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must be considered as Memoirs of the history of England; and, as such, they well deserve to be attentively perused. They contain some curious facts, which, to us at least, are new, much spirited narrative, many judicious remarks, and much eloquent declamation.
We are not sure that even the want of information respecting the private character of Hampden is not in itself a circumstance as strikingly characteristicas any which the most minute chronicler — O'Meara, Las Cases, Mrs. Thrale, or Boswell himself-ever recorded concerning their heroes. The celebrated Puritan leader is an almost solitary instance of a great man who neither sought nor shunned greatness, — who found glory only because glory lay in the plain path of duty. During more than forty years,
he was known to his country neighbours as a gentleman of cultivated mind, of high principles, of polished address, happy in his family, and active in the discharge of local duties ; – to political men, as an honest, industrious, and sensible member of Parliament, not eager to display his talents, stanch to his party, and attentive to the interests of his constituents. A great and terrible crisis came. A direct attack was made, by an arbitrary government, on a sacred right of Englishmen, a right which was the chief security for all their other rights. The nation looked round for a defender. Calmly and unostentatiously the plain Buckinghamshire Esquire placed himself at the head of his countrymen, and right before the face, and across the path, of tyranny. The times grew darker and more troubled. Public service, perilous, arduous, delicate, was required; and to every service, the intellect and the courage of this wonderful man were found fully equal. He became a debater of the first order, a most dexterous manager of the House of Commons, a negotiator, a soldier. He governed a fierce and turbulent assembly, abounding in able men, as easily as he had governed his family. He showed himself as competent to direct a campaign as to conduct the business of the petty sessions. We can scarcely express the admiration which we feel for a mind so great, and, at the same time, so healthful and so well proportioned, — so willingly contracting itself to the humblest duties — so easily expanding itself to the highest, — so contented in repose — so powerful in action. .
Almost every part of this virtuous and blameless life, which is not hidden from us in modest privacy, is a precious and splendid portion of our national history. Had the private conduct of Hampden afforded the slightest pretence for censure, he would have been assailed by the same blind malevolence which, in defiance of the clearest proofs, still continúes to call Sir John Eliot an assassin. Had there been even any weak part in the character of Hampden, had his manners been in any respect open to ridicule, we may be sure that no mercy would have been shown to him by the writers of Charles's faction. Those writers have carefully preserved every little circumstance which could tend to make their opponents odious or contemptible. They have told us that Pym broke down in a speech, that Ireton had his nose pulled by Hollis, that the Earl of Northumberland cudgelled Henry Martin, that St. John's manners were sullen, that Vane had an ugly face, that Cromwell had a red nose. They have made themselves merry with the canting phrases of injudicious zealots. But neither the artful Clarendon, nor the scurrilous Denham, could venture to throw the slightest imputation on the morals or the manners of Hampden. What was the opinion entertained respecting him by the best men of his time, we learn from Baxter. That eminent person — eminent not only for his piety and his fervid devotional eloquence, but for his moderation, his knowledge of political affairs, and his skill in judging of characters — declared in the Saints' Rest, that one of the pleasures which he hoped to enjoy in Heaven was the society of Hampden. In the editions printed after the Restoration, the name of Hampden was omitted. " But I must tell “the reader,” says Baxter, “ that I did blot it out, not as changing “ my opinion of the person. . Mr. John Hampden was one " that friends and enemies acknowledged to be most eminent for
prudence, piety, and peaceable counsels, having the most uni“ versal praise of any gentleman that I remember of that age. I “remember a moderate, prudent, aged, gentleman, far from him, “but acquainted with him, whom I have heard saying, that if he “might choose what person he would be then in the world, he “ would be John Hampden.” We cannot but regret that we have not fuller memorials of a man, who, after passing through the most severe temptations by which human virtue can be tried, — after acting a most conspicuous part in a revolution and a civil war, could yet deserve such praise as this from such authority. Yet the want of memorials is surely the best proof, that hatred itself could find no blemish on his memory.
The story of his early life is soon told. He was the head of a family which had been settled in Buckinghamshire before the Conquest. Part of the estate which he inherited had been bestowed by Edward the Confessor on Baldwyn de Hampden, whose name seems to indicate that he was one of the Norman favorites of the last Saxon king. During the contest between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Hampdens adhered to the party of the Red Rose, and were, consequently, persecuted
by Edward the Fourth, and favored by Henry the Seventh. Under the Tudors, the family was great and flourishing. Griffith Hampden, high sheriff of Buckinghamshire, entertained Elizabeth with great magnificence at his seat. His son, William Hampden, sate in the Parliament which that queen summoned in the year 1593. William married Elizabeth Cromwell, aunt of the celebrated man who afterwards governed the British islands with more than regal power; and from this marriage sprang John Hampden.
He was born in 1594. In 1597 his father died, and left him heir to a very large estate. After passing some years at the grammar school of Thame, young Hampden was sent, at fifteen, to Magdalene College, in the University of Oxford. At nineteen, he was admitted a student of the Inner Temple, where he made himself master of the principles of the English law. In 1619, he married Elizabeth Symeon, a lady to whom he appears to have been fondly attached. In the following year, he was returned to parliament by a borough which has in our time obtained a miserable celebrity, the borough of Grampound.
