Criticism against itself: subverting critical authority in late-seventeenth-century England.
Writers of the Restoration did not often distinguish between oral and printed criticism; they doubted the value of both. Coffeehouses, where both could be found, were presented as centers that disseminated worthless opinions. (2) The indeterminate nature of oral and printed criticism as categories can be evinced through their mutual appropriation. (3) Sites of oral criticism were utilized by printed criticism. Works such as The Rehearsal (1671), The Censure of Rota on Mr. Dryden's Conquest of Granada (1673), The Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dryden (1673), A Wit for Money (1691) took as their settings the coffee-house, the theater, and tavern. (4) Printed criticism which was read and discussed at coffeehouses was absorbed into the world of oral criticism. Whether oral or printed, criticism was perceived by poets as an endeavor that threw a wedge between the literary product and its consumers and usurped their privileged status as masters of the literary field. To diminish its impact, poets insisted--in prefaces, prologues, epilogues and dedications--that the authority to judge the literary and social value of the text resided only within the agency of the poet. The literary marketplace was to be policed by a kind of authorial vigilantism. Poets would judge the relative value of each literary practitioner by established literary laws (the "rules"). (5)
This apparently simple and elegant solution to the regulation of the production and consumption of literary texts involved poets (and critical discourse) in contradictions that ultimately subverted their authority. First, the solution forced poets to write criticism in order to stave off appropriation of critical authority by other forces in the literary marketplace. Writers' fears concerning spectators' and readers' willingness to obtain their opinions second hand through criticism led them to become vendors of literary judgments, an occupation they claimed to deplore. Put another way, during the late-seventeenth century when poets complained about critics, for the most part they were complaining about themselves. (6) The second contradiction ensued from the fact that the conditions of the literary marketplace did not support the aims and methods of critical discourse outlined by poets. While critical discourse emphasized the centrality of the poet as a judge of literary production, economic forces of the marketplace located critical authority in a public sphere accessible to both producers and consumers of performances and texts. Critical texts reinforced their social prestige by utilizing political, legal and moral discourses that stressed a large degree of cooperation to check individual ambition for the benefit of society and the profession. The marketplace, however, encouraged poetic rivalry and competition, prompting writers to use critical discourse not for collective ends but individual gain and professional advancement. Even as the ideology of criticism suggested that the poet/critic judged impartially for the collective improvement of the art, literary competition encouraged poets to characterize criticism written by their rivals as motivated by jealousy, ambition, and ill will. Writers gained in the marketplace by questioning the critical methods used to judge them and by using similar methods to attack competitors, while critical discourse alluded to but could not supply the institutional means to enforce impartial critical judgments.
Our reading of Restoration critical discourse differs substantially from older historical treatments that sought to recover a unified neoclassical critical theory and practice. Since Saintsbury's critical history of England in 1911, (7) neoclassical criticism has been described as the derivation from French (and indirectly Italian) sources of classical Latin and Greek dicta concerning correct methods for producing and understanding poetic texts. It has been generally referred to as a "creed" or set of rules so interconnected and uniformly sanctioned that writers were forced to follow its dictates or respond to its cultural dominance. (8) Its chief tenets--the three unities, propriety of character, decorum of language and sentiment, probability, poetic justice, imitation of the ancients and of nature, the equation of nature and reason, as well as the elucidation of rules for each poetic genre-were quickly summarized and their ultimate origins in Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, and Quintilian noted. From Saintsbury to Wellek, historians of criticism have claimed that critics throughout Europe were agreed to "the general laws and principles of literary criticism" which "in spite of differences" were "substantially the same in 1750 as [they were] in 1550." (9)
Recent re-explorations of Restoration critical discourse have silently discounted the assumption that an "internal history of criticism ... directed mainly towards an understanding of ideas" (10) represents the main end of critical history. Cultural studies of the imbeddedness of aesthetics and criticism in social and political practices have largely displaced the views of such historians as Ronald Crane who had in 1955 insisted that the "utility" of neoclassical criticism lay in constituting a division between aesthetic and political realms. (11) Recent studies by Timothy Reiss, Howard Weinbrot, Steven Zwicker, and Philip Harth, among others, have greatly contributed to our understanding of the cultural and political matrices within which neoclassical critical discourse operated. (12) Despite their much-needed corrective to the formally inclined methods of older studies of neoclassical criticism, their emphases on overarching epistemological and political developments rather than cultural dynamics of critical discourse per se have actually allowed the earlier narratives of critical history to remain unchallenged. (13)
The aim of this essay is to provide a discursive history of the formative stage of the institution of criticism in England. Like new historicist and Foucauldian critics, we define criticism as a social and cultural practice rather than as a set of formal methods of critical evaluation or theoretical ideas. However, we differ from such scholars in examining the rhetorical and political functions of critical exchanges and tropes to uncover an ideology of literary production and consumption. (14) Such an ideology constituted as well as deconstructed relationships of power within the literary community--among producers, between producers and consumers, and among the tangled political and social institutions and discourses that fostered and checked both. Our history--certainly an "internal history"--shares much with the aims set by Hohendahl for a study of the institution of criticism:
Only a theory that locates criticism--and literature--as part of a socially rooted hence socially regulated system of communication makes possible an understanding of its historically structured relationships. (15)
The social importance of criticism must be recovered, at least in part, in a study of its institutional practices and the relation of those practices to its immediate social circumstances. The present study looks at critical discourse as the very material conditions by which it established a role for itself in the public sphere. Uncovering the dynamics of communication among its participants in the early-modern period will help us understand criticism as a cultural system and how it envisioned its own "social rootedness."
One of the most overworked tropes of Restoration criticism was that the best practicing contemporary poet/dramatist was the best judge of contemporary works of poetry and drama. Ben Jonson had already articulated the formula in his Timber: or Discoveries (publ. 1640) that to "judge of poets is only the faculty of poets; and not of all poets, but the best," (16) and was himself frequently mentioned as an example of the dictum. (17) John Dryden cited the classical prototype, Horace, as "best Judge and almost the best Poet in the Latine Tongue," and John Dennis, in the dedication to his Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry (1701) insisted that "there never was a great Poet in the World, who was not an accomplis'd Critick." John Dennis, in turn, was often cited as both a good writer and a good critic. Peter Motteux, in a brief notice of Dennis's Miscellanies in Verse and Prose (1693), claimed that his readers "will find ... that he happily reconciled the Critic to the Poet, and while you are pleased with the Beauty and Variety of his Verse, you will also wish that you had more of his Prose." (18)
This trope was an application of the belief that criticism, by and large, was what poets practiced on their own works prior to performance or publication. Criticism was evidenced most clearly in poetic practice; the best works by the best poets were a confirmation of good critics at work. (19) Hence, John Oldham presented Homer as "Judg infallible" (20) of poetic laws despite the fact that no critical works by him were extant. In a poem in praise of Ben Jonson, Oldham clarified what critical work was to be done before performance or publication:
Thou thy own Works didst strictly try By known and uncontested Rules of Poetry, And gav'st thy Sentence still impartially. With rigour thou arraign'dst each guilty line, And didst of each offending word define, And spar'dst no criminal Sence, because 'twas thine. Unbrib'd by Favour, Love, or Self-conceit ... Thou didst no smalst delinquencies acquit, But saw'st them to Correction all submit, Saw'st Execution done on all convicted crimes of Wit. (21)
The poet's text revealed the results of critical judgment: text guilty of literary crime was arraigned, judged and corrected by the poet prior to its performance or dissemination. Unswayed by vanity, flattery or favoritism, the poet/critic discovered faults and executed them. The poet's right to judge was authorized by an exact knowledge of the "Known and uncontested Rules of Poetry" and a willingness to submit to them.
