Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Russel, whose imaginations were less ardent, and their views more moderatewho desired nothing more than constitutional liberty aud would have regarded such liberty as we now enjoy as a true political millennium : the Presbyterians were generally of this spirit. The third were men of no principle, like Shaftsbury, who, whether he were conspiring with the crown, or against it, cared for nothing but his own purposes, and the gratification of a wicked heart. It would be libelling human nature to suppose that there were many persons so thoroughly depraved as this accomplished villain ;~he is here mentioned not as the representative, but as the head of a party whose sole principle was that of selfishness.. if .- The wisest statesman of that age, Sir William Temple, speaks thus of oppositions. Among such men, I have observed all set quarrels with the age, and pretences of reforming it by their own niodels, to end cominonly like the pains of a man in a little boat, who tugs at a rope that is fast to a ship: it looks as if he resolved to draw the ship to him ; but the truth and his meaning is, to draw himself to the ship, when he gets in where he can, and does like the rest of the crew when he is there.' How often has this happy illustration been exemplified in the course of English history! But if we would see in what manner the deleterious spirit of party can disorder the judgment and infect the whole moral and intellectual nature of men, it is only necessary to remember the Popish plot--that foulest stam in our annals. If there be one historical fact more humiliating to an Englishman than all others, more painful and mortifying to every good mind it is the conduct of Lord Russel upon occasion of Lord Stafford's sentence. At this time it requires no small exertion of charity to suppose that any person could ever have believed Lord Stafford's guilt, or have listened to the evidence against him without instantly perceiving its absurd insufficiency and its atrocious falsehood. Yet when he had been condemned upon such testimony, and the King (who dared not save him in opposition to the madness of the people and the malignity of party) remitted to the venerable old inan the more ignominious and cruel parts of his sentence, Lord Russel stood up in Parliament and called in question the King's power of exercising this poor indulgence of humanity !When he hiniself was condemned under circumstances of equal injustice, and the same mitigation of the pains of death was granted,-his own feelings, at being reminded of Lord Stafford's case, were thardly too severe a punishment for having thus, in the strong language of the prophet, corrupted his compassions,' and sinned against his own soul. Lord Russel is deservedly canonized in history as one of our state-martyrs; and in thus alluding to this only spot upon his life, no wrong is offered or intended to his name. But Isedust

if if the spirit of party could act in such a manner upon one whose principles were so just, whose disposition was so gentle, and whose heart was so good-upon so truly religious and excellent a mail, who can wonder at the demoniacal passions which it calls forth in viler natures--in the selfish, the sensual, the profiigate, and the godless!

Uuder Charles the Second we first behold men acting for or against the government, not upon any consistent scheme of political views or moral principles, but merely as they happened to be in or out of place. And in the same reign the religious disputes, which during their paroxysms had occasioned such public and priváte calamities, such individual wickedness and national disgrace, settled into a chronic disease. The hatred which Charles conceived in his youth for the discipline and manners of the puritans would in him be pardonable, even if there had been less cause for a reasovable dislike of both; but it led him to measures of infamous cruelty in Scotland, and to a system in England which, though less bloody indeed, was yet abominably inhuman, as well as grossly impolitic and unjust. It is not imaginable that any system could have reconciled all differences and abated all asperities of sectarianism : that which was pursued tended inevitably to increase them; the Church retaliated upon its fallen enemies with little discrimination and less charity, and the Nonconformists' Memorial became the counterpart of the Sufferings of the Clergy-another part of the History of Persecution in England! The sectaries ihus acquired a new generic name, when that of Puritans had become odious to the nation; and though this may at first appear a trifling thing, it was in no slight degree unfavourable to the interests both of the State and the Church. The mere circumstance of being thus, comprehended under one appellation gave them a bond of union, and a political coherence as advantageous to their insulated concerns as it is injurious to the cominon weal. The Act of Uniformity embodied among us a party inveterately hostile to the Church; but the Church of England is vitally and inseparably connected with the State, and they who are discontented with it are but half-English

When Burleigh sought to impress upon his, sovereign a full sense of the formidable strength of Spain, he reminded her not merely that the Spaniards were constant, ambitious, politic, and valiant, but that they were also a people one-hearted in religion.' This great statesman well knew where this is not the case how rarely unanimity will be found in national measures.

James the Second towards the latter part of his reign courted the Nonconformists, and their late historians. justify those who presented an address to this monarch, in terms not very consistent with historical truth. When a gang of assassins,' says the writer,

men.

care

i

are tearing my flesli, and drinking my blood, and breaking my bonies without mercy,--if Satan's eldest son were to pass by, and drag inine adversaries off me, and rescue me from their murderous hands, I know not that it would be any crime to thank him for his merciful interposition and his compassion to a poor tormented creature. Discrete and sober language! from whence it might be. inferred that all the tortures inflicted upon the Christians by Decius or Diocletian, had been renewed by the Church of England. But the Dissenters happened at that time to have a specimen of thorough Romish intolerance before their eyes; they compared the Act of Uniformity and the Conventicle Act (things had enough of themselves) with the Dragonnades of Louis XIV. and taking waruing in time by the experience of their neighbours, they made common cause with the Church against an enemy who never persecuted by halves.

