An English Family in the Seventeenth Century

MACAULAY’S “famous chapter” on the state of England in the latter part of the seventeenth century was written with the object of “ placing before the English of the nineteenth century a true picture of the life of their ancestors.” But able and entertaining as it is, it cannot be accepted as an adequate fulfillment of this purpose. No description of manners, customs, and ideas, dissociated from the personalities to which they adhered, will constitute a picture of life. When thus presented, they lack the vitalizing property which gave them their essential significance. They strike us as curiosities rather than as characteristics, for the underlying identity of human nature is left unrevealed. To get a vivid conception of the life of a people remote from us in time or space, we must have a full portrayal of some typical lives, — must see not only the conditions of existence, but its inner workings. Mere antiquarianism does nothing for us here. Nor can history, when it keeps within its proper limits, supply the need ; for it deals with the play of world forces and dominating influences, with individuals in their public capacities, and with a people in its collective concerns and activities. Even imaginative literature fails to meet the exact requirements. It goes as much too far beyond the scope as history falls short, of it. It masks the real with a fictitious world. It transfigures and embellishes. Its pictures, however true in essentials, are composed in accordance with æsthetic principles, and have the gratification of the æsthetic sense as their ultimate object. It “ palters with us in a double sense,” giving to reality the effect of illusion, and to illusion the effect of reality. In a word, it is art, — “an art which does mend nature, change it rather ; " and, for the purpose in view, we prefer, with Perdita, the products of “ great creating Nature ” in their rude simplicity. The one sufficient medium of the revelation we are seeking for is biography, or rather the material of biography, — the correspondence, the diaries, the authentic record in whatever form in which character betrays itself unconsciously, and its concomitants present themselves incidentally, neither being exhibited of set purpose or with any ulterior aim. This alone corresponds to and supplies the place of personal observation and experience in regard to the complex of activities and relations that constitutes life. Here there is no cicerone to distract us with his explanations, no allegorist to beguile us with his interpretations. We are left free to study and gain insight for ourselves. And how quickly do we become accustomed to these new surroundings ; how soon is the sense of difference lost in the recognition of an essential identity ! Strangeness, curiosity, repugnance, are succeeded by familiarity, comprehension, sympathy; and if the interest awakened be less intense, less exalted, than the drama or the novel is capable of inspiring, it has the poignancy peculiar to emotions excited by immediate presence and contact.

Revelations of this kind are, unfortunately, rare. Accident alone has generally preserved such material as lack of appreciation consigned to destruction, — exactly the reverse of what has usually been the case with artistic productions. Posterity will apparently have little cause to complain of our course in this respect, except perhaps as over-zealous and indiscriminative in handing in our documents. But it was the eighteenth century, the age of dormant imagination and lively curiosity, which gave the first impetus in this direction. It was then that biography was first elaborated and raised to the dignity of a distinct branch of literature, and that contemporaneous private letters, journals, and ana were carefully husbanded and collected for publication. It was then, also, that the archives of earlier periods began to be ransacked with the same object, and that long-forgotten records leaped to life, and gave up secrets unsuspected or unvalued by previous explorers. The most important of these contributions to the knowledge of a bygone time were the Paston Letters, giving the self - delineation of a family circle and group of neighbors during the Wars of the Roses, made vivid by minute detail and unreserved utterance, and rendered more striking by the inclusion of some figures which history and Shakespeare had depicted under a semi-mythical aspect, in singular contrast with the realism of these inartistic disclosures. And now we have presented to us a similar collection relating to a later period of civil strife, — another little ark floating safely on the billows, and carrying a not less precious freight.1 If the Paston Letters have a higher value from the historical point of view, this is only because the events of the fifteenth century are more obscure than those of the seventeenth, so that all the side-lights thrown upon them are doubly welcome. The information of this kind given in the Verney papers is even more abundant, but it is less indispensable. Copious details of private life and manners are to be found in both collections; but the greater urbanity of the later period, the general superiority of the Verneys to the Pastons in the finer traits of character, and the deeper interest which attaches to the personal fortunes of several of them lend a charm to the story which is conspicuously lacking in the earlier publication. In the present case, it is true, we have only selections from an enormous mass of material, interwoven with an explanatory narrative; but they embody, apparently, all that was necessary to give both the lights and the shades of the picture, and they are reproduced in their original garb as far as regards the spelling, which, being in most instances purely phonetic, not only represents a vast variety of discarded forms, but affords information as to the prevalent modes of pronunciation. Lady Verney, who spent the last invalid years of her life in assorting, deciphering, and editing this correspondence, was fitted for the task by her studious and critical habit of mind and her proved literary ability not less than by her loving interest in the scenes and personages of what may be called a domestic episode in a great historical drama.

