« PoprzedniaDalej »
submit to a tyranny which could plead no ancient title. Rome had at least prescription on its side. But Protestant intolerance, – despotism in an upstart sect, — infallibility claimed by guides who acknowledged that they had passed the greater part of their lives in error, - restraints imposed
– restraints imposed on the liberty of private judgment by rulers who could vindicate their own proceedings only by asserting the liberty of private judgment, — these things could not long be borne. Those who had pulled down the crucifix could not long continue to persecute for the surplice. It required no great sagacity to perceive the inconsistency and dishonesty of men who, dissenting from almost all Christendom, would suffer none to dissent from themselves; who demanded freedom of conscience, yet refused to grant it, —- who execrated persecution, yet persecuted, — who urged reason against the authority of one opponent, and authority against the reasons of another. Bonner at least acted in accordance with his own principles. Cranmer could vindicate himself from the charge of being a heretic, only by arguments which made him out to be a murderer.
Thus the system on which the English Princes acted with respect to ecclesiastical affairs for some time after the Reformation, was a system too obviously unreasonable to be lasting. The public mind moved while the government moved; but would not stop where the government stopped. The same impulse which had carried millions away from the Church of Rome, continued to carry them forward in the same direction. As Catholics had become Protestants, Protestants became Puritans; and the Tudors and Stuarts were as unable to avert the latter change, as the Popes had been to avert the former. The dissenting party increased, and became strong under every kind of discouragement and oppression. They were a sect. The government persecuted them, and they became an opposition. The old constitution of England furnished to them the means of resisting the sovereign without breaking the laws. They were the majority of the House of Commons. They had the power of giving or withholding supplies; and, by a judicious exercise of this power, they might hope to take from the Church its usurped authority over the consciences of men ; and from the Crown some part of the vast prerogative which it had recently acquired at the expense of the nobles and of the Pope.
The faint beginnings of this memorable contest may be discerned early in the reign of Elizabeth. The conduct of her last Parliament made it clear that one of those great revolutions which policy may guide but cannot stop, was in progress. It was on the question of monopolies that the House of Commons
gained its first great victory over the Throne. The conduct of the extraordinary woman who then governed England, is an admirable study for politicians who live in unquiet times. It shows how thoroughly she understood the people whom she ruled, and the crisis in which she was called to act. What she held,
she held firmly. What she gave, she gave graciously. She saw that it was necessary to make a concession to the nation; and she made it, not grudgingly, not tardily, not as a matter of bargain and sale, not, in a word, as Charles the First would have made it, but promptly and cordially. Before a bill could be framed or an address presented, she applied a remedy to the evil of which the nation complained. She expressed in, the warmest terms her gratitude to her faithful Commons for detecting abuses which interested persons had concealed from her. If her successors had inherited her wisdom with her crown, Charles the First might have died of old age, and James the Second would never have seen St. Germains.
She died; and the kingdom passed to one who was, in his own opinion, the greatest master of king-craft that ever lived who was, in truth, one of those kings whom God seems to send for the express purpose of hastening revolutions. Of all the enemies of liberty whom Britain has produced, he was at once the most harmless and the most provoking. His office resembled that of the man who, in a Spanish bull-fight, goads the torpid savage to fury, by shaking a red rag in the air, and now and then throwing a dart, sharp enough to sting, but too small to injure. The policy of wise tyrants has always been to cover their violent acts with popular forms. James was always obtruding his despotic theories on his subjects without the slightest necessity. His foolish talk exasperated them infinitely more than forced loans or benevolences would have done. Yet, in practice, no king ever held his prerogatives less tenaciously. He neither gave way gracefully to the advancing spirit of liberty, nor took vigorous measures to stop it, but retreated before it with ludicrous haste, blustering and insulting as he retreated. The English people had been governed for nearly a hundred and fifty years by princes who, whatever might be their frailties or their vices, had all possessed great force of character, and who, whether beloved or hated, had always been feared. Now, at length, for the first time since the day when the sceptre of Henry the Fourth dropped from the hand of his lethargic grandson, England had a king whom she despised.
The follies and vices of the man increased the contempt which was produced by the feeble policy of the sovereign. The indecorous gallantries of the Court, — the habits of gross intoxication in which even the ladies indulged, were alone sufficient to disgust a people whose manners were beginning to be strongly tinctured with austerity. But these were trifles. Crimes of the most frightful kind had been discovered; others were suspected. The strange story of the Gowries was not forgotten. The ignominious fondness of the king for his minions, — the perjuries, the sorceries, the poisonings, which his chief favorites had planned within the walls of his palace, — the pardon which, in direct violation of his duty, and of his word, he had granted to the mysterious threats of a murderer, made him an object of loathing to many of his subjects. What opinion grave and moral persons residing at a distance from the Court entertained respecting him, we learn from Mrs. Hutchinson's Memoirs. England was no place, — the seventeenth century no time, — for Sporus and Locusta.
This was not all. The most ridiculous weaknesses seemed to meet in the wretched Solomon of Whitehall; pedantry, buffoonery, garrulity, low curiosity, the most contemptible personal cowardice. Nature and education had done their best to produce a finished specimen of all that a king ought not to be. His awkward figure, his rolling eye, his rickety walk, his nervous tremblings, his slobbering mouth, his broad Scotch accent, were imperfections which might have been found in the best and greatest man. Their effect, however, was to make James and his office objects of contempt; and to dissolve those associations which had been created by the noble bearing of preceding monarchs, and which were in themselves no inconsiderable fence to royalty.
