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The Faith of John Dryden

The Faith of John Dryden: Change and Continuity

Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Faith of John Dryden
    Book Description:

    John Dryden's celebrated conversion to Roman Catholicism is revealed in this provocative study as the culmination of a lifelong search that began with his youth in an actively Puritan family. Atkin's familiarity with the religious thought of the times allows him to range widely among Dryden's contemporaries and predecessors and to bring a fresh perspective to those key poems in Dryden's religious development:Religio LaiciandThe Hind and the Panther. Through a sensitive reappraisal of all Dryden's texts -- including those less widely known -- Atkins shows that Dryden had a lifelong antipathy for all "priests" of whatever sect, whether pagan or Christian; by concentrating on the theme of Dryden's opposition to the clergy and his efforts toward articulating a faith for the layman, Atkins provides an important new way of tracing and evaluating the changes in Dryden's religious position and, with this perspective, offers a new interpretation of Dryden's conversion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6184-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Texts
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Approaching Dryden’s Religious Thought
    (pp. 1-14)

    The scholarly view of John Dryden’s thought has changed radically since 1934. That year Louis I. Bredvold publishedThe Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden,¹ which transformed the way both specialists and general readers regarded the man and the poet and determined the direction of Dryden studies for decades. Specifically, Bredvold identified what Dryden termed his inclination to “Scepticism in Philosophy” (in the Preface toReligio Laici) with the centuries-old tradition of philosophical skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, fundamentally distrustful of the human reason. This temperament, he argued, was particularly vulnerable to the claims of Roman Catholicism, whose thought in the seventeenth century...

  6. 2 The Early Religious Opinions
    (pp. 15-32)

    If following his conversion in late 1685 or early 1686 Dryden’s religious position was clear and simple (by all accounts he remained a devout Catholic the rest of his life), his opinions before the late 1670s at least are not at all clear. For one thing, we have almost no direct biographical information on the first thirty years of Dryden’s life. For another, his position from 1660 through the 1670s has to be deduced from scattered references mainly in poems and plays, and there is little agreement as to what they mean. But the evidence available, though slight, is by...

  7. 3 Dryden’s Religious Views 1677–1684
    (pp. 33-65)

    When we turn from a reading of the works Dryden wrote in the 1660s and early and mid-1670s toMac Flecknoe, Absalom and Achitophel, The Medall, andReligio Laici, we are struck at once by the differences in his understanding. Evidently a major intellectual conversion had occurred, no doubt induced in part by a growing awareness of the ramifications of the new thought.¹ Whenever and for whatever specific reasons it came about, it produced in Dryden a new insistence on the primacy of the moral in literary invention and on the moral function of poetry.² It also led to his...

  8. 4 The Unresolved Conflict of Dryden’s Layman’s Faith
    (pp. 66-95)

    Dryden claimed that reading Henry Dickinson’s translation ofThe Critical History of the Old Testament“bred” hisReligio Laici(1. 226).¹ Evidently what he meant was that Father Simon’s controversial and epochal work not only provided an opportunity to focus on issues of continuing importance to him but also suggested a way to construct a poem that would address the current religiopolitical situation as it explored the implications of various approaches to scriptural meaning. The result, in any case, is a public poem with a specific argument that yet contains Dryden’s own individual expression of faith. The nature of the...

  9. 5 Change and Continuity in Dryden’s Conversion
    (pp. 96-129)

    Though few are now likely to question Dryden’s sincerity in converting to Roman Catholicism shortly after James’s succession in 1685, the motives behind his change of faith remain obscure. For a while, on the basis of Bredvold’s attractive argument regarding the development of Dryden’s thought from philosophical skepticism to a logical terminus in Catholic fideism, which silenced the charges of expediency vigorously bruited in the nineteenth century,¹ the problem seemed solved. But the overthrow of that influential interpretation in the 1960s has left us with no satisfactory explanation of the reasons for Dryden’s conversion. Fortunately this new situation has not...

  10. 6 Dryden as Catholic Layman
    (pp. 130-160)

    Dryden’s deep commitment to Roman Catholicism is reflected in his various literary efforts on behalf of his new church. These began in July 1686, only a few months after the conversion, with the publication ofA Defence of the Papers written by the Late King of Blessed Memory and Duchess of York Against the Answer made to them;this tract is a rebuttal of Stillingfleet’s hasty reply to papers showing that Charles had become reconciled to the Church of Rome and had died a Catholic, papers which also detail the steps of James’s first wife’s similar conversion.¹ Important in its...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 161-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-194)