Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Puritan Crusader
By Charles Kingsley (1819–1875)
 
From ‘Plays and Puritans’

SURELY these Puritans were dramatic enough, poetic enough, picturesque enough. We do not speak of such fanatics as Balfour of Burley, or any other extravagant person whom it may have suited Walter Scott to take as a typical personage. We speak of the average Puritan nobleman, gentleman, merchant, or farmer: and hold him to have been a picturesque and poetical man,—a man of higher imagination and deeper feeling than the average of court poets; and a man of sound taste also. What is to be said about his opinions about the stage has been seen already; but it seems to have escaped most persons’ notice, that either all England is grown very foolish, or the Puritan opinions on several matters have been justified by time.  1
  On the matter of the stage, the world has certainly come over to their way of thinking. Few highly educated men now think it worth while to go to see any play, and that exactly for the same reasons as the Puritans put forward; and still fewer highly educated men think it worth while to write plays, finding that since the grosser excitements of the imagination have become forbidden themes there is really very little to write about.  2
  But in the matter of dress and of manners, the Puritan triumph has been complete. Even their worst enemies have come over to their side, and “the whirligig of time has brought its revenges.”  3
  Most of their canons of taste have become those of all England. High-Churchmen, who still call them Roundheads and Cropped-ears, go about rounder-headed and closer cropt than they ever went. They held it more rational to cut the hair to a comfortable length than to wear effeminate curls down the back: we cut ours much shorter than they ever did. They held (with the Spaniards, then the finest gentlemen in the world) that sad (that is, dark) colors—above all, black—were the fittest for all stately and earnest gentlemen: we all, from the Tractarian to the Anythingarian, are exactly of the same opinion. They held that lace, perfumes, and jewelry on a man were marks of unmanly foppishness and vanity: so hold the finest gentlemen in England now. They thought it equally absurd and sinful for a man to carry his income on his back, and bedizen himself out in reds, blues, and greens, ribbons, knots, slashes, and “treble, quadruple, dædalian ruffs, built up on iron and timber, which have more arches in them for pride than London Bridge for use”: we, if we met such a ruffed and ruffled worthy as used to swagger by dozens up and down Paul’s Walk, not knowing how to get a dinner, much less to pay his tailor, should look on him as firstly a fool, and secondly a swindler; while if we met an old Puritan, we should consider him a man gracefully and picturesquely dressed, but withal in the most perfect sobriety of good taste: and when we discovered (as we probably should), over and above, that the harlequin cavalier had a box of salve and a pair of dice in one pocket, a pack of cards and a few pawnbrokers’ duplicates in the other; that his thoughts were altogether of citizens’ wives and their too easy virtue; and that he could not open his mouth without a dozen oaths,—then we should consider the Puritan (even though he did quote Scripture somewhat through his nose) as the gentleman; and the courtier as a most offensive specimen of the “snob triumphant,” glorying in his shame. The picture is not ours, nor even the Puritan’s. It is Bishop Hall’s, Bishop Earle’s; it is Beaumont’s, Fletcher’s, Jonson’s, Shakespeare’s,—the picture which every dramatist, as well as satirist, has drawn of the “gallant” of the seventeenth century. No one can read those writers honestly without seeing that the Puritan and not the Cavalier conception of what a British gentleman should be, is the one accepted by the whole nation at this day.  4
  In applying the same canon to the dress of women, they were wrong. As in other matters, they had hold of one pole of a double truth, and erred in applying it exclusively to all cases. But there are two things to be said for them: first, that the dress of that day was palpably an incentive to the profligacy of that day, and therefore had to be protested against; while in these more moral times, ornaments and fashions may be harmlessly used which then could not be used without harm. Next, it is undeniable that sober dressing is more and more becoming the fashion among well-bred women; and that among them too the Puritan canons are gaining ground.  5
