WASPS IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.*
THE years 1634-35, through which Mr. Bruce has now led us in Volumes VII. and VIII. of his Calendar for the reign of Charles I., were memorable in the annals of nature for the severe winter in which the Thames was thoroughly frozen over. The compen- sating heats seem to have been of a moral kind, the national mind having been everywhere exasperated by the extended levies of ship-money by Royal prerogative, and by the continuance of Archbishop Laud's active and severe proceedings against Puritans in the clergy and in the laity. These were a race of earnest people, according to Carlyle, who have become quite antiquated and unintelligible in the present weak and prating times. This may be the case in some respects, but when we read in State papers of a man preaching against the King's Book of Sports with " a most high kind of terrification," as if it were " a most dreadful thing, and near damnable, if not absolute damnation, to use any recreations on the Sabbath or Lord's Day ;--or another saying that " as many paces as a man made iia dancing, so many he made to hell," we cannot help being strongly reminded of some recent exhibi- tions of oratory in the neighbourhood of Scotch railway stations. But then while the Wasp species is immortal and indestructible, the experience of life gradually disposes gentlefolks to sit still under, or quietly retreat from them ; and not to be easily aroused to hunt them to death or deadly irritation ; and so it is per- ceived that the creatures are less dangerous and malignant than was at first imagined, and are even capable, if unprovoked, of keeping at a respectful distance from you. But in the days when the Civil War was hatching there was no toleration of wasps, and no way of evading them without joining in the hue and cry ; you had to resort to your parish church, and no other, every Sunday and holyday, and sit down in a mixed congrega- tion of Roman, and Genevan, and other manifold leanings, icono- clasts and reverers of images,—Christians by the traditions of the middle Ages and Christians according to the law of Moses, who were brought together by the fear of the high Commission Court, or by the authority of the " Pope of Canterbury," to insult or to endure each other's notions and manners, or in the last resort to inform against one another. There the minister might have vexed you by particularizing, i. e., personalities, as by calling you or your friend " an arch-knave," or averring that if "men could go to heaven by being drunkards, adulterers," and the like, then " none of his parishioners would be excluded." Your neighbours in the audience might have annoyed you by unseemly behaviour, wearing their hats or walking about during service, to say nothing of the neglect of bowings and kneelings, or of mutinous whispers against those idolatrous observances, or, perhaps, against the preacher's surplice. Either teachers or hearers might have thought, as Carlyle says, very much of the "root of the matter," and very little of " four clean surplices at All Hallowtide," or else the reverse of this. Perhaps an incumbent, engrossed in the former mysterious desideratum, might have habitually left his poultry to roost and his pigs to lodge in a decaying church or cathedral. No offenders against decorum were restrained by the • Carus:far of Wale Papers, Domestic Se, ies of the Reiyn of Charles L, 1634 1633. Edited by John Bruce, Esq., KS.A., under the direction of the ➢fester of the Rolls. London: Longman and Co. 1865. free operation of common taste and good feeling, or by being made responsible to a congregation professing the same tenets ; all ran wild in the licence of perpetual opposition, or were aggravated by the rigours of violent and irregular prosecutions. One docu- ment given at length in Mr. Bruce's preface to Volume VIII., is an invaluable illustration of the ecclesiastical wasp-hunting of this period. It is a report made to Laud by his Vicar-General, Sir Nathaniel Brent, of a visitation through seven dioceses, holden in the year 1635. It may be worth while to quote a few particulars, comparing here and there our notes of sundry proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Courts during the same year.
At Norwich the cathedral was much out of order ; the state of the pavement, the spire, the choir hangings, &c., were com- plained of ; and a window was found letting smoke and casting an ill savour into the north side. These things the visitor put in order ; he " convented " the mayor and aldermen for walking in the cathedral " indecently" before service ; and he conveyed Laud's orders to a Dutch and Walloon congregation in the place that they were to anglicanize themselves as fast as possible, especially in what concerned their rising generation of little schismatics. At Swaffham there were, as we are candidly told, " few Puritans, but much drunkenness, with all such vices as do usually attend upon it." From Lynn some papists, " speaking scandalously of the Scriptures and of our religion," were brought 1,o the High Com- mission Court. Some parsonage-houses had been ruined and glebe embezzled. At Fakenham a vicar preached while " standing excommunicate," for which he was suspended and prosecuted. At Ipswich a minister was suspended for giving the sacra- ment to non-kneelants. At other places we read of admoni- tions or suspensions of clergymen for not reading the de- claration for lawful sports, not wearing the surplice, or not using the, cross in baptism, for a manifestation of gross ignorance [of Latin], for stentorian vociferations and secret glancings at the ceremonies of our Church, or for refusing to bow at the name of Jesus. (We read of one man who told the Court that this bowing was a bowing to five letters, and no more proper than bowing to the names of Judas, Devil, or Satan. Elsewhere a minister is charged with substituting for the name of Jesus in reading the Scriptures.) At Northampton the aldermen had worn their hats in church till the visitor gave them a better example. At Stratford-on-Avon the minister walked in church to con his sermon in service-time, "particularized grossly," and kept pigs and poultry in the manner we have referred to. At Moreton-in- the-Marsh a widow had come to be sworn churchwarden. At Arundel Mr. Hill, being in his pulpit, had spoken unto four of his neighbours, who sat before him in one seat, that he was certain three of them should be damned. At Guildford there was much irreverence in not kneeling when the Ten Commandments were read (and possibly too much strictness for the vicar's taste in obeying some of the same commandments). At Hereford (" Acts of the Court of H.C., Oct. 9"), a clergyman had called the clergy of the realm the Great Rabbis and the great clergy monsters, and called the neighbouring ministers idol shepherds, dumb dogs, and soul-murtherers.
