Absalom and Achitophel, by John Dryden

Part II.

“Si quis tamen haec quoque, si quis captus amore leget.”

To the Reader.

In the year 1680, Mr Dryden undertook the poem of Absalom and Achitophel, upon the desire of King Charles the Second. The performance was applauded by every one; and several persons pressing him to write a second part, he, upon declining it himself, spoke to Mr Tate8 to write one, and gave him his advice in the direction of it; and that part beginning with

“Next these, a troop of busy spirits press,”

and ending with

“To talk like Doeg, and to write like thee,”

containing near two hundred verses, mere entirely Mr Dryden’s composition, besides some touches in other places.


Since men like beasts each other’s prey were made,

Since trade began, and priesthood grew a trade,

Since realms were form’d, none sure so cursed as those

That madly their own happiness oppose;

There Heaven itself and god-like kings, in vain

Shower down the manna of a gentle reign;

While pamper’d crowds to mad sedition run,

And monarchs by indulgence are undone.

Thus David’s clemency was fatal grown,

While wealthy faction awed the wanting throne. 10

For now their sovereign’s orders to contemn

Was held the charter of Jerusalem;

His rights to invade, his tributes to refuse,

A privilege peculiar to the Jews;

As if from heavenly call this licence fell,

And Jacob’s seed were chosen to rebel!

 Achitophel with triumph sees his crimes

Thus suited to the madness of the times;

And Absalom, to make his hopes succeed,

Of flattering charms no longer stands in need; 20

While fond of change, though ne’er so dearly bought,

Our tribes outstrip the youth’s ambitious thought;

His swiftest hopes with swifter homage meet,

And crowd their servile necks beneath his feet.

Thus to his aid while pressing tides repair,

He mounts and spreads his streamers in the air.

The charms of empire might his youth mislead,

But what can our besotted Israel plead?

Sway’d by a monarch, whose serene command

Seems half the blessing of our promised land: 30

Whose only grievance is excess of ease;

Freedom our pain, and plenty our disease!

Yet, as all folly would lay claim to sense,

And wickedness ne’er wanted a pretence,

With arguments they’d make their treason good,

And righteous David’s self with slanders load:

That arts of foreign sway he did affect,

And guilty Jebusites from law protect,

Whose very chiefs, convict, were never freed,

Nay, we have seen their sacrificers bleed! 40

Accusers’ infamy is urged in vain,

While in the bounds of sense they did contain;

But soon they launch into the unfathom’d tide,

And in the depths they knew disdain’d to ride.

For probable discoveries to dispense,

Was thought below a pension’d evidence;

Mere truth was dull, nor suited with the port

Of pamper’d Corah when advanced to court.

No less than wonders now they will impose,

And projects void of grace or sense disclose. 50

Such was the charge on pious Michal brought, —

Michal that ne’er was cruel, even in thought, —

The best of queens, and most obedient wife,

Impeach’d of cursed designs on David’s life!

His life, the theme of her eternal prayer,

’Tis scarce so much his guardian angel’s care.

Not summer morns such mildness can disclose,

The Hermon lily, nor the Sharon rose.

Neglecting each vain pomp of majesty,

Transported Michal feeds her thoughts on high. 60

She lives with angels, and, as angels do,

Quits heaven sometimes to bless the world below;

Where, cherish’d by her bounties’ plenteous spring,

Reviving widows smile, and orphans sing.

Oh! when rebellious Israel’s crimes at height,

Are threaten’d with her Lord’s approaching fate,

The piety of Michal then remain

In Heaven’s remembrance, and prolong his reign!

 Less desolation did the pest pursue,

That from Dan’s limits to Beersheba flew; 70

Less fatal the repeated wars of Tyre,

And less Jerusalem’s avenging fire.

With gentler terror these our state o’erran,

Than since our evidencing days began!

On every cheek a pale confusion sate,

Continued fear beyond the worst of fate!

Trust was no more; art, science useless made;

All occupations lost but Corah’s trade.

Meanwhile a guard on modest Corah wait,

If not for safety, needful yet for state. 80

Well might he deem each peer and prince his slave,

And lord it o’er the tribes which he could save:

Even vice in him was virtue — what sad fate,

But for his honesty had seized our state!

And with what tyranny had we been cursed,

Had Corah never proved a villain first!

To have told his knowledge of the intrigue in gross,

Had been, alas! to our deponent’s loss:

The travell’d Levite had the experience got,

To husband well, and make the best of’s Plot; 90

And therefore, like an evidence of skill,

With wise reserves secured his pension still;

Nor quite of future power himself bereft,

But limbos large for unbelievers left.

And now his writ such reverence had got,

’Twas worse than plotting to suspect his Plot.

Some were so well convinced, they made no doubt

Themselves to help the founder’d swearers out.

Some had their sense imposed on by their fear,

But more for interest sake believe and swear: 100

Even to that height with some the frenzy grew,

They raged to find their danger not prove true.

 Yet, than all these a viler crew remain,

Who with Achitophel the cry maintain;

Not urged by fear, nor through misguided sense, —

Blind zeal and starving need had some pretence;

But for the good old cause, that did excite

The original rebels’ wiles — revenge and spite.

These raise the plot, to have the scandal thrown

Upon the bright successor of the crown, 110

Whose virtue with such wrongs they had pursued,

As seem’d all hope of pardon to exclude.

Thus, while on private ends their zeal is built,

The cheated crowd applaud, and share their guilt.

 Such practices as these, too gross to lie

Long unobserved by each discerning eye,

The more judicious Israelites unspell’d,

Though still the charm the giddy rabble held.

Even Absalom, amidst the dazzling beams

Of empire, and ambition’s flattering dreams, 120

Perceives the plot, too foul to be excused,

To aid designs, no less pernicious, used.

And, filial sense yet striving in his breast,

Thus to Achitophel his doubts express’d:

 Why are my thoughts upon a crown employ’d.

Which, once obtain’d, can be but half enjoy’d?

Not so when virtue did my arms require,

And to my father’s wars I flew entire.

My regal power how will my foes resent,

When I myself have scarce my own consent! 130

Give me a son’s unblemish’d truth again,

Or quench the sparks of duty that remain.

