« AnteriorContinuar »
Hail, son of prayers! by holy violence
We have noticed, in the introduction, that the birth of a Prince of Wales, at a time of such critical importance to the Catholic faith, was looked upon, by the Papists, as little less than miraculous. Some talked of the petition of the Duchess of Modena to Our Lady of Loretto; and Burnet affirms, that, in that famous chapel, there is actually a register of the queen's conception, in consequence of her mother's vow. But, in that case, the good duchess's-intercession must have been posthumous; for she died upon the 19th July, and the queen's time run from the 6th of October. Others ascribed the event to the king's pilgrimage to St Winifred's Well; and others, among whom was the Earl of Melfort, suffered their zeal to hurry them into profaneness, and spoke of the angel of the Lord moving the Bath waters, like the Pool of Bethsaida. But the Jesuits claimed to their own prayers the principal merit of procuring this blessing, which, indeed, they had ventured to prophecy; for, among other devices which that order exhibited to the English ambassador from James to the Pope, there was, according to Mr Misson, one of a lily, from whose leaves distilled some drops of water, which were once supposed, by
maturalists, to become the seed of new lilies: the motto was---Lashrimor in prolem---" I weep for children." Beneath which was the following distich :
Pro natis, Jacobe, gemis, flos candide regum?
For sons, fair flower of kings, why melts thine eye?
For, see the dragon winged on his way,
To watch the travail, and devour the prey.-P. 291.
"And the dragon stood before the woman, who was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child, as soon as it was born."Revel. xii. 4. Dryden is at pains, by an original marginal note, which, with others, is restored in this edition, to explain, that, by this allusion here, and in other parts of the poem, he meant "the commonwealth's party." The acquittal of the bishops, on the 17th of June, two days before the poem was licensed, must have excited a prudential reverence for the church of England in the moment of her triumph. The poet fixes upon this commonwealth party therefore, exclusively, the common reports which had been circulated during the queen's pregnancy, and which are thus noticed in the (supposititious) letter to Father La Chaise: “As to the queen's being with child, that great concern goes as well as we could wish, notwithstanding all the satirical discourses of the heretics, who content themselves to vent their poison in libels, which, by night, they disperse in the street, or fix upon the walls. There was one lately found upon a pillar of a church, that imported, that such a day thanks should be given to God for the queen's being great with a cushion. If one of these pasquil-makers could be discovered, he would but have an ill time on't, and should be made to take his last farewell at Tyburn."
The usual topics of wit, during the queen's pregnancy, were, allusions to a cushion, a tympany, &c. &c.; and Partridge, the Protestant almanack-maker, utters the following predictions: "That there was some bawdy project on foot, either about buying, selling, or procuring, a child or children, for some pious uses.' And, again," Some child is to be topped upon the lawful heirs, to cheat them out of their right and estate."- -" God preserve the kingdom of England from invasion! for about this time I fear it in earnest, and keep the Protestants there from being dragooned."
One single circumstance is sufficient to rout all suspicions thus carefully infused into the people. It is well known, and is noticed in one of L'Estrange's papers at the time, that a similar outcry was raised during a former pregnancy of the queen; but the
child proving a female, there was no use for pushing the calumny any further upon that occasion.
Already has he lifted high the sign,
Which crowned the conquering arms of Constantine;
The moon grows pale at that presaging sight,
And half her train of stars have lost their light.---P. 292.
The public exercise of the Catholic religion in England is compared to the miraculous display of the cross, with the motto, In hoc signo vinces; which is said to have appeared to Constantine on the eve of his great victory.
The war against the Turks, which was now raging in Hungary, seems to have occupied much of James's attention. He amused himself with anxiety about the fate of this holy warfare, as he probably thought it, while his own crown was tottering on his head. In all his letters to the Prince of Orange, he expresses his wishes for the peace of Christendom, that the emperor and the Venetians might have leisure to prosecute the war against the Turks; and conjectures about the taking of Belgrade, and the progress of the Duke of Lorraine, are very gravely sent, as interesting mat ter to the prince, who was anticipating the conquest of England, and the dethronement of his father-in-law. There may be something of affectation in this; but, as Dryden takes up the same tone, it may be supposed to have forwarded James's general conversation, as well as his letters to the Prince of Orange.---See DALRYMPLE'S Memoirs. Appendix to Book V.
