Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

The story of his early life is soon told. He was the head of a family which had been settled in Buckinghamshire before the Conquest. Part of the estate which he inherited had been bestowed by Edward the Confessor on Baldwyn de Hampden, whose name seems to indicate that he was one of the Norman favourites of the last Saxon king. During the contest between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Hampdens adhered to the party of the Red Rose, and were consequently persecuted by Edward the Fourth, and favoured by Henry the Seventh. Under the Tudors, the family was great and flourishing. Griffith Hampden, high sheriff of Buckinghamshire, entertained Elizabeth with great magnificence at his seat. His son, William Hampden, sate in the Parliament which that queen summoned in the year 1593. William married Elizabeth Cromwell, aunt of the celebrated man who afterwards governed the British islands with more than regal power; and from this marriage sprang John Hampden.

dexterous manager of the House of Commons, | that hatred itself could find no blemish on his a negotiator, a soldier. He governed a fierce memory. and turbulent assembly, abounding in able men, as easily as he had governed his family. He showed himself as competent to direct a campaign as to conduct the business of the petty sessions. We can scarcely express the admiration which we feel for a mind so great, and, at the same time, so healthful and so well proportioned; so willingly contracting itself to the humblest duties; so easily expanding itself to the highest; so contented in repose; so powerful in action. Almost every part of this virtuous and blameless life, which is not hidden from us in modest privacy, is a precious and splendid portion of our national history. Had the private conduct of Hampden afforded the slightest pretence for censure, he would have been assailed by the same blind malevolence which, in defiance of the clearest proofs, still continues to call Sir John Eliot an assassin. Had there been even any weak part in the character of Hampden, had his manners been in any respect open to ridicule, we may be sure that no mercy would have been shown to him by the writers of Charles's faction. He was born in 1594. In 1597 his father Those writers have carefully preserved every died, and left him heir to a very large estate. little circumstance which could tend to make After passing some years at the grammar their opponents cdious or contemptible. They school of Thame, young Hampden was sent, have told us that Pym broke down in a speech, at fifteen, to Magdalen College, in the Univer that Ireton had his nose pulled by Hollis, that sity of Oxford. At nineteen, he was admitted the Earl of Northumberland cudgelled Henry a student of the Inner Temple, where he made Martin, that St. John's manners were sullen, himself master of the principles of the English that Vane had an ugly face, that Cromwell law. In 1619 he married Elizabeth Symeon, had a red nose. They have made themselves a lady to whom he appears to have been fond merry with the canting phrases of injudiciously attached. In the following year he was zealots. But neither the artful Clarendon nor the scurrilous Denham could venture to throw the slightest imputation on the morals or the manners of Hampden. What was the opinion Of his private life during his early years, entertained respecting him by the best men of little is known beyond what Clarendon has his time, we learn from Baxter. That eminent told us. "In his entrance into the world," person eminent not only for his piety and his says that great historian, "he indulged him. fervid devotional eloquence, but for his mode- self in all the license in sports, and exercises, ration, his knowledge of political affairs, and and company, which were used by men of his skill in judging of characters-declared in the most jolly conversation." A remarkable the Saint's Rest, that one of the pleasures which change, however, passed in his character. he hoped to enjoy in Heaven was the society" On a sudden," says Clarendon, "from a life of Hampden. In the editions printed after the of great pleasure and license, he retired to exrestoration, the name of Hampden was omit-traordinary sobriety and strictness, to a more ted. "But I must tell the reader," says Baxter, reserved and melancholy society." It is proba "that I did blot it out, not as changing my ble that this change took place when Hampopinion of the person. Mr. John den was about twenty-five years old. At that Hampden was one that friends and enemies age he was united to a woman whom he loved acknowledged to be most eminent for pru- and esteemed. At that age he entered into dence, piety, and peaceable counsels, having political I. A mind so happily constituted the most universal praise of any gentleman as his, would naturally, under such circumthat I remember of that age. I remember a stances, relinquish the pleasures of dissipation moderate, prudent, aged gentleman, far from for domestic enjoyments and public duties. him, but acquainted with him, whom I have heard saying, that if he might choose what person he would be then in the world, he would be John Hampden.". We cannot but regret that we have not fuller memorials of a man, who, after passing through the most severe temptations by which human virtue can be ried, after acting a most conspicuous part in a revolution and a civil war, could yet deserve such praise as this from such authority. Yet the want of memorials is surely the best proof

returned to Parliament by a borough which has in our time obtained a miserable celebrity, the borough of Grampound.

