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London he opened a chapel in Long-acre, which, however, was the occasion of more determined hostility and more continuous rioting than any other of his undertakings. Threatening letters were continually sent to him, and one ruffian came into his pulpit to attack him with clenched fist. The comedian Foote caricatured him on the boards of Drury-lane Theatre, and the press teemed with lampoons, but these things moved him not. In 1753, he laid the foundation of the Tabernacle in Hoxton, and in 1756 he opened Tottenham-court-road Chapel. Ten years before this date he became acquainted with the Countess of Huntingdon, and, on the death of her husband, she invited him to preach in her mansion in Chelsea to many persons of the highest rank. Chesterfield listened and paid compliments; Horace Walpole heard him with admiration, and went away to make jokes upon him. Hume said he would go twenty miles to hear him. Bolingbroke heard him and received his visits. Of honourable women there were not a few among his congregations in the courtly halls of the “noble and elect lady.” It was matter of complaint in the weekly journals that “ladies who used to wear French silks and French hoops of four yards wide, tête de mouton heads, and white satin smock petticoats, are now turned Methodists and followers of Mr. Whitefield, whose idea of the new birth has so prevailed over them that they now wear plain stuff gowns, no hoops, common night mobs, and plain bags for underclothes!” It is no part of our business to follow Whitefield's connexion with the Countess further, or to tell of the chapels she built, and the manner in which she formed and governed the "connexion” of Calvinistic Methodists in England.
Whitefield married a Welsh widow in whom he imagined he had found the necessary qualifications of piety and devotedness, but there was no love in the business. A year or two previously, under an idea that it was his duty to marry, he had made proposals to a young lady, telling her parents, when he did so, that “he blessed God he was free from that foolish passion which the world calls love." The young lady was not altogether inclined to marry upon Whitefield's terms, and it would have been well if the widow had also refused. The death of his wife, in 1768, is said by his friends to have “set his mind at liberty.” But if his wedded life yielded him no great happiness, it did not interfere with his life-work. During the last ten years of his life he was in failing health, yet he continued “ ranging" through the country, often preaching to ten thousand people at once in the open air. During the thirty years of his active evangelistic life, he preached, on an average, one and one-half of a sermon a day.
When he arrived for the last time in America, he found his Orphan Asylum in an unprecedented state of prosperity. It was
almost clear of debt, with the new wings each nearly 150 feet in length, and his other buildings in much forwardness. The Governor and Council of the Colony received him with public ceremonies, and adopted his plans for the reorgauisation of the institution as a college. He was content. “I am happier,” he wrote, “than words can express. Oh, Bethesda, my Bethel, my happiness is inconceivable.” But he could not indulge himself long in this repose. He must be ranging again, and he moved northwards, prophetically exclaiming, “This will prove a sacred year for me at the judgment. Hallelujah! Come, Lord, come !” It was well that he did not live to see the fate which overtook his beloved institution. Three years later it was totally destroyed by fire, and was never rebuilt.
With the portraits of Whitefield all are familiar. The portly figure, swaddled in gown and bands, with uplifted arms, a round face, marked with smallpox, and a very decided squint, does not suggest the man likely to produce the wonderful effects which waited on his ministry. He was neither learned nor intellectually great. That he was not naturally a large-souled man his irritability and fulsome obsequiousness to persons of title but too conclusively prove; but he had much sensibility, considerable imagination, readiness of repartee, and he was a born actor. But the secret of his power lay in the Divine passion which consumed him, and which was daily fed from an invisible source through the channel of continual prayer.
It is, however, neither of the religious revival nor of the social reformation wrought by the preaching of Whitefield, the labours of Wesley, and the enthusiasm of the early Methodists, that we purpose
here to speak. We desire to introduce them to our readers in the character of political revolutionists-a part which they did not consciously play; nay, which they would have emphatically disowned-a part which their spiritual descendants and followers would, perhaps, with some anger, deny our right to ascribe to them, but which we nevertheless contend they did most effectually carry out.
That the year of Whitefield's death was also the year in which the first popular political meetings were held in England, and the first political league formed-progenitors of all the reform meetings, Corn-Law Leagues, and societies of agitators innumerable which have since formed the most powerful forces in English politics-was something more than a coincidence. Horne Tooke and his friends had banded themselves together under the title of “Supporters of the Bill of Rights,” in 1769, but the society was not actively influential till the following year. The meetings were assemblies of freeholders to protest against the abuse of the power of Parliament in repeatedly refusing to acknowledge the right of the Middlesex constituency to choose whom it pleased for a member. They sprang out of the demagogy of Wilkes, with whom neither Wesley nor Whitefield had the least connection or sympathy. They would probably have denounced the meetings themselves as sedi. tious and wicked. Yet they were the persons who had rendered them possible, and to their labours, more than to any other cause, is traceable the mighty change in the very essence of English Government which has made it a virtual Republic instead of a virtual Oligarchy.
From the Revolution down to the time of Whitefield's death Eng. land was governed by the great families--the Portlands, Shrewsburys, Walpoles, Pulteneys, Graftons, Pitts, and Grenvilles. The House of Commons was bought by the Ministers. Even in King William's time the Secretary of the Treasury was committed to the Tower for purchasing Parliamentary votes ; Walpole openly bought both seats and members, and in 1762 the Paymaster purchased a majority for Lord Bute and the King at so costly a rate that the payments of the King's bed-chamber were stopped for want of funds. The representation of the people was a mere phrase. The seats for the counties were distributed or fought for by the great landowners, and the boroughs were bought and sold. In the election for 1768 Lord Spencer expended 70,0001. on the borough of Northampton, and the Mayor and Corporation of Oxford offered to re-elect the sitting members for 7,5001. The average price of a borough seat was 4,000. The House of Commons rigorously interdicted the publication of its debates, and arranged its business in secresy with the pensiongiver of the day. Public opinion could scarcely be said to exist in England. The populace might occasionally be excited to fury, by an appeal to their passions or prejudices, as when they shouted for Sacheverell, or defeated by their clamour Walpole's wise scheme of Excise, but intelligent criticism of public affairs, or idea of influencing Parliament by its expression there was none. There could be none.
