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THE CLASSIC AGE.
1. The ROISTERERS. When we alternately look at the works of the court painters of Charles I. and Charles II., and pass from the noble portraits of Vandyke to the figures of Lely, the fall is sudden and great, we have left a palace, and we light on a bagnio.
Instead of the proud and dignified lords, at once cavaliers and courtiers, instead of those high-born yet simple ladies who look at the same time princesses and modest maidens, instead of that generous and heroic company, elegant and resplendent, in whom the spirit of the Renaissance yet survived, but who already displayed the refinement of the modern age, we are confronted by perilous and importunate courtesans, with an expression either vile or harsh, incapable of shame or of remorse. Their plump smooth hands toy fondlingly with dimpled fingers ; ringlets of heavy hair fall on their bare shoulders; their swimming eyes languish voluptuously; an insipid smile hovers on their sensual lips. One is lifting a mass of dishevelled hair which streams over the curves of her rosy flesh; another falls down with languor, and uncloses a sleeve whose soft folds display the full whiteness of her arms. Nearly all are half-draped; many of them seem to be just rising from their beds; the rumpled dressing-gown clings to the neck, and looks as though it were soiled by a night's debauch; the tumbled under-garment slips down to the hips: their feet tread the bright and glossy silk. With bosoms uncovered, they are decked out in all the luxurious extravagance of prostitutes; diamond girdles, puffs of lace, the vulgar splendor of gilding, a superfluity of embroidered and rustling fabrics, enormous head-dresses, the curls and fringes of which, rolled up and sticking out, compel notice by the very height of their shameless magnificence. Folding curtains hang round them in the shape of an alcove, and the eyes penetrate through a vista into the recesses of a wide park, whose solitude will not ill serve the purpose of their pleasures.
1 See especially the portraits of Lady Morland, Lady Williams, the Countess of Ossory, the Duchess of Cleveland, Lady Price, and many others.
I. All this came by way of contrast; Puritanism had brought on an orgie, and fanatics had talked down virtue. For many years the gloomy English imagination, possessed by religious terrors, had desolated the life of men. Conscience had become disturbed at the thought of death and dark eternity; half-expressed doubts stealthily swarmed within like a bed of thorns, and the sick heart, starting at every motion, had ended by taking a disgust at all its pleasures, and abhorred all its natural instincts. Thus poisoned at its very beginning, the divine sentiment of justice became a mournful madness. Man, confessedly perverse and condemned, believed himself pent in a prison-house of perdition and vice, into which no effort and no chance could dart a ray of light, except a hand from above should come by free grace, to rend the sealed stone of this tomb. Men lived the life of the condemned, amid torments and anguish, oppressed by a gloomy despair, haunted by spectres. People would frequently imagine themselves at the point of death; Cromwell himself, according to Dr. Simcott, physician in Huntingdon, "had fancies about the Town Cross;" / some would feel within them the motions of an evil spirit; one and all passed the night with their eyes glued to the tales of blood and the impassioned appeals of the Old Testament, listening to the threats and thunders of a terrible God, and renewing in their own hearts the ferocity of murderers and the exaltation of seers. Under such a strain reason gradually left them. They continually were seeking after the Lord, and found but a dream. After long hours of exhaustion, they labored under a warped and over-wrought imagination. Dazzling forms, unwonted ideas, sprang up on a sudden in their heated brain; these men were raised and penetrated by extraordinary emotions. So transformed, they knew themselves no longer; they did not ascribe to themselves these violent and sudden inspirations which were forced upon them, which compelled them to leave the beaten tracks, which had no connection one with another, which shook and enlightened them when least expected, without being able either to check or to govern them; they saw in them the agency of a supernatural power, and gave themselves up to it with the enthusiasm of madness and the stubbornness of faith.
1 Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Specches, ed. by Carlyle, 1866, i. 39.-TR.
To crown all, fanaticism had become an institution; the sectary had laid down all the steps of mental transfiguration, and reduced the encroachment of his dream to a theory: he set about methodically to drive out reason and enthrone ecstasy. George Fox wrote its history, Bunyan gave it its laws, Parliament presented an example of it, all the pulpits lauded its practice. Artisans, soldiers, women discussed it, mastered it, excited one another by the details of their experience and the publicity of their exaltations. A new life was inaugurated which had blighted and excluded the old. All secular tastes were suppressed, all sensual joys forbidden ; the spiritual man alone remained standing upon the ruins of the past, and the heart, debarred from all its natural safety-valves, could only direct its views or aspirations towards a sinister Deity. The typical Puritan walked slowly along the streets, his eyes raised towards heaven, with elongated features, yellow and haggard, with closely cropped hair, clad in brown or black, unadorned, clothed only to cover his nakedness. If a man had round cheeks, he passed for lukewarm. The whole body, the exterior, the very tone of voice, all must wear the sign of penitence and divine grace. A Puritan spoke slowly, with a solemn and somewhat nasal tone of voice, as il to destroy the vivacity of conversation and the melody of the natural voice. His speech stuffed with scriptural quotations, his
" Colonel Hutchinson was at one time held in suspicion because he wore long hair and dressed well.
