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Fascination. The Kit-Cat Club. In Place and
Wit and Judgment.
LONDON SATURDAY JOURNAL.
PUBLISHED BY WILLIAM, SMITH, FLEET STREET.
IN commencing the "LONDON SATURDAY JOURNAL," we are anxious to explain our objects at greater length than we could do within the limits of an ordinary prospectus. For this purpose it is necessary to consider in detail the influences which have tended to form the character of the present age. We shall, therefore, take a glance at The Past and the Future -the "Past," with which we are concerned in the present introductory number, being circumscribed within the short but important period of the last hundred years.
THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.
ABOUT the beginning of the reign of George the Second, the aspect of the moral world to a spectator of large mind and liberal views, must have appeared exceedingly dull and cheerless. The upper classes were tainted with infidelity and licentiousness, the lower classes were thoroughly ignorant, depraved, and brutal even in their amusements. Government was corruptly administered; selfishness and formalism pervaded the Church ; the Dissenters had lost the high tone of feeling and actionhich had characterised them in a previous age, and were comparatively few, feeble, and discouraged. There was no public spirit there was none of that diffusion of intelligence and sympathy of feeling among the people which we now understand as PUBLIC OPINION. The PEOPLE did indeed exist, but they formed a rude, disjointed body, like water hemmed in by embankments, but liable to be agitated by any passing breeze, or even to be lashed into a storm. But there was no organization, no coherence. The idea of publishing the debates in Parliament would have seemed a most extraordinary proceeding, as well as rash and daring, unless at distant periods, and in the shape of an historical summary. Public opinion requires prompt conductors, but internal communication was then difficult and slow. The low state of general morality is attested by all the historical records and literature of the time. Pope's sparkling wit and sharpest powers of observation; Fielding's broad humour and coarse feeling; Richardson's maudlin sentimentalism; and Gay's knight errantry of thieves ;—all join in bearing testimony to the feeble appreciation of the delicacy and worth of the female character, and the loose sentiment, that prevailed. The letters of Horace Walpole depict vividly the aspect of the times in which they were written, and are quite astounding to readers who form their ideas of the past from the present. "We read," says the Spectator newspaper, "such books as Horace Walpole's charming letters, and seeing phrases embracing the 'world' and the 'public,' take them in the modern sense; but the public of George the Second's reign is no more the public of the present day, than the groat of Edward the First is the groat of a modern fourpence. There is a change in the currency of words as of coins. When Walpole speaks of the world of England, it may almost be reckoned upon the fingers;
the world was but the aristocratic frequenters of London, with a tail of led captains, sharpers, adventurers, and broken younger sons; they were surrounded by a set of camp suttlers, in the shape of tradespeople, who in fact hedged in the world, and aided in forming the public. Where was the English nation at this time? It was not, because, though the elements existed, there was no means of communication-no moral combination among them. When it did show itself, it was only when some striking event, by its greatness and energy, forced a passage through the difficult channels that then served for intercourse; and being in a great measure ignorant, prejudiced, and unused to power, it showed itself unhappily, and in the shape of mobs." Daniel Defoe in his old age left politics, and drew upon his imagination, he found that coarse and vulgar subjects were as acceptable, and as eagerly read, as Robinson Crusoe. He indeed endeavoured to make the lowest and most offensive topic a medium for conveying something like a moral; but the only real apology for him is the character of the age, and the necessity he was under of writing for bread,
Fancy DEFOE revisiting the earth after his sleep of a century in the grave! He closed a life of untiring literary industry, political strife, and worldly struggle, in 1731. Amongst his multifarious writings are many indications of the far-forward look he had into the social improvement of his fellow-men. He proposed the establishment of a London University, as one of his schemes for rendering the metropolis "the most flourishing city in the universe;" and at a time when scarcely a thousand lamps were hung out (on dark nights only, and till midnight) to make palpable the obscurity of London, and when street robbers were so audacious as to form a plan for stopping the queen's coach, and robbing her, as she passed from the city through St. Paul's church-yard to St. James's, he brought forward a plan by which he said, "our streets will be so strongly guarded and so gloriously illuminated, that any part of London will be as safe and pleasant at midnight as at noonday, and burglary rendered totally impracticable." Scarcely any civic or social improvement could be supposed to startle a man like him. Yet fancy him returning to revisit once more the scenes he loved so well. He looks around the pleasant suburban village of Stoke Newington, where some of the quiet and happy days of his bustling life were spent; and he exclaims, with a smile, that changes have not destroyed identity. All the land-marks of nature are still here; the fields are still verdant under the influences of sun and air; and in the distance the dome of St. Paul's tells that London still stands where it stood, and that if another Great Fire has swept the streets and alleys, it has, at least, spared the noble creation of Sir Christopher Wren's! Yes! and MAN, too, is the same; he has changed his costume, but not his nature. So the old man yearns to visit Paternoster Row and Fleet Street, and to inquire how his books are selling; and as he trudges towards the city, he admires the omnibuses that roll past, though
