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John Dryden

Born 9 August 1631(1631-08-09)
Aldwincle, Thrapston, Northamptonshire, England
Died 12 May 1700 (aged 68)
London, England
Occupation poet, literary critic, playwright
Notable work(s) Absalom and Achitophel, MacFlecknoe

John Dryden (9 August 1631 – 12 May 1700) was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.


Early life

Dryden was born in the village rectory of Aldwincle near Thrapston in Northamptonshire, where his maternal grandfather was Rector of All Saints. He was the eldest of fourteen children born to Erasmus Dryden and wife Mary Pickering, paternal grandson of Sir Erasmus Dryden, 1st Baronet (1553–1632) and wife Frances Wilkes, Puritan landowning gentry who supported the Puritan cause and Parliament. He was also a second cousin once removed of Jonathan Swift. As a boy Dryden lived in the nearby village of Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire where it is also likely that he received his first education. In 1644 he was sent to Westminster School as a King’s Scholar where his headmaster was Dr Richard Busby, a charismatic teacher and severe disciplinarian.[1] Having recently been re-founded by Elizabeth I, Westminster during this period embraced a very different religious and political spirit encouraging royalism and high Anglicanism. Whatever Dryden’s response to this was, he clearly respected the Headmaster and would later send two of his own sons to school at Westminster. Many years after his death a house at Westminster was founded in his name.

As a humanist grammar school, Westminster maintained a curriculum which trained pupils in the art of rhetoric and the presentation of arguments for both sides of a given issue. This is a skill which would remain with Dryden and influence his later writing and thinking, as much of it displays these dialectical patterns. The Westminster curriculum also included weekly translation assignments which developed Dryden’s capacity for assimilation. This was also to be exhibited in his later works. His years at Westminster were not uneventful, and his first published poem, an elegy with a strong royalist feel on the death of his schoolmate Henry, Lord Hastings from smallpox, alludes to the execution of King Charles I, which took place on 30 January 1649.

In 1650 Dryden went up to Trinity College, Cambridge.[2] Here he would have experienced a return to the religious and political ethos of his childhood: the Master of Trinity was a Puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Hill who had been a rector in Dryden’s home village.[3] Though there is little specific information on Dryden’s undergraduate years, he would most certainly have followed the standard curriculum of classics, rhetoric, and mathematics. In 1654 he obtained his BA, graduating top of the list for Trinity that year. In June of the same year Dryden’s father died, leaving him some land which generated a little income, but not enough to live on.[4]

Arriving in London during The Protectorate, Dryden procured work with Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. This appointment may have been the result of influence exercised on his behalf by the Lord Chamberlain, Sir Gilbert Pickering, Dryden’s cousin. Dryden was present at Cromwell’s funeral on 23 November 1658 where he processed with the Puritan poets John Milton and Andrew Marvell. Shortly thereafter he published his first important poem, Heroique Stanzas (1658), a eulogy on Cromwell’s death which is cautious and prudent in its emotional display. In 1660 Dryden celebrated the Restoration of the monarchy and the return of Charles II with Astraea Redux, an authentic royalist panegyric. In this work the interregnum is illustrated as a time of anarchy, and Charles is seen as the restorer of peace and order.

Later life and career

After the Restoration, Dryden quickly established himself as the leading poet and literary critic of his day and he transferred his allegiances to the new government. Along with Astraea Redux, Dryden welcomed the new regime with two more panegyrics; To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric on his Coronation (1662), and To My Lord Chancellor (1662). These poems suggest that Dryden was looking to court a possible patron, but he was to instead make a living in writing for publishers, not for the aristocracy, and thus ultimately for the reading public. These, and his other nondramatic poems, are occasional—that is, they celebrate public events. Thus they are written for the nation rather than the self, and the Poet Laureate (as he would later become) is obliged to write a certain number of these per annum.[5] In November 1662 Dryden was proposed for membership in the Royal Society, and he was elected an early fellow. However, Dryden was inactive in Society affairs and in 1666 was expelled for non-payment of his dues.

