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LETTERS OF DRYDEN.
The Letters of Dryden, so far as hitherto given to the public, are, with a few exceptions, singularly uninteresting. To the publication of some, which are known to exist, there were found to occur still stronger objections. I have been only able to add one to those collected by Mr. Malone; and I was strongly tempted to omit several. There is, however,
TO THE FAIRE HANDS OF MADAME HONOR DRYDEN, THESE CRAVE ADMITTANCE.*
Camb. May 23, 16[55.] Ir you have received the lines I sent by the reverend Levite, I doubt not but they have exceedingly wrought upon you; for beeing so longe in a clergyman's pocket, assuredly they have acquired more sanctity than theire authour meant them. Alasse, Madame! for ought I know, they may become a sermon ere they could arrive at you; and believe it, haveing you for the text, it could scarcely proove bad, if it light upon one that could handle it indifferently. But I am so miserable a preacher, that though I have so sweet and copious a subject, I still fall short in my expressions; and, instead of an use of thanksgiving, I am allways makeing one of comfort, that I may one day againe have the happinesse to kisse your faire hand; but that is a message I would not so willingly do by letter, as by word of mouth.
This is a point, I must confesse, I could
a satisfaction in seeing how such a man expressed himself, even upon the most trivial occasions; and I have therefore retained those complimentary acknowledgments of turkeys, marrow-puddings, and bacon, which have nothing but such a consideration to recommend them,
The lady to whom this letter is addressed was our author's first cousin, one of the daughters of his uncle, Sir John Dryden. She probably was born,
(says Mr. Malone,) about the year 1637, and died unmarried, some time after 1707.
The seal, (he adds,) under which runs a piece of
blue riband, is a crest of a demi-lion, on a wreath, holding in his paws an armillary sphere at the end of a stand. The letter seems in reply to one from the fair lady, with a present of writing materials. It is a woful sample of the gallantry of the time, alternately coarse and pedantic.
willingly dwell longer on; and, in this case, what ever I say you may confidently take for gospell. But I must hasten. And indeed, Madame, (beloved I had almost sayd,) hee had need hasten who treats of you; for to speake fully to every part of your excellencyes, requires a longer houre than most persons* have allotted them. But, in a word, your selfe hath been the best expositor upon the text of your own worth, in that admirable comment you wrote upon it; I meane your incomparable letter. By all that's good, (and you, Madame, are a great part of my oath,) it hath put mee so farre besides my selfe, that I have scarce patience to write prose, and my pen is stealing into verse every time I kisse your letter. I am sure, the poor paper smarts for my idolatry, which, by wearing it continually neere my brest, will, at last, be burnt and martyrd in those flames of adoration, which it hath kindled in mee. But I forgett, Madame, what rarityes your letter came fraught with, besides words. You are such a deity that commands worship by provideing the sacrifice. You are pleasd, Madame, to force me to write, by sending me materialls, and compell me to my greatest happinesse. Yet, though I highly value your magnificent presente, pardon mee, if I must tell the world, they are imperfect emblems of your beauty; for the white and red of waxe and paper are but shaddowes of that vermillion and snow in your lips and forehead; and the silver
Person quasi parson, which word was originally so spelled. The custom of preaching by an hour-glass has been before noticed.
of the inkehorne, if it presume to vye in whitenesse with your purer skinne, must confesse itselfe blacker then the liquor it containes. What then do I more then retrieve your own guifts, and present you with that paper adulterated with blotts, which you gave spotlesse?
For, since, 'twas mine, the white hath lost its hiew,
To show 'twas n'ere it selfe, but whilst in you:
Till fate, and your own happy choice, reveale, Whom you so farre shall blesse, to make your seale.
Fairest Valentine, the unfeigned wishe of your humble votary. Jo. DRYDEN.
TO [JOHN WILMOT,] EARL OF ROCHESTER.
MY LORD, Tuesday, [July, 1673.] I HAVE accused my selfe this month together, for not writing to you. I have called my selfe by the names I deserved, of unmannerly and ungratefull. I have been uneasy, and taken up the resolutions of a man, who is betwixt sin and repentance, convinc'd of what he ought to do, and yet unable to do better. At the last I deferred it so long, that I almost grew hardened in the neglect; and thought I had suffered so much in your good opinion, that it was in vain to hope I could redeem it. So dangerous a thing it is to be inclin'd to sloath, that I must confess, once for all, I was ready to quit all manner of obligations, and to receive, as if it were my due, the most handsome compliment, couch'd in the best language I have read, and this too from my Lord of Rochester, without shewing myself sensible of the favour. If your Lordship could condescend so far to say all those things to me, which I ought to have say'd to you, it might reasonably be concluded, that you had enchanted me to believe those praises, and that I owned them in my silence. 'Twas this consideration that moved me at last to put off my idleness. And now the shame of seeing my selfe overpay'd so much for an ill Dedication, has made me almost repent of my
address. I find, it is not for me to contend any way with your Lordship, who can write better on the meanest subject, then I can on the best. I have only engaged my selfe in a new debt, when I had hoped to cancell a part of the old one; and should either have chosen some other patron, whom it was in my power to have obliged by speaking better of him then he deserv'd, or have made your Lordship only a hearty Dedication of the respect and honour I had for you, without giving you the occasion to conquer me, as you have done, at my own weapon.