The manor house of Claydon, Buckinghamshire, the home of the Verneys during several centuries, has been so transmogrified by additions and alterations that only the form of the building erected in the reign of Henry VII. can now be traced. But thirty years ago, a portion of it, still intact, furnished a curious example of the ancient disregard or ignorance of what seem to us the simplest and most obvious methods of arrangement in the construction of a dwelling - house. This central narrow part, joining two wider blocks, consisted of two rows of rooms back to back, with no passage except through each entire suite. “ None of the walls were at right angles; the floors rose and fell again in the same room to a difference of three or four inches in the same level; it was like walking over a ridge in a ploughed field.” The ampler wings may be supposed to have been more conveniently planned. There would seem, at all events, to have been no lack of the adjuncts and appurtenances rendered necessary by the conditions of housekeeping in ages when a large establishment was chiefly dependent on itself for all that it consumed, and concentrated in its buildings and grounds occupations that are now distributed over a wide population. “ The mill-house, the slaughter-house, the blacksmiths’, carpenters’, and painters’ shops, the malting and brew house, the wood-yard full of large and small timber, the sawpit, the outhouses full of all sorts of odds and ends of stone, iron, bits of marble, carved woodwork, and logs cut for burning, the riding - house, the laundry, the dairy with a large churn turned by a horse, the stalls and styes, . . . the apple and root chambers,” the dovecotes and fish ponds, were as necessary complements of the fields, the pastures, and the woodlands as the barns, the cattle, and the farming implements. The weaving was carried on in the cottages of the village, but within the great house itself there were incessant spinning of wool and flax, embroidering, distilling, “preserving, conserving, candying, making syrups, jellies, beautifying washes, pomatum essences, and other such secrets,” in addition to the more commonplace labor of the cooks, the seamstresses, and a host of man-servants and maid-servants. Storerooms and closets were filled with the accumulated products of household industry, and the gowns and other articles of female apparel, the sheets and bed furniture in general, were too costly and too durable lightly to be cast aside, and usually descended, by special bequest, from one generation to another. One may say, indeed, in general, that most of the earliest appliances of comfort were necessarily of the nature of luxury or ornament. Fur was worn before corduroy and velvet before cotton, and the walls of rooms wore wainscoted or tapestried before the cheaper inventions of plastering and papering were applied to them. One feature, now entirely obsolete, of many old English mansions was discovered at Claydon, when repairs were making, thirty years ago. In the central chimney was a hiding-place, the existence of which, being known, as usual, only to the successive heirs of the property, had been in time forgotten. It was a dark chamber, capable of containing ten men standing upright, masked by a blind passage in the middle story, and communicating by a secret stairway and concealed door with the muniment room at the top of the house. The latter apartment, a wainscoted gallery forty feet long, was the receptacle of deeds, charters, rent-rolls, and similar documents, early editions of plays, copies of the manuscript " newes letters ” which preceded the printed newspaper, and piles of correspondence which some unknown utilitarian investigator had labeled “ private letters, of no value,” but which a later and more discerning student was to appreciate more truly, and render a source of profit and pleasure to the world as well as to herself.

