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The Velvet Cushion

By John Cunningham

London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1814.

Chapter IV.

The next morning our aged minister rose early, and perhaps the reader may think, immediately resumed his seat with the darling manuscript in his hand. But no. It was a rule with him always to follow up his morning petitions to his Father in Heaven by resuming the study of that blessed book with which he had closed the day. After this he called together his small circle of grey-headed servants to join him in a devout application for blessings upon the family and the world. Then he breakfasted. Then, chiefly by devout reading, he laid up materials for the sermon of the next Sunday. Then he visited, perhaps, some cottage in his village, taught the ignorant, rebuked the careless, or bound up the wounds of the broken hearted; and taught them, without appealing to his own case, [27/28] though no one who saw him could help making the application, how 'happy is the people who have the Lord for their God.'--I will not say, however, that he did not shorten some of his other employments, and particularly a little argument with a farmer about the exact amount of his tithes, to return to the manuscript. At length the venerable couple seated themselves, much in the same form as before, and he began to read.

'The Clerk, Sir, had no sooner shaken hands with the Verger, and both with the Beadle, than they all hobbled to the belfry, seized, as by a sort of impulse, all the ropes, and shook with the notes of acclamation every stone in the steeple. I am willing to hope it was, not so much because they had lost the old Queen, as because they had got a new one. However that might be, 'all the Churches' followed our example; and such was the noise, that, if I may be allowed so to speak, although the lash of persecution [28/29] was withdrawn, it could not be said 'the Churches had rest in those days.'--It was a sort of general jubilee. The ceremony of a coronation was almost superfluous, for the Queen was already enthroned in the hearts of the people; I am sure it was next to a miracle, what with bonfires and fireworks, that the people, in their zeal for Church and Queen, did not fire all the churches in the country, and burn the Queen in her bed.--And now, Sir, let me tell you of my good fortune. The Queen herself, with her Court, came to that very Church of which I had the honour to be the Cushion, to give thanks for the rescue of herself and country. I believe such a Te Deum was scarcely ever sung. Gratitude, love, loyalty,
"bowed the heart of the people as the heart of one man." "O," said our old divine, "how I should have rejoiced to have been there!" "I rejoice, my love," said the old lady, who saw, at a glance, that he could not have been there and [29/30] here too, "I can truly say, -that you were not there." He resumed his reading--

'I will not detain you, Sir, with minutely stating the occurrences of the day. The Queen, I think, must have learned two lessons--to value the love of her people--and to feel how strong a title, and how sure a way to that love, are supplied by the profession and maintenance of true religion. I have seen enough to convince me, that the people of this country, though loyally blind, for a time, to the faults of their King, yet never love even a King long if he does not deserve to be loved.--I now so on to tell you about the changes which soon took place.--The holy water, and tapers, and oil all vanished; and, never hearing any thing of them in the Bible, I was glad they were gone. I was pleased, however, to see that there was no impatience to get rid of old things, if either good in themselves, or, if a good reason [30/31] could be found for keeping them. Some of the finery, indeed, was removed from the church, and I myself was even stripped of some mock jewellery originally worked into my corners,--but, I declare, that I think we both looked the better for it. I observed, also, that the little confession boxes were nailed up, which, by the bye, deprived me of a source of daily amusement, and of much information given by Confessionists about the faults of their neighbours.--In the Liturgy, though many alterations were made, the same dislike of unnecessary change was observable. They prayed no longer, indeed, either to the Virgin or to the Saints. But they seemed rejoiced to continue the worship of God himself in the language of their fathers. Prayers, you know, Sir, many of them inherited from almost the first Christians, could not spoil merely by passing through the hands of the Pope.--But I was chiefly struck with the change in the doctrine [31/32] of the preachers. Before, the preaching was rare, and I used chiefly to hear of the merits of the Saints, the happiness of those who bought with money an interest in those merits--of works of supererogation, of purgatory, or a state in which, let a man live and die as he would, he might after death be purged from his corruption and fitted for Heaven. I do not say I heard nothing more like the Bible than this. Some indifferent Papists were, in my judgment, better Christians. But I mean to say, that, thus, preached the mass of the clergy; and, thus, did I, and the multitude below me understand them.--Now, however, Sir, I perceived, as I said, a great change; and, that I may not detain you too long, I will only state the three doctrines which, as by a sort of resurrection, started up from the grave of Popery, and appeared to all the city. The Reformers taught that man was a fallen creature--that he could be acquitted before God [32/33] only through a reliance in Christ,--and, lastly, that God by his Holy Spirit could alone give him a new heart, and fit him for the kingdom of Heaven. These, Sir, are your own doctrines, and I the rather state them to you, because I know you will rejoice to find that you are preaching those doctrines proclaimed by your ancestors under the axe of the executioner.'--This was almost, too much for our good Vicar. If there was a wish of his heart, it was to know that his doctrines were cast in the mould of the Reformation. A tear rolled down his manly cheek,--but, I fancy, it was not a tear of grief--for I heard him, at the conclusion of this paragraph, emphatically say--"Thank God!"--and she who felt all his mercies to be her own--said, "Amen!"

