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But Voltaire is a writer who, on account of his universality, his liveliness, and his known misrepresentations on sacred subjects, is never believed on any other, further than he is seen; or rather, as he never intimates, which he ought always to have done, his authorities, every one believes as much of his historical accounts, or as little, as he thinks proper.
The corruption therefore of Charles, and his conspiracy against his people, was an historical fact very fairly made out, when Mr. Macpherson repaired to Paris; an author not a little celebrated in the literary world (the author or editor of Ossian), one who could find MSS. or make them, produce or withhold them, and in short, as it was understood, proceed with equal rapidity and success with them or without them. Two quarto volumes could not fail to be the consequence of this journey; the memoirs of King James could not possibly escape him; and the readers of history were at last gratified with extracts from this interesting performance, and with a regular work, entitled “ Original Papers, containing the Secret History of Great Britain,” &c. &c.
But when we come to open the volumes of Macpherson, we shall, in the first place, be somewhat dissatisfied with the introduction: Macpherson tells his story, but not with simplicity; while simplicity, detail, minuteness, are on occasions like this, not only the best taste in point of literary composition, but indispensably necessary; for what the reader ought to know, and all that he desires to know, is the exact authority on which he is left to depend. When, in the next place, the Papers themselves are consulted, they seem not a journal written by the king himself in the first person, but a narrative where he appears in the third; (this however might have been the king's mode of writing, and is not decisive): but it is soon observable that the Duchess of Cleveland is mentioned by that name, when the period of which the writer speaks is nine years and a half before the title was conferred upon her; so that the journal, or narrative, evidently was not written while the events it alludes to were taking place, but long after; it therefore comes not warm from the heart, has nothing in it of that unpremeditated statement, exhibits none of those prompt and genuine impressions of the moment, which are the great delight and study of the philosopher and historian, whenever they can be surveyed, and is therefore at all events not as valuable as might have been expected.
In the extracts furnished by Mr. Macpherson, little comment can be found on what are known to be the most critical points of the history of the times; and on the whole, as far as the reign of Charles is concerned, the reader is extremely disappointed in the matter and in the manner, in the author and in the editor of this journal or narrative, as exhibited by Macpherson.
But these memoirs of King James were destined to meet with one inquirer more. The late Mr. Fox having formed a serious design of writing a more faithful account than he conceived had as yet been given of the great era in our history--the revolution in 1688, repaired, as Mr. Macpherson had done, to Paris; and the journal of King James was, of course, one of the objects which occupied his attention. The history of his researches is contained in Lord Holland's Preface to Mr. Fox's posthumous work. From this it appears that there was deposited in the Scotch college, not only an original journal by King James, but a narrative compiled from it, either by the younger Dryden, or one of the superiors of the society; and that it is the narrative from which extracts have been taken by Macpherson, not the journal. Mr. Fox declared, in a private letter to Mr. Laing, that he had made out that Macpherson never saw the journal. And, on turning to Macpherson's introduction, the student will find that, though this skilful artist leads his reader to suppose that he saw this journal and copied it, still that he nowhere exactly says that he ever did see it; and his not having done so, and his wishing to be thought to have done so, has given rise to that want of simplicity in his statement which we have already noticed, and of which the necessity in all such prefaces is thus rendered more than ever apparent.
The fate of the original journal is curious: it was burnt from terror under the horrors of the French revolution, when any thing connected with royalty, it was supposed, would have been fatal to the possessor. The narrative is still safe, and is in the possession of Dr. Cameron of Edinburgh.
Since I wrote the last paragraph, another copy of the nar
rative has been purchased in Italy. It was published by the direction of the present king, when he was regent; and his merits were very great in first procuring these papers, and in suffering them afterwards to be exhibited to the curiosity of the public. The Life of James II., by Dr. James Clarke, is the title of the book. An article in the Edinburgh Review will give you all proper information.
But another publication remains yet to be mentioned, which deservedly excited the attention of the public on its first appearance, and which must always be examined with great care by every inquirer into the constitutional history of England—the second volume of the Memoirs of Dalrymple. You may remember that I have already mentioned a note in Mr. Hume's history, founded on Barillon's Dispatches.
This note showed clearly the importance of these Dispatches of the French ambassador. Sir John Dalrymple obtained permission from the French government to examine these Dispatches, and the second volume contains the result of his researches,
I shall endeavour to give you some general notion of the nature of these original materials, furnished by Macpherson in the first place; by these Stuart papers in the second; and by Sir John Dalrymple in the third.
I have already mentioned why the papers of Macpherson neither are nor could be so interesting as might have been expected, since it is not the king's own journal that the extracts are drawn from, but the narrative which was itself made out of the journal.
Yet it is impossible that some curious particulars should not find their way even into a document like this. We see, for instance, Clarendon censured by James for not having made the crown more independent of the commons in point of revenue; for not repealing the destructive laws of the long parliament, &c. &c.
Opposition to the court is always considered by James, then Duke of York, as, of course, faction and republicanism. Page 50, an account of the celebrated treaty with France, mentioned by Hume, is to be found; it is mentioned more than once with some important particulars,–54. 80. The ministers, it is said, contrived a marriage between the Prince of Orange
and the Princess Mary, to pacify the parliament, James against it. And on the most important struggle of the reign, the bill of exclusion, there are these words (111): "Algernon Sydney, and the ablest of the republican party, said that if a bill of limitations was once got, they should from that moment think themselves secure of a republic;" and these words are subjoined, “So the king judged.”
Now the answer which the king always made to the popular leaders, when they pressed for a bill to exclude the Duke of York from the throne, was this “That he would not exclude him, but would grant any limitations that could be thought necessary.”
It is clear, therefore, from this extract, that the king was not sincere when he offered limitations; for he could have offered nothing sincerely which he judged would lead to a republic.
(117.) “ The House of Commons," says the duke, “resolved at some of their cabals, to begin with a bill of exclusion; either that, or a bill of limitations, would be the destruction of the monarchy. It would serve likewise for a precedent to meddle with the succession on all occasions, and make monarchy elective.”
” In page 124, is mentioned the curious agreement between Louis and Charles, quoted from Barillon by Hume. “The king's necessities,” says the MS., “ forced him to a private treaty with France. Fifty thousand pounds a quarter were the terms,” &c. &c.
There is a curious description of Shaftesbury, and of the king's death, and of his conformity to the Roman Catholic religion: and, on the whole, the duke appears as bigoted in his religion, and as arbitrary in his political opinions, as might have been expected.
I now allude, secondly, to the Stuart Papers. Macpherson's work is now not a little superseded by these Stuart Papers, that have been published—the Life of James II., by J. S. Clarke. The same conclusions, however, may be drawn from the whole, and from every part of these Stuart Papers. Indeed, this is the most important point of view in which they can be placed; they will in every other respect disappoint you. They are a life of James, and yet there is little or nothing said of the civil war, or of the Restoration, or of any other particulars, to which your curiosity would naturally be directed. Much of the work is occupied with that part of the duke's life that was passed on the continent. But these papers are still perfectly valuable, because they every where confirm the reasonings, and justify the opinions that have been formed by historians and statesmen, on the critical topics of these times, the corruption of Charles, the bigoted and arbitrary nature of James, and the necessity of the revolution of 1688.
Wise and good men have not been at all deceived, as it is now evident from these papers. They vary, however, much in their importance in different places; and if you will only look well at the margin, and consider the subject matter of the page before you, you will easily separate what is trifling from what is instructive, and in this manner find it an easy and even short task, to read these two quarto volumes, large as they may appear.
And now, it must be observed, that it is a point of some literary curiosity at least, to determine, what were the proceedings of Macpherson, when he went to the Scotch college. In the work he has given to the public, whole paragraphs appear, verbatim, as they now appear in these Stuart Papers. In general, the extracts given by Macpherson are abridged from the Stuart Papers.
You may easily compare the corresponding passages in the two works.
But there are passages in Macpherson that I do not see in these Stuart Papers, they are taken from Carte and others. Whence they were originally derived by Carte and others, is not very clear. Carte was a Jacobite, left his papers to the Bodleian library at Oxford, and Macpherson availed himself of them. These matters are, however, of less importance, now that we have got in the Stuart Papers an authentic document, containing always the sentiments and views either of James himself, or of those who were in his court and in his confidence, and who had, therefore, the same opinions with himself.
But the character of Macpherson seems at an end. He endeavoured to deceive the public, and to make them believe, that the extracts he gave were from the king's own journal;