The Medal

A Satire Against Sedition.


John Dryden

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The text is taken from The Poetical Works of John Dryden, With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes by George Gilfillan. Ballantyne & Co., 1855.

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Last updated Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 14:30.

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Table of Contents

Epistle to the Whigs.

The Medal.

Epistle to the Whigs.

For to whom can I dedicate this poem with so much justice as to you? It is the representation of your own hero: it is the picture drawn at length, which you admire and prize so much in little. None of your ornaments are wanting; neither the landscape of your Tower, nor the rising sun; nor the Anno Domini of your new sovereign’s coronation. This must needs be a grateful undertaking to your whole party; especially to those who have not been so happy as to purchase the original. I hear the graver has made a good market of it: all his kings are bought up already; or the value of the remainder so enhanced, that many a poor Polander, who would be glad to worship the image, is not able to go to the cost of him, but must be content to see him here. I must confess I am no great artist; but sign-post painting will serve the turn to remember a friend by, especially when better is not to be had. Yet, for your comfort, the lineaments are true; and though he sat not five times to me, as he did to B., yet I have consulted history, as the Italian painters do when they would draw a Nero or a Caligula: though they have not seen the man, they can help their imagination by a statue of him, and find out the colouring from Suetonius and Tacitus. Truth is, you might have spared one side of your Medal: the head would be seen to more advantage if it were placed on a spike of the Tower, a little nearer to the sun, which would then break out to better purpose.

You tell us in your preface to the “No–Protestant Plot”,1 that you shall be forced hereafter to leave off your modesty: I suppose you mean that little which is left you; for it was worn to rags when you put out this Medal. Never was there practised such a piece of notorious impudence in the face of an established government. I believe when he is dead you will wear him in thumb rings, as the Turks did Scanderbeg; as if there were virtue in his bones to preserve you against monarchy. Yet all this while you pretend not only zeal for the public good, but a due veneration for the person of the king. But all men who can see an inch before them, may easily detect those gross fallacies. That it is necessary for men in your circumstances to pretend both, is granted you; for without them there could be no ground to raise a faction. But I would ask you one civil question, what right has any man among you, or any association of men (to come nearer to you), who, out of parliament, cannot be considered in a public capacity, to meet as you daily do in factious clubs, to vilify the government in your discourses, and to libel it in all your writings? Who made you judges in Israel? Or how is it consistent with your zeal for the public welfare, to promote sedition? Does your definition of loyal, which is to serve the king according to the laws, allow you the licence of traducing the executive power with which you own he is invested? You complain that his majesty has lost the love and confidence of his people; and by your very urging it, you endeavour what in you lies to make him lose them. All good subjects abhor the thought of arbitrary power, whether it be in one or many: if you were the patriots you would seem, you would not at this rate incense the multitude to assume it; for no sober man can fear it, either from the king’s disposition or his practice; or even, where you would odiously lay it, from his ministers. Give us leave to enjoy the government and the benefit of laws under which we were born, and which we desire to transmit to our posterity. You are not the trustees of the public liberty; and if you have not right to petition in a crowd, much less have you to intermeddle in the management of affairs; or to arraign what you do not like, which in effect is everything that is done by the king and council. Can you imagine that any reasonable man will believe you respect the person of his majesty, when it is apparent that your seditious pamphlets are stuffed with particular reflections on him? If you have the confidence to deny this, it is easy to be evinced from a thousand passages, which I only forbear to quote, because I desire they should die and be forgotten. I have perused many of your papers; and to show you that I have, the third part of your “No–Protestant Plot” is much of it stolen from your dead author’s pamphlet, called the “Growth of Popery;” as manifestly as Milton’s “Defence of the English People” is from Buchanan “De jure regni apud Scotos:” or your first Covenant and new Association from the holy league of the French Guisards. Any one who reads Davila, may trace your practices all along. There were the same pretences for reformation and loyalty, the same aspersions of the king, and the same grounds of a rebellion. I know not whether you will take the historian’s word, who says it was reported, that Poltrot, a Huguenot, murdered Francis Duke of Guise, by the instigations of Theodore Beza; or that it was a Huguenot minister, otherwise called a Presbyterian (for our church abhors so devilish a tenet), who first writ a treatise of the lawfulness of deposing and murdering kings of a different persuasion in religion: but I am able to prove, from the doctrine of Calvin, and principles of Buchanan, that they set the people above the magistrate; which, if I mistake not, is your own fundamental, and which carries your loyalty no further than your liking. When a vote of the House of Commons goes on your side, you are as ready to observe it as if it were passed into a law; but when you are pinched with any former, and yet unrepealed act of parliament, you declare that in some cases you will not be obliged by it. The passage is in the same third part of the “No–Protestant Plot,” and is too plain to be denied. The late copy of your intended Association, you neither wholly justify nor condemn; but as the Papists, when they are unopposed, fly out into all the pageantries of worship, but in times of war, when they are hard pressed by arguments, lie close intrenched behind the Council of Trent: so now, when your affairs are in a low condition, you dare not pretend that to be a legal combination, but whensoever you are afloat, I doubt not but it will be maintained and justified to purpose. For, indeed, there is nothing to defend it but the sword: it is the proper time to say anything when men have all things in their power.

