Roberts, by John Greenleaf Whittier
Old Portraits and Modern Sketches
Thomas Carlyle, in his history of the stout and sagacious Monk of St.
Edmunds, has given us a fine picture of the actual life of Englishmen in
the middle centuries. The dim cell-lamp of the somewhat apocryphal
Jocelin of Brakelond becomes in his hands a huge Drummond-light, shining
over the Dark Ages like the naphtha-fed cressets over Pandemonium,
proving, as he says in his own quaint way, that "England in the year 1200
was no dreamland, but a green, solid place, which grew corn and several
other things; the sun shone on it; the vicissitudes of seasons and human
fortunes were there; cloth was woven, ditches dug, fallow fields
ploughed, and houses built." And if, as the writer just quoted insists,
it is a matter of no small importance to make it credible to the present
generation that the Past is not a confused dream of thrones and battle-
fields, creeds and constitutions, but a reality, substantial as hearth
and home, harvest-field and smith-shop, merry-making and death, could
make it, we shall not wholly waste our time and that of our readers in
inviting them to look with us at the rural life of England two centuries
ago, through the eyes of John Roberts and his worthy son, Daniel, yeomen,
of Siddington, near Cirencester.
The Memoirs of John Roberts, alias Haywood, by his son, Daniel Roberts,
(the second edition, printed verbatim from the original one, with its
picturesque array of italics and capital letters,) is to be found only in
a few of our old Quaker libraries. It opens with some account of the
family. The father of the elder Roberts "lived reputably, on a little
estate of his own," and it is mentioned as noteworthy that he married a
sister of a gentleman in the Commission of the Peace. Coming of age
about the beginning of the civil wars, John and one of his young
neighbors enlisted in the service of Parliament. Hearing that
Cirencester had been taken by the King's forces, they obtained leave of
absence to visit their friends, for whose safety they naturally felt
solicitous. The following account of the reception they met with from
the drunken and ferocious troopers of Charles I., the "bravos of Alsatia
and the pages of Whitehall," throws a ghastly light upon the horrors of
"As they were passing by Cirencester, they were discovered, and pursued
by two soldiers of the King's party, then in possession of the town.
Seeing themselves pursued, they quitted their horses, and took to their
heels; but, by reason of their accoutrements, could make little speed.
They came up with my father first; and, though he begged for quarter,
none they would give him, but laid on him with their swords, cutting and
slashing his hands and arms, which he held up to save his head; as the
marks upon them did long after testify. At length it pleased the
Almighty to put it into his mind to fall down on his face; which he did.
Hereupon the soldiers, being on horseback, cried to each other, Alight,
and cut his throat! but neither of them did; yet continued to strike and
prick him about the jaws, till they thought him dead. Then they left
him, and pursued his neighbor, whom they presently overtook and killed.
Soon after they had left my father, it was said in his heart, Rise, and
flee for thy life! which call he obeyed; and, starting upon his feet,
his enemies espied him in motion, and pursued him again. He ran down a
steep hill, and through a river which ran at the bottom of it; though
with exceeding difficulty, his boots filling with water, and his wounds
bleeding very much. They followed him to the top of the hill; but,
seeing he had got over, pursued him no farther."
The surgeon who attended him was a Royalist, and bluntly told his
bleeding patient that if he had met him in the street he would have
killed him himself, but now he was willing to cure him. On his recovery,
young Roberts again entered the army, and continued in it until the
overthrow, of the Monarchy. On his return, he married "Lydia Tindall,
of the denomination of Puritans." A majestic figure rises before us,
on reading the statement that Sir Matthew Hale, afterwards Lord Chief
Justice of England, the irreproachable jurist and judicial saint, was
"his wife's kinsman, and drew her marriage settlement."
