Page images

6 My humble motion therefore to your lordships is, that you will give leave to bring in a bill of indulgence to all protestant dissenters. I know very well, that every peer in this realm has a right to bring into parliament any bill he conceives to be useful to his nation ; but I thought it more respectful to your lordships to ask your leave before ; and I cannot thiok the doing it will be any prejudice to the bill, because I am confident the reason, the prudence, and the charitableness of it, will be able to justify it to this bouse, and to the whole world.” Accordingly the house gave his grace leave to bring in a bill to this purpose; but this and some others were lost by the warm debates which arose in the house upon the impeachment of the earl of Danby, and which occasioned the sudden prorogation of the parliament June 9, without having passed one public bill; after wbich his majesty, upon further discontent, prorogued them for fifteen months, which gave occasion to a ques. tion in the ensuing session, whether they were not legally dissolved.

From this time to the discovery of the popisb plot, parliaments were called and adjourned (says Mr. Coke) by order from France or French ministers and peosioners, to carry on the design of promoting the catholic cause in masquerade.* The king himself was a known pensioner of Lewis XIV. who had appropriated a fund of twenty millions of livres for the service of these kingdoms, out of which the duke of York, and the prime ministers and leaders of parties, received the wages of their commission, ac. cording as the French ambassador represented their merit. The pensioners made it their business to raise the cry of the church's danger, and of the return of forty-one. This was spread over the whole nation in a variety of pamphlets, and news papers, &c. written by their own hirelings ; and if they met with opposition from the friends of the country, the authors and printers were sure to be fined and imprisoned. A reward of fifty pounds was offered for the priuter of a pamphlet, supposed to be written by Andrew Marvel, entitled, An account of the growth of power, and a seasonable argument to all grand juries ; and one hundred pounds for the person who conveyed it to the press.

Detect, p. 500.

[ocr errors]

No man could publish any thing on the side of liberty and the protestant religion, but with the bazard of a prison, and a considerable fine ; nor is this to be wondered at, considering that Sir Roger L'Estrange was the sole licenser of the press.

This gentleman was a pensioner of the court, and a champion for the prerogative; be was a younger son of Sir Ham. mond L'Estrange of Norfolk, who, having conceived hopes of surprising the town of Lyou for bis majesty in the year 16+1, obtained a commission from the king for that purpose, but being apprehended and tried by a court-martial, for coming into the parliament's quarters as a spy, he was condemned and ordered to be executed in Smithfield, Jan. 2, 1744-5, but by the intercession of some powerful friends he was reprived, and kept in Newgate several years. His sufferivgs made such an impression on bis spirit, that on the king's restoration, he was resolved to make reprisals on the whole party. He was master of a fine English style, and of a great deal of keen wit, which he employed without any regard to truth or candor, in the service of popery and arbitrary power, and in vilifying the best and most ondoubted patriots. Never did man fight so, to force the dissenters into the church, (says Coke) and when he bad got them there, branded them for trimmers, and would turn them out again. He was a most mercepary writer, and had a pen at the service of those who would pay him best. Fortyone was his retreat against all who durst contend against him and the prerogative. Sir Roger observed no measures with liis adversaries in his Weekly Observators, Citt and Bumpkin, Foxes and Firebrands,* and other pamphlets ; and when the falseness of his reasoning, and insolence of his sarcasm, were exposed, like a second Don Quixot, he called aloud to the civil magistrate to come in to his aid.

* Dr. Grey says, that Sir Roger L'Estrange was not the author of this work; that the first part was written by Dr. Nalson, and the other parts, if be mistook not, by Mr. Ware, the son of Sir James Ware,

great antiquarian. The most valuable of Sir Roger L'Estrange's publications is reckoned to be his Translation of Josephus. His siile, which Mr. Neal commends, has been severely censured by other writers. Mr. Gordon says, that his productions are not fit to be read by any who have taste and good breeding: they are full of technical terms, of phrases picked up in the streets, from apprentices and porters, and

He represented the religion of the dissenters, as a medley of folly and enthusiasm ; their principles and tempers as turbulent, seditious, and utterly inconsistent with the peace of the state ; their pretences as frivolous, and often hypoCritical. He excited the government to use the utmost severities to extirpate them ont of the kingdom.* He furnished the clergy with pulpit, materials to rail at them, which they improved with equal eagerness and indiscretion; so that popery was forgot, and nothing so common in their mouths as forty-one. L'Estrange published some of the incautious expressions of some of the dissenters in the late times, which he picked out of their writings, to excite the populace against the whole party, as if it had not been easy to make reprisals from the ranting expressions of the tories of this reign : for these exploits he was maintained by the court, and knighted; and yet when the tide turned in the reign of King James II. he forgot his raillery against the principles of the non-conformists, and wrote as zealously for liberty of conscience, on the foot of the dispensing power, as any man in the kingdom.

