Dancing was also a favourite and common amusement amongst all classes. Scarce a week went by that Whitehall was not lighted up for a ball, at which the king, queen, and courtiers danced bransles, corants, and French figures; [The bransle, or brawl, had all the characteristics of a country-dance; several persons taking part in it, and all at various times joining hands. The corant was a swift lively dance, in which two persons only took part, and was not unlike our modern galop.] and no night passed but such entertainments were likewise held in the city. Billiards and chess were also played, whilst gambling became a ruling passion. The queen, Duchess of York, and Duchess of Cleveland had each her card-table, around which courtiers thronged to win and lose prodigious sums. The latter being a thorough rake at heart, delighted in the excitement which hazard afforded; and the sums changing owners at her hoard were sometimes enormous. Occasionally she played for a thousand, or fifteen hundred pounds at a cast, and in a single night lost as much as twenty-five hundred guineas. It is related that once when playing basset she lost all her money; but, being unwilling to retire, and hopeful of regaining her losses, she asked young Churchill, on whom she had bestowed many favours, to lend her twenty pieces. Though the wily youth had a thousand before him on the table, he coolly refused her request, on the plea that the bank—which he was then keeping—never lent. "Not a person in the place," says the narrator of this anecdote, "but blamed him; as to the duchess, her resentment burst out into a bleeding at her nose, and breaking of her lace, without which aid it is believed her vexation had killed her on the spot."
The courtly Evelyn speaks of a certain Twelfth-night, when the king opened the revels in his privy chamber by throwing dice, and losing one hundred pounds; and Pepys describes the groom-porters' rooms where gambling greatly obtained, and "where persons of the best quality do sit down with people of any, though meaner." Cursing and swearing, grumbling and rejoicing, were heard here to an accompanying rattle of guineas; the whole causing dense confusion. And amongst the figures crouching round the tables of this hell, that of my Lord St. Albans was conspicuous. So great, indeed, was his passion for gambling, that when approaching his eightieth year, and quite blind, he was unable to renounce his love for cards, but with the help of a servant who named them to him, indulged himself in this way as of yore.
As may be expected, disputes, frequently ending in duels, continually arose betwixt those who gambled. Although the king had, on his restoration, issued a proclamation against this common practice, threatening such as engaged in it with displeasure, declaring them incapable of holding any office in his service, and forbidding them to appear at court, yet but little attention was paid his words, and duels continually took place, Though most frequently resorted to as a means of avenging outraged honour, they were occasionally the result of misunderstanding. A pathetic story is told of a fatal encounter, caused by a trifle light as air, which took place in the year 1667 at Covent Garden, between Sir Henry Bellasis and Tom Porter—the same witty soul who wrote a play called "The Villain," which was performed at the Duke's Theatre, and described as "a pleasant tragedy."
These worthy gentlemen and loyal friends loved each other exceedingly. One fatal day, both were bidden to dine with Sir Robert Carr, at whose table it was known all men drank freely; and having feasted, they two talked apart, when bluff Sir Henry, giving words of counsel to honest Tom, from force of earnestness spoke louder than his wont. Marvelling at this, some of those standing apart said to each other, "Are they quarrelling, that they talk so high?" overhearing which the baronet replied in a merry tone, "No, I would have you know I never quarrel but I strike; and take that as a rule of mine." At these words Tom Porter, being anxious, after the manner of those who have drunk deep, to apprehend offence in speech of friend or foe, cried out he would like to see the man in England that durst give him a blow. Accepting this as a challenge, Sir Henry dealt him a stroke on the ear, which the other would have returned in anger but that they were speedily parted.
And presently Tom Porter, leaving the house full of resentment for the injury he had received, and of resolution to avenge it, met Mr. Dryden the poet, to whom he recounted the story. He concluded by requesting he might have his boy to bring him word which way Sir Henry Bellasis would drive, for fight he would that night, otherwise he felt sure they should be friends in the morning, and the blow would rest upon him. Dryden complying with his request, Tom Porter, still inflamed by fury, went to a neighbouring coffee-house, when presently word arrived Sir Harry's coach was coming that way. On this Tom Porter rushed out, stopped the horses, and bade the baronet alight. "Why," said the man, who but an hour before had been his best friend, "you will not hurt me in coming out, will you?" "No," answered the other shortly. Sir Henry then descended, and both drew their swords. Tom Porter asked him if he were ready, and hearing he was, they fought desperately, till of a sudden a sharp cry was heard; Sir Henry's weapon fell upon the ground, and he placed one hand to his side, from which blood flowed freely. Then calling his opponent to him, he looked in his face reproachfully, kissed him lovingly, and bade him seek safety. "For, Tom," said he, struggling hard to speak, "thou hast hurt me; but I will make shift to stand upon my legs till thou mayest withdraw, and the world not take notice of you, for," continued he, with much tenderness, "I would not have thee troubled for what thou hast done." And the little crowd who had gathered around carried him to his coach and twenty days later they followed him to his grave.
Throughout this merry reign, many fantastic changes took place in the costumes of courtiers and their followers. At the restoration, the dress most common to women of all ranks consisted of a gown with a laced stomacher and starched neckerchief, a sad-coloured cloak with a French hood, and a high-crowned hat. Such habiliments, admitting of little variety and less ornament, found no favour in the eyes of those who returned from foreign courts with the king, and therefore a change was gradually effected. The simple gown of wool and cotton gave place to loose and flowing draperies of silk and satin; the stiff neckerchief was removed to display fair shoulders and voluptuous breasts; the hat was bedecked by feathers of rare plumage and rich colour; the cloaks changed hues from sad to gay; the hoods being of "yellow bird's eye," and other bright tints. Indeed, the prodigal manner in which ladies of quality now exposed their bosoms, though pleasing to the court, became a matter of grave censure to worthy men. One of these in a pamphlet, entitled "A Just and Seasonable Reprehension of Naked Breasts and Shoulders," charges women of fashion with "overlacing their gown bodies, and so thrusting up their breasts in order that they might show them half-naked." It was not only at balls and in chambers of entertainment, he avowed, they appeared in this manner, but likewise at church, where their dress was "not only immodest, but sometimes impudent and lascivious;" for they braved all dangers to have the satisfaction of being seen, and the consolation of giving pleasure.
The riding-habit, first introduced in 1664 caused considerable notice, and no small amount of mirth. The garb, as it was called, consisted of a doublet buttoned up the breast, a coat with long skirts, a periwig and tall hat, so that women clad in this fashion might be mistaken for men, if it were not for the petticoat which dragged under the coat. At the commencement of the reign, ladies of the court wore their hair after the French fashion, cut short in front and frizzed upon the forehead. When the queen arrived, her hair was arranged A LA NEGLIGENCE, a mode declared mighty pretty; but presently a fashion came in vogue of wearing "false locks set on wyres to make them stand at a distance from the head; as fardingales made the clothes stand out in Queen Elizabeth's reign." Painting the face, which had been practised during the Commonwealth, became fashionable; as did likewise the use of patches and vizards or masks; which from the convenience they afforded wearers whilst witnessing an immoral play, or conducting a delicate intrigue, came greatly into use.
According to Randal Holmes's notes on dress, in the Harleian Library, the male costume at the restoration consisted of "a short-waisted doublet, and petticoat breeches—the lining, being lower than the breeches, is tied above the knees. The breeches are ornamented with ribands up to the pocket, and half their breadth upon the thigh; the waistband is set about with ribands, and the shirt hanging out over them." This dress gradually increased in richness and ornamentation: the doublet and breeches being changed from cloth to velvet and satin, the hat trimmed with plumes of gay feathers, and the neck adorned with bands of cambric, trimmed with Flanders and Brussels lace. The perfection and costliness to which the costume eventually reached is best shown by a description of Sir Richard Fanshaw ambassador of the king, as presented in the diary of his spouse. "Sir Richard was dressed," she writes, "in a very rich suit of clothes of a dark FILLEMONTE brocade, laced with silver and gold lace—nine laces—every one as broad as my hand, and a little silver and gold lace laid between them, both of very curious workmanship; his suit was trimmed with scarlet taffety ribbon; his stockings of white silk upon long scarlet silk ones; his shoes black, with scarlet shoestrings and gaiters; his linen very fine, laced with rich Flanders lace; a black beaver buttoned on the left side with a jewel of twelve hundred pounds' value, a rich curious wrought gold chain, made in the Indies at which hung the king his master's picture, richly set with diamonds; on his fingers he wore two rich rings; his gloves trimmed with the same ribbon as his clothes."
