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Here let me bend, great Dryden, at thy shrine,
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Joan Dryden, " the great High Priest of all the Nine,” and “ the father of English criticism," was born at Aldwincle, near Oundle, a village belonging to the Earl of Exeter in NorthamptonMite, Aug. 6. 1635. He was son of Erasmus Dryden, Esq. of Tichmarsh, Northamptonshire, the third son of Erasmus Dryden, Bart. of Canons-Alby in that county, descended of a family originally settled in Huntingdon fire.
He is reported by Derrick, one of his biographers, to have inherited, from his father, an estate of aco l. per annum, and to have been bred an Anabaptist; but for either of these particulars no authority is given.
He was educated at Westminster school, as a King's scholar, under Dr. Busby, where, he has himfelí told us, he “ translated the Third Satire of Perfius, for a Thursday night's exercise," and wrote
many other cxercises of this nacure in English verse.”
lo 1649, the year before he left school, he wrote a poem On the Death of Lord Hastings, which abounds in such conceits, as the example of Cowley still kept in reputation,
la 1650, he was elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at Cambridge, and went off to Trinity College.
The same year, he wrote a copy of verses prefixed to the “ Poems of John Hoddeson," London, Izmo., 1650, under this title, J. Dryden, of Trinity College, to bis Friend, the Author, upon bis Divine Epigrasts.
In 1653, he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts. On the death of Cromwell, in 1658, he wrote . Heroic Stanzas on tbe late Lord Protector; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the same occasion, were fufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
At the Restoration, he changed his opinion, like the other panegyrists of Cromwell, who shared with him the reproach of inconstancy, and published AstrEA Redux, a Poem on the bappy restoration and return of bis meft facred Majesty, King Charles 11. 1660. A remarkable couplet, in the beginning of this Poem, exposed him to the ridicule of the wits.
An horrid Aillness first invades the enr,
And in that silence we the tempest fear.
In 1661, he contributed copy of Latin verses, On the Deatb of Prince Henry and Princess Mary, in. ferted in the “ Tbreni Cantabrigienfes” of that year ; and another on tbe Marriage of King Charles II. printed in the “ Epithalamia Cantabrigienfia 1662."
It appears from his signature, that; in 1662, he had obtained a fellowship; for that academica? honour does not attend his name in 1661.
If these poems had been seen by Dr. Johnson, before the publication of his excellent Life of Drya den, that judicions biographer would certainly have made some alteration in the following paragraph : " 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 public occasions. He probably considered, that he who parposed 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. It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that be became a public candidate for fame.”
In 1662, he addrefed a poem to the Lord Chancellor Hyde, presented on New-Year's-Day, and the fame year published A Satire on the Dutch.
It may be considered as a proof of his early reputation for knowledge, that he was chosen a mem- | ber of the Royal Society foon after the forniation of that institution. He was elected a fellow Igth November, 1662, and admitted the 26th. This circumstance is wholly unnoticed by his biographers. Few poets have solicited an introduction into that learned body lince Cowley, Denham, and Dryden. In 3663, in the thirty-second year of his age, he commenced a writer for the stage, of which he
kept possession for many years, not without the competition of rivals, who sometimes prevailed, or the censure of critics, which was often just, but with such a degree of reputation, as encouraged him to exercise his genius in composing eight-and-twenty dramas.
His first piece was a comedy, called Tbe Wild Gallant, which met with such indifferent success, that, had not necellity compelled him to persevere, the English stage had perhaps never beeu favoured with some of its brightest ornaments. This play was evised and printed in 1669.
In 1664, he produced The Rival Ladies, a tragi.comedy, in dramatic rhyme, with a dedication to the Earl of Orrery, who was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.
He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in the indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme ; but the parts which he wrote are not distinguished.
In 1667, he produced The Indian Emperor, a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen, of which notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door, an expedient which is supposed to be ridiculed in “ The Rehearsal,” where Bayes tells how many reams he has printed, to instil into the audience some conception of the plot.
To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatic rhyme, in confutation of the preface to" the Duke of Lerma," in which Sir Robert Howard had censured it.
The same year, he published Annus Mirabilis, the rear of Wonders, MDCLXVI, which is juftly esteemed one of his most elaborare performances. It is written in quatrains, or heroic stanzas of four lincs, a measure which he borrowed from the “Gondibert" of Davenant, and a hich, in his prefatory letter to Sir Robert Howard, he says, “ I have ever judged more noble, and of greater dignity, than any other verse in use amongst us."
He was now so much distinguished, that on the death of Davenant in 1668, he was made Poct. Laureat. The same year he published his Ejay on Dramatic Poetry, an elegant and instructive dia. logue, in which the principal character, according to Prior, is meant to represent the Earl of Dorset. In 1668, he produced Secret Love, or tbe Maiden- Queen, a tragi-comedy, and Sir Martin Mar-all, a comedy, which was at firit published without bis name. Langbaine charges it like most of the rest, with plagiarism. Downes fays, the Duke of Newcastle gave this play to Dryden, who adapted it to the fage, and it is entered on the books of the Stationers Company, as the production of that Nobleman.
The Tempest, an alteration of Shakspeare's play, made by Dryden in conjunction with Davenant, was exhibited in 1670. The effect produced by two such powerful minds, was, that to Shakspeare's monster Caliban, is added a fister-monster Sgcorax; and a woman who in the original play had never feen a man, is in this brought acquainted with a man that had never seen a woma
man. The new charaders were chiefly the invention and writing of Davenant, as acknowledged by Dryden in his preface.
In 1671, 4n Evening's Love, or the Mock Astrologer, a comedy, made its appearance, with a preface and dedication to the Duke of Newcastle. The preface is elaborately written, and contains many just remarks on the fathers of the English drama.
In 1672, he produced another tragedy in rhyme, called Tyrrannic Love, or the Virgin Martyr, which has many passages of Itrength and elegance, and many of empty noise and ridiculous turbalence. The rants of Maximin have been always the sport of criticifm, and were at length the shame of the writer.
The same year appeared the two parts of the Conquest of Granada, which abound in dramatic wonders and poetical beauties, and met with great success; but they are written in professed defiance of probability, and have been long laid aside.
He did not enjoy his reputation, however, without moleftation. The Conquest of Granads was censured with some severity by Martin Clifford, Esq. of the Charter-House; and the two most diBinguished wits of the nobility, Buckingham and Rochester, declared themselves his enemies.
Buckingham characterised him in 1672, by the name of Bayes, in “ The Rehearsal," a fatirical comedy,
, which he is said to have written in 1665, with the affitance of Batler, Martin Clifford, Esq. and Sprat, then his chaplain.
Dr. J hnson says, it “ was originally intended against Davenant, who in the firt draught ww china crised by the name of Bilboa. Davenant had been a foldier and an adventurer."