The Later Poems
In Absalom and Achitophel Dryden expands, illustrates, and universalizes the themes of the early panegyrics. In this allegory of English politics, Charles is portrayed as a king who rules according to the ideals set forth in the poems of the 1660's. In rebelling against him, the people perversely rebel against the perfect prince and, in effect, violate the contract signed in Astraea Redux and reaffirmed in To His Sacred Majesty . The normative values of Absalom and Achitophel are consistently defined through echoes of the earlier poems.
My Father Governs with unquestion'd Right;
The Faiths Defender, and Mankinds Delight:
Good, Gracious, Just, observant of the Laws;
And Heav'n by Wonders has Espous'd his Cause.
Whom has he Wrong'd in all his Peaceful Reign?
Who sues for Justice to his Throne in Vain?
What Millions has he Pardon'd of his Foes,
Whom Just Revenge did to his Wrath expose?
Mild, Easy, Humble, Studious of our Good ;
Enclin'd to Mercy, and averse from Blood.
If Mildness Ill with Stubborn Israel Suite,
His Crime is God's beloved Attribute .
Because the "Stubborn" people resist the traditional ideals of law and justice, because, moreover, they rebel against the king's very "Mildness," Charles is compelled to reconsider his own virtues. In his decisive oration, the king elaborates the parenthetical warning of To My Lord Chancellor and thereby avoids the fate of "his mild Father (who too late did find / All mercy vain but what with pow'r was joyn'd,) . . ."
Thus long have I, by native mercy sway'd.,
My wrongs dissembl'd, my revenge delay'd:
So willing to forgive th' Offending Age,
So much the Father did the King asswage.
But now so far my Clemency they slight,
Th' Offenders question my Forgiving Right.
That one was made for many, they contend:
But 'tis to Rule, for that's a Monarch's End . (939–946)
Whereas in Astraea Redux and To His Sacred Majesty Dryden had emphasized the limits of royal power, in Absalom and Achitophel he explores the limits of the king's mercy. "How ill my Fear they by my Mercy scan, / Beware the Fury of a Patient Man" (1004–1005).
In his oration the king not only polishes his ideal image by righting the balance between power and mercy, but he also reflects ironically on the nature of the ideal subject. "My Pious Subjects for my Safety pray, / Which to Secure they take my Power away" (983–984). The phrase "power and piety," traditionally voiced to restrain the king, is here adapted by the king himself as a re-
straint on the people. The "Pious Subjects" referred to include, for example, the representative Puritan zealot Slingsby Bethel: "The City, to reward his pious Hate / Against his Master, chose him Magistrate" (593–594). More importantly, however, the irony is directed against Shaftesbury, who invokes the traditional royal virtue to incite rebellion against the monarchy: "Urge now your Piety" (419) is his advice to Monmouth. This inherited ideal, significantly enriched in this poem by the thematic context of religious and filial duty, is first perverted by the people and then re-established by the king. In effect, the monarch converts the traditional language of panegyric to achieve his own goal: restoration of those ideal "pious times" with which the poem begins. The speech succeeds, and in the final lines Dryden implicitly identifies the "pious times" of Absalom and Achitophel with "time's whiter Series" predicted in Astraea Redux .
Henceforth a Series of new time began,
The mighty Years in long Procession ran:
Once more the Godlike David was Restor'd,
And willing Nations knew their Lawfull Lord . (1028–1031)
By adapting the vocabulary and values of panegyric for this royal speech, Dryden forecasts a shift in the balance of his rhetorical stance. From 1660 to 1688 he attempts to maintain his position between the prince and the people, but in the early poems he is closer to the people, whereas in the later poems he is closer to the prince. And yet there is more involved in the later panegyrics than a movement toward the monarchy. The verse orations of the reign of James II are more complicated, more variable, and more resistant to precise for-
mulation, whether in terms of structure or type, than either Astraea Redux or To His Sacred Majesty . In both Threnodia Augustalis and Britannia Rediviva Dryden shifts his ground uncomfortably, speaking sometimes for the people to the king, sometimes for the king to the people, but oftentimes throwing up his hands and addressing God in prayer for the nation. More important than the apparent movement toward the prince is a movement from an assured oratorical stance in 1660 to a very shaky one in 1688. This shift indicates not only Dryden's disillusionment with post-Restoration politics, but also his reassessment of his own role as poet-orator.
