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Your love by ours we measure,
Till we have lost our treasure;
But dying is a pleasure,

When living is a pain.

1681,

ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL

FROM

PART I

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The Jews, a headstrong, moody, murm'ring race
As ever tried th' extent and stretch of grace;
God's pampered people, whom, debauched with ease,
No king could govern nor no God could please
(Gods they had tried of every shape and size
That godsmiths could produce or priests devise);
These Adam-wits, too fortunately free,
Began to dream they wanted liberty;
And when no rule, no precedent, was found
Of men by laws less circumscribed and bound,
They led their wild desires to woods and caves,
And thought that all but savages were slaves.
They who, when Saul was dead, without a blow
Made foolish Ishbosheth the crown forego;
Who banished David did from Hebron bring,
And with a general shout proclaimed him king;
Those very Jews who at their very best
Their humour more than loyalty exprest,
Now wondered why so long they had obeyed
An idol monarch which their hands had made;
Thought they might ruin him they could create,
Or melt him to that golden calf, a State.
But these were random bolts; no formed design
Nor interest made the factious crowd to join.
The sober part of Israel, free from stain,
Well knew the value of a peaceful reign,
And, looking backward with a wise affright,
Saw seams of wounds dishonest to the sight;
In contemplation of whose ugly scars,
They cursed the memory of civil wars.

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The moderate sort of men, thus qualified,
Inclined the balance to the better side;
And David's mildness managed it so well
The bad found no occasion to rebel.
But when to sin our biassed nature leans,

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The careful Devil is still at hand with means,
And providently pimps for ill desires :
The good old cause, revived, a plot requires;
Plots, true or false, are necessary things
To raise up commonwealths and ruin kings.

Th’ inhabitants of old Jerusalem
Were Jebusites; the town so called from them,
And theirs the native right.
But when the chosen people grew more strong,
The rightful cause at length became the wrong;
And every loss the men of Jebus bore,
They still were thought God's enemies the more.
Thus worn and weakened, well or ill content,
Submit they must to David's government:
Impoverished and deprived of all command,

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Their taxes doubled as they lost their land;
And, what was harder yet to flesh and blood,
Their gods disgraced, and burnt like common wood.
This set the heathen priesthood in a flame,
For priests of all religions are the same :

55 Of whatsoe'er descent their godhead be, Stock, stone, or other homely pedigree, In his defence his servants are as bold As if he had been born of beaten gold. The Jewish rabbins, though their enemies,

60 In this conclude them honest men and wise; For 't was their duty, all the learned think, To espouse His cause by Whom they eat and drink. From hence began that Plot, the nation's curse, Bad in itself but represented worse,

65 Raised in extremes and in extremes decried, With oaths affirmed, with dying vows denied, Not weighed or winnowed by the multitude, But swallowed in the mass, unchewed and crude. Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies 70 To please the fools and puzzle all the wise.

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Succeeding times did equal folly call
Believing nothing or believing all.
Th’ Egyptian rites the Jebusites embraced,
Where gods were recommended by their taste;

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Such sav'ry deities must needs be good
As served at once for worship and for food.
By force they could not introduce these gods,
For ten to one in former days was odds;
So fraud was used, the sacrificer's trade-

80 Fools are more hard to conquer than persuade. Their busy teachers mingled with the Jews, And raked for converts even the court and stews; Which Hebrew priests the more unkindly took, Because the fleece accompanies the flock. Some thought they God's anointed meant to slay By guns, invented since full many a day: Our author swears it not; but who can know How far the Devil and Jebusites may go?

This Plot, which failed for want of common sense, 90 Had yet a deep and dangerous consequence: For, as wlien raging fevers boil the blood, The standing lake soon floats into a flood, And every hostile humour which before Slept quiet in its channels bubbles o'er,

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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.
Some had in courts been great, and, thrown from thence, 100
Like fiends were hardened in impenitence.
Some, by their monarch's fatal mercy grown
From pardoned rebels kinsmen to the throne,
Were raised in pow'r and public office high-
Strong bands, if bands ungrateful men could tie. 105

Of these the false Achitophel was first,
A name to all succeeding ages curst;
For close designs and crooked counsels fit,
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit,
Restless, unfixed in principles and place,
In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace;
A fiery soul, which, working out its way,

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Fretted the pigmy body to decay,
And o'er-informed the tenement of clay.
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,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Punish a body which he could not please,
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
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,
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,
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,
Where crowds can wink and no offence 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 Abbethdin
With more discerning eyes or hands more clean,
Unbribed, unsought, the wretched to redress,
Swift of despatch and easy of access.
Oh, had he been content to serve the crown
With virtues only proper to the gown,
Or had the rankness of the soil been breed
From cockle that oppressed the noble seed,
David for him his tuneful harp had strung,
And Heaven had wanted one immortal song.

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But wild Ambition loves to slide, not stand,
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.
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 :
Some circumstances finds, but more he makes;
By buzzing emissaries fills the ears
Of list’ning crowds with jealousies and fears
Of arbitrary counsels brought to light,
And proves the King himself a Jebusite.
Weak arguments! which yet he knew full well
Were strong with people easy to rebel;
For, governed by the moon, the giddy Jews
Tread the same track when she the prime renews,
And once in twenty years, their scribes record,
By natural instinct they change their lord.
Achitophel still wants a chief, and none
Was found so fit as warlike Absalon:
Not that he wished his greatness to create,
For politicians neither love nor hate;
But—for he knew his title, not allowed,
Would keep him still depending on the crowd
That kingly pow'r, thus ebbing out, might be
Drawn to the dregs of a democracy.
Him he attempts with studied arts to please,
And sheds his venom in such words as these:

“Auspicious prince, at whose nativity
Some royal planet ruled the southern sky;
Thy longing country's darling and desire;
Their cloudy pillar and their guardian fire;
Their second Moses, whose extended wand
Divides the seas, and shows the promised land;
Whose dawning day, in every distant age,
Has exercised the sacred prophet's rage;
The people's pray’r, the glad diviner's theme;

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