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dence, to have been born on the 9th 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 churchyard 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 day of September, 1657, aged 73.
He appears to have been nominated Minister of Aldwinckle 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,
in a village belonging to the Earl of Exeter; and according to Antony Wood," that village was
He may have been the clergyman, who in 1662 was ejected for non-conformity from Barley Chapel, in Yorkshire. See Kennet's REGISTER, p. 898.
s Here perhaps the reader may exclaim, What! have we not the precise date of his birth inscribed on his monument, and is not this satisfactory evidence? I answer, first, that I have had frequent occasion to observe that the information furnished by tombstones is by no means implicitly to be relied on, and before this narrative is concluded, more than one instance will be given of their inaccuracy;—and further, that for the date mentioned in the text, and followed by all the biographers of Dryden for half a century, we have not even that slender and often delusive authority.—It is somewhat irregular at this early period to enter into a disquisition concerning our author's death or his tomb; but his baptismal register being either lost or not now discoverable, this mode of ascertaining the time of his birth naturally presents itself.
After Dryden's remains had long lain without any memorial, some lines written by Pope on the death of Rowe in Dec. 1718, by casting a reproach on the age in general, and particularly on those who professed to respect his memory, had such effect, that Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, his friend and patron, was by them awakened from his lethargy, and, as it should seem, from mere shame, resolved to " raise a tardy bust" in honour of this great poet. The Duke himself died, Feb. 24, 1720-21; and it appears from Bridges's HISTORY OF NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, (vol. i. p. 216,) that the monument was not erected in his life-time: so that the inscription, such as it is, does not derive any authority from him.From a letter written by Bishop Atterbury to Pope, ap
Aldwinckle, in Northamptonshire, which was also the birth-place of Thomas Fuller, the Historian.
parently in Sept. 1720, when the Duke was yet living, it should seem that both the design and inscription of the monument were entirely regulated by Pope. It was not, however, as has been mentioned, erected till after Buckingham's death; and Pope in a Note on an Epitaph intended for Rowe, (which note, I believe, first appeared in an edition of his works printed in 4to. in 1735,) gives the following account of it:
"The tomb of Mr. Dryden was erected upon this hint by the Duke of Buckingham, to which was originally intended this epitaph:
"This Sheffield rais'd. The sacred dust below
"Was Dryden's once: the rest who does not know ?” "which the author since changed into the plain inscription now upon it, being only the name of that great poet :
"Natus Aug. 9. 1631. Mortuus Maii 1. 1701. 61 JOHANNES SHEFFIELD DUX BUCKINGHAMIENSIS. POSUIT."
Relying upon the authority of Pope, none of Dryden's biographers thought it neceffary to inspect the monument; but acquiescing in his account of his own inscription, have for the last sixty years told us, that this poet was born on the 9th of August, 1631, and died on the 1st of May 1701. Let us now see what the monument itself says. The following is a literal transcript of the words inscribed
on it :
J. DRYDEN Natus 1632 Mortuus
Maij 1. 1700.
Joannes Sheffield Dux Buckinghamiensis posuit.
I have in vain endeavoured to ascertain the precise time of his baptism; the registers of both churches
It has been observed, that when Pope appeared at the Bar of the House of Lords, on the trial of Atterbury, "he had but few words to say, and in those few he made several blunders." In his statement of this short inscription we find no less than two material errours, beside the omission of the false date at the end of it.
At the time this monument was erected, one of our author's sisters, who was then about seventy-five years old, could probably have told the exact date of his birth. Congreve too, who was yet living, might perhaps have been able to ascertain this fact. But whether either of those persons was consulted, or whether if either of them were consulted, the date furnished was that found on the monument, or that given in the inscription substituted by Pope for the true one, we have now no means of discovering. The precise time, therefore, of our author's birth must still remain involved in obscurity.
But though we derive no aid either from his tomb or parish-register, or the parochial lists of baptisms transmitted annually to the Consistory-Office at Peterborough, which have been examined on this occasion in vain, by other means the year in which he was born may be nearly ascertained. In the Preface to his FABLES, speaking of a gentleman of eighty-eight years of age, he says, "By the mercy of GOD I am already come to within twenty years of his number." This preface having probably been written in Nov. 1699, we may conclude that he was then sixty-eight complete; which places his birth in the latter end of the year 1631. Were it not for this evidence, we might have been led by the epilogue to the First Part of THE CONQUEST OF GRANADA to suppose that he was born in 1632 or 1633. In that Epilogue,
(for there are two parishes, one denominated Aldwinckle All-Saints, and the other Aldwinckle St.
which there is good reason to believe was spoken in the middle of the year 1669, is the following line:
“This, some years hence, our poet's case may prove:"
and soon afterwards the author adds,
"When forty comes, if e'er he lives to see
Who would not suppose that he was then some years short of forty? Yet, if he was born in 1631, he must have been then in his thirty-eighth year and so says the Author of the " Reply to the Notes on THE EMPRESS OF MOROCCO," 4to, 1674.-When Congreve said, "he was an improving writer to near seventy years of age," he may be considered as using a round number, without attending to minute accuracy; but if he was well informed, and meant to be correct, Dryden must have been born some time in 1630.-As his last surviving son, and one of his brothers, who both attained the title of Baronet, died at Canons-Ashby, there was ground for supposing that some book in the Library there might have ascertained this point: but it has been examined with this view, and furnishes no information.
6 Vol. iii. p. 562. There is here also some difficulty; for the Earl of Exeter's estate, which was transferred about the year 1773 to Lord Lilford, lay in the parish of Aldwinckle St. Peter's: but Dryden might not have known this circumstance.
7 ATH. OXON. ii. 414. edit. 1721.
* Aldwinckle (in Spelman's VILLARE, Oldwincle,) is a straggling village, (if it should not rather be denominated two villages, Upper and Lower Aldwinckle,) situated on the western bank of the Nen, consisting of about two