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HIND AND THE PANTHER.
IN the Life of Dryden, there is an attempt to trace the progress and changes of those religious opinions, by which he was unfortunately conducted into the errors of Popery. With all the zeal of a new convert, he seems to have been impatient to invite others to follow his example, by detailing, in poetry, the arguments which had appeared to him unanswerable." The Hind and the Panther" is the offspring of that rage for proselytism, which is a peculiar attribute of his new mother church. The author is anxious, in the preface, to represent this poem as a task which he had voluntarily undertaken, without receiving even the subject from one. His assertion seems worthy of full credit; for although it was the most earnest desire of James II. to employ every possible mode for the conversion of his subjects, there is room to believe, that, if the poem had been written under his direction, the tone adopted by Dryden towards the sectaries would have been much more mild. It is a well-known point of history, that, in order to procure as many friends as possible to the repeal of the Test act and penal laws against the Catholics, James extended indulgence to the Puritans and sectarian non-conformists, the ancient enemies of his person, his family, and monarchial establishments in general. Dryden obviously was not in this court secret ; the purpose of which was to unite those congregations, whom he has described under the parable of bloody bears, boars, wolves, foxes, &c. in a common interest with the Hind, against the exclusive privileges of the Panther and her subjects. His work was written with the precisely opposite intention of recommending an union between the Catholics and the church of England; at least, of persuading the latter to throw down the barriers, by which the
former 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 law 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 year 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 shews 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 before 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."