Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 34

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PART II.

 

BY ORDER OF THE KING.

 
 

BOOK I.

 

THE EVERLASTING PRESENCE OF THE PAST—
MAN REFLECTS MAN.

 
 

CHAPTER I.


LORD CLANCHARLIE.


I.

THERE was, in those days, an old tradition. That tradition was Lord Linnæus Clancharlie. Linnæus Baron Clancharlie, a contemporary of Cromwell, was one of the few peers of England who accepted the republic. The reason of his acceptance of it might, for want of a better, be found in the fact that for the time being the republic was triumphant. It was a matter of course that Lord Clancharlie should adhere to the republic as long as the republic was in power; but after the close of the revolution and the fall of the parliamentary government, Lord Clancharlie had persisted in his fidelity to it. It would have been easy for the noble patrician to re-enter the reconstituted upper house,—the repentant being ever gladly welcomed at restorations, and Charles II. being a kind prince enough to those who returned to their allegiance to him; but Lord Clancharlie had quite failed to understand what one owes to circumstances. While the nation was overwhelming with acclamations the king who had come to resume possession of England; while a united parliament was recording its verdict; while the people were rapturously saluting the monarchy; while the dynasty was rising anew amidst a glorious and triumphant recantation,—at the moment when the past was becoming the future, and the future was becoming the past, that nobleman remained obdurate. He turned his head resolutely away from all these temptations and voluntarily exiled himself. Though he might have been a peer, he preferred being an outlaw. Years had passed, and he had grown old in his fidelity to the dead republic, and was therefore loaded with the ridicule which is the natural reward of such folly.

Lord Clancharlie had retired to Switzerland, where he inhabited a sort of lofty ruin on the banks of Lake Geneva. He had chosen his abode in the most rugged nook of the lake, between Chillon, Bonnivard's dungeon, and Vevay, Ludlow's burial-place. The rugged Alps, filled with winds and clouds, were around him: and he lived there, hidden in the wide shadows cast by the mountains. He was rarely seen by any one. The man was out of his country, almost out of his century. At that time no resistance to the established power was considered justifiable. England was happy. A restoration is like the reconciliation of husband and wife; prince and nation return to each other,—no state of things can be more gracious or more pleasant. Great Britain beamed with joy; to have a king at all was a great deal; but it was a great deal more to have such a charming one. Charles II. was an amiable man, fond of pleasure, yet able to govern; a great man, too,—at least in the opinion of Louis XIV. He was essentially a gentleman. Charles II. was greatly admired by his subjects. He made war upon Hanover for reasons best known to himself; at least, no one else knew them. He sold Dunkirk to France,—a piece of State policy. The Whig peers, concerning whom Chamberlain says, "The cursed republic had infected with its stinking breath several of the high nobility," had had the good sense to bow to the inevitable, to conform to the times, and to resume their seats in the House of Lords. To do so, it sufficed that they should take the oath of allegiance to the king. When one thinks of all this, the glorious reign, the excellent king, the august princes given back by divine mercy to the people's love; when one remembers that such persons as Monk, and later on Jefferies, had rallied round the throne; that they had been suitably rewarded for their loyalty and zeal by the most splendid appointments and the most lucrative offices; that Lord Clancharlie could not be ignorant of this, and that it only depended on himself to be seated by their side, glorious in his honours; that England had, thanks to her king, risen again to the summit of prosperity; that London was all banquets and carousals; that everybody was rich and enthusiastic; that the court was gallant, gay, and magnificent,—if by chance, far from these splendours, in some melancholy, indescribable half-light, like nightfall, that old man, clad in the same garb as the common people, was observed standing on the shore of the lake, pale, absent-minded, heedless of the storm and of the winter's cold, walking as if at random, his eye fixed on the ground, his white hair waving in the wind, silent, pensive, solitary, who could forbear to smile? Was not such a being nothing more or less than a madman?

