A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Sixteen
THE AGE OF POPE AND OTHER AUGUSTANS

IN his moving epistle to Congreve Dryden declares that he alone is his true successor:

O that your Brows my Lawrel had sustain'd,
Well had I been depos'd if you had reign'd!
The Father had descended for the Son,
For only You are lineal to the Throne.
Thus, when the State one Edward did depose,
A greater Edward in his Room arose;
But now, not I but Poetry is curst,
For Tom the Second reigns like Tomthe First.

But Congreve, who had abandoned poetry and the drama for the last twenty and more years of his life, was not to be Dryden's successor as a poet, to say nothing of the laureateship. That was reserved for a little, deformed poet, a Catholic as Dryden had become, who was born a few months before the Revolution which ended Dryden's hopes. In a "Memorial List of Departed Relations and Friends" written by Pope in an Elzevir Virgil the opening note runs: "Anno 1700, Maij primo, obiit semper venerandus, poetarum princeps, Joannes Dryden aet. 70." Pope's early translations from Statius, Ovid, and Chaucer were modelled on the Fables of Dryden. "It was in perusing the works of Dryden," says Johnson, "that he discovered the most perfect fabric of English verse"; and indeed Pope's so-called 'correctness' is found mainly in the heightened finish he gave to the rhetorical couplet. And as with Dryden so with Pope, most of the subject-matter of his poems was supplied from without, if the Moral Essays and Imitations included his own satirical and somewhat spiteful observation of men and women. But Dryden had the education of a scholar, a pupil of Westminster School and Cambridge. Pope was educated by priests at home, in Catholic seminaries, and by his own reading; and in his reading his aim was to learn how to write. "He was very industrious," writes Mark Patti

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