  We have just said that the Puritans held too exclusively to one pole of a double truth. They did so, no doubt, in their hatred of the drama. Their belief that human relations were, if not exactly sinful, at least altogether carnal and unspiritual, prevented their conceiving the possibility of any truly Christian drama; and led them at times into strange and sad errors, like that New England ukase of Cotton Mather’s, who is said to have punished the woman who should kiss her infant on the Sabbath day. 1 Yet their extravagances on this point were but the honest revulsion from other extravagances on the opposite side. If the undistinguishing and immoral Autotheism of the playwrights, and the luxury and heathendom of the higher classes, first in Italy and then in England, were the natural revolt of the human mind against the Manichæism of monkery, then the severity and exclusiveness of Puritanism was a natural and necessary revolt against that luxury and immorality; a protest for man’s God-given superiority over nature, against that Naturalism which threatened to end in sheer animalism. While Italian prelates have found an apologist in Mr. Roscoe, and English playwrights in Mr. Gifford, the old Puritans—who felt and asserted, however extravagantly, that there was an eternal law which was above all Borgias and Machiavels, Stuarts and Fletchers—have surely a right to a fair trial. If they went too far in their contempt for humanity, certainly no one interfered to set them right. The Anglicans of that time, who held intrinsically the same anthropologic notions, and yet wanted the courage and sincerity to carry them out as honestly, neither could nor would throw any light upon the controversy….  6
  But as for these Puritans having been merely the sour, narrow, inhuman persons they are vulgarly supposed to have been, credat Judæus. There were sour and narrow men among them; so there were in the opposite party. No Puritan could have had less poetry in him, less taste, less feeling, than Laud himself. But is there no poetry save words? no drama save that which is presented on the stage? Is this glorious earth, and the souls of living men, mere prose as long as “carent vate sacro,” who will forsooth do them the honor to make poetry out of a little of them (and of how little!) by translating them into words, which he himself, just in proportion as he is a good poet, will confess to be clumsy, tawdry, ineffectual? Was there no poetry in these Puritans because they wrote no poetry? We do not mean now the unwritten tragedy of the battle psalm and the charge; but simple idyllic poetry and quiet home drama,—love poetry of the heart and the hearth, and the beauties of every-day human life. Take the most commonplace of them: was Zeal-for-Truth Thoresby of Thoresby Rise in Deeping Fen, because his father had thought fit to give him an ugly and silly name, the less of a noble lad? Did his name prevent his being six feet high? Were his shoulders the less broad for it, his cheeks the less ruddy for it? He wore his flaxen hair of the same length that every one now wears his, instead of letting it hang half-way to his waist in essenced curls; but was he therefore the less of a true Viking’s son, bold-hearted as his sea-roving ancestors who won the Danelagh by Canute’s side, and settled there on Thoresby Rise, to grow wheat and breed horses, generation succeeding generation, in the old moated grange? He carried a Bible in his jack-boot; but did that prevent him, as Oliver rode past him with an approving smile on Naseby field, thinking himself a very handsome fellow, with his mustache and imperial, and bright-red coat, and cuirass well polished, in spite of many a dint, as he sate his father’s great black horse as gracefully and firmly as any long-locked and essenced cavalier in front of him? Or did it prevent him thinking too, for a moment, with a throb of the heart, that sweet Cousin Patience far away at home, could she but see him, might have the same opinion of him as he had of himself? Was he the worse for the thought? He was certainly not the worse for checking it the next instant, with manly shame for letting such “carnal vanities” rise in his heart while he was “doing the Lord’s work” in the teeth of death and hell; but was there no poetry in him then? No poetry in him, five minutes after, as the long rapier swung round his head, redder and redder at every sweep? We are befooled by names. Call him Crusader instead of Roundhead, and he seems at once (granting him only sincerity, which he had, and that of a right awful kind) as complete a knight-errant as ever watched and prayed, ere putting on his spurs, in fantastic Gothic chapel, beneath “storied windows richly dight.” Was there no poetry in him, either, half an hour afterwards, as he lay bleeding across the corpse of the gallant horse, waiting for his turn with the surgeon, and fumbled for the Bible in his boot, and tried to hum a psalm, and thought of Cousin Patience, and his father, and his mother, and how they would hear at least that he had played the man in Israel that day, and resisted unto blood, striving against sin and the Man of Sin?  7
