Essay On Satire Dryden

The "Discourse on Satire" (addressed "to the Right Honourable Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex") offers John Dryden's considered opinions on the practice of imitation and on the design, stanza, and diction of the Faerie Queene. While not always original, these remarks carried great weight with later critics: "it is important to note that this very just criticism of the general structure of The Faerie Queene began with Dryden and has become the current comment of our own day. Even Thomas Warton had nothing to add to it" Herbert E. Cory, "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 115.

Edmond Malone: "The language of THE FAERY QUEEN was the poetical language of the age in which he lived; and however obsolete it might appear to Dryden, was, I conceive, perfectly intelligible to every reader of poetry at the time of Queen Elizabeth, though THE SHEPHEARDS CALENDER was not even then understood without a commentary" Critical Works of John Dryden (1800) 3:95n.

Thomas Warton: "Mr. Dryden remarks 'We must do Spenser that justice to observe, that magnanimity [magnificence] which is the true character of PRINCE ARTHUR, shines throughout the whole poem; and succours the rest when they, are in distress.' If the magnanimity of PRINCE ARTHUR did in reality shine throughout the whole poem with a steady and superior lustre, our author would stand excused; but at present it breaks forth but seldom, in dim and interrupted flashes; it is not like the pervading spirit of Virgil, which 'Agitat molem, & magno se corpore miscet.' And to 'succour the rest when they are in distress,' is a circumstance of too little importance in the hero of a poem: 'to succour' is, in fact, a service to be perform'd in the cause of the hero, by some dependent and inferior chief, the business of a Gyas or a Cloanthus, a Mnestheus, or a Serestus" Observations on the Faerie Queene (1754) 6.

John Upton: "Dryden tells us in his preface to the translation of Juvenal, that he had some thoughts of making choice for the subject of an heroic poem, King Arthur's conquests over the Saxons: And hinting at the same design in the preface to his Fables says, 'That it was not for this noble knight [meaning Sir R. Blackmore] that he drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur.' Milton likewise had the same intention, as he intimates in a Latin poem to Mansus" Faerie Queene (1758) 1:xxv.

Percival Stockdale: "The plan of his intended epick poem which I have before mentioned, he laid before Charles the Second. As he was always in unfortunate circumstances, he thought that he could not perform the work (which, if it had been completed, would have been a noble monument to the honour of this country) without a salary from government. The hero of the poem was to have been King Arthur; or the Black Prince; it was to have had the machinery of guardian angels of nations, and of cities. — 'After Virgil, and Spenser' (he adds, in his Dedication of Juvenal to the Earl of Dorset) 'I would have taken occasion to represent my living friends, and patrons, of the noblest families; and also shadowed the events of future ages, in the succession of our imperial line. With those helps, and those of the machines which I have mentioned, I might, perhaps, have done as well as some of my predecessours; or, at least, chalked out a way for others to amend my errours, in a like design. But being encouraged only with fair words by King Charles the Second; my little salary' [as poet laureat he must mean] 'ill paid; and no prospect of a future subsistence; I was then discouraged in the beginning of my attempt. And now age has overtaken me; and want, a more insufferable evil, through the change of the times, has wholly disenabled, me.' — Dedication of Juvenal. Pp. 21; 22. Octavo edit. 1711. People may charge me with being as partial to poets as they please; but if I was a king, or a minister, with my present sentiments, and habits of feeling, I should not think that I could be more completely damned to everlasting fame, than by such a complaint as this of Dryden, for my satire, or my epitaph" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 1:264-66.

Thomas Green: "Read Dryden's Dedication to his Translations of Juvenal's Satires: — a stranger, rambling composition; mingling in its rapid but desultory current, gross adulation, historical deduction, fine criticism, and wild decisions. Amongst the latter, I should place his assertion, that Horace instructs, and Juvenal delights, most: — an absurd ground of comparison; and surely a most unjust judgement with respect to Horace" 10 November 1799; Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810) 172.

John Wilson: "Dryden, himself a mighty master of versification, preferred — at least he says so, but we hope he lied — Waller's to Spenser's! We must speak leniently then of the follies of meaner men" Blackwood's Magazine 36 (1834) 420.

William Minto: "Dryden and many others have complained of occasional intricacy and incoherence in the Faery Queen. The admirers of the poet should not meet this complaint by denying the fact: for it is a fact that Spenser does often violate the plain laws of space and time.... The proper excuse it to say that the scene is laid 'in the delightful land of Faery,' where perplexity and confusion are as natural as in a dream" Characteristics of English Poets (1874) 223-24.

