Narrative Summary of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume II.


This text presents a collection of biographies and literary critiques of poets from Great Britain and Ireland. It delves into the lives of these individuals, exploring their backgrounds, personal experiences, and the influences that shaped their creative output. Each poet’s work is analyzed, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and unique styles. The text also provides insightful observations about the social and political landscape of the time, offering a glimpse into the intellectual and cultural milieu that shaped these poets’ perspectives. By reading this, you can gain a deeper understanding of the literary landscape of the 17th and 18th centuries, and appreciate the complexities of these poets’ lives and works.

Main Parts:

  • Biographic Sketches: Detailed accounts of each poet’s life, covering their birth, education, career, personal experiences, and relationships.
  • Literary Analyses: Critical appraisals of the poets’ works, examining their style, themes, and impact on the literary landscape.
  • Historical Context: Information on the social, political, and cultural conditions of the time, highlighting the influences that shaped the poets’ perspectives and works.

View on Life:

  • Royalty and the Crown: The text showcases the poets’ diverse views on royalty, ranging from unwavering loyalty to critical satire.
  • Religion and Morality: The text explores the poets’ religious beliefs and moral convictions, encompassing different denominations and perspectives on faith and human behavior.
  • Politics and Society: The text highlights the poets’ engagement with political issues, showcasing their stances on various social and political movements of their time.


  • Civil War: The text depicts the turbulent period of the English Civil War and its impact on the poets’ lives and works.
  • Courtly Life: The text portrays the social and political dynamics of the court, showcasing the poets’ interactions with royalty, nobles, and other figures of power.
  • Literary Circles and Debates: The text highlights the existence of literary circles and debates among the poets, revealing their friendships, rivalries, and influences on one another’s work.


  • Political Turmoil: Many poets faced challenges related to the political unrest of their time, including imprisonment, exile, and loss of patronage.
  • Financial Hardship: A significant challenge for many poets was poverty and financial instability, often due to lavish lifestyles, loss of patronage, and the unpredictable nature of literary success.
  • Social and Religious Conflicts: The poets encountered social and religious conflicts, often stemming from their personal beliefs and their involvement in political and religious controversies.


  • Loyalty vs. Self-preservation: The text showcases the internal conflict many poets faced between their loyalty to the crown and their desire to secure their own safety and well-being during times of political upheaval.
  • Artistic Vision vs. Financial Needs: The text highlights the conflict between the poets’ artistic aspirations and the need to secure a livelihood, often forcing them to compromise their creativity for financial stability.
  • Personal Beliefs vs. Societal Expectations: The text presents the conflict between the poets’ personal beliefs and societal expectations, leading to tensions in their relationships and careers.


The text follows the narrative arcs of each poet’s life, highlighting key milestones such as:

  • Early education and development: The text details the poets’ early life and their education, showcasing the influences that shaped their developing minds.
  • Rise to prominence: The text recounts the poets’ journeys to success, from their early literary endeavors to their recognition in prominent literary circles.
  • Political and social engagement: The text portrays the poets’ involvement in political and social movements, highlighting their actions and their impact on their careers and lives.
  • Challenges and adversity: The text explores the poets’ experiences with hardship and setbacks, including imprisonment, exile, and financial difficulties.
  • Death and legacy: The text concludes with an account of each poet’s death and their lasting contribution to literature and culture.

Point of View:

The text is written from a third-person perspective, providing an objective account of each poet’s life and works. The author also incorporates personal anecdotes, letters, and other primary sources to offer a more intimate and nuanced understanding of the poets’ personalities and perspectives.

How it’s Written:

The text is written in a formal, scholarly style, with clear language and detailed descriptions. The author uses a mix of biographical information, literary analysis, and historical context to create a comprehensive portrait of each poet. An example of the writing style can be found in the description of John Milton’s life, where the author discusses his political beliefs, literary achievements, and personal challenges with precision and clarity.


The text adopts a respectful and objective tone, striving to present a balanced and insightful analysis of each poet’s life and works. While acknowledging their failings, the author also highlights their achievements and contributions to literature and culture.

Life Choices:

  • Pursuit of Literary Fame: Many poets made choices driven by a desire for literary success, dedicating their lives to crafting their works and seeking recognition from their peers and the public.
  • Political Engagement: The poets made choices based on their political beliefs, sometimes choosing to align themselves with powerful patrons, while others embraced opposing factions and risked their lives for their principles.
  • Personal Indulgence: Some poets chose to embrace a life of luxury and extravagance, often leading to financial hardship and social consequences.


  • The Power of Perseverance: The text highlights the importance of dedication and perseverance in achieving literary success, even in the face of adversity.
  • The Fragility of Fame: The text showcases the transient nature of fame and the risks associated with depending on powerful patrons, emphasizing the importance of personal integrity and artistic independence.
  • The Importance of Morality: The text underscores the significance of virtue and moral integrity in navigating the complexities of life and achieving lasting success.


