Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Dryden, John
DRYDEN, John (1631-1700), the poet, born on the 9th of August 1631, at Aldwinkle, in Northamptonshire, was of Cumberland stock, though his family had been settled for three generations in Northamptonshire, had acquired estates and a baronetcy, and intermarried with landed families in that county. His great-grandfather, who first carried the name south, and acquired by marriage the estate of Canons Ashby, is said to have known Erasmus, and to have been so proud of the great scholar's friendship that he gave the name of Erasmus to his eldest son. The name Erasmus was borne by the poet's father, the third son of Sir Erasmus Dryden. The leanings and connections of the family were Puritan and anti-monarchical. Sir Erasmus Dryden went to prison rather than pay loan money to Charles I.; the poet's uncle, Sir John Dryden, and his father Erasmus, served on Government commissions during the Commonwealth. His mother's family, the Pickerings, were still more prominent on the Puritan side. Sir Gilbert Pickering, his cousin, was chamberlain to the Protector, and was made a peer in 1658.
Dryden's education was such as became a scion of these respectable families of squires and rectors, among whom the chance contact with Erasmus had left a certain tradition of scholarship. His father, whose own fortune, added to his wife's, the daughter of the rector of Aldwinkle All Saints, was not large, and whose family, of whom the poet was the eldest, amounted to fourteen, procured him admission to Westminster School as a king's scholar, under the famous Dr Busby. Some elegiac verses which Dryden wrote there on the death of a young Lord Hastings, in 1649, had the distinction of being published in a volume called Lacrymæ Musarum, among other elegies by "divers persons of nobility and worth" in commemoration of the same event. He appeared soon after again in print, among writers of commendatory verses to a friend of his, John Hoddesdon, who published a little volume of religious poetry in 1650. Dryden's contribution is signed "John Dryden of Trinity C.," he having gone up from Westminster to Cambridge in May 1650. He was elected a scholar of Trinity on the Westminster foundation in October of the same year, and took his degree of B.A. in 1654. The only recorded incident of his college residence is some unexplained act of contumacy to the vice-master, for which he was "put out of commons" and "gated" for a fortnight. No inference can be built upon this as to Dryden's habits at the university. Contumacy to authorities was not a feature in his later life. His father died in 1654, leaving him master of two-thirds of a small estate near Blakesley, worth about £60 a year. The next three years he is said to have spent at Cambridge. It was then probably that he laid the foundation of that habit of learned discussion of literary methods which is so remarkable a feature in the prefaces to his plays and poems. Not content with doing a thing, like writers who are suddenly placed under the necessity of writing, Dryden must always be arguing as to how it ought to be done, pushing on argumentative justification in advance of execution. Whether or not he spent the three years before 1657 at Cambridge, there can be little doubt, judging from internal evidence, that he spent them somewhere in study; for his first considerable poem bears indisputable marks of scholarly habits, as well as of a command of verse that could not have been acquired without practice.
The middle of 1657 is given as the date of his leaving the university to take up his residence in London. In one of his many subsequent literary quarrels, it was said by Shadwell that he had been clerk to Sir Gilbert Pickering, his cousin, the favourite of Cromwell; and nothing could be more likely than that he obtained some employment under his powerful cousin when he came to London. He first emerged from obscurity with his Heroic Stanzas to the memory of the Protector, who died September 3, 1658. That these stanzas should have made him a name as a poet does not appear surprising when we compare them with Waller's verses on the same occasion. Dryden took some time to consider them, and it was impossible that they should not give an impression of his intellectual strength. Donne was his model; it is obvious that both his ear and his imagination were saturated with Donne's elegiac strains when he wrote; yet when we look beneath the surface, we find unmistakable traces that the pupil was not without decided theories that ran counter to the practice of the master. It is plainly not by accident that each stanza contains one clear-cut brilliant point. The poem is an academic exercise, and it seems to be animated by an undercurrent of strong contumacious protest against the irregularities tolerated by the authorities. Dryden had studied the ancient classics for himself, and their method of uniformity and elaborate finish commended itself to his robust and orderly mind. In itself the poem is a magnificent tribute to the memory of Cromwell. Now that the glittering style of the so-called "metaphysical poets" has gone very far out of fashion, it requires an effort, a deliberate dismissal of prejudice, to enjoy such a poem. A poet writing now on such a man would present his grandeur in a much more direct and simple way. Yet judged in the spirit of its own style, Dryden's is a noble poem. The recognition of Cromwell's greatness is full and ample. The thought in each stanza, the inclosing design of each of the parts of the edifice, is massive and imposing, although the massiveness is not presented in its naked simplicity, so as to hold the foremost place in the eye—the gaze being arrested by glittering accidents, so that the essential grandeur of the mass is disguised and diminished. We are not invited to dwell upon the grand outline; we are not called upon to surrender ourselves to its simple impressiveness; but it is there, although the author does not insist upon it, and rather deprecates it, waves it off, and challenges our admiration of some artificial centre of attraction. It is the ornamental centre upon which the art of the poet has laboured, not the effect of the massive whole; still there is loftiness and nobility in the scope of the work, if our prejudices in favour of a less adorned workmanship permit us to feel it.
