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ciples of judgment.' — Wills on Circumstantial Evidence, pp. 114, 115, 3rd
edition, London, 1850; The observation of Mr. Ju.stice Coleridge, supported
by a concurrence of judicial authorities, ' that the identity of handwriting is
very much a matter of opinion,' and the conclusion drawn as above stated from
the records of judicial proceedings, appear to apply to the Letters of Junius as
well as to the so-called Letters of Logan. Whatever may be objected to the
Letters -of Junius, they exhibit more knowledge both of law and politics, as
well as more intimate and familiar acquaintance with the habits of the highest
chi*s of English society at that time, than Francis possessed. Francis may have
been employed to copy some of the letters signed ' Junius,' and he may him-
self have been the author of the letters under other signatures about the
squabbles among the War Office clerks, which Junius would hardly have con-
descended to enter into ; for the lofty and independent tone of Junius reminds
one somewhat of the Pitt character; of what Lord Macaiilay has styled 'the
fierce haughtiness of the tirst Pitt,' and 'the cold unbending arrogance of the
second.' Several of the letters of Junius appear to have been written by a
man who had received the education of a lawyer, and also to have had
iimch practical experience and considerable power as a politician; neither of
which conditions would apply to Franti.s. George Gren\ille had been bred
a lawyer, and like the second Pitt and others was one of the lawyers who
became prime ministers. And if, as Lord Macaulay says, his speeches,
though instructive and even impressive from their earnestness, were never
brilliant, it is an often observed fact that such a speaker might be a most
impressive writer. Moreover George Grenville was turned out of his oflice
as prime minister by the king for leaving the name of the Prince.«s Dowager
out of his Iiegency Bill, This would account for a hostile feeling towards
the king and the Princess Dowager. Ijut George Grenville died Nov. 1.3,
1770, and therefore could not have written any of the later of the Junius
letters. George 111., however, after the most searching inquiries, was con-
vinced that the letters were not the work of one person. Did George Gren-
ville's elder brother Earl Ttmple, or his younger brother James Grenville,
write any of them P


course, full of the Gowrie business, and he thought tliat
because the extirpation of name was specially connected
with that case, such a circumstantial reference in the letter
lie was forging would specially connect that letter with
that case. It does specially connect the letter and the
case, but in a w\ay the letter-forger did not contemplate,
overlookino:, in his eao:erness to establish his own point,
that which was the legitimate and inevitable conclusion
from the very circumstance which he imagined would
drive home the treacherous and poisoned weapon he was

Bentham, in that portion of his work on 'Judicial
Evidence ' which is devoted to the subject of the ' authen-
tication of evidence,' has a chapter on the ' modes of
deauthentication — sources fi^om which a persuasion that
the document in question is spurious or falsified may be
obtained.' Among the heads of evidence of this nature
specified by Bentham are two which precisely apply to
this case. The two heads are these : —

' Presumption ex custodid : the party producing it — or
a person through whose hands it has passed — being the
person who, in case of success, would be a gainer by
having fabricated or falsified it, or procured it to be fabri-
cated or falsified, to the efiect suspected.

' Presumption ex tenore : in the writing in question,
mention (direct, or in the way of allusion, more or less
oblique) made of facts of later date, i.e. of facts that did
not come into existence, but at a time posterior to the
date expressed on the face of the instrument.' ^

It will be at once seen how far the case which has been

1 Bentham's E,ationale of Judicial Evidence, vol. iii. pp. G14, 616 : Lon-
don, 1827.


here set forth comes under these two marks of spurious-
ness or falsification of written evidence.

It will also appear that the foi'cgoing pages form a
most instructive commentary on tliat chapter of the same
work, entitled, ' Of Suppression or Fabrication of Evidence,
considered as affording Evidence of Delinquency.' ^

Wishart, in his ' Memoirs of the Marquis of Montrose,' ^
mentions that in 1G50 the head of the Marquis of Mont-
rose ' was fixed upon the tolbooth of Edinburgh over
against the Earl of Gowries's [his uncle's], with an iron
cross over it, lest by any of his friends it should have
been taken down.' After tlie battle of Dunbar Mont-
rose's head was taken down by Cromwell's orders ; and
it may be hoped that tlie Earl of Gowrie's w^as taken
down at the same time and decently buried. But as truth
gradually emerges out of the darkness of barbarism and
romance, it will gibbet this King James and his ministers
on an eminence of infimy from which it will need a
stronger even than Cromwell to take them down.

