Imatges de pÓgina
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AMENITIES

OF

LITERATURE.

PUBLIC OPINION.

How long has existed that numerous voice which we designate as “Public Opinion;" which I shall neither define nor describe ?

The history of the English “people,” considered in their political capacity, cannot be held to be of ancient date. The civil wars of England, and the intestine discords of the bloody Roses, seem to have nearly reduced the nation to a semi-barbarous condition ; disputed successions, cruel factions, and family feuds, had long convulsed the land, and the political disorganization had been as eventful as were, not long after, the religious dissensions.

The grandfather of Elizabeth, Henry the Seventh, had terminated a political crisis. It was his policy to weaken the personal influence of the higher nobility, whose domination our monarchs had often fatally experienced. This seems

to have been the sole “public” concern of this prudential and passionless sovereign, who, as the authority of the potent aristocracy declined, established that despotic regality which remained as the inheritance of the dynasty of the Tudors.

In the days of the queen's father, all “public interests” were concentrated in the court-circle and its dependancies. The Parliament was but the formal echo of the voice which came from the cabinet. The learned Spelman has recorded that when the lower house hesitated to pass the bill for the dissolution of the monasteries, they were summoned into the king's presence; and the commons being first kept in waiting some hours in his gallery, the king entered, looking angrily on one side and then on the other: the dark scowl of the magnificent despot announced his thoughts ; and they listened to the thunder of his voice. “I hear,” said he, that

my bill will not pass, but I will have it pass, or I will have some of your heads."'* I do not recollect whether it was on this occasion that his majesty saluted his faithful commons as “ brutes !” but the burly tyrant treated them as such. The penalty of their debates was to be their heads: therefore, this important bill passed nemine contradicente !

However contemptuously this monarch regarded those who were within his circle, he was sufficiently enlightened in the great national revolution he meditated to desire to gain over the multitude on his side. The very circumstance of the king allowing, as the letters patent run, “the free and liberal use of the Bible in our own natural English tongue," was a coup d'etat, and an evidence that Henry at one time designed to create a people of readers on whom he counted to side with him. The people were already possessed of the Reformation, before Henry the Eighth had renounced the papacy. The reformers abroad had diligently supplied them with versions of the Scriptures, and no small numbers of pamphlets printed abroad in English were dispersed among the early "gospellers," the expressive distinction of the new heretics; an humble but fervent rabble of tailors, join

* Spelman's History of Sacrilege.

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