« PreviousContinue »
(And that maid my daughter ;) to preserve your glory,
Act V. Immediately after this, a sudden conversion takes place in the king, on hearing of the landing of the Dauphin, and of an army under Young Bruce. However, not before he has remorselessly procured the death of Matilda, by means of a poisoned glove, because she had escaped entirely from his power. As he is repenting, her funeral passes; he relents with stronger marks of contrition, and a reconciliation is huddled up in a very short time among all the parties, and the play finishes with a dirge over the fate of the unfortunate Matilda.
Andrew Pennycuicke, for whom this play was printed, states in his dedication that it passed the stage with general applause, (he being the last that acted Matilda in it.) This is a late period for a man to perform the part of a woman. He also says, that it does not appear in its ancient and full glory; a piece of information for which we give him implicit credit. The text is in truth very corrupt. We have hazarded a few emendations, and are inclined to think that several defects still observable in the metre are to be ascribed to the said Andrew, and not to the author. Davenport is also the author of a comedy, called A new Trick to cheat the Devil, and a tragi-comedy, entitled The City Night-Cap; besides several plays which have never been printed. The first is a very agreeable facetious comedy, and the second possesses occasional energy both of feeling and writing.
ART. VII.—The Political Works of Andrew Fletcher, Esq.
Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, was a steady and ardent, though not always a discreet, patriot; a forcible speaker, and an ingenious political speculator. His public life lasted through a long and very interesting period, both of Scotch and English history; and he was connected, in a greater or less degree, with most of the illustrious personages, arduous struggles, and important changes, of that period. These are claims for more attention than has been generally directed towards him, but not for more than this little volume is calculated amply to repay.
Although Fletcher was an active partizan from the time when he first became known, as an opponent of the Duke of Lauderdale's administration, in the reign of Charles II., to the extinction of the Scottish parliament by the Union, it was only during about five years, towards the close of his career, that he appeared as an author. The first article in this collection was printed in 1698, and the last very early in 1704. He was the same man in composition, as in debate and action. He battles as vigorously with pen and press, as he had been accustomed to do with sword and tongue. One could have wished, that he had taken to writing sooner; and that more of his own romantic history, (for such it seems to have been by the scanty notices in the Earl of Buchan's Essays on the Lives of Fletcher and Thomson, published in 1792,) and of the particulars of his intercourse with the great actors of his times, had been preserved : but still we take up with interest whatever was written by so extraordinary a man as he really, was; by one who had studied so intently, and thought so freely, and felt so strongly; who was at once so accomplished a scholar, and so bustling a politician ; whose family was so noble and whose principles so levelling, for his mother was descended from the stock of Bruce, and every beating of his republican heart sent royal blood rushing through his veins ;-who was one of the only two Scotchmen admitted to the confidence of Lord Russell's Council of Six; who accompanied the unfortunate Monmouth on his desperate undertaking; who was the associate of Sir Patrick Hume, and the other illustrious refugees at the Hague, by whom the revolution of 1688 was concerted; who never asked nor received any honour or emolument from the sovereign whom he had helped to raise to the throne, but regarded his measures with the same jealous patriotism as he had manifested towards others; and who, in the Scottish parliament, fought vigorously and splendidly the last battle of his country's independence. The relics of such a man must be regarded with reverence.
There is a cotemporary, character of him prefixed to his works, which so well epitomizes his history, and is so good and true in itself, that we insert it. It is taken “ from a MS. in the library of the late Thomas Rawlinson, Esq.”.
“ Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, is a gentleman of good estate in Scotland, attended with the improvement of a good education. He was knight of the shire for Lothian, to that parliament where the Duke of York was commissioner, in the reign of King Charles II., and openly opposed the designs of that prince, and the fatal bill of Accession, which obliged him to retire, first to England, and then to Holland.
“ The Duke of York could not forgive his behaviour in that par
liament; they summoned him to appear at Edinburgh, which he not daring to do, was declared traitor, and his estate confiscated: he retired to Hungary, and served several campaigns under the Duke of Lorrain : he returned to Holland, after the death of King Charles II., and came over to England with the Duke of Monmouth; had the misfortune to shoot the Mayor of Lime after his landing; and on it returned again to Holland; and came over at the revolution with the Prince of Orange.
“ He is so zealous an assertor of the liberties of the people, that he is too jealous of the growing power of all princes; in whom he thinks ambition so natural, that he is not for trusting the best of princes with the power which ill ones may make use of against the people: believes all princes were made by, and for the good of, the people, and thinks princes should have no power but that of doing good. This made him oppose King Charles; invade King James ; and oppose the giving so much power to King William, whom he never would serve; nor does he ever come into the administration of this Queen : but stands up a stout pillar for the constitution of the parliament of Scotland.
“He is a gentleman, steady in his principles, of nice honour, with abundance of learning: brave as the sword he wears, and bold as a lion: a sure friend and an irreconcileable enemy: would lose his life readily to serve his country; and would not do a base thing to save it. His thoughts are large as to religion, and could never be brought within the bounds of any particular sect. Nor will he be under the distinction of a whig or tory; saying, those names are used to cloak the knaves of both.
“ His notions of government, however, are too fine spun, and can hardly be lived up to by men subject to the common frailties of nature; neither will be give allowance for extraordinary emergencies ; witness the Duke of Shrewsbury, with whom he had always been very intimate; yet the duke coming to be Secretary of State a second time, purely to save his country, this gentleman would never be in common charity with him afterwards. And my Lord Spencer, now Lord Sunderland, for voting for the army, was used by that man much after the same manner. ,
“He hath wrote some very good things; but they are not published in his name: he hath a very good genius. A low, thin man, of a brown complexion ; full of fire; with a stern, sour look; and fifty years old.”
The publications here referred to are, we apprehend, those collected in this volume.. The character is very accurately drawn, and the failings which it ascribes are fully certified by both the life and writings of Fletcher. He was, in truth, of a fiery, impetuous, and overbearing disposition; a thing not very uncommon with great reformers, or those who aspire to be, or to be thought so. So generally are they of this temperament, that it may almost be taken as an essential part of the character. It cleaves to them from Martin Luther down to William
Cobbett Nature seems seldom to have bestowed the exact portion of irritability, which would make man a sturdy opponent to public wrong, and yet an amiable and unassuming companion, and gentle master of those whom he commands. The hatred of subordination, of the individual's own subordination to others; that is, not of theirs to him ; is often mistaken for the love of liberty ; but where there is every reason to believe the latter most sincere and fervent, it has too often been allayed by an impatience of any obstacle in the theories or conduct of others. We must very often take heroes and patriots, as well as horses, with all faults ; glad at whatever good they may do in the world, admirers of the formidable energies they display, but not at all disposed to desire their daily companionship in place of the less daring, but more accommodating and gentle spirits who bless our quiet hours.' ...
Another fault of Fletcher's, and as to the success of his political efforts a more serious one, is hinted at in the character just quoted, on which we must also suffer a verdict of guilty to be taken, and judgment to pass : and that is, his entertaining « fine spun notions of government,” or, in plain terms, his republicanism. Not that it is any fault, whether it be folly is another question, to consider a republic the most perfect form of government; nor is such a speculation, if it be only a speculation, at all inconsistent with being a good and faithful subject under a monarchy, and even doing the state some service. Nor is it at all to be complained of, but rather to be praised, if in some great convulsion, when the foundations of society are broken up, and its elements mingled in chaotic confusion, such convictions should inspire an effort to re-arrange them in the supposed best of all possible modes. But for one born and living under a settled monarchy, professing allegiance to the government, and holding a public station of the highest importance, that of a legislator; and who, in virtue of that profession, is continually aiming to effect alterations in existing laws; for such an one to act and reason on principles peculiarly republican, and by argument or ridicule strive to bring monarchy into contempt, is something worse than injudicious, and must bring after it not only the failure of attempts at reform, which might otherwise have succeeded, but the disapprobation of every sound mind on the inconsistent reformer. Fletcher has exposed himself to this censure. Buchan tells the following anecdote of him: “ Fletcher used to say, with Cromwell and Milton, that the trappings of a monarchy and a great aristocracy would patch up a very clever little commonwealth.” Being in company one day with the witty Dr. Pitcairn, the conversation turned on a person of learning, whose history was not distinctly known. " I knew the man well,” said Fletcher, “he
was hereditary professor of divinity at Hamburgh.”. “ Hereditary professor !” said Pitcairn, with a laugh of astonishment and derision. “ Yes, doctor, replied Fletcher, “ hereditary professor of divinity. What think you of an hereditary king ? This is rather a specimen than evidence, of which the reader will find abundance, in some of the measures which he advocated; such as transferring the disposal of all offices, of the control of the army, &c. from the sovereign to the parliament; and in many of the reasonings by which these and other schemes were advocated, as in the “ Conversation concerning a right regulation of governments for the common good of mankind,” where he sarcastically demonstrates even limited hereditary monarchy to be “ a mad kind of government." . We are, however, beginning at the wrong end, and commencing our sentence with the qualifying but, which should have come afterwards, when the laudatory clause had been fully expressed. This might not do in cotemporary criticism, but we retrospectives are privileged ; and it may naturally happen, that in looking back we observe that first, at which the regular traveller by the road would arrive last. It is true, the journals of the day have an excuse for censure which we cannot plead, as it behoves them to notice whatever comes out, good, bad, or indifferent, while we can pick and cull from the stores of all ages. If an old book be not worth reading, it is not worth our while to tear it from its grave to review it: but still the best are not perfect, and our vituperations may afford a little consolation for the victims of modern critics, and pour balm in the wounds made by their lashes. .
Fletcher's works consist of Speeches in the Scottish Parliament, in the years 1701 and 1703; Political Discourses on “ Government, with relation to militias," on the affairs of Scotland, on those of Spain, and “ an account of a conversation concerning a right regulation of governments for the common good of mankind.” c. So far as the claims of an orator to excellence in his art can be decided by printed speeches, those of Fletcher entitle him to considerable eminence. They are chiefly characterized by vehement reasoning. He was as argumentative as Fox, whose eloquence, it has been justly said, was his logic; and as fiery and impetuous as Lord Chatham. But he did not usually reason, like Fox, upon great principles; or, if he did, they were principles by no means universally received, and not less obnoxious to his opponents than the conclusions at which he aimed. Nor did he, like that illustrious man, breathe such a spirit of philanthropy into his opposition to power, as made hatred to the oppressor, if it appeared at all, only subordinate to, and necessarily flowing from, pity for the oppressed, and