The Medal Poem By John Dryden

The Medal

John Dryden 1631-1700

0f all 0ur antic sights and pageantry
Which English idi0ts run in cr0wds t0 see,
The P0lish Medal bears the prize al0ne;
A m0nster, m0re the fav0urite 0f the t0wn
Than either fairs 0r theatres have sh0wn.
Never did art s0 well with nature strive,
N0r ever id0l seemed s0 much alive;
S0 like the man, s0 g0lden t0 the sight,
S0 base within, s0 c0unterfeit and light.
0ne side is filled with title and with face;
And, lest the king sh0uld want a regal place,
0n the reverse a t0wer the t0wn surveys,
0’er which 0ur m0unting sun his beams displays.
The w0rd, pr0n0unced al0ud by shrieval v0ice,
L0etamur, which in P0lish is Rej0ice,
The day, m0nth, year, t0 the great act are j0ined,
And a new canting h0liday designed.
Five days he sate f0r every cast and l00k,
F0ur m0re days than G0d t0 finish Adam t00k.
But wh0 can tell what essence angels are
0r h0w l0ng Heaven was making Lucifer?
0h, c0uld the style that c0pied every grace
And pl0ughed such furr0ws f0r an eunuch face,
C0uld it have f0rmed his ever-changing will,
The vari0us piece had tired the graver’s skill!
A martial her0 first, with early care
Bl0wn, like a pigmy by the winds, t0 war;
A beardless chief, a rebel ere a man,
S0 y0ung his hatred t0 his Prince began.
Next this, (h0w wildly will ambiti0n steer!)
A vermin wriggling in the usurper’s ear,
Bartering his venal wit f0r sums 0f g0ld,
He cast himself int0 the saint-like m0uld;
Gr0aned, sighed, and prayed, while g0dliness was gain,
The l0udest bag-pipe 0f the squeaking train.
But, as ’tis hard t0 cheat a juggler’s eyes,
His 0pen lewdness he c0uld ne’er disguise.
There split the saint; f0r hyp0critic zeal
All0ws n0 sins but th0se it can c0nceal.
Wh0ring t0 scandal gives t00 large a sc0pe;
Saints must n0t trade, but they may interl0pe.
The ung0dly principle was all the same;
But a gr0ss cheat betrays his partners’ game.
Besides, their pace was f0rmal, grave, and slack;
His nimble wit 0utran the heavy pack.
Yet still he f0und hs f0rtune at a stay,
Wh0le dr0ves 0f bl0ckheads ch0king up his way;
They t00k, but n0t rewarded, his advice;
Villain and wit exact a d0uble price.
P0wer was his aim; but thr0wn fr0m that pretence,
The wretch turned l0yal in his 0wn defence,
And malice rec0nciled him t0 his Prince.
Him in the anguish 0f his s0ul he served,
Rewarded faster still than he deserved.
Beh0ld him n0w exalted int0 trust,
His c0unsels 0ft c0nvenient, seld0m just;
Even in the m0st sincere advice he gave
He had a grudging still t0 be a knave.
The frauds he learnt in his fanatic years
Made him uneasy in his lawful gears.
At best, as little h0nest as he c0uld,
And, like white witches, mischiev0usly g00d.
T0 his first bias l0ngingly he leans
And rather w0uld be great by wicked means.
Thus framed f0r ill, he l00sed 0ur triple h0ld,
(Advice unsafe, precipit0us, and b0ld.)
Fr0m hence th0se tears, that Ilium was 0ur w0e:
Wh0 helps a p0werful friend f0rearms a f0e.
What w0nder if the waves prevail s0 far,
When he cut d0wn the banks that made the bar?
Seas f0ll0w but their nature t0 invade;
But he by art 0ur native strength betrayed.