No stronger testimony to the high-toned morality and austere virtue of
the Puritan yeomanry of England can be adduced than the fact that, of the
fifty thousand soldiers who were discharged on the accession of Charles
II., and left to shift for themselves, comparatively few, if any, became
chargeable to their parishes, although at that very time one out of six
of the English population were unable to support themselves. They
carried into their farm-fields and workshops the strict habits of
Cromwell's discipline; and, in toiling to repair their wasted fortunes,
they manifested the same heroic fortitude and self-denial which in war
had made them such formidable and efficient "Soldiers of the Lord." With
few exceptions, they remained steadfast in their uncompromising non-
conformity, abhorring Prelacy and Popery, and entertaining no very
orthodox notions with respect to the divine right of Kings. From them
the Quakers drew their most zealous champions; men who, in renouncing the
"carnal weapons" of their old service, found employment for habitual
combativeness in hot and wordy sectarian warfare. To this day the
vocabulary of Quakerism abounds in the military phrases and figures which
were in use in the Commonwealth's time. Their old force and significance
are now in a great measure lost; but one can well imagine that, in the
assemblies of the primitive Quakers, such stirring battle-cries and
warlike tropes, even when employed in enforcing or illustrating the
doctrines of peace, must have made many a stout heart' to beat quicker,
tinder its drab coloring, with recollections of Naseby and Preston;
transporting many a listener from the benches of his place of worship to
the ranks of Ireton and Lambert, and causing him to hear, in the place of
the solemn and nasal tones of the preacher, the blast of Rupert's bugles,
and the answering shout of Cromwell's pikemen: "Let God arise, and let
his enemies be scattered!"
Of this class was John Roberts. He threw off his knapsack, and went back
to his small homestead, contented with the privilege of supporting
himself and family by daily toil, and grumbling in concert with his old
campaign brothers at the new order of things in Church and State. To his
apprehension, the Golden Days of England ended with the parade on
Blackheath to receive the restored King. He manifested no reverence for
Bishops and Lords, for he felt none. For the Presbyterians he had no
good will; they had brought in the King, and they denied the liberty of
prophesying. John Milton has expressed the feeling of the Independents
and Anabaptists towards this latter class, in that famous line in which
he defines Presbyter as "old priest writ large." Roberts was by no means
a gloomy fanatic; he had a great deal of shrewdness and humor, loved a
quiet joke; and every gambling priest and swearing magistrate in the
neighborhood stood in fear of his sharp wit. It was quite in course for
such a man to fall in with the Quakers, and he appears to have done so at
the first opportunity.
In the year 1665, "it pleased the Lord to send two women Friends out of
the North to Cirencester," who, inquiring after such as feared God, were
directed to the house of John Roberts. He received them kindly, and,
inviting in some of his neighbors, sat down with them, whereupon "the
Friends spake a few words, which had a good effect." After the meeting
was over, he was induced to visit a "Friend" then confined in Banbury
jail, whom he found preaching through the grates of his cell to the
people in the street. On seeing Roberts he called to mind the story of
Zaccheus, and declared that the word was now to all who were seeking
Christ by climbing the tree of knowledge, "Come down, come down; for that
which is to be known of God is manifested within." Returning home, he
went soon after to the parish meeting-house, and, entering with his hat
on, the priest noticed him, and, stopping short in his discourse,
declared that he could not go on while one of the congregation wore his
hat. He was thereupon led out of the house, and a rude fellow, stealing
up behind, struck him on the back with a heavy stone. "Take that for
God's sake," said the ruffian. "So I do," answered Roberts, without
looking back to see his assailant, who the next day came and asked his
forgiveness for the injury, as he could not sleep in consequence of it.
We next find him attending the Quarter Sessions, where three "Friends"
were arraigned for entering Cirencester Church with their hats on.
Venturing to utter a word of remonstrance against the summary proceedings
of the Court, Justice Stephens demanded his name, and, on being told,
exclaimed, in the very tone and temper of Jeffreys:
I 've heard of you. I'm glad I have you here. You deserve a stone
doublet. There's many an honester man than you hanged."
"It may be so," said Roberts, "but what becomes of such as hang honest
The Justice snatched a ball of wax and hurled it at the quiet questioner.
