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Art. III. -Sir John Eliot: a Biography, 1590-1632. By John
Forster. 2 vols. London, 1864. WHE HEN Tocqueville published his excellent book on the
*Ancien Régime' and the Revolution, most people were surprised to find how closely the period of terror and anarchy had been connected with that which preceded it. The tree which had shot up with such rapidity, when once above the surface, had been long collecting its strength and fastening its roots in the soil below. The author himself begins by observing that the French in 1789 had tried, as it were, to cut their destiny into two parts, and to place an abyss between that which they had been and that which they were afterwards to be. He adds that they had been less successful than they themselves supposed in this singular enterprise; and he then goes on to show that the Revolution was the just and natural result of the state of things which the tyrannical centralisation of Louis XIV. and the reckless profligacy of the Regency and of Louis XV. had produced in France. No one can understand the true spirit of the French Revolution without looking carefully at the institutions of the country as they were already administered in practice, and considering the condition of its people in the preceding century.
The coherence of events is perhaps still more obvious with reference to our great rebellion in the seventeenth century, inasmuch as the growth of disaffection to the Crown, and the increase of the popular power were more gradual, and admit of being more distinctly traced. The epoch of the Stuarts, from the accession of James I. to the ignominious flight of his grandson, is a story or great drama complete in itself, and only to be understood as a whole. To comprehend the struggle of the Civil War and the final catastrophe of the race, we must look back to the early Parliaments of James and his son, and to the personal character of both of them. Ranke has observed with perfect truth that James I. gave the keynote for the government of the Stuarts, and tied the knot of fate which bound his successors.
totle, and thus reduced into order by Professor Sundevall, appears to be about 70 ; of birds, 150 ; of reptiles, 20; and of fishes about 116; making altogether 356 species of vertebrate animals. Of the invertebrate classes, about 60 species of insects and arachnida seem to have been known to Aristotle; some 24 crustaceans and annelides; and about 40 molluscs and radiates; making altogether 124 species of this division. On the whole we may consider that Aristotle had a more or less intimate acquaintance with about 500 different species of animals—a wonderful fact, when we consider the age in which he lived (385-335 B.C.), and that he was absolutely the earliest writer on Natural History.' It would indeed be a wonderful fact, if true, but surely the mere enumeration of 500 species of animals does not warrant us to conclude that Aristotle had any acquaintance with all of them. We have already shown that the philosopher's practical knowledge of zoology was extremely limited. None will remain sceptical on this point after a careful perusal of Mr. Lewes's recent volume.
Mr. Forster, in his preface, observes :
‘No one will ever fully understand what the rising against the Stuarts meant, who is not thoroughly acquainted with its beginning; with the loyalty to the throne that then accompanied the resolves of its heroes to maintain the popular liberties, and with the reverent regard for law and precedent by which all its opening movements were so implicitly guided as to have left upon it, to the very last, a deep and ineffaceable impress.'—vol. i. p. xii.
We can never be sufficiently thankful that our statesmen, in the commencement of this struggle, did then take their stand, not on abstract principles, but on law and precedent;' in short, that instead of seeking to make a gulf, as Tocqueville says was done in the French Revolution, between themselves and the past, they based their claims on Magna Charta and on the old institutions of the land. They did not acknowledge-what appears to be Hume's theory—that the House of Commons first rose out of insignificance in the reign of James I., and then arrogated to itself new functions. The arbitrary acts of Henry VIII. and other sovereigns did not in their eyes prove the non-existence of lawful rights, though they showed instances of their infringement, and the Act of the 15th of Edward II. (1322) referred to by Mr. Hallam † is alone sufficient to establish the acknowledged authority of Parliament in matters of general legislation.
Elizabeth, no doubt, had disputed with her Parliament, and had not scrupled to deal harshly with its members; but she never treated the House of Commons as a party opposed to her. She was sparing in her demands for money, and though she had an irritable temper and a strong hand, she knew how to stop before she had compromised her own dignity or got involved in an inevitable quarrel. This is clearly shown by what happened in Dutton's case (1566). He had touched in Parliament on the question of the Scotch succession. The Queen caused him to be arrested and examined in the Star Chamber. The House of Commons, on the other hand, showed themselves determined to take up the question of privilege, and Elizabeth, who had intended to prosecute Dutton, released him without further question or trial, professing at the same time her intention of not interfering with their privileges. As her latest historian says, 'No one knew better than Elizabeth how to withdraw from an indefensible
'Er hat den Ton für die Regierung der Stuarts angegeben, und den Knoten der Geschicke seiner Enkel geschürzt.' – Geschichte von England,' ii. s. 10. + Constitutional History,' i. p. 3.
position. position.'* The exact contrary of this proposition may be asserted with equal truth of James I. and of his son ; in addition to which they had the knack of putting themselves into such a position with extraordinary readiness.
James himself was incapable of comprehending, much less of assuming, the relation in which Elizabeth had stood to her Parliament and her people. His accession to the throne of England was to him a liberation from the turbulence of an aristocracy whom he could not curb, and the meddling democracy of a Church which he detested. He felt as the heir to 20,0001. a year may feel when, after being pinched and cramped in his allowance and lectured by a morose father, he succeeds to his estates. He came with a full conviction of his own divine rights as paramount over everything, and the incident which occurred on the way to London of his causing the pickpocket at Newark to be hanged without trial, is a curious illustration of the temper and spirit in which he took possession of the throne. He considered that as a king he was on the same footing as all other kings, and entitled to the rights, not of the sovereign of England, but of the class generally. It went against him to treat the Dutch otherwise than as rebels, although their national existence was the first element in that great league against the House of Austria, which he ought to have headed. $ Nothing was ever more unpopular than the peace of 1604 with Spain, and the subsequent intrigues about the Spanish marriage. The King's whole policy was vacillating and uncertain. He had two courses open to him : he might have opposed his son-in-law's acceptance of the Bohemian Crown, and then have thrown all his weight on the side of the preservation of peace; or he might have joined the league of Protestant Germany with heart and hand. He took neither of these courses, but halted between the two. He offended his own subjects by. his lukewarmness in the cause of Protestantism, whilst he conciliated no one of his enemies, and failed even to save the inheritance of his daughter's children. Buckingham himself said to him, 'So long as you waver between the Spaniards and your subjects, to make your advantage of both, you are sure to do with neither.'
