Page images
PDF
EPUB

of subjects, that it would require, not an eveninc's sail on th>" Thames, but rather a voyage to the Indies, accurately to treat of all; yet, in as tew words as I may, I will explain my sense of these matters.

"First, as to the army. An army, as you have well set forth, is always a weapon dangerous'to those who use it; yet he who falls a.nong thieves spares not to fire his tnusquetoon because he may be slain if it burst in his hand. Nor must states refrain from defending themselves, lest their defenders should at last turn against them. Nevertheless, against this danger statesmen should carefully provide; and, that they may do so, they should take especial care that neither the officers nor the soldiers do forget that they are also citizens. I do believe that the Engiish army would have continued to obey the Parliament with all duty, but for one act, which, as it was in intention, in seeming, and in immediate effect, worthy to be compared with the most famous in history, so was it, in its final consequence, most injurious. I speak of that ordinance called the ttlf-tlenying, and of the new model of the army. By those measures the Commons gave up the command of their forces into the hands of men who were not of themselves. Hence, doubtless, derived no small honour to that noble assembly, which sacrificed to the hope of public good the assurance of private advantage. And, as to the conduct of the war, the scheme prospered. Witness the battle of Naseby, and the memorable exploits of Fairfax in the west; but therety the Parliament lost that hold on the soldiers Bnd that power to control them, which they retained while every regiment was commanded by their own members. Politicians there be, who would wholly divide the legislative from the executive power. Ir. the golden age this may have succeeded; in the millennium it may succeed again. But where great armies and ereal taxe« are required, there the executive government must always hold a great authority, which authority, that it may not oppress and destroy the legislature, must be in some manner blended with it. The leaders of foreign mercenaries have always been most dangerous to a country. The officers of native armies, deprived of the civil privileges of other men, are as much to be feared. This was the preat error of that parliament, and though an error it were, it was an error generous, virtuous, and more to be deplored than censured. "Hence came the power of the army and its leaders, and especially of that most famous leader, whom both in our conversation to-day, and in that discourse whereon I before touched, you have, in my poor opinion, far too roughly handled. Wherefore you speak contemptibly of his parts I know not; but I suspect that you ■ re not free from the error common to studious ■ml speculative men. Because Oliver was an uncraceful orator, and never said, either in public or private, any thing memorable, you will have it that he was of a mean capacity. Sure this is unjust. Many men have there been ignorant of letters, without wit, without eloquence, who yet had the wisdom to devise, and the courage to perform that which they lacked language to explain. Such men often, in i

| troubled times, nave worked out the deliver, ance of nations and theit own greatness, not by logic, not by rhetoric, but by wariness in suecess, by calmness in danger, by fierce anJ stubborn resolution in all adversity. Tht hearts of men are their books; events are theit tutors; great actions are their eloquence ; and such a one, in my judgment, was his late Highness, who, if none were to treat his name scornfully now, who shook not at the sound of it while he lived, would, by very few, be mentioned otherwise than with reverence. His own deeds shall avouch him for a great statesman, a great soldier, a true lover of his country, a merciful and generous conqueror.

"For his faults, let us reflect that they who seem to lead are oftentimes most constrained to follow. They who will mix with men, and specially they who will govern them, must, in many things, obey them. They who will yield to no such conditions may be hermits, but cannot be generals and statesmen. If a man will walk straight forward without turning to the right or the left, he must walk in a desert, and not in Cheapside. Thus wa-s he enforced to do many things which jumped not with his inclination nor made for his honour; because the army, on which alone he could depend for power and life, might not otherwise be contented. And I, for mine own part, marvel less that he sometimes was fain to indulge thi-ir violence than that he could so often restrain it "In that he dissolved the parliament, 1 praise him. It then was so diminished in numbers, as well by the death as by the exclusion of members, that it was no longer the same assembly; and if at that time it had made itself perpetual, we should have been governed, not by an English House of Commons, but by a Venetian Council.

"If in his following rule he overstepped the laws, I pity rather than condemn him. He may be compared to that Mreandius of Snmus, of whom Herodotus saith, in his Thalia, that wishing to be of all men the most just, he was not able; for after the death of Polycrates he offered freedom to the people, and not till certain of them threatened to call him to a reckon ing for what he had formerly done, did he change his purpose, and make himself a tyrant, lest he should be treated as a criminal.

