Making all religion ridiculous

Of Culture High and Low: the Polemics of Toleration, 1667-1673

DEREK HIRST

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, ST. LOUIS

  1. Defences of the study of a broadly defined 'political culture' abound, yet the phrase has sometimes been honoured as much through token acknowledgement as careful assessment. A proper situation of works of controversy may take us closer to the substance. Controversy, which is usually understood as occurring within contexts defined by modern academic boundaries -- 'political thought', 'ecclesiology', 'literary style', and so forth -- needs as well to be imagined across a large number of overlapping and intersecting forms of discourse. While such an observation might seem a counsel of despair to scholars seeking to demarcate a topic, they may find comfort in the concept of the historical moment. For the historical moment, cutting as it does across the grain of textual categories, of genres and modes, allows an apprehension of their broader temporal and polemical force. The historical moment then provides the co-ordinates through which to comprehend a range of discourses as a felt and simultaneous whole. The late 1660s, for example, seem to instantiate precisely the fragmentary, centrifugal, nature of early-modern culture that so perturbs discipline-bound pessimists. It was a world not only of military and political disaster, the Dutch in the Medway and Clarendon in flight, but of a resurgent aristocratic culture and a burgeoning marketplace alike, of theatrical grandeur and spiritual persecution, and the apocalypticism of plague and fire. Yet whatever the assumptions of modern scholars, these were not experienced as discrete, unitary, phenomena; they inflected one another, and their traces were heard and felt simultaneously in a multitude of encounters and transactions.

  2. The consequences of a wide reading across the textual register of a particular moment, rather than a determined immersion in one thematically-defined sector, are various. The first is a wholly salutary recognition of the permeability of the categories of understanding with which we enter the past. Only by such reading, we may suspect, can we approach the society and culture of the past as a living whole, in its conceptual, argumentative and aesthetic complexity. To read across the register in the later seventeenth century is to recognise, for example, how close were the connections between the domain of imaginative literature and the polemics of religion (though we might have suspected that the examples of John Milton and John Bunyan would have made such a reminder superfluous). But to read across the register is not only to erode disciplinary boundaries; it is also to be made aware of the tenuousness of the distinctions so often drawn between high culture and popular culture.

  3. To be sure, in recent years the work of Tessa Watt, Eamonn Duffy and Peter Lake in particular has suggested that godly reformers in the seventeenth century deliberately tailored their arguments and their appeals to popular media and popular tastes (Watt 1991, Duffy 1986, 31-55; Lake 1993). Yet the model of cultural interaction those scholars have posited seems a trifle functionalist: ministers, hack-writers and polemicists sought to coopt a marginally literate or less-than-godly audience by writing down to it, using broadsheet and chap-book forms to clothe a strenuous message. The case is unchallengeable. But if we read across the texts of a moment, rather than through a particular form of text, we may arrive at a rather more complex account of cultural contact and exchange.

  4. And there is surely space for rereading. Even though the dominant narrative of the Restoration period has been largely reshaped in recent years, that reshaping has generally remained within conventional disciplinary boundaries. Not long ago historians seemed agreed that the wars of mid-century had fought religious passions to exhaustion, and that the sun was soon to rise on a more modern world, the first age of party. Erosion of that consensus began about a dozen years ago, and we have since heard variously that the Church of England and its tenets flourished, that religious partisanship lay at the heart of political alignments until at least the end of the century, that arguments of conscience and religious authority similarly dominated political thought and debate, even that England was to remain a confessional state into the nineteenth century. Such debate on the position of religion in public life has been welcome, and the evidence of continuities with the pre-Civil War past convincing. Yet however tender religious passions may have been, and however sophisticated the arguments, we still need to question prevailing assumptions that religious debate and religious debaters were somehow insulated from other currents and other groups.

  5. This paper accordingly seeks to explore some of the ambiguities within what we might call the first Restoration crisis, the controversy over conscience which extended from the disasters of the Dutch War and the fall of Clarendon in 1667 to the defeat with the Test Act of 1673 of Charles's policy of Indulgence to religious dissenters.1 In the later 1660s the long-term efforts of the bishops and their allies to impose a tighter discipline than that Charles had appeared to promise at Breda took on a new urgency as competing groups within the polity sought to interpret the providential signs of plague, fire and humiliation in the Dutch War. When Hobbesian atheism seemed a dangerous affront to the deity, the philosopher sensed a new danger of the stake;2 meanwhile, the claims of ecclesiastical disciplinarians on the one hand and nonconformists on the other to exclusive understanding of the meaning of the disasters of 1665-67, and in particular their bearing on the previous decades, sparked a remarkable argumentative flurry over the relations of conscience and authority.3 The part played by these developments in the history of toleration has ensured scholarly attention for their ecclesiological arguments and political alignments. Not surprisingly, historians have pursued claim and counter-claim through the thickets of casuistry and polemic, but in so doing they have tended to limit the debate over conscience. Not only have they overlooked the degree to which it resounded on the London stage as well as in learned tomes and cheap pamphlets. They have also failed to register the role of that debate in a wider controversy over the nature of the nation's culture. Writers of bitterly partisan works attended passionately to issues of style and form; not coincidentally, their partisan alignments were also deeply embedded in -- indeed, signalled through -- ostensibly literary gestures.

  6. The interweaving of matters ecclesiastical and expressive in the Restoration is no new discovery. The 'plain style' had long been the vehicle of choice for godly expositors, and the anti-puritan reaction unleashed by the fall of the republic brought the politics of style to the polemical fore. As N.H. Keeble has noted, university sermons in 1660 found the hallmarks of 'enthusiasm' and 'fanaticism' in homespun metaphor and allegory, the characteristic devices of preachers and prophets seeking to communicate the immediacy of spiritual experience (Keeble 1987, 234-44). The coupling of metaphor with political evil was a theme taken further, and certainly more famously, by Thomas Sprat in his History of the Royal Society of 1667, as he urged the case for the scientific method. It is scarcely coincidental that the publication of Milton's three great poems, centrally concerned as they are with issues of style and conscience, came in these years between the Fire and the Test Act.

  7. Sprat's case for a politics of style may to some have seemed primarily a reflection on the upheavals of the past, but it swiftly gained in urgency. The first of the repressive measures of 1665-67, the Conventicle Act, had added heavy penalties to nonconformist worship; the Five Mile Act two years later took the new holy war to the nonconforming clergy by barring them from corporate towns. Such stringent measures triggered a two-fold reaction, a pamphleteering campaign for a relaxation of sanctions against a minority claiming to be loyal and productive,4 and a parliamentary campaign in 1668-69 for relief for moderate and respectable nonconformists, either through comprehension within a broader Church of England or through a measure of toleration outside it (Thomas 1962, 195-206). The Anglican response was immediate and powerful. Most obviously, the second Conventicle Act of 1670 replaced the lapsed 1665 statute with a broader measure. More provocative in the eyes of many was the Anglican onslaught in press and pulpit, an onslaught that countered nonconformist demands for leniency by detailing and polemicizing the responsibility of the nonconforming conscience for England's woes. Civil war, revolution and regicide had been the work of enthusiasts; and the strains of enthusiasm could still be heard in meetings and conventicles, its texts encountered in the bookshops and streets. By the end of the 1660s the Anglican critique of nonconformist discourse -- the means by which old evils were perpetuated -- had been elaborated into the centrepiece of political controversy.

  8. Simon Patrick, future bishop of Ely, set the terms of much of the ensuing debate in his 1669 tract, A Friendly Debate between a Conformist and a Nonconformist. His comprehensive challenge to nonconformist pulpit techniques rested on a perceptive assessment of the concerns of his foes, whose anxiety to communicate with 'spirit and power' their claims to spiritual experience he recognised.5 Such claims were, he maintained, inherently untestable; more immediately, the means used to assert them were illegitimate, mere pulpit tricks. The godly preachers' insistent deployment of 'melting Tones, pretty Similitudes, riming Sentences, kind and loving Smiles, and sometimes dismally-sad Looks,' were a 'Puppet-play,' aimed to move the 'Senses and Imaginations' of the audience rather than their 'Reason and Judgement.' As he argued this, Patrick came very close to a sociology of hearing: 'the better sort of Hearers are now out of love with these things.'6

  9. The repeated genuflections in Patrick's direction by his allies, notably Samuel Parker, as well as the angry cries of foul play from his enemies reflect his influence. Patrick provoked his foes on two fronts -- his method, the 'debate' friendly or otherwise he had constructed, and the devices he (like other Latitudinarians) used to make clear that the reasonableness to which he appealed was not mere ratiocination. Polemic by dialogue was of course an old and fairly honourable tradition; but when nonconformist nerves were already sensitive, Patrick's decision to couch his plea for reason and judgement, his denunciation of appeals to the emotions, in the avowedly fictive form of an imagined debate rubbed them raw. John Owen's major reply lamented Patrick's exploitation of poetic form and literary artifice to depict an encounter which could best be termed 'Dramatick or Romantick;' John Humfrey - a more searching political thinker than most of the other protagonists - politely if pointedly regretted that 'Religion should be brought as it were on the Stage, and made Comical in the Friendly Debate'.7 But perhaps the most searching riposte to Patrick's representations of a terrain of the conscience very different from that inhabited by the strenuously godly came from Samuel Rolls, who denounced Patrick and his allies for 'a Romance way of preaching and writing Divinity, as if they meant to Evangelize Sr. Philip Sydney, and thought that all Divinity might well be planted within the Compass of his Arcadia' (Rolls 1669, 12).

  10. As Rolls's jibe makes clear, the politics of ecclesiastical discipline, of style and of conscience meshed tightly at the close of the Restoration's first decade, as the mounting strictures of the churchmen on the consciences of the godly coincided with an increasingly fashionable Latitudinarianism.8 Not for nothing therefore do godly works from these years show a heightened sensitivity to polemic style and spiritual expression. Richard Ashcraft not long ago observed a clustering around 1670 of nonconformist works blazoning 'reason' in their titles, as moderates sought to disclaim their embarrassing heritage and establish themselves on some piece of middle ground (Ashcraft 1986, 54). Even the Quaker William Penn opened his major work of 1669, No Cross, No Crown, with a gesture of unease, beginning his dedicatory epistle with an apologia for 'stile and method' as well as 'matter'.

  11. The controversy excited by Patrick was slight compared to the storm aroused by the exuberant Samuel Parker, future bishop of Oxford, whose Discourse of Ecclesiastical Politie was published in 1669/70.9 The opening words of Parker's preface raised style as an issue, and he there ran to the defence of Patrick's use or abuse of literary form (Parker 1669 / 70, iii, xv-xviii). Keeble has recounted Parker's eager participation with his Discourse in the debate Patrick had initiated (Keeble 1987, 244, 247-50); but he does not note the manner in which the ensuing nonconformist protest at Parker's own rhetorical ploys and violent railing -- as one critic observed disdainfully, had the Discourse 'been condited to the present Gust of the Age, by Language, Wit, or Drollery, it might have found some entertainment in the world [, b]ut downright dirty Railing, is beneath the genius of the Times' (Anon 1671, 16-17; see also [Humfrey] 1670, 9, 18, 31, Owen 1669 and Anon 1669, 7) -- drove that arch-warrior again into the fray. Parker's renewed and lengthy defence of Patrick's choice of the debate form and excoriation of John Owen's 'cant' and metaphor underscore the centrality to argument over conscience of issues of literary form (Parker 1670, 157-81). More interesting, and more novel, is another feature of Parker's continued interest in the nonconformists' taste for metaphor. He now set himself to explain, rather than simply denounce, the consequences of that delusion. His first gesture was historical, tracing this 'mystery of Godliness', this 'new and distinct Religion', back fifty years or so to the efforts of weak preachers to reach out to 'the rude and undiscerning multitude' (Parker 1671, 307-9). Parker's location of godly experimental and spiritual preaching in plebeian tastes squares not only with the modern model of godly trickle-down, but also with Patrick's insistence that such preaching was now wholly out of fashion among 'the better sort of Hearers'. But the other element in Parker's analysis has no parallel elsewhere, though its roots may be clear enough.