Portrait of John Dryden by James Maubert, circa 1695
Portrait of John Dryden by Godfrey Kneller, 1698

On 1 December 1663 Dryden married the royalist sister of Sir Robert Howard—Lady Elizabeth. Dryden’s works occasionally contain outbursts against the married state but also celebrations of the same. Thus, little is known of the intimate side of his marriage. Lady Elizabeth however, was to bear him three sons and outlive him.

With the reopening of the theatres after the Puritan ban, Dryden busied himself with the composition of plays. His first play, The Wild Gallant appeared in 1663 and was not successful, but he was to have more success, and from 1668 on he was contracted to produce three plays a year for the King's Company in which he was also to become a shareholder. During the 1660s and 70s theatrical writing was to be his main source of income. He led the way in Restoration comedy, his best known work being Marriage à la Mode (1672), as well as heroic tragedy and regular tragedy, in which his greatest success was All for Love (1678). Dryden was never satisfied with his theatrical writings and frequently suggested that his talents were wasted on unworthy audiences. He thus was making a bid for poetic fame off-stage. In 1667, around the same time his dramatic career began, he published Annus Mirabilis, a lengthy historical poem which described the events of 1666; the English defeat of the Dutch naval fleet and the Great Fire of London. It was a modern epic in pentameter quatrains that established him as the preeminent poet of his generation, and was crucial in his attaining the posts of Poet Laureate (1668) and historiographer royal (1670).

When the Great Plague of London closed the theatres in 1665 Dryden retreated to Wiltshire where he wrote Of Dramatick Poesie (1668), arguably the best of his unsystematic prefaces and essays. Dryden constantly defended his own literary practice, and Of Dramatick Poesie, the longest of his critical works, takes the form of a dialogue in which four characters–each based on a prominent contemporary, with Dryden himself as ‘Neander’—debate the merits of classical, French and English drama. The greater part of his critical works introduce problems which he is eager to discuss, and show the work of a writer of independent mind who feels strongly about his own ideas, ideas which demonstrate the incredible breadth of his reading. He felt strongly about the relation of the poet to tradition and the creative process, and his best heroic play Aureng-zebe (1675) has a prologue which denounces the use of rhyme in serious drama. His play All for Love (1678) was written in blank verse, and was to immediately follow Aureng-Zebe.

Dryden’s greatest achievements were in satiric verse: the mock-heroic MacFlecknoe, a more personal product of his Laureate years, was a lampoon circulated in manuscript and an attack on the playwright Thomas Shadwell. Dryden's main goal in the work is to "satirize Shadwell, ostensibly for his offenses against literature but more immediately we may suppose for his habitual badgering of him on the stage and in print." [6]It is not a belittling form of satire, but rather one which makes his object great in ways which are unexpected, transferring the ridiculous into poetry.[7] This line of satire continued with Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and The Medal (1682). His other major works from this period are the religious poems Religio Laici (1682), written from the position of a member of the Church of England; his 1683 edition of Plutarch's Lives Translated From the Greek by Several Hands in which he introduced the word biography to English readers; and The Hind and the Panther, (1687) which celebrates his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Frontispiece and title page from volume II of a 1716 edition of the Works of Virgil translated by John Dryden.

When in 1688 James was deposed, Dryden’s refusal to take the oaths of allegiance to the new government left him out of favour at court. Thomas Shadwell succeeded him as Poet Laureate, and he was forced to give up his public offices and live by the proceeds of his pen. Dryden translated works by Horace, Juvenal, Ovid, Lucretius, and Theocritus, a task which he found far more satisfying than writing for the stage. In 1694 he began work on what would be his most ambitious and defining work as translator, The Works of Virgil (1697), which was published by subscription. The publication of the translation of Virgil was a national event and brought Dryden the sum of ₤1,400.[8] His final translations appeared in the volume Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), a series of episodes from Homer, Ovid, and Boccaccio, as well as modernized adaptations from Geoffrey Chaucer interspersed with Dryden’s own poems. The Preface to Fables is considered to be both a major work of criticism and one of the finest essays in English.[citation needed] As a critic and translator he was essential in making accessible to the reading English public literary works in the classical languages.

