Page images

made him little with the people. To the queen, his infidelity and frequent amours were most insulting and ungrateful. The admiration of the sex, which in cultivated and superior men is an elegant passion and an amiable weakness, was in him a gross attachment and an unsentimental propensity, growing out of the strength of his constitution, and the cravings of an animal appetite. But while our graver historians are assiduous to reproach him with wantonness in the chamber of Venus, it ought to be remembered that the murder of Rizzio, and his attempt to dispossess the queen of her government, are far more indelible stains upon his memory, and imply a profligacy and guilt which could only be ex. ceeded by the enormity of that wickedness which schemed and executed his destruction.


THE EARL OF MURRAY. This illustrious man was the natural son of James V. by Margaret, the daughter of John Lord Erskine. He had been appointed, at an early age, to the priory of St. Andrews; but he possessed not that pacific mind, which, uninterested in the present world, delights to look to the future, and to busy itself in the indolent formalities of devotion. The activity of his nature compelled him to seek agitation and employment; the perturbed period in which he lived supplied him with scenes of action ; and the eminence of his abilities displayed itself. He discovered a passion

for liberty and a zeal for religion ; and he distinguished himself by an openness and sincerity of carriage. These popular qualities pleased the Congregation, and procured to him their confidence. The love of liberty, however, was not in him the effect of patriotism, but of pride : his zeal for religion was a political virtue; and under the appearance of openness and sincerity he could conceal more securely his purposes. Power was the idol which he worshiped ; and he was ready to acquire it by methods the most criminal. He was bold, firm, and penetrating. His various mind fitted him alike for intrigue and for war. He was destined to flourish in the midst of difficulties. His sagacity enabled him to foresee dangers, his prudence to prepare for them, and bis fortitude to surmount them. To his talents, his genius, and his resources, Scotland is indebted for the Reformation. But by this memorable achievement he meant nothing more than to advance himself in the road to greatness. To this point all his actions were directed. It gave the limits to his generosity, which has been extolled as unbounded. His praise, his caresses, and his services, his dissimulation, his perfidiousness, and his enmities, were all sacrifices to ambition. And miscarriage, which has ravished so many laurels from great men, did not tarnish his glory. His success was so conspicuous that he seemed to have the command of fortune.


This celebrated character had in his person, as well as in his mind, much of the admirable qualities of James V. his father, Had not the stain of illegitimacy rested upon his birth, be would have filled the Scottish throne with as much honour as any of the Stuart race. But history, while she acknowledges his high talents, and much that was princely, nay, royal, in his conduct, cannot forget that ambition led him further than honour or loyalty warranted. Brave amongst the bravest, fair in presence and in favour, skilful to manage the most intricate affairs, to attach to himself those who were doubtful, to stun and overwhelm, by the suddenness and intrepidity of his enterprises, those who were resolute in resistance, he attained, and as to personal merit he certainly deserved, the highest place in the kingdom. But he abused, under the influence of strong temptation, the opportunities which his sister Mary's misfortunes and imprudence threw in his way ; he supplanted his sovereign and benefactress in her power, and his history affords us one of those mixed characters, in which principle was so often sacrificed to policy, that we must condemn the statesman while we pity and regret the individual. Many events in his life countenance the charge that he himself aimed at the crown; and it is too true that he countenanced the fatal expedient of establishing an English, that is, a foreign and a hostile interest, in the councils of Scotland. But his death may be received as an atonement for his offences, and may serve to show how much more safe is the person of a real patriot than that of the mere head of a faction, who is account. ed answerable for the offences of his meanest attendants,


THE EARL OF MORTON. The earl of Morton, the last of the Scottish regents, was low in stature, had an engaging countenance, and possessed a form and habit vigorous and active. His natural capacity and endowments were uncommon, and his experience in the world and business was most ample. He had known the greatest changes of fortune; the evils of poverty and exile, the advantages of great wealth and exorbitant power, the blandishments of flattery, and the wretchedness of the most abject humiliation. He engaged himself in the pursuits of ambition with a pertinacity and ardour that could not be repressed nor fatigued ; and he advanced in them with no fear of shame, and no desire of glory. He was rather insolent than baughty, rather cunning than wise, and more artificial than politic. In a period when every statesman was a soldier, he had talents for war as well as peace; but his courage was more undaunted in the cabinet than in the field. He was subtle, intriguing, and treacherous. He was stained with rebellion and murder; and from the incurable malignity of his nature, he was inclined to wanton in mischief, and to take a delight in the enormities of wickedness. He was close, cruel, covetous, and vindictive. He gratified without scruple the madness of his passions, and the whimseys of his caprice. His rapacity was heightened and deformed by insults. He was forward to encounter every species of execration and odium. The contempt of integrity,


[ocr errors]

which marked and polluted his public conduct, was also characteristic of his private life, and in both he disdained alike the censure and disapprobation of his compatriots. But while the vices of the man were not so pernicious as the crimes of the politician, they were accompanied with cultivation and lustre. His mode of living, though voluptuous, was tasteful. His palaces and gardens were splendid beyond the fashion of his age. His luxury had the charm of refine. ment; and while an ardent propensity carried him to the sex, his amours were delicate and elegant. He relieved the agitations and the cares of ambition with the smiles of beauty and the solacements of love. But while his passion for pleasure appears with some advantage amidst the deformities of his character, it was little suited to the complexion of his times. The austerity and gloom which the preachers had excited in the body of the people, and which stood in the place of religion, were hostile to gallantry in the greatest degree. His sensualities, though the most venal of all his errors, roused up against him the most general and the most indignant resentment. Odious with private corruptions, and execrable with public crimes, he exhausted the patience of an age accustomed to the most enormous profligacy. The jealousy of his enemies and the justice of his nation called him to expiate, upon the scaffold, the murder of his sovereign; and he ascended it without the consolation of one virtue. He had yet reconciled himself to heaven from partialities that are natural to man : and he relied with an assured

« PreviousContinue »