Dryden is one of the greatest English satirists. He is the first practitioner of classical satire which after him was to remain in vogue for about one hundred and fifty years. From the very beginning of his literary career Dryden evinced a sharp satiric bent. He translated some of the satires of the Roman writer Persius when he was only a pupil at Westminster. Further, in his comedies he produced numerous passages of sparkling satire. He keenly studied the satirical traditions of Rome and France and whatever satire England had to offer.
But it was not till he was about fifty that he came to write Absalom and Achitophel-fae, first of the four major satiric works on which his reputation as a poet is based. With his practice he gave a new form and direction to English satire and raised it to the level of French and Roman satire. He made satire not only a redoubtable weapon to chastise personal and public enemies but also an important, if not a very exalted, genre of literature which was later to attract such great writers as Pope, Swift, Addison, and Dr. Johnson. Dryden's four important satires are: (1) Absalom and Acmtopliel.
(2) The second part of Absalom and Achitophel chiefly written by Nahum Tate and including about 200 lines by Dryden. (3) The Medal.
(4) Mac Flecknoe.
Dryden's Contribution and Place:
Dryden as a satirist does not fall in with native English tradition of Langland. Gascoigne, Donne, Lodge, Hall, Marston, Cleveland, etc. which was carried on by his contemporaries like Oldham and Samuel Butler. Just as in his non-satiric poetry he reacted against the "romanticism" of the Elizabethans and the confusion, grotesqueness, and formlessness of the imitators of Donne, similarly in his satire he broke away from the harshness, disrespect of form, and denunciatory tone of the English satirists before him. He seems to have looked for inspiration not towards them but-a neo-classicist as he was-towards the Roman satirists-Horace, Juvenal, and Persius-and their French followers, the most outstandina of whom was his adored Boileau. Both as a critic and as a creative writer, Dryden emphasised and felt the need for artistic control and urbanity of manner. For all successful satire these qualities are of the nature of pre-requisites. It is most essential for a satirist to hide his disgust and moral animus behind a veil of equanimity and urbanity of manner. If he just loses his head at the sight of the object which is to be the target of his attack and comes out with open denunciation or direct name-calling he will not be a successful satirist. A satirist is a propagandist in so far as his effort is to direct the sympathies of the reader into harmoriy with his own and against the object sought to be satirised. Naturally enough, if he speaks too openly from the position of a partisan, he will cut little ice with the reader. So the satirist should not appear too serious-too serious to be taken seriously. Of course he should be very serious, but he should give the impression of being not very serious, or even neutral between the two opposite points of view, one of which his effort is to promote and the other to counteract. He should lessen, as far as possible, the intensity of self-involvement through the employment of some sly indirection of technique. Dryden himself was aware of it when he said that the satirist should make a man "die sweetly," call him a fool or a rogue without using these "opprobrious terms." He distinguished between the "slovenly butchering" done by a bad satirist and the dexterous stroke which severs the head but leaves it standing. Seldom does Dryden indulge in open denunciation or invective, but he often uses such indirect techniques as irony, sarcasm, and above all his exuberant wit. It is what primarily distinguishes him from his predecessors who were always open and direct in their attacks. His satire is indirect and, therefore, smooth, urbane, and without...