Sentenced to do Public Penance for Adultery
The Rev. Wheatley doing penance for adultery
In the present day, adultery, is degenerated into a kind of fashionable and expensive vice among the rich of all the polished nations of Europe; while the poor labourer, surrounded by the children born in wedlock, and yet crying for bread, only heaves a sigh at such enormities.
A vice indulged in by the example of the great must spread like contagion, and every thoughtless young man become infected. When the great, though bound by the marriage vow, live in open and voluptuous adultery, lesser men will have their concubines too; and thus wives are deserted, and left either to pine under neglect, or, roused by their wrongs, desperately to seek retaliation.
The number of kept women in and about the metropolis we have already calculated. Most of them are maintained in affluence; and, having no kind of regard either for the person or the property of their dupe, they launch into every kind of extravagance and dissipation.
Corruption of morals in the people, though the progress be slow, will surely prove the downfall of their nation. When the hardy warriors of ancient Rome quitted "the trade of arms," and, for the martial step, substituted "Love's majesty to strut before a wanton ambling nymph," then commenced that degeneracy which in time overwhelmed their mighty empire, and left them an effeminate race, contemptible to those very nations they had formerly conquered.
About the year 1759 the crime of adultery was proved, with aggravated circumstances, against a profligate fellow, under the mask of Puritanism, of the name of Wheatley. This man was a Methodist preacher, who was styled Reverend, and a schoolmaster at Norwich.
He was brought to trial for adultery committed with several of his neighbours' wives, all professing Methodism, at the Ecclesiastical Court of the Bishop of Norwich.
Sufficient proof having been adduced, the judge declared the said Wheatley to be a lewd, debauched, incontinent, and adulterous man; and that he had committed the crimes adultery, fornication, and incontinence, to the great scandal of good men, and pernicious to the example of others. He was then sentenced to do public penance in a linen cloth, in the parish church, with a paper pinned to his breast, denoting his crime; and condemned to pay the costs of the suit.
Formerly adulterers were exposed to public odium and derision, in white sheets, in the parish church. The story in the Spectator, of the adulteress riding on a black ram, is founded on fact:
"At East Bourne and West Bourne, in the county of Berks, if a customary tenant die, the widow shall have what the law calls her free bench in all copyhold land, dum sola et casta fuerit; that is, while she lives single and chaste; but, if she commit incontinency, she forfeits her estate: yet, if she will come into court, riding backward upon a black ram, with his tail in her hand, and say the following words, the steward is bound by the custom to re-admit her to her free bench:
"Here I am,
Riding upon a black ram,
Like a whore as I am;
And for my crincum crancum
Have lost my bincum bancum,
And for my tail's game
Have done this worldly shame;
Therefore I pray you, Mr Steward,
Let me have my land again."
There is a like custom in the manor of Torre, in Devonshire, and other parts of the west.