In the mean time, you would fain be nibbling at a parallel betwixt this Association, and that in the time of Queen Elizabeth.2 But there is this small difference betwixt them, that the ends of one are directly opposite to the other: one with the queen’s approbation and conjunction, as head of it; the other, without either the consent or knowledge of the king, against whose authority it is manifestly designed. Therefore you do well to have recourse to your last evasion, that it was contrived by your enemies, and shuffled into the papers that were seized; which yet you see the nation is not so easy to believe as your own jury; but the matter is not difficult to find twelve men in Newgate who would acquit a malefactor.

I have only one favour to desire of you at parting, that when you think of answering this poem, you would employ the same pens against it, who have combated with so much success against Absalom and Achitophel: for then you may assure yourselves of a clear victory, without the least reply. Rail at me abundantly; and, not to break a custom, do it without wit: by this method you will gain a considerable point, which is, wholly to waive the answer of my arguments. Never own the bottom of your principles, for fear they should be treason. Fall severely on the miscarriages of government; for if scandal be not allowed, you are no freeborn subjects. If God has not blessed you with the talent of rhyming, make use of my poor stock, and welcome: let your verses run upon my feet; and for the utmost refuge of notorious blockheads, reduced to the last extremity of sense, turn my own lines upon me, and, in utter despair of your own satire, make me satirize myself. Some of you have been driven to this bay already; but, above all the rest, commend me to the nonconformist parson, who writ the “Whip and Key.” I am afraid it is not read so much as the piece deserves, because the bookseller is every week crying help at the end of his Gazette, to get it off. You see I am charitable enough to do him a kindness, that it may be published as well as printed; and that so much skill in Hebrew derivations may not lie for waste-paper in the shop. Yet I half suspect he went no further for his learning, than the index of Hebrew names and etymologies, which is printed at the end of some English Bibles. If Achitophel signifies the brother of a fool, the author of that poem will pass with his readers for the next of kin. And perhaps it is the relation that makes the kindness. Whatever the verses are, buy them up, I beseech you, out of pity; for I hear the conventicle is shut up, and the brother3 of Achitophel out of service.

Now, footmen, you know, have the generosity to make a purse for a member of their society, who has had his livery pulled over his ears, and even protestant socks are bought up among you, out of veneration to the name. A dissenter in poetry from sense and English will make as good a Protestant rhymer, as a dissenter from the Church of England a Protestant parson. Besides, if you encourage a young beginner, who knows but he may elevate his style a little above the vulgar epithets of profane, and saucy jack, and atheistic scribbler, with which he treats me, when the fit of enthusiasm is strong upon him: by which well-mannered and charitable expressions I was certain of his sect before I knew his name. What would you have more of a man? He has damned me in your cause from Genesis to the Revelations; and has half the texts of both the Testaments against me, if you will be so civil to yourselves as to take him for your interpreter; and not to take them for Irish witnesses. After all, perhaps you will tell me, that you retained him only for the opening of your cause, and that your main lawyer is yet behind. Now, if it so happen he meet with no more reply than his predecessors, you may either conclude that I trust to the goodness of my cause, or fear my adversary, or disdain him, or what you please; for the short of it is, it is indifferent to your humble servant, whatever your party says or thinks of him.

1 A pamphlet vindicating Lord Shaftesbury from being concerned in any plotting designs against the King. Wood says, the general report was, that it was written by the earl himself.

2 When England, in the sixteenth century, was supposed in danger from the designs of Spain, the principal people, with the queen at their head, entered into an association for the defence of their country, and of the Protestant religion, against Popery, invasion, and innovation.

3 ‘Brother:’ George Cooper, Esq., brother to the Earl of Shaftesbury, was married to a daughter of Alderman Oldfield; and, being settled in the city, became a great man among the Whigs and fanatics.

The Medal.

Of all our antic sights and pageantry,

Which English idiots run in crowds to see,

The Polish4 Medal bears the prize alone:

A monster, more the favourite of the town

Than either fairs or theatres have shown.