The problematic nature of Threnodia Augustalis can be dealt with only partially in terms of oratory. Nevertheless, the perspective suggested by reading the poem as an oration on the accession of James II does complement and illuminate the more customary view of the poem as an elegy on the death of Charles. The dual occasion of death and accession had, of course, challenged earlier poets. The two basic techniques of handling the problem are apparent in the poems written in 1509. Thomas More's panegyric to Henry VIII disposes of the previous king by making him the villain of the piece. Condemning the policies of Henry VII, More celebrates the restoration of his own ideals in the person of Henry VIII. The churchman Andreas Ammonius, whose poem is titled Elegia De Obitu Regis Henrici VII Et Felici Successione Henrici Octavi, adopts an alternative strategy, taking the new king first as the elegiac consolation for the loss of the old, and only afterward as the ideal monarch. In Threnodia Augustalis Dryden is closer to Ammonius than to More. Still, the problem of coping
with two kings in one poem is new to Dryden and adds a degree of complexity not found in the panegyrics of the 1660's.
As Charles is dead and James is living, we might reasonably expect Dryden to address James, while considering Charles in a narrative, reflective, or purely elegiac manner. But instead it is Charles whom Dryden addresses in the apostrophe of stanza 10.
For all those Joys thy Restauration brought,
For all the Miracles it wrought,
For all the healing Balm thy Mercy pour'd
Into the Nations bleeding Wound,
And Care that after kept it sound,
For numerous Blessings yearly shourd,
And Property with Plenty crown'd;
For Freedom, still maintain'd alive,
Freedom which in no other Land will thrive,
Freedom an English Subject's sole Prerogative,
Without whose Charms ev'n Peace wou'd be
But a dull quiet Slavery . . .
Here Dryden praises Charles for having realized the ideals set forth in the early panegyrics. The "mercy" recommended in Astraea Redux appears in retrospect as the king's outstanding quality; it is one of the "blessings" that Dryden, in To His Sacred Majesty, had led the nation to expect from Charles. However, the last lines of this passage, with the severe emphasis on "Freedom," suggest that Dryden is thinking of the future as well as the past. The function of Dryden's eulogy of Charles is, in part, to educate James.
That one purpose of the poem is the instruction of the
new king is suggested from the very beginning. In stanzas 2 and 3 Dryden uses the adjective "pious" three times to describe James. Because the piety of the new king must be demonstrated before he inherits the royal power, Dryden portrays James as the "Pious Duke" (71) and the "Pious Brother" (36 and 93). Indeed James first rejects the allure of "Approaching Greatness" which "met him with her Charms / Of Pow'r" (56–57), turning instead to pray for the life of his brother, an action that expresses the appropriate sense of duty. The deathbed scene further develops the educational theme, as Dryden concentrates on the significance of the royal inheritance. "He took and prest that ever loyal hand, / Which cou'd in Peace secure his Reign, / Which cou'd in wars his Pow'r maintain, / That hand on which no plighted vows were ever vain." The new king must be what the old king had been: "Intrepid, pious, merciful, and brave" (206).
One function of the poem, then, is to advise James that being king entails responsibility as well as authority, piety as well as power. At the same time, however, Dryden's portrayal of James establishes an ideal for the people. Because James is not yet king at the time his piety is expressed, he himself becomes a model for the subjects of the new reign. As in Absalom and Achitophel (though without the irony), Dryden again shows
piety to be a subject's virtue as well as a king's. In his behavior toward Charles, James promotes love and duty toward the monarch as the desired norm for his own subjects.
Later in the poem Dryden directly addresses these subjects on behalf of the new king. "View then a Monarch ripen'd for a Throne" (446). The purpose of this address, as the preceding lines indicate, is to convince the people that James is indeed the perfect prince.
But e'r a Prince is to Perfection brought,
He costs Omnipotence a second thought.
With Toyl and Sweat,
With hardning Cold, and forming Heat,
The Cyclops did their strokes repeat,
Before th' impenetrable Shield was wrought.
