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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century



Titlepage of Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel

Parable and Political Controversy in Absalom and Achitophel

by John W. Davis

And when the disciples asked him what the
parable meant, he said, "To you has been given
to know the secrets of the kingdom of God: but
for others are parables, so that they may look
but not see, and hear but not understand."
                                                             Luke 8:9-10

To what effect were parables used as a means of persuasion in seventeenth century England?   Within what paradigm of time did parables operate?  To what set of assumptions about the nature of England, its laws, its role in history and its destiny were they addressed?  It is the purpose of this essay to study the uses of parable in John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel and to examine specifically how the parables of the "Good Sower" and the "Prodigal Son" establish a frame of reference within which Dryden developed arguments supporting the Royal Prerogative.  To establish this parabolic frame of reference I shall hypothesize the general value and purpose of parable as a rhetorical device, its function as a rhetorical device in the poem, and the logical consequence of parabolic paradigm in the conclusion of the poem.  The moral and argumentative assumptions created by Dryden's use of the two specific parables within the poem point to yet another biblical construct: the signs of the end of the age.  Together these devices illuminate Dryden's purpose. 

It is to keep faith with Dryden's instruction, "Si proprius stes, te capiet magis," that this essay offers a sixth to the list of five themes already discerned in the poem by other writers.1  These themes have been carefully and wisely explored, each nuance and implication minutely evaluated and soundly judged for explicit and implicit meanings.  Nevertheless, enigmas remain.  It was Samuel Johnson's observation that there was a crucial disproportion between the poem's beginning and end. This is a criticism that still chafes the vast store of critical wisdom added through the years.  Professor Zwicker has noted that the Edenic theme founders illogically when after a period of grace there is a return to law in the "series of new times."So, too, unaccountable and loose ends result whenever a historical or thematic framework is pursued too thoroughly, as professors Schilling, Roper, and King have proposed.

Earl Miner has observed that any true pleasure and any true understanding of a poet must come from achieving a grasp of his purpose as a whole.3 What is to be made of the curious purpose of Dryden's wish that he were the inventor, rather than the historian?  What is the framework established by the imprecise "pious times"?  Do horticultural images mean only Eden, or son images only Christ?  What can be made of the peculiar meaning of English and Jewish history, Hoffman has pondered.4

It is to offer a solution to those elusive questions; to relate them; to illuminate a relationship between the mysterious "pious times" and the enigmatic "series of new times"; in short to give simple coherence to the apparent complexity of questions raised by critics of the poem, that the parabolic theme is presented.

Parables were used in the seventeenth century for a variety of purposes.  The biblical use of parables was clear; they instructed those who did not know the nature of the kingdom of God.  Originally, Christ addressed these metaphors to the Jews and, as in the Bible, so in Absalom and Achitophel the parables are addressed to Dryden's "Jews" of England in order to convey a truth about the nature of the kingdom.  England had long been rhetorically seen as an Elect nation, indeed a second Israel, and as a type of the kingdom of God with which the King, Charles I, had a Covenant.  The fact that Englishmen thus became "Jews" was Dryden's witty contribution.

When did the parable take place?  No historical time frame can be assigned to these moralistic stories, for they tell what heaven is like.  Heaven is outside of time, yet these stories require chronological time.  If parables took place in time, the question was when?  If, however, these stories recounted what heaven was like, where there was no sin, then the stories logically occurred

In pious times, e'r Priestcraft did begin,
Before polygamy was made a sin. 
                             Absalom and Achitophel (1-2)5

The rhythmic and rhetorical emphases fall upon polygamy to emphasize that the times are not necessarily Edenic alone, for it would be facetious to think of polygamy in prelapsarian Eden.  The parabolic argument allows time to be ambiguous; indeed the events need not even be in time.  All that is required of the reader is that he understand the poem to be a metaphor having a higher referent, just as a parable did, and, once the parable is recognized, the reference will be understood only in terms of the widely known parable.  Thus any implication about a figure in England was to be understood in terms of the parables' moral-metaphorical statement about that figure.  Similarly, any deletion from a parable was readily understood.  Thus implications were made about the nature of England simply by leaving the salient phrase unsaid.  It follows that the reader, once aware of the parabolic sinews in the poem, could understand a myriad of implications, emphases, and statements about political affairs in England simply by understanding the parable and recognizing any obvious deletion from it or inversion of it.

