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Nathanael Lee, two references to Rochester
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
He was the Spirit of Wit—and had such an Art in guilding
his Failures, that it was hard not to love his Faults: He
never spoke a witty thing twice, tho’ to different Persons;
his Imperfections were catching, and his Genius was so
luxuriant, that he was forc’d to tame it with a Hesitation
in his Speech to keep it in view—But, Oh! how awkward,
how insipid, how poor and wretchedly dull is the Imitation
of those that have all the Affectation of his Verse, and
none of his Wit!
(‘The Princess of Cleves’, Dramatick Works of Nathanael Lee (1733) i. 17–18)
John Dryden on Rochester
The first and second of these passages were written when Dryden was enjoying Rochester’s patronage.
The exact cause of the estrangement between the two poets, which led to Dryden’s sharp attack on
Rochester in the Preface to All for Love, is not known. There may have been resentment that Dryden
sought the patronage of Rochester’s enemy, the Earl of Mulgrave, and Dryden’s references to Rochester’s
Allusion to Horace in the Preface suggest that the poet laureate resented the criticisms of himself contained
there (see Introduction pp. 5–6). For whatever reason relations continued to deteriorate, Dryden aiding
Mulgrave in his attack on Rochester in the Essay upon Satire (see note on Mulgave, No. 7). In December
1679 Dryden was attacked by a gang in Rose Alley, London, probably at Rochester’s instigation.
Rochester is not mentioned by name in the ‘Preface’ —it would have been too risky to oppose a nobleman
of such eminence openly—but there has never been any doubt for whom the attack was intended.
Rochester’s best work, the formal satires, were written after the two pieces of flattery and before the
attack in the Preface.
(a) Extract from Dedication of Marriage à la Mode (March 1673)
But, my Lord, I ought to have considered, that you are as great a judge, as you are a patron; and that in praising you ill,
I should incur a higher note of ingratitude, than that I thought to have avoided. I stand in need of all your accustomed
goodness for the dedication of this play; which, though perhaps it be the best of my comedies, is yet so faulty, that I
should have feared you for my critic, if I had not, with some policy, given you the trouble of being my protector. Wit
seems to have lodged itself more nobly in this age, than in any of the former; and people of my mean condition are only
writers, because some of the nobility, and your Lordship in the first place, are above the narrow praises which poesy
could give you. But, let those who love to see themselves exceeded, encourage your Lordship in so dangerous a quality;
for my own part, I must confess, that I have so much of self-interest, as to be content with reading some papers of your
verses, without desiring you should proceed to a scene, or play; with the common prudence of those who are worsted
in a duel, and declare they are satisfied, when they are first wounded. Your Lordship has but another step to make, and
from the patron of wit, you may become its tyrant; and oppress our little reputations with more ease than you now
protect them. But these, my Lord, are designs, which I am sure you harbour not, any more than the French king is
contriving the conquest of the Swissers. (Dramatic Works of John Dryden, ed. Scott-Saintsbury, 18 vols., Edinburgh 1882,
(b) Extract from letter from Dryden to Rochester, April/May 1673:
And now the Shame of seeing my self overpayd so much for an ill Dedication,1 has made me almost repent of my
Addresse. I find it is not for me to contend any way with your Lordship, who can write better on the meanest Subject
than I can on the best. I have onely ingag’d my selfe in a new debt, when I had hop’d to cancell a part of the old one:
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
And shou’d either have chosen some other Patron, whom it was in my power to have oblig’d by speaking better of him
than he deserv’d, or have made your Lordship onely a hearty Dedication of the respect and Honour I had for you,
without giveing you the occasion to conquer me, as you have done, at my own Weapon. My onely relief is, that what I
have written is publique, and I am so much my own friend, as to conceale your Lordship’s letter for that which would
have given Vanity to any other poet, has onely given me confusion. You see, my Lord, how far you have pushed me; I
dare not own the honour you have done me, for fear of showing it to my own disadvantage. You are that Rerum Natura
of your own Lucretius, Ipsa suis pollens opibus, nihil indiga nostri:2 You are above any Incense I can give you; and have all
the happiness of an idle life, join’d with the good Nature of an Active. Your friends in town are ready to envy the leisure
you have given your self in the Country: though they know you are onely their Steward, and that you treasure up but so
much health, as you intend to spend on them in Winter. In the meane time you have withdrawn your selfe from
attendance, the curse of Courts. You may thinke of what you please, and that as little as you please; (for in my opinion),
thinking it selfe, is a kind of paine to a witty man; he finds so much more in it to disquiet, than to please him. (The
Letters of John Dryden, ed. C.E.Ward (Durham N.C., 1942), pp. 8–9.)