The genealogy of the Verneys goes back to the reign of King John, but first comes under distinct notice in the person of Sir Ralph Verney, the purchaser of Claydon, who was a merchant of London and lord mayor in 1465. This connection of the family with civic life and dignity seems, however, to have been merely temporary and accidental. Its normal position was that of the country gentry, the class which, after the Wars of the Roses and the policy of the Tudors had thinned the ranks and crippled the power of the nobility, may be said to have constituted the backbone of the nation down to a recent period, and which nowhere shows to such advantage as in the history of the long struggle that ended in the overthrow of the Stuarts. The Verneys bore no conspicuous part in that contest ; but it happens that in their case we have at once an excellent example of the typical qualities of their class, and a striking illustration of that conflict of sentiments and principles, of opposing claims and duties, which in every great crisis of this nature brings into play a cross-current, more trying to those who are caught in it, sometimes exciting a closer personal sympathy in those who watch the eddies it creates, than the broad and direct stream of influences and results. It is true that for the mass of the nation, and of the upper classes especially, a long experience of arbitrary encroachments was needed before the intense loyalty developed under the skillful rule and popular prestige of Elizabeth and her ministers gave way to a determined spirit of resistance. But those who took the lead in this revolt, the Eliots, Pyms, Hampdens, and others, had no such relations with the court as involved any wrench of personal affections or the solution of any questions of the private conscience before deciding on their course. Even among the ranks of the nobility there were not many who found themselves in this dilemma, and Falkland, who has been usually regarded as the most striking and pathetic example of the miseries of such a position, was the victim of the weakness of his nature rather than of the strength of his principles. A more typical and illustrative instance is to be found in the career of Sir Edmund Verney, knight marshal and standard bearer of Charles I., and from early youth one of his constant personal attendants, both at home and abroad, but also the head of a house which, by all its affinities of station, kinship, and sentiment, seemed to be committed to the support of the parliamentary cause. In Sir Edmund’s own character there was a mingling of the two strains which, viewed in the perspective of history, represent for us the totally opposite qualities and tendencies of Cavalier and Puritan, although their incompatibility did not become apparent until the actual rupture took place. Looking at him under one aspect, one might describe him briefly by the simple but emphatic old designation, “a gallant gentleman.”Conspicuously brave, honorable, and warm-hearted, with a natural gayety of temperament, a sanguine disposition, and an inclination to profuse expenditure, not unbefitting his position, but tending to encumber bis estate, he was popular both as a courtier and as a landlord, and beloved by his family, his friends, and his dependents. We find him constantly applied to for favors and good offices, while never soliciting any for himself. He does not petition the king for places or for emoluments, but, on the contrary, lends him a thousand pounds on very poor security. He is overwhelmed with commissions from his country neighbors. " The letters asking assistance of all kinds, from all sorts of men, fill whole portfolios.” In particular, “ friends of every degree appeal to him to find husbands and wives for their sons and daughters.” He was no doubt ready and active in meeting all such demands, but his native goodness of heart is best evinced by his interest in the affairs of his cottagers and farmers, and his prompt attention to their needs and requests. In response to an application from one of them respecting some ash wood, he writes to his steward, “ The poore old man offers to pay for it ; tell him I cannot weight to him now, but that I have sent to you to lett him have that wood or any other wood to keepe him from coulde.” All these traits were such as the spirit of an older time, when presented in its ideals and its best examples, had fostered and developed. What had gone on in recent years was not a rooting up of the old stock, but a sedulous grafting upon it. A stricter code of morals, a simpler but sterner creed, a ritual from which all that was thought to savor of superstition and idolatry was banished, and the conviction that not only purity of life and of faith, but the independence of England and the liberties of her people, were bound up with the maintenance of the Protestant religion, — these formed an accumulated heritage of belief and practice, acquired by the valor and resolution of several generations, and still needing to be guarded against open or insidious aggressions. But courtly manners and festive celebrations, gay apparel, flowing hair, and joyful countenances, had not yet been discarded by those who held these principles, and the natural tendency of a peaceable development would have been towards a completer blending of what now appear to us irreconcilable characteristics of two different eras. There could be no better representative of the type of character formed under these influences before they were forced into opposite directions than the simple-hearted knight, Sir Edmund Verney, who is described in Lloyd’s Memorials as “ one of the strictness and piety of a Puritan, of the charity [that is, the free-handed almsgiving] of a Papist, of the civility of an Englishman ; whose family the King his Master would say was the model lie would propose to the gentlemen, whose carriage was such that he was called the only courtier that was not complained of.”