Herbert E. Cory: "In his maturity Dryden spoke enthusiastically and discerningly about Spenser. In his Essay on Satire (1693), he made his most elaborate criticism.... It is important to observe that this very just criticism of the general structure of The Faerie Queene began with Dryden and has become the current comment to our own day. Even Thomas Warton had nothing to add to it. It is moreover worth special attention that Dryden did not share Jonson's and Davenant's aversion for the use of obsolete words. Nor did he always regard them as even 'faults of the second magnitude.' We have seen that he first condemned but later praised the archaisms in The Shepheards Calender. And in his discussion of Milton in this same digression in the Essay on Satire he treats archaisms with a justice that is beyond reproach.... Dryden's association of the names of Spenser and Virgil in the discussion of the structure of The Faerie Queene quoted above is only one of many passages that indicate that Spenser and the darling of the neo-classicists were endeared to him as poetical comrades" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 114-16.

A. A. Jack: "Dryden's censures concern the structure of the poem and the choice of the Spenserian stanza. At the end of the preface he episodically confesses, what will surprise any but his familiar readers, that for 'beautiful turns of words and thoughts' — at 'last he had recourse' to Spenser. It is in the passage in which he speaks of 'that immortal poem called The Fairy Queene,' and tells us that it was there that he had met 'with that which he had been looking for so long in vain" Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 267.

Roberta Florence Brinkley: "Dryden states that it had been his intention to discontinue writing plays and to undertake a work for the honor of his country which would engage him the rest of his life. This was to be an epic of 'king Arthur, conquering the Saxons' or of the Black Prince. The subject of King Arthur appealed to him because 'being farther distant in Time' it 'gives greater scope to my Invention.' Whichever subject he chose, however, he intended to imitate Virgil and Spenser in representing 'living Friends and Patrons of the noblest Families' and in shadowing 'the Events of future Ages in the Succession of our Imperial Line'" Arthurian Legend (1932) 142.

Reginald Berry: "Dryden in late career does not willfully misunderstood Spenser's project; rather, he seems to be articulating his indebtedness to, and departure from, a model which had been formative for him but also in part inappropriate to his post-Restoration poetics" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 228.

Now if it may be permitted me to go back again, to the Consideration of Epique Poetry, I have confess'd, that no Man hitherto has reach'd, or so much as approach'd to the Excellencies of Homer or of Virgil; I must farther add, that Statius, the best Versificator next to Virgil, knew not how to Design after him, though he had the Model in his Eye; that Lucan is wanting both in Design and Subject, and is besides too full of Heat, and Affectation; that amongst the Moderns, Ariosto neither Design'd Justly, nor observ'd any Unity of Action, or Compass of Time, or Moderation in the Vastness of his Draught; his Style is Luxurious, without Majesty, or Decency; and his Adventures, without the compass of Nature and Possibility: Tasso, whose Design was Regular, and who observ'd the Rules of Unity in Time and Place, more closely than Virgil; yet was not so happy in his Action; he confesses himself to have been too Lyrical, that is, to have written beneath the Dignity of Heroick Verse, in his Episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida; his Story is not so pleasing as Ariosto's; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forc'd; and besides, is full of Conceipts, points of Epigram and Witticisms; all which are not only below the Dignity of Heroick Verse, but contrary to its Nature: Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of so boyish an Ambition in so grave a Subject, are so far from being considered as Heroique Poets, that they ought to be turn'd down from Homer to the Anthologia, from Virgil to Martial and [John] Owen's Epigrams, and from Spencer to Fleckno; that is, from the top to the bottom of all Poetry. But to return to Tasso, he borrows from the invention of Boyardo, and in his Alteration of his Poem, which is infinitely for the worse, imitates Homer so very servilely, that (for Example) he gives the King of Jerusalem Fifty Sons, only because Homer had bestow'd the like number on King Priam; he kills the youngest in the same manner, and has provided his Hero with a Patroclus, under another Name, only to bring him back to the Wars, when his Friend was kill'd. The French have perform'd nothing in this kind, which is not far below these two Italians, and subject to a thousand more Reflections, without examining their Saint Lewis, their Pucelle, or their Alarique: The English have only to boast of Spencer and Milton who neither of them wanted either Genius, or Learning, to have been perfect Poets; and yet both of them are liable to many Censures. For there is no Uniformity in the Design of Spencer: He aims at the Accomplishment of no one Action: He raises up a Hero for every one of his Adventures; and endows each of them with some particular Moral Virtue, which renders them all equal, without Subordination or Preference. Every one is most Valiant in his own Legend; only we must do that Justice to observe, that Magnaminity, which is the Character of Prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole Poem; and Succours the rest, when they are in Distress. The Original of every Knight, was then living in the Court of Queen Elizabeth: And he attributed to each of them that Virtue, which he thought was most conspicuous in them: An Ingenious piece of Flattery, tho' it turned not much to his Account. Had he liv'd to finish his Poem, in the six remaining Legends, it had certainly been more of a piece; but cou'd not have been perfect, because the Model was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief Patron, Sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy, by the Marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, depriv'd the Poet, both of Means and Spirit, to accomplish his Design: For the rest, his Obsolete Language, and the ill choice of his Stanza, are faults but of the Second Magnitude: For nothwithstanding the first he is still Intelligible, at least, after a little practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admir'd; that labouring under such a difficulty, his Verses are so Numerous, so Various, and so Harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he profestly imitated, has surpass'd him, among the Romans; and only Mr Waller among the English.

