Charles Dickens.

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learning, and loved to have them about him. Milton was one
of his great friends. He was good-humored, too, with the no-
bility, whose dresses and manners were very different from his;
and to show them what good information he had, he would
sometimes jokingly tell them, when they were his guests, where
they had last drunk the health of the " King over the water,"
and would recommend them to be more private (if they could)
another time. But he had lived in busy times, had borne the
weight of heavy state affairs, and had often gone in fear of his
life. He was ill of the gout and ague ; and when the death of
his beloved child came upon him in addition, he sank, never to
raise his head again. He told his physician, on the 24th of
August, that the Lord had assured him that he was not to die
in that illness, and that he would certainly get better. This
was only his sick fancy ; for on the 3d of September, which was
the anniversary of the great battle of Worcester, and the day of
the year which he called his fortunate day, he died, in the six-
tieth year of his age. He had been delirious, and lain in-
sensible some hours, but he had been overheard to murmur a
very good prayer the day before. The whole country lamented
his death. If you want to know the real worth of Oliver Crom-
well, and his real services to his country, you can hardly do
better than compare England under him with England under
Charles the Second.

He had appointed his son Richard to succeed him ; and
after there had been, at Somerset House, in the Strand, a lying-
in-state more splendid than sensible, — as all such vanities after
death are, I think, — Richard became Lord Protector. He was
an amiable country gentleman, but had none of his father's
great genius, and was quite unfit for such a post in such a storm
of parties. Richard's Protectorate, which only lasted a year and
a half, is a history of quarrels between the officers of the army
and the Parliament, and between the officers among themselves ;
and of a growing discontent among the people, who had far too
many long sermons, and far to few amusements, and wanted a
change. At last. General Monk got the army well into his own
hands, and then, in pursuance of a secret plan he seems to have


entertained from the time of Oliver's death, declared for the
king's cause. He did not do this openly ; but in his place in
the House of Commons, as one of the members for Devonshire,
Ltrrongly advocated the proposals of one Sir John Greenville,
who came to the House with a letter from Charles, dated from
Breda, and with whom he had previously been in secret com-
munication. There had been plots and counterplots, and a re-
call of the last members of the Long Parliament, and an end
of the Long Parliament, and risings of the royalists that were
made too soon ; and most men being tired out, and there being
no one to head the country now Great Oliver was dead, it was
readily agreed to welcome Charles Stuart. Some of the wiser
and better members said, — what was most true, — that in the
letter from Breda, he gave no real promise to govern well, and
that it would be best to make him pledge himself beforehand
as to what he should be bound to do for the benefit of the king-
dom. Monk said, however, it would be all right when he came,
and he could not come too soon.

So everybody found out all in a moment that the country must
be I rosperous and happy, having another Stuart to condescend
to reign over it ; and there was a prodigious firing-off of guns,
lighting of bonfires, ringing of bells, and throwing up of caps.
The people drank the king's health by thousands in the open
.streets, and everybody rejoiced. Down came the arms of the
Commonwealth, up went the royal arms instead, and out came
the public money. Fifty thousand pounds for the king, ten
thousand pounds for his brother the Duke of York, five thou-
sand pounds for his brother the Duke of Gloucester. Prayers
for these gracious Stuarts were put up in all the churches ;
commissioners were sent to Holland (which suddenly found out
that Charles was a great man, and that it loved him) to invite
the king home ; Monk and the Kentish grandees went to
Dover to kneel down before him as he landed. He kissed and
embraced Monk, made him ride in the coach with himself and
his brothers, came on to London amid wonderful shoutings,
and passed through the army at Blackheath on the 29th of
May (his birthday), 1660. Greeted by splendid dinners under
tents, by flags and tapestry streaming from all the houses, by
delighted crowds in all the streets, by troops of noblemen and
gentlemen in rich dresses, by city companies, train-bands,
drummers, trumpeters, the great lord mayor, and the majestic
aldermen, the king went on to Whitehall. On entering it, he
commemorated his restoration with the joke that it really would
kjeem to htjve been his own fault that he had not come long


ago, since everybody told him tliat he had always wished foi
him with all his heart.



