Absalom and Achitophel

John Dryden


Edited by Jack Lynch

Absalom and Achitophel was originally published in November 1681 (a “second part” appeared in 1682 but is not included here). The text of this on-line edition is based on that in The Works of John Dryden (1882–92), though I've introduced some changes from other texts, especially the California Edition. It is meant only as an annotated teaching edition, and makes no pretense to being a reliable critical text.

Most of the notes are concerned with explaining the complicated biblical and historical allusions, and here again I confess my tremendous debt to the California Edition. Anyone who wants to know more about the poem and its context should consult this edition, where the commentary on this poem alone runs to nearly eighty pages. I have not identified every allusion, focusing only on the major figures. I also haven't bothered with most of the disputed identifications.

—— Si Propiùs stes
Te Capiet magis ——

In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,
Before polygamy was made a sin;
When man on many multiplied his kind,
Ere one to one was cursedly confined;
When nature prompted, and no law denied, [5]
Promiscuous use of concubine and bride;
Then Israel's monarch 1  after heaven's own heart,
His vigorous warmth did variously impart
To wives and slaves; and, wide as his command,
Scattered his Maker's image through the land. [10]
Michal, 2  of royal blood, the crown did wear,
A soil ungrateful to the tiller's care:
Not so the rest; for several mothers bore
To godlike David several sons before.
But since like slaves his bed they did ascend, [15]
No true succession could their seed attend.
Of all the numerous progeny was none
So beautiful, so brave, as Absalon; 3 
Whether inspired by some diviner lust,
His father got him with a greater gust; [20]
Or that his conscious destiny made way,
By manly beauty, to imperial sway.

Early in foreign fields he won renown, 4 
With kings and states, allied to Israel's crown;
In peace the thoughts of war he could remove, [25]
And seemed as he were only born for love.

Whate'er he did, was done with so much ease,
In him alone 'twas natural to please;
His motions all accompanied with grace,
And paradise was opened in his face. [30]

With secret joy indulgent David viewed
His youthful image in his son renewed;
To all his wishes nothing he denied,
And made the charming Annabel 5  his bride.

What faults he had, — for who from faults is free? [35]
His father could not, or he would not see.

Some warm excesses, which the law forbore,
Were construed youth that purged by boiling o'er;
And Amnon's 6  murder, by a specious name,
Was called a just revenge for injured fame. [40]

Thus praised and loved, the noble youth remained,
While David undisturbed in Sion 7  reigned.

But life can never be sincerely 8  blest;
Heaven punishes the bad, and proves the best.
The Jews, 9  a headstrong, moody, murmuring race, [45]
As ever tried the extent and stretch of grace;
God's pampered people, whom, debauched with ease,
No king could govern, nor no God could please;
Gods they had tried of every shape and size,
That godsmiths could produce, or priests devise; [50]
These Adam-wits, 10  too fortunately free,
Began to dream they wanted liberty:
And when no rule, no precedent was found,
Of men, by laws less circumscribed and bound;
They led their wild desires to woods and caves, [55]
And thought that all but savages were slaves.
They who, when Saul was dead, without a blow,
Made foolish Ishbosheth the crown forego; 11 
Who banished David did from Hebron 12  bring,
And with a general shout proclaimed him king; [60]
Those very Jews, who at their very best,
Their humour more than loyalty exprest,
Now wondered why so long they had obeyed
An idol monarch, which their hands had made;
Thought they might ruin him they could create, [65]
Or melt him to that golden calf, — a State.

But these were random bolts; no formed design,
Nor interest made the factious crowd to join:
The sober part of Israel, free from stain,
Well knew the value of a peaceful reign; [70]
And, looking backward with a wise affright,
Saw seams of wounds dishonest 13  to the sight;
In contemplation of whose ugly scars,
They curst the memory of civil wars.
The moderate sort of men, thus qualified, [75]
Inclined the balance to the better side;
And David's mildness managed it so well,
The bad found no occasion to rebel.
But when to sin our biassed nature leans,
The careful devil is still at hand with means, [80]
And providently pimps for ill desires;
The good old cause, 14  revived, a plot requires.
Plots, true or false, 15  are necessary things,
To raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings.

The inhabitants of old Jerusalem [85]
Were Jebusites; 16  the town so called from them;
And theirs the native right.—
But when the chosen people grew more strong,
The rightful cause at length became the wrong;
And every loss the men of Jebus bore, [90]
They still were thought God's enemies the more.
Thus worn or weakened, well or ill content,
Submit they must to David's government;
Impoverished and deprived of all command,
Their taxes doubled as they lost their land; [95]
And, what was harder yet to flesh and blood,
Their gods disgraced, and burnt like common wood.
This set the heathen priesthood 17  in a flame;
For priests of all religions are the same.

Of whatsoe'er descent their godhead be, [100]
Stock, stone, or other homely pedigree,
In his defence his servants are as bold,
As if he had been born of beaten gold.
The Jewish rabbins, 18  though their enemies,
In this conclude them honest men and wise; [105]
For 'twas their duty, all the learned think,
To espouse his cause, by whom they eat and drink.
From hence began that plot, 19  the nation's curse;
Bad in itself, but represented worse;
Raised in extremes, and in extremes decried; [110]
With oaths affirmed, with dying vows denied;
Not weighed nor winnowed by the multitude,
But swallowed in the mass, unchewed and crude.

Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies,
To please the fools, and puzzle all the wise. [115]
Succeeding times did equal folly call,
Believing nothing, or believing all.
The Egyptian rites the Jebusites embraced,
Where gods were recommended by their taste.
Such savoury deities must needs be good, [120]
As served at once for worship and for food.
By force they could not introduce these gods,—
For ten to one 20  in former days was odds,—
So fraud was used, the sacrificer's trade;
Fools are more hard to conquer than persuade. [125]
Their busy teachers mingled with the Jews,
And raked for converts even the court and stews; 21 
Which Hebrew priests the more unkindly took,
Because the fleece accompanies the flock.
Some thought they God's anointed meant to slay [130]
By guns, invented since full many a day:
Our author swears it not; but who can know
How far the devil and Jebusites may go?
This plot, which failed for want of common sense,
Had yet a deep and dangerous consequence; [135]
For as, when raging fevers boil the blood,
The standing lake soon floats into a flood,
And every hostile humour, 22  which before
Slept quiet in its channels, bubbles o'er;
So several factions, from this first ferment, [140]
Work up to foam, and threat the government.
Some by their friends, more by themselves thought wise,
Opposed the power to which they could not rise;
Some had in courts been great, and, thrown from thence,
Like fiends, were hardened in impenitence; [145]
Some, by their monarch's fatal mercy, grown
From pardoned rebels kinsmen to the throne,
Were raised in power and public office high;
Strong bands, if bands ungrateful men could tie.

