תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

oath of fealty and homage ; but I,” says Joinville, “who was not his man, would not take the oath.”

This passage has been often quoted, to show that the under-vassals owed fidelity and homage to their own immediate lords only and exclusively, an important distinction, very favourable to disorder, &c.

XXXIII. In another passage notice is taken of what were called “the pleadings at the gate;" and the second dissertation from Du Cange, quoted by Mr. Johnes, exhibits concisely the natural progress of jurisprudence, from the first audience of complaints by the kings themselves, to the dispensation of justice by their governors and deputies ; the establishment of courts of justice in their palaces ; and lastly, the sub-division of the parliament, or great court of justice, into different courts or chambers.

Again, in the instructions of St. Louis to his son, given by Joinville, the king says, “ Maintain such liberties and franchises as thy ancestors have done; for by the riches and power of thy principal towns thy enemies will be afraid of affronting or attacking thee, more especially thy equals—the barons or such like."

These last words illustrate and enforce the reasonings of philosophical writers on these times.

In the narrative of Joinville we see the readiness and confidence with which the crusaders converted every operation of the general laws of the Deity into marks of the particular interference of heaven.

This has always been one of the characteristics of enthusiasm.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

I

HAVE hitherto said nothing of England. Yet has Eng

land a dearer claim on our curiosity and attention, and its history, and more particularly its constitutional history, must be considered with more diligence and patience, than can possibly be directed to those of any other country.

The first authentic notice which we have of the inhabitants of this island, is honourable to their memory: they were attacked by the first man of the first nation then in the world ; they resisted, and were not subdued. The account is given by Cæsar himself, and what Cæsar delivers to posterity, however short, cannot but be deserving of our observation.

Further information with respect to the Britons may be afterwards collected from Suetonius; and the gradual successes of the Roman commanders will be found in Tacitus. In his life of Agricola the subject is closed; all further contest is at an end. But the speech, which is there attributed to Galgacus, when once read, can never be forgotten: the great historian has here displayed the rare merit of a mind elevated in the cause of justice above every domestic partiality and national prejudice. When he exhibits the cause which called the Caledonians to the field, he is no longer the son-in-law of the Roman general, nor the countryman of the Roman people; he is the assertor of all the generous principles of our nature ; he is the protector of humanity, and he discharges with fidelity and spirit the noble office, the great duty of the historian, by exhibiting to our sympathy the wrongs of unoffending freedom.

The Romans were indeed successful, and the independence of Britain was no more. But the sentiments which must have animated these last defenders of their country still breathe in the immortal pages of this celebrated writer; and the virtues of the Caledonians are now for ever united to the taste and feelings of mankind.

Another melancholy scene succeeds. The Romans retire from the island, and the Britons, deprived of their protection, are insulted and overpowered by every invader. The Romans had long inured them to a sense of inferiority. The country had been partly civilized and improved, but the mind of the country had been destroyed. The Britons had lost the rude virtues of barbarians, but had not acquired that sense of honour and consciousness of political happiness, which do more than supply their place in the character of civilized man. They had not felt the influence of a government which themselves could share. They were unable to make head against their enemies; and they exhibited to the world that lesson, which has been so often repeated, that a country can never be defended by a population that has been, on whatever account, degraded ; that they who are to resist an invader must first be moulded by equal laws and the benefits of a free government into a due sense of national pride and individual importance ; and that men cannot be formed into heroes on the principles of suspicion and injustice.

It is true, that the Britons made a better resistance to their invaders than could have been expected. There may be much exaggeration and vague lamentation, as Mr. Turner supposes, in the representations of Gildas, on which Bede, and after him our historian Hume relied; but the independence of the island must at last have been lost from the destructive effect of such general principles as I have stated.

The next era in our history exhibits the total subjugation of Britain by the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons. These were northern nations; and we are thus brought, with respect to England, exactly to the same point from whence we set out in examining the history of Europe, the conquest of the northern nations.

Again, we must observe the particular circumstances of the Norman Conquest which followed. This conquest gave occasion to the establishment of the feudal system in all its rigours. The pope had also extended his empire to this remote island. So that in England, as in the rest of Europe, we have the feudal system and the papal power; and these were, in the instance of our own country, as in the rest of Europe (without stopping to notice some fortunate peculiarities in our case, or some advantages concomitant with these evils), the great impediments to the improvement of human happiness.

The subject of English history now lies before us from the expulsion of the Romans to the time of Henry VIII.

I cannot occupy you in listening here to such information as I might collect for you from books. You must read the books. I will observe upon them, and upon the subject before us, but I can do no more. The whole subject may be evidently distinguished into two great divisions.

The fate and fortunes of the different monarchs, barons, and remarkable men that appear in our annals.

And the fate and fortunes of the constitution of England.

The latter is the great subject for you to study. The first, indeed, you ought to know, and may readily know; but the second not so readily: the first is chiefly of importance, as connected with the latter. In a word, there are before you the facts of the history, and the philosophy of the history. You will soon learn the one,

but

you must endeavour to understand the other.

Having thus given you my general notion of what you are to attempt to do, I will describe to you the best and shortest means you can use for the purpose. You must read, then, and compare Hume and Rapin, and study Millar on the English Constitution. Bear away, then, this general impression from this lecture, that it is the constitutional history of your country which is the great subject before you, and that Hume, Rapin, and Millar are to be your authors.

That the subject cannot be contracted for you into any shorter compass than this ; but to these, which I originally mentioned, I must now add the invaluable History of Mr. Hallam, and that no one who has been admitted to the benefits of a regular education, can be pardoned if he do not exert himself at least to this extent.

But when England is the subject, most of you may be disposed to take any pains, that can be thought necessary, to inform yourselves of its constitutional history; and it is to those, therefore, that I shall now, for some time, address myself; to those who are ready to study the constitutional history of their country more thoroughly.

In the first place, then, Priestley’s Lectures, and Nicholson's Historical Library, will give you an account of all books and sources of information belonging to English history.

Of the Saxon law, what now can be known has been collected by different antiquarians, and edited more particularly by Wilkins.

You may also estimate this part of the subject from the first appendix of Hume. This appendix will be sufficient for the general reader.

Mr. Turner has published some volumes containing many particulars which the student will not readily find elsewhere, and he will, from the text and from the notes, sufficiently comprehend what is the knowledge, which the study of the Saxon language and Saxon antiquities would furnish him with.

Mr. Turner is often capable of affording his reader valuable topics of reflection; but, though apparently a most patient antiquarian, his imagination is so active, that his style is unexpectedly loaded with metaphors, to a degree that is not only inconsistent with historic composition, but with all composition. Very extensive reading is displayed ; and, on the whole, the work may be consulted with advantage. There is nothing said of the laws of Edward the Confessor, a strange omission; nor of the rise of the English House of Commons, though Mr. Turner evidently conceives that the commons formed no part of the wittena gemote.

Mr. Turner has, since I wrote this paragraph, published three quarto volumes on the English history, from William I. to Henry VIII. He is an antiquarian, as I have mentioned, and whatever a man, who looks into original records, publishes, must be more or less of importance. Mr. Turner often gives his reader the impression of an amiable man, rather than one of a very superior understanding; yet many curious particulars may be collected, and much instruction may be derived from his learned and often amusing work.

This lecture was drawn up many years ago, in the years

« הקודםהמשך »