The World's Greatest Books, Vol XII.
Part 2 out of 6
England. A French king was brought prisoner to London; an English king
was crowned at Paris.
The arts of peace were not neglected by our fathers during that period.
English thinkers aspired to know, or dared to doubt, where bigots had
been content to wonder and to believe. The same age which produced the
Black Prince and Derby, Chandos and Hawkwood, produced also Geoffrey
Chaucer and John Wycliffe. In so splendid and imperial a manner did the
English people, properly so called, first take place among the nations
of the world. But the spirit of the French people was at last aroused,
and after many desperate struggles and with many bitter regrets, our
ancestors gave up the contest.
_The First Civil War_
Cooped up once more within the limits of the island, the warlike people
employed in civil strife those arms which had been the terror of Europe.
Two aristocratic factions, headed by two branches of the royal family,
engaged in the long and fierce struggle known as the Wars of the White
and Red Roses. It was at length universally acknowledged that the claims
of all the contending Plantagenets were united in the House of Tudor.
It is now very long since the English people have by force subverted a
government. During the 160 years which preceded the union of the Roses,
nine kings reigned in England. Six of those kings were deposed. Five
lost their lives as well as their crowns. Yet it is certain that all
through that period the English people were far better governed than
were the Belgians under Philip the Good, or the French under that Louis
who was styled the Father of his people. The people, skilled in the use
of arms, had in reserve that check of physical force which brought the
proudest king to reason.
One wise policy was during the Middle Ages pursued by England alone.
Though to the monarch belonged the power of the sword, the nation
retained the power of the purse. The Continental nations ought to have
acted likewise; as they failed to conserve this safeguard of
representation with taxation, the consequence was that everywhere
excepting in England parliamentary institutions ceased to exist. England
owed this singular felicity to her insular situation.
The great events of the reigns of the Tudors and the Stuarts were
followed by a crisis when the crown passed from Charles II. to his
brother, James II. The new king commenced his administration with a
large measure of public good will. He was a prince who had been driven
into exile by a faction which had tried to rob him of his birthright, on
the ground that he was a deadly enemy to the religion and laws of
England. He had triumphed, he was on the throne, and his first act was
to declare that he would defend the Church and respect the rights of the
But James had not been many hours king when violent disputes arose. The
first was between the two heads of the law, concerning customs and the
levying of taxes. Moreover, the time drew near for summoning Parliament,
and the king's mind was haunted by an apprehension, not to be mentioned,
even at this distance of time, without shame and indignation. He was
afraid that by summoning his Parliament he might incur the displeasure
of the King of France. Rochester, Godolphin, and Sunderland, who formed
the interior Cabinet, were perfectly aware that their late master,
Charles II., had been in the habit of receiving money from the court of
Versailles. They understood the expediency of keeping Louis in good
humour, but knew that the summoning of the legislature was not a matter
As soon as the French king heard of the death of Charles and of the
accession of James, he hastened to send to the latter a munificent
donation of L35,000. James was not ashamed to shed tears of delight and
gratitude. Young Lord Churchill was sent as extraordinary ambassador to
Versailles to assure Louis of the gratitude and affection of the King of
England. This brilliant young soldier had in his 23rd year distinguished
himself amongst thousands of brave men by his serene intrepidity when
engaged with his regiment in operations, together with French forces
against Holland. Unhappily, the splendid qualities of John Churchill
were mingled with alloy of the most sordid kind.
_Subservience to France_
The accession of James in 1685 had excited hopes and fears in every
Continental court. One government alone, that of Spain, wished that the
trouble that had distracted England for three generations, might be
eternal. All other governments, whether republican or monarchical,
Protestant or Romanist, wished to see those troubles happily terminated.
Under the kings of the House of Stuart, she had been a blank in the map
of Europe. That species of force which, in the 14th century, had enabled
her to humble France and Spain, had ceased to exist. The Government was
no longer a limited monarchy after the fashion of the Middle Ages; it
had not yet become one after the modern fashion. The chief business of
the sovereign was to infringe the privileges of the legislature; that of
the legislature was to encroach on the prerogatives of the sovereign.
The king readily received foreign aid, which relieved him from the
misery of being dependent on a mutinous Parliament. The Parliament
refused to the king the means of supporting the national honour abroad,
from an apprehension, too well founded, that those means might be
employed in order to establish despotism at home. The effect of these
jealousies was that our country, with all her vast resources, was of as
little weight in Christendom as the duchy of Savoy or the duchy of
Lorraine, and certainly of far less weight than the small province of
Holland. France was deeply interested in prolonging this state of
things. All other powers were deeply interested in bringing it to a
close. The general wish of Europe was that James should govern in
conformity with law and with public opinion. From the Escurial itself
came letters expressing an earnest hope that the new King of England
would be on good terms with his Parliament and his people. From the
Vatican itself came cautions against immoderate zeal for the Catholic
The king early put the loyalty of his Protestant friends to the proof.
While he was a subject he had been in the habit of hearing mass with
closed doors in a small oratory which had been fitted up for his wife.
He now ordered the doors to be thrown open, in order that all who came
to pay him their duty might see the ceremony. Soon a new pulpit was
erected in the palace, and during Lent sermons were preached there by
Popish divines, to the great displeasure of zealous churchmen.
A more serious innovation followed. Passion week came, and the king
determined to hear mass with the same pomp with which his predecessors
had been surrounded. The rites of the Church of Rome were once more,
after an interval of 127 years, performed at Westminster on Easter
Sunday with regal splendour.
_Monmouth and his Fate_
The English exiles in Holland induced the Duke of Monmouth, a natural
son of Charles II., to attempt an invasion of England, and on June 11,
1685, he landed with about 80 men at Lyme, where he knelt on the shore,
thanked God for having preserved the friends of liberty and pure
religion from the perils of the sea, and implored the divine blessing on
what was yet to be done by land. The little town was soon in an uproar
with men running to and fro, and shouting "A Monmouth! a Monmouth! the
Protestant religion!" An insurrection was inaugurated and recruits came
in rapidly. But Parliament was loyal, and the Commons ordered a bill of
attainder against Monmouth for high treason. The rebel army was defeated
in a fight at Sedgmore, and Monmouth in his misery complained bitterly
of the evil counsellors who had induced him to quit his happy retreat in
Brabant. Fleeing from the field of battle the unfortunate duke was found
hidden in a ditch, was taken to London, lodged in the Tower, and
beheaded, with the declaration on his lips, "I die a Protestant of the
Church of England."
After the execution of Monmouth the counties that had risen against the
Government endured all the cruelties that a ferocious soldiery let loose
on them could inflict. The number of victims butchered cannot now be
ascertained, the vengeance being left to the dissolute Colonel Percy
Kirke. But, a still more cruel massacre was schemed. Early in September
Judge Jeffreys set out on that circuit of which the memory will last as
long as our race or language. Opening his commission at Winchester, he
ordered Alice Lisle to be burnt alive simply because she had given a
meal and a hiding place to wretched fugitives entreating her protection.
The clergy of Winchester remonstrated with the brutal judge, but the
utmost that could be obtained was that the sentence should be commuted
from burning to beheading.
_The Brutal Judge_
Then began the judicial massacre known as the Bloody Assizes. Within a
few weeks Jeffreys boasted that he had hanged more traitors than all his
predecessors together since the Conquest. Nearly a thousand prisoners
were also transported into slavery in the West Indian islands. No
English sovereign has ever given stronger proofs of a cruel nature than
James II. At his court Jeffreys, when he had done his work, leaving
carnage, mourning, and terror behind him, was cordially welcomed, for he
was a judge after his master's own heart. James had watched the circuit
with interest and delight. At a later period, when all men of all
parties spoke with horror of the Bloody Assizes, the wicked judge and
the wicked king attempted to vindicate themselves by throwing the blame
on each other.
The king soon went further. He made no secret of his intention to exert
vigorously and systematically for the destruction of the Established
Church all the powers he possessed as her head. He plainly declared that
by a wise dispensation of Providence, the Act of Supremacy would be the
means of healing the fatal breach which it had caused. Henry and
Elizabeth had usurped a dominion which rightfully belonged to the Holy
See. That dominion had, in the course of succession, descended to an
orthodox prince, and would by him be held in trust for the Holy See. He
was authorised by law to suppress spiritual abuses; and the first
spiritual abuse which he would suppress would be the liberty which the
Anglican clergy assumed of defending their own religion, and of
attacking the doctrines of Rome.
No course was too bold for James. To confer a high office in the
Established Church on an avowed enemy of that Church was indeed a bold
violation of the laws and of the royal word. The Deanery of Christchurch
became vacant. It was the head of a Cathedral. John Massey, notoriously
a member of the Church of Rome, and destitute of any other
recommendation, was appointed. Soon an altar was decked at which mass
was daily celebrated. To the Pope's Nuncio the king said that what had
thus been done at Oxford should very soon be done at Cambridge.
The temper of the nation was such as might well make James hesitate.
During some months discontent steadily and rapidly rose. The celebration
of Roman Catholic worship had long been prohibited by Act of Parliament.
During several generations no Roman Catholic clergyman had dared to
exhibit himself in any public place with the badges of his office. Every
Jesuit who set foot in this country was liable to be hanged, drawn, and
But all disguise was now thrown off. Roman Catholic chapels arose all
over the land. A society of Benedictine monks was lodged in St. James's
Palace. Quarrels broke out between Protestant and Romanist soldiers.
Samuel Johnson, a clergyman of the Church of England, who had issued a
tract entitled "A humble and hearty Appeal to all English Protestants in
the Army," was flung into gaol. He was then flogged and degraded from
the priesthood. But the zeal of the Anglican clergy displayed. They were
Jed by a united Phalanx, in the van of which appeared a rank of steady
and skillful veterans, Tillotson, Stillingfleet, Prideaux, Patrick,
Tenison, Wake. Great numbers of controversial tracts against Popery were
issued by these divines.
Scotland also rose in anger against the designs of the king, and if he
had not been proof against all warning the excitement in that country
would have sufficed to admonish him. On March 18, 1687, he took a
momentous step. He informed the Privy Council that he had determined to
prorogue Parliament till the end of November, and to grant, by his own
authority, entire liberty of conscience to all his subjects. On April
4th appeared the memorable Declaration of Indulgence. In this document
the king avowed that it was his earnest wish to see his people members
of that Church to which he himself belonged. But since that could not
be, he announced his intention to protect them in the free exercise of
their religion. He authorised both Roman Catholics and Protestant
Dissenters to perform their worship publicly.
