John Dryden and the affirmation of tradition

Andrew J. Auge, Marquette University


Dryden's poetry and criticism are informed by his deep concern over the role of tradition in literature, politics, and religion. This dissertation takes up the fundamental yet long-neglected issue of how Dryden responds to the phenomenon of tradition throughout his career. The vital sense of tradition that Dryden manifests bears some connection to and can be illuminated by the ancient understanding of this phenomenon revitalized in modern hermeneutic theory, especially the thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer. A thorough examination of his critical and poetical works will show that Dryden, like Gadamer, affirms the continuity of past and present as the essential basis of our historical existence and treats this fundamental temporal relation as a communal task of crucial significance. The first three chapters of this dissertation focus upon the comprehensive understanding of literary tradition that is exemplified in several crucial areas of concern in Dryden's critical prose: the modern poet's relation to his predecessors; the relation between mimesis and the imitation of past models; the role of aesthetic rules in the processes of critical evaluation and poetic creation. At the heart of the matter is Dryden's adoption of a complex critical outlook that rejects both the naive fusion and the complete divorce of literary past and present, an attitude closely allied with the profound historical sense that T. S. Eliot identifies as an essential feature of literary tradition. The second section of the dissertation explores Dryden's response to tradition in his non-dramatic poetry. The fourth chapter examines the way in which Absalom and Achitophel embodies in both its poetic model and its subject matter a profound sense of tradition as a process of conservation and augmentation. The fifth chapter traces the gradual attenuation of tradition in Dryden's religious poems, Religio Laici and The Hind and the Panther, which locate the issue of tradition within an explicitly hermeneutic context and raise crucial questions about its role there. The final chapter considers how Dryden's translations of classical poetic texts represent both a partial reaffirmation of the profound sense of tradition and an erosion of the wider cultural significance of this process.

Recommended Citation

Auge, Andrew J., "John Dryden and the affirmation of tradition" (1987). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8811058.