« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
altered style of writing, and in the prevailing theories of literary art. As a great creative and imaginative period had come to an end, men turned instinctively to literary criticism; inspiration was failing and they naturally began to insist upon a greater attention to what they conceived to be the rules of art. Many felt that the English poets of the past, however great their genius, had fallen short of excellence because they neglected, through ignorance or indifference, the rules of composition. One noted critic of the day ridiculed Shakespeare's tragedies and sneered at Paradise Lost. There was a feeling that the literature of Shakespeare and Milton needed to be reformed; that the imagination of those poets should have been restrained, and their literary form made more correct. To Pope, the poetry of Cowley and other writers of conceits was
“One glaring Chaos and wild heap of wit.” Following the example of the French critics and the traditions of Ben Jonson's standards of art, the poets and critics of the time made a close study of the classics. Horace, Vergil, and Juvenal became the great literary models; to them even such distinguished writers as Dryden and Pope turned for examples, precedents, and rules. Poetry became largely imitative in manner, and mechanical in construction. In the time of Pope, riming dictionaries and books of rules were published in large numbers and sold in every bookshop, — although even the classics might have taught the writers of the time that poets were born and not made. Moreover, although the genius of the age was essentially critical, the judgments pronounced in the name of criticism, and the rules laid down, were in many instances strangely onesided and inconclusive.
The results of all this may be briefly stated. English literature during the age of Dryden and of Pope was dominated by classical or pseudo-classical standards. The writers of the time chose occasional or matter-offact subjects. Dryden, for example, wrote poems on the death of Oliver Cromwell, on the return of the King to the throne, on the great events of the year 1666 the War with Holland, the Great Fire of London. Both Dryden and Pope composed satires on the politics and poets of the day. Theological argument and critical and philosophical essays were cast in poetic form. Purely imaginative works such as Spenser's Faërie Queene or Shakespeare's Tempest were discredited because they were considered extravagant and incorrect. For the most part, writers followed the advice of a French critic who urged poets to leave glittering rhapsodies to the Italians, and endeavor always to write with "good sense.” In short the age of Dryden and of Pope was an age of prose rather than of poetry. England could boast of many keen, vigorous, masculine minds, possessed of a solid understanding, but few capable of seeing, feeling, and recording the everlasting poetry of things.
In style, likewise, the writers of the time followed the rules laid down by the French and Latin critics. Their ideals were those of order and restraint in the use of words; they banished the warmer, more highly colored style for one more controlled and severe. Their aim was to be clear, precise, well-balanced, and moderate, and in this they may be said to have succeeded. They gave to English prose a style which, by its strength, simplicity, and directness, was admirably adapted for all ordinary everyday needs. And similarly by their handling of the heroic couplet 1 they gave to English
· The heroic couplet is a verse-scheme consisting of two rimed
poetry a form of expression which was lucid and concise; a medium skilfully adapted to description, argument, or moral teaching, and a marvelous instrument for satire. So far, this new manner was a distinct gain to literature; but it was a gain that brought a great loss with it, for this new style became so supreme that, for a time, it almost altogether replaced the old. The serious limitations of Dryden and his followers, their deficient sense of beauty, their lack of spiritual vision, are reflected in their style. When men exchanged the noble eloquence of Jeremy Taylor for the sensible pedestrian gait of Dryden, when they replaced the rich and complex harmonies of Milton with the thinner melody and measured stroke of the rimed couplet, they were like men who should cease to cultivate the rose, because the potato is a useful article.
The changes in literature after the Restoration, in both its spirit and its style, are seen most perfectly in the work of John Dryden, a man of cold, logical intellect, and, in his own province, one of the great masters of our English tongue. Few men have so perfectly represented their age or so manifestly determined the course of literary history. From the Restoration to the end of the century, Dryden dominated English letters, "the greatest man of a little age;" and long
iambic lines, each containing ten syllables or five accents. For example,
“On her white breast a sparkling Cross she wore,
- Pope, The Rape of the Lock.
after his death the student of literature sees in both prose and poetry the impress of his powerful personality and literary skill.
Dryden's Life. – John Dryden was born at Aldwinkle, a small village in the northeastern part of
Northamptonshire, in 1631. He came of a highly respectable Puritan family, some of his relatives, both on his father's and his mother's side, being active supporters of the Parliamentary cause. He went to Westminster School, London, and in 1650 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. Little is known of his life at school or college, but we find him in after years sending his
two sons to Westminster that they might be under the instruction of his old master, and he speaks with gratitude of the solid foundation of learning he obtained there. Dryden took his degree at Cambridge in 1654, and for three years thereafter continued his studies within the walls of the old college.
The beginning of Dryden's poetical career is practically contemporaneous with the Restoration. In 1659, when he was in his twenty-eighth year, he wrote his first important poem, Heroic Stanzas on the Death of Cromwell. This tribute to the great Puritan was followed a year later by the Astræa Redux, an effusive welcome to Charles II upon his “happy restoration and return." Dryden may have been honest in his sudden conversion; nevertheless, this poem, with its strain of absurd flattery, carries with it no conviction of sincerity.
As a Dramatist. If we are ignorant of the motives which led Dryden to change his political faith, the reasons which led to his next step are only too clear. In spite of his Puritan ancestry, he was entirely lacking in that uncompromising independence which was so conspicuous a trait of the Puritan character. Milton felt that the true poet was God's prophet, bound to speak the truth delivered to him: but Dryden made writing a trade; he was quick to feel what the public wanted, and he showed no scruples in adapting his wares to the popular demand. After the Restoration, play-writing was the most lucrative branch of literature; and for about eighteen years (1663–1681) Dryden gave up nearly all his time and energy to writing plays, although he felt that in so doing he was sacrificing his higher success. He writes frankly: "I confess my chief endeavours are to delight the age in which I live. If the humour of this be for low comedy, small accidents