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The History of England from the Accession of James II
By Thomas Babington MacAulay
Chapter 3 Part 5


In the House of Commons, no member thought it expedient to propose the repeal of the Test Act. But leave was given to bring in a bill repealing the Corporation Act, which had been passed by the Cavalier Parliament soon after the Restoration, and which contained a clause requiring all municipal magistrates to receive the sacrament according to the forms of the Church of England. When this bill was about to be committed, it was moved by the Tories that the committee should be instructed to make no alteration in the law touching the sacrament. Those Whigs who were zealous for the Comprehension must have been placed by this motion in an embarrassing position. To vote for the instruction would have been inconsistent with their principles. To vote against it would have been to break with Nottingham. A middle course was found. The adjournment of the debate was moved and carried by a hundred and sixteen votes to a hundred and fourteen; and the subject was not revived. In the House of Lords a motion was made for the abolition of the sacramental test, but was rejected by a large majority. Many of those who thought the motion right in principle thought it ill timed. A protest was entered; but it was signed only by a few peers of no great authority. It is a remarkable fact that two great chiefs of the Whig party, who were in general very attentive to their parliamentary duty, Devonshire and Shrewsbury, absented themselves on this occasion.

The debate on the Test in the Upper House was speedily followed by a debate on the last clause of the Comprehension Bill. By that clause it was provided that thirty Bishops and priests should be commissioned to revise the liturgy and canons, and to suggest amendments. On this subject the Whig peers were almost all of one mind. They mustered strong, and spoke warmly. Why, they asked, were none but members of the sacerdotal order to be intrusted with this duty? Were the laity no part of the Church of England? When the Commission should have made its report, laymen would have to decide on the recommendations contained in that report. Not a line of the Book of Common Prayer could be altered but by the authority of King, Lords, and Commons. The King was a layman. Five sixths of the Lords were laymen. All the members of the House of Commons were laymen. Was it not absurd to say that laymen were incompetent to examine into a matter which it was acknowledged that laymen must in the last resort determine? And could any thing be more opposite to the whole spirit of Protestantism than the notion that a certain preternatural power of judging in spiritual cases was vouchsafed to a particular caste, and to that caste alone; that such men as Selden, as Hale, as Boyle, were less competent to give an opinion on a collect or a creed than the youngest and silliest chaplain who, in a remote manor house, passed his life in drinking ale and playing at shovelboard? What God had instituted no earthly power, lay or clerical, could alter: and of things instituted by human beings a layman was surely as competent as a clergyman to judge. That the Anglican liturgy and canons were of purely human institution the Parliament acknowledged by referring them to a Commission for revision and correction. How could it then be maintained that in such a Commission the laity, so vast a majority of the population, the laity, whose edification was the main end of all ecclesiastical regulations, and whose innocent tastes ought to be carefully consulted in the framing of the public services of religion, ought not to have a single representative? Precedent was directly opposed to this odious distinction. Repeatedly since the light of reformation had dawned on England Commissioners had been empowered by law to revise the canons; and on every one of those occasions some of the Commissioners had been laymen. In the present case the proposed arrangement was peculiarly objectionable. For the object of issuing the commission was the conciliating of dissenters; and it was therefore most desirable that the Commissioners should be men in whose fairness and moderation dissenters could confide. Would thirty such men be easily found in the higher ranks of the clerical profession? The duty of the legislature was to arbitrate between two contending parties, the Nonconformist divines and the Anglican divines, and it would be the grossest injustice to commit to one of those parties the office of umpire.

On these grounds the Whigs proposed an amendment to the effect that laymen should be joined with clergymen in the Commission. The contest was sharp. Burnet, who had just taken his seat among the peers, and who seems to have been bent on winning at almost any price the good will of his brethren, argued with all his constitutional warmth for the clause as it stood. The numbers on the division proved to be exactly equal. The consequence was that, according to the rules of the House, the amendment was lost. At length the Comprehension Bill was sent down to the Commons. There it would easily have been carried by two to one, if it had been supported by all the friends of religious liberty. But on this subject the High Churchmen could count on the support of a large body of Low Churchmen. Those members who wished well to Nottingham's plan saw that they were outnumbered, and, despairing of a victory, began to meditate a retreat. Just at this time a suggestion was thrown out which united all suffrages. The ancient usage was that a Convocation should be summoned together with a Parliament; and it might well be argued that, if ever the advice of a Convocation could be needed, it must be when changes in the ritual and discipline of the Church were under consideration. But, in consequence of the irregular manner in which the Estates of the Realm had been brought together during the vacancy of the throne, there was no Convocation. It was proposed that the House should advise the King to take measures for supplying this defect, and that the fate of the Comprehension Bill should not be decided till the clergy had had an opportunity of declaring their opinion through the ancient and legitimate organ.