Education had hardly penetrated beyond the upper layer of society. The few newspapers that existed seldom contained either political information or discussion. There was, in truth, no demand for knowledge of politics, and therefore it was not supplied. A grossly ignorant people were satisfied with incredible lies and libels, and the complaint of wise and far-seeing men was that the gentry were growingly indifferent to the Constitution. Of the lower orders no account was taken. The notion of legislating for them in any especial manner never entered the heads of the statesmen or political leaders. That they were little better than savages, degraded, fierce, and cruel, the riots against the Methodists in the early years of their ministry abundantly prove. Had they con
tinued in that condition nothing could have saved the country from revolution and anarchy, when the number of operatives was so amazingly increased by the marvellous development of manufacturing and mining operations in the latter part of the century; but in the first half of it the operative population were tolerably well off and contented, therefore it was utterly ignored and despised by the governing class.
What was it, then, which filled the nation with a new and mighty life—the stirrings of which tore off the swaddling clothes and wrappages with which the statesmen of the Revolution, like too careful mothers with honest but mistaken kindness, not understanding the innate force and vigour of the child, had encompassed it ? It is idle and shallow to attribute this movement to Wilkes, or Tooke, or Junius. They were rather some of its products than its causes. They helped to organise public opinion, but they wrought in ground that others had prepared. Before Wilkes began to play the part of a patriot, the dissatisfaction of the people with rulers who were engaged in endless struggles for place, and a Parliament that was hopelessly corrupt, had variously manifested itself. It would have found other exponents had not these men-coarse and unscrupulous, and therefore fitted for the rough work to be donepresented themselves. Wesley and Whitefield broke up the fallow ground and made political reform possible, and the only attempts made at popular education were made by these men. We have already noticed that in the very first year of field preaching the founders of both the Methodistic parties united in laying the stone of a school for the Kingswood colliers-Whitefield kneeling on the ground “that the gates of hell might not prevail against it," while his grimy but weeping converts responded with loud Amens. Wesley afterwards reared the school with funds which he obtained from some of his wealthier adherents. He also early projected schools for poor children in Newcastle and London. The schools at the Foundry were the prototypes of the Government and reformatory schools of our own day. “A thing," he says, “which gave me great concern was the case of abundance of children; some of their parents could not afford to put to school, so they remained like a wild ass's colt! Others were sent to school, and learnt, at least, to read and write; but they learned all kinds of vice at the same time, so that it had been better for them to have been without their knowledge than to have bought it at so dear a price. At length I determined to have them taught in my own house, that they might have an opportunity of learning to read, write, and cast accounts (if no more), without being under almost a necessity of learning heathenism at the same time; and after several unsuccessful trials I found two such schoolmasters as I wanted—men of honesty and of sufficient knowledge, who had talents for, and their hearts in the work. They have now under their care nearly sixty children; the parents of some pay for their schooling, but the greater part, being very poor, do not, so that the expense is chiefly defrayed by voluntary contributions. We have of late clothed them, too, as many as wanted.”
Several schools of which we have record as established by their followers were anticipations of the modern institutions of Sundayschools. Priestley, writing to Burke, said, “The Methodists have given vast numbers education ; they have placed them in a certain circle, and invested them with a degree of moral and social importance. If they have not done all that could be desired with such material, they have done much, and the country owes them much." Mr. Buckle observes that one of the leading characteristics of the eighteenth century, and one that pre-eminently distinguishes it from all that preceded it, was a craving after knowledge on the part of those classes from whom knowledge had hitherto been shut out.” This was very largely created by the labours of the Methodists. In 1714 there were no printers in Chester, Whitehaven, Preston, Kendal, Leeds, Manchester, or Liverpool. Later still there was scarce a bookseller in Cornwall. But the people in those remote counties insisted on reading what Mr. Wesley wrote, and having read his books, they wanted to read others. From 1750 onwards there was a marked increase in the number and variety of books published, while the newspapers more than doubled their circulation between that year and 1790. And it is impossible to trace this craving and call for knowledge to any other origin than the stir in the stagnant mind of the nation produced by the appeals of Whitefield and Wesley. They alone had compassion on the poor and them that were out of the way, calling attention to their miserable condition, and endeavouring to lift them out of a state of barbarism; but, above all, by their appeals they aroused the sense of individual responsibility and right which is at the bottom of all sound and effective popular government. Beneath their preaching the nation awoke to a new feeling of strength and hope. By the second Reformation they awakened a spirit of inquiry which extended from religious interests to political affairs, and demanded a justification and reason from all the institutions of the realm. Dr. Johnson, writing as the pensioned defender of the Court, describes the Methodists as “the natural fomenters of sedition, and confederates of the rabble.” It was utterly untrue in the sense in which he meant it to be understood ; but he saw that they were giving the people the intelligence and the self-respect which was threatening the privileges and monopolies for which all his reverence was reserved, and in that sense his charge against them was well-founded.