•' 8uch was the *ase of Oliver. He gave to his country a form of government so free and admirable, that, in near six thousand years, human wisdom hath never devised any more excellent contrivance for human happiness. To himself he reserved so little power that it would scarcely have sufficed for bis safety, and it is a marvel that it could suffice for his ambition. When, alter that, he found that the members of his-Parliament disputed his right even to that small authority which he had Icpr, when he might have kept all, then indeed I own that he began to govern by the sword those who would not suffer him to govern oy the law.

'• But for the rest, wha't sovereign was eve. more princely in pardoning injuries, in eon, querii\g enemies, in extending the dominion* and the renown of his people 1 What ■.<•» what shore 4id he not mark with imperisiublr JN

memorials of his friendship or his vengeance 1 The gold of Spain, the steel of Sweden, the ten thousand sails of Holland, availed, nothing against him. While every foreign state trembled at our arms, we sat secure from all assault. War, which often so strangely troubles both husbandry and commerce, never silenced the song of our reapers, or the sound of our looms. Justice was equally administered; God was freely worshipped.

"Now look at that which we have taken in exchange. With the restored king have come over to us vices of every sort, anil most the basest and most shameful—lust, without love —servitude, without loyalty,—foulness of speech—dishonesty of dealing—grinning contempt of all things good and generous. The throne is surrounded by men whom the former Charles would have spurned from his footstool. The altar is served hy slaves whose knees are supple to every being but God. Rhymers, whose books the hangman should burn, panders, actors, and buffoons, these drink a health and throw a main with the king; these have stars oh their breasts and gold sticks in their hands; these shut out from his presence the best and bravest of those who bled for his house. Even so doth God visit those who know not how to valje freedom. He gives them over to the tyranny which they have desired, "Vt JT/rTI tTiVPttlT-U j£*TI\l!6C."

"I will not," said Mr. Cowley, "dispute with you on this argument. But if it be as you say, now can you maintain that England hath been so greatly advantaged by the rebellion!"

"Understand me rightly, sir," said Mr. Milton. "This nation is not given over to slavery and vice. We tasted, indeed, the fruits of liberty before they had well ripened.' Their flavour was harsh and bitter, and we.turned from them with loathing to the sweeter poisons of servitude. This is but for a time. England is sleeping on the lap of Dalilah, traitorously chained, but not yet shorn of strength. Let the crv be once heard—the Philistines be upon thee; and at once that sleep will be broken, and those chains will be as flax in the fire. The great Parliament hath lert behind it in our hearts and minds a hatred of tyrants, a just knowledge of our rights, a scorn of vain and deluding names; and that the revellers of Whitehall shall surely find. The sun is darkened, but it is only fur a moment: it is but an eclipse; though ati birds of evil omen have begun to scream, and all ravenous beasts have gone forth to prey, thinking it to be midnight. Wo to them if they be abroad when the rays again shine forth.

"The king lialh judged ill. Had he been wise he would have remembered that he owed his restoration only to confusions" whieh had wearied us out, and made us eager for repose. He would have known that the folly and perfidy of a prince would restore to the good old cause many hearts which had been alienated thence by the turbulence of factions; for, ir I know aught of history, or of the heart of man, he will soon learn that the last champion of the people was not destroyed when he murdered Vane, nor seduced when he beguiled Fairfax."

I Mr. Cowley seemed to me not to take much amiss what Mr. Milton had said touching that thankless court, which had indeed but poorly requited his own good service. He only said, therefore, "Another rebellion! Alas! alas! Mr. Milton. If there be no choice but between despotism and anarchy, I prefer despotism."

"Many men," said Mr. Milton, "havefloridly and ingeniously compared anarchy and despot* ism ; but they who so amuse themselves do but look at separate parts of that which is truly one great whole. Each is the cause and tha effect of the other;—the evils of either are the evils of both. Thus do states move on in the same eternal cycle, which, from the remotest point, brings them back again to the same sad starting-post: and till both those who govern and those who obey shall learn and mark this great truth, men can expect little through the future, as they have known little through the past, save vicissitude of extreme'evils, alternately producing and produced. • «When will rulers learn, that where liberty is not, security and order can never be! We talk of absolute power, but all power hath limits, which, if not fixed by the moderation of the governors, will be fixed by the force of the governed. Sovereigns may send their epposers to dungeons; they may clear out a senatehouse with soldiers; they may enlist armies of spies; they may hang scores of the disaffected in chains at every cross-road; but what power shall stand in that frightful time when rebellion hath become a less evil than endurance! Who shall dissolve that terrible tribunal, which, in the hearts of the oppressed, denounces against the oppressor the doom of its wild justice! Who shall repeal the law of self-defence? What arms or discipline shall resist the strength of famine and despair! How often were the ancient Caisars dragged from their golden palaces, stripped of their purple robes, mangled, stoned, defiled with filth, pierced with hooks, hurled into the Tiber! How often have the Eastern Sultans perished by the sabres of their own Janissaries, or the bow-strings of their own mutes! For no power which is not limited by laws can ever be protected by them. Small, therefore, is the wis* dom of those who would fly to servitude as if it were a refuge from commotion; for anarchy is the sure consequence of tyranny. That governments may be safe, nations must be free. Their passions must have an outlet provided, lest they make one.