This proposition was received with general acclamation. The Tories were well pleased to see such honour done to the priesthood. Those Whigs who were against the Comprehension Bill were well pleased to see it laid aside, certainly for a year, probably for ever. Those Whigs who were for the Comprehension Bill were well pleased to escape without a defeat. Many of them indeed were not without hopes that mild and liberal counsels might prevail in the ecclesiastical senate. An address requesting William to summon the Convocation was voted without a division: the concurrence of the Lords was asked: the Lords concurred, the address was carried up to the throne by both Houses: the King promised that he would, at a convenient season, do what his Parliament desired; and Nottingham's Bill was not again mentioned.

Many writers, imperfectly acquainted with the history of that age, have inferred from these proceedings that the House of Commons was an assembly of High Churchmen: but nothing is more certain than that two thirds of the members were either Low Churchmen or not Churchmen at all. A very few days before this time an occurrence had taken place, unimportant in itself, but highly significant as an indication of the temper of the majority. It had been suggested that the House ought, in conformity with ancient usage, to adjourn over the Easter holidays. The Puritans and Latitudinarians objected: there was a sharp debate: the High Churchmen did not venture to divide; and, to the great scandal of many grave persons, the Speaker took the chair at nine o'clock on Easter Monday; and there was a long and busy sitting.

This however was by no means the strongest proof which the Commons gave that they were far indeed from feeling extreme reverence or tenderness for the Anglican hierarchy. The bill for settling the oaths had just come down from the Lords framed in a manner favourable to the clergy. All lay functionaries were required to swear fealty to the King and Queen on pain of expulsion from office. But it was provided that every divine who already held a benefice might continue to hold it without swearing, unless the Government should see reason to call on him specially for an assurance of his loyalty. Burnett had, partly, no  doubt, from the good nature and generosity which belonged to his character, and partly from a desire to conciliate his brethren, supported this arrangement in the Upper House with great energy. But in the Lower House the feeling against the Jacobite priests was irresistibly strong. On the very day on which that House voted, without a division, the address requesting the King to summon the Convocation, a clause was proposed and carried which required every person who held any ecclesiastical or academical preferment to take the oaths by the first of August 1689, on pain of suspension. Six months, to be reckoned from that day, were allowed to the nonjuror for reconsideration. If, on the first of February 1690, he still continued obstinate, he was to be finally deprived.

The bill, thus amended, was sent back to the Lords. The Lords adhered to their original resolution. Conference after conference was held. Compromise after compromise was suggested. From the imperfect reports which have come down to us it appears that every argument in favour of lenity was forcibly urged by Burnet. But the Commons were firm: time pressed: the unsettled state of the law caused inconvenience in every department of the public service; and the peers very reluctantly gave way. They at the same time added a clause empowering the King to bestow pecuniary allowances out of the forfeited benefices on a few nonjuring clergymen. The number of clergymen thus favoured was not to exceed twelve. The allowance was not to exceed one third of the income forfeited. Some zealous Whigs were unwilling to grant even this indulgence: but the Commons were content with the victory which they had won, and justly thought that it would be ungracious to refuse so slight a concession.

These debates were interrupted, during a short time, by the festivities and solemnities of the Coronation. When the day fixed for that great ceremony drew near, the House of Commons resolved itself into a committee for the purpose of settling the form of words in which our Sovereigns were thenceforward to enter into covenant with the nation. All parties were agreed as to the propriety of requiring the King to swear that, in temporal matters, he would govern according to law, and would execute justice in mercy. But about the terms of the oath which related to the spiritual institutions of the realm there was much debate.

