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ELEONORA;

A PANEGYRICAL POEM DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OJ

THE LATE COUNTESS OF ABINGDON.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL

OF ABINGDON, &c.

MY LORD, The commands with which you honoured me some months ago are now performed: they had been sooner; but betwixt ill health, some business, and many troubles, I was forced to defer them till this time. Ovid, going to his banishment and writing from on shipboard to his friends, excused the faults of his poetry by his misfortunes; and told them, that good verses never flow but from a serene and composed spirit. Wit, which is a kind of Mercury, with wings fastened to his head and heels, can fly but slowly in a damp air. I therefore chose rather to obey you late than ill: if at least I am capable of writing any thing, at any time, which is worthy your perusal and your patronage. I cannot say that I have escaped from a shipwreck; but have only gained a rock by hard swimming; where I may pant awhile and gather breath; for the doctors give me a sad assurance, that my disease never took its leave of any man, but with a purpose to return. However, my lord, I have laid hold on the interval, and managed the small stock, which age has left me, to the best advantage, in performing this inconsiderable service to my lady's memory. We, who are priests of Apollo, have not the inspiration we please; but must wait till the god comes rushing on us, and invades us with a fury, which we are not able to resist: which gives us double strength while the fit

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continues, and leaves us languishing and spent, at its departure. Let me not seem to boast, my lord, for I have really felt it on this occasion, and prophesied beyond my natural power. Let me add, and hope to be believed, that the excellency of the subject contributed much to the happiness of the execution; and that the weight of thirty years was taken off me, while I was writing. I swam with the tide, and the water under me was buoyant. The reader will easily observe, that I was transported by the multitude and variety of my similitudes; which are generally the product of a luxuriant fancy, and the wantonness of wit. Had I called in my judgment to my assistance, I had certainly retrenched many of them. But I defend them not; let them pass for beautiful faults amongst the better sort of critics: for the whole poem, though written in that which they call Heroic verse, is of the Pindaric nature, as well in the thought as the expression; and, as such, requires the same grains of allowance for it. It was intended, as your lordship sees in the title, not for an elegy, but a panegyric: a kind of apotheosis, indeed, if a heathen word may be applied to a Christian use. And on all occasions of praise, if we take the ancients for our patterns, we are bound by prescription to employ the magnificence of words, and the force of figures, to adorn the sublimity of thoughts. Isocrates amongst the Grecian orators, and Cicero, and the younger Pliny, amongst the Romans, have left us their precedents for our security: for I think I need not mention the inimitable Pindar, who stretches on these pinions out of sight, and is carried upward, as it were, into another world.

This, at least, my lord, I may justly plead, that, if I have not performed so well as I think I have, yet I have used my best endeavours to excel myself. One disadvantage I have had; which is, never to have known or seen my lady; and to draw the lineaments of her mind, from the description which I have received from others, is for a painter to set himself at work without the living original before him: which, the more beautiful it is, will be so much the more difficult for him to conceive, when he has only a relation given him of such and such features by an acquaintance or a friend, without the nice touches, which give the best resembance, and make the graces of the

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picture. Every artist is apt enough to flatter himself (and I amongst the rest) that their own ocular observations would have discovered more perfections, at least others, than have been delivered to them: though I have received mine from the best hands, that is, from persons who neither want a just understanding of my lady's worth nor a due veneration for her memory.

Doctor Donne, the greatest wit, though not the greatest po et of our nation, acknowledges, that he had never seen Mrs. Drury, whom he has made immortal in his admirable Anniversaries. I have had the same fortune, though I have not succeeded to the same genius. However, I have followed his footsteps in the design of his panegyric; which was to raise an emulation in the living, to copy out the example of the dead. And therefore it was, that I once intended to have called this poem The Pattern: and though, on a second consideration, I changed the title into the name of the illustrious person, yet the design continues, and Eleonora is still the pat tern of charity, devotion, and humility; of the best wife, the best mother, and the best of friends.