He read on. 'The divines of those days,' continued the manuscript, 'differed considerably from some good men now. And, if you will not think me tedious, I will state the nature of this [33/34] difference. Your ancestors, then, Sir, dwelt more on those important doctrines in which all agreed, and less on those minuter points on which some of them differed.--They preached less controversially. They took for granted that the, principles of the Bible would be the principles of their hearers. They rather asserted the doctrines than defended them; and employed themselves chiefly in shewing what sort of men these doctrines ought to make. Those Homilies, Sir, of which I have heard you read some to your flock, are an excellent sample of the divinity of the day of their birth. When I hear them I almost fancy some of my first friends risen from their graves again. There may be less head in them than in the mere systematic divinity of your day; but there is more heart, more of the careless beauty of Scripture, more of 'brave neglect' which characterises the noble enthusiasm of Saints and Martyrs.--But I perceive that I am beginning to [34/35] indulge in that garrulity so general with the old in praising old times, and therefore I will say no more on this subject.'--"I wish it had said as much again on the subject," said the old gentleman.--"I wish it had," echoed his lady,--"and I should say of its garrulity what you remember our good old King (God bless him!) said to a writer who apologized for having written too much,--'I should have thought so too, Sir, if you had not written so well.'" The Vicar was as much pleased with this compliment to his Cushion as if it had been to himself; and, though he had heard the story at least a hundred times, thought he had never heard it so well applied before.--He read on.--

'Things, however, were too good to last. I soon perceived, even at church, some persons who treated all ceremonies and forms with a sort of suspicion. They seemed to expect Popery to start from behind them. At length the friends of [35/36] the Establishment began to notice the subject in their sermons--to decry rashness and enthusiasm--to speak of a new discipline fished up from the lake of Geneva--to contend that the opposite extreme from Popery was as bad as Popery itself. I have heard Hooker himself--'("Hooker!" said the old gentleman, and almost leapt from his seat) 'denounce the rising spirit of disaffection to Church and State,--which, 'though now (he said) a mere cloud in the horizon, would soon darken the face of the heavens.' But he prophesied in vain. The tumult increased. And, I grieve to say, that the effect of this spirit of disaffection upon the staunch churchmen was not such as to allay the heat. Disgusted with the rash foes to Popery, they somewhat lessened their hostility to that religion. Elizabeth herself began to regard the two extremes of Puritanism and Popery with equal dislike.--Her successor, James, scarcely hated Popery.--And Charles the First, [36/37] perhaps, preferred it.'--At this sentence our venerable divine sighed, and, for a moment, felt displeased with his velvet memorialist. If he had a prejudice in the world it was in favour of the first Charles. It arose partly from his love of royalty,--partly from his father's having given him, though he had carefully shut up the rest of Hume from him, when a boy, the few exquisite pages in which he records the death of the King,--partly from a slight infusion of Scotch blood in his veins,--partly from the virtues of the life of Charles and the terrors of his death, which have invested him with a species of martyrdom in the eyes of Englishmen. I have sometimes suspected also that an exquisite portrait of Charles, by Vandyke, which had descended in the old gentleman's family, and always hung in his study, had a little to do with this feeling. So ample a forehead, so meek a smile, so pensive an eye, could not surely belong to a bad man.--But, [37/38] whatever might be the source of his prejudice, certain it is, that he felt it. When, therefore, he came to this sentence, he stopped, shut the manuscript, took a few turns in the room, looked at his picture, and, at length, gravely said,--"I do not like to serve our kings like those of Egypt, and bring them to judgment after their death. That poor Scotch minister had a kinder heart, who, though he loathed Queen Mary living, said, when his brethren, after her death, were emptying the vials of their hatred upon her,--'Nay, bury her, for she is a King's daughter.' The temptations of Kings excuse many of their faults in my eyes."

"You and I, my love," said his wife, "have often thanked God that our temptations were so few.--But had Charles any great faults?"

"One of the greatest," he replied, "was, perhaps, that of so surrounding his person with dissolute men, that, in [38/39] the hour of his calamity, few good ones dared to trust him.--But his misfortunes, I think, were greater than his faults."--

"What misfortunes," she asked, "do you chiefly mean?"

"He was the heir, of arbitrary principles at a time when even the lightest yoke would scarcely be borne He wished to govern, after the model of his ancestors, a people who would not be governed at all.--Moreover, he had the misfortune of not knowing how to concede with a good grace,--but suffered his enemies to extort by force what he should have granted as a favour.--I am surprised men are not disposed more to pity and love, than to condemn him."--

"You, my dear," she said, "love every body."

"Seventy years acquaintance with myself," he answered, "has taught me that it becomes us not anxiously to search out each others nakedness,--but rather to approach the faults of others backwards, and throw the mantle over them."

[40] "I think, my dear," she said, "the picture seems to cast an eye of reproach upon that page of the manuscript."--

"I think it does," he answered, and, so perhaps, we had better turn to another."--They accordingly did, and read as follows.

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