Of these the false Achitophel 23  was first; [150]
A name to all succeeding ages curst:
For close designs, and crooked counsels fit;
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit;
Restless, unfixed in principles and place;
In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace; [155]
A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
Fretted the pigmy-body to decay,
And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
A daring pilot in extremity,
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high, [160]
He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest, [165]
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Punish a body which he could not please;
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
And all to leave what with his toil he won,
To that unfeathered two-legged thing, 24  a son; [170]
Got, while his soul did huddled notions try;
And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.
In friendship false, implacable in hate;
Resolved to ruin, or to rule the state.
To compass this the triple bond 25  he broke; [175]
The pillars of the public safety shook;
And fitted Israel for a foreign yoke;
Then, seized with fear, yet still affecting fame,
Usurped a patriot's 26  all-atoning name.
So easy still it proves in factious times, [180]
With public zeal to cancel private crimes.
How safe is treason, and how sacred ill,
Where none can sin against the people's will?
Where crowds can wink, and no offence be known,
Since in another's guilt they find their own? [185]
Yet fame deserved no enemy can grudge;
The statesman we abhor, but praise the judge.
In Israel's courts ne'er sat an Abbethdin 27 
With more discerning eyes, or hands more clean,
Unbribed, unsought, the wretched to redress; [190]
Swift of dispatch, and easy of access.
Oh! had be been content to serve the crown,
With virtue only proper to the gown; 28 
Or had the rankness of the soil been freed
From cockle, 29  that oppressed the noble seed; [195]
David for him his tuneful harp had strung,
And heaven had wanted one immortal song. 30 
But wild ambition loves to slide, not stand,
And fortune's ice prefers to virtue's land.
Achitophel, grown weary to possess [200]
A lawful fame, and lazy happiness,
Disdained the golden fruit to gather free,
And lent the crowd his arm to shake the tree.
Now, manifest of crimes contrived long since,
He stood at bold defiance with his prince; [205]
Held up the buckler of the people's cause
Against the crown, and skulked behind the laws.

The wished occasion of the plot he takes;
Some circumstances finds, but more he makes;
By buzzing emissaries fills the ears [210]
Of listening crowds with jealousies and fears
Of arbitrary counsels brought to light,
And proves the king himself a Jebusite.
Weak arguments! which yet, he knew full well,
Were strong with people easy to rebel. [215]
For, governed by the moon, the giddy Jews
Tread the same track when she the prime renews;
And once in twenty years their scribes record,
By natural instinct they change their lord.
Achitophel still wants a chief, and none [220]
Was found so fit as warlike Absalon.
Not that he wished his greatness to create,
For politicians neither love nor hate;
But, for he knew his title not allowed,
Would keep him still depending on the crowd; [225]
That kingly power, thus ebbing out, might be
Drawn to the dregs of a democracy.
Him he attempts with studied arts to please,
And sheds his venom in such words as these.

“Auspicious prince, at whose nativity [230]
Some royal planet ruled the southern sky;
Thy longing country's darling and desire;
Their cloudy pillar and their guardian fire; 31 
Their second Moses, whose extended wand
Divides the seas, and shows the promised land; [235]
Whose dawning day, in every distant age,
Has exercised the sacred prophet's rage;
The people's prayer, the glad diviner's theme,
The young men's vision, and the old men's dream!
Thee, Saviour, thee the nation's vows confess, [240]
And, never satisfied with seeing, bless;
Swift unbespoken pomps thy steps proclaim,
And stammering babes are taught to lisp thy name.
How long wilt thou the general joy detain,
Starve and defraud the people of thy reign; [245]
Content ingloriously to pass thy days,
Like one of virtue's fools that feed on praise;
Till thy fresh glories, which now shine so bright,
Grow stale, and tarnish with our daily sight?
Believe me, royal youth, thy fruit must be [250]
Or gathered ripe, or rot upon the tree.
Heaven has to all allotted, soon or late,
Some lucky revolution of their fate;
Whose motions if we watch and guide with skill
(For human good depends on human will), [255]
Our fortune rolls as from a smooth descent,
And from the first impression takes the bent;
But, if unseized, she glides away like wind,
And leaves repenting folly far behind.
Now, now she meets you with a glorious prize, [260]
And spreads her locks before you as she flies.
Had thus old David, from whose loins you spring,
Not dared, when fortune called him, to be king,
At Gath 32  an exile he might still remain,
And heaven's anointing oil had been in vain. [265]

Let his successful youth your hopes engage;
But shun the example of declining age:
Behold him setting in his western skies,
The shadows lengthening as the vapours rise.
He is not now, as when, on Jordan's sand, 33  [270]
The joyful people thronged to see him land,
Covering the beach and blackening all the strand;
But, like the prince of angels, from his height
Comes tumbling downward with diminished light; 34 
Betrayed by one poor plot to public scorn, [275]
Our only blessing since his curst return;
Those heaps of people which one sheaf did bind,
Blown off and scattered by a puff of wind.
What strength can he to your designs oppose,
Naked of friends, and round beset with foes? [280]
If Pharaoh's 35  doubtful succour he should use,
A foreign aid would more incense the Jews;
Proud Egypt would dissembled friendship bring;
Foment the war, but not support the king:
Nor would the royal party e'er unite [285]
With Pharaoh's arms to assist the Jebusite;
Or, if they should, their interest soon would break,
And with such odious aid make David weak.
All sorts of men, by my successful arts
Abhorring kings, estrange their altered hearts [290]
From David's rule; and 'tis the general cry,
Religion, commonwealth, and liberty.
If you, as champion of the public good,
Add to their arms a chief of royal blood,
What may not Israel hope, and what applause [295]
Might such a general gain by such a cause?

Not barren praise alone, that gaudy flower
Fair only to the sight, but solid power;
And nobler is a limited command,
Given by the love of all your native land, [300]
Than a successive title, long and dark,
Drawn from the mouldy rolls of Noah's ark.”

What cannot praise effect in mighty minds,
When flattery soothes, and when ambition blinds?
Desire of power, on earth a vicious weed, [305]
Yet, sprung from high, is of celestial seed;
In God 'tis glory; and when men aspire,
'Tis but a spark too much of heavenly fire.
The ambitious youth, too covetous of fame,
Too full of angel's metal in his frame, [310]
Unwarily was led from virtue's ways,
Made drunk with honour, and debauched with praise.
Half loath, and half consenting to the ill,—
For loyal blood within him struggled still,—
He thus replied. — “And what pretence have I [315]
To take up arms for public liberty?
My father governs with unquestioned right,
The faith's defender, and mankind's delight;
Good, gracious, just, observant of the laws;
And heaven by wonders has espoused his cause. [320]
Whom has he wronged in all his peaceful reign?
Who sues for justice to his throne in vain?
What millions has he pardoned of his foes,
Whom just revenge did to his wrath expose!

