Page images
PDF
EPUB

REFORMATION OF MANNERS.

47

fundamental articles of the Christian faith, and to watch against and hinder the use of new terms or new explanations in these matters. This put a stop to these debates, as Mr. Firmin's death put a stop to the printing and spreading of Socinian books."* How far the Statute which immediately followed Mr. Firmin's death was conducive to the repression of infidelity, may be sufficiently estimated by its progress in the next two reigns, when the test of wit and wisdom, of refinement and taste, was to be a free-thinker after the fashion of Shaftesbury or Bolingbroke.

The Socinian books might have vanished; but the profaneness and immorality, which could not so readily be touched by Act of Parliament, had to be combated by an organization very peculiar to this country. The principle of Association was to come to the aid of the government. Societies for the Reformation of Manners had for some time been in activity. They originated with the Puritans. They were encouraged by Dissenters after the Revolution; and they gradually embraced men of various modes of worship. Their business was to lay inforinations before the magistrates, of swearers, drunkards, sabbath-breakers, and other offenders, and to appropriate that portion of the fines which were earned by common informers, to purposes of charity. The objection which ever was, and ever will be, against the most honest exertions of such Societies is--that they are not impartial in their visitations. Defoe indignantly attacked the unequal distribution of punishment "in the commonwealth of vice,” and boldly said, " till the nobility, gentry, justices of the peace, and clergy, will be pleased either to reform their own manners, or find out some method and power impartially to punish themselves when guilty, we humbly crave leave to object against setting any poor man in the stocks, or sending him to the house of correction for immoralities, as the most unjust and unequal way of proceeding in the world." +

Whatever were the immoralities of the upper classes,--whatever was the laxity of some of the clergy,--there was a spirit growing up which is the best proof of an extending sense of Christian obligation. When the influential members of a community have come to recognize the duty of association, for objects of benevolence of a wider range than their own parish, town, county, or kingdom, there is a principle stirring within them which, if not exaggerated into false enthusiasm, will make them more regardful even of the wants at their own doors. Such an Association was

Burnet, "Own Time," vol. iv.p. 382.

"The Poor Man's Plea against all the Proclamations, or Acts of Parliament, for Reformation.”

[ocr errors]

was the “

66

that of the “ Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; " such

Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts;” both established about this period. These Societies were chiefly created and brought into a condition of practical utility by the efforts of one man. A Society had been formed in 1649 under an Act of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, " for the promoting and propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England.' It subsisted till after the Restoration ; but in that period—one of the decline of genuine Christianity-it fell into disuse. Thomas Bray, a native of Shropshire, born in 1656, was educated at Hart Hall, Oxford. Whilst he held the benefice of Sheldon he published a very useful.work, “ Catechetical Lectures.” The Governor and Assembly of the Colony of Maryland, having established a legal maintenance for ministers of the church, Dr. Bray was appointed a Commissary, or general Superintendent. One of his first labours, after selecting proper persons to be sent, was to provide Libraries for their use. Another of his valuable designs was to establish lending Libraries in England and Wales for the use of the clergy. He was truly the founder of those Parochial Libraries, established by Act of Parliament in 1708, which, if they had been carried forward with corresponding energy, would have tended to dissipate some of that ignorance amongst the people generally which it has been a main object in our own time to remove. To this admirable man was mainly owing the establishment of the two great and venerable Societies which still maintain their utility in connexion with the Church of England.

With a clergy even more zealous and united than the churchmen of the end of the seventeenth century-a clergy learned, logical, argumentative, but rarely touching the hearts of their hearers-the counteracting influences to such a Society as that for promoting Christian Knowledge were very great. Not the least of these opposing influences was the licentiousness of the Stage. In 1697, Sunderland, as Lord Chamberlain, had issued an order to prevent the profaneness and immorality of the acted drama. In 1699, the Master of the Revels represented that the actors did not leave out such profane and indecent expressions as he had ordered to be omitted. The king therefore issued his command that nothing hereafter should be acted contrary to religion and good manners. How this command was obeyed let Congreve, Farquhar, and Vanbrugh inform us. The Master of the Revels might refuse " to license any plays containing irreligious or immoral expressions," as he was commanded; but the Master of the Revels probably made no attempt to remonstrate against performances in

LICENTIOUSNESS OF THE STAGE.

49

which the phraseology might be tolerably decent, but of which the whole structure of the action was to represent chastity as the thin disguise of scheming women, and the pursuit of adultery as the proper business of refined gentlemen ; to make the sober citizen the butt of the profligates who invaded his domestic hearth ; to exhibit the triumphs of intellect in the schemes of venal lacqueys to aid the intrigues of their masters, and of odious waiting-maids tu surround their mistresses with opportunities of temptation. Was this a true picture of Society? We believe not. None of these writers, with all their wit and vivacity, ever looked beyond the periwigs and point laces, the stomachers and towering caps, that they saw in the side boxes. The great middle class was wholly unknown to them—that class which, although it had cast aside some of those severities of puritanism which confounded innocent.gaiety with vice, was not inclined to adopt the principle inculcated by the dramatists that stupidity and decency were inseparable. There was an earnest public in England that disliked the Stage because it was corrupting. Defoe was of this number, and he wrote against the drama with little of his usual discrimination. Jeremy Collier took a bolder course, and smote down the individual writers who made plays “the greatest debauchers of the nation," as Burnet says. He had even Dryden at his feet, when the great poet acknowledges, “In many things he has taxed me justly. ... It becomes not me to draw my pen in defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good one." Dryden maintains, however, that Fletcher's “ Custom of the Country” is more offensive than any of the plays then acted. “Are the times," he asks, “so much more reformed now,

