Did John Dryden imagine that he was living, that he was conducting, a literary life? Given forty years of nearly continuous (indeed, pretty much non-stop) literary production, a more pertinent question might be, how could he not have so imagined his life? And we can ask further, when did Dryden begin to imagine this literary life, and in whose company did he imagine it, and by what means and models did he indulge in such imagining? There are a lot of materials with which to propose answers to these questions, not least the literary biographies that Dryden himself wrote. He knew Vasari’s Lives, he knew very well Plutarch’s Lives, overseeing the group translation of Plutarch that Jacob Tonson began to publish in the early 1680s, and writing the life of Plutarch for that edition.1 He wrote characters of St Evremond and of Polybius, and a life of Lucian; he translated a life of St Francis Xavier; and he is credited by the OED with introducing the word biography into the English language, though he is probably not the first to use the term and certainly not the first to write a life – there were plenty of those, sacred and secular, before the lives and characters that Dryden wrote.2 Yet the formal exercise of writing a life or a character was not the first or the only place where Dryden reflected on what it meant to imagine, to live a literary life, to belong to something like a republic of letters or at least to a coterie of writers, and to be absorbed in the project of fashioning texts in which a poet might discover ways of living within and beyond his or her own words. Dryden did that, of course, in the texts called lives and characters but as well in that rich archive of biographical and autobiographical thinking to be found in the prefaces and dedications that he wrote throughout his career. There he reflected casually but with wonderful astuteness on the literary lives of the ancients and the moderns, and not least on his own literary life. The formal lives and characters came in the later decades of Dryden’s career, but reflecting on and fashioning a literary life began early, not in the very first pieces of writing – those purpose-built panegyrics with which he hoped to step into a literary life (even if he couldn’t have quite imagined the richness of the literary life that would come to him) – but soon after. In the summer of 1665 came a brief hiatus in his London life when he took refuge at Charlton Park, the country estate of his father-in-law, Thomas, earl of Berkshire.3 There, in retreat from the black death and the Great Fire, and from the noise and rush of the Anglo-Dutch war and of the theatrical season, Dryden had the leisure to write a masterpiece, the Essay of Dramatic Poesy. The Essay has been carefully read for its role in the formation of theatrical taste, its genealogy of the drama, its counterpointing of ancients and moderns and of the English playhouse and French classical theatre. And the form of the Essay has of course been noted: a conversation that Dryden fashioned from and through the voices of his contemporaries Lord Buckhurst, Sir Charles Sedley, Sir Robert Howard, and a character whom Dryden called Neander.4 What has not been sufficiently appreciated is the way in which Dryden invested literary opinion in the Essay with a sense of the imagined life. Certainly, he knew how to ventriloquise high talk, Dorset and Sedley as the casual, erudite, and aristocratic amateurs Eugenius and Lisideius; but Sir Robert Howard, Dryden’s brother-in-law, and Dryden himself are more fully imagined characters, more improvisatory – something other than a set of talking heads. Howard as the character Crites is arch, prickly, self-important, deeply invested, within the fiction of the Essay, in the unities and the rules, and contemptuous of rhyme – Dryden’s device of course, and the device that his avatar, Neander, celebrates in the Essay. And Howard’s own lofty, irritated manner is beautifully caught by Dryden in the Essay, and in the Defence of an Essay where Dryden drops Neander’s mask and that character’s hesitation, indeed his good manners, to batter and ridicule his brother-in-law.5 What the juxtaposition of Neander from the Essay and John Dryden from the Defence of an Essay underscores is the disinterestedness that the fiction of the Essay allowed. Neander is of course an imitation but not, in the language of the Essay, a narrow copy; the fiction of Neander enabled Dryden to develop a sense of the literary self, a figure dispensing opinions, defending the new, appreciating the forefathers of English drama, and wonderfully so at the close of the Essay where Neander runs on a bit too long – perhaps entranced by his own opinions – and has to be reminded (by John Dryden in the person of Eugenius) that the afternoon has come to a close, the barge has anchored at the steps of Somerset House, and the literary conversation has come to an end. Dryden’s ability ever so slightly to embarrass Neander points to that crucial gap between the figure of the writer projected through the fiction of the Essay and the figure of the writer dispensing himself, not exactly without a filter but in a pretty raw and explosive fashion in the Defence of an Essay. The Defence occupies a position proximate to the Essay in the development of Dryden’s theories of dramatic art, but it is a quite different achievement from the Essay. Transparent as the characters in the Essay might seem, the idea of inventing a fiction of himself in order to debate aesthetics took Dryden to a new imaginative space, an independent realm where he could entertain various and contradictory positions on questions formal and aesthetic – all of which, of course, he ventriloquises through the voices of the Essay. We might even think of the Essay as Dryden’s first exercise in the scepticism that would become a kind of touchstone for him – a capacity to hold contradictory opinions in tension, a philosophical attitude but an element of the affective life as well; and we might understand such scepticism through its affiliation with irony – scepticism as the philosophical position, irony as the literary practice that enabled the sceptic not only to pose or to balance explicit, outright contradictions but also to entertain subtler, more oblique oppositions.6 The positions that the speakers in the Essay take on rhyme and dramatic structure, on imitation and decorum, are significant for understanding how Restoration drama unfolded in the 1660s and beyond, but it is also important to hear how Dryden fashions the representation of his own life, at once a kind of mirroring and a heightening: Neander’s ironies, hesitations, and volubility, both the assurance and the self-doubt of this literary voice, eager to claim a place at the table, to secure a position within the world of letters through contention and opinion but with deference and hesitation.7 Here is the literary self engaged in clientage and conversation, in literary debate and collaboration, and alive to the social dynamic of the theatre with its actors and characters, and of course its audiences whom Dryden engaged in a running dialogue of prologues and epilogues that lasted nearly forty years. If we are to follow the arc of this development in terms both theatrical and sociable, Dryden’s coming more fully to construct and then to inhabit a literary life, we might pause next over his encounters with John Wilmot, Lord Rochester, that began late in the summer of 1671, near the date of the first performance and then the initial print publication of Marriage A-la-Mode.8 In a set of interlinked texts – a letter Dryden wrote to Lord Rochester, the dedication of Marriage A-la-Mode to Rochester, and the play itself – we can observe Dryden developing a patronage relation, deepening a professional identity, and all the while manoeuvring in the complex terrain of Restoration letters. He is a master of admiration and compliment, fashioning, in the private letter to Rochester, a wonderful performance of politesse, wrapping his pleasure in and embarrassment over Rochester’s attention in syntax that curls around the page with self-consciousness: I find it is not for me to contend any way with your Lordship, who can write better on the meanest Subject than I can on the best. I have only ingag’d my selfe in a new debt, when I had hop’d to cancell a part of the old one: And shou’d either have chosen some other Patron, whom it was in my power to have oblig’d by speaking better of him than he deserv’d, or have made your Lordship onely a hearty Dedication of the respect and Honour I had for you, without giveing you the occasion to conquer me, as you have done, at my own Weapon.9 Dryden is alert to the codes of patronage and clientage, and to the matter of laughter and lampoon; he knows the courtly and literary players, the provinces of the theatre, the town, and the country; and he maintains a superb sense of balance as he walks a tightrope over this land of satires and send-ups. Sotto voce he lampoons the duke of Buckingham; he admires but is wary of the topicality of Etherege’s translations of Boileau; and he laughs at the gross flattery that university academics are only too happy to enjoy. Throughout the letter to Rochester, Dryden displays an acute sense of decorum both in his address to a social superior – the greatest aristocratic wit of the age – and in his playful apologia with its air of self-admiration mixed with embarrassment that the occasion of the letter – his own tardy answer to Rochester – occasioned, ‘If your Lordship cou’d condescend so farr to say all those things to me, which I ought to have sayd to you, it might reasonably be concluded, that you had enchanted me to believe those praises, and that I ownd them in my silence. Twas this Consideration that mov’d me at last to put off my Idlenesse.’10 In the more formal setting of the published dedication of Marriage A-la-Mode we can observe some of the same moves as in the private letter, but also a firmer sense of literary identity, literary profession. Dryden now operates not only within the protocols of a patronage relationship but also in the publicity of print and in proximity to the playhouse, taking a step further than he dares in the personal letter to Rochester by acknowledging, indeed by publicising, his own literary competitiveness and professional identity: ‘I must confess, that I have so much of self-interest, as to be content with reading some Papers of your Verses, without desiring you should proceed to a Scene or Play’ (Works, xi. 223). The dedication outlines the poet’s debts to this aristocrat whose wit sets the standard in a court where conversation was not only of paramount social importance, but also a pedagogy and an art. Dryden gazes at this world from its margins – at once envious and contemptuous – possessed of a confidence in his own talents and as well a knowledge of and disappointment in