It looks as if the Maker wou'd not own
The Noble work for his,
Before 'twas try'd and found a Masterpiece . (437–445)
Thus moving somewhat uneasily and defensively toward the role of spokesman for the king, Dryden attempts to bolster his appeal to the nation by enlisting divine aid. Whereas Astraea Redux had ended with an enthusiastic prophecy, affirmed in To His Sacred Majesty, the prophecy at the end of Threnadia Augustalis is complicated and severely qualified by the distressful prayer that precedes it.
For once, O Heav'n, unfold thy Adamantine Book;
And let his wondring Senate see,
If not thy firm Immutable Decree,
At least the second Page, of strong contingency;
Such as consists with wills, Originally free:
Let them, with glad amazement, look
On what their happiness may be :
Let them not still be obstinately blind,
Still to divert the Good thou hast design'd,
Or with Malignant penury,
To sterve the Royal Vertues of his Mind.
Faith is a Christian's and a Subject's Test,
Oh give them to believe, and they are surely blest! (491–503)
Although the invocation of the gods on behalf of the monarch is not in itself new, Dryden's emphasis is strikingly different from what we find in earlier poems. Following panegyrists both in Latin (like Walter Haddon) and in English (like Samuel Daniel), Dryden defines disobedience to the king as disobedience to God and equates established government with divine providence. But the future of this government, and of the English nation, does not here rest directly on God but rather on the people's "faith" in God, and "faith" has a strong adversary in the blind obstinance of the people.
The test Dryden poses for the future is to "believe" in God and the king. Yet, in reading these lines, it is possible to wonder how long Dryden himself can continue to believe in the metaphor which links the king with God. This traditional analogy expresses the reconciliation of actual and ideal in the political sphere, a reconciliation challenged during the interregnum, recaptured at the Restoration, and now during the reign of James II asserted with more hope than conviction. The almostpleading voice of Dryden's address to God, "O give them to believe," exposes the unbridged gap between the political realities of 1685 and the political ideals of traditional panegyric.
Britannia Rediviva is sufficient proof that Dryden did
not see his prayer answered in the years between 1685 and 1688. The poem celebrates the birth of Prince James and thus represents a variation on traditional panegyric which classical writers referred to as a panegyricus genethliacus[ 45] In the panegyrics of Claudian, Erasmus, Cowley, and in the early panegyrics of Dryden himself, the poet draws a parallel between the day of celebration and the day of the prince's birth. In Astraea Redux, for example, Dryden, developing the parallel by allusion to the king's birth star, celebrates the Restoration of the prince as a new birth for the nation. In Britannia Rediviva Dryden reverses the analogy and celebrates the birth of the prince as symbolic of national restoration. Indeed this occasion is actually perfect for panegyric as the poet is not hampered by biographical fact; the baby prince can easily become the symbolic focus of whatever ideals the orator wishes to persuade the king and people to accept. However, given this perfect occasion, Dryden's oratory is more complicated and more strained than in any of the previous panegyrics. Sometimes he is the people's spokesman and sometimes the king's, but ultimately he is neither. Moreover, this shifting rhetorical stance is accompanied by a new rigidity, a firmness of tone and diction not to be found in Threnodia Augustalis .
The poem opens with Dryden in his old role as the people's orator. The very first word of the poem is the corporate "Our" so characteristic of Dryden's public poetry of the 1660's. But this "Our" turns out to be an exclusive rather than an inclusive pronoun, referring
only to those who came to pray for the child. The interests of the rest of the nation Dryden considers not as "ours" but as "yours."
O still repining at your present state,
Grudging your selves the Benefits of Fate,
Look up, and read in Characters of Light
A Blessing sent you in your own Despight.
The Manna falls, yet that Coelestial Bread
Like Jews you munch, and murmure while you feed.
May not your Fortune be like theirs, Exil'd,
Yet forty Years to wander in the Wild:
Or if it be, may Moses live at least
To lead you to the Verge of promis'd Rest .
Dryden, dissociating himself from that "Headstrong, Moody, Murmuring race," sees the nation threatened by a new period of exile for which the hoped-for survival of this new Moses is but small consolation. To prevent this disaster and to counter public disbelief, Dryden attempts to revive the voice of Threnodia Augustalis and to address the nation once again on behalf of James.