Dryden died in 1700 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He was the subject of various poetic eulogies, such as Luctus Brittannici: or the Tears of the British Muses; for the Death of John Dryden, Esq. (London, 1700), and The Nine Muses.

Reputation and influence

Dryden was the dominant literary figure and influence of his age. He established the heroic couplet as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, compliments, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine and triplet into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet—Auden referred to him as "the master of the middle style"[9]—that was a model for his contemporaries and for much of the 18th century. The considerable loss felt by the English literary community at his death was evident from the elegies which it inspired.[10] Dryden's heroic couplet became the dominant poetic form of the 18th century. The most influential poet of the 18th century, Alexander Pope, was heavily influenced by Dryden, and often borrowed from him; other writers were equally influenced by Dryden and Pope. Pope famously praised Dryden's versification in his imitation of Horace's Epistle II.i: "Dryden taught to join / The varying pause, the full resounding line, / The long majestic march, and energy divine." Samuel Johnson[11] summed up the general attitude with his remark that "the veneration with which his name is pronounced by every cultivator of English literature, is paid to him as he refined the language, improved the sentiments, and tuned the numbers of English poetry." His poems were very widely read, and are often quoted, for instance, in Tom Jones and Johnson's essays.

Johnson also noted, however, that "He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetic; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others. Simplicity gave him no pleasure." The first half of the 18th century did not mind this too much, but in later generations, this was increasingly considered a fault.

One of the first attacks on Dryden's reputation was by Wordsworth, who complained that Dryden's descriptions of natural objects in his translations from Virgil were much inferior to the originals. However, several of Wordsworth’s contemporaries, such as George Crabbe, Lord Byron, and Walter Scott (who edited Dryden's works), were still keen admirers of Dryden. Besides, Wordsworth did admire many of Dryden's poems, and his famous "Intimations of Immortality" ode owes something stylistically to Dryden's "Alexander's Feast". John Keats admired the "Fables," and imitated them in his poem Lamia. Later 19th century writers had little use for verse satire, Pope, or Dryden; Matthew Arnold famously dismissed them as "classics of our prose." He did have a committed admirer in George Saintsbury, and was a prominent figure in quotation books such as Bartlett's, but the next major poet to take an interest in Dryden was T. S. Eliot, who wrote that he was 'the ancestor of nearly all that is best in the poetry of the eighteenth century', and that 'we cannot fully enjoy or rightly estimate a hundred years of English poetry unless we fully enjoy Dryden.'[12] However, in the same essay, Eliot accused Dryden of having a "commonplace mind." Critical interest in Dryden has increased recently, but, as a relatively straightforward writer (William Empson, another modern admirer of Dryden, compared his "flat" use of language with Donne's interest in the "echoes and recesses of words"[13]) his work has not occasioned as much interest as Andrew Marvell's or John Donne's or Pope's.[14]

Dryden is also believed to be the first person to posit that English sentences should not end in prepositions because it was against the rules of Latin grammar. [15]

Poetic style

What Dryden achieved in his poetry was not the emotional excitement we find in the Romantic poets of the early nineteenth century, nor the intellectual complexities of the metaphysical poets. His subject-matter was often factual, and he aimed at expressing his thoughts in the most precise and concentrated way possible. Although he uses formal poetic structures such as heroic stanzas and heroic couplets, he tried to achieve the rhythms of speech. However, he knew that different subjects need different kinds of verse, and in his preface to Religio Laici he wrote: “...the expressions of a poem designed purely for instruction ought to be plain and natural, yet majestic...The florid, elevated and figurative way is for the passions; for (these) are begotten in the soul by showing the objects out of their true proportion....A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reasoned into truth.”

