Augustine Birrell.

Andrew Marvell online

. (page 9 of 19)
Online LibraryAugustine BirrellAndrew Marvell → online text (page 9 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

place of the same speech _Serenitas_, speaking of his Tzarskoy
Majesty: and I would have used _Serenissimus_ an hundred times
concerning his Tzarskoy Majesty, had I thought it would have pleased
Him better. And I dare promise You that his Majesty will upon the
first information from me stile him _Serenissimus_, and I
(notwithstanding what I have said) shall make little difficulty of
altering the word in that speech, and of delivering it so to You,
with that protestation that I have not in using that word
_Illustrissimus_ erred nor used any diminution (which God forbid) to
his Tzarskoy Majesty, but on the contrary after the example of the
King my Master intended and shewed him all possible honor. And so God
grant all happiness to His most high, most Potent, most Illustrious,
and most Serene Tzarskoy Majesty, and that the friendship may daily
increase betwixt His said Majesty and his most Serene Majesty my

On the 19th of February the Tsar invited Lord Carlisle and his suite to
a dinner, which, beginning at two o'clock, lasted till eleven, when it
was prematurely broken up by the Tsar's nose beginning to bleed. Five
hundred dishes were served, but there were no napkins, and the
table-cloths only just covered the boards. There were Spanish wines,
white and red mead, Puaz and strong waters. The English ambassador was
not properly placed at table, not being anywhere near the Tsar, and his
faithful suite shared his resentment. Time went on, but no diplomatic
progress was made. The Tsar would not renew the privileges of the
British merchants; Easter was spent in Moscow, May also - and still
nothing was done. Carlisle, in a huff, determined to go away, and,
somewhat to the distress of his followers, refused to accept the costly
sables sent by the Tzar, not only to the ambassador, Lady Carlisle, and
Lord Morpeth, but to the secretaries and others. The Tzar thereupon
returned the plate which our king had sent him, which plate Lord
Carlisle seems to have appropriated, no doubt with diplomatic
correctness, as his perquisite in lieu of the sables; but the suite got

The embassy left Moscow on the 24th of June for Novgorod and Riga, and
after visiting Stockholm and Copenhagen, Lord Carlisle and Marvell
reached London on the 30th of January 1665.

During Marvell's absence war had been declared with the Dutch. It was
never difficult to go to war with the Dutch. The king was always in want
of money, and as no proper check existed over war supplies, he took what
he wanted out of them. The merchants on 'Change desired war, saying that
the trade of the world was too little for both England and Holland, and
that one or the other "must down." The English manufacturers, who felt
the sting of their Dutch competitors, were always in favour of war. Then
the growing insolence of the Dutch in the Indies was not to be borne.
Stories were circulated how the Hollanders had proclaimed themselves
"Lords of the Southern Seas," and meant to deny English ships the right
of entry in that quarter of the globe. A baronet called on Pepys and
pulled out of his pocket letters from the East Indies, full of sad tales
of Englishmen having been actually thrashed inside their own factory at
Surat by swaggering Dutchmen, who had insulted the flag of St. George,
and swore they were going to be the masters "out there." Pepys, who
knew a little about the state of the royal navy, listened sorrowfully
and was content to hope that the war would not come until "we are more
ready for it."

In the House of Commons the prudent men were against the war, and were
at once accused of being in the pay of the Dutch. The king's friends
were all for the war, and nobody doubted that some of the money voted
for it would find its way into their pockets, or at all events that
pensions would reward their fidelity. A third group who favoured the war
were supposed to do so because their disloyalty and fanaticism always
disposed them to trouble the waters in which they wished to fish.

The war began in November 1664, and on the 24th of that month the king
opened Parliament and demanded money. He got it. Clarendon describes how
Sir Robert Paston from Norfolk, a back-bench man, "who was no frequent
speaker, but delivered what he had a mind to say very clearly," stood up
and proposed a grant of two and a half million pounds, to be spread over
three years. So huge a sum took the House by surprise. Nobody spoke;
"they sat in amazement." Somebody at last found his voice and moved a
much smaller sum, but no one seconded him. Sir Robert Paston ultimately
found supporters, "no man who had any relation to the Court speaking a
word." The Speaker put Sir Robert Paston's motion as the question, "and
the affirmative made a good sound, and very few gave their negative
aloud." But Clarendon adds, "it was notorious very many sat silent."

