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ART. I.—1. Memoir of Sir James Dalrymple, First Viscount Stair. A Study in the History of Scotland and Scotch Law during the Seventeenth Century. By J. G. MACKAY, Ad
vocate. Edinburgh: 1873.
2. The Stair Annals. By JOHN MURRAY GRAHAM. Edinburgh: 1875.
3. William Carstares. A Character and Career of the Revolutionary Epoch. By ROBERT HERBERT STORY, Minister of Rosneath. London: 1874.
COTLAND has not been fertile in great statesmen. During what may be called the kingly period of her historyfrom the accession of Robert II. to the death of James V.-the one thing essential to the well-being of the people, and to the defence of the country against English invasion, was to curb an overgrown, turbulent, and treacherous nobility; a task to which no man was found equal. At the great uprising of the Reformation a wider field was opened; nobler ends came into view. Knox, though not in the strict sense of the word a statesman, yet did the work of the greatest: he awoke a national life; he called into political existence the middleclasses of his countrymen. From various causes Scotland, in his time, took a place in the politics of Europe out of all proportion to her real power. But her statesmen, with the single exception of Murray, were unworthy of their opportunities. Maitland of Lethington has a great but undeserved reputation. He was a man, as Mr. Burton has shown, rather crafty than wise; he seems to have studied the subtleties of Italian politicians beyond the powers of his own brain; he fought with armour which he had not proved, and the result of all his tortuous devices was hopeless failure.
VOL. CXLIII. NO. CCXCI.
On the accession of James to the English throne Scotland sank into insignificance and degradation. From this she was, for a brief season, raised, not by any efforts of Scotch statesmanship, but by the wholesome stimulus of the tyranny of the Stuarts, wanton with prosperity; and strong, as they thought, with the strength of England. The Covenant, the abjuration of prelacy by the Assembly of 1638, the invasions of England, were bold and vigorous measures. It is not too much to say that to the conduct of Scotland at this juncture England probably owed her freedom. But the end was unworthy of such beginnings. The fervour of popular feeling which had supported Knox blazed up again for a time, but could not long endure. The national life of the Reformation period had died away. The people had been crushed by civil war, by poverty, by the utter misrule which followed upon the Union of the Crowns. The gentry of that nation,' writes one of Cromwell's officers, have such influence over the commonalty that they can lead them which way they please.' Unhappily no one was found who could lead them wisely. The needy nobles and mercenary soldiers who led the Scottish army into England were animated by no higher motive than a love of English quarters and English money; the spirit of resistance to ecclesiastical tyranny, which at first stimulated the people, soon degenerated under evil guidance into a fierce intolerance, a determination to impose Presbyterianism upon all men, which found its fitting conclusion in the acceptance of Charles II. as a Covenanted King. During the Usurpation Scotland was preserved from native rule; under the restored authority of her native princes,' the wisdom of Ahithophel could have availed nothing to any upright Scottish politician, except in so far as it might have counselled the necessity of a speedy retreat to Holland.
At the Revolution dawned a day bright with a fairer promise for Scotland than for any portion of the British dominions. The oppression from which she was then set free had been greater than the oppression of England; she could look to the future with a better hope than the most sanguine could entertain for Ireland. Unlike the case of England, so utter had been the disregard of law, so entire the overthrow of every cherished institution, that the whole constitutional fabric had to be re-constructed. Unlike the case of Ireland, enmities of race and creed were not so deeply rooted as to render such re-construction hopelessly beyond the reach of wisdom and honest purpose. Again the leaders, by position, of the Scottish people failed in the time of need. If, as Mr.
Arnold thinks, the virtue of an aristocracy lies in openness to ideas, never was a body less worthy of the name than the nobility of Scotland. Happily, influences were now at work which opened a career to new men.' It is our purpose, with the aid of the books which are at the head of this article, to give some account of the foremost of these-the two Dalrymples, father and son-founders of a family which, through several generations, produced men eminent in literature, law, arms, and diplomacy.
