Monday, December 10, 2012

Much ~ neglected Courant

I've had no time to work on my New England Courant project in the past couple of months and it's very frustrating. A full-time job does take up so much of one's time!

I can't resist sharing this discussion of the Hell Fire Club from James Franklin, who was mightily annoyed when someone from the Cotton Mather camp compared the contributors of the Courant to them. This is from the February 12, 1722 issue of the Courant:

The following Account of the Hell Fire Club, &c. (printed in London) I lately receiv'd from a Gentleman, who by his Office is oblig'd to make Enquiry, whether any of his Majesty's Subjects here are guilty of the like horrid Impieties, as has been insinuated of late, by the sworn enemies of the Courant; and, to do some Justice to the Country, and conclude ( I hope) the present Quarrel, shall here insert it. 
The Hell-Fire Club consisted of about forty Persons of both sexes; fifteen of them were said to be Ladies of considerable Quality: They blasphemously assumed to them-selves the tremendous Names of God the Father, God the Holy Ghost, St. John the Baptist, the Prophet Enoch, Elisa, Samuel, Jeremiah, Joshua, Isaiah, the Twelve Patriarchs, Moses, Aron, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalen, St. Martha, King David; and the Twelve Apostles, Joseph the Father of Jesus. 
The Parts acted by the Demi Red Dragon Club, were Belzebub of Hell, Old Pluto, the old devil, old Aeacus, the young Devil, the old Dragon, the Serpent, Lady Envy, Lady Malice, Proserpina Queen of Hell, the Three fatal sisters. 
The Parts acted by the Sulphur Club were Sodom and Gomorrah, Pride, Lust, Anger, Revenge, Poligamy, Incest, Adultery, Fornication, Self Defiler, & c. 
Under these Distinctions did they abuse all Piety, and ridicule, the Attributes and Perfections of the Blessed Trinity, in a manner very unfit to be related.
Their chief Place of Rendezvous was some Time in Conduct Street, Near Hanover Square, or else at a House in Westminster, or at Somerset House, where they erected an Altar dedicated to the Devil having Two Devils on the Frame thereof. They usually set round an Oval-table, and each having assum'd Such Names as above mention'd, began with an Impious Health to the Devil. 
Four of these daring Wretches were, ('tis to be fear'd) cut off in the midst of their Impieties, by the Hand of Divine Vengeance. Two of them in a Debauch is Somerset House on the Lord's Day, who caused Musick to be play'd to them in the Time of Divine Service, one of whom, who then drank a most Blasphemous Health, dy'd the same Evening, and the other soon after. A young Lady, who, as 'tis Said, call'd herself the Blessed Virgin, dy'd in the Flower of her Youth. The other a Woman of Distinction, dy'd at Dinner. 
These Impious Cabals soon reach'd the Ears of his most sacred Majesty, who out of tender Regard to the Spiritual Welfare of his People, order'd his Ministers of State to take proper Methods to suppress such Detestable Practices, Whereupon an Order of Council was issued out for that purpose. 
I shall make no other Remarks upon this Account, than what I find in a paragraph of the London Journal May 13, on the same Occasion, and leave those who have stigmatiz'd the suppose'd Authors of the Courant with the Name of a Hell-Fire Club to apply it. 
These Societies must certainly be as distracted as they are impious: I have indeed been in doubt till now, whether there really were any such; but am in no doubt about the Punishment they deserve: I think it ought to be the most severe that is due to such raving Wickedness, which is such, as neither Youth nor Wine can excuse, nor indeed extenuate; and until they are further Punished, I think the darkest Holes in Bedlam ought to be their Portion. But, outrageous and godless as they are, they do not merit more Detestation and severity, than do those who inhumanely give out, that Gentlemen, who abhor such Clubs are Members of them: The Authors of so dreadful a Calumny, are much worse than Murderers, because they endeavor to take away from Men something much dearer than Life: They are therefore in the Class with Demons, and earn such mighty Vengeance as God only can inflict.
Some items of interest from the above passage:

  • I had heard of the Hell-Fire Club long before reading the Courant. In fact I had heard of it in connection with Ben Franklin's membership. As Wikipedia tells it:
Benjamin Franklin is known to have occasionally attended the club's meetings during 1758 as a non-member during his time in England. However, some authors and historians would argue Benjamin Franklin was in fact a spy. As there are no records left (if there were any at all), many of these members are just assumed or linked by letters sent to each other.[29]
        You have to wonder what James would have thought of this, but he died in 1735.

  • The Hell-Fire Club was the most famous, but if the Courant's informant is correct, there were two sister dens of impiety, the Demi Red Dragon Club, and the Sulphur Club. The Sulphur has the least glamorous name, but the best parts to act, including Lust, Fornication and Self-Defiler.
  • You just know that this issue of the Courant had a nice sales boost thanks to the exciting tales of impiety.
  • Franklin admits to being horrified by the impiousness, but then turns around and suggests that Mather & friends are worse than murderers for making the comparison:
But, outrageous and godless as they are, they do not merit more Detestation and severity, than do those who inhumanely give out, that Gentlemen, who abhor such Clubs are Members of them: The Authors of so dreadful a Calumny, are much worse than Murderers...
         James Franklin was not about to put up with any shit from Cotton Mather.