You don't have to believe in Hell. All you need is to hear someone who really does, who believes in it this minute, today, the way people believe in 1685 - all you have to do is see his face, his voice when he says the word... and than you know that anyone who can imagine Hell has the power to make it real for other people.
Peter S. Beagle
Dryden was a highly prolific literary figure, a professional writer who was at the centre of all the greatest debates of his time: the end of the Commonwealth, the return of the monarch, the political and religious upheavals of the 1680s, and the specifically literary questions of neoclassicism opposed to more modern trends. He was Poet Laureate from 1668, but lost this position in 1688 on the overthrow of James II. Dryden had become Catholic in 1685, and his allegorical poem The Hind and the Panther (1687) discusses the complex issues of religion and politics in an attempt to reconcile bitterly opposed factions. This contains a well-known line which anticipates Wordsworth more than a century later: 'By education most have been misled ... / And thus the child imposes on the man'. The poem shows an awareness of change as one grows older, and the impossibility of holding one view for a lifetime: My thoughtless youth was winged with vain desires, My manhood, long misled by wandering fires, Followed false lights... After 1688, Dryden returned to the theatre, which had given him many of his early successes in tragedy, tragi-comedy, and comedy, as well as with adaptations of Shakespeare... Dryden was an innovator, leading the move from heroic couplets to blank verse in drama, and at the centre of the intellectual debates of the Augustan age. He experimented with verse forms throughout his writing life until Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), which brings together critical, translated, and original works, in a fitting conclusion to a varied career.
The Restoration did not so much restore as replace. In restoring the monarchy with King Charles II, it replaced Cromwell's Commonwealth and its Puritan ethos with an almost powerless monarch whose tastes had been formed in France. It replaced the power of the monarchy with the power of a parliamentary system - which was to develop into the two parties, Whigs and Tories - with most of the executive power in the hands of the Prime Minister. Both parties benefited from a system which encouraged social stability rather than opposition. Above all, in systems of thought, the Restoration replaced the probing, exploring, risk-taking intellectual values of the Renaissance. It relied on reason and on facts rather than on speculation. So, in the decades between 1660 and 1700, the basis was set for the growth of a new kind of society. This society was Protestant (apart from the brief reign of the Catholic King James II, 1685-88), middle class, and unthreatened by any repetition of the huge and traumatic upheavals of the first part of the seventeenth century. It is symptomatic that the overthrow of James II in 1688 was called The 'Glorious' or 'Bloodless' Revolution. The 'fever in the blood' which the Renaissance had allowed was now to be contained, subject to reason, and kept under control. With only the brief outburst of Jacobin revolutionary sentiment at the time of the Romantic poets, this was to be the political context in the United Kingdom for two centuries or more. In this context, the concentration of society was on commerce, on respectability, and on institutions. The 'genius of the nation' led to the founding of the Royal Society in 1662 - 'for the improving of Natural Knowledge'. The Royal Society represents the trend towards the institutionalisation of scientific investigation and research in this period. The other highly significant institution, one which was to have considerably more importance in the future, was the Bank of England, founded in 1694.