  • Anthony Brewer: A poet who flourished in the reign of Charles I, known for his dramatic works, including “The Country Girl” and “Love-sick King.”
  • Thomas May: A poet and historian who adhered to the Parliament during the civil wars, known for his translations of Virgil and Lucan.
  • John Taylour: A waterman and poet who wrote extensively, known for his humorous and satirical works.
  • William Habington: A poet and historian known for his collection of poems “Castara” and his history of Edward IV.
  • Francis Goldsmith: A lawyer and poet who translated Hugo Grotius’s play “Sophompaneas” into English.
  • John Cleveland: A poet and satirist who was a staunch Royalist during the civil wars, known for his sharp wit and satirical works.
  • Barten Holyday: A clergyman and poet known for his translations of Persius and Juvenal and his comedy “Technogamia.”
  • Thomas Nabbes: A poet and playwright who wrote several comedies and masques.
  • James Shirley: A prolific playwright who wrote numerous comedies and tragedies and served as a poet for both Queen Henrietta Maria and the Marquis of Newcastle.
  • James Howel: A writer and traveler known for his entertaining letters and his masque “Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis.”
  • Richard Fanshaw: A diplomat and poet known for his translations of Italian and Portuguese works, including “Il Pastor Fido” and “The Lusiad.”
  • Abraham Cowley: A prominent poet known for his Pindaric Odes, his epic poem “Davedeis,” and his philosophical works.
  • William Davenant: A poet, playwright, and theater manager who is considered a pioneer of English opera and introduced elaborate scenic designs to the stage.
  • Henry King: A clergyman and poet known for his translation of the Psalms into English verse.
  • Philip Massinger: A playwright known for his tragedies and comedies, including “The Duke of Milan” and “A New Way to Pay Old Debts.”
  • Robert Stapleton: A lawyer and poet known for his translations of Musæus and Juvenal and his tragedy “Hero and Leander.”
  • Jasper Main: A clergyman and playwright known for his comedies “The Amorous War” and “The City Match.”
  • John Milton: A poet, essayist, and political theorist known for his epic poems “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained,” and his controversial political writings.
  • Katherine Philips: A poet known as “The Matchless Orinda,” celebrated for her poetic works and her circle of literary friends.
  • Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle: A prolific writer known for her philosophical works, plays, and her biography of her husband, the Duke of Newcastle.
  • William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle: A general, statesman, and patron of the arts, known for his military leadership during the English Civil War and his writings on horsemanship.
  • John Birkenhead: A satirist and writer known for his political pamphlets, including “Mercurius Aulicus.”
  • Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery: A politician, soldier, and poet known for his political acumen, military leadership, and his dramatic works.
  • Richard Head: A poet and bookseller known for his comedic works and his contributions to the “English Rogue.”
  • Thomas Hobbs: A philosopher and writer known for his political treatise “Leviathan” and his controversial philosophical views.
  • Aston Cokaine: A poet and playwright known for his comedies and his translation of the Italian romance “Dianea.”
  • George Wharton: An astrologer and writer known for his political pamphlets and his astronomical works.
  • Anne Killegrew: A poet and painter known for her beautiful poetry and her artistic talents.
  • Nathaniel Lee: A playwright known for his passionate tragedies, including “The Rival Queens” and “Theodosius.”
  • Samuel Butler: A poet known for his satirical epic poem “Hudibras.”
  • Edmund Waller: A poet and politician known for his refined verse and his political maneuvering during the English Civil War.
  • John Ogilby: A poet, geographer, and printer known for his translations of Virgil and Homer.
  • John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: A poet and libertine known for his scandalous life and his satirical works.
  • George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham: A nobleman, politician, and playwright known for his scandalous life and his satirical comedy “The Rehearsal.”
  • Matthew Smith: A lawyer and playwright known for his ballad opera “The Country Squire” and his masque “The Masquerade du Ciel.”
  • Thomas Otway: A playwright known for his moving tragedies, including “The Orphan” and “Venice Preserved.”
  • John Oldham: A poet and satirist known for his sharp wit and his political and religious satires.
  • Wentworth (Dillon) Earl of Roscommon: A poet and patron of the arts known for his translations of Horace and his essay on translated verse.


  • The Power of the Word: The text emphasizes the importance of language and literature in shaping public opinion, influencing political discourse, and preserving history.
  • The Complexities of Human Nature: The text explores the diverse motivations and behaviors of individuals, highlighting the interplay of ambition, loyalty, virtue, and vice.
  • The Nature of Truth and Deception: The text examines the ways in which truth can be distorted, manipulated, and obscured by political and social forces, emphasizing the importance of discernment and critical thinking.
  • The Pursuit of Glory and Fame: The text explores the human drive for recognition, honor, and immortality, highlighting the dangers of ambition and the fleeting nature of earthly glory.
  • The Importance of Moral Integrity: The text highlights the significance of living a virtuous life, even in the face of temptation and adversity.


