Imágenes de páginas


A NEW BOOK on a well-worn subject requires some explanation, and it is easier for an outsider to make it than for the author himself to undertake the task. The ecclesiastical history of the reign of Charles II has been dealt with at length by many writers, and yet, in spite of their labours, there are still many points in it which demand further elucidation, and there is much evidence bearing upon the subject which those writers did not utilise. Some of that evidence is new, that is, it has been printed during the last twenty or thirty years only, or still remains in manuscript. But there is also much contemporary printed evidence which either has not been employed hitherto or has been but slightly and imperfectly examined.

One of the merits of Mr. Bate's book consists in the attempt he makes to combine the new evidence which has recently come to light with the older evidence which has been but partially studied.

The bare facts of a period by themselves are often unintelligible or ambiguous. An historian who wishes to make the course of events plain to his readers must not confine himself merely to the task of narrating what happened. He must also explain to them why things happened. In order to understand the facts, it is necessary to realise the conditions which make the facts possible, the feelings and ideas which produced the actions related. Nothing shows the temper of a generation better than its light literature. Reading the ballads and 1 pamphlets quoted by Mr. Bate, we realise how great the unpopularity of the Nonconformists was at the moment when Charles II recovered his crown (see pp. 25, 35, 42). The tide ran so strongly against Presbyterianism, Independency, and Puritanism in general, that arguments for toleration or comprehension, whether they were based on religious or political considerations, fell upon deaf ears, and those who advocated the policy of enforcing conformity at all costs felt themselves supported by public opinion when they urged extreme measures. Mr. Bate has done well in seeking to trace and to illustrate the growth of public opinion by using a kind of evidence which ecclesiastical historians as a rule either overlook or disdain.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

At the same time, as his pages show, he has made good use both of the printed and unprinted correspondence of representative Churchmen and leading Nonconformists. Archbishop Sheldon's letters in the Bodleian, those of other bishops preserved amongst the Tanner MSS. in the same library, the correspondence of Richard Baxter in the Williams Library, the collections of Kennet and similar sources in the British Museum, have all been laid under contribution. The Reports of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, which continually supplement the Calendars of Domestic State Papers, have also yielded much new material. To extract and put in order the scattered items of information which such published or unpublished manuscript collections contain, and to utilise it in the shape of monographs on particular portions of English history, is one of the tasks which the younger generation of English historians should undertake. Without such preliminary studies the task of the general historian is impossible, because he has no sure foundation to build upon. Monographs such as the present are therefore of the greatest value to historians, while at the same time they are the best training for historical students.

Another source which needs to be utilised for general historical purposes is the collections of documents published by the many historical societies founded for the study of the local history of towns, districts, or counties. For social and economic history these provide a mass of evidence of the most valuable character, but at the same time of so miscellaneous a nature that the task of sifting and arranging the facts they contain requires the labour of many hands. Here again the author of a monograph can usefully co-operate with the general historian, and can give him indispensable assistance.

Mr. Bate has been well advised in making a special study of the publications of the Chetham Society, and other materials for Lancashire history, and in using them to illustrate the practical working of the legislation directed against the Nonconformists. At the same time he has collected a certain number of unpublished documents relating to Nonconformity in Lancashire, and printed them for the benefit of local historians.

There are two tasks which students of the history of Nonconformity during the reign of Charles II should undertake. One is a revised edition of Calamy's Nonconformists' Memorial, testing the statements of the original by the new evidence which has come to light since the publication of Palmer's edition in 1803, and fixing the number of the ministers ejected at the Restoration and by the Act of Uniformity in 1662, paying special attention to the date at

[blocks in formation]

which the ejection of each took place, and the reasons to which it was due. In Appendix II, Mr. Bate discusses the question, and comes to the conclusion that between May, 1000, and St. Bartholomew's Day, 1662, about_450 ministers were ejected, and that at St. Bartholomew's Day about 1,800 were turned out. This is a higher estimate than that arrived at by Dr. Stoughton (Church of the Restoration, ii. 538, ed. 1870), and agrees very closely with Baxter's contemporary estimate of the number expelled in 1662. Much, however, remains to be done by local researches before trustworthy figures can be arrived at

The second task which needs doing is to trace the history of the development of Nonconformity in particular districts. Much has been done in this respect by Urwick and other investigators, and in some of the papers recently published in the Transactions of the Congregational History Society. Towards this object

' Mr. Bate contributes, in Appendix VII, a most useful and necessary assistance in the shape of a double list of the licences for preachers and places of worship issued in accordance with the Declaration of Indulgence. A list of this kind is the foundation for further local researches, and it should stimulate Nonconformists to undertake them for all those districts in which the history of the organisation of their churches has been imperfectly treated or neglected. The documents upon which this list is based are summarised in the Calendar of Domestic State Papers for 1672-3, and Mr. Blackburne-Daniel, in his introductions, has carefully put together the results in tabular form, but hitherto the information contained has not been accessible outside those volumes, and its publication in a separate and a convenient form is a boon to students.

