John Dryden 1631-1700

“A prose writer with kind of Aeolian attachment”

“I confess,” says Dryden, “that my chief endeavors are to delight the age in which I live. If the humor of this be for low comedy, small accidents, and railery, I will force my genius to obey it.”

His maxim was “He who lives to please, must please to live.” In the “Age of Dryden” as it is now acclaimed; Cromwell was dead, along with Puritanism and moral reasoning. It was time now to enjoy life, reopen theaters to wit and satire. The new king Charles II brought from France “reason” and “intellect” from growing scientific knowledge, “rules of versification or poetry, standards of argument: satiric and didactic, to replace passion and “other worldliness”. Dryden’s age was not favorable to memorable verse” more critical than creative, precise than inventive. Thus “elegant diction, polished style, perfect versification” all perfectly suited his time. “…it was not an imaginative age, therefore not an age favorable to the truest and most lasting kind of poetry”. Perfectly suited for Dryden, who cared little empathy and imagination, for criticism rather than of creation.

“No one stands as high as he; during his lifetime, in spite of jealousy, detraction, unpopular politics, and suspicious change of faith, his pre-eminence was conceded; he was the earliest complete type of the purely literary man, in the modern sense…No library is complete without him, no name is more familiar than his…but to endeavor to make out what it is that has given so lofty and firm a position to one of the most unequal, inconsistent, and faulty writers that ever lived.” James Russell Lowell

There were three periods of distinction in his life as a writer after leaving Cambridge – a place where he had several altercations one of which caused Thomas Shadwell to comment “he scurrilously traduced a nobleman and was rebuked on the head”. Later he offered this not so fond attribution to his alma mater:

“Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
Than his own mother university;
Thebes did his green unknowing youth engage,
He chooses Athens in his riper age.”

The first period he was a poet, the second a playwright, the third a satirist. Interestingly most of the first two periods seemed more like exploratory that is, Dryden was attempting to find what was most suitable. He struck gold in the third attempt. In 1671 he tried his hand at “heroic tragedies” which received much ridicule from other writers prompting Dryden to acknowledge that he “never felt himself fit for tragedy.” A short period before his death he wrote a final ode for a London music society Alexander’s Feast in 1697. (A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day 1687 for the same group) which represents Alexander the Great celebrating his defeat of Darius in 331 B.C. at a victory banquet now regarded as his greatest lyric. He spent his final two years translating the works of Virgil but mostly holding court in Will’s Coffee House, “surrounded by young wits and worshiped as literary dictator.” Though seemingly successful his life was mostly spent at or below the standard level of subsistence. There were some successes, some failures as in all lives but he did impact the literary world thus the designation “Age of Dryden.” Thomas Addison ( 1672-1719) in An Account of the Greatest English Poets to Mr. Henry Sacheverell wrote of him:

“But see where artful Dryden next appears
Grown old in rime, but charming in years.
Great Dryden next, whose tuneful muse affords
The sweetest numbers, and the fittest words.
Whether in comic sounds or tragic airs
She forms her voice, she moves her smiles or tears,
If satire or heroic strains she writes,
Her hero pleases, and her satire bites.
From her no harsh unartful numbers fall,
She wears all dresses, and she charms them all,
How might we fear our English poetry,
That long has flourish’d, should decay with thee”

His nondramatic poems were occasional, that is, they celebrated public events. He had embraced Cromwell and the Reformation from the beginning while a student and wrote, Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Oliver Cromwell in 1657. Most critics viewed the remarks as exaggerations (conceits), frippery, and pedantic allusion “overstated words take the place of his characteristic lack of emotion.” Here are the thirty-seven stanzas in praise of Cromwell. “To date no better eulogy to the reformer has been presented.”

And now ’tis time; for their officious haste,
Who would before have borne him to the sky,
Like eager Romans, ere all rites were past,
Did let too soon the sacred eagle fly.

Though our best notes are treason to his fame,
Join’d with the loud applause of public voice;
Since Heaven, what praise we offer to his name,
Hath render’d too authentic by its choice.

Though in his praise no arts can liberal be,
Since they, whose muses have the highest flown,
Add not to his immortal memory,
But do an act of friendship to their own:

Yet ’tis our duty, and our interest too,
Such monuments as we can build to raise;
Lest all the world prevent what we should do,
And claim a title in him by their praise.

How shall I then begin, or where conclude,
To draw a fame so truly circular?
For in a round what order can be show’d,
Where all the parts so equal perfect are?
His grandeur he derived from Heaven alone;
For he was great ere fortune made him so:
And wars, like mists that rise against the sun,
Made him but greater seem, not greater grow.

No borrow’d bays his temples did adorn,
But to our crown he did fresh jewels bring;
Nor was his virtue poison’d soon as born,
With the too early thoughts of being king.

Fortune (that easy mistress to the young,
But to her ancient servants coy and hard),
Him at that age her favourites rank’d among,

When she her best-loved Pompey did discard.
He, private, mark’d the faults of others’ sway,
And set as sea-marks for himself to shun:
Not like rash monarchs, who their youth betray

By acts their age too late would wish undone.
And yet dominion was not his design;
We owe that blessing, not to him, but Heaven,
Which to fair acts unsought rewards did join;

Rewards, that less to him, than us, were given.
Our former chiefs, like sticklers of the war,
First sought to inflame the parties, then to poise:
The quarrel loved, but did the cause abhor;
And did not strike to hurt, but make a noise.

