Page images
PDF
EPUB

mer were kept out of state employments. Such an union had at one time been deemed practicable; and, in 1685, pamphlets had been published, seriously exhorting the church of England to a league with the Catholics, in order to root out the sectaries as common enemies to both. The steady adherence of the church of England to Protestant principles, rendered all hopes of such an union abortive; and, while Dryden was composing his poem upon this deserted plan, James was taking different steps to accomplish the main purpose both of the poet and monarch.

The power of the crown to dispense, at pleasure, with the established laws of the kingdom, had been often asserted, and sometimes exercised, by former English monarchs. A king was entitled, the favourers of prerogative argued, to pardon the breach of a statute, when committed; why not, therefore, to suspend its effect by a dispensation a priori, or by a general suspension of the law? which was only doing in general, what he was confessedly empowered to do in particular cases. But a doctrine so pernicious to liberty was never allowed to take root in the constitution; and the confounding the prerogative of extending mercy to individual criminals, with that of annulling the laws under which they had been condemned, was a fallacy easily detected and refuted. Charles II. twice attempted to assert his supposed privilege of suspending the penal laws, by granting a general toleration; and he had, in both cases, been obliged to retract, by the remonstrances of Parliament.* But his successor, who conceived that his power was situated on a more firm basis, and who was naturally obstinate in his resolutions, was not swayed by this recollection. He took every opportunity to exercise the power of dispensing with the laws, requiring Catholics to take the test agreeable to act of Parliament. He asserted his right to do so in his speech to the Parliament, on 9th November, 1685; he despised the remonstrances of both Houses, upon so flagrant and open a violation of the law; and he endeavoured, by a packed bench, and a feigned action at law, to extort a judicial ratification of his dispensing power. At length, not contented with granting dispensations to individuals, the king resolved at once to suspend the operation of all penal statutes, which required conformity with the church of England, as well as of the test act.

On the 4th of April, 1687, came forth the memorable Declaration of Indulgence, in favour of all non-conformists of whatever persuasion; by which they were not only protected in the full exercise of their various forms of religion, but might, without con

* In the years 1662 and 1674. See Vol. IX. p. 448.

formity, be admitted to all offices in the state. With what consequences this act of absolute power was attended, the history of the Revolution makes us fully acquainted; for it is surely unnecessary to add, that the indulgence occasioned the petition and trial of the bishops, the most important incident in that momentous period.

About a fortnight after the publishing of this declaration of indulgence, our author's poem made its appearance; being licensed on the 11th April, 1687, and published a few days after. If it was undertaken without the knowledge of the court, it was calculated, on its appearance, to secure the royal countenance and approbation. Accordingly, as soon as it was published in England, a second edition was thrown off at a printing office in Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, then maintained for the express purpose of disseminating such treatises as were best calculated to serve the Catholic cause." If the Protestant dissenters ever cast their eyes upon profane poetry, "The Hind and the Panther" must have appeared to them a perilous commentary on the king's declaration; since it shows clearly, that the Catholic interest alone was what the Catholic king and poet had at heart, and that, however the former might now find himself obliged to court their favour, to strengthen his party against the established church, the deep remembrance of ancient feuds and injuries was still cherished, and the desire of vengeance on the fanatics neither sated nor subdued.

*

In composing this poem, it may be naturally presumed, that Dryden exerted his full powers. He was to justify, in the eyes of the world, a step which is always suspicious; and, by placing be- \ fore the public the arguments by which he had been induced to change his religion, he was at once to exculpate himself, and induce others to follow his example. He chose, for the mode of conveying this instruction, that parabolical form of writing, which took its rise perhaps in the East, or rather which, in a greater or less degree, is common to all nations. An old author observes, that there is "no species of four-footed beasts, of birds, of fish, of insects, reptiles, or any other living things, whose nature is not found in man. How exactly agreeable to the fox are some men's tempers; whilst others are profest bears in human shape. Here you shall meet a crocodile, who seeks, with feigned tears, to entrap you to your ruin; there a serpent creeps, and winds himself into your affections, till, on a sudden, when warmed with favours, he