"When I was at Naples, I went with Signor Manso, a gentleman of excellent parts and breeding, who had been the intimate friend of that famous poet Torquato Tasso, to see the burning mountain Vesuvius. I wondered how the peasants could venture to dwell so fearlessly and cheerfully on its sides, when the lava was flowing from its summit, but Manso smiled, and told me that when the fire descends freely they retreat before it without haste or f'ar. They can tell how fast it will move, and how far; and they know, moreover, that though it may work some little damage, it will soon cover the fields over which it hath passed with rich vineyards and sweet flowers. But when flames are pent up in Um» mountain. the»it is that they have reason to fear; then it is that the earth sinks and the sea swells; then cities are swallowed up, and their place knoweih them no more. So it is in po'itics: where the Denple are most closely restrained, there it (tives the greatest shocks to peace and order; therefore would I say to all kings, let your demagogues lead crowds, lest they lead armies; let tliem bluster, lest they massacre; a little turbulence is, as it were, the rainbow of the state; it shows indeed that there is a passing shower, but it is a pledge that there shall be no deluge."

"This is true," said Mr. Cowley: "yet these admonitions arc not less needful to subjects than to sovereigns."

"Surely," said Mr. Milton, "and. that I may end this long debate with a few words in which xre shall both agree, I hold that as freedom is the only safeguard of governments, so are order and moderation generally necessary to preserve freedom. Even the vainest opinions of men are not to be outraged by those who propose to themselves the nappiness of men for their end, and who must work with the passions of men for their means. The blind reverence for things ancient is indeed so foolish that it might make a wise man laugh, if it were not also sometimes so mischievous that it would rather make a good man weep. Yet, since it may not be wholly cured, it must be discreetly indu'ged, anil therefore those who would amend »v I laws should consider rather how much it

1 may be safe to spare, than how much it may . be possible to change. Have you not heard | that men who have been shut up for many | years in dungeons shrink if they see the light, and faJI down if their irons be struck off. And, so, when nations have long been in the house of bondage, the chains Which have crippled them are necessary to support them, the darkness which hath weakened their sight is necessary to preserve it. Therefore release them not too rashly, lest they curse their freedom and pine for their prison.

"I think, indeed, that the renowned Parliament of which we have talked so much did show, until it became subject to the soldiers, a singular and admirable moderation, in such times scarcely to be hoped.^and most worthy to be an example to all that shall come after. But on this argument I have said enough; and I will therefore only pray to Almighty God that those who shall, in future times, stand forth in defence of our liberties, as well civil as religious, may adorn the good cause by mercy, prudence, and soberness, to the glory of his name and the happiness and honour of the English people."

And so ended that discourse: and not long after we were set on shore again at the Temple Gardens, and there parted company: and the saina evening I took notes of what had been said, which I have here more fully set down, from regarrl both to the fame of the men, and lha importance cf the subject-mailer.

O:nt Mitford's History Of Greece.

Tim is a book which enjoys a great and increasing popularity; but, while it has attracted a considerable share of the public attention, it has been little noticed by the critics. Mr. Mitford has almost succeeded in mounting, unperceived by those whose office it is to watch such aspirants, to a high place among historians. He has taken a seat on the dais without being challenged by a single seneschal. To oppose the progress of his fame is now almost a hopeless enterprise. Had he been reviewed with candid severity, when he had published only his first volume, his work would either have deserved its reputation, or would never have obtained it. "Then," as Indra says of Kehama, "then was the time to strike." The time was neglected; and the .consequence is, that Mr. Mitford, like-Kehama, has laid his victorious hand on the literary Amreeta, and seems about to taste the precious elixir of immortality. I shall venture to emulate the courage of the honest Glendoveer—

•' When now
He law I he Amrrela in Kehaiiia'* hand.
An impill** lll.il 'Irfl-'tl Iim *elf-ctiiiiiitunu.

