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ESSAY ON SATIRE:
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL OF DORSET AND MIDDLESEX,
LORD CHAMBERLAIN OF HIS
MAJESTY'S HOUSEHOLD, KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE
ORDER OF THE GARTER, &c. *
MY LORD, The wishes and desires of all good men, which have attended your lordship from your first appearance in the world, are at length accomplished, from your obtaining those honours and dignities which you have so long deserved. There are no factions,
• Our author's connection with this witty and accomplished nobleman is fully traced in Dryden's Life. He was created Earl of Middlesex in 1675, and after the Revolution became Lord Chamberlain, and a knight of the garter. Dryden alludes to these last honours in the commencement of the dedication, which was prefixed to a version of the Satires of Juvenal by our author and others, published in 1693.
though irreconcileable to one another, that are not united in their affection to you, and the respect they pay you. They are equally pleased in your prosperity, and would be equally concerned in your afflictions. Titus Vespasian was not more the delight of human kind. The universal empire made hiin only more known, and more powerful, but could not make him more beloved. He had greater ability of doing good, but your inclination to it is not less; and though you could not extend your beneficence to so many persons, yet you have lost as few days as that excellent emperor; and never had his complaint to make when you went to bed, that the sun had shone upon you in vain, when you had the opportunity of relieving some unhappy man. This, my lord, has justly acquired you as many friends as there are persons who have the honour to be known to you. Mere acquaintance you have none; you have drawn them all into a nearer line; and they who have conversed with you are for ever after inviolably yours. This is a truth so generally acknowledged, that it needs no proof: it is of the nature of a first principle, which is received as soon as it is proposed; and needs not the reformation which Descartes used to his; for we doubt not, neither can we properly say, we think we admire and love you above all other men ; there is a certainty in the proposition, and we know it. With the same assurance I can say, you neither have enemies, nor can scarce have any; for they who have never heard of you, can neither love or hate you; and they who have, can have no other notion of you, than that which they receive from the public, that you are the best of men. After this, niy testimony can be of no farther use, than to declare it to be day-light at high-noon; and all who have the benefit of sight, can look up as well, and see the sun.
It is true, I have one privilege which is almost particular to myself, that I saw you in the east at your first arising above the hemisphere: I was as soon sensible as any man of that light, when it was but just shooting out, and beginning to travel upwards to the meridian. I made my early addresses to your lordship, in my “Essay of Dramatic Poetry;" and therein bespoke you to the world, wherein I have the right of a first discoverer. When I was niyself in the rudiments of my poetry, without name or reputation in the world, having rather the ambition of a writer, than the skill; when I was drawing the outlines of an art, without any living master to instruct me in it; an art which had been better praised than studied here in England, wherein Shakespeare, who created the stage among us, had rather written happily, than knowingly and justly, and Jonson, who, by studying Horace, had been acquainted with the rules, yet seemed to envy to posterity that knowledge, and, like an inventor of some useful art, to make a monopoly of his learning; when thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone, or knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean, without other help than the polestar of the ancients, and the rules of the French stage amongst the moderns, which are extremely different from ours, by reason of their opposite taste; yet even then, I had the presumption to dedicate to your lordship-a very unfinished piece, I must confess, and which only can be excused by the little experience of the author, and the modesty of the title—“ An Essay." Yet I was stronger in prophecy than I was in criticism; I was inspired to
* See Introduction to the “ Essay on Dramatic Poetry.”
foretell you to mankind, as the restorer of poetry, the greatest genius, the truest judge, and the best patron.
Good sense and good nature are never separated, though the ignorant world has thought otherwise. Good nature, by which I mean beneficence and candour, is the product of right reason; which of necessity will give allowance to the failings of others, by considering that there is nothing perfect in mankind; and by distinguishing that which comes nearest to excellency, though not absolutely free from faults, will certainly produce a candour in the judge. It is incident to an elevated understanding, like your lordship’s, to find out the errors of other men; but it is your prerogative to pardon them ; to look with pleasure on those things, which are somewhat congenial, and of a remote kindred to your own conceptions; and to forgive the many failings of those, who, with their wretched art, cannot arrive to those heights that you possess, from a happy, abundant, and native genius: which are as inborn to you, as they were to Shakespeare ; and, for aught I know, to Flomer; in either of whom we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy, without knowing that they ever studied them.
There is not an English writer this day living, who is not perfectly convinced, that your lordship excels all others in all the several parts of poetry which you have undertaken to adorn. The most vain, and the most ambitious of our age, have not dared to assume so much, as the competitors of Themistocles : they have yielded the first place without dispute; and have been arrogantly content to be esteemed as second to your lordship; and even that also, with a longo, sed proximi intervallo. If there have been, or are any, who go farther in their self-conceit, they must be very singular in their opinion; they must be like the officer in a play, who was called Captain, Lieutenant, and Company. The world will easily conclude, whether such unattended generals can ever be capable of making a revolution in Parnassus.
I will not attempt, in this place, to say any thing particular of your Lyric Poems, though they are the delight and wonder of this age, and will be the envy of the next. * The subject of this book confines me to satire; and in that, an author of your own quality, (whose ashes I will not disturb,) has given you all the commendation which his self-sufficiency could afford to any man: “The best good man, with the worst-natured muse.”+ In that character, methinks, I am reading Jonson's verses to the memory of Shakespeare; an insolent, sparing, and invidious panegyric: where good nature, the most godlike commendation of a man, is only attributed to your person, and denied to your writings; for they are every where so full of candour, that, like Horace, you only expose the follies of men, without arraign
their vices; and in this excel him, that you add
* These Lyrical Pieces, after all, are only a few smooth songs, where wit is sufficiently over balanced by indecency. + Alluding to Rochester's well-known couplet :
For pointed satire I would Buckhurst chuse;
Allusion to Horace's 10th Satire, Book I. The satires of Lord Dorset seem to have consisted in short lam. poons, it we may judge of those which have been probably lost, from such as are known to us. His mock “ Address to Mr Ed. ward Howard, on his incomparable and incomprehensible Poem, called the British Princes ;” another to the same on his plays ; a lampoon on an Irish lady; and one on Lady Dorchester, -are the only satires of his lordship’s which have been handed down to us. He probably wrote other light occasional pieces of the same nature,