John Dryden

(1631 - 1700 / England)

Tarquin And Tullia - Poem by John Dryden

In times when princes cancelled nature's law,
And declarations which themselves did draw;
When children used their parents to dethrone,
And gnaw their way, like vipers, to the crown;
Tarquin, a savage, proud, ambitious prince,
Prompt to expel, yet thoughtless of defence,
The envied sceptre did from Tullius snatch,
The Roman king, and father by the match.
To form his party, histories report,
A sanctuary was opened in his court,
Where glad offenders safely might resort.
Great was the crowd, and wonderous the success,
For those were fruitful times of wickedness;
And all that lived obnoxious to the laws,
Flocked to prince Tarquin, and embraced his cause.
'Mongst these a pagan priest for refuge fled;
A prophet deep in godly faction read;
A sycophant, that knew the modish way
To cant and plot, to flatter and betray,
To whine and sin, to scribble and recant,
A shameless author, and a lustful saint.
To serve all times he could distinctions coin
And with great ease flat contradictions join
A traitor now, once loyal in extreme,
And then obedience was his only theme:
He sung in temples the most passive lays
And wearied monarchs with repeated praise
But managed awkwardly that lawful part,
To vent foul lies and treason was his art,
And pointed libels at crowned heads to dart.
This priest, and others, learned to defame,
First murder injured Tullius in his name;
With blackest calumnies their sovereign load,
A poisoned brother, and dark league abroad;
A son unjustly top'd upon the throne,
Which yet was proved undoubtedly his own;
Though, as the law was then, 'twas his behoof,
Who dispossessed the heir, to bring the proof.
This hellish charge they backed with dismal frights,
The loss of property, and sacred rights,
And freedom; words which all false patriots use
As surest names the Romans to abuse;
Jealous of kings, and always malcontent,
Forward in change, yet certain to repent.
Whilst thus the plotters needful fears create,
Tarquin with open force invades the state.
Lewd nobles join him with their feeble might,
And atheist fools for dear religion fight.
The priests their boasted principles disown,
And level their harangues against the throne.
Vain promises the people's minds allure:
Slight were these ills, but desperate the cure.
'Tis hard for kings to steer an equal course,
And they who banish one oft gain a worse.
Those heavenly bodies we admire above,
Do every day irregularly move;
Yet Tullius, 'tis decreed, must lose the crown,
For faults that were his council's, not his own.
He now in vain commands even those he payed,
By darling troops deserted and betrayed,
By creatures which his generous warmth had made.
Of these a captain of the guards was worst,
Whose memory to this day stands accurst.
This rogue, advanced to military trust
By his own whoredom, and his sister's lust,
Forsook his master, after dreadful vows,
And plotted to betray him to his foes;
The kindest master to the vilest slave,
As free to give, as he was sure to crave.
His haughty female, who, as books declare,
Did always toss wide nostrils in the air,
Was to the younger Tullia governess,
And did attend her, when, in borrowed dress,
She fled by night from Tullius in distress.
This wretch, by letters, did invite his foes,
And used all arts her father to depose;
A father, always generously bent,
So kind, that even her wishes he'd prevent.
'Twas now high time for Tullius to retreat,
When even his daughter hastened his defeat;
When faith and duty vanished, and no more
The name of father and of king he bore:
A king, whose right his foes could ne'er dispute;
So mild, that mercy was his attribute;
Affable, kind, and easy of access;
Swift to relieve, unwilling to oppress;
Rich without taxes, yet in payment just;
So honest, that he hardly could distrust:
His active soul from labours ne'er did cease,
Valiant in war, and vigilant in peace;
Studious with traffic to enrich the land,
Strong to protect, and skilful to command;
Liberal and splendid, yet without excess;
Prone to relieve, unwilling to distress:
In sum, how godlike must his nature be,
Whose only fault was too much piety!
This king removed, the assembled states thought fit,
That Tarquin in the vacant throne should sit;
Voted him regent in their senate-house,
And with an empty name endowed his spouse.
The elder Tullia, who, some authors feign,
Drove o'er her father's corse a rumbling wain:
But she, more guilty, numerous wains did drive,
To crush her father and her king alive;
And in remembrance of his hastened fall,
Resolved to institute a weekly ball.
The jolly glutton grew in bulk and chin,
Feasted on rapine, and enjoyed her sin;
With luxury she did weak reason force,
Debauched good-nature, and cram'd down remorse;
Yet when she drank cold tea in liberal sups,
The sobbing dame was maudling in her cups.
But brutal Tarquin never did relent,
Too hard to melt, too wicked to repent;
Cruel in deeds, more merciless in will,
And blest with natural delight in ill.
From a wise guardian he received his doom
To walk the change, and not to govern Rome.
He swore his native honours to disown,
And did by perjury ascend the throne.
Oh! had that oath his swelling pride represt,
Rome had been then with peace and plenty blest.
But Tarquin, guided by destructive fate,
The country wasted, and embroiled the state,
Transported to their foes the Roman pelf,
And by their ruin hoped to save himself.
Innumerable woes oppress the land,
When it submitted to his curs'd command.
So just was Heaven, that 'twas hard to tell,
Whether its guilt or losses did excel.
Men that renounced their God for dearer trade,
Were then the guardians of religion made.
Rebels were sainted, foreigners did reign,
Outlaws returned, preferment to obtain,
With frogs, and toads, and all their croaking train.
No native knew their features nor their birth;
They seemed the greasy offspring of the earth.
The trade was sunk, the fleet and army spent;
Devouring taxes swallowed lesser rent;
Taxes imposed by no authority;
Each lewd collection was a robbery.
Bold self-creating men did statutes draw,
Skilled to establish villainy by law;
Fanatic drivers, whose unjust careers.
Produced new ills exceeding former fears:
Yet authors here except a faithful band,
Which the prevailing faction did withstand;
And some, who bravely stood in the defence
Of baffled justice, and their exiled prince.
These shine to after-times; each sacred name
Stands still recorded in the rolls of fame.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010



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