James was too late in his temporizing policy. The execution of Mrs. Gaunt, which, when all its circumstances of baseness, illegality, cruelty, and consummate wickedness are considered, is, perhaps, the foulest murder that ever was committed under the forms of law, had filled the Dissenters with indignation and hatred against him. They seem also to have continued obstinate believers in the popish plot, when most other persons were heartily ashamed of having been so grossly deluded. Even in the reign of George I. Crosby calls the conduct of Oates in this impudent villany, a never-to-be-forgotten service to his country. Oh if men would but call into action half as much disposition to believe in matters of religion, as they exhibit daily in political transactions, there would be no such thing as infidelity in England, -for we continually see (and never was it more strongly exemplified than at the present time) that they who are possessed by the spirit of faction, form their opinion of the facts before them, and believe or disbelieve, according to their inclination and their will, in spite of the understanding faculty, and in contempt of conscience. are once formed,' says Burnet, and a resolution is taken upon other considerations, no evidence can convince those who have beforehand resolved to stick to their point.'

There are some curious particulars concerning Titus Oates in Crosby's History. This wretch being once told that he ought not to seek revenge, but leave it to God,

replied, that vengeance was indeed God's sweet morsel, which he kept to himself!. It is one of the few blots upon King William's reign that this man should have been pensioned with £400 a year. To remit his fine was allowable and wise, because so excessive á mulct was plainly intended to serve as a sentence of imprisonment for life; and therefore it was proper to abrogate a sentence which went beyond the strict bounds

of

When parties

of law as much as it fell short of the malefactor's girlt. ? But Oates had been found guilty, upon the fullest testimony, of a series of perjuries perhaps the most wicked in themselves, and the most extensively fatal in their consequences that ever consigned any one miserable soul to perdition; and no paltry considerations of petty interests should have induced a government, standing as William's did upon the sacred ground of religion and constitutional liberty, to injure itself with after-ages by sanctioning and rewarding a convicted miscreant. - The Revolution of 1688, of all revolutions the most necessary in its causes, the most moderate in its course, and in its consequences the most beneficial, produced a new faction in the country, more respectable in their origin than in their conduct. Their principle in reality was of a religious nature, and entitled to as much indulgence as any other scruple of conscience, which is innocent in itself, and injurious only to the individuals by whom it is fostered. Erroneous therefore as the Nonjurors were, yet in resigning their preferment rather than offend against their own sense of allegiance, they acted upon virtuous grounds, and are to be menţioned with respect, though not with applause. The joint-historians* of the Dissenters have chosen to charge the clergy of the seventeenth century with a disposition towards Popery, and instan, cing in proof of this the fact that Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, died in the Romish communion--they add, Ex uno disce omnes: a conclusion as logical as it would be to infer that the whole body of the Dissenters are as uncharitable as Messrs. Bogue and Bennet have here shewn themselves. It is to the opposition which the Eaglish bishops made against James's design of re-establishing the Roman Catholic religion that we are indebted for the Revolution; it is to the Church of England, and to the clergy of that church that we are beholden for the blessings consequent upon that Revolution which we now enjoy. The liberties of the country were saved by its religion. Those prelates who had preached and were ready to practise passive obedience in human concerns, and who were far from blameless on the score of persecution, manfully stood forward when they saw the irons preparing, which may truly be said to eat into the soul. And as if to prove how free they were from any selfish or merely political views, when they thus nobly placed themselves in the breach, many of these very nen subinitted afterwards to the deprivation of their bishoprics, and bore testimony to the claims of the ejected king, as honestly as they had resisted his projects .

The Jacobites of the last century, like the Catholics of the preceding one, hoped to recover their ascendancy by means of a foreign ver; and learning thus to desire the success of that * Messrs. Bogue and Benuet, vol. i. p. 422.

power

power against the fleets and armies of England, they denaturalized themselves at heart. In this case however, as in that of the Catholics, there was a principle and a point of conscience: the man who erred in judgment, and perhaps made bimself amenable by overt acts to the laws of his country, might yet stand acquitted to God and to his own heart. But by this time there had arisen among us, a sect more mischievous than the wildest fanatics: a sect who arrogated to themselves the name of Free-thinkers, though they were of all men in reality the most enslaved in mind. The picture which Berkeley has given of them in his admirable work represents them as truly now as when it was drawn. . They seem to me,' he says, drunk and giddy with a false notion of liberty; and spurred on by this principle to make mad experiments on their country, they agree only in pulling down all that stands in their way, without any concerted scheme, and without caring or knowing what to erect in its stead. To hear them descant on the moral virtues, resolve them into shame, then laugh at shame as a weakness, admire the unconfined lives of savages, despise all order , and decency of education, one would think the intention of these, philosophers was, when they had pruned and weeded the notions of their fellow-subjects and divested them of their prejudices, to strip thein of their clothes, and fill the country with naked followers of nature, enjoying all the privileges of brutality.'

This evil we derived from France. Voltaire has been the great master of this execrable school, but Voltaire only followed the fashion of his country. It is impossible,' says Addison, to read a page in Plato, Tully, and other ancient moralists, without being a greater and a better man for it. On the contrary, I could neveri read any of our modish French authors, or those of our own, country who are the imitators and admirers of that trifling nation, without being for some time out of humour with myself, and at every thing about me. Their business is to depreciate human nature, and consider it under its worst appearances. They give mean interpretations and base motives to the worthiest actions ; they resolve virtue and vice into constitution. In short, they endeavour to make no distinction between man and man, or between the species of men and that of brutes.' It was in a nation where the fashionable literature deserved this character that Voltaire was boru and educated: he obtained his popularity in the cheapest way, by falling in with the humour of the times, flattering the prejudices of his contemporaries, and administering provocatives to their vices. Are we wrong in believing that the irreligion which prepared the way for his success is more imputable to Henry IV. than to any other individual? In an age of religious sincerity and fervour, Henry IV. for palpable political considerations, renounced the

« AnteriorContinuar »