The History of England from the Accession of James II/Chapter XVIII
On the nineteenth of October 1691, William arrived at Kensington from the Netherlands. Three days later he opened the Parliament. The aspect of affairs was, on the whole, cheering. By land there had been gains and losses; but the balance was in favour of England. Against the fall of Mons might well be set off the taking of Athlone, the victory of Aghrim, the surrender of Limerick and the pacification of Ireland. At sea there had been no great victory; but there had been a great display of power and of activity; and, though many were dissatisfied because more had not been done, none could deny that there had been a change for the better. The ruin caused by the foibles and vices of Torrington had been repaired; the fleet had been well equipped; the rations had been abundant and wholesome; and the health of the crews had consequently been, for that age, wonderfully good. Russell, who commanded the naval forces of the allies, had in vain offered battle to the French. The white flag, which, in the preceding year, had ranged the Channel unresisted from the Land's End to the Straits of Dover, now, as soon as our topmasts were descried twenty leagues off, abandoned the open sea, and retired into the depths of the harbour of Brest. The appearance of an English squadron in the estuary of the Shannon had decided the fate of the last fortress which had held out for King James; and a fleet of merchantmen from the Levant, valued at four millions sterling, had, through dangers which had caused many sleepless nights to the underwriters of Lombard Street, been convoyed safe into the Thames. The Lords and Commons listened with signs of satisfaction to a speech in which the King congratulated them on the event of the war in Ireland, and expressed his confidence that they would continue to support him in the war with France. He told them that a great naval armament would be necessary, and that, in his opinion, the conflict by land could not be effectually maintained with less than sixty-five thousand men.
He was thanked in affectionate terms; the force which he asked was voted; and large supplies were granted with little difficulty. But when the Ways and Means were taken into consideration, symptoms of discontent began to appear. Eighteen months before, when the Commons had been employed in settling the Civil List, many members had shown a very natural disposition to complain of the amount of the salaries and fees received by official men. Keen speeches had been made, and, what was much less usual, had been printed; there had been much excitement out of doors; but nothing had been done. The subject was now revived. A report made by the Commissioners who had been appointed in the preceding year to examine the public accounts disclosed some facts which excited indignation, and others which raised grave suspicion. The House seemed fully determined to make an extensive reform; and, in truth, nothing could have averted such a reform except the folly and violence of the reformers. That they should have been angry is indeed not strange. The enormous gains, direct and indirect, of the servants of the public went on increasing, while the gains of every body else were diminishing. Rents were falling; trade was languishing; every man who lived either on what his ancestors had left him or on the fruits of his own industry was forced to retrench. The placeman alone throve amidst the general distress. "Look," cried the incensed squires, "at the Comptroller of the Customs. Ten years ago, he walked, and we rode. Our incomes have been curtailed; his salary has been doubled; we have sold our horses; he has bought them; and now we go on foot, and are splashed by his coach and six." Lowther vainly endeavoured to stand up against the storm. He was heard with little favour by the country gentlemen who had not long before looked up to him as one of their leaders. He had left them; he had become a courtier; he had two good places, one in the Treasury, the other in the household. He had recently received from the King's own hand a gratuity of two thousand guineas. It seemed perfectly natural that he should defend abuses by which he profited. The taunts and reproaches with which he was assailed were insupportable to his sensitive nature. He lost his head, almost fainted away on the floor of the House, and talked about righting himself in another place. Unfortunately no member rose at this conjuncture to propose that the civil establishment of the kingdom should be carefully revised, that sinecures should be abolished, that exorbitant official incomes should be reduced, and that no servant of the State should be allowed to exact, under any pretence, any thing beyond his known and lawful remuneration. In this way it would have been possible to diminish the public burdens, and at the same time to increase the efficiency of every public department. But unfortunately those who were loudest in clamouring against the prevailing abuses were utterly destitute of the qualities necessary for the work of reform. On the twelfth of December, some foolish man, whose name has not come down to us, moved that no person employed in any civil office, the Speaker, Judges and Ambassadors excepted, should receive more than five hundred pounds a year; and this motion was not only carried, but carried without one dissentient voice.
Those who were most interested in opposing it doubtless saw that opposition would, at that moment, only irritate the majority, and reserved themselves for a more favourable time. The more favourable time soon came. No man of common sense could, when his blood had cooled, remember without shame that he had voted for a resolution which made no distinction between sinecurists and laborious public servants, between clerks employed in copying letters and ministers on whose wisdom and integrity the fate of the nation might depend. The salary of the Doorkeeper of the Excise Office had been, by a scandalous job, raised to five hundred a year. It ought to have been reduced to fifty. On the other hand, the services of a Secretary of State who was well qualified for his post would have been cheap at five thousand. If the resolution of the Commons bad been carried into effect, both the salary which ought not to have exceeded fifty pounds, and the salary which might without impropriety have amounted to five thousand, would have been fixed at five hundred. Such absurdity must have shocked even the roughest and plainest foxhunter in the House. A reaction took place; and when, after an interval of a few weeks, it was proposed to insert in a bill of supply a clause in conformity with the resolution of the twelfth of December, the Noes were loud; the Speaker was of opinion that they had it; the Ayes did not venture to dispute his opinion; the senseless plan which had been approved without a division was rejected without a division; and the subject was not again mentioned. Thus a grievance so scandalous that none of those who profited by it dared to defend it was perpetuated merely by the imbecility and intemperance of those who attacked it.
Early in the Session the Treaty of Limerick became the subject of a grave and earnest discussion. The Commons, in the exercise of that supreme power which the English legislature possessed over all the dependencies of England, sent up to the Lords a bill providing that no person should sit in the Irish Parliament, should hold any Irish office, civil, military or ecclesiastical, or should practise law or medicine in Ireland, till he had taken the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, and subscribed the Declaration against Transubstantiation. The Lords were not more inclined than the Commons to favour the Irish. No peer was disposed to entrust Roman Catholics with political power. Nay, it seems that no peer objected to the principle of the absurd and cruel rule which excluded Roman Catholics from the liberal professions. But it was thought that this rule, though unobjectionable in principle, would, if adopted without some exceptions, be a breach of a positive compact. Their Lordships called for the Treaty of Limerick, ordered it to be read at the table, and proceeded to consider whether the law framed by the Lower House was consistent with the engagements into which the government had entered. One discrepancy was noticed. It was stipulated by the second civil article, that every person actually residing in any fortress occupied by an Irish garrison, should be permitted, on taking the Oath of Allegiance, to resume any calling which he had exercised before the Revolution. It would, beyond all doubt, have been a violation of this covenant to require that a lawyer or a physician, who had been within the walls of Limerick during the siege, should take the Oath of Supremacy and subscribe the Declaration against Transubstantiation, before he could receive fees. Holt was consulted, and was directed to prepare clauses in conformity with the terms of the capitulation.
The bill, as amended by Holt, was sent back to the Commons. They at first rejected the amendment, and demanded a conference. The conference was granted. Rochester, in the Painted Chamber, delivered to the managers of the Lower House a copy of the Treaty of Limerick, and earnestly represented the importance of preserving the public faith inviolate. This appeal was one which no honest man, though inflamed by national and religious animosity, could resist. The Commons reconsidered the subject, and, after hearing the Treaty read, agreed, with some slight modifications, to what the Lords had proposed.
The bill became a law. It attracted, at the time, little notice, but was, after the lapse of several generations, the subject of a very acrimonious controversy. Many of us can well remember how strongly the public mind was stirred, in the days of George the Third and George the Fourth, by the question whether Roman Catholics should be permitted to sit in Parliament. It may be doubted whether any dispute has produced stranger perversions of history. The whole past was falsified for the sake of the present. All the great events of three centuries long appeared to us distorted and discoloured by a mist sprung from our own theories and our own passions. Some friends of religious liberty, not content with the advantage which they possessed in the fair conflict of reason with reason, weakened their case by maintaining that the law which excluded Irish Roman Catholics from Parliament was inconsistent with the civil Treaty of Limerick. The First article of that Treaty, it was said, guaranteed to the Irish Roman Catholic such privileges in the exercise of his religion as he had enjoyed in the time of Charles the Second. In the time of Charles the Second no test excluded Roman Catholics from the Irish Parliament. Such a test could not therefore, it was argued, be imposed without a breach of public faith. In the year 1828, especially, this argument was put forward in the House of Commons as if it had been the main strength of a cause which stood in need of no such support. The champions of Protestant ascendency were well pleased to see the debate diverted from a political question about which they were in the wrong, to a historical question about which they were in the right. They had no difficulty in proving that the first article, as understood by all the contracting parties, meant only that the Roman Catholic worship should be tolerated as in time past. That article was drawn up by Ginkell; and, just before he drew it up, he had declared that he would rather try the chance of arms than consent that Irish Papists should be capable of holding civil and military offices, of exercising liberal professions, and of becoming members of municipal corporations. How is it possible to believe that he would, of his own accord, have promised that the House of Lords and the House of Commons should be open to men to whom he would not open a guild of skinners or a guild of cordwainers? How, again, is it possible to believe that the English Peers would, while professing the most punctilious respect for public faith, while lecturing the Commons on the duty of observing public faith, while taking counsel with the most learned and upright jurist of the age as to the best mode of maintaining public faith, have committed a flagrant violation of public faith and that not a single lord should have been so honest or so factious as to protest against an act of monstrous perfidy aggravated by hypocrisy? Or, if we could believe this, how can we believe that no voice would have been raised in any part of the world against such wickedness; that the Court of Saint Germains and the Court of Versailles would have remained profoundly silent; that no Irish exile, no English malecontent, would have uttered a murmur; that not a word of invective or sarcasm on so inviting a subject would have been found in the whole compass of the Jacobite literature; and that it would have been reserved for politicians of the nineteenth century to discover that a treaty made in the seventeenth century had, a few weeks after it had been signed, been outrageously violated in the sight of all Europe?
On the same day on which the Commons read for the first time the bill which subjected Ireland to the absolute dominion of the Protestant minority, they took into consideration another matter of high importance. Throughout the country, but especially in the capital, in the seaports and in the manufacturing towns, the minds of men were greatly excited on the subject of the trade with the East Indies; a fierce paper war had during some time been raging; and several grave questions, both constitutional and commercial, had been raised, which the legislature only could decide.
It has often been repeated, and ought never to be forgotten, that our polity differs widely from those polities which have, during the last eighty years, been methodically constructed, digested into articles, and ratified by constituent assemblies. It grew up in a rude age. It is not to be found entire in any formal instrument. All along the line which separates the functions of the prince from those of the legislator there was long a disputed territory. Encroachments were perpetually committed, and, if not very outrageous, were often tolerated. Trespass, merely as trespass, was commonly suffered to pass unresented. It was only when the trespass produced some positive damage that the aggrieved party stood on his right, and demanded that the frontier should be set out by metes and bounds, and that the landmarks should thenceforward be punctiliously respected.
Many of those points which had occasioned the most violent disputes between our Sovereigns and their Parliaments had been finally decided by the Bill of Rights. But one question, scarcely less important than any of the questions which had been set at rest for ever, was still undetermined. Indeed, that question was never, as far as can now be ascertained, even mentioned in the Convention. The King had undoubtedly, by the ancient laws of the realm, large powers for the regulation of trade; but the ablest judge would have found it difficult to say what was the precise extent of those powers. It was universally acknowledged that it belonged to the King to prescribe weights and measures, and to coin money; that no fair or market could be held without authority from him; that no ship could unload in any bay or estuary which he had not declared to be a port. In addition to his undoubted right to grant special commercial privileges to particular places, he long claimed a right to grant special commercial privileges to particular societies and to particular individuals; and our ancestors, as usual, did not think it worth their while to dispute this claim, till it produced serious inconvenience. At length, in the reign of Elizabeth, the power of creating monopolies began to be grossly abused; and, as soon as it began to be grossly abused, it began to be questioned. The Queen wisely declined a conflict with a House of Commons backed by the whole nation. She frankly acknowledged that there was reason for complaint; she cancelled the patents which had excited the public clamours; and her people, delighted by this concession, and by the gracious manner in which it had been made, did not require from her an express renunciation of the disputed prerogative.
The discontents which her wisdom had appeased were revived by the dishonest and pusillanimous policy which her successor called Kingcraft. He readily granted oppressive patents of monopoly. When he needed the help of his Parliament, he as readily annulled them. As soon as the Parliament had ceased to sit, his Great Seal was put to instruments more odious than those which he had recently cancelled. At length that excellent House of Commons which met in 1623 determined to apply a strong remedy to the evil. The King was forced to give his assent to a law which declared monopolies established by royal authority to be null and void. Some exceptions, however, were made, and, unfortunately, were not very clearly defined. It was especially provided that every Society of Merchants which had been instituted for the purpose of carrying on any trade should retain all its legal privileges. The question whether a monopoly granted by the Crown to such a company were or were not a legal privilege was left unsettled, and continued to exercise, during many years, the ingenuity of lawyers. The nation, however, relieved at once from a multitude of impositions and vexations which were painfully felt every day at every fireside, was in no humour to dispute the validity of the charters under which a few companies to London traded with distant parts of the world.
Of these companies by far the most important was that which had been, on the last day of the sixteenth century, incorporated by Queen Elizabeth under the name of the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies. When this celebrated body began to exist, the Mogul monarchy was at the zenith of power and glory. Akbar, the ablest and best of the princes of the House of Tamerlane, had just been borne, full of years and honours, to a mausoleum surpassing in magnificence any that Europe could show. He had bequeathed to his posterity an empire containing more than twenty times the population and yielding more than twenty times the revenue of the England which, under our great Queen, held a foremost place among European powers. It is curious and interesting to consider how little the two countries, destined to be one day so closely connected, were then known to each other. The most enlightened Englishmen looked on India with ignorant admiration. The most enlightened natives of India were scarcely aware that England existed. Our ancestors had a dim notion of endless bazaars, swarming with buyers and sellers, and blazing with cloth of gold, with variegated silks and with precious stones; of treasuries where diamonds were piled in heaps and sequins in mountains; of palaces, compared with which Whitehall and Hampton Court were hovels; of armies ten times as numerous as that which they had seen assembled at Tilbury to repel the Armada. On the other hand, it was probably not known to one of the statesmen in the Durbar of Agra that there was near the setting sun a great city of infidels, called London,
where a woman reigned, and that she had given to an association of Frank merchants the exclusive privilege of freighting ships from her dominions to the Indian seas. That this association would one day rule all India, from the ocean to the everlasting snow, would reduce to profound obedience great provinces which had never submitted to Akbar's authority, would send Lieutenant Governors to preside in his capital, and would dole out a monthly pension to his heir, would have seemed to the wisest of European or of Oriental politicians as impossible as that inhabitants of our globe should found an empire in Venus or Jupiter.
Three generations passed away; and still nothing indicated that the East India Company would ever become a great Asiatic potentate. The Mogul empire, though undermined by internal causes of decay, and tottering to its fall, still presented to distant nations the appearance of undiminished prosperity and vigour. Aurengzebe, who, in the same month in which Oliver Cromwell died, assumed the magnificent title of Conqueror of the World, continued to reign till Anne had been long on the English throne. He was the sovereign of a larger territory than had obeyed any of his predecessors. His name was great in the farthest regions of the West. Here he had been made by Dryden the hero of a tragedy which would alone suffice to show how little the English of that age knew about the vast empire which their grandchildren were to conquer and to govern. The poet's Mussulman princes make love in the style of Amadis, preach about the death of Socrates, and embellish their discourse with allusions to the mythological stories of Ovid. The Brahminical metempyschosis is represented as an article of the Mussulman creed; and the Mussulman Sultanas burn themselves with their husbands after the Brahminical fashion. This drama, once rapturously applauded by crowded theatres, and known by heart to fine gentlemen and fine ladies, is now forgotten. But one noble passage still lives, and is repeated by thousands who know not whence it comes.
Though nothing yet indicated the high political destiny of the East India Company, that body had a great sway in the City of London. The offices, which stood on a very small part of the ground which the present offices cover, had escaped the ravages of the fire. The India House of those days was a building of timber and plaster, rich with the quaint carving and lattice-work of the Elizabethan age. Above the windows was a painting which represented a fleet of merchantmen tossing on the waves. The whole edifice was surmounted by a colossal wooden seaman, who, from between two dolphins, looked down on the crowds of Leadenhall Street. In this abode, narrow and humble indeed when compared with the vast labyrinth of passages and chambers which now bears the same name, the Company enjoyed, during the greater part of the reign of Charles the Second, a prosperity to which the history of trade scarcely furnishes any parallel, and which excited the wonder, the cupidity and the envious animosity of the whole capital. Wealth and luxury were then rapidly increasing. The taste for the spices, the tissues and the jewels of the East became stronger day by day. Tea, which, at the time when Monk brought the army of Scotland to London, had been handed round to be stared at and just touched with the lips, as a great rarity from China, was, eight years later, a regular article of import, and was soon consumed in such quantities that financiers began to consider it as a fit subject for taxation. The progress which was making in the art of war had created an unprecedented demand for the ingredients of which gunpowder is compounded. It was calculated that all Europe would hardly produce in a year saltpetre enough for the siege of one town fortified on the principles of Vauban. But for the supplies from India, it was said, the English government would be unable to equip a fleet without digging up the cellars of London in order to collect the nitrous particles from the walls. Before the Restoration scarcely one ship from the Thames had ever visited the Delta of the Ganges. But, during the twenty-three years which followed the Restoration, the value of the annual imports from that rich and populous district increased from eight thousand pounds to three hundred thousand.
The gains of the body which had the exclusive possession of this fast growing trade were almost incredible. The capital which had been actually paid up did not exceed three hundred and seventy thousand pounds; but the Company could, without difficulty, borrow money at six per cent., and the borrowed money, thrown into the trade, produced, it was rumoured, thirty per cent. The profits were such that, in 1676, every proprietor received as a bonus a quantity of stock equal to that which he held. On the capital, thus doubled, were paid, during five years, dividends amounting on an average to twenty per cent. annually. There had been a time when a hundred pounds of the stock could be purchased for sixty. Even in 1664 the price in the market was only seventy. But in 1677 the price had risen to two hundred and forty-five; in 1681 it was three hundred; it subsequently rose to three hundred and sixty; and it is said that some sales were effected at five hundred.
The enormous gains of the Indian trade might perhaps have excited little murmuring if they had been distributed among numerous proprietors. But while the value of the stock went on increasing, the number of stockholders went on diminishing. At the time when the prosperity of the Company reached the highest point, the management was entirely in the hands of a few merchants of enormous wealth. A proprietor then had a vote for every five hundred pounds of stock that stood in his name. It is asserted in the pamphlets of that age that five persons had a sixth part, and fourteen persons a third part of the votes. More than one fortunate speculator was said to derive an annual income of ten thousand pounds from the monopoly; and one great man was pointed out on the Royal Exchange as having, by judicious or lucky purchases of stock, created in no long time an estate of twenty thousand a year. This commercial grandee, who in wealth and in the influence which attends wealth vied with the greatest nobles of his time, was Sir Josiah Child. There were those who still remembered him an apprentice, sweeping one of the counting houses of the City. But from a humble position his abilities had raised him rapidly to opulence, power and fame. At the time of the Restoration he was highly considered in the mercantile world. Soon after that event he published his thoughts on the philosophy of trade. His speculations were not always sound; but they were the speculations of an ingenious and reflecting man. Into whatever errors he may occasionally have fallen as a theorist, it is certain that, as a practical man of business, he had few equals. Almost as soon as he became a member of the committee which directed the affairs of the Company, his ascendency was felt. Soon many of the most important posts, both in Leadenhall Street and in the factories of Bombay and Bengal, were filled by his kinsmen and creatures. His riches, though expended with ostentatious profusion, continued to increase and multiply. He obtained a baronetcy; he purchased a stately seat at Wanstead; and there he laid out immense sums in excavating fishponds, and in planting whole square miles of barren land with walnut trees. He married his daughter to the eldest son of the Duke of Beaufort, and paid down with her a portion of fifty thousand pounds.
But this wonderful prosperity was not uninterrupted. Towards the close of the reign of Charles the Second the Company began to be fiercely attacked from without, and to be at the same time distracted by internal dissensions. The profits of the Indian trade were so tempting, that private adventurers had often, in defiance of the royal charter, fitted out ships for the Eastern seas. But the competition of these interlopers did not become really formidable till the year 1680. The nation was then violently agitated by the dispute about the Exclusion Bill. Timid men were anticipating another civil war. The two great parties, newly named Whigs and Tories, were fiercely contending in every county and town of England; and the feud soon spread to every corner of the civilised world where Englishmen were to be found.
The Company was popularly considered as a Whig body. Among the members of the directing committee were some of the most vehement Exclusionists in the City. Indeed two of them, Sir Samuel Barnardistone and Thomas Papillon, drew on themselves a severe persecution by their zeal against Popery and arbitrary power. Child had been originally brought into the direction by these men; he had long acted in concert with them; and he was supposed to hold their political opinions. He had, during many years, stood high in the esteem of the chiefs of the parliamentary opposition, and had been especially obnoxious to the Duke of York. The interlopers therefore determined to affect the character of loyal men, who were determined to stand by the throne against the insolent tribunes of the City. They spread, at all the factories in the East, reports that England was in confusion, that the sword had been drawn or would immediately be drawn, and that the Company was forward in the rebellion against the Crown. These rumours, which, in truth, were not improbable, easily found credit among people separated from London by what was then a voyage of twelve months. Some servants of the Company who were in ill humour with their employers, and others who were zealous royalists, joined the private traders. At Bombay, the garrison and the great body of the English inhabitants declared that they would no longer obey any body who did not obey the King; they imprisoned the Deputy Governor; and they proclaimed that they held the island for the Crown. At Saint Helena there was a rising. The insurgents took the name of King's men, and displayed the royal standard. They were, not without difficulty, put down; and some of them were executed by martial law.
