Certainly, if a Man can ever have reason to set a value on himself, 'tis when his ungenerous Enemies are taking the advantage of the Times upon him, to ruin him in his reputation. And therefore for once, I will make bold to take the Counsel of my Old Master Virgil, Tu, ne Cede malis; sed, contrà, audentior ito.
(Preface to Don Sebastian)
I suffer no more, than I can easily undergo; and so long as I enjoy my Liberty, which is the Birth-right of an English Man, the rest shall never go near my Heart. The Merry Philosopher, is more to my Humour than the Melancholick; and I find no disposition in my self to Cry, while the mad World is daily supplying me with such Occasions of Laughter.
(Dedication of Amphitryon)
Let this suffice; Nor thou, great Saint, refuse
This humble Tribute of no vulgar Muse:
Who, not by Cares, or Wants, or Age deprest,
Stems a wild Deluge with a dauntless brest.
What I now offer to your Lordship, is the wretched remainder of a sickly Age, worn out with Study, and oppress'd by Fortune: without other support than the Constancy and Patience of a Christian.
(Dedication of Virgil's Pastorals)
I think my self as vigorous as ever in the Faculties of my soul. . . . What Judgment I had, increases rather than diminishes; and Thoughts, such as they are, come crowding in so fast upon me, that my only Difficulty is to chuse or to reject; to run them into Verse, or to give them the other Harmony of Prose. I have so long studied and practis'd both, that they are grown into a Habit, and become familiar to me.
(Preface to Fables)
As these quotations would suggest, Dryden's attitude towards himself and his work after the Revolution is not easy to define: he veers between indignant defiance, amused detachment, and patient resignation; he complains of poverty, illness, and exhaustion; he exults in increasing powers. The long study that has worn him out in 1697 has made verse and prose habitual to him in 1700. He sometimes sinks beneath his misfortunes, sometimes benignly disregards them; and sometimes overcomes them with heroic effort. This variousness has given rise to a number of conflicting critical views of the late Dryden. Some critics find "an old man's benignity and practiced ease" or a "vital and buoyant happiness"; others emphasize his "sense of personal decline," or his "bitterness and resentments, the disappointments of disillusionment, the sense of his own talents unused or scorned." No one, however, seriously doubts that these and similar passages embody more or less directly Dryden's personal feelings, that they are expressive rather than rhetorical. Indeed, one critic has argued that private doubts and disappointments become the mainspring of Dryden's art after 1685.
If we read these passages in isolation, we may find nothing to prevent us from taking them as the spontaneous outpourings of a troubled soul. To explain their inconsistency, we need only suppose that like any sufferer Dryden was given to frequent shifts in mood, sometimes complaining of his woes, sometimes defying them, and sometimes bearing them with patient resignation. But these passages appear in works aimed at a public that well knew his circumstances and was curious about his response to them. After his conversion, he was violently abused as a hireling eager to
adapt his politics and his religion to the government that paid him; after the Revolution he could defy his critics by pointing to his continuing loyalty to James and Catholicism. In doing so, however, he needed to use circumspection. Had he apostatized, had he even maintained silence concerning his political and religious beliefs, his critics would have seized on these new signs of inconstancy to abuse him the more: indeed, before he was able to reaffirm his principles in Don Sebastian , he figured in an anonymous lampoon purporting to be his loyal address to William. Yet any open defense of James or Catholicism was liable to be construed as a dangerous attack on the government or a traitorous declaration of sympathy with the ambitions of France. In these and other autobiographical passages Dryden deploys a subtle rhetorical strategy intended to disarm his attackers of both sets of weapons. He mentions his loyalty to his church and king only in order to describe its cost in fame and money, and his success in bearing that cost. His age and his poverty render him harmless to his opponents, while his experience has placed him beyond the reach of petty topical disputes. The new government's forbearance toward him, his recurring illnesses, his patriotic hatred of the French, and especially his immersion in a transcendent literary world, all are made to explain or to imply a renunciation of politics.
Dryden did not in fact renounce politics after the Revolution: his works from 1689 through 1700, from Don Sebastian through Fables , are filled with partisan references to William's usurpation, or the undeserved sufferings of James and his supporters, to the evils of unnecessary war, to the hypocrisy of governments that extend their power under the pretense of reform and liberation. But if these works are addressed to the potentially hostile audience Dryden seems to anticipate in his prefaces and dedications, we may well ask what such references are doing in them. This is the question I try to answer in the following study. What emerges from it is neither the embittered outcast nor the mellowed sage of tradition, but a poet still fully engaged with his experience and still able to combine the power of a close critique of politics with the authority of literary art.
