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The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Volume 1 With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes by Dryden, John, 1631-1700

The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Volume 1 With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes by Dryden, John, 1631-1700

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Project Gutenberg's The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Vol I, by John Dryden

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Title: The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Vol I

With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes
Author: John Dryden
Release Date: March 7, 2004 [EBook #11488]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Jayam Subramanian and PG Distributed


With Life, Critical Dissertation, and
Explanatory Notes

John Dryden was born on the 9th of August 1631, at a place variously
denominated Aldwincle, or Oldwincle, All Saints; or at Oldwincle, St
Peter's, in Northamptonshire. The name Dryden or Driden, is from the
North. There are Drydens still in the town of Scotland where we now
write; and the poet's ancestors lived in the county of Cumberland. One
of them, named John, removed from a place called Staff-hill, to
Northamptonshire, where he succeeded to the estate of Canons-Ashby, by
marriage with the daughter of Sir John Cope. John Dryden was a
schoolmaster, a Puritan, and honoured, it is said, with the friendship
of the celebrated Erasmus, after whom he named his son, who succeeded to
the estate of Canons-Ashby, and, besides becoming a sheriff of the
county of Northamptonshire, was created a knight under James I. Sir
Erasmus had three sons, the third of whom, also an Erasmus, became the
father of our poet. His mother was Mary, the daughter of the Rev. Henry
Pickering, whose father, a zealous Puritan, had been one of the marked
victims in the Gunpowder Plot. Dryden thus had connexions both on his
father's and mother's side with that party, by deriding, defaming, and
opposing which he afterwards gained much of his poetical glory.

The poet was the eldest of fourteen children--four sons and ten
daughters. The honour of his birth is claimed, as already stated, by two
parishes, that of Oldwincle, All Saints, and that of Oldwincle, St
Peter's, as Homer's was of old by seven cities. His brothers and
sisters have been followed, by eager biographers, into their diverging
and deepening paths of obscurity--paths in which we do not choose to
attend them. Dryden received the rudiments of his education at Tichmarsh
or at Oundle--for here, too, we have conflicting statements. It is
certain, however, that he was admitted a king's scholar at Westminster,
under the tuition of Dr Busby, whom he always respected, and who
discovered in him poetical power. He encouraged him to write, as a
Thursday's night's task, a translation of the third Satire of Persius, a
writer precisely of that vigorously rhetorical, rapidly satirical, and
semi-poetical school, which Dryden was qualified to appreciate and to
mirror; besides other pieces of a similar kind which are lost. During
the last year of his residence at Westminster, and when only eighteen
years of age, he wrote one among the ninety-eight elegies which were
called forth by the sudden death of Henry Lord Hastings, and published
under the title of "Lachrym Musarum." Hastings seems to have been an

amiable person, but he was besides a lord, and _hinc illoe lachrym _.

We know not of what quality the other tears were, but assuredly Dryden's
is one of very suspicious sincerity, and of very little poetical merit.
But even the crocodile tears of a great genius, if they fall into a
fanciful shape, must be preserved; and we have preserved his,
accordingly, notwithstanding the false taste as well as doubtful truth
and honesty of this his earliest poem.

Shortly after, Dryden obtained a Westminster scholarship, and on the
11th of May 1650, entered on Trinity College, Cambridge. His tutor was
one John Templer, famous then as one of the many who had attempted to
put a hook in the jaws of old Hobbes, the Leviathan of his time, but
whose reply, as well as Hobbes' own book (like a whale disappearing from

a Shetland "voe" into the deep, with all the hooks and harpoons of his
enemies along with him) has been almost entirely forgotten. At
Cambridge, Dryden was noted for regularity and diligence, and took the
degree of B.A. in January 1653-4, and in 1657 was made A.M. by a
dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Once, indeed, he was
rusticated for a fortnight on account of some disobedience to the
vice-master. He resided, however, at his university three years after
the usual term; and although he did not become a Fellow, and made no
secret, in after days, of preferring Oxford to Cambridge, yet the reason
of this seems to have lain, not in any personal disgust, but in some
other cause, which, says Scott, "we may now search for in vain."

Up till June 1654, his father had continued to reside at his estate at
Blakesley, in Northamptonshire, when he died, leaving Dryden two-thirds
of a property, which was worth, in all, only 60 a-year. The other third

was bequeathed to his mother, during her lifetime. With this miserable
modicum of 40 a-year, the poet returned to Cambridge, and continued

there, doing little, and little known as one who could do anything, till
the year 1657. The only records of the diligence of his college years,
are the lines on the death of Lord Hastings, and one or two other
inconsiderable copies of verses. He probably, however, employed much
time in private study.

While at Cambridge, he met with a young lady, a cousin of his own--Honor
Driden, daughter of Sir John Driden of Chesterton--of whom he became
deeply enamoured. His suit was, however, rejected, although he continued
all his life on intimate terms with the family. Miss Driden died
unmarried, many years after her poet lover; and like the "Lass of
Ballochmyle" with Burns' homage, learned to value it more after he
became celebrated, and carefully preserved the solitary letter which
Dryden wrote her.

But now the university was to lose, and the world of London to receive,
the poet. In the year 1657, when about six-and-twenty years of age,
Dryden repaired to London, "clad in homely drugget," and with more
projects in his head than pence in his pocket. He was first employed by
his relative, Sir Gilbert Pickering--called the "Fiery Pickering," from
his Roundhead zeal--as a clerk or secretary. Here he came in contact
with Cromwell; and saw very clearly those great qualities of sagacity,
determination, courage, statesmanship, insight and genuine godliness,
which made him, next to Alfred the Great, the first monarch who ever
sat on the English throne. Two years after Dryden came to London,
Cromwell expired, and the poet wrote and published his Heroic Stanzas on
the hero's death, which we consider really his earliest poem. When
Richard resigned, Dryden, in common with the majority of the nation, saw
that the Roundhead cause was lost, and hastened to carry over his
talents to the gaining side. For this we do not blame him very severely,
although it certainly had been nobler if, like Milton, he had clung to
his party. Sir Walter Scott remarks, that Dryden never retracted the
praise he gave to Cromwell. In "Absalom and Achitophel" he sneers at
Richard as Ishbosheth, but says nothing against the deceased giant Saul.
It is clear, too, that at first his desertion of the Cromwell party was
a loss to the poet. He lost the chance of their favour, in case a
reaction should come, his situation as secretary, and the shelter of
Pickering's princely mansion. As might have been expected, his ancient
friends were indignant at the change, and not less so at the alteration
he thought proper at the same time to make in the spelling of his
name--from Driden to Dryden.

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