« ПредишнаНапред »
Although it cannot fail to be gratifying to the feelings of a descendant of Lord Russell to record the actions of so worthy an ancestor, I should hardly have undertaken the task without some view of general utility. The fame of Lord Russell might be safely left to the historians of all parties, who concur in his * praise; nor have the endeavours which have been lately made to detract from his merits, obtained sufficient notice from the public to require an answer. But in these times, when love of liberty is too generally supposed to be allied with rash innovation, impiety, and anarchy, it seems to me desirable to exhibit to the world,
* Burnet, Temple, Hume, &c.
at full length, the portrait of a man who, heir to wealth and title, was foremost in defending the privileges of the people: who, when busily occupied in the affairs of public life, was revered in his own family as the best of husbands and of fathers: who joined the truest sense of religion with the unqualified assertion of freedom: who, after an honest perseverance in a good cause, at length attested, on the scaffold, his attachment to the ancient principles of the constitution, and the unalienable right of resistance. Nor does it take away from the usefulness of such an attempt, that Lord Russell was sometimes led into error by credulity or party zeal: let others attempt, if they can, to avoid such mistakes; but let them, at the same time, confess, that the courage and perseverance of Lord Russell were amongst the chief causes of that Revolution to which we owe our present liberties.
There are some observations, however, which ought properly to precede this work, lest the reader should find the same disappointment in the perusal, which the author felt in the commencement of his enquiry.
What most contributes to render biography amusing, is a certain singularity, and some degree of forwardness and presumption in the hero.
But the character of Lord Russell was plain, sober, and unaffected: he was not endowed with brilliant talents, and he made no attempt to distinguish, either by speaking or writing, his own merit from that of the party with which he acted. He does not appear as an original proposer of any great measure; and he always inclined to the course which was the least striking and ambitious. Why, then, it may be said, obtrude upon the public an account of his life? I can truly answer, that after having written by far the greater part of this work, and laid it aside for nearly two years, my first impressions on reading it again were, that it could not, in this shape, be given to the world.
But other reflexions induced me to resume it.
The period to which the active life of Lord Russell belongs is one of great importance. From the year I67O to 1683 may be styled the middle of that great contest which, beginning in 1641, and ending in 1688, has been very properly called a revolution of half a century.
The sons of Charles the First had confident expectations of establishing an arbitrary monarchy in England; and, on the other side, there were many real patriots determined to surrender their liberties only with their lives.
At this period a struggle took place between the Crown and the Parliament, which ended in the complete victory of the former; and had not James attacked the church, as well as the constitution, would, probably, have led the way to despotism. The triumph of Charles the Second over his Parliament was scarcely less signal than that of the Parliament over his father, and, like it, sealed with blood. But it differs in one remarkable particular. Although Charles the Second was finally successful, all the laws enacted during the contest were in favour of the conquered party.
The history of this period, as Mr. Serjeant Heywood has remarked, has not yet been accurately written. Hume had finished his work before Sir John Dalrymple published the valuable dispatches of the French ministers in England; besides which, every reader must feel that his partiality to the house of Stuart greatly lessens the value of what he has written. Yet, even with these defects, such is his depth of thought, and beauty of style, that I cannot take up his book without wondering at my own presumption in describing events which have been related by so able an author.
A very different feeling arises in my mind on looking at the work of Sir John Dalrymple. At first one is inclined to believe, that his taste for bombast led to his numerous errors; but when it appears, as I think it does in the following pages, that there is not a single member of the Whig party of any note whom he has