That the Declaration was unconstitutional is universally agreed, for a
monarch competent to issue such a document is nothing less than an
absolute ruler. This was, in point of fact, the most audacious of all
attacks of the Stuarts on public freedom. The Anglican party was in
amazement and terror, for it would now be exposed to the free attacks of
its enemies on every side. And though Dissenters appeared to be allowed
relief, what guarantee was there for the sincerity of the Court? It was
notorious that James had been completely subjugated by the Jesuits, for
only a few days before the publication of the Indulgence, that Order had
been honoured with a new mark of his confidence, by appointing as his
confessor an Englishman named Warner, a Jesuit renegade from the
_Petition of the Seven Bishops and their Trial_
A meeting of bishops and other eminent divines was held at Lambeth
Palace. The general feeling was that the king's Declaration ought not to
be read in the churches. After long deliberation, preceded by solemn
prayer, a petition embodying the general sense, was written by the
Archbishop with his own hand. The king was assured that the Church still
was, as she had ever been, faithful to the throne. But the Declaration
was illegal, for Parliament had pronounced that the sovereign was not
constitutionally competent to dispense with statutes in matters
ecclesiastical. The Archbishop and six of his suffragans signed the
petition. The six bishops crossed the river to Whitehall, but the
Archbishop, who had long been forbidden the Court, did not accompany
them. James directed that the bishops should be admitted to the royal
presence, and they found him in very good humour, for he had heard from
his tool Cartwright that they were disposed to obey the mandate, but
wished to secure some little modifications in form.
After reading the petition the king's countenance grew dark and he
exclaimed, "This is the standard of rebellion." In vain did the prelates
emphasise their protests of loyalty. The king persisted in
characterising their action as being rebellious. The bishops
respectfully retired, and that evening the petition appeared in print,
was laid out in the coffeehouses and was cried about the streets.
Everywhere people rose from their beds, and came out to stop the
hawkers, and the sale was so enormous that it was said the printer
cleared a thousand pounds in a few hours by this penny broadside.
The London clergy disobeyed the royal order, for the Declaration was
read in only four churches in the city, where there were about a
hundred. For a short time the king stood aghast at the violence of the
tempest he had raised, but Jeffreys maintained that the government would
be disgraced if such transgressors as the seven bishops were suffered to
escape with a mere reprimand. They were notified that they must appear
before the king in Council. On June 8 they were examined by the Privy
Council, the result being their committal to the Tower. From all parts
of the country came the report that other prelates had signed similar
petitions and that very few of the clergy throughout the land had obeyed
the king. The public excitement in London was intense. While the bishops
were before the Council a great multitude filled the region all round
Whitehall, and when the Seven came forth under a guard, thousands fell
on their knees and prayed aloud for the men who had confronted a tyrant
inflamed with the bigotry of Mary.
The king learned with indignation that the soldiers were drinking the
health of the prelates, and his officers told him that this could not be
prevented. Before the day of trial the agitation spread to the furthest
corners of the island. Scotland sent letters assuring the bishops of the
sympathy of the Presbyterians, hostile though they were to prelacy. The
people of Cornwall were greatly moved by the danger of Bishop Trelawney,
and the peasants chanted a ballad of which the burden is still
"And shall Trelawney die, and shall Trelawney die?
Then thirty thousand Cornish boys will know the reason why."
The miners from their caverns re-echoed the song with a variation:
"Then twenty thousand underground will know the reason why."
The bishops were charged with having published a false, malicious, and
seditious libel. But the case for the prosecution speedily broke down in
the hands of the crown lawyers. They were vehemently hissed by the
audience. The jury gave the verdict of "Not Guilty." As the news spread
all London broke out into acclamation. The bishops were greeted with
cries of "God bless you; you have saved us all to-day." The king was
greatly disturbed at the news of the acquittal, and exclaimed in French,
"So much the worse for them." He was at that moment in the camp at
Hounslow, where he had been reviewing the troops. Hearing a great shout
behind him, he asked what the uproar meant. "Nothing," was the answer;
"the soldiers are glad that the bishops are acquitted." "Do you call
that nothing?" exclaimed the king. And then he repeated, "So much the
worse for them." He might well be out of temper. His defeat had been
complete and most humiliating.
_The Prince of Orange_
In May, 1688, while it was still uncertain whether the Declaration would
or would not be read in the churches, Edward Russell had repaired to the
Hague, where he strongly represented to the Prince of Orange, husband of
Mary, eldest daughter of Charles I., the state of the public mind, and
had advised His Highness to appear in England with a strong body of
troops, and to call the people to arms. William had seen at a glance the
whole importance of the crisis. "Now or never," he exclaimed in Latin.
He quickly received numerous assurances of support from England.
Preparations were rapidly made, and on November I, 1688, he set sail
with his fleet, and landed at Torbay on November 4. Resistance was
impossible. The troops of James's army quietly deserted wholesale, many
joining the Dutch camp at Honiton. First the West of England, and then
the North, revolted against James. Evil news poured in upon him. When he
heard that Churchill and Grafton had forsaken him, he exclaimed, "Est-il
possible?" On December 8 the king fled from London secretly. His home in
exile was at Saint Germains.
William and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen of the United Kingdom,
and thus was consummated the English Revolution. It was of all
revolutions the least violent and yet the most beneficent.
_After the Great Revolution_
The Revolution had been accomplished. The rejoicings throughout the land
were enthusiastic. Still more cordial was the rejoicing among the Dutch
when they learned that the first minister of their Commonwealth had been
raised to a throne. James had, during the last year of his reign, been
even more hated in England by the Tories than by the Whigs; and not
without cause; for to the Whigs he was only an enemy; and to the Tories
he had been a faithless and thankless friend.
One misfortune of the new king, which some reactionaries imputed to him
as a crime, was his bad English. He spoke our language, but not well.
Our literature he was incapable of enjoying or understanding. He never
once appeared in the theatre. The poets who wrote Pindaric verse in his
praise complained that their flights of sublimity were beyond his
comprehension. But his wife did her best to supply what was wanting. She
was excellently qualified to be the head of the Court. She was English
by birth and also in her tastes and feelings. The stainless purity of
her private life and the attention she paid to her religious duties
discourages scandal as well as vice.
The year 1689 is not less important in the ecclesiastical than in the
civil history of England, for in that year was granted the first legal
indulgence to Dissenters. And then also the two chief sections within
the Anglican communion began to be called the High Church and Low Church
parties. The Low Churchmen stood between the nonconformists and the
rigid conformists. The famous Toleration Bill passed both Houses with
little debate. It approaches very near the ideal of a great English law,
the sound principle of which undoubtedly is that mere theological error
ought not to be punished by the civil magistrate.
_The War in Ireland_
The discontent of the Roman Catholic Irishry with the Revolution was
intense. It grew so manifestly, that James, assured that his cause was
prospering in Ireland, landed on March 12, 1689, at Kinsale. On March 24
he entered Dublin. This event created sorrow and alarm in England. An
Irish army, raised by the Catholics, entered Ulster and laid siege to
Londonderry, into which city two English regiments had been thrown by
sea. The heroic defence of Londonderry is one of the most thrilling
episodes in the history of Ireland. The siege was turned into a blockade
by the construction of a boom across the harbour by the besiegers. The
citizens endured frightful hunger, for famine was extreme within the
walls, but they never quailed. The garrison was reduced from 7,000 to
3,000. The siege, which lasted 105 days, and was the most memorable in
the annals of the British Isles, was ended by the breaking of the boom
by a squadron of three ships from England which brought reinforcements
The Irish army retreated and the next event, a very decisive one, was
the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, where William and James commanded
their respective forces. The war ended with the capitulation of
Limerick, and the French soldiers, who had formed a great part of
James's army, left for France.
_The Battle of La Hogue_
The year 1692 was marked by momentous events issuing from a scheme, in
some respects well concerted, for the invasion of England by a French
force, with the object of the restoration of James. A noble fleet of
about 80 ships of the line was to convey this force to the shores of
England, and in the French dockyards immense preparations were made.
James had persuaded himself that, even if the English fleet should fall
in with him, it would not oppose him. Indeed, he was too ready to
believe anything written to him by his English correspondents.
No mightier armament had ever appeared in the English Channel than the
fleet of allied British and Dutch ships, under the command of Admiral
Russell. On May 19 it encountered the French fleet under the Count of
Tourville, and a running fight took place which lasted during five
fearful days, ending in the complete destruction of the French force off
La Hogue. The news of this great victory was received in England with
boundless joy. One of its happiest effects was the effectual calming of
the public mind.
_Creation of the Bank of England_
In this reign, in 1694, was established the Bank of England. It was the
result of a great change that had developed in a few years, for old men
in William's reign could remember the days when there was not a single
banking house in London. Goldsmiths had strong vaults in which masses of
bullion could lie secure from fire and robbers, and at their shops in
Lombard Street all payments in coin were made. William Paterson, an
ingenious speculator, submitted to the government a plan for a national
bank, which after long debate passed both Houses of Parliament.
In 1694 the king and the nation mourned the death from small-pox, a
disease always working havoc, of Queen Mary. During her illness William
remained day and night at her bedside. The Dutch Envoy wrote that the
sight of his misery was enough to melt the hardest heart. When all hope
was over, he said to Bishop Burnet, "There is no hope. I was the
happiest man on earth; and I am the most miserable. She had no faults;
none; you knew her well; but you could not know, none but myself could
know, her goodness." The funeral was remembered as the saddest and most
august that Westminister had ever seen. While the queen's remains lay in
state at Whitehall, the neighbouring streets were filled every day, from
sunrise to sunset, by crowds that made all traffic impossible. The two
Houses with their maces followed the hearse, the Lords robed in scarlet
and ermine, the Commons in long black mantles. No preceding sovereign
had ever been attended to the grave by a Parliament: for till then the
Parliament had always expired with the sovereign. The gentle queen
sleeps among her illustrious kindred in the southern aisle of the Chapel
of Henry the Seventh.
The affection of her husband was soon attested by a monument the most
superb that was ever erected to any sovereign. No scheme had been so
much her own, and none so dear to her heart, as that of converting the
palace at Greenwich into a retreat for seamen. As soon as he had lost
her, her husband began to reproach himself for neglecting her wishes. No
time was lost. A plan was furnished by Wren; and soon an edifice,
surpassing that asylum which the magnificent Louis had provided for his
soldiers, rose on the margin of the Thames. The inscription on the
frieze ascribes praise to Mary alone. Few who now gaze on the noble
double edifice, crowned by twin domes, are aware that it is a memorial
of the virtues of the good Queen Mary, of the love and sorrow of
William, and of the greater victory of La Hogue.
On the Continent the death of Mary excited various emotions. The
Huguenots, in every part of Europe to which they had wandered, bewailed
the Elect Lady, who had retrenched her own royal state in order to
furnish bread and shelter to the persecuted people of God. But the hopes
of James and his companions in exile were now higher than they had been
since the day of La Hogue. Indeed, the general opinion of politicians,
both here and on the Continent, was that William would find it
impossible to sustain himself much longer on the throne. He would not,
it was said, have sustained himself so long but for the help of his
wife, whose affability had conciliated many that were disgusted by his
Dutch accent and habits. But all the statesmen of Europe were deceived:
and, strange to say, his reign was decidedly more prosperous after the
decease of Mary than during her life.