War, our consumption, was their gainful trade:
We inward bled, whilst they prolong’d our pain;
He fought to end our fighting, and essay’d
To staunch the blood by breathing of the vein.

Swift and resistless through the land he past,
Like that bold Greek who did the East subdue,
And made to battles such heroic haste,
As if on wings of victory he flew.

He fought secure of fortune as of fame:
Still by new maps the island might be shown,
Of conquests, which he strew’d where’er he came,
Thick as the galaxy with stars is sown.
His palms, though under weights they did not stand,
Still thrived; no winter could his laurels fade:
Heaven in his portrait show’d a workman’s hand,
And drew it perfect, yet without a shade.

Peace was the prize of all his toil and care,
Which war had banish’d, and did now restore:
Bologna’s walls thus mounted in the air,
To seat themselves more surely than before.

Her safety rescued Ireland to him owes;
And treacherous Scotland, to no interest true,
Yet blest that fate which did his arms dispose
Her land to civilize, as to subdue.

Nor was he like those stars which, only shine,
When to pale mariners they storms portend:
He had his calmer influence, and his mien
Did love and majesty together blend.

‘Tis true, his countenance did imprint an awe;
And naturally all souls to his did bow,
As wands of divination downward draw,
And point to beds where sovereign gold doth grow.

When past all offerings to Feretrian Jove,
He Mars deposed, and arms to gowns made yield;
Successful councils did him soon approve
As fit for close intrigues, as open field.

To suppliant Holland he vouchsafed a peace,
Our once bold rival of the British main,
Now tamely glad her unjust claim to cease,
And buy our friendship with her idol, gain.

Fame of the asserted sea through Europe blown,
Made France and Spain ambitious of his love;
Each knew that side must conquer he would own;
And for him fiercely, as for empire, strove.

No sooner was the Frenchman’s cause embraced,
Than the light Monsieur the grave Don outweigh’d;
His fortune turn’d the scale where’er ’twas cast,
Though Indian mines were in the other laid.
When absent, yet we conquer’d in his right:
For though some meaner artist’s skill were shown
In mingling colours or in placing light,
Yet still the fair designment was his own.

For from all tempers he could service draw;
The worth of each, with its alloy, he knew;
And, as the confidant of Nature, saw
How she complexions did divide and brew.

Or he their single virtues did survey,
By intuition, in his own large breast;
Where all the rich ideas of them lay;
That were the rule and measure to the rest.

When such heroic virtue Heaven sets out,
The stars, like commons, sullenly obey;
Because it drains them when it comes about,
And therefore is a tax they seldom pay.

From this high spring our foreign conquests flow,
Which yet more glorious triumphs do portend;
Since their commencement to his arms they owe,
If springs as high as fountains may ascend.

He made us freemen of the Continent,
Whom Nature did like captives treat before;
To nobler preys the English lion sent,
And taught him first in Belgian walks to roar.

That old unquestion’d pirate of the land,
Proud Rome, with dread the fate of Dunkirk heard;
And trembling wish’d behind more Alps to stand,
Although an Alexander were her guard.

By his command we boldly cross’d the line,
And bravely fought where southern stars arise;
We traced the far-fetch’d gold unto the mine,
And that which bribed our fathers made our prize.

Such was our prince; yet own’d a soul above
The highest acts it could produce to show:
Thus poor mechanic arts in public move,
Whilst the deep secrets beyond practice go.
Nor died he when his ebbing fame went less,
But when fresh laurels courted him to live:
He seem’d but to prevent some new success,
As if above what triumphs earth could give.

His latest victories still thickest came,
As near the centre motion doth increase;
Till he, press’d down by his own weighty name,
Did, like the vestal, under spoils decease.

But first the ocean as a tribute sent
The giant prince of all her watery herd;
And the Isle, when her protecting genius went,
Upon his obsequies loud sighs conferr’d.

No civil broils have since his death arose,
But faction now by habit does obey;
And wars have that respect for his repose,
As winds for halcyons, when they breed at sea.

His ashes in a peaceful urn shall rest;
His name a great example stands, to show
How strangely high endeavours may be blest,
Where piety and valour jointly go.

The poem avoided criticizing the Royalists allowing room for a bit of coat-turning when Charles II took the throne. Dryden was not happy with the brutality of the reformists, fanaticism and savageness. He was shocked at the brutality of the reform particularly the butchery of Father Hudson, in his own county, where the soldiers chopped off the priest’s fingers as he clung to the gargoyles of the tower, and with their pikes, thrust him back into the moat which, mutilated as he was, he had managed to swim. Milton had no political preference his only interest was literary works in prose: historical, analytical, and critical. So when the Royalists finally won, Dryden embraced Charles II. And in 1660 there was the panygeric Astriva Redux in heroic couplets to celebrate the crowning of Charles II.

“Now with a general peace the world was blest,
While ours, a world divided from the rest,
A dreadful quiet felt, and worser for
Than arms, a sullen interval of war.”