There never was such profligate times in England as under
Charles the Second. Whenever you see his portrait, with his
swarthy, ill-looking face and great nose, you may fancy him in
his Court at Whitehall, surrounded by some of the very worst
vagabonds in the kingdom, (though they were lords and ladies),
drinking, gambling, indulging in vicious conversation, and com-
mitting every kind of profligate excess. It has been a fashion
to call Charles the Second " The Merry Monarch." Let me
try to give you a general idea of some of the merry things that
were done in the merry days when this merry gentleman sat
upon his merry throne, in merry England.

The first merry proceeding was, of course, to declare that
he was one of the greatest, the wisest, and the noblest kings
that ever shone, like the blessed sun itself, on this benighted
earth. The next merry and pleasant piece of business was, for
the Parliament, in the humblest manner, to give him one mil-
lion two hundred thousand pounds a year, and to settle upon
him for life that old disputed tonnage and poundage which had
been so bravely fought for. Then General Monk, being made
Earl of Albemarle, and a few royalists similarly rewarded, the
law went to work to see what was to be done to those persons
(they were called Regicides) who had been concerned in mak-
ing a martyr of the late king. Ten of these were merrily exe-
cuted ; that it is say, six of the judges, one of the council.
Colonel Hacker and another officer who had commanded the
Guards, and Hugh Peters, a preacher who had preached against
the martyr with all his heart. These executions were so ex-
tremely merry, that every horrible circumstance which Crom-
well had abandoned was revived with appalling cruelty. The
hearts of the sufferers were torn out of their living bodies ;
their bowels were burned before their faces ; the executioner
cut jokes to the next victim, as he rubbed his filthy hands to-
gether, that were reeking with the blood of the last ; and the



heads of the dead were drawn on sledges with the living to the
place of suffering. Still, even so merry a monarch could not
force one of these dying men to say that he was sorry for what
he had done. Nay, the most memorable thing said among
them was, that if the thing were to do again they would do it.

Sir Harry Vane, who had furnished the evidence against
Strafford, and was one of the most stanch of the Republicans,
was also tried, found guilty, and ordered for execution. When
he came upon the scaffold on Tower Hill, after conducting his
own defence with great power, his notes of what he had meant
to say to the people were torn away from him, and the drums
and trumpets were ordered to sound lustily and drown his
voice ; for the people had been so much impressed by what the
Regicides had calmly said with their last breath, that it was the
custom now to have the drums and trumpets always under the
scaffold, ready to strike up. Vane said no more than this : " It
is a bad cause which cannot bear the words of a dying man ; "
and bravely died.

These merry scenes were succeeded by another, perhaps
even merrier. On the anniversary of the late king's deatL, th^
bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw were torn out
of their graves in Westminster Abbey, dragged to Tybui ,
hanged there on a gallows all day long, and then^ .
Imagine the head of Oliver Cromwell set upon a pole to bo
stared at by a brutal crowd, not one of whom would have
to look the living Oliver in the face for half a moment ! Thinl;,
after you have read this reign, what England was under Oliver
Cromwell, who was torn out of his grave, and what it was under
this merry monarch who sold it, like a merry Judas, over and
over again.

Of course, the remains of Oliver's wife and daughter were
not to be spared either, though they had been most excellent
women. The base clergy of this time gave up their bodies,
which had been buried in the Abbey ; and — to the eternal dis-
grace of England — they were thrown into a pit, together with
the mouldering bones of Pym, and of the brave and bold old
Admiral Blake.

The clergy acted this disgraceful part because they hoped
to get the non-conformists, or dissenters, thoroughly put down
in this reign, and to have but one prayer-book and one service
for all kinds of people, no matter what their private opinions
were. This was pretty well, I think, for a Protestant Church,
which had displaced the Romish Church because people had a
right to their own opinions in religious matters. However, they


carried it with a high hand, and a prayer-book was agreed upon,
in which the extremest opinions of Archbishop Laud were not
forgotten. An act was passed, too, preventing any dissenter
from holding any office under any corporation. So the regular
clergy, in their triumph, were soon as merry as the king. The
army being by this time disbanded, and the king crowned,
everything was to go on easily for evermore.

