Poetical Works of John Oldham/Satire upon the Jesuits—Prologue

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FOR who can longer hold? when every press,
The bar and pulpit too, has broke the peace?
When every scribbling fool at the alarms
Has drawn his pen, and rises up in arms?
And not a dull pretender of the town,
But vents his gall in pamphlet up and down?
When all with licence rail, and who will not,
Must be almost suspected of the plot,[2]
And bring his zeal or else his parts in doubt?
In vain our preaching tribe attack the foes,
In vain their weak artillery oppose;

Mistaken honest men, who gravely blame,
And hope that gentle doctrine should reclaim.
Are texts, and such exploded trifles, fit
To impose, and sham upon a Jesuit?
Would they the dull old fishermen compare
With mighty Suarez, and great Escobar?[3]
Such threadbare proofs, and stale authorities
May us, poor simple heretics, suffice;
But to a seared Ignatian's conscience,
Hardened, as his own face, with impudence,
Whose faith in contradiction bore, whom lies,
Nor nonsense, nor impossibilities.
Nor shame, nor death, nor damning can assail,
Not these mild fruitless methods will avail.
'Tis pointed satire, and the shafts of wit
For such a prize are the only weapons fit;
Nor needs there art, or genius here to use,
Where indignation can create a muse:
Should parts, and nature fail, yet very spite
Would make the arrantest Wild,[4] or Wither[5] write.

It is resolved: henceforth an endless war,
I and my muse with them, and theirs declare;
Whom neither open malice of the foes,
Nor private daggers, nor St. Omer's dose,
Nor all that Godfrey[6] felt, or monarchs fear,
Shall from my vowed and sworn revenge deter.

Sooner shall false court favourites prove just,
And faithful to their king's and country's trust;
Sooner shall they detect the tricks of state,
And knavery, suits, and bribes, and flattery hate;

Bawds shall turn nuns, salt duchesses grow chaste,[7]
And paint, and pride, and lechery detest;
Popes shall for kings' supremacy decide,
And cardinals for Huguenots be tried;
Sooner (which is the greatest impossible)
Shall the vile brood of Loyola and hell
Give o'er to plot, be villains, and rebel;
Than I with utmost spite, and vengeance cease
To prosecute, and plague their cursèd race.
The rage of poets damned, of women's pride
Contemned and scorned, or proffered lust denied;
The malice of religious angry zeal,
And all cashiered resenting statesmen feel;[8]
What prompts dire hags in their own blood to write,
And sell their very souls to hell for spite;
All this urge on my rank envenomed spleen,
And with keen satire edge my stabbing pen,
That its each home-set thrust their blood may draw,
Each drop of ink like aquafortis gnaw.
Red hot with vengeance thus, I'll brand disgrace
So deep, no time shall e'er the marks deface;
Till my severe and exemplary doom
Spread wider than their guilt, till it become
More dreaded than the bar, and frighten worse
Than damning Pope's anathemas and curse.

