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■If this is all the result of giving or pretending to give to
history a scientific character, it had better remain as it is ;
in that state in which, according to M. Comte, 'the
growing taste of our age for historical labours is wasted

1 Comte, ii. 65.


upon superficial and misleading works, sometimes written
with a view to immediate popularity, by ministering to
the popular taste.' ^ None of these works, whether written
with a view to immediate popularity or not, could be
m*ore misleading than this of M. Comte. The difference
between true and false pliilosophy could not be better
exemplified than by Newton's throwing aside his inves-
tigations about gravitation till he obtained an accurate
measure of the cartli's radius, and M. Comte's total
indifference to the accuracy of his materials.

Though, as has been shown, it can be proved that
down to the time of tlie Commonwealth very little
reliance can be placed not merely on English histories
and memoirs, but even on English State Papers ; yet it
may be considered as a matter within the reach of any
tolerably careful liistorical inquirer, much more of a
' positive philosopher ' who was building a system on
historical ' facts,' whether the Government of England at
the time of the Reformation w^as aristocratical or
monarchical. But such is M. Comte's profound igno-
rance of English history, that he commits the gross blunder
of attributing to the English nobility, whom he calls
' Lords of Parliament,' the arbitrary changes of ' articles
of faith,' - which were the work solely of Henry VIII.,
M. Comte fancying that because tlie English barons were
an aristocracy — were really powerful in the time of
Magna Charta — ^they were the same in the time of the

M. Comte calls 'the separation of the spiritual and
temporal powers ' the most valuable legacy left us by
Catholicism, and the only one on which, when united

' Comte, ii. Go. ■* Ibid. ii. 32-j.


with a true positive doctrine, the re-organization of society
can proceed.' ^ Again, in the next page, he calls this ' the
theory of Catholicism.' He passes over the crimes of
the Borgias, of the Yalois, of Catharine de' Medici, of
Philip II., and brings up all the charges he can devise
an-ainst Protestantism. He talks of ' the accommodating
temper of the founders of the English church towards
tlie shocking weaknesses of their strange national pope,'
and he has the courage to add that ' Catholicism was
never thus openly degraded.' ^ Compare ' the sliocking
weaknesses' of Henry YIII. with the deeds, whatever
name be given to them, of the Borgias, of Phihp II., of
the sons of Catharine de' Medici, Charles IX., and Henry
III. of France. Moreover, Henry VIII. was not a Pro-
testant in any sense but that of substituting himself for

the Pope.

Attain, with resjard to M. Comte's assertion that there
is a necessary harmony or correlation between the
form of government and state of civilisation ; ^ what
necessary harmony or correlation was there, it may be
asked, between the poetical genius of Shakspeare and
Milton, the philosophical genius of Bacon, Harvey, and
Hobbes, and such a government as that of James I. ?
On the contrary, there was a most palpable discord — a
discord which made itself heard throughout the world
in the Great Eebellion — that brought Charles I. to the
block. False premisses must lead to false conclusions.
Imaginary facts must lead to false philosophy ; and
false philosophy must lead to bad government, and to
bad morality, pubhc and private. M. Comte's doctrine
would have prevented all such reform as that which w^as
the result of the Great Eebellion ; for, according to it,
1 Corate, ii. 042. ^ Ibid. ii. 345. ' Ibid. ii. 79,


there was a harmony between the government and the
state of society, which would have precluded all reform.
The very first rise of the Puritans under the Tudors
proves that the form of government had then grown out
of harmony with a large portion of the people. And
indeed the government of the Tudors and the Stuarts was
only suited to savages such as the Zulu Kafirs. There-
fore, if, according to M. Comte, ' in the natural course of
events, and in the absence of intervention, such a har-
mony must necessarily be estabhshed,' ^ the people of
England under the Stuarts, in order to produce M. Comte's
' harmony,' were to retrogade to suit the government of
the Stuarts. According to M. Comte, in fact, there are
no such things as a good government and a bad govern-
ment. But correlation or harmony is everything. Was
there any correlation or harmony which made it fit —
made it agreeable — to Philosopher Square's 'fitness of
things ' — that the people under the worst Eoman empe-
rors or under the French government before the revolu-
tion should be plundered or oppressed ? ^I. Comte's
political philosophy, after many flourishes in a vicious
circle, only comes back at last to that of the illustrious
Philosopher Square.

