John Dryden

John Dryden

Overview
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.
Walter Scott
Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time....

 called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
The Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, also referred to as the Poet Laureate, is the Poet Laureate appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom on the advice of the Prime Minister...

 in 1667.

Dryden was born in the village rectory
Rectory
A rectory is the residence, or former residence, of a rector, most often a Christian cleric, but in some cases an academic rector or other person with that title...

 of Aldwincle
Aldwincle
Aldwincle is a village in the east of the county of Northamptonshire, England. It is on a bend of the River Nene not far from Thrapston.In 1879, two ecclesiastical parishes, Aldwinkle All Saints and Aldwinkle St Peter merged after the parish church of the former was declared redundant in 1971 and...

 near Thrapston
Thrapston
Thrapston is a small town in Northamptonshire, England. It is the headquarters of the East Northamptonshire district, and in 2001 had a population of 4,855. By 2006, this was estimated to be over 5,700....

 in Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire is a landlocked county in the English East Midlands, with a population of 629,676 as at the 2001 census. It has boundaries with the ceremonial counties of Warwickshire to the west, Leicestershire and Rutland to the north, Cambridgeshire to the east, Bedfordshire to the south-east,...

, where his maternal grandfather was Rector of All Saints
All Saints Church, Aldwincle
All Saints Church, Aldwincle, is a redundant Anglican church in the village of Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, England. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building, and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust....

.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

By viewing Nature, Nature's handmaid Art,Makes mighty things from small beginnings grow.

Annus Mirabilis (poem)|Annus Mirabilis (1667), stanza 155.

Pains of love be sweeter farThan all other pleasures are.

Tyrannick Love|Tyrannick Love (1669), Act IV, scene i.

I am as free as Nature first made man,Ere the base laws of servitude began,When wild in woods the noble savage ran.

The Conquest of Granada|The Conquest of Granada (1669-1670), Pt. 1, Act I, scene i.

Death in itself is nothing; but we fearTo be we know not what, we know not where.

Aureng-Zebe (1676), Act IV, scene i.

When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat;Yet, fooled with hope, men favor the deceit;Trust on, and think tomorrow will repay.Tomorrow's falser than the former day.None would live past years again,Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;And from the dregs of life think to receiveWhat the first sprightly running could not give.

Aureng-Zebe (1676), Act IV, scene i.

Whatever is, is in its causes just.

Oedipus (1679), Act III, scene i.

Of no distemper, of no blast he died,But fell like autumn fruit that mellowed long — Even wondered at, because he dropped no sooner.Fate seemed to wind him up for fourscore years,Yet freshly ran he on ten winters more;Till like a clock worn out with eating time,The wheels of weary life at last stood still.

Oedipus (1679), Act IV scene i

There is a pleasure sureIn being mad which none but madmen know.

The Spanish Friar, Act II scene i (1681)

Like a led victim, to my death I'll go, And, dying, bless the hand that gave the blow.

The Spanish Friar, Act II scene i (1681)
Encyclopedia
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.
Walter Scott
Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time....

 called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
The Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, also referred to as the Poet Laureate, is the Poet Laureate appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom on the advice of the Prime Minister...

 in 1667.

Early life


Dryden was born in the village rectory
Rectory
A rectory is the residence, or former residence, of a rector, most often a Christian cleric, but in some cases an academic rector or other person with that title...

 of Aldwincle
Aldwincle
Aldwincle is a village in the east of the county of Northamptonshire, England. It is on a bend of the River Nene not far from Thrapston.In 1879, two ecclesiastical parishes, Aldwinkle All Saints and Aldwinkle St Peter merged after the parish church of the former was declared redundant in 1971 and...

 near Thrapston
Thrapston
Thrapston is a small town in Northamptonshire, England. It is the headquarters of the East Northamptonshire district, and in 2001 had a population of 4,855. By 2006, this was estimated to be over 5,700....

 in Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire is a landlocked county in the English East Midlands, with a population of 629,676 as at the 2001 census. It has boundaries with the ceremonial counties of Warwickshire to the west, Leicestershire and Rutland to the north, Cambridgeshire to the east, Bedfordshire to the south-east,...

, where his maternal grandfather was Rector of All Saints
All Saints Church, Aldwincle
All Saints Church, Aldwincle, is a redundant Anglican church in the village of Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, England. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building, and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust....

