The "Discourse on Satire" (addressed "to the Right Honourable Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex") offers John Dryden's considered opinions on the practice of imitation and on the design, stanza, and diction of the Faerie Queene. While not always original, these remarks carried great weight with later critics: "it is important to note that this very just criticism of the general structure of The Faerie Queene began with Dryden and has become the current comment of our own day. Even Thomas Warton had nothing to add to it" Herbert E. Cory, "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 115.
Edmond Malone: "The language of THE FAERY QUEEN was the poetical language of the age in which he lived; and however obsolete it might appear to Dryden, was, I conceive, perfectly intelligible to every reader of poetry at the time of Queen Elizabeth, though THE SHEPHEARDS CALENDER was not even then understood without a commentary" Critical Works of John Dryden (1800) 3:95n.
Thomas Warton: "Mr. Dryden remarks 'We must do Spenser that justice to observe, that magnanimity [magnificence] which is the true character of PRINCE ARTHUR, shines throughout the whole poem; and succours the rest when they, are in distress.' If the magnanimity of PRINCE ARTHUR did in reality shine throughout the whole poem with a steady and superior lustre, our author would stand excused; but at present it breaks forth but seldom, in dim and interrupted flashes; it is not like the pervading spirit of Virgil, which 'Agitat molem, & magno se corpore miscet.' And to 'succour the rest when they are in distress,' is a circumstance of too little importance in the hero of a poem: 'to succour' is, in fact, a service to be perform'd in the cause of the hero, by some dependent and inferior chief, the business of a Gyas or a Cloanthus, a Mnestheus, or a Serestus" Observations on the Faerie Queene (1754) 6.
John Upton: "Dryden tells us in his preface to the translation of Juvenal, that he had some thoughts of making choice for the subject of an heroic poem, King Arthur's conquests over the Saxons: And hinting at the same design in the preface to his Fables says, 'That it was not for this noble knight [meaning Sir R. Blackmore] that he drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur.' Milton likewise had the same intention, as he intimates in a Latin poem to Mansus" Faerie Queene (1758) 1:xxv.
Percival Stockdale: "The plan of his intended epick poem which I have before mentioned, he laid before Charles the Second. As he was always in unfortunate circumstances, he thought that he could not perform the work (which, if it had been completed, would have been a noble monument to the honour of this country) without a salary from government. The hero of the poem was to have been King Arthur; or the Black Prince; it was to have had the machinery of guardian angels of nations, and of cities. — 'After Virgil, and Spenser' (he adds, in his Dedication of Juvenal to the Earl of Dorset) 'I would have taken occasion to represent my living friends, and patrons, of the noblest families; and also shadowed the events of future ages, in the succession of our imperial line. With those helps, and those of the machines which I have mentioned, I might, perhaps, have done as well as some of my predecessours; or, at least, chalked out a way for others to amend my errours, in a like design. But being encouraged only with fair words by King Charles the Second; my little salary' [as poet laureat he must mean] 'ill paid; and no prospect of a future subsistence; I was then discouraged in the beginning of my attempt. And now age has overtaken me; and want, a more insufferable evil, through the change of the times, has wholly disenabled, me.' — Dedication of Juvenal. Pp. 21; 22. Octavo edit. 1711. People may charge me with being as partial to poets as they please; but if I was a king, or a minister, with my present sentiments, and habits of feeling, I should not think that I could be more completely damned to everlasting fame, than by such a complaint as this of Dryden, for my satire, or my epitaph" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 1:264-66.
Thomas Green: "Read Dryden's Dedication to his Translations of Juvenal's Satires: — a stranger, rambling composition; mingling in its rapid but desultory current, gross adulation, historical deduction, fine criticism, and wild decisions. Amongst the latter, I should place his assertion, that Horace instructs, and Juvenal delights, most: — an absurd ground of comparison; and surely a most unjust judgement with respect to Horace" 10 November 1799; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 172.
John Wilson: "Dryden, himself a mighty master of versification, preferred — at least he says so, but we hope he lied — Waller's to Spenser's! We must speak leniently then of the follies of meaner men" Blackwood's Magazine 36 (1834) 420.
William Minto: "Dryden and many others have complained of occasional intricacy and incoherence in the Faery Queen. The admirers of the poet should not meet this complaint by denying the fact: for it is a fact that Spenser does often violate the plain laws of space and time.... The proper excuse it to say that the scene is laid 'in the delightful land of Faery,' where perplexity and confusion are as natural as in a dream" Characteristics of English Poets (1874) 223-24.
