Britannia Rediviva

by John Dryden

The Prince of Wales (later King James III and VIII) was born on Trinity Sunday, June 10, 1688. The Poet Laureate, John Dryden, prepared the following poem in haste, and had it licensed for the press on June 19. Two editions, one in folio and one in quarto, were published by Tonson in 1688; a third, in quarto, was printed in Edinburgh in the same year. After the Revolution the poem was not reprinted until it was included in the folio Poems and Translations, 1701.

Our vows are heard betimes! and Heaven takes care
To grant, before we can conclude the pray'r:
Preventing angels met it half the way,
And sent us back to praise, who came to pray.

Just on the day, when the high-mounted sun
Did farthest in his northern progress run,
He bended forward, and ev'n stretch'd the sphere
Beyond the limits of the lengthen'd year,
To view a brighter sun in Britain born;
That was the bus'ness of his longest morn;
The glorious object seen, 't was time to turn.

Departing Spring could only stay to shed
Her bloomy beauties on the genial bed,
But left the manly Summer in her stead,
With timely fruit the longing land to cheer,
And to fulfil the promise of the year.
Betwixt two seasons comes th' auspicious heir,
This age to blossom, and the next to bear.

Last solemn Sabbath saw the Church attend;
The Paraclete in fiery pomp descend;
But when his wondrous octave roll'd again,
He brought a royal infant in his train.
So great a blessing to so good a king,
None but th' Eternal comforter could bring.

Or did the mighty Trinity conspire,
As once, in council to create our sire:?
It seems as if they sent the newborn guest
To wait on the procession of their feast;
And on their sacred anniverse decreed
To stamp their image on the promis'd seed.
Three realms united, and on one bestow'd,
An emblem of their mystic union show'd:
The Mighty Trine the triple empire shar'd,
As every person would have one to guard.

Hail, son of pray'rs, by holy violence
Drawn down from heav'n; but long be banished thence,
And late to thy paternal skies retire!
To mend our crimes whole ages would require;
to change th' inveterate habit of our sins,
And finish what they godlike sire begins.
Kind Heav'n, to make us Englishmen again,
No less can give us than a patriarch's reign.

The sacred cradle to your charge receive,
Ye seraphs, and by turns the guard relieve;
Thy father's angel, and thy father join,
To keep possession, and secure the line;
But long defer the honors of the fate:
Great may they be like his, like his be late;
That James this running century may view,
And give his son an auspice to the new.

Our wants exact at least that moderate stay:
For see the Dragon winged on his way,
To watch the travail, and devour the prey.
Or, if allusions may not rise so high,
Thus, when Alcides rais'd his infant cry,
The snakes besieg'd his young divinity;
But vainly with their forked tongues they threat,
For opposition makes a hero great.
To needful succor all the good will run,
And Jove assert the godhead of his son.

O still repining at your present state,
Grudging yourselves the benefits of fate,
Look up, and read in characters of light
A blessing sent you in your own despite.
The manna falls, yet that celestial bread
Like Jews you munch, and murmur while you feed.
May not your fortune be like theirs, exil'd,
Yet forty years to wander in the wild;
Or if it be, may Moses live at least,
To lead you to the verge of promis'd rest.

Tho' poets are not prophets, to foreknow
What plants will take the blight, and what will grow,
By tracing Heav'n his footsteps may be found:
Behold! how awfully he walks the round!
God is abroad, and, wondrous in his ways,
The rise of empires and their fall surveys;
More (might I say) than with an usual eye,
He sees his bleeding Church in ruin lie,
And hears the souls of saints beneath his altar cry.
Already has he lifted high the sign,
Which crown'd the conquering arms of Constantine:
The moon grows pale at that presaging sight,
And half her train of stars have lost their light.

Behold another Sylvester, to bless
The sacred standard, and secure success;
Large of his treasures, of a soul so great,
As fills and crows his universal seat.

Now view at home a second Constantine;
(The former, too, was of the British line;)
Has not his healing balm your breaches clos'd,
Whose exile many sought, and few oppos'd?
Or did not Heav'n by its eternal doom
Permit those evils, that this good might come?
So manifest, that ev'n the moon-ey'd sects
See whom and what this Providence protects.
Methinks, had we within our minds no more
Than that one shipwrack on the fatal ore,
That only thought may make us think again,
What wonders God reserves for such a reign.
To dream that chance his preservation wrought,
Were to think Noah was preserv'd for naught;
Or the surviving eight were not design'd
To people earth, and to restor their kind.

When humbly on the royal babe we gaze,
The manly lines of a majestic face
Give awful joy: 't is paradise to look
On the fair frontispiece of Nature's book;
If the first opening page so charms the sight,
Think how th' unfolded volume will delight!

See how the venerable infant lies
In early pomp; how thro' the mother's eyes
The father's soul, with an undaunted view,
Looks out, and takes our homage as his due.
See on his future subjects how he smiles,
Nor meanly flatters, now with craft beguiles;
But with an open face, as on his throne,
Assures our birthrights and assumes his own.

Born in broad daylight, that th' ungrateful rout
May find no room for a remaining doubt;
Truth, which itself is light, does darkness shun,
And the true eaglet safely dares the sun.