Now view at home a second Constantine;
(The former too, was of the Brittish Line )
Has not his healing Balm your Breaches clos'd,
Whose Exile many sought, and few oppos'd?
Or, did not Heav'n by its Eternal Doom
Permit those Evils, that this Good might come?
So manifest, that ev'n the Moon-ey'd Sects
See Whom and What this Providence protects . (88–95)
Although the repeated negatives disclose the increased difficulty of Dryden's task, he is at least trying to fill the role of spokesman for the monarch.
From this perspective, speaking to the people for the king, Dryden attempts to refute the notorious "warming-pan" story. Hercules (55), Jesus (127), and Aeneas (128), who figure so prominently in heroic panegyric, are now trundled out to prove the legitimacy of the prince. The comparison of the child to "the Saviour" suggests, moreover, the ritualistic element of traditional panegyric. In Samuel Daniel's address to James I, in particular, there is a passage that anticipates the rhetoric of Britannia Rediviva .
And all for thee, that we the more might praise
The glory of his [God's] powre, and reverence thine,
Whom he hath rais'd to glorifie our dayes,
And make this Empire of the North to shine
Against all th'impious workings, all th'assayes
Of vile disnatur'd Vipers, whose designe
Was to embroile the State, t'obscure the light,
And that cleere brightnesse of thy sacred right .
Daniel's "Vipers" become Dryden's "Fiends."
Fain wou'd the Fiends have made a dubious birth,
Loth to confess the Godhead cloath'd in Earth.
But sickned after all their baffled lyes,
To find an Heir apparent of the Skyes:
Abandon'd to despair, still may they grudge,
And owning not the Saviour, prove the Judge . (122–127)
Dryden's oration, like Daniel's, is designed to counter those who would "embroile the State." It should be noted, however, that Dryden omits the loaded word "impiety" and instead defines opposition to the monarchy
as willful disbelief, a failure in faith, a failure to pass the test proposed at the end of Threnodia Augustalis . What Britannia Rediviva demonstrates is the denial of Dryden's plea for belief uttered three years earlier. Dryden as poet-orator has reached an impasse, his ideal way into the future blocked by the nation's unwillingness to believe in their monarch.
But it is also evident that Dryden himself no longer believes in the monarch either. The closing line of the above citation, "And owning not the Saviour, prove the Judge," besides referring to the dual nature of Christ, anticipates Dryden's address to James. "The Name of Great, your Martial mind will sute, / But Justice, is your Darling Attribute" (333–334). The merciful king of Astraea Redux, challenged in Absalom and Achitophel, gives way to the just king of Britannia Rediviva . The substitution of justice for mercy is double-edged; justice is all the people deserve but, as the subsequent lines reveal, it is possibly more than they can expect from the king. Having lectured the people, Dryden turns around and lectures James.
Some Kings the name of Conq'rours have assum'd,
Some to be Great, some to be Gods presum'd;
But boundless pow'r, and arbitrary Lust
Made Tyrants still abhor the Name of Just;
They shun'd the praise this Godlike Virtue gives,
And fear'd a Title, that reproach'd their Lives.
The Pow'r from which all Kings derive their state,
Whom they pretend, at least, to imitate,
Is equal both to punish and reward;
For few wou'd love their God, unless they fear'd .
Resistless Force and Immortality
Make but a Lame, Imperfect Deity:
Tempests have force unbounded to destroy,
And Deathless Being ev'n the Damn'd enjoy,
And yet Heav'ns Attributes, both last and first,
One without life, and one with life accurst;
But Justice is Heav'ns self, so strictly He,
That cou'd it fail, the God-head cou'd not be . (399–356)
Although Dryden invokes the tradition of the genre by rejecting "boundless pow'r," these lines have an ironic edge that expresses the orator's deep disillusionment with royalty. Dryden here views kings as a presumptuous lot who have claimed ties with divinity but have not acted in accordance with divine laws. As a critique of the fundamental royalty-divinity metaphor of panegyric, this passage shows that the traditional virtues—mercy, patience, and piety—are now beyond Dryden's hopes. Even if James were to live up to the reduced ideal of justice, he would be but a momentary exception to the general rule of less-than-ideal monarchs. Dryden can no longer speak for the people, but he can no longer speak for the monarchy either.