I have chosen to discuss at greatest length those of Dryden's works that most fully and clearly exemplify the nature of his engagement with politics. Thus though I am concerned with a num-
ber of works commonly considered among Dryden's most important—The Hind and the Panther, Don Sebastian, Amphitryon, The Discourse of Satire —I have given other such works, particularly Fables , relatively short shrift and have lavished attention on still others—King Arthur, Cleomenes —commonly thought unworthy of it. My aim has been not to establish Dryden's "greatness" but to understand his political rhetoric and trace its evolution under changing political circumstances. I begin with The Hind and the Panther since it presents many of the same problems in interpretation as the postrevolutionary works. By early 1687 Dryden had already lost the audience to which he had habitually addressed his political rhetoric: the "more moderate sort" could hardly be expected to join the court in promoting a religion almost universally feared and despised. He had earned the obloquy of his former allies by his part in the controversy over the papers on the duchess of York's conversion, and in The Hind and the Panther he makes no attempt to conciliate either the Anglicans or the Dissenters. Indeed he attacks both groups and so leaves himself no one to persuade. The Hind's prophetic fable ends not with a "series of new time" but with an all-devouring tyrant. Yet despite his despair of attracting adherents or effecting change, Dryden clearly has much to say about contemporary politics and wants to be understood. In part he wants to defend himself against the charge of having changed his principles for personal gain; and so he argues that he has gained nothing, and more importantly, that though in his personal religious beliefs he has been moved from error to truth, in his political principles he has remained a model of constancy in comparison with his attackers. Throughout the poem he opposes the principles and rhetoric of the exclusion crisis Tories, which he claims as his own, to the dangerous practices of the newly rebellious Anglicans.
Dryden's tone in The Hind and the Panther is not persuasive but admonitory. He accuses the Anglicans of deserting a position of political rectitude and warns them that in so doing they have exposed themselves to fatal attack from their actual enemies. He suggests that when the revolution is over, they will acknowledge the justice of his predictions. He wishes to be seen as assured of the admiration, if not of his erring contemporaries, at least of an enlightened posterity. And in one way, both he and his opponents
knew that his claim upon posterity was assured. As the foremost poet of his day, he could claim by virtue of his place in a transcendent literary tradition an authority surpassing that of any transient political faction. Dryden was to be sure an old hand at informing political issues with literary authority: in Annus Mirabilis , for example, he had lent Virgillian dignity to England's commercial rivalry with Holland, and in his verse tragedies he had meant to invest his society with the values of epic poetry. But in Don Sebastian (1689) and Amphitryon (1690), as well as in The Hind and the Panther , only the poet is given this kind of authority; Dryden claims that his literary qualifications allow him to see clearly and completely the debasement and disorder of contemporary English politics. Thus in The Hind and the Panther he lays claim to a native poetic tradition that had enabled Chaucer and Spenser to penetrate the deceits of their times, and to Aesopian fable, a genre in which the fabulist is endowed with calm wisdom while the characters he describes wander in endless delusion. In Don Sebastian he mixes farce with high tragedy in order to ridicule the rebels and to elevate the values of such characters as Sebastian, Almeyda, and Dorax, who either represent Dryden's political allies or function as exemplary contrasts to his enemies. Amphitryon is a farce of mistaken identity, and Dryden uses the genre to expose the differences between the two claimants to the identity of the king of England. But it is also a version of Moliére's version of Plautus, again part of a long and authoritative literary tradition.
Unlike The Hind and the Panther , these two postrevolutionary plays contain no direct political attack; having lost his pension with his laureateship, Dryden wrote these plays avowedly for money and could not afford to stake their success on his audience's willingness to tolerate his view of the Revolution. But the comprehension of his immediate audience was not necessary to his rhetorical purposes in these plays. He neither hopes nor wishes to sway public opinion; he wishes to be seen, by careful readers if not casual theatergoers, as rebuking the revolutionaries before the tribunal of posterity and predicting the consequences of their acts with a confidence that future events will vindicate. The moral Dryden announces but leaves unexplained in the preface to Don Sebastian is that usurpers destroy all authority, including their own, and so can engender only political chaos. But if he expected such
chaos before and immediately after the Revolution, he seems by 1690 to have begun to change his mind. Like The Hind and the Panther and Don Sebastian, Amphitryon ends with a prophecy; in this play, however, Dryden seems to expect not anarchy, but a stability upheld by the tyranny of William and the self-interested hypocrisy of his agents.