During the month which followed her death the king was incapable of
exertion. His first letter was that of a brokenhearted man. Even his
martial ardour had been tamed by misery. "I tell you in confidence," he
wrote to Heincius, "that I feel myself to be no longer fit for military
command. Yet I will try to do my duty: and I hope that God will
strengthen me." So despondingly did he look forward to the most
brilliant and successful of his many campaigns.
All Europe was looking anxiously towards the Low Countries. A great
French army, commanded by Villeroy, was collected in Flanders. William
crossed to the Continent to take command of the Dutch and British
troops, who mustered at Ghent. The Elector of Bavaria, at the head of a
great force, lay near Brussels. William had set his heart on capturing
Namur. After a siege hard pressed, that fortress, esteemed the strongest
in Europe, splendidly fortified by Vauban, surrendered to the allies on
August 26, 1695.
_The Treaty of Ryswick_
The war was ended by the signing of the treaty of Ryswick by the
ambassadors of France, England, Spain, and the United Provinces on
September 10, 1697. King William was received in London with great
popular rejoicing. The second of December was appointed a day of
thanksgiving for peace, and the Chapter of St. Paul's resolved that on
that day their new Cathedral, which had long been slowly rising on the
ruins of a succession of pagan and Christian temples, should be opened
for public worship. There was indeed reason for joy and thankfulness.
England had passed through severe trials, and had come forth renewed in
health and vigour.
Ten years before it had seemed that both her liberty and her
independence were no more. Her liberty she had vindicated by a just and
necessary revolution. Her independence she had reconquered by a not less
just and necessary war. All dangers were over. There was peace abroad
and at home. The kingdom, after many years of ignominious vassalage, had
resumed its ancient place in the first rank of European powers. Many
signs justified the hope that the Revolution of 1688 would be our last
Revolution. Public credit had been re-established; trade had revived;
the Exchequer was overflowing; and there was a sense of relief
everywhere, from the Royal Exchange to the most secluded hamlets among
the mountains of Wales and the fens of Lincolnshire.
Early in 1702 alarming reports were rife concerning William's state of
health. Headaches and shivering fits returned on him almost daily, and
it soon became evident that the great king's days were numbered. On
February 20 William was ambling on a favourite horse, named Sorrel,
through the park of Hampton Court. The horse stumbling on a mole-hill
went down on his knees. The king fell off and broke his collar-bone. The
bone was set, and to a young and vigorous man such an accident would
have been a trifle. But the frame of William was not in a condition to
bear even the slightest shock. He felt that his time was short, and
grieved, with such a grief as only noble spirits feel, to think that he
must leave his work but half finished. On March 4 he was attacked by
fever, and he was soon sinking fast. He was under no delusion as to his
danger. "I am fast drawing to my end," said he. His end was worthy of
his life. His intellect was not for a moment clouded. His fortitude was
the more admirable because he was not willing to die. From the words
which escaped him he seemed to be frequently engaged in mental prayer.
The end came between seven and eight in the morning. When his remains
were laid out, it was found that he wore next to his skin a small piece
of black silk riband. The lords in waiting ordered it to be taken off.
It contained a gold ring and a lock of the hair of Mary.
* * * * *
History of Civilisation in England
Henry Thomas Buckle was born at Lee, in Kent, England, Nov.
24, 1821. Delicate health prevented him from following the
ordinary school course. His father's death in 1840 left him
independent, and the boy who was brought up in Toryism and
Calvinism, became a philosophic radical and free-thinker. He
travelled, he read, he acquired facility in nineteen languages
and fluency in seven. Gradually he conceived the idea of a
great work which should place history on an entirely new
footing; it should concern itself not with the unimportant and
the personal, but with the advance of civilisation, the
intellectual progress of man. As the idea developed, he
perceived that the task was greater than could be accomplished
in the lifetime of one man. What he actually accomplished--the
volumes which bear the title "The History of Civilisation in
England"--was intended to be no more than an introduction to
the subject; and even that introduction, which was meant to
cover, on a corresponding scale, the civilisation of several
other countries, was never finished. The first volume was
published in 1857, the second in 1861; only the studies of
England, France, Spain, and Scotland were completed. Buckle
died at Damascus, on May 29, 1862.
The believer in the possibility of a science of history is not called
upon to hold either the doctrine of predestination or that of freedom of
the will. The only positions which at the outset need to be conceded are
that when we perform an action we perform it in consequence of some
motive or motives; that those motives are the result of some
antecedents; and that, therefore, if we were acquainted with the whole
of the precedents and with all the laws of their movements we could with
unerring certainty predict the whole of their immediate results.
History is the modification of man by nature and of nature by man. We
shall find a regularity in the variations of virtuous and vicious
actions that proves them to be the result of large and general causes
which, working upon the aggregate of society, must produce certain
consequences without regard to the decision of particular individuals.
Man is affected by purely physical agents--climate, food, soil,
geographical conditions, and active physical phenomena. In the earliest
civilisations nature is more prominent than man, and the imagination is
more stimulated than the understanding. In the European civilisations
man is the more prominent, and the understanding is more stimulated than
the imagination. Hence the advance of European civilisation is
characterised by a diminishing influence of physical laws and an
increasing influence of mental laws. Clearly, then, of the two classes
of laws which regulate the progress of mankind the mental class is more
important than the physical. The laws of the human mind will prove to be
the ultimate basis of the history of Europe. These are not to be
ascertained by the metaphysical method of studying the inquirer's own
mind alone, but by the historical method of studying many minds. And
this whether the metaphysician belongs to the school which starts by
examining the sensations, or to that which starts with the examination
Dismissing the metaphysical method, therefore, we must turn to the
historical, and study mental phenomena as they appear in the actions of
mankind at large. Mental progress is twofold, moral and intellectual,
the first having relation to our duties, the second to our knowledge. It
is a progress not of capacity, but in the circumstances under which
capacity comes into play; not of internal power, but of external
advantage. Now, whereas moral truths do not change, intellectual truths
are constantly changing, from which we may infer that the progress of
society is due, not to the moral knowledge, which is stationary, but to
the intellectual knowledge, which is constantly advancing.
The history of any people will become more valuable for ascertaining the
laws by which past events were governed in proportion as their movements
have been least disturbed by external agencies. During the last three
centuries these conditions have applied to England more than to any
other country; since the action of the people has there been the least
restricted by government, and has been allowed the greatest freedom of
play. Government intervention is habitually restrictive, and the best
legislation has been that which abrogated former restrictive
Government, religion, and literature are not the causes of civilisation,
but its effects. The higher religion enters only where the mind is
intellectually prepared for its acceptance; elsewhere the forms may be
adopted, but not the essence, as mediaeval Christianity was merely an
adapted paganism. Similarly, a religion imposed by authority is accepted
in its form, but not necessarily in its essence.
In the same way literature is valuable to a country in proportion as the
population is capable of criticising and discriminating; that is, as it
is intellectually prepared to select and sift the good from the bad.
_II.---Civilisation in England_
It was the revival of the critical or sceptical spirit which remedied
the three fundamental errors of the olden time. Where the spirit of
doubt was quenched civilisation continued to be stationary. Where it was
allowed comparatively free play, as in England and France, there has
arisen that constantly progressive knowledge to which these two great
nations owe their prosperity.
In England its primary and most important consequence is the growth of
religious toleration. From the time of Elizabeth it became impossible to
profess religion as the avowed warrant for persecution. Hooker, at the
end of her reign, rests the argument of his "Ecclesiastical Polit" on
reason; and this is still more decisively the case with Chillingworth's
"Religion of Protestants" not fifty years later. The double movement of
scepticism had overthrown its controlling authority.
In precisely the same way Boyle--perhaps the greatest of our men of
science between Bacon and Newton--perpetually insists on the importance
of individual experiments and the comparative unimportance of what we
have received from antiquity.
The clergy had lost ground; their temporary alliance with James II. was
ended by the Declaration of Indulgence. But they were half-hearted in
their support of the Revolution, and scepticism received a fresh
encouragement from the hostility between them and the new government;
and the brief rally under Queen Anne was overwhelmed by the rise of
Wesleyanism. Theology was finally severed from the department both of
ethics and of government.
The eighteenth century is characterised by a craving after knowledge on
the part of those classes from whom knowledge had hitherto been shut
out. With the demand for knowledge came an increased simplicity in the
literary form under which it was diffused. With the spirit of inquiry
the desire for reform constantly increased, but the movement was checked
by a series of political combinations which demand some attention.
The accession of George III. changed the conditions which had persisted
since the accession of George I. The new king was able to head reaction.
The only minister of ability he admitted to his counsels was Pitt, and
Pitt retained power only by abandoning his principles. Nevertheless, a
counter-reaction was created, to which England owes her great reforms of
the nineteenth century.
_III.--Development of France_
In France at the time of the Reformation the clergy were far more
powerful than in England, and the theological contest was much more
severe. Toleration began with Henry IV. at the moment when Montaigne
appeared as the prophet of scepticism. The death of King Henry was not
followed by the reaction which might have been expected, and the rule of
Richelieu was emphatically political in its motives and secular in its
effects. It is curious to see that the Protestants were the illiberal
party, while the cardinal remained resolutely liberal.
The difference between the development in France and England is due
primarily to the recognition in England of the fact that no country can
long remain prosperous or safe in which the people are not gradually
extending their power, enlarging their privileges, and, so to say,
incorporating themselves with the functions of the state. France, on the
other hand, suffered far more from the spirit of protection, which is so
dangerous, and yet so plausible, that it forms the most serious obstacle
with which advancing civilisation has to contend.
The great rebellion in England was a war of classes as well as of
factions; on the one side the yeomanry and traders, on the other the
nobles and the clergy. The corresponding war of the Fronde in France was
not a class war at all; it was purely political, and in no way social.
At bottom the English rebellion was democratic; the leaders of the
Fronde were aristocrats, without any democratic leanings.
Thus in France the protective spirit maintained its ascendancy
intensified. Literature and science, allied to and patronised by
government, suffered demoralisation, and the age of Louis XIV. was one
of intellectual decay. After the death of Louis XIV. the French
discovered England and English literature. Our island, regarded hitherto
as barbarous, was visited by nearly every Frenchman of note for the two
succeeding generations. Voltaire, in particular, assimilated and
disseminated English doctrines.
The consequent development of the liberal spirit brought literature into
collision with the government. Inquiry was opposed to the interests of
both nobles and clergy. Nearly every great man of letters in France was
a victim of persecution. It might be said that the government
deliberately made a personal enemy of every man of intellect in the
country. We can only wonder, not that the revolution came, but that it
was still so long delayed; but ingrained prejudices prevented the crown
from being the first object of attack. The hostility of the men of
letters was directed first against the Church and Christianity.
