(1) John Dryden:
Dryden was a great ‘Hawed poet’ according to J. R. Lowell. He is the greatest of the poets who link up the Renaissance with the Neo-classical age. He has the classical passion for perfection of form- clarity, symmetry, obedience to rules, proportion, logic reasoning, architectural instinct – but he has also the Elizabethan flights of fancy and imagination as well as their emotional ardor. He perfects the verse-form of the new poetry – the Heroic Couplet – but in his hands it still retains that freedom and flexibility which disappeared in the hands of the poets of the next generation. He returns to blank verse towards the end of his career.
He does not apply the unities regularly. He mingles comedy with tragedy. He shows an appreciation, greater than that of any of his contemporaries, of the great Elizabethan masters of poetry.
Thus he is nearer to the true classics than the poets of the next generation referred to as the pseudo-classics. His is a mixed art, “in which the soundest and the truest liberties of the romantics are grafted on to a general background of order and. His classicism is made of a restrained and self-disciplined romanticism.
Dryden made his mark as a satirist with the publication of Absalom and Acidophil in 1861. It was followed in quick succession by The Medal Mac Flecknoe and Absalom and Acidophil, part II, written in collaboration with Nahum Tate.
In the Heroic Couplet, which he perfected, Dryden gave to his followers a fitting medium for satire and in his satirical portraits he set an example which was followed by all those who took part in political controversies.
The satires put him at the head and front of the English men of letters. His satire is not so sly as that of Chaucer, but it is distinguished by the same good nature. There is no malice in it. He began with writing a Tory pamphlet and within a very short time became the supreme satirist of England. He imparted epic grandeur and sublimity to political satire which in the hands of his contemporaries was coarse and brutal.
(2) Samuel Butler:
Next in order of merit among the Restoration satirists is Samuel Bustier. He was a Royalist and in his powerful satire Hudibras, he has satirized Puritanism in what may be called doggerel verse, largely on the pattern of the comic doggerel of Skelton.
Hudibras is a long and witty mock-epic aimed at the Puritans. It describes the adventures of a fanatical justice of peace, Sir Hudibras, a blusterous, ignorant, repulsive, looking Puritan knight, and of his squire Ralph.
In Hudibras and Ralpho, the extreme types of Puritans, Presbyterians and Independents are mercilessly satirized.
Hudibras at its best is a burlesque echoing Rabelais and Cervantes. It is not a regular satire but a mock heroic poem full of scornful irony, low buffoonery, and witty epigrams. It is undoubtedly the greatest satire outside Dryden’s Absalom and Achitopheiand remains the masterpiece of satire in the grotesque manner.
(3) Other Poets of the Restoration:
The other poets of the age may be dismissed summarily. The poets of the court of Charles II and James II were in their own age considered true poets, for they followed the prevailing fashion- classicism, the result of the imitation of French models. However, now they are little read or cared for. From an analysis of their poetry we discern three main themes (1) love and gallantry (2) abstract argumentation
(3) Philosophic ardor
Love poems, didactic poems, Pindaric odes are produced in large numbers. There is much argumentation and reasoning, and passion and imagination are chilled by this cold atmosphere. Passion is scarce in the poetry of the time, and feeling exceptional; scarce also is the heat of strong imagination.