William Sheppard, sergeant-at-law, a great stickler, during the ascendency of the Rump, for the reformation of the law and the correction of manners, thus sets forth certain grievances, and, like a good Samaritan, propounds a remedy for them in his work, entitled ‘Englands Balme.’
The character of this puritanical reformer’s liberality may be estimated by his proposed remedies for the abuses of the [Pg 143] press
“That there is no certain and clear law to punish prophane jesting, fidling, ryming, piping, juggling, fortune-telling, tumbling, dancing upon the rope, vaulting, ballad-singing, sword-playing, or playing of prizes, ape-carrying, puppet-playing, bear-baiting, bull-baiting, horse-racing, cock-fighting, carding, dicing, or other gaming; especially the spending of much time, and the adventuring of great sums of money herein.
James’s, when [Pg 144] he had merely “rooked” a gay city ‘prentice of five pounds at a shilling ordinary in Shire Lane
“That to the laws already made: 1. That it be in the power of any two justices of the peace to binde to the goode behaivour such as are offensive herein. 2. 3. That all payments to the commonwealth be doubled on such persons.”
“That there is no law against lascivious gestures, wanton and filthy dalliance and familiarity, whorish attire, strange fashions; such as are naked breasts, bare shoulders, powdering, spotting, painting the face, curling and shearing the hair; excess of apparel in servants and mean people.
“2. That for a whorish attire, something of note be written upon the door of her house to her disgrace, there to continue till she wear sober attire.”
As his party were in power, there was no longer any occasion for free discussion. Milton was opposed to such canting reformers as Sheppard, and maintained the liberty of unlicensed printing.
On the accession of Charles II, a reaction took place; and people who had felt themselves coerced in their amusements by the puritanical party, seem now to have gloried in their excesses, not so much from any positive pleasure that they might feel in their vicious courses, but as evincing their triumph over those who formerly kept them in restraint. From the example of the king himself, a sensual, selfish profligate, vice became fashionable at court, where gross depravity of manners seems to have been admitted as prima facie evidence of loyal principles. His majesty’s personal favorites, from the wealthy noble who had a seat at the council-table, to the poor gentlemen who served as a private in the horse-guards, seem all to have been eager to divert the “merry monarch” by their shameless profligacy.
The man of ton of the period, was professionally a rake and a gamester, and often a liar and cheat; boasting of an intrigue with “my lady,” while in truth he was kept by “my lord’s” mistress; and pretending that he had won a hundred pieces of “the duke,” at the groom-porter’s at St. The morals and manners of the country, generally, at that period, are not, however, to be estimated by those of the court and the so-called “fashionable world. Though “the saints” no longer enjoyed the fatness of the land, they still exercised great influence over the minds of the middle classes, and fostered in them a deep religious feeling, and a strict observance of decency, which were in direct opposition to the principles and practice of the sovereign and his court.
At no period of our history, do the profligacy of one class and the piety of another appear in more striking contrast. On looking closer, however, it would seem that this effect is, in a great degree, produced by the approximation of the extremes of each,-of sinners who painted themselves blacker than they really were, and of saints who heightened their lights and exalted their purity, while they were in truth but as “a whitened wall. For a picture of the manners of the time, we are referred to licentious plays and obscene poems, as if they formed the staple literature of the day,-as if all men frequented the playhouse and read Rochester, but never went to church or conventicle, nor read the numerous moral and religious works which then issued from the press.