Since the authority of the poet as critic depended upon superior practice, even a poet's work could stand as a judgment upon another poet's work. Imitation was most often justified as a kind of criticism by examples which was authorized by a poet's assumed literary excellence. As Aphra Behn commented in her "To the Honorable Sir Francis Fane" (1687): "You, Learned Sir, a Nobler Pattern show / Our best of Rules, and best Example too /..../ Thus in the truest Satyr you Excel, / And show how ill we Write, by Writing well." (22) The novice learned from imitating models of excellence because they were already tried and vindicated by the poets' acts of self-criticism. Imitation taught the novice to identify literary crimes and correct them:
The Generous Fire I felt in every Line, Show'd me the cold, the feeble Force of mine. Henceforth I'll you for Imitation clause, Your Nobler Flights will wing my Callow Muse. (23)
The art of poetry included the poet's ability to recognize and avoid the faults as well as to imitate the beauties of great poets.
In addition to correcting their own works, poets were encouraged to seek advice from friends. As James Wright argued in the dialogue "Of Translated Verse" (1694), poets benefited from friendly amendment. Praised for his translation of Virgil by character Mitis, Lisander declared that he had offered his text to his two friends for "discoveries not of Beauties, but Defects and Blemishes ... in Order thereby to teach one how to write Correctly.... [N]o Man can be said truly to write well, unless he can find Fault well." (24) Davenant was proud that he had "found Friends as ready as Books to regulate [his] conceptions, or make them more correct, easie, and apparent." (25) It was more fitting for the poet to seek criticism than to offer it; it was more appropriate to offer it privately than publicly.
Representations of private criticism attempted to portray literary production and amendment as something that occurred in spite of public reception and outside the literary marketplace. These representations, although disseminated by critical discourse and functioning in a public sphere, were meant to discourage any public reflection on the literary text. They endeavored to pre-empt critical judgments expressed in print elsewhere or even verbally--for instance, within the context of coffee-house criticism--by (pre)determining a literary work's value by a small circle of privileged producers as in Rochester's "An Allusion to Horace" (1675):
Shou'd I be troubled when the pur-blind knight, Who squints more in his judgment than his sight, Picks silly faults, and censures what I write? Or when the poor-fed poets of the town For scraps and coach-room cry my verses down? I loath the rabble; 'tis enough for me If Sedley, Shadwell, Sheppard, Wycherley, Godolphin, Butler, Buckhurst, Buckingham, And some few more whom I omit to name, Approve my sense: I count their censure fame. (26)
The poem's mode of dissemination--coterie circulation--mirrored Rochester's attitude toward critical evaluations of his poems expressed in the public sphere. Private circulation, however, had its public uses. While Rochester never published the piece, its contents and authorship were already notorious shortly after he wrote it. (27) His reliance upon public sphere judgments was revealed in the choice of his preferred critics: Charles Sedley, Thomas Shadwell, William Wycherley, and the Duke of Buckingham were all prominent professional and amateur playwrights of known "value" to the literary marketplace.
The rhetorical function of these idealistic representations of private criticism can be compared to what Saunders had labeled the "stigma of print"--expressions of "distaste for the publicity of print." Although such publicity was "immeasurably advantageous to the social aspirations [of professional poets]," they registered contempt for print because it supported their claims to gentility which in turn advanced their reputations in the print world. (28) Similarly, representations that located the site of critical authority within the literary text or a small coterie of courtly or professional practitioners registered contempt for criticism in the public sphere, but such gestures accrued for the literary work and producer additional cultural capital in the marketplace.
Despite the anxieties generated by public criticism, it was at times construed as a service enabling poets to improve their poetry. Dryden wrote that the role of the critic was to constrain the poet's fancy: "A severe Critique is the greatest help to a good Wit: he does the Office of a Friend, while he designs that of an Enemy: and his malice keeps a Poet within those bounds, which the Luxuriancy of his Fancy would tempt him to overleap." (29) In his preface to his translation of Rapin, Thomas Rymer remarked that "poets would grow negligent, if the Criticks had not a strict eye over their miscarriages." (30) The character Freeman in Dennis's dialogue Impartial Critick (1693) defended his critique of Edmund Wallet's poetry on the grounds that young poets who may imitate his works did not have powers of "judgment" and often "copy the very Faults of famous Poets for Beauties." (31) Criticism exposed such faults and prevented poets from repeating them. This sentiment was echoed in the satiric dialogue Wit for Money (1691) where the aristocratic speaker Smith asserted, "Those who refuse to hear of their faults, will remain in them and be Company only for fools and flatters; ... to know them is a means to mend...." (32) The ideal of public criticism was clear: knowledge of faults ought to lead to their amendment or serve as a warning to other poets who might repeat them.
While this was the ideal of public criticism, the reality was quite different. Criticism in the public sphere was hostile and nasty. Criticism undertaken to demonstrate and prove poets' eminence as critics became a vehicle for self-promotion and for depreciation of rivals. It has often been said of neoclassical criticism that its methods were judicial--a weighing of faults and beauties to determine a work's relative aesthetic value. But public criticism undertaken by poets was nearly always prosecutorial or defensive in function--not strictly judicial. In attacks, poets were "arraigned" on their literary "crimes," often "charged" with having an insufficient knowledge of the art of poetry and occasionally of "theft." In defenses, poets complained of cruel "judges" who sentenced them without taking due notice of the evidence and testimony. It is not surprising, then, that for every comment that public criticism was a genuine effort to help poets mend their faults, there were ten to the effect that it was an ill-natured attempt to ruin poetic careers and reputations.
Ridicule and personal attacks were meant to undermine authors' credibility by exposing their ignorance of the art of poetry and lack of talent for writing. In the Censure of the Rota, for instance, Dryden was ridiculed as a poet who did not understand the rules of poetry and consequently was unable to read his own works with a critical eye. The text poked fun at Dryden, suggesting that he was born "in that Poeticall Free-State" where each writer made and obeyed his own rules and laws. In his Account of the English Dramatick Poets, Gerard Langbaine accused Dryden of plagiarism as well as a lack of knowledge of the art of poetry. (33) The function of these attacks in the competitive literary marketplace was to imply or directly state that their subject ought to find another calling. In Notes and Observations on "The Empress of Morocco," the anonymous writers openly stated their aim was to make "an Example [of Settle] to the discouragement of all such petulant Ill Writers." Settle's play was a "Rapsody of non-sense," and he was an "upstart illiterate Scribler." Settle's attack on fulsome dedications in his own dedication to Empress of Morocco was referred to as "arrogant, calumniating, ill-manner'd, and senseless." (34) The critic (most likely Dryden) was no more charitable in his assault upon the play's faulty principles:
Never did I see such a confus'd heap of false Grammar, improper English, strain'd Hyperboles, and downright Bulls. His Plot is incoherent and full of absurdities; and the Characters of his Persons so ill-chosen, that they are either Knaves or Fools.... He steals notoriously from his Contemporaries.... His Stile is Boisterous and Rough Hewen: his Rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually harsh and ill sounding.
