The fall of Walpole revealed a change in the temper of England which was to influence from that time to this its social and political history. New forces, new cravings, new aims, which had been silently gathering beneath the crust of inaction, began at last to tell on the national life. The stir showed itself markedly in a religious revival which dates from the later years of Walpole's ministry. Never had religion seemed at a lower ebb. The progress of free inquiry, the aversion from theological strife which had been left by the Civil Wars, the new political and material channels opened to human energy, had produced a general indifference to all questions of religious speculation or religious life. The Church, predominant as its influence seemed at the close of the Revolution, had sunk into political insigni-ficance. The bishops, who were now chosen exclusively from among the small number of Whig ecclesiastics, were left politically powerless by the estrangement and hatred of their clergy; while the clergy themselves, drawn by their secret tendencies to Jacobitism, stood sulkily apart from any active interference with public affairs. The prudence of the Whig statesmen aided to maintain this ecclesiastical immobility.
They were careful to avoid all that could rouse into life the slumbering forces of bigotry and fanaticism. When the Dissenters pressed for a repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Walpole openly avowed his dread of awaking the passions of religious hate by such a measure, and satisfied them by an annual act of indemnity for any breach of these penal statutes; while a suspension of the meetings of Convocation deprived the clergy of their natural centre of agitation and opposition. Nor was this political inaction compensated by any religious activity. A large number of prelates were mere Whig parti-zans with no higher aim than that of promotion. The levees of the Ministers were crowded with lawn sleeves. A Welsh bishop avowed that he had seen his diocese but once, and habitually resided at the lakes of Westmoreland. The system of pluralities turned the wealthier and more learned of the priesthood into absentees, while the bulk of them were indolent, poor, and without social consideration. A shrewd, if prejudiced, observer brands the English clergy of the day as the most lifeless in Europe, "the most remiss of their labours in private, and the least severe in their lives." There was a revolt against religion and against churches in both the extremes of English society.
[Authorities. - Lord Stanhope and Horace Walpole, as before. Southey's biography, or the more elaborate life by Mr. Tyerman, gives an account of Wesley. For Pitt himself, the Chatham correspondence, his life by Thackeray, and Lord Macaulay's two essays on him. The Annual Register begins with 1758; its earlier portion has been attributed to Burke. Carlyle's "Frederick the Great" gives a picturesque account of the Seven Years' War. For Clive, see the biography by Sir John Malcolm, and Lord Macaulay's essay].
In the higher circles of society "every one laughs," said Montesquieu on his visit to England, " if one talks of religion." Of the prominent statesmen of the time the greater part were unbelievers in any form of Christianity, and distinguished for the grossness and immorality of their lives. Drunkenness and foul talk were thought no discredit to Walpole. A later prime minister, the Duke of Grafton, was in the habit of appearing with his mistress at the play. Purity and fidelity to the marriage vow were sneered out of fashion; and Lord Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, instructs him in the art of seduction as part of a polite education. At the other end of the social scale lay the masses of the poor. They were ignorant and brutal to a degree which it is hard to conceive, for the increase of population which followed on the growth of towns and the developement of commerce had been met by no effort for their religious or educational improvement. Not a new parish had been created. Schools there were none, save the grammar schools of Edward and Elizabeth, and some newly established "circulating schools" in Wales, for religious education.
The rural peasantry, who were fast being reduced to pauperism by the abuse of the poor-laws, were left without much moral or religious training of any sort. "We saw but one Bible in the parish of Cheddar," said Hannah More at a far later time, " and that was used to prop a flower-pot." Within the towns things were worse. There was no effective police; and in great outbreaks the mob of London or Birmingham burnt houses, flung open prisons, and sacked and pillaged at their will. The criminal class gathered boldness and numbers in the face of ruthless laws which only testified to the terror of society, laws which made it a capital crime to cut down a cherry tree, and which strung up twenty young thieves of a morning in front of Newgate; while the introduction of gin gave a new impetus to drunkenness. In the streets of London at one time gin-shops invited every passer-by to get drunk for a penny, or dead drunk for twopence. In spite however of scenes such as this, England remained at heart religious. In the middle class the old Puritan spirit lived on unchanged, and it was from this class that a religious revival burst forth at the close of Walpole's administration, which changed after a time the whole tone of English society.
The Church was restored to life and activity.
Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education. The revival began in a small knot of Oxford students, whose revolt against the religious deadness of their times showed itself in ascetic observances, an enthusiastic devotion, and a methodical regularity of life which gained them the nickname of " Methodists." Three figures detached themselves from the group as soon as, on its transfer to London in 1738, it attracted public attention by the fervour and even extravagance of its piety; and each found his special work in the task to which the instinct of the new movement led it from the first, that of carrying religion and morality to the vast masses of population which lay concentrated in the towns, or around the mines and collieries of Cornwall and the north. Whitefield, a servitor of Pembroke College, was above all the preacher of the revival.