General Characteristics.—In point of time, Dryden is the first great poet of the school of literary artists. His verse does not tolerate the unpruned irregularities and exaggerations of many former English poets. His command over language is remarkable. He uses words almost as he chooses, but he does not invest them with the warm glow of feeling. He is, however, something more than a great word artist. Many of his ideas bear the stamp of marked originality.
In the field of satiric and didactic poetry, he is a master. The intellectual, not the emotional, side of man’s nature appeals strongly to him. He heeds not the song of the bird, the color of the rose, nor the clouds of evening.
Although more celebrated for his poetry than for his prose, he is the earliest of the great modern prose stylists, and he displays high critical ability.
[Illustration: DANIEL DEFOE. From a print by Vandergucht.]
Varied Experiences.—Daniel Defoe was born in London, probably the year before the Restoration. His father, a butcher in good circumstances, sent the boy to a school in which English, instead of Latin, was the medium of instruction. He was taught how to express himself in the simple, forceful English for which he became famous. His education was planned to make him a dissenting minister; but he preferred a life of varied activity. He became a trader, a manufacturer of tiles, a journalist, and a writer of fiction. By also serving as a government agent and spy, he incurred the severe criticism of contemporaries. It is doubtful if even Shakespeare had more varied experiences or more vicissitudes in life.
For writing what would to-day be considered a harmless piece of irony, The Shortest Way with Dissenters, in which Defoe, who was himself a dissenter, advocated banishment or hanging, he suffered the mortification of exposure for three days in the pillory and of imprisonment in the pestilent Newgate jail. His business of making tiles was consequently ruined. These experiences, with which his enemies taunted him, colored his entire life and made him realize that the support of his wife and six children necessitated care in his choice and treatment of subjects.
His life was a succession of changing fortunes. He died in poverty in 1731 and was buried in Bunhill Fields, London. His grave was marked by only a small headstone, but the English boys and girls who had read Robinson Crusoe in the Victorian age subscribed the money for a monument with a suitable inscription. It is remarkable that Bunhill Fields, which contains the graves of so many humble dissenters, should be the final resting place of both Bunyan and Defoe, the authors of the first two English prose works most often read to-day.