While these vast floating bodies, on either side, moved against each other in parallel lines, and our Country men, under the happy conduct of his Royal Highness, went breaking, by little and little, into the line of the Enemies; the noise of the Cannon from both Navies reached our ears about the City: so that all men, being alarmed with it, and in a dreadful suspense of the event, which we knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the Town almost empty, some took towards the Park, some cross the River, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.
Amongst the rest, it was the fortune of Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander, to be in company together: three of them persons whom their wit and Quality have made known to all the Town: and whom I have chose to hide under these borrowed names, that they may not suffer by so ill a relation as I am going to make of their discourse.
Dryden’s influence on later writers was immense; Alexander Pope greatly admired and often imitated him, and Samuel Johnson considered him to have “refined the language, improved the sentiments, and tuned the numbers of English poetry.” In addition to poetry, Dryden wrote many essays, prefaces, satires, translations, biographies (introducing the word to the English language), and plays.
“An Essay of Dramatic Poesy” was probably written in 1666 during the closure of the London theaters due to plague.
While imitation of classical writers was common practice in Dryden’s time, he steers the group’s conversation towards dramatic poetry, a relatively new genre which had in some ways broken with classical traditions and was thus in need of its own apologia.
The group arrives at a definition of drama: Lisideius suggests that it is “Each character then speaks in turn, touching on the merits of French and English drama, continuing the debate over ancient versus modern writers, and discussing the value of the “Unities” or rules of French drama.
During this final speech, the barge docks at the Somerset-Stairs, and the four friends go their separate ways, content with their evening.
Text and notes, unless otherwise indicated, are adapted from It was that memorable day, in the first Summer of the late War, when our Navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed Fleets which any age had ever seen, disputed the command of the greater half of the Globe, the commerce of Nations, and the riches of the Universe.
When the rest had concurred in the same opinion, Crites, a person of a sharp judgment, and somewhat too delicate a taste in wit, which the world have mistaken in him for ill nature, said, smiling to us, that if the concernment of this battle had not been so exceeding great, he could scarce have wished the Victory at the price he knew must pay for it, in being subject to the reading and hearing of so many ill verses as he was sure would be made upon it; adding, that no Argument could scape some of those eternal Rhymers, who watch a Battle with more diligence than the Ravens and birds of Prey; and the worst of them surest to be first in upon the quarry, while the better able, either out of modesty writ not at all, or set that due value upon their Poems, as to let them be often called for and long expected!
“There are some of those impertinent people you speak of,” answered Lisideius, “who to my knowledge, are already so provided, either way, that they can produce not only a Panegyric upon the Victory, but, if need be, a funeral elegy upon the Duke: and after they have crowned his valor with many Laurels, at last deplore the odds under which he fell, concluding that his courage deserved a better destiny.” All the company smiled at the conceit of Lisideius, but Crites, more eager than before, began to make particular exceptions against some Writers, and said the public Magistrate ought to send betimes to forbid them; and that it concerned the peace and quiet of all honest people, that ill Poets should be as well silenced as seditious Preachers.