Age of Dryden || Development of Prose Style

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      With John Dryden the age of modern English prose begins. In the earlier Elizabethan writers, there were some suggestions of a plainer, simpler and straight forward prose, for instance in Jonson, Bacon and Raleigh. But their prose is on the whole the prose of an age of poetry. It was imaginative and ornate. In Dryden's time, true prose, simple, direct and yet harmonious begins. The prose of Hooker, Milton and Jeremy Taylor is intricate, involved and learned. The construction adopted there is often that of Latin rather than of English syntax. But the prose of Dryden and other writers of the Restoration period is simple, direct and lucid.

Dryden's prose clearly marks the birth of modern English prose.
Prose in Dryden Age

      This new prose was to some extent the result of the spread of science. The spirit of the new age was basically critical and analytical. The spread of the spirit of commonsense and critical temper of mind fostered the development of simple and lucid prose. The extending influence of science and the growing taste of the public in varied subjects also favoured clearness of thought and plainness of expression. The influence of France in the creation of direct and lucid prose at this time has also to be recognised.

      Dryden's prose clearly marks the birth of modern English prose. Dryden did more than any single man towards purging English prose of its conceits and exaggeration and evolving a form of it which should be at once strong, easy, clear and dignified. Apart from translations, Dryden's prose consists of essays and preface dealing with a large range of questions connected with poetry and drama. His most famous prose work The Essay on Dramatic Poesy is a model of the new prose. It is a work of literary criticism in the form of a discussion between four characters, one of which represents Dryden himself. Dryden's prose is marked by a new intimacy, charm, dignity and accuracy which have greatly influenced the prose writings of Addison, Steele, Swift and others of the subsequent ages.

      The prose of Abraham Cowley consists of essays and bridges the gulf between the old way of writing and the new. The change may be clearly seen from a comparison of his Discourse Concerning Oliver Cromwell with his later essays. In the Discourse, Cowley's periods are often unwieldy ; in the essays they have admirable ease and balance.

      The prose of Sir William Temple received the highest praise from Swift and Johnson and was undoubtedly regarded as a model by the eighteenth century. Halifax is one of the makers of the new prose. Dryden style is rounded, lucid and flexible. He is a master of epigrams and fine eloquence. His most famous prose is The Character of a Trimmer, a pamphlet in which he states his political faith. John Tillotson abandons the older tradition of the pulpit and introduces a lucid style into religious oratory. The value of simple and direct prose in philosophic exposition and discussion was distinctly shown by John Locke in his Essay on Human Understanding, Treatise on Government and Thoughts on Education.

      The most interesting minor prose writing for general readers is to be found in the works of the two Diarists - Evelyn and Pepys. Evelyn's diary is written in a grave and simple style and displays the fineness of Evelyn's character and taste and his great love of art and general culture. The Diary of Samuel Pepys is unique in English language. It covers the period between January 1,1660 and May 31,1669. It includes, therefore many important events - the Restoration, the great Plague and the great Fire. The most interesting part of the Diary consists of vivid descriptions of men and manners of day, the habits and fashions of the town, the coffee houses and the playhouses. The prose of Samuel Pepys is marked by a racy style and has charm and urbanity which had a great influence on the prose of Addison and Steele.

      The prose writers of the Restoration period followed simplicity and directness. But their simplicity was the result of much craft and effort. John Bunyan (1628 - 1688) on the other hand was simple in his own way. While in prison, he wrote several books and among them is Grace Abounding in which he describes the conversion of faith. His chief books are The Pilgrim's Progress, The Life and Death of Mr. Bradman, and The Holy War in which he sets forth in an allegorical form, the life of man as it is viewed by the true Christian. His wonderful imagination was unique in the unimaginative age of the Restoration. In his allegories he succeeded in sustaining the allegorical symbolism with the absorbing interest of a real human story. His prose is marked by combined vividness and plainness.

      The Pilgrim's Progress (1678-84) is considered the greatest product of Puritanism - greater than even Paradise Lost. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan is inspired by the vision of a heavenly city. He describes the progress of every Christian soul through dangers and temptations to salvation. He has a natural talent which enabled him to impose on his many observations the unity of an allegory with a lucidity and life likeness which learned authors like Spenser had been far from attaining. To express them, he hit upon a unique prose which has at once the tang of popular speech and a dignity derived from the noble translation of the Bible. The style is simple and vivid and the appeal is universal.

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