תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

Lecture the Forty-Fourth.

DAVID HUME-WILLIAM ROBERTSON-EDWARD GIBBON-WILLIAM TYTLER-ROB

ERT HENRY-GILBERT STUART, ADAM FERGUSON—ROBERT ORME-ROBERT WATSON-DAVID DALRYMPLE-LORD HAILES-JOHN WHITTAKER-WILLIAM RUSSELL-LORD GEORGE LYTTLETON.

\HOUGH much that is valuable and even elegant, appeared in the writ

ings of some of the early English historians, yet a spirit of philosophical inquiry and reflection, united to the graces of literary composition, can scarcely be said to have been presented by any historical writer in the language previous to the appearance of that illustrious triumvirate-Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon. The materials for such composition were now, however, abundantly prepared : in 1706, a 'Complete History of England was published, containing a collection of various works previous to the time of Charles the First, and a continuation by White Kennet, bishop of Peterborough. M. Rapin, a French Protestant, who had gone over to England with the Prince of Orange, and resided there several years, became much interested in English affairs, and on retiring to the Hague, he composed a voluminous history of the country, in French, which was soon translated into English, and enjoyed great popularity. This work is still considered valuable; and it possesses a property which no English author had hitherto given to a similar narration, that of impartiality : it wants, however, literary attractions. Rapin died in 1725. A more laborious, exact, and original historian, appeared at this time in Thomas Carte, whom we have already noticed. Nathaniel Hooke, who died in 1764, was the author of a Roman History of very considerable merit, extending from the building of Rome to the downfall of the commonwealth.

The historical collections of Carte are of such authority as to have been implicitly depended upon by all succeeding historians treating of events in English history; and Hume, relying upon these, and animated by a strong love of literary fame, left his philosophical studies to embark in historical composition. He had already rendered himself master of a style singularly fascinating, simple, and graceful; and he was therefore well fitted for the task upon which he had resolved to enter.

DAVID HUME was the second son of the laird of Ninewells, Dear Dunse, in Berwickshire, and was born in Edinburgh, on the twenty-sixth of April, 1711. After attending the university of Edinburgh, his friends were anxious that he should commence the study of the law, but a love of literature rendered him averse to this profession. An attempt was then made to establish him in business, and he was placed in a mercantile house in Bristol. This employment he found equally uncongenial, and he, therefore, left it and removed to France, where he passed some years in literary retirement, living with the utmost frugality and care on the small allowance which his family afforded him. He returned in 1737 to publish his first philosophical work, the Treatise on Human Nature, which 'fell dead-born from the press. In 1742, he produced two volumes, entitled Essays Moral and Philosophical. The chief recommendation of these miscellaneous productions, is the elegance of their style. In 1745, he assumed the care of the Marquis of Annandale, a young nobleman of deranged intellect; and after having continued in this humiliating employment about a year, he made an unsuccessful attempt to be appointed professor of moral philosophy in his native university. He afterwards became secretary to Lieutenant General St. Clair, and accompanied that gentleman on his embassy to the courts of Vienná and Turin. In the latter, Hume enjoyed congenial and refined society.

In 1752, Hume issued two volumes of Political Discourses ; and with a view to promote his studies, assumed, gratuitously, the office of librarian of the Faculty of Advocates. As Hume's skeptical views marred the success of his philosophical works, he now, as already intimated, turned his attention to historical writing, and in 1754, appeared the first volume of his History of Great Britain, containing the reigns of James the First, and Charles the First. This publication was so unsuccessful, that the author, through mortification, resolved to retire into France, change his name, and never more return to his native country. A second volume of the history was published, with more success, in 1757; and a third and fourth in 1759; and the two last, three years after. The work now became highly popular; edition followed edition; and by universal consent, Hume was placed at the head of English historians.

In 1763, our author accompanied the Earl of Hertford on his embassy to Paris, where he was received with marked distinction ; and in 1766, he returned to Scotland, and became under secretary of state, a situation which he held two years. With an annual revenue of a thousand pounds, he at length retired to his native city, where he continued to reside, in habits of intimacy, with his literary friends, till his death, which occurred on the twenty-fifth of August, 1776.