I must say a word here about the king's family. He had
not been long upon the throne when his brother, the Duke o\
Gloucester, and his sister, the Princess of Orange, died, within
a few months of each other, of small-pox. His remaining sister,
the Princess Henrietta, married the Duke of Orleans, the
brother of Louis the Fourteenth, King of France. His brcchei
James, Duke of York, was made high admiral, and by and by
became a Catholic. He was a gloomy, sullen, bilious sort oi
man, with a remarkable partiality for the ugliest women in th&
country. He married, under very discreditable circumstances^
Anne Hyde, the daughter of Lord Clarendon, then the king's
principal minister, — not at all a delicate minister either, bui
doing much of the dirty work of a very dirty palace. It be-
came important now that the king himself should be married ;
and divers foreign monarchs, not very particular about the char-
acter of their son-in-law, proposed their daughters to him. The
King of Portugal offered his daughter, Catherine of Braganzn,
and fifty thousand pounds ; in addition to which, the French
king, who was favorable to that match, offered a loan of an-
other fifty thousand. The King of Spain, on the other hand,
offered any one out of a dozen of princesses, and other hopes of
gain. But the ready money carried the day, and Catherine
came over in state to her merry marriage.

The whole court was a great flaunting crowd of debauched
men and shameless women ; and Catherine's merry husband
insulted and outraged her in every possible way, until she con-
sented to receive those worthless creatures as her very good
friends, and to degrade herself by their companionship. A
Mrs. Palmer, whom the king made Lady Castlemaine, and af-
terwards Duchess of Cleveland, was one of the most powerful
of the bad women about the court, and had great influence
with the king nearly all through his reign. Another merry lady,
named Moll Davies, a dancer at the theatre, was afterwards
her rival. So was Nell Gwyn, first an orange girl and then an
actress, who really had good in her, and of whom one of the
worst things I know is, that actually she does seem to have
been fond of the king. The first Duke of St. Albans was this



orange-girl's child. In like manner the son of a merry wait-
ing-lady, whom the king created Duchess of Portsmouth, be-
came the Duke of Riciimond. Upon the whole, it is not so
bad a thing to be a commo.ier.

The Merry Monarch was so exceedingly merry among these
merry ladies, and some equally merry (and equally infamous)
lords and gentlemen, that he soon got through his hundred
thousand pounds, and then, by way of raising a little pocket-
money, made a merry bargain. He sold Dunkirk to the French
ki.ig for hve millions of livres. When I think of the dignity to
whicli Oliver Cromwell raised England in the eyes of foreign
powers, and when I think of the manner in which he gained
for England this very Dunkirk, I am much inclined to consider
that if the Merry Monarch had been made to follow his iatlier
for this action, he would have received his just deserts.

Thou;;h he was like his father in none of that father's
greater qualities, he was like him in being worthy of no trust.
When he sent that letter to the Parliament, from Breda, he did
expressly promise that all sincere religious opinions should be
respected. Yet he was no sooner firm in his power than he
consented to one of the worst acts of Parliament ever passed.
Under this law, every minister who should not give his solemn
assent to the prayer-book by a certain day, was declared to-be
a minister no longer, and to be deprived of his church. The
consequence of this was, that some two thousand honest men
were taken from their congregations, and reduced to dire
poverty and distress. It was followed by another outrageous
law, called the Conventicle Act, by which any person above the
age of sixteen, who was present at any religious service not
according to the prayer-book, was to be imprisoned three
months for tl e first offence, six for the second, and to be
transported for the third. This act alone filled the prisons,
which were then most dreadful dungeons, to overflowing.

