« PreviousContinue »
There are, perhaps, few subjects which so many learned men have discussed, or upon which so many ponderous volumes have been written, as the History of the Great Rebellion. From the days of Lord Clarendon to the present time, it has been alike the favourite theme of the historian, the commentator, and the critic. The fountain head, from whence the political parties of modern England take their rise, the Revolution of 1640 is sometimes held up as an event to be applauded and admired, at others execrated as the devilish work of a rebellious and ungovernable faction. Some writers have approached the task of describing it from a desire to vindicate the conduct of those leaders in the struggle whose principles accorded with their own; others with a similar purpose have
; laboured equally to justify the chiefs of the opposite faction. Some have distorted facts and withheld evidence to clear royalty from the imputation of aggression; others, wilfully blind to the errors of the popular
have represented its policy as faultless and above
Some have sought to paint in vivid colours the triumph of the victors, others to enlist the voice of sympathy and pity in favour of the vanquished.
Although the tendency to assume the spirit of a partisan is a common fault with nearly all the writers who have described this memorable epoch, many apologies may be offered in their extenuation. For instance, impartiality could not be expected from those whose passions were excited as spectators of the conflict, whose interests and fortunes were at stake in its progress, and whose principles were either to be established or proscribed by its result. To
that such writers could hold the scales of justice with even hand would be unreasonable, since few men possess sufficient candour to admit opinions to be correct which do not harmonise with their own, particularly at a period when parties so widely differed, that to preserve neutrality was almost impossible. In more recent times, the bane of party spirit has perpetuated this defect, blinding the reason and warping the judgment of writers, who though professing to be candid and ingenuous, have insensibly imbibed such strong prejudices in favour of a particular policy, as to preclude them from arriving at just and impartial conclusions. Few have been enabled to withstand temptations so imperceptibly seducing, yet so dangerous to the cause of truth; hence, the language of our historians when referring to this subject, far more frequently displays the fervid warmth and enthusiasm of the advocate, than the unruffled calmness and imperturbable equanimity of the judge. He who listens to the generous eloquence of Clarendon or Hume, will be apt to feel his sympathies enlisted in favour of the Episcopalian and the Cavalier; he who warms under the glowing panegyrics and brilliant declamation of Godwin or Macaulay, will be equally zealous for the Roundhead and the Puritan; but he who has pondered over the dispassionate arguments and the truthful reasonings of Hallam, will be convinced that there was much in the conduct of either party to censure and condemn, as well as much to commend and approve.
We shall offer no apology for making a few observations upon the immediate causes of the Revolution, because our object will be merely the humble one of bringing within an hour's reading some of the most prominent circumstances which led to that eventful struggle. We neither lay claim to originality, nor profess to have made any discoveries from study or research. Like the binder in the harvest field, we have only undertaken the subordinate task of gathering up the sheaves which the sickle of the
has previously cut down.
Paradoxical as it may appear, England was never in a more flourishing condition, as regards the material prosperity of her people, than at the period just antecedent to the Civil War. The long duration of peace she had enjoyed (if we except the brief war with Spain), the rapid extension of her commerce, the colonisation of her American settlements, the incorporation of those great companies that opened the trade of India and the Levant to her merchants, the
vast improvements in her agriculture, and the introduction of the silk, and various other manufactures, all combined to place her in a pre-eminently favourable position, when contrasted with other countries, such as Germany and France, where the devastating scourge of civil war, and the fanatic passions arising from religious feuds were exerting a marked influence in arresting the advance of civilisation, and impeding the progress of commercial enterprise. “In 1640,” observes the great historian, “ England had, for above twelve years, enjoyed the greatest calm and the fullest measure of felicity, that any people, or any age, for so long a time together have been blessed with ; to the wonder and envy of all the other parts of Christendom.” A Secretary, attached to the French Embassy, has left some curious memoirs relative to the state of England in 1641. He describes with astonishment the flourishing condition of her commerce, and the splendid appearance of her capital. In his voyage up the Thames, he counted no less than 850 ships-half merchant-men, and half ships of war; and in describing London, he observes, “ This capital may not only boast of her excellent ports, her abundance of all kinds of merchandise, but of possessing the longest street, the most splendid taverns, and the greatest number of shops of any city in Europe.” The Thames would appear to have presented as busy an aspect then, as it does at the present day, for he goes on to say, “ Thousands of barges so cover the river with passengers, that the stranger seems to behold a continued bridge, or rather the representation of a sea-fight
such are the admirable swiftness and dexterity of their manoeuvres." Nor was the prosperity of the provinces inferior to that of the capital-great improvements having been effected to facilitate the inland communication, by means of new roads and canals, as well as by the establishment of letter posts between all the most important towns. The customs' receipts had in 1635 doubled their amount, since the reign of James. Woollen manufactures were exported even to India and the Levant; while the produce of the English mines was exchanged for the silks of Persia, and the spices of Hindostan. Luxury kept pace with the increasing wealth of the nation. The dwellings of the people had become sensibly improved both in appearance and convenience. Many of the finest specimens of the English Manor House date their erection from this period. The court almost excelled itself in the magnificence and splendour of its entertainments. Festivals of the most costly description were given by the principal nobility when honoured with the presence of royalty. Masques and pageants were performed with such ceremony and decoration, that upon one, to which the Inns of Court had invited the King and Queen, no less a sum than £21,000 were expended, although the spectacle lasted but for a few hours. So lavish and profuse were courtiers in their dress, that it is no exaggeration to say their estates were often carried on their backs. The Duke of Buckingham, when in the acme of his power, appeared in a suit, the value of which was estimated at £80,000; and Bassompiere, the French Ambassador, remarks of this nobleman's