Religious scepticism and political emancipation did not advance hand in
hand; much that was worst in the actual revolution was due to the fact
that the latter lagged behind.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries some progress had been made
in the principles of writing history. Like everything else, history
suffered from the rule of Louis XIV. Again the advance was inaugurated
by Voltaire. His principle is to concentrate on important movements, not
on idle details. This was not characteristic of the individual author
only, but of the spirit of the age. It is equally present in the works
of Montesquieu and Turgot. The defects of Montesquieu are chiefly due to
the fact that his materials were intractable, because science had not
yet reduced them to order by generalising the laws of their phenomena.
In the second half of the eighteenth century the intellectual movement
began to be turned directly against the state. Economical and financial
inquiries began to absorb popular attention. Rousseau headed the
political movement, whereas the government in its financial straits
turned against the clergy, whose position was already undermined, and
against whom Voltaire continued to direct his batteries.
The suppression of the Jesuits meant a revival of Jansenism. Jansenism
is Calvinistic, and Calvinism is democratic; but the real concentration
of French minds was on material questions. The foundations of religious
beliefs had been undermined, and hence arose the painful prevalence of
atheism. The period was one of progress in the study of material laws in
every field. The national intellect had taken a new bent, and it was one
which tended to violent social revolt. The hall of science is the temple
of democracy. It was in these conditions that the eyes of Frenchmen were
turned to the glorious revolt in the cause of liberty of the American
people. The spark was set to an inflammatory mass, and ignited a flame
which never ceased its ravages until it had destroyed all that Frenchmen
once held dear.
_IV.---Reaction in Spain_
I have laid down four propositions which I have endeavoured to
establish--that progress depends on a successful investigation of the
laws of phenomena; that a spirit of scepticism is a condition of such
investigation; that the influence of intellectual truths increases
thereby relatively to that of moral truths; and that the great enemy of
his progress is the protective spirit. We shall find these propositions
verified in the history of Spain.
Physically, Spain most closely resembles those non-European countries
where the influence of nature is more prominent than that of man, and
whose civilisations are consequently influenced more by the imagination
than by the understanding. In Spain, superstition is encouraged by the
violent energies of nature. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Spain
was first engaged in a long struggle on behalf of the Arianism of the
Goths against the orthodoxy of the Franks. This was followed by centuries
of struggle between the Christian Spaniard and the Mohammedan
Moors. After the conquest of Granada, the King of Spain and Emperor,
Charles V., posed primarily as the champion of religion and the enemy of
heresy. His son Philip summarised his policy in the phrase that "it is
better not to reign at all than to reign over heretics."
Loyalty was supported by superstition; each strengthened the other.
Great foreign conquests were made, and a great military reputation was
developed. But the people counted for nothing. The crown, the
aristocracy, and the clergy were supreme--the last more so than ever in
the seventeenth century. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the
Bourbon replaced the Hapsburg dynasty. The Bourbons sought to improve
the country by weakening the Church, but failed to raise the people, who
had become intellectually paralysed. The greatest efforts at improvement
were made by Charles III.; but Charles IV., unlike his predecessors, who
had been practically foreigners, was a true Spaniard. The inevitable
reaction set in.
In the nineteenth century individuals have striven for political reform,
but they have been unable to make head against those general causes
which have predetermined the country to superstition. Great as are the
virtues for which the Spaniards have long been celebrated, those noble
qualities are useless while ignorance is so gross and so general.
_V.--The Paradox of Scottish History_
In most respects Scotland affords a complete contrast to Spain, but in
regard to superstition, there is a striking similarity. Both nations
have allowed their clergy to exercise immense sway; in both intolerance
has been, and still is, a crying evil; and a bigotry is habitually
displayed which is still more discreditable to Scotland than to Spain.
It is the paradox of Scotch history that the people are liberal in
politics and illiberal in religion.
The early history of Scotland is one of perpetual invasions down to the
end of the fourteenth century. This had the double effect of
strengthening the nobles while it weakened the citizens, and increasing
the influence of the clergy while weakening that of the intellectual
classes. The crown, completely overshadowed by the nobility, was forced
to alliance with the Church. The fifteenth century is a record of the
struggles of the crown supported by the clergy against the nobility,
whose power, however, they failed to break. At last, in the reign of
James V., the crown and Church gained the ascendancy. The antagonism of
the nobles to the Church was intensified, and consequently the nobles
identified themselves with the Reformation.
The struggle continued during the regency which followed the death of
James; but within twenty years the nobles had triumphed and the Church
was destroyed. There was an immediate rupture between the nobility and
the new clergy, who united themselves with the people and became the
advocates of democracy. The crown and the nobles were now united in
maintaining episcopacy, which became the special object of attack from
the new clergy, who, despite the extravagance of their behaviour, became
the great instruments in keeping alive and fostering the spirit of
When James VI. became also James I. of England, he used his new power to
enforce episcopacy. Charles I. continued his policy; but the reaction
was gathering strength, and became open revolt in 1637. The democratic
movement became directly political. When the great civil war followed,
the Scots sold the king, who had surrendered to them, to the English,
who executed him. They acknowledged his son, Charles II., but not till
he had accepted the Covenant on ignominious terms.
At the restoration Charles II. was able to renew the oppressive policy
of his father and grandfather. The restored bishops supported the crown;
the people and the popular clergy were mercilessly persecuted. Matters
became even worse under James II., but the revolution of 1688 ended the
oppression. The exiled house found support in the Highlands not out of
loyalty, but from the Highland preference for anarchy; and after 1745
the Highlanders themselves were powerless. The trading spirit rose and
flourished, and the barbaric hereditary jurisdictions were abolished.
This last measure marked but did not cause the decadence of the power of
the nobility. This had been brought about primarily by the union with
England in 1707. In the legislature of Great Britain the Scotch peers
were a negligible and despised factor. The _coup de grace_ was given by
the rebellion of 1745. The law referred to expressed an already
The union also encouraged the development of the mercantile and
manufacturing classes, which, in turn, strengthened the democratic
movement. Meanwhile, a great literature was also arising, bold and
inquiring. Nevertheless, it failed to diminish the national
This illiberality in religion was caused in the first place by the power
of the clergy. Religion was the essential feature of the Scotch war
against Charles I. Theological interests dominated the secular because
the clergy were the champions of the political movement. Hence, in the
seventeenth century, the clergy were enabled to extend and consolidate
their own authority, partly by means of that great engine of tyranny,
the kirk sessions, partly through the credulity which accepted their
claims to miraculous interpositions in their favour. To increase their
own ascendancy, the clergy advanced monstrous doctrines concerning evil
spirits and punishments in the next life; painted the Deity as cruel and
jealous; discovered sinfulness hateful to God in the most harmless acts;
punished the same with arbitrary and savage penalties; and so crushed
out of Scotland all mirth and nearly all physical enjoyment.
Scottish literature of the eighteenth century failed to destroy this
illiberality owing to the method of the Scotch philosophers. The school
which arose was in reaction against the dominant theological spirit; but
its method was deductive not inductive. Now, the inductive method, which
ascends from experience to theory is anti-theological. The deductive
reasons down from theories whose validity is assumed; it is the method
of theology itself. In Scotland the theological spirit had taken such
firm hold that the inductive method could not have obtained a hearing;
whereas in England and France the inductive method has been generally
The great secular philosophy of Scotland was initiated by Hutchinson.
His system of morals was based not on revealed principles, but on laws
ascertainable by human intelligence; his positions were in fiat
contradiction to those of the clergy. But his method assumes intuitive
faculties and intuitive knowledge.
The next and the greatest name is that of Adam Smith, whose works, "The
Theory of Moral Sentiments" and "Wealth of Nations," must be taken in
conjunction. In the first he works on the assumption that sympathy is
the mainspring of human conduct. In the "Wealth of Nations" the
mainspring is selfishness. The two are not contradictory, but
complementary. Of the second book it may be said that it is probably the
most important which has ever been written, whether we consider the
amount of original thought which it contains or its practical influence.
Beside Adam Smith stands David Hume. An accomplished reasoner and a
profound thinker, he lacked the invaluable quality of imagination. This
is the underlying defect of his history. Important and novel as are
Hume's doctrines, his method was also deductive, and, like Adam Smith,
he rests little on experience. After these two, Reid was the most
eminent among the purely speculative thinkers of Scotland, but he stands
far below them both. To Hume the spirit of inquiry and scepticism is
essential; to Reid it is a danger.
The deductive method was no less prevalent in physical philosophy. Now,
induction is more accessible to the average understanding than
deduction. The deductive character of this Scottish literature prevented
it from having popular effect, and therefore from weakening the national
superstition, from which Scotland, even to-day, has been unable to shake
* * * * *
The English Constitution
Walter Bagehot was born at Langport in Somerset, England, Feb.
3, 1826, and died on March 24, 1877. He was educated at
Bristol and at University College, London. Subsequently he
joined his father's banking and ship-owning business. From
1860 till his death, he was editor of the "Economist." He was
a keen student not only of economic and political science
subjects, which he handled with a rare lightness of touch, but
also of letters and of life at large. It is difficult to say
in which field his penetration, his humour, and his charm of
style are most conspicuously displayed. The papers collected
in the volume called "The English Constitution" appeared
originally in the "Fortnightly Review" during 1865 and 1866.
The Reform Bill, which transferred the political centre of
gravity from the middle class to the artisan class had not yet
arrived; and the propositions laid down by Bagehot have
necessarily been in some degree modified in the works of more
recent authorities, such as Professor Dicey and Mr. Sidney
Low. But as a human interpretation of that exceedingly human
monument, the British Constitution, Bagehot's work is likely
to remain unchallenged for all time.
No one can approach to an understanding of English institutions unless
he divides them into two classes. In such constitutions there are two
parts. First, those which excite and preserve the reverence of the
population, the dignified parts, if I may so call them; and, next, the
efficient parts, those by which it, in fact, works and rules. Every
constitution must first win the loyalty and confidence of mankind, and
then employ that homage in the work of government.
The dignified parts of government are those which bring it force, which
attracts its motive power. The efficient parts only employ that power.
If all subjects of the same government only thought of what was useful
to them, the efficient members of the constitution would suffice, and no
impressive adjuncts would be needed. But it is not true that even the
lower classes will be absorbed in the useful. The ruder sort of men will
sacrifice all they hope for, all they have, themselves, for what is
called an idea. The elements which excite the most easy reverence will
be not the most useful, but the theatrical. It is the characteristic
merit of the English constitution that its dignified parts are imposing
and venerable, while its efficient part is simple and rather modern.
The efficient secret of the English constitution is the nearly complete
fusion of the executive and legislative powers. The connecting link is
the cabinet. This is a committee of the legislative body, in choosing
which indirectly but not directly the legislature is nearly omnipotent.
The prime minister is chosen by the House of Commons, and is the head of
the efficient part of the constitution. The queen is only at the head of
its dignified part. The Prime Minister himself has to choose his
associates, but can only do so out of a charmed circle.
The cabinet is an absolutely secret committee, which can dissolve the
assembly which appointed it. It is an executive which is at once the
nominee of the legislature, and can annihilate the legislature. The
system stands in precise contrast to the presidential system, in which
the legislative and executive powers are entirely independent.
