« VorigeDoorgaan »
There is, probably, no subject on which our Right Reverend Prelates will, for some time to come, more need the prayers of the church for the direction of Him without whom nothing is strong or holy, than on this and other points connected with the civil existence of our ecclesiastical communion. The crisis is serious; but my hopes predominate over my fears; and I doubt not, that, by the blessing of God, for ages to come our national Zion will yet be a praise in the earth. May the Supreme Head of his church guide and controul all ranks and degrees of men among us, in this time of exigency, to this wished-for end!
I have promised not to recapitulate all the princely remembrances of Winchester; but another just occurs to me, which includes a regal anecdote that I think will interest you. It is not a tale of that sanguinary invader Cerdic, who was crowned in that city in the year 519, and made it his capital, and was buried in its cathedral-which he had converted into a Pagan temple, after slaughtering its clergy, and nearly exterminating the citizens. Nor is it a tale of one whom much rather would I write of, Ethelwolph's illustrious son, Alfred; who was here educated, under St. Swithun; and honoured the place with his residence, and adorned it with some of his most munificent foundations; and whose ashes repose within its walls, as I mentioned in my last letter, just where the treadmill now stands to desecrate his memory. Nor is it a memorandum of Canute, or Edward the Confessor, or a score other well-known names, all closely connected with the localities of this venerable town; but of a West-Saxon king, Ina, celebrated by monkish writers for his wise laws and personal valour, for rebuilding Glastonbury Abbey, and first settling a donation of a penny per household, currently called Peter's pence, upon the see of Rome. His queen, Ethelburga, was a valorous lady, who, in the absence of her husband, headed armies, and repelled South Saxons,
and on one occasion besieged Taunton and reduced it to ashes. But, amidst all her achievements, she discerned the inability of earthly objects to fill and bound an immortal spirit, created in the image of God, and sighing for that satisfaction which God alone can bestow. "Vanity of vanity, and vexation of spirit," she saw inscribed on the pomps of a court and the laurels of a tented field; and she sighed for religious tranquillity and retirement, in order that she might devote herself with less interruption to the service of God. But, not content to secure her own salvation, she was anxious for that of her beloved husband, and wished that he should take part in her resolution. Often in vain had she told him of the shortness of human life, the uncertainty of grandeur, and the need of preparation for death and eternity: he was too much immersed in the toils and pleasure of state to listen to her remonstrances. At length she devised the following stratagem.
On an occasion of public festivity, when the royal pair were setting out on a journey, the palace of Winchester was sumptuously adorned, and nothing was wanting that could give magnificence to the entertainment. Early the next morning Ina and Ethelburga set out on their expedition; but they had scarcely proceeded a mile before the queen induced her husband, under some pretext, to return to his palace. She had directed the attendants, in the meantime, to divest it of its glories; so that Ina on his arrival found it silent and deserted: the splendid train had disappeared, not a servant was to be found; the rich vessels and furniture were gone; the halls and chambers were waste and filthy; and a litter of swine had taken possession of the royal couch. With tears the queen addresses her astonished husband. "Such," said she, "my royal lord, is the transitory nature of all sublunary enjoyments; and death and eternity are at hand.” I will give you her speech as Wil
liam of Malmesbury reports it; and to my mind it is full of pathos :
“Ubi sunt, domine conjux, hesterni strepitus? Ubi sunt aulea Sidoniis fucis ebria? Ubi parasitorum discurrens petulantia? Ubi dædalia vasa, pondere metalorum mensas ipsas onerantia. Ubi terra marique exquisitæ ad gulæ lenocinium obsonia? Nonne omnia fucus et ventus? Nonne omnia transierunt? Et væ his qui hæserint; qui scilicet trahentur! Cogita quæso quam miserabiliter defluunt carnes quæ modo in deliciis nutriuntur! Nonne nos qui ingurgitamur uberius putrescimus miserius? Potentes potenter tormenta patientur, et fortioribus fortior instat cruciatio."