* Froude, vol. viii. p. 321.
† It is against this argument of James's that Selden's remarks in his ‘Table Talk' are directed when he says, 'kings are all individual—this or that kingthere is no species of kings; ' and again, a king that claims privileges in his own country, because they have them in another, is just as a cook that claims fees in one lord's house, because they are allowed in another. If the master of the house will yield them, well and good' (in v. • King.').
This view Hume seems to attribute to a 'sense of justice!' He says, that having conversed more fully with English ministers and courtiers, he found their attachment to that republic so strong, and their opinion of common interest so established, that he was obliged to sacrifice to politics his sense of justice ; a quality which, even when erroneous, is respectable as well as rare in a monarch.' -Vol. vi. p. 7.
Even James's good qualities were hurtful : his learning degenerated into pedantry, and increased his obstinacy in theological matters, whilst his good nature made it impossible to repulse those encroachments on his liberality, which made him a beggar. We
e may console ourselves by thinking that had he not constantly wanted money, the English constitution might have wanted the House of Commons before his reign was ended. The necessities of the Crown were the opportunities of Parliament. Above all, however, James's mode of government, after Cecil's death, by favourites such as Carr and Villiers, was hateful to the nation and fatal to his successor. What could be expected from Charles, bred in such a school of statesmanship, already in the grasp of Buckingham, and imbued with all those principles of unlimited prerogative and ecclesiastical supremacy, which James had professed and tried as well as he could to uphold?
The book before us, which gives us a full and authentic life of one of the most distinguished English patriots in the latter years of James and the first Parliaments of Charles I., is thus one of unusual interest. As a private biography it has great worth, since it presents us with a picture of an English country gentleman of that day, highly educated and accomplished ; and as a portion of public history, it is still more valuable.
It is not a book to be treated as the groundwork for political discussion or party declamation. Its narrative of these times and the minute facts involved in it are really valuable because they exhibit the process by which the institutions of the country were developed and preserved to us. Had it not been for the efforts of such men as Sir John Eliot in the time of James and Charles, there would have been no House of Commons in existence to struggle against James II. : yet before Mr. Forster published his · Statesmen of the Commonwealth' in 1834 no biography of him existed.
John Eliot was the son of a Cornish squire, whose family had settled at the old priory of St. German's, having acquired that property in exchange for lands in Devonshire from the Champernownes. The outside of the house at Port Eliot has a peculiar charm from its close neighbourhood to the Norman gate and ivied towers of the grand old church, formerly belonging to the priory. Inside the mansion are now to be found some of Sir Joshua's most charming pictures, and the manuscript records which form the basis of these volumes. Eliot was born in 1590, and at the age
of seventeen or eighteen got involved in a quarrel with a Mr. Moyle living in the parish of St. German's. It appears that Mr. Moyle had made some representation to Eliot's father as to his son's expenses, and the young man, indignant at his interference, drew his sword upon him, and wounded him slightly. He afterwards begged pardon, and appears to have continued on the most friendly terms with Mr. Moyle for many years. In estimating Eliot's conduct in this matter the wild and reckless manners of the period must be considered. At any rate the offence was pardoned, and, had it been considered very discreditable to him, we should most certainly find it constantly cited in afterlife by his numerous and bitter enemies, which is not the case. There never was a man whom, when his spirit could not be daunted, and his arguments could not be answered, it would have been more convenient to wound or crush by a reference to some youthful indiscretion. In 1607 he became a GentlemanCommoner of Exeter College, but although he remained three years at Oxford, he did not take a degree. After being called to the bar he travelled abroad, and singularly enough became for a time the companion of that George Villiers, whom, as the favourite, he was destined at a later period so deservedly to attack. Eliot's wife, whom he married in 1611, was a Cornish lady of the name of Gedie; by her he had a large family. The present Earl of St. German's, to whose liberality Mr. Forster is indebted for the materials of this interesting book, is the descendant of Nicholas, the fourth son of Sir John.
In the Parliament of 1614 Eliot sat for St. German's, and then too for the first time, appeared among the Commons of England John Pym and Sir Thomas Wentworth. After a cry against undertakers,' a resolution against the King's right to levy impositions, and a furious attack on Bishop Neile, the House was dissolved without passing a single bill, and the Parliament became known by the name of the 'Addled Parliament;' but yet, in this Parliament, the great question between the Crown and the Commons was distinctly raised. In fact the consequences of James's quarrel with this Parliament were far more serious than a mere glance at the surface of history would lead us to suppose. Mr. Gardiner, who has published an excellent history of James's reign,* has also by his examination of the archives of Simancas thrown great light on this point. By his kindness we are enabled to afford to our readers some informa
* 'History of England from the Accession of James I. to the Disgrace of Chief Justice Coke, 1603-1616. By Samuel Rawson Gardiner, late student of Christ Church. 8vo., 2 vols. London, Hurst and Blackett, 1863.