A good parliament is a capital choosing body; it is an electoral college
of the picked men of the nation. But in the American system the
president is chosen by a complicated machinery of caucuses; he is not
the choice of the nation, but of the wirepullers. The members of
congress are excluded from executive office, and the separation makes
neither the executive half nor the legislative half of political life
worth having. Hence it is only men of an inferior type who are attracted
to political life at all.
Again our system enables us to change our ruler suddenly on an
emergency. Thus we could abolish the Aberdeen Cabinet, which was in
itself eminently adapted for every sort of difficulty save the one it
had to meet, but wanted the daemonic element, and substitute a statesman
who had the precise sort of merit wanted at the moment. But under a
presidential government you can do nothing of the kind. There is no
elastic element; everything is rigid, specified, dated. You have
bespoken your government for the time, and you must keep it. Moreover,
under the English system all the leading statesmen are known quantities.
But in America a new president before his election is usually an unknown
Cabinet government demands the mutual confidence of the electors, a calm
national mind, and what I may call rationality--a power involving
intelligence, yet distinct from it. It demands also a competent
legislature, which is a rarity. In the early stages of human society the
grand object is not to make new laws, but to prevent innovation. Custom
is the first check on tyranny, but at the present day the desire is to
adapt the law to changed conditions. In the past, however, continuous
legislatures were rare because they were not wanted. Now you have to get
a good legislature and to keep it good. To keep it good it must have a
sufficient supply of business. To get it good is a precedent difficulty.
A nation in which the mass of the people are intelligent, educated, and
comfortable can elect a good parliament. Or what I will call a
deferential nation may do so--I mean one in which the numerical majority
wishes to be ruled by the wiser minority.
Of deferential countries England is the type. But it is not to their
actual heavy, sensible middle-class rulers that the mass of the English
people yield deference, but to the theatrical show of society. The few
rule by their hold, not over the reason of the multitude, but over their
imaginations and their habits.
The use of the queen in a dignified capacity is incalculable. The best
reason why monarchy is a strong government is that it is an intelligible
government; whereas a constitution is complex. Men are governed by the
weakness of their imagination. To state the matter shortly, royalty is a
government in which the attention of the nation is concentrated on one
person doing interesting actions. A republic is a government in which
that attention is divided between many who are all doing uninteresting
actions. Secondly, if you ask the immense majority of the queen's
subjects by what right she rules, they will say she rules by God's
grace. They believe they have a mystic obligation to obey her. The crown
is a visible symbol of unity with an atmosphere of dignity.
Thirdly, the queen is the head of society. If she were not so, the prime
minister would be the first person in the country. As it is the House of
Commons attracts people who go there merely for social purposes; if the
highest social rank was to be scrambled for in the House of Commons, the
number of social adventurers there would be even more numerous. It has
been objected of late that English royalty is not splendid enough. It is
compared with the French court, which is quite the most splendid thing
in France; but the French emperor is magnified to emphasise the equality
of everyone else. Great splendour in our court would incite competition.
Fourthly, we have come to regard the crown as the head of our morality.
Lastly, constitutional royalty acts as a disguise; it enables our real
rulers to change without heedless people knowing it. Hence, perhaps, the
value of constitutional royalty in times of transition.
Popular theory regards the sovereign as a co-ordinate authority with the
House of Lords and the House of Commons. Also it holds that the queen is
the executive. Neither is true. There is no authentic explicit
information as to what the queen can do. The secrecy of the prerogative
is an anomaly, but none the less essential to the utility of English
royalty. Let us see how we should get on without a queen. We may suppose
the House of Commons appointing the premier just as shareholders choose
a director. If the predominant party were agreed as to its leader there
would not be much difference at the beginning of an administration. But
if the party were not agreed on its leader the necessity of the case
would ensure that the chief forced on the minority by the majority would
be an exceedingly capable man; where the judgment of the sovereign
intervenes there is no such security. If, however, there are three
parties, the primary condition of a cabinet polity is not satisfied.
Under such circumstances the only way is for the moderate people of
every party to combine in support of the government which, on the whole,
suits every party best. In the choice of a fit minister, if the royal
selection were always discreetly exercised, it would be an incalculable
benefit, but in most cases the wisest course for the monarch would be
Now the sovereign has three rights, the right to be consulted, the right
to encourage, and the right to warn. In the course of a long reign a
king would acquire the same advantage which a permanent under-secretary
has over his superior, the parliamentary secretary. But whenever there
is discussion between a king and the minister, the king's opinion would
have its full weight, and the minister's would not. The whole position
is evidently attractive to an intelligent, sagacious and original
sovereign. But we cannot expect a lineal series of such kings. Neither
theory nor experience warrant any such expectations. The only fit
material for a constitutional king is a prince who begins early to
reign, who in his youth is superior to pleasure, is willing to labour,
and has by nature a genius for discretion.
_III.--The House of Lords and the House of Commons_
The use of the order of the lords in its dignified capacity is very
great. The mass of men require symbols, and nobility is the symbol of
mind. The order also prevents the rule of wealth. The Anglo-Saxon has a
natural instinctive admiration of wealth for its own sake; but from the
worst form of this our aristocracy preserves us, and the reverence for
rank is not so base as the reverence for money, or the still worse
idolatry of office. But as the picturesqueness of society diminishes,
aristocracy loses the single instrument of its peculiar power.
The House of Lords as an assembly has always been not the first, but the
second. The peers, who are of the most importance, are not the most
important in the House of Peers. In theory, the House of Lords is of
equal rank with the House of Commons; in practice it is not. The evil of
two co-equal houses is obvious. If they disagree, all business is
suspended. There ought to be an available decisive authority somewhere.
The sovereign power must be comeatable. The English have made it so by
the authority of the crown to create new peers. Before the Reform Act
the members of the peerage swayed the House of Commons, and the two
houses hardly collided except on questions of privilege. After the
Reform Bill the house ceased to be one of the latent directors and
It was the Duke of Wellington who presided over the change, and from the
duke himself we may learn that the use of the House of Lords is not to
be a bulwark against revolution. It cannot resist the people if the
people are determined. It has not the control of necessary physical
force. With a perfect lower house, the second chamber would be of
scarcely any value; but beside the actual house, a revising and leisured
legislature is extremely useful. The cabinet is so powerful in the
commons that it may inflict minor measures on the nation which the
nation does not like. The executive is less powerful in the second
chamber, which may consequently operate to impede minor instances of
The House of Lords has the advantage: first, of being possible;
secondly, of being independent. It is accessible to no social bribe, and
it has leisure. On the other hand, it has defects. In appearance, which
is the important thing, it is apathetic. Next, it belongs exclusively to
one class, that of landowners. This would not so greatly matter if the
House of Lords _could_ be of more than common ability, but being an
hereditary chamber, it cannot be so. There is only one kind of business
in which our aristocracy retain a certain advantage. This is diplomacy.
And aristocracy is, in its nature, better suited to such work. It is
trained to the theatrical part of life; it is fit for that if it is fit
for anything. Otherwise an aristocracy is inferior in business. These
various defects would have been lessened if the House of Lords had not
resisted the creation of life peers.
The dignified aspect of the House of Commons is altogether secondary to
its efficient use. Its main function is to choose our president. It
elects the people whom it likes, and it dismisses whom it dislikes, too.
The premier is to the house what the house is to the nation. He must
lead, but he can only lead whither they will follow. Its second function
is _expressive_, to express the mind of the English people. Thirdly, it
ought to teach the nation. Fourthly, to give information, especially of
grievances--not, as in the old days, to the crown, but to the nation.
And, lastly, there is the function of legislation. I do not separate the
financial function from the rest of the legislative. In financial
affairs it lies under an exceptional disability; it is only the minister
who can propose to tax the people, whereas on common subjects any member
can propose anything. The reason is that the house is never economical;
but the cabinet is forced to be economical, because it has to impose the
taxation to meet, the expenditure.
Of all odd forms of government, the oddest really is this government by
public meeting. How does it come to be able to govern at all? The
principle of parliament is obedience to leaders. Change your leader if
you will, but while you have him obey him, otherwise you will not be
able to do anything at all. Leaders to-day do not keep their party
together by bribes, but they can dissolve. Party organisation is
efficient because it is not composed of warm partisans. The way to lead
is to affect a studied and illogical moderation.
Nor are the leaders themselves eager to carry party conclusions too far.
When an opposition comes into power, ministers have a difficulty in
making good their promises. They are in contact with the facts which
immediately acquire an inconvenient reality. But constituencies are
immoderate and partisan. The schemes both of extreme democrats and of
philosophers for changing the system of representation would prevent
parliamentary government from working at all. Under a system of equal
electoral districts and one-man vote, a parliament could not consist of
moderate men. Mr. Hare's scheme would make party bands and fetters
tighter than ever.
A free government is that which the people subject to it voluntarily
choose. If it goes by public opinion, the best opinion which the nation
will accept, it is a good government of its kind. Tried by this rule,
the House of Commons does its appointing business well. Of the
substantial part of its legislative task, the same may be said. Subject
to certain exceptions, the mind and policy of parliament possess the
common sort of moderation essential to parliamentary government. The
exceptions are two. First, it leans too much to the opinions of the
landed interest. Also, it gives too little weight to the growing
districts of the country, and too much to the stationary. But parliament
is not equally successful in elevating public opinion, or in giving
expression to grievances.
_IV.--Changes of Ministry_
There is an event which frequently puzzles some people; this is, a
change of ministry. All our administrators go out together. Is it wise
so to change all our rulers? The practice produces three great evils. It
brings in suddenly new and untried persons. Secondly, the man knows that
he may have to leave his work in the middle, and very likely never come
back to it. Thirdly, a sudden change of ministers may easily cause a
mischievous change of policy. A quick succession of chiefs do not learn
from each other's experience.
Now, those who wish to remove the choice of ministers from parliament
have not adequately considered what a parliament is. When you establish
a predominant parliament you give over the rule of the country to a
despot who has unlimited time and unlimited vanity. Every public
department is liable to attack. It is helpless in parliament if it has
no authorised defender. The heads of departments cannot satisfactorily
be put up for the defence; but a parliamentary head connected by close
ties with the ministry is a protecting machine. Party organisation
ensures the provision of such parliamentary heads. The alternative
provided in America involves changing not only the head but the whole
bureaucracy with each change of government.
This, it may be said, does not prove that this change is a good thing.
It may, however, be proved that some change at any rate is necessary to
a permanently perfect administration. If we look at the Prussian
bureaucracy, whatever success it may recently have achieved, it
certainly does not please the most intelligent persons at home.
Obstinate officials set at defiance the liberal initiations of the
government. In conflicts with simple citizens guilty officials are like
men armed cap-a-pie fighting with the defenceless. The bureaucrat
inevitably cares more for routine than for results. The machinery is
regarded as an achieved result instead of as a working instrument. It
tends to be the most unimproving and shallow of governments in quality,
and to over-government in point of quantity.
