網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

THE DUKE OF GUISE.

In the latter part of Charles the Second's reign, the stage, as well asevery other engine which could affect the popular mind, was eagerly employed in the service of the contending factions. Settle and Shadwell had, in tragedy and comedy, contributed their mite to the support of the popular cause. In the stormy session of parliament, in 16S0, the famous bill was moved, for the exclusion of the Duke of York, as a papist, from the succession, and accompanied by others of a nature equally peremptory and determined. The most remarkable was a bill to order an association for the safety of his majesty's person, lor defence of the protestant religion, for the preservation of the protestunt liege subjects against invasion and opposition, and for preventing any papist from succeeding to the throne of England. To recommend these rigid measures, and to keep up that zealous hatred and terror of the catholic religion, which the plot had inspired, Settle wrote his forgotten tragedy of ** Pope Joan," in which he revives the old fable of a female pope, and loads her with all the crimes of which a priest, or a woman, could possibly be guilty. Shad well's comedy of the " Lancashire Witches" was levelled more immediately at the papists, but interspersed with most gross and scurrilous reflections upon the English divines of the high church party. Otway, Lee, and Dryden were the formidable antagonists, whom the court opposed to the whig poets. Thus arrayed and confronted, the stage absolutely foamed with politics; the prologues and epilogues, in particular, formed channels, through which the tenets of the opposite parties, were frequently assailed, and the persons of their leaders and their poets exposed to scandal and derision.

In the middle of these political broils, Dryden was called upon, as he informs us, by Lee, to return the assistance which that poet had afforded in composing "CEdipus." The history of the Duke of Guise had formerly occupied his attention, as an acceptable subject to the court after the Restoration. A League, •formed under pretence of religion, and in defence of the king's authority, against his person, presented facilities of application to the late civil wan, to which, we may be sure, our poet was by no means insensible. But however apt these allusions might have been in l66'5, the events which had taken place in 1681-2 admitted of a closer parallel, and excited a deeper interest. The unbounded power which Shaftesbury had acquired in the city of London, and its state of factious fermentation, had been equalled by nothing but the sway exercised by the leaders of the League in the metropolis of France. The intrigues by which the Council of Sixteen placed and displaced, flattered or libelled, those popular officers of Paris, whom the French call echevins, admitted of a direct and immediate comparison with the contest between the court and the whigs, for the election of the sheriffs of London; contests which attained so great violence, that, at one time, there was little reason to hope they would have terminated without bloodshed. The tumultuous day of the barricades, when Henry the second, after having in vain called in the assistance of his guards, was obliged to abandon his capital to the Duke of Guise and his faction, and assemble the states of his kingdom at Blois, was not entirely without a parallel in the annals of 1681. The violence of the parliament at London had led to its dissolution; and, in order to insure the tractability of their successors, they were assembled, by the king, at Oxford, where a concurrence of circumstances rendered the royal authority more paramount than in any other city of the kingdom. To this parliament the members came in an array, which more resembled the parliament of the White Bands, in the reign of Edward the second, than any that had since taken place. Yet, though armed, and attended by their retainers and the more ardent of their favourers, the leaders of opposition expressed their apprehensions of danger from the royal party. The sixteen whig peers, in their memorable petition against this removal, complained, that the parliament would at Oxford be exposed to the bloody machinations of the papists and their adherents, "of whom too many had crept into his majesty's guards." The aid of ballads and libellous prints was called in, to represent this alteration of the usual place of meeting as a manoeuvre to throw the parliament, its members, and its votes, at the feet of an arbitrary monarch *. It is probable that this meeting,

• I cannot resist transcribing that ballad, which cost poor College, the poteslaut joiner, so extremely dear. It is extracted from Mr LuttreU's collection, who has marked it thus. "A most scandalous libel against the government, for which, with other things, College was justly executed." Th^ justice of the execution may, I think, be questioned, unless, like Cinna the poet, the luckless ballad-monger was banged for his bad verses. There is pr<S. (ixed a cut, representing the kiqg wilh, a double (ace, carrying the house of commons in a shew-box at his back. In another copartment, he sticks fast in

« 上一頁繼續 »