BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
NO. CCCXXVIII. FEBRUARY, 1843. VOL. LIII.
ARNOLD'S LECTURES ON HISTORY POEMS AND BALLADS OF SCHILLER.—NO. V. REYNOLDS'S DISCOURSES. PART II. THE YOUNG GREY HEAD IMAGINARY CONVERSATION. BY WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR. OLIVER CROMWELL AND SIR OLIVER CROMWELL CALEB STUKELY. PART XI. THE WORLD OF LONDON. SECOND SERIES. PART II. EYRE'S CABUL THE EVACUATION OF AFFGHANISTAN DEATH OF THOMAS HAMILTON, ESQ.
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EDINBURGH: WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.
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ARNOLD'S LECTURES ON HISTORY.
If any doubt could exist as to the nature of the loss which the premature death of Dr Arnold has inflicted on the literature of his country, the perusal of the volume before us must be sufficient to show how great, how serious, nay, all circumstances taken together, we had almost said how irreparable, it ought to be considered. Recently placed in a situation which gave his extraordinary faculties as a teacher still wider scope than they before possessed, at an age when the vivacity and energy of a commanding intellect were matured, not chilled, by constant observation and long experience—gifted with industry to collect, with sagacity to appreciate, with skill to arrange the materials of history—master of a vivid and attractive style for their communication and display—eminent, above all, for a degree of candour and sincerity which gave additional value to all his other endowments—what but leisure did Dr Arnold require to qualify him for a place among our most illustrious authors? Under his auspices, we might not unreasonably have hoped for works that would have rivalled those of the great continental writers in depth and variety of research; in which the light of original and contemporaneous documents would be steadily flung on the still unexplored portions of our history; and that Oxford would have balanced the fame of Schloesser and Thierry and Sismondi, by the labours of a writer peculiarly, and, as this volume proves, most affectionately her own.
The first Lecture in the present volume is full of striking and original remarks, delivered with a delightful simplicity; which, since genius has become rare among us, has almost disappeared from the conversation and writings of Englishmen. Open the pages of Herodotus, or Xenophon, or Caesar, and how plain, how unpretending are the preambles to their immortal works—in what exquisite proportion does the edifice arise, without apparent effort, without ostentatious struggle, without, if the allusion may be allowed, the sound of the axe or hammer, till "the pile stands fixed her stately height" before us—the just admiration of succeeding ages! But our modern filosofastri insist upon stunning us with the noise of their machinery, and blinding us with the dust of their operations. They will not allow the smallest portion of their vulgar labours to escape our notice. They drag us through the chaos of sand and lime, and stone and bricks, which they have accumulated, hoping that the magnitude of the preparation may atone for the meanness of the performance. Very different from this is the style of Dr Arnold. We will endeavour to exhibit a just idea of his views, so far as they regard the true character of history, the manner in which it should be studied, and the events by which his theory is illustrated. To study history as it should be studied, much more to write history as it should be written, is a task which may dignify the most splendid abilities, and occupy the most extended life.
Lucian in one of his admirable treatises, ridicules those who imagine that any one who chooses may sit down and write history as easily as he would walk or sleep, or perform any other function of nature,
"Thought, to the man that never thinks, may seem As natural as when asleep to dream."
From the remarks of this greatest of all satirists, it is manifest that, in his days, history had been employed, as it has in ours, for the purposes of slander and adulation. He selects particularly a writer who compared, in his account of the Persian wars, the Roman emperor to Achilles, his enemy to Thersites; and if Lucian had lived in the present day, he would have discovered that the race of such writers was not extinguished. He might have found ample proofs that the detestable habit still prevails of interweaving the names of our contemporaries among the accounts of former centuries, and thus corrupting the history of past times into a means of abuse and flattery for the present. This is to degrade history into the worst style of a Treasury pamphlet, or a daily newspaper. It is a fault almost peculiar to this country.
We are told in one of these works, for instance, that the "tones of Sir W. Follett's voice are silvery"—a proposition that we do not at all intend to dispute; nor would it be easy to pronounce any panegyric on that really great man in which we should not zealously concur; but can it be necessary to mention this in a history of the eighteenth century? Or can any thing be more trivial or offensive, or totally without the shadow of justification, than this forced allusion to the "ignorant present time," in the midst of what ought to be an unbiassed narrative of events that affected former generations? We do not know whether the author of this ingenious allusion borrowed the idea from the advertisements in which our humbler artists recommend their productions to vulgar notice; or whether it is the spontaneous growth of his own happy intellect: but plagiarized or original, and however adapted it may be to the tone and keeping of his work, its insertion is totally irreconcilable with the qualities that a man should possess who means to instruct posterity. When gold is extracted from lead, or silver from tin, such a writer may become an historian. "Forget," says Lucian, "the present, look to future ages for your reward; let it be said of you that you are high-spirited, full of independence, that there is nothing about you servile or fulsome."
Modern history is now exclusively to be considered. Modern history, separated from the history of Greece and Rome, and the annals of barbarous emigration, by the event which above all others has influenced, and continues still to influence, after so many centuries, the fate of Europe—the fall of the Western Empire—the boundary line which separates modern from ancient history, is not ideal and capricious, but definite and certain. It can neither be advanced nor carried back. Modern history displays a national life still in existence. It commences with that period in which the great elements of separate national existence now in being—race, language, institutions, and religion—can be traced in simultaneous operation. To the influences which pervaded the ancient world, another, at first scarcely perceptible, for a time almost predominant, and even now powerful and comprehensive, was annexed. In the fourth century of the Christian era, the Roman world comprised Christianity, Grecian intellect, Roman jurisprudence—all the ingredients, in short, of modern history, except the Teutonic element. It is the infusion of this element which has changed the quality of the compound, and leavened the whole mass with its peculiarities. To this we owe the middle ages, the law of inheritance, the spirit of chivalry, and the feudal system, than which no cause more powerful ever contributed to the miseries of mankind. It filled Europe not with men but slaves; and the tyranny under which the people groaned was the more intolerable, as it was wrought into an artificial method, confirmed by law, established by inveterate custom, and even supported by religion. In vain did the nations cast their eyes to Rome, from whom they had a right to claim assistance, or at least sympathy and consolation. The appeal was useless. The living waters were tainted in their source. Instead of health they spread abroad infection—instead of giving nourishment to the poor, they were the narcotics which drenched in slumber the consciences of the rich. Wretched forms, ridiculous legends, the insipid rhetoric of the Fathers, were the substitutes for all generous learning. The nobles enslaved the body; the hierarchy put its fetters on the soul. The growth of the public mind was checked and stunted and the misery of Europe was complete. The sufferer was taught to expect his reward in another world; their oppressor, if his bequests were liberal, was sure of obtaining consolation in this, and the kingdom of God was openly offered to the highest bidder. But to the causes which gave rise to this state of things, we must trace our origin as a nation.
