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hand to Jeffreys, and, with a dignity and a presence which not even the dramatic power of Shakspeare has ever surpassed, exclaimed, “ My Lord, feel my pulse and see if I am disordered. I bless God, I never was in better temper than I am now.”
The trial of Sidney lacked one feature of intense interest which that of Russell possessed. You remember that when Russell requested pens and a secretary, and the judges had informed him that any of his servants might assist him in writing, he instantly replied, “My wife, my wife, is here, my lord, to do it.” And thereupon that heroic Lady Rachel, who had an hereditary right to sympathize with persecuted virtue, for she was the daughter of Rachel de Rouvigny, a fair and virtuous Huguenot, - and who afterwards, in mourning for her husband and refusing to be comforted because he was not, exhibited so striking a family likeness to the disconsolate Rachel of Holy Writ, — that heroic lady stepped forward, took her place and her pen at the table, and discharged the duties of her husband's secretary to the end of the trial. No wonder that in turning from her, after taking leave, on the morning of his execution, Russell exclaimed, " The bitterness of death is now past."
Sidney had no wife to aid and comfort him in life, or to take leave of in death. The blessing of that ministry, the bitterness of that parting, were not his. He had been no scorner of the sex, however. There is an Essay on Virtuous Love, written by him while a young man, which furnishes ample proof not merely of his respect for woman, but that he carried his notions of her capacity and dignity to a length not always admitted.
And there is another passage in this Essay of even higher interest in this connection, and which I have never seen noticed. It is a passage which leads irresistibly to the conclusion, that his living and dying a single man resulted from an early disappointment of the affections, and from his constancy to a first love.
If this theory of Sidney's life be correct, it will by no means diminish the interest which will attach to his character and his career in the eyes of a sex, which, otherwise, he might almost seem to have forsworn. Constancy, constancy, was the great element of his character, and no disappointments or repulses could ever dissolve or shake either his loyalty in love or his allegiance to liberty.
Three weeks intervened between his sentence and his execution. During this period he dictated a noble account and vindication of himself, entitled “ The Apology of Algernon Sidney in the Day of his Death," from which many of the details of his life and fortunes are taken, and the concluding paragraph of which may be cited as an ample answer both to the off-hand and groundless assertion of Mr. Hume that he was to be classed among the Deists of the day, and to the hardly less invidious discrimination of Mr. Macaulay, that “Russell died with the fortitude of a Christian, but Sidney with the fortitude of a Stoic," -- an idea derived from nothing whatever, that I can find, but his indisposition to the system of church government and the public worship of the time.
“I believe,” says he, “ that the people of God in England have, in these late years, generally grown faint. Some, through fear, have deflected from the integrity of their principles. Some have too deeply plunged themselves in worldly cares, and, so as they might enjoy their trades and wealth, have less regarded the treasure that is laid up in heaven.
But I think there are very many who have kept their garments unspotted ; and hope that God will deliver them and the nation for their sakes. God will not suffer this land, where the gospel hath of late flourished more than in any part of the world, to become a slave of the world; he will not suffer it to be made a land of graven images; he will stir up witnesses of the truth, and, in his own time, spirit his people to stand up for his cause and deliver them. I lived in this belief, and am now about to die in it. I know my Redeemer lives; and, as he hath in a great measure upheld me in the day of my calamity, I hope that he will still uphold me by his Spirit in this last moment, and, giving me grace to glorify him in my death, receive me into the glory prepared for those that fear him, when my body shall be dissolved.'
If this be the language of a Deist or a Stoic, I know not where we shall look for the words of a Christian.
And now on the 7th day of December, 1683, Sidney is on the scaffold, calm, composed, unseduced, unterrified. He hands to the sheriff a beautiful address, in which he again thanks God for permitting him to be a witness of the truth, and especially for
permitting him to die for that good “old cause the cause of liberty — in which he had been engaged from his youth up. He presents two or three guineas to the executioner, and, on finding him disappointed with the sum, he cheerfully adds a guinea or two more.
He offers a brief prayer; declares that, having made his peace with God, he has nothing more to say to men, and then lays his head quietly down on the block, as on a welcome pillow after a long day of trouble; and when the headsman, hardly imagining that he could be ready so soon for the fatal blow, inquires of him whether he proposes to rise again, he replies boldly and beautifully, “Not till the general resurrection strike on." The axe falls; a single stroke suffices; and Algernon Sidney lives only in history.