The uttermost extravagance and luxury in dress now obtained; indeed, to such a passion and pride did it reach that the monarch resolved on giving it some check by inventing a suit of plainer pretensions, which should become the national costume, and admit no change.
This determination he solemnly declared to his council in October, 1666, and on the 14th of the month appeared clad in a long vest slashed with white silk, reaching the knee, having the sword girt over it, a loose coat, straight Spanish breeches ruffled with black ribbons, and buskins instead of shoes and stockings. Though the habit was pronounced decent and becoming to his majesty, and was quickly adopted by the courtiers, there were those amongst his friends who offered him a wager he would not persist in wearing it long. At this the king stated his resolution afresh of never changing; but before the month was out he had made an alteration, for inasmuch as the vest being slashed with white, was said by a wag to make the wearers look like magpies, his majesty changed the colour of the silk to black. This "manly and comely habit" might have become permanently the fashion, if the King of France, by way of ridiculing the merry monarch, had not caused his footmen to be clad in like manner. Therefore, in less than two years, this mode gave place to others more fantastical. The vest was retained, but the shape and material were altered; the surcoat of cloth was discarded for velvet and rich plush, adorned with buckles of precious stones and chains of gold; the Spanish leather boots were laid aside for high-heeled shoes with rosettes and silver buckles. Towards the close of the reign the costume became much plainer. Through all these varying fashions the periwig, introduced in 1663, held its own, increasing in length and luxuriance with time. On its first coming into general use, the clergy had cried out against it as ministering to the vanity and extravagance of the age; but in a while many of them adopted its use, for, as Granger remarks, "it was observed that a periwig procured many persons a respect and even veneration which they mere strangers to before, and to which they had not the least claim from their personal merit."
Amongst other strange innovations and various improvements known in this reign, the introduction of a penny post may be considered the most useful. King James I., of happy memory, had, in imitation of like regulations in other countries, established a general post for foreign parts; King Charles I. had given orders to Thomas Witherings, Esquire, his postmaster-general, to settle "a running post or two, to run night and day between Edinburgh, in Scotland, and the city of London, to go thither and back in six days;" but the organization of a penny post, for the conveyance of letters and parcels throughout the capital and suburbs, was reserved for the reign of the merry monarch. This beneficial scheme was originated by an upholsterer named Murray, who communicated it to one William Dockwra, a man who for over ten years had laboured with fidelity in the Custom House. Uniting their efforts, they, with great labour and vast expense, carried the plan into execution in the year 1680.
The principal office was stationed at the residence of William Dockwra, in Lime Street; seven sorting-houses and as many as four hundred receiving-houses were speedily established in the cities of London, Westminster, and the suburbs; and a great number of clerks and messengers were employed to collect, enter, and deliver parcels and letters not exceeding one pound in weight nor ten pounds in value. Stamps were used as an acknowledgment that postage was paid, and likewise to mark the hours when letters were sent out from the offices, by which, in case of delay, its cause might be traced to the messengers; and deliveries took place ten times in the vicinity of the Exchange and Inns of Court, and four times in the suburbs daily. All persons were requested to post their communications before six o'clock in the winter, and seven in the summer, on Saturday nights, "that the many poor men employed may have a little time to provide for their families against the Lord's Day." And it was moreover intimated that upon three days at Christmas, and two at Easter and Whitsuntide, as likewise upon the 30th of January, the post would not be delivered.
From the first this scheme promised success, the manner in which it was carried out being wholly admirable; yet there were many who raised their voices against it persistently. Porters and messengers declared it took away their means of subsistence; whilst those of higher grade were confident it was a contrivance of the papists, which enabled them to carry out their wicked schemes with greater security. But these illusions vanished with time; and the penny post became such a success that Government laid claim to it as a branch of the General Post Office, and annexed its revenues to the Crown. [In the year 1703 Queen Anne bestowed a grant on Elizabeth, Dowager countess of Thanet, to erect a penny post-office in Dublin, similar to that in existence in London.]
Another innovation in this interesting reign were stage-coaches, described as affording "admirable commodiousness both for men and women of better rank, to travel from London and to almost all the villages near this great city, that the like hath not been known in the world, wherein one may be transported to any place, sheltered from foul weather and foul ways, free from endamaging one's health or body by hard jogging or over-violent emotion, and this not only at a low price, as about a shilling for every five miles in a day; for the stage-coaches called flying coaches make forty or fifty miles in a day, as from London to Cambridge or Oxford, and that in the space of twelve hours, not counting the time for dining, setting forth not too early, nor coming in too late."
Likewise were divorce suits introduced whilst Charles II. sat upon the throne for the first time—if the case of Henry VIII. be excepted—when my Lord Rosse, in consequence of the misconduct of his lady, had a bill brought into the House of Lords for dissolving his marriage and enabling him to wed again. There being at this period, 1669, a project for divorcing the king from the queen, it was considered Lord Rosse's suit, if successful, would facilitate a like bill in favour of his majesty. After many and stormy debates his lordship gained his case by a majority of two votes. It is worth noting that two of the lords spiritual, Dr. Cosin, Bishop of Durham, and Dr. Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, voted in favour of the bill.
The social history of this remarkable reign would be incomplete without mention of the grace and patronage which Charles II. extended towards the Society of Antiquaries. This learned body, according to Stow, had been in existence since the days of Elizabeth; but for lack of royal acknowledgment of its worth and lore, was permitted to languish in neglect and finally become extinct. However, under the commonwealth the society had revived, from the fact that numbers of the nobility being unemployed in affairs of state, and having no court to attend, applied themselves whilst in retirement to the study of chemistry, mathematics, mechanism, and natural philosophy. The Duke of Devonshire, Marquis of Worcester, Viscount Brouncker, Honourable Robert Boyle, and Sir Robert Murray, built laboratories, made machines, opened mines, and perfected inventions. When the temper of the times permitted, these men, with various others of like tastes, drew together, held weekly meetings at Gresham College in Bishopsgate Street, discoursed on abstruse subjects, and heard erudite lectures, from Dr. Petty on chemistry, from Dr. Wren on astronomy, from Mr. Laurence Rooke on geometry; so that the Society of Antiquaries may be said to have been founded in the last years of the republic.
Now Charles II., having some knowledge of chemistry and science, looked upon the society with favourable eyes; and in the first year of his restoration desired to become one of its members; expressed satisfaction it had been placed upon a proper basis in his reign; represented the difficulty of its labours; suggested certain investigations, and declared his interest in all its movements. Moreover, in the year 1662 he bestowed on the society a charter in which he styled himself its founder and patron; presented it with a silver mace to be borne before the president on meeting days; and gave it the use of the royal arms for a seal. Nor did his concern for its welfare cease here. He was frequently present at its meetings, and occasionally witnessed, and assisted "with his own hands," in the performance of experiments. Some of these were of a singularly interesting character; amongst which may be mentioned infusion of the blood of an animal into the veins of a man. This took place in the year 1667, the subject being one Arthur Coga, a minister poor in worldly substance, who, in exchange for a guinea, consented to have the operation performed on him. Accordingly two surgeons of great skill and learning, named Lower and King, on a certain day injected twelve ounces of sheep's blood into his veins. After which he smoked an honest pipe in peace, drank a glass of good canary with relish, and found himself no worse in mind or body. And in two days more fourteen ounces of sheep's blood were substituted for eight of his own without loss of virility to him.
Nor were experiments in vivisection unknown to the Royal Society, as it was called, for the "Philosophical Transactions" speak of a dog being tied through the back above the spinal artery, thereby depriving him of motion until the artery was loosened, when he recovered; and again, it is recorded that Dr. Charleton cut the spleen out of a living dog with good success.
The weighty discourses of the learned men who constituted the society frequently delighted his majesty; though it must be confessed he sometimes laughed at them, and once sorely puzzled them by asking the following question. "Supposing," said Charles, assuming a serious expression, and speaking in a solemn tone, "two pails of water were placed in two different scales and weighed alike, and that a live bream or small fish was put into one, now why should not the pail in which it was placed weigh heavier than the other?" Most members were troubled to find the king a fitting reply, and many strange theories were advanced by way of explaining why the pail should not be found heavier, none of them being thought satisfactory. But at last a man sitting far down the table was heard to express an opinion, when those surrounding him laughed; hearing which the king, who had not caught his words, asked him to repeat them. "Why, your majesty," said he boldly, "I do believe the pail would weigh heavier." "Odds-fish!" cried Charles, bursting out into laughter, "you are right, my honest fellow!" and so the merriment became general.