And now, my lord, though I have endeavoured to answer your commands, yet I could not answer it to the world, nor to my conscience, if I gave not your lordship my testimony of being the best husband now living: I say my testimony only; for the praise of it is given you by yourself. They who despise the rules of virtue both in their practise and their morals, will think this a very trivial commendation. But I think it the peculiar happiness of the Countess of Abingdon, to have been so truly loved by you, while she was living, and so gratefully honoured after she was dead. Few there are, who have either had, or could have, such a loss; and yet fewer who carried their love and constancy beyond the grave. The exteriors of mourning, a decent funeral, and black habits, are the usual stints of common husbands: and perhaps their wives deserve no better than to be mourned with hypocrisy, and forgot with ease. But you have distinguished yourself from nary by a real and lasting grief for the deceased; and by endeavouring to raise for her the most durable monument, which is that of verse. And so it would

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have proved, if the workman had been equal to the work, and your choice of the artificer as happy as your design. Yet as Phidias, when he made the statue of Minerva, could not forbear to engrave his own name, as author of the piece: so give me leave to hope that, by subscribing mine to this poem, I may live by the goddess, and transmit my name to posterity by the memory of hers. 'Tis no flattery to assure your lordship, that she is remembered, in the present age, by all who have had the honour of her conversation and acquaintance; and that I have never been in any company since the news of her death was first brought me, where they have not extolled her virtues, and even spoken the same things of her in prose, which I have done in verse.

I therefore think myself obliged to thank your lordship for the commission which you have given me: how I have acquitted myself of it, must be left to the opinion of the world, in spite of any protestation which I can enter against the present age, as incompetent or corrupt judges. comfort, they are but Englishmen, and, as such, if they think ill of me to-day, they are inconstant enough to think well of me to-morrow. And after all, I have not much to thank my fortune that I was born amongst them. The good of both sexes are so few, in England, that they stand like exceptions against general rules: and though one of them has deserved a greater commendation than I could give her, they have taken care that I should not tire my pen with frequent exercise on the like subjects; that praises, like taxes, should be appropriated, and left almost as individual as the person. They say, my talent is satire: if it be so, 'tis a fruitful age, and there is an extraordinary crop to gather. But a single hand is insufficient for such a harvest: they have sown the dragon's teeth themselves, and 'tis but just they should reap each other in lampoons. You, my lord, who have the character of honour, though 'tis not my happiness to know you, may stand aside, with the small remainders of the English nobility, truly such, and, unhurt yourselves, behold the mad combat. If I have pleased you, and some ew others, I have obtained my end. You see I have disabled myself, like an elected Speaker of the House: yet like him I have undertaken the charge,

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and find the burden sufficiently recompensed by the honour.
Be pleased to accept of these my unworthy labours, this
paper monument; and let her pious memory, which I am
sure is sacred to you, not only plead the pardon of my many
faults, but gain me your protection, which is ambitiously
sought by,

My Lord,
Your Lordship's most obedient Servant,

John DRYDEN.

* ELEONORA:t

A PANEGYRICAL POEM, DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF

THE LATE COUNTESS OF ABINGDON.

As when some great and glorious monarch dies,
Soft whispers, first, and mournful murmurs rise
Among the sad attendants; then the sound
Soon gathers voice, and spreads the news around,
Through town and country, till the dreadful blast
Is blown to distant colonies at last;
Who, then, perhaps, were offering vows in vain,

* It appears, from the dedication to the Earl of Abingdon, that this poem was written at his Lordship's own desire. The lady whom the poem affects to praise was one of the coheiresses of Sir Henry Lee, of Chichely in Oxfordshire, and sister to the celebrated Mrs. Anne Wharton, a lady eminent for her poetical genius, whom Mr. Waller has celebrated in an elegant copy of verses. D.

† The Earl is said to have given Dryden five hundred gui. neas for this poem. T.

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