Abbildungen der Seite

mean heart which lurks beneath the star,” in such a manner as to leave it doubtful whether public good or private pique had the chief share in the exposure. Through the whole of his life Burnett was a keen partizan, or, as he has been designated, a christian whig. On party topics, therefore, he had an utter contempt for neutrality and indecision. Where are those delicate and dignified antipathies, which would lead him to think it ignoble to repeat his blow if he missed his aim? His object was to strike hard and in the right place ; no matter how clumsy the stroke, provided it brought down his antagonist. Nevertheless, where his vituperations are fiercest, he, somehow contrives to make it appear that they spring from the movements of a generous and indignant spirit; and that he is employed in what he thinks a work of just and manly castigation.Many, indeed, are the passages in this memorable book, which indicate a strong belief that a new era of historical liberality was commencing, which might dare to seize the truth under whatever form, and bring it forward to the view. In speaking, therefore, of that great Revolution which threw off a line of kings for their tyranny, and adopted a new line for their religion, he has not hesi. tated to display, in their true colours, the conduct, feelings, and views of that party who, in secretly abetting the house of Stuart, sought to revive at the same time, those antiquated and hateful maxims, which taught monarchs to forget that the prosperity and liberty of their subjects were the surest basis of their own greatness. While, then, it is quite apparent to which side Burnett's political feelings carried him, it never with any truth or justice can be said, that he evinces the sad prostitution of mind implied in the condition of a devoted party-man ; which leads such a puppet to refer to mean and interested motives the conduct of every opponent. On the contrary, a sense of truth and justice has often forced him to condemn his political friends, and to approve the proceedings of their adversaries; besides which, of every opinion pronounced by our author, he fairly states the grounds, and the reader is thus enabled to judge whether prejudice or sound reasoning were most conspicuous in his preferences and disgusts, his resentments and his friendships. The delineation of the character of King William may be evidenced in verification of these remarks.

• Some

Notwithstanding, however, the accusations brought against Burnett of his wish to vilify and blacken the character of his royal benefactor, we still feel a love of truth predominant in him which must ever entitle him to public confidence. He may have fallen into some incongruities,--some absurdities,--and some ridiculous stories in describing the politics, the hopes, the fears, the quarrels, and the errors, of the court and country party : but there is in every thing he says, both of friend and foe, a certain fearlessness and open-heartedness of manner, which cannot fail of powerfully impressing this on the reader's mind, that he is listening to the story of an honest as well as able man ;-though one by no means exempt from the common delusions of self-love and self-deceit, and though, also, occasionally seduced, by his political bias, into expressions concerning the personage and actions he is tracing, from which it would have been more laudable to abstain ; the same bias having induced him to give undue weight to some circumstances and to overlook others, as they agree well or ill with his system. times," says Noble, “he disguised real excellences only because they were opposite in sentiments to the mode he had adopted.”

Nor can we deny that there is an act of truth and candour in his descriptions of the adverse political leaders, which inclines us strongly to believe, that not only is he correct in the more prominent lineaments, but that he has contemplated them with that discriminating and divining eye, which had looked, as it were, into their most hidden thoughts. So graphic are his portraits that two or three lines are sufficient to mark the whole man. They, indeed, who do not take their idea of Burnett from the abuse of professed enemies, will give their cordial assent to the assertion, that his general opinions are sound, intelligent, and enlightened ; and that several of his remarks not only discover a manly strength of intellect, but a habit of assigning grounds for the conclusions which he formed not usual when he lived and wrote ; and evidently shew, that he was capable of appreciating, in a considerable degree, the influence which the great events of his age must exercise upon future generations. Giving him, however, this high praise, that he occasionally fell into a train of thinking, which proved his anticipation of the sentiments of a more experienced and impartial posterity, it must, at the same time, be admitted that he was by no means exempt from an imperfection common to those who write the history of their own times—I mean that he was too much occupied with the designs of the statesmen and courtiers, to whom he was politically attached, to attend sufficiently to the immediate influence of those designs upon the national mind, and the tendency to advance or retard it. Nevertheless, from the habit he had acquired of analyzing, with the most piercing sagacity, the characters of those remarkable persons with whom he had come in contact in the course of his long career, and of studying their strongest and profoundest passions, under the conviction that a knowledge of these would develope that which is so difficult to comprehend,—the machinery of a court; and from being influenced by no squeamish feelings, in boldly and unsparingly testifying against the faults and corruptions of public men ; certain it is, that, from these combined circumstances, he was often enabled to place an obscure and complicated subject in a correct and distinct point of view.