With the Britons whom Caesar conquered, though they occupied the surface of our soil, we have, nationally speaking, no concern; but when the white horse of Hengist, after many a long and desperate struggle, floated in triumph or in peace from the Tamar to the Tweed, our existence as a nation, the period to which we may refer the origin of English habits, language, and institutions, undoubtedly begins. So, when the Franks established themselves west of the Rhine, the French nation may be said to have come into being. True, the Saxons yielded to the discipline and valour of a foreign race; true, the barbarous hordes of the Elbe and the Saal were not the ancestors, as any one who travels in the south of France can hardly fail to see, of the majority of the present nation of the French: but the Normans and Saxons sprang from the same stock, and the changes worked by Clovis and his warriors were so vast and durable, (though, in comparison with their conquered vassals, they were numerically few,) that with the invasion of Hengist in the one case, and the battle of Poictiers in the other, the modern history of both countries may not improperly be said to have begun. To the student of that history, however, one consideration must occur, which imparts to the objects of his studies an interest emphatically its own. It is this: he has strong reason to believe that all the elements of society are before him. It may indeed be true that Providence has reserved some yet unknown tribe, wandering on the banks of the Amour or of the Amazons, as the instrument of accomplishing some mighty purpose—humanly speaking, however, such an event is most improbable. To adopt such an hypothesis, would be in direct opposition to all the analogies by which, in the absence of clearer or more precise motives, human infirmity must be guided. The map of the world is spread out before us; there are no regions which we speak of in the terms of doubt and ignorance that the wisest Romans applied to the countries beyond the Vistula and the Rhine, when in Lord Bacon's words "the world was altogether home-bred." When Cicero jested with Trebatius on the little importance of a Roman jurist among hordes of Celtic barbarians, he little thought that from that despised country would arise a nation, before the blaze of whose conquests the splendour of Roman Empire would grow pale; a nation which would carry the art of government and the enjoyment of freedom to a perfection, the idea of which, had it been presented to the illustrious orator, stored as his mind was with all the lore of Grecian sages, and with whatever knowledge the history of his own country could supply, would have been consigned by him, with the glorious visions of his own Academy, to the shady spaces of an ideal world. Had he, while bewailing the loss of that freedom which he would not survive, disfigured as it was by popular tumult and patrician insolence—had he been told that a figure far more faultless was one day to arise amid the unknown forests and marshes of Britain, and to be protected by the rude hands of her barbarous inhabitants till it reached the full maturity of immortal loveliness—the eloquence of Cicero himself would have been silenced, and, whatever might have been the exultation of the philosopher, the pride of the Roman would have died within him. But we can anticipate no similar revolution. The nations by which the world is inhabited are known to us; the regions which they occupy are limited; there are no fresh combinations to count upon, no reserves upon which we can depend;—there is every reason to suppose that, in the great conflict with physical and moral evil, which it is the destiny of man to wage, the last battalion is in the field.
The course to be adopted by the student of modern history is pointed out in the following pages; and the remarks of Dr Arnold on this subject are distinguished by a degree of good sense and discrimination which it is difficult to overrate. Vast indeed is the difference between ancient and modern annals, as far as relates to the demand upon the student's time and attention. Instead of sailing upon a narrow channel, the shores of which are hardly ever beyond his view, he launches out upon an ocean of immeasurable extent, through which the greatest skill and most assiduous labour are hardly sufficient to conduct him—
"Ipse diem noctemque negat discernere coelo, Nec meminisse viae, media Palinurus in unda."
Instead of a few great writers, the student is beset on all sides by writers of different sort and degree, from the light memorialist to the great historian; instead of two countries, two hemispheres are candidates for his attention; and history assumes a variety of garbs, many of which were strangers to her during the earlier period of her existence. To the careful study of many periods of history, not extending over any very wide portion of time, the labour of a tolerably long life would be inadequate. The unpublished Despatches of Cardinal Granvelle at Besancon, amount to sixty volumes. The archives of Venice (a mine, by the way, scarcely opened) fill a large apartment. For printed works it may be enough to mention the Benedictine editions and Munatoris Annals, historians of the dark and middle ages, relating to two countries only, and two periods. All history, therefore, however insatiable may be the intellectual boulimia that devours him, can never be a proper object of curiosity to any man. It is natural enough that the first effect produced by this discovery on the mind of the youthful student should be surprise and mortification; nor is it before the conviction that his researches, to be valuable, must be limited, forces itself upon him, that he concentrates to some particular period, and perhaps to some exclusive object, the powers of his undivided attention. When he has thus put an end to his desultory enquiries, and selected the portion of history which it is his purpose to explore, his first object should be to avail himself of the information which other travellers in the same regions have been enabled to collect. Their mistakes will teach him caution; their wanderings will serve to keep him in the right path. Weak and feeble as he may be, compared with the first adventurers who have visited the mighty maze before him, yet he has not their difficulties to encounter, nor their perils to apprehend. The clue is in his hands which may lead him through the labyrinth in which it has been the lot of so many master-spirits to wander—
"And find no end, in boundless mazes lost."
But it is time to hear Dr Arnold:—
"To proceed, therefore, with our supposed student's course of reading. Keeping the general history which he has been reading as his text, and getting from it the skeleton, in a manner, of the future figure, he must now break forth excursively to the right and left, collecting richness and fulness of knowledge from the most various sources. For example, we will suppose that where his popular historian has mentioned that an alliance was concluded between two powers, or a treaty of peace agreed upon, he first of all resolves to consult the actual documents themselves, as they are to be found in some one of the great collections of European treaties, or, if they are connected with English history, in Rymer's Foedera. By comparing the actual treaty with his historian's report of its provisions, we get, in the first place, a critical process of some value, inasmuch as the historian's accuracy is at once tested: but there are other purposes answered besides. An historian's report of a treaty is almost always an abridgement of it; minor articles will probably be omitted, and the rest condensed, and stripped of all their formal language. But our object now being to reproduce to ourselves so far as it is possible, the very life of the period which we are studying, minute particulars help us to do this; nay, the very formal enumeration of titles, and the specification of towns and districts in their legal style, help to realize the time to us, if it be only from their very particularity. Every common history records the substance of the treaty of Troyes, May 1420, by which the succession to the crown of France was given to Henry V. But the treaty in itself, or the English version of it which Henry sent over to England to be proclaimed there, gives a far more lively impression of the triumphant state of the great conqueror, and the utter weakness of the poor French king, Charles VI., in the ostentatious care taken to provide for the recognition of his formal title during his lifetime, while all real power is ceded to Henry, and provision is made for the perpetual union hereafter of the two kingdoms under his sole government.
"I have named treaties as the first class of official instruments to be consulted, because the mention of them occurs unavoidably in every history. Another class of documents, certainly of no less importance, yet much less frequently referred to by popular historians, consists of statutes, ordinances, proclamations, acts, or by whatever various names the laws of each particular period happen to be designated. That the Statute Book has not been more habitually referred to by writers on English history, has always seemed to me a matter of surprise. Legislation has not perhaps been so busy in every country as it has been with us; yet every where, and in every period, it has done something. Evils, real or supposed, have always existed, which the supreme power in the nation has endeavoured to remove by the provisions of law. And under the name of laws I would include the acts of councils, which form an important part of the history of European nations during many centuries; provincial councils, as you are aware, having been held very frequently, and their enactments relating to local and particular evils, so that they illustrate history in a very lively manner. Now, in these and all the other laws of any given period, we find in the first place, from their particularity, a great additional help towards becoming familiar with the times in which they were passed; we learn the names of various officers, courts, and processes; and these, when understood, (and I suppose always the habit of reading nothing without taking pains to understand it,) help us, from their very number, to realize the state of things then existing; a lively notion of any object depending on our clearly seeing some of its parts, and the more we people it, so to speak, with distinct images, the more it comes to resemble the crowded world around us. But in addition to this benefit, which I am disposed to rate in itself very highly, every thing of the nature of law has a peculiar interest and value, because it is the expression of the deliberate mind of the supreme government of society; and as history, as commonly written, records so much of the passionate and unreflecting part of human nature, we are bound in fairness to acquaint ourselves with its calmer and better part also."
