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only learn, as she did, by the sad experience of her
married life.

Mr. Burton evidently concurs with those historians
who take the severest view of Mary's guilt, though he
does not expressly state that concurrence, nor discuss
the evidence point by point. He gives, however, an

1 There is a portrait of Both well's head, taken in 1861 from what is
shown as his mummy at Faareveille. It is undoubtedly very ugly
"loathsome," according to Mr. Burton. "But," as he adds, "who can
tell how much of that ugliness may have been contributed by an abode
of three centuries in the tomb ? "


interesting and telling analysis of the contents of the
casket letters ; and as this is incorporated with the
text, not, in the usual fashion, thrown into a note or
an appendix, we suspect the bearing of those letters
will be brought out to many readers with quite a new
force. He does not enter specially upon the question
whether, assuming Mary to have been aware of
Darnley's danger, she can nevertheless be held inno-
cent of actual participation in the murder. But his
narrative, as a whole, leads to the conclusion that he
thinks her guilty of full foreknowledge of the crime ;
and the judicial calmness of his temper, and the
homely force of his style, combine to put the case
with terrible strength against her.

Headers of the foregoing remarks will be able to
form for themselves a general estimate of Mr. Burton's
book. A practical man and a rational antiquarian,
he has encumbered himself with little beyond the
sphere of ordinary historical students. The originality
of his views gives a constant interest to his pages ; yet
that originality is seldom otherwise than controlled
by knowledge and good sense. His love of truth and
impartiality are quite exceptional. Thus he studiously
avoids a trick introduced by Lord Macaulay, and
carried still further by Mr. Froude the trick of ex-
pressing in the historian's own language accounts of
events given by others. When Mr. Burton quotes an
authority, he gives the exact words ; and slight as
this matter may appear, it is wonderful how the
opposite habit may, quite unconsciously on the part
of the writer, be the means of seriously misleading the

With all these and many other merits, we have
seldom seen a work which so strongly brought to our
minds Goldsmith's canon of art criticism " the pic-
ture would have been better had the artist taken


more pains." There is a want of method and arrange-
ment which detracts not only from the pleasure the
book affords but also from the effect it produces. In
the first volume this was perhaps unavoidable ; but
in the subsequent volumes the narrative is awkwardly
and unnecessarily broken up by the discussion of
constitutional and legal questions, and by dissertations
on the state of the country. These subjects are
doubtless most important ; but they should be treated
appropriately when there is a pause, as it were, in
the sequence of the story not be interspersed with
the narrative seemingly at random. The result of
Mr. Burton's method, or rather of his want of method,
is that neither are these matters adequately discussed,
nor does the discussion of them give us a distinct
idea of the development of the nation. The effect is
at once confusing and irritating. In short, while Mr.
Burton thoroughly understands and truly estimates
certain periods of Scottish history, he does not seem
to us to have grasped it as a whole. This arises, we
should fancy, from a natural liking for the topics
prominent at some epochs, and a natural distaste for
topics prominent at other times; but whatever the
cause, his book is a series of studies on Scottish
history, generally sound, always valuable, often strik-
ingly original, rather than, the history of Scotland ;
the sequence of events is not traced in due propor-
tion throughout its length, the complete story of the
nation and the people is not told.

Nor does Mr. Burton possess in any great degree
the power of representation. He judges the charac-
ters in his drama for the most part truly ; but they
are not brought before us as actual men whom we can
realise and know ; the heroes of the old time Bruce
and the good Lord James are but shadows, even
Knox and Murray do not live upon the stage.


Neither, as we have before remarked, has he any
power of picturesque narration. Not the adventures
of war, not the splendours, not the cruel secrets of
courts, rouse him to enthusiasm, or stimulate him to
any effort at warmth or richness of colouring. And
so the pale panorama moves on. not lit up by any
brilliant effects, with no groups of life-like figures
to give interest and animation to the picture.