The war was not in its early stages unpopular, being for the control of
the sea, for the right of search, for the fishing trade, for mastery of
the "gorgeous East." The Admiralty had been busy, and a hundred
frigates, well gunned, were ready for the blue water by February 1665.
The Duke of York, who took the command, was a keen sailor, though his
unhappy notions as to patronage, and its exercise, were fatal to an
efficient service. On the 3rd of June the duke had his one victory; it
was off the roadstead of Harwich, and the roar of his artillery was
heard in Westminster. It was a fierce fight; the king's great friend,
Charles Berkeley, just made a peer and about to be made a duke, Lord
Muskerry and young Richard Boyle, all on the duke's ship the _Royal
Charles_, were killed by one shot, their blood and brains flying in the
duke's face. The Earls of Marlborough and Portland were killed. The
gallant Lawson, who rose from the ranks in Cromwell's time, an
Anabaptist and a Republican, but still in high command, received on
board his ship, the _Royal Oak_, a fatal wound. On the other side the
Dutch admiral, Opdam, was blown into the air with his ship and crew. The
Dutch fleet was scattered, and fled, after a loss estimated at
twenty-four ships and eight thousand men killed and wounded; England
lost no ship and but six hundred men.

The victory was not followed up. Some say the duke lost nerve. Tromp was
allowed to lead a great part of the fleet away in safety, and when the
great De Ruyter was recalled from the West Indies he was soon able to
assume the command of a formidable number of fighting craft.

In less than ten days after this great engagement the plague appeared in
London, a terrible and a solemnising affliction, lasting the rest of the
year. It was at its worst in September, when in one week more than seven
thousand died of it. The total number of its dead is estimated at
sixty-eight thousand five hundred and ninety-six.

On account of the plague Parliament was summoned to meet at Oxford in
October 1665.

Marvell must have reached Oxford in good time, for the Admission Book of
the Bodleian records his visit to the library on the last day of
September. His first letter from Oxford is dated 15th October, and in it
he tells the corporation that the House, "upon His Majesty's
representation of the necessity of further supplies in reference to the
Dutch War and probability of the French embracing their interests, hath
voted the King £1,250,000 additional to be levied in two years." The
king, who was the frankest of mortals in speech, though false as Belial
in action, told the House that he had already spent all the money
previously voted and must have more, especially if France was to prefer
the friendship of Holland to his. Amidst loud acclamations the money was
voted. The French ambassadors, who were in Oxford, saw for themselves
the temper of Parliament.

Notwithstanding the terrible plight of the capital, Oxford was gaiety
itself. The king was accompanied by his consort, who then was hopeful of
an heir, and also by Lady Castlemaine and Miss Stewart. Lady Castlemaine
did not escape the shaft of University wit, for a stinging couplet was
set up during the night on her door, for the discovery of the authorship
of which a reward of £1000 was offered. It may very well have been

The Duke of Monmouth gave a ball to the queen and her ladies, where,
after the queen's retirement, "Mrs. Stewart was extraordinary merry,"
and sang "French songs with great skill."[116:2]

Ten Acts of Parliament received the royal assent at Oxford, of which
but one is still remembered in certain quarters - the Five Mile Act,
which Marvell briefly describes as an Act "for debarring ejected
Nonconformists from living in or near Corporations (where they had
formerly pursued their callings), unless taking the new Oath and
Declaration." Parliament was prorogued at the end of October.

Another visitation of Providence was soon to befall the capital. On
Sunday morning, the 2nd of September, Pepys was aroused by one of his
maid-servants at 3 A.M. to look at a fire. He could not make out much
about it and went to bed again, but when he rose at seven o'clock it was
still burning, so he left his house and made his way to the Tower, from
whence he saw London Bridge aflame, and describes how the poor pigeons,
loth to leave their homes, fluttered about the balconies, until with
singed wings they fell into the flames. After gazing his fill he went to
Whitehall and had an interview with the king, who at once ordered his
barge and proceeded downstream to his burning City, and to the
assistance of a distracted Lord Mayor.