he fears, from the number of umbrellas, that Englishmen have become effeminate. The great increase of London does amaze him a little but much especially he admires those fine pavements and tall lamp-posts, that now are the substitutes of narrow foot-paths, fenced from the carriage way by clumsy posts and chains. The projecting creaking sign-posts are also all pulled down; many of the streets are comfortable, broad, and spacious, and far cleaner than in his time. "Man has improved during the century I have been asleep; he has improved in external appearances and physical comforts-but is he not, after all, the same moral being, under the same petty influences and low desires, as when I departed hence?" He enters a coffee-house, as was his wont in his natural days; he looks for Parker's Penny Post, or Fog's Weekly Journal, but the Times or the Morning Chronicle meets his eye. He spreads out the broadside-the advertisements, the parliamentary reports, the leading articles, confound him. There must be some mighty change in society, for better or for worse, he mutters to himself. He runs over column after column of what took place the previous night in both Houses of Parliament. "I do not ask," he says, "any explananation of the rationale of all this, by what triumph of opinion or by what law it is accomplished; all I wish to know is, how this mass of type is got together, and printed in a night. The moral fact is beyond me-let me know, for I have had large experience with printers and periodicals, how the mechanical is done." While he yet speaks, a traveller tells how he was in Liverpool yesterday, and in New York a fortnight ago. He hears of a great empire called the United States; of vast colonial possessions, of a French revolution, of a national debt amounting to nearly 800,000,0007., of a yearly revenue amounting to more than 50,000,0001, of steam and railroads, of the cotton manufacture, of the increase of population, of Napoleon, and Wellington, and Nelson, of Catholic emancipation, reform in Parliament-but the resolute old man, confounded and affrighted, vanishes from a world he knows not.
over the other, and greatly affected the social character of England.
II. THE POLITICAL INFLUENCES.-The political spirit made its appearance after the religious and sceptical influences had been causing the public mind to ferment. Things wholly separate and distinct were thus mixed up and confounded, for a time, together. The political spirit has evolved new truths in law and new forms in government, and paved the way for a great alteration of the balance of power between different classes in society.
III. THE PHYSICAL INFLUENCES.-These have prodigiously accelerated the force and power of the other influences. New facts in science have been discovered, or rather new sciences have been founded, new combinations of physical power have been effected, the whole material world has been enlarged, the capabilities of man have been enormously increased, and, as one of the results, there has been a general diffusion of scientific knowledge.
IV. Under a distinct head we may place the LITERARY INFLUENCES, EXTENSION OF EDUCATION, &c., which, however powerful, are, in some sort, only auxiliary to the other influences.
I. RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES.
THE RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES come first in point of time as well as importance. The movement may be said to have begun with the Methodists. Not that Wesley and Whitfield originated the movement. While they were passing through the religious discipline that shaped their characters and influenced their career, the Dissenters were mourning over the melancholy aspect of affairs, holding meetings for the purpose of "engaging in public addresses to God," and rousing one another to do something to remedy "the declining state of religion." Doddridge appeared as an author for the first time in 1730, in answer to an "Enquiry into the Causes of the Decay of the Dissenting Interest." In his "Free Thoughts" Doddridge does not take so gloomy a view of affairs as the author he was answering, for he was then young and ardent, and entering on his comparatively short career of activity and usefulness. But he admits the necessity there was for exertion, deplored the apathy which prevailed, and pointed out means by which it might be roused. There was, in fact, amongst pious men, both Churchmen and Dissenters, a general looking forward to some revival in religion; and, though the numbers of such expectants were few, they were influential. The soil was therefore preparing for the labours of Wesley and Whitfield; and this shaking of the withered leaves may help to explain how Whitfield was charged with driving fifteen of his hearers mad by his first sermon-his fervour and his eloquence fell on hearts that not only wanted but wished for revival. The tide had begun slowly to flow when Whitfield and Wesley launched upon it.