Nor can we with justice omit to notice some curious
defects in execution. In the first place, the pleasure
of reading Mr. Burton's volumes is much lessened by
the frequent rudeness of his style. This is no light
matter with regard to a book which justly aspires to
a high place in historical literature. Mr. Burton has
always been somewhat careless in this respect. It is
not too much to say that the style of his " Scotland
since the Union " is exceedingly bad. In some of his
later works as "The Scot Abroad" and " The Book-
Hunter" an improvement was observable in this
respect. We regret to say that the improvement has
not been sustained in this his greatest effort. His
style here, though never eloquent or beautiful, is
sometimes powerful, often vigorous and pointed. But
it is deficient in grace and precision, and often very
inelegant. He has an especial predilection for long
words a tendency now curiously prevalent in the
country of Hume and Robertson. Why should a
man say he has " alighted upon a book," and call
dancing " a graceful cadenced exercise" ? and why
should the dying gladiator be described as "ruminat-
ing over the coming vengeance for his fate?" 1 Mr.
Burton is peculiarly fond of borrowing the word
articulation from the physiologists, and using it, very
ungracefully and not very intelligibly, in the peculiar
signification which they have attached to it. Thus

1 Retained in 2d ed. vol. i. p. 9.


he speaks of the inhabitants of Scotland as having,
" by a long process of growth and articulation,
become consolidated into a European State ;" and
again, "of a community faintly articulated out of
the general chaos ; " and, even more absurdly, the
Scotch Chroniclers are said " to articulate the battle
of Eoslin into an eminent victory." 1 It is at least
careless writing to say, " there was nothing in Scot-
land, or for generations to come, like the White
Tower;" 2 it is quite inaccurate to use the words
"for all that" as equivalent to "although:" "For
all that the Scots had a rooted prejudice against
any precedents coming from England, the revela-
tions made by Henry vm.'s raid on the monastic
houses cannot but have caused a deep impression ;" 3
and occasionally we see traces of the forced jocularity
which sometimes marks the magazine writer. It
really gives us no idea to write thus of the struggle
of James v. with his nobles : "he went thoroughly
to the work ; like a school-boy who has got the
better of a tyrant master with the difference that,
instead of barrings -out and castings- about of ink-
stands and rulers, there were all the miseries of war ;" 4
and it is more elegant and quite as humorous to say
that King Duncan married a miller's daughter, as to
say that he "made love to a molendinary maiden/' 5
Many similar blemishes might be quoted, but the
task is an ungrateful one. A little trouble will
enable Mr. Burton to remove them in future editions,
and we wish we could persuade him to believe that
the value of his work will be greatly enhanced if, in

1 The last is changed into "exalt;" the first two are unchanged in

2 In 2d ed. " to rival " substituted for " life."

3 Retained in 2d ed., vol. iii. p. 307.

4 Retained 2d ed., vol. iii. p. 140.

5 Corrected in 2d ed. into " daughter.'*


what remains of it, he will condescend to study
elegance and simplicity of expression.

A more serious matter, however, than this of style
is Mr. Burton's frequent and exceeding inaccuracy,
especially in genealogical points. As an instance of
this we take his account of the family of Comyn, the
competitor for the Crown :

" Devergoil had a sister, Marjory, married to John Comyn,
Lord of Badenoch. He also had princely possessions ; and
his race, of which there were many branches, formed alto-
gether the most powerful baronial family in Scotland. He
boasted too, but in a shape that has not distinctly come
down to us, of descent from Donald Bain, a son of the gra-
cious Duncan, who for a brief space occupied the throne.
Comyn was nominally a claimant for the crown. Had there
been a scuffle for the succession, his chances of success might
have been strong. But in the decorous and precise Court of
the Lord Superior, he could plead nothing to the point but
his descent from the granddaughter of Earl David, and this
brought him immediately behind Baliol, as the descendant
of her elder sister. His claim, then, may be considered
among the others taken out of the arena of the contest, and
we must go back to Earl David to see where Baliol was to
find his real competitor. . . ." Vol. ii. p. 216.

" Comyn the competitor, as we have seen, had a claim
which could only stand after Baliol's, since they were
descended of two sisters, and Comyn of the younger. Baliol
was now out of the field, not merely by the feudal proceed-
ings taken against him by King Edward, but by a voluntary
resignation of his right of inheritance. Supposing this to be
effectual, and no one gainsaid it, it removed the line of suc-
cession to which that of the Comyn s was subsidiary. But
further, Comyn the competitor married a sister of Baliol, and
their son, called the Red Comyn, had thus an additional claim
to represent the rights of the deposed King. Then there was
a mysterious tradition of his descent from Donald Bain of
the old royal line ; and though this went for nothing before
the Court of the Lord Superior, it might avail with a people
eager to be led against their enemy and craving for a leader.


