The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.
§ 36. His Originality that of Treatment
And yet, although the epithet “glorious,” which for a long time has been attached to Dryden’s name, seems appropriate to the powers and the products of his genius, and though time cannot change the estimate which that epithet implies, there can be little doubt what restriction should be placed upon the tribute due to him as a great writer and a great poet. His originality was essentially originality of treatment. Partly, perhaps, because his temperament was slow and reserved, and because his mind seems never to have been thoroughly at work till he had his pen in his hand, his genius was that which he describes as “the genius of our countrymen … rather to improve an invention than to invent themselves.” And his poetry—unless in isolated places where the feelings of the individual man burst the bonds: the feeling of shame in the ode To Anne Killigrew; the feeling of melancholy, mingled with a generous altruism, in the lines to Congreve; the feeling of noble scorn for what is base and mean in some of his satire; the feeling of the sweetness of life and youth in a few of his lyrics—touches few sympathetic chords in the heart. Nor does it carry the reader out of himself and beyond himself into the regions where soul speaks to soul. How could it have done so? This was not his conception of his art, or of the practice of it.