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THE

LIFE OF DRYDEN.

THE REVEREND JOHN MITFORD.

THE biography of Dryden was not composed by any of his contemporaries, nor were any materials collected by them which could throw light on his opinions and sentiments, which could inform us of his personal habits, or afford familiar sketches of his private and domestic character. The little that is to be found in the narratives of his life has been gleaned from occasional notices in party pamphlets, and satirical libels, or from what has incidentally been mentioned by himself. Doctor Johnson, who composed the first authentic life of our poet, complained that nothing could be known of Dryden beyond what casual mention and uncertain tradition supplied. Since that time many mistakes have been rectified, and omissions supplied, by the diligent researches of Malone; and we are now probably in possession of all the information which it is possible to produce. Sir Walter Scott has justly founded his narrative on the facts recorded in Malone's biography; while he has taken a more comprehensive view of the genius and writings of the poet, and the influence which he exercised on the literature of the age. When we therefore consider the fairness and felicity of Johnson's critical disquisitions; the truth elicited, or errors rectified by Malone's diligence; and the lively, interesting, and instructive narrative of Scott, we may justly consider that Dryden has been fortunate in his biographers. It is to be hoped, that in the present more compendious memoir, the facts are stated with accuracy, and that the opinions on the different productions of the poet are formed with the care, and delivered with the temperance and respect which are due to the reputation of so great a writer.

JOHN DRYDEN, the poet, was the eldest son of Erasmus Driden, and Mary, daughter of the Rev. Henry Pickering. It is supposed that he was born on the 9th of August, 1631, but no

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BY

The life of Dryden, in the Biographia Britannica, preceded that by Dr. Johnson, being published in 1747-66.

diligence of inquiry has hitherto been able to discover with exactness the place or date of his birth. He has himself told us, that he was born in a village belonging to the Earl of Exeter, and A. Wood has added, that the village mentioned by Dryden was Aldwinckle, in Northamptonshire, not far from Oundle. His age is best ascertained from a passage in the preface to his fables, where, speaking of a gentleman of eighty-eight years of age, he observes that, by the mercy of God, he had already come within twenty years of that number. This preface was probably written in November, 1699, thus placing his birth in the latter end of the year 1631. The family was originally settled in Cumberland*-a marriage of John Dryden, of Staff hill, with the daughter of Sir John Cope, in the early part of Elizabeth's reign, brought them into possession of CanonsAshby, in Northamptonshire; and, subsequently, in the reign of Charles the First, they were proprietors of the Chesterton estate in Huntingdon. John Dryden, the poet's cousingerman, frequently represented that county in parliament, between 1670, and 1707.

Dryden received the earlier part of his education at the small school of Tichmarsh. He was afterwards removed to Westminster, and admitted a king's scholar, but at what period is not exactly known. He remained some years under the tuition of the venerable patriarch of schoolmasters, old Busby, was then elected to one of the scholarships of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted under the Rev. Mr. Templer, and was matriculated on the 6th of July following.

During the time he was at Westminster, he

• David Driden, or Dryden, married the daughter of William Nicholson, of Staff hill, and was the great-great-grandfather of our poet."

A. Wood says, that John Dryden was a schoolmaster, and that the great Erasmus stood godfather for one of his sons. He appears to have been a puritan; in his will, he bequeaths his soul to his Creator, with this singular expression,- The Holy Ghost assuring my spirit that I am the elect of God.' These puritanical principles descended to his family.

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