"I 'll send you to prison," said he; "and if any insurrection or tumult
occurs, I 'll come and cut your throat with my own sword." A warrant was
made out, and he was forthwith sent to the jail. In the evening, Justice
Sollis, his uncle, released him, on condition of his promise to appear at
the next Sessions. He returned to his home, but in the night following
be was impressed with a belief that it was his duty to visit Justice
Stephens. Early in the morning, with a heavy heart, without eating or
drinking, he mounted his horse and rode towards the residence of his
enemy. When he came in sight of the house, he felt strong misgivings
that his uncle, Justice Sollis, who had so kindly released him, and his
neighbors generally, would condemn him for voluntarily running into
danger, and drawing down trouble upon himself and family. He alighted
from his horse, and sat on the ground in great doubt and sorrow, when a
voice seemed to speak within him, "Go, and I will go with thee." The
Justice met him at the door. "I am come," said Roberts, "in the fear
and dread of Heaven, to warn thee to repent of thy wickedness with speed,
lest the Lord send thee to the pit that is bottomless!" This terrible
summons awed the Justice; he made Roberts sit down on his couch beside
him, declaring that he received the message from God, and asked
forgiveness for the wrong he had done him.
The parish vicar of Siddington at this time was George Bull, afterwards
Bishop of St. David's, whom Macaulay speaks of as the only rural parish
priest who, during the latter part of the seventeenth century, was noted
as a theologian, or Who possessed a respectable library. Roberts refused
to pay the vicar his tithes, and the vicar sent him to prison. It was
the priest's "Short Method with Dissenters." While the sturdy Non-
conformist lay in prison, he was visited by the great woman of the
neighborhood, Lady Dunch, of Down Amney. "What do you lie in jail for?"
inquired the lady. Roberts replied that it was because he could not put
bread into the mouth of a hireling priest. The lady suggested that he
might let somebody else satisfy the demands of the priest; and that she
had a mind to do this herself, as she wished to talk with him on
religious subjects. To this Roberts objected; there were poor people who
needed her charities, which would be wasted on such devourers as the
priests, who, like Pharaoh's lean kine, were eating up the fat and the
goodly, without looking a whit the better. But the lady, who seems to
have been pleased and amused by the obstinate prisoner, paid the tithe
and the jail fees, and set him at liberty, making him fix a day when he
would visit her. At the time appointed he went to Down Amney, and was
overtaken on the way by the priest of Cirencester, who had been sent for
to meet the Quaker. They found the lady ill in bed; but she had them
brought to her chamber, being determined not to lose the amusement of
hearing a theological discussion, to which she at once urged them,
declaring that it would divert her and do her good. The parson began by
accusing the Quakers of holding Popish doctrines. The Quaker retorted
by telling him that if he would prove the Quakers like the Papists in one
thing, by the help of God, he would prove him like them in ten. After a
brief and sharp dispute, the priest, finding his adversary's wit too keen
for his comfort, hastily took his leave.
The next we hear of Roberts he is in Gloucester Castle, subjected to the
brutal usage of a jailer, who took a malicious satisfaction in thrusting
decent and respectable Dissenters, imprisoned for matters of conscience,
among felons and thieves. A poor vagabond tinker was hired to play at
night on his hautboy, and prevent their sleeping; but Roberts spoke to
him in such a manner that the instrument fell from his hand; and he told
the jailer that he would play no more, though he should hang him up at
the door for it.
How he was released from jail does not appear; but the narrative tells us
that some time after an apparitor came to cite him to the Bishop's Court
at Gloucester. When he was brought before the Court, Bishop Nicholson, a
kind-hearted and easy-natured prelate, asked him the number of his
children, and how many of them had been bishoped?
"None, that I know of," said Roberts.
"What reason," asked the Bishop, "do you give for this?"
"A very good one," said the Quaker: "most of my children were born in
Oliver's days, when Bishops were out of fashion."
The Bishop and the Court laughed at this sally, and proceeded to question
him touching his views of baptism. Roberts admitted that John had a
Divine commission to baptize with water, but that he never heard of
anybody else that had. The Bishop reminded him that Christ's disciples
baptized. "What 's that to me?" responded Roberts. "Paul says he was
not sent to baptize, but to preach the Gospel. And if he was not sent,
who required it at his hands? Perhaps he had as little thanks for his
labor as thou hast for thine; and I would willingly know who sent thee to
The Bishop evaded this home question, and told him he was there to answer
for not coming to church. Roberts denied the charge; sometimes he went
to church, and sometimes it came to him. "I don't call that a church
which you do, which is made of wood and stone."
"What do you call it?" asked the Bishop.