Never did art so well with nature strive;

Nor ever idol seem’d so much alive:

So like the man; so golden to the sight,

So base within, so counterfeit and light.

One side is fill’d with title and with face; 10

And, lest the king should want a regal place,

On the reverse, a tower the town surveys;

O’er which our mounting sun his beams displays.

The word, pronounced aloud by shrieval voice,

Laetamur, which, in Polish, is rejoice.

The day, month, year, to the great act are join’d:

And a new canting holiday design’d.

Five days he sate, for every cast and look —

Four more than God to finish Adam took.

But who can tell what essence angels are, 20

Or how long Heaven was making Lucifer?

Oh, could the style that copied every grace,

And plough’d such furrows for an eunuch face,

Could it have form’d his ever-changing will,

The various piece had tired the graver’s skill!

A martial hero first, with early care,

Blown, like a pigmy by the winds, to war.

A beardless chief, a rebel, e’er a man:

So young his hatred to his prince began.

Next this (how wildly will ambition steer!) 30

A vermin wriggling in the usurper’s ear.

Bartering his venal wit for sums of gold,

He cast himself into the saint-like mould;

Groan’d, sigh’d, and pray’d, while godliness was gain —

The loudest bagpipe of the squeaking train.

But, as ’tis hard to cheat a juggler’s eyes,

His open lewdness he could ne’er disguise.

There split the saint: for hypocritic zeal

Allows no sins but those it can conceal.

Whoring to scandal gives too large a scope: 40

Saints must not trade; but they may interlope:

The ungodly principle was all the same;

But a gross cheat betrays his partner’s game.

Besides, their pace was formal, grave, and slack;

His nimble wit outran the heavy pack.

Yet still he found his fortune at a stay:

Whole droves of blockheads choking up his way;

They took, but not rewarded, his advice;

Villain and wit exact a double price.

Power was his aim: but, thrown from that pretence, 50

The wretch turn’d loyal in his own defence;

And malice reconciled him to his prince.

Him, in the anguish of his soul he served;

Rewarded faster still than he deserved.

Behold him now exalted into trust;

His counsel’s oft convenient, seldom just.

Even in the most sincere advice he gave,

He had a grudging still to be a knave.

The frauds he learn’d in his fanatic years

Made him uneasy in his lawful gears; 60

At best, as little honest as he could,

And, like white witches5, mischievously good.

To his first bias longingly he leans;

And rather would be great by wicked means.

Thus framed for ill, he loosed our triple hold6;

Advice unsafe, precipitous, and bold.

From hence those tears! that Ilium of our woe!

Who helps a powerful friend, forearms a foe.

What wonder if the waves prevail so far,

When he cut down the banks that made the bar? 70

Seas follow but their nature to invade;

But he by art our native strength betray’d.

So Samson to his foe his force confess’d,

And, to be shorn, lay slumbering on her breast.

But when this fatal counsel, found too late,

Exposed its author to the public hate;

When his just sovereign, by no impious way

Could be seduced to arbitrary sway;

Forsaken of that hope he shifts his sail,

Drives down the current with a popular gale; 80

And shows the fiend confess’d without a veil.

He preaches to the crowd that power is lent,

But not convey’d, to kingly government;

That claims successive bear no binding force,

That coronation oaths are things of course;

Maintains the multitude can never err,

And sets the people in the papal chair.

The reason’s obvious: interest never lies;

The most have still their interest in their eyes;

The power is always theirs, and power is ever wise. 90

Almighty crowd, thou shortenest all dispute —

Power is thy essence; wit thy attribute!

Nor faith nor reason make thee at a stay,

Thou leap’st o’er all eternal truths, in thy Pindaric way!

Athens, no doubt, did righteously decide,

When Phocion and when Socrates were tried:

As righteously they did those dooms repent;

Still they were wise whatever way they went.

Crowds err not, though to both extremes they run;

To kill the father, and recall the son. 100

Some think the fools were most, as times went then,

But now the world’s o’erstock’d with prudent men.

The common cry is even religion’s test —

The Turk’s is at Constantinople best;

Idols in India; Popery at Rome;

And our own worship only true at home:

And true, but for the time ’tis hard to know

How long we please it shall continue so.

This side to-day, and that to-morrow burns;

So all are God Almighties in their turns. 110

A tempting doctrine, plausible and new;

What fools our fathers were, if this be true!

Who, to destroy the seeds of civil war,

Inherent right in monarchs did declare:

And, that a lawful power might never cease,

Secured succession to secure our peace.

