« PreviousContinue »
and his advisers, whose cause he advocates, to attach such consequence to them as not only to impose them under severities revolting to humanity, but at the hazard of a convulsion ; for there is a mighty difference between the case of a people who merely adhere to the established worship, against the wish of their monarch, who has no right to dictate to them, and that of a king, who, in despite of the laws, abuses the power entrusted to him, in order to force his subjects into the adoption of his peculiar tenets. If, on the other hand, it be alleged, that Charles was endowed with too much good sense to be the slave of such contemptible superstition, then the historian entirely overlooks, that the conduct of the prince assumes, in that case, the character of the blackest depravity, in wantonly inflicting the most hideous punishments for disobedience to his capricious commands, and exposing the kingdom to all the horrors of a convulsion, for an object which he con. sidered intrinsically unimportant. But it cannot be denied that the people, even though they had regarded the innovations as abstractly trivial, would have shewn themselves utterly unworthy of their political privileges, had they not resisted changes thus tyrannically obtruded ; since the introduction of them, with such penalties, imported powers in the throne inconsistent with every idea of civil and religious liberty. The most despotical monarchs have commonly the good sense to know that the attempt to interfere with the established religion, against the wishes of the people, would shake their thrones. It was vain for Mr. Hume, however, to
represent the innovations as so unimportant: even those which he enumerates were abhorred by the people, not as merely ceremonial, but as indicative both of greater changes, and of substantial alterations in faith; and this was questionless the object with which they were introduced. The historian himself elsewhere takes nearly the same view, in. forming us, that “ not only the discontented puri. tans believed the church of England to be relapsing fast into the Romish superstition, but that the Court of Rome itself entertained hopes of regaining its authority in this island.” “ And,” says he, “ it must be confessed, that though Laud deserved not the appellation of a Papist, the genius of his religion was, though in a less degree, the same with that of the Romish: The same profound respect was exacted to the sacerdotal character, the same submission required to the creeds and decrees of synods and councils, the same pomp and cere. mony were affected in worship, and the same superstitious regard to days, postures, meats, and vestments.” It was not the name of Popery that the people disliked, but the thing; and with regard to Laud, it was well remarked in parliament, that a pope at Rome was less intolerable than one at Lambeth. It would bave afforded some, though a very inadequate, apology for this prince, that he was actuated by mistaken notions of religious duty; but it is, unfortunately, demonstrable, from his own correspondence, that his object was merely to assimilate the faith and worship to those of despotical countries, that they might operate in preparing the public mind for the same civil subjection. With
out the prevalence of such superstition, he conceiv. ed it impossible to subjugate his people, and in or. der to accomplish the fond object of his wishes, he did what no prudent despot ever attempted, attacked all that the community venerated, and thus kindled a flame which was necessarily directed against that usurped prerogative which imposed innovations. By his absurd and wicked policy, therefore, he roused into an enemy that religious feel. ing which, in these measures, he insidiously aimed at converting into a necessary ally of arbitrary power. Aware that he stood by public opinion, he yet, in the chimerical hope of substituting sentiments more favourable to his pretensions, lost that support of the throne, by insulting as well as violating all that the people esteemed most sacred. All the religious innovations which, as we have shewn, were, in spite of Mr. Hume's sneers, of the most aggravated nature, and were also the precursor of farther change, sprang from the grossest abuse of civil power; and the grievances in church and state, therefore, necessarily found the same advocates. Hence the field which has been opened for the ridicule so successfully poured upon that period. Men became naturally zealous for their faith in proportion to the violence with which the prince attempted to deprive them of it, and as their language corresponded with the occasion, it is easy to misrepresent the age, by viewing its character, through the medium of times when the established religion was protected instead of being sapped, and abstracted from all the circumstances that then operated upon the public mind.
The picture which has been given of the age is, therefore, unjust ; and it is only necessary to peruse the works of that period, even the productions of professed puritans, as Ludlow, Hutchinson, Milton, &c. to be satisfied that the same minds which were so fervently imbued with religious zeal, were not only illuminated by genius, but enriched with the choicest literature of ancient and modern times. Gloomy and fanatical as that period is represented to have been, it is not to be doubted that a similar interference, even now, with the established faith and worship, would lead to the same result. But it should always be remembered, that the arbitrary proceedings of the prince, in regard to religion, not only implied the arrogation of a power to make any farther changes, but an authority incompatible with the very idea of every thing like civil or religious rights. Religion, therefore, formed a grand portion of the contest, even viewed in regard to its civil consequences, and it was dearly esteemed on its own account: but it was only an integral part of the general disease of the state. The pri. vileges of the nation had been assailed in all points, and there was an almost universal cry for redress *. Had the people failed to embrace the opportunity for redressing their wrongs, and adopting measures to prevent their recurrence, they must have deservedly been pronounced worthy of the slavery which had been prepared for them; and matters must have either terminated in a dreadful convulsion in the next age, or Britain, the seat of wealth and innumerable comforts, the preserver and disseminator of rational liberty in modern times, and hence, the nurse of genius and the mother of science—the land which has, in reality, given the impulse, in modern times, to the cultivation of every thing valuable in all quarters of the polite world, must have sunk into all the deplorable misery of the Peninsula. When the case is thus broadly stated, there is scarcely a mind which can refuse its assent to the proposition, that at a certain limit submission would have been criminal; yet it ought not to be overlooked, that the advocates of arbitrary power would have then discovered, in the previous tyranny and the pusillanimous acquiescence, still stronger arguments with which to vindicate the prince and condemn the people. Every former act of arbitrary power would have been, in that event, represented
* “ But,” says Mr. Hume, “it may be worth observing, that all historians who lived near that age, or what perhaps is more decisive, all authors who have casually made mention of those public transac, tions, still represent the civil disorders and convulsions as proceeding from religious controversy, and consider the political disputes about power and liberty as entirely subordinate to the other.” Now, who are the historians and authors to whom he alludes ?-Whitelocke, Clarendon, nay, Ludlow, or even Hutchinson and Milton ? Does he discover it in the Parliamentary Debates, or the State Papers, or in the innumerable pamphlets published during the contest? The parliamentary leaders were indeed blamed by one of their own party for dwelling too much on the religious grievances, and thus in a manner withdrawing the public attention from the multiform oppressions under which the kingdom had groaned; but no one can peruse the sources of information to which we have referred, without being satisfied of the groundlessness of this artful, sweeping, unauthorised, statement. The cotemporary royalist writers always maintained that the clamour about religion was a mere colour for factious designs against the government !