"It might be properly called a mass-house," was the reply; "for it was
built for that purpose." The Bishop here told him he might go for the
present; he would take another opportunity to convince him of his errors.
The next person called was a Baptist minister, who, seeing that Roberts
refused to put off his hat, kept on his also. The Bishop sternly
reminded him that he stood before the King's Court, and the
representative of the majesty of England; and that, while some regard
might be had to the scruples of men who made a conscience of putting off
the hat, such contempt could not be tolerated on the part of one who
could put it off to every mechanic be met. The Baptist pulled off his
hat, and apologized, on the ground of illness.
We find Roberts next following George Fox on a visit to Bristol. On his
return, reaching his house late in the evening, he saw a man standing in
the moonlight at his door, and knew him to be a bailiff.
"Hast thou anything against me?" asked Roberts.
"No," said the bailiff, "I've wronged you enough, God forgive me! Those
who lie in wait for you are my Lord Bishop's bailiffs; they are merciless
rogues. Ever, my master, while you live, please a knave, for an honest
man won't hurt you."
The next morning, having, as he thought, been warned by a dream to do so,
he went to the Bishop's house at Cleave, near Gloucester. Confronting
the Bishop in his own hall, he told him that he had come to know why he
was hunting after him with his bailiffs, and why he was his adversary.
"The King is your adversary," said the Bishop; "you have broken the
King's law." Roberts ventured to deny the justice of the law. "What!"
cried the Bishop, "do such men as you find fault with the laws?" "Yes,"
replied the other, stoutly; "and I tell thee plainly to thy face, it is
high time wiser men were chosen, to make better laws."
The discourse turning upon the Book of Common Prayer, Roberts asked the
Bishop if the sin of idolatry did not consist in worshipping the work of
men's hands. The Bishop admitted it, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar's
"Then," said Roberts, "whose hands made your Prayer Book? It could not
"Do you compare our Prayer Book to Nebuchadnezzar's image?" cried the
"Yes," returned Roberts, "that was his image; this is thine. I no more
dare bow to thy Common-Prayer Book than the Three Children to
"Yours is a strange upstart religion," said the Bishop.
Roberts told him it was older than his by several hundred years. At this
claim of antiquity the prelate was greatly amused, and told Roberts that
if he would make out his case, he should speed the better for it.
"Let me ask thee," said Roberts, "where thy religion was in Oliver's
days, when thy Common-Prayer Book was as little regarded as an old
almanac, and your priests, with a few honest exceptions, turned with the
tide, and if Oliver had put mass in their mouths would have conformed to
it for the sake of their bellies."
"What would you have us do?" asked the Bishop. "Would you have had
Oliver cut our throats?"
"No," said Roberts; "but what sort of religion was that which you were
afraid to venture your throats for?"
The Bishop interrupted him to say, that in Oliver's days he had never
owned any other religion than his own, although he did not dare to openly
maintain it as he then did.
"Well," continued Roberts, "if thou didst not think thy religion worth
venturing thy throat for then, I desire thee to consider that it is not
worth the cutting of other men's throats now for not conforming to it."
"You are right," responded the frank Bishop. "I hope we shall have a
care how we cut men's throats."
The following colloquy throws some light on the condition and character
of the rural clergy at this period, and goes far to confirm the
statements of Macaulay, which many have supposed exaggerated. Baxter's
early religious teachers were more exceptionable than even the maudlin
mummer whom Roberts speaks of, one of them being "the excellentest stage-
player in all the country, and a good gamester and goodfellow, who,
having received Holy Orders, forged the like for a neighbor's son, who on
the strength of that title officiated at the desk and altar; and after
him came an attorney's clerk, who had tippled himself into so great
poverty that he had no other way to live than to preach."
J. ROBERTS. I was bred up under a Common-Prayer Priest; and a poor
drunken old Man he was. Sometimes he was so drunk he could not say his
Prayers, and at best he could but say them; though I think he was by far
a better Man than he that is Priest there now.
BISHOP. Who is your Minister now?
J. ROBERTS. My Minister is Christ Jesus, the Minister of the everlasting
Covenant; but the present Priest of the Parish is George Bull.
BISHOP. Do you say that drunken old Man was better than Mr. Bull? I
tell you, I account Mr. Bull as sound, able, and orthodox a Divine as any
we have among us.
