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“ March 24, 1698. • Received then of Mr. Jacob Tonson the sum of two hundred sixty-eight pounds fifteen shillings, in pursuance of an agreement for ten thousand verses, to be delivered by me to the said Jacob Tonson, whereof I have already delivered to him about seven thousand five hundred, more or less; he the said Jacob Tonson being obliged to make up the foresaid sum of two hundred sixty-eight pounds fifteen shillings three hundred pounds, at the beginning of the second impression of the foresaid ten thousand verses; “ I say, received by me
“ John Dryden. “ Witness, Charles Dryden." Two hundred and fifty guineas, at 1l. 1s. 6d. is 2681. 15s.
It is manifest, from the dates of this contract, that it relates to the volume of Fables, which cona tains about twelve thousand verses, and for which therefore the payment must have been afterwards enlarged.
I have been told of another letter yet remaining, in which he desires Tonson to bring him money, to pay
for a watch which he had ordered for his son, and which the maker would not leave without the price.
The inevitable consequence of poverty is dependence. Dryden had probably no recourse in his exigences but to his bookseller. The particular character of Tonson I do not know; but the general conduct of traders was much less liberal in those times than in our own; their views were narrower,
and their manners grosser.
To the mercantile ruggedness of that race, the delicacy of the poet was sometimes exposed. Lord Bolingbroke, who in his youth had cultivated poetry, related to Dr. King of Oxford, that one day, when he visited Dryden, they heard, as they were conversing, another person entering the house. “ This,” said Dryden, “is Tonson. You will take care not to depart before he goes away: for I have not completed the sheet which I promised him; and, if you leave me unprotected, I must suffer all the rudeness to which his resentment can prompt his tongue.”
What rewards he obtained for his the payment of the bookseller, cannot be known. Mr. Derrick, who consulted some of his relations, was informed that his Fables obtained five hundred pounds from the Duchess of Ormond ; a present not unsuitable to the magnificence of that splendid family; and he quotes Moyle, as relating that forty pounds were paid by a musical society for the use of Alexander's Feast. In those days the economy
government was yet unsettled, and the payments of the exchequer were dilatory and uncertain ; of this disorder there is reason to believe that the laureat sometimes felt the effects; for in one of his prefaces he complains of those, who, being intrusted with the distribution of the prince's bounty, suffer those that depend upon it to languish in penury.
Of his petty habits or slight amusements, tradition has retained little. Of the only two men whom I have found to whom he was personally known,
one told me, that at the house which he frequented, called Will's Coffee-house, the appeal upon any literary dispute was made to him: and the other related, that his armed chair, which in the winter had a settled and prescriptive place by the fire, was in the summer placed in the balcony, and that he called the two places his winter and his summer seat. This is all the intelligence which his two survivors afforded me.
One of his opinions will do him no honour in the present age, though in his own time, at least in the beginning of it, he was far from having it confined to himself. He put great confidence in the prognostications of judicial astrology. In the appendix to the Life of Congreve is a narrative of some of his predictions wonderfully fulfilled; but I know not the writer's means of information, or character of veracity. That he had the configurations of the horoscope in his mind, and considered them as influencing the affairs of men, he does not forbear to hint.
The utmost malice of the stars is past.-
Will gloriously the new-laid works succeed. He has elsewhere shown his attention to the planetary powers; and in the preface to his Fables has endeavoured obliquely to justify his superstition, by attributing the same to some of the ancients. The latter, added to this narrative, leaves no doubt of his notions or practice. So slight and so scanty is the knowledge which VOL. I.
I have been able to collect concerning the private life and domestick manners of a man, whom every English generation must mention with reverence as a critick and a poet.
be properly considered as the father of English criticism, as the writer who first taught us to determine upon principles the merit of composition. Of our former poets, the greatest dramatist wrote without rules, conducted through life and nature by a genius that rarely misled, and rarely deserted him. Of the rest, those who knew the laws of propriety had neglected to teach them.
Two Arts of English Poetry were written in the days of Elizabeth by Webb and Puttenham, from which something might be learned, and a few hints had been given by Jonson and Cowley; but Dryden's Essay on Dramatick Poetry was the first regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing.
He who, having formed his opinions in the present age of English literature, turns back to peruse this dialogue, will not perhaps find much increase of knowledge, or much novelty of instruction; but he is to remember that critical principles were then in the hands of a few, who had gathered them partly from the ancients, and partly from the Italians and French. The structure of dramatick poems was then not generally understood. Audiences applauded by instinct; and poets perhaps often pleased by chance.
A writer who obtains his full purpose loses himself in his own lustre. Of an opinion which is no longer doubted, the evidence, ceases to be ex
Poniveles hi harb in terms of his time
amined. Of an art universally practised, the first
ruise is no longer learning; it has the appearance
To judge rightly of an author, we must trans-) v
The Dialogue on the Drama was one of his first