John Dryden & Samuel Pepys


John Dryden’s Biography

(1631-1700), was the outstanding English writer of the Restoration period (about 1660 to 1700). He excelled as a poet, dramatist, and literary critic. Dryden was born in Northamptonshire, and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. He began writing after moving to London in the late 1650's. Dryden wrote only poetry at first, but later began writing plays to make a living. His finest play is All for Love (1677), an adaptation of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Dryden simplified Shakespeare's story and concentrated on the tragic passions of the two famous lovers. He also wrote the heroic drama The Conquest of Granada (1670, 1671), and the sophisticated comedy Marriage a la Mode (1672).
Dryden's best poems sprang from his involvement with political controversies. In 1668, he was appointed poet laureate and in 1670 became the royal historiographer. He became involved in political disputes between King Charles II and Parliament. A Tory, he joined the king against the Whigs. Dryden's poem Absalom and Achitophel (1681) is a brilliant political satire based on Absalom's rebellion against King David, which is described in the Old Testament. The Medal (1682) is an even more biting attack on the Whigs. His most famous poem, MacFlecknoe (1682), is a satire written in mock-epic style against a literary foe, Thomas Shadwell.
William and Mary, who were Protestants, became king and queen in 1689. Dryden refused to swear allegiance to the new rulers, and he lost his government positions. He wrote a few plays and poems after 1688, but spent much of his time translating works to support himself. Dryden also wrote much literary criticism. His best works include An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668), which expresses his admiration for Shakespeare; and his preface to a collection of fables published in 1700, in which he praised Chaucer.

Dryden's "Essay on Dramatic Posey"

To begin then with Shakespeare; he was the man who of all Modern, and perhaps Ancient Poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the Images of Nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily : when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learn'd; he needed not the spectacles of Books to read Nature; he look'd inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of Mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; his Comick wit degenerating into clenches; his serious swelling into Bombast. But he is alwayes great, when some great occasion is presented to him : no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of the Poets,Quantum lent a solent,inter viberna cupressi.(Do as the cypresses do among the bending shrubs)
The consideration of this made |Mr.| Hales of Eaton say, That there was no subject of which any Poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better treated of in Shakespeare; and however others are now generally prefer'd before him, yet the Age wherein he liv'd, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Johnson never equall'd them to him in their esteem : And in the last Kings Court, when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the Courtiers, set our Shakespeare far above him.
As for Johnson, to whose Character I am now arriv'd, if we look upon him while he was himself, (for his last Playes were but his dotages) I think him the most learned and judicious Writer which any Theater ever had. He was a most severe Judge of himself as well as others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit and Language, and Humour also in some measure we had before him ; but something of Art was wanting to the Drama till he came. He manag'd his strength to more advantage then any who preceded him. You seldome find him making Love in any of his Scenes, or endeavouring to move the Passions ; his genius was too sullen and sa- turnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after those who had performed both to such an height. Humour was his proper Sphere, and in that he delighted most to represent Mechanick people. He was deeply conversant in the Ancients, both Greek and Latine, and he borrow'd boldly from them: there is scarce a Poet or Historian among the Roman Authours of those times whom he has not translated in Sejanus and Catiline. But he has done his Robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any Law. Heinvades Authours like a Monarch, and what would be theft in other Poets, is onely victory in him. With the spoils of these Writers he so represents old Rome to us, inits Rites, Ceremonies and Customs, that if one of their Poets had written either of his Tragedies, we had seen less of it then in him. If there was any fault in his Language, 'twas that he weav'd it too closely and laboriously in his serious Playes; perhaps too, he did a little to much Romanize our Tongue, leaving the words which he translated almost as much Latine as he found them : wherein though he learnedly followed the Idiom of their language, he did not enough comply with ours. If I would compare him withShakespeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct Poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit. Shakespeare was the Homer, or Father of our Dramatick Poets; Johnson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing ; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare.

from “An Essay on Dramatic Poesy” Discussion Questions

1. How does Dryden respond to the criticism that Shakespeare lacked learning?
2. What was the opinion of Shakespeare held by Mr. Hales of Eton?
3. According to Dryden, what was missing from English drama before Ben Jonson started writing?
4. Far from accusing Jonson of theft, what does Dryden say about his borrowing from classical writers?
5. In your own words, what does Dryden mean by saying that Shakespeare "had the largest and most comprehensive soul"?
6. Dryden uses a Latin quotation from Virgil to describe Shakespeare's achievement, How does this quotation relate to the comment that immediately precedes it?
7. In what sense does Dryden mean that Shakespeare was not a "correct poet"?

Dryden's "Song for Saint Cecilia's Day"

From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
Arise ye more than dead.

Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And music's pow'r obey.
From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.

What passion cannot music raise and quell!
When Jubal struck the corded shell,
His list'ning brethren stood around
And wond'ring, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot music raise and quell!