Adding insult to injury, the critic claimed, "There are no four lines together, which are free from some errour" in the whole play. (35) Such a tongue lashing was not meant to leave Settle room either for correction or improvement. It is highly suggestive that Settle was attacked by rival playwrights for publically identifying self-justifying criticism, not as a device "to improve the Knowledge of Poetry" as Dryden had characterized it, (36) but as a ruse to "make a Bookseller Rich, and a Poet Famous." (37)
The great number of responses to attacks suggests that authors felt pressured to amend demonstrated faults or rebut their accusers. As attacks represented the public reception of the literary work as a courtroom proceeding, criticism that responded to charges were styled defenses or vindications. Since amending was out of the question and public censure ultimately clipped the cultural and economic value of the poet's work, the writer defended what critics deemed faults by construing them as beauties or insisting such faults were inconsequential. Such defenses were not always undertaken directly by the poet; indeed, in points of professional honor, a second was as useful here as in a duel. Defending Dryden from charges brought against him in the Rota pamphlets, Charles Blount employed the common tactic of suggesting that it was not Dryden but his attackers who possessed an incomplete knowledge of the art of poetry: "All these Errours wherewith he [Dryden] hath been tax'd, are so few and inconsiderable, that nothing but a self-conceited Envie could have spy'd: which implies, either that he never committed great Crimes, or you had not the Wit to finde them." (38) Elkanah Settle, on the other hand, responded directly to Notes and Observations on "Empress of Morocco," accusing Dryden of manufacturing faults: [Dryden] either implicitely begs his Readers to believe the Authors meaning to be thus, or thus, contrary to their Reason or the Poets design, for his own purpose; or else by never taking notice of the dependance of what goes before, or what follows, gives a plausible argument against this or that expression, when the Props of all sense in a Discourse, Connexion and Circumstance are taken away. Or when these fail, tells you how such or such a thing may be alterd to be made Non-Sense. (39)
Settle, then, undertook a line-by-line exposition of Dryden's willful misreadings of his play, recapitulating and challenging each charge in the original work as though it were necessary to clear himself of each crime no matter its insignificance.
If writers wished to avoid the perception of literary inadequacy, responding to charges after the fact was not enough; they attempted to stave off future critical proceedings and establish their critical/professional authority with what amounted to critical "pre-emptive strikes." As has been noted, one important form of pre-emptive strike--private criticism--was representing one's work as having already undergone a self-imposed judicial process that weighed successes and failures and amended faults prior to performance and publication. Other attempts to defuse or evade public censure included directly debunking critics and criticism. Where the judicial metaphor ruled, the capacity for impartial judgment was paramount, not necessarily because critical discourse of the period aimed at impartiality, but because so much of it did not. The trope of critical impartiality therefore functioned less as a mode of critical evaluation and more as a means to escape it. Any indication that an attack was adulterated by motives other than literary and critical justice was used to question the reliability of charges, witnesses, or evidence. Potential accusers were charged with bias--political, professional, personal--as predisposed to find faults where there were few or none.
The tactical use of calls for impartial readings can be seen in representations of critics and criticism as politically motivated. Literary works of political propaganda or of decided political sympathies often veiled their motives in accusations that the audience judged along party lines. Thomas Shadwell used such a strategy in the prologue to his Lancashire Witches (1681), a comedic adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth with known Whig sympathies. (40) Shadwell avoided the political content of his own play, while indirectly denouncing any potential politically-motivated criticism of the performance. Alluding to the Tory faction that during the height of the Exclusion Crisis was certainly in the audience, he commented that there were those who always "damn, tho' good, what ever he shall write." He did not "fear" their efforts to doom the play since he had recruited "friends [to] out-weigh such foes." Shadwell absorbed hints that the audience judged along party lines into an argument concerning the audience's competence to judge his "art." The greater part of the audience enjoyed only the Tory and Whig propaganda of the Exclusion Crisis--subject of most of the bad writing and "false wit" issuing "dayly from the Teeming press." Shadwell would not pander to the faulty taste of "the Age"; his play appealed only to "th' understanding Few" who did not tolerate bad writing or "knavish Politics." Shadwell cleverly insinuated that the audience ought to defer to this "Oligarchy ... in Wit," (41) here quietly equated with the unnamed Whig faction seated in the audience. (42) If the audience could be hoodwinked to believe the play's positive reception was based on politically neutral formal rules of literary production, its political content might have half a chance of convincing them. Shadwell implied that as a professional playwright, not a politician, he ought to get a fair hearing, casting doubt on the political motives of potential attackers and forcing them into a pose of impartiality. His disavowal of the play's political content put the onus of proof on the Tory faction equally interested in hiding the political motivations of its criticism.
That Tories as well as Whigs used such tactics can be seen in Dryden's epilogue to Southerne's Loyal Brother; or, the Persian Prince (1682). Dryden, more directly than Shadwell, divided the audience into those who judged fairly and those who judged by political precept. Both Whig and Tory "Factions" have bought "the Votes of half the Pit." The writer searched amongst the other half for "an honest Jury for our Play" that would refuse to accept political nonsense as sound writing. While Dryden's politics were more openly expressed than Shadwell's--he had, of course, the support of the King where Shadwell did not (43)--he still saw fit to veil the political intentions of the play, long known as a Tory vehicle. (44) Its author, Thomas Southerne, was, the prologue claimed, "neither yet a Whigg nor Tory-Boy." (45) Such attempts to characterize an author as politically neutral and critics as politically motivated reveal how charges of political bias could undo the reception of the one and the influence of the other. (46)
Reversing the formula that the best poet was the best critic provided writers with another means to discount negative reception of their works. Poets claimed that incompetent poets, jealous of their peers' success, were poised to attack a work even before its performance or publication. Congreve remarked in the epilogue to The Way of the World (1700):
All bad Poets we are sure are Foes, And how their Number's swell'd the Town well knows: In shoals, I've mark'd 'em judging in the Pit; Tho' they're on no pretence for Judgment fit But that they have been Damn'd for want of Wit. (47)
Dryden echoed this sentiment in his prologue to the second part of the Conquest of Granada: "They who write Ill, and they who ne'r durst write, Turn Critiques, out of meer Revenge and Spight." (48) Yet such portrayals of criticism as products of the conditions of the marketplace were self-cancelling. On the one hand, they presented the marketplace as capable of distinguishing good from bad practitioners; after all, bad poets were jealous because good poets succeeded where they had failed. Such declarations implied the writer had faith that the market acted in accordance with rational rules of poetry. Unfair critical judgments were not to be feared because the market ignored them, revealing their authors as envious incompetents. But lurking behind these representations was the fear that the market did not operate by rational means and that the judgments of a bad poet could displace or refashion its preferences. This contradictory attitude towards the marketplace encouraged interpretations of these claims as ruses to escape criticism. (49)
Writers also represented some or all of the audience as incapable of making legitimate judgments of an author's work because it lacked the knowledge of the art or was predisposed to find the author guilty. William Wycherley's prologue to The Plain Dealer (1676) for instance, suggested that a play which satirized the foibles of its audience--"Wits," "Sparks," "Ladies" and "shrewd Judges"--could not be judged by them. The "wits," poets themselves, "hate[d] all that Write" out of jealousy, while "Sparks" denounced all plays to hide their obligation for supplying them with wit. "Shrewd Judges" did not like plays but saw them at the insistence of "the Ladies," who in their turn saw no play that did not "paint" them as they wished to be represented. (50) By the standards of the prologue, the play's satire of the audience was more relevant than any criticism leveled at the play. But even as Wycherley admitted that the audience's preferences, adulterated and craven as they were, determined the value of his work, he insisted the play's aesthetic excellence and social criticism procured it a value in the public sphere. Taken at face value, the prologue discounted future criticism as determined before the audience took its seat in the playhouse; taken as a rhetorical challenge, it urged the audience to shed the foibles that produced such faulty judgments. Of course, Wycherley's discounting of potential criticism was itself a wry bid to improve the reception of his play in the marketplace.
In the prologue to Farquhar's The Constant Couple (1699), the author nearly reversed Wycherley's formula, so that the judgment of the one or the "few" that knew the art of criticism was undone by the heterogeneous criticism of the many:
Poets will think nothing so checks their Fury, As Wits, Cits, Beaux, and Women for their Jury .... 'Tis all false Fear; for in a mingled Pit, Why, what your grave Don thinks but dully writ, His Neighbor i'th' great Wig may take for Wit.