The Royal Society was composed of men of quality with a genius for investigation, and men of learning eager for further knowledge. Persons of all nationalities, religions, and professions were admitted members; and it was continually enriched by the addition of curiosities, amongst which in particular were an herb which grew in the stomach of a thrush; the skin of a Moor tanned, with the beard and hair white; a clock, having movements directed by loadstone; an ostrich, whose young had been born alive; mummies; strange fish; and the hearts and livers of vipers. Likewise was the society endowed with gifts, amongst the most notable being the valuable library of Henry Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk.
Fostered by this society, science received its first impulse towards the astounding progress it has since achieved. Nay, in this reign the germs of some inventions were sown, which, subsequently springing into existence, have startled the world by their novelty, utility, and power, Monsieur Sorbiere, when in England, was shown a journal kept by Montconis, concerning the transactions of the Royal Society, in which several new devices, "which scarce can be believed unless seen," were described. Amongst these were an instrument for showing alterations in the weather, whether from heat, cold, wind, or rain; a method for blowing up ships; a process for purifying salt water, so that it could be drunk; and an instrument by which those ignorant of drawing could sketch and design any object. He also states Dr. Wallis had taught one born deaf and dumb to read.
In 1663, "the right honourable (and deservedly to be praised and admired) Edward Somerset, Marquis of Worcester," published a quaint volume entitled "A Century of the Names and Scantlings of such Inventions as at present I can call to mind to have tried and perfected, which (my former notes being lost) I have, at the instance of a powerful friend, endeavoured to set down in such a way as may sufficiently instruct me to put any of them in practice." Amongst these are enumerated false decks, such as in a moment should kill and take prisoners as many as should board the ship, without blowing her up, and in a quarter of an hour's time should recover their former shape without discovering the secret; a portable fortification, able to contain five hundred men, which in the space of six hours might be set up, and made cannon-proof; a dexterous tinder-box which served as a pistol, and was yet capable of lighting a fire or candle at any hour of the night without giving its possessor the trouble of stretching his hand from bed; a lock, the ways of opening which might be varied ten millions of times, but which on a stranger touching it would cause an alarm that could not be stopped, and would register what moneys had been taken from its keeping; a boat which would work against wind and tide; with various other discoveries to the number of one hundred, all arrived at from mathematical studies.
The means of propelling a boat against such disadvantages, to which the Marquis of Worcester alludes, was in all probability by steam-power. This he described as "an admirable and most forcible way to drive up water by fire," the secret of which he is believed to have first discovered. [Before the century was concluded, Captain Savery contrived a steam-engine which was certainly the first put to practical uses. It has been stated that he owed the knowledge of this invention to hints conveyed in Lord Worcester's little volume.] In the preface to his little book, the marquis states he had sacrificed from six to seven hundred thousand pounds in bringing his various inventions to perfection; after which it is satisfactory to find he derived some profit from one of them, conceived, as he says, "by heavenly inspiration." This was a water-engine for drying marsh-lands and mines, requiring neither pump, suckers, barrels, bellows, nor external nor additional help, save that afforded from its own operations. This engine Sorbiere describes as one of the most curious things he had a mind to see, and says one man by the help of this machine raised four large buckets full of water in an instant forty feet high, through a pipe eight inches long. An act of parliament was passed enabling the marquis to reap the benefit and profit from this invention, subject to a tenth part which was reserved for the king and his heirs.
The Royal Society soon became one of the foremost objects of interest in the city. Foreigners of distinction were conducted to its rooms that they might behold the visible signs of knowledge it could proudly boast; and women of culture were admitted to hear the lectures its members delivered.
Amongst these latter may be mentioned the eccentric Duchess of Newcastle; a lady who dressed her footmen in velvet coats, habited herself in antique gowns, wrote volumes of plays and poetry, desired the reputation of learning, and indulged in circumstances of pomp and state. Having expressed her desire to be present at one of the meetings of the Royal Society, the council prepared to receive her, not, it must be admitted, without some fear her extravagance would expose them to the ridicule of the town, and place them fit the mercy of ballad-mongers. So it happened one fair May-day, in the year 1667 a vast concourse of people had assembled to witness her arrival at Arundel House in the Strand, where the society held its meetings for some years after the burning of Gresham College. And she in good time reaching there, surrounded by her maids of honour, gentlemen in waiting, and lackeys, was met by the president, Viscount Brouncker, having his mace carried before him, and was conducted to the great room. When the meeting was over, various experiments were tried for her satisfaction; amongst others a piece of roasted mutton was turned into pure blood. The while she witnessed these sights, crowds of gallants gathered round her that they might catch and retain such fine things as fell from her lips; but she only cried out her wonder and admiration at all she saw; and at the end of her visit was conducted in state to her coach by several noble lords, notable amongst whom was a vastly pretty young man, Francis Seymour, fifth Duke of Somerset.
A period rich in literature.—John Milton's early life.—Writing "Paradise Lost."—Its publication and success.—His later works and death.—John Dryden gossips with wits and players.—Lord Rochester's revenge.—Elkanah Settle.—John Crowne.—Thomas Otway rich in miseries.—Dryden assailed by villains.—The ingenious Abraham Cowley.—The author of "Hudibras."—Young Will Wycherley and Lady Castlemaine—The story of his marriage.—Andrew Marvell, poet and politician.—John Bunyan.
The men of genius who lived in the days of the merry monarch have rendered his reign, like that of Elizabeth, illustrious in the annals of literature. The fact of "Paradise Lost," the "Pilgrim's Progress," "Hudibras," and "Alexander's Feast" being given to the world whilst Charles II. occupied the throne, would have sufficiently marked the epoch as one exceeding in intellectual brilliancy; but besides these works, an abundance of plays, poems, satires, treatises, and histories added fresh lustre to this remarkable age.
At the period of the restoration, John Milton had reached his fifty-second year. He had studied in the University of Cambridge; published the "Masque of Comus;" likewise a treatise against the Established Church; taught school at Aldersgate Street; married a wife and advocated divorce; printed a pamphlet to compose the minds of those disturbed by the murder of Charles I.; as also a defence of his murderers, justifying the monarch's execution, for which the author was awarded a thousand pounds; had become secretary to Cromwell, whom he stooped to flatter; and had even, on the advent of his majesty's return, written and set forth "A Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth." ["To your virtue," writes John Milton to Oliver Cromwell, "overpowering and resistless, every man gives way, except some who, without equal qualifications, aspire to equal honours, who envy the distinctions of merit greater than their own, and who have yet to learn that, in the coalition of human society, nothing is more pleasing to God, or more agreeable to reason, than that the highest mind should have the sovereign power. Such, sir, are you, by general confession: such are the things achieved by you, the greatest and most glorious of our countrymen, the director of our public councils, the leader of unconquered armies the father of your country; for by that title does every good man hail you with sincere and voluntary praise."]
On the landing of Charles II. Milton withdrew to the privacy afforded by a residence in Bartholomew Close, near West Smithfield. For a time he was apprehensive of punishment. His pamphlet justifying the late king's execution was, with others of a like kind, burned by the common hangman; but though parliament ordered the attorney-general would prosecute the authors of these works, Milton was neither seized nor brought to trial. Soon after his arrival, Charles published an act of grace promising free pardon to those instrumental in overthrowing his father's government, with the exception of such as had contrived his death; and inasmuch as Milton had but justified that monstrous act after it had taken place, he escaped condemnation. Moreover, he received a special pardon, which passed the privy seal in December, 1660. His escape has been attributed to his friend Davenant. This loyal soldier had, when taken by Cromwell's troopers in the civil war, been condemned to speedy death; from which, by Milton's intercession, he escaped; an act of mercy Davenant now repaid in kind, by appealing to his friends in behalf of the republican's safety.
