Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > Political and Ecclesiastical Satire > Low Literary Quality of these Satires as a Whole
  Satirical Narratives and Dialogues  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

III. Political and Ecclesiastical Satire.

§ 16. Low Literary Quality of these Satires as a Whole.


When we try to sum up the impression which these satires, in verse or prose, give us, we are struck at once by the low place which they hold as literature. Witty they often are, and with a wit which improves. We change from flouts and jeers and artificial quips to humorous sarcasm, which owes its effect to the contrast of the notions expressed, and to its ruthless precision. But even this is not a very clear advance; the quip had, perhaps, always been a little popular form, and mere jeering continued to be the staple satire. In fact, except Oldham, who stands apart, these authors did not aim at a literary mark. They were the skirmishers of a political warfare, bandying darts all the more poisoned and deadly because it was known that most would miss their billet. Many of them were hirelings with little interest in the causes they espoused. Their virulence, which seems nowadays hideous, was mainly professional: and the lewd abuse which fills those of them which are in rime was accordingly discounted by the public. It was not a compassionate age. The very danger of the libeller’s trade under the censorship made him the more unscrupulous in his choice of means. The tories, as a matter of course, harp continually on Shaftesbury’s ulcer, the result of a carriage accident, and the silver tap which drained it was the source of continual nicknames and scoffs: and the whigs are equal sinners. A debauched riot reigns in most of the poetical satires, degraded into an absolute passion for the purulent and the ugly. The writers of them, it would appear, worshipped and loved animalism for its own sake, not the least when they searched through every depth of evil in order to defame their adversaries in the most brutal way possible.   42

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  Satirical Narratives and Dialogues  
 
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