Page images

were deemed the means of propagating reports very unfavourable to their purposes

without being in danger to be called in question: and that it was high time for his majesty to apply some remedy to such a growing disease, and to reform the understanding of those who believed that no remedy could be applied to it. That it would be fit, either by a proclamation to forbid all persons to resort to those houses, and so totally to suppress them; or to employ some spies, who, being present in the conversation, might be ready to charge and accuse the persons who had talked with most licence in a subject that would bear complaint; upon which the proceedings might be in such a manner as would put an end to the confidence that was only mischievous in those meetings. The king liked both the expedients; and thought that the last could not be justly, made use of till the former should give fair warning; and commanded him to propose it that same day in council, that some order might be given in it. The chancellor proposed it, as he was required, with such arguments as were like to move with men who knew the inconveniences which arose from those places : and the king himself mentioned it with passion, as derogatory to the government; and directed that the attorney might prepare a proclamation for the suppression of those houses, in which the board seemed to agree; when Sir William Coventry, who had been heard, within a few days before, to inveigh with much fierceness against the. permission of so much seditious prattle in the impunity of those houses, stood up, and said, that coffee was a commodity that yielded the king a good revenue; and therefore it would not be just to receive the dụties and

[ocr errors]

and designs.--Nor was property more

inhibit the sale of it, which many men found to be very good for their health ; as if it might not be bought and drank but in those licentious meetings. That it had been permitted in Cromwells time; and that the kings friends had used more liberty of speech in those places, than they durst do in any other; and that he thought it would be better to leave them as they were, without running the hazard of ill being continued notwithstanding his command to the contrary. And upon these reasons his majesty was converted, and declined ány farther debate; which put the chancellor very much out of countenance, nor knew he how to behave himself."-But though Hyde failed in his iniquitous intentions, other ministers adopted his plan, and attempted to carry it into execution. For on the 12th of June, 1672, a proclamation was issued, “to restrain the spreading of false news, and licentious talking of matters of state and government.” In this, notice is taken “ of the bold and licentious discourses men had used in coffee-houses, and in other places, to censure and defame the proceedings of state : and all his majesties subjects are commanded, on pain of being punished with the utmost severity, not to write or speak, utter or publish, false news or reports; or to interineddle with the affairs of state or government; or with the persons of any of his majesties counsellours or ministers ; in their common or ordinary discourses, Moreover his majesty declared his resolution of punishing not only those who used any bold or unlawful speeches, but such as should be present at any coffeehouse, or any publick or private meeting, where such

. Clarendon's Continuation, vol. III. p. 678.


secure: for his majesty having leagued

speeches were used, without revealing the same within the space of four and twenty hours next after such words spoken." This, it was imagined, would have been a screen for ministers, and a restraint on the liberty of men's tongues. But the projectors were mistaken : men talked more boldly than they had before done, and scrupled not to censure freely the measures of the administration. The court, therefore, determined to strike at the root; and as coffee-houses were the places of public resort, and the great marts of news and politics, it was thought fit to put them all down by a proclamation, ordered in council, Dec. 29, 1675; “Because in such houses, and by occasion of the meeting of disaffected persons in them, divers false, malicious, and scandalous reports were devised and spread abroad, to the defamation of his majesty's government, and to the disturbance of the quiet and peace of the realm.” And on Jan. 7th following, another“ proclamation was published, for discovering and punishing malicious and disaffected persons, who did daily devise and publish, as well by writing as printing, sundry false, infamous, and scandalous libels, endeavouring thereby not only to traduce and reproach the ecclesiastical and temporal government of this kingdom, and the public ministers of the same; but also to stir up and dispose the minds of his majesty's subjects to sedition and rebellion.”But upon petition of the “merchants and retailers of coffee and tea, a permission was granted to keep open their coffee-houses to June 24th next, provided that every keeper of such house should use his utmost endeavour to prevent and hinder all scandalous papers, books, or libels, concerning the government or the public ministers thereof, from be

himself with France, against the Dutch,

[ocr errors]

ing brought into his house, or to be there read, perused, or divulged; and to prevent and hinder all and every person or persons from declaring, uttering, and divulging, in his said house, all manner of false or scandalous reports of the government, or any of the ministers thereofa."-Such were the rigorous measures of this reigo! Measures detestable in the eyes of the sons of freedom; and which will expose the memories of the authors of them to eternal infamy. Let us now hear Mr. North, brother to the lord keeper Guildford, a zealous advocate for the measures of this reign. “ About this time," says he, “Sir William Jones being his majesty's attorney general, there was such licentiousness of seditious, and, really, treasonable discourses in coffee-houses, of which there were accounts daily brought to the king, that it was. considered if coffee-houses might not be put down. Then it was scarce possible to cohibit peoples talk ; but if the opportunities of promiscuous and numerous assemblies of idle spenders of time were removed, ill men would not be able to make such broad impressions on peoples minds as they did. And the most likely way to do it was thought to be by a proclamation, recalling all their licences, and prohibiting the granting any new ones; and, under this, divers points of law were started; whereupon the king commanded that all the judges should attend, to give their advice touching the proclamation : and his lordship, and five other judges, being all that were in town, attended. His lordship, upon the main, thought that retailing of coffee might be an innocent trade; but as it was used to nourish sedition, spread lies, scandalize great men, it might also

a Compleat History of England, vol. III. p. 307. fol. Lond. 1706.

be a

[ocr errors]

by virtue of a mere proclamation shut up

common nuisancea.”_ In another work, speaking of this same affair, he remarks, “ the conclus sion of the matter was, that, upon application made by petition of the coffee-men, who promised to be wonderfully good for the future, and to take care to prevent treasonable and seditious talk in their houses, the king receded and let them go. And now the mischief is arrived at perfection; and not only sedition and treason, but atheism, heresy, and blasphemy, are publicly taught in divers of the celebrated coffeehouses ; where rooms are peculiar, and tables for irreligion, like the rota for politics: and it is as unseemly for a reasonable, conformable person to come there, as for a clergyman to frequent a bawdy-house: and the best are but rendesvouses of cheats of one species or other. And the use is inuch improved by a new invention called chocolate-houses, for the benefit of rooks and cullies of quality, where gaming is added to all the rest, and the summons of whores seldom fails; as if the devil had erected a new university, and these were his colleges, and residences of his professors, as well as his schools of discipline. This way of passing time might have been stopped at first, before people had possessed themselves of some convenience from them, of meeting for short dispatches, and (it were hard if no good use might be made of them) passing evenings with small expence. By which means, however legally, it was not prudently done to suppress them; for a convulsion and discontent would unavoidably follow : and that, I believe, was the real cause the proclamation was so soon withdrawn b.". -Such

North's Life of lord keeper Guildford, p. 152. 4to. Lond. 1742.

• North's Examen, p. 141.

« PreviousContinue »