(c) ‘Preface’ to All for Love (extract) (1678):
But, if I come closer to those who are allowed for witty men, either by the advantage of their quality, or by common
fame, and affirm that neither are they qualified to decide sovereignly concerning poetry, I shall yet have a strong party
of my opinion; for most of them severally will exclude the rest, either from the number of witty men, or at least of able
judges. But here again they are all indulgent to themselves; and every one who believes himself a wit, that is, every
man, will pretend at the same time to a right of judging. But to press it yet further, there are many witty men, but few
poets; neither have all poets a taste of tragedy. And this is the rock on which they are daily splitting. Poetry, which is a
picture of nature, must generally please; but it is not to be understood that all parts of it must please every man; therefore
is not tragedy to be judged by a witty man, whose taste is only confined to comedy. Nor is every man, who loves
tragedy, a sufficient judge of it; he must understand the excellences of it too, or he will only prove a blind admirer, not
a critic. From hence it comes that so many satires on poets, and censures of their writings, fly abroad. Men of pleasant
conversation (at least esteemed so), and endued with a trifling kind of fancy, perhaps helped out with some smattering
of Latin, are ambitious to distinguish themselves from the herd of gentlemen, by their poetry—
Rarus enim ferme sensus communis in illa Fortuna.1
And is not this a wretched affectation, not to be contented with what fortune has done for them, and sit down quietly with
their estates, but they must call their wits in question, and needlessly expose their nakedness to public view? Not
considering that they are not to expect the same approbation from sober men, which they have found from their
flatterers after the third bottle. If a little glittering in discourse has passed them on us for witty men, where was the
necessity of undeceiving the world? Would a man who has an ill title to an estate, but yet is in possession of it; would he
bring it of his own accord, to be tried at Westminster? We who write, if we want the talent, yet have the excuse that
we do it for a poor subsistence; but what can be urged in their defence, who, not having the vocation of poverty to
scribble, out of mere wantonness take pains to make themselves ridiculous? Horace was certainly in the right, where he
said, ‘that no man is satisfied with his own condition.’ A poet is not pleased, because he is not rich; and the rich are
The dedication of Marriage à la Mode, which Rochester had evidently liked. The letter from Rochester which this letter answers has
2 ‘Strong in its own qualities, needing nothing from us’ (De Rerum Natura, ii. 650). A reference to Rochester’s translation of a few
lines from Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, II, 646–51 (Pinto, xi, p. 50).
‘For in those high places a feeling for others is rarely to be found’ (Juvenal Satires, VIII. 73–4).
discontented, because the poets will not admit them of their number. Thus the case is hard with writers: If they succeed
not, they must starve; and if they do, some malicious satire is prepared to level them, for daring to please without their
leave. But while they are so eager to destroy the fame of others, their ambition is manifest in their concernment; some
poem of their own is to be produced, and the slaves are to be laid flat with their faces on the ground, that the monarch
may appear in the greater majesty.
Dionysius and Nero had the same longings, but with all their power they could never bring their business well about.
’Tis true, they proclaimed themselves poets by sound of trumpet; and poets they were, upon pain of death to any man
who durst call them otherwise. The audience had a fine time on’t, you may imagine; they sat in a bodily fear, and
looked as demurely as they could: for it was a hanging matter to laugh unseasonably; and the tyrants were suspicious, as
they had reason, that their subjects had them in the wind; so, every man, in his own defence, set as good a face upon the
business as he could. It was known beforehand that the monarchs were to be crowned laureates; but when the show was
over, and an honest man was suffered to depart quietly, he took out his laughter which he had stifled, with a firm
resolution never more to see an emperor’s play, though he had been ten years a-making it. In the meantime the true
poets were they who made the best markets, for they had wit enough to yield the prize with a good grace, and not
contend with him who had thirty legions. They were sure to be rewarded, if they confessed themselves bad writers, and
that was somewhat better than to be martyrs for their reputation. Lucan’s example was enough to teach them manners;
and after he was put to death, for overcoming Nero, the emperor carried it without dispute for the best poet in his
dominions. No man was ambitious of that grinning honour; for if he heard the malicious trumpeter proclaiming his
name before his betters, he knew there was but one way with him. Mæcenas took another course, and we know he was
more than a great man, for he was witty too: But finding himself far gone in poetry, which Seneca assures us was not his
talent,1 he thought it his best way to be well with Virgil and with Horace; that at least he might be a poet at the second
hand; and we see how happily it has succeeded with him; for his own bad poetry is forgotten, and their panegyrics of
him still remain. But they who should be our patrons are for no such expensive ways to fame; they have much of the
poetry of Mæcenas, but little of his liberality. They are for persecuting Horace and Virgil, in the persons of their
successors; for such is every man who has any part of their soul and fire, though in a less degree. Some of their little
zanies yet go further; for they are persecutors even of Horace himself, as far as they are able, by their ignorant and vile
imitations of him; by making an unjust use of his authority, and turning his artillery against his friends. But how would he
disdain to be copied by such hands! I dare answer for him, he would be more uneasy in their company, than he was with
Crispinus, their forefather, in the Holy Way; and would no more have allowed them a place amongst the critics, than he
would Demetrius the mimic, and Tigellius the buffoon
Seneca, Epistulae Morales, 114.