Selected works

Select bibliography


  • The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., ed. H. T. Swedenberg Jr. et al., (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956–2002)
  • John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)
  • The Works of John Dryden, ed. by David Marriott, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995)
  • John Dryden Selected Poems, ed by David Hopkins, (London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998)


  • Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)

Modern criticism

  • Eliot, T. S., ‘John Dryden’, in Selected Essays, (London: Faber and Faber, 1932)
  • Hopkins, David, John Dryden, ed. by Isobel Armstrong, (Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004)
  • Oden, Richard, L. Dryden and Shadwell, The Literary Controversy and 'Mac Flecknoe (1668–1679), (Scholars' Facsmilies and Reprints, Inc., Delmar, New York, 1977)


  1. ^ Hopkins, David, John Dryden, ed. by Isobel Armstrong, (Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004), 22
  2. ^ John Dryden in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  3. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987),ix-x
  4. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), x
  5. ^ Abrams, M.H., and Stephen Greenblatt eds. ‘John Dryden’ in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., (New York: Norton & Co, 2000), 2071
  6. ^ Oden, Richard, L. Dryden and Shadwell, The Literary Controversy and 'Mac Flecknoe' (1668–1679) ISBN 0-8201-1289-5
  7. ^ Eliot, T. S., ‘John Dryden’, in Selected Essays, (London: Faber and Faber, 1932), 308
  8. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, xiv
  9. ^ W. H. Auden, New Year Letter, in Collected Poems
  10. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, 37
  11. ^ Dryden, in Samuel Johnson, The Major Works (ed. Donald Greene), 707
  12. ^ Eliot, T. S., John Dryden, 305-06
  13. ^ Seven Types of Ambiguity, Chapter 7
  14. ^ Robert M. Adams, "The Case for Dryden," New York Review of Books 17 March 1988
  15. ^ Gilman, E. Ward (ed.). 1989. "A Brief History of English Usage," Webster's Dictionary Of English Usage. Springfield (Mass.): Merriam-Webster, pp. 7a-11a,
  16. ^ Hatfield, Edwin F., ed., The Church Hymn book 1872 (n. 313, p. 193-4), New York and Chicago, USA

External links

Preceded by
William Davenant
English Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Thomas Shadwell
Preceded by
James Howell
English Historiographer Royal
Succeeded by
Thomas Shadwell


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own;
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today.

John Dryden (19 August 1631 {9 August O.S.} - 12 May 1700 {1 May O.S.}) was an influential English poet, literary critic, and playwright. He was Poet Laureate, 1668-1689.