M. Comte's account of what he calls ' the great un-
successful English revolution ' ^ is thoroughly incorrect, as
might be expected from his profound ignorance of English
history. He calls it ' the generous but premature effort
for the political degradation of the English aristocracy.' ^
Equally incorrect is his account of the American revolu-
tion. In regard to tlie case of England, what he calls
the English aristocracy was not an aristocracy at all
They were mere courtiers, creatures of the court ; and

1 ComlC; ii. 79. ^ IH-l u. 341. ^ Ibid.


liad no political power. The old power of the warlike
barons had completely fallen. The new power of the
parliament had not risen.

A very slight acquaintance with ' the commonest facts '
of English history would have prevented M. Comte from
making such gross mis-statements. The old barons, who
were a real aristocracy — and who deposed Edward II.,
charging him in the Bill of Deposition which they brought
into parliament with sloth, incapacity, co^vardice, cruelty,
and oppression, by which he had done his best to disgrace
and ruin his country (suppressing certain specific charges ^
out of dehcacy to his son), woukl not have endured for
twenty years the deep infamy brought upon their country
by the monstrous vices, combined with the misgovernment
and cowardice of the first Stuart. For, in truth, no such
king as James Stuart, who succeeded to the throne of
Elizabeth, had sat in that place since Edward II. had paid
the forfeit of his misgovernment and his vices by deposi-
tion and death. But where now were those who could
deliver the En<ilish nation from the miscfovernment and
vices of this Stuart ? During the three centuries that had
elapsed between Edward II. and James I. changes of vast
importance had taken place. And, what seems para-
doxical, some of the greatest inventions made by man, that
of gunpowder (in 1340), of paper (in 1417), of printing
(in 1440), of the mariner's compass, if not to be considered
in the relation of cause and effect, were certainly in that
of antecedent and consequent, in the change from liberty
to despotism throughout Europe.

1 It is remarkable that Hume, in direct opposition to the clearest and most
conclusive evidence has pronounced both Edward 11. and James I. as having
no vices, but only an incapacity for serious business.


Since the middle of the fifteenth century, when the
great war of the kings begun, or, at least, became syste-
matic, against the liberties of Europe, the course of events
had all been in the direction of absolute monarchy.
Ferdinand the Catholic and Henry VIL, King of England,
cemented their agreement as to their own rights and
those of the great mass of mankind by a marriage be-
tween their children. The work of destruction of the
ancient English nobility, which had been carried so far
by the civil wars of the Eoses, was completed by
Henry VIL and his son, Henry VIH. Their object was to
destroy every vestige, to trample out every spark of the
fire and spirit of the warlike and high-spirited Anglo-
Norman nobility. Then commenced a long period of
oppression, such as had been unknown in England since
Magna Charta had been wrested from King John.^

Great indeed had been the change that had come over
the English nobility — even in the comparatively short
period of 140 years — since that tenth day of July 1460,
when, at the sanguinary battle of Northampton, ' at two
of the clock afternoon, the earls of March and Warwick
let cry thorow the field that no man should lay hand upon
the king, ne on the common people, but on the lords,
knights, and esquires.' ^ Coidd Warwick have foreseen
all the consequences, he might have paused before giving
such an order. For the result was somewhat similar to
that produced by the civil wars of Eome, when the

' A ^eat rlianire had also come over the Scottish nobility durinpf that
period. Archibald Douglas, fifth earl of Angus, surnaiiied liell-the-Cat, hal
deposed James III. of Scotland, and hanged all his favourites at once on the
brido-e of Lauder, on alleged charges somewhat similar to those on which
the English barons had deposed Edward II.
■ 2 Stow, p. 40iJ.


successors of those potent and warlike nobles, who were
able to set up and put down kings, crouched and trembled
before the vilest of mankind, became the victims and
lauo"hing-stocks of effeminate tyrants and their base
minions, and when their sons and daughters were given
up to every monstrous brutality.^

There are other points of resemblance. When the
right of electing magistrates by [)ublic suffrage in the
Campus Martins was taken from the people and vested
in the Senate,^ the senators were pleased with the change,
as if ignorant that it was a sign of a change in them from
their old real power to abject degradation and slavery.
So in England, when the Star Chamber stickled so for the
dignity of the peerage, their old power was gone, and
their new power had not arisen ; though those who, like
Hume, have studied this period of history very super-
ficially, have concluded, from the fines imposed by the
Star Chamber for any disrespect to a peer, that it was
a finer thing to be a peer then than before or since.^

