DRYDEN, John (1631-1700)
Plaque erected in 1870 by (Royal) Society of Arts at 43 Gerrard Street, Soho, London, W1D 5QG, City of Westminster
JOHN DRYDEN POET LIVED HERE B. 1631 D. 1700
The original building was demolished in 1901 and the plaque re-erected on the new structure.
John Dryden was a 17th century playwright and poet, and held the position of Poet Laureate for 20 years. He is commemorated with a plaque at 43 Gerrard Street near Leicester Square, though it was later discovered that he actually lived on the site now occupied by number 44.
Dryden was born in Northamptonshire, and settled in London in about 1660. Three years later, his first play, The Wild Gallant, was staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For much of his career Dryden was best known for his dramatic works – these included satires such as Marriage à-la-mode (first performed 1671) and the tragedy All for Love (1678) – but he is now best remembered for his poetry and translations.
GERRARD STREET YEARS
Dryden lived at 44 Gerrard Street with his wife Elizabeth (c. 1638–1714) from about 1687 until his death in 1700. His years there were difficult: his conversion to Catholicism in about 1685 meant that he was unable to take the oath of allegiance after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. As a result he lost his position as Poet Laureate, one he had held for 20 years. He found himself in financial difficulties but remained highly active in London’s literary world.
Dryden usually worked in the front ground-floor room of the house, and it was here that he completed his last play, Love Triumphant (1694), the poem Alexander’s Feast, or, The Power of Musique (1697) and translations such as The Works of Virgil (1697). In the preface to the latter, Dryden likened himself to Virgil in his ‘Declining Years, struggling with Wants, oppress’d with Sickness’.
THE PLAQUE AND BUILDINGS
Number 44 was built in about 1681 and re-fronted in 1793, before being redeveloped in about 1901. At the same time number 43 was demolished, a deed described in the press as ‘a hideous and wonton act of vandalism’.
The plaque, though damaged, was immediately re-erected on the new structure. It is unique among surviving Society of Arts plaques in its colour – white, with blue lettering.