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- The Coming of the Friars - 38/38 -

to find it. All through England there was clamour and hubbub of many voices, men going to and fro, always on the move, trying experiments of all kinds. Here was one man, "a still strong man in a blatant land," who was calm, steadfast, unmovable, and always at home. He did not want you, whoever you were; he was perfectly indifferent to you and your concerns. Preach? No! he never preached, he never cared to speak till he was spoken to. If you went to him as an oracle, then he spake as a god.

Moreover, when the Restoration came and the high pressure that had been kept up in some states of society was suddenly taken off, there was a frantic rage for pleasure, which included the wildest debauchery and the most idiotic attempts at amusement. Then, too, the haste to be rich agitated the minds of all classes; Westward ho! was the cry not only of Pilgrim Fathers but of reckless adventurers of all kinds. From across the sea came the ships of Tarshish bringing gold, and silver, and ivory, and apes, and peacocks, and a thousand tales of El Dorado. Muggleton the prophet, with that lank brown hair of his and the dreamy eye and the resolute lips, waited unmoved. Pleasure? If he wondered at anything it was to know what meaning there could be in the word. Riches? What purpose could they serve? To him it seemed that the Decalogue contained one wholly superfluous enactment; why should men covet? There would have been some reason in limiting the number of the commandments to nine; nine is the product of three times three. Think of that! This man in that wicked age must have appeared to many a standing miracle, if only for this reason, that he was the one man in London who was content, passing his days in a stubborn rapture, as little inclined for play or laughter as the sphinx in the desert, which the sand storms can beat against but never stir.

So far from Muggleton's influence and authority growing less as he grew older, it went on steadily increasing; there was a mystery and an awe that gathered round him, and latterly he was regarded rather as an inspired oracle than as a seer. The voice of prophecy ceased; he had left his words on record for all future ages, but from day to day his advice was asked, and people soon found it was worth listening to. In the latter years of his life his letters dealt with the ordinary affairs of men. People wrote to inquire about their matrimonial affairs, their quarrels, their business difficulties, whether they must conform to this or that enactment of the State, how they might outwit the persecutors and skulk behind the law. Muggleton replies with surprising shrewdness and good sense, and now and then exhibits a familiarity with the quips and quirks of the law that he can only have acquired by the necessity which suffering had laid upon him. His language is always rugged, for he had received little or no education; he is very unsafe in his grammar, but he has a plain, homely vocabulary, forcible and copious, which, like most mystics, he was compelled to enrich on occasion, and which he does not scruple to enrich in his own way. His style certainly improves as he gets older, and in these letters one meets now and then with passages that are almost melodious, the sentences following one another in a kind of plaintive rhythm, and sounding as you read them aloud, like a Gregorian chant. He died of natural decay, the machine worn out. His last words were, "Now hath God sent death unto me." They laid him on his bed, and he slept and woke not. Nearly 250 of the faithful followed him to his grave. It is clear that the sect had not lost ground as time moved on.

Not the least feature in this curious chapter of religious history is that the Muggletonians should have survived as a sect to our own days. As late as 1846 an elaborate index to the Muggletonian writings was issued, and the _Divine Songs of the Muggletonians_, written exclusively by believers, show that there has been a strange continuity of composition among them, and that, too, such composition as ordinary mortals have never known the like of. Yet Muggleton never broke forth into verse. Joanna Southcott could not keep down her impulse to pour forth her soul in metre; Muggleton is never excited, the emotional had no charm for him. So, too, he never cared for music, he makes no allusion to it. Nay, he speaks slightingly of worship, of prayer and praise, especially of congregational worship. It was allowable to the little men, a concession to the weak which the strong in the faith might be expected to dispense with sooner or later. For himself, isolated and self-contained, he could do without the aids to faith which the multitude ask for and find support in. He held himself aloof; he had no sympathy to offer, he asked for none; nay, he did not even need his followers, he could do without them. The question for them was, Could they do without him? For more than two centuries they have kept on vehemently answering No!

Of late years a class of specialists has risen up among us who have treated us to quite a new philosophy--to wit, the philosophy of religion. To these thinkers I leave the construction of theories on Muggleton's place in the history of religion or philosophy; to them, too, I leave the question of what was the secret of his success and power. Much more interesting to me is the problem how the sect has gone on retaining its vitality. Perhaps the great secret of that permanence has been that Muggleton did not give his followers too much to believe or too much to do. He disdained details, he was never precise and meddlesome. If the Muggletonians wished to pray, let them; to sing, there was no objection; to meet together in their conventicles, it was a harmless diversion. But they must manage these things themselves, and provide for difficulties as they arose. It was no part of the prophet's office to make bye-laws which might require to be altered any day. Thus it came about that the sect was left at Muggleton's death absolutely unfettered by any petty restraints upon its freedom of development. The believers must manage their own affairs. There is one God and Muggleton is His prophet--that was really the sum and substance of their creed. That followed on a small scale which is observable on a large scale among the Moslems, the prophet's followers found themselves more and more thrown back upon their prophet till he became almost an object of adoration. The creed of Islam without Mahomet would be to millions almost inconceivable; the Muggletonian God without Muggleton would not be known.

* * * * * * *

Says her Royal Highness, looking over my shoulder, "You have written quite enough about those crazy, vulgar people. It's all old world talk. There are no prophets now; there never will be any more."

No more prophets! The _prophetical succession_ never stops, never will stop. When Muggleton died Emanuel Swedenborg was a boy of ten; twenty years afterwards the new prophet was walking about London just as the old one had done, living the same lonely life, conversing with the angels and writing of heaven and hell and conjugal love, and--well, a great deal else besides; and, odd coincidence, it was in that same Eastcheap where Muggleton had damned the Quakers in 1653 that the Swedenborgians held their first assembly in 1788, just about the same time that Joanna Southcott came to London, and before Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were born or thought of. No, no. The prophets are not improved off the face of the earth. They never will be. They will turn up again and again. You can no more hope to exterminate them by culture than you can hope to produce them by machinery. _Propheta nascitur non fit_. For once her Royal Highness was wrong.

The Coming of the Friars - 38/38

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