From a moral point of view, Dryden's next appearance as a poet is not creditable. To those who regard the poet as a seer with a sacred mission, and refuse the name altogether to a literary manufacturer to order, it comes with a certain shock to find Dryden, the hereditary Puritan, the panegyrist of Cromwell, hailing the return of King Charles in Astræa Redux, deploring his long absence, and proclaiming the despair with which he had seen "the rebel thrive, the loyal crost." From a literary point of view also, Astræa Redux is very inferior to the Heroic Stanzas; Dryden had need of Waller's clever excuse that it is easier to praise a bad man than a good, because the essence of poetry is fiction. And it was not merely in thus hastening to welcome the coming guest, and recant all praise of his rival, that Dryden showed a shamelessly accommodating spirit, and placed himself in such unpleasant contrast to the greater poet who was waiting his fate in all but friendless blindness. It might have been expected of one with his Puritan connections and scholarly training that, if he purposed making a living by the stage, which was restored with Charles, his literary as well as his moral conscience would have required him to make some effort to raise or at least not to lower its tone. But Dryden seems to have had no higher ambition than to make some money by his pen. He naturally first thought of tragedy,—his own genius, as he has informed us, inclining him rather to that species of composition; and in the first year of the Restoration he wrote a tragedy on the fate of the duke of Guise. But some friends advised him that its construction was not suited to the requirements of the stage, so he put it aside, and used only one scene of the original play later on, when he again attempted the subject with a more practised hand. Having failed to write a suitable tragedy, he next turned his attention to comedy, although, as he admitted, he had little natural turn for it. He was very frank afterwards in explaining his reasons for writing comedy. "I confess," he said, in a short essay in his own defence, printed before The Indian Emperor, "my chief endeavours are to delight the age in which I live. If the humour of this be for low comedy, small accidents, and raillery, I will force my genius to obey it, though with more reputation I could write in verse. I know I am not so fitted by nature to write comedy; I want that gaiety of humour which is required to it. My conversation is slow and dull; my humour saturnine and reserved; in short, I am none of those who endeavour to break jests in company or make repartees. So that those who decry my comedies do me no injury, except it be in point of profit; reputation in them is the last thing to which I shall pretend." This, of course, was said by Dryden standing at bay; there was some bravado, but also a great deal of frank truth in it. He was really as well as ostentatiously a play wright; the age demanded comedies, and he endeavoured to supply the kind of comedy that the age demanded. His first attempt was unsuccessful. Bustle, intrigue, and coarsely humorous dialogue seemed to him to be part of the popular demand; and, looking about for a plot, he found something to suit him in a Spanish source, and wrote The Wild Gallant. The play was acted in February 1663, by Killigrew's company in Vere Street. It was not a success, although the most farcical incident received a certain interest and probability from a story which was current at the time. That a student, fresh from his library, trying to hit the taste of the groundlings with ribald farce, should make the ingredients too strong even for their palates, was but natural. Pepys showed good judgment in pronouncing the play "so poor a thing as ever I saw in my life." That such a play should be written by Dryden, and acted in by one of the daughters of Stephen Marshall, must have been a bitter thought for Puritanism at the time. Dryden never learned moderation in his humour; there is a student's clumsiness and extravagance in his indecency; the plays of Etherege, a man of the world, have not the uncouth riotousness of Dryden's. Of this he seems to have been conscious, for when the play was revived, in 1667, he complained in the epilogue of the difficulty of comic wit, and admitted the right of a common audience to judge of the wit's success. Dryden, indeed, took a lesson from the failure of The Wild Gallant; his next comedy, The Rival Ladies, also founded on a Spanish plot, produced before the end of 1663, was correctly described by Pepys as "a very innocent and most pretty witty play," though there was much in it which the taste of our time would consider indelicate. But he never quite conquered his tendency to extravagance. The Wild Gallant was not the only victim. The Assignation, or Love in a Nunnery, produced in 1673, shared the same fate; and even as late as 1680, when he had had twenty years experience to guide him, Limberham, or the Kind Keeper, was prohibited, after three representations, as being too indecent for the stage. Dislike to indecency we are apt to think a somewhat ludicrous pretext to be made by Restoration play goers, and probably there was some other reason for the sacrifice of Limberham; still there is a certain savageness in the spirit of Dryden's indecency which we do not find in his most licentious contemporaries. The undisciplined force of the man carried him to an excess from which more dexterous writers held back.
