Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Extracts from Absalom and Achitophel: The Malcontents. Zimri
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
 
[From Part I; 1681.]

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,)        5
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.        10
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,        15
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.        20
Who follow next a double danger bring,
Not only hating David, but the King;
The Solymaean rout, 1 well versed of old
In godly faction and in treason bold,
Cowering and quaking at a conqueror’s sword,        25
But lofty to a lawful prince restored,
Saw with disdain an Ethnic plot begun
And scorned by Jebusites to be outdone.
Hot Levites 2 headed these; who, pulled before
From the ark which in the Judges’ days they bore,        30
Resumed their cant, and with a zealous cry
Pursued their old beloved theocracy,
Where Sanhedrin and priest enslaved the nation,
And justified their spoils by inspiration;
For who so fit for reign as Aaron’s race,        35
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:        40
’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,        45
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.        50
Such were the tools; but a whole Hydra 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 3 stand,
A man so various that he seemed to be        55
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 chymist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon;        60
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,        65
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.        70
Beggared by fools whom still he found 4 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        75
On Absalom and wise Achitophel;
Thus wicked but in will, of means bereft,
He left not faction, but of that was left.
 
Note 1. The Solymaean rout is the rabble of the City. (Hierosolyma, or Jerusalem = London.) [back]
Note 2. Levites = Presbyterian ministers. [back]
Note 3. Zimri is George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, a member of the Cabal, but after his dismissal a member of the Opposition. He had ridiculed Dryden as Bayes in The Rehearsal. [back]
Note 4. found out. [back]
 
 
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