Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome online

. (page 96 of 150)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome → online text (page 96 of 150)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


came. Down went the old Church of France, with all its pomp and wealth.
Some of its priests purchased a maintenance by separating themselves from
Rome and by becoming the authors of a fresh schism. Some, rejoicing in the
new license, flung away their sacred vestments, proclaimed that their whole life
had been an imposture, insulted and persecuted the religion of which they had
been ministers, and distinguished themselves, even in the Jacobin Club and the
Commune of Paris, by the excess of their impudence and ferocity. Others,
more faithful to their principles, were butchered by scores without a trial,
drowned, shot, hung on lamp-posts. Thousands fled from their country to
take sanctuary under the shade of hostile altars. The churches were closed ;
the bells were silent ; the shrines were plundered ; the silver crucifixes were
melted down. Buffoons, dressed in copes and surplices, came dancing the
carniapwle even to the bar of the Convention. The bust of Marat was substi- i
tuted for the statues of the martyrs of Christianity. A prostitute, seated in'\
state in the chancel of Notre Dame, recei%'ed the adoration of thousands, who
exclaimed that at length, for the first time, those ancient Gothic arches hail I
resounded with the accents of truth. The new unbelief was as intolerant as!
the old superstition. To show reverence for religion was to incur the suspicion
of disaffection. It was not without imminent danger that the priest baptised
the infant, joined the hands of lovers, or listened to the confession of the dying.
The absurd worship of the Goddess of Reason was, indeed, of short duration ;
but the deism of Robespierre and Lepau.x was not less hostile to the Catholic
faith than the atheism of Clootz and Chaumette.

Nor were the calamities of the Church confined to France. The revolutionary
spirit, attacked by all Europe, beat all Europe back, became conqueror in its



592 KANA'E'S HISTORY OF THE POPES.



turn ; and, not satisfied with the Belgian cities and the rich domains of the
spiritual electors, went raging over the Rhine and through the passes of the
Alps. Throughout the whole of the great war against I'rolestanism, Italy and
Spain had been the base of the Catholic operations. Spain was now the
obsecjuious vassal of the infidels. Italy was subjugated by them. To her
ancient principalities succeeded the Cisalpine repuljlic, and the Ligurian repub-
lic, and the Parthenopcan republic. The shrine of Loretto was stripped of the
treasures piled up by the devotion of six huntlred years. The convents of
Rome were pillaged. The tricoloured flag floated on the top of the Castle of
St. Angelo. The successor of St. Peter was carried away captive by the un-
believers. He died a prisoner in their hands; and even the honours of sepul-
ture were long withheld from his remains.

It is not strange that, in the year 1799, even sagacious observers should have
thought that, at length, the hour of the Church of Rome was come. An infidel
power ascendant, the Pope dying in captivity, the most illustrious prelates of
I'Vance living in a foreign country on Protestant alms, the noblest edifices,
Mhich the munificence of former ages had consecrated to the worship of God,
turned into temples of \'ictory, or into banciueting-houses for political societies,
or into Theophilanthropic chapels — such signs might well be supposed to indi-
cate the approaching end of that long domination.

But the end was not yet. Again doomed to death, the milk-white hind was
still fated not to die. Even before the funeral rites had been performed over
the ashes of Pius the Sixth, a great reaction had commenced, which, after the
lapse of more than forty years, appears to be still in progress. Anarchy had
had its day. A new order of things rose out of the confusion, new dynasties,
new {aws, new titles ; and amidst them emerged the ancient religion. The
Arabs have a fable that the Great Pyramid was built by antediluvian kings,
and alone, of all the works of men, bore the weight of the flood. .Such as this
was the fate of the Papacy. It had been buried under the great inundation ;
but its deep foundations had remained unshaken ; and, when the waters abated,
it appeared alone amidst the ruins of a world which had passed away. The
republic of Holland was gone, and the empire of Germany, and the great
Council of Venice, and the old Helvetian League, and the House of Bourbon,
and the parliaments and aristocracy of France. Europe was full of young
creations, a French empire, a kingdom of Italy, a Confederation of the Rhine.
Nor had the late events affected only territorial limits and political institutions.
The distribution of property, the composition and spirit of society, had, through
great part of Catholic Europe, undergone a complete change ? But the un-
changeable Church was still there.