After the production of The Rival Ladies in 1663, Dryden assisted Sir Robert Howard in the composition of a tragedy in heroic verse, The Indian Queen, produced with great splendour in January 1664. It was probably through this collaboration that Dryden made the acquaintance of Lady Elizabeth Howard, Sir Robert's sister, whom he married on the 1st of December 1663. Lady Elizabeth's reputation was somewhat compromised before this union, and, though she brought some small addition to the poet's income, she does not seem to have added to his happiness. The Indian Queen was a great success, one of the greatest since the reopening of the theatres. This was in all likelihood due much less to the heroic verse and the exclusion of comic scenes from the tragedy than to the magnificent scenic accessories the battles and sacrifices on the stage, the aerial demons singing in the air, and the god of dreams ascending through a trap. The novelty of these Indian spectacles, as well as of the Indian characters, with the splendid Queen Zempoalla, acted by Mrs Marshall in a real Indian dress of feathers presented to her by Mrs Aphra Behn, as the centre of the play, was the chief secret of the success of The Indian Queen. These melodramatic properties were so marked a novelty that they could not fail to draw the town. The heroic verse formed but a small ingredient in the play; still, being also a novelty which had just been introduced by Davenant in The Siege of Rhodes, it interested the scholarly part of the audience, and so helped to consolidate the success of the stage carpenter. Dryden was tempted to return to tragedy: he followed up The Indian Queen with The Indian Emperor, which was acted in 1665, and also proved a success.
But Dryden was not content with writing tragedies in rhymed verse. Taking it up with enthusiasm as the only thing which the Elizabethan dramatists had left for their successors to excel in, he propounded the propriety of rhyme in serious plays as a thesis for discussion, and made it the prominent question of the day among men of letters. He took up the question immediately after the success of The Indian Queen, in the preface to an edition of The Rival Ladies. In that first statement of his case, he considered the chief objection to the use of rhyme, and urged his chief argument in its favour. Rhyme was not natural, some people had said; to which he answers that it is as natural as blank verse, and that much of its unnaturalness is not the fault of the rhyme but of the writer, who has not sufficient command of language to rhyme easily. In favour of rhyme he has to say that it at once stimulates the imagination, and prevents it from being too discursive in its flights. During the Great Plague, when the theatres were closed, and Dryden was living in the country at the house of his father-in-law, the earl of Berkshire, he occupied a considerable part of his time in thinking over the principles of dramatic composition, and threw his meditations and conclusions into the form of a dialogue, which he called an Essay of Dramatic Poetry, and published in 1668. One of the main topics of the essay was the admissibility of rhyme in serious plays, Dryden making Neander, the interlocutor who represents himself, repeat with fresh illustrations all that he had said in its favour. By this time, however, Sir R. Howard, his brother-in-law, whom he had joined in writing the rhymed Indian Queen, had changed his mind about the heroic couplet, and made some offensive comments on Dryden's essay in a hoity-toity preface to The Duke of Lerma. Dryden at once replied to his brother-in-law in a masterpiece of sarcastic retort and vigorous reasoning, publishing his reply as a preface to The Indian Emperor. It is the ablest and most complete statement of his views about the employment of rhymed couplets in tragedy.
