Thursday, May 12, 2011

Glorious John

John Dryden, or "glorious John", as Sir Walter Scott calls him in "The Pirate", died this day, May 12, 1700.  Dryden became Poet Laureate in 1688, and is regarded as one of the greatest poets of England, despite having to produce an enormous volume of poetry, which, it is felt, may lead to a diminution of quality. 

On this score, no less a poet than Alexander Pope credits Dryden with being capable of much sustained effort.  From Spence's Anecdotes: 'I began translating the Iliad in my twenty- fifth year (1712), and it took up that, and five years more to finish it. Mr. Dryden, though they always talk of his being hurried so much, was as long in translating Virgil ; but indeed he wrote plays and other things in the same period.'

Scott himself wrote of this criticism of Dryden in his "The Dramatic Works of John Dryden", the first parapragh of which is below:


'The Life of Dryden may be said to comprehend a history of the Literature of England, and its changes, during nearly half a century. While his great contemporary Milton was in silence and secrecy laying the foundation of that immortal fame, which no poet has so highly deserved Dryden's labours were ever in the eye of the public; and he maintained, from the time of the Restoration till his death, in 1700, a decided and acknowledged superiority over all the poets of his age. As he wrote from necessity, he was obliged to pay a certain deference to the public opinion; for he, whose bread depends upon the success of his volume, is compelled to study popularity; but, on the other hand, his better judgment was often directed to improve that of his readers; so that he alternately influenced and stooped to the national taste of the day. If, therefore, we would know the gradual changes which took place in our poetry during the above period, we have only to consult the writings of an author, who produced yearly some new performance allowed to be most excellent in the particular style which was fashionable for the time. It is the object of this memoir to connect, with the account of Dryden's life and publications such a general view of the literature of the time, as may enable the reader to estimate how far the age was indebted to the poet, and how far the poet was influenced by the taste and manners of the age. A few preliminary remarks on the literature of the earlier part of the seventeenth century will form a necessary introduction to this biographical memoir...'

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