DRYDEN AND THE CLASSICAL MODE
SOMETIMES we may wonder whether we can recognize a classical style in English poetry. Did Ben Jonson write it, or Samuel Johnson, or between them John Dryden? Was it plain or elaborate, modest or highflying, narrative or meditative, or all of these in some special combination? We think of it as flourishing in the Augustan era, the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; and we think of it as formal, balanced, reasonable. How may we learn when it began and how long it lasted, what was the endurance of its particular collocation of traits?
One way is to begin by observing a hypothetical mid-point, the work of Dryden. If we find in many poems by Dryden a repeated pattern of usage embodying a clear attitude and idea, and if we find this pattern and attitude shared by a number of his contemporaries, then I think most readers would grant the presence of a sort of nucleus of the