Before his return to town at the end of 1666, when the theatres were reopened, Dryden wrote a poem on the Dutch war and the Great Fire, entitled Annus Mirabilis. The poem is in quatrains, the metre of his Heroic Stanzas in praise of Cromwell, which Dryden chose, he tells us, "because he had ever judged it more noble and of greater dignity both for the sound and number than any other verse in use amongst us." The preface to the poem contains an interesting discussion of what he calls "wit-writing," introduced by the remark that "the composition of all poems is or ought to be of wit." His description of the Fire is a famous specimen of this wit-writing, much more careless and daring, and much more difficult to sympathize with, than the graver conceits in his panegyric of the Protector. In Annus Mirabilis the poet apostrophizes the newly founded Royal Society, of which he had been elected a member in 1662, more probably through personal connection than on the ground of scientific attainments.
From the reopening of the theatres in 1666, till November 1681, the date of his Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden produced nothing but plays. The stage was his chief source of income. Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen, a tragi-comedy, produced in March 1667, does not come up to our expectations as the first-fruit of the author's rest from composition and prolonged study of dramatic art. The prologue claims that it is written with pains and thought, by the exactest rules, with strict observance of the unities, and "a mingled chime of Jonson's humour and of Corneille's rhyme;" but it owed its success chiefly to the charm of Nell Gwynne's acting in the part of Florimel. It is noticeable that only the more passionate parts of the dialogue are rhymed, Dryden's theory apparently being that rhyme is then demanded for the elevation of the style. His next play, Sir Martin Marall, an adaptation from Moliere's L'Etourdi, was produced at the Duke's Theatre, in the name of the duke of Newcastle. It was about this time that Dryden became a retained writer under contract for the King's Theatre, receiving from it £300 or £400 a year, till it was burnt down in 1672, and about £200 for six years more till the beginning of 1678. If Sir Martin Marall was written but not produced before this contract was entered into, one can understand why it was announced as the duke of Newcastle's. His co-operation with Davenant in a new version of Shakespeare's Tempest—for his share in which Dryden can hardly be pardoned on the ground that the chief alterations were happy thoughts of Davenant's, seeing that he affirms he never worked at anything with more delight—must also be supposed to be anterior to the completion of his contract with the Theatre Royal. The existence of the contract came to light from Dryden's non-fulfilment of its terms. He was engaged to write three plays a year, and he contributed only ten plays during the ten years of his engagement, finally exhausting the patience of his partners by joining in the composition of a play for the rival house. In adapting L'Etourdi, Dryden did not catch Moliere's lightness of touch; his alterations go towards making the comedy into a farce. Perhaps all the more on this account Sir Martin Marall had a great run at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields. As we have said, there is always a certain coarseness in Dryden's humour, apart from the coarseness of his age,—a certain forcible roughness of touch which belongs to the character of the man. His An Evening's Love, or the Mock Astrologer, an adaptation from the younger Corneille, produced at the King's Theatre in 1668, seemed to Pepys "very smutty, and nothing so good as The Maiden Queen or The Indian Emperor of Dryden's making." Evelyn thought it foolish and profane, and was grieved "to see how the stage was degenerated and polluted by the licentious times." Ladies à la Mode, another of Dryden's contract comedies, produced in 1668, was "so mean a thing," Pepys says, that it was only once acted, and Dryden never published it. Of his other comedies, Marriage à la Mode (produced 1672), Love in a Nunnery (1672), Limberham, or the Kind Keeper, only the first was moderately successful. The failure was not due to want of ribaldry.
