« ForrigeFortsett »
still feels aggrieved, and was and is ready to go to very great lengths to regain the lost provinces. That if ever she sees, or fancies she sees, her opportunity, she will make the attempt, may be considered certain ; and meanwhile the loss and the hope of recovery colour and modify all her diplomacy and her foreign policy.
The only differences between the cases of Alsace-Lorraine and Aquitaine are that England had held this latter much longer, and that original acquisition of it was neither by conquest nor chicanery, but by marriage and inheritance. As the result of the war which, with varying fortunes, lasted for upwards of a hundred years, England finally lost this rich province in the unhappy reign of Henry VI.; but the memory of it remained. Every English king, every English government, held that it still belonged to England, and that it was their duty to recover it. This does not appear so prominently in history, for the English did not cry aloud for la revanche,' and the chroniclers did not always know of the wish for it. But the desire and intention appear in every negotiation-from those that were carried on in the reign of Henry IV. with Burgundy or Armagnac to those with France or Spain or Germany, which occupied such a large share of Wolsey's life. And though before the accession of Elizabeth people were beginning to console themselves with the belief that the grapes were sour, and that England was better without the grapebearing province, the loss of Calais kept the memory green till near the end of the sixteenth century. But Elizabeth's reign was filled with present realities and future hopes rather than with fond memories of the past. Driven out of France, the English were spreading over the ocean or seeking compensation in the New World; and thus it is that *a great part of Elizabeth's reign is a glorious gap in political history. Politics are almost lost in the struggle for national existence, and the history is military or diplomatic. The page is filled by the efforts of statesmen to support the Protestant and English interest, in Scotland against that of the Guises, in France to protect the same interests against the same dark power; by the deeds and sufferings of the English auxiliaries in the Netherlands and in France; by the war with Spain upon the sea and the defeat of the Armada. Patriotism takes the form of loyalty to the head of the nation. . . Shakespeare is full of patriotic fire; but in the mirror which he holds up to his age no political forms are seen. He is himself monarchical, dislikes the mob, laughs a little at the sectaries, girds at the Pope, though he makes no allusion to the struggle with Papal Spain or to the Armada;
but there is not a trace in him of party feeling or of interest in constitutional questions. To him King John is the King of England defending the realm against the French invader; of the Great Charter he says not a word.' For Mr. Smith the reign is practically a blank—not, indeed, that he does not devote a legitimate number of pages to it, but that the subject is not congenial to him, and his treatment of it is perfunctory, confused, inaccurate, and needlessly abusive of the queen and “her vile favourite, • Leicester. But 'as the reign wears on and the danger from abroad passes away, home politics revive. The House of Commons shows a more independent spirit, vindicates its freedom of speech, attacks abuses, moots high questions of state, challenges prerogative, opens, in fact, the irrepressible conflict between government by prerogative and government by Parliament, of which the supremacy of Parliament is destined to be the result.'
This revival is the more interesting as calling attention to the fact that there was a House of Commons to revive. When the kings of France made themselves absolute, they so changed the constitution of their Parliament that it was powerless to resist their will, and they abolished the StatesGeneral altogether. During the greater part of the sixteenth century the Tudor sovereigns were at least as absolute as any of the French kings, but they were so under the forms of the constitution. They were careful to obtain a constitutional sanction for their most unconstitutional acts. It was easier for them to have a Parliament to bear the burden of responsibility whether for beheading queens, dissulving monasteries, or burning heretics. Therefore they contented themselves with providing a Parliament willing to do exactly what it was ordered. The majority of the peers were creatures of the Crown; the majority of the commons were its nominees :
• In a certain sense the weakness of Parliament may be said to have been its salvation. Had it been strong enough to wrestle with the Tudors, they, with the influences and needs of the time in their favour, would probably have destroyed it. As it was subservient, they were content to let it live, to pay it a nominal deference, sometimes to let it relieve them of responsibility, and to wield supreme power under its forms.'
Henry VII., indeed, seldom troubled himself with one. He had other means of raising money, and felt that the exigencies of the time were best met by an absolute monarchy. His immediate successors, however, found their hands strengthened by the pretence of parliamentary support and even parliamentary limitation. Parliament thus continued to exist, and when the time came the limitation ceased to be a pretence; the House of Commons asserted, fought for, regained, and extended its constitutional authority. The struggle occupied the greater part of the seventeenth century, beginning almost with the accession of James I. and continuing with varying success, amid stormy debates, clashing arms, and tragic interludes, to the deposition of James II.