His enemies have allowed that he was a man in whom virtue showed itself in its mildest and least austere form. With the morals of a Puritan, he had the manners of an accomplished courtier. Even after the change in his habits, "he preserved," says Clarendon, "his own natural cheerfulness and vivacity, and, above all, a flowing courtesy to all men." These qualities distinguished him from most of the members of his sect and his party; and, in the great crisis in which he afterwards took

a principal part, were of scarcely less service to the country than his keen sagacity and his dauntless courage.

On the 30th of January, 1621, Hampden took his seat in the House of Commons. His mother was exceedingly desirous that her son should obtain a peerage. His family, his possessions, and his personal accomplishments were such as would, in any age, have justified him in pretending to that honour. But, in the reign of James the First, there was one short cut to the House of Lords. It was but to ask, to pay, and to have. The sale of titles was carried on as openly as the sale of boroughs in our times. Hampden turned away with contempt from the degrading honours with which his family desired to see him invested, and attached himself to the party which was in opposition to the court.

It was about this time, as Lord Nugent has justly remarked, that parliamentary opposition began to take a regular form. From a very early age, the English had enjoyed a far larger share of liberty than had fallen to the lot of any neighbouring people. How it chanced that a country conquered and enslaved by invaders, a country of which the soil had been portioned out among foreign adventurers, and of which the laws were written in a foreign tongue, a country given over to that worst tyranny, the tyranny of caste over caste, should have become the seat of civil liberty, the object of the admiration and envy of surrounding states, is one of the most obscure problems in the philosophy of history. But the fact is certain. Within a century and a half after the Norman Conquest, the Great Charter was conceded. Within two centuries after the Conquest, the first House of Commons met. Froissart tells us, what indeed his whole narrative sufficiently proves, that of all the nations of the fourteenth century, the English were the least disposed to endure oppression. "C'est le plus perilleux peuple qui soit au monde, et plus outrageux et orgueilleux." The good Canon probably did not perceive that all the prosperity and internal peace which this dangerous people enjoyed were the fruits of the spirit which he designates as proud and outrageous. He has, however, borne ample testimony to the effect, though he was not sagacious enough to trace it to its cause. "En le royaume d'Angleterre," says he, "toutes gens, laboureurs et marchands, ont appris de vivre en pays, et à mener leurs marchandises paisiblement, et les laboureurs labourer." In the fifteenth century, though England was convulsed by the struggle between the two branches of the royal family, the physical and moral condition of the people continued to improve. Villanage almost wholly disappeared. The calamities of war were little felt, except by those who bore arms. The oppressions of the government were little felt, except by the aristocracy. The institutions of the country, when compared with the institutions of the neighbouring kingdoms, seem to have been not undeserving of the praises of Fortescue. The government of Edward the Fourth, though we call it cruel and arbitrary, was humane and liberal, when compared with that of Louis the Eleventh, or that of Charles

VOL. II.-20

the Bold. Comines, who had lived amidst th wealthy cities of Flanders, and who had visited Florence and Venice, had never seen a peopl so well governed as the English. "Or selon mon advis," says he, "entre toutes les seigneu ries du monde, dont j'ay connoissance, ou la chose publique est mieux traitée, et ou regne moins de violence sur le peuple, et ou il n'y a nuls édifices abbatus n'y demolis pour guerre, c'est Angleterre; et tombe le sort et le malheur sur ceux qui font la guerre."

About the close of the fifteenth and the commencement of the sixteenth century, a great portion of the influence which the aristocracy had possessed passed to the crown. No English king has ever enjoyed such absolute power as Henry the Eighth. But while the royal prerogatives were acquiring strength at the expense of the nobility, two great revolutions took place, destined to be the parents of many revolutions-the discovery of printing and the reformation of the Church.

