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SOME ACCOUNT OF
THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
few are the notices which have been transmitted to us concerning the great poet whose Prose Works are here collected, that Dr. Johnson, who at an early period had meditated writing his Life,' soon abandoned the project, in despair of finding materials sufficient for his purpose. Many years afterwards, however, having undertaken a general review of the lives of the most eminent English Poets, he enriched his volumes of biography with an account of this author, in which are displayed such comprehension of mind and accuracy of criticism, such vigour of expression and luxuriance of imagery, that of the various masterly Lives in his admirable work, that of Dryden is perhaps the most animated and splendid ; so splendid, indeed, that a competition with such excellence can be sought only by him who is actuated by a degree
Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. ii. p. 437, second edit.
of confidence in himself, which I beg leave most strenuously to disclaim. Having, however, as he himself told me, made no preparation for that difficult and extensive undertaking, not being in the habit of extracting from books and committing to paper those facts on which the accuracy of literary history in a great measure depends, and being still less inclined to go through the tedious and often unsatisfactory process of examining ancient registers, offices of record, and those sepulchres of literature, publick repositories of manuscripts, he was under the necessity of trusting much to his own most retentive memory, which furnished him with many curious and interesting particulars concerning the most famous English Poets, collected during the course of a long life; but he was frequently, as in the present instance, obliged to rely for incidents and dates, on such information as had been transmitted by preceding biographers.? Unfortunately, all the accounts of Dryden and his works were one continued tissue of inaccuracy, errour, and falshood. Very little had been handed down, and of that little the greater part was untrue.
? It is observable, that when once an errour has found a place in any original biographical work, it is generally transmitted from age to age by succeeding biographers and, according to a modern author, this is a very laudable mode of proceeding. To correct false dates, to ascertain the births or deaths of eminent men, the number of their children, and the nature and extent of their property, or in any other way to throw new light on their history, by
With the aid, therefore, of original and authentick documents, to rectify these mis-statements, to illustrate the history of our author's life and writings by such intelligence as I have been able to procure, and to dispel that mist of confusion and errour in which it has been involved, shall be the principal object of the following pages.
John Dryden, the eldest son of Erasmus Driden, and Mary, daughter of the Rev. Henry Pickering, * is supposed, on no satisfactory evi
examining Parish-Registers, Tombstones, or Wills, the documents in the Herald's-Office, or the Inquisitions post mortem in the Chapel of the Rolls, is, we are told, an in. vasion of the sacred rights of the dead, and little less than profanation. See some idle babble to this purpose in The PURSUITS OF LITERATURE, P.I., concerning which I shall have occasion to speak more particularly in another work.
3 Our author's grandfather, Sir Erasmus, and his father, wrote-Driden, and so the poet's name is spelt in the Register of Trinity College, Cambridge, and in the Uni. versity Register. He was, I believe, the first who altered the spelling of the name to Dryden, which is found thus annexed to some of his earliest verses, printed in 1650. His cousin-german, John Driden, of Chesterton, always adhered to the old spelling of the family name, as did his elder brother Sir Robert, the third Baronet; who was offended with our author's departure from the ancient mode. During the present century, the different branches of this family have followed the poet's orthography.--In some books of the last age the name is sometimes inaccurately written Dreyden, and sometimes Dreydon.
+ No mention is made of this Henry Pickering in any of the visitations of Northamptonshire that I have seen, nor is his father ascertained in the account of the Pickerdence, to have been born on the oth of August, 1631. He has himself told us, that he was born
ing family given in Bridges's “ History of Northamptonshire," or in Collins's BARONETAGE. He was, however, without doubt a younger son of Sir Gilbert Pickering, Knight, who died Feb. 28, 1612-13 ; (Esc. 10. Jac. p. 1. n. 94.) and consequently was younger brother to Sir John Pickering, who in June, 1608, married Susanna, daughter of Sir Erasmus Driden, and died Jan. 29, 1627-8 (Esc. 4 Car. p. 4. n. 84). Mrs. Elizabeth Creed, who was herself great grand-daughter of Sir Gilbert Pickering above mentioned, states in an Epitaph which will be found in the Appendix to this Life, that Mary, our author's mother, was his grand-daughter; which she could only be by her father, Henry Pickering, being his younger son. The age too of Henry's elder brother, Sir John Pickering, agrees with this statement ; for Sir John was born in April, 1583, as appears from the office found on the death of his father, (Esc. 10 Jac. ut supr.) and Henry was born in 1584, as we learn from the following inscription on his tombstone in the church. yard of Aldwinckle All-Saints, in Northamptonshire :
“ Here lyeth the body of Henry Pykering, Rector of this church the space of ten years, who departed this life the - - - day of September, 1657, aged 73."
He appears to have been nominated Minister of Ald. winckle All-Saints, in 1647, in the room of the former Rector, Thomas Forth, who compounded for the firstfruits of this living, Oct. 18, 1637, and was probably ejected for scandal and delinquency, ten years afterwards, by the reformers of that time. One Henry Pickering, perhaps, the son of our Henry, was of Trinity College in Cambridge, where he took the degree of B. A. in 1657,