The poem is addressed to the "Jews", that is, to those "not given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11).  This "headstrong, moody murmuring race" (Absalom, 45) was distinct from the small band of loyalists who were true to Christ.  Thus, the poem prepares a framework for the subsequent account of the small group of loyal men who stood by David (metaphorically, Charles I) even in the worst of times.  Good resided with the few who resisted the clamoring multitude.  Dryden establishes immediately that one who found himself reading the poem and determined himself a "Jew" must see that neither legitimacy, nor righteousness, nor goodness necessarily resided with the largest number.  This theme places David/Charles as the lineal heir of the covenant through which salvation will come, despite the forces of evil arrayed against him.

 The initial parable of the poem is that of the Good Sower and the Seed:

Then Israel's monarch, after Heaven's own heart,
His vigorous warmth, did, variously, impart
To wives and Slave: And wide as his Command
Scattered his Maker's image throughout the land.
Michal, of Royal blood, the Crown did wear
A soil ungrateful to the Tiller's care.  (7-12)

Charles acts within his command, England, just as his maker acted within his command, the world.  Both scatter seeds; Charles' work echoes God's.  What did the scattering of seeds mean for God when that seed fell upon a soil ungrateful to the tiller's care?  In the biblical parable of the Good Sower, "A good sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trodden underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.  Some fell on rock and as it grew up it withered away because it had not moisture."  (Matt. 13: 5-6)  Charles's wife bore him no children, but illegitimately he begot "Absalom":

Of all this numerous progeny was none,
So beautiful, so brave as Absalom. (17-18)

If the referent of the parable is neither to the good seed nor to the seed that fell on bad soil, the only option left is that of the seed that fell among thorns; "And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it."  (Matt. 13:7)  The implication becomes obvious once we recognize the stated and unstated elements of the parable. If Charles is the Good Sower and if the"kingdom of heaven may be compared to the man who sowed good seed in his field" (Matt. 13:24), then something went wrong, for, "while men were sleeping an enemy came and sowed the weeds among the good," so the "when the plants came up and bore grain, the weeds appeared also"  (Matt. 13:25-26).  Thus, Dryden introduces Achitophel as the "Cockle; that opprest the Noble seed." (195)  Because of the corruption of Achitophel, David's Edenic reign could never be sincerely blest. By holding in abeyance the implication that Shaftesbury is the cockle, Dryden heightens the dramatic effect of ultimately verifying the suspicion aroused by the initial deletion concerning the seed that fell among thorns.

Why then does David/Charles not act against this corrosive influence?  The parable provides the answer to this question as well.

And the servant of the sower said to him, "Sir, did you
not sow good seed in your field?  How then has it weeds?
He said to them, "An enemy has done this." The servants
said to him, "then do you want us to go and gather them?"
But he said, "No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up
the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers,
'Gather the weeds first, and bind them into Bundle to be
burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'."
                                                                                     Matt. 13:27-30

David/Charles is eminently patient with the evil that surrounds him.  He recognizes the merit of Shaftesbury, corrupted by ambition, as the threat to Absalom/Monmouth.

Oh, had he been content to serve the Crown
With virtues only proper to the gown
Or, had the rankness of the soil been freed,
From Cockle, that opprest the Noble seed:
David, for him his tuneful Harp had strung
And Heaven had wanted one immortal song
But wilde ambitious loves to slide, not stand
And Fortunes Ice prefers Virtues Land. (192-198)

Nothing grows from ice.  Had Shaftesbury been purged of the cockle that choked him and was later to oppress the noble seed, then perhaps the virtues of the gown would have prospered, the corrupting influence of his later life preempted.