The fire raged four days, and made an end of old London, a picturesque
and even beautiful City. St. Paul's, both the church and the school, the
Royal Exchange, Ludgate, Fleet Street as far as the Inner Temple, were
by the 7th of the month smoking ruins. Four hundred streets, eighty-nine
churches (just a church an hour, so the curious noted), warehouses
unnumbered with all their varied contents, whole editions of books,
valuable and the reverse of valuable, were wiped out of existence. Rents
to an enormous amount ceased to be represented any longer by the houses
that paid them. How was the king to get his chimney-money? How were
merchants to meet their obligations? The parsons on Sunday, the 9th of
September, ought to have had no difficulty in finding texts for their
sermons. Pepys went to church twice, but without edification, and
certainly Dean Harding, whom he heard complaining in the evening "that
the City had been reduced from a folio to a duo decimo," hardly rose to
the dignity of the occasion.

Strange to say, not a life was actually lost in the fire,[118:1] though
some old Londoners (among them Edmund Calamy's grandfather) died of
grief, and others (and among them Shirley the dramatist and his wife)
from exposure and exhaustion. One hysterical foreigner, who insisted
that he lit the flame, was executed, though no sensible man believed
what he said. It was long the boast of the merchants of London that no
one of their number "broke" in consequence of the great fire.

Unhappily the belief was widespread, as that "tall bully," the monument,
long testified, that the fire was the work of the Roman Catholics, and
aliens, suspected of belonging to our old religion, found it dangerous
to walk the streets whilst the embers still smoked, which they continued
to do for six months.

The meeting of Parliament was a little delayed in consequence of this
national disaster, and when it did meet at the end of the month, Marvell
reports the appointment of two Committees, one "about the Fire of
London," and the other "to receive informations of the insolence of the
Popish priests and Jesuits, and of the increase of Popery." The latter
Committee almost at once reported to the House, to quote from Marvell's
letter of the 27th of October, "that his Majesty be desired to issue out
his proclamation that all Popish priests and Jesuits, except such as not
being natural-born subjects, or belong to the Queen Mother and Queen
Consort, be banished in thirty days or else the law be executed upon
them, that all Justices of Peace and officers concerned put the laws in
execution against Papists and suspected Papists in order to their
execution, and that all officers, civil or military, not taking the
Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance within twenty days be displaced."

In a very real sense the great fire of London continued to smoke for
many a weary year, and to fill the air with black suspicions and civil

Parliament had not sat long before it was discovered that a change had
taken place in its temper and spirit. The plague and the fire had
contributed to this change. The London clergy had not exhibited great
devotion during the former affliction. Many of the incumbents deserted
their flocks, and their empty pulpits had been filled by zealots, who
preached "Woe unto Jerusalem." The profligacy of the Court, and the
general decay of manners, when added to the severity of the legislation
against the Nonconformists, gave the ejected clergy opportunities for a
renewal of their spiritual ministrations, and as usual their labours,
_pro salute animarum_, aroused political dissatisfaction. Some of the
more outrageous supporters of the royal prerogative, the renegade May
among them, professed to see in the fire a punishment upon the spirit of
freedom, for which the City had once been famous, and urged the king not
to suffer it to be rebuilt again "to be a bit in his mouth and a bridle
upon his neck, but to keep it all open," and that his troops might enter
whenever he thought necessary, "there being no other way to govern that
rude multitude but by force."

Rabid nonsense of this kind had no weight with the king, who never
showed his native good sense more conspicuously than in the pains he
took over the rebuilding of London; but none the less it had its effect
in getting rid once and for ever of that spirit of excessive (besotted
is Hallam's word) loyalty which had characterised the Restoration.

