Macaulay and Bunyan on the evils of swearing and playing hockey on Sunday (1830)

Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

Found in Critical and Historical Essays, Vol. 1

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) wrote an essay on the 17th century English religious writer John Bunyan (1628-1688) wittily defending him from the unfair attacks of his critics, one of whom called him a “depraved thinker”. In Macaulay’s view the worst one could say about him was that he swore a bit and played hockey on Sundays:

He does not appear to have been a drunkard. He owns, indeed, that, when a boy, he never spoke without an oath. But a single admonition cured him of this bad habit for life; and the cure must have been wrought early; for at eighteen he was in the army of the Parliament; and, if he had carried the vice of profaneness into that service, he would doubtless have received something more than an admonition from Serjeant Bind-their-kings-in-chains, or Captain Hew-Agag-in-pieces-before-the-Lord. Bell-ringing and playing at hockey on Sundays seem to have been the worst vices of this depraved tinker. They would have passed for virtues with Archbishop Laud.

The English author and critic Thomas Babington Macaulay did not like the poet Southey at all, as his scathing review of his book on the industrial Revolution and the condition of the working class in England demonstrates. He did, however, like very much this biography Southey wrote about the life of John Bunyan. The sophisticated and urbane Macaulay had little time for Bunyan’s extreme dissenting religious views but he did think that many of his critics, mostly Anglicans, had treated Bunyan very poorly and that therefore Southey’s biography was a useful corrective. This quotation caught my eye because of the reference to playing hockey on Sundays, something we were able to experience yesterday with the men’s hockey final on the last day of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.