« PreviousContinue »
“ The gloomy enthusiasm,” continues this animated historian, " which prevailed among the parliamentary party, is surely the most curious spectacle presented by any history; and the most instructive, as well as entertaining, to a philosophical mind. All recreations were, in a manner, suspended by the rigid severity of the Presbytérians and Independents. Horse-racing and cock-matches were prohibited as the greatest enormities. Even bear-baiting was esteemed heathenish and unchristian. The sport of it, not the inhumanity, gave offence. Colonel Hewson, from his pious zeal, marched with his regiment into London, and destroyed all the bears which were kept for the diversion of the citizens.” This adventure seems to have given birth to the fiction of Hudibras.
“ Though the English nation be naturally candid and sincere, hypocrisy prevailed among them, beyond any example, in ancient or modern times. The religious hypocrisy, it may be remarked, is of a peculiar nature; and, being generally unknown to the person himself, though more dangerous, it implies less falseliood than any other species of insincerity. The Old Testament, preferable to the New, was the favorite of all the sectaries. The eastern poetical style of that composition made it more easily susceptible of a turn which was agreeable to them.
Among the numerous sects which sprung up in those fanatic times, that of the Quakers, perhaps, was the most extraordinary, as it has been the most lasting. The religion of the Quakers, like most others, began with the lowest vulgar, and, in its progress, came at last to comprehend people of better quality and fashion. George Fox, born at Drayton, in Lancashire, in 1624, was the founder of this sect. the son of a weaver, and was himself bound apprentice to a shoemaker. Feeling a stronger impulse towards spiritual contemplations than towards that mechanical profession, he left his master, and went about the country, clothed in a leathern
doublet, a dress which he long affected, as well for its singularity as its cheapness. That he might wean himself from sublunary objects, he broke off all connexions with his family and friends, and never dwelt a moment in one place, lest habit should beget new connexions, and depress the sublimity of his ærial meditations. He frequently wandered into the woods, and passed whole days in hollow trees, without company, or any other amusement than his Bible. Having reached that pitch of perfection as to need no other book, he soon advanced to another state of spiritual progress, and began to pay less regard even to that divine composition itself. His own breast, he imagined, was full of the same inspiration which had guided the prophets and apostles themselves; and by this inward light must every spiritual obscurity be cleared; by this living spirit must the dead letter be animated.
“ When he had been sufficiently consecrated in his own imagination, he felt that the fumes of self-applause soon dissipate, if not continually supplied by the admiration of others; and- he began to seek proselytes. Proselytes were easily gained, at a time when all men's affections were turned towards religion, and when the most extravagant modes of it were sure to be the most popular. All the forms of ceremony, invented by pride and ostentation, Fox and his disciples, from a superior pride and ostentation, carefully rejected; even the ordinary rites of civility were shunned, as the nourishment of carnal vanity and self-conceit. They would bestow no titles of distinction. The name of friend was the only salutation with which they indiscriminately accosted every one. To no person would they make a bow, or move their hat, or give any sign of reverence. Instead of that affected adulation, introduced into modern tongues, of speaking to individuals as if they were a multitude, they returned to the simplicity of ancient language; and thee and thou were the only expressions which, on any consideration, they could be brought to employ,
Dress, too, a material circumstance, distinguished the members of this sect. Every superfluity and ornament was carefully retrenched: no plaits to their coat; no buttons to their sleeves; no lace, no ruffles, no embroidery. Even a button to the hat, though sometimes useful, yet not being always so, was universally rejected by them with horror and detestation.
The violent enthusiasm of this sect, like all high passions, being too strong for weak nerves to sustain, threw the preachers into convulsions, and shakings, and distortions in their limbs, and they thence received the appellation of Quakers. No fanatics ever carried farther the hatred to ceremonies, forms, orders, rites, and positive institutions. Even baptism, and the Lord's supper, by all other sects believed to be interwoven with the very vitals of Christianity, were disdainfully rejected by them. The very sabbath they profaned. The holiness of churches they derided; and they would give to those sacred edifices no other appellations than that of shops or steeple houses. No priests were admitted into their sect. Every one had received, from immediate illumination, a character much superior to the sacerdotal. When they met for divine worship, each rose up in his place, and delivered the extemporary inspirations of the Holy Ghost. Women also were admitted to teach the brethren, and were considered as proper vehicles to convey the dictates of the spirit. Sometimes a great many preachers were moved to speak at once; sometimes a total silence prevailed in their congregations.
To recount all the extravagancies of this singular sect would require a volume. Some of the early Quakers attempted to fast forty days, in imitation of Christ, and one of them bravely perished in the experiment. A female Quaker came naked into the church where the Protector sat, being moved by the spirit, as she said, to appear as a sign to the people. A number of them fancied that the renovation of all things had commenced, and that clothes were to be rejected, together
with other superfluities. The sufferings which followed the practice of this doctrine, were a species of persecution not well calculated for promoting it.
Among the Quakers who flourished in Cromwell's time, James Naylor was one, whose blasphemy, or rather madness, has secured him an immortal place in the temple of religious visionaries. He fancied that he himself was transformed into Christ, and was become the real Saviour of the world; and, in consequence of this frenzy, he endeavoured to imitate many actions of the Messiah, related in the evangelists. As he bore a resemblance to the common pictures of Christ, be allowed bis beard to grow in a like form : he even pretended to raise a person from the dead. He was ministered unto by women, and entered Bristol mounted on a horse ; Hume supposes, from the difficulty in that place of finding an ass. His disciples spread their garments before him, and cried, “ Ho
“ sanna to the highest : Holy, holy, is the Lord God of Sab. baoth.'' When carried before the magistrate, he would give no other answer to all questions, than " thou hast said it.” What is remarkable, the Parliament thought that the matter deserved their attention. Near ten days were spent in inquiries and debates concerning him. They condemned him to be pilloried, wbipped, burned in the face, and to have bis tongue bored through with a red hot iron. All these severities he bore with the usual patience; so far bis delusion supported him. But the event spoiled all. He was sent to Bridewell, confined to hard labour, fed on bread and water, and debarred from all his disciples, male and female. His allusion dissipated ; and, after some time, he was contented to come out an ordinary man, and return to his usual occupations.
Other instances, full as extravagant, might be cited of the madness and credulity of the times: but enough has been said for the historical elucidation of our poet; and, where particular allusions occur in the body of the poem, they will
seldom be found unexplained by notes. The editor has spared no pains of research to render his part of the work instructive and entertaining, and he now sends it before the public with the hope that his labours may contribute to their gratification. This much he may at least say in his own commendation, that he has been very scrupulous to expunge the pruriencies of former editors, and that he is not conscious a single expression will be found in the present edition which can give offence to the most delicate.