Page images

dramatick pieces should frequently have been incorrect, when he was under the necessity of writing for bread, and producing three or four plays a year. “ It is certain,” says Dr. Johnson, following Jacob, that in one year (1678) he published ALL FOR LOVE, ASSIGNATION, two parts of The CONQUEST OF GRANADA, SIR Martin MARALL, and The State of Innocence, six complete plays; with a celerity of execution, which, though all Langbaine's charges of plagiarism should be allowed, shews such facility of composition, such readiness of language, and such copiousness of sentiment, as,

since the time of Lopez de Vega, perhaps no · other author has possessed.”—But this statement is

OF JERUSALEM, and being forced by their refusall of it to bring it to us, the said Company compelled us after the studying of it, and a vast expence in scenes and cloathes, to buy off their clayme, by paying all the pension he had received from them; amounting to be hundred and twelve pounds paid by the King's Company, besides neere forty pounds he the said Mr. Crowne paid out of his owne pocket. .

“These things considered, if, notwithstanding Mr. Dryden's said agreement, promise, and moneys freely given him for his said last new play, and the many titles we have to his writings, this play be judged away from us, we must submit.



wholly unfounded; for not one of these plays was produced or originally printed in 1678, except ALL FOR, LOVE; and the truth is, that whatever may have been Dryden's facility of composition, (which unquestionably was extraordinary,) he does not appear to have produced more plays within a limited time than many other dramatick writers; nor, whatever allowances may be made for the imperfection of his plays, has he any right to our indulgence on the plea of having frequently (if ever) produced three plays in a year.—The contract was probably entered into in the latter end of the year 1667. In the month of January, 1671-2, the theatre which had been built in Drury-Lane but a f;w years before, was burnt down, and the King's Company were compelled to remove to the playhouse in Lincoln's Inn Fields, which had not long before been deserted by their antagonists, the

Is It has been doubted where the King's Servants played during the time their theatre in Drury-Lane was rebuilding; but it is ascertained by a manuscript copy of our author's Prologue, which is printed in his Miscellanies with only the title of—“ Prologue spoken the first day of the King's House acting after the fire.” The manuscript ascertains not only the theatre to which they removed, but the play before which this prologue was spoken. See MSS. Birch. 4455, art. 6. (in the British Museum,)“ A Prologue of a Play entitled Wit Without Money, spoken at the Duke's Old Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, (after the King's was burnt,) by the King's players, Feb. 26, 1671,” [1671-2). In the third couplet Dryden

Duke of York's Servants, who had gone to their new house in Dorset Gardens. The King's Servants continued to play in Lincoln's Inn Fields till a new theatre was constructed for them by Sir Christopher Wren, on the old site in DruryLane ; which was opened on the 26th of March, 1674, with a prologue and epilogue by our author, and continued standing till a few years ago. Be. tween 1667 and March 1674, that is, in about seven years, Dryden produced but ten plays, or about three plays in every two years. If we extend the account to a later period, December, 1682,

alludes to their antagonists having recently quitted the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields :

“ From that hard climate we must wait for bread,

“ Whence even the natives, forced by hunger, fled.” From the following lines, it should seem that some of the Nobility, on this emergency, had furnished the Company with cloaths, &c.

6 The Epilogue spoken on this occasion exhibits a cu. rious picture of a part of London at that time, through which it was necessary to pass in going to Dorset Gardens:

“Our house relieves the ladies from the frights
“ Of ill-paved streets and long dark winter nights;
“ The Flanders horses from a cold bleak road,
“ Where bears in furs dare scarcely look abroad :
“ The audience from worn plays, and fustian stuff

“ Of rhyme, more nauseous than three boys in buff.” The now populous Strand and Fleet-street formed the cold bleak road here described. The three boys in buff appeared probably in The Three Bold BEAUCHAMPS, an old play which used to be acted at the Red-Bull Theatre.


when for a certain time he discontinued writing for the stage, we shall find, that in sixteen years eighteen dramas only were produced, allowing The STATE OF INNOCENCE, though never acted, to be one,) which is little more than a playin each year. The era of his greatest exertion seems to have been from 1967 to 1670; in which period probably he wrote five or six plays. From this statement then, it is clear, that though our author was indisputably distinguished for facility of composition, other dramatick poets have equalled, if not surpassed, him in this particular. There is good ground for believing that Shakspeare for several years composed two plays in each year; and Fletcher, in the last ten years of his life, appears to have furnished the scene with more than thirty dramas, in some of which, however, he was assisted by Massinger, Rowley, and other playwrights.

On the death of Sir William D'Avenant, April 7,1668, the bays which he had worn from 1638, devolved, though not immediately, (as has commonly been supposed,) on our author. When the office of Royal Poet LAUREATE, which Dryden enjoyed for near twenty years, was first instituted, it is not now easy to ascertain. Degrees in grammar, which included rhetorick and versification, having, as my late learned and ingenious friend, Mr. Warton, has remarked,' been anciently conferred in our Universities, that circumstance has been the occa


; Hist. of Eng. Poetry, vol. ii. p. 129.

sion of much confusion on this subject; and has led some writers too hastily to suppose persons to have been invested with this office, who, in truth, had no kind of claim to it. A wreath of laurel being presented to the new graduate on taking his degree, he was afterwards frequently styled poeta laureatus ; and this scholastick laureation certainly gave rise to the appellation by which the Court Post was distinguished. The King's Poet Laureate there. fore, strictly speaking, (as the same elegant writer has observed,) is only “a graduated rhetorician employed in the service of the King.”

So early as the middle of the twelfth century, Henry de Avranches, a Frenchman, (Henricus Abrincensis,) was entertained by our King Henry the Third, as a poet attached to his court ; and under the title of “ Master Henry, the Versifier," received from that monarch an annual stipend, which seems to have been ten pounds a year; for on one occasion we find that sum paid to him as King's Poet, and on another the sum of one hundred shillings, as the arrears of his salary. In the

& The form of laureation by the Chancellor of the University of Strasburgh in 1621, was as follows: “I create you, being placed in a chair of state, crowned with laurel and ivy, and wearing a ring of gold, and the same do pronounce and constitute, POET LAUREATE, in the name of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen." Ubi supr. p. 134. n.

9 Liberat. 35 Hen. III. m. 6. Mag. Rot. 35. in rog. compotor. m. 1. a. See Madox's Hist. of the Exchequer, pp. 268, 674.

« PreviousContinue »