Should the chief magistrate promise simply to maintain the Protestant religion established by law, or should he promise to maintain that religion as it should be hereafter established by law? The majority preferred the former phrase. The latter phrase was preferred by those Whigs who were for a Comprehension. But it was universally admitted that the two phrases really meant the same thing, and that the oath, however it might be worded, would bind the Sovereign in his executive capacity only. This was indeed evident from the very nature of the transaction. Any compact may be annulled by the free consent of the party who alone is entitled to claim the performance. It was never doubted by the most rigid casuist that a debtor, who has bound himself under the most awful imprecations to pay a debt, may lawfully withhold payment if the creditor is willing to cancel the obligation. And it is equally clear that no assurance, exacted from a King by the Estates of his kingdom, can bind him to refuse compliance with what may at a future time be the wish of those Estates.

A bill was drawn up in conformity with the resolutions of the Committee, and was rapidly passed through every stage. After the third reading, a foolish man stood up to propose a rider, declaring that the oath was not meant to restrain the Sovereign from consenting to any change in the ceremonial of the Church, provided always that episcopacy and a written form of prayer were retained. The gross absurdity of this motion was exposed by several eminent members. Such a clause, they justly remarked, would bind the King under pretence of setting him free. The coronation oath, they said, was never intended to trammel him in his legislative capacity. Leave that oath as it is now drawn, and no prince can misunderstand it. No prince can seriously imagine that the two Houses mean to exact from him a promise that he will put a Veto on laws which they may hereafter think necessary to the wellbeing of the country. Or if any prince should so strangely misapprehend the nature of the contract between him and his subjects, any divine, any lawyer, to whose advice he may have recourse, will set his mind at ease. But if this rider should pass, it will be impossible to deny that the coronation oath is meant to prevent the King from giving his assent to bills which may be presented to him by the Lords and Commons; and the most serious inconvenience may follow. These arguments were felt to be unanswerable, and the proviso was rejected without a division.

Every person who has read these debates must be fully convinced that the statesmen who framed the coronation oath did not mean to bind the King in his legislative capacity. Unhappily, more than a hundred years later, a scruple, which those statesmen thought too absurd to be seriously entertained by any human being, found its way into a mind, honest, indeed, and religious, but narrow and obstinate by nature, and at once debilitated and excited by disease. Seldom, indeed, have the ambition and perfidy of tyrants produced evils greater than those which were brought on our country by that fatal conscientiousness. A conjuncture singularly auspicious, a conjuncture at which wisdom and justice might perhaps have reconciled races and sects long hostile, and might have made the British islands one truly United Kingdom, was suffered to pass away. The opportunity, once lost, returned no more. Two generations of public men have since laboured with imperfect success to repair the error which was then committed; nor is it improbable that some of the penalties of that error may continue to afflict a remote posterity.

The Bill by which the oath was settled passed the Upper House without amendment. All the preparations were complete; and, on the eleventh of April, the coronation took place. In some things it differed from ordinary coronations. The representatives of the people attended the ceremony in a body, and were sumptuously feasted in the Exchequer Chamber. Mary, being not merely Queen Consort, but also Queen Regnant, was inaugurated in all things like a King, was girt with the sword, lifted up into the throne, and presented with the Bible, the spurs, and the orb. Of the temporal grandees of the realm, and of their wives and daughters, the muster was great and splendid. None could be surprised that the Whig aristocracy should swell the triumph of Whig principles. But the Jacobites saw, with concern, that many Lords who had voted for a Regency bore a conspicuous part in the ceremonial.

The King's crown was carried by Grafton, the Queen's by Somerset. The pointed sword, emblematical of temporal justice, was borne by Pembroke. Ormond was Lord High Constable for the day, and rode up the Hall on the right hand of the hereditary champion, who thrice flung down his glove on the pavement, and thrice defied to mortal combat the false traitor who should gainsay the title of William and Mary. Among the noble damsels who supported the gorgeous train of the Queen was her beautiful and gentle cousin, the Lady Henrietta Hyde, whose father, Rochester, had to the last contended against the resolution which declared the throne vacant.102 The show of Bishops, indeed, was scanty. The Primate did not make his appearance; and his place was supplied by Compton. On one side of Compton, the paten was carried by Lloyd, Bishop of Saint Asaph, eminent among the seven confessors of the preceding year. On the other side, Sprat, Bishop of Rochester, lately a member of the High Commission, had charge of the chalice. Burnet, the junior prelate, preached with all his wonted ability, and more than his wonted taste and judgment. His grave and eloquent discourse was polluted neither by adulation nor by malignity. He is said to have been greatly applauded; and it may well be believed that the animated peroration in which he implored heaven to bless the royal pair with long life and mutual love, with obedient subjects, wise counsellors, and faithful allies, with gallant fleets and armies, with victory, with peace, and finally with crowns more glorious and more durable than those which then glittered on the altar of the Abbey, drew forth the loudest hums of the Commons.