The sovereign whom James most resembled was, we think, Claudius Cæsar. Both had the same feeble and vacillating temper, the same childishness, the same coarseness, the same poltroonery. Both were men of learning; both wrote and spoke — not, indeed, well — but still in a manner in which it seems almost incredible that men so foolish should have written or spoken. The follies and indecencies of James are well described in the words which Suetonius uses respecting Claudius:-“Multa “talia, etiam privatis deformia, necdum principi, neque infa“cundo, neque indocto, immo etiam pertinaciter liberalibus studiis " dedito.” The description given by Suetonius of the manner in which the Roman prince transacted business, exactly suits the Briton. “In cognoscendo ac decernendo mirâ varietate animi fuit, “ modo circumspectus et sagax, modo inconsultus ac præceps,
nonnunquam frivolus amentique similis.” Claudius was ruled successively by two bad women; James successively by two bad men. Even the description of the person of Claudius, which we VOL. I. - NO. I.
find in the ancient memoirs, might, in many points, serve for that of James. “Ceterum et ingredientem destituebant poplites “minus firmi, et remisse quid vel serio agentem multa dehonesta“ bant, risus indecens, ira turpior, spumante rictu, - præterea “linguæ titubantia."
The Parliament which James had called soon after his accession had been refractory. His second Parliament, called in the spring of 1614, had been more refractory still. It had been dissolved after a session of two months; and during six years the king had governed without having recourse to the legislature. During those six years, melancholy and disgraceful events, at home and abroad, had followed one another in rapid succession; - the divorce of Lady Essex, the murder of Overbury, the elevation of Villiers, the pardon of Somerset, the disgrace of Coke, the execution of Raleigh, the battle of Prague, the invasion of the Palatinate by Spinola, the ignominious fight of the son-in-law of the English king, the depression of the Protestant interest all over the Continent. All the extraordinary modes by which James could venture to raise money had been tried.
His necessities were greater than ever; and he was compelled to summon the Parliament in which Hampden made his first appearance as a public man.
This parliament lasted about twelve months. During that time it visited with deserved punishment several of those who, during the preceding six years, had enriched themselves by peculation and monopoly. Michell, one of those grasping patentees, who had purchased of the favorite the power of robbing the nation, was fined and imprisoned for life. Mompesson, the original, it is said, of Massinger's “Overreach,” was outlawed and deprived of his ill-gotten wealth. Even Sir Edward Villiers, the brother of Buckingham, found it convenient to leave England. A greater name is to be added to the ignominious list. By this Parliament was brought to justice that illustrious philosopher, whose memory genius has half redeemed from the infamy due to servility, to ingratitude, and to corruption.
After redressing internal grievances, the Commons proceeded to take into consideration the state of Europe. The King flew into a rage with them for meddling with such matters, and, with characteristic judgment, drew them into a controversy about the origin of their House and of its privileges. When he found that he could not convince them, he dissolved them in a passion, and sent some of the leaders of the Opposition to ruminate on his logic in prison.
During the time which elapsed between this dissolution and the meeting of the next Parliament, took place the celebrated
negotiation respecting the Infanta. The would-be despot was unmercifully brow-beaten. The would-be Solomon was ridiculously overreached. “Steenie,” in spite of the begging and sobbing of his dear “ dad and gossip," carried off “baby Charles" in triumph to Madrid. The sweet lads, as James called them, came back safe, but without their errand. The great master of king-craft, in looking for a Spanish match, found a Spanish war. In February, 1624, a Parliament met, during the whole sitting of which James was a mere puppet in the hands of his “ baby,” and. of his “poor slave and dog.” The Commons were disposed to support the king in the vigorous policy which his son and his favorite urged him to adopt. But they were not disposed to place any confidence in their feeble sovereign and his dissolute courtiers, or to relax in their efforts to remove public grievances. They therefore lodged the money which they voted for the war in the hands of Parliamentary Commissioners. They impeached the treasurer, Lord Middlesex, for corruption, and they passed a bill by which patents of monopoly were declared illegal.
Hampden did not, during the reign of James, take any prominent part in public affairs. It is certain, however, that he paid great attention to the details of Parliamentary business, and to the local interests of his own county. It was in a great measure owing to his exertions, that Wendover and some other boroughs, on which the popular party could depend, recovered the elective franchise, in spite of the opposition of the Court.
The health of the king had for some time been declining. On the 27th of March, 1625, he expired. Under his weak rule, the spirit of liberty had grown strong, and had become equal to a great contest. The contest was brought on by the policy of his successor. Charles bore no resemblance to his father. He was not a driveller, or a pedant, or a buffoon, or a coward. It would be absurd to deny that he was a scholar and a genıleman, a man of exquisite taste in the fine arts, a man of strict morals in private life. His talents for business were respectable ; his demeanour was kingly. But he was false, imperious, obstinate, narrow-minded, ignorant of the temper of his people, unobservant of the signs of his times. The whole principle of his government was resistance to public opinion ; nor did he make any real concession to that opinion till it mattered not whether he resisted or conceded, - till the nation, which had long ceased to love him or to trust him, had at last ceased to fear him.
His first Parliament met in June, 1625. Hampden sat in it as burgess for Wendover. The king wished for money. The Commons wished for the redress of grievances. The war, however, could not be carried on without funds. The plan of the