Page images
PDF
EPUB

TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

THE EARL OF ROCHESTER,

KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF

THE GARTER, &c*.

It is enough for your lordship to be conscious to yourself of having performed a just and honourable action, in redeeming this play from the persecution of my enemies; but it would be ingratitude in me, not to publish it to the world. That it has

appeared on the stage, is principally owing to you: that it has succeeded, is the approbation of your judgment by that of the public. It is just the inversion of an act of parliament: Your lordship first signed it, and then it was passed amongst the Lords

* Dryden had already distinguished Hyde, Earl of Rochester, by inscribing “ The Duke of Guise” to him. As he was son of the famous Lord Clarendon, he was, of course, uncle to Queen Mary, by the mother's side, and his protection continued therefore to be respectable, although his political tenets were strongly Jacobitical.

and Commons. The children of old men are generally observed to be short-lived, and of a weakly constitution. How this may prove, I know not, but hitherto it has promised well; and if it survive to posterity, it will carry the noble fame of its patron along with it; or, rather, it will be carried by yours to after-ages. Ariosto, in his Voyage of Astolpho to the Moon, has given us a fine allegory of two swans; who, when Time had thrown the writings of many poets into the river of oblivion, were ever in a readiness to secure the best, and bear them aloft into the temple of immortality. * Whether this poem

be of that number, is left to the judgment of the swan who has preserved it; and, though I can claim little from his justice, I may presume to value myself upon his charity. It will be told me, that I have mistaken the Italian poet, who means only, that some excellent writers, almost as few in number as the swans, have rescued the memory of their patrons from forgetfulness and time ; when a vast multitude of crows and vultures, that is, bad scribblers, parasites, and flatterers, oppressed by the weight of the names which they endeavoured to redeem, were forced to let them fall into Lethe, where they were lost for ever.

If it be thus, my lord, the table would be turned upon me; but I should only fail in my vain attempt; for, either some immortal swan will be more capable of sustaining such a weight, or you, who have so long been conversant in the management of great affairs, . are able with your pen to do justice to yourself, and, at the same time, to give the nation a clearer and more faithful insight into those transactions, where

* See the end of the 34th and beginning of the 35th canto of the “ Orlando Furioso."

in you have worthily sustained so great a part; for, to your experience in state affairs, you have also joined no vulgar erudition, which all your modesty is not able to conceal : for, to understand critically the delicacies of Horace, is a height to which few of our noblemen have arrived; and that this is

your deserved commendation, I am a living evidence, as far, at least, as I can be allowed a competent judge on that subject. Your affection to that admirable Ode, which Horace writes to his Mecænas, and which I had the honour to inscribe to you, is not the only proof of this assertion*: You may please to remember that, in the late happy conversation which I had with your lordship at a noble relation's of yours, you took me aside, and pleased yourself with repeating to me one of the most beautiful pieces in that author. It was the Ode to Barine, wherein you were so particularly affected with that elegant expression, Juvenumque prodis publica cura. There is indeed the virtue of a whole poem in those words; that curiosa felicitas, which Petronius so justly ascribes to our author. The barbarity of our language is not able to reach it; yet, when I have leisure, I mean to try how near I can raise my English to his Latin; though, in the mean time, I cannot but imagine to myself

, with what scorn his sacred manes would look on so lame a translation as I could make His recalcitrat undique tutus might more easily be applied to me, than he him self applied it to Augustus Cæsar. I ought to reckon that day as very fortunate to me, and distinguish it, as the ancients did, with a whiter stone; because it furnished me with an occasion of reading my Cleomenes to a beautiful assembly of ladies,

* The 29th Ode of the First Book. See it among our author's translations from Horace.

[blocks in formation]

where your lordship's three fair daughters were pleased to grace it with their presence *; and, if I may

have leave to single out any one in particular, there was your admirable daughter-in-law, shining, not like a star, but a constellation of herself, a more true and brighter Berenice. Then it was, that, whether out of your own partiality, and indulgence to my writings, or out of complaisance to the fair company, who gave the first good omen to my success by their approbation, your lordship was pleased to add your own, and afterwards to represent it to the queen, as wholly innocent of those crimes which were laid unjustly to its charge. Neither am I to forget my charming patroness, though she will not allow my public address to her in a dedication, but protects me unseen, like my guardian-angel, and shuns my gratitude, like a fairy, who is bountiful by stealth, and conceals the giver when she bestows the gift; but, my Lady Silvius t has been juster to me, and pointed out the goddess at whose altar I was to pay my sacrifice and thanksoffering; and, had she been silent, yet my Lord Chamberlain himself, in restoring my play without any alteration, avowed to me, that I had the most earnest solicitress, as well as the fairest, and that nothing could be refused to my Lady Hyde.

These favours, my lord, received from yourself, and your noble family, have encouraged me to this

These ladies, Mr Malone supposes to be Lord Rochester's two daughters, Henrietta Lady Dalkeith, and Mary Lady Conway, with his daughter-in-law Lady Hyde, the Berenice who is mentioned presently afterward. The Duchess of Ormond, eldest daughter of the Earl, died in 1685, and therefore could not be of the number.

+ Lady Silvius was the wise of Sir Gabriel Silvius, employed upon various occasions as an English envoy on the Continent.

dedication; wherein I not only give you back a play, which, had you not redeemed it, had not been mine; but also, at the same time, dedicate to you the unworthy author, with my inviolable faith, and (how mean soever) my utmost service; and I shall be proud to hold my dependance on you in chief, as I do part of my small fortune in Wiltshire. Your goodness has not been wanting to me during the reign of my two masters; and, even from a bare treasury, my success has been contrary to that of Mr Cowley; and Gideon's fleece has then been moistened, when all the ground has been dry about it*. Such and so many provocations of this nature have concurred to my invading of your modesty with this address. I am sensible that it is in a manner forced upon you ; but your lordship has been the aggressor in this quarrel

, by so many favours, which you were not weary of conferring on me, though, at the same time, I own the ambition on my side, to be ever esteemed,

Your Lordship's most thankful,

And most obedient Servant,

JOHN DRYDEN.

*“ As a fair morning of the blessed spring,

After a tedious stormy night,
Such was the glorious entry of our King;
Enriching moisture dropp'd on every thing;
Plenty he sow'd below, and cast about him light.

But then, alas ! to thee alone
One of old Gideon's miracles was shewn,
For every tree and every herb around
With pearly dew was crown'd;

And upon all the quicken'd ground
The fruitful seed of heaven did brooding lie,
And nothing but the Muses' feece was dry."

« PreviousContinue »