How slight to force a throne that legions guard

The task to me! to prove unjust, how hard!

And if the imagined guilt thus wound my thought,

What will it when the tragic scene is wrought!

Dire war must first be conjured from below,

The realm we rule we first must overthrow;

And, when the civil furies are on wing,

That blind and undistinguish’d slaughters fling, 140

Who knows what impious chance may reach the king?

Oh, rather let me perish in the strife,

Than have my crown the price of David’s life!

Or if the tempest of the war he stand,

In peace, some vile officious villain’s hand

His soul’s anointed temple may invade;

Or, press’d by clamorous crowds, myself be made

His murderer; rebellious crowds, whose guilt

Shall dread his vengeance till his blood be spilt.

Which, if my filial tenderness oppose, 150

Since to the empire by their arms I rose,

Those very arms on me shall be employ’d,

A new usurper crown’d, and I destroy’d:

The same pretence of public good will hold,

And new Achitophels be found as bold

To urge the needful change — perhaps the old.

 He said. The statesman with a smile replies,

A smile that did his rising spleen disguise:

My thoughts presumed our labours at an end;

And are we still with conscience to contend? 160

Whose want in kings as needful is allow’d,

As ’tis for them to find it in the crowd.

Far in the doubtful passage you are gone,

And only can be safe by pressing on.

The crown’s true heir, a prince severe and wise,

Has view’d your motions long with jealous eyes,

Your person’s charms, your more prevailing arts,

And mark’d your progress in the people’s hearts,

Whose patience is the effect of stinted power,

But treasures vengeance for the fatal hour; 170

And if remote the peril he can bring,

Your present danger’s greater from the king.

Let not a parent’s name deceive your sense,

Nor trust the father in a jealous prince!

Your trivial faults if he could so resent,

To doom you little less than banishment,

What rage must your presumption since inspire!

Against his orders you return from Tyre.

Nor only so, but with a pomp more high,

And open court of popularity, 180

The factious tribes. — And this reproof from thee!

The prince replies; Oh, statesman’s winding skill,

They first condemn that first advised the ill!

 Illustrious youth! returned Achitophel,

Misconstrue not the words that mean you well;

The course you steer I worthy blame conclude,

But ’tis because you leave it unpursued.

A monarch’s crown with fate surrounded lies,

Who reach, lay hold on death that miss the prize.

Did you for this expose yourself to show, 190

And to the crowd bow popularly low?

For this your glorious progress next ordain,

With chariots, horsemen, and a numerous train?

With fame before you, like the morning star,

And shouts of joy saluting from afar?

Oh, from the heights you’ve reach’d but take a view,

Scarce leading Lucifer could fall like you!

And must I here my shipwreck’d arts bemoan?

Have I for this so oft made Israel groan?

Your single interest with the nation weigh’d, 200

And turn’d the scale where your desires were laid;

Even when at helm a course so dangerous moved

To land your hopes, as my removal proved. —

 I not dispute, the royal youth replies,

The known perfection of your policies;

Nor in Achitophel yet grudge or blame

The privilege that statesmen ever claim;

Who private interest never yet pursued,

But still pretended ’twas for others good:

What politician yet e’er ‘scaped his fate, 210

Who, saving his own neck, not saved the state?

From hence, on every humorous wind that veer’d,

With shifted sails a several course you steer’d.

What form of sway did David e’er pursue,

That seem’d like absolute, but sprung from you?

Who at your instance quash’d each penal law,

That kept dissenting factious Jews in awe;

And who suspends fix’d laws, may abrogate,

That done, form new, and so enslave the state.

Even property whose champion now you stand, 220

And seem for this the idol of the land,

Did ne’er sustain such violence before,

As when your counsel shut the royal store;

Advice, that ruin to whole tribes procured,

But secret kept till your own banks secured.

Recount with this the triple covenant broke,

And Israel fitted for a foreign yoke;

Nor here your counsel’s fatal progress stay’d,

But sent our levied powers to Pharaoh’s aid.

Hence Tyre and Israel, low in ruins laid, 230

And Egypt, once their scorn, their common terror made.

Even yet of such a season can we dream,

When royal rights you made your darling theme.

For power unlimited could reasons draw,

And place prerogative above the law;

Which, on your fall from office, grew unjust,

The laws made king, the king a slave in trust:

Whom with state-craft, to interest only true,

You now accuse of ills contrived by you.

 To this hell’s agent: Royal youth, fix here, 240

Let interest be the star by which you steer.

Hence to repose your trust in me was wise,

Whose interest most in your advancement lies.

A tie so firm as always will avail,

When friendship, nature, and religion fail;

On ours the safety of the crowd depends;

Secure the crowd, and we obtain our ends,

Whom I will cause so far our guilt to share,

Till they are made our champions by their fear.

What opposition can your rival bring, 250

While Sanhedrims are jealous of the king?

His strength as yet in David’s friendship lies,

And what can David’s self without supplies?

Who with exclusive bills must now dispense,

Debar the heir, or starve in his defence.

Conditions which our elders ne’er will quit,

And David’s justice never can admit.

Or forced by wants his brother to betray,

To your ambition next he clears the way;

For if succession once to nought they bring, 260

Their next advance removes the present king:

Persisting else his senates to dissolve,

In equal hazard shall his reign involve.

Our tribes, whom Pharaoh’s power so much alarms,

Shall rise without their prince to oppose his arms;

Nor boots it on what cause at first they join,

Their troops, once up, are tools for our design.

At least such subtle covenants shall be made,

Till peace itself is war in masquerade.

Associations of mysterious sense, 270

Against, but seeming for, the king’s defence:

Even on their courts of justice fetters draw,

And from our agents muzzle up their law.

By which a conquest if we fail to make,

’Tis a drawn game at worst, and we secure our stake.

 He said, and for the dire success depends

On various sects, by common guilt made friends.

Whose heads, though ne’er so differing in their creed,

I’ th’ point of treason yet were well agreed.

‘Mongst these, extorting Ishban first appears, 280

Pursued by a meagre troop of bankrupt heirs.