Thinking of Lord Clancharlie, of what he might have been and what he was, one proved oneself very charitable if one only smiled. Many persons laughed aloud, others could not restrain their wrath. It is easy to understand how greatly men of sense were shocked by the insolence which his isolation evinced. There was one extenuating circumstance: Lord Clancharlie had never had any brains. Every one agreed on that point.


II.

It is disagreeable to see one's fellow-creature obstinate. Imitations of Regulus are not popular, and public opinion holds them in some derision. Stubborn people are so many reproaches, and we have a right to laugh at them. Besides, to sum up, are these perversities, these rugged notches, really virtues? Is there not a good deal of ostentation in these excessive parades of self-abnegation and honour? Are they not mere show and pretence? Why this pretence of solitude and exile? To carry nothing to extremes is the wise man's maxim. Oppose if you choose, blame if you will, but decently,—crying out all the while, "Long live the King!" The greatest of virtues is common-sense. What falls ought to fall, what succeeds ought to succeed. Providence acts advisedly; it crowns him who deserves the crown. Do you pretend to know better than Providence? When matters are settled; when one régime has replaced another; when success is the scale in which truth and falsehood are weighed,—then doubt is no longer possible. The honest man goes over to the winning side; and although it may happen to serve his fortune and his family, he does not allow himself to be influenced by that consideration, but thinking only of the public weal, holds out his hand heartily to the conqueror.

What would become of the State if no one consented to serve it? Would not everything come to a standstill? To keep his place is the duty of a good citizen. Learn to sacrifice your secret preferences. Appointments must be filled, and some one must sacrifice himself. To yield prompt obedience to the powers that be is truly laudable. The retirement of public officials would paralyze the State. What, banish yourself? How weak! Set yourself up as an example? What vanity! Defy established authority? What audacity! What do you set yourself up to be, I wonder? Learn that we are just as good as you. If we chose, we also could be intractable and untamable, and do worse things than you; but we prefer to be sensible people. Because I am a Trimalcion, do you think that I could not be a Cato? What nonsense!


III.

Never was a situation more clearly defined or more decisive than that of 1660. Never had a course of conduct been more plainly indicated to a well-ordered mind. England was out of Cromwell's grasp. Under the republic many irregularities had been committed. British preponderance had been created. With the aid of the Thirty-Years' war, Germany had been overcome; with the aid of the Fronde, France had been humiliated; with the aid of the Duke of Braganza, the power of Spain had been lessened. Cromwell had tamed Mazarin; in signing treaties the Protector of England wrote his name above that of the King of France. The United Provinces had been forced to pay a fine of eight millions; Algiers and Tunis had been attacked, Jamaica conquered, Lisbon humbled; French rivalry had been encouraged in Barcelona, and Masaniello in Naples; Portugal had been made fast to England; the seas had been cleared of Barbary pirates from Gibraltar to Crete; maritime domination had been established under two forms, Victory and Commerce. On the 10th of August, 1653, the man of thirty-three victories,—the old Admiral who called himself the sailors' grandfather, Martin Happertz Tromp, who had beaten the Spanish,—was defeated by the English fleet. The Atlantic had been cleared of the Spanish navy, the Pacific of the Dutch, the Mediterranean of the Venetian; and by the Navigation Act, England had taken possession of the sea-coast of the world. Through the ocean she commanded the world. At sea the Dutch flag humbly saluted the British flag; France, in the person of the Ambassador Mancini, bent the knee to Oliver Cromwell; and Cromwell played with Calais and Dunkirk as with two shuttlecocks on a battledore. The continent had been taught to tremble, peace had been dictated, war declared, the British Ensign raised on every pinnacle. A single regiment of the Protector's. Ironsides excited as much terror in Europe as an entire army. Cromwell used to say, "I mean the Republic of England to be respected, as the Republic of Rome was respected." Delusions were no longer held sacred; speech was free, the press was free. In the public street men said what they listed; they printed what they pleased without control or censorship. The equilibrium of thrones had been destroyed. The whole order of European monarchy, of which the Stuarts formed a link, had been overturned.