With Milton now in a state of poetical eclipse, enter Dryden, a not so young Cambridge man (Dryden was already thirty years old), to carry out the literary reform in the name of “good sense of poetry”. Gone is the “blank verse” of Milton; restored is the heroic couplet. Dryden began a series of non dramatic poems, poems that celebrate public events. At thirty-five he wrote Annus Mirabilis, the name “year of miracles” somewhat contradictive because although the two-year war with the Dutch was a success; the Great Fire of London was a disaster. Here Dryden in 304 quatrains switched to the prosy decasyllabic or abab rhyme scheme. About the quatrain Dryden remarked it was ”more noble and full of dignity.”

Not yet at ease from 1663 to 1681 Dryden tried his hand at drama and excelled as a playwright, twenty-eight in all, where the the vices of the Restoration were in full display.. His finest was All for Love. His playwright period was abandoned when the London theaters were ordered closed due to the outbreak of plague. Dryden retired to the country where he wrote Essay on Dramatic Poesy in defense of the use of rhyme in plays. In Essay of Dramatic Poesy he wrote:

“There is no theatre in the world has anything so absurd as the English tragi-comedy; ‘tis a drama of our own invention, and the fashion of it is enough to proclaim it so here a course of mirth, there another of sadness and passion, a third of honor and fourth a duel. Thus, in two hours and a half, we run through all the first of Bedlam.”

In 1670 he was named Poet Laureate, with a salary of two hundred pounds a year. The award earned him the nickname of “bayes” and satirized as “John Bayes” in the Duke of Buckingham’s The Rehearsal (1672).

“While the Town-Bayes writes all the while and spells,
And like a pack-horse tires without his bells,
Their fancies like our bushy points appear,
The points take them; we for fashion wear,
I too, transported by the mode, effend,
And while I meant to praise thee, miscommend,
Thy verse created like they theme sublime,
In number, weight, and measure, needs not rime. Andrew Marvell on Paradise Lost

The years from 1681 to 1689 devoted to great satires were marred only by a growing rift between himself and Thomas Shadwell. Once friendly, they fell out over differences as to who should claim of Ben Jonson’s literary heir. So Dryden’s next satire, Mac Flecknoe, was a roast attacking the playwright Thomas Shadwell: first, because of his offenses against literature and second, for his continuous harassment both personal and professional.” Dryden characterizes Shadwell as “the apostle of dullness.” This elegant satire was first circulated unpublished in pamphlet form and then published in 1682. Shadwell responded with The Medal of John Bayes which has as a savage attack on Dryden’s preface a mocking Epistle to the Tories. Dryden’s reply was a further poem, The Medal, which likewise had a preface: “Epistle to the Whigs.” During this same period and through no desire of his own, Dryden, as poet laureate, was forced to defend the crown now embroiled in a political controversy. It was this circumstance that Absolom and Achitophel (1681) was written. The work is regarded as the finest satire in the English language, anointing Dryden as the “most consummate artist in the heroic couplet”, master of “masculine insight and vigor of expression” and “the greatest satirest our literature had yet produced”. The controversy surrounded a law that would exclude the king’s brother, James, Duke of York, from the throne because he was Roman Catholic. The Tories opposed the exclusion; the Whigs, supported it. In the end the Tories prevailed. Thomas Shadwell received harsh words in this work. Dryden became a Roman Catholic and wrote The Hind and The Panther (1687) where he rationalized his move to the Roman Catholic faith. Then one winter’s night Dryden was attacked and beaten by masked men: “ruffians” hired by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, with whom he also had a long-standing conflict, although there were other suspects as well. Even though Dryden won the battle he lost the war. Two years later following the revolution of 1688, James II abdicated and Dryden, the Tory and now professed Catholic, refused to pledge allegiance to the new king, he was ousted from the court and the position of Poet Laureate was awarded to Shadwell, who was both Whig and Protestant.

The “satires” were Dryden’s crowning achievement, but of more lasting importance were the critical essays or prefaces that preceded them. The prefaces established the foundation for modern English criticism. Swift to remarked about the prefaces:

“I do utterly disapprove and declare against that pernicious custom of making the preface a bill of fare to the book. For I have always looked upon it as a high point of indiscretion in monster-mongers and other retailers of strange sights to hang out a fair picture over the door, drawn after the life, with a most eloquent description underneath; this has saved me threepence…Such is exactly the fate at this time of prefaces…This expedient was admirable at first; our great Dryden has long carried it as far as it would go, and with incredible success.”

Whereupon Dryden replied “that the world would never have suspected him to be so great a poet, if he had not assured them so frequently, in his prefaces, that it was impossible they could either doubt or forget it” prompting the response “only a wit when he had a pen in hand.”

Forced to give up his public office and live by the proceeds of his pen. Dryden left drama and returned to the role as translator of Horace, Juvenal, Ovid, Lucretius, and Theocritus, tasks from which he derived much satisfaction and acclaim. In 1694 he began work on what would be his most ambitious and defining translation, The Works of Virgil. Its publication in1697 brought him the sum of £1,400. He completed Fables Ancient and Modern in 1700. The Preface to the Fables is considered to be both a major work of criticism and one of the finest essays in the English language. He may have died in narrow poverty but he enjoyed unquestioned literary supremacy over friend and foe.