The immediate effect of the Reformation in England was by no means favourable to political liberty. The authority which had been exercised by the Popes was transferred almost entire to the king. Two formidable powers which had often served to check each other, were united in a single despot. If the system on which the founders of the Church of England acted could have been permanent, the Reformation would have been, in a political sense, the greatest curse that ever fell on our country. But that system carried within it the seeds of its own death. It was possible to transfer the name of Head of the Church from Clement to Henry; but it was impossible to transfer to the new establishment the veneration which the old establishment had inspired. Mankind had not broken one yoke in pieces only in order to put on another. The supre macy of the Bishop of Rome had been for ages considered as a fundamental principle of Christianity. It had for it every thing that could make a prejudice deep and strongvenerable antiquity, high authority, general consent. It had been taught in the first lessons of the nurse. It was taken for granted in all the exhortations of the priest. To remove it was to break innumerable associations, and to give a great and perilous shock to the mind. Yet this prejudice, strong as it was, could not stand in the great day of the deliverance of the human reason. And as it was not to be expected that the public mind, just after free ing itself, by an unexampled effort, from a bondage which it had endured for ages, would patiently submit to a tyranny which could plead no ancient title. Rome had at least pre scription on its side. But Protestant intole rance, despotism in an upstart sect, infallibility claimed by guides who acknowledged that they had passed the greater part of their lives in error, restraints imposed on the liberty of private judgment by rulers who could vindicate their own proceedings only by asserting the liberty of private judgment-hese things could not long be borne. Those who had pulled down the crucifix could not long continue tc persecute for the surplice. It required no great sagacity to perceive the inconsistency and dis

[ocr errors]

honesty of men who, dissenting from almost all Christendom, would suffer none to dissent from themselves; who demanded freedom of conscience, yet refused to grant it; who execrated persecution, yet persecuted; who urged reason against the authority of one opponent, and authority against the reasons of another. Bonner at least acted in accordance with his own principles. Cranmer could vindicate himself from the charge of being a heretic, only by arguments which made him out to be a murderer.

She died; and the kingdom passed to one who was, in his own opinion, the greatest master of kingcraft that ever lived; who was, in truth, one of those kings whom God seems to send for the express purpose of hastening revolutions. Of all the enemies of liberty whom Britain has produced, he was at once the most harmless and the most provoking. His office resembled that of the man who, in a Spanish bull-fight, goads the torpid savage to fury, by shaking a red rag in the air, and now and then throwing a dart, sharp enough to sting, but too Thus the system on which the English small to injure. The policy of wise tyrants princes acted with respect to ecclesiastical af- has always been to cover their violent acts fairs for some time after the Reformation, was with popular forms. James was always oba system too obviously unreasonable to be truding his despotic theories on his subjects lasting. The public mind moved while the without the slightest necessity. His foolish government moved; but would not stop where talk exasperated them infinitely more than the government stopped. The same impulse forced loans or benevolences would have done. which had carried millions away from the Yet, in practice, no king ever held his prerogaChurch of Rome, continued to carry them for- tives less tenaciously. He neither gave way ward in the same direction. As Catholics had gracefully to the advancing spirit of liberty, become Protestants, Protestants became Puri- nor took vigorous measures to stop it, but tans; and the Tudors and Stuarts were as un-retreated before it with ludicrous hastc, blusable to avert the latter change as the Popes tering and insulting as he retreated. The had been to avert the former. The dissenting party increased, and became strong under every kind of discouragement and oppression. They were a sect. The government persecuted the, and they became an opposition. The old constitution of England furnished to them the means of resisting the sovereign without breaking the laws. They were the majority of the House of Commons. They had the power of giving or withholding supplies; and, by a judicious exercise of this power, they might hope to take from the Church its usurped authority over the consciences of men; and from the Crown some part of the vast prerogative which it had recently acquired at the expense of the nobles and of the Pope.