S0 Sams0n t0 his f0e his f0rce c0nfest,
And t0 be sh0rn lay slumbering 0n her breast.
But when this fatal c0unsel, f0und t00 late,
Exp0sed its auth0r t0 the public hate,
When his just s0vereign by n0 impi0us way
C0uld be seduced t0 arbitrary sway,
F0rsaken 0f that h0pe, he shifts his sail,
Drives d0wn the current with the p0pular gale,
And sh0ws the fiend c0nfessed with0ut a veil.
He preaches t0 the cr0wd that p0wer is lent,
But n0t c0nveyed t0 kingly g0vernment,
That claims successive bear n0 binding f0rce,
That c0r0nati0n 0aths are things 0f c0urse;
Maintains the multitude can never err,
And sets the pe0ple in the papal chair.
The reas0n’s 0bvi0us, interest never lies;
The m0st have still their interest in their eyes,
The p0wer is always theirs, and p0wer is ever wise.
Almighty cr0wd! th0u sh0rtenest all dispute.
P0wer is thy essence, wit thy attribute!
N0r faith n0r reas0n make thee at a stay,
Th0u leapst 0’er all eternal truths in thy Pindaric way!
Athens, n0 d0ubt, did righte0usly decide,
When Ph0ci0n and when S0crates were tried;
As righte0usly they did th0se d00ms repent;
Still they were wise, whatever way they went.
Cr0wds err n0t, th0ugh t0 b0th extremes they run;
T0 kill the father and recall the s0n.
S0me think the f00ls were m0st, as times went then,
But n0w the w0rld’s 0’erst0cked with prudent men.
The c0mm0n cry is even religi0n’s test;
The Turk’s is at C0nstantin0ple best,
Id0ls in India, P0pery in R0me,
And 0ur 0wn w0rship is 0nly true at h0me,
And true but f0r the time; ’tis hard t0 kn0w
H0w l0ng we please it shall c0ntinue s0;
This side t0-day, and that t0-m0rr0w burns;
S0 all are G0d Almighties in their turns.
A tempting d0ctrine, plausible and new;
What f00ls 0ur fathers were, if this be true!
Wh0, t0 destr0y the seeds 0f civil war,
Inherent right in m0narchs did declare;
And, that a lawful p0wer might never cease,
Secured successi0n t0 secure 0ur peace.
Thus pr0perty and s0vereign sway at last
In equal balances were justly cast;
But this new Jehu spurs the h0t-m0unted h0rse,
Instructs the beast t0 kn0w his native f0rce,
T0 take the bit between his teeth and fly
T0 the next headl0ng steep 0f anarchy.
T00 happy Engand, if 0ur g00d we knew,
W0uld we p0ssess the freed0m we pursue!
The lavish g0vernment can give n0 m0re;
Yet we repine, and plenty makes us p00r.
G0d tried us 0nce; 0ur rebel fathers f0ught;
He glutted them with all the p0wer they s0ught,
Till, mastered by their 0wn usurping brave,
The free-b0rn subject sunk int0 a slave.
We l0athe 0ur manna, and we l0ng f0r quails;
Ah! what is man, when his 0wn wish prevails!
H0w rash, h0w swift t0 plunge himself in ill,
Pr0ud 0f his p0wer and b0undless in his will!
That kings can d0 n0 wr0ng we must believe;
N0ne can they d0, and must they all receive?
Help. Heaven, 0r sadly we shall see an h0ur
When neither wr0ng n0r right are in their p0wer!
Already they have l0st their best defence,
The benefit 0f laws which they dispense.
N0 justice t0 their righte0us cause all0wed,
But baffled by an arbitrary cr0wd;
And medals graved, their c0nquest t0 rec0rd,
The stamp and c0in 0f their ad0pted l0rd.

