Imágenes de páginas

At this sera, it may be proper to stop a moment and take a general survey of the age, so far as regards manners, finances, arms, commerce, arts and sciences. The chief use of history is, that it affords materials for disquisitions of this nature; and it seems the duty of an historian to point out the proper inferences and conclusions.

'» MANNERS AND ARTS. No people could undergo a change more sudden and entire in their manners, than did the English nation during this period. From tranquillity, concord, submission, sobriety, they passed in an instant to a state of faction, fanaticism, rebellion, and almost phrenzy. The violence of the English parties exceeded any thing which we can now imagine: had they continued but a little longer, there was just reason to dread all the horrors of the ancient massacres and proscriptions. The military usurpers, whose authority was founded on palpable injustice, and was supported by no national party, would have been impelled by rage and despair into such sanguinary measures; and if these furious expedients had been employed on one side, revenge would naturally have pushed the other party, after a return of power, to retaliate upon their enemies. No social intercourse was maintained between the parties; no marriages or alliances contracted. The royalists, though oppressed, harassed, persecuted, disdained all affinity with their masters. The more they were reduced to subjection, the greater superiority did they affect above those usurpers, who by violence and injustice had acquired an ascendant over them. The manners of the two factions were as opposite as those of the most distant nations. "Your friends, the Cavaliers," said a parliamentarian to a royalist, "are very dissolute and dehauched."—" True," replied the royalist, "they have the infirmities of men: but your friends, the Round-heads, have the vices of devils, tyranny, rebellion, and spiritual pride."10 Riot and disorder, it is certain, notwithstanding the good example set them by Charles I. prevailed very much among his partisans. Being commonly men of birth and fortune, to whom excesses are less pernicious than to the vulgar, they were too apt to indulge themselves in all pleasures, particularly those of the table. Opposition to the rigid preciseness of their antagonists increased their inclination to good fellowship; and the character of a man of pleasure was affected among them, as a sure pledge of attachment to the church and monarchy. Even when ruined by confiscations and sequestrations, they endeavoured to maintain the appearance of a careless and social jollity. "As much as hope is superior to fear," said a poor and merry cavalier, " so much is our situation preferable to that of our enemies. We laugh while they tremble." The gloomy enthusiasm which prevailed among the parliamentary party, is surely the most curious spectacle presented by any history; and the most instructive, as well as entertaining, to a philosophical mind. All recreations were in a manner suspended by the rigid severity of the presbyterians and independents. Horse-races and cockmatches, were prohibited as the greatest enormities." Even bear-baiting was esteemed heathenish and unchristian: the sport of it, not the inhumanity, gave offence. Colonel Hewson, from his pious zeal, marched with his regiment into London, and destroyed all the bears which were there kept for the diversion of the citizens. This adventure seems to have given birth to the fiction of Hudibras. Though the English nation be naturally candid and sincere, hypocrisy prevailed among them beyond any example in ancient or modern times. The religious hypocrisy, it may be remarked, is of a peculiar nature; and being generally unknown to the person himself, though more dangerous, it implies less falsehood than any other species of insincerity. The Old Testament, preferably to the New, was the favourite of all the sectaries. The eastern poetical style of that composition made it more easily susceptible of a turn which was agreeable to them. We have had occasion, in the course of this work, to speak of many of the sects which prevailed in England: to enumerate them all would be impossible. The quakers, however, are so considerable, at least so singular, as to merit some attention; and as they renounced by principle the use of arms, they never made such a figure in public transactions as to enter into any part of our narrative. The religion of the quakers, like most others, began with the lowest vulgar, and, in its progress, came at last to comprehend people of better quality and fashion. George Fox, born at Drayton in Lancashire in 1624, was the founder of this sect. He was the son of a weaver, and was himself bound apprentice to a shoe-maker. Feeling a stronger impulse towards spiritual contemplations than towards that mechanical profession, he left his master, and went about the country clothed in a leathern doublet, a dress which he long affected, as well for its singularity as its cheapness. That he might wean himself from sublunary objects, he broke off all connexions with his friends and family, and never dwelled a moment in one place; lest habit should beget new connexions, and depress the sublimity of his aerial meditations. He frequently wandered into the woods, and passed whole days in hollow trees, without company, or any other amusement than his bible. Having reached that pitch of perfection as to need no other book, he soon advanced to another state of spiritual progress, and began to pay less regard even to that divine composition itself. His own breast, he imagined, was full of the same inspiration which had guided the prophets and apostles themselves; and by this inward light must every spiritual obscurity be cleared, by this living spirit must the dead letter be animated. When he had been sufficiently consecrated in his own imagination, he felt that the fumes of self-applause soon dissipate, if not continually supplied by the admiration of others; and he began to seek proselytes. Proselytes were easily gained, at a time when all men's affections were turned towards religion, and when the most extravagant modes of it were sure to be most popular. All the forms 6f ceremony, invented by pride and ostentation, Fox and his disciples, from a superior pride and ostentation, care^ ftilly rejected: even the ordinary rites of civility were shunned, as the nourishment of carnal vanity and selfeonceit. They would bestow no titles of distinction: the name of friend was the only salutation with which they indiscriminately accosted every one. To no person would they make a bow, or move their hat, or give any signs of reverence. Instead of that affected adulation, introduced into modern tongues, of speaking to individuals as if they were a multitude, they returned to the simplicity of ancient languages; and thou and thee were the only expressions which, on any consideration, they could be brought to employ. Dress too, a material circumstance, distinguished the members of this sect. Every superfluity and ornament was carefully retrenched: no plaits to their coat, no but* tons to their sleeves: no lace, ho ruffles, no embroidery. Even a button to the hat, though sometimes useful, yet not being always so, was universally rejected by them with horror and detestation. The violent enthusiasm of this sect, like all high passions, being too strong for the weak nerves to sustain, threw the preachers into convulsions, and shakings, and distortions in their limbs; and they thence received the appellation of quahtrs. Amidst the great toleration which was then granted to all sects, and even encouragement given to all innovations, this sect alone suffered persecution. From the fervour of their zeal, the quakers broke into churches, disturbed public worship, and harassed the minister and audience with railing and reproaches. When carried before a magistrate, they refused him all reverence, and treated him with the same familiarity as if he had been their equal. Sometimes they were thrown into mad-houses, sometimes into prisons: sometimes whipped, sometimes pilloried. The patience and fortitude with which they suffered, begat compassion, admiration, esi teem.12 A supernatural spirit was believed to support them under those sufferings, which the ordinary state of