Some future historian, as able and temperate as Professor Ranke, will, we
hope, trace the progress of the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century. We
feel that we are drawing too near our own time, and that, if we go on, we shall
be in danger of saying much which may be supposed to indicate, and which
will certainly excite, angry feelings. We vAW, therefore, make only one more
observation, which, in our opinion, is deserving of serious attention.

During the eighteenth century, the influence of the Church of Rome was con-
stantly on the decline. Unbelief made extensive conquests in all the Catholic
countries of Europe, and in some countries obtained a complete ascendency.
The Papacy was at length brought so low as to be an object of derision to
infidels and of pity, rather than of hatred, to Protestants. During the nineteenth
century, this fallen Church has been gradually rising from her depressed state
and reconquering her old dominion. No person who calmly reflects on what,
within the last few years, has passed in Spain, in Italy, in South America, in
Ireland, in the Netherlands, in Prussia, even in France, can doubt that h§r



COMIC DRAMATISTS OF THE RESTORATION. 593

pover over the hearts and minds of men is now greater far than it was when
the "Encyclopaedia" and the "Philosophical Dictionary" appeared. It is
surely remarkable that neither the moral revolution of the eighteenth century,
nor the moral counter-revolution of the nineteenth, should, in any perceptible
degree, have added to the domain of Protestanisni. During the former period,
whatever was lost to Catholicism was lost also to Christianity ; during the latter,
whatever was regained by Christianity in Catholic countries was regained also
by Catholicism. We should naturally have expected that many minds, on the
way from superstition to infidelity, or on the way back from infidelity to super-
stition, would have stopped at an intermediate point. Between the doctrines
taught in the schools of the Jesuits and those which were maintained at the
little supper parties of the Baron Ilolbach, there is a vast interval, in which
the human mind, it should seem, might find for itself some resting-place more
satisfactory than either of the two extremes. And at the time of the Reforma-
tion millions found such a resting-j)lace. AVhole nations then renounced
Popery without ceasing to believe in a first cause, in a future life, or in the
Divine authority of Christianity. In the last century, on the other hand, when
a Catholic renounced his belief in the real presence, it was a thousand to one
that he renounced his belief in the Gospel too; and, when the reaction took
place, with belief in the Gospel came back belief in the real presence.

We by no means venture to deduce from these phenomena any general law ;
but we think it a most remarkable fact that no Christian nation, which did not
adopt the principles of the Reformation before the end of the sixteenth
century, should ever have adopted them. Catholic conununities have, since
that time, become infidel and become Catholic again ; but none has become
Protestant.

Here we close this hasty sketch of one of the most important portions of the
history of mankind. Our readers will have great reason to feel obliged to us
if we have interested them sufficiently to induce them to peruse Professor
Ranke's book. We will only caution them against the French translation — a
performance which, in our opinion, is just as discreditable to the moral character
of the person from whom it proceeds as a false affidavit or a forged bill of
exchange would have Ijeen ; and advise them to study either the original or
the English version, in which the sense and spirit of the original are admirably
preserved.



LEIGH HUNT. (January, 1841.)

The Dramatic Worki of Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh and Farquhar, with Bio
graphical and Critical Notices. By Leigh Hunt. 8vo. London, 1840.

We have a kindness for Mr. Leigh Hunt. We form our judgment of him,
indeed, only from events of universal notoriety, from his own works and from
the works of other writers, who have generally abused him in the most rancorous
manner. But, unless we are greatly mistaken, he is a very clever, a very
honest and a very good-natured man. We can clearly discern, together with
many merits, maiiy serious faults lx)th in his writings and in his conduct. JBut
we really think that there is hardly a man living whose merits have been so
grudgingly allowed and whose faults have been so cruelly expiated.

