The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.
§ 19. Dryden Poet Laureate
We now resume our general summary of Dryden’s life and literary work from the time of the beginning of his labours as a dramatist, which it seemed most convenient to survey continuously. His simultaneous appointments in 1668 as poet laureate (in succession to D’Avenant) and as historiographer royal (for which latter post his qualifications, doubtless, were found in Annus Mirabilis) imposed no duties “hereafter to be done,” nor were any performed by him in either of his official capacities; for his translation of Maimbourg’s History of the League (1684), at the request of Charles II, can hardly be regarded as a service to English historiography. Thus, he went on writing for and about the stage, adding to his modest income by dedications, prologues, introductory essays and prefaces. But, though criticism often meant controversy, and a constantly growing reputation drew the eyes of Londoners and strangers on the famous man of letters, as he sat in his accustomed seat in Will’s coffee-house, at the corner of Russell street and Bow street, Covent Garden, everything seems to show that, by disposition, and in his ways of life, he was a quiet and retiring man, plain in his habiliments, and averse from the broils which disgraced the republic of letters. Those in which, in his earlier days, he was implicated do not seem to have been of his own seeking; but the existing methods of literary, and, more especially, theatrical, competition, and the consequent necessity of securing the patronage of leaders of society and fashion, made it all but impossible to be in “the town” and not of it.