. He was the eldest of fourteen children born to Erasmus Dryden and wife Mary Pickering, paternal grandson of Sir Erasmus Dryden, 1st Baronet
Sir Erasmus Dryden, 1st Baronet
Sir Erasmus Dryden, 1st Baronet was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1624.Erasmus Dryden was the son of John Dryden of Canons Ashby House, Northamptonshire. His mother, Elizabeth Cope, was the daughter and sole heiress of Sir John Cope, through whom the Drydens inherited...

 (1553–1632) and wife Frances Wilkes, Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 landowning gentry who supported the Puritan cause and Parliament. He was also a second cousin once removed of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

. As a boy Dryden lived in the nearby village of Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire
Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire
Titchmarsh is a village and civil parish in East Northamptonshire, England. At the time of the 2001 census, the parish's population was 543 people....

 where it is also likely that he received his first education. In 1644 he was sent to Westminster School
Westminster School
The Royal College of St. Peter in Westminster, almost always known as Westminster School, is one of Britain's leading independent schools, with the highest Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rate of any secondary school or college in Britain...

 as a King’s Scholar where his headmaster was Dr Richard Busby
Richard Busby
The Rev. Dr. Richard Busby was an English Anglican priest who served as head master of Westminster School for more than fifty-five years.-Life:...

, a charismatic teacher and severe disciplinarian. Having recently been re-founded by Elizabeth I, Westminster during this period embraced a very different religious and political spirit encouraging royalism and high Anglicanism
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

. Whatever Dryden’s response to this was, he clearly respected the Headmaster and would later send two of his own sons to school at Westminster. Many years after his death a house at Westminster was founded in his name.

As a humanist grammar school, Westminster maintained a curriculum which trained pupils in the art of rhetoric and the presentation of arguments for both sides of a given issue. This is a skill which would remain with Dryden and influence his later writing and thinking, as much of it displays these dialectical patterns. The Westminster curriculum also included weekly translation assignments which developed Dryden’s capacity for assimilation. This was also to be exhibited in his later works. His years at Westminster were not uneventful, and his first published poem, an elegy with a strong royalist feel on the death of his schoolmate Henry, Lord Hastings from smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

, alludes to the execution of King Charles I, which took place on 30 January 1649.

In 1650 Dryden went up to Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

. Here he would have experienced a return to the religious and political ethos of his childhood: the Master of Trinity was a Puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Hill
Thomas Hill (Cambridge)
Thomas Hill was an English Puritan divine. Born at Kington, Herefordshire, he took a B.A. in 1622 at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, an M.A. in 1626, a B.D. in 1633 and a D.D. in 1646....

 who had been a rector in Dryden’s home village. Though there is little specific information on Dryden’s undergraduate years, he would most certainly have followed the standard curriculum of classics, rhetoric, and mathematics. In 1654 he obtained his BA, graduating top of the list for Trinity that year. In June of the same year Dryden’s father died, leaving him some land which generated a little income, but not enough to live on.

Arriving in London during The Protectorate
The Protectorate
In British history, the Protectorate was the period 1653–1659 during which the Commonwealth of England was governed by a Lord Protector.-Background:...

, Dryden procured work with Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe
John Thurloe
John Thurloe was a secretary to the council of state in Protectorate England and spymaster for Oliver Cromwell.-Life:...

. This appointment may have been the result of influence exercised on his behalf by the Lord Chamberlain, Sir Gilbert Pickering
Gilbert Pickering
Sir Gilbert Pickering, 1st Baronet was a regicide, a member of the English Council of State during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, and a member of Cromwell's Upper House.-Biography:...

, Dryden’s cousin. Dryden was present at Cromwell’s funeral on 23 November 1658 where he processed with the Puritan poets John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

 and Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell was an English metaphysical poet, Parliamentarian, and the son of a Church of England clergyman . As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert...

. Shortly thereafter he published his first important poem, Heroique Stanzas (1658), a eulogy on Cromwell’s death which is cautious and prudent in its emotional display. In 1660 Dryden celebrated the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 of the monarchy and the return of Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 with Astraea Redux
Astraea Redux
Astraea Redux, written by John Dryden in 1660, is a full-blown royalist panegyric in which Dryden welcomes the new regime of King Charles II. It is a vivid emotional display that overshadows the cautious Heroique Stanzas that Dryden composed for Oliver Cromwell’s death...

, an authentic royalist panegyric
Panegyric
A panegyric is a formal public speech, or written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and discriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical. It is derived from the Greek πανηγυρικός meaning "a speech fit for a general assembly"...