We hardly know whether the contemporary proceedings against profane swearers should be included under the category of wasp- huntings. We will not urge that this disagreeable class, unlike the heroic Puritans, had a buzz much worse than their bite, and very unmeaning and inoffensive when you got accustomed to it. It is another circumstance that presses itself on our atten- tion. The dire necessities of the King's financial position had im- pelled him to treat these insects as bees, and to extort no small amount of honey from them. The forfeitures payable for offen- sive interjections appear to have been farmed out beforehand to one Robert Lesley, who for this bound himself to pay, as soon as his office could be established, 1,0001. cash to the Secretary of State, and thereafter 2001. per annum. We hope this financial expedient, among others, will not have escaped the observation of a German Minister of State, who is known to have studied with great reverence the history of our Martyr-King, and to be zealously de- sirous of improving upon his mode of dealing with undutiful Par- liaments.
We are more interested in the unremnnerative onslaughts that were made on another tribe, viz., on a little wasp that the great wasp had to bite him ; for the Puritan, both in England and America, has generally been extremely thin-skinned on the sub- ject of witches, from the days in which they rode broomsticks and produced a cattle disease, to those in which they began to turn tables, &c., by Satanic agency. The State papers now before us give very interesting though fragmentary particulars of the " huge take of witches " in Lancashire which signalized the year 1634. We read that seven such transgressors were con- signed for examination to no less a dignitary than a Bishop of Cheater, who, when three of them had died in gaol and a fourth sickened past hope of recovery, applied himself as wisely and equitably as might have been expected to dealing with the three others. So from one of them, Margaret Johnson, his exhortations drew the tears of true penitence and a full confession of the compact she had made with a gentleman in black attire, and of the mode in which she had suckled him in the forms of a dog, and cat, and a hare. As to the other two witches, the Bishop reports some testimony offered in their behalf, to show that their accusers had attempted to extort money from them ;*but "such evidence being, as lawyers speak, against the King," he did not (I think it meet to receive it without special authorization from the Christian Government under which he lived. In this case, how- ever, the Court proceeded more charitably and carefully than their agent anticipated. A committee of twelve surgeons and seven midwives were appointed to inspect the prisoners, and really found on their persons no signs of extraordinary provision for the nutri- ment of imps. At last one of their accusers, a child ten years old, confessed how he had been induced to invent absurd stories about their sorceries,—at first to excuse himself for some breach of domestic regulations, then that he might go on gratifying the greedy ears of his marvel-loving neighbours in the country. Of the upshot of this story particulars may perhaps appear in a future volume of Mr. Bruce's collections, but at present he has given no hint of it. It may therefore be as well to state that the affair was at last brought under the personal cognizance of King Charles, who fortunately did not consider it against his honour or interest to discredit the abominable informations lodged against the four women (including the one who had confessed), and so acquitted them, with all their fellows in misfortune. The case was after- wards discussed in an able though ponderous treatise, the Dis- covery of Supposed Witchcraft, by Dr. John Webster (1677), which is thought to have powerfully shaken the last roots of the national superstition on the subject of sorcery.
So magnanimously did the second Stuart let alone that wasp at which his father, British Solomon as he was, had run a muck with the most frantic vehemence. It is notorious that the com- mercial and industrial world, no less than the religious, was in- fested by wasps of peculiar audacity. Patents and monopolies were solicited on all sides, and were encumbering the exercise of the pettiest art or " maistery" (or mystery, as our language had facetiously transformed the word). But we cannot now detain readers with a general survey of this subject ; we fear to enter into the voluminous concerns of the soap-boilers, or into the pri- vileges which the saltpetre-makers exercised in places plus mail non ntieulx sentant que rose. But we will notice one instance of what the law was able to do in the smallest matters—a needle that could be lifted from a corner by its huge proboscis. We refer to that venerable institution, the Wild Beasts in the Tower, and to a petition from their keeper which manifests the impression that he had a peculiar and sacred vocation, under the kings of men, to display the king of beasts and his relative (the leopard), for the edification of the young people of the country. He gnats a patent of James I.'s prohibiting the carrying of lions and leopards into any part of England to show them for gain, and he invokes its penalties against some itinerant raree showmen who had trans- gressed its provisions both at Oxford and Cambridge. He lays great stress on the fact that one lion kept by these parties had hurt a child, and even its own keeper, whence we may infer that such things never happened under legitimately-privileged custo- dians. What had become of the respectable maxim, "De minimis non curat lex?"