1 Compare Tacit. Ann. vi. 1, xiii. 2"), with the authentic evidence, which
need not here be specified, as to the court of James I. And as similar cir-
cumstances produce similar events and similar men, Romanus Hispo corres-
ponded somewhat to Empson and Dudley. Tacit. Ann. i. 73, 74, Bucking-
ham was hv Sir John Eliot compared to Sejanus. But Sejanus was a man of
more profound policy than Buckingham. The ' acceudebat hisc onerabatque
Sejanus, peritia morum Tiberii, odia in longum jaciens, quae reconderet,
auctaque promeret ' (Tacit. Ann. i. 69) belongs ratlier to the character of
Salisbuiy than to that either of Somerset or Buckingham. Salisbury, in
fact, proceeded precisely in this way in inflaming James against Raleigh, and
thus destroying a former friend, whom he considered an enemy or rival.
Compare also what Tacitus says about mos regms (Ann. vi. 1) with what
Mr. Grote says (History of Greece, vol. x. pp. 516, 517) about the assassina-
tion of Kotys by two brotliers to avenge their father, upon whom Kotys had
inflicted some brutal insult, more regio, that is, under the influence of that
temper which incites unbridled tyrants to select the highest class of their
subjects as the victims of their brutality.

2 Tacit. Ann. i. 15.

3 Hume thus concludes his relation of one of many of those Star Chamber


Tliougli tlie dramatic literature of any age may be
considered as a representation more or less accurate of
that age, the actual condition of the English nobility at
the commencement of the seventeenth century would
hardly be inferred from the dramatic literature ol" that
time. A lord is still represented there as a person of
such infinitely greater power and dignity than a mere
citizen engaged in trade, that an ordinary reader would
not suppose that such lord was in reidity so different
from a lord of two or three centuries earlier. The lords
introduced indeed are most commonly described as
courtiers, as ' noblemen of the court,' and consequently
enjoying at second-hand a portion of that dignity which
then belonged to the court, and which no wealth
possessed by a mere citizen could command. The cause
of this lies in that law of human nature wdiich determines
the respective ranges of the two instruments, power and
wealth, over the services of our fellow-creatures. The
range of the latter instrument, wealth, is far narrower
than that of the former, power. The means any man
has of paying for the services of others are necessarily
limited. The power of inflicting evil in case of dis-
obedience and of procuring service by fear is not so
limited. The means which have been possessed by some
men, of imposing their commands on other men through
fear, have extended to many milhons. Hence will appear
the complicated nature of an oligarchical despotism, such
as was exercised in England not many years ago. The

cases during the reigns of .fames I. and Charles I. : * So fine a tiling was it
in tliose days to be a lord ! — a natural reflection of Lord Liuisdown'ti, in re-
lating this incident.' History of England, chap. lii. The Star Chamber
being simply a council of courtiers, or creatures of the king, would, of course,
do their utmost to supptirt their dignity.


governing body or class first took through their power
the money of tlie governed, and tlien again purchased
the services of the governed with their OAvn money. So
that it might appear that their wealth was the source of
their power ; whereas their j)Ower was the source of their
wealth. By another remarkable law of association, the
influence of power extends beyond the absolute circle of
its action. By a fundamental principle of their nature,
men strongly associate the idea of their happiness with
command over the sources of human enjoyment. This
explains the proneness of mankind to interest themselves
in the fortunes of the powerful, and to desire the
accomphshment of their ends.^ Consequently the Eng-
lish nobility, though at that time really powerless, were
still, on the stage and according to vulgar judgments, an
aristocracy, partly because they were courtiers, and partly
because they bore the titles of those who had been really

Mr. Buckle, without such vast pretensions to philoso-
phical genius, has done more than M. Comte ; for, though
the ambition of generalisation is a snare to him also, his
indifference to accuracy of facts, though not inconsiderable,
is by no means equal to that of M. Comte. From the
fiicts of statistics Mr. Buckle has shown that, in any
large country, the proportion to the population of the
number of murders, of suicides, accidents, and other
social phenomena, varies very little from one year to
another. This result supphes from the past that power
of prevision for the future within certain limits which

1 See a masterly analysis of this subject in Mill's Analysis of the Pheno-
mena of the Human Mind, vol. ii. p. 106.


M. Comto promi=;os but dnos not give, anfl tliorcforc
presents something more definite tlian M. Conite contri-
butes to this subject.