. In this work the interregnum is illustrated as a time of anarchy, and Charles is seen as the restorer of peace and order.

Later life and career


After the Restoration, Dryden quickly established himself as the leading poet and literary critic of his day and he transferred his allegiances to the new government. Along with Astraea Redux, Dryden welcomed the new regime with two more panegyrics; To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric on his Coronation (1662), and To My Lord Chancellor (1662). These poems suggest that Dryden was looking to court a possible patron, but he was to instead make a living in writing for publishers, not for the aristocracy, and thus ultimately for the reading public. These, and his other nondramatic poems, are occasional—that is, they celebrate public events. Thus they are written for the nation rather than the self, and the Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events...

 (as he would later become) is obliged to write a certain number of these per annum. In November 1662 Dryden was proposed for membership in the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, and he was elected an early fellow. However, Dryden was inactive in Society affairs and in 1666 was expelled for non-payment of his dues.



On 1 December 1663 Dryden married the royalist sister of Sir Robert Howard
Robert Howard (playwright)
Sir Robert Howard was an English playwright and politician, born to Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Berkshire and his wife Elizabeth.-Life:...

—Lady Elizabeth. Dryden’s works occasionally contain outbursts against the married state but also celebrations of the same. Thus, little is known of the intimate side of his marriage. Lady Elizabeth however, was to bear him three sons and outlive him.

With the reopening of the theatres after the Puritan ban, Dryden busied himself with the composition of plays. His first play, The Wild Gallant
The Wild Gallant
The Wild Gallant is a Restoration comedy written by John Dryden. It was Dryden's earliest play, and written in prose, not verse; it was premiered on the stage by the King's Company at their Vere Street theatre, formerly Gibbon's Tennis Court, on February 5, 1663...

appeared in 1663 and was not successful, but he was to have more success, and from 1668 on he was contracted to produce three plays a year for the King's Company
King's Company
The King's Company was one of two enterprises granted the rights to mount theatrical productions in London at the start of the English Restoration. It existed from 1660 to 1682.-History:...

 in which he was also to become a shareholder. During the 1660s and 70s theatrical writing was to be his main source of income. He led the way in Restoration comedy
Restoration comedy
Restoration comedy refers to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a renaissance of English drama...

, his best known work being Marriage à la Mode (1672), as well as heroic tragedy and regular tragedy, in which his greatest success was All for Love (1678). Dryden was never satisfied with his theatrical writings and frequently suggested that his talents were wasted on unworthy audiences. He thus was making a bid for poetic fame off-stage. In 1667, around the same time his dramatic career began, he published Annus Mirabilis
Annus Mirabilis (poem)
thumb|right|200px| The Great Fire of London, which took place on September 2, 1666, was one of the major events that affected [[England]] during Dryden's "year of miracles"....

, a lengthy historical poem which described the events of 1666; the English defeat of the Dutch naval fleet and the Great Fire of London. It was a modern epic in pentameter quatrains that established him as the preeminent poet of his generation, and was crucial in his attaining the posts of Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events...

 (1668) and historiographer royal (1670).

When the Great Plague of London
Great Plague of London
The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease in the Kingdom of England that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population. The disease is identified as bubonic plague, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted through a flea vector...

 closed the theatres in 1665 Dryden retreated to Wiltshire where he wrote Of Dramatick Poesie (1668), arguably the best of his unsystematic prefaces and essays. Dryden constantly defended his own literary practice, and Of Dramatick Poesie, the longest of his critical works, takes the form of a dialogue in which four characters–each based on a prominent contemporary, with Dryden himself as ‘Neander’—debate the merits of classical, French and English drama. The greater part of his critical works introduce problems which he is eager to discuss, and show the work of a writer of independent mind who feels strongly about his own ideas, ideas which demonstrate the incredible breadth of his reading. He felt strongly about the relation of the poet to tradition and the creative process, and his best heroic play Aureng-zebe
Aureng-zebe
Aureng-zebe is a Restoration drama by John Dryden, 1675 based loosely on the figures of Aurangzeb , the then-reigning Mughal Emperor of India; his brother, Murad Baksh ; and their father Shah Jahan . The piece was Dryden's last drama to be written in rhymed verse...