The inner life of a nation will be determined by its end, that end being the security of its highest happiness, or, as it is "conceived and expressed more piously, a setting forth of God's glory by doing his appointed work." The history of a nation's internal life is the history of its institutions and its laws. Here, then, it is that we shall find the noblest lessons of history; here it is that we must look for the causes, direct and indirect, which have modified the characters, and decided the fate of nations. To this imperishable possession it is that the philosopher appeals for the corroboration of his theory, as it is to it also that the statesman ought to look for the regulation of his practice. Religion, property, science, commerce, literature, whatever can civilize and instruct rude mankind, whatever can embellish life in its more advanced condition, even till it exhibit the wonders of which it is now the theatre, may be referred to this subject, and are comprised under this denomination. The importance of history has been the theme of many a pen, but we question whether it has ever been more beautifully described than in the following passage:—
"Enough has been said, I think, to show that history contains no mean treasures; that, as being the biography of a nation, it partakes of the richness and variety of those elements which make up a nation's life. Whatever there is of greatness in the final cause of all human thought and action, God's glory and man's perfection, that is the measure of the greatness of history. Whatever there is of variety and intense interest in human nature, in its elevation, whether proud as by nature, or sanctified as by God's grace; in its suffering, whether blessed or unblessed, a martyrdom or a judgment; in its strange reverses, in its varied adventures, in its yet more varied powers, its courage and its patience, its genius and its wisdom, its justice and its love, that also is the measure of the interest and variety of history. The treasures indeed are ample, but we may more reasonably fear whether we may have strength and skill to win them."
In passing we may observe, after Dr Arnold, that the most important bearing of a particular institution upon the character of a nation is not always limited to the effect which is most obvious; few who have watched the proceedings in our courts of justice can doubt that, in civil cases, the interference of a jury is often an obstacle, and sometimes an insurmountable obstacle, to the attainment of justice. Dr Arnold's remarks on this subject are entitled to great attention:—
"The effect," he says, "of any particular arrangement of the judicial power, is seen directly in the greater or less purity with which justice is administered; but there is a further effect, and one of the highest importance, in its furnishing to a greater or less portion of the nation one of the best means of moral and intellectual culture—the opportunity, namely, of exercising the functions of a judge. I mean, that to accustom a number of persons to the intellectual exercise of attending to, and weighing, and comparing evidence, and to the moral exercise of being placed in a high and responsible situation, invested with one of God's own attributes, that of judgment, and having to determine with authority between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, is to furnish them with very high means of moral and intellectual culture—in other words, it is providing them with one of the highest kinds of education. And thus a judicial constitution may secure a pure administration of justice, and yet fail as an engine of national cultivation, where it is vested in the hands of a small body of professional men, like the old French parliament. While, on the other hand, it may communicate the judicial office very widely, as by our system of juries, and thus may educate, if I may so speak, a very large portion of the nation, but yet may not succeed in obtaining the greatest certainty of just legal decisions. I do not mean that our jury system does not succeed, but it is conceivable that it should not. So, in the same way, different arrangements of the executive and legislative powers should be always regarded in this twofold aspect—as effecting their direct objects, good government and good legislation; and as educating the nation more or less extensively, by affording to a greater or less number of persons practical lessons in governing and legislating."
History is an account of the common purpose pursued by some one of the great families of the human race. It is the biography of a nation; as the history of a particular sect, or a particular body of men, describes the particular end which the sect or body was instituted to pursue, so history, in its more comprehensive sense, describes the paramount object which the first and sovereign society—the society to which all others are necessarily subordinate—endeavours to attain. According to Dr Arnold, a nation's life is twofold, external and internal. Its external life consists principally in wars. "Here history has been sufficiently busy. The wars of the human race have been recorded when every thing else has perished."
Mere antiquarianism, Dr Arnold justly observes, is calculated to contract and enfeeble the understanding. It is a pedantic love of detail, with an indifference to the result, for which alone it can be considered valuable. It is the mistake, into which men are perpetually falling, of the means for the end. There are people to whom the tragedies of Sophocles are less precious than the Scholiast on Lycophron, and who prize the speeches of Demosthenes chiefly because they may fling light on the dress of an Athenian citizen. The same tendency discovers itself in other pursuits. Oxen are fattened into plethoras to encourage agriculture, and men of station dress like grooms, and bet like blacklegs, to keep up the breed of horses. It is true that such evils will happen when agriculture is encouraged, and a valuable breed of horses cherished; but they are the consequences, not the cause of such a state of things. So the disciples of the old philosophers drank hemlock to acquire pallid countenances—but they are as far from obtaining the wisdom of their masters by this adventitious resemblance, as the antiquarian is from the historian. To write well about the past, we must have a vigorous and lively perception of the present. This, says Dr Arnold, is the merit of Mitford. It is certainly the only one he possesses; a person more totally unqualified for writing history at all—to say nothing of the history of Greece—it is difficult for us, aided as our imagination may be by the works of our modern writers, to conceive. But Raleigh, whom he quotes afterwards, is indeed a striking instance of that combination of actual experience with speculative knowledge which all should aim at, but which it seldom happens that one man in a generation is fortunate enough to obtain.
From the sixteenth century, the writers of history begin to assume a different character from that of their predecessors. During the middle ages, the elements of society were fewer and less diversified. Before that time the people were nothing. Popes, emperors, kings, nobles, bishops, knights, are the only materials about which the writer of history cared to know or enquire. Perhaps some exception to this rule might be found in the historians of the free towns of Italy; but they are few and insignificant. After that period, not only did the classes of society increase, but every class was modified by more varieties of individual life. Even within the last century, the science of political economy has given a new colouring to the thoughts and actions of large communities, as the different opinions held by its votaries have multiplied them into distinct and various classes. Modern historians, therefore, may be divided into two classes; the one describing a state of society in which the elements are few; the other the times in which they were more numerous. As a specimen of the first order, he selects Bede. Bede was born in 674, fifty years after the flight of Mahomet from Mecca. He died in 755, two or three years after the victory of Charles Martel over the Saracens. His ecclesiastical history, in five books, describes the period from Augustine's arrival in Kent, 597.
Dr Arnold's dissertation on Bede involves him in the discussion of a question on which much skill and ability have been exercised. We allude to the question of miracles. "The question," says he, "in Bede takes this form—What credit is to be attached to the frequent stories of miracles or wonders which occur in his narrative?" He seizes at once upon the difficulty, without compromise or evasion. He makes a distinction between a wonder and a miracle: "to say that all recorded wonders are false, from those recorded by Herodotus to the latest reports of animal magnetism, would be a boldness of assertion wholly unjustifiable." At the same time he thinks the character of Bede, added to the religious difficulty, may incline us to limit miracles to the earliest times of Christianity, and refuse our belief to all which are reported by the historians of subsequent centuries. He then proceeds to consider the questions which suggest themselves when we read Matthew Paris, or still more, any of the French, German, or Italian historians of the same period:—
"The thirteenth century contains in it, at its beginning, the most splendid period of the Papacy, the time of Innocent the Third; its end coincides with that great struggle between Boniface the Eighth and Philip the Fair, which marks the first stage of its decline. It contains the reign of Frederick the Second, and his long contest with the popes in Italy; the foundation of the orders of friars, Dominican and Franciscan; the last period of the crusades, and the age of the greatest glory of the schoolmen. Thus, full of matters of interest as it is, it will yet be found that all its interest is more or less connected with two great questions concerning the church; namely, the power of the priesthood in matters of government and in matters of faith; the merits of the contest between the Papacy and the kings of Europe; the nature and character of that influence over men's minds which affected the whole philosophy of the period, the whole intellectual condition of the Christian world."—P. 138.
The pretensions and corruptions of the Church are undoubtedly the chief object to which, at this period, the attention of the reader must be attracted. "Is the church system of Innocent III. in faith or government the system of the New Testament?" Is the difference between them inconsiderable, such as may be accounted for by the natural progress of society, or does the rent extend to the foundation? "The first century," says Dr Arnold, "is to determine our judgment of the second and of all subsequent centuries. It will not do to assume that the judgment must be interpreted by the very practices and opinions, the merits of which it has to try." As a specimen of the chroniclers, he selects Philip de Comines, almost the last great writer of his class. In him is exemplified one of the peculiar distinctions of attaching to modern history the importance of attending to genealogies.
