If number English courages could quell, We should at first have shunn'd not met our foes,
Whose numerous sails the fearful only tell: Courage from hearts and not from numbers grows."
Dryden also examined the part of art and science in improving humans' lot in life. The poem's opening line seeks to credit art for Holland's strength: "In thriving arts long time had Holland grown, / Crouching at home, and cruel when abroad." He also inserted a section subtitled "Digression Concerning Shipping and Navigation" in which he began stanza 155, "By viewing Nature, Nature's handmaid Art, / Makes mighty things from small beginnings grow." Dryden next inserts an "Apostrophe to the Royal Society," the group formed under King Charles II, of which Dryden was a member, to investigate the many new scientific developments. He urges his audience to recognize the importance of study, writing in stanza 166,
O truly royal! Who behold the law And rule of beings in your Maker's mind And thence, like limbecs, rich ideas draw To fit the levell'd use of humankind.
Just before stanza 209 Dryden inserts the subtitle "Transitum to the Fire of London." He reminds his readers of the pride the English felt after the defeat of the Dutch and the English sailors' looting of Holland's fleet, then suggests in stanza 210, "We urge an unseen fate to lay us low / And feed their envious eyes with English loss." Describing the death and devastation brought on by the fire, he focuses on the actions of King Charles and his brother, James, who received much credit for saving London. Of the king he writes in stanza 241,
He wept the flames of what he lov'd so well And what so well had merited his love. For never prince in grace did more excel, Or royal city more in duty strove.
Then Dryden makes the point in line 966 that, unlike the people who could indulge in a numb terror, the king must act: "(Subjects may grieve, but monarchs must redress)." Charles ordered that several buildings be exploded with gunpowder in order to form a breech to stop the flames. Dryden describes the results, using personification in stanza 245:
The powder blows up all before the fire; Th' amazed flames stand gather'd on a heap, And from the precipice's brink retire, Afraid to venture on so large a leap.
His plan worked, and some of London was saved, although the flames continued to wreak havoc, described with vivid imagery and the use of alliteration in stanza 249: "No help avails: for, Hydra-like, the fire / Lifts up his hundred heads to aim his way." By night, when Charles is exhausted, he calls on James for help in stanza 253:
The days were all in this lost labour spent, And when the weary King gave place to night, His beams he to his royal brother lent And so shone still in his reflective light.
Dryden conducts a bit of wordplay with the term light. Humans generally depended upon flame, in the controlled form of candles and lanterns to light their way. But in this instance, the ruler provides the metaphoric light to brighten a symbolic, as well as literal, dark hour in which London is tried by disaster. As a lesser body like the Moon reflects the Sun's light, James, a crucial person but not yet a king himself, reflects his brother's light to great advantage for them both.
As the fire at last burns out, Dryden suggests in stanza 293 that, as when fire is applied to ore to remove its impurities, London will be golden in its reincarnation:
Methinks already, from this chemic flame,
I see a city of more precious mold:
Rich as the town which gives the Indies name,
With silver pav'd and all divine with gold.
The poem concludes with an emphasis on London's future as a great trade seaport, interacting with the countries once its enemies. Mainly through Dryden's energy, the poem concludes on an optimistic note, despite the desolation it has described.
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