Three English Statesmen: A Course of Lectures on the Political History of England
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
By Harper and Brothers.. New York :
UNDOUUTKDLY the most delightful thing to an American, in these studies, is Mr. Smith’s art of forecasting the years of unaccomplished English history, and finding in contemporary events in our country the sequel and recompense of the heroic effort of the old Puritanic Republicans. Here he sees fulfilled the generous purposes and hopes which the Restoration annulled in England, —in the American Republic lie finds the lost future of the English Commonwealth. But he commends himself to a far nobler sentiment than patriotism, when he treats a great act like the execution of Charles I. as an irreparable error, and a hurt to the cause of the people which has not yet been outlived, and so teaches that mercy in the victor is the wisest policy as well as the most sublime virtue. He puts aside the coarse flippancy of Carlyle with an admirable rebuke, and with a courage which we cannot fully appreciate unless we remember how recently English society received Governor Eyre w ith applause, and how blindly and savagely it is now bent upon the destruction of the Fenians. It is indeed a double courage which laments severity in victorious right at a time when the right is called upon chiefly to exercise patience. “ The execution of the king,” says our author, “is treated by cynical philosophy in its usual strain: ‘This action of the English regicides did in effect strike a damp like death through the heart of flunkeyism universally in this world; whereof flunkeyism, cant, cloth-worship, and whatever other ugly names it have, has gone about incurably sick ever since, and is now at length in these generations very rapidly dying.’ This is not the tone in which the terrible but high-soulcd fanatics who did it would have spoken of their own deed. They at least so far respected the feelings of mankind, or rather their own feelings, as to drape the scaffold with black. .... Nothing, unhappily, can be less true, than that the act of the regicides struck a damp through the heart of flunkeyism, or that flunkeyism has gone about incurably sick of it ever since. It is liberty, if anything, that lias gone about sick of it. The blood of the royal martyr has been the seed of flunkeyism from that day to this. What man, what woman, feels any sentimental attachment to the memory of James II.? There would have been less attachment, if possible, to the memory of the weak and perfidious Charles, if his weakness and perfidy had not been glorified by his death.”
To the policy of mercy and humanity here preached the nations are slowly growing. We have ourselves, however awkwardly and ungracefully, reached it practically in our dealing with the leaders of the rebellion; and by so far as the Mexicans are more barbarous and stupid than we, they have fallen short of it in their dealing with Maximilian.
In the passages quoted we give the keynote of a book which is nowhere discordant with the highest hopes and aims of good men, and which, with an entirely characteristic felicity in treating events subordinately to the ideas and motives of the past, is the most intelligible history we have read of the times of Pym, Cromwell, and Pitt.