"For instance, Comines records the marriage of Mary, duchess of Burgundy, daughter and sole heiress of Charles the Bold, with Maximilian, archduke of Austria. This marriage, conveying all the dominions of Burgundy to Maximilian and his heirs, established a great independent sovereign on the frontiers of France, giving to him on the north, not only the present kingdoms of Holland and Belgium, but large portions of what is now French territory, the old provinces of Artois and French Flanders, French Hainault and French Luxemburg; while on the east it gave him Franche Comte, thus yielding him a footing within the Jura, on the very banks of the Saone. Thence ensued in after ages, when the Spanish branch of the house of Austria had inherited this part of its dominions—the long contests which deluged the Netherlands with blood, the campaigns of King William and Luxembourg, the nine years of efforts, no less skilful than valiant, in which Marlborough broke his way through the fortresses of the iron frontier. Again, when Spain became in a manner French by the accession of the House of Bourbon, the Netherlands reverted once more to Austria itself; and from thence the powers of Europe advanced, almost in our own days, to assail France as a republic; and on this ground, on the plains of Fleurus, was won the first of those great victories which, for nearly twenty years, carried the French standards triumphantly over Europe. Thus the marriage recorded by Comines has been working busily down to our very own times: it is only since the settlement of 1814, and that more recent one of 1830, that the Netherlands have ceased to be effected by the union of Charles the Bold's daughter with Maximilian of Austria"—P. 148.
Again, in order to understand the contest which Philip de Comines records between a Frenchman and a Spaniard for the crown of Naples, we must go back to the dark and bloody page in the annals of the thirteenth century, which relates the extinction of the last heir of the great Swabian race of Hohenstauffen by Charles of Anjou, the fit and unrelenting instrument of Papal hatred—the dreadful expiation of that great crime by the Sicilian Vespers, the establishment of the House of Anjou in Sicily, the crimes and misfortunes of Queen Joanna, the new contest occasioned by her adoption—all these events must be known to him who would understand the expedition of Charles VIII. The following passage is an admirable description of the reasons which lend to the pages of Philip de Comines a deep and melancholy interest:—
"The Memoirs of Philip de Comines terminate about twenty years before the Reformation, six years after the first voyage of Columbus. They relate, then, to a tranquil period immediately preceding a period of extraordinary movement; to the last stage of an old state of things, now on the point of passing away. Such periods, the lull before the burst of the hurricane, the almost oppressive stillness which announces the eruption, or, to use Campbell's beautiful image—
'The torrent's smoothness ere it dash below,'—
are always, I think, full of a very deep interest. But it is not from the mere force of contrast with the times that follow, nor yet from the solemnity which all things wear when their dissolution is fast approaching—the interest has yet another source; our knowledge, namely, that in that tranquil period lay the germs of the great changes following, taking their shape for good or for evil, and sometimes irreversibly, while all wore an outside of unconsciousness. We, enlightened by experience, are impatient of this deadly slumber; we wish in vain that the age could have been awakened to a sense of its condition, and taught the infinite preciousness of the passing hour. And as, when a man has been cut off by sudden death, we are curious to know whether his previous words or behaviour indicated any sense of his coming fate, so we examine the records of a state of things just expiring, anxious to observe whether, in any point, there may be discerned an anticipation of the great future, or whether all was blindness and insensibility. In this respect, Comines' Memoirs are striking from their perfect unconsciousness: the knell of the middle ages had been already sounded, yet Comines has no other notions than such as they had tended to foster; he describes their events, their characters, their relations, as if they were to continue for centuries. His remarks are such as the simplest form of human affairs gives birth to; he laments the instability of earthly fortune, as Homer notes our common mortality, or in the tone of that beautiful dialogue between Solon and Croesus, when the philosopher assured the king, that to be rich was not necessarily to be happy. But, resembling Herodotus in his simple morality, he is utterly unlike him in another point; for whilst Herodotus speaks freely and honestly of all men, without respect of persons, Philip de Comines praises his master Louis the Eleventh as one of the best of princes, although he witnessed not only the crimes of his life, but the miserable fears and suspicions of his latter end, and has even faithfully recorded them. In this respect Philip de Comines is in no respect superior to Froissart, with whom the crimes committed by his knights and great lords never interfere with his general eulogies of them: the habit of deference and respect was too strong to be broken, and the facts which he himself relates to their discredit, appear to have produced on his mind no impression."
We now enter upon a period which may be called the modern part of modern history, the more complicated period, in contradistinction to the more simple state of things which, up to this moment, has occupied the student's attention. It is impossible to read, without deep regret, the passage in which Dr Arnold speaks of his intention—"if life and health be spared him, to enter into minute details; selecting some one country as the principal subject of his enquiries, and illustrating the lessons of history for the most part from its particular experience."
He proceeds, however, to the performance of the task immediately before him. After stating that the great object, the [Greek: teleiotaton telos], of history is that which most nearly touches the inner life of civilized man, he pauses for a while at the threshold before he enters into the sanctuary, and undoubtedly some external knowledge is requisite before we penetrate into its recesses: we want some dwelling-place, as it were, for the mind, some local habitation in which our ideas may be arranged, some topics that may be firmly grasped by the memory, and on which the understanding may confidently rest; and thus it is that geography, even with a view to other purposes, must engross, in the first instance, a considerable share of our attention. The sense in which Dr Arnold understands a knowledge of geography, is explained in the following luminous and instructive commentary:—
"I said that geography held out one hand to geology and physiology, while she held out the other to history. In fact, geology and physiology themselves are closely connected with history. For instance, what lies at the bottom of that question which is now being discussed every where, the question of the corn-laws, but the geological fact that England is more richly supplied with coal-mines than any other country in the world? what has given a peculiar interest to our relations with China, but the physiological fact, that the tea-plant, which is become so necessary to our daily life, has been cultivated with equal success in no other climate or country? what is it which threatens the permanence of the union between the northern and southern states of the American confederacy, but the physiological fact, that the soil and climate of the southern states render them essentially agricultural, while those of the northern states, combined with their geographical advantages as to sea-ports, dispose them no less naturally to be manufacturing and commercial? The whole character of a nation may be influenced by its geology and physical geography. But for the sake of its mere beauty and liveliness, if there were no other consideration, it would be worth our while to acquire this richer view of geography. Conceive only the difference between a ground-plan and a picture. The mere plan geography of Italy gives us its shape, as I have observed, and the position of its towns; to these it may add a semicircle of mountains round the northern boundary to represent the Alps, and another long line stretching down the middle of the country to represent the Apennines. But let us carry on this a little further, and give life and meaning and harmony to what is at present at once lifeless and confused. Observe, in the first place, how the Apennine line, beginning from the southern extremity of the Alps, runs across Italy to the very edge of the Adriatic, and thus separates naturally the Italy proper of the Romans, from Cisalpine Gaul. Observe again, how the Alps, after running north and south, where they divide Italy from France, turn then away to the eastward, running almost parallel to the Apennines, till they too touch the head of the Adriatic, on the confines of Istria. Thus between these two lines of mountains there is enclosed one great basin or plain; enclosed on three sides by mountains, open only on the east to the sea. Observe how widely it spreads itself out, and then see how well it is watered. One great river flows through it in its whole extent, and this is fed by streams almost unnumbered, descending towards it on either side, from the Alps on the one side, and from the Apennines on the other. Who can wonder that this large and rich and well-watered plain should be filled with flourishing cities, or that it should have been contended for so often by successive invaders? Then descending into Italy proper, we find the complexity of its geography quite in accordance with its manifold political division. It is not one simple central ridge of mountains, leaving a broad belt of level country on either side between it and the sea, nor yet is it a chain rising immediately from the sea on one side, like the Andes in South America, and leaving room, therefore, on the other side for wide plains of table-land, and rivers with a sufficient length of course to become at last great and navigable. It is a back-bone thickly set with spines of unequal length, some of them running out at regular distances parallel to each other, but others twisted so strangely that they often run for a long way parallel to the back-bone, or main ridge, and interlace with one another in a maze almost inextricable. And, as if to complete the disorder, in those spots where the spines of the Apennines, being twisted round, run parallel to the sea and to their own central chain, and thus leave an interval of plain between their bases and the Mediterranean, volcanic agency has broken up the space thus left with other and distinct groups of hills of its own creation, as in the case of Vesuvius, and of the Alban hills near Rome. Speaking generally then, Italy is made up of an infinite multitude of valleys pent in between high and steep hills, each forming a country to itself, and cut off by natural barriers from the others. Its several parts are isolated by nature, and no art of man can thoroughly unite them. Even the various provinces of the same kingdom are strangers to each other; the Abruzzi are like an unknown world to the inhabitants of Naples, insomuch, that when two Neapolitan naturalists, not ten years since, made an excursion to visit the Majella, one of the highest of the central Apennines, they found there many medicinal plants growing in the greatest profusion, which the Neapolitans were regularly in the habit of importing from other countries, as no one suspected their existence within their own kingdom. Hence arises the romantic character of Italian scenery: the constant combination of a mountain outline and all the wild features of a mountain country, with the rich vegetation of a southern climate in the valleys. Hence too the rudeness, the pastoral simplicity, and the occasional robber habits, to be found in the population; so that to this day you may travel in many places for miles together in the plains and valleys without passing through a single town or village; for the towns still cluster on the mountain sides, the houses nestling together on some scanty ledge, with cliffs rising above them and sinking down abruptly below them, the very 'congesta manu praeruptis oppida saxis' of Virgil's description, which he even then called 'antique walls,' because they had been the strongholds of the primaeval inhabitants of the country, and which are still inhabited after a lapse of so many centuries, nothing of the stir and movement of other parts of Europe having penetrated into these lonely valleys, and tempted the people to quit their mountain fastnesses for a more accessible dwelling in the plain.