Death in itself is nothing; but we fear
To be we know not what, we know not where.
  • By viewing Nature, Nature's handmaid Art,
    Makes mighty things from small beginnings grow.
  • 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,
  • Pains of love be sweeter far
    Than all other pleasures are.
  • I am as free as Nature first made man,
    Ere the base laws of servitude began
    When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
  • Death in itself is nothing; but we fear
    To be we know not what, we know not where.
    • Aureng-Zebe (1676), Act IV, scene i.
Whatever is, is in its causes just.
  • When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat;
    Yet, fooled with hope, men favor the deceit;
    Trust on, and think tomorrow will repay.
    Tomorrow's falser than the former day.
    None would live past years again,
    Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;
    And from the dregs of life think to receive
    What the first sprightly running could not give.
    • Aureng-Zebe (1676), Act IV, scene i.
  • Whatever is, is in its causes just.
    • Oedipus (1679), Act III, scene i.
  • Of no distemper, of no blast he died,
    But fell like autumn fruit that mellowed long —
    Even wondered at, because he dropped no sooner.
    Fate seemed to wind him up for fourscore years,
    Yet freshly ran he on ten winters more;
    Till like a clock worn out with eating time,
    The wheels of weary life at last stood still.
    • Oedipus (1679), Act IV scene i
  • There is a pleasure sure
    In being mad which none but madmen know.
    • The Spanish Friar, Act II scene i (1681)
If others in the same Glass better see
'Tis for Themselves they look, but not for me:
For my Salvation must its Doom receive
Not from what others, but what I believe.
  • Like a led victim, to my death I'll go,
    And, dying, bless the hand that gave the blow.
    • The Spanish Friar, Act II scene i (1681)
  • They say everything in the world is good for something.
    • The Spanish Friar, Act III scene ii (1681)
  • More Safe, and much more modest 'tis, to say
    God wou'd not leave Mankind without a way:
    And that the Scriptures, though not every where
    Free from Corruption, or intire, or clear,
    Are uncorrupt, sufficient, clear, intire,
    In all things which our needfull Faith require.
    If others in the same Glass better see
    'Tis for Themselves they look, but not for me:
    For my Salvation must its Doom receive
    Not from what others, but what I believe.
  • Bold knaves thrive without one grain of sense,
    But good men starve for want of impudence.
    • Constantine the Great, Epilogue (1684)
  • Men met each other with erected look,
    The steps were higher that they took;
    Friends to congratulate their friends made haste,
    And long inveterate foes saluted as they passed.
    • Threnodia Augustalis line 124-127 (1685)
  • O gracious God! how far have we
    Profaned thy heavenly gift of poesy!
    • To the Pious Memory of Mrs. Anne Killegrew line 56-57 (1686)
  • Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child.
    • To the Pious Memory of Mrs. Anne Killegrew line 70 (1686)
Preventing angels met it half the way,
And sent us back to praise, who came to pray.
  • Our vows are heard betimes! and Heaven takes care
    To grant, before we can conclude the prayer:
    Preventing angels met it half the way,
    And sent us back to praise, who came to pray.
    • Britannia Rediviva line 1 (1688)
  • Three poets, in three distant ages born,
    Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
    The first in loftiness of thought surpassed;
    The next, in majesty; in both the last.
    The force of Nature could no further go.
    To make a third, she joined the former two.
    • Under Mr. Milton's Picture (1688)
  • This is the porcelain clay of humankind.
    • Don Sebastian, Act I scene i (1690)
  • A knockdown argument: 'tis but a word and a blow.
  • Whistling to keep myself from being afraid.
  • Fairest Isle, all isles excelling,
    Seat of pleasures, and of loves;
    Venus here will choose her dwelling,
    And forsake her Cyprian groves.
    • King Arthur, Act II scene v, 'Song of Venus (1691)
There is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly Butchering of a Man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the Head from the Body, and leaves it standing in its place.
  • Genius must be born, and never can be taught.
    • Epistle to Congreve line 60 (1693)
  • Be kind to my remains; and oh defend,
    Against your judgment, your departed friend!
    • Epistle to Congreve line 72 (1693)
  • How easie is it to call Rogue and Villain, and that wittily! But how hard to make a Man appear a Fool, a Blockhead, or a Knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms! To spare the grossness of the Names, and to do the thing yet more severely, is to draw a full Face, and to make the Nose and Cheeks stand out, and yet not to employ any depth of Shadowing. This is the Mystery of that Noble Trade, which yet no Master can teach to his Apprentice: He may give the Rules, but the Scholar is never the nearer in his practice. Neither is it true, that this fineness of Raillery is offensive. A witty Man is tickl'd while he is hurt in this manner, and a Fool feels it not. The occasion of an Offence may possibly be given, but he cannot take it. If it be granted that in effect this way does more Mischief; that a Man is secretly wounded, and though he be not sensible himself, yet the malicious World will find it for him: yet there is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly Butchering of a Man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the Head from the Body, and leaves it standing in its place.
    • A Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693)
  • Look round the habitable world: how few
    Know their own good, or knowing it, pursue.
    • Juvenal, Satire X (1693)
The wise, for cure, on exercise depend;
God never made his work for man to mend.
  • Words, once my stock, are wanting to commend
    So great a poet and so good a friend.
    • Epistle to Peter Antony Motteux line 54-55 (1698)
  • Lord of yourself, uncumbered with a wife.
    • Epistle to John Driden of Chesterton line 18 (1700)
  • Better to hunt in fields, for health unbought,
    Than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught.
    The wise, for cure, on exercise depend;
    God never made his work for man to mend.
    • Epistle to John Driden of Chesterton line 92-95 (1700)
  • A very merry, dancing, drinking,
    Laughing, quaffing, and unthinkable time.
    • The Secular Masque line 38-39 (1700)
  • The sword within the scabbard keep,
    And let mankind agree.
    • The Secular Masque line 61-62 (1700)
  • All, all of a piece throughout:
    Thy chase had a beast in view;
    Thy wars brought nothing about;
    Thy lovers were all untrue.
    'Tis well an old age is out,
    And time to begin a new.
    • The Secular Masque line 86-91 (1700)
  • Ill habits gather by unseen degrees —
    As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book XV, The Worship of Aesculapius line 155-156 (1700)
  • He was exhaled; his great Creator drew
    His spirit, as the sun the morning dew.
    • On the Death of a Very Young Gentlemen (1700)
  • Here lies my wife:here let her lie!
    Now she's at rest, and so am I.
    • Epitaph, intended for his wife