J. ROBERT. I am sorry for that; for if he be one of the best of you, I
believe the Lord will not suffer you long; for he is a proud, ambitious,
ungodly Man: he hath often sued me at Law, and brought his Servants to
swear against me wrongfully. His Servants themselves have confessed to
my Servants, that I might have their Ears; for their Master made them
drunk, and then told them they were set down in the List as Witnesses
against me, and they must swear to it: And so they did, and brought
treble Damages. They likewise owned they took Tithes from my Servants,
threshed them out, and sold them for their Master. They have also
several Times took my Cattle out of my Grounds, drove them to Fairs and
Markets, and sold them, without giving me any Account.
BISHOP. I do assure you I will inform Mr. Bull of what you say.
J. ROBERTS. Very well. And if thou pleasest to send for me to face him,
I shall make much more appear to his Face than I'll say behind his Back.
After much more discourse, Roberts told the Bishop that if it would do
him any good to have him in jail, he would voluntarily go and deliver
himself up to the keeper of Gloucester Castle. The good-natured prelate
relented at this, and said he should not be molested or injured, and
further manifested his good will by ordering refreshments. One of the
Bishop's friends who was present was highly offended by the freedom of
Roberts with his Lordship, and undertook to rebuke him, but was so
readily answered that he flew into a rage. "If all the Quakers in
England," said he, "are not hanged in a month's time, I 'll be hanged for
them." "Prithee, friend," quoth Roberts, "remember and be as good as thy
Good old Bishop Nicholson, it would seem, really liked his incorrigible
Quaker neighbor, and could enjoy heartily his wit and humor, even when
exercised at the expense of his own ecclesiastical dignity. He admired
his blunt honesty and courage. Surrounded by flatterers and self-
seekers, he found satisfaction in the company and conversation of one
who, setting aside all conventionalisms, saw only in my Lord Bishop a
poor fellow-probationer, and addressed him on terms of conscious
equality. The indulgence which he extended to him naturally enough
provoked many of the inferior clergy, who had been sorely annoyed by the
sturdy Dissenter's irreverent witticisms and unsparing ridicule. Vicar
Bull, of Siddington, and Priest Careless, of Cirencester, in particular,
urged the Bishop to deal sharply with him. The former accused him of
dealing in the Black Art, and filled the Bishop's ear with certain
marvellous stories of his preternatural sagacity and discernment in
discovering cattle which were lost. The Bishop took occasion to inquire
into these stories; and was told by Roberts that, except in a single
instance, the discoveries were the result of his acquaintance with the
habits of animals and his knowledge of the localities where they were
lost. The circumstance alluded to, as an exception, will be best related
in his own words.
"I had a poor Neighbor, who had a Wife and six Children, and whom the
chief men about us permitted to keep six or seven Cows upon the Waste,
which were the principal Support of the Family, and preserved them from
becoming chargeable to the Parish. One very stormy night the Cattle were
left in the Yard as usual, but could not be found in the morning. The
Man and his Sons had sought them to no purpose; and, after they had been
lost four days, his Wife came to me, and, in a great deal of grief,
cried, 'O Lord! Master Hayward, we are undone! My Husband and I must go
a begging in our old age! We have lost all our Cows. My Husband and the
Boys have been round the country, and can hear nothing of them. I'll
down on my bare knees, if you'll stand our Friend!' I desired she would
not be in such an agony, and told her she should not down on her knees to
me; but I would gladly help them in what I could. 'I know,' said she,
'you are a good Man, and God will hear your Prayers.' I desire thee,
said I, to be still and quiet in thy mind; perhaps thy Husband or Sons
may hear of them to-day; if not, let thy Husband get a horse, and come to
me to-morrow morning as soon as he will; and I think, if it please God,
to go with him to seek then. The Woman seemed transported with joy,
crying, 'Then we shall have our Cows again.' Her Faith being so strong,
brought the greater Exercise on me, with strong cries to the Lord, that
he would be pleased to make me instrumental in his Hand, for the help of
the poor Family. In the Morning early comes the old Man. In the Name of
God, says he, which way shall we go to seek them? I, being deeply
concerned in my Mind, did not answer him till he had thrice repeated it;
and then I answered, In the Name of God, I would go to seek them; and
said (before I was well aware) we will go to Malmsbury, and at the Horse-
Fair we shall find them. When I had spoken the Words, I was much
troubled lest they should not prove true. It was very early, and the
first Man we saw, I asked him if he had seen any stray Milch Cows
thereabouts. What manner of Cattle are they? said he. And the old Man
describing their Mark and Number, he told us there were some stood
chewing their Cuds in the Horse-Fair; but thinking they belonged to some
in the Neighborhood, he did not take particular Notice of them. When we
came to the Place, the old Man found them to be his; but suffered his
Transports of Joy to rise so high, that I was ashamed of his behavior;
for he fell a hallooing, and threw up his Montier Cap in the Air several
times, till he raised the Neighbors out of their Beds to see what was the
Matter. 'O!' said he, 'I had lost my Cows four or five days ago, and
thought I should never see them again; and this honest Neighbor of mine
told me this Morning, by his own Fire's Side, nine Miles off, that here
I should find them, and here I have them!' Then up goes his Cap again.