(1675) has a prologue which denounces the use of rhyme in serious drama. His play All for Love (1678) was written in blank verse, and was to immediately follow Aureng-Zebe. In 1679 he was attacked in an alley near his home in Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...

 by thugs hired by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester , styled Viscount Wilmot between 1652 and 1658, was an English Libertine poet, a friend of King Charles II, and the writer of much satirical and bawdy poetry. He was the toast of the Restoration court and a patron of the arts...

, with whom he had a long-standing conflict.

Dryden's greatest achievements were in satiric verse: the mock-heroic MacFlecknoe
MacFlecknoe
Mac Flecknoe is a verse mock-heroic satire written by John Dryden. It is a direct attack on Thomas Shadwell, another prominent poet of the time...

, a more personal product of his Laureate years, was a lampoon circulated in manuscript and an attack on the playwright Thomas Shadwell
Thomas Shadwell
Thomas Shadwell was an English poet and playwright who was appointed poet laureate in 1689.-Life:Shadwell was born at Stanton Hall, Norfolk, and educated at Bury St Edmunds School, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1656. He left the university without a degree, and...

. Dryden's main goal in the work is to "satirize Shadwell, ostensibly for his offenses against literature but more immediately we may suppose for his habitual badgering of him on the stage and in print." It is not a belittling form of satire, but rather one which makes his object great in ways which are unexpected, transferring the ridiculous into poetry. This line of satire continued with Absalom and Achitophel
Absalom and Achitophel
Absalom and Achitophel is a landmark poetic political satire by John Dryden. The poem exists in two parts. The first part, of 1681, is undoubtedly by Dryden...

(1681) and The Medal (1682). His other major works from this period are the religious poems Religio Laici (1682), written from the position of a member of the Church of England; his 1683 edition of Plutarch's Lives Translated From the Greek by Several Hands in which he introduced the word biography
Biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

 to English readers; and The Hind and the Panther
The Hind and the Panther
The Hind and the Panther: A Poem, in Three Parts is an allegory in heroic couplets by John Dryden. At some 2600 lines it is much the longest of Dryden's poems, translations excepted, and perhaps the most controversial...

,
(1687) which celebrates his conversion to Roman Catholicism.
When in 1688 James was deposed, Dryden’s refusal to take the oaths of allegiance to the new government left him out of favour at court. Thomas Shadwell succeeded him as Poet Laureate, and he was forced to give up his public offices and live by the proceeds of his pen. Dryden translated works by Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

, Juvenal, Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

, and Theocritus
Theocritus
Theocritus , the creator of ancient Greek bucolic poetry, flourished in the 3rd century BC.-Life:Little is known of Theocritus beyond what can be inferred from his writings. We must, however, handle these with some caution, since some of the poems commonly attributed to him have little claim to...

, a task which he found far more satisfying than writing for the stage. In 1694 he began work on what would be his most ambitious and defining work as translator, The Works of Virgil (1697), which was published by subscription. The publication of the translation of Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 was a national event and brought Dryden the sum of ₤1,400. His final translations appeared in the volume Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), a series of episodes from Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, and Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, a friend, student, and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular...

, as well as modernized adaptations from Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 interspersed with Dryden’s own poems. The Preface to Fables is considered to be both a major work of criticism and one of the finest essays in English. As a critic and translator he was essential in making accessible to the reading English public literary works in the classical languages.

Dryden died on May 1, 1700, and was initially buried in St. Anne's cemetery in Soho, before being exhumed and reburied in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

 ten days later. He was the subject of various poetic eulogies, such as Luctus Brittannici: or the Tears of the British Muses; for the Death of John Dryden, Esq. (London, 1700), and The Nine Muses
The Nine Muses
The Nine Muses, Or, Poems Written by Nine severall Ladies Upon the death of the late Famous John Dryden, Esq. was an elegiac volume of poetry published pseudonymously. The contributors were English women writers, each of whom signed their poems with the names of Muses...

.

Reputation and influence


Dryden was the dominant literary figure and influence of his age. He established the heroic couplet
Heroic couplet
A heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used for epic and narrative poetry; it refers to poems constructed from a sequence of rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter lines. The rhyme is always masculine. Use of the heroic couplet was first pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in...

 as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, compliments, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine
Alexandrine
An alexandrine is a line of poetic meter comprising 12 syllables. Alexandrines are common in the German literature of the Baroque period and in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods. Drama in English often used alexandrines before Marlowe and Shakespeare, by whom it was supplanted...

 and triplet into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet—Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

 referred to him as "the master of the middle style"—that was a model for his contemporaries and for much of the 18th century. The considerable loss felt by the English literary community at his death was evident from the elegies that it inspired. Dryden's heroic couplet became the dominant poetic form of the 18th century. The most influential poet of the 18th century, Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

, was heavily influenced by Dryden, and often borrowed from him; other writers were equally influenced by Dryden and Pope. Pope famously praised Dryden's versification in his imitation of Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

's Epistle II.i: "Dryden taught to join / The varying pause, the full resounding line, / The long majestic march, and energy divine." Samuel Johnson summed up the general attitude with his remark that "the veneration with which his name is pronounced by every cultivator of English literature, is paid to him as he refined the language, improved the sentiments, and tuned the numbers of English poetry." His poems were very widely read, and are often quoted, for instance, in Tom Jones
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones, is a comic novel by the English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. First published on 28 February 1749, Tom Jones is among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel...

and Johnson's essays.

Johnson also noted, however, that "He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetic; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others. Simplicity gave him no pleasure." The first half of the 18th century did not mind this too much, but in later generations, this was increasingly considered a fault.

One of the first attacks on Dryden's reputation was by Wordsworth, who complained that Dryden's descriptions of natural objects in his translations from Virgil were much inferior to the originals. However, several of Wordsworth’s contemporaries, such as George Crabbe
George Crabbe
George Crabbe was an English poet and naturalist.-Biography:He was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, the son of a tax collector, and developed his love of poetry as a child. In 1768, he was apprenticed to a local doctor, who taught him little, and in 1771 he changed masters and moved to Woodbridge...

, Lord Byron, and Walter Scott
Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time....

 (who edited Dryden's works), were still keen admirers of Dryden. Besides, Wordsworth did admire many of Dryden's poems, and his famous "Intimations of Immortality" ode owes something stylistically to Dryden's "Alexander's Feast
Alexander's Feast (Dryden)
Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music is an ode by John Dryden. It was written to celebrate Saint Cecilia's Day. Jeremiah Clarke set the original ode to music, however the score is now lost....

". John Keats
John Keats
John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

 admired the "Fables," and imitated them in his poem Lamia. Later 19th century writers had little use for verse satire, Pope, or Dryden; Matthew Arnold famously dismissed them as "classics of our prose." He did have a committed admirer in George Saintsbury
George Saintsbury
George Edward Bateman Saintsbury , was an English writer, literary historian, scholar and critic.-Biography:...

, and was a prominent figure in quotation books such as Bartlett's, but the next major poet to take an interest in Dryden was T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

, who wrote that he was 'the ancestor of nearly all that is best in the poetry of the eighteenth century', and that 'we cannot fully enjoy or rightly estimate a hundred years of English poetry unless we fully enjoy Dryden.' However, in the same essay, Eliot accused Dryden of having a "commonplace mind." Critical interest in Dryden has increased recently, but, as a relatively straightforward writer (William Empson
William Empson
Sir William Empson was an English literary critic and poet.He was known as "燕卜荪" in Chinese.He was widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works, fundamental to the New Critics...

, another modern admirer of Dryden, compared his "flat" use of language with Donne's interest in the "echoes and recesses of words") his work has not occasioned as much interest as Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell was an English metaphysical poet, Parliamentarian, and the son of a Church of England clergyman . As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert...

's or John Donne
John Donne
John Donne 31 March 1631), English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest, is now considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are notable for their strong and sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs,...

's or Pope's.

Dryden is also believed to be the first person to posit that English sentences should not end in prepositions because it was against the rules of Latin grammar. Dryden created the prescription against preposition stranding
Preposition stranding
Preposition stranding, sometimes called P-stranding, is the syntactic construction in which a preposition with an object occurs somewhere other than immediately adjacent to its object...

 in 1672 when he objected to Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's 1611 phrase the bodies that those souls were frightened from, although he didn't provide an explanation of the rationale that gave rise to his preference.

Poetic style


What Dryden achieved in his poetry was not the emotional excitement we find in the Romantic poets of the early nineteenth century, nor the intellectual complexities of the metaphysical poets
Metaphysical poets
The metaphysical poets is a term coined by the poet and critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of British lyric poets of the 17th century, who shared an interest in metaphysical concerns and a common way of investigating them, and whose work was characterized by inventiveness of metaphor...

