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The Progress of the Nation page 4


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The most prominent case was that of James Naylor, who for a time was undoubtedly led into insanity by the effervescence of his mind under his religious zeal; and allowed women to lead his horse into Exeter, crying "Holy! holy! holy!" and spreading their scarfs and handkerchiefs in the way before him, as if he had been the Saviour come again. Naylor professed that this homage was not offered to him personally, but to Christ Within him. His case occupied the house of commons for nearly two months altogether. There were violent debates on it from morning till night; but at length, on the 17th of December, 1656, it was-voted that he should be set in the pillory in Palace Yard for two hours; then be whipped from Westminster to the Old Exchange, London, twice, wearing a paper containing a description of his crimes; should have his tongue bored through with a hot iron by the hangman for his blasphemy; be branded on the forehead with the letter B; that he should be sent to Bristol, and there whipped through the city on a market-day; and paraded on a barebacked horse with his face backwards, and then sent back to Bridewell, in London, kept to hard labour, and debarred from the visits of his friends, and all access to pens, ink, and paper.

All this was rigidly inflicted upon him,-and borne heroically. After two years' confinement in Bridewell he was dismissed, thoroughly cured of his hallucination, ready to admit it, but firm in his adhesion to the principles of quakerism as ever; and the society, pitying his fall, never withdrew from him their sympathy or the enjoyment of his membership. He died soon after his release.

In America, in New England, the quakers were more fiercely persecuted than in England, by the puritans, who had themselves fled from persecution. In Massachusetts and Connecticut they were ordered to have their ears cut off if men, to be publicly whipped if women; and for a second offence to have their tongues bored through if they dared to come into these colonies; and this not deterring them, they hanged several men and women. Endicott, the governor of Connecticut, when one of them quoted the words of St. Paid, "for in him we live, and move, and have our being," irreverently replied, "And so does every cat and dog."

This intolerance of the' puritans was equally exerted against one of their own members, the venerable Roger Williams, who was driven from Massachusetts for his boldly advocating the doctrine of perfect freedom of conscience. In fact, Roger Williams was one of the very first if not the first man, who proclaimed this great doctrine; and therefore deserves to be held in eternal remembrance. The- honour of being the earliest publisher of the right of spiritual freedom must, perhaps, be awarded to Leonard Busher, who published a work on the subject in 1614, and dedicated it to king James.

Roger Williams, expelled from Massachusetts, proceeded to Narragansett Bay and became the founder of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, where the most perfect freedom of religious faith, was allowed.

Besides the sects in England already enumerated, there were many minor ones. The "millenarians," or "fifth monarchy men," whose views we have already explained. To this sect major-general Harrison belonged; and they created a riot, under Venner, the wine-cooper. There was a sect called "the seekers," amongst whom Fox once fell, and many of them joined him, believing they had found what they sought. There were the "ranters," a body noted for their and vociferation; "Behmenists," or disciples of the German mystic, Jacob Böhme; "Vanists," followers of the religious views of Sir Harry Vane; and lastly, "Muggletonians," the disciples of one Ludovick Muggleton and John Reeve.

Muggleton was a journeyman tailor, who, with Reeve, pretended to be the two witnesses mentioned in the eleventh chapter of the Revelations. They were fanatics of the wildest and most furious character. They professed to have power to save or damn all that they pleased, and they "dealt damnation round the land" with the utmost freedom. The quakers and Behmenists were the objects of their most violent denunciations, probably because Fox and Penn protested against their wild and fanatic doctrines, which were the antipodes of those of Fox; for, instead of representing God as a pure spirit, they asserted that he had a corporeal body, and came down to earth in it as Christ, leaving the prophet Elias in heaven to keep order in his absence. They contended that man's soul is inseparably united to his body, dies and rises again with it. They professed to have an especial knowledge of "the place and nature of heaven, and the place and nature of hell;" with the persons and natures of devils and angels. The truculent ravings of these fanatics may be seen in the works and letters of Muggleton, still extant. In one letter he delivers sentence of damnation on six-and-twenty quakers at once. "Inasmuch," he says, "as God hath chosen me on earth to be the judge of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, therefore, in obedience to my commission from the true God, I do pronounce all these twenty-six persons whose names are above written, cursed and damned in their souls and bodies from the presence of God, elect men, and angels in eternity." But this was little: he declared all quakers, and Behmenists, and numbers of other people damned and cursed for ever.

This repulsive apostle of "perdition was tried at the Old Bailey, and convicted of blasphemy, in 1676, and died in 1697, at the age of eighty-eight."

But amid the muddy and gross fermentation of the public mind in those times on the subject of religion, the pure spirit was thus clearing itself; and from these unpromising elements the great principles of religious truth and freedom elevated themselves, and have grown in our time into that splendid development of Christian knowledge and Christian tolerance which now distinguish the religious public in all its varieties in this country beyond almost any other.

Science, Literature, and the Arts

We have seen with what a desolating sweep the bloody conflicts of the parliament against the encroachments of, kingship prostrated the pursuits of literature and art. We might have expected that the return to established tranquillity under restored monarchy would have caused a new spring of genius. But monarchy came back drenched and dripping with the foetid stews of the continent; and the vile spirit and loathsome sensuality of the court rapidly infected the regions of literature. In no reign in this country, and in no country except France, have debauchery and the most hideous grossness so defiled the productions of poetry and the drama. Scarcely now could the rudest costermonger or the basest haunter of the most unclean retreats of infamy use the filthy language which then passed current in the palace, and was nightly uttered on the stage by the lips of the most beautiful young women. It was at this period that women were first introduced to enact feminine character in the theatres; and it was a prurient attraction to those places to hear young and reputedly virtuous women uttering the grossest indecencies.