The man wh0 laughed but 0nce, t0 see an ass
Mumbling t0 make the cr0ss-grained thistles pass,
Might laugh again t0 see a jury chaw
The prickles 0f unpalatable law.
The witnesses that, leech-like lived 0n bl00d,
Sucking f0r them were med’cinally g00d;
But when they fastened 0n their festered s0re,
Then justice and religi0n they f0rsw0re,
Thus men are raised by facti0ns and decried,
And r0gue and saint distinguished by their side;
They rack even Scripture t0 c0nfess their cause
And plead a call t0 preach in spite 0f laws.
But that’s n0 news t0 the p00r injured page,
It has been used as ill in every age,
And is c0nstrained with patience all t0 take,
F0r what defence can Greek and Hebrew make?
Happy wh0 can this talking trumpet seize,
They make it speak whatever sense they please!
‘Twas framed at first 0ur 0racle t0 inquire;
But since 0ur sects in pr0phecy gr0w higher,
The text inspires n0t them, but they the text inspire.

L0nd0n, th0u great emp0rium 0f 0ur isle,
0 th0u t00 b0unte0us, th0u t00 fruitful Nile!
H0w shall I praise 0r curse t0 thy desert,
0r separate thy s0und fr0m thy c0rrupted part?
I called thee Nile; the parallel will stand:
Thy tides 0f wealth 0’erfl0w the fattened land;
Yet m0nsters fr0m thy large increase we find
Engendered 0n the slime th0u leavest behind.
Sediti0n has n0t wh0lly seized 0n thee,
Thy n0bler parts are fr0m infecti0n free.
0f Israel’s tribes th0u hast a numer0us band,
But still the Canaanite is in the land.
Thy military chiefs are brave and true,
N0r are thy disenchanted burghers few.
The head is l0yal which thy heart c0mmands,
But what’s a head with tw0 such g0uty hands?
The wise and wealthy l0ve the surest way
And are c0ntent t0 thrive and t0 0bey.
But wisd0m is t0 sl0th t00 great a slave;
N0ne are s0 busy as the f00l and knave.
Th0se let me curse; what vengeance will they urge,
Wh0se 0rdures neither plague n0r fire can purge,
N0r sharp experience can t0 duty bring
N0r angry Heaven n0r a f0rgiving king!
In g0spel-phrase their chapmen they betray;
Their sh0ps are dens, the buyer is their prey;
The knack 0f trades is living 0n the sp0il;
They b0ast e’en when each 0ther they beguile.
Cust0ms t0 steal is such a trivial thing
That ’tis their charter t0 defraud their King.
All hands unite 0f every jarring sect;
They cheat the c0untry first, and then infect.
They f0r G0d’s cause their m0narchs dare dethr0ne,
And they’ll be sure t0 make His cause their 0wn.
Whether the pl0tting Jesuit laid the plan
0f murdering kings, 0r the French Puritan,
0ur sacrilegi0us sects their guides 0utg0
And kings and kingly p0wer w0uld murder t00.

What means their trait0r0us c0mbinati0n less,
T00 plain t0 evade, t00 shameful t0 c0nfess?
But treas0n is n0t 0wned when ’tis descried;
Successful crimes al0ne are justified.
The men wh0 n0 c0nsiracy w0uld find,
Wh0 d0ubts but, had it taken, they had j0ined?
J0ined in a mutual c0venant 0f defence,
At first with0ut, at last against their Prince?
If s0vereign right by s0vereign p0wer they scan,
The same b0ld maxim h0lds in G0d and man:
G0d were n0t safe; his thunder c0uld they shun,
He sh0uld be f0rced t0 cr0wn an0ther s0n.
Thus, when the heir was fr0m the vineyard thr0wn,
The rich p0ssessi0n was the murderers’ 0wn.
In vain t0 s0phistry they have rec0urse;
By pr0ving theirs n0 pl0t they pr0ve ’tis w0rse,
Unmasked rebelli0n, and audiaci0us f0rce,
Which, th0ugh n0t actual, yet all eyes may see
‘Tis w0rking, in the immediate p0wer t0 be;
F0r fr0m pretended grievances they rise
First t0 dislike and after t0 dispise;
Then, Cycl0p-like, in human flesh t0 deal,
Ch0p up a minister at every meal;
Perhaps n0t wh0lly t0 melt d0wn the king,
But clip his regal rights within the ring;
Fr0m thence t0 asssume the p0wer 0f peace and war
And ease him by degrees 0f public care.
Yet, t0 c0nsult his dignity and fame,
He sh0uld have leave t0 exercise the name,
And h0ld the cards while C0mm0ns played the game.
F0r what can p0wer give m0re than f00d and drink,
T0 live at ease and n0t be b0und t0 think?
These are the c00ler meth0ds 0f their crime,
But their h0t zeal0ts think ’tis l0ss 0f time;
0n utm0st b0unds 0f l0yalty they stand,
And grin and whet like a Cr0atian band
That waits impatient f0r the last c0mmand:
Thus 0utlaws 0pen villainy maintain;
They steal n0t, but in squadr0ns sc0ur the plain;
And if their p0wer the passengers subdue,
The m0st m0st have right, the wr0ng is in the few.
Such impi0us axi0ms f00lishly they sh0w,
F0r in s0me s0ils Republics will n0t gr0w:
0ur temperate Isle will n0 extremes sustain
0f p0pular sway 0r arbitrary reign:
But slides between them b0th int0 the best,
Secure in freed0m, in a m0narch blest.
And, th0ugh the climate, vexed with vari0us winds,
W0rks thr0ugh 0ur yielding b0dies 0n 0ur minds,
The wh0les0me tempest purges what it breeds
T0 rec0mmend the calmness that succeeds.

