The dedication is addressed to "To the right honourable John Lord Houghton." Commenting on the false sublime, John Dryden recalls that in his youth he had preferred Joshua Sylvester's poetry to Spenser's. He was hardly alone; Sylvester's du Bartas was frequently printed during the seven-decade interval preceding the 1679 folio edition of Spenser's works.
William Oldys?: "As to the beauties of his [Spenser's] Poetry, we need only add; that Dryden acknowledged, that as to elegant turns on thoughts and words, he learned those graces chiefly from our Poet: and the great Lord Somers in the last picture he sat for, as we are well informed, having determined to have a book in his hand, said it should be Spenser" in Faerie Queene, ed. Church (1758) 1:xliv.
Samuel Johnson: "Almost every piece had a dedication, written with such elegance and luxuriance of praise as neither haughtiness nor avarice could be imagined to resist. But he seems to have made flattery too cheap. That praise is worth nothing of which the price is known" "Life of Dryden" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 1:366.
Thomas Green: "Looked into some of Dryden's Prefaces and Dedications. He is surely the most rambling and desultory writer that ever wielded pen! I take it, he never meditated before he committed his thoughts to paper, or corrected a syllable afterwards: yet, such are the exuberant stores of his mind, he weaves, as he goes along, a rich and enchanting tissue" 11 December 1799; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 183.
Percival Stockdale: "I ought to have taken notice of his prologues, and epilogues; which contributed not a little to his fame. They are brilliant with wit; and abound with ludicrous, yet severe satire, on the vices, and taste of the times. Had he written nothing but his prose, his literary fame would have been transmitted to posterity: if his essay on dramatick poesy; his critical prefaces; and his dedications, fraught with fine fire, and imagery; (I wish to heaven that their servile adulation had been expunged!) if those pieces had been the productions of Bolingbroke, or of Cicero, they would have been reviewed by those eloquent authours, with a peculiar self-complacency.... In his dedication of the Spanish Fryar to Lord Haughton, there are some observations on the theatrical exhibition of the drama, which are accurately adapted to every polished age, and nation; and with a peculiar propriety to our own country, and to the present times; when the pomp, and machinery, and trick of the theatre, are far beyond what they were, in the days of Dryden. These observations may tend to cure the authours of many of our later dramatical productions of any intellectual vanity which they may entertain; and to confine their self importance as it ought to be limited; to the idea of their emolument" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 1:261, 365.
William Goodhugh: "The prefaces of Dryden are marked by the ease and the vivacity of a man of transcendent genius; and there is a facility in his rhymes, and a peculiar vigour in his poetry, which justly render him the boast of his country" The English Gentleman's Library Manual (1827) 155.
C. H. Timperley: "Dryden, it is true, had written his prefaces in a rich and varied, though not a very correct, manner; but they were too desultory and contradictory to afford many just rules for the attainment of accurate style, and were, indeed, chiefly employed in delivering precepts for epic, dramatic, and satiric compositions. English poetry had been enriched by the most splendid monuments of genius, by the dramas of Shakspeare and the epopeia of Milton; but English prose had yet much to acquire from the labours of the critic, the grammarians, and the lexicographer" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:607.
Edmund Gosse: "He never forgets that, as Matthew Arnold has said, he is the puissant and glorious founder of our excellent and indispensable eighteenth century — that is to say, of an age of prose and reason. His native genius constantly clashed in criticism with his acquired taste, and hence his wavering adherence to unfashionable masters of verse, to Chaucer, to Chapman, to Milton. He attempted to extract what he thought was best from these and other romantic poets, and to adapt it to an Anglo-classic taste. His genius was so energetic and his skill so amazing that he partly contrived to do this, but the odour of romance had evaporated. Hence it cannot be denied that the most mysterious and indescribable charm of poetic writing, that charm which is exhaled from the best poetry like a perfume, is wanting, or singularly rare, in Dryden in spite of his acknowledged supremacy as a poet. When this is admitted the reader is placed in a position to do justice to Dryden's genius" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 24.
Herbert E. Cory: "In his youth Dryden, like many young writers, was a victim of the poets of his own generation. His early servitude to the conceit-hunters is well known. He himself tells us in his Dedication of the Spanish Friar (1681), that he once thought 'inimitable Spenser a mean poet in comparison of Sylvester's Du Bartas.' But he came to dub the idol of his callow days a writer of 'abominable fustian'" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 114.
Neither do I discommend the lofty style in Tragedy which is naturally pompous and magnificent: but nothing is truly sublime that is not just and proper. If the Ancients had judg'd by the same measures which a common Reader takes, they had concluded Statius to have written higher than Virgil: for,
Quae superimpositio mole geminata Colosso,
carries a more thundring kind of sound than,
Tityre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi:
Yet Virgil had all the Majesty of a lawfull Prince; and Statius onely the blustring of a Tyrant. But when men affect a Vertue which they cannot reach, they fall into a Vice, which bears the nearest resemblance to it. Thus an injudicious Poet who aims at Loftiness runs easily into the swelling puffie style, because it looks like Greatness. I remember, when I was a Boy, I thought inimitable Spencer a mean Poet in comparison of Sylvester's Dubartas: and was rapt into an ecstasie when I read these lines:
Now, when the Winter's keener breath began
To Chrystallize the Baltick Ocean;
To glaze the Lakes, to bridle up the Floods,
And periwig with Snow the bald-pate Woods:
I am much deceiv'd if this be not abominable fustian, that is, thoughts and words ill sorted, and without the least relation to each other: yet I dare not answer for an Audience, that they wou'd not clap it on the Stage: so little value there is to be given to the common cry, that nothing but Madness can please Mad-men, and a Poet must be of a piece with the Spectators, to gain a reputation with them. But, as in a room, contriv'd for State, the height of the roof shou'd bear a proportion to the Area; so, in the Heightnings of Poetry, the strength and vehemence of Figures shou'd be suited to the Occasion, the Subject, and the Persons. All beyond this is monstrous; 'tis out of nature, 'tis an excrescence, and not a living part of Poetry. . . .