Thus property and sovereign sway, at last,

In equal balances were justly cast:

But this new Jehu spurs the hot-mouth’d horse —

Instructs the beast to know his native force; 120

To take the bit between his teeth, and fly

To the next headlong steep of anarchy.

Too happy England, if our good we knew,

Would we possess the freedom we pursue!

The lavish government can give no more:

Yet we repine, and plenty makes us poor.

God tried us once; our rebel-fathers fought,

He glutted them with all the power they sought:

Till, master’d by their own usurping brave,

The free-born subject sunk into a slave. 130

We loathe our manna, and we long for quails;

Ah, what is man when his own wish prevails!

How rash, how swift to plunge himself in ill!

Proud of his power, and boundless in his will!

That kings can do no wrong, we must believe;

None can they do, and must they all receive?

Help, Heaven! or sadly we shall see an hour,

When neither wrong nor right are in their power!

Already they have lost their best defence —

The benefit of laws which they dispense. 140

No justice to their righteous cause allow’d;

But baffled by an arbitrary crowd.

And medals graved their conquest to record,

The stamp and coin of their adopted lord.

 The man7 who laugh’d but once, to see an ass

Mumbling make the cross-grain’d thistles pass,

Might laugh again to see a jury chaw

The prickles of unpalatable law.

The witnesses, that leech-like lived on blood,

Sucking for them was medicinally good; 150

But when they fasten’d on their fester’d sore,

Then justice and religion they forswore,

Their maiden oaths debauch’d into a whore.

Thus men are raised by factions, and decried;

And rogue and saint distinguish’d by their side.

They rack even Scripture to confess their cause,

And plead a call to preach in spite of laws.

But that’s no news to the poor injured page;

It has been used as ill in every age,

And is constrain’d with patience all to take: 160

For what defence can Greek and Hebrew make?

Happy who can this talking trumpet seize;

They make it speak whatever sense they please:

’Twas framed at first our oracle to inquire;

But since our sects in prophecy grow higher,

The text inspires not them, but they the text inspire.

 London, thou great emporium of our isle,

O thou too bounteous, thou too fruitful Nile!

How shall I praise or curse to thy desert?

Or separate thy sound from thy corrupted part? 170

I call thee Nile; the parallel will stand;

Thy tides of wealth o’erflow the fatten’d land;

Yet monsters from thy large increase we find,

Engender’d on the slime thou leav’st behind.

Sedition has not wholly seized on thee,

Thy nobler parts are from infection free.

Of Israel’s tribes thou hast a numerous band,

But still the Canaanite is in the land.

Thy military chiefs are brave and true;

Nor are thy disenchanted burghers few. 180

The head8 is loyal which thy heart commands,

But what’s a head with two such gouty hands?

The wise and wealthy love the surest way,

And are content to thrive and to obey.

But wisdom is to sloth too great a slave;

None are so busy as the fool and knave.

Those let me curse; what vengeance will they urge,

Whose ordures neither plague nor fire can purge?

Nor sharp experience can to duty bring,

Nor angry Heaven, nor a forgiving king! 190

In gospel-phrase, their chapmen they betray;

Their shops are dens, the buyer is their prey.

The knack of trades is living on the spoil;

They boast even when each other they beguile.

Customs to steal is such a trivial thing,

That ’tis their charter to defraud their king.

All hands unite of every jarring sect;

They cheat the country first, and then infect.

They for God’s cause their monarchs dare dethrone,

And they’ll be sure to make his cause their own. 200

Whether the plotting Jesuit laid the plan

Of murdering kings, or the French Puritan,

Our sacrilegious sects their guides outgo,

And kings and kingly power would murder too.

 What means their traitorous combination less,

Too plain to evade, too shameful to confess!

But treason is not own’d when ’tis descried;

Successful crimes alone are justified.

The men, who no conspiracy would find,

Who doubts, but had it taken, they had join’d, 210

Join’d in a mutual covenant of defence;

At first without, at last against their prince?

If sovereign right by sovereign power they scan,

The same bold maxim holds in God and man:

God were not safe, his thunder could they shun,

He should be forced to crown another son.

Thus when the heir was from the vineyard thrown,

The rich possession was the murderer’s own.

In vain to sophistry they have recourse:

By proving theirs no plot, they prove ’tis worse — 220

Unmask’d rebellion, and audacious force:

Which, though not actual, yet all eyes may see

’Tis working in the immediate power to be.

For from pretended grievances they rise,

First to dislike, and after to despise;

Then, Cyclop-like, in human flesh to deal,

Chop up a minister at every meal:

Perhaps not wholly to melt down the king,

But clip his regal rights within the ring.

