Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
To My Honoured Kinsman, John Dryden
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
Of Chesterton, in the county of Huntingdon, Esq.; 1699. 1

HOW blessed is he who leads a country life,
Unvexed with anxious cares and void of strife!
Who, studying peace and shunning civil rage,
Enjoyed his youth and now enjoys his age:
All who deserve his love he makes his own;        5
And, to be loved himself, needs only to be known.
  Just, good, and wise, contending neighbours come
From your award to wait their final doom,
And, foes before, return in friendship home.
Without their cost you terminate the cause        10
And save the expense of long litigious laws,
Where suits are traversed, and so little won
That he who conquers is but last undone.
Such are not your decrees; but so designed,
The sanction leaves a lasting peace behind,        15
Like your own soul serene, a pattern of your mind.
  Promoting concord and composing strife,
Lord of yourself, uncumbered with a wife;
Where, for a year, a month, perhaps a night,
Long penitence succeeds a short delight:        20
Minds are so hardly matched, that even the first,
Though paired by Heaven, in Paradise were cursed.
For man and woman, though in one they grow,
Yet, first or last, return again to two;
He to God’s image, she to his was made;        25
So farther from the fount the stream at random strayed.
  How could he stand, when, put to double pain,
He must a weaker than himself sustain?
Each might have stood perhaps, but each alone;
Two wrestlers help to pull each other down.        30
  Not that my verse would blemish all the fair;
But yet, if some be bad, ’tis wisdom to beware,
And better shun the bait than struggle in the snare.
Thus have you shunned and shun the married state,
Trusting as little as you can to Fate.        35
  No porter guards the passage of your door,
To admit the wealthy and exclude the poor;
For God, who gave the riches, gave the heart
To sanctify the whole by giving part.
Heaven, who foresaw the will, the means has wrought,        40
And to the second son a blessing brought!
The first-begotten had his father’s share,
But you, like Jacob, are Rebecca’s heir. 2
  So may your stores and fruitful fields increase,
And ever be you blessed, who live to bless.        45
As Ceres sowed where’er her chariot flew,
As Heaven in deserts rained the bread of dew,
So free to many, to relations most,
You feed with manna your own Israel host.
  With crowds attended of your ancient race,        50
You seek the champian 3 sports or sylvan chace;
With well-breathed beagles you surround the wood,
Even then industrious of the common good;
And often have you brought the wily fox
To suffer for the firstlings of the flocks,        55
Chased even amid the folds, and made to bleed,
Like felons, where they did the murderous deed.
This fiery game your active youth maintained,
Not yet by years extinguished, though restrained;
You season still with sports your serious hours,        60
For age but tastes of pleasures, youth devours.
The hare in pastures or in plains is found,
Emblem of human life; who runs the round,
And, after all his wandering ways are done,
His circle fills, and ends where he begun,        65
Just as the setting meets the rising sun.
Thus princes ease their cares; but happier he,
Who seeks not pleasure through necessity,
Than such as once on slippery thrones were placed,
And, chasing, sigh to think themselves are chased.        70
  So lived our sires, ere doctors learned to kill,
And multiplied with theirs the weekly bill.
The first physicians by debauch were made;
Excess began, and sloth sustains the trade.
Pity the generous kind their cares bestow        75
To search forbidden truths (a sin to know),
To which if human science could attain,
The doom of death, pronounced by God, were vain.
In vain the leech would interpose delay;
Fate fastens first, and vindicates the prey.        80
What help from art’s endeavours can we have?
Guibbons 4 but guesses, nor is sure to save;
But Maurus 5 sweeps whole parishes, and peoples every grave.
And no more mercy to mankind will use
Than when he robbed and murdered Maro’s muse.        85
Wouldst thou be soon dispatched, and perish whole,
Trust Maurus with thy life, and Milbourn with thy soul.
By chase our long-lived fathers earned their food;
Toil strung the nerves and purified the blood:
But we their sons, a pampered race of men,        90
Are dwindled down to threescore years and ten.
Better to hunt in fields for health unbought
Than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught.
The wise for cure on exercise depend;
God never made his work for man to mend.        95
  The tree of knowledge, once in Eden placed,
Was easy found, but was forbid the taste;
O, had our grandsire walked without his wife,
He first had sought the better plant of life!
Now both are lost: yet wandering in the dark,        100
Physicians for the tree have found the bark;
They, labouring for relief of human kind,
With sharpened sight some remedies may find;
The apothecary-train is wholly blind.
From files a random recipe they take,        105
And many deaths of one prescription make.
Garth, 6 generous as his Muse, prescribes and gives;
The shopman sells, and by destruction lives:
Ungrateful tribe! who, like the viper’s brood,
From Medicine issuing, suck their mother’s blood!        110
Let these obey, and let the learn’d prescribe,
That men may die without a double bribe;
Let them, but under their superiors, kill,
When doctors first have signed the bloody bill:
He scapes the best, who, nature to repair,        115
Draws physic from the fields in draughts of vital air.