In thai extremity,
Pniiiir him. ami he rexnlve'l In veize the enp
Anil ilar*. I he Rajah'* f'irre in Seeva's right.
Fiirward he i-prung In tempt the unequal fray."

I" plain words, I shall offer a few considerations, which may tend to reduce an overpraised writer to his proper level.

The principal characteristic of this historian, the origin of his excellencies and his defects, is a love of singularity. He has no notion of going with a, multitude to do either good or evil. An exploded opinion, or an unpopular person, has an irresistible charm for him. The same perverseness may be traced in his diction. His style would never have been elepanl, hut it might at least have been manly and perspicuous; and nothing but the most elaborate care could possibly have made it so had as it is. It is distinguished by harsh phrases, strange collocations, occasional solecisms, frequent obscurity, and, above all, by a peculiar oddity, which can no more be described than il can be overlooked. Nor is this nil. Mr. Mitford piques himself on spelling beucr than any of his neighbours; and this not only in ancient names, which he mangles in defiance both of custom and of reason, but in the most ordinary word., of the English language. It is, in itself, a mailer perfectly indifferent whether we call a foreigner by the name which he bears in his own language, or by thai which corresponds to it in ours: whether we ta t Lorenzo de Medici, or Lawrence de Medici, Jean Cliauvin. or John Calvin. In such cases, 'established usage is considered as law by all writers except Mr. Miiford. If he werfe always Consistent with himself, he might he excused At sometimes disagreeing with his neighbours; but be proceeds on no principle but that of

I being unlike the rest of the world. Every child has heard of Lintucus, therefore Mr. Mitford calls him Linne; Rousseau is known all over Europe as Jean Jacques, therefore Mr. Mitford bestows on him the strange appellation of John James.

Had Mr. Miiford undertaken a history of any other country than Greece, this propensity would have rendered his work useless and absurd. His occasional remarks on the affairs of ancient Rome and modern Europe are full of errors; but he writes of limes, with respect to which almost every other writer has been in the wrong, and, therefore, by resolutely deviating from his predecessors, h» is often in tho right

Almost all the modern historians of Greece have shown the grossest ignorance of the most obvious phenomena of human nature. In their representations the generals and statesmen of antiquity are absolutely divested of all individuality. They are personifications; they are passions, talents, opinions, virtues, vices, but not men. Inconsistency is a thing of which these writers have no notion. That a man may have been liberal in his youth and avaricious in his age, cruel to one enemy and merciful to another, is to them utterly inconceivable. If the facts be undeniable, they suppose some strange and deep design, in order to explain what, as everyone who has observed his own mind knows, needs no explanation at all. This is a mode of writing very accept-' able to the multitude, who have always been accustomed to make gods and demons out of men very little better or worse than themselves; but it appears contemptible to all who have watched the changes of human character—to all who have observed the influence of time, of circumstances, and of associates, on mankind—to all who have seen a hero in the gout, a democrat in the church, a pedant in love, or a philosopher; in liquor. This practice of painting in nothing but black and white is unpardonable even in the drama. It is the greal fault of Alfieri; and how much it injures the effect of his compositions will be obvious to every one who will compare his Rosmnnda with the Lady Macbeth of Shakspeare. The one is a wicked woman; the other is a fiend. Her only feeling is haired; all her words are curses. We are at once shocked and fatigued by the spectacle of such raving cruelty, excited by no provocation, repeatedly changing its object, and constant in nothing but in its inextinguishable thirst foi blood.

In history this error is far more disgraceful Indeed, there is no fault which so completely ruins a narrative in the opinion of a judicious reader. We know that the line of demarcation between good and bad men is so faintly marked as often to elude the most careful investigation of those who have the best opportunities for judjfing. Public men, above all, are surrounded with so many temptations and difficulties, thai some doubt must almost always hangover their real dispositions and intentions. The lives of Pym, Cromwell, Monk, Clarendon, Marlborough, Burnet, Walpole, are well known to us. We are acquainted with their actions, their speeches, their writings; we have abundance of letters and well-authenticated anecdotes relating to them: yet what candid man will venture very positively to say which of them were honest and which of them were dishonest men. It appears easier to pronounce decidedly upon the great characters of antiquity, not because we have greater means of discovering truth, but simply because we have less means of detecting error. The modern historians of Greece have forgotten this. Their heroes and villains are as consistent in all their sayings and doings as the cardinal virtues and the deadly sins in an allegory. We should as soon expect a good action from Giant Slay-good in Bunyan as from Dionysius; and a crime of £paminondas would seem as incongruous as a ftiux-pat of the grave and comely damsel, called Discretion, who answered the bell at the dour tf the house Beautiful.