English people had been governed for nearly a hundred and fifty years by princes who, whatever might be their frailties or their vices, had all possessed great force of character, and who, whether beloved or hated, had always been feared. Now, at length, for the first time since the day when the sceptre of Henry the Fourth dropped from the hand of his lethargic grandson, England had a king whom she despised.

The follies and vices of the man increased the contempt which was produced by the feeble policy of the sovereign. The indecorous gallantries of the Court, the habits of gross intoxication in which even the ladies indulged, were alone sufficient to disgust a The faint beginnings of this memorable con- people whose manners were beginning to be test may be discerned early in the reign of strongly tinctured with austerity. But these Elizabeth. The conduct of her last Parliament were trifles. Crimes of the most frightful made it clear that one of those great revolutions kind had been discovered; others were suswhich policy may guide, but cannot stop, was pected. The strange story of the Gowries was in progress. It was on the question of Mono- not forgotten. The ignominious fondness of polies that the House of Commons gained its the king for his minions, the perjuries, the sor first great victory over the throne. The con- ceries, the poisonings, which his chief favourduct of the extraordinary woman who then ites had planned within the walls of his palace, governed England is an admirable study for the pardon which, in direct violation of his politicians who live in unquiet times. It shows duty, and of his word, he had granted to the how thoroughly she understood the people mysterious threats of a murderer, made him an whom she ruled, and the crisis in which she object of loathing to many of his subjects. was called to act. What she held, she held What opinion grave and moral persons refirmly. What she gave, she gave graciously. siding at a distance from the court entertained She saw that it was necessary to make a con- respecting him, we learn from Mrs. Hutchincession to the nation: and she made it, not son's Memoirs. England was no place, the grudgingly, not tardily, not as a matter of bar-seventeenth century no time, for Sporus and gain and sale, not, in a word, as Charles the First would have made it, but promptly and cordially. Before a bill could be framed or an address presented, she applied a remedy to the evil of which the nation complained. She expressed in the warmest terms her gratitude to her faithful Commons for detecting abuses which interested persons had concealed from her If her successors had inherited her wisdom with her crown, Charles the First might nave died of old age, and James the Second would never have seen St. Germains.


This was not all. The most ridiculous weaknesses seemed to meet in the wretched Solomon of Whitehall; pedantry, buffoonery, garrulity, low curiosity, the most contemptible personal cowardice. Nature and education had done their best to produce a finished spe cimen of all that a king ought not to be. His awkward figure, his rolling eye, his rickety walk, his nervous tremblings, his slobbering mouth, his broad Scotch accent, were impefections which might have been found in the

After redressing internal grievances, the Commons proceeded to take into consideration the state of Europe. The king flew into a rage with them for meddling with such matters, and, with characteristic judgment, drew them into a controversy about the origin of the House and of its privileges. When he found that he could not convince them, he dissolved them in a passion, and sent some of the leaders of the Opposition to ruminate on his logic in prison.

best and greatest man. Their effect, however, convenient to leave England. A greater name was to make James and his office objects of is to be added to the ignominious list. By this contempt; and to dissolve those associations Parliament was brought to justice that illus which had been created by the noble bearing trious philosopher, whose memory genius has of preceding monarchs, and which were in half redeemed from the infamy due to servility, themselves no inconsiderable fence to royalty. to ingratitude, and to corruption. The sovereign whom James most resembled was, we think, Claudius Cæsar. Both had the same feeble and vacillating temper, the same childishness, the same coarseness, the same poltroonery. Both were men of learning; both wrote and spoke-not, indeed, well-but still in a manner in which it seems almost incredible that men so foolish should have written or spoken. The follies and indecencies of James are well described in the words which Suetonius uses respecting Claudius: "Multa talia, etiam privatis deformia, necdum principi, neque infacundo, neque indocto, immo etiam pertinaciter liberalibus studiis dedito." The description given by Suetonius of the manner in which the Roman prince transacted business, exactly suits the Briton. "In cognoscendo ac decernendo mira varietate animi fuit, modo circumspectus et sagax, modo inconsultus ac præceps, non nunquam frivolus amentique similis." Claudius was ruled successively by two bad women; James success-out their errand. The great master of kingively by two bad men. Even the description of the person of Claudius, which we find in the ancient memoirs, might, in many points, serve for that of James. "Ceterum et ingredientem destituebant poplites minus firmi, et remisse quid vel serio agentem multa dehonestabant: risus indecens; ira turpior, spumante ictu, præterea linguæ titubantia."