How did this corruption come about?  As in the Bible, the final corruption of the good seed came about because "it fell among thorns", a passive rather than active event.  Absalom, Dryden says, was sought to betray the loyalty of a subject to his king. Monmouth's error was acquiescence to evil, rather than its conscious creation.  The blame for treason lays squarely with Shaftesbury, perhaps because, as some suggest, the poem was written with the intention of convicting Shaftesbury on the occasion of his trial.6  Shaftesbury was accused of fomenting plots against the king and then, "skulking behind the laws" (207).  Shaftesbury tempted Absalom's pride and choked the seed sown by Charles.  "And as for that sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight of riches choke, and it proves unfruitful." (Matt. 13:22)  Achitophel found the weak point in Absalom's armor.

What cannot praise effect in Mighty minds,
When flattery sooths, and when ambition blinds!
Desire of power, on earth a vitious weed,
Yet, sprung from High, is of Celestial seed.
                                          (303-306. Emphasis added

But Monmouth's ambition sprung not from on high; thus power was not his to justly pursue.  Monmouth had been duped by Shaftesbury into claiming a spurious right.7 Though Monmouth pondered the legitimacy of Shaftesbury's argument, he wondered whether "Desire of greatness was a godlike sin." (372)  "Hell's dire agent" (373) pours fresh forces in:

The eternal God Supremely Good and Wise
Imparts not these prodigious Gifts in vain.
What wonders are reserved to bless your right?
Against your will your arguments have shown,
Such virtue's only given to guide a throne
Not that your father's mildness I condemn,
But manly force becomes a Diadem.  (376-382)

Following the parable of the Good Sower, the reader can understand the duplicity of such an argument.  The weed, Achitophel, agent of the devil, the sower's enemy, portrays the good sower's reticence to act against a clamorous people as "mildness" rather than as an attempt to spare the good seed from destruction. This benevolence is the spirit of 1 Samuel 18:5, "Deal gently with the young man Absalom for my sake." David/Charles is benevolent, patient, and long-suffering.  Achitophel terms this mildness unmanly. But following the parable, the bare lie in this accusation is evident.  When Achitophel continues to say that Absalom should rule when "kings are negligent and weak", (388) the same deflation is achieved.  Dryden punctures the famous Whig dictum, "he who hath the worst title ever makes the best king." 8 The parable implicitly counters the Whig argument that the substitution of Monmouth would serve England better than the heir-apparent, the Catholic James.  For Achitophel to say that it is "good husbandry" (508) to depose Charles inverts the truth of the Good Sower parable.  It was not, therefore, unintentional that Dryden should subtly allude to the parable of the good seed fallen among thorns. The good seed chokes rather than prospers, and this is exactly Absalom's end in the Old Testament narrative:

Absalom was riding upon his mule, and the mule went
under thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught
fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven
and earth, while the mule went on.   (2 Samuel 18:9)

The second parabolic theme is the "Prodigal Son".  Achitophel initiates this by ascribing self-indulgent motives to David's love for Absalom:

Our fond begetters, who would never die,
Love but themselves in their posterity.   (425-426)

Is this self-indulgent?  The reader may remember words spoken by the narrator that convey exactly the opposite meaning:

With secret joy, the indulgent David viewed
His youthful image in his son, renewed
To all his wishes, Nothing he denied.   (31-33)

Indulgence there was, but not the indulgences Achitophel implied.  Achitophel consciously subverted the fatherly indulgence of David.  Yet it is to the language of fatherhood, that is, to the very rhetoric that the Royalists used in the defense of the legitimate succession that Achitophel finally appealed.  Achitophel uses this to convince Absalom of the legitimacy of his claim to the title denied him.  To demonstrate the legitimacy to the claim, Achitophel remarks:

Would David have thought you his darling son
When means he then to alienate the Crown?
Tis after God's own heart to cheat his heir
He to use his brother gives Supreme Command;
To you a legacy of barren land.   (433-4; 436-8)

So begins the parable, "Father, give me the share of property that falls to me."
Luke 15:12  Immediately the reader is aware that nothing that Absalom claims as his belongs to him, save by paternal indulgence, so in the parable, the biblical son did not deserve a share of the father's wealth before he died.  It is unnatural in both cases.  For a man who contends that, "kings for people are made" (410), it is paradoxical to argue, as Achitophel does, about "legacy" and "alienation of the Crown".  Achitophel presses Absalom to "Try your father's title while he still lives", echoing the biblical passage wherein the son acted on his inheritance as if his father were dead, alluding to the logic of the Exclusion Bill:

But that in case the said James, Duke of York,
shall survive his now Majesty, the said imperial crown
shall devolve to each such persons (designated in the bill)
during the lifetime of the Duke, as if the latter were
naturally dead.9 

Just as the Prodigal Son, so the Exclusion Bill was unnatural.  Similarly, as the prodigal went to a foreign country and surrounded himself with harlots and other accoutrements of evil living, so Dryden catalogs the malcontents surrounding Absalom. Almost unnoticed, Dryden turns the perennial Whig shibboleth of "the evil counselors who corrupted an otherwise good man" against them. "Surrounded thus with friends of every sort," Absalom became as despicable as the friends he kept.  Monmouth left England of his own accord in 1679 when he lost his commission.10  Yet Dryden has him mouth a falsehood that he had been duped in believing:

I mourn, my countrymen, your lost estate:
The far unable to prevent your fate:
Behold a banished man, for your dear cause
Exposed a prey to arbitrary laws!  (698-701)

Who banished Absalom?  Achitophel's lies led him to wrongly fear that his life was endangered.  Absalom is reduced to an unwitting recitation of Achitophel's paramount accusation against David:

My father whom with reverence I yet name;
Charmed into ease is careless of his fame:
He gives and let him give my rights away;
But why should he his own, and yours betray?
(707-708; 713-714)

The reader who knows the parable of the Prodigal Son, knows that the governmental crisis was a consequence of David/Charles' premature benevolence rather than the result of David/Charles' duplicity in having squandered his son's right. Rather than begging forgiveness for this sin, the prodigals of England did not repent; there could be no proper ending to the parable.

For whatsoe'er their sufferings were before,
That Change they coveted makes them suffer more. (797-798)

Monmouth acquiesced to the "madness that grows high" (813).  He remained unrepentant in his "sin".  Clearly, only in a time of madness could this inversion of the parable occur.  For those who knew the correct ending of the parable, the reconciliation of the father and son, the need to call the unnatural inversion madness was almost redundant. That the story seemed to be ending with Monmouth recalcitrant, demonstrated what England, and Heaven, definitely should not be like.  So David/Charles must lament:

Thus long have I, by native mercy swayed,
My wrongs dissembled, my revenge delayed. 
So willing to forgive the offending Age,
So much the Father did the King assuage.
But now so far my clemency they slight,
The offenders question my forgiving right. (939-945)

The father of this prodigal cannot say, "It is fitting to make merry and be glad, for your brother who was dead is now alive; he was lost and is now found," (Luke 15:31)  for the prodigal never said, "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. "  (Luke 15:21)  Did not Monmouth know, Dryden asks, that these problems could end if the parable were faithfully competed by Monmouth's repentance?  David implores:

O that he would repent and live!
How easy 'tis for parents to forgive,
With how few tears a pardon might be won
From nature, pleading with a darling son.

