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!