humanity, freed from the illusions of passion, is unable to sustain. The quakers creeped into the army: but as they preached universal peace, they seduced the military zealots from their profession, and would soon, had they been suffered, have put an end, without any defeat or calamity, to the dominion of the saints. These attempts became a fresh ground of persecution, and a new reason for their progress among the people. Morals with this sect were carried, or affected to be carried, to the same degree of extravagance as religion. Give a quaker a blow on one cheek, he held up the other: ask his cloak, he gave you his coat also: the greatest interest could not engage him, in any court of judicature, to swear even to the truth: he never asked more for his wares than the precise sum which he was determined to accept. This last maxim is laudable, and continues still to be religiously observed by that sect. No fanatics ever carried farther the hatred to ceremonies, forms, orders, rights, and positive institutions. Even baptism and the Lord's supper, by all other sects believed to be interwoven with the very vitals of Christianity, were disdainfully rejected by them. The very sabbath they profaned. The holiness of churches they derided; and they would give to these sacred edifices no other appellation than that of shops or steeple-houses. No priests were admitted in their sect: every one had received from immediate illumination a character much superior to the sacerdotal. When they met for divine worship, each rose up in his place, and delivered the extemporary inspirations of the Holy Ghost: women were also admitted to teach the brethren, and were considered as proper vehicles to convey the dictates of the spirit. Sometimes a great many preachers were moved to speak at once: sometimes a total silence prevailed in their congregations. Some quakers attempted to fast forty days in imitation of Christ; and one of them bravely perished in the experiment.13 A female quaker came naked into the church

« AnteriorContinuar »