To My Dear Friend Mr. Congreve Summary

John Dryden


Although “To My Dear Friend Mr. Congreve” is formally a verse epistle, it is representative also of Dryden’s numerous panegyrics, or poems of praise. Written during his final decade, it demonstrates his inclination to praise younger contemporaries and reflects Dryden’s mastery of the heroic couplet. Readily divided into two sections, the epistle employs two of Dryden’s most important poetic conventions: the conservative metaphor of the temple and the concept of succession, in this poem applied to the kingdom of letters.

In the first part, the poem praises Congreve by placing him within the context of English literary history. While Dryden grants the Elizabethan dramatists transcendent genius, he views their dramas as irregular and crude. The second great period of drama, the early Restoration, brought polish and refinement to the drama, or, in Dryden’s words, better manners, yet this improvement had its price:

Our age was cultivated thus at length,But what we gain’d in skill we lost in strength.Our builders were with want of genius cursed;The second temple was not like the first.

The elegant balance and aphoristic expression of the passage are succeeded by a bold chiasmus and further development of the temple metaphor, celebrating the achievement of a dramatist one...

(The entire section is 537 words.)


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