Herbert E. Cory: "In his maturity Dryden spoke enthusiastically and discerningly about Spenser. In his Essay on Satire (1693), he made his most elaborate criticism.... It is important to observe that this very just criticism of the general structure of The Faerie Queene began with Dryden and has become the current comment to our own day. Even Thomas Warton had nothing to add to it. It is moreover worth special attention that Dryden did not share Jonson's and Davenant's aversion for the use of obsolete words. Nor did he always regard them as even 'faults of the second magnitude.' We have seen that he first condemned but later praised the archaisms in The Shepheards Calender. And in his discussion of Milton in this same digression in the Essay on Satire he treats archaisms with a justice that is beyond reproach.... Dryden's association of the names of Spenser and Virgil in the discussion of the structure of The Faerie Queene quoted above is only one of many passages that indicate that Spenser and the darling of the neo-classicists were endeared to him as poetical comrades" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 114-16.
A. A. Jack: "Dryden's censures concern the structure of the poem and the choice of the Spenserian stanza. At the end of the preface he episodically confesses, what will surprise any but his familiar readers, that for 'beautiful turns of words and thoughts' — at 'last he had recourse' to Spenser. It is in the passage in which he speaks of 'that immortal poem called The Fairy Queene,' and tells us that it was there that he had met 'with that which he had been looking for so long in vain" Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 267.
Roberta Florence Brinkley: "Dryden states that it had been his intention to discontinue writing plays and to undertake a work for the honor of his country which would engage him the rest of his life. This was to be an epic of 'king Arthur, conquering the Saxons' or of the Black Prince. The subject of King Arthur appealed to him because 'being farther distant in Time' it 'gives greater scope to my Invention.' Whichever subject he chose, however, he intended to imitate Virgil and Spenser in representing 'living Friends and Patrons of the noblest Families' and in shadowing 'the Events of future Ages in the Succession of our Imperial Line'" Arthurian Legend (1932) 142.
Reginald Berry: "Dryden in late career does not willfully misunderstood Spenser's project; rather, he seems to be articulating his indebtedness to, and departure from, a model which had been formative for him but also in part inappropriate to his post-Restoration poetics" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 228.
Now if it may be permitted me to go back again, to the Consideration of Epique Poetry, I have confess'd, that no Man hitherto has reach'd, or so much as approach'd to the Excellencies of Homer or of Virgil; I must farther add, that Statius, the best Versificator next to Virgil, knew not how to Design after him, though he had the Model in his Eye; that Lucan is wanting both in Design and Subject, and is besides too full of Heat, and Affectation; that amongst the Moderns, Ariosto neither Design'd Justly, nor observ'd any Unity of Action, or Compass of Time, or Moderation in the Vastness of his Draught; his Style is Luxurious, without Majesty, or Decency; and his Adventures, without the compass of Nature and Possibility: Tasso, whose Design was Regular, and who observ'd the Rules of Unity in Time and Place, more closely than Virgil; yet was not so happy in his Action; he confesses himself to have been too Lyrical, that is, to have written beneath the Dignity of Heroick Verse, in his Episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida; his Story is not so pleasing as Ariosto's; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forc'd; and besides, is full of Conceipts, points of Epigram and Witticisms; all which are not only below the Dignity of Heroick Verse, but contrary to its Nature: Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of so boyish an Ambition in so grave a Subject, are so far from being considered as Heroique Poets, that they ought to be turn'd down from Homer to the Anthologia, from Virgil to Martial and [John] Owen's Epigrams, and from Spencer to Fleckno; that is, from the top to the bottom of all Poetry. But to return to Tasso, he borrows from the invention of Boyardo, and in his Alteration of his Poem, which is infinitely for the worse, imitates Homer so very servilely, that (for Example) he gives the King of Jerusalem Fifty Sons, only because Homer had bestow'd the like number on King Priam; he kills the youngest in the same manner, and has provided his Hero with a Patroclus, under another Name, only to bring him back to the Wars, when his Friend was kill'd. The French have perform'd nothing in this kind, which is not far below these two Italians, and subject to a thousand more Reflections, without examining their Saint Lewis, their Pucelle, or their Alarique: The English have only to boast of Spencer and Milton who neither of them wanted either Genius, or Learning, to have been perfect Poets; and yet both of them are liable to many Censures. For there is no Uniformity in the Design of Spencer: He aims at the Accomplishment of no one Action: He raises up a Hero for every one of his Adventures; and endows each of them with some particular Moral Virtue, which renders them all equal, without Subordination or Preference. Every one is most Valiant in his own Legend; only we must do that Justice to observe, that Magnaminity, which is the Character of Prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole Poem; and Succours the rest, when they are in Distress. The Original of every Knight, was then living in the Court of Queen Elizabeth: And he attributed to each of them that Virtue, which he thought was most conspicuous in them: An Ingenious piece of Flattery, tho' it turned not much to his Account. Had he liv'd to finish his Poem, in the six remaining Legends, it had certainly been more of a piece; but cou'd not have been perfect, because the Model was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief Patron, Sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy, by the Marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, depriv'd the Poet, both of Means and Spirit, to accomplish his Design: For the rest, his Obsolete Language, and the ill choice of his Stanza, are faults but of the Second Magnitude: For nothwithstanding the first he is still Intelligible, at least, after a little practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admir'd; that labouring under such a difficulty, his Verses are so Numerous, so Various, and so Harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he profestly imitated, has surpass'd him, among the Romans; and only Mr Waller among the English.
