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SATIRE AGAINST WIT, have been always numbered among his happiest effusions, and would at any period of his life have been highly admired. It is a singular circumstance, (which I have learned
SATIRE AGAINST WIT, therefore, probably appeared early in January, two months before the FABLES. The third edition of Blackmore's poem was published April 20, 1700.
"The libel," says Dr. Johnson, in "which Blackmore traduced him, was a SATIRE UPON [AGAINST] WIT; in which, having lamented the exuberance of false wit, and the deficiency of true, he proposes that all wit should be re-coined before it is current, and appoints masters of assay, who shall reject all that is light or debased.
เ "Tis true, that when the coarse and worthless dross “Is purg'd away, there will be mighty loss; "Ev'n Congreve, Southerne, manly Wycherley, "When thus refined, will grievous sufferers be: "Into the melting-pot when DRYDEN comes, "What horrid stench will rise, what noisome fumes! "How will he shrink, when all his lewd allay "And wicked mixture shall be purg'd away!"
"Thus stands the passage in the last edition; but in the original there was an abatement of the censure, be ginning thus:
"But what remains, will be so pure, 'twill bear "Th' examination of the most severe.'
"Blackmore finding the censure resented, and the civility disregarded, ungenerously omitted the softer part. Such variations discover a writer who consults his passions more than his virtue; and it may be reasonably supposed that Dryden imputes his enmity to its true cause:" [his having been a little hard on Blackmore's fanatick patrons in the city of London, in ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL.]
while this sheet was passing through the press,) that these two animated compositions should have been written not above three weeks before his death. The PILGRIM, which was graced with these latest productions of our author's muse, is also memorable for being the first play in which Mrs. Oldfield, who afterwards became so celebrated, was distinguished as an actress.
The end of all his labours was now approaching. He had for some years been harassed by the gravel and the gout; and in December, 1699, was afflicted with an erysipelas in one of his legs.' Having recovered, however, from that disorder, he was sufficiently free from any complaint to apply · again to his studies, as is evinced by the poetical
9 She was so much admired in the part of Alinda, in this play, that she chose it for her benefit-night. The advertisement in THE POSTBOY of Saturday, July 6, 1700, in which it was announced, shews the state of the stage at that time:
"For the Benefit of Mrs. OLDFIELD,
“This day, at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, will be performed a comedy called THE PILGRIM: revised with large alterations and additions, and a Secular Masque : with the Dialogue between the two mad lovers: Being acted this time at the desire of several persons of quality: And Entertainments of singing and dancing between the Acts, and in particular a new Entry by the late Mr. Englesfield, and performed by Mr. Weaver, Mr. Cottin, and Miss Campion; a Scotch Song, with the dance of the bonny Highlander: never done but once before on the English Stage.”
'See his Letter to Mrs. Thomas; dated Dec, 29, 1699.
performances which have been just mentioned; but he was confined to his house by the gout during the greater part of March and April; and near the end of that month, in consequence of neglecting an inflammation in one of his feet, a mortification ensued, of which he died, after a very short illness, at three o'clock on Wednesday morning, May the 1st, 1700.3
His leg having become mortified, his surgeon recommended an amputation of the limb, with a
2 That his illness was short, and his death sudden and unexpected, appears from the following introductory pa. ragraph to an account of his funeral, written by Edward Ward, in THE LONDON SPY, soon afterwards:
"A deeper concern hath scarce been known to affec in general the minds of grateful and ingenious men, than the melancholy surprise of the worthy Mr. Dryden's death hath occasioned through the whole town, as well as in all other parts of the kingdom, where any persons either of wit or learning have taken up their residence."
His illness was not noticed in any of the newspaper that I have seen, till the 30th of April, when THE POSTBOY announced, that " John Dryden, Esq., the famous poet, lies a dying."
3 IN THE POSTBOY, from Tuesday, April 30, to Thurs day, May 2, 1700, his death was thus announced :
"Yesterday morning at three of the clock, John Dry den, Esq., departed this life, who for his poetry, &c. ex celled all others this age produced."
Dr. Birch, in the GENERAL DICTIONARY, following an erroneous inscription inserted by Pope in his Works 1735, stated, that Dryden died in 1701; and in the BioGRAPHIA BRITANNICA, and the subsequent collections of English biography, this errour has been adopted.
view to stop the further progress of the disorder; but he would not undergo the operation, saying, that as by the course of nature he had not many years to live, he would not attempt to prolong an uncomfortable existence by a painful and uncertain experiment, but patiently submit to death. This
"The occasion of his sickness (says Ward, ubi supra,) was a lameness in one of his feet, springing from so trivial a cause as the flesh growing over one of his toe-nails, which, being neglected, begot a soreness, and brought an inflammation in his toe; and being a man of a gross body, a flux of humours falling into the part, made it very troublesome, that he was forced to put himself into the hands of an able surgeon, who foreseeing the danger of a mortification, advised him to part with the toe affected, as the best means to prevent the ill consequence likely to ensue ; which he refused to consent to, believing a cure might be effected by less severe means than the loss of a member; till at last his whole leg gangrened, which was presently followed by a mortification, so that nothing remained to prevent death, but an amputation of the member thus putrified, which he refused to consent to, saying," &c. His Surgeon, we know, was Mr. Hobbes, a very famous operator, whose skill and care he has acknowledged in the Postscript to his Virgil.
On this account, which was printed in 1703, if not before, Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas, whose talents for invention were not inconsiderable, above twenty years afterwards, formed the following story; into which, for the better grace, and to give her narrative the genuine air of authenticity, she has introduced several small circum
"On the 19th of April, 1700, he said he had been very bad with the gout, and an erysipelas in one leg, but he was then very well, and designed to go soon abroad :
account, which was given by a contemporary writer, not long afterwards, is strongly corrobo
but on the Friday following, [April 26th,] he had eat a partridge for supper; and going to take a turn in the little garden behind his house, [we must suppose, by moon. light, for on the 26th of April it was certainly dark after supper,] was seized with a violent pain under the ball of the great toe of his right foot; that, unable to stand, he cried out for help, and was carried in by his servants; when, upon sending for surgeons, they found a small black spot in the place affected. He submitted to their present applications; and when gone, called his son, Charles, to him, using these words: 'I know,' says he, this black ⚫ spot is a mortification; I know also that it will seize my *head, and that they will cut off my leg; but I command
you, my son, by your filial duty, that you do not suffer ⚫ me to be dismembered.' As he too truly foretold, the event proved, and his son was too dutiful to disobey his father's commands." Letter to the author of the Memoirs of Congreve, 8vo. 1730.-The reader will very soon be furnished with such decisive proofs of this lady's inven tive faculties and disregard for truth, as will leave no doubt that this story is a mere fiction. She has, it i observable, furnished our author with a train of servants, though, in his correspondence with Tonson, he mentions only his footboy; and she has been equally lavish of chirurgical assistance. As for the words, which, she tells us, he spoke on this occasion, if she had been sitting by his bed-side, she could not have been more precise.
Ward's account is in part confirmed by the following lines in an Elegy on Dryden, written by Gildon soon after his death:
"His body old, his wit continued young;
"Weak were his limbs, his lines robust and strong; "In winter, as in spring, this warbling swan still sung.J