This study of the Declaration of Indulgence brings out very clearly its great importance in the ecclesiastical history of England. It was the culmination of a series of efforts on the part of Charles II to keep the promises made in the Declaration of Breda, and though the King failed to procure parliamentary sanction for the policy it indicated, and was obliged to cancel the Declaration, its results were permanent. Sir John Reresby describes it as “the greatest blow that ever was given, since the King's restoration, to the Church of England: all sectaries by this means repairing publicly to their meetings and conventicles, insomuch that all the laws and care of their execution against these separatists afterwards, could never bring them back to due conformity. (Memoirs, ed. Cartwright, p. 86.) The two or three years' breathing space it secured gave the Nonconformists an opportunity to organise themselves and recover the ground


[blocks in formation]

they had lost during the period of rigid repression. Henceforth they were too strong for repressive measures to be successful in putting them down. The fact that so many dissenting congregations existing at the present day “date their formation and their continuous life from Charles the Second's Declaration of Indulgence," proves what its result really was. It is for that reason that this episode in the reign of Charles II, which is often passed by lightly as if it merely represented one of the many fluctuations of his policy, deserves the minute and scientific study Mr. Bate has given it.

Every monograph of this kind, however, is inevitably somewhat one-sided. However impartial in his treatment the author may be however critical in his estimate of evidence, and however fair in his conclusions since he has to narrate only a part of the ecclesiastical history of England, and to limit his view to one aspect of it, he can only state a part of the truth. The reaction which followed the Restoration cannot be fairly judged unless the legislation of the twenty years of revolution which preceded it is taken into account. The persecution of the Anglican clergy and the proscription of the liturgy of the Church of England should be borne in mind in estimating the causes of the oppressive enactments directed against the Nonconformists. Neither Anglicans nor Nonconformists in the day of their power recognised the rights of conscience, or refrained from the attempt to enforce conformity to their doctrines by political disabilities and legal penalties. It is true that in both parties there were men whose voices were raised in favour of toleration, and toleration with certain important limitations had become the avowed policy of one section amongst the Nonconformists. But that policy was discredited by its association with militarism, and by the constant recourse to military force to establish and maintain it. This was inevitable. To Englishmen in general the idea of liberty of conscience was unfamiliar, and even repellent. There was no room for it in minds full of the idea of a national church and dominated by recollections of the Tudor Reformation. The views of all sections of Protestant Englishmen as to the lawfulness of coercion in matters of religion, and the extent to which parliaments or kings might compel men to believe or to conform, had been perverted by the habit of persecuting the Catholics. They had learnt to hold that any legal measures were lawful against the adherents of an erroneous dangerous creed, and the penal code of Elizabeth and James I had supplied them with precedents for any methods of oppression which they wished to exercise against each other. Historians of the French Revolution have often



pointed out that the laws passed by the revolutionists against emigrés, suspects and priests, were but a reproduction of the laws against the Huguenots enacted by the French monarchy. There is a similar phenomenon in the ecclesiastical legislation of England during the seventeenth century. English Puritans had helped to sharpen the weapons which later were directed against themselves.

The investigator, if his researches are to be fruitful, is forced to confine them to a limited period of time or a definite series of facts, but the reader who wishes equitably to judge the men or the events of a particular age, must take a wider view, and look both before and after. Looking at the fifteen years of ecclesiastical history narrated by Mr. Bate from this general point of view, we shall not be inclined to wonder that the Nonconformists were persecuted, or that it was difficult for them to obtain the toleration which seems to the twentieth century reader an elementary and self-evident natural right. Nor shall we be inclined to blame too harshly the unwisdom of the Parliament, which, after all, could not be much wiser or more humane than the men it represented, nor to condemn those statesmen who attempted to establish some measure of religious freedom by means of the prerogative instead of by means of Parliament.



« AnteriorContinuar »