Amid the satyr crew of degraded men and women who then represented the literary world of England, some few, however, maintained a pure and dignified career. At the head of these, equally exalted above the rest by genius and purity of life and morals stood John Milton, our great epic poet, and one of the greatest, if not the greatest that the world has produced. Neither Virgil nor Dante can be compared with him; and Homer himself, surrounded as he is by all the solemn grandeur of an ancient fame, and nobly as he stands amid the magnificent shadows of his heroic world, fails when his subject is measured with that of Milton - the contest of heaven and hell for the possession of the world and the destinies of the whole human race. Compared with this -

Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us -
what is
Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered?
How poor is the invocation of the ancient Greek -
Declare, 0 Muse! in what ill-fated hour
Sprung the fierce strife; from what offended power?
when placed side by side with that of the blind Tyresias of modern times -
Sing, heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heav'ns and earth
Rose out of chaos! Or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook, that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent'rous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like, sat'st brooding on the vast abyss,
And mad'st it pregnant. What in me is dark,
Illumine; what is low, raise and support;
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

That is a stupendous topic to dare, a prayer of infinite import to address to the infinite Creator; and to say that the poet rose, in the execution of his theme, to the full "height of that great argument," is, in fact, to place him far beyond any other genius which has yet visited this earth. In the words of a modern poet, his task led him to

- tread on shadowy ground, to sink
Deep; and, aloft ascending, breathe in worlds
To which the heaven of heavens is but a veil.
All strength, all terror, single or in bands,
That ever was put forth in personal form –
Jehovah, with his thunder, and the choir
Of shouting angels, and the empyreal thrones –
To pass them unalarmed.

Heaven, chaos, and the lowest pit of Erebus, the awful presence of the Supreme, of the Messiah, and the august princedoms of eternity; the mighty antagonist power of evil, and all the hosts of the damned - these were the regions and the personages that in this most daring, scheme he proposed to exhibit in all their sublime or terrible aspect to the gaze of men. And this he has nobly accomplished. lie splendour, of imagination, the dignified strength and beauty of diction with which he had clothed "things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme," astonished even those who had seen the stately eloquence with which during the commonwealth he had defended the deeds and principles of its most daring leaders. He had found no mind capable of contending with his in the great warfare of politics, and now there stood no name equal with his in the realms of poetry except Shakspeare, who in every department of the art displayed wondrous and felicitous power. It may be safely asserted, however, that if Shakspeare surpassed him in fervour of dramatic passion,-in the infinite variety of character which he seemed to create at will, in rhythmical harmony of lyric measures, and wondrous ease and grace of wit and repartee, or in touches of sententious wisdom and flashes of humour which irradiated all around him, even Shakspeare could not approach those sacred and sublime heights of empyreal vision and massive eloquence amid which Milton moved with all the majesty of an archangel.

It is only when we compare the strains of "Paradise Lost" with those of any other great poet, that we become conscious how far they transcend them in their august beauty and seraphic grandeur, which approach nearer to the lofty and fervid sublimity of the inspired Hebrew poets than those of any other mortal.

Milton had deeply imbued himself with the poetic spirit, imagery, and expression of the prophetic bards, as well as with the knowledge of those of Greece and Rome; and he brought to bear an immense mass of varied learning on his subject with a power of appropriation that gave to it a new and wonderful life instead of the aspect of pedantry. The names of people and places which he moulds into his diction seem to open up to the imagination regions of unimagined grandeur and beauty amid strains of solemnest music; and the descriptions of scenery, such as abound in Comus, Lycidas, and the Arcades, as well as those diffused through both the "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained," are like the most exquisite glimpses into the most fair and solitary landscapes, breathing every rural fragrance, and alive with all rural sounds and harmonies.

But it was when he was old, and poor, and blind, and living among the hatred and the ribald obscenity of the restoration that he had scaled those sublime altitudes of genius, and seemed to walk rather on the celestial hills amid their pure and glorious inhabitants, than surrounded by the rankest impurities and basest natures of earth. It was when His soul was like a star, and dwelt apart, when he had fallen on evil days, that he had alone allowed himself leisure to work out these the earliest of his aspirations. Long before, when he had returned from his pleasant sojourn in Italy, where he saw Galileo in his prison, and was himself received and honoured by the greatest men of the country, as in anticipation of his after glory, and was now engaged in defending the sternest measures of the republicans, that in his "Reasons of Church Government urged against Prelacy" he unfolded the grand design of his master work, but kept it self-denyingly in his soul till he had done his duty to his country. The views which he cherished in his literary ambition are as exalted in their moral grandeur as his genius was in its native character. These were, he said, "That what the greatest and choicest arts of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy and those Hebrews of old did for their country, I, in my proportion, with this over and above of being a Christian, might do for mine, not caring to be named once abroad, though perhaps I could attain unto that, but content me with these British islands as my world." At this period, it seems, he had not made up his mind whether he should adopt "the epic form, as exemplified by Homer, Virgil, and Tasso; or the dramatic, wherein Sophocles and Euripides reign; or in the style of those magnificent odes and hymns of Pindarus and Callimachus, not forgetting that of all those kinds of writing the highest models are to be found in the Holy Scriptures in the book of Job, in the Song of Solomon, and the apocalypse of St. John, in the grand songs interspersed throughout the law and the prophets." But in one thing he was fixed - that the work should be one "not raised from the heat of youth, or the vapours of wine, like that which flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amorist, or the trencher fury of some rhyming parasite, nor to be obtained by the invocation of dame Memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases."

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