"I have been led on further than I intended, but I wished to give an example of what I meant by a real and lively knowledge of geography, which brings the whole character of a country before our eyes, and enables us to understand its influence upon the social and political condition of its inhabitants. And this knowledge, as I said before, is very important to enable us to follow clearly the external revolutions of different nations, which we want to comprehend before we penetrate to what has been passing within."
This introductory discussion is followed by a rapid sketch of the different struggles for power and independence in Europe during the three last centuries. The general tendency of this period has been to consolidate severed nations into great kingdoms; but this tendency has been checked when the growth of any single power has become excessive, by the combined efforts of other European nations. Spain, France, England, and Austria, all in their turns have excited the jealousy of their neighbours, and have been attacked by their confederate strength. But in 1793 the peace of Europe was assailed by an enemy still more dangerous and energetic—still more destructive—we doubt whether in the English language a more vivid description is to be found of the evil, its progress, and its termination, than Dr Arnold has given in the following passage:—
"Ten years afterwards there broke out by far the most alarming danger of universal dominion, which had ever threatened Europe. The most military people in Europe became engaged in a war for their very existence. Invasion on the frontiers, civil war and all imaginable horrors raging within, the ordinary relations of life went to wreck, and every Frenchman became a soldier. It was a multitude numerous as the hosts of Persia, but animated by the courage and skill and energy of the old Romans. One thing alone was wanting, that which Pyrrhus said the Romans wanted, to enable them to conquer the world—a general and a ruler like himself. There was wanted a master hand to restore and maintain peace at home, and to concentrate and direct the immense military resources of France against her foreign enemies. And such an one appeared in Napoleon. Pacifying La Vendee, receiving back the emigrants, restoring the church, remodelling the law, personally absolute, yet carefully preserving and maintaining all the great points which the nation had won at the Revolution, Napoleon united in himself, not only the power, but the whole will of France; and that power and will were guided by a genius for war such as Europe had never seen since Caesar. The effect was absolutely magical. In November 1799, he was made First Consul; he found France humbled by defeats, his Italian conquests lost, his allies invaded, his own frontier threatened. He took the field in May 1800, and in June the whole fortune of the war was changed, and Austria driven out of Lombardy by the victory of Marengo. Still the flood of the tide rose higher and higher, and every successive wave of its advance swept away a kingdom. Earthly state has never reached a prouder pinnacle than when Napoleon, in June 1812, gathered his army at Dresden—that mighty host, unequalled in all time, of 450,000, not men merely, but effective soldiers, and there received the homage of subject kings. And now, what was the principal adversary of this tremendous power? by whom was it checked, and resisted, and put down? By none, and by nothing, but the direct and manifest interposition of God. I know of no language so well fitted to describe that victorious advance to Moscow, and the utter humiliation of the retreat, as the language of the prophet with respect to the advance and subsequent destruction of the host of Sennacherib. 'When they arose early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses,' applies almost literally to that memorable night of frost, in which twenty thousand horses perished, and the strength of the French army was utterly broken. Human instruments, no doubt, were employed in the remainder of the work; nor would I deny to Germany and to Prussia the glories of the year 1813, nor to England the honour of her victories in Spain, or of the crowning victory of Waterloo. But at the distance of thirty years, those who lived in the time of danger and remember its magnitude, and now calmly review what there was in human strength to avert it, must acknowledge, I think, beyond all controversy, that the deliverance of Europe from the dominion of Napoleon was effected neither by Russia, nor by Germany, nor by England, but by the hand of God alone."
The question, whether some races of men possess an inherent superiority over others, is mooted by Dr Arnold, in his dissertation on military science. Without laying down any universal rule, it may be stated that such a superiority can be predicated of no European nation. Frederick the Great defeated the French at Rosbach, as easily as Napoleon overcame the Prussians at Jena. If Marlborough was uniformly successful, William III. was always beaten by Luxembourg, and the Duke of Cumberland by D'Etrees and Saxe. It seems, therefore, a fair inference, that no civilized European nation possesses over its neighbours that degree of superiority which greater genius in the general, or greater discipline in the troops of its antagonists, will not be sufficient to counteract. The defeat of the Vendeans in France, by the soldiers of the garrison of Mentz; and the admirable conduct of our own Sepoys under British generals, are, no doubt, strong instances to show the prodigious importance of systematic discipline. Still, we cannot quite coincide with Dr Arnold's opinion on this subject. We are quite ready to admit—who, indeed, for a moment would deny?—in military as well as in all other subjects, the value of professional attainments and long experience. We cannot, however, consider them superior to those great qualities of our nature which discipline may regulate and embellish, but which it can never destroy or supersede. As every man is bound to form his own opinion on religious matters, though he may not be a priest, every man is obliged to defend his country when invaded, though he may not be a soldier. Nor can the miseries which such a state of things involves, furnish any argument against its necessity. All war must be attended with misfortunes, which freeze the blood and make the soul sick in their contemplation; but these very misfortunes deter those who wield the reins of empire from appealing wantonly to its determination. The resistance of Saragossa was not the less glorious, it does not the less fire the heart of every reader with a holy and passionate enthusiasm, because it was not conducted according to the strict forms of military tactics, because citizens and even women participated in its fame. The inextinguishable hatred of the Spanish nation for its oppressor—which wore down the French armies, which no severities, no violence, no defeat, could subdue—will be, as long as time shall last, a terrible lesson to ambitious conquerors. They will learn that there is in the fury of an insulted nation a danger which the most exquisite military combinations cannot remove, which the most perfectly served artillery cannot sweep away, before which all the bayonets, and gunpowder, and lines of fortification in the world are useless—and compared with which the science of the commander is pedantry, and strategy but a word. They will discover that something more than mechanical power, however great—something more than the skill of the practised officer, or the instinct of well-trained soldiers, are requisite for success—where every plain is a Marathon, and every valley a Thermopylae.