Hume's easy good-humored disposition, his literary fame, his extensive knowledge, and respectable rank in society, rendered his company always agreeable and interesting, even to those who were most decidedly opposed to the tone of atheism which pervades all his writings. His opinions were, however, never obtruded upon his friends; he threw out dogmas for the

learned, not food for the multitude. His philosophical works are now little read; but his history, though not a work of high authority, is one of the most easy, elegant, and interesting narratives in the language. The striking parts of his subject are related with picturesque and dramatic force; and his dissertations on the state of parties, and the tendency of particular events, are remarkable for the philosophical tone in which they are conceived and written. He was too indolent to be exact; too indifferent to sympathize heartily with any political party; too skeptical in matters of religion to appreciate justly the full force of religious principles in directing the course of public events. An enemy to all turbulence and enthusiasm, he naturally leaned to the side of settled government, even when it was united to arbitrary power; and though he could shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles the First, and the Earl of Strafford,' the struggles of his poor countrymon for conscience sake against the tyranny of the Stuarts, excited in him no other feelings than those of ridicule or contempt. He could even forget the merits and exaggerate the faults of the accomplished and chivalrous Raleigh, to shelter the sordid injustice of a weak and contemptible sovereign. No hatred of oppression burns through his pages. The careless epicurean repose of the philosopher was not disturbed by any visions of liberty, or any ardent aspirations for the improvement of mankind. And yet, in his personal character, Hume was not a slavish worshiper of power, but was both liberal and independent. From the beauties with which his writings abound, we select the following passages :

DELICACY OF TASTE. Nothing is so improving to the temper as the study of the beauties either of poetry, eloquence, music, or painting. They give a certain elegance of sentiment to which the rest of mankind are strangers. The emotions which they excite are soft and tender. They draw off the mind from the hurry of business and interest; cherish reflections; dispose to tranquillity; and produce an agreeable melancholy, which, of all dispositions of the mind, is the best suited to love and friendship. In the second place, a delicacy of taste is favourable to love and friendship, by confining our choice to few people, and making us indifferent to the company and conversation of the greater part of men. You will seldom find that mere men of the world, whatever strong sense they may be endowed with, are very nice in distinguishing characters, or in marking those insensible differences and gradations which make one man preferable to another. Any one that has competent sense is sufficient for their entertainment; they talk to him of their pleasures and affairs with the same frankness that they would to another; and finding many who are fit to supply his place, they never feel any vacancy or want in his absence. But, to make use of the allusion of a celebrated French author, the judgment may be compared to a clock or watch where the most ordinary machine is sufficient to tell the hours, but the most elaborate alone can point out the minutes and seconds, and distinguish the smallest differences of time. One that has well digested his knowledge, both of books and men, has little enjoyment but in the company of a few select companions. He feels too sensibly how much all the rest of mankind fall short of the notions which he has entertained; and his affections being thus confined within a narrow circle, no wonder he caries them further than if they were more general and undistinguished. The

gaiety and frolic of a bottle companion improves with him into a solid friendship; and the ardour of a youthful appetite becomes an elegant passion.

DEATH AND CHARACTER OF QUEEN ELIZABETH. Some incidents happened which revived her tenderness for Essex, and filled her with the deepest sorrow for the consent which she had unwarily given to his execution.

The earl of Essex, after his return from the fortunate expedition against Cadiz, observing the increase of the queen's fond attachment towards him, took occasion to regret that the necessity of her service required him often to be absent from her person, and exposed him to all those ill offices which his enemies, more assiduous in their attendance, could employ against him. She was moved with this tender jealousy; and making him the present of a ring, desired him to keep that pledge of her affection, and assured him that into whatever disgrace he should fall, whatever prejudice she might be induced to entertain against him, yet if he sent her that ring, she would immediately, upon sight of it, recall her former tenderness, would afford him a patient hearing, and would lend a favourable ear to his apology. Essex, notwithstanding all bis misfortunes, reserved this precious gift to the last extremity; but after his trial and condemnation, he resolved to try the experiment, and he committed the ring to the Countess of Nottingham, whom he desired to deliver it to the queen. The countess was prevailed on by her husband, the mortal enemy of Essex, not to execute the commission ; and Elizabeth, who still expected that her favourite would make this last appeal to her tenderness, and who ascribed the neglect of it to his invincible obstinacy, was, after much delay and many internal combats, pushed by resentment and policy to sign the warrant for his execution. The Countess of Nottingham falling into sickness, and affected with the near approach of death, was seized with remorse for her conduct; and having obtained a visit from the queen, she craved her pardon, and revealed to her the fatal secret. The queen, astonished with this incident, burst into a furious passion: she shook the dying countess in her bed; and crying to her that God might pardon her, but she never could, she broke from her, and thenceforth resigned herself over to the deepest and most incurable melancholy. She rejected all consolation: she even refused food and sustenance; and, throwing herself on the floor, she remained.sullen and immovable, feeding her thoughts on her afflictions, and declaring life and existence an insufferable burden to her. Few words she uttered; and they were all expressive of some inward grief which she cared not to reveal : but sighs and groans were the chief vent which she gave to her despondency, and which, though they discovered her sorrows, were never able to ease or assuage them. Ten days and nights she lay upon the carpet, leaning on cushions which her maids brought her; and her physicians could not persuade her to allow herself to be pat to bed, much less to make trial of any remedies which they prescribed to her. Her anxious mind at last had so long preyed on her frail body, that her end was visibly approaching; and the council being assembled, sent the keeper, admiral, and secretary, to know her will with regard to her successor. She answered with a faint voice that as she had held a regal sceptre, she desired no other than a royal successor. Cecil requested her to explain herself more particularly, she subjoined that she would have a king to succeed her; and who should that be but her nearest kinsman, the king of Scots ? Being then advised by the archbishop of Canterbury to fix her thoughts upon God, she replied that she did so, nor did her mind in the least wander from him. Her voice soon after left her; her senses failed; she fell into a lethargic slumber, which continued some hours, and she expired gently, without farther struggle or convulsion (March 24), in the seventieth year of her age and forty-fifth of her reign.