In some resjjects, Mr. Leigh Hunt is excellently qualified for the task which
he has now undertaken. His style, in spite of its mannerism — nay, partly by
reason of its mannerism — is well suited for light, garrulous, desultory ana, half
critical, half biographical. We do not always agree with his literary judg-



594 COMIC DRAMATISTS OF THE RESTORATION.

nienls ; but we find in him what is very rare in our time, the power of jnstly
appreciating and heartily enjoying good things of very different kinds. He
can adore Shakspeare and Spenser without denying poetical genius to the author
of " Alexander's Feast," or fine observation, rich fancy and exquisite humour
to him who imagined "Will Honeycomb" and "Sir Roger de Coverley."
He has ])aid particular attention to the history of the English drama from the
age of Eli/.alielh down to our own time, and has every right to be heard with
respect on that suliject.

The plays to which he now acts as introducer are, with few exceptions, such
as, in the opinion of many very respectable people, ought not to l>e reprinted.
In this opinion we con by no means concur. We cannot wish that any work
or class of works which has exercised a great influence on the human mind, and
which illustrates the character of an important epoch in letters, politics and
morals, should disappear from the world. If we err in this matter, we err
with the gravest men and bodies of men in the empire, and especially with the
Church of England and with the great schools of k-arning which are connected
with her. The whole liberal education of our countrymen isconducted on the prin-
ciple that no book which is valuable, either by reason of the excellence of its
style or by reason of the light which it throws on the history, polity and manners
of nations, should be withheld from the student on account of its impurity.
The Athenian Comedies, in which there are scarcely a hundred lines together
without some passage of which Rochester would have lieen ashamed, have been
reprinted at the Pitt Press and the Clarendon Press under the direction of
Syndics and delegates appointed by the Universities, and have been illustrated
with notes by reverend, verj' reverend and right reverend commentators. Every
'year the most distinguished young men in the kingdom are examined by bishops
and professors of divinity on the " Lysistrata " of Aristophanes and the Sixth
Satire of Juvenal. There is certainly something a little ludicrous in the idea
of a conclave of venerable fathers of the Church rewarding a lad for his intimate
acquaintance with writings compared with which the loosest tale in Prior
is modest. But, for our own part, we have no doubt that the greatest
societies which direct the education of the English gentry have herein judged
wisely. It is unquestionable that an extensive acquaintance with ancient
literature enlarges and enriches the mind. It is unquestionable that a man,
whose mind has been thus enlarged and enriched, is likely to be far more use-
ful to the state and to the Church than one who is unskilled, or little skilled,
in classical learning. On the other hand, we find it difficult to believe that,
in a world so full of temptation as this, any gentleman, whose life would have
been virtuous if he had not read Aristophanes and Juvenal, will be made vicious
by reading them. A man who, exposed to all the influences of such a state of
society as that in which we live, is yet afraid of exposing himself to the in-
fluences of a few (heek or Latin verses, acts, we think, much like the felon
who begged the sheriffs to let him have an umbrella held over his head from
the door of Newgate to the gallows because it was a drizzling morning and he
was apt to take cold. The virtue which the world wants is a healthful virtue,
not a valetudinarian virtue — a virtue which can expose itself to the risks in-
separable from all spirited exertion — not a virtue which keeps out of the common
air for fear of infection and eschews the common food as too stimulating. It
would be indeed absurd to attempt to keep men from acquiring those qualifica-
tions which fit them to play their part in Hfe with honour to themselves and
advantage to their country', for the sake of preserving a delicacy which cannot
be preserved — a delicacy which a walk from Westminster to the Temple is
sufficient to destroy.

