« הקודםהמשך »
religion; her more natural province must ever be the scenes of domestic and social life: too elevated to take the lead in cabinets or camps, to appear in the bustle and ostentation of a court, or the tumults of a popular assembly, amid the struggles of political intrigue, or the vulgar pursuits of avarice and ambition, Religion must not be judged of by the pictures that appear of her in history. The form that is there seen is an earthly and counterfeit resemblance, which we must not mistake for the divine original.
HENRY IV. AND THE LOW COUNTRIES.
last lecture I made some remarks on the civil and religious wars of France, before and during the League. The reign of the celebrated Henry IV. forms the concluding part of this remarkable era.
The great historical French work, on the subject of his life and reign, is by Péréfixe ; but De Thou, Sully, Mably, l'Intrigue du Cabinet, with Wraxall, will be the best authors, as I conceive, to recommend to your attention. You may read Lacretelle; he is too favourable. You may in these works read the narrative of his eventful life. I cannot enter into it. A few general observations on the whole, is all that I can attempt to offer.
The situation of Henry, while mounting the throne of France, was so beset with difficulties, that as we read the history, we can scarcely imagine how he is ever to become successful, though we already know that such was the event. He was a Huguenot, and the nation could not therefore endure that he should be king; he had been leagued with Henry, the former king, while that prince was stained with the blood of the Duke of Guise, the great object of national admiration; he had a disputed title; an able and experienced general to oppose him in Mayenne, the brother of the murdered Guise, backed by a triumphant party, and by the furious Parisians. Lastly he was exposed to the hostile interference of one of the most consummate generals that ever appeared, the Duke of Parma, at the head of the Spanish infantry, then the first in the world.
It must be confessed that Henry, with some assistance from fortune, fairly, slowly, and laboriously, won and deserved his crown.
This part of the history is well given by Wraxall, from De Thou and others.
But Henry had not only to win the crown, but to wear it; not only to acquire, but preserve it.
Now the great lesson to be drawn from Henry's life, is, the wisdom of generous policy, the prudence of magnanimity. To these he owed his success. There was nothing narrow in his views, no ungovernable animosity that rankled in his memory: he forgot, he forgave, he offered favourable terms, he negotiated with all the fearless liberality of an elevated mind. The path of honourable virtue was here, as it always is, that of true policy, that of safety and happiness. The result was, that he was served by men who had been opponents and rebels, more faithfully than other princes have been by their favourites and dependents.
Henry has always been, and with some justice, the idol of the French nation. But in his private life two fatal passions reduce him (great as he was in public) to a level with his fellow mortals, and sometimes far below them.
It was in vain that the virtuous Sully remonstrated against his passion for play. Again, Henry seems never to have suspected that domestic comfort was only to be purchased by domestic virtue. In respect of the Princess of Condé such was his licentious nature, such the result, as is always the case, of the long indulgence of his passions, that he is, in this affair, as far as I can understand the history, very little to be distinguished from a mere violent and unprincipled tyrant.
The name of Henry IV. may remind us of a celebrated work, the Henriade of Voltaire. This extraordinary writer was allowed to be a poet by Gibbon, and an historian by Robertson. The poem will exhibit him in both capacities. It should be read immediately after reading the history of these times. Thus read, it will strike the judgment, and refresh the knowledge of the student, while it exercises his taste, and to a certain degree, animates his imagination. The work was considered by its author merely as a poem, and not a history; but it is now chiefly valuable for the descriptions which it gives of the great characters and events of these times, drawn with great beauty and force, and evidently by the pencil of a master. It will be found very entertaining, read in the way I propose. On the whole, the striking scenes of this celebrated period in French history (the period of the sixteenth century), attach powerfully on our attention; but we must never forget to remark those incidents which paint the manners, laws, and constitution of any people whose annals we are reading. Incidents of this kind may be found—many of them in De Thou, some in Davila, many more in very inferior authors, such as L'Etoile. Every information of this sort is collected with great diligence and propriety of selection by Wraxall: a large part of his work is very properly dedicated to the delineation of the arts, manners, commerce, government, and internal situation of society; first, under the later princes of the House of Valois, and secondly, during the reign of Henry IV.
This author does not seem to have studied the science of political economy with the same diligence which he has exerted in his more immediate department of history; and therefore his conclusions on these subjects must be read with great caution. The science seems to have been still more unknown to the statesmen and historians of France; it is therefore difficult to understand their reasonings, or benefit by their remarks, when such matters are touched upon.
The facts and anecdotes of these times, which Wraxall has collected, exhibit a most afflicting picture of licentiousness and vice. The historian is obliged to acknowledge, that, he can only find three virtues then in existence-courage, friendship, and what could be less expected, “ filial obedience;" a scanty catalogue, which it seems cannot be enlarged. Yet was this the age of religious wars! So much more easy it is to contend about religion, than to practise it.
The arts of luxury and splendour seem to have been fully displayed in the courts and castles of the great barons. The peasants and lower orders were, in the mean time, lost in wretchedness and ignorance, and debased by oppression. Even the higher orders themselves, amid all their costly excesses were exposed to many evils and inconveniences which we, of the present day, should consider as quite inconsistent with our personal comfort. So different is the wealth of a country from the riches of a court : so different the progress of the more costly arts, from the general improvement of society.
After the personal character of Henry, the events of his reign, and the manners of the times, have been considered, the last and great object of inquiry is the constitution of France. If this had received any improvement, however dreadful might have been the effects of these civil and religious wars in other respects, the prospect of future happiness to this great kingdom, would have been still open.
What, therefore, we ask, had been the fortunes of the states-general ? The answer may, unhappily, be given in the description in the Henriade :-“Inefficient assemblies where laws were proposed, rather than executed, and where abuses were detailed with eloquence, but not remedied.”
The public seem, indeed, to have felt the weight of taxes; and complaints and representations were made in these assemblies, which in this manner occasionally reached the throne itself. At two different periods, in 1576, and still more in 1588, an opportunity was offered of at least some effort for the general good, but in vain. The images of liberty had been too long withdrawn from the eyes of the nation; and no reasonable ideas on the subject seem to have been entertained by any leader or description of men in the state.
Even the religious reformers seem not in France to have felt in themselves, or to have endeavoured to excite in the minds of their countrymen, any of those principles of civil liberty, which so honourably distinguished them in other parts of Europe.
In the constitution of France, the only part of the system which the reader can fix upon, as yet of consequence to the cause of civil liberty, the only body from which any thing could yet be hoped, was the parliaments. These assemblies, particularly that of Paris, seem continually to have offered a sort of yielding resistance to the arbitrary power of the crown; to have been ever ready to assert privileges (to assert or create them) which might eventually be of decisive importance to the nation ; for instance, they acquired, or retained, the prerogative of registering the edicts of the king. In the exercise of this prerogative, a most important one, it is true they always accommodated themselves to the wishes of the monarch, whenever he insisted upon their