All for Love (1678)

Let those find fault whose wit's so very small,
They've need to show that they can think at all;
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls, must dive below.
  • What flocks of critics hover here to-day,
    As vultures wait on armies for their prey,
    All gaping for the carcase of a play!

    With croaking notes they bode some dire event,
    And follow dying poets by the scent.
    • Prologue
  • He's somewhat lewd; but a well-meaning mind;
    Weeps much; fights little; but is wond'rous kind.
    • Prologue
  • A brave man scorns to quarrel once a day;
    Like Hectors in at every petty fray.
    • Prologue
  • Let those find fault whose wit's so very small,
    They've need to show that they can think at all;
    Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
    He who would search for pearls, must dive below.

    Fops may have leave to level all they can;
    As pigmies would be glad to lop a man.
    Half-wits are fleas; so little and so light,
    We scarce could know they live, but that they bite.
    • Prologue
  • The wretched have no friends.
    • Act III scene i
  • With how much ease believe we what we wish!
    • Cleopatra in Act IV scene I

Absalom and Achitophel (1681)

Whate’er he did was done with so much ease,
In him alone 't was natural to please.
  • Whate’er he did was done with so much ease,
    In him alone 't was natural to please.
    • Pt. I line 27-28
  • Plots, true or false, are necessary things,
    To raise up commonwealths and ruin kings.
    • Pt. I line 83-84
  • Of these the false Achitophel was first,
    A name to all succeeding ages cursed.
    For close designs and crooked counsels fit,
    Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit,
    Restless, unfixed in principles and place,
    In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace;
    A fiery soul, which working out its way,
    Fretted the pygmy-body to decay:
    And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
    A daring pilot in extremity;
    Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high
    He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
    Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit.
    Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
    And thin partitions do their bounds divide.
    • Pt. I line 150-164
  • A daring pilot in extremity;
    Pleas'd with the danger, when the waves went high
    He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
    Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.
    Great wits are sure to madness near alli'd;
    And thin partitions do their bounds divide
    Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
    Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
    Punish a body which he could not please;
    Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
    And all to leave, what with his toil he won
    To that unfeather'd, two-legg'd thing, a son:
    Got, while his soul did huddled notions try;
    And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.
    • Pt. I line 159 - 172
  • In friendship false, implacable in hate,
    Resolved to ruin or to rule the state.
    • Pt. I line 173-174
  • Auspicious Prince! at whose nativity
    Some royal planet rul'd the southern sky;
    Thy longing country's darling and desire;
    Their cloudy pillar, and their guardian fire:
    Their second Moses, whose extended wand
    Divides the seas, and shows the promis'd land:
    Whose dawning day, in very distant age,
    Has exercis'd the sacred prophet's rage:
    The people's pray'r, the glad diviner's theme,
    The young men's vision, and the old men's dream!
    • Pt. I line 230-239
  • His courage foes, his friends his truth proclaim.
    • Pt. I line 357
  • All empire is no more than power in trust.
    • Pt. I line 411
  • Better one suffer, than a nation grieve.
    • Pt. I line 416
  • But far more numerous was the herd of such,
    Who think too little, and who talk too much.
    • Pt. I, 532-533
  • A man so various, that he seemed to be
    Not one, but all mankind's epitome;
    Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
    Was everything by starts, and nothing long;
    But, in the course of one revolving moon,
    Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.
    • Pt. I line 545-550
  • Railing and praising were his usual themes;
    And both, to show his judgment, in extremes;
    So over violent, or over civil,
    That every man with him was God or devil.
    • Pt. I line 554-557
  • Thus in a pageant-show a plot is made;
    And peace itself is war in masquerade.
    • Pt. I line 750-751
  • Nor is the people's judgment always true:
    The most may err as grossly as the few.
    • Pt. I line 781-782
  • Large was his wealth, but larger was his heart.
    • Pt. I line 826
  • Of ancient race by birth, but nobler yet
    In his own worth.
    • Pt. I line 900-901
  • Never was patriot yet, but was a fool.
    • Pt. I line 967
How ill my Fear they by my Mercy scan,
Beware the Fury of a Patient Man.
  • Oh that my Pow'r to Saving were confin’d:
    Why am I forc’d, like Heav’n, against my mind,
    To make Examples of another Kind?

