Monday, December 18, 2017

Epideixis and the Lord Chancellor

Portrait of Sir Edward Hyde, after Sir Peter Lely

[Image source: Wikipedia ]

My budget copy of the Poetical Works of Dryden, published by Wordsworth Editions in 1995, is basically an eye-wearying reprint, on cheap paper, of a double-column edition from way back -- it looks like one of the old Oxford Standard Authors Collecteds (not that it divulged anything about the original edition or its editor(s)).

It did, however, add a punchy introductory note, by Dr David Marriott. (I can't help wondering if this was an early piece by D.S. Marriott, the brilliant poet and author of the cultural studies On Black Men and Haunted Life.)  The note's emphasis is on Dryden as a potent player in the political and cultural spheres; and that seems to me the right emphasis. Dryden's poetry is actively political in a very different sense from just giving vent to opinions. Dryden occupies the public sphere and contests it; he attempts, mostly on behalf of the ruling powers, to wrest the narrative.

One of several phrases I've lingered on is Dryden's "epideictic elegance".  Epideictic can mean rhetorical in an empty way -- all style and no content.  "Epideictic" can also refer to the rhetoric of praise and blame, referring to the typically commendatory, encomiastic and celebratory poems. Either way, the elegance is for use (as John Carey, if I remember correctly, said about Hooker).

That Dryden is, if you like, a propagandist, doesn't stop me caring very much for his poems and indeed toying with the thought that a political poetry of today could learn from him.


One of his early poems following the restoration of Charles II is addressed To my Lord Chancellor, presented on New-Years-Day, 1662. The Lord Chancellor was Sir Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon; effectively the Chief Minister of Charles' government, also Chancellor of the University of Oxford (whence "the Clarendon Press"), also the author of that marvellous if nauseous History of the Rebellion that Hugh Trevor-Roper called "the historical bible of the Tory Party".

Dryden says to him:

You have already wearied Fortune so,
She cannot farther be thy Friend or Foe ;
But sits all breathless, and admires to feel
A Fate so weighty that it stops her Wheel.

As it turned out, Fortune didn't sit breathless for very long. The first attempt to impeach Clarendon came in 1663, ill-health and bereavement followed, government colleagues didn't doubt his loyalty but found his peremptory opinions intolerable, he fell out of favour with Charles and was dismissed in 1667.


Those ironies of hindsight are inescapable for such engaged poetry. Yet Dryden's poem has an honest clarity that at least recognizes possibilities of downfall (his propagandism is not about obfuscation).

Let Envy then those Crimes within you see
From which the happy never must be free ;
Envy that does with Misery reside,
The Joy and the Revenge of ruin'd Pride.

Those lines encapsulate a repeated leitmotiv of Clarendon's History, as for instance in its early pages on the Duke of Buckingham. "Malice" always means attempts to topple the Great, by gossip that may or may not be true. We're slightly taken aback by Dryden's use of the bare unvarnished word "Crimes" -- he must, we think, mean imputed crimes, but for the blink of an eye he seems to mean real crimes -- yet this too is true to the spirit of the History, where the Royalist courtiers have always a variety of faults (Clarendon calls them "infirmities") that a captious public might consider crimes.

The whole poem is like the cogs of a watch, and some damage is done by extracting, but here's a couple of favourite passages.  The first is about the relationship between minister and monarch, drawing on the imagery of science:

The Nation's Soul, our Monarch, does dispense
Through you to us his vital Influence ;
You are the channel where those Spirits flow
And work them higher as to us they go.
    In open Prospect nothing bounds our Eye
Until the Earth seems join'd unto the Sky :
So in this Hemisphere our utmost view
Is only bounded by our King and you.
Our Sight is limited where you are join'd
And beyond that no farther Heav'n can find.
So well your Virtues do with his agree
That, though your Orbs of different Greatness be,
Yet both are for each other's use dispos'd,
His to enclose, and yours to be enclos'd :
Nor could another in your Room have been,
Except an Emptiness had come between.


This second one considers the arts of peace.