Achitophel had so distorted the nature of Absalom's crime that he no longer saw the rebellion against his father as a sin against heaven.  This is why Dryden, in his prologue, wistfully says that were he the inventor, instead of the historian, he would conclude the piece with the reconciliation of Absalom and David. Rather than striking out against the alleged evil of James, which was the argument that finally won Absalom over to Achitophel, Dryden shows that Monmouth acted solely for the partisan interests of Shaftesbury.  The unnaturalness of the result proved "how Fatall 'tis to be too good a king." (812)  Dryden thoroughly deflated the Whig argument that, Charles' and James' "design was to bring in popery, which they can in no means effect but by a popish successor."11 This claim which had motivated Monmouth to act against the rightful king and heir was merely an element in an elaborate plot to upset the whole English legitimacy under the smokescreen of popular rights.  The parable argues that if Charles were allowed to act as was his right as a father, then all would be like the kingdom of heaven. 

Dryden addresses several Whig arguments through the parables, yet the argument, that it was the linear descendant of that Covenant concluded between God and man in Edenic times, was not sufficient.  The parabolic theme which validated Charles's righteousness must logically conclude that this righteousness alone could save the English people from eternal damnation after earthly time had ended.  Therefore Dryden concludes the poem with "signs of the last day"; the metaphor complements the preceding parables.  If parables told what the kingdom of England was like; and the kingdom of England was a type of the kingdom of heaven, then it followed that salvation, when it came, would come to England as the land of the Covenant.  Where else, then, would the signs of the end of the age appear?

In the end, after the weeds have grown with the wheat, what would happen?  The readers knew the outcome: "The weeds will be gathered into bundles and burned" (Matt. 13:30).  If the prodigal refused to repent, then what would happen?  The law rather than mercy would be in effect; the father would punish.  It was the loyal son who argued that justice, rather than mercy, be shown to the repentant son and he was chastised by the father for his lack of mercy. Yet, if the prodigal son refused to repent, would the loyalists be justified in their demands for punishment?  Dryden's purpose was to demonstrate Shaftesbury's guilt as instigator, but the loyal few sought to make unrepentant conspirators pay as well.12 Dryden made no reference to the parable's loyal son whose claim for vengeance would now, in the absence of any repentance on the part of Monmouth, be seen in a different light.  He sidestepped the issue of Royalist revenge.  At a time when Royalists were in a distinct minority, revenge would have been difficult to proffer.  Nevertheless, it hovers in the background, at least as wishful thinking.  The main argument, however, is that salvation could come only by restoring loyalty to Charles: yet, if punishment had been a consequence, the "loyal sons" would have been, we might assume, quite pleased.

The first signs of the end of the age would be the appearance of false prophets:

And they asked him, "Teacher, when will this be and
what will be the sign when this about to take place?"
And he said, "Take heed that you are not led astray;
for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he' and
'the time is at hand! Do not go after them.  And when
you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for
the end will not be at once.
                                                                                   Luke 21: 6-9

Dryden begins a series of allusions to this promised end with reference to the English who not only accept a false prophet but, indeed, pursue him:

The crowd, (that still believes their kings oppress)
With lifted hands their young Messiah bless.
Each house regards him as a guardian God;
And consecrate the place of his abode. (727-8; 735-6)

As in the Bible, the second sign of the end of the age follows from the first:  the favored of the kingdom of heaven, the embodiment and heir of the Covenant, was to be hounded and persecuted in times of unparalleled turmoil and unrest.

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and
kingdom against kingdom: there will be great earthquakes,
and in various places famines and pestilence; and there
will be terrors and great signs from heaven.  But before all
this they will lay their hands upon you and persecute you,
delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons...for my
name's sake."  
                                                                                       Luke 21: 10-12

Dryden insisted on the significance of these lines for the harried royalist party when he presented the following argument:

Yet, if the crowd be judge of fit and just,
And kings are only officers in trust,
Then this resuming Cov'nant was declar'd
When kings were made, or is forever bared.
How then could Adam bind his future race"
Then kings…to their people's pleasure stand.
                                                (765-9; 771; 775-6)

Did not Christ, the redeemer of the Covenant, suffer at the hands of his own people, who denied he was their king?  Was not Charles, heir of the Covenant, suffering at the hands of those who, "…seeing could not see, and hearing, could not hear"; who denied that he was their king by right but rather by their consent?  Those who claimed a right to judge such matters as had already been decided by God were acting at the end of the age.  They had the power but not the right:

Nor is the people's judgment always true;
The most may err as grossly as the few.
And faultless kings run down by Common cry. 