While Dryden met with such indifferent success in his willing efforts to supply the demand of the age for low comedy, he struck upon a really popular and profitable vein in heroic tragedy. Tyrannic Love, or the Royal Martyr, a Roman play, in which St Catherine is introduced, and with her some striking supernatural machinery, was produced in 1669. It is in rhymed couplets, but the author again did not trust solely for success to them; for, besides the magic incantations, the singing angels, and the view of Paradise, he made Nell Gwynne, who had stabbed herself as Valeria, start to life again as she was being carried off the stage, and speak a riotously funny epilogue, in violent contrast to the serious character of the play. Almanzor and Almahide, or the Conquest of Granada, a tragedy in two parts, appeared in 1670. It seems to have given the crowning touch of provocation to the wits, who had never ceased to ridicule the popular taste for these extravagant heroic plays. Dryden almost invited burlesque in his epilogue to The Conquest of Granada, in which he charged the comedy of the Elizabethan age with coarseness and mechanical humour, and its conceptions of love and honour with meanness, and claimed for his own time and his own plays an advance in these respects. The Rehearsal, written by the duke of Buckingham, with the assistance, it was said, of Clifford, Sprat, and others, and produced in 1671, was a severe and just punishment for this boast. Dryden is here unmercifully ridiculed under the name of Bayes, he having obtained the laureateship from the king (with a pension of £300 a year and a butt of canary wine) in 1670. It is said that The Rehearsal was begun in 1663 and ready for representation before the Plague. But this probably only means that Buckingham and his friends were so tickled with the absurdities of Davenant's operatic heroes in The Siege of Rhodes, and the extravagant heroics of The Indian Queen, that they resolved to burlesque them. Materials accumulated upon them as the fashion continued, and by the time Dryden had produced his Tyrannic Love, and his Conquest of Granada, he had so established himself as the chief offender as to naturally become the centre of the burlesque. It is commonly said that Dryden passed over the attack on himself without reply, either because he admitted its justice or because he feared to offend the king's favourite. But this is not strictly so; his reply is contained in the dedication and preface to his Conquest of Granada; and his prose defence of the epilogue was published in 1672, in which, so far from laughing with his censors, he addresses them from the eminence of success, saying that "with the common good fortune of prosperous gamesters he can be content to sit quietly." Heroic verse, he assures them, is so established that few tragedies are likely henceforward to be written in any other metre, and he retorts upon their exposure of improbabilities in his plays, by criticizing the ridiculous incoherent stories and mean writing of Shakespeare and Jonson. Dignified reassertion of his positions was Dryden's way of meeting the ridicule of The Rehearsal. In the course of a year or two, The Conquest of Granada being attacked also by Settle, a rival playwright who had obtained considerable success, he had an opportunity of taking revenge in a style more suited to his sharp temper and power of severe writing.
Dryden's reply to The Rehearsal was lofty and firm. But though he put a bold face on a practice which it is but fair to suppose that he adopted only to supply a popular demand, he did not write many more heroic plays in rhyme. Perhaps the ridicule of The Rehearsal had destroyed their popularity. His next tragedy, Amboyna, an exhibition of certain atrocities committed by the Dutch on English merchants in the East Indies, put on the stage to inflame the public mind in view of the Dutch war, was written, with the exception of a few passages, in prose, and those passages in blank verse. An opera which he wrote in rhymed couplets, called The State of Innocence, or the Fall of Man, an attempt to turn part of Paradise Lost into rhyme, as a proof of its superiority to blank verse, was prefaced by an apology for heroic poetry and poetic licence, and published in 1674, but it was never acted. The redeeming circumstance about the performance is the admiration professed by the adapter for his original, which he pronounces "undoubtedly one of the greatest, most noble, and most sublime poems which either this age or nation has produced." Dryden is said to have had the elder poet's leave "to tag his verses." Aurengzebe was Dryden's last rhymed tragedy. In the prologue he confessed that he had grown weary of his long-loved mistress rhyme. But the stings of The Rehearsal had stimulated him to do his utmost to justify his devotion to his mistress. He claims that Aurengzebe is "the most correct" of his plays, and it is certainly superior, both in versification and in moderation of language, to its predecessors. It was acted in 1675, and published in the following year.
