« PreviousContinue »
DRESS OF THE CAVALIERS.
FOURTH ERA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
FROM THE SHUTTING OF THE THEATRES IN 1648 A.D. TO THE
DEATH OF MILTON IN 1674 A.D.
PURITANS AND CAVALIERS—THEIR INFLUENCE UPON
Puritan and Cavalier.
Gallantry in the field.
Hatred of amusement.
JOSTLING in London streets, and scowling as they passed each other on leafy country roads; grappling in deadly conflict upon many a battle-field from Edgehill to Naseby, resting upon hacked sword or bloody ash-wood pike only till the leaping heart was still enough to begin the strife again—Puritans and Cavaliers stand out in violent contrast during that period of English history which is filled with the great central struggle of the seventeenth century. Close and deadly though their occasional collision, the currents of their domestic lives flowed far apart;—the one, a brilliant stream flashing along its noisy way, and toying with its flowery banks, all unheeding of the great deep to which its waters ran ;the other, a dark, strong, and solemn river, sweeping sternly on to its goal between rugged shores of cold grey stone.
The violence of the opposition between Puritan and Cavalier was strikingly expressed by the difference of their dress and of their amusements. The Cavalier (the word was borrowed from the Spanish) in full dress wore a brilliant silk or satin doublet with slashed sleeves, a falling collar of rich point lace, a short cloak hanging carelessly from one shoulder, and a broad-leafed
WILD LIFE OF THE CAVALIERS.
low-crowned hat of Flemish beaver, from which floated one or two graceful feathers. His broad sword-belt, supporting a Spanish rapier, was a marvel of costly embroidered-work. A laced buff coat and silken sash sometimes took the place of the doublet; and when the steel gorget was buckled over this, the gallant Cavalier was ready for the fray. Long waves of curled hair, rippling on the shoulders, formed a graceful framework for the finely moulded features of a high-bred English gentleman ; and to this class of the nation the Cavaliers for the most part belonged. But, unhappily, these silks and ringlets filled the taverns and surrounded the gaming-tables of London by night and day. Great fortunes were lost then, as in later times, on a single throw of the dice; and many a fair-plumed hat was dashed fiercely with curses in the mud, when the half-sobered reveller, staggering with torn and wine-splashed finery out of the tavern into the cold grey light of the breaking day, found every gold piece vanished from his shrunken purse.
Well might he pluck at the dishevelled lovelock-special eye-sore to the Puritans—which hung over his pallid brow, and curse his drunken folly. Such a life lived many of the Cavaliers. Tennis, billiards, drinking, masquerading, dressing, intriguing, composing and singing love songs, filled their days and their nights. Madly the whirlpool spun round with its reckless freight of gaily dressed debauchees, who, seeing one and another wasted face sink from view, only drowned the cry of dying remorse in a wilder burst of revelry. A few were flung out from the fatal circles with ruined fortune and broken health, to find nothing left them but a painful dragging out of days in some lonely country farm-house; or, if the pure air and quiet hours restored them, a life of exile, as a soldier in some foreign service, and then, perhaps, a grave in unknown soil. Yet even all this vicious round could not destroy the pluck of Englishmen. Gallantly and gaily did Rupert's horsemen, the very flower of the Cavaliers, ride in the face of hailing bullets upon the Puritan musketeers.
While we condemn the vices of the Cavaliers, and pity the wretched end of so many of these brilliant English gentlemen, we cannot help respecting the bravery of the men who rallied so loyally round
THE PURITAN DRESS AND MIEN.
the banner of their erring king, and, for the cause of monarchy, spilt their blood on English battle-fields with the same careless gaiety as if they were pouring out bumpers of red wine in the taverns by St. Paul's. The literature of the Cavaliers, we may
guess, for the most part, go very deep. The poetry was chiefly lyric, the sparkling, spontaneous effusions of a genius, that poured forth its sweet and living waters in spite of overwhelming floods of wine and dense fumes of tobacco-smoke. Herrick, Suckling, Waller, and the unhappy Lovelace were the chief poets of the Cavaliers ; and the works of all are stamped with characters that proclaim their birth-place and their fostering food. The Cavalier was graceful and gay, polite and polished ; so are the verses of Lovelace and his brother bards. The Cavalier was dissipated, and often vicious; there are many works of these men that bear deepest stains of immorality and vice. History, on the Cavalier side, is best represented by Lord Clarendon; theology, by the witty Thomas Fuller and the brilliant Jeremy Taylor. The quaint oddities of the former divine, and the gentle pictures, rich in images of loveliness, with which the sermons of the latter are studded, afford the most pleasing examples of English literature written in the atmosphere of Cavalier life.