‘I order you, Demetrius and you, Tigellius, to wail among the desks of your pupils.’ (Horace, Satires, I. x, 90–1.)
An Antique Stone he saw, the Common Bound
Of Neighb’ring Fields; and Barrier of the Ground.
(Virgil, Aeneid, xii. 897–8, in Dryden’s own translation, 1300–1.)
His knocking Knees are bent beneath the Load:
And shiv’ring Cold congeals his vital Blood,
The Stone drops from his arms: and falling short,
For want of Vigour, mocks his vain Effort.
(Virgil, Aeneid, xii. 905–7, in Dryden’s translation, 1308–1311.)
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
—Demetri, teque, Tigelli,2
Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.
With what scorn would he look down on such miserable translators, who make doggerel of his Latin, mistake his
meaning, misapply his censures, and often contradict their own? He is fixed as a landmark to set out the bounds of
—Saxum antiquum, ingens, —3
Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis.
But other arms than theirs, and other sinews are required, to raise the weight of such an author; and when they would
toss him against enemies—
Genua labant, gelidus concrevit frigore sanguis.4
Tum lapis ipse, viri vacuum per inane volatus.
Nec spatium evasit totum, nec pertulit ictum.
For my part, I would wish no other revenge, either for myself, or the rest of the poets, from this rhyming judge of the
twelvepenny gallery, this legitimate son of Sternhold,1 than that he would subscribe his name to his censure, or (not to
tax him beyond his learning) set his mark. For, should he own himself publicly, and come from behind the lion’s skin,
they whom he condemns would be thankful to him, they whom he praises would choose to be condemned; and the
magistrates, whom he has elected, would modestly withdraw from their employment, to avoid the scandal of his
nomination. The sharpness of his satire, next to himself, falls most heavily on his friends, and they ought never to
forgive him for commending them perpetually the wrong way, and sometimes by contraries. If he have a friend, whose
hastiness in writing is his greatest fault, Horace would have taught him to have minced the matter, and to have called it
readiness of thought, and a flowing fancy; for friendship will allow a man to christen an imperfection by the name of
some neighbour virtue—
A sixteenth-century versifier of the Psalms whose name became a stock word of abuse to describe the bad poet.
‘I would wish we could make such mistakes in friendship and that right feeling would have given an honourable name to a mistake
like that.’ (Horace, Satires, I. iii. 41–2.)
3 This clearly refers to lines in the Allusion to Horace (11, 41–3):
Of all our Modern Wits none seems to me,
Once to have toucht upon true Comedy,
But hasty Shadwel, and slow Wicherley.
Dryden misinterprets the passage, however. Rochester is referring to Shadwell’s brisk and Wycherley’s meagre output. Dryden
refers to Shadwell’s slowness in Mac Flecknoe, 11. 149–50.
4 ‘lazy hounds that are bald with chronic mange, and who lick the edges of a dry lamp, will be called “Leopard”, “Tiger”, “Lion”, or
any other animal in the world that roars more fiercely.’ (Juvenal, Satires, vii. 34–7.)
Vellem in amicitia sic erraremus; et isti2
Errori nomen virtus posuisset honestum.
But he would never have allowed him to have called a slow man hasty, or a hasty writer a slow drudge,3 as Juvenal
—Canibus pigris, scabieque vetusta4
—Lævibus, et siccæ lambentibus ora lucernæ,
Nomen erit, Pardus, Tigris, Leo; si quid adhuc est
Quod fremit in terris violentius.
