The limits of politics

This afternoon I was talking to a lady friend, when discussion strayed to the US.  I quickly became aware of a froideur, of a certain lack of sympathy with the views I was expressing.  Politely I changed the subject.

This evening I was reminded of a passage in Augustine Birrell’s essay on John Wesley, discussing his father, Samuel Wesley.

Here it is, taken from Selected Essays (1908), p.112-3.  The selection was made by none other than John Buchan.

The revolution of 1688 threatened to disturb the early married life of Samuel Wesley and his spouse. The husband wrote a pamphlet in which he defended revolution principles, but the wife secretly adhered to the old cause; nor was it until a year before Dutch William’s death that the Rector made the discovery that the wife of his bosom, who had sworn to obey him and regard him as her overlord, was not in the habit of saying “Amen” to his fervent prayers on behalf of his suffering Sovereign. An explanation was demanded and the truth extracted, namely, that in the opinion of the Rector’s wife her true King lived over the water.  The Rector at once refused to live with Mrs. Wesley any longer until she recanted. This she refused to do, and for a twelvemonth the couple dwelt apart, when William III. having the good sense to die, a reconciliation became possible.

We may smile at Mr Wesley’s folly.  For who but a fool would disturb his domestic happiness and quarrel for a year with his wife over something which affected neither of them.

Wesley knew neither monarch.  His good-wishes or otherwise signified precisely nothing.  The quarrel between James II and William III was of no importance whatsoever in the daily life of the couple.

But don’t we do this?  Which of us has not avoided someone with whose political views we disagree, or find ourselves uncomfortable?  We can all find reasons to say “Oh but it does affect me, if [insert name here] should choose to [insert action here].”  But in truth such claims are always special pleading.

Let us try not to deprive ourselves of the blessings or company of our fellow men, men with whom we must go through life together, over matters which affect neither of us.

At least Mr and Mrs Wesley were able to live together once more, thanks to King William’s unexpected early death!


10 thoughts on “The limits of politics

  1. It depends, honestly– sometimes you don’t get the option, they decide you can’t tolerate the difference. 🙂

    Sometimes it doesn’t matter– for an example, my mom supports rules against labeling “Almond Milk” as milk, since it’s not dairy, I think it’s silly to demand a recipe older than our country be relabeled on the theory people can’t tell it has no milk in it. We’ll argue about it, but we can let it go quite easily, an it’s something enjoyable to argue against. Low grade zoning laws, similarly, can be discussed on the merits.

    Sometimes it points to philosophical differences– usually identifiable by accusations of “injecting” religion into politics. (I think that’s obscure enough to avoid fights….)

  2. How can it be folly when subsequent events proved Samuel Wesley right? The Book of Common Prayer (1699 ed.) under “The Order for Morning Prayer” says:

    “Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lord, King WILLIAM, and to replenish him with the grace of thy holy Spirit, that he may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way; Endue him plenteously with heavenly gifts, _grant him in health and wealth long to live_, strengthen him that he may vanquish and overcome all his enemies; and finally after this life he may attain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

    So, it may have been Mrs. Wesley’s failure to say Amen that ultimately brought about the early demise of William III. No doubt for the rest of their married life her husband picked on her about it over the morning coffee.

  3. “The husband wrote a pamphlet in which he defended revolution principles”, but not, apparently, that a wife in her dedication to truth, could disobey the headship of a sworn “overlord”…

    John, procreated in the amity following their reconciliation, would in his turn produce “A Calm Address to Our American Colonies” (1775) – apparently met with at least 14 published replies by the end of the year, including “a Constitutional Answer […]”, in which “The approach taken is a point-by-point refutation of Wesley’s argument in terms of constitutional law and the political theory of British government” – a defence of “revolutionary principles”? I have not read it, here transcribed, yet, so as to attempt to judge for myself:

    I did enjoy putting Wesley’s effort, and Dr. Johnson’s “Taxation No Tyranny”, to which it is indebted, among the topical books displayed when I worked in an American Public Library in 1976…

    Buchan, incidentally, has a short story not unrelated to American Independence, and well worth reading, “The Company of the Marjolaine”:

  4. Just encountered someone discussing James Madison’s Federalist Paper 10, including this quotation, “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

  5. I’m not a Jacobite by any means, and most of the Stuarts were even more useless than most of the Tudors. But I have to say that the “Glorious Revolution” details I found out by reading Churchill’s Life of Marlborough were… um… not edifying. Inglorious skulduggery was more like it. (It’s kinda sad that William couldn’t have executed all his creepy English hiring committee on general principles, seeing as he’d supported their efforts for years; but I totally understood his reluctance to hang out with them. What a bunch of backstabbing hypocrites.)

    So yeah, I think Mrs. Wesley had remarkably demure manners about it all.

    OTOH, the Rev. Wesley was probably right to be nervous about a difference in politics between spouses, as that could have had Very Bad consequences under the laws of the time.

  6. “The quarrel between James II and William III was of no importance whatsoever in the daily life of the couple.”

    Between their marriage and his discovery, however, I note (dangerously relying on Wikipedia?) there were three ‘Jacobite risings’ and, before their deaths, three more, and another two more not that long after her death, including the most militarily successful – which were variously of no little importance in the daily life of many a person (depending on where they – or any of their family members – lived or what they did for a living):

  7. There is an interesting reference to this in John Wesley’s pamphlet on the “haunting” of his childhood house where he attributed the haunting as possibly connected to this situation.

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