Shown all at once, you dazzled so our Eyes
As new-born Pallas did the Gods surprise ;
When, springing forth from Jove's new-closing Wound,
She struck the warlike Spear into the Ground ;
Which sprouting leaves did suddenly enclose,
And peaceful Olives shaded as they rose.
    How strangely active are the Arts of Peace,
Whose restless Motions less than War's do cease !
Peace is not freed from Labour, but from Noise,
And War more Force, but not more Pains, employs.
Such is the mighty Swiftness of your Mind
That like the Earth's, it leaves our Sense behind,
While you so smoothly turn and roll our Sphere
That rapid Motion does but Rest appear.

[I feel a slight chagrin to discover that Johnson in his Lives of the Poets picked out just the same extracts as I have. According to Johnson and subsequently Scott, this early poem is Dryden's most metaphysical performance.]


Clarendon's History of the Rebellion was published posthumously in 1702-04 by his younger son Lawrence, disgusted by Whig histories of the civil war that sympathised with the Roundheads. Lawrence's fierce introduction was a rallying cry for the Tories. His father wrote intimately but temperately. He knew that the history could never be published during his lifetime. He wanted to record the truth of extraordinary times and he did not give vent, much, to invective.

I have the more willingly induced myself to this unequal task, out of the hope of contributing somewhat to that blessed end [sc. "the binding up of wounds"]: and though a piece of this nature (wherein the infirmities of some, and the malice of others, must be boldly looked upon and mentioned) is not likely to be published in the age in which it is writ, yet it may serve to inform myself, and some others, what we ought to do, as well as to comfort us in what we have done. For which work, as I may not be thought altogether an incompetent person/ having been present as a member of parliament in those councils before and till the breaking out of the rebellion, and having since had the honour to be near two great kings in some trust, so I shall perform the same with all faithfulness and ingenuity ; with an equal observation of the faults and infirmities of both sides, with their defects and oversights in pursuing their own ends ; and shall no otherwise mention small and light occurrences, than as they have been introductions to matters of the greatest moment; nor speak of persons otherwise, than as the mention of their virtues or vices is essential to the work in hand : in which I shall, with truth, preserve myself from the least sharpness, that may proceed from private provocation, and in the whole observe the rules that a man should, who deserves to be believed.

Its author's scrupulous veracity and humane nature were admitted even by opponents. What took them aback, and modern readers are likely to agree with them, is the entirely genuine tones in which Clarendon sings the praises of self-seeking courtiers and politicians, whose appalling behaviour he has just laid out for us in unstinting detail.  [Catherine Macaulay, for instance, wrote: "the author's conclusions are so much at war with his facts that he is apt to disgust a candid reader with his prejudices and partiality".]

The history was begun at Scilly and continued during exile in Jersey, while the war was still going on. After his downfall he worked on it further, weaving in part of his own memoirs, originally a separate work.

I suppose no-one would call Clarendon, a lawyer with a love of immense sentences, an unputdownable storyteller. Nevertheless, when the story starts (in 1628, with James' favourite the Duke of Buckingham egging on Prince Charles to make a clandestine visit to Madrid), it really is thrilling. Scott, another Tory lawyer, must have imbibed a lot from this, and not just when it came to his own portrayal of James I in The Fortunes of Nigel.)

Clarendon's is also one of the earliest prose narratives I know in which the realistic delineation of character is attempted. He shared with Aubrey and Pepys the age's new interest in the minutiae of individual psychology and mannerisms.

Here's some extracts, beginning with the aged King James I, now bitterly regretting his consent to the scheme.

These reflections were so terrible to him, that they robbed him of all peace and quiet of mind; insomuch as when the prince and duke came to him about the despatch, he fell into a great passion with tears, and told them that he was undone, and that it would break his heart, if they pursued their resolution ; that, upon a true and dispassionate disquisition he had made with himself, he was abundantly convinced, that, besides the almost inevitable hazards of the prince's person, with whom his life was bound up, and besides the entire loss of the affections of his people, which would unavoidably attend this rash action, he foresaw it would ruin the whole design, and irrecoverably break the match...

