1769 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dryden

James Granger, in Biographical History of England (1769; 1824) 5:240-41.



Dryden was the father of true English poetry, and the most universal of all poets. This universality has been objected to him as a fault, but it was the unhappy effect of penury and dependence. He was not at liberty to pursue his own inclination; but was frequently obliged to prostitute his pen to such persons and things as a man of his talents must have despised. He was the great improver of our language and versification. The chains of our English bards were formerly heard to rattle only; in the age of Waller and Dryden, they became harmonious. He has failed in most of his dramatic writings, of which the prologues, epilogues, and prefaces, are generally more valuable than the pieces to which they are affixed. But even in this branch of poetry, he has written enough to perpetuate his fame; as his All for Love, his Spanish Friar, and Don Sebastian, can never be forgotten. There was a native fire in this great poet, which poverty could not damp, nor old age extinguish. On the contrary, he was still improving as a writer, while he was declining as a man; and was far advanced in years when he wrote his Alexander's Feast, which is confessedly at the head of modern lyrics, and in the true spirit of the ancients. Great injury has been done him, in taking an estimate of his character by the meanest of his productions. It would be just as uncandid, to determine the merit of Kneller, from the vilest of his paintings.