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The Velvet Cushion

By John Cunningham

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

Chapter V.

'As I have already hinted at the spirit of the Church, and of the Enemies of the Church in the days just after Queen Elizabeth, I will now pass them over and hasten forward to a period most important to myself and to the nation.--One morning, almost before sun-rise, I saw a band of soldiers enter the church. They were strange-looking men, with hair cut short and rounded,--dealt much in scriptural language, often metaphorically, and as often inaccurately used. They frequently denounced Church and King. On a sudden I was confounded to hear a man, who looked like a serjeant, give the word, and the band flew to work. In a moment they broke down the rails of the altar, beheaded a fine Magdalen, put the silver chalice and candlesticks into their pockets, bayonetted [41/42] a surplice, fastened the vicar's band upon a great black dog which had followed them into the church, dashed the Common Prayer Book through a fine painted window,--and at last mounted,--I tremble while I tell it,--the pulpit, and the Serjeant himself, with one end of his halbert cut away my lace and tassels, and with the other ran me through the bowels.' "True I declare, my dear," said the old gentleman, "for see here the two holes made by the sacrilegious instrument,--holes of which you know how perplexed I have often been to discover the origin."--"Holes," she replied, "which I darned for the third time so carefully last Candlemas." "Holes," said he, "which I always deemed the disgrace of the establishment, but which henceforward I shall charge upon their Puritan, authors." In short, fifty years had associated so many circumstances with these holes in the Cushion, that it was a considerable time before they could get back [42/43] to the Cushion itself. At length, however, he read on.--'I need not say, Sir, that this rough treatment gave me no prejudice in favour of the new usurpers in Church and State. Nor, indeed, can I, to this moment, comprehend how, either beheading the King, or perforating a Cushion, could have any necessary connection with the Reformation of Religion. But still, Sir, indiscriminate censure of the Puritans would be highly unjust. The first of the race were considerably the best. They were men who had little, perhaps, to condemn in them, except a superstitious alarm at Popery. Their doctrines were in general pure,--° their practice correct; and some of them were not merely among the best Christians, but the finest gentlemen of the day-Afterwards, when religion became a step to court favour,--when the motto of the day was the "praise of God in our mouth, and a two-edged sword in our hand,"--when insurrection against established [43/44] authority was placed among the virtues--when learning was considered as a dead weight round the neck of religion, and no man was deemed fit to mount a pulpit who could not first make one,--when the fine arts and all other sources of harmless refreshment were proscribed,--then, indeed, those apostles of this new system, who gained the name of Puritans, deserved it, to say the least, as little as any of their contemporaries. The Royalists, though many of them without religion, generally retained the form. Many of the Puritans had neither form nor religion.'--"Is not that a little harsh, my love," said the old lady. "It may be so," answered he. "But, to be sure, the times were truly awful. In common times men sin against their principles, and then one hopes their principles may mend them. But these men rebelled upon principle,--shed royal blood for conscience sake. What, therefore, could mend them?"--"You," she replied, [44/45] "if they had heard your last sermon on peace of conscience." How far the Vicar agreed with his lady, it is impossible to say, as he said nothing himself, but read on.

'I made one constant remark--that a fast day was generally succeeded by some new crime against Church or King. If I heard a fast sermon on Wednesday, I expected to hear the pew-openers talk of an execution on Thursday.' "I cannot help thinking," said the old gentleman, "that their scheme of religion spoiled their tempers. I do indeed heartily commend their abstinence from vicious or worldly amusements. But surely, cheerfulness is not a crime. That God who is 'Our Father,' must love to see his creatures happy. If, then, instead of perpetual fasting, and 'will worship,' they had gone abroad among the glories of nature,--if even they had refreshed their spirits by a commerce with science and art, I think, by the mercy of God, [45/46] they would have become happier themselves, and therefore less jealous of the happiness of others. They would have shaken off the dew of their own comforts on all around them." Whilst he said this, his lady, as if to illustrate his argument, was straining her eyes and fingers to release a fly, which had audaciously leapt into the cream pot. She was so happy herself, she would not willingly suffer even a fly to be miserable. He began once more to read.

'As, Sir, I once had the honour of seeing a Queen at church, so now I had my curiosity gratified by a sight of the Protector. He had a peculiar countenance, and might perhaps have sat with equal propriety for the portrait of an enthusiast, or an hypocrite.' "Is not that impossible?" asked the old lady. "Not at all," replied the Vicar. "Men often deceive others till they learn to deceive themselves."

"But let us proceed--"

[47] 'He was evidently in a state of much agitation--wore a sort of armour under his coat, seemed to look at every man as an enemy, and refused in common with all his followers to say 'Our Father, &c. &c.' because, I suppose, they felt themselves anything but brethren. Nothing seemed to give him any satisfaction, till the preacher said, that ' Men once in a state of grace could never fall away.' Then the Protector looked up and smiled, as much as to say, ' I have no doubt I once was in that state.'"

"Surely," said the old lady, "either he was mistaken, or the doctrine is false."

Now, of all things in the world, our good Vicar disliked peremptory decisions upon important subjects. He did not pretend to see quite as far and as clearly as some of his neighbours. Indeed, he thought the Bible itself not quite so decided about Calvinism and Arminianism, as many of the readers of the Bible would pretend, and used to say, "I think half [47/48] the Bible would have suited Calvin or Arminius much better than the whole." A great text with him was, "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may do them." And a favourite question to himself, when any difficulties were beginning to perplex him, was, "What is that to thee, follow thou me." In obedience to which, his custom was, when any one started a controverted topic which he had no hopes of settling, to jump up, as well as he could at seventy-five, and to 'follow' his master in some work of love or usefulness.

I heard him once say to a good man, but rather an anxious disputant. "Forgive me, my dear friend--but I cannot spend my time in examining these thorns upon the hill of Zion, when I am mercifully permitted to gather its flowers.--Come, and let us look together at the goodly proportions, the majesty, the splendor of the temple, and listen to [48/49] the promises of its mercy seat--and leave others to pluck up the few weeds which have sprung up in its Courts."

If this was an error, it was so happy an error for himself and his parish, that it would have been great inhumanity to have taught him better. When his Lady started the above-named dilemma, then, although he felt that certain strong partizans night have been inconvenienced by its horns, he took his usual jump, and simply said--"Whatever may be thought of the doctrine, there can be no doubt, that Cromwell made a very bad use of if. But I heartily wish we, none of us, abused eve a better doctrines. I am not at all sure, for instance, that it is not an abuse of the doctrine of divine mercy that has kept me at home to-day, when I should hare called on old Dame Wilkins."

"What, my dear," said she, "do you think the best means of checking in oneself the abuse of good doctrines?"

[50] "Prayer to God," he answered, "in the first instance--next to that, good practice. In general, our lives ruin our doctrines. And so, my dear, let us go to Mary Wilkins directly." Her bonnet was soon on, and they hobbled down the village almost as fast as if their house had been on fire. Mary Wilkins was a poor, good old woman, to whom the Vicar's visit, three times a week, had become almost as necessary as her tea or snuff. It was now two hours beyond the time he usually came; and, had she been awake, she would really have been pained by the delay. But, happily, she had fallen into a profound sleep, and when he put his foot on the threshold, and in his old-fashioned way said, "Peace be with you," she was just awaking. This comforted our good old man; and, as he well knew where all comfort comes from, he thanked God in his heart even for this.

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