Dryden: detail, by
the German/British painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-
and Samuel Butler
Englishman John Dryden was an accomplished dramatist and poet. His
play The Indian Emperor
made his name in 1665, and was followed by The
Indian Queen, a part operatic work containing music by
his contemporary Henry Purcell. As a restoration dramatist, many
of his plays were coarse in humour, such as his Love
in a Nunnery, Marriage à la Mode
and All for Love, based on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and often considered his finest work. But he also
wrote heroic tragedies, and his State of
Innocence of 1667 was a stage adaptation of John Milton’s
Paradise Lost. Apart from his poem Annus Mirabilis, published in 1667, he wrote The Hind and the Panther
xxxxxThe Englishman John Dryden was an
accomplished poet -
xxxxxHe produced his first successful play, The Rival Ladies, a tragicomedy in verse, in
1664, and followed this up a year later with The
Indian Emperor, the work which made his name as a
playwright and set him on a lucrative career for the next twenty
years. The Indian Queen, part operatic,
was written in collaboration with Sir Robert Howard, and contains
music by the contemporary English composer Henry Purcell. As a
restoration dramatist many of his plays were coarse in humour, and
their plots were contrived to that end -
xxxxxAs a poet,
his major critical essay of 1668, entitled Of
Dramatic Poesy, was highly thought of, and it was this
from his Annus Mirabilis of 1667 (in praise of the year 1666), his poetic
work included the allegorical poem The Hind
and the Panther -
xxxxxIn later life he turned to translation in order to make a living. He translated The Works of Virgil, the Roman poet, and in his Fables Ancient and Modern, completed the year before his death, he produced verse adaptations of Homer, the Latin poet Ovid, the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio, and the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Also during this period he produced the Ode Alexander's Feast, another work set to music by Purcell.
xxxxxDryden was an early and active member of the Royal Society. He was elected in 1663 and from the start showed a determination to improve the order and clarity of the English language. He was the leading wit at the lively gatherings at Will’s Coffee House, and he so dominated the literary world during his career that this period is sometimes referred to as the "Age of Dryden", a term which, as we shall see, was later replaced by the "Augustan Age" to incorporate the works of such writers as William Congreve, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, and Jonathan Swift. Dryden, a man of many literary talents, died in May 1700, and was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
xxxxxIncidentally, the king's famous mistress, Nell
xxxxx…… Attributed to Dryden is the word "biography", first put on paper in 1683 when he was writing about Plutarch, and also the description of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer as "the father of English poetry".
the English dramatist William Wycherley (1640-
xxxxxDryden was a
leading figure in Restoration Comedy, with
some 30 tragedies, comedies and operatic-
xxxxxHis plays provided a feast of farce, course humour and witty dialogue, and his use of satire was particularly spiteful. His comic situations were sometimes used to criticise the follies and foibles of a fashionable society to which, in fact, he himself belonged.
xxxxxAt the age of 40 he married a strict Puritan, the wealthy Countess of Drogheda, who, so we are told, was terminally ill at the time. When she died a year later, therefore, her will was contested and he became involved in a lengthy and expensive legal wrangle. He eventually ended up in a debtors' prison for seven years, and would have been there much longer had James II not paid off most of his debts and granted him a pension. Wycherley died in 1716, but long before his death, as we shall see (1693 W3), the English dramatist William Congreve was writing plays which, by their polished style and delicacy of feeling, compared favourably with any that he or, indeed, Dryden had produced.
xxxxxAnother English poet and satirist at this
time was Samuel Butler (1612-
xxxxxButler was born near Pershore in Worcestershire, the son of a farmer. He was educated at King's School, Worcester, and after serving as a page for the Countess of Kent, joined the household of Sir Samuel Luke, a Presbyterian colonel in the Parliamentary army. Here he met a large number of Puritans attached to the military, and these doubtless provided him with material for his masterly verse satire. At the restoration of the monarchy he served for a while as steward of Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, and it was at this time that he started writing what is today regarded as one of the best burlesque poems in English literature. Also worthy of mention is a work published in 1676 which holds up to ridicule the dogmatism often shown by members of the newly founded Royal Society. It tells of a tale of research in which a mouse, trapped in a telescope, is taken to be (as the title has it) The Elephant in the Moon. Such satirical writing had a strong influence on the Irish writer Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels in 1726 (G1).
xxxxxThe latter part of his life was spent in the household of George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Despite the king's undoubted liking for his work and, so we are told, the promise that he would be considerably rewarded for it, no financial assistance ever came his way, and he died a poor and disappointed man. In 1759, close to a century after his death, two volumes of his satirical works were published under the title Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler.
xxxxxIncidentally, Hudibras contains a
number of expressions which, over the years, have become well-