So long as peace remained unbroken, such a man as this could pursue the even tenor of his way, giving his silent votes in the Commons in accordance with his honest convictions, while performing his functions in the ceremonials of the court, without misgivings as to his own consistency or the ultimate healing of the breach between the Parliament and the king. Even a deeper vision might not have apprehended that the innovations or revivals of Laud — call them whichever we may, or think of them however we will — had driven a wedge into the social system which could not fail to split and rend it into discordant fractions. In this, as in all such cases, the first clear perception of the situation came with the suddenness of a surprise to those who had been most active in bringing it about. Even the appeal to arms was made with almost equal confidence on each side that the bulk of the nation would rally to its support, and that the struggle would be short, and the victory speedy and complete. In this temper, the Parliament proceeded to organize an army by such methods as could be devised for the occasion, while Charles, following the precedents and traditions of feudal chivalry, prepared to “ set up his standard,” and summoned his knight marshal to bear his appropriate part in the ceremony. Here, then, was the great problem of the time pointing itself at poor Sir Edmund, and demanding an immediate solution. To disobey was to desert his king and master in the hour of need and peril, and to disown the obligations of his office. To comply was to abandon the friends to whom he was most attached ; to separate himself from his eldest and best loved son, who had for years been his stay and support, the chief manager of his affairs, and his colleague in Parliament; worst of all, to draw his sword against a cause which he believed in his soul to be just and right. Never, surely, was an honest and guileless soul, with no motives of self-interest to throw into the scales, confronted with a crueler choice of alternatives. That he was, as described in a letter of this period, “ a most sade man ” we can well believe. But his decision was not long delayed, nor was it other than might have been expected. With such a nature, the point of honor must perforce override all other considerations. In a conversation with Hyde, reported by the latter in his Life, he said, in answer to an exhortation to assume a more cheerful demeanor, " My condition is much worse than yours, and different, I believe, from any other man’s, and will well justify the raelancholick that I confess to you possesses me. You have satisfaction in your conscience that you are in the right; that the king ought not to grant what is required of him; and so you do your duty and your business together. But for my part, I do not like the quarrel, and do heartily wish that the king would yield and consent to what they desire ; so that my conscience is only concerned in honour and gratitude to follow ray master. I have eaten his bread and served him near thirty years, and will not do so base a thing as to forsake him; and choose rather to lose my life (which I am sure I shall do) to defend and preserve those things which are against my conscience to preserve and defend. For I will deal freely with you, I have no reverence for the Bishops, for whom this Quarrel subsists.”

There was, in truth, as he well saw, but one escape from the false position in which he had become innocently or inadvertently entangled, — to do his devoir as became a true knight, and seek “ deliverance ” in the only way still open to him. His not to reason why, but only to do and die. The opportunity was not long in coming. Two months later, at Edgehill. he took his station in front of the centre of the royal army, and when the line was broken, and he was surrounded by assailants, refused to yield, holding the standard erect to the last, and leaving, it is reported, his lopped - off hand clinging tightly to the staff, when it was captured with his lifeless body.

