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tion was religiously fulfilled throughout his protracted and chequered reign. Before he closed his career, various cruel and persecuting statutes affecting and oppressing the Roman Catholics were repealed, though from mistaken views of the purport and obligations of the coronation oath, he refused their admission to political power. As the provisions of the Toleration Act did not include persons impugning the doctrine of the Trinity, it was now ordered, as we have already shewn, to embrace them. All could not be obtained, however, which was sought by the friends of religious liberty, for various attempts were made to obtain the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, but though these efforts were sustained by the eloquent argumentation of Fox, and many others, they were not successful. An incident occurred in the year 1811, which, whatever was its intention, was in its tendency, and would have been in its consequences, an invasion of the Magna Charta of nonconformist liberty. Lord Sidmouth scandalized at the invasion of the sacred office by illiterate men, and jealous for the honour of the ministry, proposed in the House of Lords, a bill to restrict the liberty of public teachers, and to institute a legal qualification for the work of preaching the gospel. The whole body of Nonconformists, including the Methodists as well as dissenters, instantly took alarm, which spread with astonishing rapidity through the country, and in the course of a few days, such an opposition was raised and organised against the measure, that Lord Holland, in speaking against it, jocosely said, “We could hardly shake hands with our fellow Peers, from the number of petitions that entered against the bill." These petitions were signed by many beneficed clergymen; and the Archbishop of Canterbury did himself honour by his liberal exposition of the doctrine of religious liberty, and his hostility to the bill.
Since then, the British legislature has demonstrated the advance of liberal opinions by passing the Catholic Relief Bill, and the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; and granting the privilege to dissenters of celebrating marriages in their own places of worship and according to their own rites.
Such is now the present position of the Protestant dissenters in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Other men have laboured, and we have entered into their labours. The vine and the fig tree under which we repose in such tranquil security and unmolested enjoyment, were planted in ages that are past, amidst the tears and the blood of other generations. Patriots and heroes, martyrs and confessors, hedged them round, some with their swords, and others with their writings. The boar out of the wood, and the wild beast out of the field, did waste them; the storms of persecution rolled over them, the lightnings of which often scathed them; but an invisible yet omnipotent power afforded them protection, and now in their ample shadow millions are feasting upon their precious fruit, who are reversing the order of the plaintive theme of the antient church, and instead of sorrowfully dwelling upon what was, are exulting in what is, saying of the noble vine, “Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.”
Still the nonconformists, notwithstanding their lofty position, do not consider their liberties quite complete : they are excluded from the national seats of learningthey are forced to pay for the support of a state church from which conscientiously but not factiously they have seceded—they are compelled on entering a corporation to make a declaration which they feel to be an invidious distinction--and in other ways they are depressed, as they think, below the true level of the constitution; and no one can justly blame them if they seek, by peaceable means, to gain their proper standing on the platform of this great nation.
Still the man who finds in what he yet desires to possess, more cause for discontent, complaint, and endless agitation, than he does of gratitude, satisfaction, and enjoyment in what he has gained, should re-peruse the blood-stained page of his own history as a nonconformist, and if, on contrasting his liberty, with the prison, the scaffold, and the stake of his martyred ancestors, he does not find cause for thanksgiving to God, it must be because he either does not believe what they endured, or does not know what he is permitted to enjoy.
THE RISE AND SPREAD OF NONCONFORMITY
HAVING sketched, in the first part of this work, the History of Nonconformity in England, I come now to consider its origin and diffusion in the metropolis of the midland counties.
The early history of Birmingham is more than ordinarily lost in the dense obscurity of past ages. Hutton, in his account of the town, says, with deserved asperity, “ It is matter of surprise that none of those religious drones, the monks who lived in the Priory for fifteen or twenty generations, ever thought of indulging posterity with a history of Birmingham. They could not want opportunity, for they lived a life of indolence; nor materials, for they were nearer the infancy of time, and were possessed of historical facts now totally lost. Besides, nearly all the little learning in the kingdom was possessed by this class of people; and the place, in their day, must have enjoyed an eminent degree of prosperity.” The town is no doubt of considerable antiquity, and from a very early period was a place for the manufacture of implements of iron. Its facetious and punning historian imagines that here the antient Britons forged their scythes, and spears, and swords. For many ages, it was little better than a village. We pass over this long and dreary interval, during which our manufactures were all in their infancy, and grew but
slowly, and take up the description given by Mr. Macaulay in his eloquent pages, of this town of artificers as it existed in the reign of James II.
“ Birmingham had not been thought of sufficient importance to send a member to Oliver Cromwell's parliament. Yet its manufacturers were already a busy and thriving race. They boasted that their hardware was highly esteemed, not indeed as now, at Pekin and Lima, Bokhara and Timbuctoo, but in London, and even as far off as Ireland. 'They had acquired less honourable renown as coiners of bad money. In allusion to their spurious groats, the tory party had fixed on demagogues, who hypocritically affected zeal against Popery, the nickname of Birminghams. Yet in 1685 the population, which is now more than two hundred thousand, did not amount to more than four thousand.* Birmingham buttons were just beginning to be known; of Birmingham guns nobody had yet heard ; and the place whence, two generations later, the magnificent editions of Baskerville went forth to astonish all the librarians of Europe, did not contain a single shop where a bible or an almanack could be bought. On market days a bookseller named Michael Johnson, the father of the great Samuel Johnson, came over from Lichfield, and opened a stall during a few hours. This supply of literature was long found adequate to the demand.”
It is evident from this account, that if we can boast of antiquity, we can say but little of the wealth and splendour of our ancestry. Still we are a type of the happy country to which we belong, where the ascending career of opulence and renown is thrown open to every one who has the industry, the skill, and the perseverance to enter and continue.
* This is certainly too low an estimate.