A copy of this letter is in the Museum, MSS. Harl. 7003. The Dedication alluded to, must have been that of " Marriage A-la-Mode," to which Rochester had replied by a letter of thanks; and we have here Dryden's reply. The date is supplied by Mr. Malone from internal evidence.
My only relief is, that what I have written is publique, and I am so much my own friend as to conceal your Lordship's letter; for that which would have given vanity to any other poet, has only given me confusion.
You see, my Lord, how far you have push'd me; I dare not own the honour you have done me, for fear of shewing it to my own disadvan⚫ tage. You are that rerum natura of your own Lucretius;
Ipsa suis pollens opibus, nihil indiga nostri." You are above any incense I can give you, and have all the happiness of an idle life, join'd with the good nature of an active. Your friends in town are ready to envy the leisure you have given your selfe in the country, though they know you are only their steward, and that you treasure up but so much health as you intend to spend on them in winter. In the mean time, you have withdrawn your selfe from attendance, the curse of courts; you may think on what you please, and that as little as you please; for, in my opinion, thinking it selfe is a kind of pain to a witty man; he finds so much more in it to disquiet than to please him. But I hope your Lordship will not omitt the occasion of laughing at the great Duke of Buckingham,] who is so uneasy to himselfe by pursuing the honour of lieutenant-general, which flyes him, that he can enjoy nothing he possesses, though, at the same time, he is so unfit to command an army, that he is the only man in the three na
Lord Rochester translated some part of Lucre
In the year 1672, Monsieur Schomberg was invited into England to command the army raised for the Dutch war, then encamped on Blackheath. He was to be joined in this command with Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who held a commission of rived, he refused to serve equally with Buckinglieutenant-general only. But when Schomberg arham, and was made general; on which the other resigned his commission in disgust. (See Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham's Memoirs, p. 5.) Dryden, still smarting under the "Rehearsal," just then come out, was probably not sorry to take this opportunity to turn the author's pretensions into ridicule.
tions, who does not know it; yet he still picques himself, like his father, to find another Isle of Rhe in Zealand ;* thinking this disappointment an injury to him, which is indeed a favour, and will not be satisfied but with his own ruin and with ours. 'Tis a strange quality in a man to love idleness so well as to destroy his estate by it; and yet, at the same time, to pursue so violently the most toilsome and most unpleasant part of business. These observations would soon run into lampoon, if I had not forsworn that dangerous part of wit; not so much out of good nature, but lest from the inborn vanity of poets I should show it to others, and betray my selfe to a worse mischief than what I do to my enemy. This has been lately the case of Etherege, who, translating a satyr of Boileau's, and changing the French names for English, read it so often, that it came to their ears who were concerned, and forced him to leave off the design, ere it were half finished. Two of the verses I remember:
I call a spade, a spade; Eaton, a bully; Frampton, a pimp; and brother John, a cully. But one of his friends imagin'd those names not enough for the dignity of a satyr, and chang'd
I call a spade, a spade; Dunbar,§ a bully: Brounckard, a pimp; and Aubrey Vere, a cully.
Because I deal not in satyr, I have sent your Lordship a prologue and epilogue, which I made
Eight thousand land-forces were embarked on board the English fleet, to make a descent in Zealand.
+ Sir John Eaton was a noted writer of songs at the time.
Mr. Malone conjectures Tregonwell Frampton, keeper of the royal stud at Newmarket; who was born in 1641, and died in 1727. Brother John must remain in obscurity.
Probably the grandson of Sir George Hume, created Earl of Dunbar by James the First, in 1605.
Henry Brouncker, younger brother of William, Viscount Brouncker. He was a gentleman of the Duke of York's bed-chamber, and carried the false order to slacken sail, after the great battle in 1665, when the Duke was asleep, by which the advantage gained in the victory was entirely lost. There is a great cloud over the story; but that Brouncker was an infamous character, must be concluded on all hands. He was expelled the House of Commons; and countenanced by the king more than he deserved, being "never notorious for any thing but the highest degree of impudence, and stooping to the most infamous offices."-Continuation of Clarendon's Life, quoted by Malone.
