Imagens das páginas

usurped, under the protection of a military force, that power which all England reckoned illegal. I cannot perceive what there was in the imagined solemnity of this proceeding, in that insolent mockery of the forms of justice, accompanied by all unfairness and inhumanity in its circumstances, which can alleviate the guilt of the transaction; and if it be alleged that many of the regicides were firmly persuaded in their consciences of the right and duty of condemning the King, we may surely remember that private murderers have often had the same apology.

In discussing each particular transaction in the life of Charles, as of any other sovereign, it is required by the truth of history to spare no just animadversion upon his faults; especially where much art has been employed by the writers most in repute to carry the stream of public prejudice in an opposite direction. But when we come to a general estimate of his character, we should act unfairly not to give their full weight to those peculiar circumstances of his condition in this worldly scene which tend to account for and extenuate his failings. The station of kings is, in a moral sense, so unfavourable, that those who are least prone to servile admiration should be on their guard against the opposite error of an uncandid severity. There seems no fairer method of estimating the intrinsic worth of a sovereign than to treat him as a subject, and to judge, 80 far as the history of his life enables us, what he would have been in that more private and happier condition from which the chance of birth has excluded him. Tried by this test, we cannot doubt that Charles I. would have been, not altogether an amiable man, but one deserving of general esteem; his firm and conscientious virtues the same, his deviations fi*m right far less frequent than upon the throne. It is to be pleaded for this Prince, that his youth had breathed but the contaminated air of a profligate and servile Court—that he had imbibed the lessons of arbitrary power from all who surrounded him—that he had been betrayed by a father's culpable blindness into the dangerous society of an ambitious, unprincipled favourite. To have maintained so much correctness of morality as his enemies confess, was a proof of Charles's virtuous dispositions; but his advocates are compelled also to own that he did not escape as little injured by the poisonous adulation to which he had listened. Of a temper by nature, and by want of restraint, too passionate, though not vindictive, and, though not cruel, certainly deficient in gentleness and humanity, he was entirely unfit for the very difficult station of royalty, and especially for that of a constitutional king. It is impossible to excuse his violations of liberty on the score of ignorance, especially after the Petition or Right; because his impatience of opposition from his council made it unsafe to give him any advice that thwarted his determination. His other great fault was want of sincerity—a fault that appeared in all parts of his life, and from which no one who has paid the subject any attention will pretend to exculpate him. Those, indeed, who know nothing but what they find in Hume, may believe, on Hume's authority, that the King's contemporaries never dreamed of imputing to him any deviation from good faith; as if the whole conduct of the Parliament had not been evidently founded upon a distrust which on many occasions they very explicitly declared. But, so far as this insincerity was shown in the course of his troubles, it was a failing which untoward circumstances are apt to produce, and which the extreme hypocrisy of many among his adversaries might sometimes palliate. Few personages in history, we should recollect, have had so much of their actions revealed and commented upon as Charles; it is perhaps a mortifying truth that those who have stood highest with posterity have seldom been those who have been most accurately known.

The turn of his mind was rather peculiar, and laid him open with some justice to very opposite censures—for an extreme obstinacy in retaining his opinion, and for an excessive facility in adopting that of others. But the apparent incongruity ceases when we observe that he was tenacious of ends and irresolute as to means; better fitted to reason than to act; never swerving from a few main principles, but diffident of his own judgment in its application to the course of affairs. His chief talent was an acuteness in dispute; a talent not usually much exercised by kings, but which the strange events of his life, called into action. He had, unfortunately for himself, gone into the study most fashionable in that age, of polemical theology; and, though not at all learned, had read enough of the English divines to maintain their side of the current controversies with much dexterity. But this unkingly talent was a poor compensation for the continual mistakes of his judgment in the art of government and the conduct of his affairs.