If Dryden had died in 1676, at the age of forty-five, he would have left a very inconsiderable name behind him. The fray between him and Settle might have been looked upon as a passage at arms between equals. After the production of Aurengzebe he seems to have rested for an interval from writing, enabled to do so, probably, by an additional pension of £100 granted to him by the king. During this interval he would seem to have reconsidered the principles of dramatic composition, and to have made a particular study of the works of Shakespeare. The fruits of this appeared in All for Love, or the World Well Lost, a version of the story of Antony and Cleopatra, produced in 1678, which must be regarded as a new departure in his dramatic career, a very remarkable departure for a man of his age, and a wonderful proof of undiminished openness and plasticity of mind. In his previous writings on dramatic theory, Dryden, while admiring the rhyme of the French dramatists as an advance in art, did not give the same praise to the regularity of their plots; he was disposed to give the preference to the irregular structure of the Elizabethan dramatists, as being more favourable to variety both of action and of character. But now he abandoned rhyme, and, if we might judge from All for Love, and the precepts laid down in his Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy, the chief point in which he aimed at excelling the Elizabethans was in giving greater unity to his plot. He upheld still the superiority of Shakespeare to the French dramatists in the delineation of character, but he thought that the scope of the action might be restricted, and the parts bound more closely together with advantage. All for Love and Antony and Cleopatra are two excellent plays for the comparison of the two methods. Dryden gave all his strength to All for Love, writing the play for himself, as he said, and not for the public. Carrying out the idea expressed in the title, he represents the two lovers as being more entirely under the dominion of love than Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare's Antony is moved by other impulses than the passion for Cleopatra; it is his master motive, but it has to maintain a struggle for supremacy; "Roman thoughts" strike in upon him even in the very height of the enjoyment of his mistress's love, he chafes under the yoke, and breaks away from her of his own impulse at the call of spontaneously reawakened ambition. Dryden's Antony is so deeply sunk in love that no other impulse has power to stir him; it takes much persuasion and skilful artifice to detach him from Cleopatra even in thought, and his soul returns to her violently before the rupture has been completed. On the other hand, Dryden's Cleopatra is so completely enslaved by love for Antony that she is incapable of using the calculated caprices and meretricious coquetries which Shakespeare's Cleopatra deliberately practises as the highest art of love, the surest way of maintaining her empire over her great captain's heart. It is with difficulty that Dryden's Cleopatra will agree, on the earnest solicitation of a wily counsellor, to feign a liking for Dolabella to excite Antony's jealousy, and she cannot keep up the pretence through a few sentences. The characters of the two lovers are thus very much contracted, indeed almost overwhelmed, beneath the pressure of the one ruling motive. And as Dryden thus introduces a greater regularity of character into the drama, so he also very much contracts the action, in order to give probability to this temporary subjugation of individual character. The action of Dryden's play takes place wholly in Alexandria, within the compass of a few days; it does not, like Shakespeare's, extend over several years, and present incessant changes of scene. Dryden chooses, as it were, a fragment of an historical action, a single moment during which motives play within a narrow circle, the culminating point in the relations between his two personages. He devotes his whole play, also, to those relations; only what bears upon them is admitted. In Shakespeare's play we get a certain historical perspective, in which the love of Antony and Cleopatra appears in its true proportions beneath the firmament that overhangs human affairs. In Dryden's play this love is our universe; all the other concerns of the world retire into a shadowy, indistinct background. If we rise from a comparison of the plays with an impression that the Elizabethan drama is a higher type of drama, taking Dryden's own definition of the word as "a just and lively image of human nature," we rise also with an impression of Dryden's power such as we get from nothing else that he had written since his Heroic Stanzas, twenty years before.
It was twelve years before Dryden produced another tragedy worthy of the power shown in All for Love. Don Sebastian was acted and published in 1690. In the interval, to sum up briefly Dryden's work as a dramatist, he wrote Œdipus (1678) and The Duke of Guise (1683) in conjunction with Lee; Troilus and Cressida, 1679; The Spanish Friar, 1681; Albion and Albanius, an opera, 1685; Amphitryon, 1690. In Troilus and Cressida he follows Shakespeare closely in the plot, but the dialogue is rewritten throughout, and not for the better. The versification and the language of the first and the third acts of Œdipus, which with the general plan of the play were Dryden's contribution to the joint work, bear marked evidence of his recent study of Shakespeare. The plot of Don Sebastian is more intricate than that of All for Love. It has also more of the characteristics of his heroic dramas; the extravagance of sentiment and the suddenness of impulse remind us occasionally of The Indian Emperor; but the characters are much more elaborately studied than in Dryden's earlier plays, and the verse is sinewy and powerful. It would be difficult to say whether Don Sebastian or All for Love is his best play; they share the palm between them. Dryden's subsequent plays are not remarkable. Their titles and dates are—King Arthur, an opera, 1691; Cleomenes, 1692; Love Triumphant, 1694.