If the Company had still been a Whig Company when the news of these commotions reached England, it is probable that the government would have approved of the conduct of the mutineers, and that the charter on which the monopoly depended would have had the fate which about the same time befell so many other charters. But while the interlopers were, at a distance of many thousands of miles, making war on the Company in the name of the King, the Company and the King had been reconciled. When the Oxford Parliament had been dissolved, when many signs indicated that a strong reaction in favour of prerogative was at hand, when all the corporations which had incurred the royal displeasure were beginning to tremble for their franchises, a rapid and complete revolution took place at the India House. Child, who was then Governor, or, in the modern phrase, Chairman, separated himself from his old friends, excluded them from the direction, and negotiated a treaty of peace and of close alliance with the Court. It is not improbable that the near connection into which he had just entered with the great Tory house of Beaufort may have had something to do with this change in his politics. Papillon, Barnardistone, and their adherents, sold their stock; their places in the committee were supplied by persons devoted to Child; and he was thenceforth the autocrat of the Company. The treasures of the Company were absolutely at his disposal. The most important papers of the Company were kept, not in the muniment room of the office in Leadenhall Street, but in his desk at Wanstead. The boundless power which he exercised at the India House enabled him to become a favourite at Whitehall; and the favour which he enjoyed at Whitehall confirmed his power at the India House. A present of ten thousand guineas was graciously received from him by Charles. Ten thousand more were accepted by James, who readily consented to become a holder of stock. All who could help or hurt at Court, ministers, mistresses, priests, were kept in good humour by presents of shawls and silks, birds' nests and atar of roses, bulses of diamonds and bags of guineas. Of what the Dictator expended no account was asked by his colleagues; and in truth he seems to have deserved the confidence which they reposed in him. His bribes, distributed with judicious prodigality, speedily produced a large return. Just when the Court became all powerful in the State, he became all powerful at the Court. Jeffreys pronounced a decision in favour of the monopoly, and of the strongest acts which had been done in defence of the monopoly. James ordered his seal to be put to a new charter which confirmed and extended all the privileges bestowed on the Company by his predecessors. All captains of Indiamen received commissions from the Crown, and were permitted to hoist the royal ensigns. John Child, brother of Sir Josiah, and Governor of Bombay, was created a baronet by the style of Sir John Child of Surat: he was declared General of all the English forces in the East; and he was authorised to assume the title of Excellency. The Company, on the other hand, distinguished itself among many servile corporations by obsequious homage to the throne, and set to all the merchants of the kingdom the example of readily and even eagerly paying those customs which James, at the commencement of his reign, exacted without the authority of Parliament.
It seemed that the private trade would now be utterly crushed, and that the monopoly, protected by the whole strength of the royal prerogative, would be more profitable than ever. But unfortunately just at this moment a quarrel arose between the agents of the Company in India and the Mogul Government. Where the fault lay is a question which was vehemently disputed at the time, and which it is now impossible to decide. The interlopers threw all the blame on the Company. The Governor of Bombay, they affirmed, had always been grasping and violent; but his baronetcy and his military commission had completely turned his head. The very natives who were employed about the factory had noticed the change, and had muttered, in their broken English, that there must be some strange curse attending the word Excellency; for that, ever since the chief of the strangers was called Excellency, every thing had gone to ruin. Meanwhile, it was said, the brother in England had sanctioned all the unjust and impolitic acts of the brother in India, till at length insolence and rapine, disgraceful to the English nation and to the Christian religion, had roused the just resentment of the native authorities. The Company warmly recriminated. The story told at the India House was that the quarrel was entirely the work of the interlopers, who were now designated not only as interlopers but as traitors. They had, it was alleged, by flattery, by presents, and by false accusations, induced the viceroys of the Mogul to oppress and persecute the body which in Asia represented the English Crown. And indeed this charge seems not to have been altogether without foundation. It is certain that one of the most pertinacious enemies of the Childs went up to the Court of Aurengzebe, took his station at the palace gate, stopped the Great King who was in the act of mounting on horseback, and, lifting a petition high in the air, demanded justice in the name of the common God of Christians and Mussulmans. Whether Aurengzebe paid much attention to the charges brought by infidel Franks against each other may be doubted. But it is certain that a complete rupture took place between his deputies and the servants of the Company. On the sea the ships of his subjects were seized by the English. On land the English settlements were taken and plundered. The trade was suspended; and, though great annual dividends were still paid in London, they were no longer paid out of annual profits.
Just at this conjuncture, while every Indiaman that arrived in the Thames was bringing unwelcome news from the East, all the politics of Sir Josiah were utterly confounded by the Revolution. He had flattered himself that he had secured the body of which he was the chief against the machinations of interlopers, by uniting it closely with the strongest government that had existed within his memory. That government had fallen; and whatever had leaned on the ruined fabric began to totter. The bribes had been thrown away. The connections which had been the strength and boast of the corporation were now its weakness and its shame. The King who had been one of its members was an exile. The judge by whom all its most exorbitant pretensions had been pronounced legitimate was a prisoner. All the old enemies of the Company, reinforced by those great Whig merchants whom Child had expelled from the direction, demanded justice and vengeance from the Whig House of Commons, which had just placed William and Mary on the throne. No voice was louder in accusation than that of Papillon, who had, some years before, been more zealous for the charter than any man in London. The Commons censured in severe terms the persons who had inflicted death by martial law at Saint Helena, and even resolved that some of those offenders should be excluded from the Act of Indemnity. The great question, how the trade with the East should for the future be carried on, was referred to a Committee. The report was to have been made on the twenty-seventh of January 1690; but on that very day the Parliament ceased to exist.
The first two sessions of the succeeding Parliament were so short and so busy that little was said about India in either House. But, out of Parliament, all the arts both of controversy and of intrigue were employed on both sides. Almost as many pamphlets were published about the India trade as about the oaths. The despot of Leadenhall Street was libelled in prose and verse. Wretched puns were made on his name. He was compared to Cromwell, to the King of France, to Goliath of Gath, to the Devil. It was vehemently declared to be necessary that, in any Act which might be passed for the regulation of our traffic with the Eastern seas, Sir Josiah should be by name excluded from all trust.
There were, however, great differences of opinion among those who agreed in hating Child and the body of which he was the head. The manufacturers of Spitalfields, of Norwich, of Yorkshire, and of the Western counties, considered the trade with the Eastern seas as rather injurious than beneficial to the kingdom. The importation of Indian spices, indeed, was admitted to be harmless, and the importation of Indian saltpetre to be necessary. But the importation of silks and of Bengals, as shawls were then called, was pronounced to be a curse to the country. The effect of the growing taste for such frippery was that our gold and silver went abroad, and that much excellent English drapery lay in our warehouses till it was devoured by the moths. Those, it was said, were happy days for the inhabitants both of our pasture lands and of our manufacturing towns, when every gown, every hanging, every bed, was made of materials which our own flocks had furnished to our own looms. Where were now the brave old hangings of arras which had adorned the walls of lordly mansions in the days of Elizabeth? And was it not a shame to see a gentleman, whose ancestors had worn nothing but stuffs made by English workmen out of English fleeces, flaunting in a calico shirt and a pair of silk stockings? Clamours such as these had, a few years before, extorted from Parliament the Act which required that the dead should be wrapped in woollen; and some sanguine clothiers hoped that the legislature would, by excluding all Indian textures from our ports, impose the same necessity on the living.
But this feeling was confined to a minority. The public was, indeed, inclined rather to overrate than to underrate the benefits which might be derived by England from the Indian trade. What was the most effectual mode of extending that trade was a question which excited general interest, and which was answered in very different ways.
A small party, consisting chiefly of merchants resident at Bristol and other provincial seaports, maintained that the best way to extend trade was to leave it free. They urged the well known arguments which prove that monopoly is injurious to commerce; and, having fully established the general law, they asked why the commerce between England and India was to be considered as an exception to that law. Any trader ought, they said, to be permitted to send from any port a cargo to Surat or Canton as freely as he now sent a cargo to Hamburg or Lisbon. In our time these doctrines may probably be considered, not only as sound, but as trite and obvious. In the seventeenth century, however, they were thought paradoxical. It was then generally held to be a certain, and indeed an almost selfevident truth, that our trade with the countries lying beyond the Cape of Good Hope could be advantageously carried on only by means of a great Joint Stock Company. There was no analogy, it was said, between our European trade and our Indian trade. Our government had diplomatic relations with the European States. If necessary, a maritime force could easily be sent from hence to the mouth of the Elbe or of the Tagus. But the English Kings had no envoy at the Court of Agra or Pekin. There was seldom a single English man of war within ten thousand miles of the Bay of Bengal or of the Gulf of Siam. As our merchants could not, in those remote seas, be protected by their Sovereign, they must protect themselves, and must, for that end, exercise some of the rights of sovereignty. They must have forts, garrisons and armed ships. They must have power to send and receive embassies, to make a treaty of alliance with one Asiatic prince, to wage war on another. It was evidently impossible that every merchant should have this power independently of the rest. The merchants trading to India must therefore be joined together in a corporation which could act as one man. In support of these arguments the example of the Dutch was cited, and was generally considered as decisive. For in that age the immense prosperity of Holland was every where regarded with admiration, not the less earnest because it was largely mingled with envy and hatred. In all that related to trade, her statesmen were considered as oracles, and her institutions as models.
The great majority, therefore, of those who assailed the Company assailed it, not because it traded on joint funds and possessed exclusive privileges, but because it was ruled by one man, and because his rule had been mischievous to the public, and beneficial only to himself and his creatures. The obvious remedy, it was said, for the evils which his maladministration had produced was to transfer the monopoly to a new corporation so constituted as to be in no danger of falling under the dominion either of a despot or of a narrow oligarchy. Many persons who were desirous to be members of such a corporation, formed themselves into a society, signed an engagement, and entrusted the care of their interests to a committee which contained some of the chief traders of the City. This society, though it had, in the eye of the law, no personality, was early designated, in popular speech, as the New Company; and the hostilities between the New Company and the Old Company soon caused almost as much excitement and anxiety, at least in that busy hive of which the Royal Exchange was the centre, as the hostilities between the Allies and the French King. The headquarters of the younger association were in Dowgate; the Skinners lent their stately hall; and the meetings were held in a parlour renowned for the fragrance which exhaled from a magnificent wainscot of cedar.
While the contention was hottest, important news arrived from India, and was announced in the London Gazette as in the highest degree satisfactory. Peace had been concluded between the great Mogul and the English. That mighty potentate had not only withdrawn his troops from the factories, but had bestowed on the Company privileges such as it had never before enjoyed. Soon, however, appeared a very different version of the story. The enemies of Child had, before this time, accused him of systematically publishing false intelligence. He had now, they said, outlied himself. They had obtained a true copy of the Firman which had put an end to the war; and they printed a translation of it. It appeared that Aurengzebe had contemptuously granted to the English, in consideration of their penitence and of a large tribute, his forgiveness for their past delinquency, had charged them to behave themselves better for the future, and had, in the tone of a master, laid on them his commands to remove the principal offender, Sir John Child, from power and trust. The death of Sir John occurred so seasonably that these commands could not be obeyed. But it was only too evident that the pacification which the rulers of the India House had represented as advantageous and honourable had really been effected on terms disgraceful to the English name.
During the summer of 1691, the controversy which raged on this subject between the Leadenhall Street Company and the Dowgate Company kept the City in constant agitation. In the autumn, the Parliament had no sooner met than both the contending parties presented petitions to the House of Commons. The petitions were immediately taken into serious consideration, and resolutions of grave importance were passed. The first resolution was that the trade with the East Indies was beneficial to the kingdom; the second was that the trade with the East Indies would be best carried on by a joint stock company possessed of exclusive privileges. It was plain, therefore, that neither those manufacturers who wished to prohibit the trade, nor those merchants at the outports who wished to throw it open, had the smallest chance of attaining their objects. The only question left was the question between the Old and the New Company. Seventeen years elapsed before that question ceased to disturb both political and commercial circles. It was fatal to the honour and power of one great minister, and to the peace and prosperity of many private families. The tracts which the rival bodies put forth against each other were innumerable. If the drama of that age may be trusted, the feud between the India House and Skinners' Hall was sometimes as serious an impediment to the course of true love in London as the feud of the Capulets and Montagues had been at Verona. Which of the two contending parties was the stronger it is not easy to say. The New Company was supported by the Whigs, the Old Company by the Tories. The New Company was popular; for it promised largely, and could not be accused of having broken its promises; it made no dividends, and therefore was not envied; it had no power to oppress, and had therefore been guilty of no oppression. The Old Company, though generally regarded with little favour by the public, had the immense advantage of being in possession, and of having only to stand on the defensive. The burden of framing a plan for the regulation of the India trade, and of proving that plan to be better than the plan hitherto followed, lay on the New Company. The Old Company had merely to find objections to every change that was proposed; and such objections there was little difficulty in finding. The members of the New Company were ill provided with the means of purchasing support at Court and in Parliament. They had no corporate existence, no common treasury. If any of them gave a bribe, he gave it out of his own pocket, with little chance of being reimbursed. But the Old Company, though surrounded by dangers, still held its exclusive privileges, and still made its enormous profits. Its stock had indeed gone down greatly in value since the golden days of Charles the Second; but a hundred pounds still sold for a hundred and twenty-two. After a large dividend had been paid to the proprietors, a surplus remained amply sufficient, in those days, to corrupt half a cabinet; and this surplus was absolutely at the disposal of one able, determined and unscrupulous man, who maintained the fight with wonderful art and pertinacity.
The majority of the Commons wished to effect a compromise, to retain the Old Company, but to remodel it, to impose on it new conditions, and to incorporate with it the members of the New Company. With this view it was, after long and vehement debates and close divisions, resolved that the capital should be increased to a million and a half. In order to prevent a single person or a small junto from domineering over the whole society, it was determined that five thousand pounds of stock should be the largest quantity that any single proprietor could hold, and that those who held more should be required to sell the overplus at any price not below par. In return for the exclusive privilege of trading to the Eastern seas, the Company was to be required to furnish annually five hundred tons of saltpetre to the Crown at a low price, and to export annually English manufactures to the value of two hundred thousand pounds.
A bill founded on these resolutions was brought in, read twice, and committed, but was suffered to drop in consequence of the positive refusal of Child and his associates to accept the offered terms. He objected to every part of the plan; and his objections are highly curious and amusing. The great monopolist took his stand on the principles of free trade. In a luminous and powerfully written paper he exposed the absurdity of the expedients which the House of Commons had devised. To limit the amount of stock which might stand in a single name would, he said, be most unreasonable. Surely a proprietor whose whole fortune was staked on the success of the Indian trade was far more likely to exert all his faculties vigorously for the promotion of that trade than a proprietor who had risked only what it would be no great disaster to lose. The demand that saltpetre should be furnished to the Crown for a fixed sum Child met by those arguments, familiar to our generation, which prove that prices should be left to settle themselves. To the demand that the Company should bind itself to export annually two hundred thousand pounds' worth of English manufactures he very properly replied that the Company would most gladly export two millions' worth if the market required such a supply, and that, if the market were overstocked, it would be mere folly to send good cloth half round the world to be eaten by white ants. It was never, he declared with much spirit, found politic to put trade into straitlaced bodices, which, instead of making it grow upright and thrive, must either kill it or force it awry.
The Commons, irritated by Child's obstinacy, presented an address requesting the King to dissolve the Old Company, and to grant a charter to a new Company on such terms as to His Majesty's wisdom might seem fit. It is plainly implied in the terms of this address that the Commons thought the King constitutionally competent to grant an exclusive privilege of trading to the East Indies.
The King replied that the subject was most important, that he would consider it maturely, and that he would, at a future time, give the House a more precise answer. In Parliament nothing more was said on the subject during that session; but out of Parliament the war was fiercer than ever; and the belligerents were by no means scrupulous about the means which they employed. The chief weapons of the New Company were libels; the chief weapons of the Old Company were bribes.
In the same week in which the bill for the regulation of the Indian trade was suffered to drop, another bill which had produced great excitement and had called forth an almost unprecedented display of parliamentary ability, underwent the same fate.
During the eight years which preceded the Revolution, the Whigs had complained bitterly, and not more bitterly than justly, of the hard measure dealt out to persons accused of political offences. Was it not monstrous, they asked, that a culprit should be denied a sight of his indictment? Often an unhappy prisoner had not known of what he was accused till he had held up his hand at the bar. The crime imputed to him might be plotting to shoot the King; it might be plotting to poison the King. The more innocent the defendant was, the less likely he was to guess the nature of the charge on which he was to be tried; and how could he have evidence ready to rebut a charge the nature of which he could not guess? The Crown had power to compel the attendance of witnesses. The prisoner had no such power. If witnesses voluntarily came forward to speak in his favour, they could not be sworn. Their testimony therefore made less impression on a jury than the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution, whose veracity was guaranteed by the most solemn sanctions of law and of religion. The juries, carefully selected by Sheriffs whom the Crown had named, were men animated by the fiercest party spirit, men who had as little tenderness for an Exclusionist of a Dissenter as for a mad dog. The government was served by a band of able, experienced and unprincipled lawyers, who could, by merely glancing over a brief, distinguish every weak and every strong point of a case, whose presence of mind never failed them, whose flow of speech was inexhaustible, and who had passed their lives in dressing up the worse reason so as to make it appear the better. Was it not horrible to see three or four of these shrewd, learned and callous orators arrayed against one poor wretch who had never in his life uttered a word in public, who was ignorant of the legal definition of treason and of the first principles of the law of evidence, and whose intellect, unequal at best to a fencing match with professional gladiators, was confused by the near prospect of a cruel and ignominious death? Such however was the rule; and even for a man so much stupefied by sickness that he could not hold up his hand or make his voice heard, even for a poor old woman who understood nothing of what was passing except that she was going to be roasted alive for doing an act of charity, no advocate was suffered to utter a word. That a state trial so conducted was little better than a judicial murder had been, during the proscription of the Whig party, a fundamental article of the Whig creed. The Tories, on the other hand, though they could not deny that there had been some hard cases, maintained that, on the whole, substantial justice had been done. Perhaps a few seditious persons who had gone very near to the frontier of treason, but had not actually passed that frontier, might have suffered as traitors. But was that a sufficient reason for enabling the chiefs of the Rye House Plot and of the Western Insurrection to elude, by mere chicanery, the punishment of their guilt? On what principle was the traitor to have chances of escape which were not allowed to the felon? The culprit who was accused of larceny was subject to all the same disadvantages which, in the case of regicides and rebels, were thought so unjust; yet nobody pitied him. Nobody thought it monstrous that he should not have time to study a copy of his indictment, that his witnesses should be examined without being sworn, that he should be left to defend himself, without the help of counsel against the best abilities which the Inns of Court could furnish. The Whigs, it seemed, reserved all their compassion for those crimes which subvert government and dissolve the whole frame of human society. Guy Faux was to be treated with an indulgence which was not to be extended to a shoplifter. Bradshaw was to have privileges which were refused to a boy who had robbed a henroost.
The Revolution produced, as was natural, some change in the sentiments of both the great parties. In the days when none but Roundheads and Nonconformists were accused of treason, even the most humane and upright Cavaliers were disposed to think that the laws which were the safeguard of the throne could hardly be too severe. But, as soon as loyal Tory gentlemen and venerable fathers of the Church were in danger of being called in question for corresponding with Saint Germains, a new light flashed on many understandings which had been unable to discover the smallest injustice in the proceedings against Algernon Sidney and Alice Lisle. It was no longer thought utterly absurd to maintain that some advantages which were withheld from a man accused of felony might reasonably be allowed to a man accused of treason. What probability was there that any sheriff would pack a jury, that any barrister would employ all the arts of sophistry and rhetoric, that any judge would strain law and misrepresent evidence, in order to convict an innocent person of burglary or sheep stealing? But on a trial for high treason a verdict of acquittal must always be considered as a defeat of the government; and there was but too much reason to fear that many sheriffs, barristers and judges might be impelled by party spirit, or by some baser motive, to do any thing which might save the government from the inconvenience and shame of a defeat. The cry of the whole body of Tories was that the lives of good Englishmen who happened to be obnoxious to the ruling powers were not sufficiently protected; and this cry was swelled by the voices of some lawyers who had distinguished themselves by the malignant zeal and dishonest ingenuity with which they had conducted State prosecutions in the days of Charles and James.
The feeling of the Whigs, though it had not, like the feeling of the Tories, undergone a complete change, was yet not quite what it had been. Some, who had thought it most unjust that Russell should have no counsel and that Cornish should have no copy of his indictment, now began to mutter that the times had changed; that the dangers of the State were extreme; that liberty, property, religion, national independence, were all at stake; that many Englishmen were engaged in schemes of which the object was to make England the slave of France and of Rome; and that it would be most unwise to relax, at such a moment, the laws against political offences. It was true that the injustice with which, in the late reigns, State trials had been conducted, had given great scandal. But this injustice was to be ascribed to the bad kings and bad judges with whom the nation had been cursed. William was now on the throne; Holt was seated for life on the bench; and William would never exact, nor would Holt ever perform, services so shameful and wicked as those for which the banished tyrant had rewarded Jeffreys with riches and titles. This language however was at first held but by few. The Whigs, as a party, seem to have felt that they could not honourably defend, in the season of their prosperity, what, in the time of their adversity, they had always designated as a crying grievance. A bill for regulating trials in cases of high treason was brought into the House of Commons, and was received with general applause. Treby had the courage to make some objections; but no division took place. The chief enactments were that no person should be convicted of high treason committed more than three years before the indictment was found; that every person indicted for high treason should be allowed to avail himself of the assistance of counsel, and should be furnished, ten days before the trial, with a copy of the indictment, and with a list of the freeholders from among whom the jury was to be taken; that his witnesses should be sworn, and that they should be cited by the same process by which the attendance of the witnesses against him was secured.
The Bill went to the Upper House, and came back with an important amendment. The Lords had long complained of the anomalous and iniquitous constitution of that tribunal which had jurisdiction over them in cases of life and death. When a grand jury has found a bill of indictment against a temporal peer for any offence higher than a misdemeanour, the Crown appoints a Lord High Steward; and in the Lord High Steward's Court the case is tried. This Court was anciently composed in two very different ways. It consisted, if Parliament happened to be sitting, of all the members of the Upper House. When Parliament was not sitting, the Lord High Steward summoned any twelve or more peers at his discretion to form a jury. The consequence was that a peer accused of high treason during a recess was tried by a jury which his prosecutors had packed. The Lords now demanded that, during a recess as well as during a session, every peer accused of high treason should be tried by the whole body of the peerage.
The demand was resisted by the House of Commons with a vehemence and obstinacy which men of the present generation may find it difficult to understand. The truth is that some invidious privileges of peerage which have since been abolished, and others which have since fallen into entire desuetude, were then in full force, and were daily used. No gentleman who had had a dispute with a nobleman could think, without indignation, of the advantages enjoyed by the favoured caste. If His Lordship were sued at law, his privilege enabled him to impede the course of justice. If a rude word were spoken of him, such a word as he might himself utter with perfect impunity, he might vindicate his insulted dignity both by civil and criminal proceedings. If a barrister, in the discharge of his duty to a client, spoke with severity of the conduct of a noble seducer, if an honest squire on the racecourse applied the proper epithets to the tricks of a noble swindler, the affronted patrician had only to complain to the proud and powerful body of which he was a member. His brethren made his cause their own. The offender was taken into custody by Black Rod, brought to the bar, flung into prison, and kept there till he was glad to obtain forgiveness by the most degrading submissions. Nothing could therefore be more natural than that an attempt of the Peers to obtain any new advantage for their order should be regarded by the Commons with extreme jealousy. There is strong reason to suspect that some able Whig politicians, who thought it dangerous to relax, at that moment, the laws against political offences, but who could not, without incurring the charge of inconsistency, declare themselves adverse to any relaxation, had conceived a hope that they might, by fomenting the dispute about the Court of the Lord High Steward, defer for at least a year the passing of a bill which they disliked, and yet could not decently oppose. If this really was their plan, it succeeded perfectly. The Lower House rejected the amendment; the Upper House persisted; a free conference was held; and the question was argued with great force and ingenuity on both sides.
