Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

extent by the less affluent among them; and this will account for what we find to have been the case. They seem to have possessed sufficient capital amid themselves to establish new industries among the nations where they took refuge, whilst at the same time we frequently hear tales of the greatest distress as prevailing among them, which the charity of the people and government under whose protection they have taken shelter is perpetually called upon to relieve-It is easy to understand that those of the French Protestants who possessed funds had immediately embarked them in commercial or manufacturing enterprises, as the best means of assisting the shipwrecked community; but that it was impossible for them, unassisted by those in more prosperous circumstances, to provide for the ruined multitudes who fell upon their hands.

Altogether, however, the state of the French colony in Spital Fields must have been prosperous. We read of six churches established to minister to the spiritual needs of the flock. Needs which they had been taught to consider

as the most urgent in human existence. The bread of life-the true bread for which their soul hungered, must be supplied, let what would be wanting. This was the essential thing. To seek it their forefathers had assembled at the risk of their lives in woods and amid savage rocks; to administer it, their pastors had, in the last tremendous years that preceded the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, defied the gallows, the scaffold, the wheel. Nor did these exiles degenerate from the spirit of their forefathers. They were made of the same sterling stuff

So we hear of six churches as established from the first in the French colony of Spital Fields.

Those churches have now dwindled to two. The French Hugonot population has gradually merged into that of the country to which they now belong. Many have translated their very names into English equivalents-numbers have conformed to the church of England. The most part seem scarcely to have retained a tradition of the noble and pathetic story of a century and a half ago. The more the pity—it was a tale never to be forgotten. A few, however, retain their names, their genealogies, their family records and papers, as is testified by the publication, only yesterday, of the letters of Chamier, as preserved by his descendants in England.

What the situation of the colony was during the first sixty or seventy years after its establishment, it is difficult to trace. The history of trades and manufactures at that time seems to have excited little interest. People appear to have thought battles and sieges, and successions and political parties, interspersed with a little scandal about the love-doings of the great ones of the world—the only subjects that would not disgrace “ the dignity of history.” The goings on of the swarming multitudes—the busy working bees—the labouring thousands of the body politic, were not supposed worthy even of a thought.

We have volumes upon volumes of court scandal, political intrigues, of the proceedings of ministers, corrupt and corrupting ; fine ladies, very questionable kings, not very amiable princesses and queens; but of the Spital Fields weavers--not a syllable. As to the effects produced by this important importation and settlement upon the wealth and industry of England and France, a few brief notices are all that is to be found, and those merely when the subject seems actually forced upon the historian.

Even in the pages of Rapin, a refugee himself, scarcely anything upon the subject is recorded; his continuator Tindal is equally silent; Hume and Smollett lie open to the same reproach. We must wait for an historian like Macaulay, to learn-what, their peculiar religious opinions and strict moral code, what their long habits of resistance against persecution, of self-defence against oppression, of self-dependance and persevering industry had made of this people ; and to trace the advancement or the progressive decline of their community, under the new influences to which they were exposed.

That it was, upon the whole, a decline, appears to be too certain. Many still living can remember seasons of great distress among the

Spital Fields weavers, as recurring from time to time amid the struggles and difficulties of the early part of the century. The distress having its rise from causes that never were clearly traced or ascertained, and in spite of a protection to their trade, which to us of the present day seems as ludicrous as it is almost incredible. Whether these kind of periodical spasms in their trade, which occasioned such deep misery, were conditional to its system, or the result of these well-intended laws for their protection; whether they occurred at the beginning of the last century as commonly as at its close, I am ignorant.

This night of which I speak was at the latter end of the last century, when the winters seem to have been more severe than they are now, as well as the

pressure

of external circumstances upon society.

The poverty of the poor, the privations of the middle, the mingled extravagance and difficulties of the higher classes, in those dark, struggling, mistaken, confused, yet energetic and glorious times, would scarcely be believed

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »