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TO THE FAIRE HANDS OF MADAME HONOR DRYDEN THESE CRAVE ADMITTANCE.'
Camb. May. 23, 16.
IF you have received the lines I sent by the reverend Levite, I doubt not but they have exceedingly wrought upon you; for beeing so longe in a clergy-man's pocket, assuredly they
The lady to whom this letter is addressed, was our author's first cousin ; one of the daughters of his uncle, Sir John Dryden, the second Baronet of this family. See vol. i. part i. pp. 24, 324. She probably was born about the year 1637, and died unmarried, some time after 1707. When Dryden became eminent, she was doubtless proud of the compliments here paid to her, and shewed this letter to some of her friends. Lest the date should too nearly discover her age, the two latter figures have been almost obliterated, but the last numeral, when viewed through a microscope, is manifestly a 5; and that the other numeral, which, as being more material, was more carefully defaced, was not a 4, but a 5 also, may be collected, not only from the lady's age, (for in 1645, she was probably not more than eight years old,). but from the time of oùr author's admission and residence at Cambridge.
The seal, under which runs a piece of blue ribband, is a crest of a demi-lion on a wreath, holding in his paws an armillary sphere at the end of a stand.
have acquired more sanctity than theire authour meant them. Alasse, Madame! for ought I know, they may become a sermon ere they could arrive at you; and believe it, haveing you for the text, it could scarcely proove bad, if it light upon one that could handle it indifferently. But I am so miserable a preacher, that though I have so sweet and copious a subject, I still fall short in my expressions; and instead of an use of thanksgiving, I am allways makeing one of comfort, that I may one day againe have the happinesse to kisse your faire hand; but that is a message I would not so willingly do by letter, as by word of mouth.
This is a point, I must confesse, I could willingly dwell longer on; and in this case what ever I say you may confidently take for gospell. But I must hasten. And indeed, Madame, (beloved I had almost sayd,) hee had need hasten who treats of you; for to speake fully to every part of your excellencyes, requires a longer houre then most persons' have allotted them. But, in a word, your selfe hath been the best expositor upon the text of your own worth, in that admirable comment you wrote upon it; I meane your incomparable letter. By all that's good, (and you, Madame, are a great part of my oath,) it hath put
2 The word parson (persona ecclesia,) (which, says Blackstone," however it may be depreciated by familiar, clownish, or indiscriminate use, is the most legal, most beneficial, and most honourable title that a parish priest can enjoy,") was formerly thus written. An hour, measured by an hourglass fixed at the side of the pulpit, was the usual length of a sermon at this time.
mee so farre besides my selfe, that I have scarce patience to write prose, and my pen is stealing into verse every time I kisse your letter. I am sure the poor paper smarts for my idolatry; which by wearing it continually neere my brest, will at last be burnt and martyrd in those flames of adoration which it hath kindled in mee. But I forgett, Madame, what rarityes your letter came fraught with, besides words. You are such a deity that commands worship by provideing the sacrifice. You are pleasd, Madame, to force me to write by sending me materialls, and compell me to my greatest happinesse. Yet, though I highly value your magnificent presente, pardon mee, if I must tell the world they are imperfect emblems of your beauty; for the white and red of waxe and paper are but shaddowes of that vermillion and snow in your lips and forehead; and the silver of the inkehorne, if it presume to vye whitenesse with your purer skinne, must confesse it selfe blacker then the liquor it containes. What then do I more then retrieve3 your own guifts, and present you with that paper, adulterated with blotts, which you gave spotlesse?
For, since 'twas mine, the white hath lost its hiew,
3 See vol. i. part i. p. 25, n. 1.
Till fate and your own happy choice reveale,
Whom you so farre shall blesse, to make your seale. Fairest Valentine, the unfeigned wishe of your humble votary,
TO [JOHN WILMOT,] EARL OF ROCHESTER.
I HAVE accused my selfe this month together for not writing to you. I have called my selfe by the names I deserved, of unmannerly and ungratefull: I have been uneasy and taken up the resolutions of a man who is betwixt Sin and Repentance, convinc'd of what he ought to do, and yet unable to do better. At the last I deferred it so long, that I almost grew hardened in the neglect; and thought I had suffered so much in your good opinion, that it was in vain to hope I
3 There is no date, except the day of the week, to this letter, of which a copy is preserved in the Museum ; Mss. Harl. 7003. The Dedication referred to must have been that prefixed to Dryden's MARRIAGE A-LA-MODE, which was entered in the Stationers' Books, March 18, 1672-3, and probably published in the following month. Rochester appears to have sent the poet a letter of thanks for his Dedication, to which this reply was made some time afterwards. I have therefore affixed-July, 1673, as a conjectural date to it. The second Dutch war was then carrying on with great spirit.
could redeem it. So dangerous a thing it is to be inclin❜d to sloath, that I must confess once for all, I was ready to quit all manner of obligations, and to receive, as if it were my due, the most handsome compliment, couch'd in the best language I have read, and this too from my Lord of Rochester, without shewing myself sensible of the favour. If your Lordship could condescend so far to say all those things to me, which I ought to have say'd to you, it might reasonably be concluded, that you had enchanted me to believe those praises, and that I owned them in my silence. Twas this consideration that moved me at last to put off my idleness. And now the shame of seeing my selfe overpay'd so much for an ill Dedication, has made me almost repent of my address. I find it is not for me to contend any way with your Lordship, who can write better on the meanest subject, then I can on the best. I have only engaged my selfe in a new debt, when I had hoped to cancell a part of the old one; and should either have chosen some other patron, whom it was in my power to have obliged by speaking better of him then he deserv'd, or have made your Lordship only a hearty Dedication of the respect and honour I had for you, without giving you the occasion to conquer me, as you have done, at my own weapon.
My only relief is, that what I have written is publique, and I am so much my own friend as to conceal your Lordship's letter; for that which would have given vanity to any other poet, has only given me confusion,