I begged of the poor Man to be quiet, and take his Cows home, and be
thankful; as indeed I was, being reverently bowed in my Spirit before the
Lord, in that he was pleased to put the words of Truth into my mouth.
And the Man drove his Cattle home, to the great Joy of his Family."
Not long after the interview with the Bishop at his own palace, which has
been related, that dignitary, with the Lord Chancellor, in their coaches,
and about twenty clergymen on horseback, made a call at the humble
dwelling of Roberts, on their way to Tedbury, where the Bishop was to
hold a Visitation. "I could not go out of the country without seeing
you," said the prelate, as the farmer came to his coach door and pressed
him to alight.
"John," asked Priest Evans, the Bishop's kinsman, "is your house free to
entertain such men as we are?"
"Yes, George," said Roberts; "I entertain honest men, and sometimes
"My Lord," said Evans, turning to the Bishop, "John's friends are the
honest men, and we are the others."
The Bishop told Roberts that they could not then alight, but would gladly
drink with him; whereupon the good wife brought out her best beer.
"I commend you, John," quoth the Bishop, as he paused from his hearty
draught; "you keep a cup of good beer in your house. I have not drank
any that has pleased me better since I left home." The cup passed next
to the Chancellor, and finally came to Priest Bull, who thrust it aside,
declaring that it was full of hops and heresy. As to hops, Roberts
replied, he could not say, but as for heresy, he bade the priest take
note that the Lord Bishop had drank of it, and had found no heresy in the
The Bishop leaned over his coach door and whispered: "John, I advise you
to take care you don't offend against the higher Powers. I have heard
great complaints against you, that you are the Ringleader of the Quakers
in this Country; and that, if you are not suppressed, all will signify
nothing. Therefore, pray, John, take care, for the future, you don't
offend any more."
"I like thy Counsel very well," answered Roberts, "and intend to take it.
But thou knowest God is the higher Power; and you mortal Men, however
advanced in this World, are but the lower Power; and it is only because I
endeavor to be obedient to the will of the higher Powers, that the lower
Powers are angry with me. But I hope, with the assistance of God, to
take thy Counsel, and be subject to the higher Powers, let the lower
Powers do with me as it may please God to suffer them."
The Bishop then said he would like to talk with him further, and
requested him to meet him at Tedbury the next day. At the time
appointed, Roberts went to the inn where the Bishop lodged, and was
invited to dine with him. After dinner was over, the prelate told him
that he must go to church, and leave off holding conventicles at his
house, of which great complaint was made. This he flatly refused to do;
and the Bishop, losing patience, ordered the constable to be sent for.
Roberts told him that if, after coming to his house under the guise of
friendship, he should betray him and send him to prison, he, who had
hitherto commended him for his moderation, would put his name in print,
and cause it to stink before all sober people. It was the priests, he
told him, who set him on; but, instead of hearkening to them, he should
commend them to some honest vocation, and not suffer them to rob their
honest neighbors, and feed on the fruits of other men's toil, like
"Whom do you call caterpillars?" cried Priest Rich, of North Surrey.
"We farmers," said Roberts, "call those so who live on other men's
fields, and by the sweat of other men's brows; and if thou dost so, thou
mayst be one of them."
