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Dryden seems to have thought, when he wrote his Absalom and Ahithophel, that Oates's plot was not wholly a fabrication : he describes it,
“ The nation's curse, “ Bad in itself, but represented worse : “ Prais'd in extreme, and in extreme decried ; “ With oaths affirm’d, by dying 'vows denied. “ Some truth there was, but dash'd and brew'd with lies.
Succeeding times did equal folly call, “ Believing nothing, and believing all.”
It now seems clear, that the plot, as it was described by Oates, was a mere fabrication; and that the greatest faults which could, with any degree of justice, be charged upon any catholics, were,—their entertaining too sanguine an expectation of the immediate conversion of the kingdom to their faith; an occasional injudicious activity in promoting it; and the unguarded language, by which some,-as father Coleman in his well known letters,-deseribed their prospects and expressed their hopes.
Sir Walter Scott observes, that, from the “ time “ of the execution of lord Stafford, the popish plot, “like a serpent which has wasted its poison,
though its wreathes entangled many, and its “terrors held their sway over more, did little ef“ fectual mischief: but that even, when long life“ less and extinguished, the chimera, far in the
succeeding reigns, continued, like the dragon “ slain by the red-cross knight, to be the object
“ of popular fear, and the theme of credulous ter« rorists ;
“ Some fear'd and Aled; some fear'd and well it fain'd.
“ One, that would wiser seem than all the rest, “ Warn'd him not touch; for yet, perhaps, remain'd
« Some lingʻring life within his hollow breast, “ Or in his womb might lurk some hidden nest
“ Of many dragonettes, his fruitful seed; “ Another said, that, in his eyes did rest
“ Yet sparkling fire, and bade thereof take heed; “ Another said, he saw him move his eyes indeed."
It is known that several of the witnesses for the plot afterwards became witnesses against lord Shaftesbury and the whigs. This," sir Walter Scott observes *, " was triumphantly urged by the “ tories. Are not these men good witnesses, upon “ whose testimony, Stafford and so many catholics “ have been executed, and whom you yourselves “ have so long celebrated, as men of virtue and
veracity? You have admitted them into your “ bosom ; they are best acquainted with your trea
sons.”_"To this,” sir Walter observes, “ there “ was but one answer : “We have been duped by “our own prejudices, and the perjury of these “men.'—But this, though the whigs true defence, “ required a candid disavowal of the popish plot, " and reprobation of the witnesses; and that, no “ true protestant would submit to.”
The Religio Laici of Dryden is allowed to be one of the most admirable poems in the language.
Medal, note 9.
It is observed by the editor, that, “ at the time, “ in which it appeared, the nation was divided “ into the three great sects, of churchmen, papists, “and dissenters. To the catholics, the dissenters
objected their cruel intolerance and jesuitical practices; to the church of England, their servile
dependence on the crown, and slavish doctrine “ of non-resistance. The catholics, on the other
hand, charged the reformed church of England “ with desertion from the original doctrines of ' christianity, with denying the infallibility of gene“ral councils, and destroying the unity of the “church; and against the fanatics, they objected “ their antimonarchical tenets, the wild visions of “their independent preachers, and their seditious “cabals against the church and state. While the “ church of England was thus assailed by two foes, “ who did not at the same time spare each other, “ it probably occurred to Dryden that he, who “could explain her tenets, by a plain and philoso
phical commentary, had a chance, not only to fix “ and regulate the faith of her professors, but of “ reconciling to her, as a middle course, the catho“ lics and the fanatics.—A rational and philoso
phical view of the tenets of the national church
liberally expressed, and decorated with the orna“ments of poetry, seemed calculated to produce << this effect.”
Every christian reader who peruses the following lines, in the poem, of which we are now speaking, will respect both the talents of the poet, and the purpose, to which, on this occasion, he devoted them :
“ If on the book itself* we cast our view,
“ Then,-for the style,-majestic and divine,
Or sense indulg'd, has made mankind their friend;
And, with a stubborn patience, still aspires;
Transcending nature, but to laws divine?” As yet, Dryden was within the protestant pale : but several parts of the poem show that he was , påcing to the catholic side. He intimates that the Bible should be received with the interpretation of the early fathers: still, he asserts the right of private judgment, but expresses a strong wish for an infallible guide.
This, by becoming a convert to the roman-catholic religion, he afterwards found; and to this circumstance we owe “The Hind and the Panther," probably the best controversial any
language. The object is to recommend an union between the milk-white hind,--(the catholic religion,) - who must be loved as soon as seen and known,
* The Bible.
--and the panther, -(the established church), the noblest next the lion, and too good to be a beast of prey,-against their common enemies, the bear, the hare, the ape, the boar, and the fox, or the independents, the quakers, the free-thinkers, the anabaptists, and the unitarians. It is justly observed by sir Walter Scott, that the object of the poem shows that Dryden was not in the secret of James the second, as the purpose of the monarch was to introduce a free exercise of the catholic religion, not by an union between its adherents and the members of the established church, but by uniting the dissenting congregations in a common interest, with the hind, against the exclusive power and privileges of the panther and her subjects.
The poet thus describes, with exquisite beauty, his own wanderings and final settlement :
“ What weight of ancient witness can prevail,