Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Art. I. The Hiftory of England from the Accession of James I. to the

Revolution. Vols. VI. and VII. By Catharine Macaulay Graham.
40. Jl. 10 s. Dilly. 1781.

HILE the prejudices and partialities of mankind are

fuffered to operate (and it is well known that their operation can never be restrained), it will be imposible for the historian, whose narrative is confined to events in which every one fancies himself interested, to give fatisfaction to all.

The truth of this observation has been sufficiently experienced by the Authoress of the present volumes. Those, who differ from her in the complexion of their political tenets, fail not to charge her with principles, which are not only not to be found in her writings, even by implication, but which the invariably dif-, avows. This disingenuous procedure, at the same time that it. is injurious to the individual, too frequently suppresses the spirit of liberal enquiry, and has an indirect tendency to fap the foun-", dations of truth.

In the Preface to the present volumes, the Authorefs not only
explains the motives, but enters into a full vindication of her
literary conduct. Her vindication is animated, and appears to be
juft. The candid Reader will not be displeased with an extract
from this part of her performance.

• I well know what personal disadvantage I set out with, from tha:
impartiality which I had determined to observe on the conduct of the
different factions, which have harassed the internal peace of this em-
pire; and when I gave up the emoluments of favour, the counte-
nance of the great, and the gratification of popular applause, on a
principle of public utility, I had some reason to expect eteem for my
integrity and industry, and especially as I have never thrown any pero
fonal abuse on any individual, in or out of power; nor have ever
sullied my pen with those anonymous writings calculated to anguish
Vor, 'LIV,
Dd

the

[ocr errors]

the feeling heart, to fix an indelible Rain on the manners of Englishmen, and to indict the poignancy of mental Tufferings not only on the defamed persons, but on all those who are attached to them, cither by the ties of blood, or the yet stronger ties of affection. I have endeavoured, with the most indefatigable pains, to make my History useful to men of all conditions; and I am persuaded that no modesate churchman, or honest lawyer, can, on cool reflection, be offended with the bilocian's free obfervations on the conduct of men who have been the authors of much public and private mischief, and whose violent counsels, and dishoneft practices, have frequently dirturbed the peace, and endangered the liberties of the empire. If I have been levere on misguided princes, and bad minilters, it is with a view only to the interests of the people; and if all historians would preserve the same honest rule, instead of varnishing, with false colours, the vices of the powerful, it would, from that general desire which all men bave of preserving some degree of repotation after death, form a kind of literary tribunal, productive of a very useful reformation in the condud of those favoured sons of fortune, on whose good or bad qualities the happiness and welfare of societies depend, The candid and the generous will, undoubtedly, from thefe conaderations, behold, without malice or refentment, the wicked or weak conduct of their ancestors represented in its proper light; and especially when they reflect that it would be very unbecoming the chasacter. and contrary to the duty of an hiorian, to spare even the memory of a parent, if he was found defe&tive in chofe patriotic virtues which eminently affect the welfare of society. 1. Jf the warmth of my temper has occafioned me to be guilty of any petulancies in 'my first productions, they arose from the inexperience of the historian, and the early period of life in which the began to write hiftory ; but though I have been pursued with virulent inveives, I have never yet been made acquainted with my literary faults. Criricisms formed with judgment and temper command altention ; but when personal invective supplies the place of argument, and the reputation of authors are attacked in order to decry their writings, it is a very strong fymptom in favour of those productions against which the battery of abuse is levelled ; and in this case an in. dividual, in the full enjoyment of that internal satisfaction which a faithful exertion of mental abilities affords the rational mind, mut look down with contempt on the angry crowd, nor fuffer their fierce and loud clamours, in any respect, to divert him from pursuing the grand object of his honest ambition.'

Equally spirited is ber vindication of the glorious Sidney. The invidious and illiberal attacks that have been levelled at the character of that exalted patriot are fresh in the memory of every one.

Speaking of the noble ideas * on which Mr. Sidney, after his

Viz. In the hopes either of regulating the English monarchy on more correct principles, or of re-elablishing that mode of government, which, he conceived, would more naturally produce the secusity of the subject, and the honour of the nation.

return

[ocr errors]

tëturn to England, joined the popular party, our Historian pro-
teeds :

• Such sentiments carried into practice, and sealed with the blood
of this illuftrious Englishman, it is to have been imagined, would
have rendered his memory sacred to that country on which his wiit.
ings and heroic virtues bave reflected lustre ; but there is a spirit of
bitterness, of rancour, of envy, and the worst species of levelling
gone forth among us, which even the crown of martyrdom cannot
escape. We are told, that when the Romans once beheld iheir Caro
in a fituation not quite agreeable to that consistent dignity which
graced the public and the private virenes of this godlike man, they
modestly ftepped aside, and inflead of triumphing over humanitý, by
proclaiming aloud this small blemish in an exalted character, they
turned their eyes from the wounding fight. This was the generosity
of ancient manners; but what was the conduct of Englishmen on the
affertion of the French minister, Barillon, publihed near a hundred
years after the martyrdom of their last eminent patriot, that he had
received two several sums from the court of France? Why, in lead of
turning their eyes from the scandalous page, or even of examining
into the nature of an affertion which, inaccurately considered, carries
the form of an act somewhat derogatory to the honour of their hero,
they exuled in the weakness of humanity, and consequently in their
own shame. In the fancied corruption of the most perfect patrern of
human excellence they found an authority for enormous deviations
from common honefty, and by inculcating the doctrine of an irre-
fiflible depravity, and levelling every human character, they ima-
gined they had, in some measure, conciliated reputation with the
mammon of unrighteousness; for if every man is a villain in bis
heart, there can surely be no infamy. Thus whild Eagland has been
considered and respected by foreigners as the mother of heroes, legis-
lators, patriots, and martyrs, her own fons take a satisfaction in con-
vincing the admiring world, that they were under a gross mistake,
and that England never produced any character confiderably above
the stamp of vulgar life; but there is a glaring impolicy as well as
méannels and wickedness in these attempts. Let the man who fare
rens on the spoils of corruption, who wantons in the parade of ill.
gotten riches, who feals on the bread of the deluded, let him suf-
fer the honest man to reap that ineagie harvelt which he disdains ; let
him be suffered to enjoy his poverty and his honest fame; let him at
least rest fecuie in the sanctuary of martyrdom, left by persuading all
mankind that virtue is a non-entity, the markes hould be overs
ftocked with villains; that the price of his commodity should be
lowered; and that abler politicians should attain the object of his
degrés, for this he may be assured, that all those emineot talents
which are neceffary to conllitute a truly great man, could never fail
of meeting with an unlimited success in the ways of a corrupt ade ,
vancement.

• There is, undoubtedly, much of malice and of falsehood in the párty-writings of our ancellors; but that general spirit of levelling which pervades modern society, is a new circumstance of corruption among us, and takes its rise from an excess of vanity, which is in. deed common to the human character, but which owes its luxoriaat Dd 2

growth

1

+

[ocr errors]

growth to circumstances which help to destroy that humility which must ever racionally attend on insignificance, and seduces every man into a false persuasion of self-importance. What with the opportunity of puffing in the public newspapers, a feather well adjofted, a title, a ribbon, unexpected riches acquired in the Ealt, or a successful monopoly, every individual becomes of consequence; and when the mountains are levelled, the mole-hills will appear: but if with the breath of calumny and flander, if with the poisonous ink of detraction, we fully the characters of the illustrious dead, what bope can we reasonably entertain, that the prefent degeneracy of manners should not increafe with a rapid courfe through all succeeding ages! The contemplation of a great character never fails to warm the young and generous student into the noble attempt of imitative virtue, and helps to guard the mind against the impulse of selfsh paffions, and the contagion of example. It is indeed only by dwelling on the sublime beauties of heroic character, that we can difcover that amazing opposition of the hateful and the lovely in moral exce nce and moral deformity, and that we can be animaced into a passion for disinterested virtue; but what patterns Mall we select for the model of youthful emulation, if we admit of modern scepticism in regard to the reality of that virtue which we have long adored in the sacred memories of our forefathers; besides, it must deaden all generous attempts to an exalted conduct, when one fupposed error in the judgment, one failing of humanity brought to public view by accident, or private malice, fall obscure the lustre of a life of glory, and level a great character to the base standard of common humanity; for as no indi. vidual, whilft he continues in a state of frailty, can be certain that he shall always enjoy his understanding free from any alloy of error, or any cloud of insanity; or that he hall every moment of his existence bear the sovereign rule over his temper, his paffions, and his preju. dices; he will never, with all the labour and the forbearance neces. fary to build up an eminent virtue, be induced to purchase that tranfitory faine which may only serve to render bim a more conspicuous object of the contempt of ihe multitude.