But at last England had escaped from this odious order of things, and had won forgiveness for it. The indulgent Charles II. had issued the proclamation of Breda; he had kindly consented to ignore the period of English history in which the son of the Huntingdon brewer placed his foot on the neck of Louis XIV. England said its meâ culpâ, and breathed again. The cup of joy was, as we have just said, full; gibbets for the regicides adding to the universal delight. A restoration is charming, but a few gibbets are not out of place, and it is necessary to satisfy the public conscience. To be good subjects was thenceforth the people's sole ambition. The spirit of lawlessness had been expelled. Loyalty was re-established. Men had recovered from the follies of politics; they sneered at revolution, they jeered at the republic; and as to those times when such strange words as Right, Liberty, Progress, had been in every one's mouth, why, they laughed at such bombast! How admirable this return to common-sense was! England had been in a dream. What joy to be free from such errors! Was ever anything so mad? Where should we be if every one had his rights? Fancy every one's having a hand in the government! Can you imagine a city ruled by its citizens? Why, the citizens are the team, and the team cannot act as driver. To put to the vote is to throw to the winds. Would you have States driven like clouds? Disorder cannot build up order. With chaos for an architect, the edifice would be a Babel. Besides, how tyrannical this pretended liberty is! As for me, I wish to enjoy myself, not to govern. It is a bore to have to vote; I want to dance. How providential that we have a prince to take care of us all! How kind the king is to take so much trouble for our sakes! Besides, he is to the manner born; he knows what's what; it's his business. Peace, war, legislation, finance,—what have the people to do with such things. Of course the people have to pay, of course the people have to serve; but that should suffice. They have a place in policy; from them come two essential things,—the army and the budget. To be liable to contribute, and to be liable to serve,—is not that enough? What more can they want? They are the military and the financial arm,—a magnificent rôle. The king reigns for them, and they must reward him accordingly. Taxation and the civil list are the salaries paid by the people and earned by the prince. The people give their blood and their money, in return for which they are governed. To wish to govern themselves,—what an absurd idea! They require a guide; being ignorant, they are blind. Has not the blind man his dog? Only the people have a lion, the king, who consents to play the dog. How kind of him! Why are the people ignorant? Because it is good for them to be ignorant. Ignorance is the guardian of Virtue. Where there are no possibilities of improvement there is no ambition. The ignorant man is in useful darkness, which, suppressing sight, suppresses covetousness: hence innocence. He who reads, thinks, he who thinks, reasons. But not to reason is duty and happiness as well. These truths are incontestable; society is based on them.

These sound social doctrines had been re-established in England. At the same time a correct taste in literature was reviving. Shakspeare was despised, Dryden admired. "Dryden is the greatest poet of England, and of the century," said Atterbury, the translator of "Achitophel." This was about the time when M. Huet, Bishop of Avranches, wrote to Saumaise, who had done the author of "Paradise Lost" the honour to refute and abuse him: "How can you trouble yourself about so mean a thing as that Milton?" Everything was falling into its proper place: Dryden above, Shakspeare below; Charles II. on the throne, Cromwell on the gibbet. England was raising herself out of the shame and the excesses of the past. It is a great happiness for nations to be led back by monarchy to good order in the State and good taste in letters.

It is hard to believe that such benefits should not be appreciated. To turn the cold shoulder to Charles II., to reward with ingratitude the magnanimity which he displayed in ascending the throne,—was not such conduct abominable? Lord Linnæus Clancharlie had inflicted this vexation upon honest men. To sulk at his country's happiness,—alack, what folly! We know that in 1650 Parliament had drawn up this form of declaration: "I promise to remain faithful to the republic, without king, sovereign, or lord." Under pretext of having taken this monstrous oath, Lord Clancharlie was living out of the kingdom, and in the face of the general rejoicing thought that he had the right to be sad. He had a profound esteem for that which was no more, and was absurdly attached to the former state of things. To excuse him was impossible; even the most charitably disposed abandoned him. Some had done him the honour to believe that he had entered the republican ranks only to observe more closely the flaws in the republican armour, and to smite it the more surely when the day should come to strike for the sacred cause of the king. These lurkings in ambush for the convenient hour to stab the enemy in the back are attributes of loyalty. Such a line of conduct had been expected of Lord Clancharlie, so strong was the wish to judge him favourably; but, in the face of his strange persistence in republicanism, people were obliged to lower their estimate of him. Evidently Lord Clancharlie was confirmed in his convictions; that is to say, he was an idiot!

