Pepys and Dryden

An exchange of letters between John Dryden and Samuel Pepys, 1699.

Bound in PL 2442 : Fables Ancient and Modern : translated into verse, from Homer, Ovid, Boccace & Chaucer, with original poems. London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1700.

Pepys-Dryden

Left: A letter from John Dryden to Samuel Pepys, 14th July 1699. Right: The reply from Pepys on the reverse of Dryden’s letter.

John Dryden and Samuel Pepys were exact contemporaries at Cambridge. Though they were at different colleges (Dryden being at Trinity), Pepys refers to their acquaintance whilst at university in his diary entry of the 3rd February, 1664:

‘In Covent-garden tonight, going to fetch home my wife, I stopped at the great Coffee-house there, where I never was before – where Draydon the poet (I knew at Cambrige) and all the wits of the town, and Harris the player and Mr. Hoole of our college; and had I had time then, or could at other times, it will be good coming thither, for there I perceive is very witty and pleasant discourse.’

Dryden is alluded to a handful of times in the diary, though we may assume that they were not close friends, since he is not mentioned very often. However, Pepys attended the opening night of the Dryden-Davenant rewriting of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ – in fact, he went to see it at least seven times. This is perhaps a reflection of Pepys’ avid theatre-going during his time of keeping a diary, rather than being a connoisseur of Dryden’s work. Nevertheless Pepys does show approval of Dryden’s literature, as mentioned in his diary entry of the 2nd February, 1667, concerning the poem ‘Annus Mirabilis: the year of wonders, 1666’:

‘I am very well pleased this night with reading a poem I brought home with me last night from Westminster hall, of Driden’s upon the present war – a very good poem.’

This letter from Dryden and the corresponding reply from Pepys in July 1699 is the only known correspondence between the two, again suggesting that they were friendly acquaintances from their University days rather than close associates. Interestingly, the letter reveals that Pepys had some influence upon Dryden’s work. Dryden describes how Pepys suggested the Parson in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ as a source of inspiration, and has duly translated the ‘Character of a Good Parson’ (to be included in his publication of 1700, ‘Fables Ancient and Modern: translated into verse, from Homer, Ovid, Boccace & Chaucer, with original poems’):

Pepys replies to Dryden, on the same sheet of paper, highly grateful for this kindness and invites him over for a lunch of ‘cold chicken and a sallade, any noone after Sunday.’

These letters were written at the twilight of both their lives. Dryden passed away in 1700, Pepys in 1703. The letter is inserted into the Pepys Library copy of Dryden’s ‘Fables Ancient and Modern’, just before ‘The character of a good Parson’. It is tightly bound, so it is difficult to read some of the text; nevertheless, we hope that the above image gives a good impression of this important document.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections

References:

Dryden, John. Fables Ancient and Modern : translated into verse, from Homer, Ovid, Boccace & Chaucer, with original poems. London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1700.

Foster, Gavin. ‘Ignoring “The Tempest”: Pepys, Dryden, and the Politics of Spectating in 1667’. Huntington Library Quarterly 63, no. 1/2 (1 January 2000): 5–22.

Pepys, Samuel (edited by Latham, R. and Matthews, W.).The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A New and Complete Transcription. London: Bell, 1971.

Pepys, Samuel (edited by de la Bédoyère, G.). The Letters of Samuel Pepys, 1656-1703. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006.

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