Our author was not the only poet who hailed this dawn of toleration; for there is in Luttrell's Collection, "A Congratulatory Poem, dedicated to his Majesty, on the late gracious Declaration (9th June, 1687); by a Person of Quality."

will bite and sting you to death. Tygers, lions, leopards, panthers, wolves, and all the monstrous generations of Africa, may be seen masquerading in the forms of men; and 'tis not hard for an observing mind to see their natural complexions through the borrowed vizard."* Dryden conceived the idea, of extending to religious communities the supposed resemblance between man and the lower animals. Under the name of a "milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged," he described the unity, simplicity, and innocence of the church, to which he had become a convert; and under that of a Panther, fierce and inexorable towards those of a different persuasion, he bodied forth the church of England, obstinate in defending its pale from encroachment, by the penal statutes and the test act. There wanted not critics to tell him, that he had mistaken the character of either communion. The inferior sects

Turkish Spy, Vol. viii. p. 19.

Perhaps the poet recollected the attributes ascribed to the panther by one of the fathers: "Pantheræ, ut Divus Basilius ait, cum immani sint ac crudeli odio in homines a natura incensæ, in hominum simulacra juribundæ irruunt, nec aliter hominum effigiem, quam homines ipsos dilacerant."-GRANATEUS Consion. de Tempore, Tom. i. p. 492.

45

Only by the way, before we bring D. against D. to the stake, I would fain know how Mr Bayes, that so well understood the nature of beasts, came to pitch upon the Hind and the Panther, to signify the church of Rome and the church of England? Doubtless his reply will be, because the hind is a creature harmless and innocent; the panther mischievous and inexorable. Let all this be granted; what is this to the author's absurdity in the choice of his beasts? For the scene of the persecution is Europe, a part of the world which never bred panthers since the creation of the universe. On the other side, grant his ailusion passable, and then he stigmatizes the church of England to be the most cruel and most voracious creature that ranges all the Lybian deserts; a character, which shows him to have a strange mist before his eyes when he reads ecclesiastical history. And then, says he,

The panther, sure the noblest next the hind,
And fairest creature of the spotted kind.

Which is another blunder, cujus contrarium verum est: For if beauty, strength, and courage, advance the value of the several parts of the creation, without question the panther is far to be preferred before the hind, a poor, silly, timorous, ill-shaped, bobtailed crcature, of which a score will hardly purchase the skin of a true panther. Had he looked a little farther, Ludolphus would have furnished him with a zebra, the most beautiful of all the four-footed creatures in the world, to have coped with his panther for spots, and with his hind for gentleness and mildness; of which one was sold singly to the Turkish governor of Suaquena for 2000 Venetian ducats. been a beast for him, as pat as a pudding for a friar's mouth. But to couple the hind and the panther was just like sic magna parvis componere; and, therefore, he had better have put his hind in a good pasty, or reserved her for some more proper allusion; for this, though his nimble beast have four feet, will by no means run quatuor pedibus, though she had a whole kennel of hounds at her heels."-The Revolter, a Tragi-comedy.

There had

are described under the emblem of various animals, fierce and disgusting in proportion to their more remote affinity.to the church of Rome. And in a dialogue between the two principal characters, the leading arguments of the controversy between the churches, at least what the poet chose to consider as such, are formally discussed.

But Dryden's plan is far from coming within the limits of a fable or parable, strictly so called; for it is strongly objected, that the poet has been unable to avoid confounding the real churches themselves with the Hind and the Panther, under which they are represented. "The hind," as Johnson observes, "at one time is afraid to drink at the common brook, because she may be worried; but, walking home with the panther, talks by the way of the Nicene fathers, and at last declares herself to be the Catholic church." And the same critic complains, "that the king is now Cæsar, and now the lion, and that the name Pan is given to the Supreme Being." "The Hind and Panther transversed, or the City and Country Mouse," which was written in ridicule of this poem, turns chiefly upon the incongruity of the emblems adopted by Dryden, and the inconsistencies into which his plan had led him.* This ri

The following justification of their plan is taken from the preface, which is believed to have been entirely the composition of Montague.