  And was there no poetry in him too, as he came wearied along Thoresby dike, in the quiet autumn eve, home to the house of his forefathers; and saw afar off the knot of tall poplars rising over the broad misty flat, and the one great abele tossing its sheets of silver in the dying gusts, and knew that they stood before his father’s door? Who can tell all the pretty child memories which flitted across his brain at that sight, and made him forget that he was a wounded cripple? There is the dike where he and his brothers snared the great pike which stole the ducklings—how many years ago?—while pretty little Patience stood by trembling, and shrieked at each snap of the brute’s wide jaws; and there, down that long dark lode, ruffling with crimson in the sunset breeze, he and his brothers skated home in triumph with Patience when his uncle died. What a day that was! when in the clear bright winter noon they laid the gate upon the ice, and tied the beef-bones under the four corners, and packed little Patience on it!—How pretty she looked, though her eyes were red with weeping, as she peeped out from among the heap of blankets and horse-hides; and how merrily their long fen-runners whistled along the ice-lane, between the high bank of sighing reed, at a pace like the race-horse’s, to the dear old home among the poplar-trees. And now he was going home to meet her after a mighty victory, a deliverance from heaven; second only in his eyes to that Red Sea one. Was there no poetry in his heart at that thought? Did not the glowing sunset, and the reed-beds which it transfigured before him into sheets of golden flame, seem tokens that the glory of God was going before him in his path? Did not the sweet clamor of the wild-fowl, gathering for one rich pæan ere they sank into rest, seem to him as God’s bells chiming him home in triumph, with peals sweeter and bolder than those of Lincoln or Peterborough steeple-house? Did not the very lapwing, as she tumbled softly wailing before him, as she did years ago, seem to welcome the wanderer home in the name of heaven?  8
  Fair Patience, too—though she was a Puritan, yet did not her cheek flush, her eyes grow dim, like any other girl’s, as she saw far off the red coat, like a sliding spark of fire, coming slowly along the strait fen-bank, and fled up-stairs into her chamber to pray, half that it might be, half that it might not be he? Was there no happy storm of human tears and human laughter when he entered the court-yard gate? Did not the old dog lick his Puritan hand as lovingly as if it had been a Cavalier’s? Did not lads and lasses run out shouting? Did not the old yeoman father hug him, weep over him, hold him at arm’s-length, and hug him again, as heartily as any other John Bull; even though the next moment he called all to kneel down and thank Him who had sent his boy home again, after bestowing on him the grace to bind kings in chains and nobles with links of iron, and contend to death for the faith delivered to the saints? And did not Zeal-for-Truth look about as wistfully for Patience as any other man would have done; longing to see her, yet not daring even to ask for her? And when she came down at last, was she the less lovely in his eyes because she came, not flaunting with bare bosom, in tawdry finery and paint, but shrouded close in coif and pinner, hiding from all the world beauty which was there still, but was meant for one alone, and that only if God willed, in God’s good time? And was there no faltering of their voices, no light in their eyes, no trembling pressure of their hands, which said more, and was more—ay, and more beautiful in the sight of Him who made them—than all Herrick’s Dianemes, Waller’s Saccharissas, flames, darts, posies, love-knots, anagrams, and the rest of the insincere cant of the court? What if Zeal-for-Truth had never strung two rhymes together in his life? Did not his heart go for inspiration to a loftier Helicon, when it whispered to itself, “My love, my dove, my undefiled, is but one,” than if he had filled pages with sonnets about Venuses and Cupids, lovesick shepherds and cruel nymphs?  9
  And was there no poetry—true idyllic poetry, as of Longfellow’s ‘Evangeline’ itself—in that trip round the old farm next morning; when Zeal-for-Truth, after looking over every heifer and peeping into every sty, would needs canter down by his father’s side to the horse-fen, with his arm in a sling; while the partridges whirred up before them, and the lurchers flashed like gray snakes after the hare, and the colts came whinnying round, with staring eyes and streaming manes; and the two chatted on in the same sober business-like English tone, alternately of “the Lord’s great dealings” by General Cromwell, the pride of all honest fen-men, and the price of troop-horses at the next Horncastle fair?  10
  Poetry in those old Puritans? Why not? They were men of like passions with ourselves. They loved, they married, they brought up children; they feared, they sinned, they sorrowed, they fought—they conquered. There was poetry enough in them, be sure, though they acted it like men instead of singing it like birds.  11
 
Note 1. Of course neither this supposed enactment nor the other “Blue Laws” ever existed, being pure inventions of a revengeful Loyalist.—ED. [back]
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.