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PASSAGES FROM PETER PLYMLEY.*
DEAR ABRAHAM: A worthier and better man than yourself does not exist; but I have always told you, from the time of our boyhood, that you were a bit of a goose. Your parochial affairs are governed with exemplary order and regularity; you are as powerful in the vestry as Mr. Perceval is in the House of Commons—and, I must say, with much more reason; nor do I know any church where the faces and smock-frocks of the congregation are so clean, or their eyes so uniformly directed to the preacher. There is another point upon which I will do you ample justice; and that is, that the eyes so directed toward you are wide open; for the rustic has, in general, good principles, though he cannot control his animal habits; and however loud he may snore, his face is perpetually turned toward the fountain of orthodoxy.
Having done you this act of justice, I shall proceed, according to our ancient intimacy and familiarity, to explain to you my opinions about the Catholics, and to reply to yours.
In the first place, my sweet Abraham, the Pope is not landed, nor are there any curates sent out after him -nor has he been hid at St. Alban's by the Dowager Lady Spencer-nor dined privately at Holland House-nor been seen near Dropmore.† If these fears exist (which I do not believe), they exist only in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; they emanate from his zeal for the Protestant interest; and though they reflect the high
*"Letters on the Subject of the Catholics, to My Brother Abraham, who lives in the Country." By Peter Plymley.
†The seat of Lord Grenville, who advocated concessions to the Catholics
est honour upon the delicate irritability of his faith, must certainly be considered as more ambiguous proofs of the sanity and vigour of his understanding. By this time, however, the best-informed clergy in the neighbourhood of the metropolis are convinced that the rumour is without foundation; and, though the Pope is probably hovering about our coast in a fishing smack, it is most likely he will fall a prey to the vigilance of our cruisers; and it is certain he has not yet polluted the Protestantism of our soil.
BURNING AND HANGING.
Exactly in the same manner, the story of the wooden gods seized at Charing Cross, by an order from the Foreign Office, turns out to be without the shadow of a foundation; instead of the angels and archangels, mentioned by the informer, nothing was discovered but a wooden image of Lord Mulgrave, going down to Chatham, as a head-peace for the Spanker gun-vessel; it was an exact resemblance of his lordship in his military uniform; and therefore as little like a god as can well be imagined.
CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT PERSECUTIONS.
I FOUND in your letter the usual remarks about fire, fagot, and bloody Mary. Are you aware, my dear priest, that there were as many persons put to death for religious opinions under the mild Elizabeth, as under the bloody Mary? The reign of the former was, to be sure, ten times as long; but I only mention the fact, merely to show you that something depends upon the age in which men live, as well as on their religious opinions. Three hundred years ago, men burned and hanged each other for these opinions. Time has softened Catholic as well as Protestant; they both required it, though each perceives only his own improvement, and is blind to that of the other. We are all the creatures of circumstances. I know not a kinder and better man than yourself; but you (if you had lived in those times) would certainly have roasted your Catholic; and I promise you, if the first exciter of this religious mob had been as powerful then as he is now, you would soon have been elevated to the mitre. I do not go the length of saying that the world has suffered as much from Protestant as from Catholic persecution; far from it; but you should remember the Catholics had all the power, when the idea first started up in the world, that there could be two modes of faith; and that it was much more
natural that they should attempt to crush this diversity of opinion by great and cruel efforts, than that the Protestants should rage against those who differ from them, when the very basis of their system was complete freedom in all spiritual matters.
THE CHURCH IN DANGER.
THE English, I believe, are as truly religious as any nation in Europe; I know no greater blessing; but it carries with it this evil in its train, that any villain who will bawl out "The church is in danger!" may get a place, and a good pension; and that any administration who will do the same thing, may bring a set of men into power who, at a moment of stationary and passive piety, would be hooted by the very boys in the streets. But it is not all religion; it is, in great part, that narrow and exclusive spirit, which delights to keep the common blessings of sun, and air, and freedom, from other human beings. "Your religion has always been degraded; you are in the dust, and I will take care you never rise again. I should enjoy less the possession of an earthly good, by every additional person to whom it was extended." You may not be aware of it yourself, most reverend Abraham, but you deny their freedom to the Catholics upon the same principle that Sarah your wife refuses to give the receipt for a ham or a gooseberry dumpling; she values her receipts, not because they secure to her a certain flavour, but because they remind her that her neighbours want it a feeling laughable in a priestess, shameful in a priest; venial when it withholds the blessings of a ham, tyrannical and execrable when it narrows the boon of religious freedom.
