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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Achitophel
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
 

THIS plot, which failed for want of common-sense,
Had yet a deep and dangerous consequence:
For as when raging fevers boil the blood,
The standing lake soon floats into a flood,
And every hostile humor, which before        5
Slept quiet in its channels, bubbles o’er;
So several factions from this first ferment
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.        10
Some had in courts been great, and thrown from thence,
Like fiends were hardened in impenitence.
Some, by their monarch’s fatal mercy, grown
From pardoned rebels kinsmen to the throne,
Were raised in power and public office high;        15
Strong bands, if bands ungrateful men could tie.
  Of these the false Achitophel 1 was first;
A name to all succeeding ages curst:
For close designs and crooked councils fit;
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit;        20
Restless, unfixed in principles and place;
In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace:
A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
Fretted the pigmy body to decay,
And o’er-informed the tenement of clay.        25
A daring pilot in extremity;
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high
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,        30
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else why should he, with wealth and honor blest,
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Punish a body which he could not please;
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?        35
And all to leave what with his toil he won,
To that unfeathered two-legged thing, a son;
Got while his soul did huddled notions try,
And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.
In friendship false, implacable in hate;        40
Resolved to ruin or to rule the State.
To compass this the triple bond he broke,
The pillars of the public safety shook,
And fitted Israel for a foreign yoke:
Then, seized with fear yet still affecting fame,        45
Usurped a patriot’s all-atoning name.
So easy still it proves in factious times,
With public zeal to cancel private crimes.
How safe is treason, and how sacred ill,
Where none can sin against the people’s will!        50
Where crowds can wink, and no offense be known,
Since in another’s guilt they find their own!
Yet fame deserved no enemy can grudge;
The statesman we abhor, but praise the judge.
In Israel’s courts ne’er sat an Abethdin        55
With more discerning eyes, or hands more clean,
Unbribed, unsought, the wretched to redress;
Swift of dispatch, and easy of access.
Oh! had he been content to serve the Crown,
With virtues only proper to the gown;        60
Or had the rankness of the soil been freed
From cockle that oppressed the noble seed;
David for him his tuneful harp had strung,
And heaven had wanted one immortal song.
But wild Ambition loves to slide, not stand,        65
And Fortune’s ice prefers to Virtue’s land.
Achitophel, grown weary to possess
A lawful fame, and lazy happiness,
Disdained the golden fruit to gather free,
And lent the crowd his arm to shake the tree.        70
Now, manifest of crimes contrived long since,
He stood at bold defiance with his prince;
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;        75
Some circumstances finds, but more he makes.
By buzzing emissaries fills the ears
Of listening crowds with jealousies and fears
Of arbitrary counsels brought to light,
And proves the king himself a Jebusite.        80
 
Note 1. Lord Shaftesbury. [back]
 
 
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