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and honest though misguided men who had sate in judgment on their King were dragged on hurdles to a death of prolonged torture, their last prayers were interrupted by the hisses and execrations of thousands.
Such was England in 1660. In 1678 the whole face of things had changed. At the former of those epochs eighteen years of commotion had made the majority of the people ready to buy repose at any price. At the latter epoch eighteen years of misgovernment had made the same majority desirous to obtain security for their liberties at any risk. The fury of their returning loyalty had spent itself in its first outbreak. In a very few months they had hanged and half-hanged, quartered and embowelled enough to satisfy them. The Roundhead party seemed to be not merely overcome, but too much broken and scattered ever to rally again. Then commenced the reflux of public opinion. The nation began to find out to what a man it had entrusted, without conditions, all its dearest interests, on what a man it had lavished all its fondest affection. On the ignoble nature of the restored exile, adversity had exhausted all her discipline in vain. He had one immense advantage over most other princes. Though born in the purple, he was far better acquainted with the vicissitudes of life and the diversities of character than most of his subjects. He had known restraint, danger, penury, and dependence. He had often suffered from ingratitude, insolence, and treachery. He had received many signal proofs of faithful and heroic attachment. He had seen, if ever man saw, both sides of human nature. But only one side remained in his memory. He had learned only to despise and to distrust his species, to consider integrity in men, and modesty in women, as mere acting; nor did he think it worth while to keep his opinion to himself. He was incapable of friendship; yet he was perpetually led by favourites without being in the smallest degree duped by them. He knew that their regard to his interests was all simulated; but, from a certain easiness which had no connexion with humanity, he submitted, half-laughing at himself, to be made the tool of any woman whose person attracted him, or of any man whose tattle diverted him. He thought little and cared less about religion. He seems to have passed his life in dawdling suspense between Hobbism and Popery. He was crowned in his youth with the Covenant in his hand; he died at last with the Host sticking in his throat; and, during most of the intermediate years, was occupied in persecuting both Covenanters and Catholics. He was not a tyrant from the ordinary motives. He valued power for its own sake little, and fame still less. He does not appear to have been vindictive, or to have found any pleasing excitement in cruelty. What he wanted was to be amused, to get through the twenty-four hours pleasantly without sitting down to dry business. Sauntering was, as Sheffield expresses it, the true Saltana Queen of his Majesty's affections. A sitting in council would have been insupportable to him if the Duke of Buckingham had not been there to make mouths at the Chancellor. It has been said, and is highly probable, that in his exile, he was quite disposed to sell his rights to Cromwell for a good round sum. To the last, his only quarrel with his Parliaments was that they often gave him trouble and would not always give him money. If there was a person for whom he felt a real regard, that person was his brother. If there was a point about which he really entertained a scruple of conscience or of honour, that point was the descent of the crown. Yet he was willing to consent to the Exclusion Bill for six hundred thousand pounds; and the negotiation was broken off only because he insisted on being paid beforehand. To do him justice, his temper was good ; his manners agreeable ; his natural talents above mediocrity. But he was sensual, frivolous, false, and cold-hearted, beyond almost any prince of whom history makes mention.
Under the government of such a man, the English people could not be long in recovering from the intoxication of loyalty. They were then, as they are still, a brave, proud, and high-spirited race, unaccustomed to defeat, to shame, or to servitude. The splendid administration of Oliver had taught them to consider their country as a match for the greatest empires of the earth, as the first of maritime powers, as the head of the Protestant interest. Though, in the day of their affectionate enthusiasm, they might sometimes extol the royal prerogative in terms which would have better become the courtiers of Aurungzebe, they were not men whom it was quite safe to take at their word. They were much more perfect in the theory than in the practice of passive obedience. Though they might deride the austere manners and scriptural phrases of the Puritans they were still at heart a religious people. The majority saw no great sin in field-sports, stage-plays, promiscuous dancing, cards, fairs, starch, or false hair. But gross profaneness and licentiousness were regarded with general horror; and the Catholic
religion was held in utter detestation by nine tenths of the middle class.
Such was the nation which, awaking from its rapturous trance, found itself sold to a foreign, a despotic, a Popish court, defeated on its own seas and rivers by a state of far inferior resources, and placed under the rule of pandars and buffoons. Our ancestors saw the best and ablest divines of the age turned out of their benefices by hundreds. They saw the prisons filled with men guilty of no other crime than that of worshipping God according to the fashion generally prevailing throughout Protestant Europe. They saw Popish Queen on the throne, and a Popish heir on the steps of the throne.