His successor. Sir Ralph, known to students of history by his notes of the debates in the Long Parliament, was no unworthy scion of the stock. But while generous, helpful, and affectionate, trustworthy in all his dealings, and almost painfully scrupulous in adherence to principle, he had a different temperament from his father’s, — better balanced, perhaps, but less engaging. An excellent man of business and methodical in all his habits, he was naturally somewhat formal, and a little given to copious and ornate phraseology on occasions when one would have wished for the simplest and most direct utterance of emotions which were not the less evidently deep and sincere. Having taken his stand from the first on the side of the Parliament, with no counter engagements to violate in doing so, he might have been expected to go forward in happy freedom from any inward embarrassments or perplexities. But this was not to be. Within a year after his father’s death he too found himself caught in the meshes of a case of conscience. The House of Commons having voted to adopt the Scottish Covenant, all the members were required to sign it, under penalty of the sequestration of their estates. Sir Ralph was one of the few who were unwilling to consent to the change in the form of church government which this measure involved. A short term of grace was allowed to those who absented themselves at the appointed time, and the arguments and persuasions employed in the interval were effectual with most of them. Nor is it probable that the ruin which threatened them in case of non-compliance was the chief motive in inducing their submission. A far stronger consideration was the anomalous and, as it might well seem, unworthy and unjustifiable position in which they would place themselves by separating from their party on grounds that did not allow of their passing over to the opposite camp, and thus remaining useless and idle at a time when it behooved every man to be active and earnest. Even in ordinary political contests we know how the man is looked upon who takes this course, open desertion to the enemy being much less unfavorably viewed. In a crisis involving the safety of the country, the very existence of the common weal, such a position is tenfold more invidious. The case is well put in a letter to Sir Ralph from his cousin, Henry Parker : “ In these publicke divisions, where religion and liberty are indangered, all men ought to adhere to that cause which is dictated to them to be ye better and ye more harmless by ye light of nature and the most forcible indications of reason. No man can say that God has left him no part to act, nor no station to make good; and if some poor mechanick might plead himself to bee wholly unusefull and inconsiderable in these grand cases, yet you are apparently berreft of such excuses. You have an account to make to God. to y° Country, to yr Freinds, to yrselfe, and yr charge of that account wilbee high and valuable; and to thinke that you can exonerate all by saying you were dubious, and not satisfied in all particulars is most strange. Tis impossible yt you should bee equilibrious in ye maine or in ye generality of yr controversye, and if ether scale have but one od grayne in it to sway you, you are as much bounde to obey that sway as he is that has ye strongest propension of judgment.”But Sir Ralph, though he professed to entertain a very humble estimation of himself, and a strong desire to be guided by “better judgments,” was the last man to yield to any reasoning which demanded the sacrifice of a single private scruple, and he came to the conclusion to escape from the pressure of solicitations and appeals which he could meet only with a formulated declaration of the claims of conscience. “ I have resolved,” he wrote, “ to take a jorney, and for a while to retire to some such place where I may have leasure enough to informe my judgment in such things wherein I am yet doubtinge.” He had in fact determined to go into exile. Accordingly, having made such arrangements as were feasible in regard to his affairs, and taking with him his wife and two of his children, he removed to France ; settling first at Rouen, and afterwards at Blois, and passing many tedious years of inactivity and anxiety before he was permitted to return to his beloved home and familiar occupations.

Some brief mention must be made of Sir Edmund’s other sons. The one who was named after his father had inherited his simple and gallant spirit, and, having already served in the army, responded with ardor and unquestioning loyalty to the call of his sovereign. When he learned that Ralph was taking the other side, he was as much shocked and grieved as if he had been wholly ignorant — which indeed is not unlikely to have been the case — of the causes of the war and the temper of the times. “I beseech you,” he wrote, “consider that majesty is sacred ; God sayth, ‘ Touch not myne anointed ; ’ it troubled Davyd that he cutt but the lapp of Saul’s garment.” But when this letter and others remained unanswered, the fear that his brother was offended, and that their fraternal relations were in danger of being severed, led him to write again, in this nobler strain : “I beseech you let not our unfortunate silence breede the least distrust of each other’s affections; although I would willingly loose my right hand that you had gone the other way, yet I will never consent that this dispute shall make a quarrell between us, there be too many to fight with besides ourselves. . . . Though I am tooth and nayle for the king’s cause, and shall endure soe to the death whatsoever his fortune be, yet sweete brother let not this my opinion (for it is guyded by my conscience) nor any report which you can heare of me cause a diffidence of my true love to you.” The fate of this fine young fellow is one of the saddest incidents in tire family history. Most of his years of warfare were spent in Ireland, amid distractions and miseries far exceeding those that befell England. There, almost at the outset of his career, he had fought against the rebels who were carrying slaughter and devastation throughout the country, and there he lost his life in the dreadful massacre at Drogheda, ordered by Cromwell in reprisal for those barbarities.