A GOOD MAN AND BAD MINISTER.
You spend a great deal of ink about the character of the present Prime Minister. Grant you all that you write; I say, I fear he will ruin Ireland, and pursue a line of policy destructive to the true interest of his country: and then you tell me he is faithful to Mrs. Perceval, and kind to the Master Percevals! These are, undoubtedly, the first qualifications to be looked to in a time of the most serious public danger; but somehow or another (if public and pri
RELIGIOUS FIGHTING TEST.
vate virtue must always be incompatible), I should prefer that he destroyed the domestic happiness of Wood or Cockell, owed for the veal of the preceding year, whipped his boys, and saved his country.
SOLDIERS AND THEOLOGY.
WHAT is it the Catholics ask of you?* Do not exclude us from the honours and emoluments of the state, because we worship God in one way, and you worship him in another-in a period of the deepest peace, and the fattest prosperity, this would be a fair request; it should be granted, if Lord Hawkesbury † had reached Paris, if Mr. Canning's interpreter had threatened the Senate in an opening speech, or Mr. Perceval explained to them the improvements he meant to introduce into the Catholic religion; but to deny the Irish this justice now, in the present state of Europe, and in the summer months, just as the season for destroying kingdoms is coming on, is (beloved Abraham), whatever you may think of it, little short of positive insanity.
Here is a frigate attacked by a corsair of immense strength and size, rigging cut, masts in danger of coming by the board, four feet water in the hold, men dropping off very fast; in this dreadful situation how do you think the captain acts (whose name shall be Perceval)? He calls all hands upon deck; talks to them of king, country, glory, sweethearts, gin, French prisons, wooden shoes, old England, and hearts of oak; they give three cheers, rush to their guns, and after a tremendous conflict, succeed in beating off the enemy. Not a syllable of all this; this is not the manner in which the honourable commander goes to work; the first thing he does is to secure twenty or thirty of his prime sailors, who happen to be Catholics, to clap them in irons, and set over them a guard of as many Protestants; having taken this admirable method of defending himself against his infidel opponents, he goes upon deck, reminds the sailors, in a very bitter harangue, that they are of different religions; exhorts the Episcopal gunner not to trust to
* A Catholic Naval and Military Service Bill, allowing Catholics to hold commissions in the army and navy, was under discussion in Parliament.
†The "lesser of the two Jenkinsons," soon after (on the death of his father) Lord Liverpool. He was Home Secretary at the date of the Plymley Letters.
the Presbyterian quarter-master; issues positive orders that the Catholics should be fired at upon the first appearance of discontent; rushes through blood and brains, examining his men in the catechism and thirty-nine articles, and positively forbids every one to sponge or ram who has not taken the sacrament according to the Church of England. Was it right to take out a captain made of excellent British stuff, and to put in such a man as this? Is not he more like a parson, or a talking lawyer, than a thorough-bred seaman? And built as she is of heart of oak, and admirably manned, is it possible, with such a captain, to save this ship from going to the bottom?
MR. CANNING AND HIS PARASITES.
NATURE descends down to infinite smallness. Mr. Canning has his parasites; and if you take a large buzzing blue-bottle fly, and look at it in a microscope, you may see twenty or thirty little ugly insects crawling about it, which doubtless think their fly to be the bluest, grandest, merriest, most important animal in the universe, and are convinced the world would be at an end if it ceased to buzz.
SUBSTITUTE THE CLAPHAMITES FOR THE CATHOLICS.
I ADMIT there is a vast luxury in selecting a particular set of Christians, and in worrying them as a boy worries a puppy-dog; it is an amusement in which all the young English are brought up from their earliest days. I like the idea of saying to men who use a different hassock from me, that till they change their hassock, they shall never be colonels, aldermen, or parliament-men. While I am gratifying my personal insolence respecting religious forms, I fondle myself into an idea that I am religious, and that I am doing my duty in the most exemplary (as I certainly am in the most easy) way. But then, my good Abraham, this sport, admirable as it is, is become, with respect to the Catholics, a little dangerous; and if we are not extremely careful in taking the amusement, we shall tumble into the holy water, and be drowned. As it seems necessary to your idea of an established church to have somebody to worry and torment, suppose we were to select for this purpose