Mr. Graham's work, with the least pretension, is the most valuable of the three. It embraces the life of the founder of the house, of his son, the first Earl of Stair, and of his grandson, the Field-marshal and diplomatist-the 'magnanimous 'Stair' of Carlyle's Frederick. He has published, for the first time, many letters of importance and interest. He has done his own part with taste and judgment. His narrative is brief but clear; his candour and impartiality beyond praise. Mr. Mackay's book is a more elaborate effort. It is, as he calls it, a study in the history of Scotland and Scotch law." And, as such, it has many merits. But it is confused and without method. Hence it leaves no vivid impression on the reader's mind--a fatal defect in a biography. We shall have occasion, also, in the course of this article, to note instances of bad taste, of over-confidence, of one-sided judgment, in Mr. Mackay's volume. And we are, therefore, the more anxious now to recognise his considerable research, his liberality of thought, and the freshness and vigour which animate his pages. Of Mr. Story's labours we cannot speak so favourably. That the book is a dull book is not altogether the author's fault. Assuredly Carstairs was no common man. Equal in astuteness and sagacity to the Master of Stair himself, he was in honesty and fidelity superior perhaps to all the politicans of his age and nation. There is reason to believe, with some degree of certainty, that he rendered good service to the State, in forwarding, against ignorance and prejudice, the true interests of Scotland. But those services, during the most important part of his career, took the shape of private counsel to William. Circumstances, together with his profession, excluded him from public life. Hence his biography wants interest-a want not supplied by his guarded correspondence. But Mr. Story's book has graver faults than the fault of dulness. It is marked by a tone of loftiness which the reader finds nothing to justify. There is little evidence of research; interest is not awakened by novelty of material or originality of thought. Historical insight is wanting; there are grievous mistakes in judgments
of character-as in a rhapsody about Claverhouse, and the praises of that unscrupulous turn-coat Sir James Stewart. It is difficult not to be offended by the ungenerous spirit which finds pleasure in the repetition of the idle slander that William encouraged Monmouth's adventure in order to rid himself of a rival; it is impossible not to smile at the taste which can find in the position of Carstairs at William's death a parallel to Diocletian at Salona and Charles V. at Yuste. Inaccuracy is shown even in the slipshod way the references are noted; the style, level enough as a rule, is disfigured by frequent and vain attempts at effect. Worst of all, there are not a few traces of that bitterness towards any who chance to differ from Mr. Story-especially on matters ecclesiastical-which so painfully characterises the school to which he belongs. But we pass gladly from the duty of criticism to the more pleasing portion of our task.
The greatest of Scottish jurists was born in Ayrshire in the year 1619, of a family by no means so obscure as his enemies in after days were prone to allege. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he graduated in 1637; and four years later was appointed, after a competitive examination- -as was the wont then-a Professor or Regent in Philosophy. In 1648 he resigned this position for the more stirring profession of the bar, to which he was called in his twenty-ninth year. Almost immediately thereafter he was appointed Secretary to the Commissions which went to Holland seeking a virtuous Covenanter in Charles II. He is known during these visits to have formed the acquaintance of Salmasius, and he may be reasonably supposed to have profited by intercourse with the many eminent Dutch jurists then living. Sagacity, far inferior to that of Dalrymple, would have forbidden any more active support of Charles' fortunes; the future President, for about ten years, pursued in safe insignificance his professional
* As thus: 'Burnet, vol. iii.' 'Fountainhall, Wodrow,' p. 148.
The following style of writing is the reverse of impressive: The 'chamber of the Privy Council echoed with the howls of the victims of the boot. There, one day, might be seen Dalzell striking the 'prisoners under examination over the mouth with his sword-hilt till 'the blood sprang; on another, Lauderdale baring his brawny arms 'above the elbow, and swearing "by Jehovah" that he would force 'the gentlemen of Scotland to enter into those bonds' (p. 45). Nor is a distinct idea of a political situation conveyed thus: Jacobite stratagems, Episcopal pretensions, Presbyterian jealousies, nationa! prejudices, personal dishonesties, and political corruptions weltered 'together in illimitable battle and confusion' (p. 275).