A mighty change has indeed passed over society since Defoe departed. Dull and miserable as was the aspect of moral and social improvement, a century ago-to one who could have looked with a prophetic eye, the future must have seemed glorious. A great movement was about to take place; the lower classes were about to rise, and to drive upward all above them; the world of mind was about to expand with irresistible force. The movement has been accompanied with many evils and much suffering; revolutions have broken out, and governments have been shaken to pieces; convulsive throes have agitated the whole structure of society; on all sides have been heard and seen "voices and thunders and lightnings ;" and there has been "a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great." But MAN now occupies a higher position; the evils have been and will be local and transient; the good, great, extensive, and permanent. To all who take an interest in the progress of society, the PAST is full of instruction, and the FUTURE of hope, not unmixed with anxiety. The influences that have been at work in England during the would have shrunk back in fear. They set in motion a social last hundred years may be thus classified :
I. THE RELIGIOUS AND THE SCEPTICAL INFLUENCES.-We perceive a spirit of religious zeal pervading the lower classes and gradually ascending, and a sceptical or infidel spirit pervading the upper or thinking classes, and descending to the lower or ignorant classes. These two influences crossed each other, the one ascending, the other descending, and after having caused great intellectual excitement, the one in a measure triumphed
And yet, perhaps, if these men had foreseen all the direct and collateral results of their agitation of the public mind, they
as well as a religious revolution; they began the organization of a public opinion; they set the first great example in this country of the middle classes teaching the hand-working classes to combine, and then stimulating and guiding them. Whitfield might have been the most eloquent or rather effective preacher that ever roused a vast congregation, and Wesley the most prudent manager that ever founded a party-yet Methodism would have melted away like snow in April, but for the organization of the people. A moral sense and feeling were infused into a
large body of the hand-working classes; they received work to do, and thereby their self-esteem and sense of importance were elevated-each a prime ingredient in the formation of character. In Wesley's life-time, the government of his society was a patriarchal despotism; and truly affecting was that incident which took place over the cold remains of the venerable man, when he who read the funeral service changed "brother" into “ father," and all the congregation "lifted up their voices and wept." Since his death the government has assumed the form of an oligarchy. But it is the infusion of the democratical spirit which has knit Methodism together; and it is the struggle of the democratic and aristocratic elements which has caused breaches in the society. The various associations of Methodism, band meetings, love feasts, prayer meetings, or by whatever name they may be called, are democratic in their nature. The facilities which have existed, by which the humblest member of the society, if he possess the gifts, may rise to be a "ruler in Israel," are also of great importance in their influence, and belong to the democratic character of Methodism.
What Methodism did for our social character may be gathered, in some sort, from the persecution which raged against it in its early career. We can assign a reason for persecution from heathens in a heathen country, for their idolatry may have been rebuked, their superstition affronted, their prejudices offended, or the political feelings of the ruling class alarmed. But persecution in a professedly Christian country argues a very low state of Christian knowledge, a very feeble appreciation of Christian morality. No excuse can be allowed on the plea that the Methodists behaved extravagantly, and that they were regarded as enthusiasts or fanatics. The true Christian ever bears in recollection his Master's example and words, when he rebuked his two zealots, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." But that in professedly Christian and Protestant England the Methodists should have been dragged before magistrates as rogues and vagabonds-pelted with stones and beaten with sticks-injured often to the peril of their lives-besieged, like the angelic guests of Lot, in the houses where they had taken refuge, and their hospitable entertainers placed in danger-divine worship interrupted by indecent outrages-all these things cast a foul blot on our national character, and present a humbling picture of the state of society. The Methodists were not alone in receiving this treatment, though they shared it most largely. Dr. Doddridge, writing in 1737, tells how a "poor but honest man," who had induced one of his pupils to come and preach a sermon to a congregation, was shamefully ill-used, and dragged through a horsepond, while the congregation was broken up, pelted with "stones, sticks, and dirt," and the life of the young student threatened.