Here, then, altogether, Bruce had a formidable rival." Vol.
ii. pp. 346 -7. 1

Now all this is quite wrong, and some of it is self-
contradictory. Where can Mr. Burton find authority
for the statement that Comyn, in the Court of the
Superior, pleaded only his descent from the grand-
daughter of Earl David ? In the first place, it is quite
certain he did not plead this at all, for in Kymer's
Fcedera the pleadings are carefully given, and Comyn's
only claim is in respect of his ancestor Donald Bain.
In the second place, according even to Mr. Burton's own
account, he could not have pleaded his descent from
the granddaughter of Earl David, because, if he had
anything to do with such a lady, he was her husband
having, as Mr. Burton says in the very first sentence
above quoted, married Marjory the sister of Devergoil.
In the third place, even this marriage connection is
quite incorrect. Devergoil, or Devorguilla, grand-
daughter of Earl David, the wife of Baliol, and the
mother of John Baliol who claimed the crown, had
certainly no sister who married Comyn. The lady
whom the Black Comyn did marry was Marjory
Baliol, the sister, not of John Baliol's mother, as
Mr. Burton says, but of John Baliol himself; and the
Ked Comyn, their son, whom Bruce stabbed at Dum-
fries, succeeded through this lady to the rights of the
Baliol family, John Baliol, her brother, having renounced
all his own claims. And, curiously enough, in the
sentence we have put in italics, Mr. Burton has stated
this true and only connection of the Comyns with the
house of Baliol as an additional ground for their claim
to the crown. In short, there is here an inextricable
complication of blunders; and Mr. Burton is not
more fortunate in dealing with the genealogy of other
great families. He errs equally, for example, with

1 Both retained in 2d ed., vol. ii. pp. 129, 236.


regard to the Douglases; and wilfully, as it were,
makes that error of importance by basing on it a theory
to account for the power of the House. He holds that
the rivalry of the Douglases with the Koyal House
was in some sort owing to their claiming right to the
crown through the Baliol race; because "Archibald
Douglas, the brother and heir of the good Lord James,
married Dornagilla, the sister of the Eed Comyn, and
the daughter of Baliol's sister/' 1

Surely Mr. Burton cannot be unaware that this
Dornagilla is the Mrs. Harris of Scotch history long
since banished to the realms of fable by an antiquary
so celebrated as Mr. Kiddell. 2 And, even had she
ever existed, she could not have brought the Baliol
claims to the later Lords of Douglas ; for they were
descended, not from Archibald Douglas, but from the
good Lord James himself and illegitimately. 3 Many
other mistakes, we regret to say some trifling, others
not unimportant occur in Mr. Burton's pages. Thus
in his account of Harlaw, he confuses Donald of the
Isles with his son ; he imputes the cruelties which
sullied the English triumph at Verneuil to Henry v.,
who had died two years before the battle was fought; 4
he gives Cardross on the Firth of Forth, instead of
Cardross on the Clyde, as the scene of the death of
Bruce. 5 Nor can we feel quite the reliance we could
wish on Mr. Burton's scholarship. We shall not refer
to the celebrated false construction of " peopling the
earth," further than to remark that errors of the press
in the classical quotations are more frequent than

1 Altered in 2d ed., vol. ii. p. 418, into "reputed to be," etc.

2 See "Tracts Legal and Historical," by John Eiddell. Ed. 1835,
p. 216.

3 This has been already pointed out by the high authority of Mr.
George Burnett, Lyon-King-at-Arms, in "Macmillan's Magazine" for June.

4 Retained 2d ed., vol. ii. p. 398. This and perhaps the next only
looseness of expression ; but certainly very great looseness.

5 Corrected in 2d ed.


they should be ; but we doubt Loidis as the Latin for
Leeds, 1 and we cannot comprehend how Tacitus can
be spoken of as pointing a moral for the benefit of
"the Court of Tiberius/' 2 Lastly, Mr. Burton's views
on mythology, as shown in the contrast he seeks to
draw between the northern and the classical mytho-
logies, betray at least indifference to the latest results
of scholarship in the highest sense of the word.