Blest times when Ishban, he whose occupation

So long has been to cheat, reforms the nation!

Ishban of conscience suited to his trade,

As good a saint as usurer ever made.

Yet Mammon has not so engross’d him quite,

But Belial lays as large a claim of spite;

Who, for those pardons from his prince he draws,

Returns reproaches, and cries up the cause.

That year in which the city he did sway, 290

He left rebellion in a hopeful way,

Yet his ambition once was found so bold,

To offer talents of extorted gold;

Could David’s wants have so been bribed, to shame

And scandalize our peerage with his name;

For which, his dear sedition he’d forswear,

And e’en turn loyal to be made a peer.

Next him, let railing Rabsheka have place,

So full of zeal he has no need of grace;

A saint that can both flesh and spirit use, 300

Alike haunt conventicles and the stews:

Of whom the question difficult appears,

If most i’ th’ preacher’s or the bawd’s arrears.

What caution could appear too much in him

That keeps the treasure of Jerusalem!

Let David’s brother but approach the town,

Double our guards, he cries, we are undone.

Protesting that he dares not sleep in ‘s bed

Lest he should rise next morn without his head.

 Next9 these, a troop of busy spirits press, 310

Of little fortunes, and of conscience less;

With them the tribe, whose luxury had drain’d

Their banks, in former sequestrations gain’d;

Who rich and great by past rebellions grew,

And long to fish the troubled streams anew.

Some future hopes, some present payment draws,

To sell their conscience and espouse the cause.

Such stipends those vile hirelings best befit, 318

Priests without grace, and poets without wit.

Shall that false Hebronite escape our curse,

Judas, that keeps the rebels’ pension-purse;

Judas, that pays the treason-writer’s fee,

Judas, that well deserves his namesake’s tree;

Who at Jerusalem’s own gates erects

His college for a nursery of sects;

Young prophets with an early care secures,

And with the dung of his own arts manures!

What have the men of Hebron here to do?

What part in Israel’s promised land have you?

Here Phaleg the lay-Hebronite is come, 330

‘Cause like the rest he could not live at home;

Who from his own possessions could not drain

An omer even of Hebronitish grain;

Here struts it like a patriot, and talks high

Of injured subjects, alter’d property:

An emblem of that buzzing insect just,

That mounts the wheel, and thinks she raises dust.

Can dry bones live? or skeletons produce

The vital warmth of cuckoldising juice?

Slim Phaleg could, and at the table fed, 340

Return’d the grateful product to the bed.

A waiting-man to travelling nobles chose,

He his own laws would saucily impose,

Till bastinadoed back again he went,

To learn those manners he to teach was sent.

Chastised he ought to have retreated home,

But he reads politics to Absalom.

For never Hebronite, though kick’d and scorn’d,

To his own country willingly return’d.

— But leaving famish’d Phaleg to be fed, 350

And to talk treason for his daily bread,

Let Hebron, nay let hell, produce a man

So made for mischief as Ben–Jochanan.

A Jew of humble parentage was he,

By trade a Levite, though of low degree:

His pride no higher than the desk aspired,

But for the drudgery of priests was hired

To read and pray in linen ephod brave,

And pick up single shekels from the grave.

Married at last, but finding charge come faster, 360

He could not live by God, but changed his master:

Inspired by want, was made a factious tool,

They got a villain, and we lost a fool.

Still violent, whatever cause he took,

But most against the party he forsook;

For renegadoes, who ne’er turn by halves,

Are bound in conscience to be double knaves.

So this prose-prophet took most monstrous pains

To let his masters see he earn’d his gains.

But, as the devil owes all his imps a shame, 370

He chose the apostate for his proper theme;

With little pains he made the picture true,

And from reflection took the rogue he drew.

A wondrous work, to prove the Jewish nation

In every age a murmuring generation;

To trace them from their infancy of sinning,

And show them factious from their first beginning.

To prove they could rebel, and rail, and mock,

Much to the credit of the chosen flock;

A strong authority which must convince, 380

That saints own no allegiance to their prince;

As ’tis a leading-card to make a whore,

To prove her mother had turn’d up before.

But, tell me, did the drunken patriarch bless

The son that show’d his father’s nakedness?

Such thanks the present church thy pen will give,

Which proves rebellion was so primitive.

Must ancient failings be examples made?

Then murderers from Cain may learn their trade.

As thou the heathen and the saint hast drawn, 390

Methinks the apostate was the better man:

And thy hot father, waving my respect,

Not of a mother-church but of a sect.

And such he needs must be of thy inditing;

This comes of drinking asses’ milk and writing.

If Balak should be call’d to leave his place,

As profit is the loudest call of grace,

His temple, dispossess’d of one, would be

Replenished with seven devils more by thee.

 Levi, thou art a load, I’ll lay thee down, 400

And show Rebellion bare, without a gown;

Poor slaves in metre, dull and addle-pated,

Who rhyme below even David’s psalms translated;

Some in my speedy pace I must outrun,

As lame Mephibosheth the wizard’s son:

To make quick way I’ll leap o’er heavy blocks,

Shun rotten Uzza, as I would the pox;

And hasten Og and Doeg to rehearse,

Two fools that crutch their feeble sense on verse:

Who, by my muse, to all succeeding times 410

Shall live in spite of their own doggrel rhymes.

 Doeg, though without knowing how or why,

Made still a blundering kind of melody;

Spurr’d boldly on, and dash’d through thick and thin,

Through sense and nonsense, never out nor in;

Free from all meaning, whether good or bad,

And, in one word, heroically mad:

He was too warm on picking-work to dwell,

But fagoted his notions as they fell,

And if they rhymed and rattled, all was well. 420

Spiteful he is not, though he wrote a satire,

For still there goes some thinking to ill-nature:

He needs no more than birds and beasts to think,

All his occasions are to eat and drink.

If he call rogue and rascal from a garret,

He means you no more mischief than a parrot;

The words for friend and foe alike were made,

To fetter them in verse is all his trade.

For almonds he’ll cry whore to his own mother:

And call young Absalom king David’s brother. 430

Let him be gallows-free by my consent,

And nothing suffer, since he nothing meant.