The question of the guilt or innocence of King James
may, like that of the guilt or innocence of his mother,
Mary, Queen of Scots, appear to some a question of small
iiuportance. But, besides the knowledge to be derived
from the examination of this question, of the difficulty of
getting at truth, the case of King James has more in it of
a national, and not merely personal, character, than that
of his mother queen Mary. For the character of this
king and his court had so much to do in engendering the
spirit that produced the great Puritan rebellion of the
succeeding reign, that the true nature of that great insur-

' Bentliam's TJationalo of Judicial Evidence, vol. iii. p. IGo.
2 P 405: Ediubui-h, Ibl'J.


02 i:ssArs ox historical truth.

rection cannot be thoroughly understood without at least
some knowledge of the character of King James and his
court. Having examined the whole of the evidence
bearing on the affair which King James called the Gowrie
Conspiracy ; having cai^efully perused the depositions of
the witnesses, the letters alleged to have been written by
Logan to the Euthvens, and manifestly forged (as I have
proved) seven or eight years after the event to which they
refer, and all the papers relating to the matter ; having
most anxiously sought to aiTive at the truth Ijy a careful ex-
amination and comparison of all the various parts of which
the evidence consists, in order to learn how firmly or how
loosely, how coherently or how incoherentl}^, it hangs to-
o-ether ; I have arrived at the conclusion that the assertion
of the existence of the alleged conspiracy on the part of
of the two murdered boys, the Earl of Gowrie and his
brother, Alexander Euthven, is based only on a vast
fabric of circumstantial falsehood, propped up by perjury,
torture, forgery, and murder. Even without insisting
upon any particular explanation of the mysterious part of
that affiur called the Gowrie Conspiracy, the mere facts
which are undisputed, and present themselves in the
various stages of the transaction, appear to me to convey
such conclusive evidence of an unjust and oppressive
government as would of itself prove the necessity of tlie
Great rebelhon against the tyranny of the Stuarts, which
there is abundant evidence to show they intended to ex-
ercise in England as well as in Scotland : a necessity, be
it added, which this case of itself proves as existing no
less for the protection of the persons and property of the
nobility than of the commons.




For a large portion of the materials bearing upon tlie dark
passage ofEnglisli liistory wliicli forms the subject of the
two essays that follow this essay — the first on the death
of Prince Henry, and the second on the death of Sir
Thomas Overbury, I am principally indebted to the
laborious and skilful researches of Mr. Amos, the results
of which he published in 184G, in a volume entitled ' The
Great Oyer of Poisoning: the trial of the Earl of
Somerset for the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury in
the Tower of London, and various matters connected
therewith, from contemporary MSS.' I am also indebted
to the same careful and laborious writer for the acute and
ingenious hypothesis respecting the true causes of the
death of Sir Thomas Overbury. To state thus much was
but justice to Mr. Amos, for whose legal learning and
acuteness, as well as for the minute accuracy of his
laborious researches, I entertain a sincere respect. It is
also, hoAvever, but justice to myself to state that the idea
of attempting to connect together the disjointed and
scattered fragments of evidence respecting the plot, of
which the death of Prince Henry was but one incident or
link, and of which the death of Sir Thomas Overbury was
another incident or hnk, is my own, and has not beeu


acted upon, as far as I know, by any other writer. For
the purpose of carrying out this idea I have also used
materials both MS. and printed which have not before
been made available.

