John Dryden

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Why is John Dryden considered "the father of English Criticism" by Dr. Johnson?

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Dryden was considered to be the "father of English criticism" by Samuel Johnson precisely because he contributed so much to the ouevre of literary criticism in the canon of English literature. Dryden showed that he was equally able to turn his fine intelligence towards criticism as well as the production of poetry and drama, and the criticism he produced is widely recognised as being analytical and outstanding in its argument and rhetoric. One of his most famous works of criticism is Of Dramatic Poesie: An Essay, which was published in 1668, and contains Dryden's shrewd assessment of the genre of drama. However, he also wrote various pieces of criticism about satire, wit and biography. Dryden is famous for his excellent definitions of genres and critical terms and in his work, both responds to the arguments of his critics as well as stating and supporting his own views. His criticism includes various quotes that have entered the English language, such as the following aphorisms:

Learn to write well or not to write at all.

A thing well said will be wit in all languages.

Both of these quotes, taken from An Essay Upon Satire and Of Dramatic Poesie, demonstrate Dryden's ability to state truths plainly and simply but also to do so with wit and humour. Throughout his literary career, Dryden engaged in numerous literary debates such as the nature of comedy with Thomas Shadwell and the nature of tragedy with Thomas Rymer. His writings show his own exploration of his own opinions, which matured and developed throughout his career. Dryden is of course a very important figure in criticism, but equally Johnson's honorific title does ignore other forefathers of English criticism such as Sir Philip Sidney. Dryden's place in the history of criticism is, however, monumental.

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