In strange contrast with these two brothers were Harry and Tom. The former did some scanty fighting for the king, with apparently equal willingness to do as much and as little for the Parliament, the only contests in which he took any strong personal interest being those of the race course. When Ralph was in his throes of conscience about the Covenant, Harry urged him, in the sporting phrase of the times, to “ take the Pitt one way or other; ” adding the wise assurance, which was true in a deeper sense than he conceived, that “non will be in soe sad a condition as those that stand newters.” But a more conspicuous instance of the variety of character that distinguished the Verneys was Tom, the scapegrace of the family, and as amusing a specimen of the tribe as any that Thackeray or Trollope has depicted. In his own conception, he was a gifted and glorious creature, high-mettled and adventurous, yet profoundly sagacious and practical. He started in life with full confidence in his ability to win fortune and distinction in some enterprising career, if only the necessary equipment were provided. Many, in fact, were the outfits successively furnished, not with any belief in his vaunted powers of achievement, nor yet, as might be suspected, in the hope of getting rid of him forever ; but whether as a planter in Virginia and Barbadoes, a soldier of fortune in France and Sweden, or in any other capacity and field of action, he gained nothing but experience, which, as in all such cases, proved an utterly valueless acquisition. The outbreak of the civil war might have been expected to give a decisive and corrective impulse to this bold but eccentric spirit. It was not, however, till several months after the summons had gone forth that he made a pompous announcement to Ralph of his purpose to take the field. “ My full resolution is to goe down to the king’s army, about Wednesday next, and there to proffer my service to his Majesty, which I hope will not only be accepted of, but it may, if it shall pleas God to spare mee my life, be a fortune for me for ever. . . . Now I am noways able to goe unless you will be pleased either to lend me a hors or to give me a hors.” Ralph would seem to have supplied the “ hors ” without any painful scruples about sending this reinforcement to the enemy’s army, not expecting it, perhaps, to have any momentous results. If so, he judged rightly. A few weeks later, Tom had been brought back to London a prisoner, and was writing from the Fleet in his most magniloquent vein : “ For what I have hitherto done, I will maintaine with my life that it is warrantable, . . . with this respect that I did alwayes maintaine that true Protestant religion which my father bred and brought me up in ; next the king’s prerogative, then the liberty of the subject, and last of all the just privileges of parliament.” With so broad a “ platform ” of principles, a prowess so redoubtable, and an adherence to the “ first law of nature ” which was never at fault, Tom was pretty sure to steer his way victoriously through all the troubles of the time ; and we are not surprised to hear that, despite the varied perils of his vagabond existence, including several marriages, he outlived all the rest of the large brood, dying triumphantly in 1707, at the age of ninety-two.

The women of the family, with one exception, are, it must be confessed, its least interesting members. Good Dame Margaret, Sir Edmund’s wife, lived quietly at Claydon, bearing many children, superintending her household with patient care and diligence, and, happily for herself, ending her days in 1641, unclouded by the shadow of fast-approaching calamities. Of her six daughters it is sufficient to say that they were all fairly successful in “ making maches ” suitable to their rank and means, and that even the youngest two or three, who, growing up in a double orphanage at Claydon while the place was in possession of the soldiery, contracted hoidenish manners and somewhat perverse dispositions, were thoroughly practical in their sentiments regarding the main object of feminine ambition. But the coarser features thus exhibited are far more than redeemed by the characteristics of another figure, which is brought out in fuller relief, with a charm which the bare outline that can here be given will at the best serve only to suggest. Mary Blacknall, left in childhood an orphan and an heiress, was privately married when only thirteen to Ralph Verney, then less than sixteen, with the view, apparently, on the part of her guardians, of saving her from the pursuit of rival fortune-hunters who were already becoming assiduous in their attentions. Two years later she became an inmate of Claydon, her youthful husband being then a student at Oxford, but making frequent visits to his girl bride, and winning a love the ardor and depth of which are among the strongest tributes to his own good qualities, while still better evidences of the finer and intenser nature from which they sprang. The sweetness of her disposition, the archness and fun which led to her being dubbed “ Mischiefe " by those who most relished her playful vivacity, the disregard of self which caused her husband to remark that " she never remembered her own claims,” and the ready and active sympathy on which every one could count, from Sir Edmund and Dame Margaret to Harry and Tom, endeared her to the whole household, with one or another of whom she is “ sweetest comfort,” “ sweetest sister,” or “ deare heart ” whenever she is mentioned. In the dark days that ensued, her character shone forth, as was natural, with added force and lustre. It does not appear what her own views, if she had any, may have been in regard to the point on which her husband separated from his party and sacrificed his interests. It was sufficient for her that his course was dictated by his conscience, and she accepted it and all the consequences it entailed without a word of remonstrance or complaint. It was Ralph himself, as he afterwards confessed, who, amid the trials and discomforts of exile, gave vent to impatience and disgust, while “ such was her goodnesse,” he writes, “that when I was most Peevish she would be most Patient, and as if she meant to aire my frowardnesse and frequent follies by the company of her forbearance, studied nothing more than a sweet compliance.” Their chief means of support at this period was the income from her own estate, which had been settled upon herself; and when be proposed to encroach upon this source, in order to meet some old claims on his father’s property, she wrote, being then at a distance from him, “ For my awne land I confess I should have been very glad to have kept enoughe of itt to have provided well for my toe yonger boyes and my gerll; but if that cannot bee, thou mayst as freely dispose of that as of myselfe.”