In Mr. Smith's comments on the history of this interesting and important period there is much on which we would willingly pause ; for though here, as in the later chapters of the work, his facts seem to have been occasionally selected by sentiment or prejudice rather than by authority, the merit of such a book by such an author is that it raises questions and leads or compels the reader to examine points of detail, as to which he may sometimes be resting in an attitude of what Paley used to call 'otiose assent.' In all serious studies, whatever breaks up this otiose assent is useful, and in history the suggestions which lead to a consideration of the real meaning of events, or of the true character of the actors, have a value which may be far beyond their intrinsic worth. Some of Mr. Smith's sketches of the most noteworthy men of the century are, however, admirable in their way. In the present year, that of Crom. well will bear repetition :
• He had set out as a fanatic, though his fanaticism was sincere and grand; nor could he ever entirely put off the intellectual or the, moral obliquity by which the character is beset. Up dangerous patys be had climbed, or rather had been drawn, to the height of power, and no doubt he had more than once slipped on the way. He had undergone the evil influences, not only of faction, but of civil strife. His vision as a statesman could not extend beyond the horizon of his age, an age of state churches, of commercial monopoly, of religious and territorial war. But without being a demi.god, he may have been a very great man. Nor is it strange that to a very great man a great nation, in the throes of a revolution which stirred the depths of its soul, should have given birth. . . . A longer period of Cromwell, or of persistence in his policy, might have averted not only the reaction in England, with all the evil which it wrought, but the ascendency of Louis XIV., and have changed the course of European history. . . . For the time Cromwell's work was undone, and on his same settled a cloud of obloquy, which now and then lifted when disaster and disgrace under other governments forced England to think of his glory. ... The cloud is now dispersed, and Cromwell's VOL, CXCII. NO. CCCXCIII,
work and name are accepted by his countrymen, to some of whom, perhaps, he has become an object of excessive admiration. As the world goes on and intelligence spreads, the importance of individual leaders grows less. . . . Yet, at à crisis, there may still be a call for a leader, and it is something to know that England has produced a leader indeed. Posthumous influence through their works is given to many, personal influence beyond their lives to few, but among those few is Oliver Cromwell.'
As a fellow to this might be placed in juxtaposition Mr. Smith's picture of William of Orange-a man of his • century, a thoroughbred diplomatist and politician, the ' worthy heir of William the Silent'-whose portrait, he thinks, ' has somewhat lost by oratorical painting; or, in striking contrast, that of James II., who was malignant and cruel in a high degree,' whose 'heart was as hard as fint,' who 'aimed at absolute power,' with Louis XIV.
and French monarchy always in his mind,' though, 'for• tunately for the nation, he was an obstinate fool. They are, however, too long to quote at length, and do not readily lend themselves to extracts.
As we come into the eighteenth century the character of the work is in some respects changed; it more nearly approximates to an ordinary history, though the commentary is there also. As a summary of domestic politics it leaves little to be desired, but the constitutional questions were comparatively few, and those—the Union of 1707, for instance, or that of 1800—do not strike any sympathetic note in the author's bosom. He almost permits the inference that each union might have been better if confirmed on the lines sketched by Cromwell. But the main interest of the century lies neither in domestic politics nor in constitutional problems, but in our foreign relations and in the rude steps by which our commerce was extended and confirmed, our maritime supremacy established, our colonial empire developed. But such things are distasteful to the author and repugnant to his sentiment. He does not omit all mention of them, but what he does say is frequently inaccurate and always bald and perfunctory. War-everywhere and for every cause except, perhaps, against the Irish or Scottish Celt-is an abomination in his eyes ; peace-at any price, by full concession to any demand-appears to be his ideal of statesmanship. Walpole is a nobler and greater man than Chatham.
* Hero-worshippers will not worship Walpole. But if he did not give the nation glory, he helped to give it the material elements of
happiness. After all, military glory is not the only sentiment. There is a sentiment attached to prosperous industry and the home. If the people are prosperous, they will be happy; if they are happy, as a rule they will be good; and there are those whose sentiment is satisfied by goodness.
This sounds Arcadian ; but in national affairs goodness is a relative term, and even in private life the influence which prompts a man to deliver up his purse to the persuasive pistol of the robber is not called goodness, but fear. It is not goodness in a public minister to yield to the unjust demand of an enemy, because by a false economy, and by neglecting the armaments of his country, he has made it difficult or dangerous to protest against violence and robbery; and it was not goodness that induced Walpole to acquiesce in the Spaniards seizing Naples in 1755, and converting the western basin of the Mediterranean into a Bourbon lake, the evil effects of which we were to feel nine years later, when France forced a war on us. But presumably there ought to have been no war-certainly not with Spain, who was justly irritated by our retention of Gibraltar, of which, however, there was no question at this time; and, in the name of goodness, not with France, when it would have been so easy to send the Elector of Hanover back to his German principality, welcome James III. as our sovereign, change our form of religion, adopt wooden shoes, and receive a French resident at our Court. But what is this paltry talk of goodness and generosity but a craven fear which Mr. Swinburne has well described as
fain to prate
And greatness born of shame to be so great'? To very many readers the most interesting pages in the whole work will be those which treat of the revolt of our North American colonies, and the conditions under which they won their independence. Mr. Smith's English antecedents, and long residence in America, have naturally led him to consider this chapter of our history with fuller knowledge than falls to the lot of most Englishmen, and without the prejudice which hampers so many of the historians of the States. To Englishmen in general the rebellion and the war arose simply out of the Stamp Act and the Boston Port Bill. Among Americans, who ought to have known better, it was long considered a necessity of patriotism to speak of them as the uprising of a people