Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

242

CHAPTER XXVII.

AT COURT (1685-86).

The reign of James brought back the troubles of an earlier time. The names of Cavalier and Roundhead were revived. Monmouth and Argyle were secretly preparing for invasion. Public passion was aflame. When Titus Oates was placed in the pillory after his trial, people were excited to a serious breach of the peace. The zeal of fanatic Churchmen was inflamed to frenzy on seeing James go publicly to mass. Sermons and speeches against Popery were delivered in all churches, chapels, coffeehouses, and places of general resort. Even in the royal chapel at Whitehall the rites and ceremonies practised by the sovereign were denounced as contrary to the Word of God and to the laws of England. In the midst of these distractions, James held on his course. He clung to his own notions of religion with a tenacity worthy of an Englishman; and refused to purchase the support of his ancient friends, the Cavaliers, by any sacrifice of his bigotry to their intolerance, even when Argyle had landed in the north, and the signal of revolt was daily expected in the west.

A committee of the House of Commons, under the influence of the Church party, proposed to petition the King for the instant execution of all the penal statutes against Dissent. Though some of the King's personal friends were present they were silent. James, informed of what had taken place, sent for his friends and laid before them so clearly his determination to err on the side of mercy (if he must err at all), that they went away convinced of his sincerity, and took their measures with such success that the motion was condemned as an insult to the sovereign and rejected without a division. Penn began to feel some hope that Parliament would find itself in a temper to discuss a general act.

Literature came to the aid of freedom, from an unexpected quarter. Penn's acquaintance with the Duke of Buckingham was of old standing; and the public fancied it was at Penn's instigation, or through his influence, that the Duke brought out his Essay on Religion Buckingham argues for universal charity towards opinion. He says he had long been convinced that nothing can be more antiChristian nor more contrary to sense and reason, than to molest our fellow-Christians because they cannot be exactly of our minds in all that relates to the worship of God. The effusion breathes this spirit; and it is not a little to the author's credit that during a life of more than ordinary fickleness and change he never wavered from this view. He

[ocr errors]

concludes his discourse with the paraphrase of a thought often expressed by Penn, to the effect that if Parliament refused to adopt a more liberal policy towards opinion, the result would be 'a general discontent, the dispeopling of our poor country, and the exposing us to the conquest of a foreign nation.' A pamphlet on such a subject by the author of the Rehearsal naturally excited much attention. The wit of the court was answered by wits of the coffee-house. Some of these answers were rather smart. One writer alludes to the great rake taking up with Whiggism in her old age, when she is a poor cast-off mistress, that porters and footmen turn away from in scorn; and wonders how his grace can think of making himself the champion of any thing so out of all countenance as religion and toleration The graver argument adduced by these writers against any concession to the sectaries, was the alleged peril of the nation. Liberty, they said, was fraught with danger. There had been liberties in the time of Charles the First, —and Charles the First lost his head: there was toleration under the Commonwealth, — and the Commonwealth fell!

One of the disputants charged the Duke with having been misled by Penn; and being thus dragged into the lists, a duty to maintain the right urged Penn to add his testimony to the principle of enlightened policy advocated by the Duke. A vein of satire runs through his discourse. He expresses his great pleasure in seeing a work in defence of religion from such a pen, and sincerely hopes that the witty writer may soon begin to enjoy those felicities of a good life which he has proved himself able to describe. When that day arrives, he says in conclusion, he will be happy to press the gentlemen of England to imitate so illustrious an example. At first, the King affected to take no notice of this literary combat; but when he found the Church party in alarm, and heard from those about him that nothing else was talked of in the coffee-houses, he began to read the book. Barillon saw its importance from the first ; and as soon as Buckingham's pamphlet appeared, he caused it to be translated, and sent over to his master as a key to the new and serious questions which were now dividing England into hostile camps.

The expeditions under Monmouth and Argyle failed. These events and the trials and executions to which they led belong to the domain of general history. Penn's connexion with them was but slight. He was himself an object of suspicion to the court. Though it is not imagined that he gave the followers of Monmouth any reason to believe he approved their projects, it is known that they regarded him as a friend to their cause, and that in their plans they set him down as one of the half-dozen persons who might help to bring over the American colonies to accept a Protestant revolution. The ministry were conscious that his sympathies were not with them, and they professed to regard him as a partisan of the Prince of Orange. Against these suspicions and misgivings he had no protection save the private favour of the King. Penn strove to mitigate the sufferings of men who tad been drawn into rebellion. God had given him an asylum for the oppressed; and when the prisoners were sentenced to transportation beyond sea, he offered them a home in Pennsylvania, where the climate would agree with them, and their offences would be looked upon with lenient eyes.

When the trials in the country were over and those in London began, Penn was still more anxiously employed in the work of mediation. One of the first victims of royal rigour was an old acquaintance of his own. Five years before this time, when the court was moving heaven and earth to defeat the Sydney party in elections, two liberals, Henry Cornish and Slingsby Bethel, had the courage to stand for the office of sheriffs in the city of London; and in spite of bribery and threats, they carried the election. The mob gave vent to their triumph by party cries; and James took this defeat to heart as if it had been a personal insult. From that day Cornish was a marked man; and when the RyeHouse plot exploded, he was believed to be involved in it past recovery. The evidence, however, was not complete, and he had now been two years at large after the execution of Sydney, and was congratulating himself on his escape, when James obtained the evidence required. He was arrested, tried, found guilty, and gibbeted in front of his own house in Cheapside. That Cornish was accused and sentenced as the accomplice of Sydney was not without its weight with Penn; but the mediator took a higher view; he declared his belief that

« AnteriorContinuar »