First characteristic: Reasoning in Verse

Dim, as the borrow’d beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wand’ring travellers,
Is reason to the soul; and as on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky
Not light us here; so reason’s glimmering ray
Was lent not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day’s bright lord ascends our hemisphere
So pale grows reason at religion’s sight:
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
From cause to cause, to Nature’s secret head;
And found that one first principle must be:
But what, or who, that Universal He;
Whether some soul incompassing this ball
Unmade, unmov’d; yet making, moving all;

For some, who have his secret meaning guess’d,
Have found our author not too much a priest:
For fashion-sake he seems to have recourse
To Pope, and Councils, and tradition’s force:
But he that old traditions could subdue,
Could not but find the weakness of the new:
If Scripture, though deriv’d from Heavenly birth,
Has been but carelessly preserv’d on earth;
If God’s own people, who of God before
Knew what we know, and had been promis’d more,
In fuller terms, of Heaven’s assisting care,
And who did neither time, nor study spare
To keep this Book untainted, unperplex’d;
Let in gross errors to corrupt the text:
Omitted paragraphs, embroil’d the sense;
With vain traditions stopp’d the gaping fence,
Which every common hand pull’d up with ease:
What safety from such brushwood-helps as these?
If written words from time are not secur’d,
How can we think have oral sounds endur’d?
Which thus transmitted, if one mouth has fail’d,
Immortal lies on ages are entail’d:
And that some such have been, is prov’d too plain;
If we consider interest, church, and gain…
Or finite reason reach infinity?
For what could Fathom God were more than he” Religio Laici

“When I consider life ‘tis all a cheat;
Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on, and think tomorrow will repay;
Tomorrow’s falser than the former day;
Lies worse, and while it says, we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange, cozenage! None would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure, in what yet remain;
And from the dregs of life think to receive
What the first sprightly runnings could not give.” Aurengzebe

“Three poets in three distant ages born
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn
The first in loftiness of thought surpass’d;
The next in majesty; in both the last
The Force of nature could no further go;
To make a third she join’d the former two.” under the portrait of Milton before Paradise Lost

“Observe the town, and study well the court;
For thither various characters resort;
Thus ‘twas great Johnson purchased h is renown,
And in his art had borne away the crown;
If, less desirous of the people’s praise,
He had not with low farce debased his plays;
Mix’d dull buffoonery with wit refined
And Harlequin with noble Terence join’d,
When to the Fox I see the tortoise hiss’d
I lose the author of the Alhymist. The Art of Poetry on Jonson

“Well then, the promised hour is come at last,
The present age of wit obscures the past;
Strong were our sires, and as they fought they writ,
Conquering with force of arms and dint of wit;
Theirs was the giant race, before the flood;
And thus when Charles return’d our empire stood.
Like Janus he the stubborn soil manured,
With rules of husbandry the rankness cured;
Tuned us to manners, when the stage was rude;
And boisterous English wit iwth art indued.
Our age was cultivated thus at length;
But what we gain’d in skill we lost in strength,
Our builders were with want of genius cursed;
The second temple was not like the first.” Epistle to Congreve on his Comedy the Double Dealer

“Let those find fault whose Wit’s so very small
They’ve need to show that they can think at all”
Errour, like straws upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below.” All For Love Prologue

“Dim, as the borrow’d beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wand’ring travellers,
Is reason to the soul; and as on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky
Not light us here; so reason’s glimmering ray
Was lent not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day’s bright lord ascends our hemisphere
So pale grows reason at religion’s sight:
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.” Religio Laeci

Comments from critics, collegues, and Dryden

“In one respect this takes the highest place among the works of Dryden, for it is the most perfect example he has given of that reasoning in rhyme of which he was so great a master.” Saintsbury Age of Dryden on Religio Laeci

“The opening ten or twelve lines of this poem are among his very best. The Bold enjambement of the first two couplets, with the striking novelty of cadence given by the sharply cut caesura of the third line, is one of his best metrical effects, and the wandering traveler matches the technical beauty of the verse.” Saintsbury on Religio Laici

“The distinguishing characteristic of Dryden’s genius seems in appropriate language…The skill with which they (arguments) are stated, elucidated, enforced, and exemplified ever commands our admiration, though in the result our reason may reject their influence…His arguments, even in the worst cause, bear witness to the energy of his mental conceptions.” Biography Sir Walter Scott

“Dryden was an incomparable reasoner in verse His logic is by no means uniformly sound…His arguments, therefore, often are worthless, but the manner in which they are stated is beyond all praise.” Thomas Babington Macauley Essays

“Dryden had a faculty of specious argument in verse which, if it falls short of the great Roman Lucretius in logical exactitude, hardly falls short of it in poetical ornament, and excels it in a sort of triumphant vivacity which hurries the reader along whether he will or no…Dryden’s didactic poems are quite unlike anything which came before them, and have never been approached by anything that has come after them. Doubtless they prove nothing;…but at the same time they have a remarkable air of proving something.” George Saintsbury English Men of Letters

“If he took up an opinion on the morning, he would have found so many arguments for it by night that it would seem already old and familiar…” James Lowell Among My Books