These may seem slight matters. Yet they are not
really so when we apply the standard by which such
a work as Mr. Burton's may justly claim to be judged.
They cannot arise in Mr. Burton's case from want of
knowledge ; they come rather, we suspect, from an
impatience of detail, and perhaps in some measure
from haste. But howsoever they come, they cannot
fail to injure an historian's reputation for that greatest
of historic virtues accuracy. And we regret this
the more because it will give a vantage-ground of
attack to the assailants who will be stirred up against
Mr. Burton by his wholesome iconoclastic tendencies.

Our limits prevent us from entering on the
second great point of Scotch history the Reforma-
tion. And we regret this the less because up to the
period at which Mr. Burton ends his narrative the
Scotch Reformation had not assumed those distinctive
features which give it a peculiar interest. Mr. Burton
has created some surprise by saying, in his calm
unenthusiastic way, that the Reformation in Scotland
took its course not so much from the religious opinions
of the people as from external political convulsions.

1 Not that this is a mistake in scholarship properly speaking, but it is
at least unsafe to rest an argument on such nomenclature, as Mr. Burton
does, vol. ii. p. 64, note. In the Acta Sanctorum (March 6, 36) in the
life of St. Cadroe, we find Loida probably used as meaning Leeds ; but
then we find Simeon of Durham using the same word Loyda as not less
certainly meaning Lothian. Mr. Burton has, we suspect, taken Loidis,
a little too hastily, from Bede, Hist. Eccles. ii. 14, and iii. 24.

2 Corrected in 2d ed.


But however startling this may be to certain national
prejudices there can be no doubt that up to 1560
at all events it is perfectly true. On the 25th of
August in that year Calvinism was established by
Parliament, but what life should be breathed into
those legislative Acts was to be determined by the
future. So far the struggle of the creeds had been
little more than a contest between French and
English influence. In after days opposition raised a
fierce popular spirit, and gave to the Scotch Keforma-
tion its peculiar characteristics as a religious move-
ment. But these matters are all to come.

We look forward to Mr. Burton's future volumes
with great interest. In many respects the subjects
which lie before him are better suited to his powers
than those he has here dealt with. We may fairly
look for a fuller and sounder estimate of the Scottish
Constitution before the Union than we have in the
nine or ten pages at present thought equal to the
subject. Some account also of the sources, and an
historical sketch of the growth of Scotch law, might
come with propriety from a Scotch lawyer. And in
the more modern aspects of character with which he
will have to deal, and in the expanding strength of
public opinion, which he has already shown himself
so acute to detect and wise to appreciate, Mr. Burton
will be quite at home. It would be idle to say that
he has reached the highest standard of historical
excellence. But he has enriched historical literature
with a valuable and instructive work, and we antici-
pate, with confidence, that the two remaining volumes
in which he promises to complete it, will surpass even
the varied merits of those now before us.


THE former volumes of Mr. Burton's History closed
with the imprisonment of Queen Mary in" Loch-
leven Castle. The explosion of Kirk-o'-Field had
blown into air all those far-reaching schemes for the
elevation of Mary to the throne of Elizabeth, and the
restoration throughout the island of the old faith,
which had dictated the policy of the Catholics, and
had taken firm hold of many who, though nominally
Protestants, were above all things enthusiastic Scotch-
men. The name of the Scottish Queen was no longer
a name to charm with : a murderess and adulteress
could not be the champion of a great religious reaction.
" The spirits of the Catholics are broken/' writes De
Silva, quoted by Mr. Froude. " Should it turn out
that she is guilty, her party in England is gone ; and
by her means there is no more chance of a restoration
of religion." True, these schemes revived at a later
time ; but henceforward they were vain dreams.
They lured to destruction the subtle Lethington ;
they won the chivalrous Grange from his loyalty ;
but they never came within the sphere of human
probabilities. Varied as were the phases of the long
game which succeeded, we can now see plainly that,

1 "The History of Scotland." Vols. v., vi., vii. By John Hill
Burton. Edinburgh: 1870. [Reprinted from the "Edinburgh Review,"
No. 273. July 1871.]


after the crime of Kirk-o'-Field, Mary never had a
chance of winning the great stake which from the first
she had set herself to play for.

