« PreviousContinue »
appearances of, and are imposed on the credulous world as, virtues of the first rank. Passion for power was Charles's predominant vice, idolatry to his regal prerogatives his governing principle. The interests of the crown legitimated every measure, and sanctified, in his eye, the widest deviation from moral rule.
Neither gratitude, clemency, humanity, equity, nor generosity, have place in the fair part of Charles's character; of the virtues of temperance, fortitude, and personal bravery, he was undeniably possessed. His manners partook of dissipation, and his conversation of the indecency of a court. His chastity has been called in question by an author of the highest repute; and were it allowed, it was tainted by an excess of uxoriousness, which gave it the properties of the consequences of vice. The want of integrity is manifest in every part of his conduct; which, whether the corruption of his judgment or his heart, lost him fair opportunities of reinstatement in the throne, and was the vice for which, above all others, he paid the tribute of his life. His intellectual powers were naturally good, 'and so improved by a continual exercise, that though in the beginning of his reign he spoke with difficulty and hesitation, towards the close of his life he discovered in his writings purity of language and dignity of style; in his debates, elocution and quickness of perception. The high opinion he entertained of regal dignity occasioned him to observe a stateliness and imperiousness in his manner, which, to the rational and intelligent, was unamiable and offensive: by the weak and formal it was mistaken for dignity.
In the exercise of horsemanship he excelled; had a good taste, and even skill, in several of the polite arts; but though a proficient in some branches of literature, was no encourager of useful learning, and only patronized adepts in jargon of the divine right and utility of kings and bishops. His understanding in this point was so depraved by the prejudices of his education and flattery of priests, and the affections of his heart, that he would never endure conversation which tended to inculcate the principles of equal right in men; and notwithstanding that the particularity of his station enforced his attention to doctrines of this kind, he went out of the world with the same fond prejudices with which he had been fostered in his nursery, and cajoled in the zenith of his power. Charles was of a middle stature; his body strong, healthy, and justly proportioned; and his aspect melancholy, yet not unpleasing. Macauley. • * * *
To speak first of his private qualifications as a man, before the mention of his princely and royal virtues; he was, if ever any, the most worthy of the title of an honest man; so great a lover of justice, that no temptation could dispose him to a wrongful action, except it was so disguised to him that he believed it to be just. He had a tenderness and compassion of nature, which restrained him from ever doing a hard hearted thing: and therefore he was so apt to grant pardon to malefactors, that the judges of the land represented to him the damage and insecurity to the public that flowed from such his indulgence. And then he restrained himself from pardoning either murders or highway robberies, and quickly discerned the fruits of his severity by a wonderful reformation of those enormities. He was very punctual and regular in his devotions; he was never known to enter upon his recreations or sports, though never so early in the morning, before he had been at public prayers; so that on hunting days his chaplains were bound to a very early attendance. He was likewise very strict in observing the hours of his private and cabinet devotions; and was so severe an exactor of gravity and reverence in all mention of religion, that he could never endure any light or profane word, with what sharpness of wit soever it was covered: and though he was well pleased and delighted with reading verses made upon any occasion, no man durst bring before him any thing that was profane or unclean. That kind of wit had never any countenance then. He was so great an example of conjugal affection, that they who did not imitate him in that particular durst not brag of their liberty: and he did not only permit, but direct his bishops to prosecute those scandalous vices, in the ecclesiastical courts, against persons of eminence, and near relation to his service.
His kingly virtues had some mixture and allay that hindered them from shining in full lustre, and from producing those fruits they should have been attended with. He was not in his nature very bountiful, though he gave very much. This appeared more after the Duke of Buckingham's death, after which those showers fell very rarely; and he paused too long in giving, which made
vOL. If. N
those to whom he gave less sensible of the benefit. He kept state to the full, which made his court very orderly; no man presuming to be seen in a place where he had no pretence to be. He saw and observed men long, before he received them about his person; and did not love strangers, nor very confident men. He was a patient hearer of causes; which he frequently accustomed himself to at the council board; and judged very well, and was dexterous at the mediating part: so that he often put an end to causes by persuasion, which the stubbornness of men's humours made dilatory in courts of justice.
He was very fearless in his person; but in his riper years not very enterprising. He had an excellent understanding, but was not confident enough of it; which made him oftentimes change his own opinion for a worse, and follow the advice of men that did not judge so well as himself. This made him more irresolute than the conjuncture of his affairs would admit: if he had been of a rougher and more imperious nature, he would have found more respect and duty. And his not applying some severe cures to approaching evils proceeded from the lenity of his nature, and the tenderness of his conscience, which, in all cases of blood, made him choose the softer way, and not hearken to severe counsels, how reasonably soever urged. This only restrained him from pursuing his advantage in the first Scottish expedition, when, humanly speaking, he might have reduced that nation to the most entire obedience that could have been wished. But no man can say he had then many who advised him to it, but the contrary, by a wonderful indisposition all his council had to the war, or any other fatigue. He was always a great lover of the Scottish nation, having not only been born there, but educated by that people, and besieged by them always, having few English about him, till he was king; and the major number of his servants being still of that nation, who he thought could never fail him. And among these, no man had such an ascendant over him, by the humblest insinuations, as Duke Hamilton had.
As he excelled in all other virtues, so in temperance he was so strict that he abhorred all debauchery to that degree, that, at a great festival solemnity where he was, when very many of the nobility of the English and Scots were entertained, being told by one who withdrew from thence what vast draughts of wine they drank, and "that there was one earl who had drunk most of the rest down, and was not himself moved or altered;" the king said, "that he deserved to be hanged;" and that earl coming shortly after into the room where his majesty was, in some gaiety, to show how unhurt he was from that battle, the king sent one to bid him withdraw from his majesty's presence; nor did he in some days after appear before him.
So many miraculous circumstances contributed to his ruin, that men might well think that heaven and earth conspired it. Though he was, from the first declension of his power, so much betrayed by his own servants, that there were very few who remained faithful to him, yet that treachery proceeded not always from any treason