(The Dramatic Works of John Dryden, ed. Scott-Saintsbury, v, 331–7)
Francis Fane on Rochester
A grandson of Francis Fane, first Earl of Westmorland, Fane, after trying his hand at writing plays, retired
to his country estate. He wrote in 1686 that he had ‘long since devoted himself to a country life,…wanting
patience to attend the leasure of the stage’. He seems to have known Rochester personally. He died in or
(a) From the Dedication to Rochester of Love in the Dark:
All Poems in their Dedications, ought to return to your Lordship, as all Rivers to the Sea, from whose depth and
saltness they are season’d and supply’d: none of them ever coming to your Lordship’s hands, without receiving some of
the rich Tinctures of your unerring Judgement, and running with much more clearness, having past so fine a strainer. If
this receives any approbation in the World, I must ascribe it principally to your Lordship’s partial recommendations,
and impartial corrections. Your Lordship is the first person in the World, by whom I have been Highly and Heroically
oblig’d: and if the first Impressions of Gratitude, may be as strong and captivating, as those of the first Love; they must
needs be much more lasting and immutable, in my Passion for your Lordship; since the World affords no object so high
and admirable, ever to work a change; your Lordship being the most accomplish’d of all Mankind, that I ever knew,
read, or heard of, by Humane testimony. Eminent Beings are as hard to be believ’d, as they are to be understood and no
Man can speak Truth of your Lordship’s Superlative Endowments, without suspicion of Flattery; nor conceal them
without conviction of Ignorance. That famous Temper of weight, so rarely found in Bodies, appears most Illustriously in
your Lordship’s Mind. Judgement, and Fancy, seldom concurring in other Men, in any small proportion, are possest by
your Lordship in the highest degree that ever was allow’d the Soul of Man; yet with so happy and harmonious a
mixture, that neither of them predominate nor usurp; but, like two peaceful Col leagues in Empire, agree within
themselves, and govern the rest of the World, acting in your Lordship’s noble, and elevated Mind, like Fire and Air in
the upper Region, whose Purity makes them easily convertible, and mutually assistant, whilst they are always
quarrelling and preying upon each other in gross inferior Bodies. What was favourably said of my Lord Bacon in his
time, may much more justly be affirmed of your Lordship, in yours; that if ever there were a beam of Knowledge,
immediately deriv’d from God, upon any Man, since the Creation, there is one upon your self. Others, by wearisome
steps, and regular gradations, climb up to Knowledge; your Lordship is flown up to the top of the Hill: you are an
Enthusiast in Wit; a Poet and Philosopher by Revelation; and have already in your tender Age, set out such new and
glorious Lights in Poetry, yet these so orthodox and Unquestionable, that all the Heroes of Antiquity, must submit, or
Homer and Virgil be judg’d Nonconformists. For my part, I account it one of the great felicities of my life, to have liv’d
in your age; but much greater, to have had access to your Person, and to have been cherish’d and enlighten’d by the
influences, and irradiations of so great a Luminary. For I must confess, I never return from your Lordship’s most Charming
and Instructive Conversation, but I am inspir’d with a new Genius, and improv’d in all those Sciences I ever coveted the
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
knowledge of: I find my self not only a better Poet, a better Philosopher; but much more than these, a better Christian:
your Lordship’s miraculous Wit, and intellectual pow’rs being the greatest Argument that ever I could meet with, for
the immateriality of the Soul, they being the highest exaltation of humane Nature; and, under Divine Authority, much
more convincing to suspicious Reason, than all the Pedantick proofs of the most Learnedly peevish Disputants; so that, I
hope, I shall be oblig’d to your Lordship, not only for my Reputation in this World, but my future Happiness in the
next. (Love in the Dark (1675) Sigg. A 2r-A 3r.)
(b) To the late Earl of Rochester, upon the report of His Sickness in Town, being newly Recovered by His Lordship’s
advice in the Country. In Allusion to the Ode of Horace.
What means this tumult in my Veins,
These eccho’d Groans and Sympathetick pains?
Ah cruel Lord! Why do’st thou wound
Him whom so late thy pity found?
Or did’st thou spare my Life, that I
A nobler Death for thee should dy?
It is not possible, nor just,
The little Off-springs of the dust,
The Sun extinct should him survive,
By whose kind beams they’re kept alive;
Oh! rather let me dy before,
Perish Ten Thousand more,
To spy the Bounds of th’ indiscover’d shore,
Though with less hopes than they that sought the Indian Oar.
How dar’st thou bold disease surprize
The joy, and Glory of our eyes;
Mankind’s delight, wits utmost Goal,
Heav’ns Masterpiece, spirit of Soul:
We need thee not to make his Fame more bright
Officious Death, to lesser Stars requir’d,
Who never shine out clear, but in thy Night.
He is all Flame, all Light,
And lives unenvy’d, though by all admir’d:
Free as the Angels in their blest Estate,
What none can reach, there’s none will emulate.
Quench Feaver, quench thy too presumtuous heat,
Tremble to Ice at so August a name,
Or if thou need’st wilt be by mischiefs great,
Fire on, and set the World on Flame.
Had credulous England, fond of Foreign News,
And from remotest parts the World above,
Receiv’d the Indian Faith, which none else does refuse,
Did Men believe, that after their remove
From Earth, they should enjoy the Friends they Love;
With all their Wit, their Rhetorick, and sense,
Which with immortal ease they could dispence:
What Crowds would leap into his Funeral Pile,
London would desert, Kingless be the Isle;
The Strand instead of Men, would Acrons yield
Whitehall a Meadow be, th’ Exchange a Field.
(Poems by Several Hands, collected by Nahum Tate (1685), pp. 11–13)