The author need not be concerned with the critical pronouncements of the grave dons that made up "the Few, the Wise" where the writer could "reach the Many." (51) In the epilogue to the same play, criticism dispersed after the performance to various centers of private and public conversation--homes, taverns, coffeehouses--and dissipated into the audience's varied interests. In such a circumstance, Farquhar suggested that "rules," unheeded by the larger audience--hence unnecessary--were marginalized as one form of critical practice among many.
Besides debunking critics and criticism, writers' efforts to forestall criticism included longer self-justifications of their works which tended to be theoretical in nature. Most self-justifying criticism sought to position the poetic text as either above or protected from the criticism of the marketplace by displaying the author's knowledge of the art of poetry. Many of Dryden's prefaces fell into this category. Yet the stratagem was employed even when the author had admittedly not used the rules of poetry. A good example is Thomas Shadwell's preface to his first play The Sullen Lovers (1668). To elude criticism, Shadwell insisted, "No man is a severer Judge of it [the play] then my self." He admitted to "many faults" that a careful reader would find in the play, including his "theft" of a Moliere play, which he was "asham'd on't," and the lack of a strong "design" (plot). (52) But even as Shadwell vaguely admitted to great faults, he carefully turned the reader's attention to the extenuating circumstances that produced them. Thus, "as neer as [he] could, [he] observ'd the three Unities," but he fell short in applying these because his English audience did not understand or appreciate them. The weakness of his "design" was laid to the "low" nature of Comedy, as well as to the demands of humor comedy which emphasized character rather than plot development. Finally, the mediocre quality of his play was a reflection of the conditions of the marketplace. Where little remuneration was provided little effort must be the result: "Those, that write for profit, would find too little incouragement for so much paines as a correct Play would require." (53) The implication of such statements was that the critic who undertook to show Shadwell his faults did no more than Shadwell had already done. Shadwell's knowledge of his art as well as his abilities extended beyond what the play actually evidenced; criticism, he suggested, should be directed at the expectations and conditions of the literary marketplace.
The writer also used self-justification to blame the failure of a play on the audience's lack of knowledge of the rules of poetry. A clear instance of this can be cited in Edward Filmer's preface to the Unnatural Brother (1697). While in the prologue Filmer submitted without question to the judgment of the audience, after the play's failure on the stage, he rejected its authority, claiming that judgments against the play were invalidated by known rules of poetry. Puzzled by the discovery that his play had been deemed "too grave" and the number of his characters too few, Filmer argued that gravity in tragedy was a necessity and cited Horace's Art of Poetry to vindicate his decision to place only a few characters on the stage. "Criticks" of the performance judged the play by criteria not used "heretofore by the Antients" or even by critics of "fifteen or twenty years ago." Filmer was not guilty of penning a faulty play--a crime for which he implied he could be rightfully convicted--but of not pleasing an audience incapable of understanding his art. The ignorance of its audience rather than faults of the playwright doomed the play to a "very cold reception." Towards the end of the preface, Filmer claimed that what restrained him from writing a longer defense was the fear that it might "savour strangely of the vanity of a discontented Poet, who will be sure to finde out any other reason for the miscarriage of his Play, than that which was perhaps the only true one, I mean the badness of it." (54) The comment was meant to disarm skeptical readers, but it no doubt served as a reminder of the rhetorical function of self-justification.
Writers may have construed such acts of self-justification as legitimate attempts to ward off criticism, but each pronouncement could be interpreted as a challenge to others to respond. (55) Dryden's justifications--more numerous and written with greater bravado than those of his competitors--were often read not as statements of the rules of tragedy, heroic drama, comedy, satire, but as pretentious attempts to smooth over errors of his own dramatic and poetic practice. That Dryden's justifications were provoking is certainly evident from Rochester's tone in his "Allusion to Horace" (1675). Dryden's "arrogant" evaluations of his poetical superiors were interpreted by Rochester as reason enough to "censure" Dryden's own "gross faults":
But does not Dryden find e'en Jonson dull, Fletcher and Beaumont incorrect and full Of lewd lines (as he calls them); Shakespeare's style Stiff and affected, to his own the while Allowing all the justness that his pride So arrogantly had to these deni'd? And may not I have leave impartially To search and censure Dryden's works and try If those gross faults his choice pen does commit; Proceed from want of judgment or of wit? (56)
Both The Rehearsal (1671) and The Censure of Rota (1673) had slashed at Dryden's heroic verse in his Conquest of Granada, belittling its preface where Dryden sought to define the rules of the genre. His practice and theory were judged faulty, while the latter was presented as evidence of his pride and self-love. (57) In the preface to his Sullen Lovers (1668), Thomas Shadwell had portrayed Dryden's criticism of Jonsonian humor comedy as a ruse to elevate Dryden's faults into general rules. By 1687, Martin Clifford's criticism that Dryden used his prefaces to pass off bad poetry as good was well-worn ground. (58) These attacks on Dryden implied that his predisposition to wink at faults and theorize them into beauties made his literary methods unreliable and untrustworthy. Twentieth-century critical historians consider Dryden's use of theory to justify his supposed deviation from neoclassical rules one of the strengths of his criticism. Yet for his contemporaries, such critical vagary demonstrated his lack of understanding of the art of poetry and was treated as evidence of professional arrogance. (59)
The trope of the best poet/best critic assured that production and reception of the literary text and theatrical performance could be regulated by the poet outside market dynamics. But while critical discourse operated under this assumption, it actually modulated between establishing and subverting the writer's critical authority. (60) Moreover, legal, political, and moral discourses used to bolster the authority of critical discourse served contradictory ends: to establish or subvert the validity of a critical pronouncement, to vindicate or arraign an author's practice, to inaugurate or unseat critical authority. This constant modulation between extremes is evident in the portrayals of the literary field as either an orderly state ruled by figures of absolute literary and critical authority or as a chaotic realm prone to civil war and eternal squabbling. Both forms of representation were often used as tools by writers to further their own and their allies' professional or political interests. Competition among writers ensured that such portrayals were subverted or challenged and rival accounts of the literary field were posited in their stead.