Would to God that the same reproach urged against the Spanish nation—that they defended their native soil irregularly—that they fought like freemen rather than like soldiers—that they transgressed the rules of war by defending one side of a street while the artillery of the enemy, with its thousand mouths, was pouring death upon them from the other—that they struggled too long, that they surrendered too late, that they died too readily, could have been applied to Poland—one fearful instance of success would have been wanting to encourage the designs of despotism!
Some of the rights of war are next considered—that of sacking a town taken by assault, and of blockading a town defended, not by the inhabitants, but by a military garrison—are next examined;—in both these cases the penalty falls upon the innocent. The Homeric description of a town taken by assault, is still applicable to modern warfare:—
[Greek: andras men kteinoysi, polin de te pyr amathynei tekna de t' alloi agoysi, bathyzonoys te gynaikas.]
The unhappy fate of Genoa is thus beautifully related—
"Some of you, I doubt not, remember Genoa; you have seen that queenly city with its streets of palaces, rising tier above tier from the water, girdling with the long lines of its bright white houses the vast sweep of its harbour, the mouth of which is marked by a huge natural mole of rock, crowned by its magnificent lighthouse tower. You remember how its white houses rose out of a mass of fig and olive and orange trees, the glory of its old patrician luxury. You may have observed the mountains, behind the town, spotted at intervals by small circular low towers; one of which is distinctly conspicuous where the ridge of the hills rises to its summit, and hides from view all the country behind it. Those towers are the forts of the famous lines, which, curiously resembling in shape the later Syracusan walls enclosing Epipalae, converge inland from the eastern and western extremities of the city, looking down—the western line on the valley of the Polcevera, the eastern, on that of the Bisagno—till they meet, as I have said, on the summit of the mountains, where the hills cease to rise from the sea, and become more or less of a table land, running off towards the interior, at the distance, as well as I remember, of between two and three miles from the outside of the city. Thus a very large open space is enclosed within the lines, and Genoa is capable therefore of becoming a vast intrenched camp, holding not so much a garrison as an army. In the autumn of 1799, the Austrians had driven the French out of Lombardy and Piedmont; their last victory of Fossano or Genola had won the fortress of Coni or Cunco, close under the Alps, and at the very extremity of the plain of the Po; the French clung to Italy only by their hold of the Riviera of Genoa—the narrow strip of coast between the Apennines and the sea, which extends from the frontiers of France almost to the mouth of the Arno. Hither the remains of the French force were collected, commanded by General Massena; and the point of chief importance to his defence was the city of Genoa. Napoleon had just returned from Egypt, and was become First Consul; but he could not be expected to take the field till the following spring, and till then Massena was hopeless of relief from without—every thing was to depend on his own pertinacity. The strength of his army made it impossible to force it in such a position as Genoa; but its very numbers, added to the population of a great city, held out to the enemy a hope of reducing it by famine; and as Genoa derives most of its supplies by sea, Lord Keith, the British naval commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, lent the assistance of his naval force to the Austrians; and, by the vigilance of his cruizers, the whole coasting trade right and left along the Riviera, was effectually cut off. It is not at once that the inhabitants of a great city, accustomed to the daily sight of well-stored shops and an abundant market, begin to realize the idea of scarcity; or that the wealthy classes of society, who have never known any other state than one of abundance and luxury, begin seriously to conceive of famine. But the shops were emptied; and the storehouses began to be drawn upon; and no fresh supply, or hope of supply, appeared.
"Winter passed away and spring returned, so early and so beautiful on that garden-like coast, sheltered as it is from the north winds by its belts of mountains, and open to the full rays of the southern sun. Spring returned and clothed the hill-sides within the lines with its fresh verdure. But that verdure was no longer the mere delight of the careless eye of luxury, refreshing the citizens by its liveliness and softness, when they rode or walked up thither from the city to enjoy the surpassing beauty of the prospect. The green hill-sides were now visited for a very different object; ladies of the highest rank might be seen cutting up every plant which it was possible to turn to food, and bearing home the common weeds of our road-sides as a most precious treasure. The French general pitied the distresses of the people; but the lives and strength of his garrison seemed to him more important than the lives of the Genoese, and such provisions as remained were reserved, in the first place, for the French army. Scarcity became utter want, and want became famine. In the most gorgeous palaces of that gorgeous city, no less than in the humblest tenements of its humblest poor, death was busy; not the momentary death of battle or massacre, nor the speedy death of pestilence, but the lingering and most miserable death of famine. Infants died before their parents' eyes, husbands and wives lay down to expire together. A man whom I saw at Genoa in 1825, told me, that his father and two of his brothers had been starved to death in this fatal siege. So it went on, till in the month of June, when Napoleon had already descended from the Alps into the plain of Lombardy, the misery became unendurable, and Massena surrendered. But before he did so, twenty thousand innocent persons, old and young, women and children, had died by the most horrible of deaths which humanity can endure. Other horrors which occurred besides during this blockade, I pass over; the agonizing death of twenty thousand innocent and helpless persons requires nothing to be added to it.
"Now, is it right that such a tragedy as this should take place, and that the laws of war should be supposed to justify the authors of it? Conceive having been an officer in Lord Keith's squadron at that time, and being employed in stopping the food which was being brought for the relief of such misery. For the thing was done deliberately; the helplessness of the Genoese was known; their distress was known; it was known that they could not force Massena to surrender; it was known that they were dying daily by hundreds, yet week after week, and month after month, did the British ships of war keep their iron watch along all the coast; no vessel nor boat laden with any article of provision could escape their vigilance. One cannot but be thankful that Nelson was spared from commanding at this horrible blockade of Genoa.
"Now, on which side the law of nations should throw the guilt of most atrocious murder, is of little comparative consequence, or whether it should attach it to both sides equally; but that the deliberate starving to death of twenty thousand helpless persons should be regarded as a crime in one or both of the parties concerned in it, seems to me self-evident. The simplest course would seem to be, that all non-combatants should be allowed to go out of a blockaded town, and that the general who should refuse to let them pass, should be regarded in the same light as one who were to murder his prisoners, or who were to be in the habit of butchering women and children. For it is not true that war only looks to the speediest and most effectual way of attaining its object; so that, as the letting the inhabitants go out would enable the garrison to maintain the town longer, the laws of war authorize the keeping them in and starving them. Poisoning wells might be a still quicker method of reducing a place; but do the laws of war therefore sanction it? I shall not be supposed for a moment to be placing the guilt of the individuals concerned in the two cases which I am going to compare, on an equal footing; it would be most unjust to do so—for in the one case they acted, as they supposed, according to a law which made what they did their duty. But, take the cases themselves, and examine them in all their circumstances; the degree of suffering inflicted—the innocence and helplessness of the sufferers—the interests at stake—and the possibility of otherwise securing them; and if any man can defend the lawfulness in the abstract of the starvation of the inhabitants of Genoa, I will engage also to establish the lawfulness of the massacres of September."
We rejoice to find that the great authority of Colonel W. Napier—an authority of which posterity will know the value—is arrayed on the side of those who think that war, the best school, as after all it must often be, of some of our noblest virtues, need not be always the cause of such atrocities.