Hanging supposes human soul and reason —

This animal’s below committing treason:

Shall he be hang’d who never could rebel?

That’s a preferment for Achitophel.

The woman. . . . . . .

Was rightly sentenced by the law to die;

But ’twas hard fate that to the gallows led

The dog that never heard the statute read. 440

Railing in other men may be a crime,

But ought to pass for mere instinct in him:

Instinct he follows, and no further knows,

For to write verse with him is to transpose.

’Twere pity treason at his door to lay,

Who makes heaven’s gate a lock to its own key:10

Let him rail on, let his invective muse

Have four and twenty letters to abuse,

Which, if he jumbles to one line of sense,

Indict him of a capital offence. 450

In fireworks give him leave to vent his spite —

Those are the only serpents he can write;

The height of his ambition is, we know,

But to be master of a puppet-show;

On that one stage his works may yet appear,

And a month’s harvest keeps him all the year.

 Now stop your noses, readers, all and some,

For here’s a tun of midnight work to come;

Og, from a treason-tavern rolling home,

Round as a globe, and liquor’d every chink, 460

Goodly and great he sails behind his link;

With all this bulk there’s nothing lost in Og,

For every inch that is not fool is rogue:

A monstrous mass of foul corrupted matter,

As all the devils had spued to make the batter.

When wine has given him courage to blaspheme,

He curses God, but God before cursed him;

And if man could have reason, none has more,

That made his paunch so rich, and him so poor.

With wealth he was not trusted, for Heaven knew 470

What ’twas of old to pamper up a Jew;

To what would he on quail and pheasant swell,

That even on tripe and carrion could rebel?

But though Heaven made him poor (with reverence speaking),

He never was a poet of God’s making;

The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull,

With this prophetic blessing — Be thou dull;

Drink, swear, and roar, forbear no lewd delight

Fit for thy bulk — do anything but write:

Thou art of lasting make, like thoughtless men, 480

A strong nativity — but for the pen!

Eat opium, mingle arsenic in thy drink,

Still thou mayst live, avoiding pen and ink.

I see, I see, ’tis counsel given in vain,

For treason botch’d in rhyme will be thy bane;

Rhyme is the rock on which thou art to wreck,

’Tis fatal to thy fame and to thy neck:

Why should thy metre good king David blast?

A psalm of his will surely be thy last.

Dar’st thou presume in verse to meet thy foes, 490

Thou whom the penny pamphlet foil’d in prose?

Doeg, whom God for mankind’s mirth has made,

O’ertops thy talent in thy very trade;

Doeg to thee, thy paintings are so coarse,

A poet is, though he’s the poet’s horse.

A double noose thou on thy neck dost pull,

For writing treason, and for writing dull;

To die for faction is a common evil,

But to be hang’d for nonsense is the devil:

Hadst thou the glories of thy king express’d, 500

Thy praises had been satire at the best;

But thou in clumsy verse, unlick’d, unpointed,

Hast shamefully defied the Lord’s anointed:

I will not rake the dunghill for thy crimes,

For who would read thy life that reads thy rhymes?

But of king David’s foes, be this the doom,

May all be like the young man Absalom;

And, for my foes, may this their blessing be,

To talk like Doeg, and to write like thee!

 Achitophel, each rank, degree, and age, 510

For various ends neglects not to engage;

The wise and rich, for purse and counsel brought,

The fools and beggars, for their number sought:

Who yet not only on the town depends,

For even in court the faction had its friends;

These thought the places they possess’d too small,

And in their hearts wish’d court and king to fall:

Whose names the muse disdaining, holds i’ the dark,

Thrust in the villain herd without a mark;

With parasites and libel-spawning imps, 520

Intriguing fops, dull jesters, and worse pimps.

Disdain the rascal rabble to pursue,

Their set cabals are yet a viler crew:

See where, involved in common smoke, they sit;

Some for our mirth, some for our satire fit:

These, gloomy, thoughtful, and on mischief bent,

While those, for mere good-fellowship, frequent

The appointed club, can let sedition pass,

Sense, nonsense, anything to employ the glass;

And who believe, in their dull honest hearts, 530

The rest talk reason but to show their parts;

Who ne’er had wit or will for mischief yet,

But pleased to be reputed of a set.

 But in the sacred annals of our plot,

Industrious Arod never be forgot:

The labours of this midnight-magistrate,

May vie with Corah’s to preserve the state.

In search of arms, he fail’d not to lay hold

On war’s most powerful, dangerous weapon — gold.

And last, to take from Jebusites all odds, 540

Their altars pillaged, stole their very gods;

Oft would he cry, when treasure he surprised,

’Tis Baalish gold in David’s coin disguised;

Which to his house with richer relics came,

While lumber idols only fed the flame:

For our wise rabble ne’er took pains to inquire,

What ’twas he burnt, so ‘t made a rousing fire.

With which our elder was enrich’d no more

Than false Gehazi with the Syrian’s store;

So poor, that when our choosing-tribes were met, 550

Even for his stinking votes he ran in debt;

For meat the wicked, and, as authors think,

The saints he choused for his electing drink;

Thus every shift and subtle method past,

And all to be no Zaken at the last.

 Now, raised on Tyre’s sad ruins, Pharaoh’s pride

Soar’d high, his legions threatening far and wide;

As when a battering storm engender’d high,

By winds upheld, hangs hovering in the sky,

Is gazed upon by every trembling swain — 560

This for his vineyard fears, and that, his grain;

For blooming plants, and flowers new opening these,

For lambs yean’d lately, and far-labouring bees:

To guard his stock each to the gods does call,

Uncertain where the fire-charged clouds will fall:

Even so the doubtful nations watch his arms,

With terror each expecting his alarms.

Where, Judah! where was now thy lion’s roar?

Thou only couldst the captive lands restore;

But thou, with inbred broils and faction press’d, 570

From Egypt needst a guardian with the rest.

Thy prince from Sanhedrims no trust allow’d,

Too much the representers of the crowd,

Who for their own defence give no supply,

But what the crown’s prerogatives must buy:

As if their monarch’s rights to violate

More needful were, than to preserve the state!

