John Dryden

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Give a general estimate of John Dryden as a critic.

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Dryden is distinguished as not only an excellent poet, dramatist and author in his own right, but also as somebody whose great intellect and sound powers of argument enabled him to write excellent criticism of literature. Dryden had extensively studied the classical works coming from Ancient Greece and Rome, the English Renaissance and also works of contemporary France. He did this in order to understand how literature worked and to identify key ingredients upon which the literature of his own age could be built. In Dryden, his critical mind and intelligence was something that wedded happily to his his creativity, and the seriousness with which he both studied and wrote literature caused Samuel Johnson to name him "the father of English criticism." Note, for example, the following perceptive remark he made in An Essay of Dramatic Poesy:

He invades authors like a monarch; and what would be theft in other poets is only victory in him.

Here Dryden talks of the way in which Ben Jonson takes his inspiration from the works of other authors, happily taking characters, story lines and ideas and using them as the basis of his own work. However, Dryden argues, what distinguishes Jonson from other poets is that he is able to add, transform and embellish these "stolen" ideas so effectively that he achieves a "victory" through his "invasion." Such astute comments prove his place at the forefront of criticism in English literature.

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