John Dryden and His World (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
Seldom has a writer of any nation dominated the literary life of his own time to the extent that John Dryden dominated English letters during the Restoration, alternatively known to literary historians as “the Age of Dryden.” For forty years he was recognized as England’s foremost poet, dramatist, critic, and translator, and he inaugurated an age of neoclassicism in English literature that endured for a century. Unlike Abraham Cowley, whose reputation suffered an eclipse before his death, “Glorious Dryden,” as Sir Charles Sedley called him, retained his exalted stature among readers and critics for decades after his death. Although his place in literary history remains secure, Dryden’s reputation among the general reading public has declined. While literary scholars can ill afford to overlook him, general readers find that Dryden no longer speaks to them. Even Alexander Pope, his successor in the neoclassic tradition, enjoys a wider audience. To find people who can quote some of Pope’s better known couplets is not unusual. Dryden is little quoted, and the only poems still known to a significant number of readers are his two odes on Saint Cecilia’s Day.
The reasons are not far to seek. Dryden’s plays, written with the intent of pleasing the audiences of his own time, now seem remote and artificial. His poetry is the poetry of reason, not emotion, an indispensable element since the advent of Romanticism. His satires, perhaps the best...
(The entire section is 1902 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
The Atlantic. CCLX, November, 1987, p. 116.
The Christian Science Monitor. December 9, 1987, p. 19.
Library Journal. CXII, August, 1987, p. 127.
The New Republic. CXCVII, December 28, 1987, p. 32.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, January 24, 1988, p. 12.
The Spectator. CCLX, January 2, 1988, p. 26.
The Wall Street Journal. CCIX, October 27, 1987, p. 32.
(The entire section is 43 words.)