The Covenanters in Scotland had already fared no better.
A base parliament, usually known as the Drunken Parliament,
in consequence of its principal members being seldom sober,
had been got to.^tther to make laws against the Covenanters,
and force all men lo be of one mind in religious matters. The
Marquis of Argyle, relying on the king's honor, had given him-
self up to him ; but he was wealthy, and his enemies wanted
his wealth. He was tried for treason, on the evidence of some
private letters in which he had expressed opinions — as well
he might — more favorable to the government of the late Lord
Protector than of the present merry and religious king. He


was executed, as were two men of mark among the Covenant-
ers ; and Sharp, a traitor who had once been the friend of the
Presbyterians, and betrayed them, was made Archbishop of
St, Andrews, to teach the Scotch how to like bishops.

Things being in this merry state at home, the merry mon-
arch undertook a war with the Dutch ; principally because they
interfered with an African company, established with the two
objects of buying gold-dust and slaves, of which the Duke of
York was a leading member. After some preliminary hostili-
ties, the said duke sailed to the coast of Holland with a fleet
of ninety-eight vessels of war, and four fire-ships. This en-
gaged with the Dutch fleet, of no fewer than one hundred and
thirteen ships. In the great battle between the two forces, the
Dutch lost eighteen ships, four admirals, and seven thousand
men. But the English on shore were in no mood of exultation
when they heard the news.

For th'is was the year and the time of the Great Plague in
London. During the winter of 1664 it had been whispered
about, that some few people had died here and there of the
disease called the Plague, in some of the unwholesome suburbs
around London. News was not published at that time as it is
!iow, and some people believed these rumors, and some dis-
l^elieved them, and they were soon forgotten. But in the
month of May, 1665, it began to be said all over the town that
the disease had burst out with great violence in St. Giles's,
and that the people were dying in great numbers. This soon
turned out to be awfully true. The roads out of London were
choked up by people endeavoring to escape from the infected
city, and large sums were paid for any kind of conveyance.
The disease soon spread so fast, that it was necessary to shut
up the houses in which sick people were, and to cut them off
from communication with the living. Every one of these
houses was marked on the outside of the door with a red cross,
and the words, " Lord, have mercy upon us ! " The streets
were all deserted, grass grew in the public ways, and there
was a dreadful silence in the air. When night came on, dis-
mal rumblings used to be heard ; and these were the wheels of
the death-carts, attended by men with veiled faces and holding
cloths to their mouths, who rang doleful bells, and cried in a
loud and solemn voice, " Bring out your dead ! " The corpses
put into these carts were buried by torchlight in great pits ; no
service being performed over them ; all men being afraid to
stay for a moment on the brink of the ghastly graves. In the
general fear, children ran away from their parents, and parents


from their children. Some who were taken ill, died alone, and
without any help. Some were stabbed or strangled by hired
nurses, who robbed them of all their money, and stole the very
beds on which they lay. Some went mad, dropped from the
windows, ran through the streets, and in their pain and frenzy
flung themselves into the river.

These were not all the horrors of the time. The wicked
and dissolute, in wild desperation, sat in the taverns singing
roaring songs, and were stricken as they drank, and went out
and died. The fearful and superstitious persuaded themselves
that they saw supernatural sights, — burning swords in the sky,
gigantic arms and" darts. Others pretended that at nights vast
crowds of ghosts walked round and round the dismal pits. One
madman, naked, and carrying a brazier full of burning coals
upon his head, stalked through the streets, crying out that he
was a prophet, commissioned to denounce the vengeance of the
Lord on wicked London. Another always went to and fro,
exclaiming, " Yet forty days, and London shall be destroyed ! "
A third awoke the echoes in the dismal streets by night and by
day, and made the blood of the sick run cold, by calling out
incessantly, in a deep, hoarse voice. " O the great and dreadful
God ! "

Through the months of July and August and September,
the Great Plague raged more and more. Great fires were
lighted in the streets, in the hope of stopping the infection,
but there was a plague of rain, too, and it beat the fires out.
At last, the winds which usually arise at that time of the year
which is called the equinox, when day and night are of equal
length all over the world, began to blow, and to purify the
wretched town. The deaths began to decrease, the red crosses
slowly to disappear, the fugitives to return, the shops to open,
pale, frightened faces to be seen in the streets. The plague
had been in every part of England ; but in close and unwhole-
some London it had killed one hundred thousand people.

