Absalom and Achitophel/To the Reader
'TIs not my intention to make an apology for my Poem: Some will think it needs no Excuse; and others will receive none. The Design, I am sure, is honest: but he who draws his Pen for one party, must expect to make enemies of the other. For Wit and Fool are Consequents of Whig and Tory: And every man is a Knave or an Ass to the contrary side. There's a Treasury of Merits in the Phanatick Church, as well as in the Papist; and a Pennyworth to be had of Saintship, Honesty, and Poetry, for the Leud, the Factious, and the Blockheads: But the longest Chapter in Deuteronomy has not Curses enough for an Anti-Bromingham. My Comfort is, their manifest Prejudice to my Cause, will render their Judgement of less Authority against me. Yet if a Poem have a Genius, it will force its own reception in the World. For there's a sweetness in good Verse, which Tickles even while it Hurts: And no man can be heartily angry with him, who pleases him against his will. The Commendation of Adversaries, is the greatest Triumph of a Writer; because it never comes unless Extorted. But I can be satisfied on more easie terms: If I happen to please the more Moderate sort, I shall be sure of an honest Party; and, in all probability, of the best Judges; for, the least Concern'd, are commonly the least Corrupt. And I confess, I have laid in for those, by rebating the Satyre, (where Justice woud allow it) from carrying too sharp an Edge. They, who can Criticize so weakly, as to imagine I have done my Worst, may be convinc'd, at their own Cost, that I can write Severely, with more ease, than I can Gently. I have but laugh'd at some mens Follies, when I coud have declaim'd against their Vices: and, other mens Vertues I have commended, as freely as I have tax'd their Crimes. And now, if you are a Malicious Reader, I expect you should return upon me, that I affect to be thought more Impartial than I am. But, if men are not to be judg'd by their Professions, God forgive you Common-wealths-men, for professing so plausibly for the Government. You cannot be so Unconscionable, as to charge me for not Subscribing of my Name; for that woud reflect too grosly upon your own Party, who never dare; though they have the advantage of a Jury to secure them. If you like not my Poem, the fault may, possibly, be in my Writing: (though 'tis hard for an Author to judge against himself;) But, more probably, 'tis in your Morals, which cannot bear the truth of it. The Violent, on both sides, will condemn the character of Absalom, as either too favourably, or too hardly drawn. But they are not the Violent, whom I desire to please; The fault, on the right hand, is to Extenuate, Palliate and Indulge; and, to confess freely, I have endeavour'd to commit it. Besides the respect which I owe his Birth, I have a greater for his Heroick Vertues: and David himself, could not be more tender of the Young-man's Life, than I woud be of his Reputation. But, since the most excellent Natures are always the most easie; and, as being such, are the soonest perverted by ill Counsels, especially when baited with Fame and Glory; 'tis no more a wonder that he withstood not the temptation of Achitophel, than it was for Adam not to have resisted the two Devils, the Serpent and the Woman. The conclusion of the Story, I purposely forbore to prosecute: because, I could not obtain from my self, to shew Absalom Unfortunate. The Frame of it, was cut out, but for a Picture to the Waste; and, if the Draught be so far true, 'tis as much as I design'd.
Were I the Inventer, who am onely the Historian, I should certainly conclude the Piece, with the Reconcilement of Absalom to David. And, who knows but this may come to pass? Things were not brought to an Extremity where I left the Story: There seems, yet, to be room left for a Composure; hereafter, there may onely be for Pity. I have not so much as an uncharitable Wish against Achitophel, but, am content to be Accus'd of a good natur'd Errour; and, to hope with Origen, that the Devil himself may, at last, be sav'd. For which reason, in this Poem, he is neither brought to set his House in order, nor to dispose of his Person afterwards, as he in Wisedom shall think fit. God is infinitely merciful; and his Vicegerent is onely not so, because he is not Infinite.
The true end of Satyre, is the amendment of Vices by correction. And he who writes Honestly, is no more an Enemy to the Offender, than the Physician to the Patient, when he prescribes harsh Remedies to an inveterate Disease; for those, are onely in order to prevent the Chyrurgeon's work of an Ense rescindendum, which I wish not to my very Enemies. To conclude all, If the Body Politique have any Analogy to the Natural, in my weak judgment, an Act of Oblivion were as necessary in a Hot, Distemper'd State, as an Opiate woud be in a Raging Feavour.