The reasons in favour of the amendment are obvious, and indeed at first sight seem unanswerable. It was surely difficult to defend a system under which the Sovereign nominated a conclave of his own creatures to decide the fate of men whom he regarded as his mortal enemies. And could any thing be more absurd than that a nobleman accused of high treason should be entitled to be tried by the whole body of his peers if his indictment happened to be brought into the House of Lords the minute before a prorogation, but that, if the indictment arrived a minute after the prorogation, he should be at the mercy of a small junto named by the very authority which prosecuted him? That any thing could have been said on the other side seems strange; but those who managed the conference for the Commons were not ordinary men, and seem on this occasion to have put forth all their powers. Conspicuous among them was Charles Montague, who was rapidly attaining a foremost rank among the orators of that age. To him the lead seems on this occasion to have been left; and to his pen we owe an account of the discussion, which gives a very high notion of his talents for debate. "We have framed"--such was in substance his reasoning,--"we have framed a law which has in it nothing exclusive, a law which will be a blessing to every class, from the highest to the lowest. The new securities, which we propose to give to innocence oppressed by power, are common between the premier peer and the humblest day labourer. The clause which establishes a time of limitation for prosecutions protects us all alike. To every Englishman accused of the highest crime against the state, whatever be his rank, we give the privilege of seeing his indictment, the privilege of being defended by counsel, the privilege of having his witnesses summoned by writ of subpoena and sworn on the Holy Gospels. Such is the bill which we sent up to your Lordships; and you return it to us with a clause of which the effect is to give certain advantages to your noble order at the expense of the ancient prerogatives of the Crown. Surely before we consent to take away from the King any power which his predecessors have possessed for ages, and to give it to your Lordships, we ought to be satisfied that you are more likely to use it well than he. Something we must risk; somebody we must trust; and; since we are forced, much against our will, to institute what is necessarily an invidious comparison, we must own ourselves unable to discover any reason for believing that a prince is less to be trusted than an aristocracy.
Is it reasonable, you ask, that you should be tried for your lives before a few members of your House, selected by the Crown? Is it reasonable, we ask in our turn, that you should have the privilege of being tried by all the members of your House, that is to say, by your brothers, your uncles, your first cousins, your second cousins, your fathers in law, your brothers in law, your most intimate friends? You marry so much into each other's families, you live so much in each other's society, that there is scarcely a nobleman who is not connected by consanguinity or affinity with several others, and who is not on terms of friendship with several more. There have been great men whose death put a third or fourth part of the baronage of England into mourning. Nor is there much danger that even those peers who may be unconnected with an accused lord will be disposed to send him to the block if they can with decency say 'Not Guilty, upon my honour.' For the ignominious death of a single member of a small aristocratical body necessarily leaves a stain on the reputation of his fellows. If, indeed, your Lordships proposed that every one of your body should be compelled to attend and vote, the Crown might have some chance of obtaining justice against a guilty peer, however strongly connected. But you propose that attendance shall be voluntary. Is it possible to doubt what the consequence will be? All the prisoner's relations and friends will be in their places to vote for him. Good nature and the fear of making powerful enemies will keep away many who, if they voted at all, would be forced by conscience and honour to vote against him. The new system which you propose would therefore evidently be unfair to the Crown; and you do not show any reason for believing that the old system has been found in practice unfair to yourselves. We may confidently affirm that, even under a government less just and merciful than that under which we have the happiness to live, an innocent peer has little to fear from any set of peers that can be brought together in Westminster Hall to try him. How stands the fact? In what single case has a guiltless head fallen by the verdict of this packed jury? It would be easy to make out a long list of squires, merchants, lawyers, surgeons, yeomen, artisans, ploughmen, whose blood, barbarously shed during the late evil times, cries for vengeance to heaven. But what single member of your House, in our days, or in the days of our fathers, or in the days of our grandfathers, suffered death unjustly by sentence of the Court of the Lord High Steward? Hundreds of the common people were sent to the gallows by common juries for the Rye House Plot and the Western Insurrection. One peer, and one alone, my Lord Delamere, was brought at that time before the Court of the Lord High Steward; and he was acquitted. But, it is said, the evidence against him was legally insufficient. Be it so. So was the evidence against Sidney, against Cornish, against Alice Lisle; yet it sufficed to destroy them. But, it is said, the peers before whom my Lord Delamere was brought were selected with shameless unfairness by King James and by Jeffreys. Be it so. But this only proves that, under the worst possible King, and under the worst possible High Steward, a lord tried by lords has a better chance for life than a commoner who puts himself on his country. We cannot, therefore, under the mild government which we now possess, feel much apprehension for the safety of any innocent peer. Would that we felt as little apprehension for the safety of that government! But it is notorious that the settlement with which our liberties are inseparably bound up is attacked at once by foreign and by domestic enemies. We cannot consent at such a crisis to relax the restraints which have, it may well be feared, already proved too feeble to prevent some men of high rank from plotting the ruin of their country. To sum up the whole, what is asked of us is that we will consent to transfer a certain power from their Majesties to your Lordships. Our answer is that, at this time, in our opinion, their Majesties have not too much power, and your Lordships have quite power enough."
These arguments, though eminently ingenious, and not without real force, failed to convince the Upper House. The Lords insisted that every peer should be entitled to be a Trier. The Commons were with difficulty induced to consent that the number of Triers should never be less than thirty-six, and positively refused to make any further concession. The bill was therefore suffered to drop.
It is certain that those who in the conference on this bill represented the Commons, did not exaggerate the dangers to which the government was exposed. While the constitution of the Court which was to try peers for treason was under discussion, a treason planned with rare skill by a peer was all but carried into execution.
Marlborough had never ceased to assure the Court of Saint Germains that the great crime which he had committed was constantly present to his thoughts, and that he lived only for the purpose of repentance and reparation. Not only had he been himself converted; he had also converted the Princess Anne. In 1688, the Churchills had, with little difficulty, induced her to fly from her father's palace. In 1691, they, with as little difficulty, induced her to copy out and sign a letter expressing her deep concern for his misfortunes and her earnest wish to atone for her breach of duty. At the same time Marlborough held out hopes that it might be in his power to effect the restoration of his old master in the best possible way, without the help of a single foreign soldier or sailor, by the votes of the English Lords and Commons, and by the support of the English army. We are not fully informed as to all the details of his plan. But the outline is known to us from a most interesting paper written by James, of which one copy is in the Bodleian Library, and another among the archives of the French Foreign Office.
The jealousy with which the English regarded the Dutch was at this time intense. There had never been a hearty friendship between the nations. They were indeed near of kin to each other. They spoke two dialects of one widespread language. Both boasted of their political freedom. Both were attached to the reformed faith. Both were threatened by the same enemy, and would be safe only while they were united. Yet there was no cordial feeling between them. They would probably have loved each other more, if they had, in some respects, resembled each other less. They were the two great commercial nations, the two great maritime nations. In every sea their flags were found together, in the Baltic and in the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Straits of Malacca. Every where the merchant of London and the merchant of Amsterdam were trying to forestall each other and to undersell each other. In Europe the contest was not sanguinary. But too often, in barbarous countries, where there was no law but force, the competitors had met, burning with cupidity, burning with animosity, armed for battle, each suspecting the other of hostile designs and each resolved to give the other no advantage. In such circumstances it is not strange that many violent and cruel acts should have been perpetrated. What had been done in those distant regions could seldom be exactly known in Europe. Every thing was exaggerated and distorted by vague report and by national prejudice. Here it was the popular belief that the English were always blameless, and that every quarrel was to be ascribed to the avarice and inhumanity of the Dutch. Lamentable events which had taken place in the Spice Islands were repeatedly brought on our stage. The Englishmen were all saints and heroes; the Dutchmen all fiends in human shape, lying, robbing, ravishing, murdering, torturing. The angry passions which these pieces indicated had more than once found vent in war. Thrice in the lifetime of one generation the two nations had contended, with equal courage and with various fortune, for the sovereignty of the German Ocean. The tyranny of James, as it had reconciled Tories to Whigs and Churchmen to Nonconformists, had also reconciled the English to the Dutch. While our ancestors were looking to the Hague for deliverance, the massacre of Amboyna and the great humiliation of Chatham had seemed to be forgotten. But since the Revolution the old feeling had revived. Though England and Holland were now closely bound together by treaty, they were as far as ever from being bound together by affection. Once, just after the battle of Beachy Head, our countrymen had seemed disposed to be just; but a violent reaction speedily followed. Torrington, who deserved to be shot, became a popular favourite; and the allies whom he had shamefully abandoned were accused of persecuting him without a cause. The partiality shown by the King to the companions of his youth was the favourite theme of the sewers of sedition. The most lucrative posts in his household, it was said, were held by Dutchmen; the House of Lords was fast filling with Dutchmen; the finest manors of the Crown were given to Dutchmen; the army was commanded by Dutchmen. That it would have been wise in William to exhibit somewhat less obtrusively his laudable fondness for his native country, and to remunerate his early friends somewhat more sparingly, is perfectly true. But it will not be easy to prove that, on any important occasion during his whole reign, he sacrificed the interests of our island to the interests of the United Provinces. The English, however, were on this subject prone to fits of jealousy which made them quite incapable of listening to reason. One of the sharpest of those fits came on in the autumn of 1691. The antipathy to the Dutch was at that time strong in all classes, and nowhere stronger than in the Parliament and in the army.
Of that antipathy Marlborough determined to avail himself for the purpose, as he assured James and James's adherents, of effecting a restoration. The temper of both Houses was such that they might not improbably be induced by skilful management to present a joint address requesting that all foreigners might be dismissed from the service of their Majesties. Marlborough undertook to move such an address in the Lords; and there would have been no difficulty in finding some gentleman of great weight to make a similar motion in the Commons.
If the address should be carried, what could William do? Would he yield? Would he discard all his dearest, his oldest, his most trusty friends? It was hardly possible to believe that he would make so painful, so humiliating a concession. If he did not yield, there would be a rupture between him and the Parliament; and the Parliament would be backed by the people. Even a King reigning by a hereditary title might well shrink from such a contest with the Estates of the Realm. But to a King whose title rested on a resolution of the Estates of the Realm such a contest must almost necessarily be fatal. The last hope of William would be in the army. The army Marlborough undertook to manage; and it is highly probable that what he undertook he could have performed. His courage, his abilities, his noble and winning manners, the splendid success which had attended him on every occasion on which he had been in command, had made him, in spite of his sordid vices, a favourite with his brethren in arms. They were proud of having one countryman who had shown that he wanted nothing but opportunity to vie with the ablest Marshal of France. The Dutch were even more disliked by the English troops than by the English nation generally. Had Marlborough therefore, after securing the cooperation of some distinguished officers, presented himself at the critical moment to those regiments which he had led to victory in Flanders and in Ireland, had he called on them to rally round him, to protect the Parliament, and to drive out the aliens, there is strong reason to think that the call would have been obeyed. He would then have had it in his power to fulfil the promises which he had so solemnly made to his old master.
Of all the schemes ever formed for the restoration of James or of his descendants, this scheme promised the fairest. That national pride, that hatred of arbitrary power, which had hitherto been on William's side, would now be turned against him. Hundreds of thousands who would have put their lives in jeopardy to prevent a French army from imposing a government on the English, would have felt no disposition to prevent an English army from driving out the Dutch. Even the Whigs could scarcely, without renouncing their old doctrines, support a prince who obstinately refused to comply with the general wish of his people signified to him by his Parliament. The plot looked well. An active canvass was made. Many members of the House of Commons, who did not at all suspect that there was any ulterior design, promised to vote against the foreigners. Marlborough was indefatigable in inflaming the discontents of the army. His house was constantly filled with officers who heated each other into fury by talking against the Dutch. But, before the preparations were complete, a strange suspicion rose in the minds of some of the Jacobites. That the author of this bold and artful scheme wished to pull down the existing government there could be little doubt. But was it quite certain what government he meant to set up? Might he not depose William without restoring James? Was it not possible that a man so wise, so aspiring, and so wicked, might be meditating a double treason, such as would have been thought a masterpiece of statecraft by the great Italian politicians of the fifteenth century, such as Borgia would have envied, such as Machiavel would have extolled to the skies?
What if this consummate dissembler should cheat both the rival kings? What if, when he found himself commander of the army and protector of the Parliament, he should proclaim Queen Anne? Was it not possible that the weary and harassed nation might gladly acquiesce in such a settlement? James was unpopular because he was a Papist, influenced by Popish priests. William was unpopular because he was a foreigner, attached to foreign favourites. Anne was at once a Protestant and an Englishwoman. Under her government the country would be in no danger of being overrun either by Jesuits or by Dutchmen. That Marlborough had the strongest motives for placing her on the throne was evident. He could never, in the court of her father, be more than a repentant criminal, whose services were overpaid by a pardon. In her court the husband of her adored friend would be what Pepin Heristal and Charles Martel had been to the Chilperics and Childeberts. He would be the chief director of the civil and military government. He would wield the whole power of England. He would hold the balance of Europe. Great kings and commonwealths would bid against each other for his favour, and exhaust their treasuries in the vain hope of satiating his avarice. The presumption was, therefore, that, if he had the English crown in his hands, he would put in on the head of the Princess. What evidence there was to confirm this presumption is not known; but it is certain that something took place which convinced some of the most devoted friends of the exiled family that he was meditating a second perfidy, surpassing even the feat which he had performed at Salisbury. They were afraid that if, at that moment, they succeeded in getting rid of William, the situation of James would be more hopeless than ever. So fully were they persuaded of the duplicity of their accomplice, that they not only refused to proceed further in the execution of the plan which he had formed, but disclosed his whole scheme to Portland.
William seems to have been alarmed and provoked by this intelligence to a degree very unusual with him. In general he was indulgent, nay, wilfully blind to the baseness of the English statesmen whom he employed. He suspected, indeed he knew, that some of his servants were in correspondence with his competitor; and yet he did not punish them, did not disgrace them, did not even frown on them. He thought meanly, and he had but too good reason for thinking meanly, of the whole of that breed of public men which the Restoration had formed and had bequeathed to the Revolution. He knew them too well to complain because he did not find in them veracity, fidelity, consistency, disinterestedness. The very utmost that he expected from them was that they would serve him as far as they could serve him without serious danger to themselves. If he learned that, while sitting in his council and enriched by his bounty, they were trying to make for themselves at Saint Germains an interest which might be of use to them in the event of a counterrevolution, he was more inclined to bestow on them the contemptuous commendation which was bestowed of old on the worldly wisdom of the unjust steward than to call them to a severe account. But the crime of Marlborough was of a very different kind. His treason was not that of a fainthearted man desirous to keep a retreat open for himself in every event, but that of a man of dauntless courage, profound policy and measureless ambition. William was not prone to fear; but, if there was anything on earth that he feared, it was Marlborough. To treat the criminal as he deserved was indeed impossible; for those by whom his designs had been made known to the government would never have consented to appear against him in the witness box. But to permit him to retain high command in that army which he was then engaged in seducing would have been madness.
Late in the evening of the ninth of January the Queen had a painful explanation with the Princess Anne. Early the next morning Marlborough was informed that their Majesties had no further occasion for his services, and that he must not presume to appear in the royal presence. He had been loaded with honours, and with what he loved better, riches. All was at once taken away.
The real history of these events was known to very few. Evelyn, who had in general excellent sources of information, believed that the corruption and extortion of which Marlborough was notoriously guilty had roused the royal indignation. The Dutch ministers could only tell the States General that six different stories were spread abroad by Marlborough's enemies. Some said that he had indiscreetly suffered an important military secret to escape him; some that he had spoken disrespectfully of their Majesties; some that he had done ill offices between the Queen and the Princess; some that he had been forming cabals in the army; some that he had carried on an unauthorised correspondence with the Danish government about the general politics of Europe; and some that he had been trafficking with the agents of the Court of Saint Germains. His friends contradicted every one of these stories, and affirmed that his only crime was his dislike of the foreigners who were lording it over his countrymen, and that he had fallen a victim to the machinations of Portland, whom he was known to dislike, and whom he had not very politely described as a wooden fellow. The mystery, which from the first overhung the story of Marlborough's disgrace, was darkened, after the lapse of fifty years, by the shameless mendacity of his widow. The concise narrative of James dispels the mystery, and makes it clear, not only why Marlborough was disgraced, but also how several of the reports about the cause of his disgrace originated.
Though William assigned to the public no reason for exercising his undoubted prerogative by dismissing his servant, Anne had been informed of the truth; and it had been left to her to judge whether an officer who had been guilty of a foul treason was a fit inmate of the palace. Three weeks passed. Lady Marlborough still retained her post and her apartments at Whitehall. Her husband still resided with her; and still the King and Queen gave no sign of displeasure. At length the haughty and vindictive Countess, emboldened by their patience, determined to brave them face to face, and accompanied her mistress one evening to the drawingroom at Kensington. This was too much even for the gentle Mary. She would indeed have expressed her indignation before the crowd which surrounded the card tables, had she not remembered that her sister was in a state which entitles women to peculiar indulgence. Nothing was said that night; but on the following day a letter from the Queen was delivered to the Princess. Mary declared that she was unwilling to give pain to a sister whom she loved, and in whom she could easily pass over any ordinary fault; but this was a serious matter. Lady Marlborough must be dismissed. While she lived at Whitehall her lord would live there. Was it proper that a man in his situation should be suffered to make the palace of his injured master his home? Yet so unwilling was His Majesty to deal severely with the worst offenders, that even this had been borne, and might have been borne longer, had not Anne brought the Countess to defy the King and Queen in their own presence chamber. "It was unkind," Mary wrote, "in a sister; it would have been uncivil in an equal; and I need not say that I have more to claim." The Princess, in her answer, did not attempt to exculpate or excuse Marlborough, but expressed a firm conviction that his wife was innocent, and implored the Queen not to insist on so heartrending a separation. "There is no misery," Anne wrote, "that I cannot resolve to suffer rather than the thoughts of parting from her."
The Princess sent for her uncle Rochester, and implored him to carry her letter to Kensington, and to be her advocate there. Rochester declined the office of messenger, and, though he tried to restore harmony between his kinswomen, was by no means disposed to plead the cause of the Churchills. He had indeed long seen with extreme uneasiness the absolute dominion exercised over his younger niece by that unprincipled pair. Anne's expostulation was sent to the Queen by a servant. The only reply was a message from the Lord Chamberlain, Dorset, commanding Lady Marlborough to leave the palace. Mrs. Morley would not be separated from Mrs. Freeman. As to Mr. Morley, all places where he could have his three courses and his three bottles were alike to him. The Princess and her whole family therefore retired to Sion House, a villa belonging to the Duke of Somerset, and situated on the margin of the Thames. In London she occupied Berkeley House, which stood in Piccadilly, on the site now covered by Devonshire House. Her income was secured by Act of Parliament; but no punishment which it was in the power of the Crown to inflict on her was spared. Her guard of honour was taken away. The foreign ministers ceased to wait upon her. When she went to Bath the Secretary of State wrote to request the Mayor of that city not to receive her with the ceremonial with which royal visitors were usually welcomed. When she attended divine service at Saint James's Church she found that the rector had been forbidden to show her the customary marks of respect, to bow to her from his pulpit, and to send a copy of his text to be laid on her cushion. Even the bellman of Piccadilly, it was said, perhaps falsely, was ordered not to chaunt her praises in his doggrel verse under the windows of Berkeley House.
That Anne was in the wrong is clear; but it is not equally clear that the King and Queen were in the right. They should have either dissembled their displeasure, or openly declared the true reasons for it. Unfortunately, they let every body see the punishment, and they let scarcely any body know the provocation. They should have remembered that, in the absence of information about the cause of a quarrel, the public is naturally inclined to side with the weaker party, and that this inclination is likely to be peculiarly strong when a sister is, without any apparent reason, harshly treated by a sister. They should have remembered, too, that they were exposing to attack what was unfortunately the one vulnerable part of Mary's character. A cruel fate had put enmity between her and her father. Her detractors pronounced her utterly destitute of natural affection; and even her eulogists, when they spoke of the way in which she had discharged the duties of the filial relation, were forced to speak in a subdued and apologetic tone. Nothing therefore could be more unfortunate than that she should a second time appear unmindful of the ties of consanguinity. She was now at open war with both the two persons who were nearest to her in blood. Many who thought that her conduct towards her parent was justified by the extreme danger which had threatened her country and her religion, were unable to defend her conduct towards her sister. While Mary, who was really guilty in this matter of nothing more than imprudence, was regarded by the world as an oppressor, Anne, who was as culpable as her small faculties enabled her to be, assumed the interesting character of a meek, resigned sufferer. In those private letters, indeed, to which the name of Morley was subscribed, the Princess expressed the sentiments of a fury in the style of a fishwoman, railed savagely at the whole Dutch nation, and called her brother in law sometimes the abortion, sometimes the monster, sometimes Caliban. But the nation heard nothing of her language and saw nothing of her deportment but what was decorous and submissive. The truth seems to have been that the rancorous and coarseminded Countess gave the tone to Her Highness's confidential correspondence, while the graceful, serene and politic Earl was suffered to prescribe the course which was to be taken before the public eye. During a short time the Queen was generally blamed. But the charm of her temper and manners was irresistible; and in a few months she regained the popularity which she had lost.
It was a most fortunate circumstance for Marlborough that, just at the very time when all London was talking about his disgrace, and trying to guess at the cause of the King's sudden anger against one who had always seemed to be a favourite, an accusation of treason was brought by William Fuller against many persons of high consideration, was strictly investigated, and was proved to be false and malicious. The consequence was that the public, which rarely discriminates nicely, could not, at that moment, be easily brought to believe in the reality of any Jacobite conspiracy.
That Fuller's plot is less celebrated than the Popish plot is rather the fault of the historians than of Fuller, who did all that man could do to secure an eminent place among villains. Every person well read in history must have observed that depravity has its temporary modes, which come in and go out like modes of dress and upholstery. It may be doubted whether, in our country, any man ever before the year 1678 invented and related on oath a circumstantial history, altogether fictitious, of a treasonable plot, for the purpose of making himself important by destroying men who had given him no provocation. But in the year 1678 this execrable crime became the fashion, and continued to be so during the twenty years which followed. Preachers designated it as our peculiar national sin, and prophesied that it would draw on us some awful national judgment. Legislators proposed new punishments of terrible severity for this new atrocity. It was not however found necessary to resort to those punishments. The fashion changed; and during the last century and a half there has perhaps not been a single instance of this particular kind of wickedness.
