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EPISTLE THE NINTH.
SIR GEORGE ETHEREGE.
Sir GEORGE ETHEREGE, as a lively and witty companion, a smooth sonnetteer, and an excellent writer of comedy, was in high reputation in the seventeenth century. He lived on terms of intimacy with the men of genius, and with those of rank at the court of Charles the Second, and appears to have been particularly acquainted with Dryden. Etherege enjoyed in a particular manner the favour of Queen Mary of Este, through whose influence he was sent envoy to Hamburgh, and afterwards became resident minister at Ratisbon. In this situation, he did not cease to interest himself in the progress of English literature; and we have several of his letters, both in prose and verse, written with great wit and vivacity, to the Duke of Buckingham, and other persons of wit and honour at the court of London. Among others, he wrote an epistle in verse to the Earl of Middleton, who engaged Dryden to return the following answer to it. As Sir George's verses are lively and pleasing, I have prefixed them to Dryden's epistle. Both pieces, with a second letter from Etherege to Middlecon, appeared in Dryden's Miscellanies.
Our poet's epistle to Sir George Etherege affords an example how easily Dryden could adapt his poetry to the style which the moment required; since, although this is the only instance in which
he has used the verse of eight syllables, it flows as easily from his pen as if he had never written in another measure. This is the more remarkable, as, in the “ Essay on Satire,” Dryden speaks very contemptuously of the eight syllable, or Hudibrastic measure, and the ornaments proper to it, as a little instrument, unworthy the use of a great master. * Here, however, he happily retorts SIR GEORGE ETHEREGE,
the witty knight, with his own weapons of gallant and courtly ridicule, and acquits himself, as well in the light arms of a polite and fashionable courtier, as when he wields the trenchant brand of his own keen satire.
Our author had formerly favoured Sir George Etherege with an excellent epilogue to his popular play, called “ The Man of Mode,” acted in 1676, and he occasionally speaks of him in his writings with great respect. The date of this epistle is not easily ascertained. From a letter of Etherege to the Duke of Buck. ingham, it appears, that Sir George was at Ratisbon when Dryden was engaged in his controversial poetry it but whether that letter be previous or subsequent to the Epistle to the Earl of Middleton, seems uncertain.
Considering the high reputation which Sir George Etherege enjoyed, and the figure which he made as a courtier and a man of letters, it is humbling to add, that we have no accurate information concerning the time or manner of his death. It seems certain, that he never returned from the Continent; but it is dubious, whether, according to one report, he followed the fortunes of King James, and resided with him at the court of St Germains till his death, or whether, as others have said, that event was occasioned by his falling down the stairs of his own house at Ratisbon, when, after drinking freely with a large company, he was attempting to do the honours of their retreat. From the date of the letter to the Duke of Buckingham, 21st October, 1689, it is plain he was then at Ratisbon ; and it is somewhat singular, that he appears to have retained his official situation of Resident, though nearly twelve months had elapsed since the Revolution. This seems to give countenance to the latter report of his having died at Ratisbon. The date of that event was probably about 1694.
* Vol. XIII. p. 108.
+ “ They tell me my old acquaintance, Mr Dryden, has left off the theatre, and wholly applies himself to the study of the controversies between the two churches. Pray heaven, this strange alteration in him portends nothing disastrous to the state ; but I have all along observed, that poets do religion as little service by drawing their pens for it, as the divines do poetry, by pretending to versification.” This letter is dated 21st October, 1689.
EARL OF MIDDLETON.*
Since love and verse, as well as wine,
of the first Gravet o'the race,
* Charles, 2d Earl of Middleton, a man of some literary accomplishment. He had been Envoy Extraordinary to the Emperor of Germany, and was now one of the secretaries of state for Scotland. + Graf, or Count.
And, as by old record appears,
of love in a sad case is.
Quere, Did Pope think of this passage in his famous account of Belinda's bodkin ?
+ Henry VIII.
EPISTLE THE NINTH.
To you, who live in chill degree,
map does not convey any such information. Ratisbon lies in latitude 48° 58' N. Dryden alludes to the commencement of Etherege's Epistle to Middleton, in which he mentions having gone three degrees northward, London being 41° 15' N. Dryden transfers Ratisbon into a high latitude, merely to suit the rhyme, and produce the antithesis of 53 degrees latitude, to 51 years of age.