The frustration of Dryden's attempt to influence power with poetry is strongly expressed in his address to God.
Enough of Ills our dire Rebellion wrought,
When, to the Dregs, we drank the bitter draught;
Then airy Atoms did in Plagues conspire,
Nor did th' avenging Angel yet retire,
But purg'd our still encreasing Crimes with Fire.
Then perjur'd Plots, the still impending Test,
And worse; but Charity conceals the Rest:
Here stop the Current of the sanguine flood,
Require not, Gracious God, thy Martyrs Blood . . . .(152–160)
This summation of recent English history, from one rebellion to the eve of another, suggests the full extent of Dryden's disillusionment with events and the inadequacy of the traditional ideals of panegyric in writing about contemporary English politics. Rebellion, plague, fire, plot, martyrdom are the actualities that, by their persistence and progress, undermine belief in the ideals of panegyrical oratory. Britannia Rediviva represents, finally, the collapse of the persuasive purpose that had sustained Dryden's political poetry during the preceding three decades.
The futility of continuing to assert the old ideals is most evident in Dryden's elaboration of conventional image patterns. The poem begins with a sequence of commonplace metaphors, as Dryden celebrates the occasion by reference to the day, the season, and the liturgical calendar. To trace these images through the rest of the poem, however, is to discover Dryden's recognition that such poetic comparisons no longer make political sense.
Dryden's initial celebration of the "day" of the prince's birth includes the conventional image of le roi soleil .
Just on the Day, when the high mounted Sun
Did farthest in his Northern Progress run,
He bended forward and ev'n stretch'd the Sphere
Beyond the limits of the lengthen'd year;
To view a Brighter Sun in Britaine Born . . . (5–9)
Later in the poem, however, the solar imagery is developed in a strikingly unconventional way.
Born in broad Day-light, that th' ungrateful Rout
May find no room for a remaining doubt:
Truth, which it self is light, does darkness shun,
And the true Eaglet safely dares the Sun . (118–121)
The extension of the image to include the additional comparison between the king and the eagle is itself nothing new. Claudian, for example, had used the same complex metaphor to demonstrate the worth of Honorius. What is new is the apparent purpose of the image in Britannia Rediviva . Neither demonstrative nor deliberative in function, this passage is designed to prove the child's legitimacy. Dryden thus forces the ceremonial image of the sun to serve a quasi-judicial purpose, to function as factual proof. The conventional, hyperbolic language of panegyric simply cannot bear this kind of strain and still be taken seriously. As proof of the prince's parentage this image—and this poem—will convince no one.
Like the sun image, the related imagery of the seasons is developed in an initially conventional but ultimately strained manner. At the outset Dryden celebrates the child by allusion to spring, summer, and fall. "Betwixt two Seasons comes th' Auspicious Heir, / This Age to blossom, and the next to bear" (17–18). Eventually, however, this image of seasonal transition gives way to a harvest image set in the context of the familiar tempest metaphor. The focus of this later passage is the rumored death of the prince, an event which suggests to Dryden's mind all the old horrors of rebellion.
Down fell the winnow'd Wheat; but mounted high,
The Whirl-wind bore the Chaff, and hid the Sky.
Here black Rebellion shooting from below
(As Earth's Gigantick brood by moments grow)
And here the Sons of God are petrify'd with Woe . . .
Although reminiscent of passages in Dryden's previous panegyrics, these conventional metaphors do not here suggest reconciliation either now or in the future, but rather indicate a permanent national division: wheat and chaff. Although Dryden further extends the harvest imagery, shaping it into the usual pattern of restoration, his voice expresses at best a temporary victory of good over evil.
As when a sudden Storm of Hail and Rain
Beats to the ground the yet unbearded Grain,
Think not the hopes of Harvest are destroy'd
On the flat Field, and on the naked void;
The light, unloaded stem, from tempest free'd,
Will raise the youthful honours of his head;
And, soon restor'd by native vigour, bear
The timely product of the bounteous year . (259–266)
Although the prince is here "restor'd," there is nothing in this passage to persuade the "chaff" of Dryden's audience that national restoration is symbolized by the fortune of the child.