From present dangers they divert their care,

And all their fears are of the royal heir;

Whom now the reigning malice of his foes 580

Unjudged would sentence, and e’er crown’d depose.

Religion the pretence, but their decree

To bar his reign, whate’er his faith shall be!

By Sanhedrims and clamorous crowds thus press’d,

What passions rent the righteous David’s breast!

Who knows not how to oppose or to comply —

Unjust to grant, or dangerous to deny!

How near, in this dark juncture, Israel’s fate,

Whose peace one sole expedient could create,

Which yet the extremest virtue did require, 590

Even of that prince whose downfall they conspire!

His absence David does with tears advise,

To appease their rage. Undaunted he complies.

Thus he, who, prodigal of blood and ease,

A royal life exposed to winds and seas,

At once contending with the waves and fire,

And heading danger in the wars of Tyre,

Inglorious now forsakes his native sand,

And like an exile quits the promised land!

Our monarch scarce from pressing tears refrains, 600

And painfully his royal state maintains,

Who now, embracing on the extremest shore,

Almost revokes what he enjoin’d before:

Concludes at last more trust to be allow’d

To storms and seas than to the raging crowd!

Forbear, rash muse! the parting scene to draw,

With silence charm’d as deep as theirs that saw!

Not only our attending nobles weep,

But hardy sailors swell with tears the deep!

The tide restrain’d her course, and more amazed, 610

The twin-stars on the royal brothers gazed:

While this sole fear —

Does trouble to our suffering hero bring,

Lest next the popular rage oppress the king!

Thus parting, each for the other’s danger grieved,

The shore the king, and seas the prince received.

Go, injured hero! while propitious gales,

Soft as thy consort’s breath, inspire thy sails;

Well may she trust her beauties on a flood,

Where thy triumphant fleets so oft have rode! 620

Safe on thy breast reclined, her rest be deep,

Rock’d like a Nereid by the waves asleep;

While happiest dreams her fancy entertain,

And to Elysian fields convert the main!

Go, injured hero! while the shores of Tyre

At thy approach so silent shall admire,

Who on thy thunder still their thoughts employ,

And greet thy landing with a trembling joy!

 On heroes thus the prophet’s fate is thrown,

Admired by every nation but their own; 630

Yet while our factious Jews his worth deny,

Their aching conscience gives their tongue the lie.

Even in the worst of men the noblest parts

Confess him, and he triumphs in their hearts,

Whom to his king the best respects commend

Of subject, soldier, kinsman, prince, and friend;

All sacred names of most divine esteem,

And to perfection all sustain’d by him;

Wise, just, and constant, courtly without art,

Swift to discern and to reward desert; 640

No hour of his in fruitless ease destroy’d,

But on the noblest subjects still employ’d:

Whose steady soul ne’er learn’d to separate

Between his monarch’s interest and the state;

But heaps those blessings on the royal head,

Which he well knows must be on subjects shed.

 On what pretence could then the vulgar rage

Against his worth and native rights engage?

Religious fears their argument are made —

Religious fears his sacred rights invade! 650

Of future superstition they complain,

And Jebusitic worship in his reign:

With such alarms his foes the crowd deceive,

With dangers fright, which not themselves believe.

 Since nothing can our sacred rites remove,

Whate’er the faith of the successor prove:

Our Jews their ark shall undisturb’d retain,

At least while their religion is their gain,

Who know by old experience Baal’s commands

Not only claim’d their conscience, but their lands; 660

They grudge God’s tithes, how therefore shall they yield

An idol full possession of the field?

Grant such a prince enthroned, we must confess

The people’s sufferings than that monarch’s less,

Who must to hard conditions still be bound,

And for his quiet with the crowd compound;

Or should his thoughts to tyranny incline,

Where are the means to compass the design?

Our crown’s revenues are too short a store,

And jealous Sanhedrims would give no more. 670

 As vain our fears of Egypt’s potent aid,

Not so has Pharaoh learn’d ambition’s trade,

Nor ever with such measures can comply,

As shock the common rules of policy;

None dread like him the growth of Israel’s king,

And he alone sufficient aids can bring;

Who knows that prince to Egypt can give law,

That on our stubborn tribes his yoke could draw:

At such profound expense he has not stood,

Nor dyed for this his hands so deep in blood; 680

Would ne’er through wrong and right his progress take,

Grudge his own rest, and keep the world awake,

To fix a lawless prince on Judah’s throne,

First to invade our rights, and then his own;

His dear-gain’d conquests cheaply to despoil,

And reap the harvest of his crimes and toil.

We grant his wealth vast as our ocean’s sand,

And curse its fatal influence on our land,

Which our bribed Jews so numerously partake,

That even an host his pensioners would make. 690

From these deceivers our divisions spring,

Our weakness, and the growth of Egypt’s king;

These, with pretended friendship to the state,

Our crowds’ suspicion of their prince create;

Both pleased and frighten’d with the specious cry,

To guard their sacred rites and property.

To ruin thus the chosen flock are sold,

While wolves are ta’en for guardians of the fold;

Seduced by these, we groundlessly complain,

And loathe the manna of a gentle reign: 700

Thus our forefathers’ crooked paths are trod —

We trust our prince no more than they their God.

But all in vain our reasoning prophets preach,

To those whom sad experience ne’er could teach,

Who can commence new broils in bleeding scars,

And fresh remembrance of intestine wars;

When the same household mortal foes did yield,

And brothers stain’d with brothers’ blood the field;

When sons’ cursed steel the fathers’ gore did stain,

And mothers mourn’d for sons by fathers slain! 710

When thick as Egypt’s locusts on the sand,

Our tribes lay slaughter’d through the promised land,

Whose few survivors with worse fate remain,

To drag the bondage of a tyrant’s reign:

Which scene of woes, unknowing we renew,

And madly, even those ills we fear, pursue;

While Pharaoh laughs at our domestic broils,

And safely crowds his tents with nations’ spoils.

Yet our fierce Sanhedrim, in restless rage,

Against our absent hero still engage, 720

And chiefly urge, such did their frenzy prove,

The only suit their prince forbids to move,

Which, till obtain’d, they cease affairs of state,

And real dangers waive for groundless hate.