The explanation is simple. Oates was the founder of a school. His success proved that no romance is too wild to be received with faith by understandings which fear and hatred have disordered. His slanders were monstrous; but they were well timed; he spoke to a people made credulous by their passions; and thus, by impudent and cruel lying, he raised himself in a week from beggary and obscurity to luxury, renown and power. He had once eked out the small tithes of a miserable vicarage by stealing the pigs and fowls of his parishioners. He was now lodged in a palace; he was followed by admiring crowds; he had at his mercy the estates and lives of Howards and Herberts. A crowd of imitators instantly appeared. It seemed that much more might be got, and that much less was risked, by testifying to an imaginary conspiracy than by robbing on the highway or clipping the coin. Accordingly the Bedloes, Dangerfields, Dugdales, Turberviles, made haste to transfer their industry to an employment at once more profitable and less perilous than any to which they were accustomed. Till the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament Popish plots were the chief manufacture. Then, during seven years, Whig plots were the only plots which paid. After the Revolution Jacobite plots came in; but the public had become cautious; and though the new false witnesses were in no respect less artful than their predecessors, they found much less encouragement. The history of the first great check given to the practices of this abandoned race of men well deserves to be circumstantially related.
In 1689, and in the beginning of 1690, William Fuller had rendered to the government service such as the best governments sometimes require, and such as none but the worst men ever perform. His useful treachery had been rewarded by his employers, as was meet, with money and with contempt. Their liberality enabled him to live during some months like a fine gentleman. He called himself a Colonel, hired servants, clothed them in gorgeous liveries, bought fine horses, lodged in Pall Mall, and showed his brazen forehead, overtopped by a wig worth fifty guineas, in the antechambers of the palace and in the stage box at the theatre. He even gave himself the airs of a favourite of royalty, and, as if he thought that William could not live without him, followed His Majesty first to Ireland, and then to the Congress of Princes at the Hague. Fuller afterwards boasted that, at the Hague, he appeared with a retinue fit for an ambassador, that he gave ten guineas a week for an apartment, and that the worst waistcoat which he condescended to wear was of silver stuff at forty shillings a yard. Such profusion, of course, brought him to poverty. Soon after his return to England he took refuge from the bailiffs in Axe Yard, a place lying within the verge of Whitehall. His fortunes were desperate; he owed great sums; on the government he had no claim; his past services had been overpaid; no future service was to be expected from him; having appeared in the witness box as evidence for the Crown, he could no longer be of any use as a spy on the Jacobites; and by all men of virtue and honour, to whatever party they might belong, he was abhorred and shunned.
Just at this time, when he was in the frame of mind in which men are open to the worst temptations, he fell in with the worst of tempters, in truth, with the Devil in human shape. Oates had obtained his liberty, his pardon, and a pension which made him a much richer man than nineteen twentieths of the members of that profession of which he was the disgrace. But he was still unsatisfied. He complained that he had now less than three hundred a year. In the golden days of the Plot he had been allowed three times as much, had been sumptuously lodged in the palace, had dined on plate and had been clothed in silk. He clamoured for an increase of his stipend. Nay, he was even impudent enough to aspire to ecclesiastical preferment, and thought it hard that, while so many mitres were distributed, he could not get a deanery, a prebend, or even a living. He missed no opportunity of urging his pretensions. He haunted the public offices and the lobbies of the Houses of Parliament. He might be seen and heard every day, hurrying, as fast as his uneven legs would carry him, between Charing Cross and Westminster Hall, puffing with haste and self importance, chattering about what he had done for the good cause, and reviling, in the style of the boatmen on the river, all the statesmen and divines whom he suspected of doing him ill offices at Court, and keeping him back from a bishopric. When he found that there was no hope for him in the Established Church, he turned to the Baptists. They, at first, received him very coldly; but he gave such touching accounts of the wonderful work of grace which had been wrought in his soul, and vowed so solemnly, before Jehovah and the holy angels, to be thenceforth a burning and shining light, that it was difficult for simple and well meaning people to think him altogether insincere. He mourned, he said, like a turtle. On one Lord's day he thought he should have died of grief at being shut out from fellowship with the saints. He was at length admitted to communion; but before he had been a year among his new friends they discovered his true character, and solemnly cast him out as a hypocrite. Thenceforth he became the mortal enemy of the leading Baptists, and persecuted them with the same treachery, the same mendacity, the same effrontery, the same black malice which had many years before wrought the destruction of more celebrated victims. Those who had lately been edified by his account of his blessed experiences stood aghast to hear him crying out that he would be revenged, that revenge was God's own sweet morsel, that the wretches who had excommunicated him should be ruined, that they should be forced to fly their country, that they should be stripped to the last shilling. His designs were at length frustrated by a righteous decree of the Court of Chancery, a decree which would have left a deep stain on the character of an ordinary man, but which makes no perceptible addition to the infamy of Titus Oates. Through all changes, however, he was surrounded by a small knot of hotheaded and foulmouthed agitators, who, abhorred and despised by every respectable Whig, yet called themselves Whigs, and thought themselves injured because they were not rewarded for scurrility and slander with the best places under the Crown.
In 1691, Titus, in order to be near the focal point of political intrigue and faction, had taken a house within the precinct of Whitehall. To this house Fuller, who lived hard by, found admission. The evil work which had been begun in him, when he was still a child, by the memoirs of Dangerfield, was now completed by the conversation of Oates. The Salamanca Doctor was, as a witness, no longer formidable; but he was impelled, partly by the savage malignity which he felt towards all whom he considered as his enemies, and partly by mere monkeylike restlessness and love of mischief, to do, through the instrumentality of others, what he could no longer do in person. In Fuller he had found the corrupt heart, the ready tongue and the unabashed front which are the first qualifications for the office of a false accuser. A friendship, if that word may be so used, sprang up between the pair. Oates opened his house and even his purse to Fuller. The veteran sinner, both directly and through the agency of his dependents, intimated to the novice that nothing made a man so important as the discovering of a plot, and that these were times when a young fellow who would stick at nothing and fear nobody might do wonders. The Revolution,--such was the language constantly held by Titus and his parasites,--had produced little good. The brisk boys of Shaftesbury had not been recompensed according to their merits. Even the Doctor, such was the ingratitude of men, was looked on coldly at the new Court. Tory rogues sate at the council board, and were admitted to the royal closet. It would be a noble feat to bring their necks to the block. Above all, it would be delightful to see Nottingham's long solemn face on Tower Hill. For the hatred with which these bad men regarded Nottingham had no bounds, and was probably excited less by his political opinions, in which there was doubtless much to condemn, than by his moral character, in which the closest scrutiny will detect little that is not deserving of approbation. Oates, with the authority which experience and success entitle a preceptor to assume, read his pupil a lecture on the art of bearing false witness. "You ought," he said, with many oaths and curses, "to have made more, much more, out of what you heard and saw at Saint Germains. Never was there a finer foundation for a plot. But you are a fool; you are a coxcomb; I could beat you; I would not have done so. I used to go to Charles and tell him his own. I called Lauderdale rogue to his face. I made King, Ministers, Lords, Commons, afraid of me. But you young men have no spirit." Fuller was greatly edified by these exhortations. It was, however, hinted to him by some of his associates that, if he meant to take up the trade of swearing away lives, he would do well not to show himself so often at coffeehouses in the company of Titus. "The Doctor," said one of the gang, "is an excellent person, and has done great things in his time; but many people are prejudiced against him; and, if you are really going to discover a plot, the less you are seen with him the better." Fuller accordingly ceased to frequent Oates's house, but still continued to receive his great master's instructions in private.
To do Fuller justice, he seems not to have taken up the trade of a false witness till he could no longer support himself by begging or swindling. He lived for a time on the charity of the Queen. He then levied contributions by pretending to be one of the noble family of Sidney. He wheedled Tillotson out of some money, and requited the good Archbishop's kindness by passing himself off as His Grace's favourite nephew. But in the autumn of 1691 all these shifts were exhausted. After lying in several spunging houses, Fuller was at length lodged in the King's Bench prison, and he now thought it time to announce that he had discovered a plot.
He addressed himself first to Tillotson and Portland; but both Tillotson and Portland soon perceived that he was lying. What he said was, however, reported to the King, who, as might have been expected, treated the information and the informant with cold contempt. All that remained was to try whether a flame could be raised in the Parliament.
Soon after the Houses met, Fuller petitioned the Commons to hear what he had to say, and promised to make wonderful disclosures. He was brought from his prison to the bar of the House; and he there repeated a long romance. James, he said, had delegated the regal authority to six commissioners, of whom Halifax was first. More than fifty lords and gentlemen had signed an address to the French King, imploring him to make a great effort for the restoration of the House of Stuart. Fuller declared that he had seen this address, and recounted many of the names appended to it. Some members made severe remarks on the improbability of the story and on the character of the witness. He was, they said, one of the greatest rogues on the face of the earth; and he told such things as could scarcely be credited if he were an angel from heaven. Fuller audaciously pledged himself to bring proofs which would satisfy the most incredulous. He was, he averred, in communication with some agents of James. Those persons were ready to make reparation to their country. Their testimony would be decisive; for they were in possession of documentary evidence which would confound the guilty. They held back only because they saw some of the traitors high in office and near the royal person, and were afraid of incurring the enmity of men so powerful and so wicked. Fuller ended by asking for a sum of money, and by assuring the Commons that he would lay it out to good account. Had his impudent request been granted, he would probably have paid his debts, obtained his liberty, and absconded; but the House very wisely insisted on seeing his witnesses first. He then began to shuffle. The gentlemen were on the Continent, and could not come over without passports. Passports were delivered to him; but he complained that they were insufficient. At length the Commons, fully determined to get at the truth, presented an address requesting the King to send Fuller a blank safe conduct in the largest terms. The safe conduct was sent. Six weeks passed, and nothing was heard of the witnesses. The friends of the lords and gentlemen who had been accused represented strongly that the House ought not to separate for the summer without coming to some decision on charges so grave. Fuller was ordered to attend. He pleaded sickness, and asserted, not for the first time, that the Jacobites had poisoned him. But all his plans were confounded by the laudable promptitude and vigour with which the Commons acted. A Committee was sent to his bedside, with orders to ascertain whether he really had any witnesses, and where those witnesses resided. The members who were deputed for this purpose went to the King's Bench prison, and found him suffering under a disorder, produced, in all probability, by some emetic which he had swallowed for the purpose of deceiving them. In answer to their questions he said that two of his witnesses, Delaval and Hayes, were in England, and were lodged at the house of a Roman Catholic apothecary in Holborn. The Commons, as soon as the Committee had reported, sent some members to the house which he had indicated. That house and all the neighbouring houses were searched. Delaval and Hayes were not to be found, nor had any body in the vicinity ever seen such men or heard of them. The House, therefore, on the last day of the session, just before Black Rod knocked at the door, unanimously resolved that William Fuller was a cheat and a false accuser; that he had insulted the Government and the Parliament; that he had calumniated honourable men, and that an address should be carried up to the throne, requesting that he might be prosecuted for his villany. He was consequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to fine, imprisonment and the pillory. The exposure, more terrible than death to a mind not lost to all sense of shame, he underwent with a hardihood worthy of his two favourite models, Dangerfield and Oates. He had the impudence to persist, year after year, in affirming that he had fallen a victim to the machinations of the late King, who had spent six thousand pounds in order to ruin him. Delaval and Hayes--so this fable ran--had been instructed by James in person. They had, in obedience to his orders, induced Fuller to pledge his word for their appearance, and had then absented themselves, and left him exposed to the resentment of the House of Commons. The story had the reception which it deserved, and Fuller sank into an obscurity from which he twice or thrice, at long intervals, again emerged for a moment into infamy.
On the twenty-fourth of February 1692, about an hour after the Commons had voted Fuller an impostor, they were summoned to the chamber of the Lords. The King thanked the Houses for their loyalty and liberality, informed them that he must soon set out for the Continent, and commanded them to adjourn themselves. He gave his assent on that day to many bills, public and private; but when the title of one bill, which had passed the Lower House without a single division and the Upper House without a single protest, had been read by the Clerk of the Crown, the Clerk of the Parliaments declared, according to the ancient form, that the King and the Queen would consider of the matter. Those words had very rarely been pronounced before the accession of William. They have been pronounced only once since his death. But by him the power of putting a Veto on laws which had been passed by the Estates of the Realm was used on several important occasions. His detractors truly asserted that he rejected a greater number of important bills than all the Kings of the House of Stuart put together, and most absurdly inferred that the sense of the Estates of the Realm was much less respected by him than by his uncles and his grandfather. A judicious student of history will have no difficulty in discovering why William repeatedly exercised a prerogative to which his predecessors very seldom had recourse, and which his successors have suffered to fall into utter desuetude.
His predecessors passed laws easily because they broke laws easily. Charles the First gave his assent to the Petition of Right, and immediately violated every clause of that great statute. Charles the Second gave his assent to an Act which provided that a Parliament should be held at least once in three years; but when he died the country had been near four years without a Parliament. The laws which abolished the Court of High Commission, the laws which instituted the Sacramental Test, were passed without the smallest difficulty; but they did not prevent James the Second from reestablishing the Court of High Commission, and from filling the Privy Council, the public offices, the courts of justice, and the municipal corporations with persons who had never taken the Test. Nothing could be more natural than that a King should not think it worth while to withhold his assent from a statute with which he could dispense whenever he thought fit.
The situation of William was very different. He could not, like those who had ruled before him, pass an Act in the spring and violate it in the summer. He had, by assenting to the Bill of Rights, solemnly renounced the dispensing power; and he was restrained, by prudence as well as by conscience and honour, from breaking the compact under which he held his crown. A law might be personally offensive to him; it might appear to him to be pernicious to his people; but, as soon as he had passed it, it was, in his eyes, a sacred thing. He had therefore a motive, which preceding Kings had not, for pausing before he passed such a law. They gave their word readily, because they had no scruple about breaking it. He gave his word slowly, because he never failed to keep it.
But his situation, though it differed widely from that of the princes of the House of Stuart, was not precisely that of the princes of the House of Brunswick. A prince of the House of Brunswick is guided, as to the use of every royal prerogative, by the advice of a responsible ministry; and this ministry must be taken from the party which predominates in the two Houses, or, at least, in the Lower House. It is hardly possible to conceive circumstances in which a Sovereign so situated can refuse to assent to a bill which has been approved by both branches of the legislature. Such a refusal would necessarily imply one of two things, that the Sovereign acted in opposition to the advice of the ministry, or that the ministry was at issue, on a question of vital importance, with a majority both of the Commons and of the Lords. On either supposition the country would be in a most critical state, in a state which, if long continued, must end in a revolution. But in the earlier part of the reign of William there was no ministry. The heads of the executive departments had not been appointed exclusively from either party. Some were zealous Whigs, others zealous Tories. The most enlightened statesmen did not hold it to be unconstitutional that the King should exercise his highest prerogatives on the most important occasions without any other guidance than that of his own judgment. His refusal, therefore, to assent to a bill which had passed both Houses indicated, not, as a similar refusal would now indicate, that the whole machinery of government was in a state of fearful disorder, but merely that there was a difference of opinion between him and the two other branches of the legislature as to the expediency of a particular law. Such a difference of opinion might exist, and, as we shall hereafter see, actually did exist, at a time when he was, not merely on friendly, but on most affectionate terms with the Estates of the Realm.
The circumstances under which he used his Veto for the first time have never yet been correctly stated. A well meant but unskilful attempt had been made to complete a reform which the Bill of Rights had left imperfect. That great law had deprived the Crown of the power of arbitrarily removing the judges, but had not made them entirely independent. They were remunerated partly by fees and partly by salaries. Over the fees the King had no control; but the salaries he had full power to reduce or to withhold. That William had ever abused this power was not pretended; but it was undoubtedly a power which no prince ought to possess; and this was the sense of both Houses. A bill was therefore brought in by which a salary of a thousand a year was strictly secured to each of the twelve judges. Thus far all was well. But unfortunately the salaries were made a charge on the hereditary revenue. No such proposition would now be entertained by the House of Commons, without the royal consent previously signified by a Privy Councillor. But this wholesome rule had not then been established; and William could defend the proprietary rights of the Crown only by putting his negative on the bill. At the time there was, as far as can now be ascertained, no outcry. Even the Jacobite libellers were almost silent. It was not till the provisions of the bill had been forgotten, and till nothing but its title was remembered, that William was accused of having been influenced by a wish to keep the judges in a state of dependence.
The Houses broke up; and the King prepared to set out for the Continent. Before his departure he made some changes in his household and in several departments of the government; changes, however, which did not indicate a very decided preference for either of the great political parties. Rochester was sworn of the Council. It is probable that he had earned this mark of royal favour by taking the Queen's side in the unhappy dispute between her and her sister. Pembroke took charge of the Privy Seal, and was succeeded at the Board of Admiralty by Charles Lord Cornwallis, a moderate Tory; Lowther accepted a seat at the same board, and was succeeded at the Treasury by Sir Edward Seymour. Many Tory country gentlemen, who had looked on Seymour as their leader in the war against placemen and Dutchmen, were moved to indignation by learning that he had become a courtier. They remembered that he had voted for a Regency, that he had taken the oaths with no good grace, that he had spoken with little respect of the Sovereign whom he was now ready to serve for the sake of emoluments hardly worthy of the acceptance of a man of his wealth and parliamentary interest. It was strange that the haughtiest of human beings should be the meanest, that one who seethed to reverence nothing on earth but himself should abase himself for the sake of quarter day. About such reflections he troubled himself very little. He found, however, that there was one disagreeable circumstance connected with his new office. At the Board of Treasury he must sit below the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The First Lord, Godolphin, was a peer of the realm; and his right to precedence, according to the rules of the heralds, could not be questioned. But every body knew who was the first of English commoners. What was Richard Hampden that he should take the place of a Seymour, of the head of the Seymours? With much difficulty, the dispute was compromised. Many concessions were made to Sir Edward's punctilious pride. He was sworn of the Council. He was appointed one of the Cabinet. The King took him by the hand and presented him to the Queen. "I bring you," said William, "a gentleman who will in my absence be a valuable friend." In this way Sir Edward was so much soothed and flattered that he ceased to insist on his right to thrust himself between the First Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In the same Commission of Treasury in which the name of Seymour appeared, appeared also the name of a much younger politician, who had during the late session raised himself to high distinction in the House of Commons, Charles Montague. This appointment gave great satisfaction to the Whigs, in whose esteem Montague now stood higher than their veteran chiefs Sacheverell and Littleton, and was indeed second to Somers alone.
Sidney delivered up the seals which he had held during more than a year, and was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Some months clasped before the place which he had quitted was filled up; and during this interval the whole business which had ordinarily been divided between two Secretaries of State was transacted by Nottingham.
While these arrangements were in progress, events had taken place in a distant part of the island which were not, till after the lapse of many months, known in the best informed circles of London, but which gradually obtained a fearful notoriety, and which, after the lapse of more than a hundred and sixty years, are never mentioned without horror.
Soon after the Estates of Scotland had separated in the autumn of 1690, a change was made in the administration of that kingdom. William was not satisfied with the way in which he had been represented in the Parliament House. He thought that the rabbled curates had been hardly treated. He had very reluctantly suffered the law which abolished patronage to be touched with his sceptre. But what especially displeased him was that the Acts which established a new ecclesiastical polity had not been accompanied by an Act granting liberty of conscience to those who were attached to the old ecclesiastical polity. He had directed his Commissioner Melville to obtain for the Episcopalians of Scotland an indulgence similar to that which Dissenters enjoyed in England. But the Presbyterian preachers were loud and vehement against lenity to Amalekites. Melville, with useful talents, and perhaps with fair intentions, had neither large views nor an intrepid spirit. He shrank from uttering a word so hateful to the theological demagogues of his country as Toleration. By obsequiously humouring their prejudices he quelled the clamour which was rising at Edinburgh; but the effect of his timid caution was that a far more formidable clamour soon rose in the south of the island against the bigotry of the schismatics who domineered in the north, and against the pusillanimity of the government which had not dared to withstand that bigotry. On this subject the High Churchman and the Low Churchman were of one mind, or rather the Low Churchman was the more angry of the two. A man like South, who had during many years been predicting that, if ever the Puritans ceased to be oppressed, they would become oppressors, was at heart not ill pleased to see his prophecy fulfilled. But in a man like Burnet, the great object of whose life had been to mitigate the animosity which the ministers of the Anglican Church felt towards the Presbyterians, the intolerant conduct of the Presbyterians could awaken no feeling but indignation, shame and grief. There was, therefore, at the English Court nobody to speak a good word for Melville. It was impossible that in such circumstances he should remain at the head of the Scottish administration. He was, however, gently let down from his high position. He continued during more than a year to be Secretary of State; but another Secretary was appointed, who was to reside near the King, and to have the chief direction of affairs. The new Prime Minister for Scotland was the able, eloquent and accomplished Sir John Dalrymple. His father, the Lord President of the Court of Session, had lately been raised to the peerage by the title of Viscount Stair; and Sir John Dalrymple was consequently, according to the ancient usage of Scotland, designated as the Master of Stair. In a few months Melville resigned his secretaryship, and accepted an office of some dignity and emolument, but of no political importance.
The Lowlands of Scotland were, during the year which followed the parliamentary session of 1690, as quiet as they had ever been within the memory of man; but the state of the Highlands caused much anxiety to the government. The civil war in that wild region, after it had ceased to flame, had continued during some time to smoulder. At length, early in the year 1691, the rebel chiefs informed the Court of Saint Germains that, pressed as they were on every side, they could hold out no longer without succour from France. James had sent them a small quantity of meal, brandy and tobacco, and had frankly told them that he could do nothing more. Money was so scarce among them that six hundred pounds sterling would have been a most acceptable addition to their funds, but even such a sum he was unable to spare. He could scarcely, in such circumstances, expect them to defend his cause against a government which had a regular army and a large revenue. He therefore informed them that he should not take it ill of them if they made their peace with the new dynasty, provided always that they were prepared to rise in insurrection as soon as he should call on them to do so.
Meanwhile it had been determined at Kensington, in spite of the opposition of the Master of Stair, to try the plan which Tarbet had recommended two years before, and which, if it had been tried when he recommended it, would probably have prevented much bloodshed and confusion. It was resolved that twelve or fifteen thousand pounds should be laid out in quieting the Highlands. This was a mass of treasure which to an inhabitant of Appin or Lochaber seemed almost fabulous, and which indeed bore a greater proportion to the income of Keppoch or Glengarry than fifteen hundred thousand pounds bore to the income of Lord Bedford or Lord Devonshire. The sum was ample; but the King was not fortunate in the choice of an agent.