Nor is it only by her sweetness of temper and her disinterested spirit that this remarkable woman wins our admiration. The fortitude and self-devotion which we are wont to regard as the utmost reach, or at least as the distinctive traits, of feminine heroism were equaled, in her case, by a practical ability and active energy which, in the very crisis of the family fortunes, saved them from threatened ruin. The sequestration of estates voted by the House of Commons could not take effect without the concurrence of the Lords, and the question whether the mere absence of a member from his parliamentary duties should be held to constitute a case of “ delinquency ” had not been decided by the Upper House. This question was not brought to an issue till more than three years had passed, when it was resolved to take up Sir Ralph Verney’s case as one by which it, could be effectually tested. In anticipation of this step, Lady Verney went over to London in November, 1646, to endeavor, by enlisting the coöperation of friends, by securing legal assistance, and by solicitations in every quarter where the exertion of a favorable influence might be gained by address or purchased by gifts, to bring the affair to a fortunate conclusion. For this result two conditions were necessary : first, that the Commons should be induced to refer the matter to the joint committee of the two Houses, and then that the committee should decide in Sir Ralph’s favor. No legislative “ log-roller ” ever labored more strenuously than did Lady Verney in this protracted business; but, as if its incessant toils and fatigues, with alternate encouragements and rebuffs, were not sufficient to tax her powers of endurance, she was herself besieged by applicants, old creditors of the estate whose interest was in default, and the brothers and sisters who had claims upon a portion of the revenues. In the midst of this multiplicity of duties and annoyances, she writes a long letter weekly to Ralph; and when he, ungrateful man, chides her for having failed to answer “ all those severall perticulers" in regard to which he had sent her instructions or inquiries, adding, with the serene self-satisfaction of an ever exact, and punctilious correspondent, “ Had I but one letter to write a Weeke, I would not misse answering the least perticuler,” she administers this gentle rebuke : “ Truly I am confydent tis by chance if I miss ansering of every perticuler ; for I allwayes lay thy letters before me when I wright; butt however, when thou considerest how much I wright and how ill a scribe I am, thou oughtest nott to be angry with me for forgetting now and then a little.”

But far heavier trials than these were in reserve. While the great object of her journey was still in suspense, in an indifferent London lodging, remote from all her family, with no attendant but a newly hired maid, she gave birth to another child. Her recovery was slow, but as soon as she was able to be about she sent the child to Claydon to be nursed, in order that she might again give all her time to her husband’s affairs. A few months later, both this infant and her little girl in France sickened and died, and, without any preparation, she learned the two events simultaneously. The effect of this double bereavement was for the moment overwhelming. Her physician, who was also a kinsman and her ardent admirer, wrote that " she spake idly for two nights, and sometimes did not know her friends.” Her own first mention of the loss is in a brief postscript to a previously written letter to her husband: “ Since I writt this, I have receaved ye sad nues of toe of our deare children’s death, which affliction joyned with being absent from thee is — without God’s great marcy to me — a heavier burthen than can be borne by thine owne unhappy M.” Whereupon Ralph, in a sort of fantastic desperation, conceived the idea of taking himself off to Turkey or some other remote land, leaving his wife to recover and enjoy the estate, and trusting that his own speedy death might end all these troubles and afflictions. Her reply is the last citation which need be made from this correspondence : “ I confess I did believe thou badst hadd other thoughts of me then to think that I could brooke such a proposition. Noe. my harte, you must nott whilest I live have any such desighn withoute you resolve to take me along with you, and then live in whatt parte of the world you most fancye. Itt is not the being intrusted with your estate can give me the least satisfaction.