  12. Insisting that those who take their religion beyond the realm of morality into the domain of the spirit are pursuing chimeras and dreams, Parker asserts a fascinating link joining the physical body to the stage and in turn to the human imagination. The fanatics

    derive all their religious motions and phantasms from the present state and constitution of their Bodies, and move only upon the stage of Fancy, and according as sanguine or melancholy are predominant, so the Scene alters. Sometimes their bloud runs low, their spirits are weak and languid, melancholy reeks and vapours cloud and overwhelm their Fancies, and then the Scene is all Tragedy, and they are immediately under spiritual desertions and troubles of Conscience, their Fancies are full of Fears, and their mouths of Moan ... But when the Tide returns, and the spirits rise, and the natural heat breaks out from under the oppression of melancholy humours, boyls up into the Brain, and refreshes the drooping fancy with brisk and active spirits, and fills it with warm and spritely Imaginations: This they presently conceit to be the Spirit of God spreading its wings over the poor disconsolate soul

    Parker 1671, 338-42).

    The Hobbesianism of this account of the 'Philosophy of a Phanatick' is unmistakable; but so too is the theatricality. It was no wonder that both Owen and Humfrey claimed to see in Parker the playwright as much as the man of God 10

  13. Parker's fascination with the theatre as metaphor in his analysis of the physics of enthusiasm may also have caught the eye of Andrew Marvell. Marvell put his clericalist enemy on the stage with as much gusto as did Owen and Humfrey, and to far greater effect, bowing in the title of his satire The Rehearsal Transpros'd in the direction of the Duke of Buckingham's play The Rehearsal, and characterising Parker throughout as 'Bayes', the absurd dramatist foil of that work. The general strategy seems clear enough: as Keeble has argued, Marvell sought to liken the 'farcical inconsequentiality' of Parker as churchman with that of Buckingham's fictional 'Bayes,' a composite of Dryden and Davenant, as dramatist.11 In such an argument, Marvell would presumably have been moved to select his oddly theatrical title for one of the century's most devastating pieces of ecclesiastical polemic not simply by judgements about Parker's churchmanship but also by literary rivalries. He made his distaste for Dryden clear enough when in his tribute to Milton's Paradise Lost he coupled reference to the 'bays' of glory with derision for those who wrote in rhyme.12 And since it was the universal assumption -- one that Patrick and Parker had themselves made manifest -- that arms and arts marched in concert, that high literary ground helped to establish a political position,13 it might be no surprise that Marvell should have sought to cloak scurrility and provocative ecclesiology in literary triumphs.

  14. Yet some implausibility remains in an argument which so confines the title and the repeated barbs in Marvell's text. These are after all the most immediately visible gestures in a work which in all other respects is fiercely engaged in very partisan politics. Such confinement results in the first place from the eagerness of historians - and in this case literary historians as well as scholars of other kinds - to focus on overt argumentative appeals, when other signals might identify the direction in which a text's argument is pointing. We have Marvell himself, or rather Archbishop Laud mediated by Marvell, as our authority for an approach which would look more widely. Towards the end of The Rehearsal Transpros'd Marvell recited archbishop Abbot's testimony that his successor at Canterbury, and nemesis, Laud, 'made it his work to see what Books were in the Press, and to look over Epistles Dedicatory, and Prefaces to the Reader, to see what faults might be found' (Marvell 1672, 127). Historians might learn from that great scholar of the politics of texts to suspect the packaging as well as the substantive content. I shall return in another place to the matter of just where Marvell was directing his gaze, but let it suffice for the moment to observe that a problem exists.

  15. There is a more immediate historical problem in assuming that to fold Parker into a composite of Dryden and Davenant represented little more than argument by analogy with some literary one-upmanship thrown in. For at this juncture in the complex history of the relations of the Church of England with its critics, Dryden and Marvell stood much closer together than did Dryden and Parker. The ideological point of identifying the latter pair might therefore have been lost on readers had they had no other signals by which to steer. Indeed, the author of one nonconformist elegy of 1669 seems to have had only positive feelings for the poet, proclaiming defiantly, 'one Scene of Dryden springs more noble fire' than all the works of Simon Patrick (Anon 1669 , 20). The problem of precisely locating Dryden on the political map - essential if we are to understand how and why he came to be folded into Parker -- is well caught by an incident recounted by one of Parker's foes. One day in the winter of 1669-70 a mother and her ten-year-old son, fresh from a performance of John Dryden's Tyrannick Love, came across a group of neighbours in the street discussing Simon Patrick's Friendly Debate and Parker's Discourse of Ecclesiastical Politie. The boy's immediate response to the neighbours' conversation was to register that the ecclesiastical controversialists and the poet laureate appeared to be in colloquy. To that precocious critic, John Lacy, Dryden's tyrannical male lead, had asserted similar claims over conscience to those his mothers' friends found in the churchmen's books.14

  16. We readily assume that the prime opponents of a doctrinaire ecclesiastical establishment were the nonconformists and those who might soon be labelled Deists. Such stalwarts of what was to become radical Whiggery were part of the constituency at which Charles II aimed with his 1672 Declaration of Indulgence, and which James II targeted for very different reasons after 1686. Yet in Tyrannick Love Dryden, poet laureate, historiographer royal, the dominant figure of the London stage, upheld the martyr for conscience against the ruler who sought to tyrannize over conscience. While part of the plot was clearly compliment - the Catholic St Catherine for Charles's Catholic wife Catherine of Braganza - we cannot explain away so easily the denunciations of priestcraft and assertions of religious relativism so apparent in Dryden's The Indian Emperor of 1666-8 and The Conquest of Granada of 1671-2. That the poet laureate should in his most popular plays, all written in those years of controversy that ran from the Conventicle Act of 1665 to the Test Act of 1673, have scrutinized the claims of religious orthodoxy and controls over conscience frames the conundrum: why should Marvell have thought to bracket Dryden with Parker?