I should hardly have thought it necessary to trouble
the reader with these few words respecting myself and
my materials, if I had not found by experience what
gross misrepresentations may be put forward by an
anonymous critic respecting any book which he may have
reasons of his own to desire to suppress. There are
certain circumstances connected with the article referred
to which appear to take it out of the class of ordinary
and legitimate criticism, and to impose upon the writer
attacked the disagreable duty of placing on record an
answer to it. For it appears that, if a writer has the
presumption to differ from this critic's conclusions res-
pecting questions that must be determined not by the
opinion of any man or any body of men, but by evidence,
he is to be put down by an elaborate attack, evidently
written by a practised writer, and pubhshed a month
after the publication of the book it attacked, in order that
other critics might take their tone from this critic who
writes as one having authority, and as if perorating from
a professor's chair.

As the critic referred to not only charges me with
making false pretensions to the use of new materials in
my ' History of the Commonwealth of England,' but also
propounds principles of historical criticism which appear
to me thoroughly unsound, it may be worth while to give
a distinct answer both to his charges and to his criticism.
I. With regard to Mr. Godwin's ' History of the
Commonweahh,' as I had found in it neither new


materials nor new ideas, I tliouglit it needless to make
any reference to it ; Init as this critic has dragged it
forward, I will show how far the claim he sets up for it
is from being valid.

In the course of the 480 pages of his third volume, in
which Mr. Godwin deals with the period forming the
subject of my two volumes, he has in all thirty references
to the MS. Order Books of the Council of State — forty
volumes of which — thin volumes with parchment covers^
— constitute the bulk of the new materials which I
have used in my ' History of the Commonwealth of
England.' Of these references very few contain, in my
judgment, anything either of importance or of interest.
There is one of these insulated references indeed which
at first sight might seem to establish an important fact,
but which on being closely examined is found to be
quite inaccurate. It is the announcement of ' 200/.
assigned to Mr. Scot quarterly, to be expended on secret
service' — Godwin, vol. iii. p. 190 — and the reference is
to Order Book July 9, 1G49. On referring to the MS.
Order Books in the State Paper Office under date
July 9, 1G49, I find this minute :— ' That Mr. Scot shall
have 200/. paid him quarterly, for his payment in
managing the business of intelligence committed to his
care, to begin from midsummer last, and that he have

^ These are the original rough Draft Order Books, written at the Council
table of the Council of State, at the time when the minutes were made and
passed by the Council. There are also in the State Paper Office fair copies
of these Draft Order BfX)ks, which being in larger and thicker books, form a
much smaller number of volumes. Some volumes of these foir copies being
lost, I generally made use of the volumes containing the original rough
drafts, which, as distinguished from the fair copies, may be called the Draft
Order Books. On the parchment covers of some of those are written the
words 'Foule Order Book,' meaning the original rough Draught Order Book.


306 i:ssAYS ox iiistohical truth.

200/. presently and advanced ; and lie be also furnished
■with such sums as shall be necessary for carrying on the
work of intelligence.' It will be seen at once, on com-
paring Mr. Godwin's words with the words of the minute,
that Mr. Godwin has not stated the substance of tlie
minute with even any degree of accuracy. Scot was to
have 200/. quarterly for his salary for managing the
business of intelligence ; and such sums in addition as
should be necessary for carrying on the work of

There is no evidence in Mr. Godwin's book that he had
made such use of the Order Books of the Council of
State as this critic assumes for him. On the contrary
there is conclusive evidence in the following facts that
Mr .Godwin had not read the Order Books : 1st. Mr.
Godwin has repeated without contradiction Eoger Coke's
assertion that the Long Parliament ' never pressed any in
all their wars,' the disproof of which, contained in many
of the minutes, must have struck the most careless reader
of the Order Books. 2nd. Mr. Godwin has taken no
notice of the projected invasion from the continent by an
army under the command of the Duke of Lorraine, before
the battle of Worcester, which is repeatedly mentioned
in the MS. minutes of the Order Books of the Council of
State. 3rd. Mr. Godwin has taken no notice whatever
of the energetic proceedings of the Council of State for
several months before the battle of Worcester, both
against the invasion of the Scots and against the pro-
jected invasion from the continent. No writer has any right
to take credit for the use of new materials of great extent
on the strength of a few isolated references, and without
having thoroughly examined those new materials ; and


no writer of average intelligence could have read the
Order B(joks of the Council of State without being
forcibly impressed by the important facts above men-
tioned. As Mr. Godwin was a writer of more than
average mtelligence, the necessary conclusion is that he
had not read the Order Books of the Council of State.