Aubrey de Vere, the twentieth and last Earl of Oxford, of that family. This nobleman seduced an eminent actress (said, by some authorities, to be Mrs. Marshall, but conjectured, by Mr. Malone, to have been Mrs. Davenport) to exchange her profession for his protection. The epithet, applied to him in the lines, renders it improbable that he imposed on her by a mock-marriage, though the story is told by Count Hamilton, and others.
for our players when they went down to Oxford. I hear they have succeeded; and by the event your Lordship will judge how easy 'tis to pass any thing upon an university, and how gross flattery the learned will endure.* If your lordship had been in town, and I in the country, I durst not have entertained you with three pages of a letter; but I know they are very ill things which can be tedious to a man who is fourscore miles from Covent Garden. "Tis upon this confidence, that I dare almost promise to entertain you with a thousand bagatelles every week, and not to be serious in any part of my letter, but that wherein I take leave to call myself your lordship's Most obedient servant, JOHN DRYDEN.
[The following note and letter contain the determination of a dispute, and probably of a wager, which had been referred to our author by the parties. It concerns a passage in Creech's "Lucretius," and probably was written soon after the publication of that translation in 1682, when it was a recent subject of conversation. The full passage in "Lucretius" runs thus:
Præterea quæcunque vetustate amovet ætas,
Which Creech thus renders:
Besides, if o'er whatever years prevall,
The translation of Creech is at least complicated and unintelligible; and I am uncertain whether even Dryden's explanation renders it grammatical. Dryden speaks elsewhere with great applause of Creech's translation.
The original of this decision (in Dryden's handwriting) is in the possession of Mrs. White of Bownham-hali, Gloucestershire, and was most obligingly communicated to the editor by that lady through the medium of Mr. Constable of Edinburgh.]
THE two verses, concerning which the dispute is raised, are these:
Besides, if o're whatever yeares prevaile Shou'd wholly perish, and its matter faile.
The question arising from them is, whether any true grammaticall construction can be made of them? The objection is, that there is no nominative case appearing to the word perish, or that can be understood to belong to it.
*The Prologue and Epilogue in question may have been those spoken by Mr. Hart, and Mrs. Marshall.
I have considered the verses, and find the author of them to have notoriously bungled; that he has plac'd the words as confus'dly as if he had studied to do so. This notwithstanding, the very words, without adding or diminishing in theire proper sence, (or at least what the authour meanes,) may run thus:-Besides, if what ever yeares prevaile over, should wholly perish, and its matter faile.
pronounce therefore, as impartially as I can upon the whole, that there is a nominative case, and that figurative, so as Terence and Virgil, amongst others, use it; that is, the whole clause precedent is the nominative case to perish. My reason is this, and I think it obvious; let the question be ask'd, what it is that shou'd wholly perish, or that perishes? The answer will be, That which yeares prevaile over. If you will not admit a clause to be in construction a nom
inative case, the word thing, illud, or quod cunque, is to be understood, either of which words, in the feminine gender, agree with res, so that he meanes what ever thing time prevails over shou'd wholly perish, and its matter faile. Lucretius his Latine runs thus:
Præterea, quæcunque vetustate amovet ætas,
which ought to have been translated thus :
Besides, what ever time removes from view,
I translated it whatever purposely, to shew, that thing is to be understood; which, as the words are heere plac'd, is so very perspicuous, that the nominative case cannot be doubted.
The word perish, used by Mr. Creech, is a verb neuter; where Lucretius puts perimit, which is active; a licence which, in translating a philosophical poet, ought not to be taken; for some reason, which I have not room to give. But to comfort the loser, I am apt to believe, that the cross-grain confused verse put him so much out of patience, that he wou'd not suspect it of any sence.
THE Company having done me so great an honour as to make me their judge, I desire from
But, in this case, the date of their being delivered has been placed too late. Exact accuracy is of little consequence; but I fear the hint in the letter gives some reason for Tom Brown's alleging that Dryden flattered alternately the wits of the town at the cost of the university, and the university scholars at the expense of the London audience. I cry that facetious person mercy, for having said there was no proof of his accusation.
We have, with much ado, recover'd my younger sonn,† who came home extreamly sick of a violent cold, and, as he thinks him selfe, a chine-cough. The truth is, his constitution is very tender; yet his desire of learning, I hope, will inable him to brush through the college. He is allwayes gratefully acknowledging your fatherly kindnesse to him; and very willing, to his poore power, to do all things which may continue it. I have no more to add, but only to wish the eldest may also deserve some part of your good opinion; for I believe him to be of vertuous and pious inclinations; and for both, I dare assure you, that they can promise to themselves no farther share of my indulgence, then while they carry them selves with that reverence to you, and that honesty to all others, as becomes them. I am, honour'd Sir, Your most obedient servant and scholar, JOHN DRYDEN.t
TO THE REV. DR. BUSBY.
