The stern royalist Act of 12 Car. 2, c.30 in 1662 reprobated the “abominable” regicide of Charles I on 30 January 1649 (n.s.). The act mandated that on every 30 January every Anglican church or chapel in every parish in British dominions should read a sermon deploring the murder and imploring God's forgiveness for so horrid a national crime. Such sermons soon indeed were heard in Britain's 10,000 parishes and generally were hostile to the ever guilty Dissenters waiting to repeat the act if given a chance. The (High) Church of England must support the monarch and be supported by him. No bishop no king. By at least as early as 1680, however, many were troubled by the “madding day” brutal sermons. Dissenters protested their loyalty. Lower-church Anglicans sought peace and comprehension, as in Gilbert Burnet's sermon in 1681 on Zacharia 8.19. Better to strike the thirtieth of January from the calendar than to continue thus. Let the mourning and rage end; let “joy and gladness” return. Such an attitude increased in spite of regular denigration. The High Church itself began to be vilified as the true traitor, as in the Atterbury treason trial of 1723; the Hanoverians promised stability and healthy and numerous heirs. The tone of the sermons gradually changed. For example, Swift's sermon in 1726 berates his parishioners for not fully understanding why they must reject any confession other than the Anglican. The regicide heirs have preserved their ancestral political and religious attitudes. Be careful or they will cut your throat. Samuel Johnson is more temperate in his undated sermon. The regicide was a sign of destructive envy, both in its own right and because it ignored alternatives, like legal restraint upon the crown. Swift places the regicide in a political and national context. Johnson places it in a psychological and human context. Sterne's comparably undated sermon regards regicide as “trespass,” almost as a property crime against general goodness. The British people should do better, but they are blessed in their government and good fortune. Sterne's visual rhetoric so like that in Tristram Shandy`s dash-laden pages, gives us a conversational and casual tone for a once ominous topic. The thirtieth of January sermons become markers in the evolution of culture. The sermon and the culture have evolved from rage, to rational and psychological discourse, and then almost to indifference.
The Thirtieth of January Sermon: Swift, Johnson, Sterne, and the Evolution of Culture the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies James L. Clifford Lecture, 2008
Howard D. Weinbrot; The Thirtieth of January Sermon: Swift, Johnson, Sterne, and the Evolution of Culture the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies James L. Clifford Lecture, 2008. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 January 2010; 34 (1): 29–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-2009-010
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