Such being the simple facts of this case as regards the
use of new or unused materials, that this critic should
have made such an assertion as this — ' Here, then, is an
end at once to the ground on which Mr. Bisset
especially calls for attention to his volumes : he has been
working, not on materials unknown to every preceding
writer, but on those which a historian of the same period
employed forty years ago ' — is, to borrow the words
which he apphes to me, but which recoil upon himself,
' not very creditable.' Nor is this a solitary manifesta-
tion of the spirit which animates his effusion. It may be
stated, as another illustration of his mode of proceeding,
that he has carefully made provision for meeting the
objection above disposed of by the following sentence :
' In several cases Mr. Bisset has given his materials in a
more detailed form than Mr. Godwin had done, and in a
few cases he has supplied us with facts of interest which
had been passed over or overlooked by that writer.'
The reader of this artfully constructed sentence who was
unacquainted with the facts, would naturally suppose that
Mr. Godwin had actually made extensive use of the
materials which form the groundwork of my volumes.
Whereas the reader of Mr. Godwin would really find it
difficult to discover tliat Mr. Godwin had ever looked
into the Order Books of the Council of State ; and, as I
have shown in the case of the appointment of Mr. Scot

X 2


to the management of ' the business of intelligence,' it
would be unsafe to trust to Mr. Godwin's report of the
purport and meaning of the Order Books.

II. The critic then proceeds to make some remarks on
the ' principles of evidence,' and the ' critical ' and ' un-
critical use of historical materials,' informing us that new
materials are of no avail unless what he calls ' a critical
use ' be made of them ; and he does me the honour to say
that I have made a ' thoroughly uncritical use of all my

As this critic appears to consider himself thoroughly
acquainted with ' the principles of evidence ' and a master
of the art of what he calls 'strict historical criticism,'
which he informs us ' was but little employed or ap-
preciated' till the present age which has produced this
critic, it may be not uninstructive to attempt to discover
what he means by ' principles of evidence ' arid ' strict
historical criticism.'

According to this critic, not only are aU the contem-
porary memoirs that are in the least adverse to Crom-
well to be regarded as ' the idle gossip and jaundiced
outpourings of disappointed men,' but he describes 'White-
lock's Memorials ' as ' the memoranda of Whitelock
interspersed through that bookseller's compilation which
goes by the name of his " Memorials." '

This must appear a strange description to anyone who
has ever even once looked into the book entitled ' White-
lock's Memorials.' A compilation is usually understood
to mean — and is defined by Johnson — a collection
from various authors. The first edition of Whitelock's
Memorials was published in 1682 by Arthur earl of
Anglesea, who took considerable liberties with the MS.


The second edition, containing the passages which were
struck out by the Earl of Anglesea, was pubhshed in 1732.
This treatment of Whitelock's MS. does not correspond
in any degree with this critic's description of it as ' the
memoranda of Wliitelock interspersed through that Ijook-
seller's compikition which goes by the general name of his
"• Memorials ; " ' a description so extraordinary as almost to
rival the performances of a late eminent English advocate,
who has thus been characterised in a legal publication : ' No
advocate had a greater command over facts. His state-
ment of his client's case, and even his reading from the
evidence in the cause, would enchain the attention, and
often extort the admiration and astonishment of his ad-
versaries and the Court — as if it were a romance ; and his
references to facts and to authorities were generally more
closely followed than his arguments on legal principles,
though these were frequently novel in the highest degree.'
But suppose that this critic's proposition were to be
admitted in its widest terms ; suppose tliat not only
memoirs, but histories, although contemporary, are little
better than fables ; that the history of a nation is written
in its laws, its literature, its commerce, in the records of
the proceedings of its parliaments and of its courts of justice,
in the dispatches of its statesmen, in the minute books of
its Councils of State, in the character, the manners, and
the customs of its people ; that its history is no more to
be read in the memorials of a Whitelock, or in the history
of a Clarendon or a Burnet, than the history of the human
race is to be read in the history of Tom Thumb and Jack
the Giant-killer ; and that there comes a time in the life of
a nation when men will no longer be satisfied with fables,
with narratives not only not true but absolutely impossible


upon the face of them, with reports for instance of con-
versations between two men who were alone and who
were both killed immediately after.^