The stratagem suceeded: Ina was touched with the feeling of the vanity of human glory, and determined to devote himself henceforth to the service of God. In what he considered that service to consist, it might be difficult to ascertain. The name of the Saviour, I lament to say, does not occur in the queen's otherwise affecting appeal; but one cannot but hope, that, amidst the ignorance and superstition of a dark age and a corrupt church, her faith had saving regard to him; and that, in discovering the vanity of the world, she had been led scripturally to fix her hopes where alone true joys are to be found; and that her anxious wish was to lead her dearest earthly friend thither also. We know, however, that, after reigning thirty-seven years, Ina retired to the seclusion of a monastery, according to the mistaken fashion of the age in which he lived, instead of endeavouring to devote himself to the glory of God in the station of life in which he had placed him. One must lament, that a royal pair who had been led to feel the vanity of a court, but whom duty required to preside over it, should quit its precincts, instead of using their influence to stem its corruptions. Seclusion may be often an indulgence of spiritual cowardice; asceticism may arise from a want of self-denial: it is found easier to fly than to fight
and thus many have fled from their duties, the better to work out their salvation. I should doubt, however, whether the experiment has in such instances succeeded; I have known many Protestant cases in which it certainly has not; and I always dread the result, when a pious and zealous layman, suddenly checked perhaps in a mad career of sin and folly, throws aside his red or blue coat for a gown and cassock, instead of continuing in his former calling, and demonstrating, by his example, what a Christian gentleman, not a divine by profession, can do for the glory of God and the good of the souls of men. To retreat from the world, in all its forms and all its allurements, is the obligation and the privilege of every servant of Christ; but there cannot be any virtue in making one's house a nunnery, and thinking to keep out sin and danger by neglecting the demands duties of active life. Our constant endeavour should be to avoid temptation, as our daily prayer is that God would not lead us into it; but those temptations which his providence calls us to encounter, his grace will enable us, in the exercise of faith and spiritual vigilance, to resist. A merchant is not to throw up his vocation and send his children to a poorhouse, in order to avoid the temptation to covetousness; or a king wantonly to hurl away his crown lest the snares of a court should prove his ruin. The merchant has a far better arena for the exercise of the graces of the Holy Spirit by so using the world as not abusing it ; and the monarch, by imitating the man after God's own heart, and endeavouring to make his court the portal of heaven. Nor need either the one or the other fear that He, who prescribes the duty, cannot give strength to perform it. If He place us in the van of the battle, he does not intend that we should seek a cowardly retreat from its perils; but that we should manfully fight under his banners, and become conquerors through the Captain of our salvation.
September 9.-My first thought on resuming my pen, and glancing over what I wrote yesterday, may best be expressed in the words of Ethelburga," Ubi sunt hesterni strepitus?" where are the gorgeous pomps of that royal day-the solemn ceremonial, the costly jewels, the regal vestments, the crown, the coronets, the acclamations, the splendid pageant? I would not, on the score of religion, assert that somewhat of splendour on such an occasion is culpable: very far from it: and I am quite sure that as much of pride may lurk in a drab coat and a Quaker cap, as in an earl's robe or a countess's feathers. Nor do I doubt, that, to many a humble and religious mind, the pageantries of state are burdens borne, not gratifications welcomed; and that many knees, which yesterday bowed loyally and heartily before an earthly sovereign, bowed with far deeper emotion before the King of kings and Lord of lords, in earnest suit that He would bless with His holy unction from above this national ratification of sacred vows and dutiful homage. I am not herald or antiquary sufficient to decide whether some of the ceremonies, still used in certain of our public investings, inaugurations, and honorary rites, may not possibly offend directly against religion, being grounded on ancient superstitious, papistical, or despotic, usages: but I incline to think that most of these things offend more against good taste than against religion; that they are gew-gaws, rather than vices; and that a man of sense, who happens officially to take a part in them, may perform his grave absurdity without any offence to his conscience they are not things to his taste, but, if they please others, he is willing to make his share of personal sacrifice. An American acknowledges the gorgeous splendour