Mild, easy, humble, studious of our good, [325]
Inclined to mercy, and averse from blood.
If mildness ill with stubborn Israel suit,
His crime is God's beloved attribute.
What could he gain his people to betray,
Or change his right for arbitrary sway? [330]
Let haughty Pharaoh curse with such a reign
His fruitful Nile, and yoke a servile train.
If David's rule Jerusalem displease,
The dog-star heats their brains to this disease.
Why then should I, encouraging the bad, [335]
Turn rebel, and run popularly mad?
Were he a tyrant, who by lawless might
Oppressed the Jews, and raised the Jebusite,
Well might I mourn; but nature's holy bands
Would curb my spirits, and restrain my hands: [340]
The people might assert their liberty;
But what was right in them were crime in me.
His favour leaves me nothing to require,
Prevents 36  my wishes, and outruns desire.
What more can I expect while David lives? [345]
All but his kingly diadem he gives;
And that” — But there he paused; then sighing, said—
“Is justly destined for a worthier head;
For, when my father from his toils shall rest,
And late augment the number of the blest, [350]
His lawful issue shall the throne ascend,
Or the collateral line, 37  where that shall end.
His brother, though oppressed with vulgar spite,
Yet dauntless, and secure of native right,
Of every royal virtue stands possest; [355]
Still dear to all the bravest and the best.

His courage foes, his friends his truth proclaim;
His loyalty the king, the world his fame.
His mercy even the offending crowd will find;
For sure he comes of a forgiving kind. [360]
Why should I then repine at heaven's decree,
Which gives me no pretence to royalty?
Yet oh that fate, propitiously inclined,
Had raised my birth, or had debased my mind;
To my large soul not all her treasure lent, [365]
And then betrayed it to a mean descent!
I find, I find my mounting spirits bold,
And David's part disdains my mother's mould.
Why am I scanted by a niggard birth?
My soul disclaims the kindred of her earth; [370]
And, made for empire, whispers me within,
Desire of greatness is a godlike sin.”

Him staggering so, when hell's dire agent found,
While fainting virtue scarce maintained her ground,
He pours fresh forces in, and thus replies: [375]

“The eternal God, supremely good and wise,
Imparts not these prodigious gifts in vain.
What wonders are reserved to bless your reign!
Against your will your arguments have shown,
Such virtue's only given to guide a throne. [380]
Not that your father's mildness I contemn;
But manly force becomes the diadem.
'Tis true, he grants the people all they crave;
And more, perhaps, than subjects ought to have;
For lavish grants suppose a monarch tame, [385]
And more his goodness than his wit proclaim:
But when should people strive their bonds to break,
If not when kings are negligent, or weak?
Let him give on till he can give no more,
The thrifty Sanhedrin 38  shall keep him poor; [390]
And every shekel, which he can receive,
Shall cost a limb of his prerogative.
To ply him with new plots shall be my care,
Or plunge him deep in some expensive war;
Which when his treasure can no more supply, [395]
He must, with the remains of kingship, buy.
His faithful friends, our jealousies and fears
Call Jebusites, and Pharaoh's pensioners;
Whom when our fury from his aid has torn,
He shall be naked left to public scorn. [400]
The next successor, whom I fear and hate,
My arts have made obnoxious to the state;
Turned all his virtues to his overthrow,
And gained our elders to pronounce a foe.
His right, for sums of necessary gold, [405]
Shall first be pawned, and afterwards be sold;
Till time shall ever-wanting David draw,
To pass your doubtful title into law:
If not, the people have a right supreme
To make their kings; for kings are made for them. [410]

All empire is no more than power in trust,
Which, when resumed, can be no longer just.
Succession, for the general good designed,
In its own wrong a nation cannot bind;
If altering that the people can relieve, [415]
Better one suffer than a million grieve.
The Jews well know their power; ere Saul they chose,
God was their king, and God they durst depose.
Urge now your piety, your filial name,
A father's right, and fear of future fame;— [420]
The public good, that universal call,
To which even heaven submitted, answers all.
Nor let his love enchant your generous mind;
'Tis nature's trick to propagate her kind.
Our fond begetters, who would never die, [425]
Love but themselves in their posterity.
Or let his kindness by the effects be tried,
Or let him lay his vain pretence aside.
God said, he loved your father; could he bring
A better proof, than to anoint him king? [430]
It surely showed he loved the shepherd well,
Who gave so fair a flock as Israel.
Would David have you thought his darling son?
What means he then to alienate 39  the crown?
The name of godly he may blush to bear; [435]
'Tis after God's own heart to cheat his heir.
He to his brother gives supreme command,
To you a legacy of barren land;
Perhaps the old harp, on which he thrums his lays,
Or some dull Hebrew ballad in your praise. [440]
Then the next heir, a prince severe and wise,
Already looks on you with jealous eyes;
Sees through the thin disguises of your arts,
And marks your progress in the people's hearts;
Though now his mighty soul its grief contains, [445]
He meditates revenge who least complains;
And like a lion, slumbering in the way,
Or sleep dissembling, while he waits his prey,
His fearless foes within his distance draws,
Constrains his roaring, and contracts his paws; [450]
Till, at the last, his time for fury found,
He shoots with sudden vengeance from the ground;
The prostrate vulgar 40  passes o'er and spares,
But with a lordly rage his hunters tears.
Your case no tame expedients will afford; [455]
Resolve on death, or conquest by the sword,
Which for no less a stake than life you draw;
And self-defence is nature's eldest law.
Leave the warm people no considering time;
For then rebellion may be thought a crime. [460]
Prevail yourself of what occasion gives,
But try your title while your father lives;
And that your arms may have a fair pretence,
Proclaim you take them in the king's defence;
Whose sacred life each minute would expose [465]
To plots, from seeming friends, and secret foes.
And who can sound the depth of David's soul?
Perhaps his fear his kindness may control.
He fears his brother, though he loves his son,
For plighted vows too late to be undone. [470]
If so, by force he wishes to be gained;
Like woman's lechery to seem constrained.
Doubt not; but, when he most affects the frown,
Commit a pleasing rape upon the crown.
Secure his person to secure your cause; [475]
They, who possess the prince, possess the laws.”

