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To increase the value of his copies, he often accompanied his work with a preface of criticism; a kind of learning then almost new in the English language, and which he who had considered with great accuracy the principles of writing, was able to distribute copiously as occasions arose. By these dissertations the publick judgment must have been much improved; and Swift, who conversed with Dryden, relates that he regretted the success of his own instructions, and found his readers made suddenly too skilful to be easily satisfied. His prologues had such reputation, that for some time a play was considered as less likely to be well received, if some of his verses did not introduce it. The price of a prologue was two guineas, till, being asked to write one for Mr. Southern, he demanded three: “ Not,” said he, “ young man, out of dis“respect to you; but the players have had my goods “too cheap.” y Though he declares, that in his own opinion, his genius was not dramatick, he had great confidence in his own fertility; for he is said to have engaged, by contract, to furnish four plays a year. It is certain that in one year, 16784, he published All for Love, Assignation, two parts of the Conquest of Granada, Sir Martin Marr-all, and the State of Innocence, six complete plays, with a celerity of performance, which, though all Langbaine's charges of plagiarism should be allowed, shews such facility
* Dr. Johnson in this assertion was misled by Langbaine. Only one of these plays appeared in 1678. Nor were there more than three in any one year. The dates are now added
from the original editions. R. - f Q
of composition, such readiness of language, and such copiousness of sentiment, as, since the time of Lopez de Vega, perhaps no other author has ever possessed. He did not enjoy his reputation, however great, nor his profits, however small, without molestation. He had criticks to endure, and rivals to oppose. The two most distinguished wits of the nobility, the Duke of Buckingham and Earl of Rochester, declared themselves his enemies. Buckingham characterised him, in 1671, by the name of Bayes in the Rehearsal; a farce which he is said to have written with the assistance of Butler, the author of Hudibras; Martin Clifford, of the Charterhouse; and Dr. Sprat, the friend of Cowley, then
his Chaplain. Dryden and his friends laughed at
the length of time, and the number of hands, employed upon this performance; in which, though by some artifice of action it yet keeps possession of the stage, it is not possible now to find anything that might not have been written without so long delay, or a confederacy so numerous. To adjust the minute events of literary history, is tedious and troublesome ; it requires indeed no great force of understanding, but often depends upon enquiries which there is no opportunity of making, or is to be fetched from books and pamphlets not always at hand. The Rehearsal was played in 1671 *,andyetis represented as ridiculing passages in the Conquest of Gramadat and Assignation, which were not published till 1678; in Marriage à-la-mode, published in 1673; * It was published in 1672. R. f The Conquest of Granada was published in 1672; The Assig
nation, in 1673: Marriage-à-la-mode in the same year: and Ty
rannick Love in 1672. and and in Tyrannick Love, in 1677. These contradictions shew how rashly satire is applied *. It is said that this farce was originally intended against Davenant, who, in the first draught, was characterised by the name of Bilboa. Davenant had been a soldier and an adventurer. There is one passage in the Rehearsal still remaining, which seems to have related originally to Davenant. Bayes hurts his nose, and comes in with brown paper applied to the bruise; how this affected Dryden, does not appear. Davenant's nose had suffered such diminution by mishaps among the women, that a patch upon that part evidently denoted him. It is said likewise that Sir Robert Howard was once meant. The design was probably to ridicule the reigning poet, whatever he might be. Much of the personal satire, to which it might owe its first reception, is now lost or obscured. Bayes probably imitated the dress, and mimicked the manner, of Dryden: the cant words which are so often in his mouth may be supposed to have been Dryden's habitual phrases, or customary exclamations. Bayes, when he is to write, is blooded and purged; this, as Lamotte relates himself to have heard, was the real practice of the poet. There were other strokes in the Rehearsal by which malice was gratified; the debate between Love and Honour, which keeps prince Polscius in a single boot, is said to have alluded to the misconduct of the Duke of Ormond, who lost Dublin to the rebels while he was toying with a mistress.
* There is no contradiction, according to Mr. Malone, but what arises from Dr. Johnson's having copied the erroneous
dates assigned ta these plays by Langbaine. C. The
The earl of Rochester, to suppress the reputation of Dryden, took Settle into his protection, and endeavoured to persuade the publick that its approbation had been to that time misplaced. Settle was a while in high reputation ; his Empress of Morocco, having first delighted the town, was carried in triumph to Whitehall, and played by the ladies of the court. Now was the poetical meteor at the highest: the next moment began its fall. Rochester withdrew his patronage; seeming resolved, says one of his biographers, “to have a judgment contrary “to that of the town;" perhaps being unable to endure any reputation beyond a certain height, even when he had himself contributed to raise it.
Neither criticks nor rivals did Dryden much mischief, unless they gained from his own temper the power of vexing him, which his frequent bursts of resentment give reason to suspect. He is always angry at some past, or afraid of some future censure; but he lessens the smart of his wounds by the balm of his own approbation, and endeavours to repel the shafts of criticism by opposing a shield of adamantine confidence.
The perpetual accusation produced against him, was that of plagiarism, against which he never attempted any vigorous defence; for though he was perhaps sometimes injuriously censured, he would, by denying part of the charge, have confessed the rest; and, as his adversaries had the proof in their own hands, he, who knew that wit had little power against facts, wisely left, in that perplexity which it generally produces, a question which it was his interest to suppress, and which, unless provoked by vindication, few were likely to examine.
Though Though the life of a writer, from about thirty-five to sixty-three, may be supposed to have been sufficiently busied by the composition of eight-andtwenty pieces for the stage, Dryden found room in the same space for many other undertakings. But, how much soever he wrote, he was at least once suspected of writing more; for, in 1679, a paper of verses, called An Essay on Satire, was shewn about in manuscript; by which the Earl of Rochester, the Dutchess of Portsmouth, and others, were so much provoked, that, as was supposed (for the actors were never discovered), they procured Dryden, whom they suspected as the author, to be waylaid and beaten. This incident is mentioned by the Duke of Buckinghamshire *, the true writer, in his Art of Poetry; where he says of Dryden, Though prais'd and beaten for another's rhymes, His own deserve as great applause sometimes. His reputation in time was such, that his name was thought necessary to the success of every poetical or literary performance, and therefore he was engaged to contribute something, whatever it might be, to many publications. He prefixed the Life of Polybius to the translation of Sir Henry Sheers: and those of Lucian and Plutarch, to versions of their works by different hands. Of the English Tacitus he translated the first book; and, if Gordon be credited, translated it from the French. Such a charge can hardly be mentioned without some degree of indignation; but it is not, I suppose, so much to be inferred, that Dryden wanted the literature necessary to the perusal of Tacitus, as that, considering himself as hidden in a crowd, he had no awe of the publick; and, writing * It is mentioned by A. Wood, Athen. Oxon, vol.II, p.804.2d Ed. C. - merely