restricted access Annus Mirabilis at the End of Stuart Monarchy: Repackaging a Year of Wonders in 1688
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Annus Mirabilis at the End of Stuart Monarchy:
Repackaging a Year of Wonders in 1688

For all the scholarly attention devoted to John Dryden's Annus Mirabilis, few researchers have investigated the poem's multiple editions, the first of which appeared in 1667, followed by subsequent reprintings in 1688, 1693, 1694, and 1695.1 This deficit likely comes as a result of periodizing reading practices that identify Annus Mirabilis exclusively with 1666, "the year of wonders" that Dryden set out to chronicle and editorialize in support of the recently restored monarch, Charles II.2 Annus Mirabilis was first printed in 1667 during the second Anglo-Dutch War and the ongoing reconstruction of post-fire London. Dryden transforms the calamities of naval war and urban fire into signs that God had tested but ultimately affirmed the reinstated Stuart government. Refuting anti-Stuart prognosticators who predicted "a year of portents and disasters," Annus Mirabilis fashions itself as an authoritative retrospective on the year 1666, a decisive "historical poem" (Winn 168).

But how does the poem's self-understanding as history work in the context of its second, third, fourth, and fifth editions, all published after the death of Charles II in 1685? Even when these reprintings faithfully retain the original 1667 verse, they do so in a manner responsive to shifting contemporary political contexts, print shop labor configurations, copyright arrangements, and even the geographical repositioning of bookshops around Restoration London.3 Such changes in context call for reconsideration of the prophecy and pedagogy of Annus Mirabilis each time the text rematerializes. Comparison of the different editions' material properties and targeted readerships suggests that, while Annus Mirabilis emerged out of an early Restoration partisan fray as a journalistic rehashing of recent events, by 1688, Dryden's lively panegyric was being remarketed as an account of retrospective mourning. [End Page 21]

This essay analyzes the production, dissemination, and consumption of the first two major editions of Annus Mirabilis, published in 1667 and 1688. While the texts of these editions are almost identical, they perform different kinds of political work for different readerships. In 1667, Charles II presided over a kingdom embroiled in a disastrous war with Holland and traumatized by the Great London Fire. Annus Mirabilis would reappear in the winter of 1688 during another critical juncture for Stuart rule.4 In that spring, James II would reissue the Declaration of Indulgence, his deeply controversial mandate for religious tolerance. In June, his queen, Mary of Modena, would give birth to James Francis Edwards, unleashing the prospect of a Catholic succession on the English throne. In November, William of Orange landed at Torbay at the start of an invasion that would exile James to the continent. It is no coincidence that Annus Mirabilis first appeared during a moment of crisis for the newly restored monarchy of Charles II and that the poem regained its urgency two decades later when the crown was again threatened. How Dryden's verse articulates support for different Stuart regimes reflects both the status of monarchy at the time each edition was published, as well as the poet's own evolving relation to royalist politics and Catholic theology.

The 1667 edition of Annus Mirabilis defended Charles II and his court against a minority opposition. The 1688 edition, appearing at the front of the first exclusive collection of Dryden verse, could only elegize the late king, propping up James II's crumbling reign by recirculating accounts of his brother's heroic leadership during the 1660s. Simultaneously, this collection elevated Dryden's status as a royalist poet worthy of anthologizing, even as the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution marginalized his political voice and eliminated his laureate standing.5 By showing how stationers reworked a "historical poem" of the early Restoration into historical evidence for the managerial talents of Stuart kings, this essay argues that the reception of Dryden's poetry and the reputation of Dryden himself were mediated by the relationships between publishers, booksellers, and the reader markets they sought to cultivate and exploit. When read across its first two editions, Annus Mirabilis is not only the highly-specific vindication of one Stuart monarch, but a versatile apology for Stuart monarchy...