He said, and this advice, above the rest,
With Absalom's mild nature suited best;
Unblamed of life, ambition set aside,
Not stained with cruelty, nor puffed with pride. [480]
How happy had he been, if destiny
Had higher placed his birth, or not so high!
His kingly virtues might have claimed a throne,
And blest all other countries but his own;
But charming greatness since so few refuse, [485]
'Tis juster to lament him than accuse.
Strong were his hopes a rival to remove,
With blandishments to gain the public love;
To head the faction while their zeal was hot,
And popularly prosecute the plot. [490]
To further this, Achitophel unites
The malcontents of all the Israelites;
Whose differing parties he could wisely join,
For several ends, to serve the same design.
The best, — and of the princes some were such,— [495]
Who thought the power of monarchy too much;
Mistaken men, and patriots in their hearts;
Not wicked, but seduced by impious arts.
By these the springs of property were bent,
And wound so high, they cracked the government. [500]

The next for interest sought to embroil the state,
To sell their duty at a dearer rate,
And make their Jewish markets of the throne;
Pretending public good, to serve their own.
Others thought kings an useless heavy load, [505]
Who cost too much, and did too little good.
These were for laying honest David by,
On principles of pure good husbandry.
With them joined all the haranguers of the throng,
That thought to get preferment by the tongue. [510]
Who follow next a double danger bring,
Not only hating David, but the king;
The Solym‘an 41  rout; well versed, of old,
In godly faction, and in treason bold;
Cow'ring and quaking at a conqueror's sword, [515]
But lofty to a lawful prince restored;
Saw with disdain an Ethnic plot 42  begun,
And scorned by Jebusites to be outdone.

Hot Levites 43  headed these; who, pulled before
From the ark, which in the Judges' days they bore, [520]
Resumed their cant, and, with a zealous cry,
Pursued their old beloved theocracy;
Where sanhedrim and priest enslaved the nation,
And justified their spoils by inspiration.
For who so fit to reign as Aaron's race, 44  [525]
If once dominion they could found in grace?
These led the pack; though not of surest scent,
Yet deepest mouthed against the government.
A numerous host of dreaming saints succeed,
Of the true old enthusiastic breed; [530]
'Gainst form and order they their power employ,
Nothing to build, and all things to destroy.
But far more numerous was the herd of such,
Who think too little, and who talk too much.
These out of mere instinct, they knew not why, [535]
Adored their fathers' God, and property;
And, by the same blind benefit of fate,
The devil and the Jebusite did hate;
Born to be saved, even in their own despite,
Because they could not help believing right. [540]
Such were the tools; but a whole Hydra 45  more
Remains of sprouting heads too long to score.
Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri 46  stand;
A man so various, that he seemed to be [545]
Not one, but all mankind's epitome;
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long;
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, 47  fiddler, statesman, and buffoon; [550]
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ,
With something new to wish, or to enjoy!
Railing and praising were his usual themes; [555]
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes;
So over violent, or over civil,
That every man with him was God or devil.
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert. [560]

Beggared by fools, whom still he found too late;
He had his jest, and they had his estate.
He laughed himself from court; then sought relief
By forming parties, but could ne'er be chief;
For, spite of him, the weight of business fell [565]
On Absalom, and wise Achitophel;
Thus, wicked but in will, of means bereft,
He left not faction, but of that was left.

Titles and names 'twere tedious to rehearse
Of lords, below the dignity of verse. [570]
Wits, warriors, commonwealths-men, were the best;
Kind husbands, and mere nobles, all the rest.

And therefore, in the name of dulness, be
The well-hung Balaam and cold Caleb free; 48 
And canting Nadab 49  let oblivion damn, [575]
Who made new porridge 50  for the paschal lamb.

Let friendship's holy band some names assure;
Some their own worth, and some let scorn secure.

Nor shall the rascal rabble here have place,
Whom kings no titles gave, and God no grace: [580]

Not bull-faced Jonas, 51  who could statutes draw
To mean rebellion, and make treason law.
But he, though bad, is followed by a worse,
The wretch, who heaven's anointed dared to curse;
Shimei, 52  — whose youth did early promise bring [585]
Of zeal to God, and hatred to his king,—
Did wisely from expensive sins refrain,
And never broke the Sabbath but for gain:
Nor ever was he known an oath to vent,
Or curse, unless against the government. [590]

Thus heaping wealth, by the most ready way
Among the Jews, which was — to cheat and pray;
The city, to reward his pious hate
Against his master, chose him magistrate.
His hand a vare 53  of justice did uphold; [595]
His neck was loaded with a chain of gold.
During his office treason was no crime;
The sons of Belial 54  had a glorious time:
For Shimei, though not prodigal of pelf,
Yet loved his wicked neighbour as himself. [600]
When two or three were gathered to declaim
Against the monarch of Jerusalem,
Shimei was always in the midst of them:
And, if they cursed the king when he was by,
Would rather curse than break good company. [605]
If any durst his factious friends accuse,
He packed a jury of dissenting Jews;
Whose fellow-feeling in the godly cause
Would free the suffering saint from human laws:
For laws are only made to punish those [610]
Who serve the king, and to protect his foes.
If any leisure-time he had from power,—
Because 'tis sin to misemploy an hour,—

His business was, by writing, to persuade,
That kings were useless, and a clog to trade; [615]
And, that his noble style he might refine,
No Rechabite 55  more shunned the fumes of wine.
Chaste were his cellars, and his shrieval board 56 
The grossness of a city-feast abhorred.
His cooks, with long disuse, their trade forgot; [620]
Cool was his kitchen, though his brains were hot.
Such frugal virtue malice may accuse;
But sure 'twas necessary to the Jews:
For towns, once burnt, 57  such magistrates require,
As dare not tempt God's providence by fire. [625]
With spiritual food he fed his servants well,
But free from flesh, that made the Jews rebel:
And Moses' laws he held in more account,
For forty days of fasting in the mount.
To speak the rest (who better are forgot), [630]
Would tire a well-breathed witness of the plot.
Yet Corah, 58  thou shalt from oblivion pass;
Erect thyself, thou monumental brass,
High as the serpent of thy metal made,
While nations stand secure beneath thy shade! [635]

What though his birth were base, yet comets rise
From earthy vapours, ere they shine in skies.
Prodigious actions may as well be done
By weaver's issue, 59  as by prince's son.
This arch-attester for the public good [640]
By that one deed ennobles all his blood.
Who ever asked the witnesses' high race,
Whose oath with martyrdom did Stephen 60  grace?
Ours was a Levite, and, as times went then,
His tribe were God Almighty's gentlemen. [645]
Sunk were his eyes, his voice was harsh and loud:
Sure signs he neither choleric 61  was, nor proud:
His long chin proved his wit; his saint-like grace
A church vermilion, and a Moses' face.
His memory, miraculously great, [650]
Could plots, exceeding man's belief, repeat;
Which therefore cannot be accounted lies,
For human wit could never such devise.
Some future truths are mingled in his book;
But where the witness failed the prophet spoke: [655]
Some things like visionary flight appear;
The spirit caught him up, — the Lord knows where,
And gave him his rabbinical degree,
Unknown to foreign university. 62 