Political conditions had changed markedly since the Revolution by 1690. England was now engaged in a full-scale war with France, and among the Williamites the old Whig and Tory parties began to reemerge in a new form in order to debate the conduct and financing of the war or the merits of a strong fleet as opposed to a standing army. Within the growing parliamentary opposition were many of Dryden's former allies, most notably the marquis of Halifax, whom he had celebrated in Absalom and Achitophel as Jotham, and to whom he dedicated his next work for the stage, the semi-opera King Arthur . In this work Dryden's political rhetoric operates on two levels. On the one hand, he seeks to engage the Williamite opposition: compliments to Mary in the Dedication and to William in the concluding series of songs, and an insistent British nationalism that permeates the play, assure a Williamite audience of the author's essential loyalty to the large causes of freedom and justice, despite his refusal to abandon his belief in the legitimacy of James's title and the truth of his religion; while references to the blessings of peace and the commercial and military benefits of the sea support the opposition's political agenda. On the other hand, beneath this celebratory rhetoric runs a current of irony that undermines not only the martial values by which William was distinguished but also his title, as a foreign prince, to the British throne. Dryden borrows heavily from a wide assortment of literary models, and he uses these to elevate the society he describes as well as to establish his own literary stature; but the reality of English politics is so grossly out of line with the literary ideal that Jacobite readers are invited to contrast rather than compare Dryden's Arthurian Britain with its contemporary counterpart.
Perhaps led by the success of these tentative gestures towards conciliation, Dryden turned in his next play, Cleomenes , to a parallel in which he might reconcile his admiration for James with his support of England over France, and by which he might suggest to
the government the political value of supporting a patriotic Jacobite. Again he turns to a literary model that might elevate both the poet and his subjects, both James and William. Cleomenes, an obvious parallel to James, suffers in the play at the hands not of those who supplanted him but of those to whom he fled for aid. In losing his throne, he falls victim rather to the fortunes of war than to a self-seeking political faction. Antigonus, the foreign conqueror, makes no appearance in the play, but his benevolent forbearance is described at length by an emissary from Sparta and pointedly contrasted with the rape and pillage Cleomenes expects. Dryden thus finds a way of admiring James without condemning William and his supporters.
Cleomenes , however, was very nearly banned from the stage—its performance was twice prohibited because of its supposed Jacobitism—and perhaps in response to this episode Dryden abandoned his effort to conciliate the court. He did not, however, return unchanged to his attack on the Revolution. He grew even more emphatic in reminding us of his place in literary tradition and in elevating the literary above the political. Whereas in his earlier work he looked to literary tradition for standards by which he might measure the degraded condition of contemporary politics, in his last works he looks upon this condition as normal. Politics is always and inevitably a source of cruelty and injustice, hypocrisy and corruption; the arts alone are capable of real improvement, and governments can achieve lasting fame only by fostering such improvement. Through such claims as these, Dryden is able to present himself exclusively as a poet and to make his criticism of contemporary politics dependent on his literary stature, a source of rhetorical authority which almost all his countrymen, whatever their political views, were willing to grant him. Most of Dryden's allusions to contemporary politics appear as generalizations about politics in all ages; often they are ascribed to the classic poets with whom almost everything Dryden wrote in his last years was concerned. General political allusions in criticism and translations allowed him to imply a unity of poets in all ages and to rate the governments of all ages (including his own) by their sponsorship of the arts. He refers directly to the rule of William only to complain about its failure to encourage the writing of an English prosodia, or its unjust use of the laureateship.
Although I am interested in close political analysis of Dryden's late works, I intend neither to reduce those works to a few crude topical particulars nor to trace in them the signs of large historical trends of which the author and his audience were not aware. My purpose is rather to study the artistry by which Dryden creates a rhetoric subtle enough to suit his very delicate political circumstances and very complex polemic purposes, and powerful enough to serve these purposes well. The fall of James II both strongly provoked this poet to political satire and deprived him of the central social and political position from which his best satire had previously been launched. By translating his political experience into the authoritative terms of classic and native poetic tradition, he creates in his late work a political rhetoric that rivals in power and surpasses in subtlety that of his laureate years.