. His subject-matter was often factual, and he aimed at expressing his thoughts in the most precise and concentrated way possible. Although he uses formal poetic structures such as heroic stanzas and heroic couplets, he tried to achieve the rhythms of speech. However, he knew that different subjects need different kinds of verse, and in his preface to Religio Laici he wrote: “...the expressions of a poem designed purely for instruction ought to be plain and natural, yet majestic...The florid, elevated and figurative way is for the passions; for (these) are begotten in the soul by showing the objects out of their true proportion....A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reasoned into truth.”

Selected works

  • Astraea Redux
    Astraea Redux
    Astraea Redux, written by John Dryden in 1660, is a full-blown royalist panegyric in which Dryden welcomes the new regime of King Charles II. It is a vivid emotional display that overshadows the cautious Heroique Stanzas that Dryden composed for Oliver Cromwell’s death...

    , 1660
  • The Wild Gallant
    The Wild Gallant
    The Wild Gallant is a Restoration comedy written by John Dryden. It was Dryden's earliest play, and written in prose, not verse; it was premiered on the stage by the King's Company at their Vere Street theatre, formerly Gibbon's Tennis Court, on February 5, 1663...

    (comedy), 1663
  • The Indian Emperour
    The Indian Emperour
    The Indian Emperour, or the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, being the Sequel of The Indian Queen is an English Restoration era stage play, a heroic drama written by John Dryden that was first performed in the Spring of 1665...

    (tragedy), 1665
  • Annus Mirabilis
    Annus Mirabilis (poem)
    thumb|right|200px| The Great Fire of London, which took place on September 2, 1666, was one of the major events that affected [[England]] during Dryden's "year of miracles"....

    (poem), 1667
  • The Enchanted Island
    The Tempest (Dryden)
    The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island is a comedy adapted by John Dryden and William D'Avenant from Shakespeare's comedy The Tempest. The musical setting, previously attributed to Henry Purcell, and probably for the London revival of 1712, was very probably by John Weldon.The Dryden/Davenant...

    (comedy), 1667, an adaptation with William D'Avenant of Shakespeare's
    William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

     The Tempest
  • Secret Love, or The Maiden Queen
    The Maiden Queen
    Secret Love, or The Maiden Queen is a 1667 tragicomedy written by John Dryden. The play, commonly known by its more distinctive subtitle, was acted by the King's Company at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane . The premiere occurred on 2 March, and was a popular success...

    , 1667
  • An Essay of Dramatick Poesie
    Essay of Dramatick Poesie
    Essay of Dramatic Poesy by John Dryden was published in 1668. It was probably written during the plague year of 1666. Dryden takes up the subject that Philip Sidney had set forth in his Defence of Poesie and attempts to justify drama as a legitimate form of "poetry" comparable to the epic, as...

    , 1668
  • An Evening's Love
    An Evening's Love
    An Evening's Love, or The Mock Astrologer is a comedy in prose by John Dryden. It was first performed before Charles II and Queen Catherine by the King's Company at the Theatre Royal on Bridges Street, London, on Friday, 12 June 1668...

    (comedy), 1668
  • Tyrannick Love
    Tyrannick Love
    Tyrannick Love, or The Royal Martyr is a tragedy by John Dryden in rhymed couplets, first acted in June 1669, and published in 1670. It is a retelling of the story of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and her martyrdom by the Roman Emperor Maximinus, the "tyrant" of the title, who is enraged at...

    (tragedy), 1669
  • The Conquest of Granada
    The Conquest of Granada
    The Conquest of Granada is a Restoration era stage play, a two-part tragedy written by John Dryden that was first acted in 1670 and 1671 and published in 1672...

    , 1670
  • The Assignation, or Love in a Nunnery
    The Assignation
    The Assignation, or Love in a Nunnery is a Restoration comedy written by John Dryden. The play was first acted late in 1672, by the King's Company at their theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields, but was not a success with its audience....

    , 1672
  • Marriage à la mode, 1672
  • Amboyna
    Amboyna (play)
    Amboyna, or the Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants is a tragedy by John Dryden written in 1673. Its subject is the Amboyna massacre that took place on Ambon Island in 1623....

    , or the Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants
    , 1673
  • The Mistaken Husband
    The Mistaken Husband
    The Mistaken Husband is a Restoration comedy in the canon of John Dryden's dramatic works, where it has constituted a long-standing authorship problem.-Performance and publication:...