This reply so enraged the Bishop's attendants that they could only be
appeased by an order for the constable to take him to jail. In fact,
there was some ground for complaint of a lack of courtesy on the part of
the blunt farmer; and the Christian virtue of forbearance, even in
Bishops, has its limits.
The constable, obeying the summons, came to the inn, at the door of which
the landlady met him. "What do you here!" cried the good woman, "when
honest John is going to be sent to prison? Here, come along with me."
The constable, nothing loath, followed her into a private room, where she
concealed him. Word was sent to the Bishop, that the constable was not
to be found; and the prelate, telling Roberts he could send him to jail
in the afternoon, dismissed him until evening. At the hour appointed,
the latter waited upon the Bishop, and found with him only one priest and
a lay gentleman. The priest begged the Bishop to be allowed to discourse
with the prisoner; and, leave being granted, he began by telling Roberts
that the knowledge of the Scriptures had made him mad, and that it was a
great pity he had ever seen them.
"Thou art an unworthy man," said the Quaker, "and I 'll not dispute with
thee. If the knowledge of the Scriptures has made me mad, the knowledge
of the sack-pot hath almost made thee mad; and if we two madmen should
dispute about religion, we should make mad work of it."
"An 't please you, my Lord," said the scandalized priest, "he says I 'm
The Bishop asked Roberts to repeat his words; and, instead of
reprimanding him, as the priest expected, was so much amused that he held
up his hands and laughed; whereupon the offended inferior took a hasty
leave. The Bishop, who was evidently glad to be rid of him, now turned
to Roberts, and complained that he had dealt hardly with him, in telling
him, before so many gentlemen, that he had sought to betray him by
professions of friendship, in order to send him to prison; and that,
if he had not done as he did, people would have reported him as an
encourager of the Quakers. "But now, John," said the good prelate, "I'll
burn the warrant against you before your face." "You know, Mr. Burnet,"
he continued, addressing his attendant, "that a Ring of Bells may be made
of excellent metal, but they may be out of tune; so we may say of John:
he is a man of as good metal as I ever met with, but quite out of tune."
"Thou mayst well say so," quoth Roberts, "for I can't tune after thy
The inferior clergy were by no means so lenient as the Bishop. They
regarded Roberts as the ringleader of Dissent, an impracticable,
obstinate, contumacious heretic, not only refusing to pay them tithes
himself, but encouraging others to the same course. Hence, they thought
it necessary to visit upon him the full rigor of the law. His crops were
taken from his field, and his cattle from his yard. He was often
committed to the jail, where, on one occasion, he was kept, with many
others, for a long time, through the malice of the jailer, who refused to
put the names of his prisoners in the Calendar, that they might have a
hearing. But the spirit of the old Commonwealth's man remained
steadfast. When Justice George, at the Ram in Cirencester, told him he
must conform, and go to church, or suffer the penalty of the law, he
replied that he had heard indeed that some were formerly whipped out of
the Temple, but he had never heard of any being whipped in. The Justice,
pointing, through the open window of the inn, at the church tower, asked
him what that was. "Thou mayst call it a daw-house," answered the
incorrigible Quaker. "Dost thou not see how the jackdaws flock about
Sometimes it happened that the clergyman was also a magistrate, and
united in his own person the authority of the State and the zeal of the
Church. Justice Parsons, of Gloucester, was a functionary of this sort.
He wielded the sword of the Spirit on the Sabbath against Dissenters, and
on week days belabored them with the arm of flesh and the constable's
staff. At one time he had between forty and fifty of them locked up in
Gloucester Castle, among them Roberts and his sons, on the charge of
attending conventicles. But the troublesome prisoners baffled his
vigilance, and turned their prison into a meeting-house, and held their
conventicles in defiance of him. The Reverend Justice pounced upon them
on one occasion, with his attendants. An old, gray-haired man, formerly
a strolling fencing-master, was preaching when he came in. The Justice
laid hold of him by his white locks, and strove to pull him down, but the
tall fencing-raster stood firm and spoke on; he then tried to gag him,
but failed in that also. He demanded the names of the prisoners, but no
one answered him. A voice (we fancy it was that of our old friend
Roberts) called out: "The Devil must be hard put to it to have his
drudgery done, when the Priests must leave their pulpits to turn
informers against poor prisoners." The Justice obtained a list of the
names of the prisoners, made out on their commitment, and, taking it for
granted that all were still present, issued warrants for the collection
of fines by levies upon their estates. Among the names was that of a
poor widow, who had been discharged, and was living, at the time the
clerical magistrate swore she was at the meeting, twenty miles distant
from the prison.