Long David’s patience waits relief to bring,

With all the indulgence of a lawful king,

Expecting still the troubled waves would cease,

But found the raging billows still increase.

The crowd, whose insolence forbearance swells,

While he forgives too far, almost rebels. 730

At last his deep resentments silence broke,

The imperial palace shook, while thus he spoke —

 Then Justice wait, and Rigour take her time,

For lo! our mercy is become our crime:

While halting Punishment her stroke delays,

Our sovereign right, Heaven’s sacred trust, decays!

For whose support even subjects’ interest calls,

Woe to that kingdom where the monarch falls!

That prince who yields the least of regal sway,

So far his people’s freedom does betray. 740

Right lives by law, and law subsists by power;

Disarm the shepherd, wolves the flock devour.

Hard lot of empire o’er a stubborn race,

Which Heaven itself in vain has tried with grace!

When will our reason’s long-charm’d eyes unclose,

And Israel judge between her friends and foes?

When shall we see expired deceivers’ sway,

And credit what our God and monarchs say?

Dissembled patriots, bribed with Egypt’s gold,

Even Sanhedrims in blind obedience hold; 750

Those patriots falsehood in their actions see,

And judge by the pernicious fruit the tree.

If aught for which so loudly they declaim,

Religion, laws, and freedom, were their aim,

Our senates in due methods they had led,

To avoid those mischiefs which they seem’d to dread:

But first, e’er yet they propp’d the sinking state,

To impeach and charge, as urged by private hate,

Proves that they ne’er believed the fears they press’d,

But barbarously destroy’d the nation’s rest! 760

Oh! whither will ungovern’d senates drive,

And to what bounds licentious votes arrive?

When their injustice we are press’d to share,

The monarch urged to exclude the lawful heir;

Are princes thus distinguish’d from the crowd,

And this the privilege of royal blood?

But grant we should confirm the wrongs they press,

His sufferings yet were than the people’s less;

Condemn’d for life the murdering sword to wield,

And on their heirs entail a bloody field. 770

Thus madly their own freedom they betray,

And for the oppression which they fear make way;

Succession fix’d by Heaven, the kingdom’s bar,

Which once dissolved, admits the flood of war;

Waste, rapine, spoil, without the assault begin,

And our mad tribes supplant the fence within.

Since then their good they will not understand,

’Tis time to take the monarch’s power in hand;

Authority and force to join with skill,

And save the lunatics against their will. 780

The same rough means that ‘suage the crowd, appease

Our senates raging with the crowd’s disease.

Henceforth unbiass’d measures let them draw

From no false gloss, but genuine text of law;

Nor urge those crimes upon religion’s score,

Themselves so much in Jebusites abhor.

Whom laws convict, and only they, shall bleed,

Nor pharisees by pharisees be freed.

Impartial justice from our throne shall shower,

All shall have right, and we our sovereign power. 790

 He said, the attendants heard with awful joy,

And glad presages their fix’d thoughts employ;

From Hebron now the suffering heir return’d,

A realm that long with civil discord mourn’d;

Till his approach, like some arriving God,

Composed and heal’d the place of his abode;

The deluge check’d that to Judea spread,

And stopp’d sedition at the fountain’s head.

Thus, in forgiving, David’s paths he drives,

And, chased from Israel, Israel’s peace contrives. 800

The field confess’d his power in arms before,

And seas proclaim’d his triumphs to the shore;

As nobly has his sway in Hebron shown,

How fit to inherit godlike David’s throne.

Through Sion’s streets his glad arrival’s spread,

And conscious faction shrinks her snaky head;

His train their sufferings think o’erpaid to see

The crowd’s applause with virtue once agree.

Success charms all, but zeal for worth distress’d,

A virtue proper to the brave and best; 810

‘Mongst whom was Jothran — Jothran always bent

To serve the crown, and loyal by descent;

Whose constancy so firm, and conduct just,

Deserved at once two royal masters’ trust;

Who Tyre’s proud arms had manfully withstood

On seas, and gather’d laurels from the flood;

Of learning yet no portion was denied,

Friend to the Muses and the Muses’ pride.

Nor can Benaiah’s worth forgotten lie,

Of steady soul when public storms were high; 820

Whose conduct, while the Moor fierce onsets made,

Secured at once our honour and our trade.

Such were the chiefs who most his sufferings mourn’d,

And view’d with silent joy the prince return’d;

While those that sought his absence to betray,

Press first their nauseous false respects to pay;

Him still the officious hypocrites molest,

And with malicious duty break his rest.

 While real transports thus his friends employ,

And foes are loud in their dissembled joy, 830

His triumphs, so resounded far and near,

Miss’d not his young ambitious rival’s ear;

And as when joyful hunters’ clamorous train,

Some slumbering lion wakes in Moab’s plain,

Who oft had forced the bold assailants yield,

And scatter’d his pursuers through the field,

Disdaining, furls his mane and tears the ground,

His eyes inflaming all the desert round,

With roar of seas directs his chasers’ way,

Provokes from far, and dares them to the fray: 840

Such rage storm’d now in Absalom’s fierce breast,

Such indignation his fired eyes confess’d.

Where now was the instructor of his pride?

Slept the old pilot in so rough a tide,

Whose wiles had from the happy shore betray’d,

And thus on shelves the credulous youth convey’d?

In deep revolving thoughts he weighs his state,

Secure of craft, nor doubts to baffle fate;

At least, if his storm’d bark must go adrift,

To balk his charge, and for himself to shift, 850

In which his dexterous wit had oft been shown,

And in the wreck of kingdoms saved his own.

But now, with more than common danger press’d,

Of various resolutions stands possess’d,

Perceives the crowd’s unstable zeal decay

Lest their recanting chief the cause betray,

Who on a father’s grace his hopes may ground,

And for his pardon with their heads compound.

Him therefore, e’er his fortune slip her time.

The statesman plots to engage in some bold crime 860

Past pardon — whether to attempt his bed,

Or threat with open arms the royal head,

Or other daring method, and unjust,

That may confirm him in the people’s trust.

