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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Happy birthday, Mr. Dryden

380 years old today, and still read by millions

John Dryden, poet, playwright, critic and satirist, was born in Aldwinkle, England, on 9 August, exactly 380 years ago according to downunder dating.

His diplomatic flexibility was remarkable. After arriving in London in 1657, he published Heroic Stanzas, extolling the memory of Oliver Cromwell, but with the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy he mended his record in a hurry by publishing the celebratory Astraea Redux.  His 1682 poem Religio Laici, a justification of Protestantism, was followed by The Hind and the Panther (1687), written in defense of Roman Catholicism, a religion to which he was converted after James II came to the throne.  Fate caught up with him: because of his conversion he was deprived of the post of Poet Laureate that he had held for 20 years, and lost the pension that went with it.  The public benefited, however -- he was forced to support himself by writing for the stage.

Now, John Dryden is remembered as the greatest literary figure of his age, a master of all forms of writing, and the founder of modern English prose style.

He died in 1700, and was buried in Chaucer's grave in Westminister Abbey.

August 9 is also the birthday of the great biographer Izaac Walton (born 1593).  An ironmonger by trade, he wrote biographies of literary figures John Donne and George Herbert, among others, but is mostly famous for his classic Compleat Angler (published 1653).

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