His judgment yet his memory did excel; [660]
Which pieced his wondrous evidence so well,
And suited to the temper of the times,
Then groaning under Jebusitic crimes.
Let Israel's foes suspect his heavenly call,
And rashly judge his writ apocryphal; [665]
Our laws for such affronts have forfeits made:
He takes his life, who takes away his trade.
Were I myself in witness Corah's place,
The wretch, who did me such a dire disgrace,
Should whet my memory, though once forgot, [670]
To make him an appendix of my plot.
His zeal to heaven made him his prince despise,
And load his person with indignities.
But zeal peculiar privilege affords,
Indulging latitude to deeds and words: [675]
And Corah might for Agag's 63  murder call,
In terms as coarse as Samuel used to Saul.

What others in his evidence did join,
The best that could be had for love or coin,
In Corah's own predicament will fall: [680]
For witness is a common name to all.

Surrounded thus with friends of every sort,
Deluded Absalom forsakes the court;
Impatient of high hopes, urged with renown,
And fired with near possession of a crown. [685]
The admiring crowd are dazzled with surprise,
And on his goodly person feed their eyes.
His joy concealed, he sets himself to show;
On each side bowing popularly low:
His looks, his gestures, and his words he frames, [690]
And with familiar ease repeats their names.

Thus formed by nature, furnished out with arts,
He glides unfelt into their secret hearts.
Then with a kind compassionating look,
And sighs, bespeaking pity ere he spoke, [695]
Few words he said; but easy those and fit,
More slow than Hybla-drops, 64  and far more sweet.

“I mourn, my countrymen, your lost estate;
Though far unable to prevent your fate:
Behold a banished man, for your dear cause [700]
Exposed a prey to arbitrary laws!
Yet oh! that I alone could be undone,
Cut off from empire, and no more a son!
Now all your liberties a spoil are made;
Egypt and Tyrus 65  intercept your trade, [705]
And Jebusites your sacred rites invade.
My father, — whom with reverence yet I name—
Charmed into ease, is careless of his fame;
And, bribed with petty sums of foreign gold,
Is grown in Bathsheba's 66  embraces old; [710]
Exalts his enemies, his friends destroys,
And all his power against himself employs.
He gives, — and let him give, — my right away:
But why should he his own and yours betray?
He, only he, can make the nation bleed, [715]
And he alone from my revenge is freed.
Take then my tears,” — with that he wiped his eyes,—
“'Tis all the aid my present power supplies:
No court-informer can these arms accuse;
These arms may sons against their fathers use: [720]
And 'tis my wish, the next successor's reign
May make no other Israelite complain.”

Youth, beauty, graceful action seldom fail;
But common interest always will prevail;
And pity never ceases to be shown [725]
To him who makes the people's wrongs his own.
The crowd, that still believe their kings oppress,
With lifted hands their young Messiah bless:
Who now begins his progress to ordain
With chariots, horsemen, and a numerous train: [730]

From east to west his glories he displays,
And, like the sun, the promised land surveys.

Fame runs before him as the morning-star,
And shouts of joy salute him from afar;
Each house receives him as a guardian god, [735]
And consecrates the place of his abode.

But hospitable treats did most commend
Wise Issachar, 67  his wealthy western friend.

This moving court, that caught the people's eyes,
And seemed but pomp, did other ends disguise: [740]

Achitophel had formed it, with intent
To sound the depths, and fathom, where it went,
The people's hearts, distinguish friends from foes,
And try their strength before they came to blows.
Yet all was coloured with a smooth pretence [745]
Of specious love, and duty to their prince.
Religion, and redress of grievances,
(Two names that always cheat, and always please,)
Are often urged; and good king David's life,
Endangered by a brother and a wife. 68  [750]
Thus in a pageant-show a plot is made;
And peace itself is war in masquerade.
Oh foolish Israel! never warned by ill!
Still the same bait, and circumvented 69  still!
Did ever men forsake their present ease, [755]
In midst of health imagine a disease,
Take pains contingent mischiefs to foresee,
Make heirs for monarchs, and for God decree?
What shall we think? Can people give away,
Both for themselves and sons, their native sway? [760]
Then they are left defenceless to the sword
Of each unbounded, arbitrary lord:
And laws are vain, by which we right enjoy,
If kings unquestioned can those laws destroy.
Yet if the crowd be judge of fit and just, [765]
And kings are only officers in trust,
Then this resuming covenant was declared
When kings were made, or is for ever barred.
If those, who gave the sceptre, could not tie,
By their own deed, their own posterity, [770]
How then could Adam bind his future race?
How could his forfeit on mankind take place?

Or how could heavenly justice damn us all,
Who ne'er consented to our father's fall?
Then kings are slaves to those whom they command, [775]
And tenants to their people's pleasure stand.
Add, that the power, for property allowed,
Is mischievously seated in the crowd;
For who can be secure of private right,
If sovereign sway may be dissolved by might? [780]
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,
For vice, oppression, and for tyranny.
What standard is there in a fickle rout, 70  [785]
Which, flowing to the mark, runs faster out?
Nor only crowds but Sanhedrims may be
Infected with this public lunacy,
And share the madness of rebellious times,
To murder monarchs for imagined crimes. [790]
If they may give and take whene'er they please,
Not kings alone, the Godhead's images,
But government itself, at length must fall
To nature's state, where all have right to all.
Yet, grant our lords, the people, kings can make, [795]
What prudent man a settled throne would shake?
For whatsoe'er their sufferings were before,
That change they covet makes them suffer more.
All other errors but disturb a state;
But innovation is the blow of fate. [800]
If ancient fabrics 71  nod, and threat to fall,
To patch the flaws, and buttress up the wall,
Thus far 'tis duty: but here fix the mark;
For all beyond it is to touch our ark. 72 
To change foundations, cast the frame anew, [805]
Is work for rebels, who base ends pursue;
At once divine and human laws control,
And mend the parts by ruin of the whole.
The tampering world is subject to this curse,
To physic their disease into a worse. [810]

Now what relief can righteous David bring?
How fatal 'tis to be too good a king!
Friends he has few, so high the madness grows;
Who dare be such must be the people's foes.
Yet some there were, even in the worst of days; [815]
Some let me name, and naming is to praise.