The explanation given by the indulgent wavered between puerile stubbornness and senile obstinacy. The severe and the just went much further; they cursed the name of the renegade. Folly has its rights, but it has also its limits. A man may be a brute, but he has no right to be a rebel. And, after all, who was this Lord Clancharlie? A deserter. He had left his camp, that of the aristocracy, for that of the enemy, the people. This faithful man was a traitor. It is true that he was a traitor to the stronger side and faithful to the weaker; it is true that the camp repudiated by him was the camp of the conqueror, and the camp adopted by him the camp of the vanquished; it is true that by his treason he lost everything,—his political privileges and his home, his title and his country. He gained nothing but ridicule, he attained no benefit but exile. But what does all this prove? Merely that he was a fool. Plainly a fool and a traitor in one. Let a man be as great a fool as he likes, provided he does not set a bad example. Fools need only be civil, and in consideration thereof they may aim at being the basis of monarchies.

The narrowness of Clancharlie's mind was incomprehensible. His eyes were still dazzled by the phantasmagoria of the revolution. He had allowed himself to be taken in by the republic,—yes, and cast out. He was a disgrace to his country; the attitude he assumed was downright felony. Absence was an insult. He held aloof from the public happiness as from the plague. In his voluntary banishment he merely sought a refuge from the national rejoicing. Over the widespread gladness at the revival of the monarchy, denounced by him as a lazaretto, he was the black flag. What! could he thus look askance at order re-established, a nation exalted, and a religion restored? Why cast a shadow over such serenity? Take umbrage at England's contentment! Must he be the one blot in the clear blue sky? Protest against a nation's will; refuse his Yes to the universal consent,—it would be disgusting, if it were not the part of a fool.

Clancharlie could not have taken into account the fact that it did not matter if one had taken the wrong turn with Cromwell, so long as one found one's way back into the right path with Monk. Take Monk's case. He is in command of the republican army. Charles II., having been informed of his honesty, writes to him. Monk, who combines virtue with tact, dissimulates at first; then suddenly at the head of his troops dissolves the rebel parliament, and re-establishes the king on the throne. Monk is created Duke of Albemarle, has the honour of having saved society, becomes very rich, sheds a glory over his time, and is created Knight of the Garter, with a prospect of being buried in Westminster Abbey. Such is the reward of British fidelity!

Lord Clancharlie could never rise to a sense of duty thus carried out. He had the infatuation and obstinacy of an exile, he contented himself with hollow phrases; he was tongue-tied by pride. The words "conscience" and "dignity" are but words, after all; one must penetrate to the depths. These depths Lord Clancharlie had not reached. His "eye was single," and before committing an act, he wished to observe it so closely as to be able to judge of it in more senses than one. Hence arose absurd disgust to the facts examined. No man can be a statesman who gives way to such overstrained delicacy. Excess of conscientiousness degenerates into an infirmity. Distrust scruples; they drag you too far. Exaggerated fidelity is like a ladder leading into a cavern,—one step down, another, then another; and there you are in the dark. The clever re-ascend; fools remain there. Conscience must not be allowed to practise such austerity. If it is, it is sure to relapse eventually into the depths of political prudery, as in Lord Clancharlie's case. Such principles result in one's ruin. He was walking, with his hands behind him, along the shores of the Lake of Geneva. A fine way of getting on!

In London they sometimes spoke of the exile. He was tried before the tribunal of public opinion. They pleaded for and against him. The cause having been heard, he was acquitted on the ground of stupidity. Many zealous friends of the former republic had given their adherence to the Stuarts; for this they deserve praise. They naturally calumniated him a little. The obstinate are repulsive to the compliant. Men of sense, anxious for good places at court, and weary of his disagreeable attitude, took pleasure in saying, "If he has not rallied to the throne, it is because he has not been sufficiently paid," etc. "He wanted the chancellorship which the king has given to Hyde." One of his old friends even went so far as to whisper, "He told me so himself."

