Saturday, June 30, 2012

Archibald Campbell

On June 30, 1685, Archibald Campbell, the Ninth Earl of Argyll was beheaded on the maiden in Edinburgh, for his role in the Monmouth Rebellion after Charles II’s death.  Argyll, then in exile, returned to Scotland to take part in an invasion of his home country. 

Argyll lived in turbulent times, and had been under sentence of death earlier, in 1663.  At that time, the intercession of Lord Lauderdale helped to save him.  Campbell wrote a number of letters to John Maitland, then Earl of Lauderdale, during this time, and over many years subsequent.  Many of these letters are collected in “Letters from Archibald, Earl of Argyll to John, Duke of Lauderdale, which was edited by Sir George Sinclair, who possessed originals of the letters.  The compilation, published by the Bannatyne Club was inscribed by the editor to Sir Walter Scott.

Edinburgh, August, 1839.

Here is one letter from that work:

Inveraray, Sept. 20. 64.
My Lord,
I shall have little to say from this till after the 11. of the nixt month, which is the diet of the Justices of Peace. I find our nebours keepe frequent meetings, and discourse much of stures they expect, and doe buy store of gunes, swords, powder, and lead: I desire to know how ther frequent meetings contrarie to law will be lookt on, and how I shall carie to those refuse to come in to acept to be Justices of Peace; whether I may in publike aduise forbearing of meetings, unlesse the occasion be knowen. I have hitherto forborne all legall citations against any nighbours I have to doe with, lest that might be any excuse for any untoward course they take. I find ther is paines taken to spread reports as if I ether neglected, or discountenanced his Maties service, but by gods grace the contrare shall apeare. I will doe what I can, tho I get litle helpe, for I am forced to write to the Archbishope of Glasgow, that ether the Bishope or some from him come heere to look after his Maties concernments in the church. If against the eleavnth of the nixt month ther could be somwhat from his Matie to me, laying his commands upon me in termes that I might communicate, with somwhat requiring obedience to me, in his Maties name, in such things as I desire to be done, by command from him, inviting all to a hearty concurrence in his service, and giving some certification against such as I shall complane of, it may very much contribut to the advancement of his Maties service, and make both friends and nighbours stand the more in aw. I beg a returne of this. Adieu. Remember the commission when you can.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lucien Bonaparte

‘…The debate of the day, remarkable as the last in which the republican party enjoyed the full freedom of speech in France, was opened on 19th Brumaire, at two o'clock, Lucien Bonaparte being president Gaudin, a member of the moderate party, began by moving, that a committee of seven members should be formed, to report upon the state of the Republic; and that measures should be taken for opening a correspondence with the Council of Ancients. He was interrupted by exclamations and clamour on the part of the majority.

"The constitution!" "The constitution or death!" was echoed and re-echoed on every side. "Bayonets frighten us not," said Delbrel; "we are free men." "Down with the dictatorship—no dictators!" cried other members. Lucien in vain endeavoured to restore order. Gaudin was dragged from the tribune; the voice of other moderates was overpowered by clamour— never had the party of democracy shown itself fiercer or more tenacious than when about to receive the death-blow.

"Let us swear to preserve the constitution of the year Three!" exclaimed Delbrel; and the applause which followed the proposition was so general, that it silenced all resistance. Even the members of the moderate party—nay, even Lucien Bonaparte himself—were compelled to take the oath of fidelity to the constitution, which he and they were leagued to destroy."The oath you have just taken," said Bigonnet, "will occupy a place in the annals of history, beside the celebrated vow taken in the tennis-court. The one was the foundation of liberty, the other shall consolidate the structure." ...’

Lucien Bonaparte was often at odds with his older brother, Napoleon.  The political environment in which he endeavored was difficult as well, as the passage above from Sir Walter Scott’s “The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte” indicates.  Lucien Bonaparte died on June 29, 1840, outliving Napoleon by 19 years.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The thinking of Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was born on June 28, 1712, influenced the French Revolution.  It also inspired Walter Scott’s friend Lord Byron.  Sir Walter Scott provides evidence, and his own opinions, in his biographical sketch of Lord Byron, which is published in “The Miscellaneous Works of Sir Walter Scott”.

‘…The next theme on which the poet [Byron] rushes, is the character of the enthusiastic, and as Lord Byron well terms him, "self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau," a subject naturally suggested by the scenes in which that unhappy visionary dwelt, at war with all others, and by no means at peace with himself; an affected contemner of polished society, for whose applause he secretly panted, and a waster of eloquence in praise of the savage state in which his paradoxical reasoning, and studied, if not affected, declamation, would never have procured him an instant's notice. In the following stanza, his character and foibles are happily treated.

"His life was one long war with self-sought foes, Or friends by him self-banish'd; for his mind Had grown Suspicion's sanctuary, and chose For its own cruel sacrifice, the kind, 'Gainst whom he raged with fury strange and blind. But he was frenzied—wherefore, who may know? Since cause might be which skill could never find; But he was frenzied by disease or woe, To that worst pitch of all, which wears a reasoning show."

In another part of the poem, this subject is renewed, where the traveller visits the scenery of La Nouvelle Eloise.

"Clarens, sweet Clarens, birthplace of deep love,
Thine air is the young breath of passionate thought;
Thy trees take root in love; the snows above
The very Glaciers have his colours caught,
And sunset into rose-hues sees them wrought,
By rays which sleep there lovingly." 