Second characteristic: Versification

“High state and honours to others impart,
But give me your heart:That treasure, that treasure alone,
I beg for my own.So gentle a love, so fervent a fire,
My soul does inspire;
That treasure, that treasure alone,
I beg for my own.
Your love let me crave;
Give me in possessing
So matchless a blessing;
That empire is all I would have.
Love’s my petition,
All my ambition;
If e’er you discover
So faithful a lover,
So real a flame,
I’ll die, I’ll die,
So give up my game.” The May Queen
“When I consider life, ’tis all a cheat
Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay:
To-morrow’s falser than the former day;
Lies worse; and while it says, we shall be blessed
With some new joys, cuts off what we possessed.
Strange cozenage! none would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;
And, from the dregs of life, think to receive
What the first sprightly running could not give.
I’m tired with waiting for this chemic gold,
Which fools us young, and beggars us when old.” Aurengzebe

The anapest

“While Pan | and fair Sy | rinx are fled | from our shore,
The Gr | aces are ban | ished, and Love | is no more;
The soft | god of plea | sure that warmed | our desires
Has brok | en his bow, | and extin | guished his fires,
And vows | that himself | and his moth | er will mourn,
Till Pan | and fair Sy | rinx in tri | umph return.

Anapest with dissyllabic feet

“All the nymphs | were in white | and the shep | herd in green” Lady of the May

“Some lazy ages, lost in sleep and ease,
No action leave to busy chronicles:
Such, whose supine felicity but makes
In story chasms, in epoch’s mistakes;
O’er whom Time gently shakes his wings of down,
Till, with his silent sickle, they are mown. Astraea Redux

The heroic couplet:

“Now with a general peace the world was blest.
While ours, a world divided from the rest.
A dreadful quiet felt, and worser far
Than arms, a sullen interval of war.” Astraea Redux

Comments from critics, colleagues and Dryden.

“I have not everywhere observed the equality of numbers in my verse, partly by reason of my haste, but more especially because I would not have my sense a slave to syllables.” Dryden

“Dryden cultivated steadily the heroic couplet. This kind of verse appealed with irresistible force to an age which desired, above all, uniformity and regularity.” Lovett

“And this unpolished rugged verse I chose
As fittest for discouse, and nearest prose.” Religio Laeci

About French heroic verse: “runs with more activity than strength. Their language is not strung with sinew like our English; it has the nimbleness of a greyhound, but not the bulk and body of a mastiff.” Dryden

“The finest things in his plays were written in blank verse.” Lowell

“The abounding sweep and resilient strength of his versification form another of his prime excellencies, and he may almost be said to have remoulded the English heroic measure, puffing it out to excess, if should be admitted with triple rhymes and rolling Alexandrines Glorious John the master of the full-sounding line.” William Rossetti

*heroic couplets reference couplets that speak to scholarly subject matter.

“The great easiness of blank verse renders the poet too luxuriant,; he is tempted to say many things, which might better be omitted, or at least shut up in fewer words; but when the difficulty of artful rhyming is interposed, where the poet commonly confines his sense to his couplet, and must contrive that sense into such words, that the rhyme shall naturally follow them…that which most regulates the fancy, and gives the judgment its busiest employment, is lik to bring forth the richest and clearest thoughts.” Dryden Epistle Dedicatory of the Rival Ladies 1664

“Whether heroic verse ought to be admitted into serious ought to be admitted into serious plays is not now to be disputed…All the arguments which are formed against it can amount to no more than this, that is it not wo near conversation as prose, and therefore not so natural. But it is very clear to all who understand poetry that serious plays ought not imitate conversation too nearly. If nothing were to be raised above the level, the foundation of poetry would be destroyed. And if you once admit of a latitude that thoughts may be exalted, and that images and actions may be raised above the life, and described in measure without rhyme, you are already so far onward of your way, that you have forsaken the imitation of ordinary converse.” Dryden Essay of Heroic Plays, 1672

Dryden is believed to be the first person to declare that English sentences should not end in prepositions because it was against the rules of Latin grammar. Dryden created the prescription against “preposition stranding” in 1672 when he objected to Ben Jonson’s 1611 phrase from The Divine Comedy “the bodies that those souls were frightened from”.

“He was a good rhymist, but no poet.” John Milton

No dirth of metrical defects in ending vowel sounds as in:

“Praiseworthy actions are by thee embraced,
And ‘tis my praise to make the praises last.” Dryden To my Honor’d Kinsman

“The establisher and master of the stopped heroic couplet with variations of triplets and Alexandrines; the last great writer of dramatic blank verse, after he had given up the couplet for that use; master also of any other metre; the stopped heroic quatrain, lyrics of various form that he chose to try. A deliberate student of prosody.” Saintsbury

“The new versification, as it was called, may be considered as owing its establishment to Dryden; from whose time it is apparent that English Poetry has had no tendency to relapse to its former savageness.” Samuel Johnson Lives of the Poets

“Among the greatest services which Dryden rendered to our language and literature are to be reckoned his improvements in heroic versification, of which he has left an unsurpassed model.” R. Garnett

Third characteristic: Satire and Wit

“Never did art so well with nature strive,
Nor ever idol seemed so much alive;
So like the man, so golden to the sight,
So base within, so counterfeit and light.
One side is filled with title and with face;
And, lest the king should want a regal place,
On the reverse a tower the town surveys,
O’er which our mounting sun his beams displays.
The word, pronounced aloud by shrieval voice,
Loetamur, which in Polish is Rejoice,
The day, month, year, to the great act are joined,
And a new canting holiday designed.
Five days he sate for every cast and look,
Four more days than God to finish Adam took.
But who can tell what essence angels are
Or how long Heaven was making Lucifer?
Oh, could the style that copied every grace
And ploughed such furrows for an eunuch face,
Could it have formed his ever-changing will,
The various piece had tired the graver’s skill!
A martial hero first, with early care
Blown, like a pigmy by the winds, to war;
A beardless chief, a rebel ere a man,
So young his hatred to his Prince began.” The Medal

