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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 eftate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as was faid, an Anabaptist. For either of these particulars no authority is given. Such a fortune ought to have secured him from that poverty which seems always to have oppreffed him; or if he had wafted it, to have made him afhamed of publishing his neceffities. But though he had many enemies, who undoubtedly examined his life with a scrutiny fufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony. He was indeed fometimes reproached for his first religion. I am therefore inclined to believe that Derrick's intelligence was partly true, and partly erroneous.
From Weftminfter 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 fchool performances has appeared only a poem on the death of Lord Haftings, compofed with great ambition of fuch conceits as, notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the example of Cowley ftill kept in reputation. Lord Haftings died of the small-pox, and his poet has made of the puftules firft rofebuds, and then gems; at laft exalts them into ftars; and fays,
No comet need foretell his change drew on,
At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical diftinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious fubjects or public occafions. He probably confidered that he who purposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reafon, no fellowship in the College. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guefs; 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 thefe lines:
Oxford to him a dearer name fhall be
It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a public candidate for fame, by publishing Heroic Stanzas on the late Lord Protector; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the fame occafion, were fufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
When the king was reftored, Dryden, like the other panegyrifts of ufurpation, changed his opinion, or his profeffion, and published ASTREA REDUX, a poem on the happy restoration and return of his most facred Majefty King Charles the Second.
The reproach of inconftancy was, on this occafion, fhared with fuch numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor difgrace; if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The fame year he praised the new king in a fecond poem on his restoration. In the ASTREA was the line,
An horrid ftillness first invades the ear,
for which he was perfecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deferved. Silence is indeed mere privation; and, fo confidered, cannot invade; but privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold; yet poetry has never been refused the right of afcribing effects or agency to them as tò pofitive powers. No man fcruples to fay that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is alfo privation, yet who has made any difficulty of affigning to Death a dart and the power of ftriking?
In fettling the order of his works, there is some difficulty; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the fame; nor can the first editions be easily found, if even from them could be obtained the neceffary information.
The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not
printed till it was fome years afterwards altered and revived; but fince the plays are said to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may be inferred; and thus it may be collected that in 1663, in the thirty-fecond year of his life, he commenced a writer for the ftage; compelled undoubtedly by neceffity, for he appears never to have loved that exercife of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas.
Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept poffeffion for many years; not indeed without the competition of rivals who fometimes prevailed, or the censure of criticks, which was often poignant and often juft, but with fuch a degree of reputation as made him at least secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the public.
His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries;. for his performance was fo much difapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which