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Egmont, the defence of the Prince of Orange, and some few others, have been my guides. I must here acknowledge my obligations to a work compiled with much industry and critical acumen, and written with singular truthfulness and impartiality. allude to the general history of the United Netherlands which was published in Holland during the present century. Besides many original documents which I could not otherwise have had access to, it has abstracted ail that is valuable in the excellent works of Bos, Hooft, Brandt, Le Clerc, which either were impossible for me to procure or were not available to my use, as being written in Dutch, which I do not understand. An otherwise ordinary writer, Richard Dinoth, has also been of service to me, by the many extracts he gives from the pamphlets of the day, which have been long lost. I have in vain endeavoured to procure the correspondence of Cardinal Granvella, which also would, no doubt, have thrown much light upon the history of these times. The lately published work on the Spanish Inquisition, by my excellent countryman, Professor Spittler of Göttingen, reached me too late for its sagacious and important contents to be available for my purpose.
The more I am convinced of the importance of the French history, the more I lament that it was not in my power to study, as I could have wished, its copious annals, in the original sources and contemporary documents, and to reproduce it, abstracted of the form in which it was transmitted to me by the more intelligent of my predecessors, and thereby emancipate myself from the influence which every talented author exercises more or less upon his readers. But to effect this, the work of a few years must have become the labour of a life. My aim in making this attempt will be more than attained if it should convince a portion of the reading public of the possibility of writing a history with historic truth, without making a trial of patience to the reader; and if it should extort from another portion the confession that history can borrow from a cognate art, without thereby, of necessity, becoming a romanceans
Weimar, Michaelmas Fair, 1788.
Of those important political events which make the sixteenth century to take rank among the brightest of the world's epochs, the foundation of the freedom of the Netherlands appears to me one of the most remarkable. If the glittering exploits of ambition and the pernicious lust of power claim our admiration, how much more so should an event in which oppressed humanity struggled for its noblest rights, where with the good cause unwonted powers were united, and the resources of resolute despair triumphed in unequal contest over the terrible arts of tyranny.
Great and encouraging is th reflection that there is a resource left us against the arrogant usurpations of despotic power ; that its best-contrived plans against the liberty of mankind may be frustrated ; that resolute opposition can weaken even the outstretched arm of tyranny; and that heroic perseverance can eventually exhaust its fearful resources. Never did this truth affect me so sensibly as in tracing the history of that memorable rebellion which for ever severed the United Netherlands from the Spanish Crown. Therefore I thought it not unworth the while to attempt to exhibit to the world this grand memorial of social union, in the hope that it may awaken in the breast of my reader a spirit-stirring consciousness of his own powers, and give a new and irrefragable example of what in a good cause men may both dare and venture, and what by union they may accomplish. It is not the extraordinary or heroic features of this event that induce me to describe it. The annals of the world record perhaps many similar enterprises, which may have been even bolder in the conception, and more brilliant in the execution. Some states have fallen after a nobler struggle, others have risen with more exalted strides. Nor are we here to look for eminent heroes, colossal talents, or those marvellous exploits which the history of past times presents in such rich abundance. Those times are gone, such men are
In the soft lap of refinement, we have suffered the energetic powers to become enervate which those
called into action and rendered indispensable. With admiring awe,
we wonder at these gigantic images of the past, as a feeble old man gazes on the athletic sports of youth. Not so, however, in the history before us.
The people here presented to our notice were the most peaceful in our quarter of the globe, and less capable than their neighbours of that heroic spirit which stamps a lofty character even on the most insignificant actions. The pressure of circumstances with its peculiar influence surprised them and forced a transitory greatness upon them, which they never could have possessed, and perhaps will never possess again. It is, indeed, exactly this want of heroic grandeur which renders this event peculiarly instructive; and while others aim at showing the superiority of genius over chance, I shall here paint a scene where necessity creates genius, and accident makes heroes.
If, in any case, it be allowable to recognise the intervention of Providence in human affairs, it is certainly so in the present history, its course appears so contradictory to reason and experience. Philip II., the most powerful sovereign of his line— whose dreaded supremacy menaced the independence of Europe-whose treasures surpassed the collective wealth of all the monarchs of Christendom besideswhose ambitious projects were backed by numerous and welldisciplined armies—whose troops, hardened by long and bloody wars, and confident in past victories and in the irresistible prowess of this nation, were eager for any enterprise that promised glory and spoil, and ready to second with prompt obedience the daring genius of their leaders—this dreaded potentate here appears before us cbstinately pursuing one favourite project, devoting to it the untiring efforts of a long reign, and bringing all these terrible resources to bear upon it; but forced, in the evening of his days, to abandon it-here we see the mighty Philip II. engaging in combat with a few weak and powerless adversaries, and retiring from it at last with disgrace.
