Warton (History of English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 129.) gives no further information, and is the author generally quoted; but the particular matter sought for is wanting.
The first patent, according to the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, article “Laureate,” is stated, as regards the existing office, to date from 5th Charles I., 1630; and assigns as the annual gratuity 100l., and a tierce of Spanish Canary wine out of the royal cellars.
Prior to this, the emoluments appear uncertain, as will be seen by Gifford’s statement relative to the amount paid to B. Jonson, vol. i. cxi.:—
“Hitherto the Laureateship appears to have been a mere trifle, adopted at pleasure by those who were employed to write for the court, but conveying no privileges, and establishing no claim to a salary.”
I am inclined to doubt the accuracy of the phrase “employed to write for the court.” Certain it is, the question I now raise was pressed then, as it was to satisfy Ben Jonson’s want of information Selden wrote on the subject in his Titles of Honour.
These emoluments, rights, and privileges have been matters of Laureate dispute, even to the days of Southey. In volume iv. of his correspondence, many hints of this will be found; e.g., at page 310., with reference to Gifford’s statement, and “my proper rights.”
The Abbe Resnel says,—“L’illustre Dryden l’a porte comme Poete du Roy,” which rather reduces its academic dignity; and adds, “Le Sieur Cyber, comedien de profession, est actuellement en possession du titre de Poete Laureate, et qu’il jouit en meme tems de deux cens livres sterling de pension, a la charge de presenter tous les ans, deux pieces de vers a la famille royale.”
I am afraid, however, the Abbe drew upon his imagination for the amount of the salary; and that he would find the people were never so hostile to the court as to sanction so heavy an infliction upon the royal family, as they would have met with from the quit-rent ode, the peppercorn of praise paid by Elkanah Settle, Cibber, or H.J. Pye.
The Abbe, however, is not so amusing in his mistake (if mistaken) relative to this point, as I find another foreign author has been upon two Poet Laureates, Dryden and Settle. Vincenzo Lancetti, in his Pseudonimia Milano, 1836, tells us:—
“Anche la durezza di alcuni cognomi ha piu volte consigliato un raddolcimento, che li rendesse piu facili a pronunziarsi. Percio Macloughlin divenne Macklin; Machloch, Mallet; ed Elkana Settle fu poi —— John Dryden!”
—a metamorphose greater, I suspect, than any to be found in Ovid, and a transmigration of soul far beyond those imagined by the philosophers of the East.
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