The trumpet's loud clangor
Excites us to arms
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thund'ring drum
Cries, hark the foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat.

The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

But oh! what art can teach
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their Heav'nly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place;
Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder high'r;
When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking earth for Heav'n.

As from the pow'r of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
To all the bless'd above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.

“A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” Discussion Questions

1. According to the first stanza, what was the condition of Nature when the universe took shape?
2. In addition to the corded shell, what musical instruments are mentioned in the poem?
3. What does Dryden claim an angel did upon hearing Cecilia play the organ?
4. What instrument will announce Judgment Day?
5. The word harmony dominates the first stanza. What meaning, or meanings, does it have as Dryden uses it?
6. What musical instrument does Dryden suggest is the most heavenly? In view of the day the poem celebrates, why is this praise especially appropriate?
7. Why will music "untune the sky" in "the last and dreadful hour"?

Samuel Pepys’s Biography

(1633-1703), was an English writer and government official. His famous Diary provides an intimate self-portrait and a vivid picture of an exciting period in English history. Pepys also became known for his role in the development of the British Navy. Pepys served in Parliament several times, and he was president of the Royal Society in 1684 and 1685 (see Royal Society). He lost his post in the admiralty after the fall of King James II in 1688. Pepys then wrote Memoires of the Royal Navy, 1679-1688, which was published in 1690.
His diary covers the period from 1660 to 1669. It deals with an early part of Pepys's life, when he was clerk of the navy. He wrote the Diary in a code combination of shorthand, foreign words and phrases, and contractions of his own invention. Pepys meticulously recorded events of his daily life. He wrote frankly about his affairs with women and his desire to become wealthy. He described his enthusiasm for music and the theater, and his interest in collecting books and paintings. Pepys told of his public career and his pride in his success. The Diary documents his curiosity about everything, from science to the gossip at the court of King Charles II. Pepys did not intend to have the Diary read by the public, and he wrote about himself with unusual honesty.
Pepys recorded many of the important events of the 1660's as a witness and participant. The Diary colorfully describes the restoration of the king as ruler of England. The work also contains thrilling accounts of the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London, and England's naval war with the Netherlands. In an especially memorable entry, Pepys related his court defense of the navy board after the board came under attack by a parliamentary committee. Pepys stopped writing the Diary because his vision deteriorated. The work was first translated from 1819 to 1822 and was published in an abridged edition. The unabridged Diary was published in nine volumes from 1970 to 1976.

from Pepys's The Diary
(there are some variations from the literature book)

”The Plague”: September 3rd (Lord's day). Up; and put on my coloured silk suit very fine, and my new periwigg, bought a good while since, but durst not wear, because the plague was in Westminster when I bought it; and it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done, as to periwiggs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire, for fear of the infection, that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague. My Lord Brouncker, Sir J. Minnes, and I up to the Vestry at the desire of the Justices of the Peace, in order to the doing something for the keeping of the plague from growing; but Lord! to consider the madness of people of the town, who will (because they are forbid) come in crowds along with the dead corpses to see them buried; but we agreed on some orders for the prevention thereof. Among other stories, one was very passionate, methought, of a complaint brought against a man in the town for taking a child from London from an infected house. Alderman Hooker told us it was the child of a very able citizen in Gracious Street, a saddler, who had buried all the rest of his children of the plague, and himself and wife now being shut up and in despair of escaping, did desire only to save the life of this little child; and so prevailed to have it received starknaked into the arms of a friend, who brought it (having put it into new fresh clothes) to Greenwich; where upon hearing the story, we did agree it should be permitted to be received and kept in the town.
14th. To the Duke of Albemarle, where I find a letter of the 12th from Solebay, from my Lord Sandwich, of the fleet's meeting with about eighteen more of the Dutch fleet, and his taking of most of them; and the messenger says, they had taken three after the letter was wrote and sealed; which being twenty-one, and the fourteen took the other day, is forty-five sail; some of which are good, and others rich ships. And having taken a copy of my Lord's letter, I away toward the Change, the plague being all thereabouts. Here my news was highly welcome, and I did wonder to see the 'Change so full, I believe 200 people; but not a man or merchant of any fashion, but plain men all. And Lord! to see how I did endeavour all I could to talk with as few as I could, there being now no observation of shutting up of houses infected, that to be sure we do converse and meet with people that have the plague upon them. I spent some thoughts upon the occurrences of this day, giving matter for as much content on one hand and melancholy on another, as any day in all my life. For the first; the finding of my money and plate, and all safe at London, and speeding in my business of money this day. The hearing of this good news to such excess, after so great a despair of my Lord's doing any thing this year; adding to that, the decrease of 500 and more, which is the first decrease we have yet had in the sickness since it begun: and great hopes that the next week it will be greater. Then, on the other side, my finding that though the Bill in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreased, and likely to continue so, and is close to our house there. My meeting dead corpses of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noon-day through the City in Fanchurch Street. To see a person sick of the sores, carried close by me by Grace-church in a hackney-coach. My finding the Angel tavern, at the lower end of Tower-hill, shut up, and more than that, the alehouse at the Towerstairs, and more than that, that the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago, at night. To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, had buried a child, and is dying himself. To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams, to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water, (and I believe he did get his infection that day at Brainford) and is now clead of the plague. To hear that Captain Lambert and Cuttle are killed in the taking these ships; and that Mr Sidney Montague is sick of a desperate fever at my Lady Carteret's, at Scott's-hall. To hear that Mr Lewes hath another daughter sick. And, lastly, that both my servants, W. Hewer, and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in StSepulchre's parish of the plague this week, do put me into great apprehension of melancholy, and with good reason.