As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with so much Justice, his Subject is not that of an Heroique Poem; properly so call'd: His Design is the Losing of our Happiness; his Event is not prosperous, like that of all other Epique Works: His Heavenly Machines are many, and his Humane persons are but two. But I will not take Mr. Rymer's Work out of his Hands. He has promis'd the World a Critique on that Author; wherein, tho' he will not allow his Poem for Heroick, I hope he will grant us, that his Thoughts are elevated, his Words Sounding, and that no Man has so happliy Copy'd the Manner of Homer; or so copiously translated his Grecisms, and the Latin Elegancies of Virgil. 'Tis true, he runs into a flat of Thought, sometimes for a Hundred Lines together, but 'tis when he is got into a Track of Scripture: His antiquated words were his Choice, not his Necessity; for therein he imitated Spencer, as Spencer did Chawcer. And tho', perhaps, the love of their Masters, may have transported both too far, in the frequent use of them; yet in my Opinion, Obsolete Words may be laudably reviv'd, when either they are more Sounding, or more Significant than those in practice: And when their Obscurity is taken away, by joining other Words to them which clear the Sense; according to the rule of Horace, for the admission of new Words. But in both cases, a Moderation is to be observ'd, in the use of them: For unnecessary Coynage, as well as unnecessary Revival, runs into Affectation; af fault to be avoided on either hand. Neither will I Justifie Milton for his Blank Verse, tho' I may excuse him, by the Example of Hannibal Caro, and other Italians, who have us'd it: For whatever Causes he alledges for the abolishing of Rhyme (which I have not now the leisure to examine) his own particular Reason is plainly this, that Rhyme was not his Talent; he had neither the Ease of doing it, nor the Graces of it; which is manifest in his Juvenilia, or Verses written in his Youth: Where his Rhyme is always constrain'd and forc'd, and comes hardly from him at an Age when the Soul is most pliant; and the Passion of Love, makes almost every Man a Rhymer, tho' not a Poet....

I have given your Lordship, but this bare hint, in what Verse, and in what manner this sort of Satire may best be manag'd. Had I time, I cou'd enlarge on the Beautiful Turns of Words and Thoughts; which are as requisite in this, as in Heroique Poetry it self; of which this Satire is undoubtedly a Species. With these Beautiful Turns I confess my self to have been unaquainted, till about Twenty Years ago, in a Conversation which I had with that Noble Wit of Scotland, Sir George Mackenzy: He asked me why I did not imitate in my Verses, the turns of Mr. Waller, and Sir John Denham; of which, he repeated many to me: I had often read with pleasure, and with some profit, those two Fathers of our English Poetry; but had not seriously enough consider'd those Beauties which give the last perfection to their Works. Some sprinklings of this kind, I had also formerly in my Plays, but they were casual, and not design'd. But this hint, thus seasonably given me, first made me sensible of my own wants, and brought me afterwards to seek for the supply of them in other English Authors. I look'd over the Darling of my Youth, the Famous Cowley; there I found instead of them, the Points of Wit, and Quirks of Epigram, even in the Davideis, a Heroick Poem, which is of an opposite nature to those Puerilities; but no Elegant turns, either on the word, or on the thought. Then I consulted a Great Genius, (without offence to the Manes of that Noble Author) I mean Milton. But as he endeavours every where to express Homer, whose Age had not arriv'd to that fineness, I found in him a true sublimity, lofty thoughts, which were cloath'd with admirable Grecisms, and ancient words, which he had been digging from the Mines of Chaucer, and of Spencer, and which, with all their rusticity, had somewhat of Venerable in them. But I found not there neither for which I look'd. At last, I had recourse to his Master, Spencer, the Author of that immortal Poem call'd the Fairy Queen; and there I met with that which I had been looking for so long in vain. Spencer had studi'd Virgil to as much advantage as Milton had done Homer. And amongst the rest of his Excellencies had Copy'd that. Looking farther into the Italian, I found Tasso had done the same; nay more, that all the Sonnets in that Language are on the turn of the first thought; which Mr. Walsh, in his late ingenious Preface to his Poems has observ'd. In short, Virgil, and Ovid are the two Principal Fountains of them in Latine Poetry. And the French at this day are so fond of them, that they judge them to be the first Beauties. "Delicate, & bien tourne," are the highest Commendations, which they bestow, on somewaht which they think a Master-Piece....

