1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Dudley Fosbroke

V., "British Monachism" Gentleman's Magazine 90 (January 1820) 30-31.



Jan. 13.

Mr. URBAN,

I am pleased to see that Mr. Fosbrooke's "Monachism" has been ably reviewed in the last Quarterly Review. The critique having for its object a professed recommendation of Protestant Nunneries, the Reviewers have omitted, as well as the author, to name, among others, who have ardently engaged in attempting to form such establishments, a fair authoress, who has often been complimented in your pages, Mrs. Whitford, the writer of "Constantia Neville, or the West Indian," &c. The work alluded to is "Thoughts and Remarks on establishing an Institution for the Support and Education of unportioned respectable Females," 1809. Mrs. Whitford, who seems to have had a very large experience in the dilapidation of elegant families, appears to have had an asylum for such sacrifices to misfortune in view, and her plan seems to have been pious and wise; the establishment is suggested to be national, and of the religious principles of the Church of England, — the situation, Yorkshire, — education, Scotch. She has quoted Bishop Burnet's favourable arguments, and the Rev. William Tooke, that a similar institution, founded by the Empress Catherine, exists in Russia; with a great deal, we think, of peculiar female knowledge urged in support of it. — She justly observes, that a respectable asylum of this nature would spare from association with vulgar illiterate persons, that description of single women to whom limited incomes have fallen, from the families having been broken up by the death of the fathers.

My opinion is certainly favourable to such institutions, though neither Carthusian seventies, nor the "hairy gown," nor "mossy cell," are requisite; yet a calm sequestered seclusion, with a certain degree of order, regulation, and conformity, would be the best of all for those who, from me. lancholy disappointments, misfortunes, or tired of the world's woes, seek a final dereliction of life, to avoid insult, ignominy, and affliction.

With the pathos of Mr. Fosbrooke, we may indeed say,

Alas! there now are no Elysian bowers
To sepulchre among the living dead,
A lost thing, when life's day in tempests lowers,
And Grief the painted wings rends of the shrieking hours.
Economy of Monastic Life, p. 542.

There are these objections; this is not exactly the age when religious retirement could be accompanied with those particular associations which, in the aeras of Catholicism, gave it almost a romantic dignity, and shed over it "a dim religious light" of peculiar sober serenity. Such a description of existence could never be pleasing to those who had been educated in present times; the days when this "sweet simplicity of life" had its pure controul, are very decisively elapsed. If there should be any such modern Institution, it must be very exclusively confined to persons of some superiority of soul and education; and, as Mrs. Whitford observes, those who have

That peace which goodness bosoms ever.

Solitude can never be recommended without evil consequences to such as possess vulgar, restless, and vacant habits, instead of the "finer movements of the soul," taste and sentiment.

I am glad to see Mr. Fosbrooke's "British Monachism" very well spoken of by a respectable Work, and one which has appeared to me, perhaps fancifully, rather retreating on most occasions from concession of merit. There is a view which may be taken of the utility of that Work, which is rather peculiar to myself; its power of exhibiting the irrational tendency to nonconformity, and this in a very philosophical manner, by discovering the wretched pride, prejudices, and superstitions of older times; and which is singularly imitated at present, on a much meaner scale, by certain casts of religious thinkers, whose habits of reasoning, and opacities of understanding, would receive much benefit from a little more knowledge, and a little less enthusiasm. The history of Monks discovers to us all the infirmities of human faculties, and that peculiar kind of insanity which we take to have religious excesses for its hobby, and has been so universal in exciting every extravagance, from monastic pomp and pageantry, downwards to its inferior mock-bird in suspicion, gross ignorance, and paltry disgusting attributes, the sectarianism of this country. What I think of a puritanical hierarchy is, that it would resemble the Romish Church in every thing besides its splendour and majesty, that it would debase physical superiority, indeed as the fascinating and admirable author of "Woman" has observed, "Literature, Science, the Arts; all that agitates or embellishes life, all that makes human existence superior to that of the beasts that perish, would be lost, confounded, trampled on;" and this the "British Monachism" convincingly shows.

There is one sect of this country, the Quakers, exceeding all others in practical virtue and good sense, to whom I would not be deemed to allude, or include in my heartfelt commiseration.

V.