It will, however, be necessary to call attention to some
conclusions of Mr. Buckle that appear to be based on very
loose views of historical evidence. Mr. Buckle, while he
has devoted much labour and ability to the task of show-
ing the tyranny of the Presbyterian clergy, does not seem
to have known that the tyranny of King James at least
equalled that of tlie Presbyterian clergy ; and he has not
done the latter the justice of stating that, while the
English clergy rivalled the worst and basest of his cour-
tiers in their abject and blasphemous flattery, some of the
Scottish Presbyterian clergy dared to tell him to his face
what they believed to be the truth. In the second con-
ference of Mr. Eobert Bruce with the King, ' Mr. Robert
Bruce desired that he and others of the ministry be not
urged to hurt their consciences ; and that his Majesty
would not think that honest men would sell their souls,
howbeit their bodies and gair [goods] shall be at his
Majesty's connnand.' ' I understand not what ye mean '
said the king, ' by selling of your souls, but I shall gar
[make] the best of your say and gainsay.'^ This
Mr. Eobert Bruce had the courage to tell King James
to his face that he did not believe his story about the
death of Alexander Ruthvern and his brother the Earl
of Gowrie, and suffered exile from his country rather
than publish from his pulpit what he believed to be a

Mr. Buckle, in the second volume of his ' History of

1 ritcairii's Crimiual Trials, vol. ii. p. GOG.


Civilization,' says : — ' Their [tlie Presbj^terian clergy's]
participation in the Euthven conspiracy is unquestionable ;
and it is probable tliat they were privy to the last great
peril to which James w^as exposed before he escaped from
that turbulent land which he was believed to govern.'
First it is ' unquestionable,' and then it is 'probable;' and
this logical discrepancy occurs in the same sentence. If
their participation in the conspiracy was unquestionable,
it was of course unquestionalDle — not probable — that they
were privy. Mr. Buckle thus proceeds : — ' Certain it is,
that the Earl of Gowiie, who, in 1600, entrapped the
king into his castle,^ in order to murder him, w^as
the hope and the mainstay of the Presbyterian clergy,
and was intimately associated with their ambitious
schemes. Such, indeed, was their infatuation on be-
half of the assassin ' [he calls the assassinated man the
assassin], ' that when his conspiracy was defeated, and
he liimself slain, several of the ministers propagated a
report that Gowrie had fallen a victim to the royal
perfidy, and that, in point of fact, the only plot which
ever existed was one concocted by the king, with fatal
art, against his mild and innocent host.' ^

Tlie authorities cited by Mr. Buckle for this very
auth(jritatively pronounced statement are Tytler's ' History
of Scotland,' vol. vii. pp. 439, 440 ; and Burnet's ' History
of his own Time,' vol. i. p. 31, Oxford, 1823. The value
of Tytler's authority will l3e fully shown in a subsequent
essay. Burnet is no authority whatever. He was not a
contemporary, and knew nothing about the matter. Mr.

^ So little did Mr. Buckle know about the matter of whicli he wrote with
such confidence that he calls Gowrie House a castle, although it was neither
a castle nor a place of strength at all.

2 Buckle's Ilibtury of Civilisation in England, vol. ii. p. 256.


Buckle says, in a note at p. 256, 'See a good note in
Pitcairn's Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol. ii. p. 170, Edin-
burgh, 1833, 4to/ Mr. Pitcairn's notes are of no value
whatever, or rather they are much worse than of no
value, though the records he has published are of great
value. The records prove the guilt of James, and Mr.
Pitcairn's notes assert his innocence. Mr. Buckle goes on :
' An absurdity of this sort was easily believed in an igno-
rant and therefore a credulous age.' There is one thing
that is even worse than credulity and ignorance. It is
the conceit of knowledge without the reality, and the lofty
confidence of incapacity, which lead to false philosophy,
the produce of assumed facts, as all true philosophy is the
produce of accurately observed facts. If Mr. Buckle had
read the records which Mr. Pitcairn had published instead
of contenting himself with reading Mi. Pitcairn's notes, or
if he had only read a note of Mr. Mark Napier in the
Bannatyne Club eehtion of Spottiswood's ' History ' (vol.
iii. p. 289), he might possibly have come to a different
conclusion. But while writers of history allow them-
selves to be misled by such notes as Mr. Pitcairn's while
they neglect authentic records, the result evidently cannot
be truth, or any approximation to truth.