The Parliament which James had called toon after his accession had been refractory. lis second Parliament, called in the spring of 1814, had been more refractory still. It had been dissolved after a session of two months; and during six years the king had governed without having recourse to the legislature. During those six years, melancholy and disgraceful events, at home and abroad, had followed one another in rapid succession ;-the divorce of Lady Essex, the murder of Overbury, the elevation of Villiers, the pardon of Somerset, the disgrace of Coke, the execution of Raleigh, the battle of Prague, the invasion of the Palatinate by Spinoia, the ignominious flight of the son-in-law of the English king, the depression of the Protestant interest all over the Continent. All the extraordinary modes by which James could venture to raise money had been tried. His necessities were greater than ever; and he was compelled to summon the Parliament in which Hampden made his first appearance as a public man.

This Parliament lasted about twelve months. During that time it visited with deserved punishment several of those who, during the preceding six years, had enriched themselves by peculation and monopoly. Michell, one of those grasping patentees, who had purchased of the favourite the power of robbing the nation, was fined and imprisoned for life. Mompesson, the original, it is said, of Massinger's Overreach," was outlawed and deprived of his ill-gotten wealth. Even Sir Edward Vilders, the brother of Buckingham, found it

During the time which elapsed between this dissolution and the meeting of the next Parlia ment, took place the celebrated negotiation respecting the Infanta. The would-be despot was unmercifully browbeaten. The would-be Solomon was ridiculously overreached. "Steenie," in spite of the begging and sobbing of his dear "dad and gossip," carried off "baby Charles" in triumph to Madrid. The sweet lads, as James called them, came back safe, but with

craft, in looking for a Spanish match, found a Spanish war. In February, 1624, a Parlia ment met, during the whole sitting of which James was a mere puppet in the hands of his "baby," and of his "poor slave and dog." The Commons were disposed to support the king in the vigorous policy which his son and his favourite urged him to adopt. But they were not disposed to place any confidence in their feeble sovereign and his dissolute courtiers, or to relax in their efforts to remove public grievances. They therefore lodged the money which they voted for the war in the hands of parliamentary commissioners. They impeached the treasurer, Lord Middlesex, for corruption, and they passed a bill by which patents of monopoly were declared illegal.

Hampden did not, during the reign of James, take any prominent part in public affairs. It is certain, however, that he paid great attention to the details of parliamentary business, and to the local interests of his own county. It was in a great measure owing to his exertions, that Wendover and some other boroughs. on which the popular party could depend, recovered the elective franchise, in spite of the opposition of the court.

The health of the king had for some time been declining. On the 27th of March, 1625, he expired. Under his weak rule, the spirit of liberty had grown strong, and had become equal to the great contest. The contest was brought on by the policy of his successor. Charles bore no resemblance to his father He was not a driveller, or a pedant, or a buf foon, or a coward. It would be absurd to deny that he was a scholar and a gentleman, a man of exquisite taste in the fine arts, a man of strict morals in private life. His talents for business were respectable; his demeanour was kingly. But he was false, imperious, ovstinate, narrowminded, ignorant of the temper of his people, unobservant of the signs of his

[ocr errors]

times. The whole principle of his government | pelled to serve in the army. Money, however, was resistance to public opinion; nor did he make any real concession to that opinion till it mattered not whether he resisted or conceded; till the nation, which had long ceased to love him or to trust him, had at last ceased to fear him.

came in slowly: and the king was compelled to summon another Parliament. In the hope of conciliating his subjects, he set at liberty the persons who had been imprisoned for re fusing to comply with his unlawful demands. Hampden regained his freedom; and was im mediately re-elected burgess for Wendover.

