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said he, young man, out of disrespect to you, but the players have had my goods too cheap.
Though he declares, that in his own opinion his genius was not dramatick, he had great confidence in his own fertility; for he is said to have engaged, by contract, to furnish four plays a year.
It is certain that in one year, 1678, he published All for Love, Asignation, two parts of the Conquest of Granada, Sir Martin Marall, and the State of Innocence, fix complete plays; with a celerity of performance, which, though all Langbaine's charges of plagiarism should be allowed, shews such facility of compofition, such readiness of language, and such copiousness of sentiment, as since the time of Lopez de Vega, perhaps no other author has possessed.
He did not enjoy his reputation, however great, nor his profits, however small, without molestation. He had criticks to endure, and rivals to oppose. The two most distinguished wits of the nobility, the duke of Buckingham and earl of Rochester, declared themselves his enemies.
Buckingham characterised him in 1671, by the name of Bays in the Rehearsal; á farce which he is said to have written with the as. sistance of Butler the author of Hudibras, Martin Clifford of the Charterhouse, and Dr. Sprat, the friend of Cowley, then his chaplain. Dryden and his friends laughed at the length of time and the number of hands employed upon this performance; in which, though by some artifice of action it yet keeps possession of the stage, it is not possible now
to find any thing that might not have been written without so long delay, or a confederacy so numerous.
To adjust the minute events of literary hiftory is tedious and troublesome; it requires indeed no great force of understanding, but often depends upon enquiries which there is no opportunity of making, or is to be fetched from books and pamphlets not always at hand.
The Rehearsal was played in 1671, and yet is represented as ridiculing passages in the Conquest of Granada and Asignation, which were not published till 1678, in Marriage Alamode published in 1673, and in Tyrannick Love of 1677. These contradictions Thew how rafhly fatire is applied.
It is said that this farce was originally intended against Davenant, who in the first draught was characterised by the name of Bilboa. Davenant had been a soldier and an adventurer.
There is one passage in the Rebearsal still remaining, which seems to have related originally to Davenant. Bays hurts his nose, and comes in with brown paper applied to the bruise : how this affected Dryden does not appear. Davenant's nose had suffered such diminution by mishaps among the women, that a patch upon that part evidently denoted him.
It is said likewise that Sir Robert Howard was once meant. The design was probably to ridicule the reigning poet, whoever he might be.
Much of the personal satire, to which it might owe its first reception, is now loft or obscured. Bays probably imitated the dress, and mimicked the manner, of Dryden ; the
cant words which are so often in his mouth may be supposed to have been Dryden's habitual, phrases, or customary exclamations. Bays, when he is to write, is blooded and purged: this, as Lamotte relates himself to have heard, was the real practice of the poet.
There were other strokes in the Rehearsal by which malice was gratified: the debate between Love and Honour, which keeps prince Volscius in a single boot, is said to have alluded to the misconduct of the duke of Ormond, who lost Dublin to the rebels while he was toying with a mistress.
The earl of Rochester, to suppress the reputation of Dryden, took Settle into his protection, and endeavoured to persuade the publick that its approbation had been to that time misplaced. Settle was a while in high reputation : his Empress of Morocco, having first delighted the town, was carried in triumph to Whitehall, and played by the ladies of the court. Now was the poetical meteor at the
t, the next moment began its fall. Rochester withdrew his patronage : seeming resolved, says one of his biographers, to have a judgement contrary to that of the town. Perhaps being unable to endure any reputation beyond a certain height, even when he had himself contributed to raise it.
Neither criticks nor rivals did Dryden much mischief, unless they gained from his own temper the power of vexing him, which his frequent bursts of resentment give reason to suspect. He is always angry at some past or afraid of some future cenfüre; but he lessens the sinart of his wounds by the balm of his
own approbation, and endeavours to repel the shafts of criticism by opposing a shield of adamantine confidence.
The perpetual accusation produced against him was that of plagiarism, against which he never attempted any vigorous defence : for, though he was perhaps sometimes injuriously censured, he would by denying part of the charge have confessed the rest : and as his adversaries had the proof in their own hands, he, who knew that wit had little power against facts, wisely left in that perplexity which generality produces a question which it was his interest to suppress, and which, unless provoked by vindication, few were likely to examine.
Though the life of a writer, from about thirty-five to fixty-three, may be supposed to have been sufficiently busied by the composition of eight and twenty pieces for the stage, Dryden found room in the same space for many other undertakings.
But, how much soever he wrote, he was at least once suspected of writing more; for in 1679 a paper of verses called an Esay on Satire, was shewn about in manuscript, by which the earl of Rochester, the dutchess of Portsmouth, and others, were so much provoked, that, as was supposed, for the actors were never discovered, they procured Dryden, whom they sufpected as the author, to be waylaid and beaten. This incident is mentioned by the duke of Buckinghamshire, the true writer, in his Art of Poetry; where he says of Dryden,
Though prais’d and beaten for another's rhymes,
His reputation in time was such, that his name was thought necessary to the success of every poetical or literary performance, and therefore he was engaged to contribute fomething, whatever it might be, to many publications. He prefixed the Life of Polybius to the translation of Sir Henry Sheers; and those of Lucian and Plutarch tó versions of their works by different hands. Of the English Tacitus he tranflated the first book; and, if Gordon be credited, translated it from the French. Such a charge can hardly be mentioned without some degree of indignation ; but it is not, I suppose, so much to be inferred that Dryden wanted the literature necessary to the perufal of Tacitus, as that, considering himself as hidden in a crowd, he had no awe of the publick; and, writing merely for money, was contented to get it by the nearest way.
In 1680, the Epistles of Ovid being translated by the poets of the time, among which one was the work of Dryden, and another of Dryden and Lord Mulgrave, it was necessary to introduce them by a preface; and Dryden, who on such occasions was regularly summoned, prefixed a discourse upon translation, which was then struggling for the liberty that it now enjoys. Why it should find any difficulty in breaking the Thackles of verbal interpretation, which must for ever debar it from elegance, it would be difficult to conjecture, were not the power of prejudice every day obferved. The authority of Jonson, Sandys, and Holiday, had fixed the judgement of the nation; and it was not easily believed that a better way could be found than they had taken,