Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

pressed his sentiments in terms so plain and unambiguous; or, without descending to abuse, has spoken of the vices and follies of the great in a manner so blunt and uncourtly. This, it appears to us, arose not from any disposition to vilify those, whose characters he disliked or despised, nor yet from any severity of temper in him, who was rather, we should suppose, notwithstanding his own confession, inclined, where political prejudice did not interfere, to indulgence; but from a simplicity of mind, which naturally led him to reject all sorts of circumlocution, and to use, on all occasions, the language that was plainest and most straight-forward. He seems to have thought with Yorick, that things were best known by their right names; and that there was nothing so dignified in vice and dishonesty, as that he should be at the pains to soften his reprobation of them, by seeking for more delicate and courtly phrases. From among the minor characters of the reign of Charles II. we present the following, as illustrating the direct and uncompromising way, in which he has dealt with the faults of public men.

“ Annesly had the faculty of speaking indefatigably upon every subject, but he spoke ungracefully; and did not know that he was not good at raillery, for he was always attempting it. He was a man of a grave deportment, but stuck at nothing, and was ashamed of nothing. He was neither loved nor trusted by any man, or any side; and he seemed to have no regard to common decencies, but sold every thing that was in his power, and sold himself after, that at last the price fell so low that he grew useless.

“ Hollis was a man of great courage, and of as great pride. He argued well, but too vehemently, for he could not bear contradiction, He had the soul of an old stubborn Roman in him. He was a faithful but rough friend, and a severe but fair enemy.

• Člarges valued himself on opposing the court, and on his frugality in managing the public money, for he had Cromwell's economy ever in his mouth; and was always for reducing the expences of war to the modesty and parsimony of those times. After he was become very rich himself by the public money, he seemed to take care that nobody else should grow as rich as he was in that way.

“ Monk was ravenous, as well as his wife, who was a mean contemptible creature. They both asked and sold all that was within their reach, nothing being denied to them for some time; till he became so useless that little personal regard could be paid him."

Mr. Hume, who has been pleased to make a hero of General Monk, is very angry with the bishop for this disparaging mention of a nobleman, “ the tenor of whose life was so unexceptionable;” and accuses him of having, "agreeably to his factious temper,” treated him with great malignity. If this censure be justly passed, it must fall upon Clarendon also, who, not less subject, apparently, to the “strange power of faction" than Burnet himself, has once or twice noticed the general's turn for frugality, in terms equally unceremonious. Having observed, in one place, that “ the general, in his own nature, was an immoderate lover of money,” he says, yet more plainly in another, that “ profit was the highest reason always with him;” and adds, that in the disposal of places under the Master of Horse, which office was among the many that the general had appropriated to himself, “ the vile good huswifery of his wife preferred him who offered most money, before all other considerations or motives.” There is related, immediately after, another particular concerning this illustrious personage; which, since we have been led to the mention of him, we insert, as too characteristic of the man to be omitted. One Morrice, who was the person that had prevailed with Monk to declare for the king, had been recommended by him to fill the important office of Secretary of State, but had no true judgement of foreign affairs. “ And,” continues Burnet, “ the Duke of Albemarle's judgment of them may be measured by what he said when he found the king grew weary of Morrice, but that, in regard to him, he had no mind to turn him out; he did not know what was necessary for a good Secretary of State, in which he was defective, for he could not speak French and write short-hand." In the language of a more dignified historian, there is the following mention of the same particulars : the contrast is not a little amusing—“The capacity of Albemarle was not extensive, and his parts were more solid than shining ; Morris, his friend, was created Secretary of State, and was supported more by his patron's credit than by his own abilities or experience." Indeéd, it does not appear that the qualifications for the office of Secretary of State were very extraordinary in the reign of Charles II. whatever they may have since become ; at least, if any inference is to be drawn from the extent of information possessed by some of those who, at different times, discharged its functions. Long after the decline of the administration, of which Morrice was so hopeful a member, we find the same office equally well filled by Secretary Jenkins, who, in Burnet's blunt style, “ understood nothing ;" and by a certain Lord Conway, “who was so very ignorant of foreign affairs, that his province being the North, when one of the foreign ministers talked to him of the Circles of Germany, it amazed him : he could not imagine what circles had to do with affairs of state.”

Amidst the endless variety of characters, princes, statesmen, lawyers, divines, who are under obligations to Burnet for having transmitted their good or ill qualities to posterity, there

