There is always interest in hearing what one great poet has had to say about an important predecessor, or what one dramatist has had to say about another, or what one influential critic thinks of an earlier critic. When T. S. Eliot wrote about John Dryden he spoke with peculiar and noteworthy authority: he was one famous poet-playwright-critic assessing another famous poet-playwright-critic.
There are many parallels between the careers and reputations of Eliot and Dryden. Both are better known for their poetry than for their plays, and both, perhaps, are as well known for their criticism (or will be, as the long-range influence of Eliot becomes clear) as they are for their poetry. Each man discarded the poetic conventions of a previous age, set the tone for an age to come, and dominated the age in which he lived. (Dryden was the great man of English letters during the last quarter of the seventeenth century; Eliot was his counterpart during the second quarter of this century.) And just as Eliot considers Dryden to be even more important for his influence than for his actual work, so too the generation after Eliot is beginning to focus more and more attention on his historical significance—his influence.
This volume consists of three separate but interrelated essays on the poetry, the plays, and the criticism of Dryden. In the first essay, the main point Eliot makes is that Dryden reformed the language by devising a naturally flowing,...
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