of some of our European ceremonials: they are grand and imposing, he says, beyond all he had conceived; they are very well for the old world; but he certainly does not wish to see a president of the United States installed with like honours. I doubt whether our civic, regal, or ecclesiastical pageants now-a-days greatly awe the popular mind, or secure much reverence for authority. They might do so in the days when Ina and Ethelburga held drawing-rooms in Winchester palace; or Ethelwolph, as lord of the soil, issued his charter from Winchester cathedral; and the highest peer was, in truth as in name, but a vassal to his sovereign, and suit and service and court livery were really tokens of humble prostration; or Whittington awed the refractory apprentices of London by the awful splendours of his state-coach
if he had one-and his men in armour, and resplendent tags, and swords, and maces, and multiform bedizenment. But the present age is rapidly outgrowing these brilliant manifestations of dignity-though I fear that base, dastardly Radicalism has had some hand in the business; and that this green-eyed monster, combined with an unsparing demand for economy, has usurped some of the honours of good sense. No man, I suppose, who looks at the signs of the times, doubts that in the course of the next half-century scarcely a vestige will survive of many of our ancient cumbrous usages; and that much of what we now, from long association, consider as meet, ornamental, and dignified, will be thought as idle as the tricking out of a harlequin. Already an important part of my Lord Chancellor's Pelion-super-Ossa habiliments, intended doubtless, on true phrenological principles, as an external indication of vast internal cerebral development, is said to exhibit fearful symptoms of degeneracy; and our prelates, with alarm be it whispered, have long tended to radical curtailment in this craniological ap
pendage to their high station;-in short, there is no knowing where matters may end.
But, to speak seriously, is it not the duty of judicious persons-I do not, of course, mean in trifles, but upon the whole, and in weightier matters to add a counterpoise to the popular side of our modern march of intellect; to sober, rather than hurry on the movement, and that even in some instances where it may be rushing to what is abstractedly right; and, in particular, in many matters of office, courtesy, and prescription, to incline to what innocent usage sanctions, rather than what novelty covets, or à priori philosophy may perhaps prefer? I am sure that in that sacred office with which, my dear friend, it is your happiness and mine to be invested, that feeling is far more safe which dreads innovation, than that which loves it for its own sake; and particularly in younger men. To be willing to change where change is solid improvement, but to oppose it where it is only dubious novelty, is a mean between extremes which few men know how to obtain. The eager try experiments, the cautious fear even to adopt results; one ecclesiastic relegates us to the constitutions of Pope Otho, another is for new-modelling every thing; and, between the two, moderate and welljudging men scarcely know where to oppose and where to yield.
Ubi sunt hesterni strepitus? Alas! with the years beyond the Flood; or with the antique pageantries which, age after age, echoed through the halls and castles whose mouldering relics, in connexion with the passing topic of the day, have suggested these reflections. Often have I been struck with that remarkable expression of the Apostle, "The fashion of this world passeth away." I imagine to myself a gorgeous procession; I see pampered steeds, and proud trappings, and costly robes, and refulgent armour, and wreathes and coronals; and I hear alternate
martial clangor and dulcet melody; and gold and jewels shine resplendently around; and all eyes are turned to one favoured object; and banners float, and acclamations rend the air, and every window and house-top is thronged with eager spectators; and all is joyous pomp and festive magnificence-But I turn again, and the gaudy scene has vanished: the hero has passed by; his attendants have disappeared; the crowded street is deserted; silence reigns around; and a melancholy feeling of solitude and desolation chills the heart, such as I remember came over me when in the loneliness of evening I visited the scene of that greatest of modern pageants, the coronation of George the Fourth, and thought of the splendour of the festival, and beheld the yetremaining relics of the temporary fabrics erected for the solemnity, still clad in their scarlet trappings, but of which in a few hours not a vestige would survive, to tell to the passing wanderer the anxious preparation and princely cost and emulous magnificence of the short-lived spectacle. "Ubi sunt aulea Sidoniis fucis ebria? Ubi parasitorum discurrens petulantia? Übi dædalia vasa, pondere metalorum mensas ipsas onerantia? Nonne omnia fucus et ventus?"
