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THE LIFE OF JOHN DRYDEN.
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. Drydens are even now very plentiful in many towns of Scotland; and the poet's ancestors lived in the county of Cumberland. One of them, named John, removed from a place called Staffhill, 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 derid
ing, 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 Oldvincle, 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 semipoetical 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 " Lachrymæ Musarum.” Hastings seems to have been an amiable person, but he was besides a lord, and hinc illo lachrymæ. 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 sixand-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