The king, of course, wanted money, nor was Parliament disposed to refuse
it, we being still at war with Holland; but to the horror of that
elderly pedant, Lord Clarendon, the Commons passed a Bill appointing a
commission of members of both Houses "to inspect" - I am now quoting
Marvell - "and examine thoroughly the former expense of the £2,800,000,
of the £1,250,000 of the Militia money, of the prize goods, etc." In an
earlier letter Marvell attributes the new temper of Parliament, "not to
any want of ardour to supply the public necessities, but out of our
House's sense also of the burden to be laid upon the subject." Clarendon
was so alarmed that he advised a dissolution. Charles was alarmed, too,
knowing well that both Carteret, the Treasurer of the Navy, and Lord
Ashley, the Treasurer of the Prize Money, issued out many sums upon the
king's warrant, for which no accounts could be produced, but he was
still more frightened of a new Parliament. In the present Parliament he
had, so Clarendon admits, "a hundred members of his own menial servants
and their near relations." The bishops were also against a dissolution,
dreading the return of Presbyterian members, so Clarendon's advice was
not followed, and the king very reluctantly consented to the commission,
about which Pepys has so much to say. It did not get appointed at once,
but when it did Pepys rejoices greatly that its secretary, Mr. Jessopp,
was "an old fashioned Cromwell man"; in other words, both honest and

The shrewd Secretary of the Navy Office here puts his finger on the
real plague-spot of the Restoration. Our Puritan historians write rather
loosely about "the floodgates of dissipation," etc., having been flung
open by that event as if it had wrought a sudden change in human nature.
Mr. Pepys, whose frank Diary begins during the Protectorate, underwent
no such change. He was just the same sinner under Cromwell as he was
under Charles. Sober, grave divines may be found deploring the growing
profligacy of the times long before the 29th of May 1660. An era of
extravagance was evidently to be expected. No doubt the king's return
assisted it. No country could be anything but the worse for having
Charles the Second as its "most religious King." The Restoration of the
Stuarts was the best "excuse for a glass" ever offered to an Englishman.
He availed himself of it with even more than his accustomed freedom. But
it cannot be said that the king's debauchery was ever approved of even
in London. Both the mercurial Pepys and the grave Evelyn alike deplore
it. The misfortune clearly attributable to the king's return was the
substitution of a corrupt, inefficient, and unpatriotic administration
for the old-fashioned servants of the public whom Cromwell had gathered
round him.

Parliament was busy with new taxes. In November 1666 Marvell writes: -

"The Committee has prepared these votes. All persons shall pay one
shilling per poll, all aliens two, all Nonconformists and papists
two, all servants one shilling in the pound of their wages, all
personal estates shall pay for so much as is not already taxed by the
land-tax, after twenty shillings in the hundred. Cattle, corn, and
household furniture shall be excepted, and all such stock-in-trade as
is already taxed by the land-tax, but the rest to be liable."

Stringent work! Later on we read: -

"Three shillings in the pound for all offices and public employments,
except military; lawyers and physicians proportionate to their

Here is the income-tax long before Mr. Pitt.

The House of Lords, trembling on the verge of a breach of privilege,
altered this Poll Bill. Marvell writes in January 1667: -

"We have not advanced much this week; the alterations of the Lords
upon the Poll Bill have kept us busy. We have disagreed in most.
Aliens we adhere to pay double. Nonconformists we agree with them
_not_ to pay double (126 to 91), to allow no exemptions from patents
to free from paying, we adhere; and we also rejected a long clause
whereby they as well as the Commoners pretend distinctly to give to
the King, and to-day we send up our reasons."

The Lords agreed, and the Bill passed.

Ireland supplied a very stormy measure. I am afraid Marvell was on the
wrong side, but owing to his reserve I am not sure. An Irish Cattle Bill
was a measure very popular in the House of Commons, its object being to
prevent Ireland from sending over live beasts to be fattened, killed,
and consumed in England. You can read all about it in Clarendon's _Life_
(vol. iii. pp. 704-720, 739), and think you are reading about Canadian
cattle to-day. The breeders (in a majority) were on one side, and the
owners of pasture-land on the other. The breeders said the Irish cattle
were bred in Ireland for nothing and transported for little, that they
undersold the English-bred cattle, and consequently "the breed of Cattle
in the Kingdom was totally given over," and rents fell. Other members
contended in their places "that their countries had no land bad enough
to breed, and that their traffic consisted in buying lean cattle and
making them fat, and upon this they paid their rent." Nobody, except the
king, gave a thought to Ireland. He, in this not unworthy of his great
Tudor predecessor, Henry the Eighth, declared he was King of Ireland no
less than of England, and would do nothing to injure one portion of his
dominions for the benefit of another. But as usual he gave way, being in
great straits for money. The House of Lords was better disposed towards
Ireland than the House of Commons, but they too yielded to selfish
clamour, and the Bill, which had excited great fury, became law, and
proved ineffective, owing (as was alleged) to that corruption which
restrictions on trade seem to have the trick of breeding.[123:1]