In fact, experience has proved in the case of joint-stock banks and of
railways that they are best conducted by an admixture of experts with
men of what may be, called business culture. So in a government office
the intrusion of an exterior head of the office is really essential to
its perfection. As Sir George Lewis said: "It is not the business of a
cabinet minister to work his department; his business is to see that it
is properly worked."
In short, a presidential government, or a hereditary government are
inferior to parliamentary government as administrative selectors. The
revolutionary despot may indeed prove better, since his existence
depends on his skill in doing so. If the English government is not
celebrated for efficiency, that is largely because it attempts to do so
much; but it is defective also from our ignorance. Another reason is
that in the English constitution the dignified parts, which have an
importance of their own, at the same time tend to diminish simple
_V.--Checks, Balances, and History_
In every state there must be somewhere a supreme authority on every
point. In some states, however, that ultimate power is different upon
different points. The Americans, under the mistaken impression that they
were imitating the English, made their constitution upon this principle.
The sovereignty rested with the separate states, which have delegated
certain powers to the central government. But the division of the
sovereignty does not end here. Congress rules the law, but the president
rules the administration. Even his legislative veto can be overruled
when two-thirds of both houses are unanimous. The administrative power
is divided, since on international policy the supreme authority is the
senate. Finally, the constitution itself can only be altered by
authorities which are outside the constitution. The result is that now,
after the civil war, there is no sovereign authority to settle immediate
In England, on the other hand, we have the typical constitution, in
which the ultimate power upon all questions is in the hands of the same
person. The ultimate authority in the English constitution is a
newly-elected House of Commons. Whatever the question on which it
decides, a new House of Commons can despotically and finally resolve. No
one can doubt the importance of singleness and unity. The excellence in
the British constitution is that it has achieved this unity. This is
primarily due to the provision which places the choice of the executive
in "the people's house." But it could not have been effected without
what I may call the "safety valve" and "the regulator." The "safety
valve" is the power of creating peers, the "regulator" is the cabinet's
power of dissolving. The defects of a popular legislature are: caprice
in selection, the sectarianism born of party organisation, which is the
necessary check on caprice, and the peculiar prejudices and interests of
the particular parliament. Now the caprice of parliament in the choice
of a premier is best checked by the premier himself having the power of
dissolution. But as a check on sectarianism such an extrinsic power as
that of a capable constitutional king is more efficient. For checking
the peculiar interests our colonial governors seem almost perfectly
qualified. But the intervention of a constitutional monarch is only
beneficial if he happens to be an exceptionally wise man. The peculiar
interests of a specific parliament are seldom in danger of overriding
national interests; hence, on the whole, the advantage of the premier
being the real dissolving authority.
The power of creating peers, vested in the premier, serves constantly to
modify the character of the second chamber. What we may call the
catastrophe creation of peers is different. That the power should reside
in the king would again be beneficial only in the case of the
exceptional monarch. Taken altogether, we find that hereditary royalty
is not essential to parliamentary government. Our conclusion is that
though a king with high courage and fine discretion, a king with a
genius for the place, is always useful, and at rare moments priceless,
yet a common king is of no use at a crisis, while, in the common course
of things, he will do nothing, and he need do nothing.
All the rude nations that have attained civilisation seem to begin in a
consultative and tentative absolutism. The king has a council of elders
whom he consults while he tests popular support in the assembly of
freemen. In England a very strong executive was an imperative necessity.
The assemblies summoned by the English sovereign told him, in effect,
how far he might go. Legislation as a positive power was very secondary
in those old parliaments; but their negative action was essential. The
king could not venture to alter the law until the people had expressed
their consent. The Wars of the Roses killed out the old councils. The
second period of the constitution continues to the revolution of 1688.
The rule of parliament was then established by the concurrence of the
usual supporters of royalty with the usual opponents of it. Yet the mode
of exercising that rule has since changed. Even as late as 1810 it was
supposed that when the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent he would be
able to turn out the ministry.
It is one of our peculiarities that the English people is always
antagonistic to the executive. It is their natural impulse to resist
authority as something imposed from outside. Hence our tolerance of
local authorities as instruments of resistance to tyranny of the central
Our constitution is full of anomalies. Some of them are, no doubt,
impeding and mischievous. Half the world believes that the Englishman is
born illogical. As a matter of fact, I am inclined to believe that the
English care more even than the French for simplicity; but the
constitution is not logical. The complexity we tolerate is that which
has grown up. Any new complexity, as such, is detestable to the English
mind. Let anyone try to advocate a plan of suffrage reform at all out of
the way, and see how many adherents he can collect.
This great political question of the day, the suffrage question, is made
exceedingly difficult by this history of ours. We shall find on
investigation that so far from an ultra-democratic suffrage giving us a
more homogeneous and decided House of Commons it would give us a less
homogeneous and more timid house. With us democracy would mean the rule
of money and mainly and increasingly of new money working for its own
* * * * *
The Age of Louis XIV
Voltaire's "History of the Age of Louis XIV.," was published
when its author (see p. 259), long famous, was the companion
of Frederick the Great in Prussia--from 1750 to 1753. Voltaire
was in his twentieth year when the Grand Monarque died. Louis
XIV. had succeeded his father at the age of five years, in
1643; his nominal reign covered seventy-one years, and
throughout the fifty-three years which followed Mazarin's
death his declaration "L'Etat c'est moi" had been politically
and socially a truth. He controlled France with an absolute
sway; under him she achieved a European ascendency without
parallel save in the days of Napoleon. He sought to make her
the dictator of Europe. But for William of Orange,
Marlborough, and Eugene, he would have succeeded. Politically
he did not achieve his aim; but under him France became the
unchallenged leader of literary and artistic culture and
taste, the universal criterion.
_I.--France Under Mazarin_
We do not propose to write merely a life of Louis XIV.; our aim is a far
wider one. It is to give posterity a picture, not of the actions of a
single man, but of the spirit of the men of an age the most enlightened
on record. Every period has produced its heroes and its politicians,
every people has experienced revolutions; the histories of all are of
nearly equal value to those who desire merely to store their memory with
facts. But the thinker, and that still rarer person the man of taste,
recognises only four epochs in the history of the world--those four
fortunate ages in which the arts have been perfected: the great age of
the Greeks, the age of Caesar and of Augustus, the age which followed the
fall of Constantinople, and the age of Louis XIV.; which last approached
perfection more nearly than any of the others.
On the death of Louis XIII., his queen, Anne of Austria, owed her
acquisition of the regency to the Parlement of Paris. Anne was obliged
to continue the war with Spain, in which the brilliant victories of the
young Duc d'Enghein, known to fame as the Great Conde, brought him
sudden glory and unprecedented prestige to the arms of France.
But internally the national finances were in a terribly unsatisfactory
state. The measures for raising funds adopted by the minister Mazarin
were the more unpopular because he was himself an Italian. The Paris
Parlement set itself in opposition to the minister; the populace
supported it; the resistance was organised by Paul de Gondi, afterwards
known as the Cardinal de Retz. The court had to flee from Paris to St.
Germain. Conde was won over by the queen regent; but the nobles, hoping
to recover the power which Richelieu had wrenched from them, took the
popular side. And their wives and daughters surpassed them in energy. A
very striking contrast to the irresponsible frivolity with which the
whole affair was conducted is presented by the grim orderliness with
which England had at that very moment carried through the last act in
the tragedy of Charles I. In France the factions of the Fronde were
controlled by love intrigues.
Conde was victorious. But he was at feud with Mazarin, made himself
personally unpopular, and found himself arrested when he might have made
himself master of the government. A year later the tables were turned;
Mazarin had to fly, and the Fronde released Conde. The civil war was
renewed; a war in which no principles were at stake, in which the
popular party of yesterday was the unpopular party of to-day; in which
there were remarkable military achievements, much bloodshed, and much
suffering, and which finally wore itself out in 1653, when Mazarin
returned to undisputed power. Louis XIV. was then a boy of fifteen.
Mazarin had achieved a great diplomatic triumph by the peace of
Westphalia in 1648; but Spain had remained outside that group of
treaties; and, owing to the civil war of the Fronde, Conde's successes
against her had been to a great extent made nugatory--and now Conde was
a rebel and in command of Spanish troops. But Conde, with a Spanish
army, met his match in Turenne with a French army.
At this moment, Christina of Sweden was the only European sovereign who
had any personal prestige. But Cromwell's achievements in England now
made each of the European statesmen anxious for the English alliance;
and Cromwell chose France. The combined arms of France and England were
triumphant in Flanders, when Cromwell died; and his death changed the
position of England. France was financially exhausted, and Mazarin now
desired a satisfactory peace with Spain. The result, was the Treaty of
the Pyrenees, by which the young King Louis took a Spanish princess in
marriage, an alliance which ultimately led to the succession of a
grandson of Louis to the Spanish throne. Immediately afterwards, Louis'
cousin, Charles II., was recalled to the throne of England. This closing
achievement of Mazarin had a triumphant aspect; his position in France
remained undisputed till his death in the next year (1661). He was a
successful minister; whether he was a great statesman is another
question. His one real legacy to France was the acquisition of Alsace.
_II.---The French Supremacy in Europe_
On Mazarin's death Louis at once assumed personal rule. Since the death
of Henry the Great, France had been governed by ministers; now she was
to be governed by the king--the power exercised by ministers was
precisely circumscribed. Order and vigour were introduced on all sides;
the finances were regulated by Colbert, discipline was restored in the
army, the creation of a fleet, was begun. In all foreign courts Louis
asserted the dignity of France; it was very soon evident that there was
no foreign power of whom he need stand in fear. New connections were
established with Holland and Portugal. England under Charles II. was of
To the king on the watch for an opportunity, an opportunity soon
presents itself. Louis found his when Philip IV. of Spain was succeeded
by the feeble Charles II. He at once announced that Flanders reverted to
his own wife, the new king's elder sister. He had already made his
bargain with the Emperor Leopold, who had married the other infanta.
Louis' armies were overrunning Flanders in 1667, and Franche-Comte next
year. Holland, a republic with John de Witt at its head, took alarm; and
Sir William Temple succeeded in effecting the Triple Alliance between
Holland, England, and Sweden. Louis found it advisable to make peace,
even at the price of surrendering Franche-Comte for the present.
Determined now, however, on the conquest of Holland, Louis had no
difficulty in secretly detaching the voluptuary Charles II. from the
Dutch alliance. Holland itself was torn between the faction of the De
Witts and the partisans of the young William of Orange. Overwhelming
preparations were made for the utterly unwarrantable enterprise.
As the French armies poured into Holland, practically no resistance was
offered. The government began to sue for peace. But the populace rose
and massacred the De Witts; young William was made stadtholder. Ruyter
defeated the combined French and English fleets at Sole Bay. William
opened the dykes and laid the country under water, and negotiated
secretly with the emperor and with Spain. Half Europe was being drawn
into a league against Louis, who made the fatal mistake of following the
advice of his war minister Louvois, instead of Conde and Turenne.