  You hoard not health for your own private use,
But on the public spend the rich produce.
When, often urged, unwilling to be great,
Your country calls you from your loved retreat,        120
And sends to senates, charged with common care,
Which none more shuns, and none can better bear:
Where could they find another formed so fit
To poise with solid sense a sprightly wit?
Were these both wanting, (as they both abound,)        125
Where could so firm integrity be found?
  Well-born and wealthy, wanting no support,
You steer betwixt the country and the court;
Nor gratify whate’er the great desire,
Nor grudging give what public needs require.        130
Part must be left, a fund when foes invade;
And part employed to roll the watery trade;
Even Canaan’s happy land, when worn with toil,
Required a sabbath-year to mend the meagre soil.
  Good senators (and such are you) so give,        135
That kings may be supplied, the people thrive;
And he, when want requires, is truly wise,
Who slights not foreign aids nor over-buys,
But on our native strength in time of need relies.
Münster was bought, we boast not the success; 7        140
Who fights for gain for greater makes his peace.
  Our foes, compelled by need, have peace embraced; 8
The peace both parties want is like to last;
Which if secure, securely we may trade,
Or not secure, should never have been made.        145
Safe in our selves, while on our selves we stand,
The sea is ours, and that defends the land.
Be then the naval stores the nation’s care,
New ships to build, and battered to repair.
  Observe the war in every annual course;        150
What has been done was done with British force.
Namur subdued is England’s palm alone;
The rest besieged, but we constrained the town:
We saw the event that followed our success;
France, though pretending arms, pursued the peace,        155
Obliged by one sole treaty to restore
What twenty years of war had won before.
Enough for Europe has our Albion fought:
Let us enjoy the peace our blood has bought.
When once the Persian king was put to flight,        160
The weary Macedons refused to fight:
Themselves their own mortality confessed,
And left the son of Jove to quarrel for the rest.
  Even victors are by victories undone:
Thus Hannibal, with foreign laurels won,        165
To Carthage was recalled, too late to keep his own.
While sore of battle, while our wounds are green,
Why should we tempt the doubtful die again?
In wars renewed uncertain of success,
Sure of a share, as umpires of the peace.        170
  A patriot both the king and country serves,
Prerogative and privilege preserves.
Of each our laws the certain limit show;
One must not ebb, nor t’ other overflow.
Betwixt the Prince and Parliament we stand;        175
The barriers of the State on either hand:
May neither overflow, for then they drown the land.
When both are full, they feed our blessed abode,
Like those that watered once the Paradise of God.
  Some overpoise of sway by turns they share;        180
In peace the people, and the prince in war:
Consuls of moderate powers in calms were made;
When the Gauls came, one sole dictator swayed.
  Patriots in peace assert the people’s right,
With noble stubbornness resisting might:        185
No lawless mandates from the court receive,
Nor lend by force, but in a body give.
Such was your generous grandsire, free to grant 9
In parliaments that weighed their Prince’s want:
But so tenacious of the common cause        190
As not to lend the king against his laws;
And, in a loathsome dungeon doomed to lie,
In bonds retained his birth-right liberty,
And shamed oppression, till it set him free.
  O true descendant of a patriot line,        195
Who, while thou sharest their lustre, lend’st them thine,
Vouchsafe this picture of thy soul to see;
’Tis so far good as it resembles thee.
The beauties to the original I owe,
Which when I miss, my own defects I show.        200
Nor think the kindred Muses thy disgrace;
A poet is not born in every race.
Two of a house few ages can afford,
One to perform, another to record.
Praiseworthy actions are by thee embraced;        205
And ’tis my praise to make thy praises last.
For even when death dissolves our human frame,
The soul returns to Heaven from whence it came,
Earth keeps the body, verse preserves the fame.
Note 1. John Dryden, first cousin of the poet, was Member for Huntingdonshire, and seems to have belonged to the Opposition, which called itself the Country party. [back]
Note 2. John Dryden inherited from his mother. [back]
Note 3. Champian sports, country sports. [back]
Note 4. A celebrated physician of the day, who attended Dryden himself. [back]
Note 5. Sir Richard Blackmore, ‘Knight Physician’ and ‘City Bard,’ who had attacked Dryden in the preface to his moral epic, Prince Arthur, and in a Satire upon Wit. Luke Milbourn was a clergyman who had written a pamphlet in hostile criticism of Dryden’s Virgil. [back]
Note 6. Sir Samuel Garth, an eminent physician, and author (whatever the overwise might say) of the poem The Dispensary. [back]
Note 7. The Bishop of Münster, the notorious Bernhard von Galen, received English pay when taking part in the war against the Dutch; but on the intervention of France he laid down his arms in 1666. [back]
Note 8. The Peace of Ryswick (1697), concluded two years after William the Third’s capture of Namur, referred to a few lines further on. [back]
Note 9. Your generous grandsire; Sir Erasmus Dryden, who was likewise the poet’s grandfather. He was imprisoned under Charles I for refusing to contribute to the general loan in 1626. [back]

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.