  17. Parker was after all the bully of orthodoxy, however theatrically-inclined. Dryden may in Tyrannick Love have paid tribute to the Catholic Queen, yet when he skewered intolerant priests he could not but give comfort to others whom the churchmen would suppress. Meanwhile, Parker went into battle, pouring his vicious and inflated rhetoric on the dissenters in general and in particular on John Owen, chaplain and vice-chancellor under Cromwell of Parker's own university of Oxford. It was from O wen and his ilk, he alleged, that all evils in state as well as church flowed. And it was to their defence that Marvell ostensibly -- and with ostentatious moderation and learning as well as wit -- appeared to spring. Yet Owen was not Parker's only concern, for his various works during the controversy also reveal an interesting tension surrounding Thomas Hobbes. Several contemporaries noted, and Gordon Schochet has effectively demonstrated, Parker's ambivalence, at one moment borrowing Hobbes's arguments for the magistrate's jurisdiction over conscience and at another bashing Malmesburian atheism (Schochet 1993, 198-208). 15 Anglican unease about the great philosopher had of course been heightened by the fear that the disasters of the mid-1660s might have been providential (Milton 1993, 502-46). Yet Parker's dilemma was more immediate. On the one hand, the ground shifted under Anglican feet when Charles issued the 1672 Indulgence, causing considerable embarrassment to a rigid episcopalian who sought to place his faith in a Hobbesian sovereign; indeed, it was the inconsistencies in Parker's post-Declaration work, his Preface to Bishop Bramball's Vindication of Himself, that were most eagerly exploited by Marvell. And on t he other, and just as importantly, Parker was fully conscious that he had two enemies in view: overtly Owen and his fellow dissenters, against whom Hobbes could be deployed; and covertly all that was represented by Dryden's fashionable relativism, for which 'Hobbism' sometimes stood as a tag.

  18. Failure to appreciate the inter-connectedness of the political culture of the Restoration assumes its greatest significance when we try to assess intent rather than merely argument. The ten-year-old and his mother who could move so easily from Dry den's heroic drama to a street discussion of the leading works of ecclesiastical controversy serve as one graphic corrective to academic tunnel vision. Equally informative is the fusillade of sniping at Dryden's plays that burst from the wits in 1673. The se squibs announced at the outset, in the very title of the opening salvo, The Censure of the Rota, the existence of a political matrix for what might otherwise seem a literary effort by jealous rivals to debunk the poet laureate's work. The Censure, which imagined Dryden a member of the republican club of 1659-60, repeatedly accused him of inhabiting a 'Poeticall Free-State', fashioning republican utopias whose inspiration derived variously from Columbus and Thomas Hobbes (Anon 1673a, 2-3, 13-14, 19 cf. Anon 1673c, 12, 15). One defender of Dryden retaliated by branding the Censurer a follower of another old republican, Henry Stubbes, and, more interestingly, by identifying the prime critic as the presbyterian divine, Dr Robert Wild.16 Wild was a self-consciously witty writer who had made his name by memorialising the triumphs of General Monck; in the 1668 Essay of Dramatic Poesy Dryden grudgingly recognised him as the most popular poet in London, his productions devoured by merchants and tradesmen as they worked.17 But Wild also urged his muse repeatedly in the cause of nonconformity - most notably in a verse celebration of the Declaration of Indulgence18 - and expressed his sympathy for Hobbes, beset as he was by Anglican monkeys (Wild 1672, 14-15). At the same moment we find Hobbes cited as the source for Dryden, who was then very much in the eye of cosmopolitan society, and defended by one of Dryden's leading critics, a presbyterian divine, while insinuations of republicanism flew around indiscriminately. Such convolutions make it imperative to look beyond the narrow confines of genre and controversy if we are to grasp the meaning and intent of political argument or literary gesture.

  19. If the texts proper of Parker's defences of the Church were directed against the dissenters, the extended prefaces reveal a rather different concern -- the ridicule and derision to which the clergy were subject on every hand, as the fashionable made war on 'priestcraft'.19 'Making religion ridiculous' became very much a catch-phrase of clerical lament in the years around 1670: as Wild put it - proving his own point - 'All things are big with jest'.20 The reasons for this, and for the particular character of Restoration wit, are not hard to seek. The many 'revolutions in affairs' since 1640 had provided abundant ammunition for charges of hypocrisy against all those claiming to ground their public courses on personal faith; and episcopal reassertion since 1660 on the one hand and dissenter regrouping on the other helped focus those charges. It did not require a classical education to recognise that satire was the weapon against fraud and pretension. At the very opening of the preface to his Discourse, as he reflected on his own and Simon Patrick's treatment of their foes, Parker pointedly identified Christ as the greatest satirist for his assault on Pharisaical hypocrisy.21 But while clergy of all stripes castigated their enemies as either deliberately striving to make religion ridiculous, or as guilty of conduct -- such as ludicrous pulpit techniques -- that contrived to bring religion into derision,22 Parker shot his prime bolt in another direction. Repeatedly and at length he located the Church's problems in that fashionable culture of scorn and atheistic wit which found its centre on the Restoration stage.23 Theories of moral or cultural seepage, the corruption of the manners of the poor by the fashionable vices and irreligion of the elite, have an obvious appeal (Spurr 1991, 222). But for Parker the guilt of the wits and of the imaginative authors was political, not moral. With his eyes presumably fixed on Milton as well as lesser men, Parker traced the origins of republican thought and practice firmly to the poets of ancient Greece.24 As he insisted, it was not only the clergy who had reason to fear: 'The Principles of irreligion unjoynt the Sinews, and blow up the very Foundations of Government: This turns all sense of Loyalty into Folly', for 'At the same time they shake hands with Religion, they bid adieu to Loyalty'.25