[pp. viii-ix, l-li]


London: Jacob Tonson, 1693.
[4], xxxix [i.e. liii], [2], 315 pp.; [4], 87 pp.; 2o.
In Poems, ed. James Kinsley, 4 vols (1958).
Microforms: Early English Books, 1641-1700; Reel 212, No. 7).

Wing (2nd Ed.) J1288.
Allibone, Critical Dictionary (1882) 2:2205; Beers, Romanticism in the 18th Century (1899) 80; Scribner, "Spenser's Literary Reputation" (1906) 86; Bohme, Spenser's literarisches Nachleben (1911) 108; Cory, "Critics of Spenser" UC Pub. in Mod. Philology 2 (1911) 114-15; A. A. Jack, Poetry of Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 267; De Maar, English Romanticism (1924) 35, 50, 72; Spurgeon, Chaucer Criticism (1925) 1:264-65; Brinkley, Arthurian Legend (1932) 142; Swedenberg, Theory of the Epic (1944) 55; Elliott, Prince of Poets (1968) 12; Alpers, Edmund Spenser (1969) 73; Cummings, Critical Heritage (1971) 203, 301; Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) 296; Spenser Encyclopedia, "Dryden" (1990) 229.

Biros, Sister Mary Bonaventure O.P.


Satire and the satirists have been in evidence in all ages of the world's history. Satire has always ranked as one of the cardinal divisions of literature, and it has been distinctly cultivated by men of genius. This was especially true in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the classics were esteemed on authority as models . This type of writing may have historical as well as literary and ethical values. Smeaton says: "The satiric denunciation of a writer burning with indignation at some social wrong or abuse, is capable of reaching the very highest level of literature. "1 John Dryden's satires fit into this category. His Absalom and Achitophel is the greatest political satire in our literature, and the rest of his satires are very highly esteemed. Dryden has justly been regarded as England's greatest satirist, and the epoch of Dryden has been fittingly styled the "Golden Age of the English Satire." It is the object of this thesis to exhibit his contribution to the satiric Domain" by considering the meaning of satire, Dryden's interpretation of satire, the special qualities which distinguish Dryden's satiric spirit, and the modifications of that spirit as they are shown in his political satire, Absalom and Achitophel. The absence of any established criteria as a basis for the study of satire is a difficult y which must be recognized and met at the very outset. This paper does not attempt, by any means, to fill this gap. For Professor Tucker and Professor Alden have quite satisfactorily succeeded in establishing criteria or terminology that might serve for the treatment of satire as a genre. An effort is made to define satire only in general terms as an introduction and as an aid to the reader. Any study of satirical poetry in England is rendered difficult by a confusion of terms. If we look into A New English Dictionary, we will note that satire comes from the Latin word "satira, later form of satura" meaning a medley. As a specific application of satura (medley), satire was "in early use a discursive composition in verse treating of a variety of subjects, in classical use a poem in which prevalent follies or vices are assailed with ridicule or with serious denunciation." Dr. Johnson's Dictionary gives the following definition: "Satire (Lat. satira) Poem of a moral character (as such opposed to lampoon), wherein vice or folly is either ridiculed, or censured with irony." These definitions give us a general idea of the term. But to understand satire a more detailed clarification will prove helpful. Professor Tucker gives us quite an adequate explanation when he says that the confusion of terms lies in the really triple meaning of the word satire. “As given in the dictionary, satire, in one sense, is an abstract term cognant with ridicule; as when we say, ‘Satire has accomplished revolutions.’ A second meaning refers to a literary form that has for its object destructive criticism, as when we say…” Mac Flecknoe is a Satire on Shadwell. In this double meaning there is no confusion, for a distinction is simplified by the mere use of a capital letter when the word “satire” is used to denote a literary form. “But, unfortunately, a double meaning lurks in the first and more abstract signification of the word …. Here two things are confused: the satirical spirit, an intangible, abstract some thing that underlies and inspires what we commonly call satire--or ridicule --or invective; and satire itself, which is merely the concrete manifestation of the satiric spirit in literature.” Clarification of terms would involve a long discussion and many illustrations, but for our purpose it is sufficient to bear in mind that “…. the term satirical spirit always refers to a point of view; the word satire to a concrete but general