    Must I at length the Sword of Justice draw?
    Oh curst Effects of necessary Law!
    How ill my Fear they by my Mercy scan,
    Beware the Fury of a Patient Man.
    • Pt. I line 999 - 1005
  • Made still a blund'ring kind of melody;
    Spurred boldly on, and dashed through thick and thin,
    Through sense and nonsense, never out nor in.
    Free from all meaning, whether good or bad,
    And in one word, heroically mad.
    • Pt. II line 413
  • Railing in other men may be a crime,
    But ought to pass for mere instinct in him:
    Instinct he follows and no further knows,
    For to write verse with him is to transprose.
    • Pt. II line 440
  • With all this bulk there 's nothing lost in Og,
    For every inch that is not fool is rogue :
    A monstrous mass of fuul corrupted matter,
    As all the devils had spew'd to make the baiter.
    When wine has given him courage to blaspheme,
    He curses God, but God before curst him ;
    And, if man could have reason, none has more.
    That made his paunch so rich, and him so poor.
    • Pt. II line 462 - 469

Mac Flecknoe (1682)

  • All human things are subject to decay,
    And, when fate summons, monarchs must obey.
    • l. 1-2
  • The rest to some faint meaning make pretense,
    But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
    Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
    Strike through and make a lucid interval;
    But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray,
    His rising fogs prevail upon the day.
    • l. 19-24
  • Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
    Some peaceful province in acrostic land.
    There thou mayst wings display and altars raise,
    And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.
    • l. 205-208

Imitation of Horace (1685)

  • Happy the man, and happy he alone,
    He who can call today his own;
    He who, secure within, can say,
    Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today.
    • Book III, Ode 29 line 65-68
  • Be fair, or foul, or rain, or shine,
    The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
    Not heaven itself upon the past has power;
    But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
    • Book III, Ode 29 line 69-72
  • I can enjoy her while she's kind;
    But when she dances in the wind,
    And shakes the wings and will not stay,
    I puff the prostitute away:
    The little or the much she gave is quietly resign'd:
    Content with poverty, my soul I arm;
    And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm.
    • On Fortune, Book III, Ode 29 line 81 - 87

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day (1687)

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
  • From harmony, from heavenly 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 power obey.
    From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
    This universal frame began:
    From harmony to harmony
    Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
    The diapason closing full in Man.
    • St. 1
  • What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
    • St. 2
  • The trumpet's loud clangor
    Excites us to arms.
    • St. 3
  • The soft complaining flute,
    In dying notes, discovers
    The woes of hopeless lovers.
    • St. 4
  • 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 musick shall untune the Sky.
    • Grand Chorus

The Hind and the Panther (1687)