are none which are drawn with more skill, and, in general, with greater candour and fairness, than those of the court. Attached himself, by education, to the Episcopal church, but extremely moderate in his notions of ecclesiastical government, and liberal in his estimation of those who differed from him in opinion, he was admirably qualified to judge the pretensions of the different sects, and to detect those absurdities in the conduct of each, which their violent prejudices in favour of their own form, and in opposition to every other, made them unable to discern. To one so indifferent to forms, as he seems to have been, and thinking “ that none of them were bad enough to make men bad, nor any of them good enough to make men good,” how unreasonable must have appeared that vehemence and acrimony with which each party was wont to assert, not merely every point of doctrine, however immaterial, but every peculiarity of discipline, however minute ; choosing rather to divide the whole nation into religious factions, than consent to change even a posture, or alter in the fashion of a gown. The debates that ensued immediately after the restoration, between the two principal parties in the church, are given with great impartiality, and some of the managers characterized with equal truth and effect. “ The two men,” he says, “ who had the chief management of the debate, were the most unfit to heal matters, and the fittest to widen them that could have been found out. Baxter was the opponent, and Gunning the respondent." The first of these is described a little above, as having “a very moving and pathetical way of writing, and been his whole life long a man of great zeal and much simplicity, but most unhappily subtle and metaphysical in everything." He would have been esteemed too one of the learned men of the age, “if he had not meddled in too many things ;” an objection, we think, which would have come with a better grace from almost any one than Burnet. The Episcopal party, on their side, not to be behind-hand with the Presbyterians, seem to have selected their champion with equal judgement. “ He was a man of great reading, and noted for a special subtlety of arguing : all the arts of sophistry were made use of by him on all occasions, in as confident a manner as if they had been sound reasonings : he was a man of an innocent life ; unweariedly active to very little purpose.” He is subsequently mentioned as being “a dry man, and much inclined to superstition, having a great confusion of things in his head, but able to bring nothing into method.” To that he was a dark and perplexed preacher, his sermons being full of Greek and Hebrew, yet they were much relished by the ladies of a “high form,” which, the king used to say, was because they did not understand them. The conference carried on by two such subtle disputants as these was not likely to come to a speedy, or, indeed, to any end at all. “ They spent some days in much logical arguing, to the diversion of the town, who thought here was a couple of fencers engaged in disputes that could never be brought to an end, nor have any good effect." Indeed it never seems to have been the intention of the Episcopal party to suffer the slightest concession to be made in favour of the sectarists, who were an implacable as well as an unreasonable people ; and, after this conference, they bravely resolved to maintain conformity to the height, and to make the terms of it much stricter than they had ever been before. Accordingly, it is said that no fewer than two thousand were, in one day, deprived of their benefices, and, in a manner, compelled to form separate congregations; thus keeping up a standing faction in every town and village in England. During the time of the plague, and afterwards, while the city lay in ashes, the Non-conformists, to whose disease had been applied the usual remedy of severe enactments, ventured to occupy the pulpits which had been deserted by the regular owners, and, people being then in a more than ordinary disposition to profit by good sermons, preached, it is said, with considerable effect, but not without reflecting on the sins of the court, and on the ill usage that they themselves had met with. This drew upon them, once again, the notice of parliament; and their boldness in daring, in defiance of the plague and fire, to discharge the duties of a calling there were none left but themselves to exercise, was met with a degree of hardship proportioned to the excess of their temerity. In consequence of new and severer clauses in an act, which was not yet deemed sufficiently coercive, many of the sects either discontinued their meetings, or held them very secretly, with small numbers, and not in hours of public worship. Yet informers were encouraged, and were everywhere at work. The behaviour of the Quakers was more particular, and had something in it that looked bold. They met at the same place, and at the same hour, as before ; and when they were seized, none of them would go out of the way. They went all together to prison; they staid there till they were dismissed, for they would not petition to be set at liberty; nor would they pay the fines set on them ; nor so much as the gaol fees, calling them the wages of unrighteousness. And as soon as they were let out, they went to their meeting-houses again : and when they found that they were shut up by order, they held their meetings in the streets, before the doors of those houses. They said they would not disown, or be ashamed of their meeting together to worship God; but, in imitation of Daniel, they would do it the more publicly, because they were forbidden the doing of it. Some called this obstinacy, while others called it firmness. But by it they carried their point: for the government grew weary of dealing with so much perverseness, and so began with letting them alone.

In Scotland, where religious differences proceeded to much greater lengths,-where the violence of one party was equalled only in its excess by the fanaticism of the other,-and where, among a people, rude and primitive in their manners, the characteristic marks of each were more equally discernible, Burnet, who seems to have been actively and benevolently employed in endeavouring to appease the animosities of both, bad better opportunities, as well as a wider field for observation. There are few passages to be met with in history which convey so just and accurate a view of the life and manners, or are so entirely free from the colouring of party and prejudice, as the description, which he has given, of this singular people. Though by no means partial to Presbytery itself, indeed, so little so, as to have viewed with something like regret its final triumph at the revolution, he has yet been as far from denying what was meritorious in that sect, as from disguising or palliating what was obnoxious in the other. He describes the old incumbents, who were driven from their churches to make way for the Episcopal ministers, as “a grave, solemn sort of people ; whose spirits were eager, and their tempers sour, but having no appearance that created respect.”

“ They had brought [he continues] the people to such a degree of knowledge, that cottagers and servants would have prayed extempore. I have often heard them at it; and though there was a large mixture of odd stuff, yet I have been astonished to hear how copious and ready they were at it. Their ministers generally brought them about them on the Sunday nights, where the sermons were talked over; and every one, women as well as men, were desired to speak their sense and their experience; and by these means they had a comprehension of matters of religion, greater than I have seen among people of that sort any where."

The preachers were all accustomed to use the same method in their sermons --expounding points of doctrine, and then shewing the use that was to be made of them, “ both for instruction and terror; for exhortation and comfort; for trial of themselves upon it; and for furnishing them with proper directions and helps : and this was so methodical, that the people grew to follow a sermon quite through every branch of it.”

“ To this some added the resolving of doubts concerning the state they were in, or their progress or decay in it; which they called

« ПредишнаНапред »