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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XVI. The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature.

§ 12. Social pamphlets.


With all its errors and excesses, the great rebellion was, for many men, a crusade against the vices of feudalism. Reforming zeal was in the air, and, during the civil war and the protectorate, earnest men were busy investigating social and administrative abuses which had not been direct issues of the struggle. Controversies which seem to arise in puritan bigotry, disclose a thoughtfulness and sanity quite foreign to Elizabethan exposures. The hatred of elaborate dress, which began with the fanaticism of the Adamites, gradually changed into a respect for the dignity of the human form. Broadsides ridiculed fashions because they were incongruous, and John Bulwer, in his Anthropometamorphosis (1653), collected all the stories, ancient and modern, of savages’ adornments and mutilations, to show how men disgrace what was made in God’s image. A hatred of gluttony runs through the paper war waged against Christmas celebrations. Puritan distrust of women had started again the time-honoured controversy as to feminine character; but now the dispute broadened into moral councils on love or marriage and is free from pruriency. The most revolting coarseness is still found, but only in diatribes against prostitution. The greater number of pamphlets merely ridicule the inconstancy, vanity or caprice of women. Many are cast into the form of dialogues and epistles. And, although humourists, in this age of constitutional anomalies, found piquancy in picturing female parliaments and commonwealths in which women assert their independence, the satire has lost the venom of the preceding age.   28
  Other pamphleteers turned their attention to abuses in the administration of justice. The system of imprisonment for debt had already been attacked as early as 1618 by Mynshul’s curious Characters of a Prison; 59  and, in 1622, the remarkable A Petition to the King’s most Excellent Majestie had urged the injustice of imprisoning a man because of his financial losses and the folly of depriving the state of serviceable citizens, besides eloquently describing the mental anguish and moral degradation of gaol life. These evils became tenfold more apparent during the disasters and disorganisation of the civil war. One writer 60  tells how the minor officials of the court gain access to the ear of the judge and use their influence to further their own ends; another 61  describes the mercenary character of lawyers and their devices for delaying judgment, thereby filling their own pockets; another 62  protests against the tyranny and exaction of gaolers. The turns of fortune, in these insecure times, had brought many law-abiding and educated men to prison, who beguiled their weariness and sorrow by writing. Thus, quite a literature of goal-birds sprang up, one of the best productions being Sir Francis Wortley’s spirited ballad 63  on the incarcerated royalists in 1647. When the protectorate was established, men hoped that peace would leave the government leisure to rectify these and other abuses. Pamphlets and flysheets on legal and prison reform now became even more numerous; and, though these writers have neither the style nor the vigour of earlier times, they nearly all show a sense of human rights and a practical insight into the far-reaching effects of social evils, very different from the narrow violence of Jacobean and Caroline pamphleteers. Everywhere, the people seemed to feel the need of reconciliation and fellowship. In 1647, The Cavaliers’ Diurnall written by Adventure replaced real news or invective by playful sarcasm and literary trifling, suggestive of the Addisonian circle. Even in A Relation of the Ten grand, infamous Traytors, who for their murder and detestable villany against our late soveraigne Lord King Charles the First (1660), the horror of regicide is almost lost sight of in the cultivation of style.   29

Note 59Ante, Vol. IV, Chap. XVI, p. 400. [ back ]
Note 60The Courts of Justice Corrected and Amended, or The Corrupt Lawyer Untrust, Lash’d and quasht, 1642. [ back ]
Note 61A Looking glasse for all proud, ambitious, covetous and corrupt Lawyers, 1646. [ back ]
Note 62Liberty vindicated against slavery, 1646. [ back ]
Note 63A Loyall Song, of the Royall Feast kept by the Prisoners in the Towre … (On the occasion of a present of two brace of bucks from the king). [ back ]

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