« AnteriorContinuar »
WILLIAM Walsh, the son of Joseph Walsh, esq. of Abberley, in Worcestershire, was born in 1663, as appears from the account of Wood, who relates, that at the age of fifteen he became, in 1678, a gentleman commoner of Wadham college.
He left the university without a degree, and pursued his studies in London and at home; that he studied, in whatever place, is apparent from the effect, for he became, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, “ the best critick in the nation.”
He was not, however, merely a critick or a scholar, but a man of fashion, and, as Dennis remarks, ostentatiously splendid in his dress. He was, likewise, a member of parliament and a courtier, knight of the shire for his native county in several parliaments; in another the representative of Richmond in Yorkshire ; and gentleman of the horse to queen Anne, under the duke of Somerset.
Some of his verses show him to have been a zealous friend to the revolution ; but his political ardour did not abate his reverence or kindness for Dryden, to whom he gave a Dissertation on Virgil's Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the laws of French versification.
In 1705, he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very early the power of poetry. Their letters are written upon the pastoral comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing to publish.
The kindnesses which are first experienced are seldom forgotten. Pope always retained a grateful memory of Walsh's notice, and mentioned him, in one of his latter pieces, among those that had encouraged his juvenile studies :
Granville the polite,
In his Essay on Criticism he had given him more splendid praise ; and, in the opinion of his learned com mentator, sacrificed a little of his judgment to his gratitude.
The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between 1707, when he wrote to Pope, and 1711, when Pope praised him in his Essay. The epitaph makes him forty-six years old: if Wood's account be right, he died in 1709.
He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by any thing done or written by himself.
His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of Women; which Dryden honoured with a preface.
Esculapius, or the Hospital of Fools, published after his death.
A Collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.
To his poems and letters is prefixed a very judicious preface upon epistolary composition and amorous poetry.
In his Golden Age Restored, there was something of humour, while the facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned; and, in all his writings, there are pleasing passages. He has, however, more elegance than vigour, and seldom rises higher than to be pretty.
Of the great poet whose life I am about to delineate, the curiosity which his reputation must excite, will require a display more ample than can now be given. His contemporaries, however they reverenced his genius, left his life unwritten; and nothing, therefore, can be known beyond what casual mention and uncertain tradition have supplied.
John Dryden was born August 9, 1631 “, at Aldwinkle, near Oundle, the son of Erasmus Dryden, of Titchmersh; who was the third son of sir Erasmus Dryden, baronet, of Canons Ashby. All these places are in Northamptonshire; but the original stock of the family was in the county of Huntingdon".
He is reported by his last biographer, Derrick, to have inherited, from his father, an estate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as was said, an anabaptist. For
· The life of Dryden is written with more than Johnson's usual copiousness of biography, and with peculiar vigour and justness of criticism.
“ None, perhaps, of the Lives of the Poets,” says the Edinburgh Review, for October, 1808, " is entitled to so bigh a rank. No prejudice interfered with his judgment; he approved his politics; he could feel no envy of such established fame; he had a mind precisely formed to relish the excellencies of Drydenmore vigorous than refined ; more reasoning than impassioned.” Edinburgh Review, xxv. p. 117. Many dates, however, and little facts have been rec. tified by Mr. Malone, in his most minute Account of the Life and Writings of John Dryden; and sir Walter Scott, in the life prefixed to his edition of , Dryden's works, has been still more industrious in the collection of incidents and contemporary writings, that can only interest the antiquary. Those to whom Johnson's life seems not sufficiently ample, we refer to the above works. For an eulogy on Dryden's powers, as a satirist, see the notes on the Pursuits of Literature. Ev.
" Mr. Malone has lately proved, that there is no satisfactory evidence for this date. The inscription on Dryden's monument says only“ nalus 1632.” See Malone's Life of Dryden, prefixed to his Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works, p. 5. note. C. * Of Cumberland.
either of these particulars no authority is giveny. Such a fortune ought to have secured him from that poverty which seems always to have oppressed him; or, if he had wasted it, to have made him ashamed of publishing his necessities. But, though he had many enemies, who, undoubtedly, examined his life with a scrutiny sufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony. He was, indeed, sometimes reproached for his first religion. I am, therefore, inclined to believe that Derrick's intelligence was partly true and partly erroneous ?.
From Westminster school, where he was instructed, as one of the king's scholars, by Dr. Busby, whom he long after continued to reverence, he was, in 1650, elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at Cambridge *.
Of his school performances has appeared only a poem on the death of lord Hastings, composed with great ambition of such conceits as, notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the example of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the smallpox; and his poet has made of the pustules first rosebuds, and then gems; at last exalts them into stars ; and says,
No comet need foretell his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation. 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 publick occasions. He probably considered, that he, who proposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was
y Mr. Malone has furnished us with a detailed account of our poet's circumstances, from which it appears, that although he was possessed of a sufficient income, in the early part of his life, he was considerably embarrassed at its close. See Malone's Life, p. 440.
2 Mr. Derrick's Life of Dryden was prefixed to a very beautiful and correct edition of Dryden’s Miscellanies, published by the Tonsons, in 1760,4 vols. 8vo. Derrick's part, however, was poorly executed, and the edition never became popular. c.
a He went off to Trinity college, and was admitted to a bachelor's degree in Jan. 1653-4, and in 1657 was made M.A.
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. In the life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the college with gratitude; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines :
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that be became a publick candidate for fame, by publishing Heroick Stanzas on the late Lord Protector); which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller, on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
When the king was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published Astrea Redux ; a poem on the happy Restoration and Return of his most sacred Majesty King Charles the second.
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace! if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The same year he praised the new king in a second poem on his restoration. In the Astrea was the line,
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we a tempest fearfor which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deserved. Silence is, indeed, mere privation; and, so considered, cannot invade ; but
b This is a mistake; his poem on the death of lord Hastings appeared in a volume entitled Tears of the Muses on the death of Henry Lord Hastings. 8vo. 1649. M.