John Earl of Breadalbane, the head of a younger branch of the great House of Campbell, ranked high among the petty princes of the mountains. He could bring seventeen hundred claymores into the field; and, ten years before the Revolution, he had actually marched into the Lowlands with this great force for the purpose of supporting the prelatical tyranny. In those days he had affected zeal for monarchy and episcopacy; but in truth he cared for no government and no religion. He seems to have united two different sets of vices, the growth of two different regions, and of two different stages in the progress of society. In his castle among the hills he had learned the barbarian pride and ferocity of a Highland chief. In the Council Chamber at Edinburgh he had contracted the deep taint of treachery and corruption. After the Revolution he had, like too many of his fellow nobles, joined and betrayed every party in turn, had sworn fealty to William and Mary, and had plotted against them. To trace all the turns and doublings of his course, during the year 1689 and the earlier part of 1690, would be wearisome. That course became somewhat less tortuous when the battle of the Boyne had cowed the spirit of the Jacobites. It now seemed probable that the Earl would be a loyal subject of their Majesties, till some great disaster should befall them. Nobody who knew him could trust him; but few Scottish statesmen could then be trusted; and yet Scottish statesmen must be employed. His position and connections marked him out as a man who might, if he would, do much towards the work of quieting the Highlands; and his interest seemed to be a guarantee for his zeal. He had, as he declared with every appearance of truth, strong personal reasons for wishing to see tranquillity restored. His domains were so situated that, while the civil war lasted, his vassals could not tend their herds or sow their oats in peace. His lands were daily ravaged; his cattle were daily driven away; one of his houses had been burned down. It was probable, therefore, that he would do his best to put an end to hostilities.
He was accordingly commissioned to treat with the Jacobite chiefs, and was entrusted with the money which was to be distributed among them. He invited them to a conference at his residence in Glenorchy. They came; but the treaty went on very slowly. Every head of a tribe asked for a larger share of the English gold than was to be obtained. Breadalbane was suspected of intending to cheat both the clans and the King. The dispute between the rebels and the government was complicated with another dispute still more embarrassing. The Camerons and Macdonalds were really at war, not with William, but with Mac Callum More; and no arrangement to which Mac Callum More was not a party could really produce tranquillity. A grave question therefore arose, whether the money entrusted to Breadalbane should be paid directly to the discontented chiefs, or should be employed to satisfy the claims which Argyle had upon them. The shrewdness of Lochiel and the arrogant pretensions of Glengarry contributed to protract the discussions. But no Celtic potentate was so impracticable as Macdonald of Glencoe, known among the mountains by the hereditary appellation of Mac Ian.
Mac Ian dwelt in the mouth of a ravine situated not far from the southern shore of Lochleven, an arm of the sea which deeply indents the western coast of Scotland, and separates Argyleshire from Invernesshire. Near his house were two or three small hamlets inhabited by his tribe. The whole population which he governed was not supposed to exceed two hundred souls. In the neighbourhood of the little cluster of villages was some copsewood and some pasture land; but a little further up the defile no sign of population or of fruitfulness was to be seen. In the Gaelic tongue Glencoe signifies the Glen of Weeping; and in truth that pass is the most dreary and melancholy of all the Scottish passes, the very Valley of the Shadow of Death. Mists and storms brood over it through the greater part of the finest summer; and even on those rare days when the sun is bright, and when there is no cloud in the sky, the impression made by the landscape is sad and awful. The path lies along a stream which issues from the most sullen and gloomy of mountain pools. Huge precipices of naked stone frown on both sides. Even in July the streaks of snow may often be discerned in the rifts near the summits. All down the sides of the crags heaps of ruin mark the headlong paths of the torrents. Mile after mile the traveller looks in vain for the smoke of one hut, for one human form wrapped in plaid, and listens in vain for the bark of a shepherd's dog or the bleat of a lamb. Mile after mile the only sound that indicates life is the faint cry of a bird of prey from some stormbeaten pinnacle of rock. The progress of civilisation, which has turned so many wastes into fields yellow with harvests or gay with apple blossoms, has only made Glencoe more desolate. All the science and industry of a peaceful age can extract nothing valuable from that wilderness; but, in an age of violence and rapine, the wilderness itself was valued on account of the shelter which it afforded to the plunderer and his plunder. Nothing could be more natural than that the clan to which this rugged desert belonged should have been noted for predatory habits. For, among the Highlanders generally, to rob was thought at least as honourable an employment as to cultivate the soil; and, of all the Highlanders, the Macdonalds of Glencoe had the least productive soil, and the most convenient and secure den of robbers. Successive governments had tried to punish this wild race; but no large force had ever been employed for that purpose; and a small force was easily resisted or eluded by men familiar with every recess and every outlet of the natural fortress in which they had been born and bred. The people of Glencoe would probably have been less troublesome neighbours if they had lived among their own kindred. But they were an outpost of the Clan Donald, separated from every other branch of their own family, and almost surrounded by the domains of the hostile race of Diarmid. They were impelled by hereditary enmity, as well as by want, to live at the expense of the tribe of Campbell. Breadalbane's property had suffered greatly from their depredations; and he was not of a temper to forgive such injuries. When, therefore, the Chief of Glencoe made his appearance at the congress in Glenorchy, he was ungraciously received. The Earl, who ordinarily bore himself with the solemn dignity of a Castilian grandee, forgot, in his resentment, his wonted gravity, forgot his public character, forgot the laws of hospitality, and, with angry reproaches and menaces, demanded reparation for the herds which had been driven from his lands by Mac Ian's followers. Mac Ian was seriously apprehensive of some personal outrage, and was glad to get safe back to his own glen. His pride had been wounded; and the promptings of interest concurred with those of pride. As the head of a people who lived by pillage, he had strong reasons for wishing that the country might continue to be in a perturbed state. He had little chance of receiving one guinea of the money which was to be distributed among the malecontents. For his share of that money would scarcely meet Breadalbane's demands for compensation; and there could be little doubt that, whoever might be unpaid, Breadalbane would take care to pay himself. Mac Ian therefore did his best to dissuade his allies from accepting terms from which he could himself expect no benefit; and his influence was not small. His own vassals, indeed, were few in number; but he came of the best blood of the Highlands; he had kept up a close connection with his more powerful kinsmen; nor did they like him the less because he was a robber; for he never robbed them; and that robbery, merely as robbery, was a wicked and disgraceful act, had never entered into the mind of any Celtic chief. Mac Ian was therefore held in high esteem by the confederates. His age was venerable; his aspect was majestic; and he possessed in large measure those intellectual qualities which, in rude societies, give men an ascendency over their fellows. Breadalbane found himself, at every step of the negotiation, thwarted by the arts of his old enemy, and abhorred the name of Glencoe more and more every day.
But the government did not trust solely to Breadalbane's diplomatic skill. The authorities at Edinburgh put forth a proclamation exhorting the clans to submit to King William and Queen Mary, and offering pardon to every rebel who, on or before the thirty-first of December 1691, should swear to live peaceably under the government of their Majesties. It was announced that those who should hold out after that day would be treated as enemies and traitors. Warlike preparations were made, which showed that the threat was meant in earnest. The Highlanders were alarmed, and, though the pecuniary terms had not been satisfactorily settled, thought it prudent to give the pledge which was demanded of them. No chief, indeed, was willing to set the example of submission. Glengarry blustered, and pretended to fortify his house. "I will not," said Lochiel, "break the ice. That is a point of honour with me. But my tacksmen and people may use their freedom." His tacksmen and people understood him, and repaired by hundreds to the Sheriff to take the oaths. The Macdonalds of Sleat, Clanronald, Keppoch, and even Glengarry, imitated the Camerons; and the chiefs, after trying to outstay each other as long as they durst, imitated their vassals.
The thirty-first of December arrived; and still the Macdonalds of Glencoe had not come in. The punctilious pride of Mac Ian was doubtless gratified by the thought that he had continued to defy the government after the boastful Glengarry, the ferocious Keppoch, the magnanimous Lochiel had yielded: but he bought his gratification dear.
At length, on the thirty-first of December, he repaired to Fort William, accompanied by his principal vassals, and offered to take the oaths. To his dismay he found that there was in the fort no person competent to administer them. Colonel Hill, the Governor, was not a magistrate; nor was there any magistrate nearer than Inverary. Mac Ian, now fully sensible of the folly of which he had been guilty in postponing to the very last moment an act on which his life and his estate depended, set off for Inverary in great distress. He carried with him a letter from Hill to the Sheriff of Argyleshire, Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinglass, a respectable gentleman, who, in the late reign, had suffered severely for his Whig principles. In this letter the Colonel expressed a goodnatured hope that, even out of season, a lost sheep, and so fine a lost sheep, would be gladly received. Mac Ian made all the haste in his power, and did not stop even at his own house, though it lay nigh to the road. But at that time a journey through Argyleshire in the depth of winter was necessarily slow. The old man's progress up steep mountains and along boggy valleys was obstructed by snow storms; and it was not till the sixth of January that he presented himself before the Sheriff at Inverary. The Sheriff hesitated. His power, he said, was limited by the terms of the proclamation, and he did not see how he could swear a rebel who had not submitted within the prescribed time. Mac Ian begged earnestly and with tears that he might be sworn. His people, he said, would follow his example. If any of them proved refractory, he would himself send the recusant to prison, or ship him off for Flanders. His entreaties and Hill's letter overcame Sir Colin's scruples. The oath was administered; and a certificate was transmitted to the Council at Edinburgh, setting forth the special circumstances which had induced the Sheriff to do what he knew not to be strictly regular.
The news that Mac Ian had not submitted within the prescribed time was received with cruel joy by three powerful Scotchmen who were then at the English Court. Breadalbane had gone up to London at Christmas in order to give an account of his stewardship. There he met his kinsman Argyle. Argyle was, in personal qualities, one of the most insignificant of the long line of nobles who have borne that great name. He was the descendant of eminent men, and the parent of eminent men. He was the grandson of one of the ablest of Scottish politicians; the son of one of the bravest and most truehearted of Scottish patriots; the father of one Mac Callum More renowned as a warrior and as an orator, as the model of every courtly grace, and as the judicious patron of arts and letters, and of another Mac Callum More distinguished by talents for business and command, and by skill in the exact sciences. Both of such an ancestry and of such a progeny Argyle was unworthy. He had even been guilty of the crime, common enough among Scottish politicians, but in him singularly disgraceful, of tampering with the agents of James while professing loyalty to William. Still Argyle had the importance inseparable from high rank, vast domains, extensive feudal rights, and almost boundless patriarchal authority. To him, as to his cousin Breadalbane, the intelligence that the tribe of Glencoe was out of the protection of the law was most gratifying; and the Master of Stair more than sympathized with them both.
The feeling of Argyle and Breadalbane is perfectly intelligible. They were the heads of a great clan; and they had an opportunity of destroying a neighbouring clan with which they were at deadly feud. Breadalbane had received peculiar provocation. His estate had been repeatedly devastated; and he had just been thwarted in a negotiation of high moment. Unhappily there was scarcely any excess of ferocity for which a precedent could not be found in Celtic tradition. Among all warlike barbarians revenge is esteemed the most sacred of duties and the most exquisite of pleasures; and so it had long been esteemed among the Highlanders. The history of the clans abounds with frightful tales, some perhaps fabulous or exaggerated, some certainly true, of vindictive massacres and assassinations. The Macdonalds of Glengarry, for example, having been affronted by the people of Culloden, surrounded Culloden church on a Sunday, shut the doors, and burned the whole congregation alive. While the flames were raging, the hereditary musician of the murderers mocked the shrieks of the perishing crowd with the notes of his bagpipe. A band of Macgregors, having cut off the head of an enemy, laid it, the mouth filled with bread and cheese, on his sister's table, and had the satisfaction of seeing her go mad with horror at the sight. They then carried the ghastly trophy in triumph to their chief. The whole clan met under the roof of an ancient church. Every one in turn laid his hand on the dead man's scalp, and vowed to defend the slayers. The inhabitants of Eigg seized some Macleods, bound them hand and foot, and turned them adrift in a boat to be swallowed up by the waves or to perish of hunger. The Macleods retaliated by driving the population of Eigg into a cavern, lighting a fire at the entrance, and suffocating the whole race, men, women and children. It is much less strange that the two great Earls of the house of Campbell, animated by the passions of Highland chieftains, should have planned a Highland revenge, than that they should have found an accomplice, and something more than an accomplice, in the Master of Stair.
The Master of Stair was one of the first men of his time, a jurist, a statesman, a fine scholar, an eloquent orator. His polished manners and lively conversation were the delight of aristocratical societies; and none who met him in such societies would have thought it possible that he could bear the chief part in any atrocious crime. His political principles were lax, yet not more lax than those of most Scotch politicians of that age. Cruelty had never been imputed to him. Those who most disliked him did him the justice to own that, where his schemes of policy were not concerned, he was a very goodnatured man. There is not the slightest reason to believe that he gained a single pound Scots by the act which has covered his name with infamy. He had no personal reason to wish the Glencoe men ill. There had been no feud between them and his family. His property lay in a district where their tartan was never seen. Yet he hated them with a hatred as fierce and implacable as if they had laid waste his fields, burned his mansion, murdered his child in the cradle.
To what cause are we to ascribe so strange an antipathy? This question perplexed the Master's contemporaries; and any answer which may now be offered ought to be offered with diffidence. The most probable conjecture is that he was actuated by an inordinate, an unscrupulous, a remorseless zeal for what seemed to him to be the interest of the state. This explanation may startle those who have not considered how large a proportion of the blackest crimes recorded in history is to be ascribed to ill regulated public spirit. We daily see men do for their party, for their sect, for their country, for their favourite schemes of political and social reform, what they would not do to enrich or to avenge themselves. At a temptation directly addressed to our private cupidity or to our private animosity, whatever virtue we have takes the alarm. But virtue itself may contribute to the fall of him who imagines that it is in his power, by violating some general rule of morality, to confer an important benefit on a church, on a commonwealth, on mankind. He silences the remonstrances of conscience, and hardens his heart against the most touching spectacles of misery, by repeating to himself that his intentions are pure, that his objects are noble, that he is doing a little evil for the sake of a great good. By degrees he comes altogether to forget the turpitude of the means in the excellence of the end, and at length perpetrates without one internal twinge acts which would shock a buccaneer. There is no reason to believe that Dominic would, for the best archbishopric in Christendom, have incited ferocious marauders to plunder and slaughter a peaceful and industrious population, that Everard Digby would for a dukedom have blown a large assembly of people into the air, or that Robespierre would have murdered for hire one of the thousands whom he murdered from philanthropy.
The Master of Stair seems to have proposed to himself a truly great and good end, the pacification and civilisation of the Highlands. He was, by the acknowledgment of those who most hated him, a man of large views. He justly thought it monstrous that a third part of Scotland should be in a state scarcely less savage than New Guinea, that letters of fire and sword should, through a third part of Scotland, be, century after century, a species of legal process, and that no attempt should be made to apply a radical remedy to such evils. The independence affected by a crowd of petty sovereigns, the contumacious resistance which they were in the habit of offering to the authority of the Crown and of the Court of Session, their wars, their robberies, their fireraisings, their practice of exacting black mail from people more peaceable and more useful than themselves, naturally excited the disgust and indignation of an enlightened and politic gownsman, who was, both by the constitution of his mind and by the habits of his profession, a lover of law and order. His object was no less than a complete dissolution and reconstruction of society in the Highlands, such a dissolution and reconstruction as, two generations later, followed the battle of Culloden. In his view the clans, as they existed, were the plagues of the kingdom; and of all the clans, the worst was that which inhabited Glencoe. He had, it is said, been particularly struck by a frightful instance of the lawlessness and ferocity of those marauders. One of them, who had been concerned in some act of violence or rapine, had given information against his companions. He had been bound to a tree and murdered. The old chief had given the first stab; and scores of dirks had then been plunged into the wretch's body. By the mountaineers such an act was probably regarded as a legitimate exercise of patriarchal jurisdiction. To the Master of Stair it seemed that people among whom such things were done and were approved ought to be treated like a pack of wolves, snared by any device, and slaughtered without mercy. He was well read in history, and doubtless knew how great rulers had, in his own and other countries, dealt with such banditti. He doubtless knew with what energy and what severity James the Fifth had put down the mosstroopers of the border, how the chief of Henderland had been hung over the gate of the castle in which he had prepared a banquet for the King; how John Armstrong and his thirty-six horsemen, when they came forth to welcome their sovereign, had scarcely been allowed time to say a single prayer before they were all tied up and turned off. Nor probably was the Secretary ignorant of the means by which Sixtus the Fifth had cleared the ecclesiastical state of outlaws. The eulogists of that great pontiff tell us that there was one formidable gang which could not be dislodged from a stronghold among the Apennines. Beasts of burden were therefore loaded with poisoned food and wine, and sent by a road which ran close to the fastness. The robbers sallied forth, seized the prey, feasted and died; and the pious old Pope exulted greatly when he heard that the corpses of thirty ruffians, who had been the terror of many peaceful villages, had been found lying among the mules and packages. The plans of the Master of Stair were conceived in the spirit of James and of Sixtus; and the rebellion of the mountaineers furnished what seemed to be an excellent opportunity for carrying those plans into effect. Mere rebellion, indeed, he could have easily pardoned. On Jacobites, as Jacobites, he never showed any inclination to bear hard. He hated the Highlanders, not as enemies of this or that dynasty, but as enemies of law, of industry and of trade. In his private correspondence he applied to them the short and terrible form of words in which the implacable Roman pronounced the doom of Carthage. His project was no less than this, that the whole hill country from sea to sea, and the neighbouring islands, should be wasted with fire and sword, that the Camerons, the Macleans, and all the branches of the race of Macdonald, should be rooted out. He therefore looked with no friendly eye on schemes of reconciliation, and, while others were hoping that a little money would set everything right, hinted very intelligibly his opinion that whatever money was to be laid out on the clans would be best laid out in the form of bullets and bayonets. To the last moment he continued to flatter himself that the rebels would be obstinate, and would thus furnish him with a plea for accomplishing that great social revolution on which his heart was set. The letter is still extant in which he directed the commander of the forces in Scotland how to act if the Jacobite chiefs should not come in before the end of December. There is something strangely terrible in the calmness and conciseness with which the instructions are given. "Your troops will destroy entirely the country of Lochaber, Lochiel's lands, Keppoch's, Glengarry's and Glencoe's. Your power shall be large enough. I hope the soldiers will not trouble the government with prisoners."
This despatch had scarcely been sent off when news arrived in London that the rebel chiefs, after holding out long, had at last appeared before the Sheriffs and taken the oaths. Lochiel, the most eminent man among them, had not only declared that he would live and die a true subject to King William, but had announced his intention of visiting England, in the hope of being permitted to kiss His Majesty's hand. In London it was announced exultingly that every clan, without exception, had submitted in time; and the announcement was generally thought most satisfactory. But the Master of Stair was bitterly disappointed. The Highlands were then to continue to be what they had been, the shame and curse of Scotland. A golden opportunity of subjecting them to the law had been suffered to escape, and might never return. If only the Macdonalds would have stood out, nay, if an example could but have been made of the two worst Macdonalds, Keppoch and Glencoe, it would have been something. But it seemed that even Keppoch and Glencoe, marauders who in any well governed country would have been hanged thirty years before, were safe. While the Master was brooding over thoughts like these, Argyle brought him some comfort. The report that Mac Ian had taken the oaths within the prescribed time was erroneous. The Secretary was consoled. One clan, then, was at the mercy of the government, and that clan the most lawless of all. One great act of justice, nay of charity, might be performed. One terrible and memorable example might be given.
Yet there was a difficulty. Mac Ian had taken the oaths. He had taken them, indeed, too late to be entitled to plead the letter of the royal promise; but the fact that he had taken them was one which evidently ought not to have been concealed from those who were to decide his fate. By a dark intrigue, of which the history is but imperfectly known, but which was, in all probability, directed by the Master of Stair, the evidence of Mac Ian's tardy submission was suppressed. The certificate which the Sheriff of Argyleshire had transmitted to the Council at Edinburgh, was never laid before the board, but was privately submitted to some persons high in office, and particularly to Lord President Stair, the father of the Secretary. These persons pronounced the certificate irregular, and, indeed, absolutely null; and it was cancelled.
Meanwhile the Master of Stair was forming, in concert with Breadalbane and Argyle, a plan for the destruction of the people of Glencoe. It was necessary to take the King's pleasure, not, indeed, as to the details of what was to be done, but as to the question whether Mac Ian and his people should or should not be treated as rebels out of the pale of the ordinary law. The Master of Stair found no difficulty in the royal closet. William had, in all probability, never heard the Glencoe men mentioned except as banditti. He knew that they had not come in by the prescribed day. That they had come in after that day he did not know. If he paid any attention to the matter, he must have thought that so fair an opportunity of putting an end to the devastations and depredations from which a quiet and industrious population had suffered so much ought not to be lost.
An order was laid before him for signature. He signed it, but, if Burnet may be trusted, did not read it. Whoever has seen anything of public business knows that princes and ministers daily sign, and indeed must sign, documents which they have not read; and of all documents a document relating to a small tribe of mountaineers, living in a wilderness not set down in any map, was least likely to interest a Sovereign whose mind was full of schemes on which the fate of Europe might depend. But, even on the supposition that he read the order to which he affixed his name, there seems to be no reason for blaming him. That order, directed to the Commander of the Forces in Scotland, runs thus: "As for Mac Ian of Glencoe and that tribe, if they can be well distinguished from the other Highlanders, it will be proper, for the vindication of public justice, to extirpate that set of thieves." These words naturally bear a sense perfectly innocent, and would, but for the horrible event which followed, have been universally understood in that sense. It is undoubtedly one of the first duties of every government to extirpate gangs of thieves. This does not mean that every thief ought to be treacherously assassinated in his sleep, or even that every thief ought to be publicly executed after a fair trial, but that every gang, as a gang, ought to be completely broken up, and that whatever severity is indispensably necessary for that end ought to be used. It is in this sense that we praise the Marquess of Hastings for extirpating the Pindarees, and Lord William Bentinck for extirpating the Thugs. If William had read and weighed the words which were submitted to him by his Secretary, he would probably have understood them to mean that Glencoe was to be occupied by troops, that resistance, if resistance were attempted, was to be put down with a strong hand, that severe punishment was to be inflicted on those leading members of the clan who could be proved to have been guilty of great crimes, that some active young freebooters, who were more used to handle the broad sword than the plough, and who did not seem likely to settle down into quiet labourers, were to be sent to the army in the Low Countries, that others were to be transported to the American plantations, and that those Macdonalds who were suffered to remain in their native valley were to be disarmed and required to give hostages for good behaviour. A plan very nearly resembling this had, we know, actually been the subject of much discussion in the political circles of Edinburgh. There can be little doubt that William would have deserved well of his people if he had, in this manner, extirpated not only the tribe of Mac Ian, but every Highland tribe whose calling was to steal cattle and burn houses.
