1698
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Usefulness of the Stage.

The Usefulness of the Stage, to the Happiness of Mankind, to Government, and to Religion occasioned by a late book written by Jeremy Collier, M.A. By Mr. Dennis.

John Dennis


John Dennis remarks on the poverty of English literature prior to the reign of Elizabeth, when Spenser, Bacon, and Raleigh suddenly appeared as, respectively, the great English poet, philosopher, and historian. Dennis, a playwright as well as a critic, writes in response to Jeremy Collier's A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English State (1698).

Samuel Austin Allibone: "John Dennis, 1657-1734, a native of London, was educated at Caius College, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He obtained considerable notoriety as a dramatic and political writer and critic.... Dr. Johnson regretted that Dennis's works had not been collected" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:493.

Edmund Gosse: "John Dennis (1657-1734), the critic, was the son of a city saddler. He was educated at Caius College, Cambridge, but was ejected for stabbing a fellow-student. He went over to Trinity Hall, where he proceeded to his M.A. in 1683. He inherited a small fortune, and after travelling on the Continent, settled in London during the last decade of the century as the companion of Dryden, Wycherley, and Congreve. Of his very numerous early productions there may be mentioned, Remarks on Prince Arthur (1696), The Advancement of Poetry (1701), The Grounds of Criticism (1704). These volumes contain much sound sense, and are particularly notable for their fervent and judicious eulogy of Milton. There is nothing in them of that jealous, carping tone for which Dennis afterwards became noted. Dennis fell into reduced circumstances, and he had the impression that younger authors, Addison and Steele in particular, slighted him. In 1711 Dennis published Reflections on an Essay upon Criticism, in which he called Pope a 'stupid and impotent hunch-backed toad,' which 'surprised people sleeping' that it might 'fasten its teeth and its claws' upon them. The vicious temper of Dennis has become proverbial, but his early writings in criticism deserve respectful attention. He published a large number of poems and plays, but these are destitute of all merit. He outlived his annuities and died in extreme poverty, an object of charity to those whom he had slandered" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 185.




'Tis time to come at last to our selves: It was first in the Reign of King Henry the Eighth that the Drama grew into form with us: It was establish'd in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, and flourish'd in that of King James the First. And tho I will not presume to affirm, that before the Reign of King Henry the Eighth we had no good Writers, yet I will confidently assert, that, excepting Chaucer, no not in any sort of Writing whatever, we had not a first rate Writer. But immediately upon the Establishment of the Drama, Three Prodigies of Wit appeared all at once, as it were so many Suns, to amaze the learned World. The Reader will immediately comprehend that I speak of Spencer, Bacon, and Raleigh; Three mighty Genius's, so extraordinary in their different Ways, that not only England had never seen the like before, but they almost continue to this very Day, in spight of Emulation, in spight of Time, the greatest of our Poets, Philosophers, and Historians.


[pp. 39-40]