Notes and Documents: Dryden and Dorset in 1692: A New Record

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Charles Sackville (1638-1706), known in his youth as Lord Buckhurst and later as Earl of Middlesex and Earl of Dorset, was among John Dryden's earliest patrons. The poet dedicated his Essay of Dramatick Poesie to Buckhurst in 1667, and the two men remained in frequent contact throughout Dryden's career. Their friendship even survived an awkward moment in 1689, when Dorset, appointed Lord Chamberlain to William and Mary in recognition of his active support of their cause, had the unpleasant task of removing the Catholic convert Dryden from his offices as Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal. With characteristic generosity, the Earl softened the blow with a gift of money, a kindness Dryden gratefully acknowledged in the preface to his Satires of Juvenal and Persius (1693), another work dedicated to Dorset:

I must ever acknowledge, to the Honour of your Lordship, and the Eternal Memory of your Charity, that since this Revolution, wherein I have patiently suffer'd the Ruin of my small Fortune, and the loss of that poor Subsistence which I had from two Kings, whom I had serv'd more Faithfully than Profitably to my self; then your Lordship was pleas'd, out of no other Motive, but your own Nobleness, without any Desert of mine, or the least Sollicitation from me, to make me a most bountiful Present, which at that time, when I was most in want of it, came most seasonably and unexpectedly to my Relief. (1)

There is no primary evidence to tell us exactly when Dorset made this present or how large it was. Matthew Prior, in 1709, claimed that Dorset had replaced Dryden's lost salary with "an Equivalent out of his own Estate," (2) but Dryden speaks of only one present, not a continuing pension, and the displaced Laureate was in frequent financial difficulty during the final decade of his life. I should think it more likely that the present to which Dryden refers here was a one-time event, made at the time of the poet's removal from office.

Two eighteenth-century anecdotes, printed long after both men were dead, record purported instances of Dorset's generosity to Dryden. In one, the poet finds a banknote for 100 [pounds sterling] under his plate during a Christmas dinner at Knowle, Dorset's country estate; in the other, he is asked to judge a poetry contest between several aristocrats, and awards the prize to a "poem" by Dorset which is actually a promissory note for 500 [pounds sterling]. Neither of these tales can be verified or dated, and there are excellent reasons to doubt the second one. (3) So it is gratifying to announce here that a document not previously noticed by Dryden scholars, now in the Kent Archives Office in Maidstone, records a precise and specific instance of Dorset's financial bounty to Dryden, a fact that may aid us in interpreting their relations.

Dryden's dedication of the Satires to Dorset is dated "August 18, 1692," and the volume appeared in print very late in 1692 or early in 1693 (the date printed on the title-page). Mindful of the poet's expectation that a dedication would be rewarded, Dorset made another handsome present to Dryden between the date of the dedication and the actual publication. A neatly written volume recording the Earl's financial receipts and disbursements for the period from October 1692 until March 1693, evidently prepared by his steward, includes the following record:


   Octo.r 92


   Given Mr Dreyden for ye Dedication of Juvenall 107/10/- (4)


This payment appears between entries dated October 26th and 28th, and was thus made on either the 26th or the 27th. The previous page, recording receipts, shows the source of the money, which appears to have been cash supplied to the steward by the Earl himself:


   Octo.r 1692


   27. Rec. of your honor one hundred Guineas at 1s.6d 107/10/-

The value of the guinea fluctuated wildly during the 1690s, so the steward's care in recording the exchange rate is helpful. …