Contemporary representations of John Dryden may serve as examples of a process that extended well beyond him. (61) Dryden was often portrayed by political allies as sovereign over an English "Parnassus" and as supreme judge of literary law, both while he was poet laureate and after he was discharged in 1688. Nathaniel Lee referred to Dryden as "Monarch of Verse" to whom "clam'rous Critiques their vile heads submit." (62) In his poem "To Mr. Congreve" (1693), Southerne wrote that "DRYDEN has long extended his Command / By Right-divine, quite through the Muses Land, / Absolute Lord...." (63) Dryden's authority as "absolute lord" was also appropriated by writers who hoped to avoid the imputation that self-interest motivated their own critical works. Both Charles Gildon and Robert Wolseley invoked Dryden's authority as literary 'judge" to lend authority to their defenses of Shakespeare and Rochester respectively. Dryden's knowledge of literary law and his position as a consummate practitioner gave him the power, both claimed, to hear evidence and make a judgment in each case. (64)
Dryden's enemies, on the other hand, often represented him as without moral or professional authority of any kind. The corporately-authored Rehearsal satirized Dryden's position as poet laureate in the character of Bayes, who was depicted as oblivious to all criticism and seeking to maintain his literary authority not through knowledge of the art of poetry (the play intended to reveal his ignorance in this regard) but by bullying the audience. The politically motivated satire Tory. Poets (1682) implied that Dryden's moral bankruptcy explained his success in the literary marketplace, since only a professional "whore" would cater to its low tastes and only a "pimp" would prostitute his own wife: "Mr. Bays ... / Dubb'd the sweet singing Poet of the times; / .... / His Muse was prostitute upon the Stage / And's Wife was Prostitute to all the age." In no way a monarch, Dryden was an "Ungentile, Unmannerly ... Clown" (65) who, no longer "the Muses Master," (66) was instead their "Monster." (67) John Tutchin allowed Dryden his position as laureate in his poem A Description of John Dryden's Funeral (1700): "A Bard there was, who whilome did command, / And held the Laurel in his potent Hand; / He o'er Parnassus bore Imperial Sway, / Him all the little Tribes of Bards obey." (68) But this English Parnassus was not the ideal literary state envisioned by Dryden's allies, where he doled out literary law to contemporary poetic worthies. Rather, it was a grimy Grub-street, whose low-life denizens--poets, thieves, whores and street-performers--constituted the economy of a degraded literary marketplace:
Poets, Fidlers, Cut-purses, and Whores, Drabs of the Play-house, and of Common-shores; Pimps, Panders, Bullies, and Eternal Beaux, Fam'd for short Wits, long Wigs, and gaudy Clothes; All Sons of Meter tune the Voice in praise, From lofty Strains, to humble Ekes and Ayes; The Singing-men and Clerks who charm the Soul, And the Traders in fa la fa sol. (69)
Representing Dryden as either Sovereign or as Leviathan, (70) as Judge or as Tyrant (71) could legitimize a writer's critical or literary project, yet the constant modulation between the two portrayals ultimately affected more than Dryden's reputation. Literary practitioners' inability to agree among themselves whether Dryden was the best or worst of poets, practiced or parodied the rules of poetry, was an uplifting or stifling influence on his peers, obscured their self-presumed power as ultimate judges of the value of poetry. (72)
While representations of Dryden's monarchy/tyranny are by far the most important instances of the modulation that was endangering the institutional grounds of critical authority, it can be observed in the representations of other potential sites of critical/ poetical power. For instance, John Sheffield, the Earl of Mulgrave, whom Nathaniel Lee lauded as an excellent poet and judge, was castigated as a self-interested and ignorant critic by Robert Wolseley who sought to defend Rochester against Mulgrave's criticism. (73) Both Rochester and Matthew Prior satirized Mulgrave as a self-centered patron of poetry who used the reputations of professional poets to elevate his own. (74) Lee, for his part, at one time referred to Dryden as "Monarch of Verse" and at another time gave the title of "best Judge" to the Duchess of Richmond. (75) John Dennis was the best of critics and best of poets for Charles Gildon and Peter Motteux. (76) And while Gildon pronounced Rymer an incompetent judge of drama because his play Edgar was a failure, Richard Blackmore recruited him to "oversee the Coining of our [England's] Wit." (77) Both Rymer and Dennis were styled "unfit / To fill the Peaceful Throne of awful Wit" by the author of A New Session of the Poets (1700). (78) In his poem "To My Dear Friend Mr. Congreve" (1693), Dryden recalled his lost position as laureate in order to name William Congreve his legitimate heir, snubbing his actual Whig successors, Thomas Shadwell and Nahum Tate, as usurpers. Dryden prophesied that Congreve would occupy the "Throne of Wit," suggesting a direct challenge to the legitimacy of Nahum Tate's laureateship. (79) Congreve himself declared that "no body can dispute" Charles Montague's (then Lord Chamberlain) "Monarchy in Poetry," while Congreve's own critical authority was challenged by the anonymous author of Animadversions on Mr. Congreve's Pretended Amendments (1698), who claimed that Congreve's defense of his poetic practice "betray'd his Ignorance in the Art of Poetry." (80)
The effect of such contradictory contemporaneous representations of critical authority was to call into question the whole process by which it was assigned to any practitioner. This phenomenon was depicted in works that portrayed the literary field as always on the brink of civil war, and the political and legal discourses criticism used to shore up its judgments as powerless in regulating the denizens of Parnassus. We find such representations as early as 1668 in the anonymous Session of the Poets, to the Tune of Cook Laurel. In this poem, Apollo began a search to replace William Davenant who was deposed for "lack of skill." Among those claiming the laurel were Thomas Killigrew, Richard Flecknoe, Abraham Cowley, Robert Howard, Edmund Waller, George Etherege, Thomas Shadwell, and John Dryden. Apollo abruptly called off his search as petitioners jostled one other and grew increasingly uncivil: "Then seeing a crowd in a tumult resort, / Well furnish'd with Verses, but loaded with plays; / It forc'd poor Apollo to adjourn the new court, / And leave them together by th'ears for the bays." (81) Nearly twenty-five years later in Wit for Money (1691), the same images of constant self wounding conflict and an elusive final authority that could mend the literary field are found once again:
'Tis the general custom of you Authors ... like Mastives you bark at, claw and worry one another .... Is there no means to stop this fury?... 'Tis pitty ... your Master Apollo doth not send from Parnassus some Deputy to govern you here, that being once united, as much as you are divided, the Trade ... may flourish .... (82)
We encounter nearly the same formula in Defoe's Pacificator (1700), where it was asserted that the conflict between "men of wit" (Dryden and his allies) and "men of sense" (Jeremy Collier, Blackmore and their allies) could be quelled only by "some Judge Infallible, some Pope in Wit," whose decisions the contending parties may "suffer no Appeal: / ... / And what he says, let both sides take for Fate." (83) The problem was that, as the author of the New Session of the Poets attested, the whole "Inglorious Rhyming Race" could "Each one the Wreath ... to himself decree / And ev'ry Blockhead would a Laureat be," (84) and in the process question the validity of the judgment of his rivals. No final resolution was possible when each claim to authority begat additional challenges and counterclaims.
Contradictions embodied in critical discourse undermined its stated social role of establishing the cultural value of each poetic/ dramatic work even as they constantly reauthorized the production of alternative centers of critical authority. The contradiction is so much a part of the criticism of the period that even those pronouncements against it seem to validate the continual search for an authority that could finally be judged "fair" and "impartial" and for a final political, social or legal framework that could put an end to "unfair" public criticism. Richard Blackmore, for instance, reeling from attacks upon his highly popular Prince Arthur vindicated his practice in the preface to his sequel King Arthur by pointing out that no one has a monopoly on literary law, but not without alluding to an "Infallible Judge of Controversys" who could "settle" the rules of writing. (85) As Maximillian Novak's accurate portrait of the period's criticism elucidates, such hopes were unfounded:
Between the time when a cabal of wits attacked Davenant's Gondibert and punctured his pretensions to being an epic poet to the end of the seventeenth century when a similar cabal led by Tom Browne cut apart Blackmore's epics, no author could presume too much or be overly successful without a swarm of critics ready to burlesque both him and his work. (86)
It is paradoxical that situating the poet as the foundation of critical authority to downplay the emerging authority of the marketplace occasioned the "Civil Wars of Censures" (87) which questioned poets' suitability as self-appointed rulers of the literary field. Although the best poet/best critic dictum ultimately subverted poets' claims to critical authority, it did provide the reading public with a popular form of entertainment: the ongoing spectacle of a battle royal among inhabitants of an English Parnassus.
(1) Peter Uwe Hohendahl, The Institution of Criticism (Cornell U. Press, 1982), 47.