As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with so much Justice, his Subject is not that of an Heroique Poem; properly so call'd: His Design is the Losing of our Happiness; his Event is not prosperous, like that of all other Epique Works: His Heavenly Machines are many, and his Humane persons are but two. But I will not take Mr. Rymer's Work out of his Hands. He has promis'd the World a Critique on that Author; wherein, tho' he will not allow his Poem for Heroick, I hope he will grant us, that his Thoughts are elevated, his Words Sounding, and that no Man has so happliy Copy'd the Manner of Homer; or so copiously translated his Grecisms, and the Latin Elegancies of Virgil. 'Tis true, he runs into a flat of Thought, sometimes for a Hundred Lines together, but 'tis when he is got into a Track of Scripture: His antiquated words were his Choice, not his Necessity; for therein he imitated Spencer, as Spencer did Chawcer. And tho', perhaps, the love of their Masters, may have transported both too far, in the frequent use of them; yet in my Opinion, Obsolete Words may be laudably reviv'd, when either they are more Sounding, or more Significant than those in practice: And when their Obscurity is taken away, by joining other Words to them which clear the Sense; according to the rule of Horace, for the admission of new Words. But in both cases, a Moderation is to be observ'd, in the use of them: For unnecessary Coynage, as well as unnecessary Revival, runs into Affectation; af fault to be avoided on either hand. Neither will I Justifie Milton for his Blank Verse, tho' I may excuse him, by the Example of Hannibal Caro, and other Italians, who have us'd it: For whatever Causes he alledges for the abolishing of Rhyme (which I have not now the leisure to examine) his own particular Reason is plainly this, that Rhyme was not his Talent; he had neither the Ease of doing it, nor the Graces of it; which is manifest in his Juvenilia, or Verses written in his Youth: Where his Rhyme is always constrain'd and forc'd, and comes hardly from him at an Age when the Soul is most pliant; and the Passion of Love, makes almost every Man a Rhymer, tho' not a Poet....
I have given your Lordship, but this bare hint, in what Verse, and in what manner this sort of Satire may best be manag'd. Had I time, I cou'd enlarge on the Beautiful Turns of Words and Thoughts; which are as requisite in this, as in Heroique Poetry it self; of which this Satire is undoubtedly a Species. With these Beautiful Turns I confess my self to have been unaquainted, till about Twenty Years ago, in a Conversation which I had with that Noble Wit of Scotland, Sir George Mackenzy: He asked me why I did not imitate in my Verses, the turns of Mr. Waller, and Sir John Denham; of which, he repeated many to me: I had often read with pleasure, and with some profit, those two Fathers of our English Poetry; but had not seriously enough consider'd those Beauties which give the last perfection to their Works. Some sprinklings of this kind, I had also formerly in my Plays, but they were casual, and not design'd. But this hint, thus seasonably given me, first made me sensible of my own wants, and brought me afterwards to seek for the supply of them in other English Authors. I look'd over the Darling of my Youth, the Famous Cowley; there I found instead of them, the Points of Wit, and Quirks of Epigram, even in the Davideis, a Heroick Poem, which is of an opposite nature to those Puerilities; but no Elegant turns, either on the word, or on the thought. Then I consulted a Great Genius, (without offence to the Manes of that Noble Author) I mean Milton. But as he endeavours every where to express Homer, whose Age had not arriv'd to that fineness, I found in him a true sublimity, lofty thoughts, which were cloath'd with admirable Grecisms, and ancient words, which he had been digging from the Mines of Chaucer, and of Spencer, and which, with all their rusticity, had somewhat of Venerable in them. But I found not there neither for which I look'd. At last, I had recourse to his Master, Spencer, the Author of that immortal Poem call'd the Fairy Queen; and there I met with that which I had been looking for so long in vain. Spencer had studi'd Virgil to as much advantage as Milton had done Homer. And amongst the rest of his Excellencies had Copy'd that. Looking farther into the Italian, I found Tasso had done the same; nay more, that all the Sonnets in that Language are on the turn of the first thought; which Mr. Walsh, in his late ingenious Preface to his Poems has observ'd. In short, Virgil, and Ovid are the two Principal Fountains of them in Latine Poetry. And the French at this day are so fond of them, that they judge them to be the first Beauties. "Delicate, & bien tourne," are the highest Commendations, which they bestow, on somewaht which they think a Master-Piece....