“Dryden knew how to chuse the flowing and the sonorous words; to vary the pauses, and adjust the accents; to diversify the cadence, and yet preserve the smoothness of his metre.” —Samuel Johnson
Of Dryden Dr. Johnson also mentions that though before him the English language had no poetic diction, he provided one. Johnson remarks that like Caesar it may be said that Dryden found English poetry brick and left it marble. It requires further study, but it does seem to me a crucial consideration for understanding not only what comes before but also what comes afterward when Romanticism, reacting to the complacency of Classicism, seeks a bit more vitality. To understand the development of English poetry it is necessary to understand something of the mind of Dryden. It is also good to consider exactly what Johnson had in mind when he used the term Poetic Diction before too many conclusions are drawn.
Dryden, though brilliant, was lazy. Johnson observes that he was superior to all the others in his age and for that reason took no very great pains. “Such is the unevenness of his compositions, that ten lines are seldom found together without something of which the reader is ashamed.” From this I draw two lessons: the work of anybody can use rigor, and the work of everybody ought to be always examined with rigor.