John Dryden (1631-1700)

Image: *plaque erected in 1870 by (Royal) Society of Arts at 43 Gerrard Street, Soho

From the website of the Ulster History Circle:

“The oldest surviving plaques, both in London, were erected in 1875, identifying buildings with, respectively, Napoleon III and the poet John Dryden.”

From English Heritage: Blue Plaques:

“Dryden lived at 44 Gerrard Street with his wife Elizabeth (c. 1638–1714) from about 1687 until his death in 1700. His years there were difficult: his conversion to Catholicism in about 1685 meant that he was unable to take the oath of allegiance after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. As a result he lost his position as Poet Laureate, one he had held for 20 years. He found himself in financial difficulties but remained highly active in London’s literary world.

Dryden usually worked in the front ground-floor room of the house, and it was here that he completed his last play, Love Triumphant (1694), the poem Alexander’s Feast, or, The Power of Musique (1697) and translations such as The Works of Virgil (1697). In the preface to the latter, Dryden likened himself to Virgil in his ‘Declining Years, struggling with Wants, oppress’d with Sickness’. 

Number 44 was built in about 1681 and re-fronted in 1793, before being redeveloped in about 1901. At the same time number 43 was demolished, a deed described in the press as ‘a hideous and wonton act of vandalism’.

*The plaque, though damaged, was immediately re-erected on the new structure. It is unique among surviving Society of Arts plaques in its colour – white, with blue lettering.”

From the website of the Poetry Foundation:

“After John Donne and John Milton, John Dryden was the greatest English poet of the 17th century. After William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, he was the greatest playwright. And he has no peer as a writer of prose, especially literary criticism, and as a translator. Other figures, such as George Herbert or Andrew Marvell or William Wycherley or William Congreve, may figure more prominently in anthologies and literary histories, but Dryden’s sustained output in both poetry and drama ranks him higher…

Dryden was born  August 9, 1631 into an extended family of rising Puritan gentry in Northamptonshire. But as a teenager he was sent to the King’s School at Westminster to be trained as a King’s Scholar by the brilliant Royalist headmaster Richard Busby. Dryden’s family sided with the Commonwealth; however, in his first published poem, the elegy “Upon the Death of the Lord Hastings”—included in a volume (1649) of verses upon this young aristocrat’s untimely death from smallpox—Dryden revealed Royalist sympathies.

Perhaps because of family pressure, Dryden largely avoiding publishing again until he had left Cambridge, where he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, and had been in the employ of Oliver Cromwell’s government, probably in the Office of Latin Secretary along with Milton and Marvell. This is perhaps the first evidence of Dryden’s trimming his sails to the political winds, as centuries of critics have accused him. His cousin, the prominent Puritan Sir Gilbert Pickering, lord chamberlain to Cromwell, probably procured employment for Dryden, and when the Protector died in 1659, Dryden, perhaps out of a sense of duty either internally or externally imposed, published his “Heroique Stanzas, Consecrated to the Glorious Memory …” of Cromwell. People—especially young people—change their opinions all the time, so we should feel no compulsion to make Dryden consistent. But this poem is filled with so many perplexing ambiguities, as especially Steven N. Zwicker has noted, that no coherent republican ideology emerges from it…”

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