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Art. I. – Some Memorials of John Hampden, his Party, and
his Times. By LORD NUGENT. 2 volumes. 8vo. London: 1831.
We have read this book with great pleasure, though not exactly with that kind of pleasure which we had expected.
We had hoped that Lord Nugent would have been able to collect, from family papers and local traditions, much new and interesting information respecting the life and character of the renowned leader of the Long Parliament, the first of those great English commoners whose plain addition of Mister has, to our ears, a more majestic sound than the proudest of the feudal titles. In this hope we have been disappointed; but assuredly not from any want of zeal or diligence on the part of the noble biographer. Even at Hampden, there are, it seems, no important papers relative to the most illustrious proprietor of that ancient domain. The most valuable memorials of bim which still exist, belong to the family of his friend, Sir John Eliot. Lord Eliot has furnished the portrait which is engraved for this work, together with some very interesting letters. The portrait is undoubtedly an original, and probably the only original now in existence. The intellectual forehead, the mild penetration of the eye, and the inflexible resolution expressed by the lines of the mouth, sufficiently guarantee the likeness. We shall probably make some extracts from the letters. They contain almost all the new information that Lord Nugent has been able to procure respecting the private pursuits of the great man whose memory he worships with an enthusiastic, but not an extravagant, veneration.
The public life of Hampden is surrounded by no obscurity. His history, more particularly from the beginning of the year 1640 to his death, is the history of England. These Memoirs
VOL. 1.- NO. I.
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 humble-t duties — so easily expanding itself to the highest, — so contented in repose -- so powerful in action. 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 continues 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. " 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 — 10 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