(2) Literary historians see the coffeehouse as a positive setting that encouraged the enrichment and democratization of the literary field. See Alexander Beljame's Men of Letters and the English Public in "the Eighteenth Century, 1660-1774, trans. E. L. Lorimer, ed. Bonamy Dobree (1897; rpt., London: Kegan and Paul, 1948), and J. W. Saunders's The Profession of Letters (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964). More recently Terry Eagleton, citing?, both Beljame and Saunders, sings its praises as 'one of the more significant institutions of the emerging public sphere (The Function of Criticism [London: Verso, 1984]). Eagleton's predecessor in the discussion of the coffeehouse as an institution that fostered the development of "public sphere" criticism is Jurgen Habermas (The Structural Transformation of the Public: An Inquiry into a Category of the Public Sphere, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence [MIT Press, 1989], 32-37, and 42-43). For negative representations of the so-called coffeehouse critic, see Zeynep Tenger and Paul Trolander, "'Impartial Critick' or 'Muse's Handmaid': The Politics of Critical Practice in the Early-Eighteenth Century," Essays in Literature 21 (1994): 30.
(3) Margaret Ezell argues that the editorial policies and format of the Gentleman's Journal "reveal the 'permeable' nature of literary institutions during the period of professionalization.... Communal and reciprocal principles of coterie, amateur literary practices ... flourish in the new commercial medium" ("The Gentleman's Journal and the Commercialization of Restoration Coterie Literary Practices," MP 89 : 340). John Wilson provides a good description of the close connections between coterie circulation, the coffeehouse, and print culture: "Verses written in privacy were quickly made public.... [P]assed about from hand to hand, or sent 'by the post' to a coffeehouse or tavern, to be read aloud by a waiter to the assembled company." "Coffeehouse habitues" may then have copied such circulated works into commonplace books, and these works, often with false or no attribution, would be sold to booksellers for inclusion in poetic miscellanies (Court Wits of the Restoration [Princeton U. Press, 1948; rpt., New York: Octagon Books, 1967], 19-20). See also Julie Stone Peters' Congreve, the Drama, and the Printed Word (Stanford U. Press, 1990).
(4) [George Villiers, et al.], The Rehearsal, 3rd ed. (London, 1675); [Richard Leigh], The Censure of the Rota. On Mr. Driden's Conquest of Granada (Oxford, 1673); The Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dryden (Cambridge, 1673); Wit For Money, or, Poet Stutter: A Dialogue Between Smith, Johnson, and Poet Stutter. Containing Reflections on Some Late Plays; And Particularly, on "Love For Money, or, the Boarding School" (London: 1691).
(5) Michael Dobson situates this development in the early-eighteenth century, particularly in the Tatler and Spectator. He observes that such vehicles represent a "marked unwillingness to allow theater audience the final (or even the first) say on which plays deserve encouragement" (The Making of the National Poet." Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992], 127). Dobson differs from Habermas and Eagleton who interpret the public sphere as a development by which the bourgeoisie "held up a mirror to itself" (Habermas, The Public Sphere, 44).
(6) For an opposing view see Julie Stone Peters's "Print-World Ideology and the Double-Natured State Towards an Alliance 1660-1700" Publishing History 19 (1986): 5-31. Peters contends that when late-seventeenth-century poets referred to critics, they had in mind theater audiences, learned gentlemen, and "the impoverished wits of the coffeehouses"; they "complain[ed] about each other very little, if at all" (21). Given the great number of quarrels among writers during the period, it seems unlikely that Peters's assumption is correct.
(7) George Saintsbury, A History of English Criticism, being the English Chapters of a History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe, Revised, Adapted and Supplemented (1911; rpt., Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1955).
(8) James Sutherland in his History of the English Literature of the Late Seventeenth Century, comments that "many English writers tried to subscribe to neoclassical doctrine ... others, perhaps, paid lip service to the rules because the Rymers were ready to pounce if they ignored them. But there were also many' ... who tried in their critical pronouncements to prevent them from being too stringently applied" (Oxford U. Press, 1969), 396. See also Paul Wood Spencer's "The Opposition to Neo-Classicism in England between 1660-1700" PMLA 43 (1928): 182-97.
(9) George Saintsbury, A History of English Criticism, 147; Rend Wellek, The Later Eighteenth Centuryl vol. 1 of A History of Modern Criticism, 1750-1950 (Yale U. Press, 1955), 5. In addition to Wellek and Saintsbury, see J. E. Spingarn, "Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Criticism," in vol. 1 of Critical Essays of the 17th Century (Oxford, 1908; rpt., Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1957), ix-cvi; J. W. H. Atkins, English Literary Criticism: 17th and 18th Centuries (London: Methuen and Co, 1951); R. S. Crane, "English Neoclassical Criticism" in Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, ed. R. S. Crane (U. of Chicago Press, 1952), 372-88.
(10) Wellek, The Later Eighteenth Century, 1:7.
(11) In "English Neoclassical Criticism," Crane represents neoclassical criticism as a self-referential discourse, whose "frame of reference" "tended to be not the republic but the republic of letters" (Critics and Criticism, 376).
(12) Timothy Reiss, The Meaning of Literature (Cornell U. Press, 1992); Philip Harth, Pen For a Party: Dryden's Tory Propagandaaaaaa in Its Contexts (Princeton U. Press, 1993); Stephen N. Zwicker, Politics and Language in Dryden's Poetry (Princeton U. Press, 1984), and Lines of Authority: Politics and English Literary Culture, 1649-1689 (Cornell U. Press, 1993); Howard D. Weinbrot, Britannia's Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian (Cambridge U. Press, 1993).
(13) Recent studies examining the criticism of the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have not questioned the basic assumptions of their predecessors and have not sought to examine the cultural uses of critical discourse. See James Engle, Forming the Critical Mind (Harvard U. Press, 1989), chapters 1-2; John Haydon, Polestar of the Ancients (Associated U. Presses, 1979), chapters 6 & 7; Robert Montgomery, Terms of Response (Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1992), chapters 1-3.
(14) For an exploration of the ideology of literary production during this period, see Margery Kingsley's "'High on a Throne of his own Labours rear'd': Mac Flecknoe, Jeremiad and Cultural Myth," MP 93 (1996): 327-51.
(15) Hohendahl, Institution of Criticism, 161-62.
(16) Ben Jonson, Timber: or Discoveries in Ben Jonson, the Complete Poems, ed. George Parfitt (Yale U. Press, 1975), 451.
(17) For an essay that explores the idolatry of Jonson as a poet and critic among Restoration' writers, see Jennifer Brady's "Collaborating with the Forebear: Dryden's Reception of Ben Jonson," MLQ 54 (1993): 345-69.
(18) John Dryden, dedication to The Assignation: or Love in a Nunnery (1673), in vol. 11 of The Works of John Dryden (U. of California Press, 1978), 322; John Dennis, The Critical Works of John Dennis, 2 vols., ed. Edward Niles Hooker (1939-1943; rpt., The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1967), 1:197; Peter Motteux, Gentleman's Magazine (January, 1693), 26.
(19) Stephen C. Behrendt comments, "Imitation was generally accounted a legitimate.... mode of criticism, in. the eighteenth, century'. ("The Best. Criticism: Imitation as Criticism in the Eighteenth Century" The Eighteenth Century, 24 : 6). In Britannia's Issue, Weinbrot maintains that the combative nature of literary imitation "becomes more collegial as it moves from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century" (91); he cites "the discovery and eager acceptance of Longinus' congenial aesthetics of emulation" as "one essential reason" for this change (99).
(20) John Oldham, "The Praise of Homer. Ode" (1681), in The Poems of John Oldham, ed. Harold Brooks and Ramen Selden (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 122.
(21) John Oldham, "Upon the Works of Ben. Johnson. Written At Croyden. Anno 1677/8," in Poems, 200, lines 197-209.
(22) Aphra Behn, "To the Honourable Sir Francis Fane, on His Excellent Play, 'The Sacrifice'" (1687), in vol. 1 of The Works of Aphra Behn, ed. Janet Todd (Ohio State U. Press, 1992), 226, lines 10-13, 16-17.
