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POISON OF THE RESTORATION ERA,

219

FIFTH ERA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE, .

FROM THE DEATH OF MILTON IN 1674 A.D. TO THE FIRST

PUBLICATION OF THE TATLER IN 1709 A.D.

CHAPTER I.

THE COURT OF CHARLES II.

Poison.
French influence.
Shamelessness.
A sad picture.

Spread of vice.
The theatres.
The poison too strong,
What Burke said.

It is not our purpose to present a minute picture of the courtlife, rotten to the very core, which blighted English morals and English literature during the reign of the second Charles. But, to preserve the completeness of our plan, this painful and repulsive subject must be touched upon; for there are many of our English writers whose spirit cannot be fully understood unless we know at least a little of the moral air they breathed, and the fountains from which they drank their inspiration. Mephitic air and poisoned streams they truly were from which the courtly authors of the Restoration Era drew the sustenance and productive power of their minds. The little band of Puritan authors, folded in the mantle of righteousness, stood apart,-untainted and serene.

These Puritans, when in the ascendant, had with an iron hand crushed down many amusements, the desire of which is a natural appetite of man, and had thus created a hunger and a longing for the forbidden things, which became an unappeasable frenzy when the Restoration brought a change. The nation then plunged madly into

220

AN EVENING SCENE AT WHITEHALL.

the opposite extreme. And when we remember that from France, with the restored King, there came a troop of new fashions and amusements, which were but the old vices of human nature tricked out in modern attire, we shall see what kind of food the royal Court provided for the famished people.

An utter absence of shame marked the mode of life in this most wicked age. It was not that gambling as high, drinking as deep, adulteries as vile, had not been in other reigns. What stamps the reign of Charles II. with a deeper brand of infamy is the fact, that there was no attempt to throw even the thinnest veil over the evil that was rampant everywhere. The blush of innocence seemed almost forgotten in the courtcircles of England. Men and women were alike immoral—nay, depraved.

On Sunday the first of February, 1685—the night before Charles was seized with his mortal illness—the great gallery of Whitehall presented a scene of “ inexpressible luxury and profaneness, gaming and all dissoluteness," which may be taken as a specimen of what had been witnessed there a thousand times before during his disgraceful reign. The king sat talking with three of his mistresses. A French page, on whom the royal hand delighted to shower presents of ponies, guineas, and fine clothes, sang love-songs to the group. At a large table close by, where two thousand yellow guineas were heaped into a great bank, sat twenty of the profligate courtiers playing basset, then the fashionable

game at cards. This went on, as it had been going on for five and twenty years, in the full gaze of all who chose to come and see. Little wonder that the poison should spread right and left, sinking down to the lowest classes of the people; and still less wonder that such shameless, undisguised licentiousness, should be faithfully reflected in the plays and the books, which were written in the hope of extracting smiles and gold from the beautiful profligates and high-born gamesters who surrounded the sullied throne.

Whitehall, as was natural, gave the tone to all English society; and books are but the reflection of what society thinks and does.

A VICIOUS LITERATURE.

221

So the vices of Whitehall were mirrored in many of the chief writings of the time. All the Comedies, and much of the Poetry, written from the Restoration to the close of the century, and later too, are disgustingly vicious. It took many a long year to root out the poisonous weeds that, sown in this age, spread their tangling fibres through the best soils of English poetry. Even yet the English stage has hardly been cleansed from the pollutions heaped upon it by the play-wrights, who manufactured highly-flavoured vice for the delectation of the wicked men and women that hung by the skirts of the worst of our Stuart kings.

When the theatres were re-opened at the Restoration, a new splendour was thrown around their performances. The female characters began to be personated by women.

Rich dresses, beautifully painted scenes, and fine decorations, added to the attractions of the drama a dazzling effect, unknown in earlier times. Crowds flocked nightly to the play: and how were they entertained? Almost all duties to God and to man were held up to public mockery. Virtue in every form, especially truth and modesty, came in for the largest share of the comedian's jeering; the strongest sympathies of the audience were stirred, and their loudest applause drawn forth, by the triumph of the profligate, and the ridicule cast upon the victims of his

success.

The plays of Dryden are nearly all tainted with the poisons that floated thick in the social atmosphere of the time; but those of Wycherley are, perhaps, the most diseased specimens of our dramatic literature that have lived to the present day. The satires, songs, and novels of the period also bear the brand and - scars of vice, and flaunt them openly in the eyes of all. The writers of such things penned them without compunction; and there were few who thought it shame to read of vicious deeds, which sun and moon saw done by night and day without a blush or a pang of conscience. Yet there are things more dangerous than this brazen effrontery, this shameless show of iniquity. Men grow disgusted and surfeited with the grossness of paraded

222

DANGER OF WELL-DRESSED VICE.

sin. Edmund Burke was a great and wise man; but he said a very foolish and pernicious thing, when, at the close of his indignant outburst in memory of the fallen Queen of France, he told the world that “vice itself loses half its evil by losing all its grossness.” Never was a greater falsehood spoken. The vice which is draped in the garb of virtue, or has the varnish of an outward refinement laid over its leprosy, is tenfold more infectious and destructive than the shameless wickedness which wears no veil to hide its loathsome front

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AFTER the Restoration of King Charles II. had thrown the Puritans into the shade, a man of almost fifty years, who had seen the bloody drama of the Revolution played out, and had been thrown by the changes of those troubled years into close contact with both Cavaliers and Roundheads, wrote a poem which cast even deeper ridicule upon the men of the steeple-hat and the sad-coloured dress than all the studied mockeries of a plumed and ringleted court could do. The man was Samuel Butler; the poem was Hudibras. What Shakspere is among English dramatists, Milton among English epic poets, Bunyan among English allegorists, Butler is among the writers of English burlesque-prince and paramount.

He sprang from a lowly stock. His father farmed a few acres in the parish of Strensham in Worcestershire; and there the poet came to life in 1612. His schooling he got in Worcester; but the want of money prevented him from enjoying the benefit of a college education, although he is thought to have resided for some time at Cambridge, hovering round the halls of learning without being able to find an entrance there.

His abilities, however, gained him a few friends. some time at Earl's Coomb in his native shire, acting as clerk to Justice Jeffreys; and his leisure hours, while he held this humble post, were devoted, not alone to study, but also to the refining enjoyments of music and painting. Not long ago some sorry daubs, patching the broken windows of a house at Earl's Coomb,

He spent

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