  • The Importance of Education and Learning: The text values knowledge and education as fundamental to achieving personal growth and understanding the world.
  • The Power of Reason and Logic: The text emphasizes the use of reason and critical thinking in navigating complex issues and forming sound judgments.
  • The Value of Moral Courage: The text champions the virtue of standing up for what one believes, even in the face of opposition and potential harm.
  • The Importance of Integrity and Honor: The text promotes the virtues of honesty, fairness, and living a life guided by principle rather than self-interest.

Intentions of the characters in the text or the reader of the text:

  • Poets: The poets in the text exhibit a variety of intentions, including the desire for literary fame, the pursuit of political influence, and the expression of personal beliefs and experiences. Some sought to entertain and amuse, others to inspire and uplift, and others to challenge and provoke.
  • Reader: The reader of the text likely seeks to gain a deeper understanding of the poets’ lives, works, and the historical context in which they lived. They might also be looking for insights into the complexities of human nature, the power of language, and the enduring value of literature.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Smectymnuus!”: A satirical nickname used by John Cleveland to refer to a group of Puritan writers who opposed prelacy.
  • “Gondibert”: An epic poem written by William Davenant, considered an innovative work for its time, yet unfinished and incomplete.
  • “Hudibras”: A satirical epic poem by Samuel Butler, famous for its wit, humor, and its use of couplets to ridicule Puritanism and the political landscape of the time.
  • “Sacharissa”: The name used by Edmund Waller to refer to Dorothy Sidney, the object of his affections.
  • “Bayes”: The satirical character used by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, to ridicule playwrights and poets in his comedy “The Rehearsal.”
  • “Zimri”: The name used by John Dryden to satirize George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in his poem “Absalom and Achitophel.”


  • Oliver Cromwell’s Performance in “Lingua”: The text recounts a story about Oliver Cromwell’s early life and how his performance as Tactus in the play “Lingua” sparked his ambition for power.
  • Sir William Davenant and the Black-Eyed Beauty: The text tells a story about Sir William Davenant’s encounter with a black-eyed beauty in Axe-yard, Westminster, an incident that reportedly resulted in the loss of his nose.
  • The Ghostly Warning to the Duke of Buckingham: The text recounts a story about an officer who receives a ghostly warning from the ghost of Sir George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham’s father, foreshadowing the duke’s assassination.
  • Lord Rochester’s Mountebank Speech: The text includes a portion of Lord Rochester’s speech from his masquerade as a mountebank, revealing his wit and satirical talent.
  • King Charles II’s Pocket-Picking Adventure: The text tells a story about how Lord Rochester tricks King Charles II into losing his money and watch during a night of revelry, highlighting the King’s weakness for indulgence and Rochester’s audacious nature.
  • Edmund Waller and Lady Sunderland: The text relates a story about a witty exchange between Edmund Waller and Lady Sunderland about his poems, highlighting their past relationship and the fleeting nature of youth.


  • The Role of Poetry in Society: The text explores the various ways in which poetry can be used to express ideas, entertain, influence public opinion, and critique societal norms.
  • The Nature of Power and Corruption: The text examines the dangers of unchecked power and how it can corrupt individuals and institutions.
  • The Importance of Integrity and Honesty: The text highlights the virtues of integrity and honesty as essential to achieving true success and fulfilling one’s potential.

Facts and Findings:

  • The Duke of Buckingham’s Assassination: The text provides a detailed account of the assassination of George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, by John Felton, highlighting the political climate and the motivations behind the act.
  • The Forged Irish Commission: The text recounts the story of a forged commission used by the Irish rebels to mislead King Charles I during the rebellion, revealing the treachery and deceit employed in the conflict.
  • The Burning of John Milton’s Works: The text details the burning of John Milton’s books by the hangman in 1660, illustrating the political and religious tensions that surrounded his controversial writings.


  • The Duke of Newcastle’s Estate: The text mentions that the Duke of Newcastle possessed an estate valued at 20,000 pounds per annum, highlighting his wealth and influence.
  • John Milton’s Salary: The text mentions that John Milton received a salary of 200 pounds per annum as Latin Secretary to the Council of State, showcasing his financial status during his service to the Commonwealth.
  • The Cost of Lord Orrery’s Irish Estate: The text mentions that Lord Orrery’s Irish estate was valued at a significant sum, highlighting his social standing and wealth.

Points of View:

  • Third-person perspective: The text is written from a third-person perspective, offering an objective and impartial account of each poet’s life and works. This perspective allows for a broader understanding of the social, political, and cultural contexts that shaped their lives and writings.


The text offers a multifaceted perspective on the poets’ lives and works, highlighting their achievements, failings, and the complexities of their personalities and perspectives. The author acknowledges the limitations of historical sources and presents a nuanced understanding of the historical context and the individuals’ motivations and actions.

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