They saw unjust aggression followed by feeble war, and feeble war ending in disgraceful peace. They saw a Dutch fleet riding triumphant in the Thames. They saw the Triple Alliance broken, the Exchequer shut up,
the public credit shaken, the arms of England employed, in shameful subordination to France, against a country which seemed to be the last asylum of civil and religious liberty. They saw Ireland discontented, and Scotland in rebellion. They saw, meantime, Whitehall swarming with sharpers and courtesans. They saw harlot after harlot, and bastard after bastard, not only raised to the highest honours of the peerage, but supplied out of the spoils of the honest, industrious, and ruined public creditor, with ample means of supporting the new dignity. The government became more odious every day. Even in the bosom of that very House of Commons which had been elected by the nation in the ecstasy of its penitence, of its joy, and of its hope, an opposition sprang up and became powerful. Loyalty which had been proof against all the disasters of the civil war, which had survived the routs of Naseby and Worcester, which had never flinched from sequestration and exile, which the Protector could never intimidate or seduce, began to fail in this last and hardest trial. The storm had long been gathering. At length it burst with a fury which threatened the whole frame of society with dissolution.
When the general election of January, 1679, took place, the nation had retraced the path which it had been describing from 1640 to 1660. It was again in the same mood in which it had been when, after twelve years of misgovernment, the Long Parliament assembled. In every part of the country, the name of courtier had become a by-word of reproach. The old warriors of the Covenant again ventured out of those retreats in which they had, at the time of the Restoration, hidden themselves from the insults of the triumphant Malignants, and in which during twenty years, they had preserved in full vigour
“The unconquerable will
And what is else not to be overcome.” Then were again seen in the streets faces which called up strange and terrible recollections of the days when the saints, with the high praises of God in their mouths, and a twoedged sword in their hands, had bound kings with chains, and nobles with links of iron. Then were again heard voices which had shouted “Privilege” by the coach of Charles I. in the time of his tyranny, and had called for “ Justice” in Westminster Hall on the day of his trial. It has been the fashion to represent the excitement of this period as the effect of the Popish plot. To us it seems clear that the Popish plot was rather the effect than the cause of the general agitation. It was not the disease, but a symptom, though, like many other symptoms, it aggravated the severity of the disease. In 1660 or 1661 it would have been utterly out of the power of such men as Oates or Bedloe to give any serious disturbance to the Government. They would have been laughed at, pilloried, well pelted, soundly whipped, and speedily forgotten. In 1678 or 1679 there would have been an outbreak if those men had never been born. For years things had been steadily tending to such a consummation. Society was one vast mass of combustible matter. No mass so vast and so combustible ever waited long for a spark.
Rational men, we suppose, are now fully agreed that by far the greater part, if not the whole, of Oates's story was a pure fabrication. It is indeed highly probable that, during his intercourse with the Jesuits, he may have heard much wild talk about the best means of reestablishing the Catholic religion in England, and that from some of the absurd day-dreams of the zealots with whom he then associated he may have taken hints for his narrative. But we do not believe that he was privy to any thing which deserved the name of conspiracy. And it is quite certain that, if there be any small portion of truth in his evidence, that portion is so deeply buried in falsehood that no human skill can now effect a separation. We must not, however, forget, that we see his story by the light of much information which his contemporaries did not at first
possess. We have nothing to say for the witnesses, but something in mitigation to offer on behalf of the public. We own that the credulity which the nation showed on that occasion seems to us, though censurable indeed, yet not wholly inexcusable.
Our ancestors knew, from the experience of several generations at home and abroad, how restless and encroaching was the disposition of the Church of Rome. The heir apparent of the crown was a bigoted member of that church. The reigning King seemed far more inclined to show favour to that church than to the Presbyterians. He was the intimate ally, or rather the hired servant, of a powerful King, who had already given proofs of his determination to tolerate within his dominions no other religion than that of Rome. The Catholics had begun to talk a bolder language than formerly, and to anticipate the restoration of their worship in all its ancient dignity and splendour. At this juncture, it is rumoured that a Popish plot has been discovered. A distinguished Catholic is arrested on suspicion. It appears that he has destroyed almost all his papers. A few letters, however, have escaped the flames; and these letters are found to contain much alarming matter, strange expressions about subsidies from France, allusions to a vast scheme which would “give the greatest blow to the Protestant religion that it had ever received,” and which “would utterly subdue a pestilent heresy." It was natural that those who saw these expressions, in letters which had been overlooked, should suspect that there was some horrible villany in those which had been carefully destroyed. Such was the feeling of the House of Commons: “Question, question, Coleman's letters !" was the cry which drowned the voices of the minority.
Just after the discovery of these papers, a magistrate who had been distinguished by his independent spirit, and who had taken the deposition of the informer, is found murdered, under circumstances which make it almost incredible that he should have fallen either by robbers or by his own hands. Many of our readers can remember the state of London just after the murders of Mar and Williamson, the terror which was on every face, the careful barring of doors, the providing of blunderbusses and watchmen's rattles. We know of a shopkeeper who on that occasion sold three hundred rattles in about ten hours. Those who remember that panic may be able to form some notion of the state of England after the death of Godfrey. Indeed, we must say that, after having