John Dryden (1631-1700), the major poet of the Restoration Age, was born at Aldwincle, a village near Oundle in Northampton shire. His paternal grand father named Sir Eramus Dryden was a baroner and his mother was Lady Pickering, the first cousin of Sir Gilbert Pickering. He received his primary education in the village school of neighbouring Tichmarsh. From Tichmarsh, he passed on to Westminster school about the year 1642. From Westminster, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1650.He was close to Sir Robert Howard that friendship caused of his marriage with Lady Elizabeth in 1663, the daughter of his friend, but the marriage proved unhappy.
Undoubtedly, he was an original and discriminating critic. Dr Johnson called him, “the father of English Criticism”. Besides, he was the founder of modern prose style. He was an outstanding poet and dramatist. In his age, minor literary critics were so many with their erratic work, but the major contemporaries with significant work were Thomas Rhymer, John Dennis and Jeremy Collier. It would be better to discuss social and literary background of his age (1660-1700).
A. Social Background:
The Age of Dryden begins with the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 till the death of the poet in 1700. It will not be exaggeration to say that he was the dominant literary figure who nicely represented the period. His age was deeply influenced by the three historical events: the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the religious and political controversies and the Popish plot, and the Golden Revolution of the year 1688. As far as the Restoration of Charles II is concerned, it increased corruption etc. It took a violent reaction against the Puritan restraints. All the values of society, what the Puritan had prevailed, were violated. The king was very odd had a number of mistresses and illegitimate children. He was irresponsible and unpatriotic who always stood against his promises, broke his treaty with the Dutch and with his own ministers and betrayed his country. His court was dishonourable and the parliament passed the bills against the church and the state with the thirst of revenge from those who were connected with the puritan government of Cromwell. The House of Lords was increased by the creation of hereditary titles, desecrated men and unabashed women. Even the judiciary was not safe.
In this era, the unpleasantness in the field of religious and political parties was strongly vivid. There were the two central political parties, the Whigs and the Tories. They divided the atmosphere of the country with their touch. The Whigs was in favour of limiting the royal power in the interests of the nation and the parliament, where as the Tories was different and it supported the ‘divine right’ theory of the kings. The both parties proved fruitful for the men of literary abilities. They were in pursuit of the support and bribed them with places and pensions. The writers of the day were not free from the political bias …