Absalom and Achitophel "Was Everything By Starts, And Nothing Long"

John Dryden

"Was Everything By Starts, And Nothing Long"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Much of the merit in Dryden's poem lies in its character sketches of persons prominent in the plot of the 1670's to place the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son, in the place of the Duke of York as the lawful successor to the British throne. The plotters, led by the Earl of Shaftesbury and the Duke of Buckingham, sought to replace the Duke of York because of his Roman Catholic tendencies. Dryden himself thought the satirical characterization of the Duke of Buckingham as Zimri in this poem to be one of his best pieces of work, "The character of Zimri in my Absalom is . . . worth the whole poem; it is not bloody, but it is ridiculous enough; and he, for whom it was intended, was too witty to resent it as an injury. If I had railed, I might have suffered for it justly; but I managed my own work more happily, perhaps more dexterously." Dryden wrote of Buckingham:

A man so various, that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all Mankinds Epitome.
Stiff in Opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long:
But in the course of one revolving Moon,
Was Chymist, Fidler, States-Man, and Buffoon.
Then all for Women, Painting, Rhiming, Drinking;
Besides ten thousand freaks that dy'd in thinking.