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The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Vol I

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(1855)


With a Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes, By the Rev. George Gilfillan.


As to his habits and manners, little is known, and that little is worn threadbare by his many biographers. In appearance he became, in his maturer years, fat and florid, and obtained the name of "Poet Squab." His portraits show a shrewd, but rather sluggish face, with long gray hair floating down his cheeks, not unlike Coleridge, but without his dreamy eye, like a nebulous star. His conversation was less sprightly than solid. Sometimes men suspected that he had "sold all his thoughts to his booksellers." His manners are by his friends pronounced "modest;" and the word modest has since been amiably confounded by his biographers with "pure." Bashful he seems to have been to awkwardness; but he was by no means a model of the virtues. He loved to sit at Will's coffee-house, and be the arbiter of criticism.

His favourite stimulus was snuff, and his favourite amusement angling. He had a bad address, a down look, and little of the air of a gentleman. Addison is reported to have taught him latterly the intemperate use of wine; but this was said by Dennis, who admired Dryden, and who hated Addison; and his testimony is impotent against either party. We admire the simplicity of the critics who can read his plays, and then find himself a model of continence and virtue. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and a more polluted mouth than Dryden's never uttered its depravities on the stage. We cannot, in fine, call him personally a very honest, a very high-minded, or a very good man, although we are willing to count him amiable, ready to make very considerable allowance for his period and his circumstances, not disposed to think him so much a renegado and deliberate knave as a fickle, needy, and childish changeling, in the matter of his "perversion" to Popery; although we yield to none in admiration of the varied, highly-cultured, masculine, and magnificent forces of his genius.


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