The extirpation planned by the Master of Stair was of a different kind. His design was to butcher the whole race of thieves, the whole damnable race. Such was the language in which his hatred vented itself. He studied the geography of the wild country which surrounded Glencoe, and made his arrangements with infernal skill. If possible, the blow must be quick, and crushing, and altogether unexpected. But if Mac Ian should apprehend danger and should attempt to take refuge in the territories of his neighbours, he must find every road barred. The pass of Rannoch must be secured. The Laird of Weems, who was powerful in Strath Tay, must be told that, if he harbours the outlaws, he does so at his peril. Breadalbane promised to cut off the retreat of the fugitives on one side, Mac Callum More on another. It was fortunate, the Secretary wrote, that it was winter. This was the time to maul the wretches. The nights were so long, the mountain tops so cold and stormy, that even the hardiest men could not long bear exposure to the open air without a roof or a spark of fire. That the women and the children could find shelter in the desert was quite impossible. While he wrote thus, no thought that he was committing a great wickedness crossed his mind. He was happy in the approbation of his own conscience. Duty, justice, nay charity and mercy, were the names under which he disguised his cruelty; nor is it by any means improbable that the disguise imposed upon himself.
Hill, who commanded the forces assembled at Fort William, was not entrusted with the execution of the design. He seems to have been a humane man; he was much distressed when he learned that the government was determined on severity; and it was probably thought that his heart might fail him in the most critical moment. He was directed to put a strong detachment under the orders of his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton. To Hamilton a significant hint was conveyed that he had now an excellent opportunity of establishing his character in the estimation of those who were at the head of affairs. Of the troops entrusted to him a large proportion were Campbells, and belonged to a regiment lately raised by Argyle, and called by Argyle's name, It was probably thought that, on such an occasion, humanity might prove too strong for the mere habit of military obedience, and that little reliance could be placed on hearts which had not been ulcerated by a feud such as had long raged between the people of Mac Ian and the people of Mac Callum More.
Had Hamilton marched openly against the Glencoe men and put them to the edge of the sword, the act would probably not have wanted apologists, and most certainly would not have wanted precedents. But the Master of Stair had strongly recommended a different mode of proceeding. If the least alarm were given, the nest of robbers would be found empty; and to hunt them down in so wild a region would, even with all the help that Breadalbane and Argyle could give, be a long and difficult business. "Better," he wrote, "not meddle with them than meddle to no purpose. When the thing is resolved, let it be secret and sudden." He was obeyed; and it was determined that the Glencoe men should perish, not by military execution, but by the most dastardly and perfidious form of assassination.
On the first of February a hundred and twenty soldiers of Argyle's regiment, commanded by a captain named Campbell and a lieutenant named Lindsay, marched to Glencoe. Captain Campbell was commonly called in Scotland Glenlyon, from the pass in which his property lay. He had every qualification for he service on which he was employed, an unblushing forehead, a smooth lying tongue, and a heart of adamant. He was also one of the few Campbells who were likely to be trusted and welcomed by the Macdonalds; for his niece was married to Alexander, the second son of Mac Ian.
The sight of the red coats approaching caused some anxiety among the population of the valley. John, the eldest son of the Chief, came, accompanied by twenty clansmen, to meet the strangers, and asked what this visit meant. Lieutenant Lindsay answered that the soldiers came as friends, and wanted nothing but quarters. They were kindly received, and were lodged under the thatched roofs of the little community. Glenlyon and several of his men were taken into the house of a tacksman who was named, from the cluster of cabins over which he exercised authority, Inverriggen. Lindsay was accommodated nearer to the abode of the old chief. Auchintriater, one of the principal men of the clan, who governed the small hamlet of Auchnaion, found room there for a party commanded by a serjeant named Barbour. Provisions were liberally supplied. There was no want of beef, which had probably fattened in distant pastures; nor was any payment demanded; for in hospitality, as in thievery, the Gaelic marauders rivalled the Bedouins. During twelve days the soldiers lived familiarly with the people of the glen. Old Mac Ian, who had before felt many misgivings as to the relation in which he stood to the government, seems to have been pleased with the visit. The officers passed much of their time with him and his family. The long evenings were cheerfully spent by the peat fire with the help of some packs of cards which had found their way to that remote corner of the world, and of some French brandy which was probably part of James's farewell gift to his Highland supporters. Glenlyon appeared to be warmly attached to his niece and her husband Alexander. Every day he came to their house to take his morning draught. Meanwhile he observed with minute attention all the avenues by which, when the signal for the slaughter should be given, the Macdonalds might attempt to escape to the hills; and he reported the result of his observations to Hamilton.
Hamilton fixed five o'clock in the morning of the thirteenth of February for the deed. He hoped that, before that time, he should reach Glencoe with four hundred men, and should have stopped all the earths in which the old fox and his two cubs,-so Mac Ian and his sons were nicknamed by the murderers,--could take refuge. But, at five precisely, whether Hamilton had arrived or not, Glenlyon was to fall on, and to slay every Macdonald under seventy.
The night was rough. Hamilton and his troops made slow progress, and were long after their time. While they were contending with the wind and snow, Glenlyon was supping and playing at cards with those whom he meant to butcher before daybreak. He and Lieutenant Lindsay had engaged themselves to dine with the old Chief on the morrow.
Late in the evening a vague suspicion that some evil was intended crossed the mind of the Chief's eldest son. The soldiers were evidently in a restless state; and some of them uttered strange cries. Two men, it is said, were overheard whispering. "I do not like this job;" one of them muttered, "I should be glad to fight the Macdonalds. But to kill men in their beds--" "We must do as we are bid," answered another voice. "If there is any thing wrong, our officers must answer for it." John Macdonald was so uneasy that, soon after midnight, he went to Glenlyon's quarters. Glenlyon and his men were all up, and seemed to be getting their arms ready for action. John, much alarmed, asked what these preparations meant. Glenlyon was profuse of friendly assurances. "Some of Glengarry's people have been harrying the country. We are getting ready to march against them. You are quite safe. Do you think that, if you were in any danger, I should not have given a hint to your brother Sandy and his wife?" John's suspicions were quieted. He returned to his house, and lay down to rest.
It was five in the morning. Hamilton and his men were still some miles off; and the avenues which they were to have secured were open. But the orders which Glenlyon had received were precise; and he began to execute them at the little village where he was himself quartered. His host Inverriggen and nine other Macdonalds were dragged out of their beds, bound hand and foot, and murdered. A boy twelve years old clung round the Captain's legs, and begged hard for life. He would do any thing; he would go any where; he would follow Glenlyon round the world. Even Glenlyon, it is said, showed signs of relenting; but a ruffian named Drummond shot the child dead.
At Auchnaion the tacksman Auchintriater was up early that morning, and was sitting with eight of his family round the fire, when a volley of musketry laid him and seven of his companions dead or dying on the floor. His brother, who alone had escaped unhurt, called to Serjeant Barbour, who commanded the slayers, and asked as a favour to be allowed to die in the open air. "Well," said the Serjeant, "I will do you that favour for the sake of your meat which I have eaten." The mountaineer, bold, athletic, and favoured by the darkness, came forth, rushed on the soldiers who were about to level their pieces at him, flung his plaid over their faces, and was gone in a moment.
Meanwhile Lindsay had knocked at the door of the old Chief and had asked for admission in friendly language. The door was opened. Mac Ian, while putting on his clothes and calling to his servants to bring some refreshment for his visitors, was shot through the head. Two of his attendants were slain with him. His wife was already up and dressed in such finery as the princesses of the rude Highland glens were accustomed to wear. The assassins pulled off her clothes and trinkets. The rings were not easily taken from her fingers but a soldier tore them away with his teeth. She died on the following day.
The statesman, to whom chiefly this great crime is to be ascribed, had planned it with consummate ability: but the execution was complete in nothing but in guilt and infamy. A succession of blunders saved three fourths of the Glencoe men from the fate of their chief. All the moral qualities which fit men to bear a part in a massacre Hamilton and Glenlyon possessed in perfection. But neither seems to have had much professional skill; Hamilton had arranged his plan without making allowance for bad weather, and this in a country and at a season when the weather was very likely to be bad. The consequence was that the fox earths, as he called them, were not stopped in time. Glenlyon and his men committed the error of despatching their hosts with firearms instead of using the cold steel. The peal and flash of gun after gun gave notice, from three different parts of the valley at once; that murder was doing. From fifty cottages the half naked peasantry fled under cover of the night to the recesses of their pathless glen. Even the sons of Mac Ian, who had been especially marked out for destruction, contrived to escape. They were roused from sleep by faithful servants. John, who, by the death of his father, had become the patriarch of the tribe, quitted his dwelling just as twenty soldiers with fixed bayonets marched up to it. It was broad day long before Hamilton arrived. He found the work not even half performed. About thirty corpses lay wallowing in blood on the dunghills before the doors. One or two women were seen among the number, and, a yet more fearful and piteous sight, a little hand, which had been lopped in the tumult of the butchery from some infant. One aged Macdonald was found alive. He was probably too infirm to fly, and, as he was above seventy, was not included in the orders under which Glenlyon had acted. Hamilton murdered the old man in cold blood. The deserted hamlets were then set on fire; and the troops departed, driving away with them many sheep and goats, nine hundred kine, and two hundred of the small shaggy ponies of the Highlands.
It is said, and may but too easily be believed, that the sufferings of the fugitives were terrible. How many old men, how many women with babes in their arms, sank down and slept their last sleep in the snow; how many, having crawled, spent with toil and hunger, into nooks among the precipices, died in those dark holes, and were picked to the bone by the mountain ravens, can never be known. But it is probable that those who perished by cold, weariness and want were not less numerous than those who were slain by the assassins. When the troops had retired, the Macdonalds crept out of the caverns of Glencoe, ventured back to the spot where the huts had formerly stood, collected the scorched corpses from among the smoking ruins, and performed some rude rites of sepulture. The tradition runs that the hereditary bard of the tribe took his seat on a rock which overhung the place of slaughter, and poured forth a long lament over his murdered brethren, and his desolate home. Eighty years later that sad dirge was still repeated by the population of the valley.
The survivors might well apprehend that they had escaped the shot and the sword only to perish by famine. The whole domain was a waste. Houses, barns, furniture, implements of husbandry, herds, flocks, horses, were gone. Many months must elapse before the clan would be able to raise on its own ground the means of supporting even the most miserable existence.
It may be thought strange that these events should not have been instantly followed by a burst of execration from every part of the civilised world. The fact, however, is that years elapsed before the public indignation was thoroughly awakened, and that months elapsed before the blackest part of the story found credit even among the enemies of the government. That the massacre should not have been mentioned in the London Gazettes, in the Monthly Mercuries which were scarcely less courtly than the Gazettes, or in pamphlets licensed by official censors, is perfectly intelligible. But that no allusion to it should be found in private journals and letters, written by persons free from all restraint, may seem extraordinary. There is not a word on the subject in Evelyn's Diary. In Narcissus Luttrell's Diary is a remarkable entry made five weeks after the butchery. The letters from Scotland, he says, described that kingdom as perfectly tranquil, except that there was still some grumbling about ecclesiastical questions. The Dutch ministers regularly reported all the Scotch news to their government. They thought it worth while, about this time, to mention that a collier had been taken by a privateer near Berwick, that the Edinburgh mail had been robbed, that a whale, with a tongue seventeen feet long and seven feet broad, had been stranded near Aberdeen. But it is not hinted in any of their despatches that there was any rumour of any extraordinary occurrence in the Highlands. Reports that some of the Macdonalds had been slain did indeed, in about three weeks, travel through Edinburgh up to London. But these reports were vague and contradictory; and the very worst of them was far from coming up to the horrible truth. The Whig version of the story was that the old robber Mac Ian had laid an ambuscade for the soldiers, that he had been caught in his own snare, and that he and some of his clan had fallen sword in hand. The Jacobite version, written at Edinburgh on the twenty-third of March, appeared in the Paris Gazette of the seventh of April. Glenlyon, it was said, had been sent with a detachment from Argyle's regiment, under cover of darkness, to surprise the inhabitants of Glencoe, and had killed thirty-six men and boys and four women. In this there was nothing very strange or shocking. A night attack on a gang of freebooters occupying a strong natural fortress may be a perfectly legitimate military operation; and, in the obscurity and confusion of such an attack, the most humane man may be so unfortunate as to shoot a woman or a child. The circumstances which give a peculiar character to the slaughter of Glencoe, the breach of faith, the breach of hospitality, the twelve days of feigned friendship and conviviality, of morning calls, of social meals, of healthdrinking, of cardplaying, were not mentioned by the Edinburgh correspondent of the Paris Gazette; and we may therefore confidently infer that those circumstances were as yet unknown even to inquisitive and busy malecontents residing in the Scottish capital within a hundred miles of the spot where the deed had been done. In the south of the island the matter produced, as far as can now be judged, scarcely any sensation. To the Londoner of those days Appin was what Caffraria or Borneo is to us. He was not more moved by hearing that some Highland thieves had been surprised and killed than we are by hearing that a band of Amakosah cattle stealers has been cut off, or that a bark full of Malay pirates has been sunk. He took it for granted that nothing had been done in Glencoe beyond what was doing in many other glens. There had been a night brawl, one of a hundred night brawls, between the Macdonalds and the Campbells; and the Campbells had knocked the Macdonalds on the head.
By slow degrees the whole truth came out. From a letter written at Edinburgh about two months after the crime had been committed, it appears that the horrible story was already current among the Jacobites of that city. In the summer Argyle's regiment was quartered in the south of England, and some of the men made strange confessions, over their ale, about what they had been forced to do in the preceding winter. The nonjurors soon got hold of the clue, and followed it resolutely; their secret presses went to work; and at length, near a year after the crime had been committed, it was published to the world. But the world was long incredulous. The habitual mendacity of the Jacobite libellers had brought on them an appropriate punishment. Now, when, for the first time, they told the truth, they were supposed to be romancing. They complained bitterly that the story, though perfectly authentic, was regarded by the public as a factious lie. So late as the year 1695, Hickes, in a tract in which he endeavoured to defend his darling tale of the Theban legion against the unanswerable argument drawn from the silence of historians, remarked that it might well be doubted whether any historian would make mention of the massacre of Glencoe. There were in England, he said, many thousands of well educated men who had never heard of that massacre, or who regarded it as a mere fable.
Nevertheless the punishment of some of the guilty began very early. Hill, who indeed can hardly be called guilty, was much disturbed. Breadalbane, hardened as he was, felt the stings of conscience or the dread of retribution. A few days after the Macdonalds had returned to their old dwellingplace, his steward visited the ruins of the house of Glencoe, and endeavoured to persuade the sons of the murdered chief to sign a paper declaring that they held the Earl guiltless of the blood which had been shed. They were assured that, if they would do this, all His Lordship's great influence should be employed to obtain for them from the Crown a free pardon and a remission of all forfeitures. Glenlyon did his best to assume an air of unconcern. He made his appearance in the most fashionable coffeehouse at Edinburgh, and talked loudly and self-complacently about the important service in which he had been engaged among the mountains. Some of his soldiers, however, who observed him closely, whispered that all this bravery was put on. He was not the man that he had been before that night. The form of his countenance was changed. In all places, at all hours, whether he waked or slept, Glencoe was for ever before him.
But, whatever apprehensions might disturb Breadalbane, whatever spectres might haunt Glenlyon, the Master of Stair had neither fear nor remorse. He was indeed mortified; but he was mortified only by the blunders of Hamilton and by the escape of so many of the damnable breed. "Do right, and fear nobody;" such is the language of his letters. "Can there be a more sacred duty than to rid the country of thieving? The only thing that I regret is that any got away."
On the sixth of March, William, entirely ignorant, in all probability, of the details of the crime which has cast a dark shade over his glory, had set out for the Continent, leaving the Queen his viceregent in England.
He would perhaps have postponed his departure if he had been aware that the French Government had, during some time, been making great preparations for a descent on our island. An event had taken place which had changed the policy of the Court of Versailles. Louvois was no more. He had been at the head of the military administration of his country during a quarter of a century; he had borne a chief part in the direction of two wars which had enlarged the French territory, and had filled the world with the renown of the French arms; and he had lived to see the beginning of a third war which tasked his great powers to the utmost. Between him and the celebrated captains who carried his plans into execution there was little harmony. His imperious temper and his confidence in himself impelled him to interfere too much with the conduct of troops in the field, even when those troops were commanded by Conde, by Turenne or by Luxemburg. But he was the greatest Adjutant General, the greatest Quartermaster General, the greatest Commissary General, that Europe had seen. He may indeed be said to have made a revolution in the art of disciplining, distributing, equipping and provisioning armies. In spite, however, of his abilities and of his services, he had become odious to Lewis and to her who governed Lewis. On the last occasion on which the King and the minister transacted business together, the ill humour on both sides broke violently forth. The servant, in his vexation, dashed his portfolio on the ground. The master, forgetting, what he seldom forgot, that a King should be a gentleman, lifted his cane. Fortunately his wife was present. She, with her usual prudence, caught his arm. She then got Louvois out of the room, and exhorted him to come back the next day as if nothing had happened. The next day he came; but with death in his face. The King, though full of resentment, was touched with pity, and advised Louvois to go home and take care of himself. That evening the great minister died.
Louvois had constantly opposed all plans for the invasion of England. His death was therefore regarded at Saint Germains as a fortunate event. It was however necessary to look sad, and to send a gentleman to Versailles with some words of condolence. The messenger found the gorgeous circle of courtiers assembled round their master on the terrace above the orangery. "Sir," said Lewis, in a tone so easy and cheerful that it filled all the bystanders with amazement, "present my compliments and thanks to the King and Queen of England, and tell them that neither my affairs nor theirs will go on the worse by what has happened." These words were doubtless meant to intimate that the influence of Louvois had not been exerted in favour of the House of Stuart. One compliment, however, a compliment which cost France dear, Lewis thought it right to pay to the memory of his ablest servant. The Marquess of Barbesieux, son of Louvois, was placed, in his twenty-fifth year, at the head of the war department. The young man was by no means deficient in abilities, and had been, during some years, employed in business of grave importance. But his passions were strong; his judgment was not ripe; and his sudden elevation turned his head. His manners gave general disgust. Old officers complained that he kept them long in his antechamber while he was amusing himself with his spaniels and his flatterers. Those who were admitted to his presence went away disgusted by his rudeness and arrogance. As was natural at his age, he valued power chiefly as the means of procuring pleasure. Millions of crowns were expended on the luxurious villa where he loved to forget the cares of office in gay conversation, delicate cookery and foaming champagne. He often pleaded an attack of fever as an excuse for not making his appearance at the proper hour in the royal closet, when in truth he had been playing truant among his boon companions and mistresses. "The French King," said William, "has an odd taste. He chooses an old woman for his mistress, and a young man for his minister."
There can be little doubt that Louvois, by pursuing that course which had made him odious to the inmates of Saint Germains, had deserved well of his country. He was not maddened by Jacobite enthusiasm. He well knew that exiles are the worst of all advisers. He had excellent information; he had excellent judgment; he calculated the chances; and he saw that a descent was likely to fail, and to fail disastrously and disgracefully. James might well be impatient to try the experiment, though the odds should be ten to one against him. He might gain; and he could not lose. His folly and obstinacy had left him nothing to risk. His food, his drink, his lodging, his clothes, he owed to charity. Nothing could be more natural than that, for the very smallest chance of recovering the three kingdoms which he had thrown away, he should be willing to stake what was not his own, the honour of the French arms, the grandeur and the safety of the French monarchy. To a French statesman such a wager might well appear in a different light. But Louvois was gone. His master yielded to the importunity of James, and determined to send an expedition against England.
The scheme was, in some respects, well concerted. It was resolved that a camp should be formed on the coast of Normandy, and that in this camp all the Irish regiments which were in the French service should be assembled under their countryman Sarsfield. With them were to be joined about ten thousand French troops. The whole army was to be commanded by Marshal Bellefonds.
A noble fleet of about eighty ships of the line was to convoy this force to the shores of England. In the dockyards both of Brittany and of Provence immense preparations were made. Four and forty men of war, some of which were among the finest that had ever been built, were assembled in the harbour of Brest under Tourville. The Count of Estrees, with thirty-five more, was to sail from Toulon. Ushant was fixed for the place of rendezvous. The very day was named. In order that there might be no want either of seamen or of vessels for the intended expedition, all maritime trade, all privateering was, for a time, interdicted by a royal mandate. Three hundred transports were collected near the spot where the troops were to embark. It was hoped that all would be ready early in the spring, before the English ships were half rigged or half manned, and before a single Dutch man of war was in the Channel.
James had indeed persuaded himself that, even if the English fleet should fall in with him, it would not oppose him. He imagined that he was personally a favourite with the mariners of all ranks. His emissaries had been busy among the naval officers, and had found some who remembered him with kindness, and others who were out of humour with the men now in power. All the wild talk of a class of people not distinguished by taciturnity or discretion was reported to him with exaggeration, till he was deluded into a belief that he had more friends than enemies on board of the vessels which guarded our coasts. Yet he should have known that a rough sailor, who thought himself ill used by the Admiralty, might, after the third bottle, when drawn on by artful companions, express his regret for the good old times, curse the new government, and curse himself for being such a fool as to fight for that government, and yet might be by no means prepared to go over to the French on the day of battle. Of the malecontent officers, who, as James believed, were impatient to desert, the great majority had probably given no pledge of their attachment to him except an idle word hiccoughed out when they were drunk, and forgotten when they were sober. One those from whom he expected support, Rear Admiral Carter, had indeed heard and perfectly understood what the Jacobite agents had to say, had given them fair words, and had reported the whole to the Queen and her ministers.
But the chief dependence of James was on Russell. That false, arrogant and wayward politician was to command the Channel Fleet. He had never ceased to assure the Jacobite emissaries that he was bent on effecting a Restoration. Those emissaries fully reckoned, if not on his entire cooperation, yet at least on his connivance; and there could be no doubt that, with his connivance, a French fleet might easily convoy an army to our shores. James flattered himself that, as soon as he had landed, he should be master of the island. But in truth, when the voyage had ended, the difficulties of his enterprise would have been only beginning. Two years before he had received a lesson by which he should have profited. He had then deceived himself and others into the belief that the English were regretting him, were pining for him, were eager to rise in arms by tens of thousands to welcome him. William was then, as now, at a distance. Then, as now, the administration was entrusted to a woman. Then, as now, there were few regular troops in England. Torrington had then done as much to injure the government which he served as Russell could now do. The French fleet had then, after riding, during several weeks, victorious and dominant in the Channel, landed some troops on the southern coast. The immediate effect had been that whole counties, without distinction of Tory or Whig, Churchman or Dissenter, had risen up, as one man, to repel the foreigners, and that the Jacobite party, which had, a few days before, seemed to be half the nation, had crouched down in silent terror, and had made itself so small that it had, during some time, been invisible. What reason was there for believing that the multitude who had, in 1690, at the first lighting of the beacons, snatched up firelocks, pikes, scythes, to defend their native soil against the French, would now welcome the French as allies? And of the army by which James was now to be accompanied the French formed the least odious part. More than half of that army was to consist of Irish Papists; and the feeling, compounded of hatred and scorn, with which the Irish Papists had long been regarded by the English Protestants, had by recent events been stimulated to a vehemence before unknown. The hereditary slaves, it was said, had been for a moment free; and that moment had sufficed to prove that they knew neither how to use nor how to defend their freedom. During their short ascendency they had done nothing but slay, and burn, and pillage, and demolish, and attaint, and confiscate. In three years they had committed such waste on their native land as thirty years of English intelligence and industry would scarcely repair. They would have maintained their independence against the world, if they had been as ready to fight as they were to steal. But they had retreated ignominiously from the walls of Londonderry. They had fled like deer before the yeomanry of Enniskillen. The Prince whom they now presumed to think that they could place, by force of arms, on the English throne, had himself, on the morning after the rout of the Boyne, reproached them with their cowardice, and told them that he would never again trust to their soldiership. On this subject Englishmen were of one mind. Tories, Nonjurors, even Roman Catholics, were as loud as Whigs in reviling the ill fated race. It is, therefore, not difficult to guess what effect would have been produced by the appearance on our soil of enemies whom, on their own soil, we had vanquished and trampled down.
James, however, in spite of the recent and severe teaching of experience, believed whatever his correspondents in England told him; and they told him that the whole nation was impatiently expecting him, that both the West and the North were ready to rise, that he would proceed from the place of landing to Whitehall with as little opposition as when, in old times, he returned from a progress. Ferguson distinguished himself by the confidence with which he predicted a complete and bloodless victory. He and his printer, he was absurd enough to write, would be the two first men in the realm to take horse for His Majesty. Many other agents were busy up and down the country, during the winter and the early part of the spring. It does not appear that they had much success in the counties south of Trent. But in the north, particularly in Lancashire, where the Roman Catholics were more numerous and more powerful than in any other part of the kingdom, and where there seems to have been, even among the Protestant gentry, more than the ordinary proportion of bigoted Jacobites, some preparations for an insurrection were made. Arms were privately bought; officers were appointed; yeomen, small farmers, grooms, huntsmen, were induced to enlist. Those who gave in their names were distributed into eight regiments of cavalry and dragoons, and were directed to hold themselves in readiness to mount at the first signal.
One of the circumstances which filled James, at this time, with vain hopes, was that his wife was pregnant and near her delivery. He flattered himself that malice itself would be ashamed to repeat any longer the story of the warming pan, and that multitudes whom that story had deceived would instantly return to their allegiance. He took, on this occasion, all those precautions which, four years before, he had foolishly and perversely forborne to take. He contrived to transmit to England letters summoning many Protestant women of quality to assist at the expected birth; and he promised, in the name of his dear brother the Most Christian King, that they should be free to come and go in safety. Had some of these witnesses been invited to Saint James's on the morning of the tenth of June 1688, the House of Stuart might, perhaps, now be reigning in our island. But it is easier to keep a crown than to regain one. It might be true that a calumnious fable had done much to bring about the Revolution. But it by no means followed that the most complete refutation of that fable would bring about a Restoration. Not a single lady crossed the sea in obedience to James's call. His Queen was safely delivered of a daughter; but this event produced no perceptible effect on the state of public feeling in England.
Meanwhile the preparations for his expedition were going on fast. He was on the point of setting out for the place of embarkation before the English government was at all aware of the danger which was impending. It had been long known indeed that many thousands of Irish were assembled in Normandy; but it was supposed that they had been assembled merely that they might be mustered and drilled before they were sent to Flanders, Piedmont, and Catalonia. Now, however, intelligence, arriving from many quarters, left no doubt that an invasion would be almost immediately attempted. Vigorous preparations for defence were made. The equipping and manning of the ships was urged forward with vigour. The regular troops were drawn together between London and the sea. A great camp was formed on the down which overlooks Portsmouth. The militia all over the kingdom was called out. Two Westminster regiments and six City regiments, making up a force of thirteen thousand fighting men, were arrayed in Hyde Park, and passed in review before the Queen. The trainbands of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey marched down to the coast. Watchmen were posted by the beacons. Some nonjurors were imprisoned, some disarmed, some held to bail. The house of the Earl of Huntingdon, a noted Jacobite, was searched. He had had time to burn his papers and to hide his arms; but his stables presented a most suspicious appearance. Horses enough to mount a whole troop of cavalry were at the mangers; and this evidence, though not legally sufficient to support a charge of treason, was thought sufficient, at such a conjuncture, to justify the Privy Council in sending him to the Tower.
Meanwhile James had gone down to his army, which was encamped round the basin of La Hogue, on the northern coast of the peninsula known by the name of the Cotentin. Before he quitted Saint Germains, he held a Chapter of the Garter for the purpose of admitting his son into the order. Two noblemen were honoured with the same distinction, Powis, who, among his brother exiles, was now called a Duke, and Melfort, who had returned from Rome, and was again James's Prime Minister. Even at this moment, when it was of the greatest importance to conciliate the members of the Church of England, none but members of the Church of Rome were thought worthy of any mark of royal favour. Powis indeed was an eminent member of the English aristocracy; and his countrymen disliked him as little as they disliked any conspicuous Papist. But Melfort was not even an Englishman; he had never held office in England; he had never sate in the English Parliament; and he had therefore no pretensions to a dignity peculiarly English. He was moreover hated by all the contending factions of all the three kingdoms. Royal letters countersigned by him had been sent both to the Convention at Westminster and to the Convention at Edinburgh; and, both at Westminster and at Edinburgh, the sight of his odious name and handwriting had made the most zealous friends of hereditary right hang down their heads in shame. It seems strange that even James should have chosen, at such a conjuncture, to proclaim to the world that the men whom his people most abhorred were the men whom he most delighted to honour.
Still more strange seems the Declaration in which he announced his intentions to his subjects. Of all the State papers which were put forth even by him it was the most elaborately and ostentatiously injudicious. When it had disgusted and exasperated all good Englishmen of all parties, the Papists at Saint Germains pretended that it had been drawn up by a stanch Protestant, Edward Herbert, who had been Chief Justice of the Common Pleas before the Revolution, and who now bore the empty title of Chancellor. But it is certain that Herbert was never consulted about any matter of importance, and that the Declaration was the work of Melfort and of Melfort alone. In truth, those qualities of head and heart which had made Melfort the favourite of his master shone forth in every sentence. Not a word was to be found indicating that three years of banishment had made the King wiser, that he had repented of a single error, that he took to himself even the smallest part of the blame of that revolution which had dethroned him, or that he purposed to follow a course in any respect differing from that which had already been fatal to him. All the charges which had been brought against him he pronounced to be utterly unfounded. Wicked men had put forth calumnies. Weak men had believed those calumnies. He alone had been faultless. He held out no hope that he would consent to any restriction of that vast dispensing power to which he had formerly laid claim, that he would not again, in defiance of the plainest statutes, fill the Privy Council, the bench of justice, the public offices, the army, the navy, with Papists, that he would not reestablish the High Commission, that he would not appoint a new set of regulators to remodel all the constituent bodies of the kingdom. He did indeed condescend to say that he would maintain the legal rights of the Church of England; but he had said this before; and all men knew what those words meant in his mouth. Instead of assuring his people of his forgiveness, he menaced them with a proscription more terrible than any which our island had ever seen. He published a list of persons who had no mercy to expect. Among these were Ormond, Caermarthen, Nottingham, Tillotson and Burnet. After the roll of those who were doomed to death by name, came a series of categories. First stood all the crowd of rustics who had been rude to His Majesty when he was stopped at Sheerness in his flight. These poor ignorant wretches, some hundreds in number, were reserved for another bloody circuit. Then came all persons who had in any manner borne a part in the punishment of any Jacobite conspirator; judges, counsel, witnesses, grand jurymen, petty jurymen, sheriffs and undersheriffs, constables and turnkeys, in short, all the ministers of justice from Holt down to Ketch. Then vengeance was denounced against all spies and all informers who had divulged to the usurpers the designs of the Court of Saint Germains. All justices of the peace who should not declare for their rightful Sovereign the moment that they heard of his landing, all gaolers who should not instantly set political prisoners at liberty, were to be left to the extreme rigour of the law. No exception was made in favour of a justice or of a gaoler who might be within a hundred yards of one of William's regiments, and a hundred miles from the nearest place where there was a single Jacobite in arms.
It might have been expected that James, after thus denouncing vengeance against large classes of his subjects, would at least have offered a general amnesty to the rest. But of general amnesty he said not a word. He did indeed promise that any offender who was not in any of the categories of proscription, and who should by any eminent service merit indulgence, should receive a special pardon. But, with this exception, all the offenders, hundreds of thousands in number, were merely informed that their fate should be decided in Parliament.
The agents of James speedily dispersed his Declaration over every part of the kingdom, and by doing so rendered a great service to William. The general cry was that the banished oppressor had at least given Englishmen fair warning, and that, if, after such a warning, they welcomed him home, they would have no pretence for complaining, though every county town should be polluted by an assize resembling that which Jeffreys had held at Taunton. That some hundreds of people,--the Jacobites put the number so low as five hundred,--were to be hanged without mercy was certain; and nobody who had concurred in the Revolution, nobody who had fought for the new government by sea or land, no soldier who had borne a part in the conquest of Ireland, no Devonshire ploughman or Cornish miner who had taken arms to defend his wife and children against Tourville, could be certain that he should not be hanged. How abject too, how spiteful, must be the nature of a man who, engaged in the most momentous of all undertakings, and aspiring to the noblest of all prizes, could not refrain from proclaiming that he thirsted for the blood of a multitude of poor fishermen, because, more than three years before, they had pulled him about and called him Hatchetface. If, at the very moment when he had the strongest motives for trying to conciliate his people by the show of clemency, he could not bring himself to hold towards them any language but that of an implacable enemy, what was to be expected from him when he should be again their master? So savage was his nature that, in a situation in which all other tyrants have resorted to blandishments and fair promises, he could utter nothing but reproaches and threats. The only words in his Declaration which had any show of graciousness were those in which he promised to send away the foreign troops as soon as his authority was reestablished; and many said that those words, when examined, would be found full of sinister meaning. He held out no hope that he would send away Popish troops who were his own subjects. His intentions were manifest. The French might go; but the Irish would remain. The people of England were to be kept down by these thrice subjugated barbarians. No doubt a Rapparee who had run away at Newton Butler and the Boyne might find courage enough to guard the scaffolds on which his conquerors were to die, and to lay waste our country as he had laid waste his own.
The Queen and her ministers, instead of attempting to suppress James's manifesto, very wisely reprinted it, and sent it forth licensed by the Secretary of State, and interspersed with remarks by a shrewd and severe commentator. It was refuted in many keen pamphlets; it was turned into doggrel rhymes; and it was left undefended even by the boldest and most acrimonious libellers among the nonjurors.
Indeed, some of the nonjurors were so much alarmed by observing the effect which this manifesto produced, that they affected to treat it as spurious, and published as their master's genuine Declaration a paper full of gracious professions and promises. They made him offer a free pardon to all his people with the exception of four great criminals. They made him hold out hopes of great remissions of taxation. They made him pledge his word that he would entrust the whole ecclesiastical administration to the nonjuring bishops. But this forgery imposed on nobody, and was important only as showing that even the Jacobites were ashamed of the prince whom they were labouring to restore.
No man read the Declaration with more surprise and anger than Russell. Bad as he was, he was much under the influence of two feelings, which, though they cannot be called virtuous, have some affinity to virtue, and are respectable when compared with mere selfish cupidity. Professional spirit and party spirit were strong in him. He might be false to his country, but not to his flag; and, even in becoming a Jacobite, he had not ceased to be a Whig. In truth, he was a Jacobite only because he was the most intolerant and acrimonious of Whigs. He thought himself and his faction ungratefully neglected by William, and was for a time too much blinded by resentment to perceive that it would be mere madness in the old Roundheads, the old Exclusionists, to punish William by recalling James. The near prospect of an invasion, and the Declaration in which Englishmen were plainly told what they had to expect if that invasion should be successful, produced, it should seem, a sudden and entire change in Russell's feelings; and that change he distinctly avowed. "I wish," he said to Lloyd, "to serve King James. The thing might be done, if it were not his own fault. But he takes the wrong way with us. Let him forget all the past; let him grant a general pardon; and then I will see what I can do for him." Lloyd hinted something about the honours and rewards designed for Russell himself. But the Admiral, with a spirit worthy of a better man, cut him short. "I do not wish to hear anything on that subject. My solicitude is for the public. And do not think that I will let the French triumph over us in our own sea. Understand this, that if I meet them I fight them, ay, though His Majesty himself should be on board."
This conversation was truly reported to James; but it does not appear to have alarmed him. He was, indeed, possessed with a belief that Russell, even if willing, would not be able to induce the officers and sailors of the English navy to fight against their old King, who was also their old Admiral.
The hopes which James felt, he and his favourite Melfort succeeded in imparting to Lewis and to Lewis's ministers. But for those hopes, indeed, it is probable that all thoughts of invading England in the course of that year would have been laid aside. For the extensive plan which had been formed in the winter had, in the course of the spring, been disconcerted by a succession of accidents such as are beyond the control of human wisdom. The time fixed for the assembling of all the maritime forces of France at Ushant had long elapsed; and not a single sail had appeared at the place of rendezvous. The Atlantic squadron was still detained by bad weather in the port of Brest. The Mediterranean squadron, opposed by a strong west wind, was vainly struggling to pass the pillars of Hercules. Two fine vessels had gone to pieces on the rocks of Ceuta. Meanwhile the admiralties of the allied powers had been active. Before the end of April the English fleet was ready to sail. Three noble ships, just launched from our dockyards, appeared for the first time on the water. William had been hastening the maritime preparations of the United Provinces; and his exertions had been successful. On the twenty-ninth of April a fine squadron from the Texel appeared in the Downs. Soon came the North Holland squadron, the Maes squadron, the Zealand squadron. The whole force of the confederate powers was assembled at Saint Helen's in the second week of May, more than ninety sail of the line, manned by between thirty and forty thousand of the finest seamen of the two great maritime nations. Russell had the chief command. He was assisted by Sir Ralph Delaval, Sir John Ashley, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, Rear Admiral Carter, and Rear Admiral Rooke. Of the Dutch officers Van Almonde was highest in rank.
No mightier armament had ever appeared in the British Channel. There was little reason for apprehending that such a force could be defeated in a fair conflict. Nevertheless there was great uneasiness in London. It was known that there was a Jacobite party in the navy. Alarming rumours had worked their way round from France. It was said that the enemy reckoned on the cooperation of some of those officers on whose fidelity, in this crisis, the safety of the State might depend. Russell, as far as can now be discovered, was still unsuspected. But others, who were probably less criminal, had been more indiscreet. At all the coffee houses admirals and captains were mentioned by name as traitors who ought to be instantly cashiered, if not shot. It was even confidently affirmed that some of the guilty had been put under arrest, and others turned out of the service. The Queen and her counsellors were in a great strait. It was not easy to say whether the danger of trusting the suspected persons or the danger of removing them were the greater. Mary, with many painful misgivings, resolved, and the event proved that she resolved wisely, to treat the evil reports as calumnious, to make a solemn appeal to the honour of the accused gentlemen, and then to trust the safety of her kingdom to their national and professional spirit.
On the fifteenth of May a great assembly of officers was convoked at Saint Helen's on board the Britannia, a fine three decker, from which Russell's flag was flying. The Admiral told them that he had received a despatch which he was charged to read to them. It was from Nottingham. The Queen, the Secretary wrote, had been informed that stories deeply affecting the character of the navy were in circulation. It had even been affirmed that she had found herself under the necessity of dismissing many officers. But Her Majesty was determined to believe nothing against those brave servants of the State. The gentlemen who had been so foully slandered might be assured that she placed entire reliance on them. This letter was admirably calculated to work on those to whom it was addressed. Very few of them probably had been guilty of any worse offence than rash and angry talk over their wine. They were as yet only grumblers. If they had fancied that they were marked men, they might in selfdefence have become traitors. They became enthusiastically loyal as soon as they were assured that the Queen reposed entire confidence in their loyalty. They eagerly signed an address in which they entreated her to believe that they would, with the utmost resolution and alacrity, venture their lives in defence of her rights, of English freedom and of the Protestant religion, against all foreign and Popish invaders. "God," they added, "preserve your person, direct your counsels, and prosper your arms; and let all your people say Amen."
The sincerity of these professions was soon brought to the test. A few hours after the meeting on board of the Britannia the masts of Tourville's squadron were seen from the cliffs of Portland. One messenger galloped with the news from Weymouth to London, and roused Whitehall at three in the morning. Another took the coast road, and carried the intelligence to Russell. All was ready; and on the morning of the seventeenth of May the allied fleet stood out to sea.
Tourville had with him only his own squadron, consisting of forty-four ships of the line. But he had received positive orders to protect the descent on England, and not to decline a battle. Though these orders had been given before it was known at Versailles that the Dutch and English fleets had joined, he was not disposed to take on himself the responsibility of disobedience. He still remembered with bitterness the reprimand which his extreme caution had drawn upon him after the fight of Beachy Head. He would not again be told that he was a timid and unenterprising commander, that he had no courage but the vulgar courage of a common sailor. He was also persuaded that the odds against him were rather apparent than real. He believed, on the authority of James and Melfort, that the English seamen, from the flag officers down to the cabin boys, were Jacobites. Those who fought would fight with half a heart; and there would probably be numerous desertions at the most critical moment. Animated by such hopes he sailed from Brest, steered first towards the north east, came in sight of the coast of Dorsetshire, and then struck across the Channel towards La Hogue, where the army which he was to convoy to England had already begun to embark on board of the transports. He was within a few leagues of Barfleur when, before daybreak, on the morning of the nineteenth of May, he saw the great armament of the allies stretching along the eastern horizon. He determined to bear down on them. By eight the two lines of battle were formed; but it was eleven before the firing began. It soon became plain that the English, from the Admiral downward, were resolved to do their duty. Russell had visited all his ships, and exhorted all his crews. "If your commanders play false," he said, "overboard with them, and with myself the first." There was no defection. There was no slackness. Carter was the first who broke the French line. He was struck by a splinter of one of his own yard arms, and fell dying on the deck. He would not be carried below. He would not let go his sword. "Fight the ship," were his last words: "fight the ship as long as she can swim." The battle lasted till four in the afternoon. The roar of the guns was distinctly heard more than twenty miles off by the army which was encamped on the coast of Normandy. During the earlier part of the day the wind was favourable to the French; they were opposed to half of the allied fleet; and against that half they maintained the conflict with their usual courage and with more than their usual seamanship. After a hard and doubtful fight of five hours, Tourville thought that enough had been done to maintain the honour of the white flag, and began to draw off. But by this time the wind had veered, and was with the allies. They were now able to avail themselves of their great superiority of force. They came on fast. The retreat of the French became a flight. Tourville fought his own ship desperately. She was named, in allusion to Lewis's favourite emblem, the Royal Sun, and was widely renowned as the finest vessel in the world. It was reported among the English sailors that she was adorned with an image of the Great King, and that he appeared there, as he appeared in the Place of Victories, with vanquished nations in chains beneath his feet. The gallant ship, surrounded by enemies, lay like a great fortress on the sea, scattering death on every side from her hundred and four portholes. She was so formidably manned that all attempts to board her failed. Long after sunset, she got clear of her assailants, and, with all her scuppers spouting blood, made for the coast of Normandy. She had suffered so much that Tourville hastily removed his flag to a ship of ninety guns which was named the Ambitious. By this time his fleet was scattered far over the sea. About twenty of his smallest ships made their escape by a road which was too perilous for any courage but the courage of despair. In the double darkness of night and of a thick sea fog, they ran, with all their sails spread, through the boiling waves and treacherous rocks of the Race of Alderney, and, by a strange good fortune, arrived without a single disaster at Saint Maloes. The pursuers did not venture to follow the fugitives into that terrible strait, the place of innumerable shipwrecks.
Those French vessels which were too bulky to venture into the Race of Alderney fled to the havens of the Cotentin. The Royal Sun and two other three deckers reached Cherburg in safety. The Ambitious, with twelve other ships, all first rates or second rates, took refuge in the Bay of La Hogue, close to the headquarters of the army of James.
The three ships which had fled to Cherburg were closely chased by an English squadron under the command of Delaval. He found them hauled up into shoal water where no large man of war could get at them. He therefore determined to attack them with his fireships and boats. The service was gallantly and successfully performed. In a short time the Royal Sun and her two consorts were burned to ashes. Part of the crews escaped to the shore; and part fell into the hands of the English.
Meanwhile Russell with the greater part of his victorious fleet had blockaded the Bay of La Hogue. Here, as at Cherburg, the French men of war had been drawn up into shallow water. They lay close to the camp of the army which was destined for the invasion of England. Six of them were moored under a fort named Lisset. The rest lay under the guns of another fort named Saint Vaast, where James had fixed his headquarters, and where the Union flag, variegated by the crosses of Saint George and Saint Andrew, hung by the side of the white flag of France. Marshal Bellefonds had planted several batteries which, it was thought, would deter the boldest enemy from approaching either Fort Lisset or Fort Saint Vaast. James, however, who knew something of English seamen, was not perfectly at ease, and proposed to send strong bodies of soldiers on board of the ships. But Tourville would not consent to put such a slur on his profession.
Russell meanwhile was preparing for an attack. On the afternoon of the twenty-third of May all was ready. A flotilla consisting of sloops, of fireships, and of two hundred boats, was entrusted to the command of Rooke. The whole armament was in the highest spirits. The rowers, flushed by success, and animated by the thought that they were going to fight under the eyes of the French and Irish troops who had been assembled for the purpose of subjugating England, pulled manfully and with loud huzzas towards the six huge wooden castles which lay close to Fort Lisset. The French, though an eminently brave people, have always been more liable to sudden panics than their phlegmatic neighbours the English and Germans. On this day there was a panic both in the fleet and in the army. Tourville ordered his sailors to man their boats, and would have led them to encounter the enemy in the bay. But his example and his exhortations were vain. His boats turned round and fled in confusion. The ships were abandoned. The cannonade from Fort Lisset was so feeble and ill directed that it did no execution. The regiments on the beach, after wasting a few musket shots, drew off. The English boarded the men of war, set them on fire, and having performed this great service without the loss of a single life, retreated at a late hour with the retreating tide. The bay was in a blaze during the night; and now and then a loud explosion announced that the flames had reached a powder room or a tier of loaded guns. At eight the next morning the tide came back strong; and with the tide came back Rooke and his two hundred boats. The enemy made a faint attempt to defend the vessels which were near Fort Saint Vaast. During a few minutes the batteries did some execution among the crews of our skiffs; but the struggle was soon over. The French poured fast out of their ships on one side; the English poured in as fast on the other, and, with loud shouts, turned the captured guns against the shore. The batteries were speedily silenced. James and Melfort, Bellefonds and Tourville, looked on in helpless despondency while the second conflagration proceeded. The conquerors, leaving the ships of war in flames, made their way into an inner basin where many transports lay. Eight of these vessels were set on fire. Several were taken in tow. The rest would have been either destroyed or carried off, had not the sea again begun to ebb. It was impossible to do more, and the victorious flotilla slowly retired, insulting the hostile camp with a thundering chant of "God save the King."