He left a fame behind him proportioned to his extraordinary fortunes and the great qualities which sustained them; still more perhaps the admiration of strangers than of his country, because that sentiment was less alloyed by hatred, which seeks to extenuate the glory that irritates it. The nation itself forgave much to one who had brought back the renown of her ancient story, the traditions of Elizabeth's age, after the ignominious reigns of her successors. This contrast with James and Charles in their foreign policy gave additional lustre to the era of the Protectorate. There could not but be a sense of national pride to see an Englishman, but yesterday raised above the many, without one drop of blood in his veins which the princes of the earth could challenge as their own, receive the homage of those who acknowledge no right to power, and hardly any title to respect, except that of prescription. The sluggish pride of the Court of Spain, the mean-spirited cunning of Mazarin, the irregular imagination of Christina, sought with emulous ardour the friendship of our usurper. He had the advantage of reaping the harvest which he had not sown, by an honourable treaty with Holland, the fruit of victories achieved under the Parliament. But he still employed the great energies of Blake in the service for which he was so eminently fitted; and it is just to say that the maritime glory of England may first be traced from the era of the Commonwealth in a track of continuous light. The oppressed Protestants in Catholic kingdoms, disgusted at the lukewarmness and half-apostasy of the Stuarts, looked up to him as their patron and mediator. Courted by the two rival monarchies of Europe, he seemed to threaten both with his hostility; and when he declared against Spain, and attacked her West India possessions, with little pretence certainly of justice, but not by any means, as I conceive, with the impolicy sometimes charged against him, so auspicious was his star that the very failure and disappointment of that expedition obtained a more advantageous possession for England than all the triumphs of her former kings.

Notwithstanding this external splendour, which has deceived some of our own and most foreign writers, it is evident that the submission of the people to Cromwell was far from peaceable or voluntary. His strong and skilful grasp kept down a nation of enemies that must naturally, to judge from their numbers and inveteracy, have overwhelmed him. It required a dexterous management to play with the army, and without the army he could not have existed as sovereign for a day. Yet it seems improbable that, had Cromwell lived, any insurrection or conspiracy, setting aside assassination, could have overthrown a possession so fenced by systematic vigilance, by experienced caution, by the respect and terror that belonged to his name. The Royalist and Republican intrigues had gone on for several years without intermission; but every part of their designs was open to him; and it appears that there was not courage, or rather temerity, sufficient to make any open demonstration of so prevalent a disaffection.

The most superficial observers cannot have overlooked the general resemblances in the fortunes and character of Cromwell, and of him who, more recently, and upon an ampler theatre, has struck nations with wonder and awe. But the parallel may be traced more closely than perhaps has hitherto been remarked. Both raised to power by the only merit which a revolution leaves uncontroverted and untarnished, that of military achievements, in that reflux of public sentiment when the fervid enthusiasm of democracy gives place to disgust at its excesses and a desire of firm government. The means of greatness the same to both—the extinction of a representative assembly, once national, but already mutilated by violence, and sunk by its submission to that illegal force into general contempt. In military science or the renown of their exploits we cannot certainly rank Cromwell by the side of him for whose genius and ambition all Europe seemed the appointed quarry; but it may be said that the former's exploits were as much above the level of his contemporaries, and more the fruits of an original uneducated capacity. In civil government there can be no adequate parallel between one who had sucked only the dregs of a besotted fanaticism, and one to whom the stores of reason and philosophy were open. But it must here be added that Cromwell, far unlike his antitype, never showed any signs of a legislative mind, or any desire to fix his renown on that noblest basis, the amelioration of social institutions. Both were eminent masters of human nature, and played with inferior capacities in all the security of powerful minds. Though both, coming at the conclusion of a struggle for Liberty, trampled upon her claims, and sometimes spoke disdainfully of her name, each knew how to associate the interests of those who had contended for her with his own ascendency, and made himself the representative of a victorious revolution. Those who had too much philosophy or zeal for freedom to give way to popular admiration for these illustrious usurpers, were yet amused with the adulation that lawful princes showered on them, more gratuitously in one instance, with servile terror in the other. Both, too, repaid in some measure this homage of the pretended great by turning their ambition towards those honours and titles which they knew to be so little connected with high desert. A fallen race of monarchs, which had made way for the greatness of each, cherished hopes of restoration by their power, till each, by an inexpiable act of blood, manifested his determination to make no compromise with that line. Both possessed a certain coarse good-nature and affability that covered the want of conscience, honour, and humanity; quick in passion, but not vindictive, and averse to unnecessary crimes. Their fortunes in the conclusion of life were indeed very different: one forfeited the affections of his people, which the other, in the character at least of their master, had never possessed; one fur

« AnteriorContinuar »