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

I. Dryden

§ 4. Astraea Redux and other Panegyrics

As there had not been any signs of ardour or strong personal conviction in the Heroick Stanzas, so, when the restoration of the Stewart monarchy had been accomplished, as the only feasible termination of the crisis, and when Dryden, once more, went with the times, he went with them in his own temperate and reasoning way. This may certainly be averred with regard to the substance of the paean sounded by him on the occasion of the return of Charles II. For, although, in Astraea Redux (1660), he did not shrink from any extravagance in picturing the popular joy, and the hopes in which, “now Time’s whiter series is begun,” the subjects of Charles II indulged, yet, the royal qualities on which he enlarged as warranting these emotions were those which the king actually possessed, or, at least, was anxious to display—prudence in adversity, and clemency in the day of success. At the same time, he abstained from personal abuse, either of Cromwell (for the comparison to “the bold Typhoeus” cannot be set down as abuse) or of any other leader of the rebellion. There is, of course, much audacious misuse of the classical and Scriptural illustrations in which this poem abounds; but that was part of the “noble” style which is essential to courtly panegyric. The spirit of the poem is merely that of frank time-service; though the shameless apostrophising of the rechristened Naseby, which had earned some of the naval laurels celebrated in the Heroick Stanzas, as “now no longer England’s shame,” must be allowed to call for severe censure. The genius of the poet shows itself not only in magnificent aberrations, like the comparison to the star of Bethlehem of the star that had [char] at Charles II’s birth and now shone again,

  • Guiding our eyes to find and worship you;
  • but, also, in exquisitely graceful turns of expression, to which the metre suits its music with inimitable ease, such as the tribute to May, the month in which the king was born:
  • You and the flowers are its peculiar care.
  • Nor are characteristic strokes of wit wanting, like that on the affliction caused by Charles II’s departure to the Dutch (against whom Dryden was beginning to cultivate an irrepressible dislike):
  • True sorrow—Holland to regret a King!
  • On the occasion of Charles II’s coronation (1661), Dryden was ready with another “panegyric,” again in heroic couplets, To His Sacred Majesty, congratulating him on his pacific intentions in convoking the Savoy conference (not yet a declared failure), and on his improvements in St. James’s park, where

  • the mistrustful fowl no harm suspects,
  • So safe are all things which our King protects,
  • as well as on his approaching marriage. With this piece of pure adulation—merum mel—may be mentioned the lines To My Lord Chancellor, offered to Clarendon on New Year’s day, 1662, in which the conceptions of derived greatness and original merit are skilfully mixed, but, as is perhaps explicable, without any great expenditure of personal sympathy. The Verses to Her Royal Highness the Duchess (Clarendon’s daughter) belong to a later date (1665) and, apparently, were not known till printed with the preface to Annus Mirabilis, in which poem are sung the praises of “victorious York.” As might be expected, they show a marked advance in concentrated vigour of phrase, though not rising anywhere to the beauty of the passage, justly singled out for praise by Saintsbury, which then seemed to summarise the fortunes of Clarendon.