Though I have felt compelled to enter my protest
against the dogmatical manner in which Mi". Buckle has
expressed his conclusions on this very dark passage of
history upon a very insufficient examination of the volu-
minous evidence bearing upon it — a minute examination
of which evidence will be found in I lie essay in this
volume entitled ' Sir Walter Scott ' — and though I difTer
from Mr. Buckle on many other points, both historical
and philosophical, ' I cannot,' to borrow his own words


in a note ^ on Lord Macaulay, ' refrain from expressing
my admiration of his miwearied diligence, and of the
noble love of liberty which animates his entire work.'
Hjs exposition of the attempt made in the reign of
Georire III. to chano;e a limited into an absolute
monarchy is particularly striking and instructive.^

But he is not so successful where, in order to make out
an analogy between France and England in the seven-
teenth century, he says, ' In both the insurgents, at first
triumphant, were afterwards defeated, and the rebellion
being put down, the governments of the two nations were
fidly restored almost at the same moment; in 1660 by
Charles II., in 1661 by Louis XIV.' ^ The English rebel-
lion was thoroughly successful, and there was not the least
analogy between it and the war of the Fronde. In
support of another of his inaccurate generalizations, Mr.
Buckle cites as authorities such writers as Holies, Walker,
Bates, Noble, and the author or authors of the ' Mystery
of the Good Old Cause,' all violent royahst or Presby-
terian partizans, and therefore by no means trustworthy
authorities for the pedigrees of the Ironsides.* I do
not say that there was not a large proportion of men of
humble birth among the Ironsides, but Mr. Buckle's great
though delusive show of authorities does not prove it.
Moreover Mr. Buckle's conclusion from his assumed facts

(' the tailor and the drayman ' [Joyce and Pride] were

in that age strong enough to direct the course of public
affairs ^) — is manifestly incorrect. All the men who rose
to the highest power and leadership were men of
education and position. Cromwell, Ireton, Blake, Vane,

1 Vol. i. p. 3G0, 1st edition. ^ ggg vol. i. pp. 433-456, 1st edition.

» Vol. i. p. 554. ■• Vol. i. pp. GOO-GOo. * Ibid. p. 601.


and Scot, were men who had received a university
education. And some of the most determined repubHcans,
such as Adrian Scroop, Henry Nevill, Wilham Say,
Miles Corbet, Jolui Lisle, Lord Grey of Groby, and others,
were men of the families of the old Plantagenet nobility,
as woll as men of cultivated minds, while the royalists
were mostly new men, who owed their position to the
caprice of the Tudors and Stuarts.

Another generalization of Mr. Buckle as to the pro-
gress in toleration made by the French nation in 1650,
founded on the assumed fact that Descartes, the enemy
of superstition, should ' have lived without serious danger,
and then have died peaceably in his bed,' ^ is disposed of
by the fact that Descartes was compelled to accept from
Queen Christina, as a protection from the hostility of his
priestly persecutors, an asylum in Sweden, where the
rigour of the climate, aided by the caprice or madness of
his royal patroness, killed him, at the age of fifty-three, in
1650. Mr. Buckle, in a note at the end of the chapter,
indeed says : ' Descartes died in Sweden on a visit to
Christina, so that strictly speaking there is an error in
the text. But this does not affect the argument.' That
depends on whether Descartes made the visit from choice
or necessity. But the memorable case of Galas, a
Calvinist, falsely accused at Toulouse of murderino- his
son, the alleged motive being to prevent him fi'om
becoming a Eoman Catholic, and condemned and broken
on the wheel, occurred in 1762, more than a centmy
after the time wlien, according to ^Mr. Buckle, the
reign of ftmaticism and persecution was over and that of
toleration established in France.

' Vol. i. p. 544.


■ Let us now see what are the consequences of such
deahng with historical facts as Mr. Buckle's dealing with
the aflfak- which James I. called the Gowrie Conspiracy.

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 4 of 40)