Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 35. His Excellence in Various Literary Species

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

I. Dryden

§ 35. His Excellence in Various Literary Species

Of Dryden’s contributions to a large variety of literary species, all of which he, in one way or another, advanced in their development, it is unnecessary here to say more. His plays, taken as a whole, form the most notable chapter in English dramatic literature after the doors of the theatres had been once more flung open at the restoration. In his nondramatic verse, he left scarcely any kind of poetry unattempted except the epic proper—in which, had his heart’s wish been fulfilled, he would have challenged comparison with the great poet who had survived into a “later age,” and to whom no political or religious differences ever prevented Dryden from paying an unstinted tribute of admiration. But he essayed, with marked success, a less adventurous flight in a narrative poetry, and, in didactic, he created what may be termed a new form of its satirical division—political satire (with a literary subsection) in verse, in which, by means of his incomparable gallery of characters, he excelled all that sought to rival him on his own ground. His didactic poems proper are among the most successful attempts ever made to carry on the arguments of the schools in polished metrical form; but it is to their satirical element as much as to their lucidity that they owe their general freedom from tediousness. His shorter didactic and satirical pieces—largely taking the shape of prologues and epilogues—often partake, after their kind, of the vis vivida of his longer satires. His lyrics, in their varied excellence, complete the roll of his poetic achievements.