Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

a practical application to the shining edge of the wit. A party, however, which had all its badges and watchwords so caricatured or distorted, would find it more difficult to gain proselytes, than if the falsehood of its principles had been demonstrated by unimpeachable arguments.

Yet, with all his understanding, learning, and wit, South was a fanatic and a bigot in every thing which concerned church and state. To the dominion of a few contemptible maxims, which we can hardly conceive the feeble intellects and abject spirits of Charles's courtiers to have honestly admitted, did this independent, dogmatic, fierce, and defying controversialist surrender his splendid talents and accomplishments. It is difficult to believe that his mind voluntarily submitted to this slavery, though there is no evidence that it was not self-imposed. The only explanation we can give is, that his nature early received a strong bias, by the pressure of external circumstances, towards the royal cause. He was naturally exceedingly sensitive to the ridiculous side of things, and naturally impatient and choleric. To a man thus constituted, a prejudice imbibed against the persons connected with a cause is equivalent to a hatred of the cause itself; and when this prejudice deepens into a principle, large powers of intellect more readily subserve than oppose it. Now, South saw the ridiculous and selfish side of Puritanism and its affiliated political doctrines, with the keepest glance. He had frequented the conventicles in his youth. All that was grotesque, presumptuous, ignorant, cruel, senseless, and hypocritical, in the different sects of the time, he had seen embodied in appropriate persons.

The “ blessed breathings,” the "heavenly hummings and hawings,” the various transparent veils through which hypocrisy is visible to the eye of wit, were familiar to his mind. He must gradually have formed the opinion, that the whole movement with which these were accidentally connected was one of mingled knavery and folly, and could end only in the destruction of social and religious order. If, instead of imbibing bis first impressions of civil and religious liberty at the time of Cromwell, he had lived in an earlier day, and been one of those who met at Lord Falkland's house, with Selden, and Chillingworth, to discuss the constitutionality of the latest act of the king, or the sanity of the latest foolery of Laud, his mind would never have been forced into the vassalage of such degrading errors as it ultimately defended. As it was, however, the man of intelligence scoffed at the narrowness, the man of learning at the ignorant fanaticism, and the man of wit at the costume and affectations, of the enthusiasts whom he daily met, without considering that their cause was the cause of English liberty, and their madness the result of ecclesiastical tyranny. With these impressions of the Puritans, it was natural that he should be shocked at “such a pack of incendiaries” assuming to be ministers of the gospel, and, as it appeared to him, preaching schism, lecturing men into sacrilege, praying them into rebellion, beheading princes, and overthrowing a church and monarchy which seemed strong with the strength of a divine right. At the restoration of Charles the Second, it was natural, too, that he should be drunk with loyalty, in common with other men of a less fiery temper and less determined prejudices. That he was honest in his bigotry, there can be little doubt. His sermons are the heartiest compositions of the time. He continually gives evidence of a spirit which would not hesitate to fight or die for the wretched principles he esteemed. In some way or other, he had connected the

. office and person of king with the most awful objects of his reverence, and, as a reasoner, became utterly insane when their sacredness was brought in question. Dogmatic and authoritative by nature and education, he hardly comprehended the meaning of toleration in matters of religion. Against every thing which militated with the doctrines or ceremonies of his church, he hurled his anathemas, or shot his sarcasms. Socinians and atheists he considered identical, and he wonders, in one of his discourses, that the diabolical impiety of the former, in their notions about the future state of the wicked, had not been visited with condign punishment at the hands of civil justice. Popery and puritanism were also identical. They were as truly brothers as Romulus and Remus. They sucked their principles from the same wolf.” The courage

with which he uttered his extreme opinions was of that kind which would have sustained him at the stake. “ Were it put to my choice,” he says, “I think I should choose rather, with spitting and scorn, to be tumbled into the dust in blood, bearing witness to any known truth of our dear Lord now opposed by the enthusiasts of the present age, than, by a denial of those truths, through blood and perjury wade to a sceptre, and lord it on a throne.” He speaks of

No. 133.

[ocr errors]

VOL. LXIII.

[ocr errors]

27,

[ocr errors]

bad men as those who blaspheme God, revile their prince, and the like, placing these sins on a level. In almost every case in which he refers to Charles the First and the Parliamentary party, he utters hardly a word of history. He can see nothing but perfection in the king, nothing but villany in those who opposed his treachery and tyranny. Faction and rebellion, by which he means opposition to the monarch, he denounces as the worst of sins in his own age,

an age which he confesses to be supernaturally expert in all sin's excesses and inventions. In his sermon on Education, a sermon which contains many admirable and comprehensive ideas, he makes undeviating loyalty to the king one of the chief doctrines to be woven into the minds of youth. Still, on all subjects where his political and religious bigotries do not warp his judgment and blind his perceptions, the capacity of his mind for the investigation of truth is splendidly shown. It would be easy to condemn his fanaticism by principles gathered from his own writings, when his mind had free scope, and was not haunted by the ghostly names of church and king. The wonder of the reader is, as he peruses South's clear exposure and energetic denunciation of the various forms of sin and error, that a man so skilled in detecting the slightest departure from virtue should have been so incapable of applying his principles to the acts of his bosom's idols.

