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the others were occasional pieces aimed at a popular taste, which has fortunately proved to be transitory. But in All for Love, his version of the Antony and Cleopatra story, there are undoubtedly some touches of greatness: the tragedy can still be read with pleasure, and might well be accorded another hearing on the stage. Of his Odes, the two finest are that on Alexander's Feast and that on St. Cecilia's Day: both stately examples of a form in which English verse and English music have equally excelled. That he falls below the first rank of poets is indisputable he lacks the fervour, the passion, the imaginative power which alone give access to the higher summits. But as a man of letters he occupies a wide domain, over which his supremacy can never be challenged. He summed up the seventeenth century; he prepared the way for the eighteenth; and he has left behind him a monument which will last as long as our literature endures.
JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700) began his literary career while still a boy at Westminster. His Tears of the Muses on the Death of Henry, Lord Hastings (1641) is in the artificial fashion of the day. Dryden's family were all 'Parliament men', and in 1658 he wrote his Heroic Stanzas on the death of Oliver Cromwell. His next work was Astraea Redux, celebrating the Restoration, followed by a Panegyric upon the coronation of Charles II. In 1662 he was made a member of the Royal Society, and in the next year his first play, The Wild Gallant, was acted. Dryden now turned his attention to the drama, and began to produce plays with extraordinary rapidity. When the theatres were closed (1665-6) on account of the plague, he retired to Wiltshire, where he wrote Annus Mirabilis and the Essay of Dramatic Poesy. In 1666 he returned to London, and it is said that he undertook to provide the King's Theatre with three plays a year. He also collaborated with Davenant in rewriting The Tempest and Macbeth, and turned Milton's Paradise Lost into an heroic opera. The best of his plays is All for Love, which is founded on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. In 1670 he became
poet laureate. In 1681 appeared Absalom and Achitophel, a brilliant satire on the Popish Plot, followed in 1682 by The Medal. In the same year appeared Mac Flecknoe, an answer to Shadwell's attacks on Dryden, and the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, of which the greater part was written by Tate. In November, 1682, the Religio Laici, a poetical defence of the Church of England, was published. In 1684-5 he published two volumes of miscellaneous poems. After the accession of James, Dryden became a Roman Catholic, and in 1687 he printed The Hind and the Panther, a defence of the Roman Church. Among his minor poems the best known is Alexander's Feast, written in 1697. He also translated works of Virgil and Ovid. His famous essays were written as prefaces to his various plays and poems.
Dryden is said to have been the first English man of letters to make a livelihood by his pen without being dependent on patrons.
ALL FOR LOVE
ACT I. SCENE 1.
Antony has sacrificed fame and honour in order to live in luxury in Egypt. Ventidius has come to try and rouse him. Enter ANTONY, walking with a disturbed motion before he speaks.
Ant. THEY tell me 'tis my birthday, and I'll keep it With double pomp of sadness.
'Tis what the day deserves which gave me breath. Why was I raised the meteor of the world
Hung in the skies, and blazing as I travelled
Till all my fires were spent; and then cast downward
"Tis mournful, wondrous mournful!
On my soul
Count thy gains.
Now, Antony, wouldst thou be born for this?
Glutton of fortune, thy devouring youth
Vent. (aside). How sorrow shakes him!
So now the tempest tears him up by the roots
(ANT. having thrown himself down.)
Lie there, thou shadow of an emperor;
Octavia then will have thee all her own,
And bear thee in her widowed hand to Caesar;
To see his rival of the universe
Lie still and peaceful there. I'll think no more on't.
And burst myself with sighing.
'Tis somewhat to my humour: stay, I fancy
I'm now turned wild, a commoner of nature;
Live in a shady forest's sylvan scene;
Stretched at my length beneath some blasted oak,
And look just of a piece as I grew from it;
Vent. (aside). Myself there too.
Methinks, I fancy
1 Caesar's sister and Antony's wife.
The herd come jumping by me And fearless quench their thirst, while I look on, And take me for their fellow-citizen.
More of this image, more; it lulls my thoughts.
[Soft music again.
ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL
PART I, LINES 146-302
Charles II wished to restore the Roman Catholic religion in
And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high, 160 He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Then, seized with fear, yet still affecting fame,
Oh! had he been content to serve the crown