Of his private life during his early years, little is known beyond what Clarendon has told us. 6 In his entrance into the “world,” says that great historian, “he indulged himself in all “the license in sports, and exercises, and company, which were " used by men of the most jolly conversation.” A remarkable change, however, passed in his character. « On a sudden,” says Clarendon, “ from a life of great pleasure and license, he retired “ to extraordinary sobriety and strictness — to a more reserved “ and melancholy society.” It is probable that this change took place when Hampden was about twenty-five years old. At that age he was united to a woman whom he loved and esteemed. At that age he entered into political life. A mind so happily constituted as his would naturally, under such circumstances, relinquish the pleasures of dissipation for domestic enjoyments and public duties.
His enemies have allowed that he was a man in whom virtue showed itself in its mildest and least austere form. With the morals of a Puritan, he had the manners of an accomplished courtier. Even after the change in his habits, " he preserved,” says Clarendon, “ his own natural cheerfulness and vivacity, « and, above all, a flowing courtesy to all men." These qualities distinguished him from most of the members of his sect and his party; and, in the great crisis in which he afterwards took a principal part, were of scarcely less service to the country than his keen sagacity and his dauntless courage.
On the 30th of January, 1621, Hampden took his seat in the
House of Commons. His mother was exceedingly desirous that her son should obtain a peerage. His family, his possessions, and his personal accomplishments, were such as would, in
any age, have justified him in pretending to that honor. But, in the reign of James the First, there was one short cut to the House of Lords. It was but to ask, to pay, and to have. The sale of titles was carried on as openly as the sale of boroughs in our times. Hampden turned away with contempt from the degrading honors with which his family desired to see him invested, and attached himself to the party which was in opposition to the court.
It was about this time, as Lord Nugent has justly remarked, that parliamentary opposition_began to take a regular form. From a very early age, the English had enjoyed a far larger share of liberty than had fallen to the lot of any neighbouring people. How it chanced that a country conquered and enslaved by invaders, - a country of which the soil had been portioned out among foreign adventurers, and of which the laws were written in a foreign tongue, - a country given over to that worst tyranny, the tyranny of caste over caste, - should have become the seat of civil liberty, the object of the admiration and envy of surrounding states, is one of the most obscure problems in the philosophy of history. But the fact is certain. Within a century and a half after the Norman Conquest, the Great Charter was conceded. Within two centuries after the Conquest, the first House of Commons met. Froissart tells us, what indeed his whole narrative sufficiently proves, that of all the nations of the 14th century, the English were the least disposed to endure oppression. “C'est le plus perilleux peuple qui soit au monde, "et plus outrageux et orgueilleux." The good Canon probably did not perceive, that all the prosperity and internal peace which this dangerous people enjoyed, were the fruits of the spirit which he designates as proud and outragedus. He has, however, borne ample testimony to the effect, though he was not sagacious enough to trace it to its cause. “ En le royaume d'Angleterre, says he, "toutes gens, laboureurs et marchands, ont appris de vivre “ en pays, et à mener leurs marchandises paisiblement, et les “ laboureurs labourer.” In the 15th century, though England was convulsed by the struggle between the two branches of the royal family, the physical and moral condition of the people continued to improve. Villanage almost wholly disappeared. The calamities of war were little felt, except by those who bore
The oppressions of the government were little felt, except by the aristocracy. The institutions of the country, when compared with the institutions of the neighbouring kingdoms, seem
to have been not undeserving of the praises of Fortescue. The government of Edward the Fourth, though we call it cruel and arbitrary, was humane and liberal, when compared with that of Louis the Eleventh, or that of Charles the Bold. Coinines, who had lived amidst the wealthy cities of Flanders, and who had visited Florence and Venice, had never seen a people so well governed as the English. “Or selon mon advis,” says he,
entre toutes les seigneuries du monde, dont j'ay connoissance,
ou la chose publique est mieux traitée, et ou regne moins de “ violence sur le peuple, et ou il n'y a nuls édifices abbatus n'y “ demolis pour guerre, c'est Angleterre ; et tombe le sort et le « malheur sur ceux qui font la guerre.”
About the close of the 15th, and the commencement of the 16th century, a great portion of the influence which the aristocracy had possessed passed to the crown. No English King has ever enjoyed such absolute power as Henry the Eighth. But while the royal prerogatives were acquiring strength at the expense of the nobility, two great revolutions took place, destined to be the parents of many revolutions, the discovery of Printing, and the reformation of the Church.
The immediate effect of the Reformation in England was by no means favorable to political liberty. The authority which had been exercised by the Popes, was transferred almost entire to the King. Two formidable powers which had often served to check each other, were united in a single despot. If the system on which the founders of the Church of England acted could have been permanent, the Reformation would have been, in a political sense, the greatest curse that ever fell on our country. But that system carried within it the seeds of its own death. It was possible to transfer the name of Head of the Church from Clement to Henry; but it was impossible to transfer to the new establishment the veneration which the old establishment had inspired. Mankind had not broken one yoke in pieces only in order to put on another. The supremacy of the Bishop of Rome had been for ages considered as a fundamental principle of Christianity. It had for it every thing that could make a prejudice deep and strong, — venerable antiquity, high authority, general consent. It had been taught in the first lessons of the nurse. It was taken for granted in all the exhortations of the priest. To remove it was to break innumerable associations, and to give a great and perilous shock to the mind. Yet this prejudice, strong as it was, could not stand in the great day of the deliverance of the human reason. And it was not to be expected that the public mind, just after freeing itself, by an unexampled effort, from a bondage which it had endured for ages, would patiently