From thence to assume the power of peace and war, 230

And ease him, by degrees, of public care.

Yet, to consult his dignity and fame,

He should have leave to exercise the name,

And hold the cards, while commons play’d the game.

For what can power give more than food and drink,

To live at ease, and not be bound to think?

These are the cooler methods of their crime,

But their hot zealots think ’tis loss of time;

On utmost bounds of loyalty they stand,

And grin and whet like a Croatian band, 240

That waits impatient for the last command.

Thus outlaws open villainy maintain,

They steal not, but in squadrons scour the plain;

And if their power the passengers subdue,

The most have right, the wrong is in the few.

Such impious axioms foolishly they show,

For in some soils republics will not grow:

Our temperate isle will no extremes sustain,

Of popular sway or arbitrary reign;

But slides between them both into the best, 250

Secure in freedom, in a monarch blest:

And though the climate, vex’d with various winds,

Works through our yielding bodies on our minds.

The wholesome tempest purges what it breeds,

To recommend the calmness that succeeds.

 But thou, the pander of the people’s hearts,

O crooked soul, and serpentine in arts,

Whose blandishments a loyal land have whored,

And broke the bonds she plighted to her lord;

What curses on thy blasted name will fall! 260

Which age to age their legacy shall call;

For all must curse the woes that must descend on all.

Religion thou hast none: thy mercury

Has pass’d through every sect, or theirs through thee.

But what thou giv’st, that venom still remains,

And the pox’d nation feels thee in their brains.

What else inspires the tongues and swells the breasts

Of all thy bellowing renegado priests,

That preach up thee for God, dispense thy laws,

And with thy stum ferment their fainting cause? 270

Fresh fumes of madness raise; and toil and sweat

To make the formidable cripple great.

Yet, should thy crimes succeed, should lawless power

Compass those ends thy greedy hopes devour,

Thy canting friends thy mortal foes would be,

Thy God and theirs will never long agree;

For thine, if thou hast any, must be one

That lets the world and human kind alone:

A jolly god that passes hours too well

To promise heaven, or threaten us with hell; 280

That unconcern’d can at rebellion sit,

And wink at crimes he did himself commit.

A tyrant theirs; the heaven their priesthood paints

A conventicle of gloomy, sullen saints;

A heaven like Bedlam, slovenly and sad,

Foredoom’d for souls with false religion mad.

 Without a vision poets can foreshow

What all but fools by common sense may know:

If true succession from our isle should fail,

And crowds profane with impious arms prevail, 290

Not thou, nor those thy factious arts engage,

Shall reap that harvest of rebellious rage,

With which thou flatterest thy decrepit age.

The swelling poison of the several sects,

Which, wanting vent, the nation’s health infects,

Shall burst its bag; and, fighting out their way,

The various venoms on each other prey.

The presbyter, puff’d up with spiritual pride,

Shall on the necks of the lewd nobles ride:

His brethren damn, the civil power defy; 300

And parcel out republic prelacy.

But short shall be his reign: his rigid yoke

And tyrant power will puny sects provoke;

And frogs and toads, and all the tadpole train,

Will croak to heaven for help, from this devouring crane.

The cut-throat sword and clamorous gown shall jar,

In sharing their ill-gotten spoils of war:

Chiefs shall be grudged the part which they pretend;

Lords envy lords, and friends with every friend

About their impious merit shall contend. 310

The surly commons shall respect deny,

And justle peerage out with property.

Their general either shall his trust betray,

And force the crowd to arbitrary sway;

Or they, suspecting his ambitious aim,

In hate of kings shall cast anew the frame;

And thrust out Collatine that bore their name.

 Thus inborn broils the factions would engage,

Or wars of exiled heirs, or foreign rage,

Till halting vengeance overtook our age: 320

And our wild labours, wearied into rest,

Reclined us on a rightful monarch’s breast.

       — “Pudet hæc opprobria, vobis

Et dici potuisse, et non potuisse refelli.”

4 ‘Polish:’ Shaftesbury was said to have entertained hopes of the crown of Poland.

5 ‘White witches:’ who wrought good ends by infernal means.

6 ‘Loosed our triple hold:’ our breaking the alliance with Holland and Sweden, was owing to the Earl of Shaftesbury’s advice.

7 ‘The Man:’ Crassus.

8 ‘The head,’ &c.: alluding to the lord mayor and the two sheriffs: the former, Sir John Moor, being a Tory; the latter, Shute and Pilkington, Whigs.

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