  20. We are now in a better position to appreciate Parker's strategy, and perhaps also Marvell's gesture that linked his counter to Buckingham's play The Rehearsal.26 Parker was certainly and above all alarmed at the threat to the monopoly of the Church of England posed by dissenters like Owen who saw in the fall of Clarendon in 1667 an opportunity to appeal to the king for a renewal of Indulgence. But as Parker repeatedly made clear in his prefaces, while the dissenters may have threatened the downfall of the whole arch of church and state, marginalized as those dissenters were to disreputable trading and conventicling quarters, they scarcely constituted a present tactical threat. Rather, the threat lay in the conjunction of dissenters with atheistical and machiavellian wits.27 In his analysis, Hobbism, 'as odd as it is, is become the Standard of our Modern Politicks ... swallowed down, with as much greediness as an Article of Faith, by the Wild and Giddy People of the Age.' While we might conclude with the Drydenists that Parker was exaggerating, and that Dryden was really a Pyrrhonian rather than a Hobbist, (Wynn 1987, 216, 218, also Hammond 1989, 166-87) Christianity still occupied a distinctly relativist position on the poet laureate's stage,28 and the audiences seem to have loved it. We might therefore feel some sympathy for Parker's predicament, drawn as he was to Hobbes for the blunt espousal of the magistrate's power of coercion, and yet repelled by that atheistical air in Hobbes which some found so attractive. The claim that religion is a fraud perpetrated by self-interested clergy 'is become the most powerful and fashionable Argument for the Toleration of all ... the Reason, why I have thus far pursued this Principle, is, because 'tis become the most powerful Patron of the Fanatick Interest; and a Belief of the Indifferency, or rather Imposture of all Religion, is now made the most Effectual (not to say most Fashionable) Argument for Liberty of Conscience' (Anon 1673a, 118, 135-7).

  21. Parker's immediate purpose was not, therefore, to confront the dissenters. The protests of Owen and others at his railing were beside the point, for Parker was speaking past them.29 His long engagements with Hobbes say as much, for the sage of Malmesbury was scarcely an author dear to the dissenters.30 Why Parker railed at and caricatured the dissenters, and thumped the tub endlessly about the social and political rather than ecclesiastical threat they represented, was surely to draw the attention of a polite audience, and to warn it. As he said at the outset, 'I never proposed to my self any other aim in this following Discourse, than, by representing the palpable inconsistency of Fanatique Tempers and Principles with the Welfare and security of Government, to awaken Authority to beware of its worst and most dangerous Enemies'.31

    * * *

  22. The implications for our understanding of audience in an argument which seeks to connect the controversy over conscience to the world of the stage are worth pursuing. The assumption has run fairly widely that the arenas of polite culture on the one hand -- whether we think of that culture as 'high' or as the commercial culture exemplified by the Restoration stage -- and of the nonconformist churches on the other were almost wholly separate, and that Milton and Marvell, who might have felt some kinship in both, were singular. In this assumption we have been misled, not least by countless partisans who joined the Earl of Clarendon and John Bunyan in arguing, from their very different positions, that non-conformists turned their fronts against, or their backs on, the world. Richard Ashcraft has certainly sought to challenge that presumption insofar as it might to apply to John Locke and his friends (Ashcraft 1986), but his argument has not found universal assent; nor has his focus on the radical underground been the most powerful means of revealing cultural cross-currents. We might learn more from all those who like Marvell set Parker's Discourse in a literary context - Owen, with his dismissal of 'the last Act' of its 'Tragical Preface'; the anonymous controversialist who linked his own effort to the 'Advice to the Painter' satires of the previous three years; or John Humfrey, whose stage-directions for the final dispatch of Parker reveal an impressive theatrical confidence:
    So let us leave that Hero to his Victory, in the Sella Curulis of his own Imagination.
    Sound Drums and Trumpets. Exit the brave Author: One carrying off the Slain. Vox Episcopi plaudite

    (Owen 1669, 71; Anon 1669a; [Humfrey] 1670, 31).

    Such familiarity with the stage and with literary satire suggests that our play-going ten-year-old schoolboy and his mother were not alone in their tastes. The point is perhaps caught most graphically in the long verse elegy for 'Mris. G.E. lately Deceased,' which ranges from the merits of the lady in question, to Dryden, Macbeth, fashionable actors, Patrick's Friendly Debate, and pulpit style (Anon 1669b).32 Appreciation of the problems implicit in claims for a 'literary culture of nonconformity' (Cf. especially Keeble 1987, 153-55, 214-29) in the Restoration makes the lives of people in the past more comprehensible, if more complex. Andrew Marvell has too often seemed simply Marvellian in the way he has avoided ready categorization; yet no less instructive is the career of Robert Wild, nonconformist minister, vulgar wit, learned and influential satirist of Dryden, whose disclaimer, 'we Non-Conformists ... never going to Plays,' should surely be taken with as much salt as his contention, in the same sentence, that his fellow nonconformists were 'never good at' raillery and ridicule (Wild 1672, 14-15). It might seem tempting to discount as market-driven the quirky carer of Wild, a presbyterian, who had been ejected from his benefice, and therefore had a living to make;33 yet others, even including John Milton and Andrew Marvell, were in much the same case. 34