Having secured his freedom, Milton lived in peace and obscurity in Jewin Street, near Aldersgate Street. During the commonwealth his first wife, the mother of his three children, had died; on which he sought solace and companionship in a union with Catherine Woodcock, who survived her marriage but twelve months; and being left free once more, he, in the year of grace 1661, entered into the bonds of holy matrimony for a third time, with Elizabeth Minshul, a lady of excellent family and shrewish temper, who rendered his daughters miserable in their father's lifetime, and defrauded them after his death.
In order to support his family he continued to keep a school, and likewise employed himself in writing "Paradise Lost" the composition of which he had begun five years previously. From his youth upwards he had been ambitious to furnish the world with some important work; and prevision of resulting fame had given him strength and fortitude in periods of difficulty and depression. And now the time had arrived for realization of his dream, though stricken by blindness, harassed by an unquiet wife, and threatened by poverty, he laboured sore for fame. The more fully to enjoy quiet necessary to his mental condition, he removed to a house in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields. His life was one of simplicity. He rose as early as four o'clock in summer and five in winter, and being "smit with the love of sacred song," had a chapter of the Bible read to him; studied until twelve, dined frugally at one, and afterwards held discourse with such friends as came to visit him.
One of these was Thomas Elwood, a quaker much esteemed amongst good men, who, in order that he might enjoy the advantages of the poet's conversation, read Latin to him every afternoon save Sunday. The whilst his voice rose and fell in regular monotony, the blind man drank his words with thirsty ears; and so acute were the senses remaining to him, that when Elwood read what he did not understand, Milton perceived it by the inflection of his voice, and stopped him to explain the passage. In fair weather the poet wandered abroad, enjoying the fragrance of sweet pasture land, and the warmth of glad sunlight he might not behold. And anon, seated in a high-backed chair without his door, his straight pale face full of repose and dignity, his light brown hair falling in curls upon his shoulders, his large grey eyes, "clear to outward view of blemish or of spot," fixed on vacancy, his figure clad in coarse cloth—he received those who sought his society.
In their absence the poet spent solitary hours conning over as many lines of the great poem as his memory could store, until one of his friends arrived, and relieved him by taking the staazas down. Frequently his nephew, Edward Philips, performed this task for him. To him Milton was in the habit of showing his work as it advanced, and Philips states he found it frequently required correction in orthography and punctuation, by reason of the various hands which had written it. As summer advanced, he was no longer favoured by a sight of the poem; inquiring the reason of which, Milton told him "his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal; and that whatever he attempted at other times was never to his satisfaction, though he courted his fancy never so much."
In the year 1665 "Paradise Lost" was completed, but no steps were taken towards its publication, as the author, in company with his neighbours, fled from the dreaded plague. The following year the citizens were harassed by losses sustained from the great fire, so that Milton did not seek to dispose of his poem until 1667; when, on the 27th of April, it was sold to Samuel Simmons, a publisher residing in Aldersgate Street. The agreement entered into stated Milton should receive an immediate payment of five pounds, with the stipulation that he should be given an equal sum on sale of thirteen hundred copies of the first edition, and five pounds on disposal of the same number of the second edition, and yet five pounds more after another such sale of the third edition. Each edition was to number fifteen hundred books. Two years after the publication of "Paradise Lost," its author received the second payment of five pounds; five years later a third payment was made him; before the fourth fell due his life had been set free from care.
From the first his poem had come in contact with a few receptive minds, and borne the blessed fruit of appreciation. Richardson recounts that Sir John Denham, a poet and man of culture, one morning brought a sheet of the great epic fresh from the press to his friend Sir George Hungerford. "Why, what have you there?" asked the latter. "Part of the noblest poem that was ever written in any, language or in any age," said Sir John, as he laid the pages before him. And a few weeks later my Lord Dorset, looking over a bookstall in Little Britain, found a copy of this work, which he opened carelessly at first, until he met some passages which struck him with surprise and filled him with admiration: observing which the honest bookseller besought him to speak in favour of the poem, for it lay upon his hands like so much waste-paper. My lord bought a copy, carried it home, read and sent it to Dryden, who, in due time returning the volume, expressed his opinion of its merits in flattering terms. "The author," said he, "cuts us all out—aye, even the ancients too."
Such instances as these were, however, few in number. That the work did not meet with wider appreciation and quicker sale is not surprising when it is called to mind that from 1623 to 1664 but two editions of Shakespeare's works, comprising in all about one thousand copies, had been printed. In an age when learning was by no means universal, and polite reading uncommon, it was indeed a scource of congratulation, rather than a topic for commiseration, that the work of a republican had in two years reached a sale of thirteen hundred copies.
Before a third edition was required his fame had spread. The house in which he had been born, in Bread Street, was shown with pride to foreign visitors; parents sent their sons to read to him, that they might reap the benefit of his remarks. The latter testimony to his genius was a tribute the blind poet appreciated. But it happened there were times and seasons when these obliging youths were not at hand, or when it was inconvenient for him to receive them. On such occasions he demanded that his daughters should read him the books he required, though these were frequently written in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, and Spanish—languages of which they were wholly ignorant. The torment this inflicted on those striving to pronounce unaccustomed words which had no meaning to their ears, and the torture endured by him, may readily be conceived. Expressions of complaint on the one side, and of pain on the other, continually interrupted the readings, which were eventually wholly abandoned; the poet sending his children, whose education was so limited that they were unable to write, to learn "ingenious sorts of manufacture proper for women, particularly embroideries in gold and Silver."
When in 1665 Milton had shown his poem to Elwood, the good quaker observed, "Thou hast said a great deal upon Paradise Lost: what hast thou to say upon Paradise Found?" This question resting in the poet's mind, in due time produced fruit; for no sooner had his first poem been published than he set about composing the latter, which, under the name of "Paradise Regained," was given to the world in 1670 "This," said he to Elwood, "is owing to you; for you put it into my head by the question which you put to me, which otherwise I had not thought of." This poem, he believed, had merits far superior to those of "Paradise Lost," which he could not bear to hear praised in preference to "Paradise Regained." In the same year he published "Samson Agonistes," and two years later a treatise on "Logic," and another on "True Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and the Best Methods to Prevent the Growth of Popery." In this, the mind which had soared to heaven and descended to hell in its boundless flight, argues that catholics should not be allowed the right of public or private worship. In the last year of his life he republished his "Juvenile Poems," together with "Familiar Epistles in Latin."
He had now reached his sixty-sixth year. His life had been saddened by blindness, his health enfeebled by illness, his domesticity troubled by his first marriage and his last, his desires disappointed by the result of political events. So that when, on the 10th of November, 1674, death summoned him, he departed without regret.
Amongst those who visited Milton was John Dryden, whom the author of "Paradise Lost" regarded as "a good rhymester, but no poet," an opinion with which posterity has not held. At the restoration, John Dryden was in his twenty-ninth year. The son of Sir Erasmus Dryden, Baronet, of Canons Ashby, he enjoyed an income of two hundred pounds a year, a sum then considered sufficient to defray the expenses of a young man of good breeding. He had passed through Westminster School, taken a degree at Cambridge, written a eulogistic stanza on the death of Cromwell, and a joyous poem on the happy restoration of the merry monarch.
Three years after the arrival of his majesty, Dryden's comedy entitled "The Wild Gallant" was produced, this being the first of twenty-eight plays which followed. In the year 1668 he had the honour to succeed Sir William Davenant as poet laureate, the salary attached to which office was one hundred pounds a year and a tierce of wine. His dignity was moreover enhanced, though his happiness was by no means increased, by his marriage with the Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Berkshire. For my lady's temper sorely marred the poet's peace, and left such impressions upon his mind, that to the end of his days his invectives against the bonds of matrimony were bitter and deep. In justice it must be mentioned the Lady Elizabeth's mental condition was supposed to be unsettled; a conjecture which was proved true by a madness which befell her, subsequent to her husband's death.
Dryden was now a well known figure in town, consorting with men of the highest quality and parts, and gossiping with wits and players who frequented Will's coffee-house. Here, indeed, a special chair was appropriated to his use; which being placed by the fire in winter, and on the balcony in summer, he was pleased to designate as his winter and his summer seat. At Will's he was wont to hold forth on the ingenuity of his plays, the perfection of his poems, and the truth of astrology. It was whilst leaving this coffee house one night a memorable occurrence befell the poet, of which more anon.