In every court in Europe Louis had his pensioners intriguing on his
behalf. His newly created fleet was rapidly learning its work. On land
he was served by the great engineer Vauban, by Turenne, Conde, and
Conde's pupil, Luxembourg. He decided to direct his own next campaign
against Franche-Comte. But during the year Turenne, who was conducting a
separate campaign in Germany with extraordinary brilliancy, was killed;
and after this year Conde took no further part in the war. Moreover, the
Austrians were now in the field, under the able leader Montecuculi.
In 1676-8 town after town fell before Vauban, a master of siege work as
of fortification; Louis, in many cases, being present in person. In
other quarters, also, the French arms were successful. Especially
noticeable were the maritime successes of Duquesne, who was proving
himself a match for the Dutch commanders. Louis was practically fighting
and beating half Europe single-handed, as he was now getting no
effective help from England or his nominal ally, Sweden. Finally, in
1678, he was able practically to dictate his own terms to the allies.
The peace had already been signed when William of Orange attacked
Luxembourg before Mons; a victory, on the whole, for him, but entirely
barren of results. With this peace of Nimeguen, Louis was at the height
of his power.
By assuming the right of interpreting for himself the terms of the
treaty, he employed the years of peace in extending his possessions. No
other power could now compare with France, but in 1688 Louis stood
alone, without any supporter, save James II. of England. And he
intensified the general dread by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes
and the expulsion of the French Huguenots.
The determination of James to make himself absolute, and to restore
Romanism in England, caused leading Englishmen to enter on a
conspiracy--kept secret with extraordinary success--with William of
Orange. The luckless monarch was abandoned on every hand, and fled from
his kingdom to France, an object of universal mockery. Yet Louis
resolved to aid him. A French force accompanied him to Ireland, and
Tourville defeated the united fleets of England and Holland. At last
France was mistress of the seas; but James met with a complete overthrow
at the Boyne. The defeated James, in his flight, hanged men who had
taken part against him. The victorious William proclaimed a general
pardon. Of two such men, it is easy to see which was certain to win.
Louis had already engaged himself in a fresh European war before
William's landing in England. He still maintained his support of James.
But his newly acquired sea power was severely shaken at La Hogue. On
land, however, Louis' arms prospered. The Palatinate was laid waste in a
fashion which roused the horror of Europe. Luxembourg in Flanders, and
Catinat in Italy, won the foremost military reputations in Europe. On
the other hand, William proved himself one of those generals who can
extract more advantage from a defeat than his enemies from a victory, as
Steinkirk and Neerwinden both exemplified. France, however, succeeded in
maintaining a superiority over all her foes, but the strain before long
made a peace necessary. She could not dictate terms as at Nimeguen.
Nevertheless, the treaty of Ryswick, concluded in 1697, secured her
_III.---The Spanish Succession_
The general pacification was brief. North Europe was soon aflame with
the wars of those remarkable monarchs, Charles XII. and Peter the Great;
and the rest of Europe over the Spanish succession. The mother and wife
of Louis were each eldest daughters of a Spanish king; the mother and
wife of the Emperor Leopold were their younger sisters. Austrian and
French successions were both barred by renunciations; and the absorption
of Spain by either power would upset utterly the balance of power in
Europe. There was no one else with a plausible claim to succeed the
childless and dying Charles II. European diplomacy effected treaties for
partitioning the Spanish dominions; but ultimately Charles declared the
grandson of Louis his heir. Louis, in defiance of treaties, accepted the
The whole weight of England was then thrown on to the side of the
Austrian candidate by Louis' recognition of James Edward Stuart as
rightful King of England. William, before he died, had successfully
brought about a grand alliance of European powers against Louis; his
death gave the conduct of the war to Marlborough. Anne was obliged to
carry on her brother-in-law's policy. Elsewhere, kings make their
subjects enter blindly on their own projects; in London the king must
enter upon those of his subjects.
When Louis entered on the war of the Spanish Succession he had already,
though unconsciously, lost that grasp of affairs which had distinguished
him; while he still dictated the conduct of his ministers and his
generals. The first commander who took the field against him was Prince
Eugene of Savoy, a man born with those qualities which make a hero in
war and a great man in peace. The able Catinat was superseded in Italy
by Villeroi, whose failures, however, led to the substitution of
But the man who did more to injure the greatness of France than any
other for centuries past was Marlborough--the general with the coolest
head of his time; as a politician the equal, and as a soldier
immeasurably the superior, of William III. Between Marlborough and his
great colleague Eugene there was always complete harmony and complete
understanding, whether they were campaigning or negotiating.
In the Low Countries, Marlborough gained ground steadily, without any
great engagement. In Germany the French arms were successful, and at the
end of 1703 a campaign was planned with Vienna for its objective. The
advance was intercepted in 1704 by the junction of Eugene and the forces
from Italy with Marlborough and an English force. The result was the
tremendous overthrow of Hochstedt, or Blenheim. The French were driven
over the Rhine.
Almost at the same moment English sailors surprised and captured the
Rock of Gibraltar, which England still holds. In six weeks, too, the
English mastered Valencia and Catalonia for the archduke, under the
redoubtable Peterborough. Affairs went better in Italy (1705); but in
Flanders, Villeroi was rash enough to challenge Marlborough at Ramillies
in 1706. In half an hour the French army was completely routed, and lost
20,000 men; city after city opened its gates to the conqueror; Flanders
was lost as far as Lille. Vendome was summoned from Italy to replace
Villeroi, whereupon Eugene attacked the French in their lines before
Turin, and dispersed their army, which was forced to withdraw from
Italy, leaving the Austrians masters there.
Louis seemed on the verge of ruin; but Spain was loyal to the Bourbon.
In 1707 Berwick won for the French the signal victory of Almanza. In
Germany, Villars made progress. Louis actually designed an invasion of
Great Britain in the name of the Pretender, but the scheme collapsed. He
succeeded in placing a great army in the field in Flanders; it was
defeated by Marlborough and Eugene at Oudenarde. Eugene sat down before
Lille, and took it. The lamentable plight of France was made worse by a
Louis found himself forced to sue for peace, but the terms of the allies
were too intolerably humiliating. They demanded that Louis should assist
in expelling his own grandson from Spain. "If I must make war, I would
rather make it on my enemies than on my children," said Louis. Once more
an army took the field with indomitable courage. A desperate battle was
fought by Villars against Marlborough and Eugene at Malplaquet. Villars
was defeated, but with as much honour to the French as to the allies.
Louis again sued for peace, but the allies would not relax their
monstrous demands. Marlborough, Eugene, and the Dutch Heinsius all found
their own interest in prolonging the war. But with the Bourbon cause
apparently at its last gasp in Spain, the appearance there of Vendome
revived the spirit of resistance.
Then the death of the emperor, and the succession to his position of his
brother, the Spanish claimant, the Archduke Charles, meant that the
allies were fighting to make one dominion of the Spanish and German
Empires. The steady advance of Marlborough in the Low Countries could
not prevent a revulsion of popular sentiment, which brought about his
recall and the practical withdrawal from the contest of England, where
Bolingbroke and Oxford were now at the head of affairs. Under Villars,
success returned to the French standards in Flanders.
Hence came in 1713 the peace of Utrecht, for the terms of which England
was mainly responsible. It was fair and just, but the English ministry
received scant justice for making it. The emperor refused at first to
accept it; but, when isolated, he agreed to its corollary, the peace of
Rastadt. Philip was secured on the throne of Spain.
Never was there a war or a peace in which so many natural expectations
were so completely reversed in the outcome. What Louis may have proposed
to himself after it was over, no one can say for he died the year after
the treaty of Utrecht.
_IV.--The Court of the Grand Monarque_
The brilliancy and magnificence of the court, as well as the reign of
Louis XIV., were such that the least details of his life seem
interesting to posterity, just as they excited the curiosity of every
court in Europe and of all his contemporaries. Such is the effect of a
great reputation. We care more to know what passed in the cabinet and
the court of an Augustus than for details of Attila's and Tamerlane's
One of the most curious affairs in this connection is the mystery of the
Man with the Iron Mask, who was placed in the Ile Sainte-Marguerite just
after Mazarin's death, was removed to the Bastille in 1690, and died in
1703. His identity has never been revealed. That he was a person of very
great consideration is clear from the way in which he was treated; yet
no such person disappeared from public life. Those who knew the secret
carried it with them to their graves.
Once the man scratched a message on a silver plate, and flung it into
the river. A fisherman who picked it up brought it to the governor.
Asked if he had read the writing, he said, "No; he could not read
himself, and no one else had seen it." "It is lucky for you that you
cannot read," said the governor. And the man was detained till the truth
of his statement had been confirmed.
The king surpassed the whole court in the majestic beauty of his
countenance; the sound of his voice won the hearts which were awed by
his presence; his gait, appropriate to his person and his rank, would
have been absurd in anyone else. In those who spoke with him he inspired
an embarrassment which secretly flattered an agreeable consciousness of
his own superiority. That old officer who began to ask some favour of
him, lost his nerve, stammered, broke down, and finally said: "Sire, I
do not tremble thus in the presence of your enemies," had little
difficulty in obtaining his request.
Nothing won for him the applause of Europe so much as his unexampled
munificence. A number of foreign savants and scholars were the
recipients of his distinguished bounty, in the form of presents or
pensions; among Frenchmen who were similarly benefited were Racine,
Quinault, Flechier, Chapelain, Cotin, Lulli.
A series of ladies, from Mazarin's niece, Marie Mancini, to Mme. la
Valliere and Mme. de Montespan, held sway over Louis' affections; but
after the retirement of the last, Mme. de Maintenon, who had been her
rival, became and remained supreme. The queen was dead; and Louis was
privately married to her in January, 1686, she being then past fifty.
Francoise d'Aubigne was born in 1635, of good family, but born and
brought up in hard surroundings. She was married to Scarron in 1651;
nine years later he died. Later, she was placed, in charge of the king's
illegitimate children. She supplanted Mme. de Montespan, to whom she
owed her promotion, in the king's favour. The correspondence in the
years preceding the marriage is an invaluable record of that mixture of
religion and gallantry, of dignity and weakness, to which the human
heart is so often prone, in Louis; and in the lady, of a piety and an
ambition which never came into conflict. She never used her power to
advance her own belongings.
In August, 1715, Louis was attacked by a mortal malady. His heir was his
great-grandson; the regency devolved on Orleans, the next prince of the
blood. His powers were to be limited by Louis' will but the will could
not override the rights which the Paris Parliament declared were
attached to the regency. The king's courage did not fail him as death
"I thought," he said to Mme. de Maintenon, "that it was a harder thing
to die." And to his servants: "Why do you weep? Did you think I was
immortal?" The words he spoke while he embraced the child who was his
heir are significant. "You are soon to be king of a great kingdom. Above
all things, I would have you never forget your obligations to God.
