Absalom and Achitophel "Never Was Patriot Yet, But Was A Fool"

John Dryden

"Never Was Patriot Yet, But Was A Fool"

Context: The heroic couplet, or rhymed pairs of lines in iambic pentameter containing a complete unit of thought, was Dryden's choice of a substitute for the Elizabethan blank verse. He was influenced by French experiments in metrics that had accompanied the Golden Age experienced by England's rival nation. So Dryden employed the heroic couplets in an allegorical retelling of the Biblical story of Absalom's revolt against his father, King David. In it, the poet satirized the frustrated Whig attempt to make sure that the Duke of Monmouth would succeed Charles II on the throne of England. Achitophel, who counselled the uprising against David in the account in Second Samuel, was intended to stand for the Earl of Shaftesbury (1621–1683). At the beginning of the poem, Achitophel has united the malcontents of Israel in support of ambitious Absalom (Monmouth). The identities of most of the other figures, masquerading under names in the Bible story, have been established. Absalom has been persuaded and tricked into believing that it is his patriotic duty, and for the good of the nation, to take over his father's throne. Some may not agree with the quoted line, that every patriot is a fool, but it is the opinion of King David (Charles II) that to be a patriot, a person must forget his own personal aspirations, and think only of the people and the politicians who make up the country. Besides, he would be acting against his ruler. And so it is foolish to be a patriot.

. . .
Poor pitied youth, by my paternal care
Rais'd up to all the heights his frame could bear!
Had God ordain'd his fate for empire born
He would have giv'n his soul another turn:
Gull'd with a patriot's name, whose modern sense
Is one that would by law supplant his prince;
The people's brave, the politicians' tool;
Never was patriot yet, but was a fool.
. . .