It happened at one time the brilliant, poetical, and mercurial Earl of Rochester extended his favour and friendship towards Dryden, gratified by which, the poet had, after the manner of those days, dedicated a play to him, "Marriage a la Mode." This favour his lordship received with graciousness, and no doubt repaid with liberality. After a while, Dryden, led by choice or interest, sought a new patron in the person of the Earl of Mulgrave. For this nobleman Rochester had long entertained a bitter animosity, which had arisen from rivalry, and had been intensified from the fact that Rochester, refusing to fight him, had been branded as a coward. Not daring to attack the peer, Rochester resolved to avenge himself upon the poet. In order to effect his humiliation, the earl at once bestowed his favour on Elkanah Settle, a playwright and poet of mean abilities. He had originally been master of a puppet-show, had written verses to order for city pageants, and produced a tragedy in heroic verse, entitled "Cambyses, King of Persia."
His patron being at this time in favour with the king, introduced Settle to the notice of the court, and induced the courtiers to play his second tragedy, "The Empress of Morocco," at Whitehall, before their majesties. This honour, which Dryden, though poet laureate, had never received, gave Elkanah Settle unmerited notoriety; the benefit of which was apparent by the applause his tragedy received when subsequently produced at the Duke's Theatre in Dorset Gardens. Nor did the honour and profit which "The Empress of Morocco" brought him end here; it was published by William Cademan, and had the distinction of being the first English play ever illustrated, or sold for the price of two shillings. It was scarce to be expected, in an age when men ventilated their merest grievances by the publication of pamphlets, Dryden could refrain from pointing out to the public the mistake into which they had fallen by honouring this man. Nor was he singular in his feelings of animosity. The poets Shadwell and Crowne, believing themselves ignored and neglected, whilst their rival was enriched and exalted, joined Dryden in writing a merciless criticism upon Settle's tragedy. This was entitled "The Empress of Morocco, or some few erratas to be printed instead of the sculptures , with the second edition of the play." In this Settle was described as "an animal of a most deplored intellect, without reading and understanding;" whilst his play was characterized as "a tale told by an idiot, full of noise and fury signifying nothing." To these remarks and others of like quality, Settle replied in the same strain, so that the quarrel diverted the town and even disturbed the quiet of the universities. Time did ample justice to both men; lowering Settle to play the part of a dragon in a booth at Bartholomew Fair, and consecrating Dryden to immortality.
Before the clamour resulting from this dispute had ended, Rochester, fickle and eccentric, grew weary of his PROTEGE and consequently abandoned him. He had not, however, tired of humiliating the laureate, and to mortify him the more, introduced a new poet at court, This was John Crowne, a man then little known to the town, and now best remembered as author of "Sir Courtly Nice," a comedy of wit and entertainment. So well did he succeed in obtaining favour at court, through Rochester's influence, that the queen ordered him to write a masque. This command he immediately obeyed, producing "Calisto, or the Chaste Nymph," which was acted at Whitehall by the Duke of York's fair daughters, the Princesses Mary and Anne, together with many gracious ladies and noble lords. Dryden, probably the better to hide the mortification he felt at seeing his office as laureate unceremoniously usurped, offered to write an epilogue for the occasion; but this service was, through Rochester's interference, rejected. The masque proved a brilliant success; "the dancing, singing, and music, which were all in the highest perfection, and the graceful action, incomparable beauty, and splendid habits of those ladies who accompanied them, afforded the spectators extraordinary delight." "Calisto" was therefore performed thirty times.
The author's gratitude for his lordship's patronage was only equalled by his disappointment upon its hasty withdrawal. Growing weary of him, Rochester found a more worthy object for his favour in Thomas Otway, a poet rich in all the miseries which afflicted genius in those days. Son of the rector of Woolbeding, pupil at Winchester School, and commoner of Christchurch, Cambridge, he had on his arrival in town vainly sought employment as an actor, and barely earned bread as a play-writer. Before he became a PROTEGE of my Lord Rochester he had written "Alcibiades," a tragedy, he being then, in 1665, in his twenty-fifth year. His next play was "Don Carlos, Prince of Spain," which, through the earl's influence, gained great success. In the preface to this tragedy he acknowledges his unspeakable obligations to my lord, who he says made it his business to establish "Don Carlos" in the good opinion of the king and of his royal highness the Duke of York. Unwarned by the fate of his predecessors, and heedless of the fickleness of his patron, he basked in hope in the present, mercifully unconscious of the cruel death by starvation which awaited him in the future. Alas! Rochester not only forsook him, but loaded him with satire in a poem entitled "Session of the Poets."
In verses which he wrote soon after, entitled "An Allusion to the Tenth Satire," Rochester likewise attacked Dryden; who, in the preface of his "All for Love," replied in like manner. Then there appeared an "Essay on Satire," which ridiculed the king, dealt severely with his mistresses, said uncivil things of the courtiers in general, and of my Lord Rochester in particular. The noble earl was indeed described as being "lewd in every limb," affected in his wit, mean in his actions, and cowardly in his disposition. Now, though this was conceived and brought forth by my Lord Mulgrave, Rochester suspected Dryden of its authorship, and resolved to punish him forthwith. Accordingly on the night of the 18th of December, 1679, when Dryden was passing through Rose Street, Covent Garden, on his homeward way from Will's Coffee House, he was waylaid by some ruffians, and, before he could draw his sword, promptly surrounded and severely beaten.
This occurrence caused considerable sensation throughout the town, and though surmises arose in many minds as to who had hired the bravoes, it was found impossible to prove them. In hope of gaining some clue to the instigator of the attack, Dryden caused the following advertisement to be inserted in the LONDON GAZETTE AND DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE for three consecutive days: "Whereas John Dryden, Esq., was on Monday, the 18th instant, at night, barbarously assaulted and wounded in Rose Street, in Covent Garden, by divers men unknown; if any person shall make discovery of the said offenders to the said Mr. Dryden, or to any justice of the peace, he shall not only receive fifty pounds, which is deposited in the hands of Mr. Blanchard Goldsmith, next door to Temple Bar, for the said purpose; but if he be a principal or an accessory in the said fact, his majesty is graciously pleased to promise him his pardon for the same."
Dryden sought no opportunity for revenge; for which restraint, outliving Rochester, and having a noble mind and generous disposition, he was no doubt glad at heart. Not only did he survive the earl, but likewise the king. To the company and conversation of that gracious sovereign the poet was frequently admitted, a privilege which resulted in satisfaction and pleasure to both. One pleasant day towards the end of his majesty's reign, whilst they walked in the Mall, Charles said to him, "If I were a poet, and indeed I think I am poor enough to be one, I would write a satire on sedition." Taking this hint, Dryden speedily set himself to work, and brought a poem on such a subject to his royal master, who rewarded him with a hundred broad pieces.
Amongst Dryden's friends was the excellent and ingenious Abraham Cowley, whose youth had given the promise of distinction his manhood fulfilled. It is related that when quite a lad, he found in the window recess of his mother's apartment a copy of Spencer's "Faerie Queene." Opening the book, he read it with delight, and his receptive mind reflecting the poet's fire, he resolved likewise to exercise the art of poesy. In 1628, when at the age of ten, he wrote "The Tragic History of Pyramus and Thisbe;" five years later he published a volume of poems; and whilst yet a schoolboy wrote his pastoral comedy, "Love's Riddle."
When at St. John's College, Oxford, he gave proof of his loyalty by writing a poem entitled the "Puritan and the Papist," which gained him the friendship of courtiers. On the Queen of Charles I. taking refuge in France, he soon followed her, and becoming secretary to the Earl of St. Albans, conducted the correspondence between her majesty and the king, ciphering and deciphering their letters, and such as were sent or received by those immediately concerned in the cause of royalty. In this situation he remained until four years previous to the restoration, when he was sent into England for the purpose of observing the condition of the nation, and reporting the same. Scarce had he set foot in London when he was seized, examined, and only liberated on a friend offering bail for him to the amount of one thousand pounds.
The better to disguise the object of his visit, and lull suspicions of republicans, he took out the degree of Doctor of Physic at Oxford; after which he retired into Kent, where he devoted a great portion of his time to the study of botany and the composition of poetry. On Cromwell's death he hastened to France, and remained there until the king's return; which he celebrated by a song of triumph. Like hundreds of others who had served Charles in his exile, he looked forward to gratitude and reward, but met disappointment and neglect. Amongst the numerous places and employments the change of government opened in court and state, not one was offered the loyal poet.
