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Me, me, thy meanest messenger,
And intimately one,
Around thy azure throne.
The year 1780 is remarkable in the annals of England on account of the destructive riots in London, which took place in connexion with the insane exploits of Lord George Gordon, of anti-Popish notoriety. During the preceding year an Act of Parliament had been passed in favour of the Roman Catholics in England and Wales, freeing them from several degrading and injurious disabilities under which they had previously laboured. In consequence of this, they began to exert themselves for the propagation of their tenets, in a manner which created considerable alarm. A Society was formed, under the name of “ The Protestant Association," one leading object of which was to obtain a repeal of the late statute, which was alleged to be dangerous to the Protestant religion. Of this institution Lord George Gordon, who was a member of the House of Commons, and at least a man of weak intellect, was made the President. Neither of the Wesleys appears to have been a member of the Association; but soon after it was organized, John wrote a letter, which was inserted in one of the public papers, attempting to prove, that no Roman Catholic could give any adequate security for his loyal behaviour under any government that his Church might deem heretical. This letter, in which he spoke favourably of the published Address of the Association, drew him into a controversy with Father O'Leary, a Romish Priest, who denied that his Church had ever promulgated the doctrine, “ that no faith is to be kept with heretics.” In this controversy Mr. Wesley disavows all wish to coerce the Roman Catholics. He would concede to them full liberty to practise their own forms of worship, and profess their peculiar tenets; but he would withhold from them the power to injure their Protestant fellow-subjects, because their Church would justify them in the abuse of that power, should a favourable opportunity occur.
A petition to the Legislature, praying for a repeal of the late Act, was prepared by the Association; and great zeal
was manifested in procuring signatures to it. To this document no less than one hundred thousand persons are said to have affixed their names; and, to give it the greater weight, the petitioners were invited to meet in St. George's-fields, and thence to walk in procession to the House of Commons, on the day that the petition was to be presented by the President of the Association. About fifty thousand persons accordingly assembled, and accompanied Lord George to Westminster, on the 2d of June. It is more easy to collect such an immense assemblage of people than to control and direct them. There is no reason to believe that the persons who arranged the proceedings of this day intended anything directly mischievous; yet the result was most calamitous, both with respect to property and life. On that day the populace ill. treated several members of both Houses of Parliament; and in the evening a mob pulled down the Romish chapel of the Sardinian Ambassador, in Lincoln's-inn-fields, and another in Warwick-street, Golden-square. After this a scene of unexampled devastation ensued. The dwelling-houses of Roman Catholics, as well as their places of Worship, were demolished, and the materials burned in the streets. Protestant Senators, especially those who were known to have been favourable to the Act, were subjected to every outrage, and were glad to escape with their lives. Kennet, the Lord Mayor of London, had neither understanding nor energy to meet this fearful state of things; and the other Magistrates appear to have been panic-struck; so that for several days and nights no effectual resistance was offered to the rioters. Some of them were indeed apprehended, and lodged in Newgate; but their infuriated and daring brethren destroyed the gaol by fire, and liberated the guilty inmates. The civic authorities being powerless, the Government at length interposed; the military were called into action; many lives were in consequence sacrificed; but the riots were effectually quelled, and further mischief was prevented. The whole affair was alike disgraceful to the people, and to the magistracy. One party were cruel and lawless, the other were cowards.
At this time Mr. John Wesley was pursuing his itinerant ministrations in the north of England ; but Charles was in London, an agonized spectator of the miseries of anarchy. He wrote to his brother on the 8th of June, giving him an
account of what was passing around him. He says, “The floods have risen, and lift up their voice. Last night the mob were parading, and putting us in bodily fear. My wife and sister Thackwray kept a watch-night.
“Some of the Tabernacle have asked if Charles Wesley was not with the petitioners; and were surprised to hear I was not. What then,' said they, 'does he not stand up for the Protestant cause?'