that world of ambitions, manoeuvrings, and mendacities: In my little Experience of a Court (which I confess I desire not to improve) I have found in it much of Interest, and more of Detraction: Few men there have that assurance of a Friend, as not to be made ridiculous by him, when they are absent. There are a midling sort of Courtiers, who become happy by their want of wit; but they supply that want, by an excess of malice to those who have it. And there is no such persecution as that of fools: they can never be considerable enough to be talk’d of themselves; so that they are safe onely in their obscurity, and grow mischievous to witty men, by the great diligence of their envy … These are the men who make it their business to chase Wit from the Knowledge of Princes, lest it should disgrace their ignorance … I know not whether any thing had been more ridiculous in Court, than Writers. (Works, xi. 221–2) We can hear his nervous skill as Dryden cultivates and displays the ironies and the ambivalence so characteristic of all his literary modes, as of course of this very dedication where he means to caress a patron, to display his indifference to the world of courtly striving, to step on rivals, but as well and firmly to insist on the distinction between the witty amateur and the literary professional, a writer not only of a page of verses but of scenes, indeed of plays. He cautions Rochester away from that ambition: be content, he writes, with your paper of verses, ‘Your Lordship has but another step to make, and from the Patron of Wit, you may become its Tyrant: and Oppress our little Reputations with more ease than you now protect them’ (Works, xi. 223–4). In the dedication of Marriage A-la-Mode Dryden occupies the profession of letters; the play itself has one more story to tell of literary self-imagining, and this through the figure of Melantha, the go-between whom Dryden displays teetering at the edges of an aristocratic court, practising her gestures, her naive sociability, and her wonderfully self-conscious courtly banter. Melantha not only enriches the vocabulary of the play but is a principal source of its energy, its laughter and embarrassment. She is both a superb comic fiction and a figure in whom Dryden must have glimpsed – even as he fashioned her – his own foibles and vulnerabilities, his deep ambivalence about a courtly world that he has observed close up. He can ventriloquise the anti-court rhetoric of the country and yet appreciate Melantha’s desire for social mobility, for proximity to the great – he both embraces and ironises this attitude. Like Dryden, Melantha would scramble into a domain that seems hardly to acknowledge her presence; both she and he hover at the edges of the courtly world, looking on but not within. Dryden impersonates Melantha at the same time as he ridicules her pretensions; this is not exactly the same case as Edward Said has made about Swift, that he is ‘invariably attacking what he impersonates. His technique is to become the thing he attacks’; there is something a bit less savage about the doppelgänger effect here.11 What we might say is that Melantha opens a kind of self-consciousness in Dryden as he fashions the character, that writing Melantha is a form of self-inspection, and the most striking piece of this self-awareness is the way that Dryden poses Melantha as the coiner of new idioms. She is a transport mechanism, a linguistic entrepreneur, carrying French vocabulary across the Channel and into English banter, she is ‘the very Mint of the Nation; and as fast as any Bullion comes out of France, coins it immediately into our Language’ (Works, xi. 234). The poet would say later of himself, in an uncanny echo of these remarks: If sounding Words are not of our growth and Manufacture, who shall hinder me to Import them from a Foreign Country? I carry not out the Treasure of the Nation, which is never to return: but what I bring from Italy, I spend in England: here it remains, and here it circulates; for if the Coyn be good, it will pass from one hand to another. I Trade both with the Living and the Dead, for the enrichment of our Native Language. (Works, v. 336) The passage comes from the Dedication of the Aeneis of 1697, but already in Marriage A-la-Mode Dryden had not only created an image of striking linguistic freedom and daring but an understanding of writing as trade, as commerce. Marriage A-la-Mode also reveals a sense of the intricate, layered manner in which literary identity is formed by sociability – the literary self formulated collaboratively in relation to linguistic capital and social prestige. Of course, collaboration in this world is not always what we think of as sociable; it often took on a sharper edge, not so much collective or emulative as rivalrous. Nor can these different modes of collaboration be neatly separated: one is often housed within the other, collaboration unfolding into combat. This is surely the case with Dryden and Sir Robert Howard: they began by collaborating (if we are to believe Dryden) on one of the earliest heroic dramas, The Indian Queen.12 Dryden then extended the heroic idiom in The Indian Emperour and theorised the drama in the Essay of Dramatic Poesy, where one version of collaboration began to falter and another – sharper, more rivalrous – emerged. And we can trace exactly this pattern in Dryden’s relations with Lord Rochester: early on, there seems to have been a quite literal collaboration, Dryden