But we should be justly chargeable with gross inconsistency if, while we



COMIC DRAMATISTS OF THE RESTORATION. 595

defend the policy which invites the youth of our country to study such writers
as Theocritus and Catulkis, we were to set up a cry against a new edition of
the " Country Wife " or the "Way of the World." The immoral English
writers of the seventeenth century are indeed much less excusable than those
of Greece and Rome. But the worst English writings of the seventeenth
century are decent compared with much that has been bequeathed to
us by Greece and Rome. Plato, we have little doubt, was a much better
man than Sir George Etherege. But Plato has written things at which Sir
George Etherege would have shuddered. Buckhurst and Sedley, even in
those wild orgies at the Cock in Bow-street, for which they were pelted by the
rabble and fined by the Court of King's Bench, would never have dared to
hold such discourse as passed between Socrates and Phasdrus on that fine
summer day under the plane-tree, while the fountain warbled at their feet and
the cicadas chirped overhead. If it be, as we think it is, desirable that an
English gentleman should be well informed touching the government and the
manners of little commonwealths which, both in place and time, are far removed
from us — whose independence has been more than two thousand years ex-
tinguished — whose language has not been spoken for ages — and whose ancient
magnificence is attested only by a few l^roken columns and friezes — -much more
must it be desirable that he should be intimately ac(}uainled with the history of
the public mind of his own country, and with the causes, the nature and the
extent of those revolutions of opinion and feeling which, during the last two
centuries, have alternately raised and depressed the standard of our national
morality. And knowledge of this sort is to be very sparingly gleaned from
Parliamentary debates, from state papers and from the works of grave
historians. It must either not be acquired at all, or it must be acquired by the
perusal of the light literature which has at various periods been fashionable.
We are therefore by no means disposed to condemn this publication, though
we certainly cannot recommend the handsome volume* before us as an appro-
priate Christmas present for young ladies.

We have said that we think the present publication perfectly justifiable. But
we can by no means agree with Mr. Leigh Hunt, who seems to hold that there
is little or no ground for the charge of immorality so often brought against the
literature of the Restoration. We do not blame him for not bringing to the
judgment-seat the merciless rigour of Lord Angelo : but we really think that
such flagitious and impudent offenders, as those who are now at the bar,
deserved at least the gentle rebuke of Escalus. Mr. Leigh Hunt treats the
whole matter a little too much in the easy style of Lucio ; and perhaps his
exceeding lenity disposes us to be somewhat too severe.

And yet it is not easy to be too severe. For in truth this part of our
literature is a disgrace to our language and our national character. It is clever,
indeed, and verj' entertaining ; but it is, in the most emphatic sense of the
words, "earthly, sensual, devilish." Its indecency, though perpetually such
as is condemned, not less by the rules of good taste than by those of morality,
is not, in our opinion, so disgraceful a fault as its singularly inhuman spirit.
We have here Belial, not as when he inspired Ovid and Ariosto, " graceful and
humane," but with the iron eye and cruel sneer of Mephistophiles. We find
ourselves in a world in which the ladies are like very profligate, impudent
and unfeeling men, and in which the men are too bad for any place but

* Mr. Moxon, its publisher, is well entitled to commendation and support for having —
by a series of corresponding Reprints (coinprising the works of the elder Dramatists),
executed in a compendious but very comely form, and accompanied with useful prole-
gomena—put it in the power of anyone desirous of such an acquisition, to procure, at a
comparatively small cost, the noblest Dramatic Library in the world.



596 COMIC DRAMATISTS OF THE RESTORATION.

Pandremonium or Norfolk Island. We are surrounded by foreheads of bronze,
hearlslike the nether millstone and tongues set on fire of hell.

Dryden defended or excused his own pffences and those of his con-
temporaries by pleading the example of the earlier English dramatists ; and
Mr. Leigh Hunt seems to think that there is force in the plea. We altc^ether
differ from this opinion. The crime charged is not mere coarseness of expres-
sion. The terms which are delicate in one age become gross in the next.
The diction of the English version of the Pentateuch is sometimes such as
Addison would not have ventured to imitate ; and Addison, the standard of
moral purity in his own age, used many phrases which are now proscribed.
Whether a thing shall be designated by a plain noun-substantive or by a cir-
cumlocution is mere matter of fashion. Morality is not at all interested in the
question. But morality is deeply interested in this — that what is immoral
shall not be presented to the imagination of the young and susceptible in con-
stant connection with what is attractive. For every person who has observed
the operation of the law of association in his own mind and in the minds of
others, knows that whatever is constantly presented to the imagination in con-
nection with what is attractive will commonly itself become attractive. There
is undoubtedly a great deal of indelicate writing in Fletcher and Massinger,
and more than might be wished even in Ben Jonson and Shakspeare, who are
comparatively pure. But it is impossible to trace in their plays any systematic
attempt to associate vice with those things which men value most and desire
most and virtue with everything ridiculous and degrading. And such a
systematic attempt we find in the whole dramatic literature of the generation
which followed the return of Charles the Second. We will take, as an instance
of what we mean, a single subject of the highest importance to the happiness
of mankind— conjugal fidelity. We can at present hardly call to mind a single
English play, written before the civil war, in which the character of a seducer
of married women is represented in a favourable light. We remember many
plays in which such persons are baffled, exposed, covered with derision and
insulted by triumphant husbands. Such is the fate of Falstaff, with all his wit
and knowledge of the world. Such is the fate of Brisac in Fletcher's " Elder
Brother," and of Ricardo and Ubaldo in Massinger's " Picture." Sometimes,
as in the "Fatal Dowry" and "Love's Cruelty," the outraged honour of
families is repaired by a bloody revenge. If now and then the lover is repre-
sented as an accomplished man and the husband as a person of weak or odious
character, this only makes the triumph of female virtue the more signal, as in
Jonson's Celia and Mrs. Fitzdottrel, and in Fletcher's Maria. In
general, we will venture to say, that the dramatists of the age of Elizabeth
and James the First either treat the breach of the marriage-vow as a serious
crime, or, if they treat it as matter for laughter, turn the laugh agaiiist the
gallant.

On the contrary, during the forty years which followed the Restoration, the
whole body of the dramatists invariably represent adultery — we do not say as
a peccadillo — we do not say as an error which the violence of passion may
excuse — but as the calling of a fine gentleman — as a grace without which his
character would be imperfect. It is as essential to his breeding and to his
place in society that he should make love to the wives of his neighbours, as
that he should know French, or that he should have a sword at his side. In
all this, there is no passion and scarcely anything that can be called preference.
The hero intrigues just as he wears a wig ; because, if he did not, he would be
a queer fellow, a city prig, perhaps a Puritan. All the agreeable qualities are
always given to the gallant. All the contempt and aversion are the portion of
the unfortunate husband. Take Dryden for example ; and compare WoodaU



CdAfIC DRAMATISTS OF THE RESTORATION. 597

with Brainsick, or Lorenzo with Gomez. Take Wycherley ; and compare
Horner with Pinchwife. Take Vanbrugh ; and compare Constant with Sir
John Brute. Take Farquhar ; and compare Archer with Squire Sullen. Take
Congreve ; and compare Bellmore with Fondlewife, Careless with .Sir Paul
Plyant, or .Scandal with Foresight. In all these cases, and in many more which
might be named, the dramatist evidently does his best to make the person
who commits the injury graceful, sensible and spirited, and the person who
suffers it a fool, or a tyaant, or both.

Mr. Charles Lamb, indeed, attempted to set up a defence for this way of
writing. The dramatists of the latter part of the seventeenth centurj' are not,
according to him, to be tried by the standard of morality which exists, and
ought to exist, in real life. Their world is a conventional world. Their heroes
and heroines belong, not to England, not to Christendom, but to an Utopia of
gallantry, to a Fairyland where the Bible and Burn's Justice are unknown —
where a prank, which on this earth would be rewarded with the pillorj', is
merely matter for a peal of elvish laughter. A real Horner, a real Careless,
would, it is admitted, be exceedingly bad men. But to predicate morality or
immorality of the Horner of \\'ycherley and the Careless of Congreve, is as
absurd as it would be to arraign a sleeper for his dreams. " They belong to
the regions of pure comedy, where no cold moral reigns. When we are
amongst them, we are amongst a chaotic people. We are not to judge them
by our usages. No reverend institutions are insulted by their proceedings, for
they have none among them. No peace of families is violated, for no family
ties exist amongst them. There is neither right nor wrong — gratitude or its
opposite — claim or duty, paternity orsonship. "

This is, we believe, a fair summary of Mr. Lamb's doctrine. We are sure
that we do not wish to represent him unfairly. For we admire his genius ; we
love the kind nature which appears in all his writing ; and we cherish his
memory as much as if we had known him personally. But we must plainly
say that his argument, though ingenious, is altogether sopliistical.

Of course we perfectly understand that it is possible for a writer to create
a conventional world in which things forbidden by the Decalogue and the
Statute Book shall be lawful, and yet that the exhibition may be harmless, or
even edifying. P'or example, we suppose that the most austere critics would
not accuse Fenelon of impiety and immorality on account of his "Telemachus "
and his " Dialogues of the Dead." In " Telemachus "and the " Dialogues of the



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome → online text (page 96 of 150)