On the whole the ceremony went off well, and produced something like a revival, faint, indeed, and transient, of the enthusiasm of the preceding December. The day was, in London and in many other places, a day of general rejoicing. The churches were filled in the morning: the afternoon was spent in sport and carousing; and at night bonfires were lighted, rockets discharged, and windows lighted up. The Jacobites however contrived to discover or to invent abundant matter for scurrility and sarcasm. They complained bitterly, that the way from the hall to the western door of the Abbey had been lined by Dutch soldiers. Was it seemly that an English king should enter into the most solemn of engagements with the English nation behind a triple hedge of foreign swords and bayonets? Little affrays, such as, at every great pageant, almost inevitably take place between those who are eager to see the show and those whose business it is to keep the communications clear, were exaggerated with all the artifices of rhetoric. One of the alien mercenaries had backed his horse against an honest citizen who pressed forward to catch a glimpse of the royal canopy. Another had rudely pushed back a woman with the but end of his musket. On such grounds as these the strangers were compared to those Lord Danes whose insolence, in the old time, had provoked the Anglo-saxon population to insurrection and massacre. But there was no more fertile theme for censure than the coronation medal, which really was absurd in design and mean in execution. A chariot appeared conspicuous on the reverse; and plain people were at a loss to understand what this emblem had to do with William and Mary. The disaffected wits solved the difficulty by suggesting that the artist meant to allude to that chariot which a Roman princess, lost to all filial affection, and blindly devoted to the interests of an ambitious husband, drove over the still warm remains of her father.

Honours were, as usual, liberally bestowed at this festive season. Three garters  which happened to be at the disposal of the Crown were given to Devonshire, Ormond, and Schomberg. Prince George was created Duke of Cumberland. Several eminent men took new appellations by which they must henceforth be designated. Danby became Marquess of Caermarthen, Churchill Earl of Marlborough, and Bentinck Earl of Portland. Mordaunt was made Earl of Monmouth, not without some murmuring on the part of old Exclusionists, who still remembered with fondness their Protestant Duke, and who had hoped that his attainder would be reversed, and that his title would be borne by his descendants. It was remarked that the name of Halifax did not appear in the list of promotions. None could doubt that he might easily have obtained either a blue riband or a ducal coronet; and, though he was honourably distinguished from most of his contemporaries by his scorn of illicit gain, it was well known that he desired honorary distinctions with a greediness of which he was himself ashamed, and which was unworthy of his fine understanding. The truth is that his ambition was at this time chilled by his fears.

To those whom he trusted he hinted his apprehensions that evil times were at hand. The King's life was not worth a year's purchase: the government was disjointed, the clergy and the army disaffected, the parliament torn by factions: civil war was already raging in one part of the empire: foreign war was impending. At such a moment a minister, whether Whig or Tory, might well be uneasy; but neither Whig nor Tory had so much to fear as the Trimmer, who might not improbably find himself the common mark at which both parties would take aim. For these reasons Halifax determined to avoid all ostentation of power and influence, to disarm envy by a studied show of moderation, and to attach to himself by civilities and benefits persons whose gratitude might be useful in the event of a counterrevolution. The next three months, he said, would be the time of trial. If the government got safe through the summer it would probably stand.

Meanwhile questions of external policy were every day becoming more and more important. The work at which William had toiled indefatigably during many gloomy and anxious years was at length accomplished. The great coalition was formed. It was plain that a desperate conflict was at hand. The oppressor of Europe would have to defend himself against England allied with Charles the Second King of Spain, with the Emperor Leopold, and with the Germanic and Batavian federations, and was likely to have no ally except the Sultan, who was waging war against the House of Austria on the Danube.