Remote as was the solitude of Linnæus Clancharlie, a little of this talk reached him now and then through other outlaws whom he met, and through that old regicide, Andrew Broughton, who lived at Lausanne. Clancharlie confined himself to an imperceptible shrug of the shoulders, a sign of profound disgust with him. On one occasion he added to the shrug these few words, uttered in a low voice, "I pity those who believe such things."


IV.

Charles II., good man! scorned him. The happiness of England under Charles II. was more than happiness, it was enchantment. A restoration is like an old oil painting re-varnished. All the past reappeared, good old manners returned, beautiful women reigned and governed. Evelyn notices it. We read in his journal, "Luxury, profaneness, contempt of God! I saw the king on Sunday evening with his courtesans, Portsmouth, Cleveland, Mazarin, and two or three others, all nearly naked, in the gaming-room." We feel that there is ill-nature in this description, for Evelyn was a grumbling Puritan, tainted with republican notions. He did not appreciate the profitable example set by kings in those grand Babylonian gaieties, which, after all, provide employment for the poor. He did not understand the utility of vice. Here is a maxim: Do not extirpate vice, if you want to have charming women; if you do, you are like idiots who destroy the chrysalis while they delight in the butterfly.

Charles II., as we have said, scarcely remembered that a rebel called Clancharlie existed; but James II. was more mindful of him. Charles II. governed gently, it was his way; we may add that he did not govern the worse on that account. A sailor sometimes makes, on a rope intended to baffle the wind, a slack knot which he leaves to the wind to tighten. Such is the stupidity of the storm and of a nation. The slack knot soon becomes a tight one. So did the government of Charles II.

Under James II. the throttling began,—a necessary throttling of what remained of the revolution. James II. had a laudable ambition to be an efficient king. The reign of Charles II. was, in his opinion, but an attempt at restoration. James wished for a still more complete restoration of the old order of things. In 1660, he deplored that they had confined themselves to the hanging of ten regicides. He was a more genuine reconstructor of authority. He infused vigour into serious principles. He installed true justice, which is superior to sentimental declamations, and attends, above all things, to the interests of society. In his protecting severities we recognize the father of the State. He intrusted the hand of justice to Jefferies and its sword to Kirke. That useful colonel one day hung and rehung the same man, a republican; asking him each time: "Will you renounce the republic?" The villain, having each time said "No," was finally despatched. "I hanged him four times," said Kirke, complacently. The renewal of executions is a sure sign of power in the executive authority. Lady Lisle, who, though she had sent her son to fight against Monmouth, had concealed two rebels in her house, was executed; another rebel, having been honourable enough to declare that an anabaptist female had given him shelter, was pardoned, and the woman was burned alive. Kirke, on another occasion, gave a town to understand that he knew its principles to be republican, by hanging nineteen burgesses.

These reprisals were certainly legitimate, for it must be remembered that under Cromwell they cut off the noses and ears of the stone saints in the churches. James II., who had had the good sense to choose Jefferies and Kirke, was a prince imbued with true religion; he practised mortification in the ugliness of his mistresses; he listened to le Père la Colombière, a preacher almost as unctuous as le Père Cheminais, but with more fire, who had the glory of being, during the first part of his life, the counsellor of James II., and during the latter part the ideal of Marie Alacoque. It was probably due to this strong religious nourishment that later on James II. was enabled to bear exile with dignity, and to exhibit, in his retirement at Saint Germain, the spectacle of a king rising superior to adversity, calmly touching for king's evil, and conversing with Jesuits.

It will be readily understood that such a king would trouble himself to a considerable extent about such a rebel as Lord Linnæus Clancharlie. Hereditary peerages have a certain hold on the future, and it was evident that if any precautions were necessary with regard to that lord, James II. was not the man to hesitate.