One hundred years after Sidney’s untimely death, the prince of English criticism was John Dryden. He made no pretense of actual government: he “follows the Rules afar off.” He is full of contradictions, reflecting the changing hues of contemporary taste, compromising between the classic and the romantic, changing his views as often as he likes, always readable and personal, always, in the best sense, “impressionistic,” always, as Professor Ker has said of him, “sceptical, tentative, disengaged.” His early essay “Of Dramatic Poesy” is full of youthful zest for Shakespeare and romance. Then he turns conformist, aiming “to delight the age in which I live” and to justify its prevalent neo-classic taste; but presently he comes back to his “incomparable Shakespeare,” praises Longinus, and abandons rhyme. In his next period he turns rationalist, and exalts “good sense” and “propriety.” In the last dozen years of his life his enthusiasm for highly imaginative literature returns; he translates Juvenal and Virgil, and modernizes Chaucer; he is “lost in admiration over Virgil,” though at heart he “prefers Homer.” It is in this final stage of his career as a critic that he writes the charming praise of Chaucer, which is reprinted in The Harvard Classics.〖H. C., xxxix, 153ff.〗 It is the perfection of essay writing. “Here is God’s plenty,” as he exclaims of the elder poet, in whom he finds a soul congenial to his own. Dryden did not, it is true, quite understand Chaucer’s verse, else he could never have found it “not harmonious,” yet he makes royal amends by admitting that “there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect.” In his earlier “Apology for Heroic Poetry” (1677) he salutes “the deceased author of ‘Paradise Lost,”’ then three years dead, and calls Milton’s masterpiece “one of the greatest, most noble, and most sublime poems which either this age or nation has produced.”

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