In this short file Barzillai first appears;
Barzillai, crowned with honour and with years.

Long since, the rising rebels he withstood
In regions waste 73  beyond the Jordan's flood: [820]
Unfortunately brave to buoy the state;
But sinking underneath his master's fate:
In exile with his godlike prince he mourned;
For him he suffered, and with him returned.

The court he practised, not the courtier's art: [825]
Large was his wealth, but larger was his heart,
Which well the noblest objects knew to choose,
The fighting warrior, and recording muse.
His bed could once a fruitful issue boast;
Now more than half a father's name is lost. [830]
His eldest hope, 74  with every grace adorned,
By me, so heaven will have it, always mourned,
And always honoured, snatched in manhood's prime
By unequal fates, and providence's crime:
Yet not before the goal of honour won, [835]
All parts fulfilled of subject and of son:
Swift was the race, but short the time to run.

Oh narrow circle, but of power divine,
Scanted in space, and perfect in thy line!
By sea, by land, thy matchless worth was known, [840]
Arms thy delight, and war was all thy own:
Thy force infused the fainting Tyrians propped,
And haughty Pharaoh found his fortune stopped.
Oh ancient honour! Oh unconquered hand,
Whom foes unpunished never could withstand! [845]
But Israel was unworthy of thy name:
Short is the date of all immoderate fame.
It looks as heaven our ruin had designed,
And durst not trust thy fortune and thy mind.
Now, free from earth, thy disencumbered soul [850]
Mounts up, and leaves behind the clouds and starry pole:
From thence thy kindred legions may'st thou bring,
To aid the guardian angel of thy king.

Here stop, my muse; here cease thy painful flight;
No pinions can pursue immortal height: [855]
Tell good Barzillai thou canst sing no more,
And tell thy soul she should have fled before:
Or fled she with his life, and left this verse
To hang on her departed patron's hearse? 75 
Now take thy steepy flight from heaven, and see [860]
If thou canst find on earth another he:
Another he would be too hard to find;
See then whom thou canst see not far behind.
Zadoc 76  the priest, whom, shunning power and place,
His lowly mind advanced to David's grace. [865]

With him the Sagan 77  of Jerusalem,
Of hospitable soul, and noble stem;
Him of the western dome, 78  whose weighty sense
Flows in fit words, and heavenly eloquence.
The prophet's sons, 79  by such example led, [870]
To learning and to loyalty were bred:
For colleges on bounteous kings depend,
And never rebel was to arts a friend.
To these succeed the pillars of the laws;
Who best could plead, and best can judge a cause. [875]
Next them a train of loyal peers ascend;
Sharp-judging Adriel, 80  the muses' friend,
Himself a muse: in Sanhedrim's debate,
True to his prince, but not a slave of state:
Whom David's love with honours did adorn, [880]
That from his disobedient son were torn.

Jotham, 81  of piercing wit, and pregnant thought,
Endued by nature, and by learning taught,
To move assemblies, who but only tried
The worse awhile, then chose the better side: [885]

Nor chose alone, but turned the balance too;
So much the weight of one brave man can do.
Hushai, 82  the friend of David in distress;
In public storms, of manly stedfastness;
By foreign treaties he informed his youth, [890]
And joined experience to his native truth.
His frugal care supplied the wanting throne;
Frugal for that, but bounteous of his own:
'Tis easy conduct when exchequers flow,
But hard the task to manage well the low; [895]
For sovereign power is too depressed or high,
When kings are forced to sell, or crowds to buy.
Indulge one labour more, my weary muse,
For Amiel; 83  who can Amiel's praise refuse?
Of ancient race by birth, but nobler yet [900]
In his own worth, and without title great:
The Sanhedrim long time as chief he ruled,
Their reason guided, and their passion cooled:
So dexterous was he in the crown's defence,
So formed to speak a loyal nation's sense, [905]
That, as their band was Israel's tribes in small,
So fit was he to represent them all.
Now rasher charioteers the seat ascend,
Whose loose careers his steady skill commend:
They, like the unequal ruler of the day, 84  [910]
Misguide the seasons, and mistake the way;
While he, withdrawn, at their mad labours smiles,
And safe enjoys the Sabbath of his toils.

These were the chief; a small but faithful band
Of worthies, in the breach who dared to stand, [915]
And tempt the united fury of the land.
With grief they viewed such powerful engines bent,
To batter down the lawful government.

A numerous faction, with pretended frights,
In Sanhedrims to plume 85  the legal rights; [920]
The true successor from the court removed;
The plot, by hireling witnesses, improved.
These ills they saw, and, as their duty bound,
They showed the king the danger of the wound;
That no concessions from the throne would please, [925]
But lenitives fomented the disease:
That Absalom, ambitious of the crown,
Was made the lure to draw the people down:
That false Achitophel's pernicious hate
Had turned the plot to ruin church and state: [930]
The council violent, the rabble worse;
That Shimei taught Jerusalem to curse.

With all these loads of injuries opprest,
And long revolving in his careful breast
The event of things, at last, his patience tired, [935]
Thus, from his royal throne, by heaven inspired,
The godlike David spoke; with awful fear
His train their Maker in their master hear.

“Thus long, have I by native mercy swayed,
My wrongs dissembled, my revenge delayed; [940]
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.

That one was made for many, they contend; [945]
But 'tis to rule; for that's a monarch's end.
They call my tenderness of blood, my fear;
Though manly tempers can the longest bear.
Yet since they will divert my native course,
'Tis time to show I am not good by force. [950]
Those heaped affronts, that haughty subjects bring,
Are burdens for a camel, not a king.
Kings are the public pillars of the state,
Born to sustain and prop the nation's weight:
If my young Samson 86  will pretend a call [955]
To shake the column, let him share the fall:
But oh, that yet he would repent and live!
How easy 'tis for parents to forgive!
With how few tears a pardon might be won
From nature, pleading for a darling son! [960]
Poor, pitied youth, by my paternal care
Raised up to all the height his fame could bear!
Had God ordained his fate for empire born,
He would have given his soul another turn:
Gulled with a patriot's name, whose modern sense [965]
Is one that would by law supplant his prince;
The people's brave, 87  the politician's tool;
Never was patriot yet, but was a fool.
Whence comes it, that religion and the laws
Should more be Absalom's than David's cause? [970]
His old instructor, ere he lost his place,
Was never thought endued with so much grace.
Good heavens, how faction can a patriot paint!
My rebel ever proves my people's saint.
Would they impose an heir upon the throne? [975]
Let Sanhedrims be taught to give their own.
A king's at least a part of government;
And mine as requisite as their consent:
Without my leave a future king to choose,
Infers a right the present to depose. [980]
True, they petition me to approve their choice;
But Esau's hands suit ill with Jacob's voice. 88 
My pious subjects for my safety pray;
Which to secure, they take my power away.
From plots and treasons heaven preserve my years, [985]
But save me most from my petitioners!
Unsatiate as the barren womb or grave;
God cannot grant so much as they can crave.
What then is left, but with a jealous eye
To guard the small remains of royalty? [990]
The law shall still direct my peaceful sway,
And the same law teach rebels to obey:
Votes shall no more established power control,—
Such votes, as make a part exceed the whole.
No groundless clamours shall my friends remove, [995]
Nor crowds have power to punish ere they prove;
For gods and godlike kings their care express,
Still to defend their servants in distress.