And with what adversaries? Here, a peaceful tribe of fishermen and shepherds, in an almost forgotten corner of Europe, which with difficulty they had rescued from the ocean; the sea their profession, and at once their wealth and their plague; poverty with freedom their highest blessing, their glory, their virtue. There, a harmless, moral, commercial people, revelling in the abundant fruits of thriving industry, and jealous of the maintenance of laws which had proved
their benefactors. In the happy leisure of affluence, they forsake the narrow circle of immediate wants, and learn to thirst after higher and nobler gratifications. The new views • of truth whose benignant dawn now broke over Europe cast a fertilising beam on this favoured clime, and the free burgher admitted with joy the light which oppressed and miserable slaves shut out. A spirit of independence, which is the ordinary companion of prosperity and freedom, lured this people on to examine the authority of antiquated opinions, and to break an ignominious chain. But the stern rod of despotism was held suspended over them; arbitrary power threatened to tear away the foundation of their happiness; the guardian of their laws became their tyrant. Simple in their statecraft no less than in their manners, they dared to appeal to ancient treaties, and to remind the lord of both Indies of the rights of nature. A name decides the whole issue of things. In Madrid that was called rebellion which in Brussels was simply styled a lawful remonstrance. The complaints of Brabant required a prudent mediator, Philip II. sent an executioner. The signal for war was given. An unparalleled tyranny assailed both property and life. The despairing citizens, to whom the choice of deaths was all that was left, chose the nobler one on the battle-field. A wealthy and luxurious nation loves peace, but becomes warlike as soon as it becomes poor.
Then it ceases to tremble for a life which is deprived of everything that had made it desirable. In an instant, the contagion of rebellion seizes at once the most distant provinces ; trade and commerce are at a standstill, the ships disappear from the harbours, the artisan abandons his workshop, the rustic his uncultivated fields. Thousands fled to distant lands, a thousand victims fell on the bloody field, and fresh thousands pressed on. Divine, indeed, must that doctrine be for which men could die so joyfully. All that was wanting was the last finishing hand, the enlightened enterprising spirit, to seize on this great political crisis, and to mould the offspring of chance into the ripe creation of wisdom. William the Silent, like a second Brutus, devoted himself to the great cause of liberty. Superior to all selfishness, he resigned honourable offices which entailed on him objectionable duties, and magnanimously divesting himself of all his princely dignities, he descended to a state of voluntary poverty, and became but a citizen of the world
The cause of justice was staked upon
the hazardous game of battle; but the newly raised levies of mercenaries and peaceful husbandmen were unable to withstand the terrible onset of an experienced force. Twice did the brave William lead his dispirited troops against the tyrant, twice was he abandoned by them, but not by his courage.
Philip II. sent as many reinforcements as the dreadful importunity of his viceroy demanded. Fugitives, whom their country rejected, sought a new home on the ocean, and turned to the ships of their enemy to satisfy the cravings both of vengeance and of want. Naval heroes were now formed out of corsairs, and a marine collected out of piratical vessels: out of morasses arose a Republic. Seven provinces threw off the yoke at the same time, to form a new, youthful state, powerful by its waters and its union and despair. A solemn decree of the whole nation deposed the tyrant, and the Spanish name was erased from all its laws.
For such acts no forgiveness remained; the Republic became formidable, only because it was impossible for her to retrace her steps. But factions distracted her within without, her terrible element, the sea itself, leaguing with her oppressors, threatened her very infancy with a premature grave. She felt herself succumb to the superior force of the enemy, and cast herself a suppliant before the most powerful thrones of Europe, begging them to accept a dominion which she herself could no longer protect. At last, but with difficulty-so despised at first was this state, that even the rapacity of foreign monarchs spurned her opening bloom—a stranger deigned to accept their importunate offer of a dangerous
New hopes began to revive her sinking courage; but in this new father of his country destiny gave her a traitor, and in the critical emergency, when the implacable foe was in full force before her very gates, Charles of Anjou invaded the liberties which he had been called to protect. In the midst of the tempest, too, the assassin's hand tore the steersman from the helm, and with William of Orange the career of the infant Republic was seemingly at an end, and all her guardian angels fled. But the ship continued to scud along before the storm, and the swelling canvas carried her safe without the pilot's help.
Philip II. missed the fruits of a deed which cost him his royal honour, and perhaps, also, his self-respect,