It is always agreeable to be reminded that however large a part of our
history is composed of the record of passion, greed, delusion, and
stupidity, yet common-sense, the love of order and of justice (in
matters of business), have usually been the predominant factors in our
national life, despite priest, merchant, and party.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than by two measures to which Marvell
refers as Bills "for the prevention of lawsuits between landlord and
tenant" and for "the Rebuilding of London." Both these Bills became law
in February 1668, within five months of the great catastrophe that was
their occasion. Two more sensible, well-planned, well-drawn, courageous
measures were never piloted through both Houses. King, Lords and
Commons, all put their heads together to face a great emergency and to
provide an immediate remedy.

The Bill to prevent lawsuits is best appreciated if we read its
preamble: -

"Whereas the greatest part of the houses in the City of London having
been burnt by the dreadful and dismal fire which happened in
September last, many of the Tenants, under-tenants, and late
occupiers are liable unto suits and actions to compel them to repair
and to rebuild the same, and to pay their rents as if the same had
not been burnt, and are not relievable therefor in any ordinary
course of law; and great differences are likely to arise concerning
the Repairs and rebuilding the said houses, and payment of rents
which, if they should not be determined with speed and without
charge, would much obstruct the rebuilding of the s^d City. And for
that it is just that everyone concerned should bear a proportionate
share of this loss according to their several interests wherein in
respect of the multitude of cases, varying in their circumstances, no
certain general rule can be prescribed."

After this recital it was enacted that the judges of the King's Bench
and Common Pleas and the Barons of the Exchequer, or any three or more
of them, should form a Court of Record to hear and determine every
possible dispute or difference arising out of the great fire, whether
relating to liability to repair, and rebuild, or to pay rent, or for
arrears of rent (other than arrears which had accrued due before the 1st
of September) or otherwise howsoever. The proceedings were to be by
summary process, _sine forma et figura judicii_ and without court fees.
The judges were to be bound by no rules either of law or equity, and
might call for what evidence they chose, including that of the
interested parties, and try the case as it best could be tried. Their
orders were to be final and not (save in a single excepted case) subject
to any appeal. All persons in remainder and reversion were to be bound
by these orders, although infants, married women, idiots, beyond seas,
or under any other disability. A special power was given to order the
surrender of existing leases, and to grant new ones for terms not
exceeding forty years. The judges gave their services for nothing, and,
for once, released from all their own trammels, set to work to do
substantial justice between landlord and tenant, personalty and realty,
the life interest and the remainder, covenantor and covenantee, after a
fashion which excited the admiration and won the confidence of the whole
City. The ordinary suitor, still left exposed to the pitfalls of the
special pleader, the risks (owing to the exclusion of evidence) of a
non-suit and the costly cumbersomeness of the Court of Chancery, must
often have wished that the subject-matter of his litigation had perished
in the flames of the great fire.

This court sat in Clifford's Inn, and was usually presided over by Sir
Matthew Hale, whose skill both as an arithmetician and an architect
completed his fitness for so responsible a position. Within a year the
work was done.

The Act for rebuilding the City is an elaborate measure of more than
forty clauses, and aimed at securing "the regularity, safety,
conveniency and beauty" of the new London that was to be. The buildings
were classified according to their position and character, and had to
maintain a prescribed level of quality. The materials to be employed
were named. New streets were to be of certain widths, and so on. This is
the Act that contains the first Betterment Clause: "And forasmuch as the
Houses now remaining and to be rebuilt will receive more or less
advantage in the value of the rents by the liberty of air and free
recourse for trade," it was enacted that a jury might be sworn to
assess upon the owners and others interested of and in the said houses,
such sum or sums of money with respect of their several interests "in

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryAugustine BirrellAndrew Marvell → online text (page 9 of 19)