“They, who write ill, and they, who ne’er durst write,
Turn critics, out of mere revenge and spite:
A playhouse gives them fame; and up there starts,
From a mean fifth-rate wit, a man of parts.
(So common faces on the stage appear;
We take them in, and they turn beauties here.)
Our author fears those critics as his fate;
And those he fears, by consequence must hate,
For they the traffic of all wit invade,
As scriveners draw away the bankers’ trade.
Howe’er, the poet’s safe enough to day,
They cannot censure an unfinished play.
But, as when vizard-mask appears in pit,
Straight every man, who thinks himself a wit,
Perks up, and, managing his comb with grace,
With his white wig sets off his nut-brown face;
That done, bears up to th’ prize, and views each limb,
To know her by her rigging and her trim;
Then, the whole noise of fops to wagers go, —
“Pox on her, ‘tmust be she;” and — “damme, no!” —
Just, so, I prophesy, these wits to-day
Will blindly guess at our imperfect play;
With what new plots our Second Part is filled,
Who must be kept alive, and who be killed.
And as those vizard-masks maintain that fashion,
To soothe and tickle sweet imagination;
So our dull poet keeps you on with masking,
To make you think there’s something worth your asking.
But, when ’tis shown, that, which does now delight you,
Will prove a dowdy, with a face to fright you.” Prologue to Almanzor and Alnahide

“Some lazy ages, lost in sleep and ease,
No action leave to busy chronicles;
Such, whose supine felicity but makes
In story chasms, in epoch mistakes;
O’er whom Time gently shakes his wings of down,
Till with his silent sickle they are mown.” Astraea Redux

“Let those find fault whose Wit’s so very small,
They’ve need to show that they can think at all:
Errours, like straws upon the surface flow;
He who would search for Pearls must dive below.” Prologue to All for Love

Comments from critics, colleagues, and Dryden

“Well sir, ‘tis granted; I said Dryden’s rimes
Were stolen, unequal, nay dull, many times;
So blindly partial to deny me this?
But that his plays, embroider’d up and down
With wit and learning, justly please the town,
Yet, having this allow’d, the heavy mass
That stuffs up his loose volumes must not pass;
For by that rule I might as well admit
Crown’s tedious scenes for poetry and wit.” Rochester on First Book of Horace

“The definition of Wit (which is often attempted and ever unsuccessfully by many poets) is only this; that it is a propriety of thoughts and words; or , in other terms, thoughts and words elegantly adapted to the subject.” Dryden Apology or Heroic Poetry

“Expression and all that belongs to words, is that in a poem which colouring is in a picture. The colours well chosen in their proper places, together with the lights and shadows which belong to tme, lighten the design, and make it pleasing to the eye. The Rods, the expressions, the tropes and figures, the versification, and all the other elegancies of sound, as cadences, turns of words upon the thought, …which are part of expression, perform exactly the same office both in dramatic and epic poetry.” Dryden A Parallel of Poetry and Painting

“The lofty and impassioned satire of Dryden, uniting the vehemence of anger and the self-control of conscious determination, presents the finest example of that sort of voluntary emotion.” Harley Coleridge

“His verse strides along with a careless Olumpian motion, as if the writer were looking at his victims with a kind of good-humored scorn rather than with any elaborate triumph.” Saintsbury

“He draws his arrow to the head and dismisses it straight upon the object of aim.” Sir Walter Scott

“Without either creative imagination or any power of pathos he is in argument, in satire, and in declamatory magnificence the greatest of our poets.” G. L. Craik

“He was a master of satire and an adept in the sword-play of wit.” Gayley et al.

Fourth Characteristic: Bombast, Coarse Licentiousness

“When nature prompted, and no law denied
Promiscuous use of concubine and bride;
Then Israel’s monarch after heaven’s own heart,
His vigorous warmth did variously impart
To wives and slaves; and, wide as his command,
Scattered his Maker’s image through the land,
Of all the numerous progeny was none
So beautiful, so brave as Absalom.” Absalom and Achitophel

(Absalom and Achitophel was Dryden’s greatest achievements of satiric verse: the mock-heroic.)

“Behold him now exalted into trust;
His counsel’s oft convenient, seldom just;
Even in the most sincere advice he gave
He had a grudging still to be a knave.
The frauds he learned in his fanatic years
Made him uneasy in his lawful gears;
At best, as little honest as he could,
And, like white witches, mischievously good.” Absalom and Achitophel speaking of Shaftesbury.