  23. The debate over toleration reveals the permeability of the conventional boundaries dividing not only secular from profane but also high from low. What else was on the book-shelves of all those Londoners whom Dryden observed consuming the poems of Wild he so despised? Parker -- admittedly, no impartial witness -- complained in 1673 that mere use of the term 'Bayes' was guaranteed to reduce London conventicles to guffaws (Parker 1673, 250-51). Whether the conventiclers were themselves theatre critic s or readers of the thousands of pages of controversy over the ways of Bayes is immaterial. By whatever route, they had learned that a road led from the theatre to the meeting-house. Their discovery should not surprise us: it is some years since Eamonn Duffy pointed out that one of the leading Restoration publishers of godly chap-books advertised merry and godly titles side-by-side in the back of his godly wares (Duffy 1986, 42, more generally 31-55). The very existence of such an audience as Wild addressed -- politically aroused, divided in its religious loyalties, with broad tastes in reading and entertainment - helps to explain why Marvell and Parker should have thought it worth their while to write such complex works. And that audience may explain too Milton's decision to open his Samson Agonistes, published in 1671, with a preface that administers some heavy-handed literary correction. His criticism of 'the Poets error of intermixing Comic stuff with Tragic sadness and gravity' can be read as lamenting the Restoration vogue for Shakespearian revivals. Such a reading would, however, leave the preface oddly disconnected from the strenuous work of the poem itself; if instead we read the preface as a comment on the tragicomedies and heroic dramas of Dryden and his rivals, the conclusion must be that Milton was intermixing moral with literary correction. His purpose, in that eventuality, would have been not simply to chastise the playwrights of his day for endemic solecism (Zwicker 1995, 137-58), but also their audiences for being gulled into a misapprehension of the morality of suffering. Chastisement could only have been needed if Milton recognised that those whom he thought capable of listening also formed the audiences for the lamentably mixed genres of the stage.

  24. We need therefore to modify our sense of the nature of public life in the later seventeenth century, and in various respects. We have thought too little of the challenge to a duel that passed in 1669 between two of the king's ministers when one threatened to vilify the other on the stage (Wynn 1987, 201). Few barriers, disciplinary or otherwise, divided the world of politics from the theatre; nor were the discourses of stage and meeting-house wholly discrete. Polemicists therefore engaged in some very complicated manoeuvres -- and not surprisingly, for had the audience for Dryden's plays, or Wild's satires, not been so mixed, sophisticated and cosmopolitan grandees like Buckingham, even Shaftesbury, would surely have been as fish out of water when they bid for nonconformist support in the metropolis.35

  25. But a second point needs to be made, not about the tastes of the audience but about its nature. Protagonists of orthodox godly culture certainly reached out in unorthodox ways in the attempt to include others; yet their efforts should not mislead us into assuming that the meaner sort only read beyond the Bible and the merry tale when their betters deliberately spoke to, or down to, them; if we are to subscribe to a model of cultural trickle-down we need to ensure that it is more sophisticated than has hitherto appeared. For when we read not deeply into the texts of reformation but rather across the texts of those years that mark the first Restoration crisis we find intriguing signs that at least in London artefacts of what might seem a culture of elevation had a surprisingly broad appeal. That belligerent controversialist Samuel Parker, who had in other respects such sensitive antennae, complained in 1681 that 'the Plebeans and Mechanicks ... in the Streets and the Highways' read and discussed 'Lectures of Atheism' out of Hobbes's Leviathan (In Pocock 1990, 741). If his claim was not an entire exaggeration, we may need to abandon assumptions that the print upheaval of the 1640s was simply an aberration, and that a top-down focus on subsequent cultural and political change will suffice.

Notes

  1. For the terminology, see De Krey 1993, 565-80. Scott 1993, 622-23 questions such a characterization, pointing instead to the parliamentary and factious dimensions of the years after Clarendon's fall: it is apparent, however, that t he upheaval at court and in parliament excited new hopes and fears of toleration, that, in other words, parliament, playhouse and meeting-house were the scenes of a common crisis.

    [Back]

  2. Milton 1993, 501-46. Another repercussion of that crisis may have been the departure of Gerard Winstanley, one-time Digger and soon-to-be Quaker, from a latitudinarian home in the Church of England of the earlier 1660s (Alsop 1989, 46-48).

    [Back]

  3. The forthcoming work of Elizabeth Gubser will fully illuminate this development.

    [Back]

  4. The key text in this campaign was Owen 1667; see also Corbet 1667.

    [Back]

  5. Patrick 1669, especially 4-5. He was soon joined in this judgement by Samuel Parker; as an enemy noted, one of Parker's (Hobbesian) phobias was 'Praying by the Spirit, which he chargeth at the highest rate, as that which will destroy all Government in the world.' (Anon 1671, 26).

    [Back]

  6. Patrick 1669, 15. Patrick's case did not unchallenged: one of his controvertors demanded sourly, 'Who so mimical, so Theatrical in a Pulpit, as some amongst your selves? Of whom it is said, that it is as good to hear them preach, as to see a play' (Roll 1669, 20).

    [Back]

  7. Owen 1669, 17, 45-52, 61-65; [Humfrey] 1670, 9. For Humfrey as thinker, see De Krey 1995, 53-83.

    [Back]

  8. For the role of Latitudinarianism in resituating the conscience, see William Craig Diamond, 'Public Identity in Restoration England: From Prophetic to Economic' (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1982).

    [Back]

  9. The publication date given is 1670, yet other works with publication dates of 1669 - most notably Owen 1669 - reply to it. The inter-connectedness of the controversialist community was such that it is by no means anachronistic to talk of the preparation of the way: thus, early in John Humfrey's disjointed reply to Patrick is a reference to 'that ingenious Person, who (they say) is writing something about Ecclesiastical Policy, for the justifying present Impositions ... [and] that worthy Person his associate, who is particularly engaged to it' ([Humfrey] 1670, 7.

