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JOHN DRYDEN, the eldest son of Erasmus Driden, (for so the family name used to be spelt) and of Mary, daughter of the Rev. Henry Pickering, was born in the village of Aldwinkle, in Northamptonshire, at the end of 1631, or the beginning of 1632. He was educated first at Oundle, and next at Westminster, under Busby, for whom he always entertained the greatest respect. Of his school exercises we only know, that he translated the third satire of Persius, for a Thursday night's exercise, imposed by his master, whose high opinion of his genius is strongly evinced by his prescribing such a task. It has long been a tradition at Westminster school, that verses on our Saviour's miracle of turning water into wine, being directed as an exercise, Dryden brought up the following
Lympha pudica Deum vidit et erubuit.
But the fact is, that the pentameter was not Dryden's, for it is to be found, with a slight variation, in an epigram on the same subject, writU 3
ten by Richard Crashaw, and published in his Epigrammata Sacra, in 1634, 8vo.
From Westminster Dryden went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his degrees in arts, but never obtained a fellowship. Here we find him put out of commons in 1652, for a fortnight, in consequence of some act of disobedience to the vice-master; and one of his adversaries asserted, many years afterwards, that he was obliged to quit the university, to avoid expulsion, for having calumniated a nobleman's
From Cambridge, Dryden, who had by the death of his father come into the possession of a small paternal estate, visited London, where he had a near relation, Sir Gilbert Pickering, a violent covenanter, and one of the judges appointed to try Charles the First ; but, luckily for his own neck, he was not present when sentence was passed. This worthy gentleman contrived to keep in with all the changes of government, and was made lord chamberlain to Oliver Cromwell, with a salary of one thousand pounds à year, and other emoluments. He was also nominated one of Cromwell's House of Lords.
Under this powerful kinsman, Dryden got èmployment, and was made a member of one of the committees for sequestrating the estates of the orthodox clergy and other loyalists. He is said also, at this time, to have favoured different tribes
of sectaries, particularly the independents and anabaptists.
Immediately after the Restoration, however, he endeavoured to make his peace with the royal party, by writing a poem to celebrate that event, entituled, “ Astræa Redux, a poem, on the happy restoration of his most sacred Majesty, folio, 1660."
His old patron being no longer able to befriend him, he became a mere literary drudge to a bookseller, and was so poor as to dine at a three-penny ordinary. From this situation he was taken into the house of Sir Robert Howard, which friend. ship produced a great change in his affairs, and brought him acquainted with Sir Robert's sister, Lady Elizabeth, one of the daughters of Thomas Earl of Berkshire, and whom he married about the
. Not long after the fire of London, Dryden contracted with the proprietors of the King's Theatre, for an annual stipend, on condition of furnishing them with three plays in the year.
In 1668 he succeeded Sir William Davenant, as poet laureat. He was also made historiographer royal, the united salary being two hundred pounds a year, with a butt of Canary wine from the king's cellar.
In 1671 he was ridiculed on the stage, in the mock farce of the “ Rehearsal," written by Vil- , liers, Duke of Buckingham; aided by Martin
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 Bayes 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 scems 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 him, 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.