But it was precisely to renovate such a state of society as this that Methodism came. It came to an utterly ignorant population, whose sports and pastimes were bull-baiting, cock-fighting, and drunkenness, and it strove to lift them out of the pit of sensuality in which they were sunk. The quarry was rough, and it did not commit the folly of attempting to hew blocks with razors. It selected from among the people rude and untaught men, and, firing their hearts with awful hopes and promises and fears, sent them out to persuade their fellows. We may admire the power, tact, and heroism of Whitfield, assaulting vice in the very midst of "Vanity Fair;" there is something indeed picturesque in the scene at Moorfields, where the little children, seated round the pulpit for the purpose of handing the notes sent up to the preacher from "awakened " persons, looked up with streaming eyes as he was struck with missiles, and seemed to wish they could bear the blows for him. Wesley's conduct in the midst of
danger, though not so striking as that of Whitfield's, is also calculated to excite much sympathy, from the calm, placid resoluteness with which he faced a mob. But there is something far more interesting in the examples of humbler Methodists, who had not the power and tact of Whitfield to protect, nor the calmness and character of Wesley to shelter, them. Many of them were often rash, indiscreet, and extravagant in their conduct; often brought mischief on themselves; yet we cannot but sympathise with their patient courage, their resolute perseverance, and we feel that nothing but an inspiring faith could carry them through their trials and labours. The working classes were, in fact, renovated by themselves; and those who sneered at cobblers, tailors, and tinkers turning preachers, little understood how powerfully that very circumstance was operating, not merely for the propagation of Methodism, but for the elevation of the great body of the working classes.
After Methodism had agitated the lower classes, and to some extent had pervaded them, it began to ascend. From the very first it was aided and patronized by a portion of the middle classes, and not wholly despised by a few, though a very few, of the lower section of the upper classes. But by the time it had acquired some character, it began visibly to ascend and spread. Some of its most active supporters in upper life were ladies. Lady Maxwell enabled Wesley to found Kingswood School, and continued through a long life to give her exertions and heart to the cause. But she is far outshone by the celebrated Lady Huntingdon. Both these ladies were driven to take shelter in Methodism by domestic bereavements. So early as 1748 Lady Huntingdon had Whitfield preaching in her house at Chelsea, where, amongst others of the nobility she had gathered to hear him, were Lords Chesterfield and Bolingbroke. Chesterfield complimented Whitfield "with his usual courtliness;" the shrewd, witty, selfish man of fashion praised the preacher as he praised Garrick. Bolingbroke was moved; he invited Whitfield to visit him. According to Southey, the restless, unprincipled partisan, whose intellect was more than a balance for his moral sense, "seems to have endeavoured to pass from infidelity to Calvinism, if he could." Lady Huntingdon did for Calvinistic Methodism what Wesley did for Arminian Methodism. founded Trevecca College, in Wales, and at her death left upwards of sixty-four chapels built through her means and exertions.
The furious, and, in many respects, most indecently-conducted controversy between Calvinistic and Arminian Methodism, did considerable good. Controversy is the "safety valve of religious zeal;" but this controversy was more than a safety valve; it was an intellectual steam engine, often worked at high pressure. Hitherto Methodism had only stimulated the feelings, but had not informed the intellect; it had roused ignorance through the medium of the imagination, but had only stirred not instructed the understanding. But in the Calvinistic and Arminian controversy both parties were compelled to take sides; they had to exercise some portion of thought; they had to choose their weapons, and to attack or defend; and though the controversy had the usual effect of producing many grievous imputations, many scalding and bitter words, many hot and hasty partisans, it also led to discussion, and discussion leads to truth. The first religious journals sprang up in England out of this controversy; and the "Christian Magazine," the "Spiritual Magazine," the Gospel Magazine," and the "Arminian Magazine," were the fruitful parents of a numerous and useful progeny.
While Methodism, in its two-fold character of Calvinistic and Arminian, was spreading through the country, and establishing itself, dissent was also rising in extent, influence, and numbers.