This enquiry shows us how the centre of external movement in Europe has varied; but it is not merely to the territorial struggle that our attention should be confined—mighty principles, Christian truth, civil freedom, were often partially at issue on one side, or on the other, in the different contests which the gold and steel of Europe were set in motion to determine; hence the necessity of considering not only the moral power, but the economical and military strength of the respective countries. It requires no mean share of political wisdom to mitigate an encounter with the financial difficulties by which every contest is beset. The evils of the political and social state of France were brought to a head by the dilapidation of its revenues, and occasioned, not the Revolution itself, but the disorders by which it was accompanied. And more than half of our national revenue is appropriated to the payment of our own debt; in other words, every acre of land, besides the support of its owner and the actual demands of the State, is encumbered with the support of two or three persons who represent the creditors of the nation; and every man who would have laboured twelve hours, had no national debt existed, is now obliged to toil sixteen for the same remuneration: such a state of things may be necessary, but it certainly requires investigation.
Other parts of the law of nations, the maritime law especially, require improvement. Superficial men are apt to overlook the transcendent importance of error on these subjects by which desolation may be spread from one quarter of the globe to the other. As no man can bear long the unanimous disapprobation of his fellows, no nation can long set at defiance the voice of a civilized world. But we return to history in military operations. A good map is essential to this study. For instance, to understand the wars of Frederick the Great, it is not enough to know that he was defeated at Kolin, Hochkirchen, and Cunersdorf—that he was victorious at Rosbach, Lowositz, Zorndorf, and Prague—that he was opposed by Daun, and Laudohn, and Soltikoff—we must also comprehend the situation of the Prussian dominions with regard to those of the allies—the importance of Saxony as covering Prussia on the side of Austria—the importance of Silesia as running into the Austrian frontier, and flanking a large part of Bohemia, should also be considered—this will alone enable us to account for Frederick's attack on Saxony, and his pertinacity in keeping possession of Silesia; nor should it be forgotten, that the military positions of one generation are not always those of the next, and that the military history of one period will be almost unintelligible, if judged according to the roads and fortresses of another. For instance, St Dizier in Champagne, which arrested Charles the Fifth's invading army, is now perfectly untenable—Turin, so celebrated for the sieges it has sustained, is an open town, while Alexandria is the great Piedmontese fortress. The addition of Paris to the list of French strongholds, is, if really intended, a greater change than any that has been enumerated. This discussion leads to an allusion to mountain warfare, which has been termed the poetry of the military art, and of which the struggle in Switzerland in 1799, when the eastern part of that country was turned into a vast citadel, defended by the French against Suwaroff, is a most remarkable instance, as well as the most recent. The history by General Mathieu Dumas of the campaign in 1799 and 1800, is referred to as containing a good account and explanation of this branch of military science.
The internal history of Europe during the three hundred and forty years which have elapsed since the middle ages, is the subject now proposed for our consideration. To the question—What was the external object of Europe during any part of this period? the answer is obvious, that it was engaged in resisting the aggression of Spain, or France, or Austria. But if we carry our view to the moral world, do we find any principle equally obvious, and a solution as satisfactory? By no means. We may, indeed, say, with apparent precision, that during the earliest part of this epoch, Europe was divided between the champions and antagonists of religion, as, during its latter portion, it was between the enemies and supporters of political reformation. But a deeper analysis will show us that these names were but the badges of ideas, always complex, sometimes contradictory—the war-cry of contending parties, by whom the reality was now forgotten, or to whom, compared with other purposes, it was altogether subordinate.
Take, for instance, the exercise of political power. Is a state free in proportion to the number of its subjects who are admitted to rank among its citizens, or to the degree in which its recognised citizens are invested with political authority? In the latter point of view, the government of Athens was the freest the world has ever seen. In the former it was a most exclusive and jealous oligarchy. "For a city to be well governed," says Aristotle in his Politics, "those who share in its government must be free from the care of providing for their own support. This," he adds, "is an admitted truth."
Again, the attentive reader can hardly fail to see that, in the struggle between Pompey and Caesar, Caesar represented the popular as Pompey did the aristocratical party, and that Pompey's triumph would have been attended, as Cicero clearly saw, by the domination of an aristocracy in the shape most oppressive and intolerable. The government of Rome, after several desperate struggles, had degenerated into the most corrupt oligarchy, in which all the eloquence of Cicero was unable to kindle the faintest gleam of public virtue. Owing to the success of Caesar, the civilized world exchanged the dominion of several tyrants for that of one, and the opposition to his design was the resistance of the few to the many.
Or we may take another view of the subject. By freedom do we mean the absence of all restraint in private life, the non-interference by the state in the details of ordinary intercourse? According to such a view, the old government of Venice and the present government of Austria, where debauchery is more than tolerated, would be freer than the Puritan commonwealths in North America, where dramatic representations were prohibited as impious, and death was the legal punishment of fornication.
These are specimens of the difficulties by which we are beset, when we endeavour to obtain an exact and faithful image from the troubled medium through which human affairs are reflected to us. Dr Arnold dwells on this point with his usual felicity of language and illustration.
"This inattention to altered circumstances, which would make us be Guelfs in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, because the Guelf cause had been right in the eleventh or twelfth, is a fault of most universal application in all political questions, and is often most seriously mischievous. It is deeply seated in human nature, being, in fact, no other than an exemplification of the force of habit. It is like the case of a settler, landing in a country overrun with wood and undrained, and visited therefore by excessive falls of rain. The evil of wet, and damp, and closeness, is besetting him on every side; he clears away the woods, and he drains his land, and he, by doing so, mends both his climate and his own condition. Encouraged by his success, he perseveres in his system; clearing a country is with him synonymous with making it fertile and habitable; and he levels, or rather sets fire to, his forests without mercy. Meanwhile, the tide is turned without his observing it; he has already cleared enough, and every additional clearance is a mischief; damp and wet are no longer the evil most to be dreaded, but excessive drought. The rains do not fall in sufficient quantity; the springs become low, the rivers become less and less fitted for navigation. Yet habit blinds him for a long while to the real state of the case; and he continues to encourage a coming mischief in his dread of one that is become obsolete. We have been long making progress on our present tack; yet if we do not go about now, we shall run ashore. Consider the popular feeling at this moment against capital punishment; what is it but continuing to burn the woods, when the country actually wants shade and moisture? Year after year, men talked of the severity of the penal code, and struggled against it in vain. The feeling became stronger and stronger, and at last effected all, and more than all, which it had at first vainly demanded; yet still, from mere habit, it pursues its course, no longer to the restraining of legal cruelty, but to the injury of innocence and the encouragement of crime, and encouraging that worse evil—a sympathy with wickedness justly punished rather than with the law, whether of God or man, unjustly violated. So men have continued to cry out against the power of the Crown after the Crown had been shackled hand and foot; and to express the greatest dread of popular violence long after that violence was exhausted, and the anti-popular party was not only rallied, but had turned the tide of battle, and was victoriously pressing upon its enemy."
The view which Dr Arnold gives of the parties in England during the sixteenth century—that great epoch of English genius—is remarkable for its candour and moderation. He considers the distinctions which then prevailed in England as political rather than religious, "inasmuch as they disputed about points of church government, without any reference to a supposed priesthood; and because even those who maintained that one or another form was to be preferred, because it was of divine appointment, were influenced in their interpretation of the doubtful language of the Scriptures by their own strong persuasion of what that language could not but mean to say."