Lewis had, towards the close of the preceding year, taken his enemies at a disadvantage, and had struck the first blow before they were prepared to parry it. But that blow, though heavy, was not aimed at the part where it might have been mortal. Had hostilities been commenced on the Batavian frontier, William and his army would probably have been detained on the continent, and James might have continued to govern England. Happily, Lewis, under an infatuation which many pious Protestants confidently ascribed to the righteous judgment of God, had neglected the point on which the fate of the whole civilised world depended, and had made a great display of power, promptitude, and energy, in a quarter where the most splendid achievements could produce nothing more than an illumination and a Te Deum. A French army under the command of Marshal Duras had invaded the Palatinate and some of the neighbouring principalities. But this expedition, though it had been completely successful, and though the skill and vigour with which it had been conducted had excited general admiration, could not perceptibly affect the event of the tremendous struggle which was approaching. France would soon be attacked on every side. It would be impossible for Duras long to retain possession of the provinces which he had surprised and overrun. An atrocious thought rose in the mind of Louvois, who, in military affairs, had the chief sway at Versailles. He was a  man distinguished by zeal for what he thought the public interests, by capacity, and by knowledge of all that related to the administration of war, but of a savage and obdurate nature.

If the cities of the Palatinate could not be retained, they might be destroyed. If the soil of the Palatinate was not to furnish supplies to the French, it might be so wasted that it would at least furnish no supplies to the Germans. The ironhearted statesman submitted his plan, probably with much management and with some disguise, to Lewis; and Lewis, in an evil hour for his fame, assented. Duras received orders to turn one of the fairest regions of Europe into a wilderness. Fifteen years earlier Turenne had ravaged part of that fine country. But the ravages committed by Turenne, though they have left a deep stain on his glory, were mere sport in comparison with the horrors of this second devastation. The French commander announced to near half a million of human beings that he granted them three days of grace, and that, within that time, they must shift for themselves. Soon the roads and fields, which then lay deep in snow, were blackened by innumerable multitudes of men, women, and children flying from their homes. Many died of cold and hunger: but enough survived to fill the streets of all the cities of Europe with lean and squalid beggars, who had once been thriving farmers and shopkeepers. Meanwhile the work of destruction began. The flames went up from every marketplace, every hamlet, every parish church, every country seat, within the devoted provinces. The fields where the corn had been sown were ploughed up. The orchards were hewn down. No promise of a harvest was left on the fertile plains near what had once been Frankenthal. Not a vine, not an almond tree, was to be seen on the slopes of the sunny hills round what had once been Heidelberg. No respect was shown to palaces, to temples, to monasteries, to infirmaries, to beautiful works of art, to monuments of the illustrious dead. The farfamed castle of the Elector Palatine was turned into a heap of ruins. The adjoining hospital was sacked. The provisions, the medicines, the pallets on which the sick lay were destroyed. The very stones of which Mannheim had been built were flung into the Rhine. The magnificent Cathedral of Spires perished, and with it the marble sepulchres of eight Caesars. The coffins were broken open. The ashes were scattered to the winds. Treves, with its fair bridge, its Roman amphitheatre, its venerable churches, convents, and colleges, was doomed to the same fate. But, before this last crime had been perpetrated, Lewis was recalled to a better mind by the execrations of all the neighbouring nations, by the silence and confusion of his flatterers, and by the expostulations of his wife.