Such is the fashion of this world; and so it passes away. The Apostle might have found (excuse my repeating a few thoughts which I remember having years ago penned elsewhere) many other mortifying characteristics of earthly grandeur. He might have said, that the fashion of the world is base and degrading; that it draws down the soul from its destined elevation, to chain it to a sordid mass of clay, which must soon perish, "with all that it inhabit. Or he might have said, that it is unsatisfactory; that it cannot fill the mind of a creature formed in the image of God, and sighing for immortality and eternal life. might have taken us, as Lord Chesterfield does, behind the scenes, and
exhibited the " beggarly elements" of its proudest enjoyments; the "dirty ropes and tallow candles" which furnish its superficial pomp; and thus lead us to exclaim, with thousands of sated voluptuaries, "Vanity of vanity, vanity of vanities! all is vanity." Or he might have told us of its instability; that it is a vessel in a storm, which sinks under our tottering step when we most need support, and leaves us nauseated and giddy with its fitful fluctuations. Or he might, above all, have told us that the fashion of the world is wicked; that it tends to draw the heart from God; and to fill the throne, designed for the sole occupation of the Creator, with objects as sinful as they are trifling, as incompatible with the duties of a holy being as the dignity of an immortal one.
But the Apostle gives the world, as it were, its fairest chance. Allow that it were all that its votaries wish or imagine, and that it were neither sinful nor unsatisfactory, still it is transient,-its fashion passes away. It is like the mirth of fools, which the wisest of men compares to the momentary blaze and crackling of thorns under a pot. Let it be as highly decorated as you please, still its finery is soon out of date: it has nothing intrinsically valuable or imperishable in it: it cannot be thrown into the crucible, and melted down into something still beautiful or precious: it is a shadow, a pageant, a gilded trifle, worth nothing when the gilt has worn off. In the morning of the resurrection it will appear but as a dream we shall wonder how it could even for a moment have delighted or deceived us. "Ubi sunt hesterni strepitus?" But the Christian's world, in addition to all its other claims, is eternal: it is not only pure and satisfying, but it is never-ceasing when heaven and earth shall pass away, that word and those promises on which he relies shall be, like their Divine Author, unchangeable; and while God exists, the church of Christ, ransomed by his blood, and purified by his Spirit, CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 357.
shall exist, to enjoy his favour and partake of the felicity which he imparts.
Excuse, my friend, this digression, if it be one. It is, indeed, commonplace, and will fit any scene of worldly magnificence, from the days of Ina and Ethelburga to those of William and Adelaide: but not the less important is it on that account, or less necessary to be every day and hour impressed upon our hearts; that, seeing the vanity of all that is merely of earth, we may apply our hearts to heavenly wisdom, and seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth, at the right hand of God. It is of infinite importance for men in the full career of life and worldly enjoyment to be seriously reminded of such topics. Well was it for Ina to have at hand one who could so tenderly whisper to him, in the midst of his careless splendour and transitory enjoyments, "Væ his qui hæserint, qui scilicet tranhentur!" Many a man exposed to similar temptations has owned the power of such conjugal solicitude: nor do I think I should transgress the bounds of affectionate loyalty if I should express a hope, or a wish, that our beloved and gracious monarch, amidst the cares and distractions of his exalted sphere, may have found a kindred adviser.
Sept. 10.-As the secular memorialists of the town of Winchester boast of her ancient kings, princes, and warriors, when she was the metropolis of England, so her ecclesiastical panegyrists boast that their see has given to the church ten saints, to Rome two cardinals, to England nine lord chancellors, and some thirty prelates of the illustrious order of the Garter, besides other farfamed churchmen in every department of dignity supposed to be compatible with the priestly office. fear that the lives of some of those worthies did not greatly adorn their spiritual office. The saints are, Birinus, Agilbert, Eleutherius, Hedda, Swithun, Frithstan, Brinstan, Ethelwold, Elphage the Bald, and