Supposing all this, and sweeping away all the delusions
of contemporary histories and contemporary memoirs, one
is curious to see what this critic who writes as the anony-
mous representative of ' strict historical criticism,' which
he says was unknown a few years ago, would propose as the
substitute for lying memoirs and histories, as the master-
key to open the gates of historical truth. The master-
key to the history of that time is, according to this critic,
Mr. Carlyle's collection of Cromwell's letters. This is
stranse, that after so much talk about the advance made
of late years by 'strict historical criticism,' this critic's
' historical criticism ' should appear to be in precisely the
condition in which historical criticism was very nearly two
centuries ago. Sir William Temple, on the supposition that
the letters of Phalaris, which Bentley proved to be for-
geries, were genuine, affirmed that those letters proved
Phalaris to possess 'every excellence of a statesman,
soldier, wit, and scholar.' Those letters, if for the sake of
argument we assume them to have been genuine, might
also have been affirmed to have proved Phalaris to have
been a highly ' moral man,' for they contain highly moral
sentences. Now observe the conclusion to which we are
dragged by such ' strict historical criticism ^ as this. On
the one side we should have the words of Phalaris ; on
the other his deeds. Have any of them come down to us
to support Temple's conclusions drawn from the letters
he assumed to have been written by him ? All that is

1 See the preceding essay, in which it is shown that such a conversation
is recorded as history by Johnston.


known of i'liiiluriri is tluit he was infamous for his cruuky,
and in particular for the device which he owed to Perillus,
of burning; the victims of liis tyranny in a l)n]l of bronze,
in order tluit lie might enjoy the pleasure of lieuring their
cries ; that he ate human llesh, and even fed upon his own
son; that his insane cruelty led to his deposition, when
the mob rose against him and practised upon him the
same cruelty to which he had often subjected others. It
is certainly not usual for men possessing every excellence
of statesmen and soldiers to be deposed in this manner.
And what a strange process of reasoning it were to
conclude from any letters of his, however genuine — and
they could not be more genuine than the authorities by
which the above statements are supported — that such a
man could possess ' every excellence of a statesman.'

The authorities for these statements as to the deeds of
Phalaris, which his advocate, on the supposition that his
letters were genuine, would have had to overthrow are
Cicero, Aristotle, and some passages quoted by Bentley,
the extent and accuracy of whose learning have probably
never been equalled. Cicero and Aristotle could hardly
have been disposed of as our critic's client — the white-
washer of Cromwell and blackener of everybody who did
not erovel before Cromwell when livin«^ and euloirise him
when dead — disposes of Ludlow, Mrs. Hutchinson, and
Whitelock. Aristotle and Cicero — though really not more,
but less credible, witnesses as to the character of Phalaris,
than Ludlow and Whitelock as to that of Cromwell —
being writers of great name, could not be put down, in a
summary way, by the charge of stupidity or ' wooden-
headedness,' and the ' field swept clear of them for pro-
longing the echoes of the old tittle-tattle and invectives '


against a certain aniia])le old gentleman named Plialaris,
whose ' sincerity has come out unimpeached and stainless
from the crucial test of the collection and juxtaposition of
his letters ; ' and who, even if he should be admitted to
have been eccentric in some of his tastes, ' certainly was
no such man ' as ' the miserable gossip ' of these wooden-
headed ^vriters would represent him. Now such phrases
as ' tittle-tattle ' and ' miserable gossip ' may tell against
Ludlow and Whitelock, but they fall harmless when used
against Aristotle and Cicero. Such is the tyranny even
of a name.

It is but justice, however, to this critic to say that he
adopts a somewhat different tone from that of his client,
though the spirit of his effusion is the same. He even
assumes a tone of candour, and professes to regret ' that

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 24 of 40)