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here John the Baptist's head in a charger.” This savage request appalled even the unfeeling heart of Herod himself. He did not expect it, and was not prepared for it; and although he was highly disgusted with John, yet, for the reasons above mentioned, he did not choose to go to extremities with him. . He was therefore eaceeding sorry, as the sacred historian informs us, to be thus forced upon so violent and hazardous a measure ; “nevertheless for his oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given to her.” Conceiving himself, most absurdly, bound by his oath, to comply even with this inhuman demand, and afraid lest he should be reproached by those that were around him with having broken his promise, he preferred the real guilt of murder to the false imputation of perjury, and “sent and beheaded John in prison; and his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.” It is well known that it was a custom in the East,
and is so still in the Turkish Court, to produce the heads of those that are ordered to be put to death, as a proof that they have been really executed. But how this wretched damsel could so far subdue the common feelings of human nature, and still more the natural tenderness and delicacy of her sex, as not only to endure so disgusting and shocking a spectacle, but even to carry the bleeding trophy in triumph to her mother, it is not easy to imagine; and it would scarce be credited, did we not know that in times and in countries much nearer to our own, sights of still greater horror than this have been contemplated, even by women and children, with complacency and with
delight. Such was the conclusion of this singular transaction ; and every part of it is so pregnant with useful instruction and admonition, that I shall stand excused, I hope, if I take up a little more of your time than is usual in discourses of this nature, in commenting somewhat at large on the conduct and characters of the several actors in this dreadful tragedy. And in the first place, there can be no doubt that the most guilty and the most unpardonable of all the parties concerned in this murder of an innocent and excellent man was the abandoned Herodias. For it was she whose indignation against John was carried to the greatest length, and in the end effected his ruin. It was she who was continually importuning and urging Herod to put the Baptist to death, from which, for a considerable time, his fears restrained him. It was she who, as St. Mark expresses it, “ had a quarrel against John, and would have killed him, but she could not*.” The words translated, had a quarrel against him, have in the original much greater force and energy, tysixty aúrð. She, as it were, fastened and hung upon John, and was determined not to let go her hold till she had destroyed him f.
We * Mark, vi. 19. + Hesychius explains ovexes by syneral, sticks close to in hatred or spite. Doddridge gives still greater force to the expression; but Parkhurst does not allow it.
We here see a fatal proof of the extreme barbarities to which that most diabolical sentiment of revenge will drive the natural tenderness even of a female mind; what a close connexion there is between crimes of apparently a very different complexion, and how frequently the uncontrolled indulgence of what are called the softer affections, lead ultimately to the most violent excesses of the malignant passions. The voluptuary generally piques himself on his benevolence, his humanity, and gentleness of disposition. His claim even to these virtues is at the best very problematical ; because in his pursuit of pleasure, he makes no scruple of sacrificing the peace, the comfort, the happiness of those for whom he pretends the tenderest affection, to the gratification of his own selfish desires. But however he may preserve his good humour, when he meets with no resistance, the moment he is thwarted and opposed in his flagitious purposes, he has no hesitation in going any lengths to gain his point, and will fight his way to the object he has in view through the heart of the very best friend he has in the world. The same thing we see in a still more striking point of view, in the conduct of Herodias. She was at first only a bold unprincipled libertine, and might perhaps be admired and celebrated, as many others of that description have been, for her good temper, her sensibility, her generosity to the poor; and with this character she might have gone out of the world, had no such person as John arisen to reprove her and her husband for their profligacy, and to endanger the continuance of her guilty commerce. But no sooner does he rebuke them as they deserved, than Herodias showed that she had other passions to indulge besides those which had hitherto disgraced her character; and that, when she found it necessary to her pleasures, she could be as cruel as she had been licentious; could contrive and accomplish the destruction of a great and good man, could feast her eyes with the sight of his mangled head 1Il