fashioning Melantha in Marriage A-la-Mode and Rochester writing the Fine Lady in his Artemisa to Chloe, figures cut from the same cloth.13 We do not know what form the collaboration took, who was the pupil, who the pedagogue – but at moments Melantha and the Fine Lady speak in the very same words and phrases, the same idiolect. But the literary intimacy that began as emulation turned sour and rivalrous in a coda to the social and literary relations inscribed in Marriage A-la-Mode. In the Preface to All for Love that Dryden published in 1678, Lord Rochester made a final appearance. The jewel of Charles II’s court has now become ‘this Rhyming Judge of the Twelve-penny gallery, this Legitimate Son of Sternhold’. Dryden’s only wish is that Rochester ‘would subscribe his Name to his censure, or (not to tax him beyond his learning) set his Mark’ (Works, xiii. 17). No longer swooning with admiration, or envious of Lord Rochester’s conversation, Dryden is caustic, angry and dismissive of the pretentious illiterate. Nor of course did the contempt belong solely to Dryden. Between Marriage A-la-Mode and All for Love came the circulation of Rochester’s Allusion to Horace: Well Sir ’tis granted, I said Dryden’s Rhymes Were stollen, unequal, nay dull many times. What foolish Patron is there found of his So blindly partial to deny me this? … And may not I have leav impartially To search and censure Dryden’s works, and try If those gross faults his choice Pen does committ Proceed from want of Judgment or of Witt, Or if his Lumpish fancy does refuse Spirit and grace to his loose slattern Muse? Five hundred Verses every morning writt, Proves you no more a Poet than a Witt.14 And there is one more insult folded into these lines: Rochester not only circulated his contempt, he abandoned his patronage of Dryden to take up the laureate’s keenest rival, Thomas Shadwell – Shadwell ‘Mature in dullness from his tender years’, Shadwell ‘who stands confirm’d in full stupidity’ (Works, ii. 54). There are a number of intricate moves in this theatre of patronage and rivalry; what seems important about this set of texts and events is the way that both patronage and contest can be understood as collaborative, productive of different kinds of texts and skills, and both very much in play as modes of literary sociability – a crucible in which Dryden formed a powerful and sophisticated sense of literary selfhood, of, moreover, a literary life and profession, even of course if elements of that life were not altogether to his liking. And now for the ancients, among whom Dryden seems to have had an easier, though not altogether easy, time enjoying kinship and collaboration. Tempting as it might be to chart the emergence of Dryden’s literary identity in distinct phases – first the social world of Restoration letters, then traffic with the ancients culminating in his translation of The Works of Virgil (1697) – neither the career nor the self-imagining divide neatly between the two, nor can the formation of a sense of literary career be charted simply as a progress.15 We hear Virgilian echoes and engagements as early as Astraea Redux (1660) and Annus Mirabilis (1667), and there is a more extended encounter with Latin literary culture in the translations that Dryden made in the 1680s. That said, perhaps there is some justice to the notion of divisions in the career, to the idea of Dryden formulating a literary self first among the likes of Dorset, Sedley, and Howard; then working within the structures and occasions of contentious riffs and put downs; and, towards the end of his life, achieving a kind of elevation to the empyrean of the ancients with the complete Virgil.16 But Dryden’s writings are too many and too various for crisp outlines, though it is clear that when he turned to the ancients Dryden was engaged in a different kind of literary sociability than among his contemporaries. ‘When he turned to the ancients …’, but this turning was not a single point within the smooth arc of a career, first Dryden among the moderns, then Dryden among the ancients.17 It was more of a dialectic, ongoing from very early in that career. One of the most striking emblems of that dialectic is the portrait that John Michael Wright made of Dryden about the time of his accession to the laureateship, in the late 1660s (Fig.1).18 Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Portrait of Dryden by John Michael Wright © National Portrait Gallery, London Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Portrait of Dryden by John Michael Wright © National Portrait Gallery, London Here is the poet in his mid-thirties, the very image of bright promise and self-assurance, a young man on the make. The occasion of the portrait is signalled by the oval frame of olive, oak, and laurel leaves and by the Latin literary tags touching the wreath, lines of verse by the poets with whom he is already in steady conversation: Virgil of course, but also Horace, Martial, Juvenal, Ovid, and Statius.19 The portrait is an assertion of the poet’s identity c.1668, but as well of the antiquity and elevation of his office, and of course of Dryden’s fluency with Latin literary culture, his assumption of its accents, tropes, and figures. All this began very early – in an obvious way with the Stuart panegyrics, more interestingly and more ambitiously with his epic history of the Anglo-Dutch naval wars, Annus Mirabilis, a poem that Dryden decorates with annotations