Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

currency, occasioned by over-issues, though they have not been able to show that our currency was in a state either of discredit or excess. They attribute them to excessive taxation, though it is not to be doubted that it was by this taxation that we were enabled to accomplish the deliverance of Europe. They attribute them to the injury sustained by our commerce, occasioned by our own bad policy, though this injury proceeded, first from the unprecedented measures of our enemy, and next from the rash and precipitate speculations of our own merchants, when the power of that enemy was at an end,-causes over which our government had certainly no controul. And they describe the measure devised for the relief of these distresses as at best a piece of blind and short-sighted policy, calculated only to aggravate the distresses of the poor, by raising the price of bread, though it cannot for a moment be doubted that it was adopt.

ed from the most earnest desire to relieve the hardships of every class of the community. But it is a necessary result of rash and heedless censure, and of party censure, which is often the most rash and heedless of all others, that it draws upon time for its own certain refutation. There is scarcely one of these objections which did not grow weaker under the investigation they excited; and during the period which has elapsed since the time when they were agitated, until that at which these annals have been compiled, the conviction of the utility of the measure in question has been gradually strengthening. Various causes, most of which we have already referred to, have no doubt interrupted and thwarted its beneficial results; but these causes, we think, we have also shewn to be merely of a temporary nature, and likely, ere long, to give way to the powerful operation of those general principles upon which the measure is founded.

CHAP. V.

Domestic Affairs.-Imposture of Joanna Southcole.-Fanaticism of her Disciples. Her Death and Interment.-Extension of the Order of the Bath."Classes into which it is divided.-Remarks on the Measure, and its Tendency.-Trial of Sir John Murray.-Riots on Account of the Corn Bill.-Members of the House of Commons Attacked and Insulted.-Houses attacked and Property destroyed.-Continuation of the Riots on the 7th.-Persons Shot in Burlington-street.-Petition of the Electors of Westminster against the Corn Bill.-Conduct of Sir Francis Burdett in moving it, and Debate which ensued, in the House of Commons.-Acquittal of the Soldiers indicted for Murder in defence of Mr Robinson's House.-Liberal Feelings of the Populace towards them.-Anecdote of a Private Soldier of the Guards.

THE first domestic event which occupied the attention of the public, in the year 1815, is almost too ridiculous for recital, were it not the duty of the annalist to record all that can preserve the form and pressure of the times, from which he forms his record. It was the close of an impious and extravagant imposture, which had long insulted religion, scandalized morality, and entertained the idle and thoughtless.

A wretched old woman, called Joanna Southcote, originally a Methodist, had, for no less than twenty-five years, assumed the character of a prophetess and an inspired writer. It is impossible to discover, from the foolish and blasphemous trash which she occasionally published, whether she was altogether an impostor, or held that dubious rank between madness and knavery, which may be justly assigned to most founders of false religions. THE WOMAN, as she called herself, pretended to have immediate intercourse with the Deity; held controversies with Satan, whom she banished from her presence in confusion, after sustaining a debate of seve

ral days; and derived no ungainful
trade, by selling a sort of sealed pass-
port, which, like the Pope's of yore,
was supposed to procure the bearer
instant admittance into the heavenly
regions. Many condemned criminals,
and others, who had not inclination
or leisure to repent of their sins, and
petition for repentance, embraced this
compendious mode of assuring their
part of paradise. A seal with the let-
ters J. S., which she found in sweep-
ing out her master's shop, was the only
visible proof to which she appealed in
support of her celestial mission. She
had a formal disputation with her for-
mer pastors, some of whom are said
to have acknowledged her divine au-
thority. To the disgrace of an en-
lightened age, pretensions so blasphe-
mous and extravagant, instead of con-
veying Mrs Southcote to Bridewell
or Bedlam, as her case required, pro-
cured her an extended circle of dis-
ciples, among whom were enrolled se-
veral of those who had been former-
ly believers in the maniac Brothers.
In the month of May, 1814, deceived
by some inward complaint, or desi-
rous to ascertain how far the credulity

