On August 9, 1631, John Dryden was born in Northamptonshire, England to a Puritan family. Throughout his prolific career as a poet, playwright, and literary critic, Dryden became England’s first official Poet Laureate. He was so successful, in fact, that the era of literature in which he lived became known as the Age of Dryden.
As a child, Dryden attended the prestigious Westminster School of London. There, he was trained in the art of rhetorical argument, which remained a strong influence on his poems, plays, and critical thought throughout his life. In 1649, when Dryden was 18 years old, he published his first poem. His love for writing inspired him to enroll at Trinity College in Cambridge the following year, where he most likely studied the classics, literature, rhetoric, and math. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1654, graduating at the top of his class.
Dryden’s Literary Career
Much of Dryden’s work focuses on England’s shifting politics at the time. During the beginning of his career, he worked closely with Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan general, and his Secretary of State, John Thurloe. While working alongside other Puritan poets, Dryden fully embraced the Puritan ideals he had grown up supporting. In 1658, Dryden was spotted at Cromwell’s funeral. One year later, Dryden published his first successful poem, Heroic Stanzas, which eulogizes the leader.
However, when England’s monarchy was restored in 1660, Dryden’s political views radically changed. Dryden celebrated the return of King Charles II by publishing Astraea Redux. In the poem, Dryden apologizes for his allegiance to the Cromwellian government. He would also defend the Church of England in A Layman’s Religion, published in 1683. Later, after converting to Roman Catholicism, he praised the Roman Catholic church in The Hind and the Panther.
Throughout the rest of Dryden’s career, he dedicated much of his work to his support of the Restoration. He published To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric on his Coronation and To My Lord Chancellor, possibly to encourage patronage from wealthy aristocrats. In 1668, Dryden became the first official Poet Laureate of England, confirmed by a letter signed and patented by the king. This position meant Dryden carried the responsibility of composing celebratory works for public events.
Dryden also enjoyed experimenting with other genres of writing. As a playwright, Dryden published The Wild Gallant, Marriage à la Mode, and All for Love, none of which were financially successful at the time. However, his literary criticisms and satires became widely successful across England, and he established himself as leading poet and literary critic of his day.
To celebrate Dryden’s 391st birthday, here are eight of the best quotes from his poems and dramas!
“For you may palm upon us new for old: All, as they say, that glitters, is not gold.”
“Jealousy, the jaundice of the soul.”
“For truth has such a face and such a mien/ As to be loved needs only to be seen.”
From All For Love
“Let those find fault whose wit’s so very small,/ They’ve need to show that they can think at all;/ Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;/ He who would search for pearls, must dive below.”
“Men are but children of a larger growth;/ Our appetites as apt to change as theirs,/ And full as craving, too, and full as vain.”
“Welcome, thou kind deceiver!/ Thou best of thieves: who, with an easy key,/ Dost open life, and, unperceived by us,/ Even steal us from ourselves.”
“But far too numerous was the herd of such,/ Who think too little, and who talk too much.”
“Fools are more hard to conquer than persuade.”
Happy birthday, John Dryden! Today, we celebrate Dryden’s grasp on language and his impact on world literature. If you are interested in reading more about the nine most influential poets of all time, go to Bookstr.