    [Back]

  10. Owen 1669, 17, 71; [Humfrey] 1670, p. 31. It might be said that Parker the sometime Hobbesian was at least being true to his text in his fascination with the theatre, for Hobbes's interest in the way the sovereign personated the state led him to muse on the associations between authority and representation, and himself to use metaphors of theatricality: Smith 1994, 159-62.

    [Back]

  11. Keeble 1987, 115. Keeble's claim appears to be the most sustained attempt to explain a gesture of Marvell's which all scholars have of course noted, but otherwise ignored.

    [Back]

  12. Andrew Marvell, 'On Mr Milton's Paradise Lost', I am grateful to Steve Zwicker for this point.

    [Back]

  13. The argument of this paper, that political and literary commitments were often inseparable, was acknowledged by one of Parker's defenders, who saw a republican (and homosexual) alliance in Marvell's support for Milton: [Richard Leigh] 1673, 135.

    [Back]

  14. [Humfrey] 1670, 9. John Lacy acted the part of the tyrant in Tyrannick Love which opened in 1669 and was published in 1670.

    [Back]

  15. That Parker's ambivalence about Hobbes extended beyond the immediate political moment is made clear by Pocock 1990, 737-49.

    [Back]

  16. Anon 1673b, 11, 15: the identification of the Censurer is fixed not only by the references to Wild but also by the account of the Censurer's wife with a herring's tail between her teeth - a description borrowed from Wild himself: Wild 1672.

    [Back]

  17. Dryden's essay is accessibly reprinted in Ker 1900, 21-108; the discussion of Wild is to be found at 31-33.

    [Back]

  18. Wild 1660; for Wild's presbyterian versifying, see the poems appended to the Wild 1665, his lament in Wild 1669 at the barriers to nonconformist church-building after the Fire, and 'Poetica Licentia' in Wild 1672, 25-36.

    [Back]

  19. Oddly enough, the latest work on this theme, Champion 1992 contains no reference to Parker, to Patrick, to John Eachard -- the 'monkey' of Wild's riposte -- or indeed any of the protagonists in this story other than Hobbes.

    [Back]

  20. Wild 1672, 14. Complaints that 'religion is made ridiculous' are too frequent to chronicle, but the eight early editions of Eachard 1670-72 are symptomatic. For Parker's anxiety on the matter, see especially Parker 1670, xxxvi i-xli, 35-36, and Parker 1671., 724-50. Among the nonconformists, see for example Wolseley 1672, sig. A3v.-A4; Watson, 1671, sig. A2v.-A3; [Humfrey] 1670, 9; Penn 1669, sig. A3. For an excellent recent discussion of the theological and epistemological dimensions, see Manning 1993, 99-121.

    [Back]

  21. Parker 1670, vi; cf. Parker 1671, 171-6. In such an identification Parker distanced himself from the usual Anglican apprehension about the value of satire: see Spurr 1991, 227

    [Back]

  22. See Parker 1670, xxxvii-xl, for an example.

    [Back]

  23. See especially the preface to Parker 1670, xxxiii-xli.

    [Back]

  24. Parker 1670, 30. Anglican sensitivities on the score of Milton are apparent also in John Eachard's decision to open his Eachard 1672 [8th edition], sig. A3-A3v., with jibes at the poet.

    [Back]

  25. Parker 1670, xxi-xxii, xliii-xliv. His analysis did not seem far-fetched to all his contemporaries - looking back, Anthony Wood concluded gloomily, 'This folly of laughing at [things worthwhile] continued worse and worse until 1679' -- the year of course of renewed crisis: quoted in Spurr 1991, 221.

    [Back]

  26. I shall return to the strategy of Marvell's reply in another place.

    [Back]

  27. Thus, Parker closed his Preface to Bishop Bramhall with a long denunciation of Machiavellianism: (Parker 1672, sig. e4 et seqq).

    [Back]

  28. A point seized on by some of the Rota critics: especially Anon 1673c. 12 and Anon 1673a 15-16.

    [Back]

  29. Spurr 1991, 227 and n., badly mistakes the nature of Restoration language and polemic when he takes at face value Eachard's approval of Patrick's 'pleasant' style, and assumes that the 'lightness of touch' found in the latter and in Parker meant that they were 'aimed at Dissent'.

    [Back]

  30. Though Slingsby Bethel's concern with what was to become known as interest theory, Bethel 1668 and Bethel 1671, put him somewhat closer to Hobbes: I am grateful to Steven Pincus for stressing this point to me. Parker (Parker 1672, after sigs. d4-e) derides at length the prominence of arguments of interest and (though he doesn't name it, but see especially sig. e2v.) Hobbism.

    [Back]

  31. Parker 1670, xii; Parker did continue immediately by suggesting another purpose, namely, 'to force [nonconformists] to that Modesty and Obedience by severity of Laws, to which all the strength of Reason in the World can never perswade them,' but that hardly suggests that his Discourse was intended as a rational address to them.

    [Back]

  32. I am indebted to Elizabeth Gubser for calling this work to my attention.

    [Back]

  33. There were certainly those who found Wild himself a trifle odd -- he had perturbed Richard Baxter during the republic: Dictionary of National Biography, sub Wild.

    [Back]

  34. Thus, Eamonn Duffy has recently observed that the godly chap-books, which joined the print worlds of the godly and the merry, were overwhelmingly the work of ejected nonconformist ministers: Duffy 1986, 31-55. The pressures of the market could be met in various ways, and L'Estrange estimated that Marvell received 300 in 1677 for his Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government: L'Estrange 1672, 2. I am grateful to Steven Zwicker for this reference.

    [Back]

  35. The connections seem reminiscent of those between another high-living aristocrat, the Elizabethan earl of Leicester, and those with whom he was somehow able to talk. Patrick Collinson 1960.