    (comedy), 1674
  • Aureng-zebe
    Aureng-zebe
    Aureng-zebe is a Restoration drama by John Dryden, 1675 based loosely on the figures of Aurangzeb , the then-reigning Mughal Emperor of India; his brother, Murad Baksh ; and their father Shah Jahan . The piece was Dryden's last drama to be written in rhymed verse...

    , 1675
  • All for Love, 1678
  • Oedipus (heroic drama), 1679, an adaptation with Nathaniel Lee
    Nathaniel Lee
    Nathaniel Lee was an English dramatist.He was the son of Dr Richard Lee, a Presbyterian clergyman who was rector of Hatfield and held many preferments under the Commonwealth...

     of Sophocles
    Sophocles
    Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

    ' Oedipus
    Oedipus
    Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

  • Absalom and Achitophel
    Absalom and Achitophel
    Absalom and Achitophel is a landmark poetic political satire by John Dryden. The poem exists in two parts. The first part, of 1681, is undoubtedly by Dryden...

    , 1681
  • The Spanish Fryar, 1681
  • MacFlecknoe
    MacFlecknoe
    Mac Flecknoe is a verse mock-heroic satire written by John Dryden. It is a direct attack on Thomas Shadwell, another prominent poet of the time...

    , 1682
  • The Medal, 1682
  • Religio Laici, 1682
  • Threnodia Augustalis
    Threnodia Augustalis
    The Threnodia Augustalis is a 517-line occasional poem written by John Dryden to commemorate the death of Charles II in February 1685. The poem was "rushed into print" within a month. The title is a reference to the classical threnody, a poem of mourning, and to Charles as a "new Augustus"...

    , 1685
  • The Hind and the Panther
    The Hind and the Panther
    The Hind and the Panther: A Poem, in Three Parts is an allegory in heroic couplets by John Dryden. At some 2600 lines it is much the longest of Dryden's poems, translations excepted, and perhaps the most controversial...

    , 1687
  • A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687
  • Amphitryon
    Amphitryon (Dryden)
    Amphitryon is an English language comedy by John Dryden which is based on Molière's 1668 play of the same name which was in turn based on the story of the Greek mythological character Amphitryon as told by Plautus in his play from ca. 190-185 B.C. Dryden's play, which focuses on themes of sexual...

    , 1690
  • Don Sebastian, 1690
  • Creator Spirit, by whose aid, 1690. Translation of Rabanus Maurus
    Rabanus Maurus
    Rabanus Maurus Magnentius , also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. He was the author of the encyclopaedia De rerum naturis . He also wrote treatises on education and grammar and commentaries on the Bible...

    ' Veni Creator Spiritus
    Veni Creator Spiritus
    Veni Creator Spiritus is a hymn believed to have been written by Rabanus Maurus in the 9th century. It is normally sung in Gregorian Chant and often associated with the Roman Catholic Church, where it is performed during the liturgical celebration of the feast of Pentecost...

  • King Arthur
    King Arthur (opera)
    King Arthur or, The British Worthy , is a semi-opera in five acts with music by Henry Purcell and alibretto by John Dryden. It was first performed at the Queen's Theatre, Dorset Garden, London, in late May or early June 1691....

    , 1691
  • Cleomenes
    Cleomenes
    Cleomenes may refer to:* one of several kings of Sparta:** Cleomenes I ** Cleomenes II ** Cleomenes III *Cleomenes of Naucratis, a Greek administrator*Cleomenes the Cynic Cynic philosopher...

    , 1692
  • Love Triumphant, 1694
  • The Works of Virgil
    Virgil
    Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

    , 1697
  • Alexander's Feast
    Alexander's Feast (Dryden)
    Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music is an ode by John Dryden. It was written to celebrate Saint Cecilia's Day. Jeremiah Clarke set the original ode to music, however the score is now lost....

    , 1697
  • Fables, Ancient and Modern
    Fables, Ancient and Modern
    Fables, Ancient and Modern was a collection of translations of classical and medieval poetry by John Dryden interspersed with some of Dryden’s own works. Published in March, 1700, it was his last and also one of his greatest works...

    , 1700
  • The Art of Satire
  • To the Memory of Mr. Oldham
    To the Memory of Mr. Oldham
    "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" is an elegy written by John Dryden , commemorating the death of the poet John Oldham.-Poem:Farewell, too little, and too lately known,Whom I began to think and call my own:...

    , 1684

External links