[1682.] IF I could have found in my selfe a fitting temper to have waited upon you, I had done it
*There is no address or superscription.
+ John Dryden, admitted a king's scholar in 1682. 1 This letter from Lady Elizabeth Dryden seems to have been written at the same time, and on the same subject:
Ascension Day, [1682.] I hope I need use noe other argument to you in excuse of my sonn for not coming to church to Westminster then this, that he now lies at home, and thearfore cannot esilly goe soe far backwards and forwards. His father and I will take care that he shall duely goe to church heare, both on holydayes and Sundays, till he comes to be more nearly under your care in the college. In the mean time, will you please to give me leave to accuse you of forget
the day you dismissed my sonn* from the college: for he did the message; and by what I find from Mr. Meredith, as it was delivered by you to him; namely, that you desired to see me, and had somewhat to say to me concerning him. I observed likewise somewhat of kindnesse in it, that you sent him away, that you might not have occasion to correct him. I examined the business, and found, it concern'd his having been custost foure or five dayes to gether. But if he admonished, and was not believed, because other boyes combined to discredit him with false witnesseing, and to save them selves, perhaps his crime is not so great. Another fault it seems, he made, which was going into one Hawkes his house, with some others; which you hapning to see, sent your servant to know who they were, and he onely returned you my sonn's name; so the rest escaped. I have no fault to find with my sonn's punishent; for that is, and oug to be, reserv'd to any master, much more to you, who have been his father's. But your man was certainly to blame to name him onely; and 'tis onely my respect to you, that I do not take notice of it to him. My first rash resolutions were, to have brought things past any composure, by immediately sending for my sonn's things out of college; but upon reflection, I find, I have a double tye upon me not to do it: one, my obligations to you for my education; another, my great tendernesse of doeing any thing offensive to my Lord Bishop of Rochester, as cheife governour of the college. It does not consist with the honour I beare him and you to go so precipitately to worke; no, not so much as to have any
ting your prommis conserning my eldest sonn, who, as you once assured me, was to have one night in a weeke alowed him to be at home, in considirasion both of his health and cleanliness. You know, Sir, that promises mayd to women, and espiceally mothers, will never faille to be be cald upon; and thearfore I will add noe more, but that I am, at this time, your remembrancer, and allwayes, honnord Sir, Your humble servant, E. DRYDEN. • His eldest son Charles, as Mr. Malone supposes. In the hall of the college of Westminster, when the boys are at dinner, it is, ex officio, the place of the second boy, in the second election, to keep order among the two under elections; and if any word, after he has ordered silence, he spoken, except in Latin, he says to the speaker, Tu es Custos; and this term passes from the second speaker to the third, or more, till dinner is over. Whoever is then custos, has an imposition.
It is highly probable, (adds the very respectable gentleman, to whom I am indebted for this information,) that there had formerly been a tessera or symbolum, delivered from hoy to boy, as at some French schools now, and that custos meant custos tesseræ, symboli, &c.; but at Westminster, the symbol is totally unknown at present.- Malone.
1 Dr. John Dolben, then Bishop of Rochester, afterwards of York.
difference with you, if it can possibly be avoyded. Yet, as my sonn stands now, I cannot see with what credit he can be elected; for, being but sixth, and (as you are pleased to judge,) not deserving that neither, I know not whether he may not go immediately to Cambridge, as well as one of his own election went to Oxford this yeare* by your consent. I will say nothing of my second sonn, but that, after you had been pleased to advise me to waite on my Lord Bishop for his favour, I found he might have had the first place if you had not opposed it; and I likewise found at the election, that, by the pains you had taken with him, he in some sort deserved it.
I hope, sir, when you have given your selfe the trouble to read thus farr, you, who are a prudent man, will consider, that none complaine, but they desire to be reconciled at the same time there is no mild expostulation, at least, which does not intimate a kindness and respect in him who makes it. Be pleas'd, if there be no merit on my side, to make it your own act of grace to be what you were formerly to my sonn. I have done something, so far to conquer my own spirit as to ask it; and, indeed, I know not with what face to go to my Lord Bishop, and to tell him I am takeing away both my sonns; for though I shall tell him no occasion, it will looke like a disrespect to my old master, of which I will not be guilty, if it be possible. I shall add no more, but hope I shall be so satisfyed with a favourable answer from you, which I promise to my selfe from your goodnesse and moderation, that I shall still have occasion to continue,
Your most obliged humble servant, JOHN DRYDEN.†