This error was partly the cause and partly the effect of the high estimation^ in which the later ancient writers have been held by modern scholars. Those French and English authors who have treated of the affairs of Greece have generally turned with contempt from the simple and natural narrations of Thucydides and Xenophon to the extravagant representations of Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius, and other romancers of the same class,—men who described military operations without ever having handled a sword, and applied to the seditions of little republics speculations formed by observation on an empire which covered half the known world. Of liberty they knew nothing. It was to them a great mystery,—a superhuman enjoyment. They ranted about liberty and patriotism, from "the same cause which leads monks to talk more ardently than other men about love and women. A wise man values political liberty, because it secures the persons and the possessions of citizens; because it tends to prevent the extravagance of rulers and the Corruption of judges; because it gives birth to useful sciences and elegant arts; because it • excites the industry and increases the comforts of all classes of society. These theorists imagined that it possessed something eternally and intrinsically good, distinct from the blessings which it generally produced. They considered it, not as a means,but as an end; an end to be attained at any cost. Their favourite heroes are those who have sacrificed, for the mere name of freedom, the prosperity—the security —the justice—from which freedom derives its Value.

There is another remarkable characteristic K*" these writers, in which their modern worshippers have carefully imitated them,—a gre.il fondness for good stories. The most established facts, dates, and characters are never suffered to come into competition with a splendid saying or a romantic exploit. The early historians have left us natural and simple de■ "vol. HI—84

scriptions of the great events which they witnessed, and the great men with whom they associated. When we read the account whicn Plutarch and Rollin have given of the sam*period, we scarcely know our old acquaintance again; we are utterly confounded by the melodramatic effect of the narration and the sublimu coxcombry of the characters.

These are the principal errors into which, the predecessors of Mr. Mitford have fallen; and from most of these he is free. His faults are of a completely different description. It U to be hoped that the students of history may now be saved, like Dorax in Dryden's play, by swallowing two conflicting poisons, each of which may serve-as an antidote to the other.

The first and most important difference between Mr. Mitford and those who have preceded him, is in his narration. Here the advantage lies, for the most part, on his side. His principle is to follow the contemporary historians, to look with doubt on all statement ■ which are not in some degree confirmed by them, and absolutely to rejeel all which are. contradicted by them. While he retains the guidance of some writer in whom he can place confidence, he goes on excellently. When he loses it, he falls to the level, or perhaps below the level of the writers whom he so much despises : he is as absurd as they, and very much duller. It is really amusing to obserye how he proceeds with his narration, when he ha1no better authority than poor Diodorus. He is compelled to relate something; yet he believes nothing. He accompanies every fac; with a long statement of objections. His account of the administration of Dionysius is in no sense a history. It ought to be entitled— "Historic doubts as to certain events allege! to have taken place in Sicily."

This skepticism, however, like that of some great legal characters almost as skeptical as himself, vanishes whenever his political partialities interfere. He is a vehement admirer of tyranny and oligarchy, and considers no evidence as feeble which can be brought forward in favour of those formj of government. Democracy he hates with a perfect hatred, a hatred which, in the first volume of his history, appears only in his epistles and reflections, but which, in those parts where he has less reverence for his guides, and can venture to take his own way, completely distorts even his narration.

In taking up these opinions, I have no doubt that Mr. Mitford was influenced by the same love of singularity which led him to speli island without an », and to place two dots over the last letter of idea. In truth, preceding historians have erred so monstrously on the other side, that even the worst parts of Mr. Mitford's book may be useful as a corrective. For a young gentleman who talks much about his country, tyrannicide, and Epaminondas, this work, diluted in a sufficient quantity Pi Rollin and Barthelemi, may be a very uucful remedy.

The errors of both parties arise from an ignorance or a neglect of the fundamental principles of political science. The writers on one side imagine popular government to b •8»8

« PreviousContinue »