All this time the Merry Monarch was as merry as ever, and
as worthless as ever. All this time the debauched lords and
gentlemen and the shameless ladies danced and gamed and
drank, and loved and hated one another, according to their
merry ways. So little humanity did the government learn from
the late affliction, that one of the first things that Parliament
did when it met at Oxford (being as yet afraid to come to Lon-
don) was to make a law called the Five-Mile Act, expressly di-
rected against those poor ministers who, in the time of the
plague, had manfully come back to comfort the unhappy people,

This infairicus i^.^y, by fort)i(3(3!ng^ them fo teach in any schcn^
or to come within five miles of any city, town, or viliaoe"
doomed them to starvation and death,' ^"

The tieet had been at sea and healthy. Th^ Kin^^ of France
was now in alHance with the Dutch; though hi*' navy was
chiefly employed in looking on while the English and Dutch
fou-ht. The Dutch ,^amed c - v^— -.• aind the English
gaiiied another and a greater; arid Prince Rupert, one ot the
English adm'-dls, was out in the Channel one windy night,
looking for the French admiral, with the intention of giving him
something more to do than he had had yet, when the gale in-
creased to a storm, and blew him into Saint Helen's. That
night was the 3d of September, 1666 ; and that wind fanned the
Great Fire of London.

It broke out as a baker's shop near London Bridge on th*
spot on which the monument now stands as a remembrance of
those raging flames. It spread and spread, and burned and
burned for three days. The nights were lighter than the days |
in the daytime, there was an immense cloud of smoke ; and in
the night-time, there was a great tower of fire mounting up into
the sky, which lighted the whole country landscape for ten
miles round. Showers of Lot ashes rose into the air, and fell
on dist nt places ; flying sparks carried the conflagration to
great distances, and kindled it in twenty new spots at a time ;
church-steeples fell down with tremendous crashes ; houses
crumbled into coders by the hundred and the thousand. The
summer had been intensely hot and dry ; the streets were very
narrow, and the houses mostly built of wood and plaster. Noth-
ing could stop the tremendous fire but the want of more houses
to burn ; nor did it stop until the whole way from the Tower to
Temple Bar was a desert, composed of the ashes of thirteen
thousand houses and eighty-nine churches.

This was a terrible visitation at the time, and occasioned
great loss and suffering to the two hundred thousand burnt out
people, who were obliged to lie in the fields under the open
night sky, or in hastily made huts of mud and straw, while the
lanes and roads were rendered impassable by carts which had
broken down as they tried to save their goods. But the fire
was a great blessing to their city afterwards, for it arose from its
ruins very much improved, — built more regularly, more widely,
more cleanly, and carefully, and therefore much more healthily.
It might be far more healthy than it is, but there are some
people in it still, — even now at this time, nearly two hundred
years later, — so selfish, so pig-headed, and so ignorant, that I



doubt if even another great fire would warm them up to do their

The Catholics were accused of having wilfully set London
in flames ; one poor Frenchman, who had been mad for years,
even accused himself of having with his own hand tired the first
house. There is no reasonable doubt, however, that the fire
was accidental. An inscription on the monument long attri-
buted it to the Catholics ; but it is removed now, and was always
a malicious and stupid untruth.

Second Part.

That the Mrery Monarch might be very merry indeed, in
the merry times when his people were suffering under pestilence
and fire, he drank and gambled and flung away among his fa-
vorites the money which the Parliament had voted for the war.
The consequence of this was, that the stout-hearted English
sailors were merrily starving of want, and dying in the streets ;
while the Dutch, under their admirals, De Witt and De Ruyter,
came into the river Thames, and up the river Medway as far as
Upnor, burned the guard-ships, silenced the weak batteries,
and did what they would to the English coast for six whole
weeks. Most of the English ships that could have prevented
them had neither powder nor shot on board ; in this merry
reign, public officers made themselves as merry as the king did
with the public money ; and when it was intrusted to them to
spend in national defences or preparations, they put it into
their own pockets with the merriest grace in the world.

Lord Clarendon had, by this time, run as long a course as

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 35 of 38)