"To The Windward Of The Law"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277

Context: Churchill was a dissipated clergyman who won for himself both fame and notoriety as a satiric poet during the last few years of his life. Much of the character of his verse seems to have been determined by his association with the unscrupulous editor of the North-Briton, John Wilkes. The story of the Cock Lane Ghost broke in 1762 when William Kent was accused of having committed adultery with and subsequently murdered his sister-in-law, Fanny Lynes. The accusation was made by Richard Parsons, whom Kent had sued for debt, and the evidence was the testimony of Fanny's ghost given through Parsons' daughter as a medium. Kent appealed to the courts to vindicate his character, and a commission including Dr. Samuel Johnson investigated the affair and pronounced it all a fraud. The affair was a very popular butt for satirists, including the dramatists, and Churchill's somewhat rambling comic treatment extends to four books. Book III, which is concerned with the doings of the commission of inquiry, is prefaced by a long introductory passage giving in mock-epic fashion the setting:

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It was the Hour, when Devotees
Breathe pious curses on their knees,
When they with pray'rs the day begin
To sanctify a Night of Sin;
When Rogues of Modesty, who roam
Under the veil of Night, sneak home,
That free from all restraint and awe,
Just to the windward of the Law,
Less modest Rogues their tricks may play,
And plunder in the face of day.
But hold–whilst thus we play the fool,
In bold contempt of ev'ry rule,
Things of no consequence expressing,
Describing now, and now digressing,
To the discredit of our skill,
The main concern is standing still.

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