“You read a very small part of the mischief done in the papers. It is nothing, they say, to what they intend to do. But they have made a good beginning! Brother Thackwray was an eye-witness. He saw them drag the Bishop of Lincoln out of his coach, and force him to kneel down. They treated him unmercifully; began to pull the house down, to which he fled for shelter; were scarcely persuaded by the owner (whose wife, big with child, was almost frightened to death) to let him escape at eleven at night.
“Another Bishop wisely cried out, 'Huzza! No Popery!' and was dismissed with shoutings. Lord Mansfield would have reasoned with them; but they would not hear him, and handled him almost as roughly as the Bishop of Lincoln. They arrested several of the members, particularly Sir George Saville, broke his wheels in pieces, and forced him to sit in his carriage on the ground. He durst not stir out of it. They pulled off the Archbishop's wig.
Imagine the terror of the poor Papists. I prayed with the Preachers at the chapel, and charged them to keep the peace. I preached peace and charity, the one true religion, and prayed earnestly for the trembling, persecuted Catholics. Never have I found such love for them as on this occasion; and I believe most of the society are likeminded.
“General Monkton computed the mob at ninety thousand; yet said he would engage to conquer them all with five hundred soldiers.
“To-morrow they promise to demolish the nunneries at Hammersmith. It will be a day of business at the House of Parliament, and in the city. “Monday noon.
I breakfasted with John Pawson, John Atlay, and Dr. Coke, leaving a bonfire behind me of the spoils of chapels. John Atlay I found in a dreadful taking.
He had been kept up all night by the bonfire in Moorfields. The mob was busied with destroying the remains of the chapel there, and three large houses adjoining, (one the Priest's,) of which nothing has escaped the flames. The instruments which the Associators make use of first are boys with hatchets, who coolly cut everything to pieces, then bring it out, and cast it into the fire. An engine stands by in readiness to prevent mischief.
“ John Atlay trembled for our chapel. The same incendiaries, if employed and paid, would as freely burn us and ours.”
On the same day Mr. Charles Wesley addressed the follow-
On the 14th of the month he again addressed her:
“The den of lions is as safe a place as any. London,
There was considerable mystery connected with these destructive movements. It seemed incredible that such immense assemblages of people could be collected together daily, and carry on so methodically, and with such determined perseverance, their schemes of hostility to the Romanists and their friends, unless there were
designing minds secretly directing the whole. England was then at war with France and America ; and some people suspected that the gold of these countries was employed on the occasion. Others thought that the more violent of the Whig politicians were concerned in the affair, for the purpose of rendering the Government increasingly odious, and of bringing about a change of Administration. But of the correctness of these surmises no proof was ever adduced. Lord George Gordon, who appeared to be the most directly concerned, as the instigator of the mischief, was apprehended and tried ; but there being no evidence that he was implicated in any of the outrages that were perpetrated, he was acquitted. When once the public peace was broken, and it was seen that the civil authorities were intimidated, so that men might engage in riot and plunder with impunity, idle and dissolute people in general would be ready to join the fray. Mobs in all ages resemble that at Ephesus: “Some cried one thing, and some another : for the assembly was confused ; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.” Notwithstanding Mr. John Wesley's Protestant letter, the destruction of his chapel in the City-road, then newly built, was apprehended ; and most probably it would have shared the fate of what were called mass-houses, had it not been for the interference of the military, by which the evil was arrested in its progress.
In the midst of these exciting scenes, it was not likely that Mr. Charles Wesley's muse would be silent. He beheld with indignation the malice of the rioters, and the womanish fears of the London Magistrates, and lashed them both with merciless severity in a poem which he published under the
title of“,” in Wauwhich
them for their disloyalty to the King, when he, in pity for their helplessness, had saved them from ruin, by his timely and spirited interposition. Thus he speaks of the city authorities, and of the rioters before whom they quailed :
Of neither evidence nor warrant