Beware the fury of a patient man John Dryden
“In 1665 the plague was so bad in London that Dryden had to rusticate himself and his wife at her family estate in Charlton, Wiltshire. There he wrote three excellent works: Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay (1667), the first great sustained work in English dramatic theory; Secret-Love (1667), a tragicomedy; and Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, 1666 (1667). This “Historical Poem” celebrating English victories at sea during the Second Dutch War and Charles II’s conduct during the Great Fire of London won Dryden the poet laureateship in 1668.
Because it was published in 1667, Dryden’s heroic poem invites comparison with Milton’s great epic Paradise Lost, first published in its ten-book format that same year. Milton’s epic—written by this radical Puritan secretary to Cromwell—looks back through its aristocratic mode to classical and medieval times. Dryden’s poem, despite its aristocratic elements of monarchism and heroic valor, its classical allusions and epic similes, looks forward through its bourgeois celebration of mercantile expansion, maritime dominance, and homely imagery of laboring citizens to the rule of a capitalist Britannia under a constitutional monarch.”
Michael McKeon has brilliantly demonstrated that the poem is essentially political propaganda designed to stifle domestic dissent by rallying the nation around the common causes of war abroad and disaster at home. Dryden mythologizes Charles II, his brother James, Duke of York, and the triumphant admirals and generals as classical and Christian heroes and even gods.