« PreviousContinue »
preserved no reverence towards God or man; but laughed at all sober men, and even at religion itself.”*
He himself, in more advanced years, was fond of playing the tempter, and when he saw young men of quality, who had something more than ordinary in them, he had a pleasure in corrupting them, both in religion and morality. Of religion he appeared to have no sense at all: whenever he happened to be either at prayers or sacrament, he took care to satisfy people, that he was in no degree concerned in that about which he was employed; and as to the scriptures, he never read them, nor alluded to them, farther than to turn them into a jest, or to point the discourse with some lively expression. Nothing gave. him greater pleasure than to find a hole in the reputation of a man esteemed eminent for piety; and Sheldon, who most commonly spoke of religion as an engine of government, and an affair of policy, was regarded by him in the light of a wise and honest clergyman. A man of this description was not likely to fall into his father's error ;. indeed, he often said, he was not priest-ridden—"he would not venture a war, nor travel again for any party.”
Rien pour rien, was the principle that guided him in his dealings with the church. Thus, when in the course of the debate on the legality of Lord Danby's pardon, the bishops' right of voting on a trial of treason having been questioned, they seemed disposed to relinquish it without noise. The king, who was bent on maintaining the pardon, and durst not venture it on the votes of the temporal Iords, would not suffer it, but told them “ they must stick to him and his prerogative, as they expected him to stick to them, if they came to be pushed at.”+
Freely as he indulged himself in every vice, he was used to express disgust at the scandalous lives of some of the clergy, an inconsistency not very frequent with men of his stamp. One day at the council board, being offended with the bishops, he took occasion to vent his displeasure in various reflections upon the clergy, who alone, he said, were to blame for the disorders and conventicles that were complained of throughout the country. Had they lived good lives, and gone about their parishes, and taken pains to instruct the people, the nation: might have been by this time quiet; “but they thought of nothing, but of getting good benefices, and keeping a good table.” Once, too, in a conversation with Burnet, he expressed himself after a similar manner: had the clergy done their part, - he said, it would have been an easy thing to run down the non
conformists, but, he added, “they will do nothing themselves, and will have me do every thing."-"He told them, he had a chaplain that was a very honest man, but a great blockhead, to whom he had given a living in Suffolk, that was full of that sort of people : he had gone about among them from house to house, though he could not imagine what he could have to say to them, for, he said, he was a very silly fellow; but he believed his nonsense suited their nonsense, for he had brought them all to the church; and in reward of his diligence he had given him a bishoprick in Ireland.” We have been often told, how the king, in a progress he once made to Winchester, towards the latter end of his days, was for quartering Nell Gwyn upon Dr. Ken; but the doctor resolutely refused to admit her, and she was obliged to seek other lodgings. The conclusion of this story is not, however, so very generally known. When, not long after, the see of Bath and Wells became vacant, Charles asked what was the name of that little man at Winchester, who would not let Nell lie in his house? They told him, and to the astonishment of the whole court, Ken was appointed to the bishoprick. The laxity of his own religious principles, he never hesitated to acknowledge; as for example, once in Burnet's presence, he and Lord Halifax fell into some conversation about religion. Halifax observed, that his majesty was the head of his church; to which Charles replied, that he did not desire to be the head of nothing—for his part he was of no church.”
. Of presbytery he ever entertained the greatest dislike. He, probably, too well remembered how the ministers of that persuasion used to “let fly at him,” in the sermons they preached before him, when in Scotland-how he used to yawn over the long prayers and tedious homilies he was obliged to attend, from morning to night-and how Buckingham and he used to be hard set to suppress their laughter, whilst he was denounced by Guthery, or schooled by Douglas. When Lord Lauderdale first came to the king, being himself a stiff presbyterian, and unacquainted, probably, with Charles's high dislike to that form above all, he openly espoused the cause of presbytery; but the king bade him, as the earl himself told Burnet, let that pass, “ for it was not a religion for gentlemen.” As to his attachment to the Romish faith, we suspect it was never sufficiently ardent to make him uneasy under the disguise he was obliged to wear, or to interfere in any troublesome way with the administration of his secular concerns. Indeed, he was often heard to say, during the heats and perplexities of the popish plot, that if it were not for la sottise de mon frere, he would soon get out of all his difficulties.
Disposed to incredulity, and with a natural turn for scepticism, as his language and conduct throughout life would
VOL, VII. PART I.
seem to imply, it rather excites our astonishment to find him subject to the dotage of astrology. A story, which Burnet tells to this effect, was long considered as a fable of the reverend author's ; but like many other of that historian's supposed fables, it has been found to rest upon the basis of truth. There is in the British Museum*, a letter from the Dutchess of Cleveland to the King Charles, dated Paris, which verifies Burnet's relation in every particular:-“When I was to come over,” says she, “ he (Mountague) brought me two letters to bring to you, which he read both to me, before he sealed them. The one was a man's, that he said you had great faith in ; for that he had at several times foretold things to you that were of conconsequence, and that you believed him in all things, like a changeling as you were.” The letter goes on to say, that Mountague designed to make this cunning man subservient to his own intrigues, by causing him to foretel to the king such and such events. “The man,” she continues, " though he was infirm and ill, should go into England, and there, after having been a little time soliciting you for money; for that you were so base, that though you employed him, you let him starve,” &c. Enough for our purpose is what we have already quoted. · Burnet, in his strong and unmeasured language, has expressed his sense of Charles's profligacy, by saying that he delivered himself up to a most enormous course of vice, without any restraint; and then follows an insinuation, which is likely, with candid readers, to do the bishop himself more injury than the monarch, at whom it is aimed. He had great vices, he continues, and scarcely any virtues; but some of his vices were less hurtful than the rest, and these served to correct the more pernicious. A saying of Lord Rothes, the king's commissioner in Scotland, was much noised about at the time. He abandoned himself to pleasure, and when he was censured for it, all the answer he made was couched in a severe piece of raillery :“the king's commissioner,” he said, “ ought to represent his person.” In one vice, however, to which the Scottish commissioner addicted himself, he received little or no countenance from the authority he represented ; and that was drunkenness. Upon a frolic, indeed, with a few choice spirits, in whose company he took delight, Charles would sometimes run into excess; yet this was only on rare occasions; and he entertained a bad opinion of all that fell into that hạbit. On the same occasion, on which he presented Jefferies with that jewel, which was called the latter's blood-stone, from its being given him a few days after the conviction of Sidney, he added a piece of advice,
* Harris's Life of King Charles II.