Behold another Sylvester, to bless
The sacred standard, and secure success ;
Large of his treasures, of a soul so great,
Dryden talks of the Pope with the respect of a good Catholic. Nevertheless it happened, by a very odd chance, that, while the throne of England was held by a Catholic, for the first time during the course of a century, the chair of St Peter was occupied by Innocent XI. who acquired the uncommon epithet of the Protestant Pope. He received, with great coldness, the Earl of Castlemain, whom James sent to Rome as his ambassador, and refused the only two requests which a king of England had made to Rome since the days of Henry VIII., although they were only a dispensation to Petre the king's confessor, to hold a bishopric, and another to the Mareschal D'Humier's daughter to marry within the prohibited de
grees. Nay, the Pope is said to have privately admitted the Prince of Orange's envoy to his confidence, while he treated Castlemaine with so much contempt. The cause of this coldness was the Pope's quarrel with James's ally, Louis, and his dislike to the order of Jesuits, by whom' the king of England was entirely ruled. In truth, Innocent XI. was much more anxious to maintain the privileges of the Roman see against those princes who retained her communion, than to add England to a flock which was become so mutinous and untractable. He was, besides, a man of no extended views, and chiefly concerned himself with managing the papal revenue, involved in debt by a succession of wasteful pontificates. To this the conversion of England promised no immediate addition, and, with the narrowness of view natural to his pursuits, Innocent XI. thought it better to employ his exertions in realizing an immediate income, than in endeavouring to extend the faith and authority of the church, by embarking in a design of great doubt and hazard. He was, therefore, but a very poor representative of Pope Sylvester. As for the last two lines, they contain, what we seldom meet with in Dryden's poetry, a compliment not only bombastic, but unappropriate, and even unmeaning.
Born in broad day-light, that the ungrateful rout
In these lines, and the following, where the poet, with indecent freedom, compares the suspicions entertained of a spurious birth to the devil's doubts concerning our Saviour's godhead, he alludes to those circumstances of publicity, which one would have supposed might have rendered the birth of the prince indisputable. It took place at ten o'clock in the morning; and eighteen privy counsellors, besides a number of ladies, were present at the delivery. But the party violence of the period was so extravagant, as to receive and circulate a variety of reports, inconsistent with each other, and agreeing only in the general conclusion, that the child was an imposition upon the nation. The reasoning of the Bishop of Salisbury, on this point, is admirably summed up by Smol
"On the 10th of June, 1688, the queen was suddenly seized with labour-pains, and delivered of a son, who was baptized by the name of James, and declared Prince of Wales. All the Catholics and friends of James were transported with the most extravagant joy at the birth of this child; while great part of the nation consoled themselves with the notion, that it was altogether supposititious. They carefully collected a variety of circumstances, upon which this conjecture was founded; and though they were incon
sistent, contradictory, and inconclusive, the inference was so agreeable to the views and passions of the people, that it made an impression which, in all probability, will never be totally effaced. Dr Burnet, who seems to have been at uncommon pains to establish this belief, and to have consulted all the Whig nurses in England upon the subject, first pretends to demonstrate, that the queen was not with child; secondly, that she was with child, but miscarried; thirdly, that a child was brought into the queen's apartment in a warming-pan; fourthly, that there was no child at all in the room; fifthly, that the queen actually bore a child, but it died that same day; sixthly, that it had the fits, of which it died at Richmond; therefore, the Chevalier de St George must be the fruit of four different impostures."
Five months to discord and debate were given.-P. 295.
During the five months preceding the birth of the Chevalier de St George, James was wholly engaged by those feuds and dis sensions which tended to render irreparable the breach between him and his subjects. The arbitrary attacks upon the privileges of Magdalen College, and of the Charter-House, fell nearly within this period. Above all, the petition of the seven bishops against reading the Declaration of Indulgence, their imprisonment, their memorable trial and acquittal, had all taken place since the month of April; and it is well known to what a state of violent opposition the nation had been urged by a train of arbitrary acts of violence, so imprudently commenced, and perversely insisted in. Dryden, like other men of sense, probably began to foresee the consequences of so violent and general irritation; and expresses himself in moderate and soothing language, both as to the past and future. Nothing is therefore dropt which can offend the church of England. Perhaps they may have been spared by the royal command; for it seems, as is hinted by a letter from Halifax to the Prince of Orange, that, not finding his expectations answered by the dissenters, whom he had so greatly favoured of late, James entertained thoughts of returning to his old friends, the High-churchmen; "but the truth is," his lordship adds, "the Papists have of late been so hard and fierce upon them, that the very species of those formerly mistaking men is destroyed; they have so broken that loom in pieces, that they cannot now set it up again to work upon it."---DALRYMPLE'S Memoirs. Appendix to Book V.