style borrowed from the prophets, his name and the names of his children drawn from the Bible, bore witness that his thoughts were confined to the terrible world of the seers and ministers of divine vengeance. From within, the contagion spread outwards. The fears of conscience were converted into laws of the state. Personal asceticism grew into public tyranny. The Puritan proscribed pleasure as an enemy, for others as well as for himself. Parliament closed the gambling-houses and theatres, and had the actors whipped at the cart's tail; oaths were fined; the Maytrees were cut down; the bears, whose fights amused the people, were put to death; the plaster of Puritan masons reduced nude statues to decency; the beautiful poetic festivals were forbidden. Fines and corporeal punishments shut out, even from children, games, dancing, bell-ringing, rejoicings, junketings, wrestling, the chase, all exercises and amusements which might profane the Sabbath. The ornaments, pictures, and statues in the churches were pulled down or mutilated. The only pleasure which they retained and permitted was the singing of psalms through the nose, the edification of long sermons, the excitement of acrimonious controversies, the harsh and sombre joy of a victory gained over the enemy of mankind, and of the tyranny exercised against the demon's supposed abettors. In Scotland, a colder and sterner land, intolerance reached the utmost limits of ferocity and pettiness, instituting a surveillance over the private life and home devotions of every member of a family, depriving Catholics of their children, imposing the abjuration of Popery under pain of perpetual imprisonment or death, dragging crowds of witches to the stake.? It seemed as though a black cloud had weighed down the life of man, drowning all light, wiping out all beauty, extinguishing all joy, pierced here and there by the glitter of the sword and by the flickering of torches, beneath which one might perceive the indistinct forms of gloomy · despots, of bilious sectarians, of silent victims.
1 1648; thirty in one day. One of them confessed that she had been at a gathering of more than five hundred witches,
2 In 1652, the kirk-session of Glasgow "brot boyes and servants before them, for breaking the sabbath, and other faults. They had clandestine censors, and gave money to some for this end."-Note 28, taken from IPodrow's Analecta ; Buckle, llistory of Civilization in England, 3 vols. 1867, iii. 208.
Even carly in the cighteenth century, "the most popular divines in Scotland affirmed that Satan “frequently appears clothed in a corporeal substance."-Ibid. iii. 233, note 76, taken from Memoirs of C. L. Lews. "No husband shall kiss his wife, and no mother shall kiss her child on the Sabbath day."
Thii. iii. 253; from Rev. C. J. Lyon's St. Imreo's, vol i 458, with regard to government of a colony. (It would have been satisfactory if Mr. Lyon had given his authority, TR.
*(Sept. 22, 1649) The qubilk day the Sessioune caused mak this act, that ther sould be no pypers at brydels," etc.-Ibid. iii. 258, note 153- In 1719, the Presbytery of Edinburgh indignantly declares: “Yea, some have arrived at that height of impiery, as not to be
II. | After the Restoration a deliverance ensued. Like a checked and choked up stream, public opinion dashed with all its natural
force and all its acquired momentum, into the bed from which it · had been debarred. The outburst carried away the dams. The
violent return to the senses drowned morality. Virtue had the semblance of Puritanism. Duty and fanaticism became mingled in common disrepute. In this great reaction, devotion and honesty, swept away together, left to mankind but the wreck and the mire. The more excellent parts of human nature disappeared; there remained but the animal, without bridle or guide, urged by his desires beyond justice and shame.
When we see these manners through the medium of a Hamilton or a Saint-Évremond, we can tolerate them. Their French varnish deceives us. Debauchery in a Frenchman is only half disgusting; with him, if the animal breaks loose, it is without abandoning itself to excess. The foundation is not, as with the Englishman, coarse and powerful. You may break the glittering ice which covers him, without bringing down upon yourself the swollen and muddy torrent that roars beneath his neighbor;l the stream which will issue from it will only have its petty dribblings, and will return quickly and of itself to its accustomed channel. The Frenchman is mild, naturally refined, little inclined for great or gross sensuality, liking a sober style of talk, easily armed against filthy manners by his delicacy and good taste. The Count de Grammont has too much wit to love an orgie. After all an orgie is not pleasant; the breaking of glasses, brawling, lewd talk, excess in eating and drinking,
ashamed of washing in waters, and swimming in rivers upon the holy Sabbath."-Note 187. Ibid. ill. 266.
"I think David had never so sweet a time as then, when he was pursued as a partridge by his son Absalom."-Note 190. Gray's Great and Precious Promises.
See the whole of Chapter iii. vol. iii., in which Buckle has described, by similar quotations, the condition of Scotland, chiefly in the seventeenth century.
I See, in Richardson, Swift, and Fielding, but particularly in Hogarth, the delincation of brutish debauchery.