"The favourers of The Hind and Panther' will be apt to say in its defence, that the best things are capable of being turned to ridicule; that Homer has been burlesqued, and Virgil travestied, without suffering any thing in their reputation from that buffoonery; and that, in like manner, The Hind and the Panther' may be an exact poem, though it is the subject of our raillery: But there is this difference, that those authors are wrested from their true sense, and this naturally falls into ridicule; there is nothing represented here as monstrous and unnatural, which is not equally so in the original.First, as to the general design; Is it not as easy to imagine two mice bilking coachmen, and supping at the Devil, as to suppose a hind entertaining the panther at a hermit's cell, discussing the greatest mysteries of religion, and telling you her son Rodriguez writ very good Spanish? What can be more improbable and contradictory to the rules and examples of all fables, and to the very design and use of them? They were first begun, and raised to the highest perfection, in the eastern countries, where they wrote in signs, and spoke in parables, and delivered the most useful precepts in delightful stories; which, for their aptness, were entertaining to the most judicious, and led the vulgar into understanding by surprizing them with their novelty, and fixing their attention. All their fables carry a double meaning; the story is one and entire; the characters the same throughout, not broken or changed, and always conformable to the nature of the creatures they introduce. They never tell you, that the dog, which snapt at a shadow, lost his troop of horse; that would be unintelligible; a piece of flesh is proper for him to drop, and the reader will apply it to mankind: They would not say, that the daw, who was so proud of her borrowed plumes, looked very ridiculous, when Rodriguez came and took away all the book but the 17th, 24th, and 25th chapters, which

dicule, and the criticism on which it is founded, seems, however, to be carried a little too far. If a fable, or parable, is to be entirely and exclusively limited to a detail which may suit the com

she stole from him. But this is his new way of telling a story, and confounding the moral and the fable together.

Before the word was written, said the hind,
Our Saviour preached the faith to all mankind.

What relation has the hind to our Saviour? or what notion have we of a panther's bible? If you say he means the church, how does the church feed on lawns, or range in the forest? Let it be always a church, or always the cloven-footed beast, for we cannot bear his shifting the scene every line. If it is absurd in comedies to make a peasant talk in the strain of a hero, or a country wench use the language of the court, how monstrous is it to make a priest of a hind, and a parson of a panther? To bring them in disputing with all the formalities and terms of the school? Though as to the arguments themselves, those we confess are suited to the capacity of the beasts; and if we would suppose a hind expressing herself about these matters, she would talk at that rate."

The reader may be curious to see a specimen of the manner in which these two applauded wits encountered Dryden's controversial poem, with such eminent success, that a contemporary author has said, "that The City and Country Mouse' ruined the reputation of the divine, as the Rehearsal' ruined the reputation of the poet." * The plan is a dialogue between Bayes, and Smith, and Johnson, his old friends in the "Rehearsal;" the poet recites to them a new work, in which the Popish and English churches are represented as the city and country mouse, the former spotted, the latter milk-white. The following is a specimen both of the poetry and dialogue :

" Bayes. [Reads.] With these allurements, Spotted did invite,
From hermit's cell, the female proselyte.
Oh, with what ease we follow such a guide,
Where souls are starved, and senses gratified!

"Now, would not you think she's going? but, egad, you're mistaken; you shall hear a long argument about infallibility before she stir yet:

But here the White, by observation wise,
Who long on heaven had fixed her prying eyes,
With thoughtful countenance, and grave remark,
Said, "Or my judgment fails me, or 'tis dark;
Lest, therefore, we should stray, and not go right,
Through the brown horror of the starless night,
Hast thou Infallibility, that wight?"
Sternly the savage grinned, and thus replied,
"That mice may err, was never yet denied."
"That I deny," said the immortal dame,
"There is a guide,-Gad, I've forgot his name,-

Preface to the Second Part of "The Reasons of Mr Bayes changing his

Religion."

« PreviousContinue »