John Dryden


John Dryden: England's Controversial and Exceptional Genius John Dryden was England's most outstanding and controversial writer for the later part of the seventeenth century, dominating the literary world as a skilled and versatile dramatist, a pioneer of literary criticism, and a respected writer of the Restoration period. With Dryden's great literary and critical influence on the English society during the Restoration period he has made a name for himself, which will be studied and honored for years to come. John Dryden was born in Northamptonshire, in 1631. His parents were Erasmus Dryden and Mary Pickery. They were both from wealthy and respected families in Northamptonshire. The Drydens were known for wisdom and great tradition all over England and were well-equipped with large estates and vast lands (Ward 5). Dryden's father, Erasmus, was a justice of the peace during the usurpation, and was the father of fourteen children; four sons, and ten daughters. The sons were John, Erasmus, Henry, and James; the daughters were Agness, Rose, Lucy, Mary, Martha, Elizabeth, Hester, Hannah, Abigail, and France (Kinsley 34). Dryden was also a religious man. He had as much faith in the Lord as he did in his pen. He belonged to the Church of England all his life until converting to Catholicism due to the change of the throne. He was baptized at All Saints Church in Aldwinule, Northamptonshire ten days after his birth (Hopkins 75). Dryden, growing into a young man, began his education in his hometown. There he took the basic classes. He furthered his education at Westminister School in London. Here, he attended school for about twelve hours a day, beginning and ending at six. At Westminister he studied history, geography, and study of the Scripture, plus all the basics. After Westminister he Cunningham 2 attended Cambridge University (Hopkins 14). While attending Cambridge University, he excelled to the top of his class and was a standout student. John Dryden was the greatest and most represented English man of letters of the last quarter of the seventeenth century. From the death of Milton in 1674 to his own in 1700, no other writer can compare with him in versatility and power (Sherwood 39). He was in fact a versatile writer, with his literary works consisted of tragedy, comedy, heroic play, opera, poetry, and satire. Although he did write most of his important original poems to serve some passing political purpose, he made them immortal by his literary genius (Miner 3). John Dryden was the type of man who was always busy with some great project. He would never put full time and concentration into his work. He would quickly finish a project, careless of perfection, and hurry off to begin another, which was not a tempting deal on either the author's side nor the reader's side because Dryden lived in a time where there were few well-printed works (Hopkins 1). So much of his work consisted of numerous errors, misprints, and lost pages. Several critics have attempted to revise and correct his work but usually for the worse ( Harth 3). Despite his popularity during the Restoration and even today, little is known about John Dryden except what is in his works. Because he wrote from the beginning through the end of the Restoration period, many literary scholars consider the end of the Restoration period to have occurred with Dryden's death in 1700 (Miner 2). Surviving Dryden was his wife Lady Elizabeth and there were three sons, to whom he had always been a loving and careful father. John, his oldest son, followed his father in death only three years later in April of 1700. His wife, the "Widow of a poet," died shortly after his death in the summer of 1714 at the age of 78 (Bredvold 314). Dryden certainly attained his goal of popularity especially after his death. He became this Cunningham 3 through his "achievements in verse translations, the first English author to depend for a livelihood directly on the reading public and opening the future of profitable careers for great novelists during the next two centuries" (Frost 17). The Restoration period was a time of great literature and outstanding writers, but, with all the talent in this century, there were also many problems. The Restoration was an angry time in literary history. Writers threw harsh blows at one another, not with fists