  • She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.
    • Pt. I line 4
  • And doomed to death, though fated not to die.
    • Pt. I line 8
  • For truth has such a face and such a mien
    As to be loved needs only to be seen.
    • Pt. I line 33-34
  • Of all the tyrannies on human kind
    The worst is that which persecutes the mind.
    • Pt. I line 239-240
  • Reason to rule, mercy to forgive:
    The first is law, the last prerogative.
    • Pt. I line 261-262
  • And kind as kings upon their coronation day.
    • Pt. I line 271
  • Too black for heav'n, and yet too white for hell.
    • Pt. I line 343
  • All have not the gift of martyrdom.
    • Pt. II line 59
  • War seldom enters but where wealth allures.
    • Pt. II line 706
  • Jealousy, the jaundice of the soul.
    • Pt. III line 73
  • For present joys are more to flesh and blood
    Than a dull prospect of a distant good.
    • Pt. III line 364-365
  • T' abhor the makers, and their laws approve,
    Is to hate traitors and the treason love.
    • Pt. III line 706-707
  • Secret guilt by silence is betrayed.
    • Pt. III line 763
  • Possess your soul with patience.
    • Pt. III line 839

Alexander’s Feast (1697)

  • Happy, happy, happy pair!
    None but the brave,
    None but the brave,
    None but the brave deserves the fair.
    • l. 12-15
  • With ravished ears
    The monarch hears;
    Assumes the god,
    Affects the nod,
    And seems to shake the spheres.
    • l. 37-41
  • Sound the trumpets; beat the drums...
    Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes.
    • l. 50-51
  • Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure;
    Rich the treasure;
    Sweet the pleasure;
    Sweet is pleasure after pain.
    • l. 57-60
  • The king grew vain;
    Fought all his battles o'er again;
    And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.
    • l. 68-70
  • Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
    Fallen from his high estate,
    And welt'ring in his blood;
    Deserted, at his utmost need,
    By those his former bounty fed,
    On the bare earth exposed he lies,
    With not a friend to close his eyes.
    • l. 77-83
  • Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
    Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures.
    War, he sung, is toil and trouble;
    Honor but an empty bubble;
    Never ending, still beginning,
    Fighting still, and still destroying.
    If all the world be worth thy winning.
    Think, oh think it worth enjoying:
    Lovely Thaïs sits beside thee,
    Take the good the gods provide thee.
    • l. 97-106
  • Timotheus, to his breathing flute,
    And sounding lyre,
    Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
    • l. 158-159
  • Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
    Or both divide the crown;
    He rais’d a mortal to the skies;
    She drew an angel down.
    • l. 167-170

Fables, Ancient and Modern (1700)

Since ev’ry man who lives is born to die,
And none can boast sincere felicity,
With equal mind, what happens, let us bear,
Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.
  • Chaucer followed Nature everywhere, but was never so bold to go beyond her.
    • Chaucer as a Poet, from Preface to the Fables
  • If the faults of men in orders are only to be judged among themselves, they are all in some sort parties; for, since they say the honour of their order is concerned in every member of it, how can we be sure that they will be impartial judges?
    • Chaucer as a Poet, from Preface to the Fables
  • A satirical poet is the check of the laymen on bad priests.
    • Chaucer as a Poet, from Preface to the Fables
  • 'Twas now the month in which the world began
    (If March beheld the first created man):
    And since the vernal equinox, the Sun,
    In Aries, twelve degrees, or more, had run;
    When casting up his eyes against the light,
    Both month, and day, and hour, he measur'd right;
    And told more truly than th' Ephemeris:
    For Art may err, but Nature cannot miss.
    Thus numbering times and seasons in his breast,
    His second crowing the third hour confess'd.
    • The Cock and the Fox line 445 - 457
  • Since ev’ry man who lives is born to die,
    And none can boast sincere felicity,
    With equal mind, what happens, let us bear,
    Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.
    • Palamon and Arcite.

Cymon and Iphigenia

  • Old as I am, for ladies' love unfit,
    The power of beauty I remember yet.
    • Lines 1-2.
  • He trudged along unknowing what he sought,
    And whistled as he went, for want of thought.
    • Lines 84-85.
  • When beauty fires the blood, how love exalts the mind!
  • She hugged the offender, and forgave the offense:
    Sex to the last.
    • Lines 367-368.
  • Of seeming arms to make a short essay,
    Then hasten to be drunk — the business of the day.
    • Lines 407-408.

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