The same crowds who shouted, "Crucify him, crucify him!" (Luke 23:31) would, Christ said, show no more mercy to those who were his chosen.  Just as Herod condemned Christ, so at the end of the age would the righteous be "delivered to synagogues and prisons,"

Nor only crowds, but Sanhedria may be
Infected by this public lunacy:
And share the madness of rebellious times,
And Murder Monarchs for imagined crimes.

Dryden argued eloquently for Charles's righteous resistance to the popular treasons of Shaftesbury by appealing to biblical analogues.  Although united and mighty were the Sanhedrin and all Achitophel's band, they were nevertheless doomed to failure.  Were not these the times of peril, Dryden asked, when all seemed to be against the king; were these not signs that now, more than ever, one must watch to be sure of alignment with God's lineal covenanted heir?   Surely the whole purpose of taking care that one was loyal to Adam's line was to prepare for the end of that item.  The perpetual talk of the "bonds" and "tyranny" of Charles's government was absolutely unnatural.  Freedom lay with the heir of the Covenant and with the word of God, for "If you continue in my word you shall be my disciples, you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free"  (John 8:23).  Dryden was making it unmistakable that if the popular will could choose a king, then there was no lineal conduit of the Covenant, and thus the word of God was debatable and, if debatable, then not necessarily knowable.  If God's words were so obscure, then how could it be that Shaftesbury's were so just and "godly" as he claimed?

Whence comes it that Religion and the Laws
Should be more Absalom's than David's cause?
His old instructor, e'er he lost his place,
Was never thought imbued with so much grace.

Now more than ever, Dryden repeated, was the time to take care that one was on the side of Grace, for with Grace alone would one gain the kingdom of heaven, which seemed to be at hand.  The besiegement of Charles portended the third sign:  "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by enemies, then know that the desolation has come near"  (Luke 21:20).  If these signs were so, then what did this say about the nature of the times?  The reader would know that these were "the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written"  (Luke 21:22).

If these were the last days, then the Divine injunction to the chosen who remained loyal was that, "This will be a time to bear testimony.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict." (Luke 21: 13-15)  Framed in such a paradigm of divine righteousness, Dryden has Charles speak at last, after all his patience, perseverance, and forbearance have been tried:

They call my tenderness of blood, my fear;
Though manly tempers can the longest bear.
Yet, since they divert my native course,
Tis time to show I am no good by force.     

Dryden portrays the harassed Charles biding his time, attempting to give the traitors a chance to amend actions.  Dryden, Charles, and Shaftesbury all knew what the logical extreme of the current state of affairs was, and that no Englishman of whatever stripe could wish, civil war.13 Some compromise would have to come out of the current disorder.  It would seem that Dryden's purpose was again to say that the Parliamentary body could abandon Shaftesbury and so deter any potential difficulty by this act of goodwill.  It seemed, he argued, that such an act would serve as a positive act of repentance, such as that of the Prodigal Son, and would gain favorable treatment from a forgiving father-king.  Such an act would ameliorate the feeling prevalent among some "loyal sons" of Charles for civil war at the time of the trial of Shaftesbury.

