Page images

reputation, and was so much respected, as to be chosen a member of the newly instituted Royal Society, November 19th, 1662.

It has frequently been mentioned as a matter of surprise, that he should have been so far advanced. in life, before he was celebrated for his poetical or dramatick talents :

“ Great Dryden did not early great appear,

“ Faintly distinguish'd in his thirtieth year ; says one of his successors in the Laureate's chair.s Gildon, Jacob, and others, have made the same observation. “ It may be presumed, (says Jacob) that his genius did not lead him early to poetry, by reason he was above thirty years old, before he obliged the world with his first dramatick performance.” But these writers seem not to have recollected the iron age on which it was our author's fortune to be thrown; and that duringhis

“ These ruins shelter'd once his sacred head, “ When he from Wor'ster's fatal battle fled; “ Watch'd by the Genius of this royal place, • " And mighty visions of the Danish race. “ His refuge then was for a temple shown: “ But, he restor'd, 'tis now become a throne." Of Gilbert, now little known, some account, and an engraved portrait, may be found in The BIOGRAPHICAL MIRROR, by S. HARDING, vol. ii. pp. 33, 136, 4to. 1798.

Birch's Hist. of The Royal Society, vol. i. p. · 126. He was admitted Nov. 26th.

3 Verses addressed to Lord Halifax in 1709, by Lau. rence Eusden.

earlier years of manhood, England was groaning under the scourge of usurpation, tyranny, plunder, confiscation, and oppression of every kind; circumstances little favourable to the exercise of poetical talents in any form. As for the drama in particular, are we to wonder that he wrote no plays, when dramatick productions were not permitted to be exhibited, or, to use our author's words, “ when tragedies and comedies were forbidden, because they contained some matter of scandal to those good people who could more easily dispossess their lawful sovereign than endure a wanton jest ?" for such, as is well known, was the case from 1642 to 1660 ; during which gloomy period all memory of scenick entertainments might have been effaced from men's minds, had not the necessities of the actors compelled them occasionally and by stealth to represent some of their old plays in the houses of those noblemen who were their patrons. As soon as the restoration of monarchy brought back to the people, with all its other blessings, those rational amusements with which their ancestors from a very early period had been indulged, Dryden, as he has himself told us, attempted dramatick poesy. “In the year of his Majesty's happy Restoration,” says he, “ the first play I undertook was The DUKE OF GUISE, as the fairest way which the Act of Indemnity had then left us of setting forth the rise of the late rebellion, and by exploding the

* Hist. Histrion. 8vo, 1699, p. 9.

villainies of it upon the stage, to precaution posterity against the like errours." He applied, therefore, to dramatick poesy, as soon as any benefit could be derived either to himself or others from such an exercise of his talents; and had he lived in happier times, and seen rival wits daily contending for publick favour, who can say that he would not some years before this period have been among the foremost and most eager candidates for dramatick fame? The friends, however, whom he consulted, thought his first essay for the stage not wrought with sufficient art to promise success, and the piece was laid aside for several years.

His next scenick performance was The WILD GALLANT, a comedy which he calls “ his first attempt in dramatick poesy ;" by which it is clear from the preceding passage he must mean—the first which was exhibited in the theatre. On the restoration of the stage, dramatick entertainments of any kind were probably so eagerly followed, that the two companies of comedians then subsisting, the King's Servants and those of the Duke of York, had little occasion for novelty; and the old plays of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shirley, (for Shakspeare appears to have been little regarded, for some time had sufficient attraction, without any aid from the modern poets. From this, or some other cause now not discoverable, The WILD GALLANT was not, I believe, produced on the

5 Vindication of the Duke of Guise, vol. ii. p. 71.

stage till Feb. 1662-3. Among the curious papers of Sir Henry Herbert, who, as Master of the Revels, for a few years after the Restoration exercised some kind of authority over the theatre, (from which several extracts are given in the History of the Stage,)" it might have been expected that some notice would have been found that might ascertain the precise time when this and some other of our author's plays were first exhibited; but the lists which these papers furnish, do not contain any of Dryden's pieces, at least by name. However, I have no doubt that this his first play was performed by the King's company at the time above mentioned, in their theatre in Verestreet ; for they did not remove to Drury-Lane till April 1663. The following lines in the original prologue to this play denote that the theatres had been opened for some time before its production, and that dramatick entertainments were then become familiar. Now, says the poet,

- your love and hatred judge, not you, “ And cruel factions, bribed by interest, come, “ Not to weigh merits, but to give their doom.”

A season or two must necessarily have elapsed, and the several pretensions of the dramatick poets have been canvassed and weighed against each other, before these factions could have arisen and

6 Plays and Poems of SHAKSPEARE, vol. i. p. ii. pp. 266, 267. 8vo. 1790.

been embodied. In the same prologue one of the Astrologers observes of the piece,

“ It should have been but one continued song,

“ Or at the least a dance of three hours long:" referring probably to Sir William D'Avenant's SIEGE OF Rhodes, an opera, with which the Duke of York's Servants, under his management, opened their new theatre in spring 1662, and which doubtless continued to be frequently acted in the course of the following winter.8 At this time our author was patronised by the celebrated Barbara

? It was acted twelve days successively with great applause. Downes's Rosc. ANGL. p. 21.

8 The following couplet in the same Prologue,
" He would have wish'd it better for your sakes,

“ But that in plays he finds you love mistakes" certainly alludes to the numerous mistakes of Teague in Sir Robert Howard's comedy called THE COMMITTEE, which was then extremely popular. After Teague has knock'd down the bookseller, and taken the Covenant, according to his notion of taking it, Colonel Careless says—" This fellow, I prophecy, will bring me into many troubles by his mistakes.” So again, in Act iii. sc. i. TEAGUE. “ Well, that is all one, is it not ? If he would take any counsel, or you would take any counsel, is not that all one then?"-Col. Care. “ Was there ever such a mistake ?”—Again, ibid. Lieut. “ Come, Teague, I'll walk along vith thee, and shew thee the house, that thou may not mistake that, however." '

It appears from the original prologue to THE WILD GALLANT, that it was first acted on the 5th of February.

« PreviousContinue »