"The Fire of London":2nd (Lord's day). Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window; and thought it to be on the back-side of Marke-lane at the farthest, but being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again, and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights, after yesterday's cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down with my heart full of trouble to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King's baker's house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned down St Magnes Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat, and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell's house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steele-yard, while I was there. Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river, or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys, till they burned their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high, and driving it into the City: and every thing after so long a drought proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things, the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs -- lives, and whereof my old schoolfellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, and there burned till it fell down; I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat): and there up to the King's closet in the Chapel, where people come about me, and I did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him, that if he would have any more soldiers, he shall: and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret. Here meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul's, and there walked along Watling-street, as well as I could, every creature coming away loaded with goods to save, and here and there sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning-street, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King's message, he cried, like a fainting woman, 'Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.' That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses too so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr Isaac Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brother's things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people, who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o'clock; and so home, and there find my guests, who were Mr Wood and his wife Barbary Shelden, and also Mr Moone; she mighty fine, and her husband for aught I see, a likely man. But Mr Moone's design and mine, which was to look over my closet, and please him with the sight thereof, which he hath long desired, was wholly disappointed; for we were in great trouble and disturbance at this fire, not knowing what to think of it. However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry as at this time we could be. While at dinner Mrs Batelier come to enquire after Mr Woolfe and Stanes, (who it seems are related to them,) whose houses in Fish-street are all burned, and they in a sad condition. She would not stay in the fright. Soon as dined, I and Moone away, and walked through the City, the streets full of nothing but people, and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and removing goods from one burned house to another. They now removing out of Canning-street (which received goods in the morning) into Lumbard-street, and further: and among others I now saw my little goldsmith Stokes receiving some friend's goods, whose house itself was burned the day after. We parted at Paul's; he home, and I to Paul's Wharf, where I had appointed a boat to attend me, and took in Mr Carcasse and his brother, whom I met in the street, and carried them below and above bridge too. And again to see the fire, which was now got further, both below and above, and no likelihood of stopping it. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhith, and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses apace, and so below bridge at the water-side; but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. Good hopes there was of stopping it at the Three Cranes above, and at Buttolph's Wharf below bridge, if care be used; but the wind carries it into the City, so as we know not by the water-side what it do there. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it. Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St James's Park, and there met my wife and Creed and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one's faces in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops. This is very true: so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little alehouse on the Bankside, over against the Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow, and as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. Barbary and her husband away before us. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire, and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruine. So home with a sad heart, and there find every body discoursing and lamenting the fire; and poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which was burned upon Fish-street Hill. I invited him to lie at my house, and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the news coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our own goods, and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry and moonshine and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place. And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallies into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house, taking down of goods.

3rd. About four o'clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, to Sir W. Rider's at Bednall-greene. Which I did, riding myself in my nightgown, in the cart; and, Lord! to see how the streets and the highways are crowded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things. I find Sir W. Rider tired with being called up all night, and receiving things from several friends. His house full of goods, and much of Sir W. Batten's and Sir W. Pen's. I am eased at my heart to have my treasure so well secured. Then home, and with much ado to find a way, nor any sleep all this night to me nor my poor wife.

from The Diary Discussion Questions

1. In his entry for September 3, 1665, Pepys tells a story of a saddler's family. What is the story of the last living child?
2. In his entry for September 14, 1665, Pepys gives two reasons for feeling content. One is that his valuables are safe. What is the other?
3. When does Pepys first learn of the great fire? When Pepys looks out his window at seven in the morning on September 2, 1666, what does he observe about the fire?
4. What does Pepys recommend to the King and the Duke of York? What is the reply?
5. Summarize Pepys's actions on September 3, 1666.
6. In the entry for September 14, 1665, Pepys states that he has despaired "of my Lord's doing anything this year." What does he mean by the statement? What does, it show about Pepys's beliefs?
7. On September 2, 1666, Pepys sees "the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time." Why do you think people are storing goods in churches? Why do you think they themselves should have been there at the time?
8. From the evidence of these diary entries, how would you describe Pepys's character and personality?