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October 13: "I went out to Charing Cross, to see MajorGeneral Harrison 1 hanged, drawn, and quartered. . . . He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which time there were great shouts of joy." The most famous long entry is that describing the great fire of 1666, containing much of interest regarding phases of Restoration London which a regular historian would have ignored.
The Supreme Diarist. As Boswell (see page 184) is the world's greatest biographer, Samuel Pepys is its greatest diarist. His Diary, says Richard Garnett, is "a model to which not only no one ever will attain, but to which no one will endeavor to attain." As indicating the difficulty of accomplishing what Pepys accomplished Garnett adds: "He is as supreme in his own sphere as Milton in his; and another Milton is more likely to appear than another Pepys."
JOHN DRYDEN, 1631-1700
The dominant literary figure of the age was John Dryden, who possessed skill much above the average writer, but lacked the force of character necessary to raise the tone of the literature. His life of sixty-nine years stretched over the period of the Commonwealth and those of four sovereigns
the two Charleses, James II, and William and Mary. His literary life, which began at the death of Cromwell, shows a series of changes in standards and theories of writing; and his writings show great changes in thought, particularly religious thought. Regarding all these changes a controversy has lasted to the present day; and scholars are not yet agreed whether greater praise or blame is due him.
1 A Puritan officer who signed Charles the First's death warrant.
Life to the End of the Commonwealth. - Dryden was born in a Northamptonshire village about eighty miles north of London, August 9, 1631. He attended Westminster School under Doctor Busby (who, it will be remembered, once whipped Sir Roger de Coverley's grandfather-see The
Spectator, No. 329), and
Trinity College, Cambridge. Though he did
not obtain a fellowship, he remained in Cambridge for three years after his graduation in 1654, apparently engaged in study. On the death of his father he inherited property enough to support him; and from Cambridge he moved to London, which from that time was his residence.
Stanzas, Consecrated to the Memory of His Highness, Oliver, Late Lord Protector of this Commonwealth. The poet's ancestry was Puritan in sympathy, and this poem is quite orthodox, saying:
"His grandeur he derived from Heaven alone,
For he was great, ere Fortune made him so."
The concluding stanza reads:
"His ashes in a peaceful urn shall rest;
His name a great example stands to show
Less than two years later appeared from the same pen Astræa Redux, a Poem on the Happy Restoration and Return of His Sacred Majesty Charles the Second. This is the first of Dryden's changes and the easiest to explain. In the words of Doctor Johnson: "If he changed, he changed with the nation." Why and to what extent the nation changed, has been stated above. In passing we should note that Astræa Redux is written in heroic couplets,' the measure which Dryden was to fix as the standard measure for English poetry for more than a century.
First Plays and Essays. In the third year of Charles II, Dryden produced The Wild Gallant and The Rival Ladies, the first of a long list of plays of little merit and of the tone he believed to be in demand by Restoration play-goers. Four years later came a work of dramatic criticism of more importance to English literature than all his plays - Essay of Dramatic Poesy, in which he argues for the use of rhyme in tragedy. Although the subject of the essay is of no importance, the essay itself deserves high place as the first composition in what is called modern prose. By this term is meant prose employed "as an instrument for promoting
1 The heroic couplet consists of two rhymed lines of iambic pentameter. Examples from Astræa Redux:
"How shall I speak of that triumphant day,
social intercourse and refinement as distinguished from that used "for the various purposes of instruction." 1 This was followed by Defence of the Essay of Dramatic Poesy, and by various other defences, prefaces, and dedications, which taken together justify our naming Dryden the "Father of Modern English Prose."
Dryden was made. Poet Laureate in 1670, and held the position until the Revolution (1688). Eight years later, in All for Love, an imitation and adaptation of Shakspere's Antony and Cleopatra, he abandoned rhyme for blank verse in tragedy; another of his changes of standard, which he felt it necessary to "defend" in a
By the Authour of Absalom and Acbitopbel,
Per Graium populos, medieque per Elidis Urbem
Printed for Jacob Tonfon at the Judge's Head in
FACSIMILE TITLE-PAGE OF DRYDEN'S
(New York Public Library.)
Neither Dryden's plays nor his critical essays, however, could have given him the position he occupied in Restoration life and literature. That position at the top came to him as a result chiefly of another sort of writing, begun when he was fifty years old political satire. The first of his satirical poems was Absalom and Achitophel,
1 Courthope, in Craik's English Prose, III, 139.