  1. Oldham tells us that he designed this prologue ’in imitation of Persius, who has prefixed somewhat by that name before his book of Satires;' and that he drew the first Satire from that of Sylla's ghost in Ben Jonson's tragedy of Catiline. It will be admitted that he kept close to his original in the accumulation of horrors.
  2. The popish plot was disclosed to the King in August, 1678, and from that time till the dissolution of parliament in the following January it kept the country in a state of consternation. The agitation was renewed by the elections, and so great was the terror Of popery inspired by the revelations of Tonge, Oates, and the rest, that the candidates who were supported by the influence of the court were everywhere defeated. At this election, it is said, the practice of splitting freeholders for the purpose of multiplying votes was adopted for the first time. When parliament met again in March 1679, articles of impeachment were exhibited by the Commons against the Roman Catholic peers; and the King, in the hope of pacifying the hostility of the opposition, dismissed his chief adviser, Danby, and formed a new council with a strong infusion of protestant zeal in it. This device was regarded in most quarters as a juggle, and detestation of the Roman Catholics, especially of the Jesuits, broke out with greater fury than ever. It was at this moment Oldham published his Satires. Their appearance was opportune, and they were read with avidity. The pamphleteers alluded to in the prologue, who deluged the town with violent and ribald tracts, merely addressed themselves to the temporary passions of the occasion; while Oldham assailed the whole system of the Jesuits with a fearlessness of invective scarcely paralleled in the language. He had the field to himself. Dryden had not yet come to the rescue of the King, and two years elapsed before the publication of Absalom and Achitophel. In the meanwhile the Satires still continued to sell, and a third edition was called for in 1685.
  3. Suarez and Escobar were Spanish Jesuits who flourished in the sixteenth century. The former, a voluminous author, held in high esteem by his own order for his learning, rendered himself particularly obnoxious in England by a book he wrote against the errors of the English church, which James I. caused to be burned at St. Paul's. Escobar was distinguished as a casuist, and published numerous works on divinity, the most remarkable of which was his Moral Theology, turned into ridicule by Pascal.
  4. Robert Wild, commonly called Dr. Wild, a nonconformist divine and poet, who held the rectory of Aynho, in Northamptonshire, and was ejected at the Restoration. He died at Oundle, at the age of 70, in the year when this poem was published. He wrote some sermons, but was better known by sundry indifferent poems, of which the Iter Boreale, written on Monk's journey out of Scotland, was the most prominent. This piece obtained extraordinary popularity. Dryden called Wild the Wither of the City, and said that they bought more editions of his works than would lie under all the pies at the Lord Mayor's Christmas. 'When his famous poem first came out in 1660, I have seen them reading it in the midst of 'Change time; nay, so vehemently were they at it, that they lost their bargain by the candles' ends.' He adds that it was equally well received amongst great people. Wood says that Wild was a 'fat, jolly, and boon presbyterian.'
  5. George Wither, the author of Abuses Stript and Whipt, for which he was committed to the Marshalsea; and of a charming collection of eclogues called the Shepherd's Hunting. Wither's satires were distinguished by their severity, and in his eclogues he displayed unquestionable taste and genius. But he possessed a fatal facility for rhyming, which tempted him to write a multitude of things of so inferior a character that he fairly buried his reputation under a heap of rubbish, and at last came to be regarded as a mere scribbler. Oldham is nevertheless unjust to him; for Wither, notwithstanding the mass of worthless verse he produced, was undoubtedly a true poet. Wither was a violent parliamentarian, and upon the Restoration was committed to Newgate, where he was denied the use of pen, ink, and paper, and confined for three years. He died in 1667, and was interred in the Savoy.
  6. Sir Edmundbury Godfrey, the magistrate who took the depositions of Tonge and Oates, and immediately afterwards disappeared. At the end of five days his body was found in a ditch near Primrose-hill, with his sword run through it, and a dark mark round his neck, as if he had been strangled. This mysterious murder was at once ascribed to the Roman Catholics, and the superstitions of the people were appealed to by an anagram, extracted with a somewhat unscrupulous ingenuity from the murdered man's name— 'I find murdered by rogues.' The impression made on the public mind by this incident was deepened by the disclosure that Godfrey had been unwilling to take Oates' deposition, and that he had no sooner done so than he expressed to his friends his apprehensions that he would be himself the first martyr. His body was exhibited in the public streets for two days to exasperate the multitude; and his funeral, at which seventy-two divines preceded the coffin, was one of those terrible spectacles which are so well calculated to inflame popular frenzy.
    Godfrey was descended from a good family, of some ancient standing in Kent. His father represented New Romney in Parliament. In his youth, Godfrey, after finisliing his education at Westminster School, travelled on the Continent, and afterwards became a member of Gray's Inn, but returned to the country before he completed his terms, and having obtained his younger son's portion, about 1000l., finally settled in London in partnership with Mr. Harrison, a near relative, at Dowgate, where they established a wood-wharf. At the end of a few years they dissolved partnership, and Godfrey removed to a house at the bottom of Hartshorn-lane, or Alley, close on the Thames, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Palace at Whitehall. About 1760 or 1761, the old houses in Hartshorn-lane were pulled down, and Northumberland-street, then considered 'a handsome street,' was built in their place. But Godfrey's house at the end of this street, overlooking the river, is still standing, and is now occupied by the Metropolitan Police. Here the wood-merchant acquired wealth and importance, and became a justice of the peace. He distinguished himself by his activity on several occasions, and was presented with a silver goblet by the King for his zeal in checking the ravages of the plague, and knighted for his services at the time of the Great Fire. He was a man of excellent character, and indefatigable in his station. Dr. Lloyd, who preached his funeral sermon, says that he was the best justice of the peace in the kingdom; that he dedicated himself wholly to it, and spared no labour to sustain law and justice, safety and liberty. It appears from the particulars relating to the murder which came out upon confession and examination of witnesses, that the persons who actually committed it, Hill, an ale-house keeper, Girald, an Irish priest, Green, cushion-man to the Queen's Chapel, and Berry, the porter of Somerset House, were instigated by the priests, who urged it as an act of devotion to religion, and promised the murderers that they should get rewards from the Lord Bellasis. The conspirators beset Godfrey as he was passing Somerset House at night. Hill, affecting great haste and alarm, stepped up to him, and entreated his interference between two men who were quarrelling. Godfrey at first refused, but at last yielded to Hill's importunities, and followed him down a lane. Girald and Green went after, and as Sir Edmundbury was going down the stairs, Green threw a twisted handkerchief round his neck from behind, and flung him to the ground. Having succeeded in strangling him, they carried him to a room in an upper court, where they were joined by Prance, a silversmith in Prince's-street, Drury-lane. They afterwards conveyed the body to Primrose Hill, and flung it into a ditch, with his sword run through it, and his scabbard and gloves laid on the bank, that it might be supposed he had destroyed himself. Green, Berry, and Hill were executed for the murder; and Coleman and others for being concerned in the conspiracy. There is a silver tankard in the possession of the Corporation of Sudbury, in Suffolk, which appears to have belonged to Godfrey, and which is apparently the same that was presented to him by the King. It is inscribed and engraved with memorials of the Plague and the Fire. Godfrey's Christian name is sometimes written Edmondsbury, but this is a mistake. It should properly be Edmund Berry, both of which names he was called after his two godfathers, his father's cousin, Captain John Berrie, and Mr. Edmund Harrison, the King's embroiderer. His signature to the affidavit made by Gates, in 1678, shows that the two names were distinct — it is Edm. B. Godfrey. By a curious coincidence one of his murderers bore one of his own names.
  7. Of the many duchesses to whom this allusion might with propriety apply, the Duchess of Portsmouth, Louise de Quérouaille, is the one directly referred to. She had just supplanted the Duchess of Cleveland at Whitehall, and was at this time Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen!
  8. The Lord Treasurer Darnley, charged with being concerned in an application from the Court of Whitehall to the Court of Versailles for the loan of a sum of money, had just been removed from his office by the King in the hope of saving him from the vengeance of the Commons. Parliament, however, was not to be diverted from its prey. A bill of attainder was brought in against him, and at last, chased for his life, he surrendered, and appeared on his knees at the bar of the House of Lords, from whence he was committed to the Tower.