The depravity of morals and manners during the reign of Charles the Second has never been depicted with more force of coloring than by South. Here none of his hatreds interfered to bias his mind, except his laudable hatred of sin and wickedness. Never were debauchees and criminals exposed to a more merciless storm of ridicule and execration, than when he poured on them the flood of his mingled contempt and wrath. His invective lights on every rank and degree beneath royalty, and there are sentences in his sermons, which, if not aimed at the king, seem to strike him none the less. Thus, he says, “ A corrupt governor is nothing else than a reigning sin ; and a sin in office may command any thing but respect.” Again, he declares it a “ strange and shameful thing to have vice installed, debauchery enthroned"; and it is this very strange and shameful thing which shocks every student of the reign of Charles. It is, however, upon the dissolute nobility, statesmen, and men of wit and pleasure about town, that our stern

[ocr errors]

divine expends most of his sarcasm and denunciation. His sermons swarm with severe and pointed rebukes of these. The scandalous and enormous impiety, the unparalleled wickedness, of his age are constant subjects of his virtuous honor and his epigrammatic rage. If we take his description of the time as accurate, we should adopt an opinion regarding the “ blessed restoration ” of Charles the Second by no means flattering to monarchy. We will give, mostly in his own sharp words, gathered from different portions of his writings, what South himself taught as the character of his age.

Blasphemy, irreligion, and debauchery were the prime characteristics of all men of wit and fashion. Their ambition was to reach daring heights in sin. They were such as broke the mounds of all law, such as laughed at the sword of vengeance which divine justice brandished in their faces; and laid their hearts open, like broad and high roads, for all the sin and villany in the world freely to pass through. Vice walked about with bare face and brazen forehead, looking down with scorn upon virtue as mean and contemptible. Practised sinners threw off the restraints of religion as pedantry, narrowness, and the infusions of education, affecting a superiority in villany to the fops, their ancestors, and, not content with distinguishing themselves as laborious drunkards, dexterous cheats, or sly adulterers, were earnest to set off all other sins with the crowning perfection of complete atheism. So confident were men in sin, that it was as if they had come to dare and defy the justice of Heaven, to laugh at right-aiming thunderbolts, to puff at damnation, and, in a word, to bid Omnipotence do its worst. The age groaned under a company of lewd, shallow-brained puffs, wretches who seemed to have sinned themselves into another kind of species, and who made contempt of religion the badge of wit, gallantry, and true discretion. These fellows bore a peculiar stamp of impiety, and appear to have formed a kind of diabolical society for finding out new experiments in vice. They laughed at the dull, inexperienced, obsolete sinners of former times, and scorping to keep within the common, beaten road to hell, by being vicious only at the low rate of example and invitation, they aimed to search out other ways and latitudes, to oblige posterity with unheard-of inventions and discoveries in sin. Some persons were so unspeakably bad, that the Devil himself could neither make nor wish them worse. Parents set the worst example to their children ; and many children of high families were not so much born, as damned, into the world. Sin, by being impudently defended, and confidently practised and countenanced by the noble, fairly got the victory over virtue. It rode on successfully and gloriously, lived magnificently, and fared deliciously every day. Nay, so far were men from sneaking under their guilt, that they scorned to hide or hold down their heads for less crimes than many others have lost theirs for. The example of the great takes away the shame of any thing they are observed to practise, though never so foul and shameful. No man blushes at the imitation of a scarlet or purple sinner, though the sin be of the same color. A vice à la mode will look virtue itself out of countenance, and out of heart too. Men love not to be found singular, especially where the singularity lies in the rugged and severe paths of virtue. So, in this age of grown and improved debauchery, the countenance given to vice by the nobles corrupted all classes. Places of honor were allotted to the base and wicked; one to a murderer, a second to an atheist, a third to a parasite. The great objects of the politician were plunder and official station. His maxim was, that, however fond priests may talk, there is no devil like an enemy in power, no damnation like being poor, no hell like an empty purse. All sacrifice for general objects he considered a piece of romantic melancholy unworthy a shrewd man, who was to look upon himself as his prince, his country, his church, nay, as his God. If he were called a traitor and a villain, he looked upon such terms as the mere declaimings of novices and men of heat, whose whole portion and inheritance is a freedom to speak. Women, in their shamelessness, at last became ashamed of nothing but to be virtuous or to be thought old. If they were asked the reason of their assuming such reckless liberty, they would reply, it was the mode ; "the genteel freedom of the present age, which has redeemed itself from the pitiful pedantry and absurd scrupulosity of former times, in which those bugbears of credit and conscience spoiled all the pleasure, the air, and the fineness of conversation.' The king's mistresses were openly visited by the great and the honorable. All possible courtship and attendance was thought too little to be used towards these infamous and odious women, who were fit to be

« PředchozíPokračovat »