Fain would the fiends have made a dubious birth,
Loth to confess the godhead cloth'd in earth;
But sicken'd, after all their baffled lies,
To find an heir apparent of the skies,
Abandon'd to despair, still may they grudge,
And, owning not the Savior, prove the judge.

Not great Aeneas stood in plainer day,
When, the dark mantling mist dissolv'd away,
He to the Tyrians shew'd his sudden face,
Shining with all his goddess mother's grace:
For she herself had made his count'nance bright,
Breath'd honor on his eyes, and her own purple light.

If our victorious Edward, as they say,
Gave Wales a prince on that propitious day,
Why may not years revolving with his fate
Produce his like, but with a longer date?
One whom may carry to a distant shore
The terror that his fam'd forefather bore?
But why should James or his young hero stay
For slight presages of a name or day?
We need no Edward's fortune to adorn
That happy moment when our prince was born:
Our prince adorns his day, and ages hence
Shall wish his birthday for some future prince.

Great Michael, prince of all th' ethereal hosts,
And whate'er inborn saints our Britain boasts;
And thou, th' adopted patron of our isle,
With cheerful aspects on this infant smile:
The pledge of Heav'n, which, dropping from above,
Secures our bliss, and reconciles his love.

Enough of ills our dire rebellion wrought,
When, to the dregs, we drank the bitter draught;
Then airy atoms did in plagues conspire,
Nor did th' avenging angel yet retire,
But purg'd our still encreasing crimes with fir.
Then perjur'd Plots, the still impending Test,
And worse -- but charity conceals the rest:
Here stop the current of the sanguine flood;
Require not, gracious God, thy martyrs' blood;
But let their dying pangs, their living toil,
Spread a rich harvest thro' their native soil:
A harvest ripening for another reign,
Of which this royal babe may reap the grain.

Enough of early saints one womb has giv'n;
Enough encreas'd the family of heav'n:
Let them for his and our atonement go;
And reigning blest above, leave him to rule below.

Enough already has the year foreslow'd
His wonted course, the seas have overflow'd,
The meads were floated with a weeping spring,
And frighten'd birds in woods forgot to sing;
The strong-limb'd steed beneath his harness faints,
And the same shiv'ring sweat his lord attaints.
When will the minister of wrath give o'er?
Behold him, at Araunah's threshing-floor:
He stops, and seems to sheathe his flaming brand,
Pleas'd with burnt incense from our David's hand.
David has brought the Jebusite's abode,
And rais'd an altar to the living God.

Heav'n, to reward him, make his joys sincere;
No future ills nor accidents appear,
To sully and pollute the sacred infant's year!
Five months to discord and debate were giv'n:
He sanctifies the yet remaining sev'n.
Sabbath of months! henceforth in him be blest,
And prelude to the realm's perpetual rest!

Let his baptismal drops for us atone;
Lustrations for offenses not his own.
Let Conscience, which is Int'rest ill disguis'd,
In the same font be cleans'd, and all the land baptiz'd.

Unnam'd as yet; at least unknown to fame:
Is there a strife in heav'n about his name?
Where every famous predecessor vies,
And makes a faction for it in the skies?
Or must it be reserv'd to thought alone?
Such was the sacred Tetragrammaton.
Thins worthy silence must not be reveal'd:
Thus the true name of Rome was kept conceal'd,
To shun the spells and sorceries of those
Who durst her infant Majesty oppose.
But when his tender strength in time shall rise
To dare ill tongues, and fascinating eyes;
This isle, which hides the little thund'rers fame,
Shall be too narrow to contain his name:
Th' artillery of heav'n shall make him known;
Crete could not hold th god, when Jove was grown.

As Jove's increase, who from his brain was born,
Whom arms and arts did equally adorn,
Free of the breast was bred, whose milky taste
Minerva's name to Venus has debas'd;
So this imperial babe rejects the food
That mixes monarchs with plebeian blood:
Food that his inborn courage might control,
Extinguish all the father in his soul,
And, for his Estian race, and Saxon strain,
Might reproduce some second Richard's reign.
Mildness he shares from both his parents' blood,
But kings too tame are despicably good:
Be this the mixture of this regal child,
by nature manly, but by virtue mild.

Thus far the furious transport of the news
Had to prophetic madness fir'd the Muse;
Madness ungovernable, uninspir'd,
Swift to foretell whatever she desir'd.
Was it for me the dark abyss to tread,
And read the book which angels cannot read?
How was I punish'd, when the sudden blast
The face of heav'n and our young sun o'ercast!
Fame, the swift ill, encreasing as she roll'd,
Disease, despair, and death, at three reprises told:
At three insulting strides she stalk'd the town,
And, like contagion, struck the loyal down.
Down fell the winnow'd wheat; but, mounted high,
The whirlwind bore the chaff, and hid the sky.
Here black rebellion shooting from below,
(As earth's gigantic brood by moments grow,)
And here the sons of God are petrified with woe:
An apoplex of grief! so low were driv'n
The saints, as hardly to defend their heav'n.

