Dryden Drubbed





"Dryden," says Leigh Hunt, "is identified with the neighbourhood of

Covent Garden. He presided in the chair at Russell Street (Will's

Coffee-house); his plays came out in the theatre at the other end of it;

he lived in Gerrard Street, which is not far off; and, alas for the

anti-climax! he was beaten by hired bravos in Rose Street, now called

Rose Alley. The outrage perpetrated upon the sacred shoulders of the

poet was the work of Lord Rochester, and originated in a mistake not

creditable to that would-be great man and dastardly debauchee." Dryden,

it seems, obtained the reputation of being the author of the Essay on

Satire, in which Lord Rochester was severely dealt with, and which

was, in reality, written by Lord Mulgrave, afterwards the Duke of

Buckinghamshire. Rochester meditated on the innocent Dryden a base and

cowardly revenge, and thus coolly expressed his intent in one of his

letters: "You write me word that I am out of favour with a certain poet,

whom I have admired for the disproportion of him and his attributes. He

is a rarity which I cannot but be fond of, as one would be of a hog that

could fiddle, or a singing owl. If he falls on me at the blunt, which

is his very good weapon in wit, I will forgive him if you please, and

leave the repartee to Black Will with a cudgel." "In pursuance of this

infamous resolution," says Sir Walter Scott, "upon the night of the

18th December 1679, Dryden was waylaid by hired ruffians, and severely

beaten, as he passed through Rose Street, Covent Garden, returning from

Will's Coffee-house to his own house in Gerrard Street. A reward of fifty

pounds was in vain offered in the London Gazette and other newspapers,

for the discovery of the perpetrators of this outrage. The town was,

however, at no loss to pitch upon Rochester as the employer of the

bravos; with whom the public suspicion joined the Duchess of Portsmouth,

equally concerned in the supposed affront thus revenged.... It will

certainly be admitted that a man, surprised in the dark, and beaten

by ruffians, loses no honour by such a misfortune. But if Dryden

had received the same discipline from Rochester's own hand, without

resenting it, his drubbing could not have been more frequently made a

matter of reproach to him; a sign, surely, of the penury of subjects for

satire in his life and character, since an accident, which might have

happened to the greatest hero that ever lived, was resorted to as an

imputation on his character."



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