Nay, his hardships did not end here; for having, in 1663, produced his merry comedy, "Cutter of Coleman Street," it was treated with severity as a censure upon the king. Feeling over-nervous to witness the result of its first representation, the poet absented himself from the playhouse; but thither his friends Dryden and Sprat sped, hoping they might be able to bear him tidings of its triumph. When they returned to him at night and told him of its fate, "he received the news of its ill success," says Sprat, "not with so much firmness as might have been expected from so great a man." Of all intent to satirize the king he was entirely innocent—a fact he set before the public in the preface to his play on its publication. Having, he argues, followed the fallen fortunes of the royal family so long, it was unlikely he would select the time of their restoration to quarrel with them.
Feeling his grievances acutely, he now published a poem called "The Complaint," which met with but little success; whereon, depressed by ill-fortune and disgusted by ingratitude, he sought consolation in the peace of a country life. Through the influence of his old friend, Lord St. Albans, and the Duke of Buckingham, he obtained a lease of the queen's lands at Chertsey, which produced him an income of about three hundred pounds a year—a sum sufficient for his few wants and moderate desires. He resided here but two years, when he died, on the 28th of July, 1667. Milton, on hearing of his death, was troubled. The three greatest English poets, he declared, were Spenser, Shakespeare, and Cowley.
The ungrateful neglect with which he was treated in life was sought to be atoned for by useless honours paid him after death. His remains were first conveyed to Wallingford House, then a residence of the Duke of Buckingham, from whence they were carried in a coach drawn by six horses, and followed by all the men of letters and wits of the town, divers stately bishops, courtiers, and men of quality, whose carriages exceeded one hundred in number, to Westminster Abbey. Here the Poet was laid at rest beside Geoffrey Chaucer, and not far removed from gentle Spenser, whose words had first inspired his happy muse.
The literary wealth of this reign was furthermore enhanced by the genius of Butler, the inimitable author of "Hudibras," concerning whom little is known, save that he was born in 1612, and spent his life in poverty. He passed some years as clerk to a justice of the peace; he also served a great man's steward, and acted as secretary to Sir Samuel Luke, one of Cromwell's officers. With those of the commonwealth he held no part; that he was a royalist at heart his great satire indicates. The first part of this was published in the third year of the restoration, and was introduced to the notice of his majesty by my Lord Dorset. So delighted was the monarch by its wit that its lines were continually on his lips, an example speedily followed by the courtiers. It was considered certain a man possessing such brilliant genius and loyal nature would be rewarded with place or pension; but neither boon was bestowed upon him. Resting his hopes on future achievements, the second part of "Hudibras" appeared in 1664; but again his recompense was delayed. Clarendon made him promises of valuable employments, which were never fulfilled; and to soothe his disappointment the king sent him a present of three hundred guineas.
Indignant at the neglect from which he suffered, his friend Wycherley spoke to the Duke of Buckingham on his behalf, saying it was a shame to the court a man of Butler's parts should be allowed to suffer want. With this his grace readily agreed, and promised to use his influence towards remedying the poet's ill-fortune; but time went by, and his condition remained unaltered. Whereon Wycherley conceived the idea of bringing Butler and the duke together, that the latter might the more certainly remember him. He therefore succeeded in making his grace name an hour and place in which they might meet. So it came to pass they were together one day at the Roebuck Tavern; but scarce had Buckingham opened his lips when a pimp of his acquaintance—"the creature was likewise a knight"—passed by with a couple of ladies. To a man of Buckingham's character the temptation was too seductive to be neglected; accordingly, he darted after those who allured him, leaving the needy poet, whom he saw no more. Butler lived until 1680, dying in poverty. Longueville, having in vain solicited a subscription to defray the expenses of the poet's burial in Westminster Abbey, laid him to rest in the churchyard of Covent Garden.
Wycherley, the friend of Butler, though a child of the Muses, was superior to poverty. He was born in the year of grace 1640, and early in life sent for his better education into France. Returning to England soon after the king had come unto his own, young Wycherley entered Queen's College, Oxford, from whence he departed without obtaining a degree. He then betook himself to town, and became a law student. The Temple, however, had less attraction for him than the playhouse. Indeed, before leaving Oxford he had, written a couple of comedies—to wit, "Love in a Wood," and "The Gentleman Dancing Master," a fact entitling him to be considered a man of parts. Not satisfied with this distinction, he soon developed tastes for pleasures of the town, and became a man of fashion. His wit illuminated choice gatherings of congenial spirits at coffee-houses; his epigrams were repeated by boon companions in the precincts of the court.
In the year 1672 his comedy "Love in a Wood" was produced. It immediately gained universal favour, and, moreover, speedily attracted the attention of his majesty's mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland. Wycherley was a man well to look upon: her grace was a lady eager for adventure. Desiring his acquaintance, and impatient of delay, she introduced herself to his notice in a manner eminently characteristic of the age. It happened when driving one day through Pall Mall, she encountered Wycherley riding in his coach in an opposite direction. Thrusting her head out of the window of her vehicle, she saluted the author with a title unknown to the conversations of polite society in the present day.
The fashionable playwright understanding the motive which prompted her remark, hastily ordered his coach to follow hers; and, overtaking her, uncovered and began a speech becoming so ardent a gallant.
"Madam," said he, "you have been pleased to bestow a title on me which belongs only to the fortunate. Will your ladyship be at the play to-night?"
"Well," replied her grace, well pleased at this beginning, "what if I am there?"
"Why, then," answered he, "I will be there to wait on your ladyship, though I disappoint a fine woman who has made me an assignation."
"So," said this frail daughter of Eve, greedily swallowing his flattery, "you are sure to disappoint a woman who has favoured you for one who has not?"
"Yes," quoth he, readily enough, "if the one who has not favoured me is the finer woman of the two. But he who can be constant to your ladyship till he can find a finer, is sure to die your captive."
That night her grace sat in the front row of the king's box at Drury Lane playhouse, and sure enough there was handsome Will Wycherley sitting in the pit underneath. The gentleman cast his eyes upwards and sighed; the lady looked down and played with her fan; after which preliminaries they fell into conversation which both found far more interesting than the comedy then being enacted before their eyes. This was the beginning of an intimacy concerning which the court made merry, and of which the town spoke scandal. My lady disguised herself as a country wench, and visited his chambers, Mr. Wycherley dedicated his play, "Love in a Wood," to her in elegant phraseology, He was of opinion that she stood as little in need of flattery as her beauty did of art; he was anxious to let the world know he was the greatest admirer she had; and he was desirous of returning her his grateful acknowledgment for the favours he had received from her.
The interest of this romance was presently intensified by the introduction of a rival in the person of the Duke of Buckingham. Probably from fear an intrigue with such a prominent figure would, if indulged in, quickly become known to the king, she refused to encourage Buckingham's love. His grace was not only a passionate lover, but likewise a revengeful man; accordingly, he resolved to punish my lady for her lack of good taste. It therefore became his habit to speak of her intrigues before the court, and to name the individuals who received her favours. Now Wycherley, being amongst these, grew fearful his amour with the duchess should become known to the king, from whom at this time he expected an appointment. Accordingly, he besought his good friends, Lord Rochester and Sir Charles Sedley, to remonstrate on his behalf with the duke. These gentlemen undertook that kindly office, and in order to make the rivals acquainted, besought his grace to sup with the playwright. The duke complying with their request, met Wycherley in a friendly spirit, and soon professed himself delighted with his wit; nay, before the feast was over he drank his health in a bumper of red wine, and declared himself Mr. Wycherley's very good friend and faithful servant henceforth.
Moreover, he was as good as his word; for, being master of the horse, he soon after appointed Wycherley an equerry, and subsequently gave him a commission as captain of a regiment of which he was colonel. Nor did the duke's services to the dramatist end here; for when occasion offered he introduced him to the merry monarch, and so pleased was the king with the author's conversational powers that he admitted him to his friendship. His majesty's regard for Wycherley gradually ripened, and once when he lay ill of fever at his lodgings in Bow Street, Covent Garden, the merry monarch visited him, cheered him with words of kindness, and promised he would send him to Montpelier when he was well enough to travel. For this good purpose Charles sent him five hundred pounds, and Wycherley spent the winter of 1679 abroad.