He acknowledges, however, with the greatest frankness, his narrative of English affairs to be imperfect and out of order ; but, at the same time, trusting to the lights he had to guide him, challenges for his statements the fullest belief, though given on the mere strength of bare assertion. For a wise man, the Bishop was, unquestionably, too much governed by his passions; and these sometimes led him, in his reflections upon great questions of domestic policy, and upon the changes and revolutions of the ministry at home, to speak of those who were opposed to him, with a deep irony, and bitter malevolence, which trespass equally against candour, and the rules of fair and honourable controversy. But with respect to his account of the affairs of Scotland, certainly among the most interesting and curious portions of the work, though his ill-judging critics have, with singularly bad taste, characterized it among the dullest and most wearisome, the gallery of portraits there exhibited, is finished with scrupulous accuracy. In his delineation, also, of the leading Presbyterians and Episcopalians we meet with an impartiality which the prejudices of education and profession can scarcely be perceived to warp: thus reflecting the highest credit upon his independence as a politician, and his tolerant principles as a churchman. The discontent and impatience, the loud and angry clamours, which spread and multiplied under the Scottish government in the reigns of the two last Stuarts, and which converted the whole country into a field of blood, the levity, caprice, and tyranny, which prevailed in the councils of Middleton, Sharp, and especially Lauderdale, the heroic and courageous sufferings of the Covenanters, and the fanaticism and sanguinary spirit to which they gave birth, are all powerfully painted. Nor does he ever stand forth more conspicuously a true, devoted, and indefatigable servant of his country, than when, in his descriptions of these distracting periods of Scottish history, he labours to impress the ruling authorities with the criminality of obstinately maintaining those abuses which are hateful to the people, and with the imperious necessity existing, in times of general discontent, to execute the law of the land with steady hands, accompanied by a spirit of conciliation.

We are, sometimes, betrayed into dangerous prejudices by a principle of association, rather than by decision of judgment. Unless Burnett, however, can make a steady appeal to facts, no such apology can be offered for the severe strictures he has passed upon the great majority of his profession. The case, indeed, must be very clear, strong, and important, which could justify a divine, and especially a bishop, in putting forth such a sentiment as the following:-" That he was always inclined to think ill of churchmen till he saw cause to think otherwise;"- i-a dictum much more offensive to clerical ears, than that well-known sarcasm pronounced by Lord Clarendon, “ that clergymen understand the least, and take the worst measure of human affairs, of all mankind who can read or write."

Now to suppose, as some have done, that Burnett railed against the priesthood because he hated it, is unworthy of any serious notice ; especially when his unceasing, and, at last, successful efforts to employ those funds for the benefit of the inferior clergy which Charles II. had lavished among his mistresses and natural children, must ever be regarded as a striking proof of his zeal for the interest of his order, as well as of his own earnest feelings in behalf of moral and religious truth. Whoever has examined the subject in

question without bias or prejudice, must concede that though, from the Restoration to the Accession of the house of Hanover, the Anglican Church could exhibit some instances of the most commanding talents, and of the most primitive virtues—men who were the pil. lars of fire which brighten the darkness of the night, and make straight the paths of the wilderness,-yet that the zeal of many of its ministers slackened to a degree which justifies us in affirming, that they proved unfaithful to their trust. These nodded beside the altar, while rash and presumptuous hands were heaping unhal. lowed fuel upon it, under the plausible fretence that the sacred flame was extinet. By their culpable supineness and indifference, a hideous breach was thus made in the fortress of our faith, by infidels, and scorners, which had nearly enabled them to shake its very foundations. The excellent Leighton spoke of the church as a fair carcase, without a spirit-the best constituted in the world, but one of the most corrupt in administration. And when Burnett represents the clergy, in his time, as “having less authority, and being more under contempt, than any other church in Europe,”not that he affirms their lives were scandalous, but that “their conduct was negligent;" and when he adds “that they would never regain the influence which they had lost, till they lived better, and laboured more,” we must come to one or other of these conclusions-either, that he who penned these sentiments in utter disregard of some of the dearest interests of mankind entertained the unnatural wish of lowering the consequence of the order to which he belonged that he had a secret gratification in making it the specific ground of his revilings; or that, perceiving in the constitution of the church the elements of all that is good and great as bearing, most vitally and essentially, on the best interests of the commonwealth-he felt that it would be a betrayal of his duty, as one of the governors of that church, not to do his utmost to urge on that moral and religious change which should demonstrate to the public at large, that the church, however she appeared to languish and decay, might soon, by the confederated zeal of a renovated clergy, be raised from the ground on which she lay, and shake off the dust by which her original lustre had been so long obscured. Such, then, as think Burnett capable of libelling the clergy, the

« ZurückWeiter »