There is much more of beautiful and animated description, from which it appears that the impassioned parts of Rousseau's romance have made a deep impression upon the feelings of the noble poet. The enthusiasm expressed by Lord Byron is no small tribute to the power possessed by Jean Jacques over the passions; and, to say truth, we needed some such evidence, for, though almost ashamed to avow the truth, which is probably very much to our own discredit, still, like the barber of Midas, we must speak or die, we have never been able to feel the interest, or discover the merit, of this far-famed performance. That there is much eloquence in the letters, we readily admit: there lay Rousseau's strength. But his lovers, the celebrated St Preux and Julie, have, from the earliest moment we have heard the tale (which we well remember) down to the present hour, totally failed to interest us. There might be some constitutional hardness of heart; but, like Lance's pebblehearted cur, Crab, we remained dry-eyed, while all wept around us. And still, on resuming the volume, even now, we can see little in the loves of these two tiresome pedants to interest our feelings for either of them; we are by no means flattered by the character of Lord Edward Bomston, produced as the representative of the English nation; and, upon the whole, consider the dulness of the story as the best apology for its exquisite immorality. To state our opinion in language much better than our own, we are unfortunate enough to regard this far-famed history of philosophical gallantry as an "unfashioned, indelicate, sour, gloomy, ferocious medley of pedantry and lewdness; of metaphysical speculations, blended with the coarsest sensuality." Neither does Rousseau claim a higher rank with us on account of that Pythian and frenetic inspiration which vented

"Those oracles which set the world in flame,
Nor ceased to burn till kingdoms were no more." 

We agree with Lord Byron that this frenzied sophist, reasoning upon false principles, or rather presenting that show of reasoning which is the worst pitch of madness, was a primary apostle of the French Revolution; nor do we differ greatly from his Lordship's conclusion, that good and evil were together overthrown in that volcanic explosion. But when Lord Byron assures us, that after the successive changes of government by which the French legislators have attempted to reach a theoretic perfection of constitution, mankind must and will begin the same work anew, in order to do it better and more effectually,—we devoutly hope the experiment, however hopeful, may not be renewed in our time, and that the " fixed passion" which Childe Harold describes as "holding his breath," and waiting the "atoning hour," will choke in his purpose ere that hour arrives. Surely the voice of dear-bought experience should now at length silence, even in France, the clamour of empirical philosophy. Who would listen a moment to the blundering mechanic who should say, " I have burned your house down ten times in the attempt, but let me once more disturb your old fashioned chimneys and vents, in order to make another trial, and I will pledge myself to succeed, in heating it upon the newest and most approved principle?"…’

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Melville's Impeachment

The last English impeachment occurred in 1806, and involved Henry Dundas, the Lord Melville.  Lord Henry Cockburn writes of an incident that occurred after Dundas' acquittal, involving Walter Scott, which appears unfavorable to the author, on the surface.  The incident took place on on June 27, 1806. Cockburn treats the issue equitably, in his “Memorials of his Time”.

‘…There were two occurrences more
important — the Impeachment of Lord Melville; and the
proposed reform of the Court of Session.

The charges against Lord Melville were groundless,
and were at last reduced to insignificancy. To those
who knew the pecuniary indifference of the man, and
who think of the comparative facility of peculation in
those irregular days, the mere smallness of the Bums
which he was said to have improperly, touched, is of
itself almost sufficient evidence of his innocence. If he
had been disposed to peculate, it would not have been
for farthings. Nevertheless, his impeachment did more
to emancipate Scotland than even the exclusion of his
party from power. His political omnipotence, which
without any illiberality on his part, implied, at that time,
the suppression of all opposition, had lasted so long and
so steadily, that in despair the discontented concurred in
the general impression that, happen what might, Harry
the ninth would always be uppermost. When he was
not only deprived of power, but subjected to trial, peo-
ple could, scarcely believe their senses. The triumphant
anticipations of his enemies, many of whom exulted with
premature and disgusting joy over the ruin of the man,
were as absurd as the rage of his friends who railed,
with vain malignity, at his accusers and the Constitution.
Between the two, the progress of independence was ma-
terially advanced. A blow had been struck which, not-
withstanding his acquittal, relaxed our local fetters. Our
little great men felt the precariousness of their power;
and even the mildest friends of improvement — those who,
though opposed to him, deplored the fall of a distinguish-
ed countryman more than they valued any political bene-
fit involved in his misfortune, were relieved by seeing
that the main-spring of the Scotch pro-consular system
was weakened.

It was at a public dinner in honor of the acquittal
(27th June, 1806) that Scott produced, and his friend
James Ballantyne sang, that unfortunate song so often
brought against him afterwards, in which, Fox being
then in his last illness, there is a line cheering "Tally-
ho to the Fox" If, as was said, Scott really intended
this as a shout of triumph over the expiring orator, it was
an indecency which no fair license of party zeal can pal-
liate. But I am inclined to believe that nothing was
meant beyond one of the jocular, and not unnatural, ex-
ultations over the defeated leaders of the impeachment,
of which the song is composed. There were some import-
ant persons, however, whose good opinion by this indis-
cretion was lost to Scott forever.*

* Lockhart's explanation (Life of Scott, chap. 15) is, that Scott having (ap-
parently) just accepted of his Clerkship of Session from the Whigs, thought
it necessary to show his independence by abusing them. It seems absurd
to impute this to a sensible man. Besides, it does not hit the blot. It was
not abuse of the Whigs that gave offence, but a supposed triumphant cheer
over Fox's approaching death. ..’