Previous to this date he had written, besides his first comedy, three others which had been received with great favour by the town, viz., "The Gentleman Dancing Master," "The Country Wife," and "The Plain Dealer." Soon after his return to England the crisis of his life arrived, and he married. His introduction to the lady whom fate ordained to become his wife is not the least singular episode in a remarkable biography. Being at Tunbridge Wells, then a place of fashion and liberty, he was one day walking with a friend named Fairbeard. And it happened as they were passing a book-stall they overheard a gentlewoman inquire for the "Plain Dealer."
"Madam," says Mr. Fairbeard, uncovering, "since you are for the 'Plain Dealer,' there he is for you;" whereon he led Wycherley towards her.
"This lady," says that gentleman, making her a profound bow, "can bear plain speaking; for she appears to be so accomplished, that what would be compliment said to others, spoken to her would be plain dealing."
"No truly, sir," replied the lady; "I am not without my faults, like the rest of my sex; and yet, notwithstanding all my faults, I love plain dealing, and never am more fond of it than when it points out my errors."
"Then, madam," said Mr. Fairbeard, "you and the plain dealer seem designed by heaven for each other."
These pretty speeches having been delivered and received with every mark of civility, Mr. Wycherley made his exit with the lady, who was none other than the Countess of Drogheda, a young widow gifted with beauty and endowed by fortune. Day by day he waited on her at her lodging, accompanied her in her walks, and attended her to the assemblies. Finally, when she returned to town he married her. It is sad yet true the union did not result in perfect happiness. Mr. Wycherley had a reputation for gallantry, the Countess of Drogheda was the victim of suspicion. Knowing jealousy is beget by love, and mindful of sacrifices she had made in marrying him, Wycherley behaved towards her with much kindness. In compliance with her wishes he desisted visiting the court, a place she probably knew from experience was rife with temptation; and moreover when he cracked a bottle of wine with convivial friends at the Cock Tavern, opposite his lodgings in Bow Street, he, for the greater satisfaction of his wife, would leave the windows open of the room in which he sat, that she might from the vantage ground of her home see there were no hussies in the company.
As proof of her love, she, when dying, settled her fortune upon him; but unhappily his just right was disputed by her family. The case therefore went into litigation, for the expenses of which, together with other debts, Wycherley was cast into prison. Here the brilliant wit, clever writer, and boon companion, was allowed to remain seven long years. When released from this vile bondage, another king than the merry monarch occupied the English throne.
The name of Andrew Marvel is inseparably connected with this period. He was born in the year 1620 in the town of Kingston-upon-Hull; his father being a clever school-master, worthy minister, and "an excellent preacher, who never broached what he had never brewed, but that which he had studied some compitent time before." At the age of fifteen, Andrew Marvell was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge. But he had not long been there when he withdrew himself, lured, as some authorities state, by wiles of the wicked Jesuits; repulsed, as others say, by severities of the head of his college. Leaving the university, he set out for London, where his father, who hastened thither in search of him, found him examining some old volumes on a book-stall. He was prevailed to return to his college, where, in 1638, he took his degree as bachelor of arts.
On the completion of his studies and death of his father, he travelled through Holland, France, and Italy. Whilst abroad he began to produce those satirical verses such as were destined to render him famous. One of his earliest efforts in this direction was aimed at the Abbe de Maniban, a learned ecclesiastic, whose chief fault in Marvell's eyes lay in the fact of his professing to judge characters from handwriting.
Whilst in Italy, Andrew Marvell met John Milton, and they having many tastes and convictions in common, became fast friends. In 1653, the former returned to England, and for some time acted as tutor to Mistress Fairfax; he being an excellent scholar, and a great master of the Latin tongue. He now led a peaceful and obscure life until 1657. In that year, Milton, "laying aside," as he wrote, "those jealousies, and that emulation which mine own condition might suggest to me," introduced him to Bradshaw; soon after which he was made assistant-secretary to Milton, who was then in the service of Cromwell.
He had not been long engaged in this capacity, when the usurper died; and Marvell's occupation being gone, the goodly burgesses of the town of Hull, who loved him well, elected him as their representative in parliament, for which service, in accordance with a custom of the time, he was paid. The salary, it is true, was not large, amounting to two shillings a day for borough members; yet when kindly feeling and honest satisfaction mutually existed between elector and representative, as in Marvell's case, the wage was at times supplemented by such acceptable additions as home-cured pork and home-brewed ale, "We must first give you thanks," wrote Marvell on one occasion to his constituents, on the receipt of a cask of beer, "for the kind present you have pleased to send us, which will give occasion to us to remember you often; but the quantity is so great, that it might make sober men forgetful."
He now, in the warfare of political life, made free use of his keen wit and bitter sarcasm as serviceable weapons. These were chiefly employed in exposing measures he considered calculated to ruin the country, though they might gratify the king. However, he had no hatred of monarchy, but would occasionally divert Charles by the sharpness of his satire and brilliancy of his wit. Considering how valuable these would be if employed in service of the court, Charles resolved to tempt Marvell's integrity. For this purpose the Lord Treasurer Danby sought and found him in his chamber, situated in the second floor of a mean house standing in a court off the Strand. Groping his way up the dark and narrow staircase of the domicile, the great minister stumbled, and falling against a door, was precipitated into Marvell's apartment, head foremost. Surprised at his appearance, the satirist asked my Lord Danby if he had not mistaken his way. "No," said the courtier with a bow, "not since I have found Mr. Marvell." He then proceeded to tell him that the king, being impressed by a high sense of his abilities, was desirous of serving him. Apprehending what services were expected in return, Marvell answered that he who accepted favours from the court was bound to vote in its interests. "Nay," said my lord, "his majesty but desires to know if there is any place at court you would accept." On which Marvell replied he could receive nothing with honour, for either he must treat the king with ingratitude by refusing compliance with court measures, or be a traitor to his country by yielding to them. The only favour he therefore begged was, that his majesty would esteem him a loyal subject; the truer to his interests in refusing his offers than he would be by accepting them. It is stated that Lord Danby, surprised at so much purity in an age of corruption, furthermore tempted him with a bag of gold, which Marvell obstinately refused to accept.
He died suddenly in the year 1678, leaving behind him a reputation for humour and satire which has rarely been excelled.
Besides these poets and dramatists, there were other great men, who as prose writers, helped to render the literary history of the period remarkable for its brilliancy. Amongst these were Lord Clarendon, High Chancellor of England, concerning whom much has already been said; and Thomas Hobbs of Malmesbury, better known as author of "The History of the Causes of the Civil War," and of "Human Nature," than as a translator of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Dr. Gilbert Burnet, author of "The History of his Own Times;" and Dr. Ralph Cudworth, author of "The True Intellectual System of the Universe," were likewise men of note. But one whose name is far more familiar than any writer of his time is John Bunyan, author of "The Pilgrim's Progress."
He was the son of a tinker, and was born within a mile of Bedford town in the year 1628. He imbibed at an early age the spirit of Puritanism, fought in the civil wars, took to himself a wife, and turned preacher. Six months after the merry monarch landed, Bunyan was flung into Bedford gaol, where, rather than refrain from puritanical discourses, in the utterance of which he believed himself divinely inspired, he remained, with some short intervals of liberty, for twelve years. When offered freedom at the price of silence, he replied, "If you let me out to-day, I will preach to-morrow." Nay, even in his confinement he delivered sermons to his fellow-prisoners; and presently he commenced to write. His convictions leading him to attack the liturgy of the Church of England, and the religion of the Quakers, his productions became popular amongst dissenters. At length, by an act annulling the penal statutes against Protestant Nonconformists and Roman Catholics, passed in 1671, he was liberated. When he left prison he carried with him a portion of his "Pilgrim's Progress," which was soon after completed and published, though at what date remains uncertain. In 1678 a second edition was printed, and such was the growth of its popularity, that six editions were issued within the following four years.
Now he became famous, his lot was far different from what it had been; his sermons were heard by eager audiences, his counsel was sought by those in trouble, his prayers were regarded as the utterances of inspiration. Once a year he rode, attended by vast crowds, from Bedford Town to London City, that he might preach to those burdened by sin; and from the capital he made a circuit of the country, where he was hailed as a prophet. His life extended beyond the reign of King Charles; his influence lasted till his death.