somewhat like the laureate portrait itself. He is hardly the first to equip his own poem with notes that hint at borrowings, imitations, and allusions, but his self-consciousness in this regard is very appealing: he wants us to be aware of his erudition, but not to be bored. ‘In some places’, he writes, ‘I have noted it in the Margin, that I might not seem a Plagiary; in others I have neglected it, to avoid as well the tediousness, as the affectation of doing it too often’ (Works, i. 56). Mid-career discovers the laureate dwelling among the ancients in a different way. In his elegy on John Oldham, for example, no notes are needed to figure the literary debts and affiliations. The poet speaks in Virgil’s accents and idioms, he fashions a tapestry of echoes and allusions in a poem that is flooded by memories of the Latin literary past, and most especially by memories of Virgil in his elegiac mode: the story of Nisus and Euryalus from the funeral games in Book V of the Aeneid and the fleeting shade of Marcellus glimpsed by Aeneas in Book VI. The elegy to Oldham is not an assertion of learning, not a performance of Latin literary culture, but a true speaking through the past: Once more, hail and farewel; farewel thou young, But ah too short, Marcellus of our Tongue; Thy Brows with Ivy, and with Laurels bound; But Fate and gloomy Night encompass thee around. (Works, ii. 175) Here, Dryden seems to say, is how Virgil might have written an elegy in English, c.1684. The poem is an act of superb literariness; it is about competition, about envy and outstripping, but it is also about literary kinship – with the young satirist John Oldham, with those figures of early promise and early death from the Aeneid, more deeply with Virgil himself. It is not exactly that Dryden discovers and fashions a truer image of himself than he had done with the figure of Neander and in the company of Dorset and Sedley, but there is something about the affinity with Virgil that reaches very deep. He is looking steadily and disinterestedly at himself, an ageing poet competing with the younger man, both facing the shades of the past. There is an undertow of melancholy here that Dryden learned from Virgil; he inhabits it as if it were his own. So it is with the elegy on the earl of Ossory, a tribute that Dryden fashioned within Absalom and Achitophel, his brilliant Exclusion Crisis satire, and fashioned from the same moment in the Aeneid that he would call on for celebrating Oldham’s memory and in the same figurative language. The elegy is placed in the midst of Dryden’s panegyric on the duke of Ormonde, an act of clientage in which Ossory is mourned as Ormonde’s … Eldest Hope, with every Grace adorn’d, By’ me (so Heav’n will have it) always Mourn’d, And always honour’d, snatcht in Manhoods prime By unequal Fates, and Providences crime: Yet not before the Goal of Honour won, All parts fulfill’d of Subject and of Son; Swift was the Race, but short the Time to run. (Works, ii. 30) There is something quite striking about the placement of the elegy in the middle of the portrait of the father and in the midst of so many other literary accents and effects: elegy playing against panegyric and as well against satire and send-up. In Absalom and Achitophel Dryden is everywhere sensitive to relations among genres: praise and satire, commemoration and lampoon, wonderfully controlling a variety of literary styles; responsive as well to a marketplace in which the poem would be a commercial triumph: four issues of the first edition in 1681, the year of its publication and four more separate editions in that year; two translations into Latin in 1682, and the various issues and editions generating keys to the poem’s veiled characters.20 Dryden’s adaptations of Virgil, his speaking through Virgil, provide one of the deepest examples of literary kinship and collaboration, Dryden surely seeing himself as Augustus’s poet. Of course elegy is not the only idiom in which Dryden spoke through Virgil, and intimacy and identification not the only place that Dryden found himself in relation to the Latin poet. Virgil stood for the epic ambitions that Dryden would never fulfil, or fulfil only by translating the Roman poet; and Virgil was a powerful exemplar too for a poet caught in the trammels of patronage relations, in the dangers and dependency of writing for court and crown, even while sustaining a sense of independent moral and political identity. Dryden shows us a Virgil subdued to his office, shadowing Augustus ‘in the Person of Aeneas, of which’ – Dryden writes – he shall say more, when I come to the Manners which the Poet gives his Hero: I must prepare that Subject by shewing how dext’rously he manag’d both the Prince and People, which is the part of a Wise and an Honest Man: And proves that it is possible for a Courtier not to be a Knave. I shall continue still to speak my Thoughts like a free-born Subject as I am; though such things, perhaps, no Dutch Commentator cou’d, and I am sure no French-man durst. (Works, v. 283) How striking is the slippage in this passage, moving as it does from commentary on Virgil and Augustus to Dryden himself, the free-born subject among the Dutch and French commentators – not odd of course that Dryden should reflect on Virgil’s dexterity in ‘managing’ the character of Aeneas and the needs of the emperor – but odd that he should somehow wander from that place into assertions of an imaginative freedom