But failing thus to ensnare him, nor secure

How long his foil’d ambition may endure,

Plots next to lay him by as past his date,

And try some new pretender’s luckier fate;

Whose hopes with equal toil he would pursue,

Nor care what claimer’s crown’d, except the true. 870

Wake, Absalom! approaching ruin shun,

And see, O see, for whom thou art undone!

How are thy honours and thy fame betray’d,

The property of desperate villains made!

Lost power and conscious fears their crimes create,

And guilt in them was little less than fate;

But why shouldst thou, from every grievance free,

Forsake thy vineyards for their stormy sea?

For thee did Canaan’s milk and honey flow,

Love dress’d thy bowers, and laurels sought thy brow; 880

Preferment, wealth, and power thy vassals were,

And of a monarch all things but the care.

Oh! should our crimes again that curse draw down,

And rebel-arms once more attempt the crown,

Sure ruin waits unhappy Absalom,

Alike by conquest or defeat undone.

Who could relentless see such youth and charms

Expire with wretched fate in impious arms?

A prince so form’d, with earth’s and Heaven’s applause,

To triumph o’er crown’d heads in David’s cause: 890

Or grant him victor, still his hopes must fail,

Who, conquering, would not for himself prevail;

The faction whom he trusts for future sway,

Him and the public would alike betray;

Amongst themselves divide the captive state,

And found their hydra-empire in his fate!

Thus having beat the clouds with painful flight,

The pitied youth, with sceptres in his sight

(So have their cruel politics decreed),

Must by that crew, that made him guilty, bleed! 900

For, could their pride brook any prince’s sway,

Whom but mild David would they choose to obey?

Who once at such a gentle reign repine,

The fall of monarchy itself design:

From hate to that their reformations spring,

And David not their grievance, but the king.

Seized now with panic fear the faction lies,

Lest this clear truth strike Absalom’s charm’d eyes,

Lest he perceive, from long enchantment free,

What all beside the flatter’d youth must see: 910

But whate’er doubts his troubled bosom swell,

Fair carriage still became Achitophel,

Who now an envious festival installs,

And to survey their strength the faction calls, —

Which fraud, religious worship too must gild.

But oh! how weakly does sedition build!

For lo! the royal mandate issues forth,

Dashing at once their treason, zeal, and mirth!

So have I seen disastrous chance invade,

Where careful emmets had their forage laid, 920

Whether fierce Vulcan’s rage the furzy plain

Had seized, engender’d by some careless swain;

Or swelling Neptune lawless inroads made,

And to their cell of store his flood convey’d;

The commonwealth broke up, distracted go,

And in wild haste their loaded mates o’erthrow:

Even so our scatter’d guests confusedly meet,

With boil’d, baked, roast, all justling in the street;

Dejecting all, and ruefully dismay’d,

For shekel without treat or treason paid. 930

 Sedition’s dark eclipse now fainter shows,

More bright each hour the royal planet grows,

Of force the clouds of envy to disperse,

In kind conjunction of assisting stars.

Here, labouring muse! those glorious chiefs relate,

That turn’d the doubtful scale of David’s fate;

The rest of that illustrious band rehearse,

Immortalized in laurell’d Asaph’s verse:

Hard task! yet will not I thy flight recall,

View heaven, and then enjoy thy glorious fall. 940

 First write Bezaliel, whose illustrious name

Forestalls our praise, and gives his poet fame.

The Kenites’ rocky province his command,

A barren limb of fertile Canaan’s land;

Which for its generous natives yet could be

Held worthy such a president as he.

Bezaliel, with each grace and virtue fraught,

Serene his looks, serene his life and thought;

On whom so largely nature heap’d her store,

There scarce remain’d for arts to give him more! 950

To aid the crown and state his greatest zeal,

His second care that service to conceal;

Of dues observant, firm to every trust,

And to the needy always more than just;

Who truth from specious falsehood can divide,

Has all the gownsmen’s skill without their pride.

Thus crown’d with worth, from heights of honour won,

Sees all his glories copied in his son,

Whose forward fame should every muse engage —

Whose youth boasts skill denied to others’ age. 960

Men, manners, language, books of noblest kind,

Already are the conquest of his mind;

Whose loyalty before its date was prime,

Nor waited the dull course of rolling time:

The monster faction early he dismay’d,

And David’s cause long since confess’d his aid.

 Brave Abdael o’er the prophet’s school was placed —

Abdael with all his father’s virtue graced;

A hero who, while stars look’d wondering down,

Without one Hebrew’s blood restored the crown. 970

That praise was his; what therefore did remain

For following chiefs, but boldly to maintain

That crown restored? and in this rank of fame,

Brave Abdael with the first a place must claim.

Proceed, illustrious, happy chief! proceed,

Foreseize the garlands for thy brow decreed,

While the inspired tribe attend with noblest strain

To register the glories thou shalt gain:

For sure the dew shall Gilboa’s hills forsake,

And Jordan mix his stream with Sodom’s lake; 980

Or seas retired, their secret stores disclose,

And to the sun their scaly brood expose,

Or swell’d above the cliffs their billows raise,

Before the muses leave their patron’s praise.

 Eliab our next labour does invite,

And hard the task to do Eliab right.

Long with the royal wanderer he roved,

And firm in all the turns of fortune proved.

Such ancient service and desert so large

Well claim’d the royal household for his charge. 990

His age with only one mild heiress bless’d,

In all the bloom of smiling nature dress’d,

And bless’d again to see his flower allied

To David’s stock, and made young Othniel’s bride.

The bright restorer of his father’s youth,

Devoted to a son’s and subject’s truth;

Resolved to bear that prize of duty home,

So bravely sought, while sought by Absalom.

Ah, prince! the illustrious planet of thy birth,

And thy more powerful virtue, guard thy worth! 1000

That no Achitophel thy ruin boast;

Israel too much in one such wreck has lost.

 Even envy must consent to Helon’s worth,

Whose soul, though Egypt glories in his birth,

Could for our captive-ark its zeal retain.

And Pharaoh’s altars in their pomp disdain:

To slight his gods was small; with nobler pride,

He all the allurements of his court defied;

Whom profit nor example could betray,

But Israel’s friend, and true to David’s sway. 1010

What acts of favour in his province fall

On merit he confers, and freely all.