go fromecently; but he while after higually
odd enough as coming from a king to a judge. He said, “ it was a hot summer, and he (Jefferies) was going the circuit; he, therefore, desired he would not drink too much.” Now, Jefferies was a notorious drunkard. In another respect the manners of the king lay more open to exception. “ He was apter to make broad allusions upon any thing that gave the least occasion, than was altogether suitable with the very good breeding he shewed in most other things. The company he kept, whilst abroad, had so used him to that sort of dialect, that he was so far from thinking it a fault or indecency, that he made it a matter of raillery upon them, who could not prevail on themselves to join in it..... In his more familiar conversations with the ladies, even they must be passive, if they would not enter into it.”* :
In the habits of his life, he was equally prone to outrage decorum. For, a little while after his marriage, he carried things decently; but he soon threw off all restraint, he would go from his mistress's apartments to church, even on sacrament days,ť and held as it were, a court in them, whilst to the “ lady, (as she is respectfully termed by Clarendon, who however would never descend to notice her) for the time being, they all made application. How little careful he was to save appearances, the following curious extracts from Mr. Evelyn's Journal abundantly shew. March 1, 1671.–After mention of some particulars not material to the present purpose, he goes on—"I thence walked with him (the king) through St. James's park to the garden, when I both saw and heard a very familiar discourse, between ...... and Mrs. Nellie, as they called an impudent comedian, she looking out of her garden on a terrace at the top of a wall, and ..... standing on the green walk under it. I was heartily sorry at this scene. Thence the king walked to the Dutchess of Cleaveland, another lady of pleasure, and curse of our nation.” But perhaps the reader would be glad to see one of Charles's family parties. On the day of the king's death, Mr. Evelyn calls to mind a scene which he had witnessed not many days before. “ I can never forget the inexpressible luxury and profaneness, gaming, and all dissoluteness, and, as it were, total forgetfulness of God, (it being Sunday evening) which this day se'nnight I was witness of, the king sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland, and Mazarine, &c., a French boy singing love songs, in that glorious gallery, whilst about twenty of the great courtiers and other dissolute persons were at basset round a large table, a bank of, at least, two thousand in gold before them. .....
* Marquis of Halifax, Character of Charles II.
Six days after, was all in the dust!” This, we suppose, is what the king meant by a little irregular pleasure. When, once upon telling Burnet, he was no atheist, he added, but he could not think God would make a man miserable only for taking a little pleasure out of the way.” This, however, appears to have been only a quiet party at home; the following is a more formal and solemn entertainment. : “ This evening I was at the entertainment of the Morocco ambassador, at the Dutchess of Portsmouth's glorious apartments at Whitehall, where was a great banquet of sweetmeats and music, but at which, both the ambassador and her retinue behaved themselves with extraordinary moderation and modesty, though placed about a long table, a lady between two Moors, and amongst these were the king's natural children, viz. Lady Litchfield and Sussex, the Dutchess of Portsmouth and Nelly, &c., concubines and cattle of that sort, as splendid as jewels and excess of bravery could make them. The Moors neither admiring nor seeming to regard any thing, furniture, or the like, with any earnestness, and but decently tasting of the banquet. They drank a little milk and water, but not a drop of wine : they also drank of a sorbett and a jacolatt; did not look about or stare at the ladies, or express the least surprise, but with a courtly negligence in face and countenance, and whole behaviour, answering only to such questions as were asked, with a great deal of wit and gallantry, and so gravely took leave with this compliment, That God would bless the Dutchess of Portsmouth and the prince her son, meaning the little Duke of Richmond. The king came in at the latter end, just as the ambassador was going away...... In a word the Russian ambassador, still at court, behaved himself like a clown, compared to this heathen.
In these scenes of debauchery, there was more, we suspect, of the bravery and show, than the substance of vice, as far as regarded the king himself: the following just observations nicely discriminate his character in this respect, and serve as an ingenious commentary on the passages above quoted. “He was rather abandoned than luxurious, and, like our female libertines, apter to be debauched for the satisfaction of others, than to seek with choice where most to please him. self. I am of opinion also, that, in his latter times, there was as much of laziness, as of love, in all those hours he passed among his mistresses; who, after all, served only to fill up his seraglio ; while a bewitching kind of pleasure, called sauntering, and talking without any constraint, was the true sultana queen he delighted in!”* The facility with which he wasinduced to entertain any new favourite proposed to him, as well as the
* Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. Character of King Charles II.