So dark a cloud overcast the evening of that day, which had shone out with a mighty lustre in the eyes of all Europe. There are few great personages in history

who have been more exposed to the calumny of enemies and the adulations of friends than Queen Elizabeth; and yet there is scarcely any whose reputation has been more certainly determined by the unanimous consent of posterity. The unusual length of her administration, and the strong features of her character, were able to overcome all prejudices; and obliging her detractors to abate much of their invectives, and her admirers somewhat of their panegyrics, have, at last, in spite of political factions, and what is more, of religious animosities, produced a uniform judgment with regard to her conduct. Her vigour, her constancy, her magnanimity, her penetration, vigilance, and address, are allowed to merit the highest praises, and appear not to have been surpassed by any person that ever filled the throne: a conduct less rigorous, less imperious, more sincere, more indulgent to her people, would have been requisite to form a perfect character. By the force of her mind she controlled all her more active and stronger qualities, and prevented them from running into excess: her heroism was exempt from temerity, her frugality from avarice, her friendship from partiality, her active temper from turbulency and vain ambition : she guarded not herself with equal care or equal success from lesser infirmities; the rivalship of beauty, the desire of admiration, the jealousy of love, and the sallies of anger.

Her singular talents for government were founded equally on her temper and on her capacity. Endowed with a great command over herself, she soon obtained an uncontrolled ascendant over her people; and while she merited all their esteem by her real virtues, she also engaged their affections by her pretended ones. Few sovereigns of England succeeded to the throne in more difficult circumstances; and none ever conducted the government with such uniform success and felicity. Though unacquainted with the practice of toleration--the true secret for managing religious factions—she preserved her people, by her superior prudence, from those confusions in which theological controversy had involved all the neighbouring nations: and though her enemies were the most powerful princes of Europe, the most active, the most enterprising, the least scrupulous, she was able by her vigour to make deep impressions on their states; her own greatness meanwhile remained untouched and unimpaired.

The wise ministers and brave warriors who flourished under her reign, share the praise of her success; but instead of lessening the applause due to her, they make great additions to it. They owed, all of them, their advancement to her choice; they were supported by her constancy, and with all their abilities, they were never able to acquire any undue ascendant over her. In her family, in her court, in her kingdom, she remained equally mistress: the force of the tender passions was great over her, but the force of her mind was still superior; and the combat which her victory visibly cost her, serves only to display the firmness of her resolution, and the loftiness of her ambitious sentiments.

The fame of this princess, though it has surmounted the prejudices both of faction and bigotry, yet lies still exposed to another prejudice, which is more durable because more natural, and which, according to the different views in which we survey her, is capable either of exalting beyond measure or diminishing the lustre of her character. This prejudice is founded on the consideration of her sex. When we contemplate her as a woman, we are apt to be struck with the highest admiration of her great qualities and extensive capacity; but we are also apt to require some more softness of disposition, some greater lenity of temper, some of those amiable weaknesses by which her sex is distinguished. But the true method of estimating her merit is to lay aside all the considerations, and consider her merely as a rational being placed in authority, and intrusted with the government of mankind. We may find it difficult to reconcile our fancy to her as a wife or a mistress; but her qualities as a sovereign, though with some considerable exceptions, are the objects of undisputed applause and approbation,

« הקודםהמשך »