that he characterises not only by his literary kinship with Augustus’s laureate – ‘one Poet may judge of another by himself’ – but through his English identity (Works, v. 283). He does not invent this Virgil who is a courtier but not a knave, and yet he finds no trace of that figure in the commentators: the Dutch too dull to imagine this kind of literary selfhood, the French too cowed by their court and that absolute master of political repression, Louis XIV. Translation is of course a powerful mode of identification, but it can also threaten to be a disappearing act, and for Dryden, translating Virgil not only promised identity, it also threatened a loss of bearings. Perhaps that is why Dryden seems so strongly to resist Virgil in the Preface to Fables, where he seems in danger of drowning, of being engulfed by Virgil. On the one hand there is kinship and intimacy, on the other hand there is disclaiming: I’m not really like Virgil, I’m more like Homer. Here is Dryden’s last encounter with Virgil, this from the year 1700 in the Preface to Fables: If it shall please God to give me longer Life, and moderate Health, my Intentions are to translate the whole Ilias … And this I dare assure the World before-hand, that I have found by Trial, Homer a more pleasing Task than Virgil … For the Grecian is more according to my Genius, than the Latin Poet … This Vehemence of his, I confess, is more suitable to my Temper: and therefore I have translated his First Book with greater Pleasure than any Part of Virgil. (Works, vii. 28–30) The appraisal of Virgil is all cool judiciousness rather than intimacy; there is little here that seems summative or elegiac. Suddenly it is Homer rather than Virgil who is more according to his ‘Genius’, Homer’s ‘more fiery way of writing’ better suited to Dryden than Virgil’s melancholy, the Roman poet’s ‘exactness, & sobriety’.21 The sudden attachment to Homer promised a renewal of vehemence and pleasure, a way forward, a way of imagining a longer literary life. Virgil was now complete, a thing of the past; Fables was a down payment on the future. The move away from Virgil might seem, then, a way of denying identity, of avoiding the danger of being engulfed by Virgil; but there is something too in this moving away from Virgil that enabled Dryden to use the Preface to Fables and the collection itself to reaffirm his English identity, to imagine his literary life, in this, his last collection of verse, in the company of Chaucer, Spenser, Waller, and Milton, Dryden claiming a position that might well remind us of that sociable world of letters with which we began. He would not only collaborate with his English forebears, Chaucer and Spenser, but converse with his own contemporaries. So Dryden writes of Milton, as if he has just left him in the room next door, ‘Milton has acknowledg’d to me, that Spencer was his Original; and many besides my self have heard our famous Waller own, that he deriv’d the Harmony of his Numbers from the Godfrey of Bulloign, which was turn’d into English by Mr. Fairfax’ (Works, vii. 25). The ease and intimacy Dryden claims with his ‘Lineal Descents and Clans’ is a restoration of literary inheritance and national identity – ‘I am, and always have been studious to promote the Honour of my Native Country’ (Works, vii. 25). Dryden wrote those words at the end of a century of revolutions and restorations that did not always find him on what would turn out to be the right side of political challenge and change. There is a late portrait of the poet by James Maubert that might serve as an emblem of this, shall we say, ‘restoration’ (Fig. 2). Here is John Dryden in the company of writers, ancient and modern, the table at his left displaying books inscribed with the names of Homer, Virgil, Horace, and Montaigne; an open volume of Shakespeare leans against these books, there is a view of Parnassus in the distance, and an eagle perches at the window holding in its beak a banner inscribed with a tag from Horace, ‘A noble genius spurns the dank earth in winged flight.’22 The books at Dryden’s elbow form an inverted chronology – the poet’s laurels are atop the volume of Homer which is placed above Virgil, Horace, and Montaigne; Shakespeare is present, opened in some sense to the others. Dryden seems to embrace, seems allied with, this assemblage of authorship; the image is not exactly an argument about literary influence, but a way to imagine what it means to participate in a literary culture, to have a literary identity. The portrait with its books, the casual posture of the aged poet, the view of Parnassus all embody Dryden’s ease with his forebears. Perhaps the figure of the eagle perched at the window, ready for flight, suggests that the portrait is a posthumous tribute; surely it is summative – a lifetime of writing has earned the laureate this position, and whether or not Dryden was involved in the design of the portrait, its striking literariness, its assertion of casual literary association, counterpoint the studied, indeed studious, character of the earlier, more earnest portrait by John Michael Wright with its programme of Latin literary learning. Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Portrait of Dryden by James Maubert © National Portrait Gallery, London Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Portrait of Dryden by James Maubert © National Portrait Gallery, London What exactly Montaigne is doing in the Maubert portrait is a bit difficult to tell. There is a scattering of references to Montaigne in Dryden’s works, but no translations and only a very few references at that. Whatever Dryden’s affinity with Montaigne may have been – and there is perhaps a connection to Montaigne through Lucretius – late in his life there is an intriguing citation of ‘honest’ Montaigne’s political identity which Dryden uses to assert his own integrity and national allegiance: I meddle not with others: being, for my own Opinion, of Montaign’s Principles, that an Honest Man ought to be contented with that Form of Government, and with those Fundamental Constitutions of it, which he receiv’d from his Ancestors, and under which himself was Born: Though at the same time he confess’d freely, that if he could have chosen his Place of Birth, it shou’d have been at Venice: Which for many Reasons I dislike, and am better pleas’d to have been born an English Man. (Works, v. 281) But there is little in Dryden’s work to support the idea of Montaigne as a crucial presence for him; Montaigne may have been an inspiration for Dryden’s late and wonderfully digressive prose style, but Montaigne does not have the presence of Virgil or Horace in Dryden’s writing life. Perhaps Maubert – or whoever was responsible for the design of this portrait – was using Montaigne as a kind of shorthand for European letters, or perhaps even to suggest the significance for Dryden of Montaigne’s example of Lucretian scepticism and toleration, though seventeenth-century literary portraits seldom display quite so sophisticated an intellectual programme.23 What needs remarking however is the sense that this portrait gives of Dryden’s fluency with the ancients and the moderns, the life of a laureate who was deeply conversant, deeply identified, with the literature of Greece and Rome, with European letters, and of course with Shakespeare’s works that were for Dryden the crowning achievement of the former age. It is of course naive to think of Dryden steadily assembling a stable literary identity, or that such work had an easy, progressive character. For even as Dryden began to assemble a literary life, to fashion a coherent literary identity, he was battered by rivals, by wits, by sometime patrons like Lord Rochester, certainly by the duke of Buckingham and his coterie, who brilliantly sent Dryden up in The Rehearsal, and by many, many others as well. The battering was literary competition and partisan combat, but there seems often to have been something more personal in the assaults, something almost gleeful, certainly aggressive about the repeated accusations of plagiarism and theft, the argument that Dryden’s writings were nothing more than a patchwork of quotations, that he simply transversed the words of other writers, that he stole, that he was a man of Protean shapes and disguises, a mere hack moving wherever occasion and the wind blew.24 What room, we might ask, as did his contemporaries, what room would there have been in such a shop for the imagining, for the forming of literary selfhood? Of course Dryden was not silent in the face of these accusations; he gave as good as he got, but we should remember just how much he got and the turbulence within which the work of forming a literary identity took place. In the midst of servicing the good and the great, of fashioning new literary idioms, of creating something like modern literary criticism and practising all the venerable literary modes, of writing those daring political satires and the superb translations of antiquity; and of forging that immensely productive if sometimes testy professional relationship with the stationer Jacob Tonson; in the midst of all these forms and formations, what was also taking place was the contingent, the partial, often fragmentary and revisionary – and could we say, as well, heroic – work of imagining a literary life. Footnotes 1 For Dryden’s role as editor of Plutarch’s Lives, see Arthur Sherbo, ‘Dryden as a Cambridge Editor’, Studies in Bibliography, 38 (1985) pp. 251–61. 2 Dryden’s characters of St Evremond, Polybius, and Lucian may be consulted in The Works of John Dryden, ed. E. N. Hooker, H. T. Swedenberg Jr., et al., 20 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1956–2000) xx. 7–37, 208–29. Unless otherwise indicated, references are to volume and page of this edition, abbreviated as Works. 3 On Dryden’s retreat to Charlton Park, see James A. Winn, John Dryden and His World (New Haven 1987) pp. 158–9. 4 The contemporary identities of the four figures in the Essay have been guessed at least since Edmond Malone’s edition of The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose of John Dryden, 3 vols. (London 1800) vol. i, pt. 2, 62–8; there is general agreement that Crites represents Sir Robert Howard; Lisideius, Sir Charles Sedley; and Eugenius, Charles, Lord Buckhurst (from 1677, 6th earl of Dorset); and that Neander is Dryden himself. 5 The Defence of an Essay was published as front matter to the second edition of The Indian Emperour (1668). The play was first published in the autumn of 1667; over the following months it was performed on the commercial stage by the King’s Company and at court, and readied for a second edition by the summer of 1668. Pepys read the Defence on 20 September 1668: The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews, 11 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1976) ix. 311. 