    [Back]

List of Works Cited

Alsop, J. D. 1989. 'John Wilkins and Winstanley.' Notes and Queries n.s. 36:46-48.
Anon. 1669a. Insolence and Impudence triumphant; Envy and Fury enthron'd: The
Mirrour of Malice and Madness, In a late Treatise, Entituled, A Discourse of
Ecclesiastical Polity, &c. or, The lively Portraiture of Mr. S.P. Limn'd and
drawn by his own hand
.
Anon. 1669b. Loyalty and Nonconformity; or, a Loyal Nonconformist decently Interr'd.
Anon. 1671. An Expostulatory Letter to the Author of the Late Slanderous Libel Against
Dr. O.
Anon. 1673a. The Censure of the Rota.
Anon. 1673b A Description of the Academy of the Athenian Virtuosi.
Anon. 1673c. The Friendly Vindication of Mr Dryden.
Ashcraft, Richard. 1986. Revolutionary Politics and Locke's 'Two Treatises of Government.'
Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bethel, Slingsby. 1668. The World's Mistake in Oliver Cromwell.
Bethel, Slingsby. 1671. The Present Interest of England Stated.
Champion, J. A. I. 1992. The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of England
and its Enemies, 1660-1730. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Collinson, Patrick. 1960. The Letters of Thomas Wood, Puritan. London: Athlone.
Corbet, John. 1667. A Discource of the Religion of England.
De Krey, Gary. 1993. 'The First Restoration Crisis: Conscience and Coercion in London,
1667-73.' Albion 25:565-80.
De Krey, Gary. 1995. 'Rethinking the Restoration: dissenting cases for conscience, 1667-1672.'
Historical Journal 38:53-83.
Dryden, John. 1900. The Essays of John Dryden. 2 vols, edited by W.P. Ker. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Duffy, Eamonn. 1986. 'The Godly and the Multitude in Stuart England.' The Seventeenth
Century 1:31-55.
Eachard, John. 1670-72. The Grounds and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy
and Religion.
Hammond, Paul. 1989. 'John Dryden: The Classicist as Sceptic.' The Seventeenth
Century 4:166-87.
[Humfrey, John]. 1670. A Case of Conscience.
Keeble, N.H. 1987. The Literary Culture of Nonconformity. Leicester: Leicester University
Press
Lake, Peter. 1993. 'Deeds against Nature: Cheap Print, Protestantism and Murder in Early
Seventeenth Century England.' In Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England,
edited by Kevin Sharpe and Peter Lake. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
[Leigh, Richard]. 1673. The Transproser Rehears'd.
L'Estrange, Sir Roger. 1679. The Parallel.
Manning, Gillian. 1993. 'Rochester's Satyr Against Reason and Mankind and
Contemporary Religious Debate.' The Seventeenth Century 8:99-121.
Marvell, Andrew. 1672 The Rehearsal Transpros'd, or animadversions upon a late book.
Marvell, Andrew. 1966a. 'On Mr Milton's Paradise Lost'. In The Complete Works of Andrew
Marvell, edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart. New York: AMS, 146.
Milton, P. 1993. 'Hobbes, Heresy and Lord Arlington.' Political Theory 14:501-46.
Owen, John. 1667. A Peace-Offering in an Apology and Humble Plea for Indulgence.
Owen, John. 1669. Truth and Innocence Vindicated.
Parker, Samuel. 1670. A Discourse of Ecclesiastical Politie, wherein the authority of the
civil magistrate over the conscience of subjects in matters of external religion is
asserted
. London.
Parker, Samuel. 1671. A Defence and Continuation.
Parker, Samuel. 1672. Bishop Bramhall's Vindication of Himself and the Episcopal Clergy.
Parker, Samuel. 1673. Reproof to the Rehearsal Transpros'd.
Patrick, Simon. 1669. A Friendly Debate between a Conformist and a Nonconformist.
Pocock, J.G.A. 1990. 'Thomas Hobbes: Atheist or Enthusiast? His Place in a Restoration
Debate.' History of Political Thought xi:737-49.
Penn, William. 1669. No Cross, No Crown.
Rolls, Samuel. 1669. A Sober Answer to the Friendly Debate.
Schochet, Gordon J. 1993. 'Between Lambeth and Leviathan: Samuel Parker on the Church
of England and Political Order.' In Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain, edited by
Quentin Skinner and Nicholas Philippson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Scott, Jonathan. 1993. 'Restoration Process.' Albion 25:619-37.
Smith, Nigel. 1994. Literature and Revolution in England, 1640-1660. New Haven and
London: Yale University Press.
Spurr, John. 1991. The Restoration Church of England. New Haven and London:
Yale University Press.
Thomas, Roger. 1962. 'Comprehension and Indulgence.' In From Uniformity to Unity
1662-1962, edited by Geoffrey F. Nuttall and Owen Chadwick. London: SPCK
Watson, Thomas. 1671. The Mischief of Sinne.
Watt, Tessa. 1991. Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1560-1650. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Wild, Robert. 1660. Iter Boreale.
Wild, Robert. 1665. Iter Boreale.
Wild, Robert. 1669. Upon the Rebuilding of the City.
Wild, Robert. 1672. A Letter from Mr Wild to his Friend Mr. J.J. Upon Occasion of
his Majesty's Declaration for Liberty of Conscience.
Wolseley, Sir Charles. 1672. The Reasonablenes of Scripture-Beleif.
Wynn, James A. 1987. Dryden and his World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Zwicker, Steven. 1995. 'Milton, Dryden, and the Politics of Literary Controversy.' In
Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration, edited by Gerald MacLean. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 137-58.

[Back to Contents] [Back to top of page]
Contents © Copyright 1996 Derek Hirst.
Format © Copyright 1996 Renaissance Forum. ISSN 1362-1149. Volume 1, Number 1, March 1996.
Technical Editor: Andrew Butler. Updated 11 September 1997.