Soon after Dryden's abandonment of heroic couplets in tragedy, he found new and more congenial work for his favourite instrument in satire. As usual the idea was not original to Dryden, though he struck in with his majestic step and energy divine, and immediately took the lead. His pioneer was Mulgruve's Essay on Satire, an attack on Rochester and the court, circulated in 1679. Dryden himself was suspected of the authorship, and cudgelled by hired ruffians as the author; but it is not likely that he attacked the king on whom he was dependent for the greater part of his income. In the same year Oldham's satire on the Jesuits had immense popularity, chiefly owing to the excitement about the Popish plot. Dryden took the field as a satirist towards the close of 1681, on the side of the court, at the moment when Shaftesbury, baffled in his efforts to exclude the duke of York from the throne as a papist, and secure the succession of the duke of Monmouth, was waiting his trial for high treason. Absalom and Achitophel produced a great stir. Nine editions were sold in rapid succession in the course of a year. It was a new thing for the public to have the leading men of the day held up to laughter, contempt, and indignation under disguises which a little trouble enabled them to penetrate. There was no compunction in Dryden's ridicule and invective. Delicate wit was not one of Dryden's gifts; the motions of his weapon were sweeping, and the blows hard and trenchant. The advantage he had gained by his recent studies of character was fully used in his portraits of Shaftesbury and Buckingham, Achitophel and Zimri. In these portraits he shows considerable art in the introduction of redeeming traits to the general outline of malignity and depravity. Against Buckingham Dryden had old scores to pay off, but he was too practised in the language of eulogy and invective to need any personal stimulus. "Glorious John" had a mind superior to petty hatreds, as well as, it must be admitted, to petty friendships, and it is not impossible that the fact that his pension had not been paid since the beginning of 1680 weighed with him in writing this satire to gain the favour of the court. In a play produced in 1681, The Spanish Friar, he had written on the other side, gratifying the popular feeling by attacking the Papists. Three other satires, with which he followed up Absalom and Achitophel, dealt with smaller game than this master-piece, though one of them was hardly inferior in point of literary power. The Medal was written in ridicule of the medal struck to commemorate Shaftesbury's acquittal. Then Dryden had to take vengeance on the literary champions of the Whig party, who had opened upon him with all their artillery. Their leader, Shadwell, he essayed to demolish under the nickname of "MacFlecknoe." Besides a separate poem under that title, he contributed a long passage to a second part of Absalom and Achitophel, written chiefly by Nahum Tate, in which Ferguson, Forbes, Settle, and Shadwell were victims of his strident lash. Religio Laid, which came immediately after, in November 1682, though nominally an exposition of a layman's creed, and deservedly admired as such, was not without a political purpose. It attacked the Papists, but declared the "fanatics" to be still more dangerous, which fitted in with Charles's policy of conciliating the church by persecuting the Nonconformists.
Dryden's next poem in heroic couplets was in a different .strain. On the accession of James, in 1685, he became a Roman Catholic. There has been much discussion as to whether this conversion was or was not sincere. It can only be said that the coincidence between his change of faith and his change of patron was suspicious, and that Dryden's character for consistency is certainly not of a kind to quench suspicion. The force of the coincidence cannot be removed by such pleas as that his wife had been a Roman Catholic for several years, or that he was converted by his son, who was converted at Cambridge, even if there were any evidence for these statements. Scott defended Dryden's conversion, as Macaulay denounced it, from party motives; on any other grounds, it is not worth discussing. Nothing can be clearer than that Dryden all his life through regarded his literary powers as a means of subsistence, and had little scruple about accepting a brief on any side. The Hind and Panther, published in 1687, is an ingenious argument for Roman Catholicism, put into the mouth of "a milk-white hind, immortal and unchanged." There is considerable beauty in the picture of this tender creature, and its enemies in the forest are riot spared. One can understand the admiration that the poem received when such allegories were in fashion. It was the chief cause of the veneration with which Dryden was regarded by Pope, who, himself educated in the Roman Catholic faith, was taken as a boy of twelve to see the veteran poet in his chair of honour and authority at Will's coffee-house. It was also very open to ridicule, and was treated in this spirit by Prior and Montagu, the future earl of Halifax. Dryden's other literary services to James were a savage reply to Stillingfleet who had attacked two papers published by the king immediately after his accession, one said to have been written by his late brother in advocacy of the Church of Rome, the other by his late wife explaining the reasons for her conversion and a translation of a life of Xavier in prose. He had writ ten also a panegyric of Charles, and a eulogy oi: James under the title of Britannia Rediviva, which it is interesting to compare with his other productions of the same kind.