But in answer to the invectives of this venal tribe, a pamphlet was published with the approbation of several ministers, entitled, the Principles and Practices of several Nonconformists, shewing that their religion is no other than what is professed in the church of England. The authors declarent that they heartily own the protestant reformation in doctrine, as contained in the articles of the church nothing can be more low and nauseous.” Mr. Granger observes, that L'Estrange was one of the great corrupters of our language, by exeluding vowels and uther letters commonly pronounced, and introducing “pert and affected phrases." He was licenser of the press to Charles and James II. and died 11th December, 1704. £t. 88. Queen Mary, we are told, made this apagram on his name :

“ Roger L'Estrange,

“ Lying Strange Roger.” British Biography, vol. vi. p. 317. Granger's History of England, vol. iv. p. 70. Ed.

* Burnet, vol. ii. p. 252. Rapin. + To discredit Mr. Corbet's piece, Dr.Grey refers to Anthony Wood's character of him, as a preacher of sedition, and a vilifier of the king and his party. But with such writers every sentiment, that does not breathe ihe spirit of passive obedience, is seditious. Besides, Mr. Corbet's vindication turned vu notorious facts. Ed. VOL. V.


[ocr errors]

of England that they are willing to embrace bishop Usher's model of church government, which King Charles 1. admitted they hold it unlawful, by the constitution and laws of this kingdom, for subjects to take arms against the king, his office, authority, or person, or those legally commissioned and anthorized by him ; nor will they endeavor any alteration in church or state by any other means than by prayer to God, and by petitioning their superiors

they acknowledge the king's supremacy over all persons, &c. within his dominions- they declare that their doctrine tends to do unquietness or confusion, any more than the doctrine of the church of England. And they think it not fair dealing in their adversaries, to repeat and aggravate all intemperate passages vented in the late times, when impetuous aetiugs hurried men into extremities; and they apprehend it would not tend to the advantage of the conforming clergy, if collections should be published of all their imprudences and weaknesses, as has been done on the other side they abhor seditious conventicles, and affirm, that insurrections were never contrived in their meetings, oor in any whereof they are conscious. Experience (say they) hath witnessed our peaceableness, and that disloyalty or sedition is not to be found among us, by the most inquisitive of our adversaries.- They desire the church of England to take notice, that they have no mind to promote popish designs; that they are aware of the advantage that papists make of the divisions of protestants—that the invectives thrown out against them, are made up only of big and swelling words, or of the indiscretions of a few with which they are not chargeable—they do not pretend to be courtiers or philosophers, but they teach their people to fear God and honor the king; to love the brotherhood, to bridle their tougues, to be meek and lowly, and do their own work with quietness.”*

. On the 15th of January, 1675-6, died Dorothy the wife of Richard Cromwell, in the 49th year of her age ; who, it is thought, never saw ber husband after he retired into France. She was the daughter of Richard Mayor, Esq. of Hursly in Hampshire, where she was married on the 1st of May 16-19. The character given of her is, “ that she was a prudent, godly, practical christian." So far, it is observed, this lady has been happy, that amongst the illiberal things that bave been level. led against the protectoral house of Cromwell, her character is almost the only one, that scandal has left untouched. Biographia Britan. 2d ed. vol. iv. p. 538.

Though the persecution continued very fierce, the nonconformists ventured to assemble in private, and severel pamphlets were published about this time (1676] in their defence; as, the Peaceable Design; or, an account of the Non-conformist meetings; by some London ministers: designed, says Dr. Stillingfleet, to be presented to parliament. Reasons which prevailed with the dissenters in Bristol to continue their meetings, however prosecuted or disturbed Separation ng Schism-A rebuke to informers ; with a plea for the Ministers of the Gospel called Non-conformists, and their meetings; with advice to those to whom the informers apply for assistance in their undertaking.

INFORMERS were now become the terror of the non-con formists, and the reproach of a civilized nation.* They went about in disguise, and, like wandering strollers, lived upon the plunder of industrious families. They are a select company (says the Conformists' Plea for the Nonconformists) whom the long-suffering of God permits for a time; they are of no good reputation ; they do not so much as know the names or persons in the country whom they molest, but go by report of their under-servants and accomplices. They come from two or three counties off, to set up this new trade; whether they are papists or pominal protestants, who can tell? They never go to their parish churches, nor any other, but lie in wait and ambusha for their prey; their estate is invisible, their country unknown to many, and their morals are as bad as the very dregs of the age: these are the men who direct and rule many of the magistrates ; who live upon the spoil of better christians and subjects than themselves, and go away with honest men's goods honestly gotten.t-They are generally poor, (says another writer) as are many of the justices, so that they shared the booty belonging to the king as well as the poor among themselves; by wlrich means the king and the poor got but little.f Their practice was to insinuate themselves into an ac

* Conform. Plea, part iii. p. 8, 9, 10. Sewel, p. 493. | Dr. Grey is angry with Mr. Neal for not quoting the remainder of the paragraph from Sewel : in which that writer owns that some honest justices discouraged the practices of the informers, and availed themselves of any defect or failure in their evidence, to clear those against whom they informed. Ed.

« PreviousContinue »