The after-fortunes of Mary in her native country
Mr. Burton relates with brief distinctness. The
romantic events of the escape from Lochleven the
muster at Hamilton the overthrow of Langside, find
in him no very congenial chronicler. But he dwells
with characteristic minuteness on every aspect of the
imprisonment ; he specifies the nature of the stone
with which Lochleven Castle was built : he describes
the advantages of its situation as regards supplies of
mutton, fish, and game ; he altogether disbelieves
that the limited accommodation of the castle could
have allowed of the birth, concealment, and removal
of a daughter the result of the alliance with Both-
well. He thinks there is no evidence that Mary
was treated with harshness, But the completeness of
her seclusion points to a very close watchfulness ;
while the fact that two daughters of the lady of
the castle were her bedfellows which Mr. Burton
somewhat mysteriously explains as required by " the
hard rules of political necessity" shows that her
life must have been exceedingly uncomfortable. But
we are without any real knowledge on these matters,
and must rest content with what the insight of genius
has revealed to us in the pages of " The Abbot."

After the impetuosity of her adherents had rushed
upon defeat at Langside, nothing remained for Mary
but flight. France or England was an obvious alter-
native : Mr. Burton starts an interesting speculation as
to the results of her having sought a refuge in Spain :

" Could she have fled to Spain, a scene of another kind
might have opened. There she would have found a
monarch who, if it be possible, was more earnest than her-
self in reverence for the doctrine, that the one object, both


for the sake of this world and the next, to which a Christian
sovereign should be devoted, was the restoration of the old
Church to its power and splendour. The possibilities that
such a conjuncture might have opened are so interesting
that they can hardly be passed in silence. Might not an
impulse have been given to his sluggish nature, so that the
great blow he was to strike in England might have been
earlier and more aptly timed ? There was no room, it is
true, for the revival of the old matrimonial project between
Mary and Don Carlos, which Catherine of Medici had
wrought so hard to defeat. The poor mad youth was at the
crisis of his tragic fate. It was about six weeks after her
escape that, if we are to accept what we are now told, his
throat was cut in the Escurial, not by assassins, but by the
ministers of Spanish justice. But presently there was to
be another opening. Within six months after this crisis in
Mary's fate, her sister-in-law, Isabella of France, the Queen
of Spain, died. She also became the tragic heroine of a
romance of love and crime ; but history gradually dropped
the dark suspicions on her name, and left them to the world
of fiction. Though the daughter of the terrible Catherine,
she left the reputation of a faithful wife and a gentle queen.
Among those who cherished the memory of her virtues, they
were enhanced by the fervency with which on her death-
bed she expressed her thankfulness in being the partner of
one whom no deceptions frailties of mercy or remorse had
ever checked in the sacred task of extirpating heresy. To
such views Mary was one who would have given support
quite as sincere and far more active. Indeed, just before
the Queen of Spain's death, the two had been holding some
genial correspondence, in which the restoration of the
Church was put foremost of human duties. At that time
Philip was not yet forty-two years old, and though he had
been three times married, the son destined to succeed him
had not yet been born. If it be said that these speculations
on the possible consequences of events which never came to
pass are away from the purpose of history, it may be pleaded
that they deserve a passing notice, since they were con-
tingencies which both the thinking and the acting men of
the time must have studied. There was nothing in the


possible future of Mary's relations with France and Spain
that did not then affect the present in Scotland and in
England too." Vol. v. pp. 120, 121.

Mary Stuart fled to England in May 1568. From
that time till the fall of Edinburgh Castle in May
1573, her fortunes were closely united with those of
her native country. At any period during these five
years the future of Scotland might have taken almost
any shape, according as Elizabeth had dealt with her
royal captive. Hardly less did the peace and security
of England seem, at the time, to depend on the same
decision. No wonder, therefore, that the decision was
anxiously watched for then, and has been eagerly
canvassed since. An enthusiastic school of recent
English writers maintains that Elizabeth, in her deal-
ings with Mary, acted not only with wisdom, but with
justice. We are old-fashioned enough to demur on

Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 4 of 38)