Well, well, does Lord John Russell say, that there is no murder which history has recorded of Cæsar Borgia, which exceeds in violence, or in fraud, that by which Charles took away the life of the gallant and patriotic Sidney.
So lived, so acted, so suffered, so died, the author of those Discourses on Government which the patriot Quincy bequeathed to his son ; the framer of our Massachusetts motto; the friend of William Penn; the friend and fellow-martyr of the sainted Russell, and in reference to whom John Milton, his only superior as an author in that day, said long before his death, “I rejoice that the illustrious name of Sidney has always been associated with the party of liberty."
I have only time to add that the Discourses are every way worthy of such an author. Written in answer to the Patriarcha of Sir Robert Filmer, — the great defender of divine right and passive obedience (the same Patriarcha to which John Locke afterwards replied in his Essay on Government), – they are replete with historical learning, with severe logic, with powerful irony, with searching analysis and brilliant exposition. With but little of the involution which characterized the style of the time, and which renders so much of Milton's prose writings almost unintelligible, they have an energy of expression, and a fulness and force of illustration, derived from the great authors of antiquity, both sacred and secular, which entitle them to a
* Life of Lord William Russell, vol. ii. p. 139.
much higher rank in English literature than they seem to have enjoyed. And, certainly, there is no book of modern times, or of any times, which I would sooner put into the hands of a young American, - not merely with the hope which Quincy expressed, that the spirit of liberty might rest upon him, but with an assurance that this hope would be realized. Hardly anywhere else can the great principles of free government be found better explained or more powerfully advocated. Indeed, it would be difficult to find any thing valuable even in our own American Constitutions or Bills of Rights, which has not been more or less distinctly anticipated or foreshadowed in these Discourses. Listen to a few of the titles to the chapters or sections, and remember that they were written a hundred years before Jefferson's Declaration of Independence:
- God leaves to man the choice of forms in government, and those who constitute one form may abrogate it."
“No man comes to command many, unless by consent or by force." “ The general revolt of a nation cannot be called a rebellion.'
Liberty produceth virtue, order, and stability; slavery is accompanied with vice, weakness and misery.”
“ All just magisterial power is from the people.”
“ Government is not instituted for the good of the governor but of the governed, and power is not an advantage but a burthen."
Indeed, no one can read the work without admitting, that the great American doctrines, that the consent of the governed is the basis of all just power; that the people have the liberty of setting up such governments as best please themselves; that Magistrates are ordained for the good of Nations, and not Nations for the honor and glory of Magistrates; that the right and power of Magistrates is only what the laws of the country make them to be; that laws are to be observed and obeyed both by Magistrates and People; that private and public virtue necessary to the maintenance of freedom, and education essential as a preparation for its establishment and enjoyment; - no one, I say, can read these Discourses without admitting that these great American doctrines were all set forth by Algernon Sidney
more than a hundred and fifty years ago, in language whichi could scarcely be mended by any speaker or writer of our own land at the present hour.
And when he goes on with so much kindling zeal and earnest eloquence to speak of “a popular or mixed government” as one in which “ every man is concerned ; every one has a part according to his quality or merit; all changes are prejudicial to all ; whatever any man conceives to be for the public good, he may propose it to the Magistracy or Magistrate ; the body of the people is the public defence; every man is armed and disciplined; the advantages of good success are communicated to all, and every man bears a part in the losses; this makes men generous and industrious, and fills their hearts with love to their coun
When he tells us that, where the supreme power is committed to an annual or otherwise chosen Magistracy, “ the virtues of excellent men are of use, but all does not depend upon their persons; one man finishes what another had begun; and when many are by practice rendered able to perform the same things, the loss of one is easily supplied by the election of another: When good principles are planted, they do not die with the person that introduced them; and good Constitutions remain, though the authors of them perish:
And when, still more, he so glowingly depicts the good Magistrate as knowing, that “there is no safety where there is no strength, no strength without Union, no union without justice, no justice where faith and truth, accomplishing public and private contracts, is wanting :".
We might almost imagine that his prophetic spirit had caught a glimpse in the far distant future of the final consummation of his idolized republican theories on our own happy shores. We might almost imagine, that his faith-illumined eyes were permitted to pierce through the mists of a century, and to behold “sweet fields beyond the swelling floods," where liberty should be something more than a name, and a constitutional Republic something more than a beatific vision. Oh, could he but have lived a hundred years later, how would he have gloried in the establishment of a system after which his heart had so long