 Our list of nobles next let Amri grace,

Whose merits claim’d the Abethdin’s high place;

Who, with a loyalty that did excel,

Brought all the endowments of Achitophel.

Sincere was Amri, and not only knew,

But Israel’s sanctions into practice drew;

Our laws, that did a boundless ocean seem,

Were coasted all, and fathom’d all by him. 1020

No rabbin speaks like him their mystic sense,

So just, and with such charms of eloquence:

To whom the double blessing does belong,

With Moses’ inspiration, Aaron’s tongue.

 Than Sheva none more loyal zeal have shown,

Wakeful as Judah’s lion for the crown;

Who for that cause still combats in his age,

For which his youth with danger did engage.

In vain our factious priests the cant revive;

In vain seditious scribes with libel strive 1030

To inflame the crowd; while he with watchful eye

Observes, and shoots their treasons as they fly;

Their weekly frauds his keen replies detect;

He undeceives more fast than they infect:

So Moses, when the pest on legions prey’d,

Advanced his signal, and the plague was stay’d.

 Once more, my fainting muse! thy pinions try,

And strength’s exhausted store let love supply.

What tribute, Asaph, shall we render thee?

We’ll crown thee with a wreath from thy own tree! 1040

Thy laurel grove no envy’s flash can blast;

The song of Asaph shall for ever last.

 With wonder late posterity shall dwell

On Absalom and false Achitophel:

Thy strains shall be our slumbering prophets’ dream,

And when our Sion virgins sing their theme;

Our jubilees shall with thy verse be graced,

The song of Asaph shall for ever last.

 How fierce his satire loosed! restrain’d, how tame!

How tender of the offending young man’s fame! 1050

How well his worth, and brave adventures styled,

Just to his virtues, to his error mild!

No page of thine that fears the strictest view,

But teems with just reproof, or praise as due;

Not Eden could a fairer prospect yield,

All Paradise without one barren field:

Whose wit the censure of his foes has pass’d —

The song of Asaph shall for ever last.

 What praise for such rich strains shall we allow?

What just rewards the grateful crown bestow? 1060

While bees in flowers rejoice, and flowers in dew,

While stars and fountains to their course are true;

While Judah’s throne, and Sion’s rock stand fast,

The song of Asaph and the fame shall last!

 Still Hebron’s honour’d, happy soil retains

Our royal hero’s beauteous, dear remains;

Who now sails off with winds nor wishes slack,

To bring his sufferings’ bright companion back.

But e’er such transport can our sense employ,

A bitter grief must poison half our joy; 1070

Nor can our coasts restored those blessings see

Without a bribe to envious destiny!

Cursed Sodom’s doom for ever fix the tide

Where by inglorious chance the valiant died!

Give not insulting Askelon to know,

Nor let Gath’s daughters triumph in our woe;

No sailor with the news swell Egypt’s pride,

By what inglorious fate our valiant died.

Weep, Arnon! Jordan, weep thy fountains dry!

While Sion’s rock dissolves for a supply. 1080

 Calm were the elements, night’s silence deep,

The waves scarce murmuring, and the winds asleep;

Yet fate for ruin takes so still an hour,

And treacherous sands the princely bark devour;

Then death unworthy seized a generous race,

To virtue’s scandal, and the stars’ disgrace!

Oh! had the indulgent powers vouchsafed to yield,

Instead of faithless shelves, a listed field;

A listed field of Heaven’s and David’s foes,

Fierce as the troops that did his youth oppose, 1090

Each life had on his slaughter’d heap retired,

Not tamely, and unconquering, thus expired:

But destiny is now their only foe,

And dying, even o’er that they triumph too;

With loud last breaths their master’s ‘scape applaud,

Of whom kind force could scarce the fates defraud;

Who for such followers lost, O matchless mind!

At his own safety now almost repined!

Say, royal Sir! by all your fame in arms,

Your praise in peace, and by Urania’s charms, 1100

If all your sufferings past so nearly press’d,

Or pierced with half so painful grief your breast?

 Thus some diviner muse her hero forms,

Not soothed with soft delights, but toss’d in storms;

Nor stretch’d on roses in the myrtle grove,

Nor crowns his days with mirth, his nights with love,

But far removed in thundering camps is found,

His slumbers short, his bed the herbless ground.

In tasks of danger always seen the first,

Feeds from the hedge, and slakes with ice his thirst, 1110

Long must his patience strive with fortune’s rage,

And long-opposing gods themselves engage;

Must see his country flame, his friends destroy’d,

Before the promised empire be enjoy’d.

Such toil of fate must build a man of fame,

And such, to Israel’s crown, the godlike David came.

 What sudden beams dispel the clouds so fast,

Whose drenching rains laid all our vineyards waste?

The spring, so far behind her course delay’d,

On the instant is in all her bloom array’d; 1120

The winds breathe low, the element serene;

Yet mark what motion in the waves is seen!

Thronging and busy as Hyblaean swarms,

Or straggled soldiers summon’d to their arms,

See where the princely bark in loosest pride,

With all her guardian fleet, adorns the tide!

High on her deck the royal lovers stand,

Our crimes to pardon, e’er they touch’d our land.

Welcome to Israel and to David’s breast!

Here all your toils, here all your sufferings rest. 1130

 This year did Ziloah rule Jerusalem,

And boldly all sedition’s surges stem,

Howe’er encumber’d with a viler pair

Than Ziph or Shimei to assist the chair;

Yet Ziloah’s loyal labours so prevail’d,

That faction at the next election fail’d,

When even the common cry did justice found,

And merit by the multitude was crown’d:

With David then was Israel’s peace restored,

Crowds mourn’d their error, and obey’d their lord. 1140

8 The second part was written by Mr Nahum Tate, and is by no means equal to the first, though Dryden corrected it throughout. The poem is here printed complete.

9 ‘Next:’ from this to the line, ‘To talk like Doeg, and to write like thee,’ is Dryden’s own.

10 ‘Who makes,’ &c.: a line quoted from Settle.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54