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

III. Political and Ecclesiastical Satire

§ 6. Lesser Satires of this and the Following Period: Poems on Affairs of State

The satires which drew their inspiration, such as it was, from Dryden, Oldham and Marvell, were, for the most part, written in the heroic couplet, although a Hudibrastic metre appears now and again, and there are some semi-lyric exceptions hard to classify. By their nature, they were almost all published anonymously, and the veil was seldom raised later, even when the bulk of them were reprinted in such collections as the various volumes entitled Poems on Affairs of State. When an author’s name was affixed by the transcribers, it was, very possibly, apocryphal. Some poems written subsequently to Marvell’s death were put down to him, and, on principle, Rochester was debited with the most obscene. Then, certain names are furnished by the publishers of Poems on Affairs of State on the title-pages of that collection. We are told that the duke of Buckingham, lord Buckhurst (later, earl of Dorset), Sir Fleetwood Sheppard, Sprat, Drake, Gould, Brady and Shadwell were responsible for some of the contents; but the attribution of the individual pieces is rarely given; nor do the authors’ names, of inferior importance as they mostly are, give many clues in the way of style. In fact, the greater number of the regular satires might be ascribed to two authors—distinguishable from each other as writing, the one reasonably well, and the other very badly. Dryden is imitated almost invariably in the metre, Oldham frequently, and Marvell not seldom in the contents, and there is little else left by which to judge. A single type is dominant.

A better classification than that by authors is provided in these poems by their method of treatment and their themes. There were employed in them a restricted number of hackneyed forms which were often fixed by the more important poets. Cleiveland had invented the railing character of a political opponent. Denham and Marvell had brought in the vogue of a satiric rimed chronicle, and to Marvell is due the variation of a visionary dialogue. Oldham revived the related ghostly monologue, the satiric last will, and direct general invective. Dryden was the author of a kind of epic, derived from the satiric chronicle, but no longer dependent on the news of the day, and presenting its invective in the form of characters drawn with consummate ability. By the imitators of these writers, the dominant forms of satire enumerated were adopted in a more or less slavish manner together with other genres, and it is not difficult to select examples from the best defined groups.

There were written during the period over twenty Advices to a Painter or poems with kindred themes. For instance, one New Advice, written in 1679, contains a grim attack on the whigs and nonconformists after archbishop Sharp’s murder. It has no mean dramatic power, and is in strong contrast to the historic and argumentative Good Old Cause Revived of a few months later. Nor did the trick tire till the close of the century. A nobler form, that of Biblical narrative, also had its misusers. Pordage, a by-word for Grub-street poverty, wrote the tame, but not abusive, Azaria and Hushai, in 1682, while Settle, in his Absalom Senior, a mere echo of Dryden, among much nonsense has, here and there, good lines, such as:

  • To what strange rage is Superstition driven,
  • That Man can outdo Hell to fight for Heaven.
  • Brady produced an obscene Giant’s War about the same time, and the change to a classical subject is also seen in Tarquin and Tullia, a bitter Jacobite attack on William III and his queen.