The prince and the duke took not the pains to answer any of the reasons his majesty had insisted on ; his highness only putting him in mind of the promise he had made to him the day before, which was so sacred, that he hoped he would not violate it; which if he should, it would make him never think more of marriage. The duke, who better knew what kind of arguments were of prevalence with him, treated him more rudely ; told him, nobody could believe any thing he said, when he retracted so soon the promise he had so solemnly made ; that he plainly discerned, that it proceeded from another breach of his word, in communicating with some rascal, who had furnished him with those pitiful reasons he had alleged ; and he doubted not but he should hereafter know who his counsellor had been : that if he receded from what he had promised, it would be such a disobligation to the prince, who had set his heart now upon the journey, after his majesty's approbation, that he could never forget it, nor forgive any man who had been the cause of it.

[James calls in Sir Francis Cottington, much to Buckingham's annoyance...]

They told him, that being to have only two more in their company, as was before resolved, they had thought (if he approved them) upon sir Francis Cottington and Endymion Porter, who, though they might safely, should not be trusted with the secret, till they were even ready to be embarked. The persons were both grateful to the king, the former having been long his majesty's agent in the court of Spain, and was now secretary to the prince; the other, having been bred in Madrid, after many years attendance upon the duke, was now one of the bedchamber to the prince : so that his majesty cheerfully approved the election they had made, and wished it might be presently imparted to them ; saying, that many things would occur to them, as necessary to the journey, that they two would never think of; and took that occasion to send for sir Francis Cottington to come presently to him, (whilst the other two remained with him,) who, being of custom waiting in the outward room, was quickly brought in ; whilst the duke whispered the prince in the ear, that Cottington would be against the journey, and his highness answered he durst not.
The king told him, that he had always been an honest man, and therefore he was now to trust him in an affair of the highest importance, which he was not upon his life to disclose to any man alive ; then said to him, " Cottington, here is baby Charles and " Stenny," (an appellation he always used of and towards the duke,) " who have a great mind to go by post into Spain, to fetch home the infanta, and will have but two more in their company, and have chosen you for one. What think you of the journey?" He often protested since, that when he heard the king, he fell into such a trembling, that he could hardly speak. But when the king commanded him to answer him, what he thought of the journey, he replied, that he could not think well of it, and that he believed it would render all that had been done towards the match fruitless : for that Spain would no longer think themselves obliged by those articles, but that, when they had the prince in their hands, they would make new overtures, which they believed more advantageous to them; amongst which they must look for many that a would concern religion, and the exercise of it in England. Upon which the king threw himself upon his bed, and said, " I told you this before," and fell into new passion and lamentation, that he was undone, and should lose baby Charles.

There appeared displeasure and anger enough in the countenances both of the prince and duke ; the latter saying, that as soon as the king sent for him, he whispered the prince in the ear, that he would be against it ; that he knew his pride well enough ; and that, because he had not been first advised with, he was resolved to dislike it ; and therefore he reproached Cottington with all possible bitterness of words ; told him the king asked him only of the journey, and which would be the best way, of which he might be a competent counsellor, having made the way so often by post : but that he had the presumption to give his advice upon matter of state, and against his master, without being called to it, which he should repent as long as he lived ; with a thousand new reproaches, which put the poor king into a new agony on the behalf of a servant, who he foresaw would suffer for answering him honestly. Upon which he said, with some commotion, " Nay, by God, Stenny, you are very much to blame to use him so. He answered me directly to the question I asked him, and very honestly and wisely : and yet you know he said no more than I told you, before he was called in." However, after all this passion on both parts, the king yielded, and the journey was at that conference agreed on, and all directions given accordingly to sir Francis Cottington ; the king having now plainly discovered, that the whole intrigue was originally contrived by the duke, and so violently pursued by his spirit and impetuosity.
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, portrait by Michiel J van Miereveld (1625)

[Image source: Wikipedia.]

Sir Francis Cottington, anonymous portrait
[Image source: Wikipedia. The painting is in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 605).]

Endymion Porter, portrait by Daniel Mytens (1627)
[Image source: Wikipedia. In the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 5492).]


A chance discovery today was this comprehensive and helpful introduction to Dryden's work, on the Poetry Foundation site.

The site has equally detailed introductions to most other canonical poets of English Literature. This one, like a good many of the others, has no by-line.

Lawrence Hyde, Earl of Rochester (Clarendon's younger son): Portrait by Willem Wissing, c. 1685

[Image source: Wikipedia. Gotta be one of the most insane swagger portraits ever...]

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