Early in 1628 the Parliament met. During its first session, the Commons prevailed on the king, after many delays and much equivocation, to give, in return for five subsidies, his full and solemn assent to that celebrated instrument, the second great charter of the liber. ties of England, known by the name of the Petition of Right. By agreeing to this act, the king bound himself to raise no taxes without the consent of Parliament, to imprison no man except by legal process, to billet no more sol

of offences to the ordinary tribunals.

In the summer this memorable Parliament was prorogued. It met again in January, 1629. Buckingham was no more. That weak, violent, and dissolute adventurer, who, with no talents or acquirements but those of a mere courtier, had, in a great crisis of foreign and domestic politics, ventured on the part of prime minister, had fallen, during the recess of Parliament, by the hand of an assassin. Both before and after his death, the war had been feebly and unsuccessfully conducted. The king had continued, in direct violation of the Petition of Right, to raise tonnage and poundage, without the consent of Parliament. The troops had again been billeted on the people; and it was clear to the Commons, that the five subsidies which they had given, as the price of the national liberties, had been given in vain.

His first Parliament met in June, 1625. Hampden sat in it as burgess for Wendover. The king wished for money. The Commons wished for the redress of grievances. The war, however, could not be carried on without funds. The plan of the Opposition was, it should seem, to dole out supplies by small sums in order to prevent a speedy dissolution. They gave the king two subsidies only, and proceeded to complain that his ships had been employed against the Huguenots in France, and to petition in behalf of the Puritans who were persecuted in England. The king dis-diers on the people, and to leave the cognisance solved them, and raised money by letters under his privy seal. The supply fell far short of what he needed; and, in the spring of 1626, he called together another Parliament. In this Parliament, Hampden again sat for Wendover. The Commons resolved to grant a very liberal supply, but to defer the final passing of the act for that purpose till the grievances of the nation should be redressed. The struggle which followed far exceeded in violence any that had yet taken place. The Commons impeached Buckingham. The king threw the managers of the impeachment into prison. The Commons denied the right of the king to levy tonnage and poundage without their consent. The king dissolved them. They put forth a remonstrance. The king circulated a declaration vindicating his measures, and committed some of the most distinguished members of the Opposition to close custody. Money was raised by a forced loan, which was appor- They met accordingly in no complying hutioned among the people according to the rate mour. They took into their most serious conat which they had been respectively assessed sideration the measures of the government to the last subsidy. On this occasion it was concerning tonnage and poundage. They that Hampden made his first stand for the fun- summoned the officers of the custom-house to damental principle of the English constitution. their bar. They interrogated the barons of He positively refused to lend a farthing. He the exchequer. They committed one of the was required to give his reasons. He answer- sheriffs of London. Sir John Eliot, a distined, "inat he could be content to lend as well guished member of the opposition, and an as others, but feared to draw upon himself intimate friend of Hampden, proposed a resothat curse in Magna Charta which should lution condemning the unconstitutional impobe read twice a year against those who in-sition. The speaker said that the king had fringe it." For this noble answer the Privy Council committed him close prisoner to the Gate-House. After some time, he was again brought up; but he persisted in his refusal, and was sent to a place of confinement in Hampshire.

The government went on, oppressing at home, and blundering in all its measures abroad. A war was foolishly undertaken against France, and more foolishly conducted. Buckingham led an expedition against Rhé, and failed ignominiously. In the mean time, soldiers were billeted on the people. Crimes, of which ordinary justice should have taken Cognisance, were punished by martial law. Nearly eighty gentlemen were imprisoned for refusing to contribute to the forced loan. The ower people, who showed any signs of insubrdination, were pressed into the fleet, or com

commanded him to put no such question to the vote. This decision produced the most violent burst of feeling ever seen within the walls of Parliament. Hayman remonstrated vehemently against the disgraceful language which had been heard from the chair. Eliot dashed the paper which contained his resolution on the floor of the House. Valentine and Hollis held the speaker down in his seat by main force, and read the motion amidst the loudest shouts. The door was locked; the key was laid on the table. Black Rod knocked for admittance in vain. After passing several strong resolutions, the House adjourned.-On the day appointed for its meeting, it was dissolved by the king, and several of its most eminent members, among whom were Hollis and Sir John Eliot, were committed to prison.

« AnteriorContinuar »