T HE most original poetry written after Milton and before Blake was the work of John Dryden ( 1631- 1700) and Alexander Pope ( 1688- 1744). In the vigor of their engagement with the public life of their age--the intellectual, political, religious, and literary controversies in which the culture of the Enlightenment was revealing and creating itself--Dryden and Pope articulated the modern sound of that culture; and in the almost ninety years spanned by their two careers, theirs were the voices in which others either found or lost their own.
Their modern sound is a complex creation; its local features include, as in this couplet from Pope's The Rape of the Lock, a colloquial ease that we might associate with urban savvy:
Snuff, or the Fan, supply each Pause of Chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.
But urban savvy can be sounded in many registers:
Echoes from Pissing-Alley, Sh [adwell] call,
And Sh [adwell] they resound from A[ston] Hall.
About thy boat the little Fishes throng,
As at the Morning Toast [i.e., excrement]
that Floats along.
These lines from MacFlecknoe, both obscene and polite, could be uttered only by one entirely intimate with the city, yet their urbanity also declares a plain disapproval of the urban, a disapproval rooted in