Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Book Review
The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden
by Louis I. Bredvold
published University of Michigan Press 1934
this edition Ann Arbor paperbacks 1966 edition

   There are some books you'll never find on Amazon because their sales rank is more then 5,000,000 and the Amazon associative system doesn't go down that far.  I can't emphasize how unpopular this book is at However, at the book sale I went to I managed to pick it up for fifty cents or whatever. The reason I bought The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden is because it was intellectual history of a 17th and even 16th century vintage.  Generally speaking, the history of ideas is comfortable with ancient and modern times, and anything in between is dicey, in terms of interest, audience, etc.   So when I saw a book on intellectual history ("the intellectual milieu" in the title) and that it was about a 17th century subject (the English Poet John Dryden.) I just grabbed it.

  The subject "JOHN DRYDEN" doesn't have a large audience, so books about the subject are relatively rare.  Also, it was slim- less then 200 pages- which is always a plus for monograph level books about academic subjects.

  Dryden is a 17th century Poet who has obviously fallen out of favor with the contemporary market for such things - and his last hey-day was thanks to noted crowd pleaser T.S. Eliot:

    "It is hardly too much to say that Dryden found the English speechless, and he gave them speech; and they accordingly acknowledged their master; the language which we can refine, enrich, distort or corrupt as we may, but which we cannot do without.  No one, in the whole history of English literature, has dominated that literature so long, or so completely. An even in the nineteenth century the language was still the language of Dryden, as it is to-day."

   Dryden actually has a pretty good N-Gram- which shows spikes in the 1820s-1840s, another spike in 1880s and then an intitial burst of enthusiasm at the beginning of the American University system expansion in the early 20th century- i.e. 1934- when this book was published, and then a falling off, and rise in the last decade.

  There are specific reasons that Dryden fell into disfavor with audiences, mostly because he wasn't much of a democrat.  Of course, dispelling misconceptions of what, exactly, Dryden thought, is the entire subject of this book.  Dryden was deeply religious, but was exposed to the resurgent classical tradition of philosophical skepticism.  The pandora's box of these skeptical ideas was opened because of intellectual competition between Catholics and Protestants in the last part of the 17th century.  Roman derived skeptical arguments were the quasi political "dirty tricks" of their day.

   Artistically, Dryden is significant because he introduced the theme of secular doubt into English Art.   There... was no one else doing it: taking ideas derived from 17th century French political theory (Montaigne) and mixing them into the tradition of English poetry.   Revolutionary in it's own day and time.  Incendiary, one might say?


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