Soon after this event, our old friend fell sick. He had been discharged
from prison, but his sons were still confined. The eldest had leave,
however, to attend him in his illness, and he bears his testimony that
the Lord was pleased to favor his father with His living presence in his
last moments. In keeping with the sturdy Non-conformist's life, he was
interred at the foot of his own orchard, in Siddington, a spot he had
selected for a burial-ground long before, where neither the foot of a
priest nor the shadow of a steeple-house could rest upon his grave.
In closing our notice of this pleasant old narrative, we may remark that
the light it sheds upon the antagonistic religious parties of the time is
calculated to dissipate prejudices and correct misapprehensions, common
alike to Churchmen and Dissenters. The genial humor, sound sense, and
sterling virtues of the Quaker farmer should teach the one class that
poor James Nayler, in his craziness and folly, was not a fair
representative of his sect; while the kind nature, the hearty
appreciation of goodness, and the generosity and candor of Bishop
Nicholson should convince the other class that a prelate is not
necessarily, and by virtue of his mitre, a Laud or a Bonner. The
Dissenters of the seventeenth century may well be forgiven for the
asperity of their language; men whose ears had been cropped because they
would not recognize Charles I. as a blessed martyr, and his scandalous
son as the head of the Church, could scarcely be expected to make
discriminations, or suggest palliating circumstances, favorable to any
class of their adversaries. To use the homely but apt simile of
"The will's confirmed by treatment horrid,
As hides grow harder when they're curried."
They were wronged, and they told the world of it. Unlike Shakespeare's
cardinal, they did not die without a sign. They branded, by their fierce
epithets, the foreheads of their persecutors more deeply than the
sheriff's hot iron did their own. If they lost their ears, they enjoyed
the satisfaction of making those of their oppressors tingle. Knowing
their persecutors to be in the wrong, they did not always inquire whether
they themselves had been entirely right, and had done no unrequired works
of supererogation by the way of "testimony" against their neighbors' mode
cf worship. And so from pillory and whipping-post, from prison and
scaffold, they sent forth their wail and execration, their miserere and
anathema, and the sound thereof has reached down to our day. May it
never wholly die away until, the world over, the forcing of conscience is
regarded as a crime against humanity and a usurpation of God's
prerogative. But abhorring, as we must, persecution under whatever
pretext it is employed, we are not, therefore, to conclude that all
persecutors were bad and unfeeling men. Many of their severities, upon
which we now look back with horror, were, beyond a question, the result
of an intense anxiety for the well-being of immortal souls, endangered by
the poison which, in their view, heresy was casting into the waters of
life. Coleridge, in one of the moods of a mind which traversed in
imagination the vast circle of human experience, reaches this point in
his Table-Talk. "It would require," says he, "stronger arguments than
any I have seen to convince me that men in authority have not a right,
involved in an imperative duty, to deter those under their control from
teaching or countenancing doctrines which they believe to be damnable,
and even to punish with death those who violate such prohibition." It
would not be very difficult for us to imagine a tender-hearted Inquisitor
of this stamp, stifling his weak compassion for the shrieking wretch
under bodily torment by his strong pity for souls in danger of perdition
from the sufferer's heresy. We all know with what satisfaction the
gentle-spirited Melanethon heard of the burning of Servetus, and with
what zeal he defended it. The truth is, the notion that an intellectual
recognition of certain dogmas is the essential condition of salvation
lies at the bottom of all intolerance in matters of religion. Under this
impression, men are too apt to forget that the great end of Christianity
is love, and that charity is its crowning virtue; they overlook the
beautiful significance of the parable of the heretic Samaritan and the
orthodox Pharisee: and thus, by suffering their speculative opinions of
the next world to make them uncharitable and cruel in this, they are
really the worse for them, even admitting them to be true.