Time's flight leaves the king unchanged.—The Rye House conspiracy.—Profligacy of the court.—The three duchesses.—The king is taken ill.—The capital in consternation.—Dr. Ken questions his majesty.—A Benedictine monk sent for.—Charles professes catholicity and receives the Sacraments.—Farewell to all.—His last night on earth.—Daybreak and death.—He rests in peace.
His majesty's habits changed but little with the flight of time, To the end of his reign the court continued brilliant and profligate. Wits, courtezans, and adventurers crowded the royal drawing-rooms, and conversed without restraint; the monarch pursued his pleasures with unsatiated zest, taking to himself two new mistresses, Lady Shannon and Catherine Peg, who respectively bore him a daughter and a son, duly created Countess of Yarmouth and Earl of Plymouth. For a while, indeed, a shadow fell upon the life of the merry monarch, when, in 1683, he was roused to a sense of danger by discovery of the Rye House conspiracy.
This foul plot, entered into by the Whigs on failure of the Exclusion Bill, had for its object the murder of his majesty and of the Duke of York. Before arriving at maturity its existence and intentions were revealed by one of the conspirators, when William Lord Russell, the Earl of Essex, and Algernon Sidney, second son of the Earl of Leicester, were arrested and charged with high treason. My Lord Essex died in the Tower by his own hand; Lord Russell was condemned on testimony of one witness, and duly executed; as was likewise Algernon Sidney, whose writings on Republicanism were used as evidence against him. On the revelation of this wicked scheme the country became wildly excited, and the king grievously afflicted. A melancholy seized upon his majesty, who stirred not abroad without double guards; and the private doors of Whitehall and avenues of the park were closed.
From this condition, however, he gradually recovered, and resumed his usual habits. Accordingly, we find him engaged in "luxurious dalliance and prophaneness" with the Duchess of Mazarine, and visiting the Duchess of Portsmouth betimes in her chamber, where that bold and voluptuous woman, fresh risen from bed, sat in loose garments talking to the king and his gallants, the while her maids combed her beautiful hair.
"I can never forget," says John Evelyn, writing on the 4th of February, 1685, "the inexpressible luxury and prophaneness, gaming, and all dissoluteness, and as it were total forgetfullnesse of God (it being Sunday evening), which this day se'nnight I was witnesse of, the king sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland, and Mazarine, etc., a French boy singing love songs in that glorious gallery, whilst about twenty of the greate courtiers and other dissolute persons were at basset round a large table, a bank of at least two thousand in gold before them, upon which two gentlemen who were with me made reflexions with astonishment. Six days after was all in the dust."
For now the end of all things had come for Charles Stuart. It happened on the morning of the 2nd of February, 1685, the day being Monday, the king whilst in his bedroom was seized by an apoplectic fit, when crying out, he fell back in his chair, and lay as one dead. Wildly alarmed, his attendants summoned Dr. King, the physician in waiting, who immediately bled him, and had him carried to bed. Then tidings spread throughout the palace, that his majesty hovered betwixt life and death; which should claim him no man might say. Whereon the Duke of York hastened to his bedside, as did likewise the queen, her face blanched, her eyes wild with terror. His majesty after some time recovering consciousness, slowly realized his sad condition. Then he conceived a fear, the stronger as begotten by conviction, that the sands of his life had run their course. Throughout that day and the next he fainted frequently, and showed symptoms of epilepsy. On Wednesday he was cupped and bled in both jugulars; but on Thursday he was pronounced better, when the physicians, anxious to welcome hope, spoke of his probable recovery.
But, alas, the same evening he grew restless, and signs of fever became apparent. Jesuits' powders, then of great repute, were given him, but with no good result. Complaining of a pain in his side, the doctors drew twelve ounces more of blood from him. Exhaustion then set in; all hope of life was over.
Meanwhile, the capital was in a state of consternation. Prayers for his majesty's recovery were offered up in all churches throughout the city; likewise in the royal chapels, where the clergy relieved each other every quarter of an hour. Crowds gathered by day and night without the palace gates, eager to learn the latest change in the king's condition from those who passed to and fro. Inside Whitehall all was confusion. Members of the Privy Council assembled in the room adjoining that where the monarch lay; politicians and ambassadors conversed in whispers in the disordered apartments; courtiers of all degrees flocked through the corridors bearing signs of deep concern upon their countenances.
And amongst others who sought his majesty's presence was the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with the Bishops of London, Durham, Ely, and Bath and Wells; all being anxious to render spiritual services to the king. Of these good men, Charles liked best Dr. Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, having most faith in his honesty. For, when his lordship was a prebend of Winchester, it had happened Charles passed through that city, accompanied by Nell Gwynn, when Dr. Ken refused to receive her beneath his roof even at the king's request. This proof of integrity so pleased his majesty, that he gave him the next vacant bishopric by way of reward. And now, his lordship being at hand, he read prayers for the Sick from out the Common Prayer Book for his benefit, until coming to that part where the dying are exhorted to make confession of their sins, when the bishop paused and said such was not obligatory. He then asked his majesty if he were sorry for the iniquities of his life? when the sick man, whose heart was exceeding heavy, replied he was; whereon the bishop pronounced absolution, and asked him if he would receive the Sacrament. To this Charles made no reply, until the same question had been repeated several times, when his majesty answered he would think of it.
The Duke of York, who stood by the while, noting the king's answer, and aware of his tendencies towards Catholicism, bade those who had gathered round stand aside; and then, bending over him, asked in a low tone if he might send for a priest. A look of unspeakable relief came into the king's face, and he answered, "For God's sake do, brother, and lose no time." Then another thought flashing across his mind, he said, "But will not this expose you to much danger?" James made answer, "Though it cost me my life I will bring you a priest." He then hurried into the next room, where, among all the courtiers, he could find no man he could trust, save a foreigner, one Count Castelmachlor. Calling him aside, he secretly despatched him in search of a priest.
Between seven and eight o'clock that evening, Father Huddleston, the Benedictine friar who had aided the king's escape after the battle of Worcester, awaited at the queen's back stairs the signal to appear in his majesty's presence. The duke being made aware of the fact, announced it to the king, who thereon ordered all in his room to withdraw; but James, mindful that slander might afterwards charge him with killing his brother, begged the Earl of Bath, the lord of the bedchamber then in waiting, and the Earl of Feversham, captain of the guard, might stay—saying to the king it was not fitting he should be unattended in his weak condition. These gentlemen therefore remained. And no sooner had all others departed than the monk was admitted by a private entrance to the chamber. The king received him with great joy and satisfaction, stating he was anxious to die in the communion of the catholic church, and declaring he was sorry for the wrongs of his past life, which he yet hoped might be pardoned through the merits of Christ.
He then, as we read in the Stuart Papers, "with exceeding compunction and tenderness of heart," made an exact confession of his sins, after which he repeated an act of contrition, and received absolution. He next desired to have the other Sacraments of the church proper to his condition administered to him: on which the Benedictine asked if he desired to receive the Eucharist; eagerly he replied, "If I am worthy pray fail not to let me have it." Then Father Huddleston, after some exhortation, prepared to give him the Sacrament; when the dying man, struggling to raise himself, exclaimed, "Let me meet my heavenly Lord in a better posture than lying in bed." But the priest begged he would not move, and then gave him the Communion, which he received with every sign of fervour. And for some time he prayed earnestly, the monk and the duke kneeling by the while, silence obtaining in the room. This was presently broken by the sad and solemn tones of the priest's voice, reading a commendation of the soul to its Maker: the which being ended, the Benedictine, with tears in his eyes, took leave of his majesty. "Ah," said Charles, "you once saved my body; you have now saved my soul." Then the monk gave him his benediction, and departed as quietly as he had come.
Then those waiting without were once more admitted to the room, when Charles nerved himself to take a sad farewell of those around him. He first publicly thanked his brother for the services and affection he had ever rendered him through life, and extolled his obedience and submission to his commands. Giving him his keys, he said he had left him all he possessed, and prayed God would bless him with a happy and prosperous reign. Finally, he recommended all his children to him by name, excepting only the Duke of Monmouth then in Holland, and suffering from the king's displeasure; and besought him to extend his kindness towards the Duchesses of Portsmouth and Cleveland; "and do not," said he, "let poor Nelly starve." Whilst these commands were addressed him, the duke had flung himself on his knees by the bedside, and, bursting into tears, kissed his brother's hand.