‘And ‘tis to be noted by the way, that the doctrines of king-killing and deposing, which have been taken up only by the worst party of the papists, the most frontless flatterers of the Pope's authority, have been espoused, defended and are still maintained by the whole body of Nonconformists and republicans. ’Tis but dubbing themselves the people of God, which ‘tis the interest of their preachers to tell them they are, and their own interest to believe; and after that they cannot dip into the Bible but one text or another will turn up for their purpose. If they are under persecution (as they call it) then that is a mark of their election; if they flourish, then God works miracles for their deliverance, and the saints are to possess the earth.’
Nonconformists were, for John Dryden, doctrinaire defenders of regicide, and their understanding of Providence led them to interpret every possible situation as confirming their righteousness. His claims are strikingly similar to those that Marvell ascribed to Samuel Parker in the passage that opened this book. When satirists merely have to record rather than exaggerate their opponents’ views, it is a clear sign that mutually exclusive discourses have come into being. This was a lesson that Daniel Defoe would later learn at some cost when his 1702 tract The shortest way with Dissenters, a savage representation of the persecutory Anglican case, was not initially understood by either Anglicans or dissenters as satirical. For some dissenters it was all too plausible that Anglicans were calling for their blood, while for some Anglicans it was clear that what Defoe proposed, far from being parodically extreme, was a rational and necessary programme. What one group saw as abhorrent had become what another saw as desirable, and a vicious circle was created whereby the statement of one case merely served to reinforce the beliefs of its opponents. This has been part of the story told in this book: a story about how dissenting identities hardened in the Restoration, and the ways in which they were shaped through engagements in particular textual battles. This is most obviously the case in the account given of Robert Wild and the emergence of his Presbyterian identity.