Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

CHAPTER II.

DRYDEN'S CIRCUMSTANCES.-IS MADE POET LAUREATE.- HIS PROLOGUE MAKING.

[ocr errors]

HIS LOVE OF MUSIC.

HIS ENEMIES.- SOUTHERNE; HIS SINGULAR FATE. SETTLE; HIS TRAGEDY OF THE EMPRESS OF MOROCCO.' DRYDEN'S GEORGE VILLIERS, SECOND DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM; HIS PLAY OF 'THE REHEARSAL. - DRYDEN'S REVENGE ON VILLIERS.

CRITICISM ON HIM.

EARL OF ROCHESTER'S OUTRAGE ON THE POET.
REAL AUTHOR OF THE ESSAY ON SATIRE.'
CHARLES.'

[ocr errors]

--

THE LORD MULGRAVE, THE

THE LINES ON SAUNT'RING

ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL;' EXTRACTS FROM THAT POEM.

DRYDEN'S CONVERSION TO ROMANISM.

DIES IN INDIGENCE,

RETIREMENT FROM PUBLIC LIFE.

THE STORY OF HIS BURIAL. -HIS CHARACTER.

DRYDEN IS MADE POET LAUREATE.

23

CHAPTER II.

DRYDEN, on the death of Sir William Davenant, had been made poet laureate, with a salary of one hundred pounds a year since Charles the First had augmented it from a hundred marks to that sum-and a tierce of wine; a revenue,' says Johnson, 'in those days not inadequate to the convenience of life.'

Yet, if the most indefatigable labour be a proof of necessity, Dryden must ever have been necessitous. Each of his twentyeight tragedies was mostly written in six weeks, or even in a month. Want of time,' says Johnson, was often his excuse; or, perhaps, shortness of time, was his private boast in the form of an apology.'

[ocr errors]

It might have been supposed that such industry must have insured a competency. But to Dryden's prosperity there were many serious obstacles in the state of the times. The theatres, how patronized soever by the nobility, were avoided by the greater portion of the middle classes, who, even if they were not Puritans, reprobated the gross licentiousness of Dryden's plays. Each representation brought him one hundred pounds, not more; and seldom was Dryden allowed more than the profits of a single night. Almost every piece had a dedication, 'written,' says the almost infallible Johnson, 'with such elegance and luxuriance of praise as neither

24 HE BECOMES THE UNIVERSAL PROLOGUE MAKER.

haughtiness nor avarice could resist.' 'Dryden,' he adds, 'made flattery too cheap. That praise is worth nothing of which the price is known.' He prefaced his works, however, on their publication, each with a treatise on criticism, which much improved the public judgment. Dryden told Swift that he regretted the success of his own remarks, for he found his readers made suddenly too skilful to be easily satisfied.'

He was almost the universal prologue-maker, two guineas being his usual price. When asked to write one for Mr. Southerne, he ventured to ask three: Not,' said he, 'young man, out of disrespect to you, but the players have had my prologues too cheap.' Such is Dr. Johnson's statement. But by others the price of a prologue to the profession is said to have been five guineas; to Southerne-a thriving young poet, -ten; Southerne was then high in the favour of James, Duke of York, and always a stanch supporter of the Stuarts; he was a B.A. of Oxford, a Templar; he had the prestige of being a native of Shakespeare's town, Stratford-on-Avon; and, though his plays are long since forgotten, they were more profitable than those of Dryden. He condescended, it is said, to apply to persons of rank to take his tickets, which he sold at a high price, so that a night, or a performance, brought him in 7007., when poor Dryden had only 1007. Pope refers to him as

'Southerne born to raise

The price of prologues and of plays.'

It was the singular fate of Southerne—be it remarked en passant to witness two revolutions. Born in 1662, he saw the revolution of 1688, and, indeed, took a part in it, being a lieutenant in the Duke of Berwick's regiment. In 1715when he was still in middle age-the first insurrection in favour of James Stuart the Chevalier occurred. Dying in 1746, Southerne just survived the attempt of Charles Edward to regain the throne of his ancestors. Southerne's Innocent Adultery'-a play with a title very characteristic of the court

6

« PreviousContinue »