Thus ended, at noon on the twenty-fourth of May, the great conflict which had raged during five days over a wide extent of sea and shore. One English fireship had perished in its calling. Sixteen French men of war, all noble vessels, and eight of them three-deckers, had been sunk or burned down to the keel. The battle is called, from the place where it terminated, the battle of La Hogue.
The news was received in London with boundless exultation. In the fight on the open sea, indeed, the numerical superiority of the allies had been so great that they had little reason to boast of their success. But the courage and skill with which the crews of the English boats had, in a French harbour, in sight of a French army, and under the fire of French batteries, destroyed a fine French fleet, amply justified the pride with which our fathers pronounced the name of La Hogue. That we may fully enter into their feelings, we must remember that this was the first great check that had ever been given to the arms of Lewis the Fourteenth, and the first great victory that the English had gained over the French since the day of Agincourt. The stain left on our fame by the shameful defeat of Beachy Head was effaced. This time the glory was all our own. The Dutch had indeed done their duty, as they have always done it in maritime war, whether fighting on our side or against us, whether victorious or vanquished. But the English had borne the brunt of the fight. Russell who commanded in chief was an Englishman. Delaval who directed the attack on Cherburg was an Englishman. Rooke who led the flotilla into the Bay of La Hogue was an Englishman. The only two officers of note who had fallen, Admiral Carter and Captain Hastings of the Sandwich, were Englishmen. Yet the pleasure with which the good news was received here must not be ascribed solely or chiefly to national pride. The island was safe. The pleasant pastures, cornfields and commons of Hampshire and Surrey would not be the seat of war. The houses and gardens, the kitchens and dairies, the cellars and plate chests, the wives and daughters of our gentry and clergy would not be at the mercy of Irish Rapparees, who had sacked the dwellings and skinned the cattle of the Englishry of Leinster, or of French dragoons accustomed to live at free quarters on the Protestants of Auvergne. Whigs and Tories joined in thanking God for this great deliverance; and the most respectable nonjurors could not but be glad at heart that the rightful King was not to be brought back by an army of foreigners.
The public joy was therefore all but universal. During several days the bells of London pealed without ceasing. Flags were flying on all the steeples. Rows of candles were in all the windows. Bonfires were at all the corners of the streets. The sense which the government entertained of the services of the navy was promptly, judiciously and gracefully manifested. Sidney and Portland were sent to meet the fleet at Portsmouth, and were accompanied by Rochester, as the representative of the Tories. The three Lords took down with them thirty-seven thousand pounds in coin, which they were to distribute as a donative among the sailors. Gold medals were given to the officers. The remains of Hastings and Carter were brought on shore with every mark of honour. Carter was buried at Portsmouth, with a great display of military pomp. The corpse of Hastings was brought up to London, and laid, with unusual solemnity, under the pavement of Saint James's Church. The footguards with reversed arms escorted the hearse. Four royal state carriages, each drawn by six horses, were in the procession; a crowd of men of quality in mourning cloaks filled the pews; and the Bishop of Lincoln preached the funeral sermon. While such marks of respect were paid to the slain, the wounded were not neglected. Fifty surgeons, plentifully supplied with instruments, bandages, and drugs, were sent down in all haste from London to Portsmouth. It is not easy for us to form a notion of the difficulty which there then was in providing at short notice commodious shelter and skilful attendance for hundreds of maimed and lacerated men. At present every county, every large town, can boast of some spacious palace in which the poorest labourer who has fractured a limb may find an excellent bed, an able medical attendant, a careful nurse, medicines of the best quality, and nourishment such as an invalid requires. But there was not then, in the whole realm, a single infirmary supported by voluntary contribution. Even in the capital the only edifices open to the wounded were the two ancient hospitals of Saint Thomas and Saint Bartholomew. The Queen gave orders that in both these hospitals arrangements should be made at the public charge for the reception of patients from the fleet. At the same time it was announced that a noble and lasting memorial of the gratitude which England felt for the courage and patriotism of her sailors would soon rise on a site eminently appropriate. Among the suburban residences of our kings, that which stood at Greenwich had long held a distinguished place. Charles the Second liked the situation, and determined to rebuild the house and to improve the gardens. Soon after his Restoration, he began to erect, on a spot almost washed by the Thames at high tide, a mansion of vast extent and cost. Behind the palace were planted long avenues of trees which, when William reigned, were scarcely more than saplings, but which have now covered with their massy shade the summer rambles of several generations. On the slope which has long been the scene of the holiday sports of the Londoners, were constructed flights of terraces, of which the vestiges may still be discerned. The Queen now publicly declared, in her husband's name, that the building commenced by Charles should be completed, and should be a retreat for seamen disabled in the service of their country.
One of the happiest effects produced by the good news was the calming of the public mind. During about a month the nation had been hourly expecting an invasion and a rising, and had consequently been in an irritable and suspicious mood. In many parts of England a nonjuror could not show himself without great risk of being insulted. A report that arms were hidden in a house sufficed to bring a furious mob to the door. The mansion of one Jacobite gentleman in Kent had been attacked, and, after a fight in which several shots were fired, had been stormed and pulled down. Yet such riots were by no means the worst symptoms of the fever which had inflamed the whole society. The exposure of Fuller, in February, had, as it seemed, put an end to the practices of that vile tribe of which Oates was the patriarch. During some weeks, indeed, the world was disposed to be unreasonably incredulous about plots. But in April there was a reaction. The French and Irish were coming. There was but too much reason to believe that there were traitors in the island. Whoever pretended that he could point out those traitors was sure to be heard with attention; and there was not wanting a false witness to avail himself of the golden opportunity.
This false witness was named Robert Young. His history was in his own lifetime so fully investigated, and so much of his correspondence has been preserved, that the whole man is before us. His character is indeed a curious study. His birthplace was a subject of dispute among three nations. The English pronounced him Irish. The Irish, not being ambitious of the honour of having him for a countryman, affirmed that he was born in Scotland. Wherever he may have been born, it is impossible to doubt where he was bred; for his phraseology is precisely that of the Teagues who were, in his time, favourite characters on our stage. He called himself a priest of the Established Church; but he was in truth only a deacon; and his deacon's orders he had obtained by producing forged certificates of his learning and moral character. Long before the Revolution he held curacies in various parts of Ireland; but he did not remain many days in any spot. He was driven from one place by the scandal which was the effect of his lawless amours. He rode away from another place on a borrowed horse, which he never returned. He settled in a third parish, and was taken up for bigamy. Some letters which he wrote on this occasion from the gaol of Cavan have been preserved. He assured each of his wives, with the most frightful imprecations, that she alone was the object of his love; and he thus succeeded in inducing one of them to support him in prison, and the other to save his life by forswearing herself at the assizes. The only specimens which remain to us of his method of imparting religious instruction are to be found in these epistles. He compares himself to David, the man after God's own heart, who had been guilty both of adultery and murder. He declares that he repents; he prays for the forgiveness of the Almighty, and then intreats his dear honey, for Christ's sake, to perjure herself. Having narrowly escaped the gallows, he wandered during several years about Ireland and England, begging, stealing, cheating, personating, forging, and lay in many prisons under many names. In 1684 he was convicted at Bury of having fraudulently counterfeited Sancroft's signature, and was sentenced to the pillory and to imprisonment. From his dungeon he wrote to implore the Primate's mercy. The letter may still be read with all the original bad grammar and bad spelling. The writer acknowledged his guilt, wished that his eyes were a fountain of water, declared that he should never know peace till he had received episcopal absolution, and professed a mortal hatred of Dissenters. As all this contrition and all this orthodoxy produced no effect, the penitent, after swearing bitterly to be revenged on Sancroft, betook himself to another device. The Western Insurrection had just broken out. The magistrates all over the country were but too ready to listen to any accusation that might be brought against Whigs and Nonconformists. Young declared on oath that, to his knowledge, a design had been formed in Suffolk against the life of King James, and named a peer, several gentlemen, and ten Presbyterian ministers, as parties to the plot. Some of the accused were brought to trial; and Young appeared in the witness box; but the story which he told was proved by overwhelming evidence to be false. Soon after the Revolution he was again convicted of forgery, pilloried for the fourth or fifth time, and sent to Newgate. While he lay there, he determined to try whether he should be more fortunate as an accuser of Jacobites than he had been as an accuser of Puritans. He first addressed himself to Tillotson. There was a horrible plot against their Majesties, a plot as deep as hell; and some of the first men in England were concerned in it. Tillotson, though he placed little confidence in information coming from such a source, thought that the oath which he had taken as a Privy Councillor made it his duty to mention the subject to William. William, after his fashion, treated the matter very lightly. "I am confident," he said, "that this is a villany; and I will have nobody disturbed on such grounds." After this rebuff, Young remained some time quiet. But when William was on the Continent, and when the nation was agitated by the apprehension of a French invasion and of a Jacobite insurrection, a false accuser might hope to obtain a favourable audience. The mere oath of a man who was well known to the turnkeys of twenty gaols was not likely to injure any body. But Young was master of a weapon which is, of all weapons, the most formidable to innocence. He had lived during some years by counterfeiting hands, and had at length attained such consummate skill in that bad art that even experienced clerks who were conversant with manuscript could scarcely, after the most minute comparison, discover any difference between his imitations and the originals. He had succeeded in making a collection of papers written by men of note who were suspected of disaffection. Some autographs he had stolen; and some he had obtained by writing in feigned names to ask after the characters of servants or curates. He now drew up a paper purporting to be an Association for the Restoration of the banished King. This document set forth that the subscribers bound themselves in the presence of God to take arms for His Majesty, and to seize on the Prince of Orange, dead or alive. To the Association Young appended the names of Marlborough, of Cornbury, of Salisbury, of Sancroft, and of Sprat, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster.
The next thing to be done was to put the paper into some hiding place in the house of one of the persons whose signatures had been counterfeited. As Young could not quit Newgate, he was forced to employ a subordinate agent for this purpose. He selected a wretch named Blackhead, who had formerly been convicted of perjury and sentenced to have his ears clipped. The selection was not happy; for Blackhead had none of the qualities which the trade of a false witness requires except wickedness. There was nothing plausible about him. His voice was harsh. Treachery was written in all the lines of his yellow face. He had no invention, no presence of mind, and could do little more than repeat by rote the lies taught him by others.
This man, instructed by his accomplice, repaired to Sprat's palace at Bromley, introduced himself there as the confidential servant of an imaginary Doctor of Divinity, delivered to the Bishop, on bended knee, a letter ingeniously manufactured by Young, and received, with the semblance of profound reverence, the episcopal benediction. The servants made the stranger welcome. He was taken to the cellar, drank their master's health, and entreated them to let him see the house. They could not venture to show any of the private apartments. Blackhead, therefore, after begging importunately, but in vain, to be suffered to have one look at the study, was forced to content himself with dropping the Association into a flowerpot which stood in a parlour near the kitchen.
Every thing having been thus prepared, Young informed the ministers that he could tell them something of the highest importance to the welfare of the State, and earnestly begged to be heard. His request reached them on perhaps the most anxious day of an anxious month. Tourville had just stood out to sea. The army of James was embarking. London was agitated by reports about the disaffection of the naval officers. The Queen was deliberating whether she should cashier those who were suspected, or try the effect of an appeal to their honour and patriotism. At such a moment the ministers could not refuse to listen to any person who professed himself able to give them valuable information. Young and his accomplice were brought before the Privy Council. They there accused Marlborough, Cornbury, Salisbury, Sancroft and Sprat of high treason. These great men, Young said, had invited James to invade England, and had promised to join him. The eloquent and ingenious Bishop of Rochester had undertaken to draw up a Declaration which would inflame the nation against the government of King William. The conspirators were bound together by a written instrument. That instrument, signed by their own hands, would be found at Bromley if careful search was made. Young particularly requested that the messengers might be ordered to examine the Bishop's flowerpots.
The ministers were seriously alarmed. The story was circumstantial; and part of it was probable. Marlborough's dealings with Saint Germains were well known to Caermarthen, to Nottingham, and to Sidney. Cornbury was a tool of Marlborough, and was the son of a nonjuror and of a notorious plotter. Salisbury was a Papist. Sancroft had, not many months before, been, with too much show of reason, suspected of inviting the French to invade England. Of all the accused persons Sprat was the most unlikely to be concerned in any hazardous design. He had neither enthusiasm nor constancy. Both his ambition and his party spirit had always been effectually kept in order by his love of ease and his anxiety for his own safety. He had been guilty of some criminal compliances in the hope of gaining the favour of James, had sate in the High Commission, had concurred in several iniquitous decrees pronounced by that court, and had, with trembling hands and faltering voice, read the Declaration of Indulgence in the choir of the Abbey. But there he had stopped. As soon as it began to be whispered that the civil and religious constitution of England would speedily be vindicated by extraordinary means, he had resigned the powers which he had during two years exercised in defiance of law, and had hastened to make his peace with his clerical brethren. He had in the Convention voted for a Regency; but he had taken the oaths without hesitation; he had borne a conspicuous part in the coronation of the new Sovereigns; and by his skilful hand had been added to the Form of Prayer used on the fifth of November those sentences in which the Church expresses her gratitude for the second great deliverance wrought on that day. Such a man, possessed of a plentiful income, of a seat in the House of Lords, of one agreeable house among the elms of Bromley, and of another in the cloisters of Westminster, was very unlikely to run the risk of martyrdom. He was not, indeed, on perfectly good terms with the government. For the feeling which, next to solicitude for his own comfort and repose, seems to have had the greatest influence on his public conduct, was his dislike of the Puritans; a dislike which sprang, not from bigotry, but from Epicureanism. Their austerity was a reproach to his slothful and luxurious life; their phraseology shocked his fastidious taste; and, where they were concerned, his ordinary good nature forsook him. Loathing the nonconformists as he did, he was not likely to be very zealous for a prince whom the nonconformists regarded as their protector. But Sprat's faults afforded ample security that he would never, from spleen against William, engage in any plot to bring back James. Why Young should have assigned the most perilous part in an enterprise full of peril to a man singularly pliant, cautious and selfindulgent, it is difficult to say.
The first step which the ministers took was to send Marlborough to the Tower. He was by far the most formidable of all the accused persons; and that he had held a traitorous correspondence with Saint Germains was a fact which, whether Young were perjured or not, the Queen and her chief advisers knew to be true. One of the Clerks of the Council and several messengers were sent down to Bromley with a warrant from Nottingham. Sprat was taken into custody. All the apartments in which it could reasonably be supposed that he would have hidden an important document were searched, the library, the diningroom, the drawingroom, the bedchamber, and the adjacent closets. His papers were strictly examined. Much good prose was found, and probably some bad verse, but no treason. The messengers pried into every flowerpot that they could find, but to no purpose. It never occurred to them to look into the room in which Blackhead had hidden the Association: for that room was near the offices occupied by the servants, and was little used by the Bishop and his family. The officers returned to London with their prisoner, but without the document which, if it had been found, might have been fatal to him.
Late at night he was brought to Westminster, and was suffered to sleep at his deanery. All his bookcases and drawers were examined; and sentinels were posted at the door of his bedchamber, but with strict orders to behave civilly and not to disturb the family.
On the following day he was brought before the Council. The examination was conducted by Nottingham with great humanity and courtesy. The Bishop, conscious of entire innocence, behaved with temper and firmness. He made no complaints. "I submit," he said, "to the necessities of State in such a time of jealousy and danger as this." He was asked whether he had drawn up a Declaration for King James, whether he had held any correspondence with France, whether he had signed any treasonable association, and whether he knew of any such association. To all these questions he, with perfect truth, answered in the negative, on the word of a Christian and a Bishop. He was taken back to his deanery. He remained there in easy confinement during ten days, and then, as nothing tending to criminate him had been discovered, was suffered to return to Bromley.
Meanwhile the false accusers had been devising a new scheme. Blackhead paid another visit to Bromley, and contrived to take the forged Association out of the place in which he had hid it, and to bring it back to Young. One of Young's two wives then carried it to the Secretary's Office, and told a lie, invented by her husband, to explain how a paper of such importance had come into her hands. But it was not now so easy to frighten the ministers as it had been a few days before. The battle of La Hogue had put an end to all apprehensions of invasion. Nottingham, therefore, instead of sending down a warrant to Bromley, merely wrote to beg that Sprat would call on him at Whitehall. The summons was promptly obeyed, and the accused prelate was brought face to face with Blackhead before the Council. Then the truth came out fast. The Bishop remembered the villanous look and voice of the man who had knelt to ask the episcopal blessing. The Bishop's secretary confirmed his master's assertions. The false witness soon lost his presence of mind. His cheeks, always sallow, grew frightfully livid. His voice, generally loud and coarse, sank into a whisper. The Privy Councillors saw his confusion, and crossexamined him sharply. For a time he answered their questions by repeatedly stammering out his original lie in the original words. At last he found that he had no way of extricating himself but by owning his guilt. He acknowledged that he had given an untrue account of his visit to Bromley; and, after much prevarication, he related how he had hidden the Association, and how he had removed it from its hiding place, and confessed that he had been set on by Young.
The two accomplices were then confronted. Young, with unabashed forehead, denied every thing. He knew nothing about the flowerpots. "If so," cried Nottingham and Sidney together, "why did you give such particular directions that the flowerpots at Bromley should be searched?" "I never gave any directions about the flowerpots," said Young. Then the whole board broke forth. "How dare you say so? We all remember it." Still the knave stood up erect, and exclaimed, with an impudence which Oates might have envied, "This hiding is all a trick got up between the Bishop and Blackhead. The Bishop has taken Blackhead off; and they are both trying to stifle the plot." This was too much. There was a smile and a lifting up of hands all round the board. "Man," cried Caermarthen, "wouldst thou have us believe that the Bishop contrived to have this paper put where it was ten to one that our messengers had found it, and where, if they had found it, it might have hanged him?"
The false accusers were removed in custody. The Bishop, after warmly thanking the ministers for their fair and honourable conduct, took his leave of them. In the antechamber he found a crowd of people staring at Young, while Young sate, enduring the stare with the serene fortitude of a man who had looked down on far greater multitudes from half the pillories in England. "Young," said Sprat, "your conscience must tell you that you have cruelly wronged me. For your own sake I am sorry that you persist in denying what your associate has confessed." "Confessed!" cried Young; "no, all is not confessed yet; and that you shall find to your sorrow. There is such a thing as impeachment, my Lord. When Parliament sits you shall hear more of me." "God give you repentance," answered the Bishop. "For, depend upon it, you are in much more danger of being damned than I of being impeached."
Forty-eight hours after the detection of this execrable fraud, Marlborough was admitted to bail. Young and Blackhead had done him an inestimable service. That he was concerned in a plot quite as criminal as that which they had falsely imputed to him, and that the government was to possession of moral proofs of his guilt, is now certain. But his contemporaries had not, as we have, the evidence of his perfidy before them. They knew that he had been accused of an offence of which he was innocent, that perjury and forgery had been employed to ruin him, and that, in consequence of these machinations, he had passed some weeks in the Tower. There was in the public mind a very natural confusion between his disgrace and his imprisonment. He had been imprisoned without sufficient cause. Might it not, in the absence of all information, be reasonably presumed that he had been disgraced without sufficient cause? It was certain that a vile calumny, destitute of all foundation, had caused him to be treated as a criminal in May. Was it not probable, then, that calumny might have deprived him of his master's favour in January?
Young's resources were not yet exhausted. As soon as he had been carried back from Whitehall to Newgate, he set himself to construct a new plot, and to find a new accomplice. He addressed himself to a man named Holland, who was in the lowest state of poverty. Never, said Young, was there such a golden opportunity. A bold, shrewd, fellow might easily earn five hundred pounds. To Holland five hundred pounds seemed fabulous wealth. What, he asked, was he to do for it? Nothing, he was told, but to speak the truth, that was to say, substantial truth, a little disguised and coloured. There really was a plot; and this would have been proved if Blackhead had not been bought off. His desertion had made it necessary to call in the help of fiction. "You must swear that you and I were in a back room upstairs at the Lobster in Southwark. Some men came to meet us there. They gave a password before they were admitted. They were all in white camlet cloaks. They signed the Association in our presence. Then they paid each his shilling and went away. And you must be ready to identify my Lord Marlborough and the Bishop of Rochester as two of these men." "How can I identify them?" said Holland, "I never saw them." "You must contrive to see them," answered the tempter, "as soon as you can. The Bishop will be at the Abbey. Anybody about the Court will point out my Lord Marlborough." Holland immediately went to Whitehall, and repeated this conversation to Nottingham. The unlucky imitator of Oates was prosecuted, by order of the government, for perjury, subornation of perjury, and forgery. He was convicted and imprisoned, was again set in the pillory, and underwent, in addition to the exposure, about which he cared little, such a pelting as had seldom been known. After his punishment, he was, during some years, lost in the crowd of pilferers, ringdroppers and sharpers who infested the capital. At length, in the year 1700, he emerged from his obscurity, and excited a momentary interest. The newspapers announced that Robert Young, Clerk, once so famous, had been taken up for coining, then that he had been found guilty, then that the dead warrant had come down, and finally that the reverend gentleman had been hanged at Tyburn, and had greatly edified a large assembly of spectators by his penitence.
- Stat. 21 Jac. I. c. 3.
- See particularly Two Letters by a Barrister concerning the East Indian Company (1676), and an Answer to the Two Letters published in the same year. See also the Judgment of Lord Jeffreys concerning the Great Case of Monopolies. this judgement was published in 1689, after the downfall of Jeffreys. It was thought necessary to apologise in the preface for printing anything that bore so odious a name. "to commend this argument," says the editor, "I'll not undertake, because of the author. But yet I may tell you what is told me, that it is worthy any gentleman's perusal." The language of Jeffreys is most offensive, sometimes scurrilous, sometimes basely adulatory: but his reasoning as to the mere point of law is certainly able, if not conclusive.
- I have left my account of the East India Company as it stood in 1855. It is unnecessary to say that it contains some expressions which would not have been used, if it had been written in 1858.