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

of her miserable followers would carry them, she announced, that she was impregnated with a mysterious birth, a new incarnation of the Deity-a second advent. Being unmarried, a virgin, as she said, and certainly in her sixty-fifth year, she was never. theless, she averred, to become the mother of the promised Shiloh of the Jewish prophesies. Wonderful to say, this annunciation rather extended than abridged the number of her disciples. She could now reckon among them, the Reverend Mr P. Foly, whose name well merited an additional letter; and the no less Reverend Mr Towzer, whose chapel she honoured with her attendance; a third reverend, who afterwards saw visions on his own account; an eminent artist; a half-pay colonel; and some old women of both sexes. That posterity may judge with what gross, thick, and palpable vulgarity and nonsense, an impostor of the nineteenth century might bait her hook, and yet not fail to catch gudgeons, we will record six lines of the inspired strains of the Prophetess, or rather of the Spirit, by whom, she affirmed, they were dictated:

So now thy writings all may see
The way that I have spoke to thee;
Because I said the second Child
That way the learned all would foil;
I said the man that set thee free,
A David's crown I'd give to He.

ced that the faithful possessed wealth in a degree very disproportioned to their allowance of common sense. Nor was it only by such expensive gifts that the disciples of this miserable enthusiast shewed their confidence in the truth of her mission. Wagers, according to Voltaire, are the English test of sincerity; and that it might not be wanting on this occasion, a citizen of Gravesend laid a bet of two hundred to one hundred pounds, Joanna Southcote would be delivered of a child before the first day of November. The Chief Justice Gibbs afterwards refused to sustain an action on this wager, as contrary to good morals, so that the defendant escaped for the disgrace of public exposure. Nine medical men (it was pretended) visited her, six of whom, to the credit of that learned faculty, are said to have pronounced her preg. nant, while the other three more cautiously suspended their judgment. Her followers applied to the Archbishop of Canterbury to provide her with suitable apartments and assistance worthy of the expected birth; and it was by others gravely suggested, that the Lord Chancellor should take Mrs Southcote under his protection, in order, doubtless, that Shiloh, on his expected arrival, might become a ward of Chancery. But however deeply both church and state were interested in the event, neither the right reverend archbishop, nor the learned lord on the woolsack, could be moved to give such a farce the sanction of their countenance.

Mrs Southcote adjourned her mysterious delivery from time to time, until at length she appears to have been partly undeceived by the pain

of an internal disease. A female companion addressed a medical gentleman by her desire. "Her case," said her amanuensis, after detailing the symptoms, "is singular in other points, this event being the criterion by

At such slender expense of reason, rhyme, and grammar, Mrs Southcote went on and prospered. The family of the prophetess was now maintained upon a footing as suitable to her high pretensions, as the means of her followers could support; and several expensive presents of plate, a cradle, or cribb, as it was called, the magnificence of which called forth the superlatives of newspaper eloquence, and other elegant and valuable articles for the use of the expected Shiloh, evin

by which herself and friends are to decide whether she has been directed by a visitation from the Lord, or it has been from an invisible spirit to deceive, as she neither wish to deceive or be deceived herself; she have faithfully and honestly laid before her friends and the public, an event which must either establish her mission to be of God, or annihilate it altogether. Therefore into the hands of the Almighty she commit her cause, if it is his divine work that he will make it manifest in his own good time; if not she have no wish or desire to live."

But although the prophetess herself seems to have abated in her confidence as the disease increased, and her strong mental delusion, as well as the necessity of sustaining her high pretensions, failed, in the agony of pain and before the fear of death, her followers abated not an iota of their zealous faith. Even the death of the unhappy woman, which took place in the end of December, was incapable of quenching their hopes. In a will, dictated at what she called lucid intervals, she asserted her conviction that she had been visited by a divine inspiration, or evil possession, and that she was to be the mother of a living child, of divine or infernal origin. As one of her early prophecies had announced, that the mother of Shiloh was to be seemingly dead for four days, the will directed her body to be preserved for that period; and should the four days elapse without re-animation, she committed the examination of her corpse to persons of anatomical skill. Her death therefore, being considered as a mere intermission of existence, did not shake the confidence of her followers, who watched the corpse constantly for the four days, although the state of the body rendered the task disgusting and even dangerous. The inspection of the body then took place by medical practitioners of character, and it may