He had been more than two years secretly married to Frances de Maintenon, the governess of his natural children. It would be hard to name any woman who, with so little romance in her temper, has had so much in her life. Her early years had been passed in poverty and obscurity. Her first husband had supported himself by writing burlesque farces and poems. When she attracted the notice of her sovereign, she could no longer boast of youth or beauty: but she possessed in an extraordinary degree those more lasting charms, which men of sense, whose passions age has tamed, and whose life is a life of business and care, prize most highly in a female companion. Her character was such as has been well compared to that soft green on which the eye, wearied by warm tints and glaring lights, reposes with pleasure. A just understanding; an inexhaustible yet never redundant flow of rational, gentle, and sprightly conversation; a temper of which the serenity was never for a moment ruffled, a tact which surpassed the tact of her sex as much as the tact of her sex surpasses the tact of ours; such were the qualities which made the widow of a buffoon first the confidential friend, and then the spouse, of the proudest and most powerful of European kings. It was said that Lewis had been with difficulty prevented by the arguments and vehement entreaties of Louvois from declaring her Queen of France. It is certain that she regarded Louvois as her enemy. Her hatred of him, cooperating perhaps with better feelings, induced her to plead the cause of the unhappy people of the Rhine. She appealed to those sentiments of compassion which, though weakened by many corrupting influences, were not altogether extinct in her husband's mind, and to those sentiments of religion which had too often impelled him to cruelty, but which, on the present occasion, were on the side of humanity. He relented: and Treves  was spared.107 In truth he could hardly fail to perceive that he had committed a great error. The devastation of the Palatinate, while it had not in any sensible degree lessened the power of his enemies, had inflamed their animosity, and had furnished them with inexhaustible matter for invective. The cry of vengeance rose on every side. Whatever scruple either branch of the House of Austria might have felt about coalescing with Protestants was completely removed. Lewis accused the Emperor and the Catholic King of having betrayed the cause of the Church; of having allied themselves with an usurper who was the avowed champion of the great schism; of having been accessary to the foul wrong done to a lawful sovereign who was guilty of no crime but zeal for the true religion. James sent to Vienna and Madrid piteous letters, in which he recounted his misfortunes, and implored the assistance of his brother kings, his brothers also in the faith, against the unnatural children and the rebellious subjects who had driven him into exile. But there was little difficulty in framing a plausible answer both to the reproaches of Lewis and to the supplications of James. Leopold and Charles declared that they had not, even for purposes of just selfdefence, leagued themselves with heretics, till their enemy had, for purposes of unjust aggression, leagued himself with Mahometans. Nor was this the worst. The French King, not content with assisting the Moslem against the Christians, was himself treating Christians with a barbarity which would have shocked the very Moslem. His infidel allies, to do them justice, had not perpetrated on the Danube such outrages against the edifices and the members of the Holy Catholic Church as he who called himself the eldest son of that Church was perpetrating on the Rhine. On these grounds, the princes to whom James had appealed replied by appealing, with many professions of good will and compassion, to himself. He was surely too just to blame them for thinking that it was their first duty to defend their own people against such outrages as had turned the Palatinate into a desert, or for calling in the aid of Protestants against an enemy who had not scrupled to call in the aid of the Turks.

During the winter and the earlier part of the spring, the powers hostile to France were gathering their strength for a great effort, and were in constant communication with one another. As the season for military operations approached, the solemn appeals of injured nations to the God of battles came forth in rapid succession. The manifesto of the Germanic body appeared in February; that of the States General in March; that of the House of Brandenburg in April; and that of Spain in May.109 Here, as soon as the ceremony of the coronation was over, the House of Commons determined to take into consideration the late proceedings of the French king.

In the debate, that hatred of the powerful, unscrupulous and imperious Lewis, which had, during twenty years of vassalage, festered in the hearts of Englishmen, broke violently forth. He was called the most Christian Turk, the most Christian ravager of Christendom, the most Christian barbarian who had perpetrated on Christians outrages of which his infidel allies would have been ashamed. A committee, consisting chiefly of ardent Whigs, was appointed to prepare an address. John Hampden, the most ardent Whig among them, was put into the chair; and he produced a composition too long, too rhetorical, and too vituperative to suit the lips of the Speaker or the ears of the King. Invectives against Lewis might perhaps, in the temper in which the House then was, have passed without censure, if they had not been accompanied by severe reflections on the character and administration of Charles the Second, whose memory, in spite of all his faults, was affectionately cherished by the Tories. There were some very intelligible allusions to Charles's dealings with the Court of Versailles, and to the foreign woman whom that Court had sent to lie like a snake in his bosom. The House was with good reason dissatisfied. The address was recommitted, and, having been made more concise, and less declamatory and acrimonious, was approved and presented.

William's attention was called to the wrongs which France had done to him and to his kingdom; and he was assured that, whenever he should resort to arms for the redress of those wrongs, he should be heartily supported by his people. He thanked the Commons warmly. Ambition, he said, should never induce him to draw the sword: but he had no choice: France had already attacked England; and it was necessary to exercise the right of self defence. A few days later war was proclaimed. Of the grounds of quarrel alleged by the Commons in their address, and by the King in his manifesto, the most serious was the interference of Lewis in the affairs of Ireland. In that country great events had, during several months, followed one another in rapid succession. Of those events it is now time to relate the history, a history dark with crime and sorrow, yet full of interest and instruction.


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