Dryden did not abjure his new faith on the Revolution, and so lost his office and pension as laureate and historiographer royal. For this act of constancy he deserves credit, if the new powers would have considered his services worth having after his frequent apostasies. His rival Shadwell reigned in his stead. Dryden was once more thrown mainly upon his pen for support. He turned again to the stage and wrote the plays which we have enumerated. A great feature in the last decade of his life was his translations from the classics. A volume of miscellanies published in 1685 had contained some translations from Virgil, Horace, Lucretius, and Theocritus. He now produced translations more deliberately as a saleable commodity. A volume of miscellanies, which appeared in 1693, contained translations from Homer and Ovid. In the same year he published a translation of the satires of Juvenal and Persius, written with the assistance of his two elder sons. Johnson passes on this work the just criticism that "though, like all other productions of Dryden, it may have shining parts, it seems to have been written merely for wages, in an uniform mediocrity." When Dryden took his farewell of the stage in 1694, he announced his intention of devoting himself to a translation of the whole of Virgil. On this he seems really to have laboured, and great expectations were formed of it. It was published in 1697, and proved a great success. To judge it by its fidelity as a reproduction of the original would be to apply too high a standard, but it is an interesting rendering of Virgil into the style of Dryden, and as a poem was read with delight in its own age. Soon after its publication, Dryden wrote one of his master-pieces, the second Ode on St Cecilia's day. His next work was to render some of Chaucer's and Boccaccio's tales and Ovid's metamorphoses into his own verse. These translations appeared a few months before his death, and are known by the title of Fables. Thus a large portion of the closing years of Dryden's life were spent in translating for bread. He had a windfall of 500 guineas from Lord Abingdon for a poem on the death of his wife in 1691, but generally he was in considerable pecuniary straits. He is supposed to have received occasional presents from rich and powerful friends, but he never received anything from the court, and he was too proud to make advances. Besides, his three sons held various posts in the service of the Pope at Rome, and he could not well be on good terms with both courts. However, he was not molested in London by the Government, and in private he was treated with the respect due to his old age and his admitted position as the greatest of living English poets. His death took place on the 1st of May 1700.
Dryden's conversion to Catholicism had a great indirect influence on the preservation of his fame. It was this which gained him the discipleship and loving imitation of Pope. He thus became by accident, as it were, the literary father and chief model of the greatest poet of the next generation. If his fame had stood simply upon his merits as a poet, he would in all likelihood have been a much less imposing figure in literary history than he is now. The splendid force of his satire must always be admired, but there is surprisingly little of the vast mass of his writings that can be considered worthy of lasting remembrance. He showed little inventive genius. He was simply a masterly littérateur of immense intellectual energy, whose one lucky hit was the first splendid application of heroic couplets to satire and religious, moral, and political argument. Upon this lucky hit supervened another, the accidental discipleship of Pope. Dryden lent his gift of verse to the service of politics, and his fame profited by the connection. It would be unjust to say that his fame was due to this, but it was helped by this; apart from the attachment of Pope, he owed to party also something of the favour of Johnson and the personal championship and editorial zeal of Scott.
The standard edition of Dryden is Scott's. There is an admirable edition of his poetical works in the Globe series, by Mr W. D. Christie, enriched with an elaborately accurate memoir and painstaking notes. His two best plays, All for Love and Don Sebastian, have recently been republished by Mr. J. L. Seton.}}