That Dryden himself no longer believes in the political reconciliation of actual and ideal through metaphor is strikingly evident in his development of the third major image pattern initiated in the opening lines: religious ritual. The celebration of the prince's birth is initially linked to the celebration of Whitsuntide. "Last solemn Sabbath saw the Church attend; / The Paraclete in fiery Pomp descend; / But when his Wondrous Octave rowl'd again, / He brought a Royal Infant in his Train" (19–22). The significance of the descent of the Holy Spirit is subsequently focused by the ceremony of baptism.
Let his Baptismal Drops for us attone;
Lustrations for Offences not his own.
Let Conscience, which is Int'rest ill disguis'd,
In the same Font be cleans'd, and all the Land Baptiz'd .(188–191)
The penitential pattern of Astraea Redux and the national baptism implicit in the flood imagery of To His Sacred Majesty are revived in the spiritual birth of the prince. As Dryden's definition of conscience suggests, however, he no longer believes in the political significance of ceremony. As he had observed earlier in the poem, "To mend our Crimes whole Ages wou'd require" (58). This one symbolic day cannot eradicate past and persistent evils; this festival ceremony cannot bring national reconciliation. The enthusiastic prophecies of the 1660's end in 1688 with a very tentative vision of the future, a vision in which ideals have surrendered to actualities. "By living well, let us secure his days, / Mod'rate in hopes, and humble in our ways" (298–299).
In Britannia Rediviva Dryden abandons his belief in the essential functions of panegyric. Although he opens the poem by celebrating a public festival, he admits that this occasion does not symbolize national restoration: "Nor yet conclude all fiery Trials past, / For Heav'n will exercise us to the last" (267–268). As this pessimism extends to both the people and the king, as there is no ground left between his two audiences, Dryden gives up the traditional posture of mediator and the traditional goal of reconciliation. In effect, what Dryden recognizes in the course of this poem is that a poet's advice concerning the responsible exercise of political power means nothing in the face of royal presumption and recurrent
popular rebellion. In sum, what is called for by 1688 is not panegyric, but rather its opposite, polemic.
After 1688, although Dryden occasionally threatens to adopt the stance of the polemicist, he never carries out that threat. Instead, he abandons the role of public orator, forsaking both the prince and the people. In his poem on the death of Eleonora, Dryden formally steps down from the podium he had occupied since the interregnum. In doing so, however, he takes a retrospective look at the genre that—more than any other—illuminates his career as a public poet.
Like most of Dryden's poems of the 1690's, Eleonora is concerned with private rather than public life. There is, nevertheless, a metaphoric relationship between Eleonora and the classical tradition of panegyric that fully explains Dryden's subtitle: A Panegyrical Poem . Metaphorically, the occasion for the poem is a public festival or assembly, which Dryden celebrates in the familiar processional topos .
As when in glory, through the publick place,
The Spoils of conquer'd Nations were to pass,
And but one Day for Triumph was allow'd,
The Consul was constrain'd his Pomp to crowd;
And so the swift Procession hurry'd on,
That all, though not distinctly, might be shown;
So, in the straiten'd bounds of life confin'd,
She gave but glimpses of her glorious Mind:
And multitudes of Vertues pass'd along;
Each pressing foremost in the mighty throng;
Ambitious to be seen, and then make room,
For greater Multitudes that were to come .
The virtues thus publicly displayed are, moreover, specifically those that define the ideal subject and the ideal king. As subject she evinces "Love" (176) and "Obedience" (176) and is guiltless of "Crime" (170). As king she cares for the poor (12–64), manages the economy (65–82), provides a model for the settlement of religious disputes (106–115), loves and educates her subjects (193-239), and thus at death assumes a position as a star near "Heav'ns Imperial Face" (267). These specific virtues are contained by the traditional panegyrical emblem of national harmony, namely marriage. Eleonora as ideal wife is analogous to the ideal subject, Eleonora as parent is analogous to the ideal king.
Dryden's elaboration of these analogies typically involves a pattern of elevation from local to universal, as for example in the passage "Of her prudent Management," where Eleonora is portrayed as king.
Yet was she not profuse; but fear'd to wast,
And wisely manag'd, that the stock might last;
That all might be supply'd; and she not grieve
When Crouds appear'd, she had not to relieve.