6 The scholarly literature on Dryden’s scepticism – from Louis I. Bredvold’s Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden (Ann Arbor, Mich. 1934), through Philip Harth’s Contexts of Dryden’s Thought (Chicago 1968), to Paul Hammond’s more recent work on Dryden and Lucretius, ‘The Integrity of Dryden’s Lucretius’, Modern Language Review, 78 (1983) pp. 1–23, and ‘Dryden, Milton, and Lucretius’, The Seventeenth Century, 16 (2001) pp. 158–76 – is extensive. See, as well, William Empson, ‘Dryden’s Apparent Scepticism’, Essays in Criticism, 20 (1970) pp. 172–81, and Gian Carlo Roscioni, ‘Sir Robert Howard’s “Skeptical Curiosity”’, Modern Philology, 65 (1967) pp. 53–9. 7 In regard to Dryden’s self-presentation in the Essay, it is interesting to consider what his contemporary Roger L’Estrange said of Dryden’s ability to read his own verse aloud: ‘as if he had not understood ’em … He did, really Spoyle the Best Things in the World, in his way of Mouthing them’; see Harold Love, ‘Roger L’Estrange’s Criticism of Dryden’s Elocution’, Notes and Queries (2001) p. 399. Dryden said of himself, ‘My Conversation is slow and dull, my humour Saturnine and reserv’d’ (Works, ix. 7–8), and of course Poet Squab was represented in various derisive ways in a very substantial abusive literature, not least in Buckingham’s Rehearsal. 8 See Hugh Macdonald, John Dryden: A Bibliography of Early Editions and of Drydeniana (Oxford 1939) p. 110. 9 The Letters of John Dryden, ed. Charles E. Ward (Durham, NC 1942) p. 8. 10 Ibid. 11 Edward Said, ‘Swift as Intellectual’, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass. 1983) p. 87. 12 The Indian Queen was first published in Sir Robert Howard’s Four Plays (London 1665); in the ‘Connexion of the Indian Emperour to the Indian Queen’ that Dryden wrote for the 1667 edition of The Indian Emperour, Dryden claimed to have collaborated with Howard on The Indian Queen, and the play has been credited at least in part to Dryden since then; but see David Wallace Spielman, ‘Sir Robert Howard, John Dryden, and the Attribution of the Indian-Queen’, Library, 9/3 (2008) pp. 334–48, which argues on behalf of Howard’s sole authorship of the play. 13 On the relations between Rochester’s Artemisa to Chloe and Marriage A-la-Mode, see Works, xi. 460, 486–90, and The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ed. Harold Love (Oxford 1999) p. 398 n. 74. 14 The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, pp. 71–3. 15 On the relation between the ‘coherent programme’ and the variety or miscellany of Dryden’s literary career, see Raphael Lyne, ‘Dryden and the Complete Career’, in Philip Hardie and Helen Moore (eds.), Classical Literary Careers and Their Reception (Cambridge 2010) pp. 241–55. 16 The Virgil translation – Pastorals, Georgics, and Aeneis – was issued by Jacob Tonson in a volume that included 101 engraved plates; dedications of the Pastorals, Georgics, and Aeneis to aristocratic patrons; a life of Virgil; prefaces to the Pastorals and Georgics; and Dryden’s postscript and Notes and Observations on Virgil’s Works in English. The elaborate folio was supported by subscription: 2 guineas bought a position in a list of 250 subscribers, 5 guineas a position for one’s name, title, and coat of arms on one of the copper plates, engraved just below the image. 17 On Dryden and classical antiquity, see especially Tom Mason, ‘Dryden’s Classicism’, in Charles Martindale and David Hopkins (eds.), The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature: 1660–1790 (Oxford 2012) pp. 91–132, and Paul Hammond, Dryden and the Traces of Classical Rome (Oxford 1999). 18 The John Michael Wright portrait (NPG 6854) was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 2009; see the brief discussion of the portrait at < http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw141000/John-Dryden>. 19 On the Latin tags in the James Michael Wright portrait, see the auction catalogue for Christie’s 25 April 2008 sale of Old Master and British Pictures, Lot 83; my thanks to Catharine MacLeod, Senior Curator, Seventeenth-Century Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, for discussion of the portrait and for permission to consult the National Portrait Gallery archives. 20 On the publication history of Absalom and Achitophel, see Macdonald, John Dryden: A Bibliography, pp. 18–26. 21 Works, vii. 28; Letters, p. 121. 22 National Portrait Gallery (NPG 1133); see the discussion of the portrait in John Ingamells, Later Stuart Portraits, 1685–1714 (London 2009) p. 81. 23 The literary programme may have been suggested by Dryden’s publisher, Jacob Tonson; see Ingamells, Later Stuart Portraits, p. 81; see also David Piper, Catalogue of Seventeenth-Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625–1714 (Cambridge 1963) pp. 114–15, and Piper, The Image of the Poet: British Poets and Their Portraits (Oxford 1982) p. 48. Piper suggests that the Maubert portrait may have been posthumous. 24 The accusations can be sampled in Macdonald, John Dryden: A Bibliography, pp. 187–315; and see Zwicker, ‘Why Are They Saying These Terrible Things about John Dryden? The Uses of Gossip and Scandal’, Essays in Criticism, 64/2 (2014) pp. 158–79. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Cambridge Quarterly. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The Cambridge Quarterly – Oxford University Press
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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