And he then concludes by the unanswerable remark, that in England, according to the theory of the constitution during the sixteenth century, church and state were one. The proofs of this proposition are innumerable—not merely the act by which the supremacy was conferred on Henry VIII.—not merely the powers, almost unlimited, in matters ecclesiastical, delegated to the king's vicegerent, that vicegerent being a layman—not merely the communion established by the sole authority of Edward VI.—without the least participation in it by any bishop or clergyman; but the still more conclusive argument furnished by the fact, that no point in the doctrine, discipline, or ritual of our church, was established except by the power of Parliament, and the power of Parliament alone—nay, more, that they were established in direct defiance of the implacable opposition of the bishops, by whom, being then Roman Catholics, the English Church, on the accession of Elizabeth, was represented—to which the omission of the names of the Lords Spiritual in the Act of Uniformity, which is said to be enacted by the "Queen's Highness," with the assent of the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, is a testimony, at once unanswerable and unprecedented. We have dwelt with the more anxiety on this part of Dr Arnold's work, as it furnishes a complete answer to the absurd opinions concerning the English Church, which it has been of late the object of a few bigots, unconsciously acting as the tools of artful and ambitious men, to propagate, and which would lead, by a direct and logical process, to the complete overthrow of Protestant faith and worship. Such, then, being the state of things "recognized on all hands, church government was no light matter, but one which essentially involved in it the government of the state; and the disputing the Queen's supremacy, was equivalent to depriving her of one of the most important portions of her sovereignty, and committing half of the government of the nation to other hands."
At the accession of Henry VIII., the most profound tranquillity prevailed over England. The last embers of those factions by which, during his father's reign, the peace of the nation had been disturbed rather than endangered, were quenched by the vigilance and severity of that able monarch; during the wars of the Roses, the noblest blood in England had been poured out on the field or on the scaffold, and the wealth of the most opulent proprietors had been drained by confiscation. The parties of York and Lancaster were no more—the Episcopal and Puritan factions were not yet in being—every day diminished the influence of the nobles—the strength of the Commons was in its infancy—the Crown alone remained, strong in its own prerogative, stronger still in the want of all competitors. Crime after crime was committed by the savage tyrant who inherited it; he was ostentatious—the treasures of the nation were lavished at his feet; he was vindictive—the blood of the wise, the noble, and the beautiful, was shed, like water, to gratify his resentment; he was rapacious—the accumulations of ancient piety were surrendered to glut his avarice; he was arbitrary—and his proclamations were made equivalent to acts of Parliament; he was fickle—and the religion of the nation was changed to gratify his lust. To all this the English people submitted, as to some divine infliction, in silence and consternation—the purses, lives, liberties, and consciences of his people were, for a time, at his disposal. During the times of his son and his eldest daughter, the general aspect of affairs was the same. But, though the hurricane of royal caprice and bigotry swept over the land, seemingly without resistance, the sublime truths which were the daily subject of controversy, and the solid studies with which the age was conversant, penetrated into every corner of the land, and were incorporated with the very being of the nation. Then, as the mist of doubt and persecution which had covered Mary's throne cleared away, the intellect of England, in all its health, and vigour, and symmetry, stood revealed in the men and women of the Elizabethan age:—
"To say," observes Dr Arnold, "that the Puritans were wanting in humility because they did not acquiesce in the state of things which they found around them, is a mere extravagance, arising out of a total misapprehension of the nature of humility, and of the merits of the feeling of veneration. All earnestness and depth of character is incompatible with such a notion of humility. A man deeply penetrated with some great truth, and compelled, as it were, to obey it, cannot listen to every one who may be indifferent to it, or opposed to it. There is a voice to which he already owes obedience, which he serves with the humblest devotion, which he worships with the most intense veneration. It is not that such feelings are dead in him, but that he has bestowed them on one object, and they are claimed for another. To which they are most due is a question of justice; he may be wrong in his decision, and his worship may be idolatrous; but so also may be the worship which his opponents call upon him to render. If, indeed, it can be shown that a man admires and reverences nothing, he may be justly taxed with want of humility; but this is at variance with the very notion of an earnest character; for its earnestness consists in its devotion to some one object, as opposed to a proud or contemptuous indifference. But if it be meant that reverence in itself is good, so that the more objects of veneration we have the better is our character, this is to confound the essential difference between veneration and love. The excellence of love is its universality; we are told that even the highest object of all cannot be loved if inferior objects are hated."
Opinions, in the meanwhile, not very favourable to established authority in the state, and marked by a rooted antipathy to ecclesiastical pretensions, were rapidly gaining proselytes in the nation, and even at the court. But the prudence and spirit of Elizabeth, and, still more, the great veneration and esteem for that magnanimous princess, which were for many years the ruling principle—we might almost say, the darling passion—of Englishmen, enabled her to keep at bay the dangerous animosities which her miserable successor had neither dexterity to conciliate nor vigour to subdue. In his time the cravings, moral and intellectual, of the English nation discovered themselves in forms not to be mistaken—some more, some less formidable to established government; but all announcing that the time was come when concession to them was inevitable. No matter whether it was the Puritan who complained of the rags of popery, or the judge who questioned the prerogative of the sovereign, or the patriot who bewailed the profligate expenditure of James's polluted court, or the pamphleteer whom one of our dramatists has described so admirably, or the hoarse murmur of the crowd execrating the pusillanimous murder of Raleigh—whosesoever the voice might be, whatever shape it might assume, petition, controversy, remonstrance, address, impeachment, libel, menace, insurrection, the language it spoke was uniform and unequivocal; it demanded for the people a share in the administration of their government, civil and ecclesiastical—it expressed their determination to make the House of Commons a reality.
The observations that follow are fraught with the most profound wisdom, and afford an admirable exemplification of the manner in which history should be read by those who wish to find in it something more than a mere register of facts and anecdotes:—
"Under these circumstances there were now working together in the same party many principles which, as we have seen, are sometimes perfectly distinct. For instance the popular principle, that the influence of many should not be overborne by that of one, was working side by side with the principle of movement, or the desire of carrying on the work of the Reformation to the furthest possible point, and not only the desire of completing the Reformation, but that of shaking off the manifold evils of the existing state of things, both political and moral. Yet it is remarkable that the spirit of intellectual movement stood as it were hesitating which party it ought to join: and as the contest went on, it seemed rather to incline to that party which was most opposed to the political movement. This is a point in the state of English party in the seventeenth century which is well worth noticing, and we must endeavour to comprehend it.
"We might think, a priori, that the spirit of political, and that of intellectual, and that of religious movement, would go on together, each favouring and encouraging the other. But the Spirit of intellectual movement differs from the other two in this, that it is comparatively one with which the mass of mankind have little sympathy. Political benefits all men can appreciate; and all good men, and a great many more than we might well dare to call good, can appreciate also the value, not of all, but of some religious truth which to them may seem all: the way to obtain God's favour and to worship Him aright, is a thing which great bodies of men can value, and be moved to the most determined efforts if they fancy that they are hindered from attaining to it. But intellectual movement in itself is a thing which few care for. Political truth may be dear to them, so far as it effects their common well-being; and religious truth so far as they may think it their duty to learn it; but truth abstractedly, and because it is truth, which is the object, I suppose, of the pure intellect, is to the mass of mankind a thing indifferent. Thus the workings of the intellect come even to be regarded with suspicion as unsettling: we have got, we say, what we want, and we are well contented with it; why should we be kept in perpetual restlessness, because you are searching after some new truths which, when found, will compel us to derange the state of our minds in order to make room for them. Thus the democracy of Athens was afraid of and hated Socrates; and the poet who satirized Cleon, knew that Cleon's partizans, no less than his own aristocratical friends, would sympathize with his satire when directed against the philosophers. But if this hold in political matters, much more does it hold religiously. The two great parties of the Christian world have each their own standard of truth, by which they try all things: Scripture on the one hand, the voice of the church on the other. To both, therefore, the pure intellectual movement is not only unwelcome, but they dislike it. It will question what they will not allow to be questioned; it may arrive at conclusions which they would regard as impious. And, therefore, in an age of religious movement particularly, the spirit of intellectual movement soon finds itself proscribed rather than countenanced."