(23) Aphra Behn, Works, 1:226, lines 22-25.
(24) [James Wright], "Of Translated Verse," in Country. Conversations: Being an Account of Some Discourses that Happen'd in a Visit to the Country Last Summer, on Divers Subjects ... (London, 1694), 36-37.
(25) Sir William Davenant, preface to Gondibert, an Heroick Poem (1650), in Spingarn, 2:27.
(26) John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "An Allusion to Horace," in POAS, 1:363, fines 115-24.
(27) John Dryden, the chief target of Rochester's satire, was certainly aware by April 1676 that Rochester was its author. In a letter to Henry Savile, Rochester remarked that he was "out of favour with a certain Poet," a reference to Dryden's reaction to the contents and authorship of the "Allusion" (qtd. in John Wilson, Court Wits, 190).
(28) J.W. Saunders, "The Stigma of Print," Essays in Criticism 1 (1951): 159.
(29) John Dryden, "Defence of the Epilogue, Or, An Essay on the Dramatique Poetry of the last Age" (1671) in Works, 11:207.
(30) Thomas Rymer, "The Tragedies of the Last Age" (1678), in Spingarn, 2:163.
(31) John Dennis, "The Impartial Critick: Or, Some Observations Upon a Late Book, Entitled, a Short View of Tragedy, Written by Mr. Rymer" in Hooker, 1:28.
(32) Wit For Money (1691), 16.
(33) [Richard Leigh], Censure of Rota, 2; Gerard Langbaine, "Essay on Dryden" (1691), in Spingarn, 3: 110-47.
(34) [John Dryden, John Crowne, and Thomas Shadwell], Notes and Observations on "The Empress of Morocco," in vol. 17 of The Works of John Dryden, 83. While Maximillian Novak ascribes some of the responsibility of Notes and Observations to Thomas Shadwell (see his "Empress of Morocco" and its Critics [Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1968] as well as his commentary for N&O in Dryden's Works, 17:391-95), James Winn favors an authorship only by Dryden and Crowne (Dryden and his World [Yale U. Press, 1987], 582n). Dryden's authorship of-the preface has been long accepted. Only John Crowne admitted to having a hand in authoring the work (preface to Caligula ).
(35) Notes and Observations, 84 and 86.
(36) John Dryden, dedication to The Assignation, in Works, 11:322.
(37) Elkanah Settle, dedication to Empress of Morocco. A Tragedy. With Sculptures (London, 1673). See Maximillian Novak's introduction to "Empress of Morroco" and its Critics, and his commentary to N&O, in Dryden's Works, 17:387-91.
(38) [Charles Blount], Mr. Dresden Vindicated in a Reply to the Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dreyden. With Reflections on the Rata (London, 1673), 11.
(39) [Elkanah Settle], Notes and Observations on the "Empress of Morocco" Revised (London, 1674), 11.
(40) John Loftis labels Shadwell's work a Whig play (The Politics of Drama in Augustan England [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963], 21), while Michael Dobson sees it barely as such (The Making of a National Poet [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992], 71-72). For a fuller treatment of the play's political content, see Judith B. Slagle's "Thomas Shadwell's Censored Comedy, The Lancashire Witches: An Attack on Religious Ritual or Divine Right?" Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theater Research 7 (1992): 54-63.
(41) Thomas Shadwell, prologue to The Lancashire Witches, and Teague O Dively the Irish Priest, in vol. 4 of The Complete Works of Thomas Shadwell, ed. Montague Summers (London, 1927; rpt., New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968), 102-3.
(42) "A considerable part of the audience heartily hissed the piece; however, the Whigs, who could always be relied upon ... to collect together a regular rabble, packed the theatre with their gladiatorial hirelings, and so the play won through the first opposition" (Montague Summers, Introduction to Shadwell's Works, l:clxix).
(43) Shadwell may have been trying to deflect rumors about the play's Whiggish politics. Its political contents had been largely censored by Master of the Revels, Charles Killigrew.
(44) Robert Hume describes Dryden's play as a "Tory Fable" (The Development of Drama in the Late-Seventeenth Century [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976], 343).
(45) John Dryden, Works, 2:192-93.
(46) See Philip Harth's A Pen for a Party for a portrayal of Dryden's initial hedging and final commitment to the Tory cause. Dryden's openness in his political sympathies was paid for by constant Whig attacks from the first Exclusion' Crisis until his death in' 1700. The usual career of the poet/ dramatist is better exemplified by John Crowne, who wrote "eighteen politically diverse plays ... during three regimes ... [and] survived the factionary politics of the late seventeenth century by shifting allegiances while carefully hedging his bets" (Nancy McGuire, "Factionary Politics: John Crowne's Henry IV," in Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History, ed. Gerald MacLean [Cambridge U. Press, 1995], 91-92).
(47) William Congreve, epilogue to The Way of the World (1700), in The Complete Plays of William Congreve, ed. Herbert Davis (U. of Chicago Press, 1967), 479.
(48) John Dryden, prologue to The Conquest of Granada, part II, in Works, 11:103.
(49) The assumption that the poet used such remarks to brush off legitimate criticism in order to ensure a work's success in the marketplace is used by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in his Rehearsal. The character Bayes describes his critics: "They'll laugh you, sir, and find fault, and censure the thing that, 'y gad, I'm sure they are not able to do themselves--a sort of envious persons that emulate the glories of persons parts ..." (1.ii). The joke is on Baves: his critics do not write like him because they cannot write as badly as he does. By implication their criticism reveals them better poets than Bayes.
(50) William Wycherley, prologue to The Plain Dealer, in The Plays of William Wycherley, ed. Arthur Friedman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 373-74.
(51) Prologue and epilogue to The Constant Couple; or, a Trip to the Jubilee. A Comedy (London, 1700).
(52) Thomas Shadwell, preface to The Sullen Lovers; or, The Impertinents, in Works, 1:9-10.
(53) Shadwell, Works, 1:10 & 12.
(54) Edward Filmer, preface to The Unnatural Brother: A Tragedy (London, 1697), A2.
(55) See Steven N. Zwicker's "Milton, Dryden, and the Politics of Literary Controversy," in Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History, ed. Gerald MacLean (Cambridge U. Press, 1995), 137-58. In reexamining the Milton-Dryden relationship, Zwicker shows that Milton most likely wrote his headnote to Paradise Lost and the preface to the first issue of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes to challenge Dryden's emerging cultural authority.
(56) POAS, 1:362, lines 81-90.
(57) See George McFadden's Dryden: The Public Writer (Princeton U. Press, 1978), 95-110 and 144-58. See also editor's commentary to Dryden's Conquest, in vol. 11 of the Works, 428-34.
(58) Thomas Shadwell, Works, 1:11; Martin Clifford, Notes Upon Mr. Dryden's Poems in Four Letters ... (London, 1687).
(59) See, for instance, Ker's championing of Dryden's critical inconsistencies: "The worship of pure form and the ambition to realize it affected him strongly.... But he will not make it a point of honour or of faith to enforce the principles of Heroic Poetry. His original work is determined by present conditions of taste ... and his general criticism, having always a reference to his own present undertakings, follows his judgment of what is desirable and feasible for him ... at the moment. The patterns of literature have to demean themselves accordingly" (Essays of John Dryden, 2 vols. [1899; rpt., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926], l:xviii). For similar remarks, see Sutherland, 412; Atkins, 107 and 144-45, and Robert Hume, Dryden's Criticism (Cornell U. Press, 1970), 4. Dryden is also often featured as an exemplary neoclassical critic and theorist. See, Hume, 148, and Wimsatt and Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History. (New York: Knopf, 1957), 208.