Oh, that my power to saving were confined!
Why am I forced, like heaven, against my mind, [1000]
To make examples of another kind?
Must I at length the sword of justice draw?
Oh curst effects of necessary law!
How ill my fear they by my mercy scan!
Beware the fury of a patient man. [1005]
Law they require, let law then show her face;
They could not be content to look on grace,
Her hinder parts, but with a daring eye,
To tempt the terror of her front, and die.
By their own arts 'tis righteously decreed, [1010]
Those dire artificers of death shall bleed.
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. [1015]
Their Belial with their Beelzebub 89  will fight;
Thus on my foes, my foes shall do me right:
Nor doubt the event; for factious crowds engage,
In their first onset, all their brutal rage.
Then let them take an unresisted course; [1020]
Retire, and traverse, and delude their force:
But when they stand all breathless, urge the fight,
And rise upon them with redoubled might:
For lawful power is still superior found;
When long driven back, at length it stands the ground.” [1025]

He said; the Almighty, nodding, gave consent,
And peals of thunder shook the firmament.
Henceforth a series of new time began,
The mighty years in long procession ran;
Once more the godlike David was restored, [1030]
And willing nations knew their lawful lord.


1. Israel's monarch, David, here stands for Charles II.

2. Michal is the daughter of Saul, who had no children. Here she stands for Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II, who was also childless.

3. Absolon was David's beloved son, who later rebelled against him. Here he stands for James, the Duke of Monmouth (1649-85), the illegitimate son of Charles II. Monmouth sided against his father and with the Exclusionists; he was eventually executed for treason. At the time Absalom and Achitophel was published, Monmouth was thirty-two years old.

4. Foreign fields . . . renown: Monmouth fought against the Dutch in the early 1670s.

5. Annabel: There is no Annabel in the Bible; here she stands for Monmouth's wife, Anne, countess of Buccleuch.

6. Amnon: Amnon was Absalom's half- brother; because he raped Absalom's sister, Absalom had him killed. David eventually forgave Absalom.

7. Sion is Zion, “the city of David” (1 Kings 8:1). Here it stands for London.

8. Sincerely, “Completely, thoroughly, wholly” (OED).

9. The Jews here stand for the English.

10. Adam-wits: here I simply quote the California Edition: “Apparently a reference to those who, like Adam, could not be satisfied with the true freedom under God's law and wrongly yearned for more. To Dryden the English of the late seventies and early eighties who complained of arbitrary government, like their predecessors of the forties, would have been Adam-wits.”

11. Saul . . . crown forgo: See 2 Sam. 3-4, in which Saul's son, Ishbosheth, succeeds his father as king of Israel for just a short time. Here Saul stands for Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England as Lord Protector after Charles's execution, and Ishbosheth for his son Richard, who followed him for a brief while.

12. Hebron: David became king of Judah in Hebron, and was soon proclaimed king of Israel. Charles was named king of Scotland in 1651 (even though he lived in exile) and king of England in 1660.

13. Dishonest, “horrible.”

14. The good old cause refers to the Puritan rebellions during the Civil War of the 1640s.

15. Plots, true or false: The most important false plot in Dryden's mind would be the Popish Plot, which was still ongoing when Dryden wrote the poem. In 1678 Titus Oates declared that Jesuits were plotting to kill Charles II; when he made a public declaration to Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, and Godfrey was found dead shortly thereafter, a public panic ensued. Anti-Catholicism was widespread, and eventually around thirty-five Catholics were executed. Later it was revealed that no such plot ever existed, and Oates was convicted of perjury.

16. Jebusites were a tribe in Jerusalem before the arrival of the Israelites. Here they stand for Roman Catholics, who controlled England before the Reformation brought Protestantism to the country.

17. Heathen priesthood: Here the Roman Catholic priests.

18. Rabbins, “rabbis.” Here they stand for English Protestant theologians and clergymen.

19. That plot, the Popish Plot: see the note on line 83 above.

20. Ten to one is supposed to be the ratio of Protestants to Catholics in England. In fact the proportion of Catholics was much smaller.

21. Stew, “A brothel; a house of prostitution” (Johnson).

22. Humour, “The different kind of moisture in man's body, reckoned by the old physicians to be phlegm, blood, choler, and melancholy, which, as they predominated, were supposed to determine the temper of mind” (Johnson).

23. Achitophel was the counselor of King David who later betrayed him and advised Absalom to rebel against his father. When he realized the rebellion could not be won, he hanged himself. As the editors of the California Edition note, “In the seventeenth century the name Achitophel was virtually a synonym for a wicked and traitorous counselor and politician.” Here he stands for Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-83).

24. Unfeathered two-legged thing: Plato's definition of man.

25. The triple bond here stands for the Triple Alliance, an agreement between England, Holland, and Sweden, dating from 1668. It was designed to be a defense against French expansion. Charles II was not happy with it; he began negotiating with Louis XIV and undermined the alliance. Charles signed the notorious Treaty of Dover in May 1670: it required him eventually to declare himself and his country Catholic, and to help the French in a war against the Dutch.

26. Patriot was a loaded word at the time, usually meaning a member of the Opposition.

27. Abbethdin, an officer of the Jewish high court.

28. Gown: Worn by judges and clerics.

29. Cockle, “A weed that grows in corn” (Johnson).

30. Wanted one immortal song: “Wanted” here means “lacked.” The “immortal song” is Psalm 109, supposed to be an attack on the enemies of David.

31. Cloudy pillar . . . guardian fire: Forms assumed by God in Exodus.

32. Gath was where David took refuge when he fled Saul. Here it stands for Brussels, where Charles II was an exile.

33. Jordan's sand here stands for Dover, the site of Charles II's arrival in England upon the Restoration.

34. Prince of angels . . . diminished light: Cf. Luke 10:18: “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”

35. Pharaoh here stands for Louis XIV of France.

36. Prevents, “anticipates.”

37. Collateral line: Johnson defines collateral as “those that stand in equal relation to some common ancestor.” Charles II and his brother James (later James II) were thus collateral heirs to the throne.

38. Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It refers here to the English Parliament.

39. Alienate, “To transfer the property of anything to another” (Johnson).

40. Vulgar, “Plebeian; suiting to the common people; practised among the common people” (Johnson).

41. Solym‘an, “Of or belonging to Jerusalem” (OED). Here “the Solym‘an rout” stands for the mobs of London.

42. Ethnic plot, that is, a Gentile plot. It refers here to the Popish Plot (see the note on line 83 above).

43. Levites, priests. They here stand for the Puritan preachers who were penalized by the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

44. Aaron's race, the priests.

45. Hydra, a monster with many heads.

46. The name Zimri appears twice in the Bible, once as a lecherous murderer (Numbers 25) and again as a murderous usurper (1 Kings 16). He stands here for George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham (1628-87). Dryden had ridiculed Buckingham in his play The Rehearsal (1671).

47. Chemist, “A professor of chymistry; a philosopher by fire” (Johnson) — the modern distinction between chemist as scientist and alchemist as magician had not yet taken firm hold.

48. Balaam, a prophet who ignored God's word to please the rich and powerful. Here he probably stands for Theophilus Hastings. Caleb, a servant of Moses who entered the Promised Land with Joshua. Here he probably stands for Arthur Capel, earl of Essex, who supported the Exclusion Bill.

49. Nadab, Aaron's eldest son, offered “strange fire” to God (that is, he was an idolater) and was consumed by Him (Lev. 10:1-2). Here he stands for William, Lord Howard of Esrick (1626-94), a Puritan preacher.

50. Porridge was term used by Nonconformists to mean the Book of Common Prayer.

51. Jonas, that is, Jonah, who was angry that God had saved Nineveh after he had prophesied its destruction. Here he stands for Sir William Jones (1631-82), the attorney general who prosecuted many of the Catholics charged in the early stages of the Popish Plot. In 1680 he became a member of Parliament, and supported the Exclusion Bill.

52. Shimei cursed David by calling him a “man of Belial” (2 Sam. 16:5-12). Here he stands for Slingsby Bethel (1617-97), a sheriff of London and Middlesex.

53. Vare, “A rod, staff, or wand, esp. as a symbol of judicial office or authority” (OED).

54. The sons of Belial: Belial's sons were wicked and debauched.

55. Rechabite: The sons of Rechab abstained from wine (Jer. 35).

56. Shrieval board, the sheriff's dinner table.

57. Towns, once burnt: Most of London was consumed by a fire in 1666.

58. Corah: Corah led a rebellion against Moses. Here he stands for Titus Oates, who invented the Popish Plot and led the persecution of Catholics.

59. Weaver's issue: Oates was the son of a weaver.

60. Stephen: St. Stephen was the first martyr, and the victim of false witnesses.

61. Choleric, “irascible” or “irritable.” Dryden is being ironic.

62. Rabbinical degree . . . university: Oates claimed to have a Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Salamanca.

63. Agag, king of the Amalekites. According to Samuel, God wanted Saul to annihilate them. When Saul took Agag prisoner, however, Samuel told him that God was angry with him. Here he seems to stands for Lord Stafford, a Catholic who had been accused of treason by Oates.

64. Hybla-drops, honey. Hyblaean honey was proverbial for its sweetness.

65. Egypt and Tyrus stand for France and Holland.

66. Bathsheba: David had a child with Bathsheba while she was married; he then sent her husband into battle, where he was killed. David later married her. Here she stands for Louise de Keroualle, duchess of Portsmouth, one of Charles II's mistresses.

67. Issachar, one of the sons of Jacob, who was lazy and greedy. He here stands for the fabulously wealthy Thomas Thynne (1648-82).

68. A brother and a wife: After defending them for a while, Oates accused both Charles's brother, James, and his wife, Queen Catherine, of being involved in the Popish Plot.

69. Circumvented, “Deceived; cheated; deluded” (Johnson).

70. Rout, “A clamorous multitude; a rabble; a tumultuous crowd” (Johnson).

71. Fabric, “A building; an edifice” (Johnson).

72. Ark: Not the boat in which Noah traveled, but the Ark of the Covenant. It was sacrilegious to disturb it.

73. Regions waste here stand for Ireland.

74. Eldest hope: Thomas Butler, earl of Ossory, was Ormonde's eldest son. He loyally defended his father against Shaftesbury's accusations, but died in 1680. Dryden later dedicated his Fables to Ossory's son, the second Duke of Ormonde.

75. Hearse, “A temporary monument set over a grave” (Johnson).

76. Zadoc was a companion of David, who carried the Ark of the Covenant with him into the wilderness. David sent him back to Jerusalem to await God's judgment. Here he stands for William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury.

77. Sagan, a Jewish deputy high priest. Here he stands for Henry Compton, Bishop of London.

78. Western dome here stands for Westminster Abbey, where Sancroft was dean.

79. Prophet's sons here stand for the students of Westminster School, which Dryden attended as a child.

80. Adriel, son of Barzillai. Here he stands for John Sheffield, 3rd earl of Mulgrave. He supported Dryden and James, Duke of York, and he opposed Monmouth.

81. Jotham here stands for George Savile, marquis of Halifax, and nephew of Shaftesbury. Charles II disliked him at first, but was persuaded to appoint him to the council in 1679. Halifax later became one of Charles's favorites. He defended the king from his uncle's attacks, and Dryden gave him credit for helping to defeat the Exclusion Bill. Dryden also dedicated his King Arthur to Halifax.

82. Hushai, David's friend, here stands for Lawrence Hyde, earl of Rochester, Charles II's First Lord of the Treasury. He fought against the Exclusion Bill. Like Sheffield, he was one of Dryden's patrons.

83. Amiel: Amiel and Barzillai traveled into the wilderness to bring supplies to David. Here he stands for Edward Seymour, speaker of the House of Commons and treasurer of the Navy.

84. The unequal ruler of the day: Phaeton, who lost control of Apollo's chariot and scorched the earth.

85. Plume, “To strip; to pill” (Johnson).

86. Samson: Samson brought down the house by shaking the pillars, killing himself along with his captors.

87. Brave, “A hector; a man daring beyond decency or discretion” (Johnson).

88. Esau's hands . . . Jacob's voice: Jacob sought the blessing of his father, Isaac, by pretending to be his brother Esau. He covered himself with the hair of a goat, and his father, unable to see, thought he was his more hirsute brother.

89. Belial . . . Beelzebub: Fallen angels.