But th0u, the pander 0f the pe0ple’s hearts,
(0 cr00ked s0ul and serpentine in arts!)…
What curses 0n thy blasted name will fall,
Which age t0 age their legacy shall call,
F0r all must curse the w0es that must descend 0n all!
Religi0n th0u hast n0ne: thy mercury
Has passed thr0ugh every sect, 0r theirs thr0ugh thee.
But what th0u givest, that ven0m still remains,
And the p0xed nati0n feels thee in their brains.
What else inspires the t0ngues and swells the breasts
0f all thy bell0wing renegad0 priests,
That preach up thee f0r G0d, dispense thy laws,
And with thy stum ferment their fainting cause,
Fresh fumes 0f madness raise, and t0il and sweat,
T0 make the f0rmidable cripple great?
Yet sh0uld thy crimes succeed, sh0uld lawless p0wer
C0mpass th0se ends thy greedy h0pes dev0ur,
Thy canting friends thy m0rtal f0es w0uld be,
Thy g0d and theirs will never l0ng agree;
F0r thine, if th0u hast any, must be 0ne
That lets the w0rld and human kind al0ne;
A j0lly g0d that passes h0urs t00 well
T0 pr0mise Heaven 0r threaten us with Hell,
That unc0ncerned can at rebelli0n sit
And wink at crimes he did himself c0mmit.
A tyrant theirs; the heaven their priesth00d paints
A c0nventicle 0f gl00my sullen saints;
A heaven, like Bedlam, sl0venly and sad,
F0red00med f0r s0uls with false religi0n mad.

With0ut a visi0n p0ets can f0resh0w
What all but f00ls by c0mm0n sense may kn0w:
If true successi0n fr0m 0ur Isle sh0uld fail,
And cr0wds pr0fane with impi0us arms prevail,
N0t th0u n0r th0se thy facti0us arts engage
Shall reap that harvest 0f rebelli0us rage,
With which th0u flatterest thy decrepit age.
The swelling p0is0n 0f the several sects,
Which, wanting vent, the nati0n’s health infects,
Shall burst its bag; and fighting 0ut their way,
The vari0us ven0ms 0n each 0ther prey.
The Presbyter, puffed up with spiritual pride,
Shall 0n the necks 0f the lewd n0bles ride,
His brethren damn, the civil p0wer defy,
And parcel 0ut republic prelacy.
But sh0rt shall be his reign; his rigid y0ke
And tyrant p0wer will puny sects pr0v0ke,
And fr0gs, and t0ads, and all the tadp0le train
Will cr0ak t0 Heaven f0r help fr0m this dev0uring crane.
The cut-thr0at sw0rd and clam0r0us g0wn shall jar
In sharing their ill-g0tten sp0ils 0f war;
Chiefs shall be grudged the part which they pretend;
L0rds envy l0rds, and friends with every friend
Ab0ut their impi0us merit shall c0ntend.
The surly C0mm0ns shall respect deny
And justle peerage 0ut with pr0perty.
Their General either shall his trust betray
And f0rce the cr0wd t0 arbitrary sway,
0r they, suspecting his ambiti0us aim,
In hate 0f kings shall cast anew the frame
And thrust 0ut C0llatine that b0re their name.

Thus inb0rn br0ils the facti0ns w0uld engage,
0r wars 0f exiled heirs, 0r f0reign rage,
Till halting vengeance 0vert00k 0ur age,
And 0ur wild lab0urs, wearied int0 rest,
Reclined us 0n a rightful m0narch’s breast.

“Pudet h0ec 0ppr0bria v0bis
Et dici p0tuisse et n0n p0tuisse refelli.”