be easily supposed that the cause of decease was found to have no relation to the imaginary pregnancy. The mob assembled to enjoy the doleful and disconcerted looks of the departing disciples, and, according to custom, did not fail to accompany their hootings with some mud, and a few stones, a discipline which nearly proved fatal to an old lady of respectable appearance and singularly demure aspect, who called to enquire after Joanna's resuscitation, and imprudently suffered surprise to escape her that the event had not yet taken place. To elude the insults of the rabble, the mortal remains of Joanna Southcote were interred at an unusual hour, and with much privacy. Four gentlemen (disciples doubtless) attended the ceremony, muffled and disguised; mourning at once, it may be presumed, the death of their inspired mistress, and the downfall of their own extravagant hopes. The service of the Church of England was read upon the occasion; a profanation of the holy office, unless we charitably suppose that the blasphemies of the deceased were the exclusive fruits of insanity. One sort of posthumous atonement Joanna Southcote had indeed made, by directing that the gifts sent in for the use of the expected child and his mother, should be restored to those by whom they were sent. The list got into the public papers, and amused the readers by the various degrees of wealth and rank which the donors seem to have possessed; for the miscellaneous catalogue contained all sorts of accommodations, from silver plate and articles of splendid embroi– dery, down to two nutmegs, a silver sixpence, and a paper of pins. But another and more direct palinode was made by her apostle, the Reverend Mr Towzer, in the paper called the Observer, by a letter stating, that he was directed by Joanna to acknow ledge her former wicked errors; and

דו

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

to state, that being recovered from a state of mental delirium, and approaching to her end, she had renounced before her death the visions of her distempered brain; and implored all good Christians not only to forgive her, but to join in fervent prayer, that the Almighty would pardon her manifold blasphemies. Thus ended a delusion, which, had it been used by a dramatic writer or a novelist, laying his scene in the nineteenth century, would have been considered as a gross outrage upon sense and probability.

The peace being now considered as placed upon a permanent foundation, measures were adopted by the Prince Regent for conferring degrees of honour upon the gallant officers of the navy and army, by whose honourable exertions the war had been carried on through such difficulties, and brought finally to so glorious a termination. For this purpose, the ancient and honourable Order of the Bath was enlarged, and divided into three classes. The first, to be termed in future Grand Crosses, instead of Knights Companions of the order, was to comprehend seventy-two knights, of whom twelve might receive the honour for civil or diplomatic services; the remaining sixty were to be either major-generals in the army, or rear-admirals in the navy. These Grand Crosses were to enjoy all the honours and immunities belonging to the former Knights Companions of the order, who were, of course, included in the highest class. The second class was to be stiled Knights Commanders of the order, to take place of all Knights Bachelors; the number was limited to one hundred and eighty, to be composed of persons not under the rank of lieutenant-colonels in the army, and post-captains in the navy. Ten foreigners holding British commissions might be added to this class as bonorary Knight Commanders. And no one, it was provided, should be

promoted to the class of Grand Crosses, without having previously been a Knight Commander. The third class was to consist of officers holding commissions in the land or sea service, and to be distinguished as Knights Companions.-Their precedence was ranked beneath Knights Bachelors, but before all Esquires.

This measure did not escape severe criticism. It was first represented as degrading the Order of the Bath;-and no doubt, abstractedly speaking, every honorary distinction is liable to lose its value in proportion as its numbers are extended, unless this tendency to depreciation be counteracted by other circumstances. But, considering the persons who, at the close of a war in which British valour had so proudly distinguished itself, were selected to share the purposed honours, it is presumed that the Order of the Bath rather acquired lustre by the fame of those on whom it was conferred, than lost it by the extension of the institution. The question might indeed be safely perilled upon the single issue, whether the Order of the Bath, reckoning from its earliest records, exhibited such a constellation of names of distinguished lustre, as were added to its rolls in consequence of these new regulations. As, therefore, the honour of an order depends less on the great or limited number, than on the character of those enrolled in it, it is scarce worth notice, that as sixty Knights of the Bath already existed, only twelve were added by this new arrangement.

It was further urged, though somewhat inconsistently with the first argument, that the proposed augmentation of the Order was adopted in imitation of Buonaparte's Legion of Honour; and designed to elevate the rank of the military, as the immediate dependents of the crown, over the ancient gentry of the country. It was replied, that the nervous apprehen

« AnteriorContinua »