Oh that my power to saving were confined;
Why am I force, like heaven, against my mind,
To make examples of another kind?
Must I at length the sword of justice draw?
Oh curst effect of necessary law!    (999-1003)

Charles seemed to be given no choice by these unrepentant people who mocked even his attempts at forbearance.  Charles seemed to be, Dryden argued, reigning on the verge of the last days.  Thus it would be Divine vengeance which would fall upon the evil men surrounding both himself and the loyal few around him.  In such times, "the evil would fall by the edge of the sword," but Dryden chose only to imply whose sword would do the killing, since it would be too much to believe that Charles and disorganized supporters would initiate a war.  Rather, Dryden seems to make a simple point about Charles and the efficacy of remaining loyal to him.  The Bible claims that the Gentiles would triumph at the end of the age, not the "Jews", and that the end of time would come when "the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."  (Luke 21:24)  Dryden elaborately demonstrates throughout the poem that Charles and his friends and loyalists were those spoken of in the Bible.  They are the Gentiles of the final peaceful era which was to precede the second coming.  How else could the following unusual metaphor be explained?

Against themselves their witnesses will swear,
Till viper-like their mother plot they tear:
And suck for nutriment that bloody gore
Which was their principle of life before.

Was this not how the unrepentant, Christ-denying Jews, who did not know their own king, were to suffer in the last days?

For great distress will be upon the earth and upon these people. 
Alas for those who are with child and give suck in those days. 
                                                                                       Luke 21:23

Dryden uses this strange and mysterious passage to indict those "Jews" who denied the fact that God had given only one law and one Covenant which would end only with the end of time when all that was written was fulfilled by Gentiles.  God's law, so the argument ran, was still in effect though severely tried.  Charles would not bend for he was right:


For lawful power is still superior found,
When long driven back at length it stands its ground.

Dryden also alludes to the verse about the end of the age, "the power of the heavens shall be shaken." (Luke 21:26)

The almighty, nodding gave consent;
 And peals of thunder shook the firmament.

All of those were signs that the end was near, yet not necessarily at hand, because the "time of the Gentiles" was in effect as a period of peace throughout the earth.  It was Dryden's purpose to show that Covenant law was still in effect.  Following a return to normalcy after the turmoils just recounted—none other than the signs of the end of the age—would be that period of Gentile peace prior to Salvation:

Henceforth a series of new time began
The might years in long procession ran
Once more the Godlike David was restored
And willing nations knew their lawful Lord.  (1028-31)

As David was godlike, so his land was heaven-like: the argument of the parables.  The last word of the poem thus has the dual meaning of temporal and heavenly Lord.   The English, Dryden said, should remain loyal because, "When these signs begin to take place, look up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near."  Though neither Dryden nor his readers knew the day or the hour of the end of time, they were given to know the "secrets of the kingdom of heaven!"  All they had to do was act like disciples and not like "Jews".   


1.    Arthur W. Hoffman, John Dryden's Imagery.
Miami: University of Florida Press, 1962.,75.

2.    Steven N. Zwicker, Dryden's Political Poetry, The Typology of King and Nation.
Providence:  Brown University Press, 1972.

3.    Earl Minor, "Some Characteristics of Dryden's Use of Metaphor",
in Dryden, A Collection of Critical Essays.
Englewood Cliffs:  Prentiss Hall, Inc., 1963. 124.

4.    Hoffman, 75.

5.    John Dryden, The Poems and Fables of John Dryden.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958. 190-216.

6.    John Dryden, Poems on Affairs of State, Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965. 453.

7.    David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II
Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1961. 644.

8.    J.P, Kenyon, editor, "An Appeal from the Country to the City", in The Stuart Constitution.
Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1968. 469.

9.    Kenyon, 471.

10.  Ogg, 645.

11.  Kenyon, 468-469.

12.  Ogg, 607.

13.  Kenyon, 452.

John W. Davis is a retired military officer and, currently, a career Civil Servant.
While studying English at Washington University in St. Louis, he was introduced
to John Dryden's work by Professor Steven Zwicker, a specialist in literature of
Dryden's era.

©2011 John W. Davis. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Luminarium Through Express Written Permission.

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