Remember that you owe to Him all that you are. Try to keep at peace with
your neighbours. I have loved war too much. Do not imitate me in that,
or in my excessive expenditure. Consider well in everything; try to be
sure of what is best, and to follow that."
_V.--How France Flourished Under Louis XIV._
At the beginning of the reign the genius of Colbert, the restorer of the
national finances, was largely employed on the extension of commerce,
then almost entirely in the hands of the Dutch and English. Not only a
navy, but a mercantile marine was created; the West India and East India
companies were both established in 1664. Almost every year of Colbert's
ministry was marked by the establishment of a new industry.
Paris was lighted and paved and policed, almost rebuilt. Louis had a
marked taste for architecture, for gardens, and for sculpture. The law
owed many reforms to this monarch. The army was reorganised; merit, not
rank, became the ground of promotion: the bayonet replaced the pike, and
the artillery was greatly developed. When Louis began to rule there was
no navy. Arsenals were created, sailors were trained, and a fleet came
into being which matched those of Holland and England.
Even a brief summary shows the vast changes in the state accomplished by
Louis. His ministers seconded his efforts admirably. Theirs is the
credit for the details, for the execution; but the scheme, the general
principles, were due to him. The magistrates would not have reformed the
laws, order would not have been restored in the finances, discipline in
the army, police throughout the kingdom; there would have been no
fleets, no encouragement of the arts; none of all those improvements
carried out systematically, simultaneously, resolutely, under various
ministers, had there not been a master, greater than them all, imbued
with the general conceptions and determined on their fulfilment.
The spirit of commonsense, the spirit of criticism, gradually
progressing, insensibly destroyed much superstition; insomuch that
simple charges of sorcery were excluded from the courts in 1672. Such a
measure would have been impossible under Henry IV. or Louis XIII.
Nevertheless, such superstitions were deeply rooted. Everyone believed
in astrology; the comet of 1680 was regarded as a portent.
In science France was, indeed, outstripped by England and Florence. But
in eloquence, poetry, literature, and philosophy the French were the
legislators of Europe. One of the works which most contributed to.
forming the national taste was the "Maxims" of La Rochefoucauld. But the
work of genius which in itself summed up the perfections of prose and
set the mould of language was Pascal's "Lettres Provinciales." The age
was characterised by the eloquence of Bossuet. The "Telemaque" of
Fenelon, the "Caracteres" of La Bruyere, were works of an order entirely
original and without precedent.
Racine, less original than Corneille, owes a still increasing reputation
to his unfailing elegance, correctness, and truth; he carried the tender
harmonies of poetry and the graces of language to their highest possible
perfection. These men taught the nation to think, to feel, and to
express itself. It was a curious stroke of destiny that made Moliere the
contemporary of Corneille and Racine. Of him I will venture to say that
he was the legislator of life's amenities; of his other merits it is
needless to speak.
The other arts--of music, painting, sculpture and architecture--had made
little progress in France before this period. Lulli introduced an order
of music hitherto unknown. Poussin was our first great painter in the
reign of Louis XIII.; he has had no lack of successors. French sculpture
has excelled in particular. And we must remark on the extraordinary
advance of England during this period. We can exhaust ourselves in
criticising Milton, but not in praising him. Dryden was equalled by no
contemporary, surpassed by no predecessor. Addison's "Cato" is the one
English tragedy of sustained beauty. Swift is a perfected Rabelais. In
science, Newton and Halley stand to-day supreme; and Locke is infinitely
the superior of Plato.
_VI.--Religion Under Louis XIV._
To preserve at once union with the see of Rome and maintain the
liberties of the Gallican Church--her ancient rights; to make the
bishops obedient as subjects without infringing on their rights as
bishops; to make them contribute to the needs of the state, without
trespassing on their privileges, required a mixture of dexterity which
Louis almost always showed. The one serious and protracted quarrel with
Rome arose over the royal claim to appoint bishops, and the papal
refusal to recognise the appointments. The French Assembly of the Clergy
supported the king; but the famous Four Resolutions of that body were
ultimately repudiated by the bishops personally, with the king's
Dogmatism is responsible for introducing among men the horror of wars of
religion. Following the Reformation, Calvinism was largely identified
with republican principles. In France, the fierce struggles of Catholics
and Huguenots were stayed by the accession of Henry IV.; the Edict of
Nantes secured to the former the privileges which their swords had
practically won. But after his time they formed an organisation which
led to further contests, ended by Richelieu.
Favoured by Colbert, to Louis the Huguenots were suspect as rebels who
had with difficulty been forced to submission. By him they were
subjected to constantly increasing disabilities. At last the Huguenots
disobeyed the edicts against them. Still harsher measures were adopted;
and the climax came in 1685 with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,
following on the "dragonnades" in Alsace. Protestantism was proscribed.
The effect was not the forcible conversion of the Calvinists. but their
wholesale emigration; the transfer to foreign states of an admirable
industrial and military population. Later, the people of the Cevennes
rose, and were put down with great difficulty, though Jean Cavalier was
their sole leader worthy the name. In fact, the struggle was really
ended by a treaty, and Cavalier died a general of France.
Calvinism is the parent of civil wars. It shakes the foundations of
states. Jansenism can excite only theological quarrels and wars of the
pen. The Reformation attacked the power of the Church; Jansenism was
concerned exclusively with abstract questions. The Jansenist disputes
sprang from problems of grace and predestination, fate and
free-will--that labyrinth in which man holds no clue.
A hundred years later Cornells Jansen, Bishop of Ypres, revived these
questions. Arnauld supported him. The views had authority from Augustine
and Chrysostom, but Arnauld was condemned. The two establishments of
Port Royal refused to sign the formularies condemning Jansen's book, and
they had on their side the brilliant pen of Pascal. On the other were
the Jesuits. Pascal, in the "Lettres Provinciales," made the Jesuits
ridiculous with his incomparable wit. The Jansenists were persecuted,
but the persecution strengthened them. But full of absurdities as the
whole controversy was to an intelligent observer, the crown, the
bishops, and the Jesuits were too strong for the Jansenists, especially
when Le Tellier became the king's confessor. But the affair was not
finally brought to a conclusion, and the opposing parties reconciled,
till after the death of Louis. Ultimately, Jansenism became merely
ridiculous. The fall of the Jesuits was to follow in due time.
* * * * *
The Old Regime
Born at Paris on July 29, 1805, Alexis Henri Charles Clerel de
Tocqueville came of an old Norman family which had
distinguished itself both in law and in arms. Educated for the
Bar, he proceeded to America in 1831 to study the penitentiary
system. Four years later he published "De la Democratie en
Amerique" (see Miscellaneous Literature), a work which created
an enormous sensation throughout Europe. De Tocqueville came
to England, where he married a Miss Mottley. He became a
member of the French Academy; was appointed to the Chamber of
Deputies, took an important part in public life, and in 1849
became vice-president of the Assembly, and Minister of Foreign
Affairs. His next work, "L'Ancien Regime" ("The Old Regime"),
translated under the title "On the State of Society in France
before the Revolution of 1789; and on the Causes which Led to
that Event," appeared in 1856. It is of the highest
importance, because it was the starting point of the true
conception of the Revolution. In it was first shown that the
centralisation of modern France was not the product of the
Revolution, but of the old monarchy, that the irritation
against the nobility was due, not to their power, but to their
lack of power, and that the movement was effected by masses
already in possession of property. De Tocqueville died at
Cannes on April 16, 1859.
_I.---The Last Days of Feudal Institutions_
The French people made, in 1789, the greatest effort which was ever
attempted by any nation to cut, so to speak, their destiny in halves,
and to separate by an abyss that which they had heretofore been from
that which they sought to become hereafter.
The municipal institutions, which in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries had raised the chief towns of Germany into rich and
enlightened small republics, still existed in the eighteenth; but they
were a mere semblance of the past.
All the powers of the Middle Ages which were still in existence seemed
to be affected by the same disease; all showed symptoms of the same
languor and decay.
Wherever the provincial assemblies had maintained their ancient
constitution unchanged, they checked instead of furthering the progress
Royalty no longer had anything in common with the royalty of the Middle
Ages; it enjoyed other prerogatives, occupied a different place, was
imbued with a different spirit, and inspired different sentiments; the
administration of the state spread in all directions upon the ruin of
local authorities; the organised array of public officers superseded
more and more the government of the nobles.
This view of the state of things, which prevailed throughout Europe as
well as within the boundaries of France, is essential to the
comprehension of what is about to follow, for no one who has seen and
studied France only can ever, I affirm, understand anything of the
What was the real object of the revolution? What was its peculiar
character? For what precise reason was it made, and what did it effect?
The revolution was not made, as some have supposed, in order to destroy
the authority of religious belief. In spite of appearances, it was
essentially a social and political revolution; and within the circle of
social and political institutions it did not tend to perpetuate and give
stability to disorder, or--as one of its chief adversaries has said--to
However radical the revolution may have been, its innovations were, in
fact, much less than have been commonly supposed, as I shall show
hereafter. What may truly be said is that it entirely destroyed, or is
still destroying--for it is not at an end--every part of the ancient
state of society that owed its origin to aristocratic and feudal
But why, we may ask, did this revolution, which was imminent throughout
Europe, break out in France rather than elsewhere? And why did it
display certain characteristics which have appeared nowhere else, or, at
least, have appeared only in part?
One circumstance excites at first sight surprise. The revolution, whose
peculiar object it was, as we have seen, everywhere to abolish the
remnant of the institutions of the Middle Ages, did not break out in the
countries in which these institutions, still in better preservation,
caused the people most to feel their constraint and their rigour, but,
on the contrary, in the countries where their effects were least felt;
so that the burden seemed most intolerable where it was in reality least
In no part of Germany, for instance, at the close of the eighteenth
century, was serfdom as yet completely abolished. Nothing of the kind
had existed in France for a long period of time. The peasant came, and
went, and bought and sold, and dealt and laboured as he pleased. The
last traces of serfdom could only be detected in one or two of the
eastern provinces annexed to France by conquest; everywhere else the
institution had disappeared. The French peasant had not only ceased to
be a serf; he had become an owner of land.
It has long been believed that the subdivision of landed property in
France dates from the revolution of 1789, and was only the result of
that revolution. The contrary is demonstrable by all the evidence.
The number of landed proprietors at that time amounted to one-half,
frequently to two-thirds, of their present number. Now, all these small
landowners were, in reality, ill at ease in the cultivation of their
property, and had to bear many charges, or easements, on the land which
they could not shake off.
Although what is termed in France the old regime is still very near to
us, few persons can now give an accurate answer to the question--How
were the rural districts of France administered before 1789?
In the eighteenth century all the affairs of the parish were managed by
a certain number of parochial officers, who were no longer the agents of
the manor or domain, and whom the lord no longer selected. Some of these
persons were nominated by the intendant of the province, others were
elected by the peasants themselves. The duty of these authorities was to
assess the taxes, to repair the church, to build schools, to convoke and
preside over the vestry or parochial meeting. They attended to the
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