Of a totally different stamp were the Puritan and his writings. Instead of the silk, satin, and lace which decked his gay antagonists, he affected usually a grave sobriety of dress and manners, which should place him at the utmost possible distance from the fashion of the vain world from which he sought to separate himself. His tastes were simple, his pleasures moderate, and his behaviour reverent and circumspect. Living in an atmosphere of habitual seriousness, the Bible was much in his hands and its sacred words often on his lips; while, disdaining lighter recreations, he often found his chief enjoyment in the hearing of sermons and the singing of psalms. As in other days of high religious fervour, his children at their baptism were called by sacred names, either drawn from the genealogical lists of Old Testament times, or expressive of his Christian faith and hope. That the perfor
THE PURITAN LITERATURE.
mance of the stage, such as it then was, steeped in a shameless licentiousness which shocked alike good men of every party, should be the object of his utter abhorrence, was a matter of course; but with it. were rejected other sports and pastimes of a less questionable kind, but which were still, in his view, inseparably mixed up with sin —as the mistletoe, the boar's head, and the country games around the May-pole, decorated with green and flowing boughs. Opposed, in short, to the riotous and dashing Cavaliers, both in political and religious views, the Puritans strove to draw the line as sharply as possible between themselves and their gaily attired antagonists, and to stand in every respect as far apart from these godless revellers as they could. They went too far, undoubtedly; but they were, in point of morality and religion at least, on the right side of the dividing line; and we can easily forgive the austere tone in which Sergeant Zerubbabel Grace, discoursing to his troopers, proclaimed the truths of the Bible, when we remember that the same brave and honest soldier gave good proofs of his sincerity, by avoiding the ale-house and the dicing-room, and living in constant fear of Him who said, “Swear not at all.”
A profound religious thoughtfulness was the root, in the character of the English Puritans, out of which grew their great works
of the pen.
The period of the Civil War was too full of hurry and bloodshed to be prolific in any but controversial writings. One princely work, indeed, the Areopagitica of Milton, lifted its lofty voice above the clash of swords and the roll of musketry, its noble eloquence undimmed by the blackening sulphur-smoke. Liberty was the grand stake, for which the English Puritans were then playing at the game of war; and there was among them one, the grandest intellect of all, who could not stand idly by and see professing champions of the sacred cause—fellow-soldiers by his own side in the great battle of freedom-lay, in their blindness, the heavy fetter of a license on the English press. To Milton the freedom of human thought and speech was a far grander aim than even the relief of the English people from the tyranny of Charles Stuart,
THE GREAT PURITAN MAN OF LETTERS.
When the Civil War was over, and Charles rested in his bloody grave, the day of Roundhead triumph came. Yet not the proudest period of the Puritan literature. Pure in many things, as its name proclaimed it, the Puritan mind needed to pass through a fiery furnace before its dross was quite purged away, and the fine gold shone out with clearest lustre.
While the Cavalier poets had been stringing their garlands of artificial blossoms in the heated air of the Stuart court, Milton had been weaving his sweet chaplets of unfading wild-flowers in the meadows of Horton. It was not in the nature of things that the great Puritan poet should pass through the trying hours of conflict and of triumph without many stains of earth deepening on his spirit. To purge these away, required suffering in many shapes—blindness, bitterness of soul, threatening ruin, and certain narrowness of
Yet bodily affliction and political disgrace could not break the giant's wing; they but served to give it greater strength. From a fall which would have laid a feebler man still in his coffin, Milton arose with his noblest poem completed in his hand. And Milton's noblest
poem is the crown and glory of our English literature. What more needs to be said of Puritan influence upon English letters than that Puritan Milton wrote the Paradise Lost?
Puritanism acted powerfully, too, upon our English prose, finding its highest expression under this form in the works of John Bunyan and Richard Baxter. Here, also, the fervour of religious earnestness leavens the whole mass. A massive strength and solemn elevation of tone, form the grand characteristics of a school in which the naked majesty of the Divine perhaps too much overshadows the tenderness and gentleness of the human element. The stern work of those sad times was little fitted to nourish in the breasts of good men those feelings from which bright thoughts and happy sunny affections spring; but the worst enemy of these remarkable men cannot deny, that the main-spring of the Puritan mind, as displayed in written works and recorded actions, was a simple fear of God, and an over-mastering desire to fulfil every duty, in the face of any consequences, no matter how perilous or painful.