which these personages were severely handled.
This poem, however, was written by Lord Mulgrave, though Dryden is conjectured to have assisted him in it.*
Of Dryden's principles we can entertain no very favourable opinion, when we consider the violence with which he attacked, and was again attacked by the various writers of his own time: but his conduct towards Lord Shaftesbury, whom he de. scribes in the blackest colours, in his strong satire, entituled, “ Absalom and Achitophel,” furnishes an occasion of introducing a story.
That poem was written by Dryden to recommend himself to Charles the second, who mortally hated Shaftesbury: and what was worse, it was designed to irritate the public mind against that nobleman, and was published but a few days before a bill of indictment was preferred against him at the Old Bailey for high treason.
The bill, however, was thrown out, and the populace carried his lordship home in triumph. His friends caused a medal to be engraved to commemorate this deliverance, which gave rise to Dryden's poem, entituled, “ The Medal, or a Satire against Sedition.” In this poem he fol
* Iu a letter from the excellent Mr. Nelson to Dr. Mapletoft, dated January 2, 1679, he suys, “ Your friend and school-fellow, Mr. Dryden, has been severely beaten, for being the supposed author of a late very abusive lampoon. There has been a good sum of money offered to find who set them on work : 'tis said, they received their orders from the Duchess of Portsmouth, wbo is concerned in the lampoon.”
lows up his attack upon Shaftesbury with the most virulent animosity; and draws his character in still more odious termıs than he had done in his • satire of Absalom and Achitophel. But Dryden was certainly guilty of great forgetfulness, or shameless impudence, when he reproached Shaftesbury for his attachment to Cromwell, in these lines :
Next this (how wildly will ambition steer!)
How the poet could pen these verses without blushing, it is difficult to conceive; for he had himself filled a venal situation under the government which he censures, and had celebrated the praises of the usurper in a poem which he was ashamed to insert in the complete collection of his works.
The following is the history of the poem of the Medal:
“ One day as the king was walking in the Mall, and talking with Dryden, he said, “ If I was a poet, and I think I am poor enough to be one, I would write a poem on such a subject in the fol. lowing manner.” He then gave him the plan of