(60) In Discourse of Modernism, Tim Reiss has noted that poets and dramatists of the late-seventeenth century recognized literature's role in the formation and regulation of the modern state. William Davenant, John Dryden, Thomas Rymer were proponents of the "commonplace" view that literature "was a servant--indeed, an integral part--of political order and might, an instrument for the maintenance ... of a particular society and its values" (149). Critical discourse appropriated the ideology of state and court in order to lend social authority to its own agenda. Yet, all such attempts to center authority in a writer's work was subject to challenge and subversion from competitors. The constant wrangling among literary practitioners often detracted from the larger epistemological and socio-political efforts of literary discourse.
(61) See Ruth Salvaggio "Verses on the Death of Mr. Dryden," The Journal of Popular Culture 21 (1987): 75-91. On treatments of Dryden as a sovereign poet, see Weinbrot, Britannia's Issue, 121-23.
(62) Nathaniel Lee, "To Mr. Dryden, on his Poem of Paradice" (1677), in vol. 2 of The Works of Nathaniel Lee, ed. Thomas B. Stroup and Arthur L. Cooke (1954-5; rpt., Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Reprint Corp., 1968), 2:557-58, lines 47 and 55.
(63) Thomas Southerne, "To Mr. Congreve," prefixed to The Old Batchelour (1693) by William Congreve, in Davis, 31, lines 18-20.
(64) [Charles Gildon], "Some Reflections on Mr. Rymer's Short View of Tragedy, And an Attempt at a Vindication of SHAKESPEAR," in Miscellaneous Letters and Essays., on Several Subjects, Philosophical, Moral, Historical, Critical, Amorous ..., comp. Charles Gildon (London, 1694), 65; Robert Wolselev, preface to Valentinian, a Tragedy, As 'tis Alter'd by the Late Earl of Rochester (1685), in Spingarn, 3:23.
(65) The authorship of the poem remains in doubt; the text cited here is in Summers' edition of Shadwell's Works: 5:279, lines 43, 46, 51-52, 56, 60.
(66) The phrase is from The Laurel, a Poem on the Poet-Laureate [London, 1685], 3, line 46.
(67) Shadwell, Works, 279, line 60.
(68) [John Tutchin], A Description of Mr. Dryden's Funeral (1700), in vol. 2 of Poems on Affairs of State from the Reign of K. James I. to the Year 1703, 2nd ed. (London, 1716), 230, lines 17-20. While Tom Brown is often cited as the author of the poem, Frank Ellis provides clear evidence the work is actually by Tutchin (POAS, 6:208). For the cultural and historical significance of the poem, see Ruth Salvaggio's "Verses on the Death of Mr. Dryden."
(69) [John Tutchin], 231, lines 73-80.
(70) Thomas Shadwell put the words of his diatribe into the mouth of Dryden, who, referring to the public outrage over his conversion to Catholicism, declared: "Let censuring Fops, and snarling Envy grin / Tickled and pleas'd with my Camelion Skin. / No senseless Fools my true Dimensions scan, / And know the Lawreat's a Leviathan," ("The Address of John Dryden, Laureate, to his Highness the Prince of Orange" , in Shadwell's Works, 5:351, lines 65-68.
(71) In his poem "The Medal of John Bayes" (1682), Shadwell compared Dryden to a despot: "Sov'raign power thou dost usurp, John Bayes, / And from all Poets thou a Tax dost raise. / Thou plunder'st all, t'advance thy mighty Name" (Works, 5:254, lines 73-76).
(72) The interchangeability of charges of literary incompetence can be seen in the origin and influence of Buckingham's The Rehearsal. In earlier drafts of the play, its targets were William Davenant and Robert Howard. Later when Howard aligned himself with Buckingham, Buckingham revised the work to suit Dryden. While details must certainly have changed, charges of arrogance, pandering to the audience, plagiarism, and refusing to listen to one's critics were standard critical fare and could have suited Dryden as much as Davenant and Howard. Indeed, Dryden quipped much later that Buckingham "sate to himself when he drew the Picture" of "Bays" ("Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire," in Works, 4:8). The portrait of the arrogant, self-serving writer was imitated throughout the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. See A Wit For Money (1691), Charles Gildon's The New Rehearsal, or Bays the Younger (1714) and Richard Sheridan's The Critic (1779).
(73) Nathaniel Lee, dedication to The Rival Queens, in Works, 1:220; Wolseley, in Spingarn, 2:15.
(74) Matthew Prior, "A Satyr on the Poets. In Imitation of the Seventh Satyr of Juvenal," The Literary Works of Matthew Prior, 2nd ed., 2 vols., ed. H. Bunker Wright and Monroe: K. Spears (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 1:30-32, lines 77-134; John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "An Epistolary Essay from M. G. To O. B. Upon Their Mutual Poems," in POAS, 1:349-51.
(75) Nathaniel Lee, "To Mr. Dryden, on his Poem of Paradice," in Works, 2:557, line 47, and dedication to Theodosius (1680), 2:237.
(76) Charles Gildon, The Lives and the Characters of the English Dramatick Poets: With an Account of All the Plays, Printed to the Year, 1698 (London, 1699), 38; Peter Motteux, The Gentleman's Magazine (February 1693), 26.
(77) Charles Gildon, "Some Reflections on Mr. Rymer's Short View of Tragedy, And an Attempt at a Vindication of SHAKESPEAR," in Miscellaneous Letters, 67-68; Sir Richard Blackmore "A Satyr against Wit" (1699), in POAS, 6:146, line 198.
(78) A New Session of the Poets, Occasion'd by the Death of Mr. Dryden (London, 1700), 3.
(79) John Dryden, "To my Dear Friend Mr. Congreve, on his Comedy, call'd, 'The Double-Dealer,'" Works, 4:433, line 53.
(80) Congreve, dedication to Love for Love: A Comedy (1675), in Davis, 209; Animadversions on Mr. Congreve's Late Answer to Mr. Collier ... (London, 1698), 67. For a similar characterization of Congreve, see A Letter to Mr. Congreve on his Pretended Amendments, & c.. of Mr. Collier's "Short View" ... (London, 1698): "You [Congreve] frequently ... Lord it over Mr. Collier in point of Criticism; 'tis your province, I confess, more than his" and therefore if you are the greater Master in that Art it is no such wonder' but I think Impartially, you come short of him in your own Business ...'" (20).
(81) "The Session of the Poets, to the Tune of Cook Laurel," (circa 1668) in POAS, 1:336, lines 165-68. Representation of the literary field as a chaotic realm was a convention of me sessions poem. See Hugh MacDonald's introduction to A Journal From Parnassus New Printed from a Manuscript Circa 1688 (London: Dobell, 1937) and Paul Spencer Wood's "Opposition to Neoclassicism in England, between 1660-1700," PMLA 43 : 192.
(82) Preface to Wit For Money.
(83) Daniel Defoe, "The Pacificator," POAS, 6:178, lines 404-10.
(84) A New Session of the Poets, 1.
(85) Richard Blackmore, preface to King Arthur: An Heroick Poem in Twelve Books (London, 1697), xiv.
(86) Maximillian E. Novak, introduction to "Empress of Morocco," and its Critics, i.
(87) The phrase is from Robert Howard's preface to The Duke of Lerma (London, 1668), sig. A2. He states that he does not have the time or desire to enter the "Civil Wars of Censures" even while in the midst of one with Dryden. The Dryden-Howard quarrel has been most recently summarized in George McFadden's Dryden, Public Writer (59-87), and James Winn's Du. den and His World (186-98).
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|Author:||Trolander, Paul; Tenger, Zeynep|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1996|
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