The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull,
With this prophetic blessing “be thou dull;
Drink, swear and roar; forbear no lewd delight
Fit for thy bulk; do any thing but write.
Thou art of lasting make, like thoughtless men,
A strong nativity but for the pen;
Eat opium, mingle arsenic in thy drink,
Still thou may’st live, avoiding pen and ink.”
I see, I see, ‘tis counsel given in vain,
For treason, botch’d in rhyme, will be thy bane
Rhyme is the rock on which thou art to wreck,
Tis fatal to thy fame and to thy neck.
Why should thy metre good King David blast?
A psalm of his will surely be thy last.
Darest thou presume in verse to meet thy foes,
Thou, whom the penny pamphlet foil’d in prose?
Doeg, to thee, thy paintings are so coarse,
A poet is though he’s the poet’s horse,
A double noose thou on thy neck dost pull,
For writing treason, and for writing dull,
To die for faction is a common evil
But be hang’d for nonsense is the devil.
Hadst thou the glories of thy king exprest,
Thy praises had been satire at the best;
But thou in clumsy verse, unlickt, unpointed,
Hast shamefully defiled the Lord’s anointed,
I will not rake the dunghill of they crimes,
For who would read thy life that reads thy rhymes?
But of King David’s foes, be this the doom,
May all be like the young man Absolom;
And, for my foew, may this their blessing be,
To talk like Doeg, and to write like thee!”

Absalom and Achitophel. Thomas Shadwell is Og; Elkanah Settle is Doeg

“All humane things are subject to decay,
And, when Fate summon, monarchs must obey;
This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young
Was call’d to Empire, and had govern’d too long
In Prose and Verse, was own’d , without dispute
Through all the Realms of Non-sense, absolute.” Mac Flecknow

“In Friendship False, Implacable in Hate;
Resolv’d to Ruine or to Rule the State.

To Compass this the triple Bond he broke;
The Pillars of the publick Safety shook;
And Fittes Istrael for a foreigh Yoke.
Then, seiz’d with fear, yet still affecting, Fame,
Usurp’d a Patriott’s all-attoning Name.” Absalom and Ahitophel Part I

Comments from Critics, Colleagues, and Dryden

“In one point of view he committed a great error in addicting himself to the drama. He was not naturally qualified to excel in it, and could only obtain even a temporary success by condescending to the prevalent faults of the contemporary stage, its bombast and its indecency.

“He has a tendency to bombast, which though subsequently corrected by time and thought, was never wholly removed. No writer, has carried the flattery of dedication to a greater length…But this was not merely interested servility; it was the overflowing of a mind singularly disposed to admiration-of a mind which diminished vices and magnified virtues and obligations. Bombast is his prevailing vice–the exaggeration which disfigures the panegyrics of Dryden.” Macaulay

“He seems to have made flattery too cheap…appears never to have impoverished his mint of flattery by his expense…The extreme flattery of Dryden’s dedications has been objected to as a fault of an opposite description; and perhaps no writer has equalled him in the profusion and elegance of his adulation…He considers the great as entitled to encomiastic homage, and brings praise rather as a tribute than a gift…In the meanness and servility of hyperbolical adulation, I know not whether, since the days in which the Roman Emperors were deified he has ever been equalled, except by Afra Behn in an addreess to Eleanor Gwyn.” Samuel Johnson

“Poetic licence I take to be the liberty which poets have assumed to themselves, in all ages, of speaking things in verse, which are beyond the severity of prose. Tis that particular character which distinguishes and sets the bounds betwixt oratio soluta and poetry. Dryden The Author’s Apology for Heroic Poetry

Fifth Characteristic: Descriptive power: L’art de conter

“Thus while I sat intent to see and hear,
And drew perfumes of more than vital air,
All suddenly I heard the approaching sound
Of vocal music, on the enchanted ground:
As host of saints it seem’d so full the choir;
As if the bless’d above did all conspire
To join their voices and neglect the lyre.
At length there issued from the grove behind
A fair assembly of the female kind:
A train less fair, as ancient fathers tell,
Seduced the sons of heaven to rebel.
I pass their form, and every charming grace,
Less than an angel would their worth debase:
But their attire, like liveries of a kind,
All rich and rare, is fresh within my mind.
In velvet white as snow the troop was gown’d,
The seams with sparkling emeralds set around;
Their hoods and sleeves the same; and purfled o’er
With diamonds, pearls, and all the shining store
Of eastern pomp: their long descending train,
With rubies edged, and sapphires, swept the plain:
High on their heads, with jewels richly set,
Each lady wore a radiant coronet.
Beneath the circles, all the quire was graced
With chaplets green on their fair foreheads placed:
Of laurel some, of woodbine many more;
And wreaths of Agnus castus others bore;
These last, who with those virgin crowns were dress’d,
Appear’d in higher honour than the rest.
They danced around: but in the midst was seen
A lady of a more majestic mien;
By stature, and by beauty mark’d their sovereign.” Fables, a retelling of The Flower and the Leaf

“Sir Fopling is a fool so nicely writ
That ladies would mistake him for a wit;
And, when he sings, talks loud, and cocks would cry,
I vow, methings, he’s pretty company;
So brisk, so gay, so travell’d, so refined,
As he took pains to graff upon his kind.
True fops help nature’s work, and go to school,
To file and finish God Almighty’s fool.
Yet none Sir Fopling him or him can call’
He’s knight o’the shire, and represents ye all.
From each he meets he culls what’er he can;
Legion’s his name, a people in a man.” Sir Fopling Flutter

“A martial hero first, with early car,
Blown, like the pygmy, by the wind to war.
A beardless chief, a rebel ere a man;
Ao young his hatrid to his prince began.
Next this (how wildly will ambition steer!)
A vermin wriggling in the Usurper’s ear,
Bantering his venal wit for sums of gold,
He cast himself into the saint-like mold,
Groan’d, sigh’d and pray’d, while godliness was gain.
The loudest bagpipe of the squeaking train.” The Medal

