John Dryden was the eldest of fourteen children in a landed family of modest means whose sympathies were Puritan on both sides. Little is known of his youth in Northamptonshire, for Dryden, seldom hesitant about expressing his opinions, was reticent about details of his personal life. At about age fifteen, he was enrolled in Westminster School, then under the headmastership of Dr. Richard Busby, a school notable for its production of poets and bishops. Having attained at Westminster a thorough grounding in Latin, he proceeded to Cambridge, taking the B.A. in 1654. After the death of his father brought him a modest inheritance in the form of rents from family land, Dryden left the university and settled in London. Though little is known of his early years there, he served briefly in Oliver Cromwell’s government in a minor position and may have worked for the publisher Henry Herringman. He produced an elegy on the death of Cromwell, yet when Charles II ascended the throne, Dryden greeted the new ruler with a congratulatory poem, Astraea Redux (1660). After the Restoration, he turned his main interest to the drama, producing an insignificant comedy, The Wild Gallant, and collaborating with Sir Robert Howard on a heroic play, The Indian Queen. He married Lady Elizabeth Howard, Sir Robert’s sister, a marriage that brought him a generous dowry and, eventually, three sons in whom he took pride.
Throughout his career, Dryden was no stranger to controversy, whether literary, political, or religious; in fact, he seemed all too eager to seize an occasion for polemics. In literature, he challenged Sir Robert Howard’s views on drama, Thomas Rymer’s on criticism, and the John Wilmot, earl of Rochester’s and Thomas Shadwell’s on questions of literary...
(The entire section is 732 words.)