John Donne and Conformity in Crisis in the Late Jacobean Pulpit

By Jeanne Shami | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

“BLINDE BUZZARDS IN THE CHOISE OF A WIFE”: SERMONS AND THE MORAL MARKETPLACE

N THE MONTHS following ratification of the marriage articles, and preceding Charles's return (presumably with his Spanish bride), concerns about religion and politics simmered, and rumours of great changes circulated. Simonds D'Ewes recorded the popular refrain of contemporary news sources: “everye mans heart [is full] of feare of an ensuing toleration.” 1 These anxieties were alleviated temporarily by the prince's miraculous return as a bachelor in October, an event that occasioned the outpouring of public relief and thanksgiving so well documented by Cogswell. 2 Occasions of public rejoicing, however, could also become occasions of public debate, and several sermons used the opportunity and the discourse of thanksgiving to express relief, as well as to offer warnings and advice for the future. The anti-Spanish anti-popery that Charles's return unleashed combined with public rejoicing to forge “public, national, and common interests and purposes that rendered the public sphere genuinely public.” 3 These two strands, in turn, were unexpectedly consolidated into the public interest by the Blackfriars incident, and the providential reading of history that it invited. 4 At the same time, however, the debates earlier that year between the Jesuit John Percy and representatives of the Church of England illustrated, despite James's efforts at secrecy, that once a public sphere had emerged, its structures and procedures became available “not merely to members or agents of the state and their clients or dependents but also to others.” 5 The sheer number of people present at the Blackfriars disaster, both Catholic and protestant, as well as the publication of the debates with Percy, reinforced the sense that public debate could get out of control. Although the Directions were still current, rigid enforcement of censorship declined noticeably, while controversy and dispute as modes of public debate were legitimized. And despite the failure of negotiations for the Spanish match, fear of toleration of

____________________
1
D'Ewes, Diary, p. 147.
2
Blessed Revolution, pp. 6—12.
3
Lake and Questier, “Puritans, Papists, and the `Public Sphere', ” 591.
4
“On Sunday afternoon, 26 October 1623, a large garrett adjoining the French ambassador's residence, in which a congregation some three hundred strong had gathered to hear a celebrated Jesuit by the name of Robert Drury preach, suddenly and dramatically collapsed. In the middle of the sermon the floor of the makeshift chapel gave way, carrying with it the chamber below, and plummeting the preacher, a fellow priest, and over ninety of his auditors to their deaths.” Walsham, “The Fatall Vesper, ” 36.
5
Lake and Questier, “Puritans, Papists, and the `Public Sphere', ” 626—7.

-183-

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