Images de page


No. 23.

Her eyes swollen with flowing streams aflote,

Wherewith her lookes throwen up full piteous lie,
Her forceless hands together ofte she smote,

With doleful strikes, that echoed in the skye:
Whose playnt such sighs dyd strayt accompany,
That in my doom was never man did see
A wight but halfe so wo begone as she.


THE severity of manners with which the Puritans regulated their lives, and the peculiar frown with which they looked upon theatres, interludes, dances, fairs, and other popular amusements, have been considered by some as great blemishes in their characters, as proofs of the want of wisdom in establishing a commonwealth, or want of tenderness for the frailties of youth and the general follies of mankind. It 'has been said that man, especially in the earlier stages of life, needs amusement; that recreation prepares the mind for labor; and that as the stream,

which leaps over the precipice, and sparkles as it falls, only flows purer in the level bed below, for its aerial sport, so the mind, brought up in a free system of manners, is more open, more generous, returns from every relaxation with new vigor to virtue, and is better prepared to fulfil the duties, which, in their appropriate season, it owes either to man or to God.

But, it seems to me, that such objectors have hardly penetrated into the deep design which our fathers had in view. They were anxious to revive and restore the spirit of ancient freedom, purified from its corruptible body-licentiousness; and animated by its supporting soul-religion. This great conception, though not in all its consistent consequences, seems to have entered into some of the wisest heads, which adorned the age of Elizabeth. Now everybody knows that when we once set these waters a flowing, they are apt to flow too fast. Government is either a settled despotism; a stagnant pool, infecting the air, and propagating pestilence and death; or the people become a foaming torrent, broken from all restraint and involving all the fences of security and order in ruins. Then where is the medium? How shall you break up the surface of the putrid sea, and set the waves rolling, and yet say to them, with an almost supernatural energy, hitherto shall ye come and no further? It must be done by combining, with the most unshackled theories of liberty, the severest system of manners. As you take off the grosser chains from the political

constitution, you must bind others of a more refined construction around the heart.

All republicans have been serious; courtiers are proverbially light and gay. Cato was a Stoic, and Cæsar an Epicurean; and both of them in perfect consistency with their political objects. When Shakspeare, in conformity to the authority of Plutarch, makes Cæsar say, as he passes by Cassius,

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights;
Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

And a little further on

He loves no plays,
As thou doest, Antony; he hears no music;
Seldom he smiles; and smiles in such a sort
As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit
That could be moved to smile at any thing.

He speaks the very voice of nature. All tyrants have felt so. Cyrus, when he sent his bawds and panders to corrupt the Lydians; king James, when he published his book of Sabbath sports; Louis XIV., when he surrounded himself with the polished corruptions of the French court-a system of manners which have rendered Paris incapable of freedom to this day; Charles II., when he filled London with revelry and lust ;-all had an instinctive

perception of the interests of power, reigning through oppression. They wished to have no Puritans; no thinkers; no lean and hungry looks; no popular virtues, which might build up liberty on the ruin of their thrones. On the other hand, let liberty be established on the most plausible theories, and secured by the most satisfactory parchments; multiply your checks, your vetos, your censors, your tribunes, your juries, your elections, to any extent that contemplative wisdom may delight in; nevertheless, let an enervating system of manners come in, and liberty is no more; the tree withers, the blossoms are blighted, and sooner or later, its most precious and promising fruit falls unripened to the ground. If there is any truth that all history enforces, it is this.

Perhaps it may be thought that this is refining and imputing to the bigoted rage of the sixteenth century, a prospective wisdom, which is solely the result of the experience of consequences in cooler minds since. It is very true, that some speculative minds are apt to refine, when reviewing the transactions of some superstitious ages; and I have no doubt a vast amount of policy has been imputed to the popes, of which, could we have looked into their minds, we should have found no traces. Still I think the plastic notion, the embryo conception of a constitutional and consistent liberty, had sprung up in the minds of the Puritans. It is very true that men always climb up from the specific to the general; we

tasted honey or sugar before we formed the wide notion of sweetness; the Puritans opposed the rigid requisitions of Parker or Whitgift, before they formed the full idea of the evils of ecclesiastical oppression. But the light was dawning; and more and more consistently do we see the most extensive principles settling on their minds.

There was another thing which made our fathers more and more averse to dissipation of manners or aught that approached it. They were most of them men of moderate fortunes; dwelling in that region of life where profusion is destruction; where industry and economy are not merely appendages to other virtues, but the very soul and secret of success. To such men, and still more to their children, balls and theatres are the very vortices of temporal destruction. To all this we must add, they came to this rough country, bound down by oppression, chased from their homes, to subdue a wilderness; to gather by patient toil a scanty fare; to look into the gloom of a vast forest; to hear the wolf howl on the land, and the long and lazy wave break on the shore; exiled, deserted, solitary, defenceless, surrounded by enemies, and holding their dearest privileges by a precarious tenure; and is it to be imputed to such men that they were too serious?

But more than all, they were Christians; and a man's amusements must be always regulated by his taste, and his taste by the ideal world in which he

« PrécédentContinuer »