... If itt be nott posseble for me to finish your buseness I will leave itt to God’s Blessing and the honest Dr’s, care. . . . Truly this very notion of yours hath gone soe neare me that I have scarce had one nights rest since I receaved your letter. I had enough upon me before, and I prayse my God that he hath kept my harte from breaking all this while. . . . It cannot be for my good to be heare without thee, nor for your advantage or our toe dear children’s to have our small famylye divided in fower severall places. . . . To tell you truth I cannott be any longer from you, therefore I am resollved to stand or fall with you and I begg of thee nott to lett this desighn any more enter into your thoughts. . . . I am nott able to say one word more but that at this time there is nott a sadder creature in the world then thine owne Deare M.”

At last the clouds broke, and a gleam of joy visited these tortured hearts. Contrary to the expectation of all who had interested themselves in the matter, a motion to refer the case to the committee, brought in suddenly when the House was crowded in preparation for a debate on a more momentous affair, passed without opposition, and two weeks later, in July, 1647, the final decision was reached, and the sequestration annulled. There were still, however, so many arrangements to make at Claydon and elsewhere that it was not till the following April that Lady Verney was able to rejoin her husband, who judged it best to remain abroad until he should have saved enough to liquidate all the debts. When he at last returned, it was without the companion whose share of the common burden had been heavier than his own, while her courage and sweetness had sustained His spirit when it fretted under the load or was ready to succumb. Neither labors and privations nor anxieties and griefs could subdue her finer but firmer and more elastic nature, but her frailer physical powers were less capable of resistance. In the year following her return to France she fell into a slow decline, and in May, 1650, she died, at the early age of thirtyfour. Sir Ralph survived her forty-six years. The greater portion of his long widowhood was spent in the home which her energy and tact had rescued from forfeiture. He resumed his place as one of the principal landholders of his native county, and sat in the successive Parliaments of the later Stuarts. But it was not till after the “ glorious revolution ” that he saw the government established on the basis of those principles to which he had so long and so consistently adhered, a policy proclaimed which he was free to support, and a court set up at which he could seek favor and influence without tarnishing his good name. His descendants continued to reign at Claydon until early in the present century, when the line, ennobled in its later generations, became extinct.

Here, then (not, of course, in this meagre abstract, but, in the letters and narrations from which it has been drawn), is a “true picture” of English life in the seventeenth century. It embraces many figures besides those that have been mentioned, and shows in full detail the peculiar features of the time to which it belongs ; but it bears also the deeper impress of humanity common to all times. The persons are for the most part such as ordinary experience makes us familiar with, while some of them may revive our recollection of the forces by which qualities are tested and actions impelled when national convulsions derange the relations and subordinate the motives of the regular course of life. Were there not in Virginia, in 1861, men who, in an analogous position to that of Sir Edmund Verney, chose their part from a similar sentiment, and perhaps with as sad a forecast ? Did not many a gallant youth, at the same period, give his life, like the younger Edmund, to a hopeless cause, deeming it unimpeachable and sacred ? As for the Harrys and the Toms, they, in quiet or disturbed times, are always with us. Sir Ralph is styled by his biographer “the very model of an English country gentleman,” and no doubt he had the virtues of his class; but it is to be feared that many married ladies would be disposed to define him, without any abatement for his tender conscience, as merely a man and a husband, — just like the rest of them. But the central figure on the canvas cannot be so lightly described or so easily paralleled. The type is not profusely scattered, and seldom meets us in the pages of biography, Several women of the seventeenth century have been enshrined as among the brightest ornaments of their sex; but neither Lucy Hutchinson, nor Rachel Russell, nor Margaret Godolphin, so far as known to us, showed the same combination of charm and strength as Mary Verney. Such characters are more likely to avoid than to attract the notice of the world, and the reader may be left to supply an instance from his private knowledge. If he be so unfortunate as to discover no example there, he must for this occasion acknowledge the ascendency of imaginative creation, turn to the women of Shakespeare, real through a transcendent idealism and modern through their immortality, and find a similar union of delicate and noble qualities in the playful. mischievous, generous, tender, and impassioned, yet practical and politic Portia.

John Foster Kirk.

  1. Memoirs of the Verney Family during the Civil War. Compiled from the Letters and illustrated by the Portraits at Claydon House. By FRANCES PARTHENOPE VERNEY. TWO volumes. London and New York: Longmans, Green & Co.