That a man of Sidney's rank, acknowledged abilities, and unftained character, would have been received with open arms by the Englih government, had he been willing to render his talents subservient to his private interest, and the giving Arength and perma. nence to the prerogatives of the crown, or to forward the criminal designs of the court, is, I think, a matter of so self-evident a nature, that all arguments tending to prove the position would be useless and ridiculous. That Sidney bad rejected the importunities of his family, and the invitations of his friends; that he had refused to avail himself of the advantage which attends great parts and endowments, to establish an interest with the present governmenë equal to what he had enjcyed with the last, appears from the whole tenour of his condi&t, and from his letcers of correspondence ; and can the rankelt partywriter, who poffefles any particle of common sense, or any degree of modefiy, deny that the firmelt principles of honour and integrity must regulate the desires and inclinations of that man who, from mo. tives of conscience and opinion, could reje&t the opportunity of ac. quiring distinction and riches in his owá country, and submit to a

voluntary

[ocr errors]

SES

voluntary banishment and precarious fubfiftence from the favour of a foreign prince!

If I was addresling a public renowned for candour and for disa cernment, I thould say, that such a life as that of Sidney's, supported by his writings, and sealed with his blood, was more than fufficient to counter balance any asertion which could be made in his disfavour: I should observe, that the inflexibility of his cemper in matters in which he believed himself to be in the right, would not suffer him meanly to fupplicate his own father for money, or in the smallett point to recede from principle, though reduced to great straits and difficulties in a foreign country : I should affert, that it was more probable that Barillon might charge his mafter with money which was never paid, than that a man of Sidney's high spirit and inflexibility of temper should be prevailed on to take money from the court of France for any mean and dishonest purpose: but in the present ftate of manners and opinions, I fall exclude every supposition and every argument which might rationally be drawn from established character, and an incorrupt

and active integrity, manifefted by a long succession of repeated acts of forbearance, self-denial, and personal danger. I fhall allow in its fullest latitude Mr. Barillon's assertion, that Algernon Sidney, who had been some years supported in those extremities which his integrity had brought him into, by a pension from the French King, received two several sums of money from the fame prince after his return to England, and “ I believe, says the minister, he may be gained to your Majesty's service:" but what was this service? Was it betraying the liberties of his country to a foreign or domestic tyrant? was it to increase the power of France to the prejudice of his native country? No ; it was to procure the diffolú. iion of a base and venal Parliament; it was to disband an army raised on the design of establishing despotism in England; it was to poll down a minister who had been the principal agent in concluding the King's infamous money.negociations with the court of France, and who had been the promoter of corruption in Parliament, and of arbitrary power in the late.“ The Sieur Algernon Sidney, writes Basillon to his master, is a man of very high designs, which tend to the re-establishment of a republic: he is in the party of the Independents and other sectaries, and this party were masters during the late troubles ; they are not at present very powerful in Parliament, but they are strong in London ; and it is through the intrigues of the Sieur Algernon Sidney, that one of the two Sheriffs; named Bethel, has been elected.” Let that party, who inveigh againft Sidney for his prejudices in favour of a republic, say if this conduct was a deviation from principle; and if not, what becomes of the affertion that Sidney was bribed by the court of France ? Does not bribery. confit in the engaging a man to do that for money which is not agreeable to his inclinations, his opinions, and his principles ; and which he would not otherwise have done without it? If any part of Lord Howard's evidence is to be credited, he saw Sidney iake fixiy guineas out of bis pocket for the purpose of forwarding the designs of the popular party against Cherles. It is highly probable, chat as the faction in England, on whom Sidney had any in.' Auence, were composed of Independents, the generality of whom

were

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

D3

« PreviousContinue »