John Dryden, Albion and Albanius (1685)

John Dryden began work on Albion and Albanius in 1683. Collaborating with the French composer Louis Grabu, Dryden originally intended the opera to act as a prologue to a more ambitious semiopera based on the story of King Arthur. However, as the prologue grew in size, and Charles II (1630-1685) displayed his interest in the piece, Dryden adapted it into a three-act allegory of recent political history. When Charles died in February 1685, Dryden salvaged the opera by adding a final apotheosis scene, in which ‘Albion’ (Charles) is summoned to heaven, and ‘Albanius’ (James II) takes his place on the throne. The following extract is that final apotheosis scene. The entirety was set to Grabu’s music. Albion and Albanius was first performed at the Dorset Garden Theatre, just six weeks after James’s coronation.

Dryden was apologist-in-chief for the Stuart regime. During the Exclusion Crisis he had savaged in verse the politicians who attempted to exclude James from the line of succession, most famously in Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and The Medal (1682). After James’s accession, Dryden too converted to the Catholic church. And, when James was usurped in 1688, remained loyal to his old king and church. This extract is an example of Dryden’s ability as Stuart propagandist. It crystallizes the hopes of Stuart loyalists that James would reign with ‘fraternal virtues’, that is, in the manner of his brother.

Whilst a symphony is playing; a very large, and a very glorious machine descends: the figure of it oval, all the clouds shining with gold, abundance of angels and cherubims flying about them, and playing in them; in the midst of it sits Apollo on a throne of gold: he comes from the machine to Albion.

From Jove’s imperial court,
Where all the gods resort;
In awful council met,
Surprizing news I bear:
Albion the Great,
Must change his Seat,
For He’s adopted there.

What stars above shall we displace?
Where shall he fill a room divine?

Descended from the sea god’s race,
Let him by my Orion shine.

No, not by that tempestuous sign:
Betwixt the Balance and the Maid,
The just,
And peaceful shade,
Shall shine in heaven with beams displayed,
While great Albanius is on earth obey’d:

Albanius, lord of land and main,
Shall with fraternal virtues reign;
And add his own,
To fill the throne;
Adored and feared, and loved no less:
In war victorious, mild in peace,
The joy of men, and Jove’s increase.

O thou who mounts the ethereal throne,
Be kind and happy to thy own;
Now Albion is come,
The people of the sky,
Run gazing and cry,
Make room, make room,
Make room for our new deity.

Here Albion mounts the machine, which moves upward slowly.

A full chorus of all that Acacia sung.

Behold what triumphs are prepared to grace
Thy glorious race,
Where love and honour claim an equal place;
Already are they fixed by fate,
And only ripening ages wait.

The scene changes to a walk of very high trees: at the end of the walk is a view of that part of Windsor, which faces Eton: In the midst of it is a row of small trees, which lead to the castle hill. In the first scene, part of the town and part of the hill: in the next the terrace talk, the king’s lodgings, and the upper part of St. George’s Chapel, then the keep; and lastly, that part of the castle, beyond the keep.

In the air is a vision of the honours of the Garter; the knights in procession, and the king under a canopy: beyond this, the upper end of St. George’s Hall.

Fame rises out of the middle of the stage, standing on a globe; on which is the arms of England: the globe rests on a pedestal: on the front of the pedestal is drawn a man with a long, lean, pale face, with fiend’s wings, and snakes twisted round his body: he is encompassed by several fanatical rebellious heads, who suck poison from him, which runs out of a tap in his side.

Renown, assume thy trumpet!
From pole to pole resounding:
Great Albion’s name;
Great Albion’s name shall be
The theme of fame, shall be great Albion’s Name,
Great Albion’s name, great Albion’s ame.
Record the Garter’s glory:
A badge for heroes, and for kings to bear:
For kings to bear!
And swell the immortal story,
With songs of gods, and fit for gods to hear;
And swell the Immortal story,
With songs of gods, and fit for gods to hear;
For gods to hear.

A full chorus of all the voices and instruments: trumpets and ho-boys make returnellos of all Fame sings; and twenty-four dancers join all the time in a chorus, and dance to the end of the opera.