Which to prevent, she still increas'd her store;
Laid up, and spar'd, that she might give the more:
So Pharaoh, or some Greater King than he,
Provided for the sev'nth Necessity;
Taught from above, his Magazines to frame;
That Famine was prevented e're it came.
Thus Heav'n, though All-sufficient, shows a thrift
In his Oeconomy, and bounds his gift:
Creating for our Day, one single Light;
And his Reflection too supplies the Night:
Perhaps a thousand other Worlds, that lye
Remote from us, and latent in the Sky,
Are lighten'd by his Beams, and kindly nurst;
Of which our Earthly Dunghil is the worst . (65–82)
Here Dryden unites home economy with national economy and then with the economy inherent in God's universe. As the last lines of this passage indicate, however, the smooth progression from human to divine is undermined by Dryden's perception of the actual world. We find the same progression and the same undercurrent of disillusionment in passages that portray Eleonora as subject.
Love and Obedience to her Lord she bore,
She much obey'd him, but she lov'd him more.
Not aw'd to Duty by superior sway;
But taught by his Indulgence to obey.
Thus we love God as Author of our good;
So Subjects love just Kings, or so they shou'd . (176–181)
Although Eleonora emerges here as the ideal subject to husband, king, and God, all three of whom are encompassed by the word "Lord," the skepticism of the last phrase again evokes the gulf between actual and ideal worlds that panegyric traditionally attempts to bridge.
In this "panegyrical" poem Dryden affirms the verdict of Britannia Rediviva by acknowledging the impossibility of uniting the two domains of the genre. The tension in the poem between the symbol of Dryden's ideals, Eleonora, and the actual world culminates in her fortunate escape to heaven.
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:
And dares to sing thy Praises, in a Clime
Where Vice triumphs, and Vertue is a Crime:
Where ev'n to draw the Picture of thy Mind,
Is Satyr on the most of Humane Kind:
Take it, while yet 'tis Praise; before my rage
Unsafely just, break loose on this bad Age;
So bad, that thou thy self had'st no defence,
From Vice, but barely by departing hence . (359–370)
Dryden, who in 1660 had celebrated the return of justice and the golden age, here brings his career full circle by praising Eleonora, whose Astraea-like flight signifies the advent of a new iron age. The same "wild deluge" that had subsided in To His Sacred Majesty now rises again and Dryden stands alone against it. The pronouns in this passage are indicative of Dryden's new stance; "my" and "thy" have replaced "our" and "you." No longer the voice of a public constituency or public institution, Dryden now speaks as a private man to private individuals, praising them as exceptions to the general and apparently unalterable reign of viciousness and crime.
In tracing the course of Dryden's career as poet-orator, we move from a Renaissance to an Augustan perception of the relationship between literature and politics. To stress the historical significance of the dynamics in Dryden's career as a public poet, we can juxtapose two very
fine assessments of the problem, the first by Arthur W. Hoffman writing on Dryden and the second by Maynard Mack writing on Pope.
In continuation of Renaissance tradition, Dryden, like Milton, conceives his role as a poet as entailing the responsible consideration of those at the head of society and the issues and events in which theirs is the leading role. Throughout his life whether in the vein of satire or of compliment, Dryden undertakes to fulfill this traditional social responsibility of the poet.
The time was past when any serious writer could find his place to stand beside the throne. Dryden had managed this. . . . But for Pope, after the death of Anne, the throne as center of the dream of the civilized community has become absurd. . . .Dryden's angle of vision was no longer available to a serious poet . . .
I wish to suggest that Dryden does not "stand beside the throne," but rather that he stands between the throne and the people—until that position becomes untenable. Dryden preserves the "Renaissance tradition" not "throughout his life" but only as long as he is able. The Renaissance conception of the public poet begins to crumble in the course of Dryden's career. What Pope recognizes after 1714, Dryden had already seen by 1688. Unlike Pope, however, Dryden does not turn
to antigovernment satire. Instead he simply turns away from "the throne as center of the dream of the civilized community."
The celebration of the early panegyrics places Dryden alongside Erasmus, More, and Jonson, if not (as he would have wished) next to Spenser and Milton. The disillusionment of the later panegyrics, on the other hand, anticipates the posture of Pope, of Byron, and of many modern poets who find themselves alienated from the institutional centers of political power.