than they were five and twenty years ago ?”* Unquestionably they were more reformed. But the morality of the age of the Restoration still tainted the Stage of the Revolution. Charles the Second brought to England the manners of the Court of France in the days of its worst profligacy. Since then, the Court of "ance had grown devout and decent. Burnet says, “ It is a name to our nation and religion to see the stage so reformed in France, and so polluted still in England.” † The Court of William and Mary, in its seclusion at Kensington, had little influence upon the world of fashion ; and thus there was no perceptible effect upon manners in the decorous example of the highest in the land. Burnet was pretty right in his antithesis" The stage is the great corrupter of the town, and the bad people of the town have been the chief corrupters of the stage.” Preface to the "Fables." † “ Own Time," vol. vi. p. 263.

Ibid. VOL. V.-4

T

The Court of Louis the Fourteenth was now to be brought into intimate acquaintance with the Court of William the Third. As the Parliament had interfered to prevent the king of England emulating, even for purposes of national defence, the great armies of the king of France, William, with a pardonable ostentation, resolved that his ambassador to Versailles should not go without the trappings of a magnificent royalty. He could scarcely afford this most expensive outlay, especially as five days before Portland, the ambassador, set forth with his sumptuous retinue on this friendly mission, Whitehall had been burnt down. The Banqueting House was saved with great difficulty. William wrote to Heinsius that the principal portion of the palace was in ashes. “The loss is considerable, but we have no remedy, and we have nothing left but to pray God to preserve us in future from such accidents," writes the equal-minded king.* Portland was received in France with extraordinary courtesy. At every town through which he passed from Calais to Paris, guards of honour attended upon him, and salutes were fired from every citadel. Early in February, he had his private audience of Louis at Versailles. Saint-Simon has described the superb suite of Portland-his horses, his liveries, his equipages, his hospitable table. He appeared, says this careful observer, with a politeness, with the air of a court, with a gallantry and grace, that were surprising. The French were charmed with him ; it became the fashion to see him, to féte him, to attend bis parties. this envoy of William exhibited a warmth on one occasion which was scarcely in unison with the habitual calmness of his friend and master. He writes to the king on the 16th February,

“ Marshal Boufflers has taken an opportunity of speaking to me of the surprise and indignation which I had expressed, rather publicly, at seeing the duke of Berwick and others at Versailles ; on which occasion I had said that the blood boiled in my veins at their approach, and that I hoped there was no intention of accustoming me to see the assassins of the king my master. He attempted to soften this in a way which led me to inser that my words had been reported, and that he spoke to me by command. For this reason I deemed it necessary to state still more fully what I thought of the residence of king James in France, and of their tolerating and maintaining in this country villains who had attempted your life.” + To Louis himself Portland spoke out in the same blunt manner, especially about those he calls “the assassins ;” to whom the great king replied, with regal suavity, that “ he was not perfectly acquainted with this affair,” and that he would never take the step • Grimblot, vol. i. p. 144.

t Toid., voi. i. p. 16

And yet

EMBASSY TO FRANCE.

51

of obliging king James to withdraw from France. William took this matter very quietly. He was not surprised at the reply whichPortland had drawn from the king. “It would have been more desirable if you had received such a refusal at the close of your negotiations rather than at the commencement, for it may cause you a good deal of embarrassment throughout, and especially in regard to the most important point of all, the Spanish Succession." Upon this “most important point of all," as William clearly saw, would the future destinies of Europe depend. The death of the king of Spain was then expected ; and to avert a war with France, if that event took place, or to find the means of carrying on a war, was the great anxiety of William's life for his few coming years.

Portland made his public entry into Paris on the 9th of March. His letter to William, describing some circumstances of the ceremonial, is very curious. His disputes with the “conductor of ambassadors,” about matters of etiquette, are highly amusing. “In my case,” he says,

6 difficulties have been raised on every conceivable point; and as I do not understand the ceremonial, I am embarrassed by them, and can only meet them with obstinacy, which is here rather indispensable.” Comedy cannot imagine a richer scene than the burly Dutchman refusing to come down from the top of his staircase, to meet the representative of the duchess of Burgundy, who refused to go more than half way up, “messengers passing backwards and forwards between us.” | When the English ambassador's carriage was at last fairly on its way to the Louvre, Portland was surprised to see the windows and balconies filled with “all the people of quality in the city," and the crowd on the Pont Neuf expressing their wonder at the solemn reception of the representative of a monarch whose effigy they had been burning for eight years on the same bridge. At last he got into the sublime presence of Louis. The king spoke first. The courtiers said "he was never seen to speak to an ambassador first, or in so familiar a manner;" and they were perfectly astonished that Portland was not embarrassed at the sight of the gorgeous assemblage that surrounded the great potentate f

Whilst this parade was going forward in the most magnificent court of Europe, count Tallard had arrived in London, to be in. troduced to William in the humble cabinet at Kensington. The correspondence of this ambassador with his master shows how narsowly every political movement in this country was watched; what anxiety there was to propitiate the ministers of the king, and the leaders of the opposition; how every indication of popular feeling • Grimblot, vol. i. p. 181.

| Ibid. p. 220.

# Ibid., p. 2250

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »