The Hind and the Panther
April 18, 2008
In 1687, John Dryden published his masterwork on the relation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England, The Hind and the Panther, in effect a response to his celebrated Religio Laici (1682), a defense of the Church of England against the claims of Rome. A year before The Hind and the Panther was published, Dryden converted to the Roman Catholic Church and soon set to write his versed dialogue between a panther (the Church of England) and a hind, female deer (the Catholic Church). It is a fascinating read, ably displaying Dryden’s peculiar form of poetic style, best described by Bonamy Dobrée:
“What Dryden aimed at was precision, finality of utterance, saying all that could be said upon a subject in the most concentrated way. His is the gift, or rather, one should say, the hard-won capacity, of expressing exactly what he means. But the hold which romantic poetry has upon the imagination is to a large degree due to the opposite quality, namely of formulating a deliberate ambiguity, of seeming to mean, of intending to mean even, a great deal more than it actually says: it seeks to set the imagination free in the fairyland of desire rather than to concentrate it on a definite object or idea.” (Introduction to Poems, John Dryden, Everyman’s Library No. 910)
In this contrast to romanticism, we can see Dryden as displaying the best of the this-worldly sanctifying attention found in the Catholic and Thomistic tradition. It is the sort of realism that I find most attractive in the greatest of modern poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a convert received into the Church by John Henry Newman. Here is an excerpt from The Hind and the Panther, displaying less Dryden’s doctrinal-intent but, more, his greater insight to the seductions surrounding epistemic warrant:
Your inf’rence wou’d be strong (the Hind reply’d)
If yours were in effect the suff’ring side;
Your clergy sons their own in peace possess,
Nor are their prospects in reversion less.
My Proselytes are struck with awfull dread,
Your bloudy Comet-laws hand blazing o’re their head.
The respite they enjoy but onely lent,
The best they have to hope, protracted punishment.
Be judge your self, if int’rest may prevail,
Which motive, yours or mine, will turn the scale.
While pride and pomp allure, and plenteous ease,
That is, till man’s predominant passions cease,
Admire no longer at my slow encrease.
By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The Priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.
The rest I nam’d before, nor need repeat;
But int’rest is the most prevailing cheat,
The sly seducer both of age and youth:
They study that, and think they study truth:
When int’rest fortifies an argument,
Weak reason serves to gain the wills assent:
For souls, already warp’d, receive an easie bent.
Those last six lines are worth re-reading.