Dryden Street, WC2E

Place Name

This was originally called Wilson Street. John Dryden (August 19, 1631 –  May  12, 1700) was one of the leading men of letters during the Restoration, a  poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright, he was appointed the first Poet Laureate in 1668. The eldest of 14 children  he was born in the village of Aldwinkle All Saints, Northamptonshire, later heading to Westminster School before attending Trinity College, Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1654. When his father, Sir Erasmus Dryden, died, the budding poet was left a small legacy but it was not enough to live on and he had to take up employment as a clerk with Oliver Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. The Poetry Foundation writes: “After John Donne and John Milton, John Dryden was the greatest English poet of the 17th century. After William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, he was the greatest playwright. And he has no peer as a writer of prose, especially literary criticism, and as a translator.” He was working a time of great political flux. His first major work, Heroic Stanzas, published in 1659 was a eulogy on Cromwell’s death. A year later he celebrated the Restoration of the monarchy and the return of Charles II with Astraea Redux. After the theatres were reopened in 1660 (having been banned under the strict Puritanism of the Protectorate), he became a key figure in the dramatic movement now called Restoration comedy. His most famous play was Marriage à la Mode (1673). He wrote tragedies, too, including All For Love (1678), a reworking of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. But his career suffered a setback in the mid-1660s when as a result of the Plague, followed by the Great Fire, the London theatres were closed. In 1667, he published Annus Mirabilis, a lengthy historical poem which described the English defeat of the Dutch naval fleet and the Great Fire of London in 1666. He wrote several successful (if controversial) plays, but was frequently in financial difficulties.  In his efforts to satisfy the demand for popular entertainment he was accused of pandering to the lowest taste of his audience and of showing prejudice in his writings about the Church. About this time he lived nearby at 137 Long Acre between 1682 and 1686, a period when he was the peak of his career and one of the most sought-after writers of the time. But in 1688 he lost his literary offices including that of poet laureate but this did not deter him and in 1692 he wrote an opera called Albion and Albanius. He died leaving three sons; although his wife outlived him she became insane shortly after his death. Initially buried in St Anne’s Church, Soho, his remains were exhumed and he was laid to rest in Poets’ Corner, in Westminster Abbey.

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