embodiment of that point of view in literature; and the Satire (capitalized) to the literary form or the genre, as well as to any particular example of the genre.” Thus, we may say, the satirical spirit is enthusiastic; Dryden's satire is directed against the Whigs; Dryden made a great contribution to the Satire; Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel is a Satire of great importance. Worcester defines formal satire as: “…. a poem of short or middling length, designed to express the author's disapprobation of political, social, or personal actions, condition or qualities written in heroic couplet, in real or fancied imitation of one or more of the Roman satirists; its prevailing tone may be one of gross invective, satiric invective, or burlesque ….” Dryden, on the other hand, in his Essay on Satire quotes with approval Heinsius's definition of satire, and evidently means formal satire. Heinsius (in his dissertation on Horace) defines satire thus: “Satire is a kind of poetry, without a series of action, invented for the purging of our minds; in which human vices, ignorance, and errors, and all things besides, which are produced from them in every man, are severely reprehended; partly dramatically, partly simply, and sometimes in both kind of speaking; but for the most part, figuratively, and occultly; consisting in a low familiar way, chiefly in a sharp and pungent manner of speech; but partly~ also, in a facetious and civil way of jesting; by which either hatred, or laughter, or indignation, is moved.” Briefly, Dryden's theory is that all virtues are to be praised and recommended to practice, and all vices reprehended, and made either odious or ridiculous; otherwise, there is a fundamental error in the whole design. Dryden from the standpoint of the literary artist, says in his Essay on Satire, "The nicest and the most delicate touches of satire consist in fine raillery." Dryden's dictum for designing a perfect satire is “that it ought only to treat of one subject; to be confined to one particular theme; or at least to one principally. If other vices occur in the management of the chief, they should only be transiently lashed, and not be insisted on, so as to make a design double." Another rule comprehended under this unity of theme is that the satirist is "bound, and that ex officio, to give his reader some one precept of moral virtue , and to caution him against some particular vice or folly." Other subordinate virtues may be recommended under the chief head; other vices or follies may be scourged, besides that which he principally intends.” But he is chiefly to inculcate one virtue, and insist on that." This has not been a universal law for satire, nevertheless, it is highly respected by many reliable critics. Later in the treatise we shall see how Dryden adheres to his principles. His Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1692) was written after his great Satires (1681-1687), but the same principles were well set in his mind . Numerous unjust attacks have been launched against Dryden by some critics. Are their conjectures true? Prejudices and assumptions, and not true evidence played an important role here. To understand Dryden's satire, it is necessary to take into consideration his cast of mind, as well as, the events of his time. With this intellectual insight we shall agree that his thoughts and his craftsmanship are superb. He seems to fit into Newman's dictum: "The style of a great author will be the faithful image of his mind, and this no less in oratory than in poetry." Great authors have great thought; for thought and speech are inseparable. Why question Dryden's sincerity? "Dryden has succeeded in making eternally interesting and entertaining his own private beliefs, just as Shakespeare has succeeded in arousing our interest in his own love for a dark- eyed lady, long since dead." A consideration of Dryden's satiric spirit as it is shown in Absalom and Achitophel involves an investigation of the objects of his attacks, whether individuals, classes, or institutions, and a discussion of the relation of his satire to contemporary society and politics; what he tried to do and how he succeeded. It also necessitates a study of the methods he utilized, and the manner he was inclined to assume. Therefore, Chapter II will deal with Dryden's cast of mind, his intellectual milieu, his honesty, and his consistency. Chapter III will treat the political background of the central problem of his poem. Chapter IV will contain the analysis of Absalom and Achitophel, analyzed politically, satirically and poetically. Lastly, a summary will be presented of the characteristics which distinguish his satiric spirit and make his work distinctive and unique.


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