Comments from Critics, Colleagues, and Dryden

“Now and then, indeed, he seizes a very corse and marked distinction, and gives us, not a likeness, but a strong caricature, in which a single peculariry is protruded and everything else is neglected; like the Marquis of Granby at an inn-door, whom we know by nothing, but his baldness; or Wilkes, who is Wilkes only in his squint.” Thomas Macauley Works

“Instead of unmeaning caricatures, he presents portraits which cannot be mistake, however unfavorable ideas they may convey of the originals.” Sir Walter Scott

“The thing is to strike the nail on the head and hard, not gracefully. The public must recognize the character, about their names as they recognize the portraits, applaud the attacks which are made upon them, hurl them from the high rank which they covet.” Taine History of English Literature

Sixth Characteristic: Conceits, Adulations, Absurdities

“Of little use the man you may suppose
Who says in verse what others say in prose;
Yet let me show a poet’s of some weight,
And (though no soldier) useful to the state.
What will a child learn sooner than a song?
What better teach a foreigner the tongue:
What’s long or short, each accent where to place,
And speak in public with some sort of grace?
I can scarce think him such a worthless thing,
Unless he praise some monster of a king;
Or virtue or religion turn to sport,
To please a lewd or unbelieving Court,
Unhappy Dryden!” Alexander Pope The First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace

“An hollow crystal pyramid he takes,
In Firmamental waters dipt above;
Of it a broad extinguisher he makes
And hoods the flames that to their quarry drove
The vanquished fires withdraw from every place,
Or full with feeding, sink into a sleep
Each household genius shows again his face,
And from the hearths the little Lares creep.” Annus Mirabilis The Fires of London

“When humbly on the royal babe we gaze,
the manly lines of a majestic face
Give awful joy.” Britannia Rediviva A panegyric on the birth of Prince of Wales

Comments from Critics, Colleagues, and Dryden

“Its preposterous ‘revolutions and discoveries’ the wild bombast of Almanzor and others, the apparently purposeless embroilment of the action in ever-new turns and twists are absurd enough. But there is a kind of gerous and noble spirit animating it which could not fail to catch an audience blinded by fashion to its absurdities.”

“The poem is injured by numerous passages introduced by “as” and “thus” and “like” which were intended for ornaments, and which in fact simple disfigure.” Saintsbury of Astrea Redux

Seventh Characteristic: Song Power

Unlike Milton, Dryden had no musical background but made the music of Timotheus the hero in Alexander’s Feast:

‘Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won
By Philip’s warlike son:
Aloft in awful state The godlike hero sate On his imperial throne;
His valiant peers were plac’d around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound:
(So should desert in arms be crown’d.)
The lovely Thaïs, by his side, Sate like a blooming Eastern bride
In flow’r of youth and beauty’s pride.
Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave, None but the brave, None but the brave deserves the fair.

Timotheus, plac’d on high Amid the tuneful choir, With flying fingers touch’d the lyre: The trembling notes ascend the sky,” Alexander’s Feast

“You charm’d me not with that fair face
Though it was all divine:
To be another’s is the grace,
That makes me wish you mine.
The Gods and Fortune take their part
Who like young monarchs fight;
And boldly dare invade that heart
Which is another’s right.
First mad with hope we undertake
To pull up every bar;
But once possess’d, we faintly make
A dull defensive war.
Now every friend is turn’d a foe
In hope to get our store:
And passion makes us cowards grow,
Which made us brave before. The Mock Astrologer A comedy in prose.

The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.
Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.
But oh! what art can teach
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their Heav’nly ways
To mend the choirs above. Song for St. Cecilia’s Day

Ask not the cause why sullen spring
So long delays her flow’rs to bear;
Why warbling birds forget to sing,
And winter storms invert the year? Song to a Fair Lady in iambic tetrameter

Comments from Critics, Colleagues, and Dryden

“In none,” says Macaulay, “can be found passages more pathetic and magnificent, greater ductility and energy of language, or a more pleasing and various music.” about The Hind and the Panther

“Even among the common run of playwrights, who have left no lyrical and not much literary reputation, scraps and snatches with have the true song stamp are not unfrequently to be found. But Dryden excelled them all in the variety of his cadences and the ring of his lines…There abundance may be illustrated by the fact that a single play, The Mock Astrologer, contains no less than four songs of the very first lyrical merit.” Saintsbury

“In The Assignation, gives yet another example of the singular fertility with which Dryden devised and managed measures suitable for song.” Saintsbury

We conclude our discussion of John Dryden with this from Charles Churchill (1731-1764), himself a great satirist:

“Here let me bend, great Dryden, at thy shrine,
Thou dearest name to all the tuneful nine.
What if some dull lines in cold order creep,
And with this theme the poet seems to sleep?
Still, when his subject rises proud to view,
With equal strength the poet rises too;
With strong invention, noblest vigour fraught,
Thought still springs up and rises out of thought;
Numbers ennobling numbers in their course,
In varied sweetness flow, in varied force;
The powers of genius and of judgment join,
And the whole Art of Poetry is thine.” The Apology

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