As, when pent vapors run their hollow round,
Earthquakes, which are convulsions of the ground,
Break bellowing forth, and no confinement brook,
Till the third settles what the former shook;
Such heavings had our souls; till, slow and late,
Our life with his return'd, and faith prevail'd on fate:
By prayers the mighty blessing was implor'd,
To pray'rs was granted, and by pray'rs restor'd.

So, ere the Shunammite a son conceiv'd,
The prophet promis'd, and the wife believ'd.
A son was sent, the son so much desir'd;
But soon upon the mother's knees expir'd.
The troubled Seer approach'd the mournful door,
Ran, pray'd, and sent his past'ral staff before,
Then stretch'd his limbs upon the child, and mourn'd,
Till warmth, and breath, and a new soul return'd.

Thus Mercy stretches out her hand, and saves
Desponding Peter sinking in the waves.

As when a sudden storm of hail and rain
Beats to the ground the yet unbearded grain,
Think not the hopes of harvest are destroy'd
On the flat field, and on the naked void;
The light, unloaded stem, from tempest freed,
Will raise the youthful honors of his head;
And, soon restor'd by native vigor, bear
The timely product of the bounteous year.

Nor yet conclude all fiery trials past:
For Heav'n will exercise us to the last;
Sometimes will check us in our full career,
With doubtful blessings, and with mingled fear;
That, still depending on his daily grace,
His every mercy for an alms may pass;
With sparing hands will diet us to good,
Preventing surfeits of our pamper'd blood.
So feeds the mother bird her craving young
With little morsels, and delays 'em long.

True, this last blessing was a royal feast;
But where's the wedding garment on the guest?
Our manners, as religion were a dream,
Are such as teach the nations to blaspheme.
In lusts we wallow, and with pride we swell,
And injuries with injuries repel;
Prompt to revenge, not daring to forgive,
Our lives unteach the doctrine we believe.
Thus Israel sinn'd, impenitently hard,
And vainly thought the present ark their guard;
But when the haughty Philistines appear,
They fled, abandon'd to their foes and fear;
Their God was absent, tho' his ark was there.
Ah! lest our crimes should snatch this pledge away
And make our joys the blessing of a day!
For we have sinn'd him hence, and that he lives,
God to his promise, not our practice gives.
Our crimes would soon weigh down the guilty scale,
But James, and Mary, and the Church prevail.
Nor Amalek can rout the chosen bands,
While Hur and Aaron hold up Moses' hands.

By living well, let us secure his days,
Mod'rate in hopes, and humble in our ways.
No force the freeborn spirit can constrain,
But charity and great examples gain.
Forgiveness is our thanks for such a day,
'T is godlike God in his own coin to pay.

But you, propitious queen, translated here,
From your mild heav'n, to rule our rugged sphere,
Beyond the sunny walks, and circling year:
You, who your native climate have bereft
Of all the virtues, and the vices left;
Whom piety and beauty make their boast,
Tho' beautiful is well in pious lost;
So lost, as starlight is dissolv'd away,
And melts into the brightness of the day;
Or gold about the regal diadem,
Lost to improve the luster of the gem:
What can we add to your triumphant day?
Let the great gift the beauteous giver pay.
For, should our thanks awake the rising sun,
And lengthen, as his latest shadows run,
That, tho' the longest day, would soon, too soon be done.
Let angels' voices with their harps conspire,
But keep th' auspicious infant from the choir;
Late let him sing above, and let us know
No sweeter music that his cries below.

Nor can I wish to you, great monarch, more
Than such an annual income to your store;
The day which gave this unit did not shine
For a less omen, than to fill the trine.
After a prince, and admiral beget;
The Royal Sov'reign wants an anchor yet.
Our isle has younger titles still in store,
And when th' exhausted land can yield no more,
Your line can force them from a foreign shore.

The name of Great your martial mind will suit,
But justice is your darling attribute:
Of all the Greeks, 't was but one her's due,
And in him Plutarch prophesied of you.
A prince's favors but on few can fall,
But justice is a virtue shar'd by all.

Some kings the name of conqu'rors have assum'd,
Some to be great, some to be gods presum'd;
But boundless pow'r, and arbitrary lust,
Made tyrants still abhor the name of just;
They shunn'd the praise this godlike virtue gives,
And fear'd a title that reproach'd their lives.

The pow'r, from which all kings derive their state,
Whom they pretend, at least, to imitate,
Is equal both to punish and reward;
For few would love their God, unless they fear'd

Resistless force and immortality
Make but a lame, imperfect deity;
Tempests have force unbounded to destroy,
And deathless being ev'n the damn'd enjoy;
And yet Heav'n's attributes, both last and first,
One without life, and one with life accurst;
But justice is Heav'n's self, so strictly he,
That, could it fail, the Godhead could not be.
This virtue is your own; but life and state
Are one to fortune subject, one to fate:
Equal to all, you justly frown or smile;
Nor hopes nor fears your steady hand beguile;
Yourself our balance hold, the world's, our isle.

This page is maintained by Noel S. McFerran ( and was last updated October 30, 2003.
© Noel S. McFerran 2003.