Books and men/The Cavalier
"An evil reputation is light to raise, but heavy to bear, and very difficult to put aside. No Rumor which many people chatter of altogether dieth away; she too is, after her kind, an immortal." So moralizes Hesiod over an exceedingly thankless truth, which, even in the primitive simplicity of the golden age, had forced itself upon man's unwilling convictions; and while many later philosophers have given caustic expression to the same thought, few have clothed it with more delicate and agreeable irony. Rumor is, after her kind, an immortal. Antæus-like, she gains new strength each time she is driven to the ground, and it is a wholesome humiliation for our very enlightened minds to see how little she has suffered from centuries of analysis and research. Rumor still writes our histories, directs our diplomacy, and controls our ethics, until we have grown to think that this is probably what is meant by the vox populi, and that any absurdity credited by a great many people becomes in some mysterious way sacred to the cause of humanity, and infinitely more precious than truth. When Wodrow, and Walker, and the author of The Cloud of Witnesses, were compiling their interesting narratives, Rumor, in the person of "ilka auld wife in the chimley-neuck," gave them all the information they desired; and this information, countersigned by Macaulay, has passed muster for history down to the present day. As a result, the introduction of Graham of Claverhouse into Mr. Lang's list of English Worthies has been received with severely qualified approbation, and Mr. Mowbray Morris has written the biography of a great soldier in the cautious tone of a lawyer pleading for a criminal at the bar.
If ever the words of Hesiod stood in need of an accurate illustration, it has been furnished by the memory of Claverhouse; for his evil reputation was not only raised with astonishing facility, but it has never been put aside at all. In fact, it seems to have been a matter of pride in the grim-visaged Scottish saints to believe that their departed brethren were, one and all, the immediate victims of his wrath; and to hint that they might perhaps have fallen by any meaner hand was, as Aytoun wittily expressed it, "an insult to martyrology." The terror inspired by his inflexible severity gave zest to their lurid denunciations, and their liveliest efforts of imagination were devoted to conjuring up in his behalf some fresh device of evil. In that shameless pasquinade, the Elegy, there is no species of wickedness that is not freely charged, in most vile language, to the account of every Jacobite in the land, from the royal house of Stuart down to its humblest supporter; yet even amid such goodly company, Claverhouse stands preëminent, and is the recipient of its choicest flowers of speech.
"He to Rome's cause most firmly stood,
And drunken was with the saints' blood.
He rifled houses, and did plunder
In moor and dale many a hunder;
He all the shires in south and west
With blood and rapine sore opprest."
It is needless to say that Claverhouse, though he served a Catholic master, had about as much affinity for the Church of Rome as the great Gustavus himself, and that the extent of his shortcomings in this direction lay in his protesting against the insults offered by a Selkirk preacher to King James through the easy medium of his religion.
Now it is only natural that the Covenanters, who feared and hated Dundee, should have found infinite comfort in believing that he was under the direct protection of Satan. In those days of lively faith, the charge was by no means an uncommon one, and the dark distinction was shared by any number of his compatriots. On the death of Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, the devil, who had waited long for his prey, manifested his sense of satisfaction by providing an elaborate funeral cortége, which came over the sea at midnight, with nodding plumes and sable horses, to carry off in ostentatious splendor the soul of this much-honored guest. Prince Rupert was believed by the Roundheads to owe his immunity from danger to the same diabolic agency which made Claverhouse proof against leaden bullets; and his white dog, Boy, was regarded with as much awe as was Dundee's famous black charger, the gift of the evil one himself. As a fact, Boy was not altogether unworthy of his reputation, for he could fight almost as well as his master, though unluckily without sharing in his advantages; for the poor brute was shot at Marston Moor, in the very act of pulling down a rebel. Even the clergy, it would seem, were not wholly averse to Satan's valuable patronage; for Wodrow—to whose claims as an historian Mr. Morris is strangely lenient—tells us gravely how the unfortunate Archbishop of St. Andrew's cowered trembling in the Privy Council, when Janet Douglas, then on trial for witchcraft, made bold to remind him of the "meikle black devil" who was closeted with him the last Saturday at midnight.
But even our delighted appreciation of these very interesting and characteristic legends cannot altogether blind us to the dubious quality of history based upon such testimony, and it is a little startling to see that, as years rolled by, the impression they created remained practically undimmed. Colonel Fergusson, in the preface to his delightful volume on The Laird of Lag, confesses that in his youth it was still a favorite Halloween game to dress up some enterprising member of the household as a hideous beast with a preternaturally long nose,—made, in fact, of a saucepan handle; and that this creature, who went prowling stealthily around the dim halls and firelit kitchen, frightening the children into shrieks of terror, was supposed to represent the stout old cavalier searching for his ancient foes the Covenanters. Lag's memory appears to have been given up by universal consent to every species of opprobrium, and his misdeeds have so far found no apologist, unless, indeed, Macaulay may count as one, when he gracefully transfers part of them to Claverhouse's shoulders. Mr. Morris coldly mentions Sir Robert Grierson as "coarse, cruel, and brutal beyond even the license of those days;" Colonel Fergusson is far too clever to weaken the dramatic force of his book by hinting that his hero was not a great deal worse than other men; and Scott, in that inimitable romance, Wandering Willie's Tale, has thrown a perfect glamour of wickedness around the old laird's name. But in truth, when we come to search for sober proven facts; when we discard—reluctantly, indeed, but under compulsion—the spiked barrel in which he was pleased to roll the Covenanters, in Carthaginian fashion, down the Scottish hills; and the iron hook in his cellar, from which it was his playful fancy to depend them; and the wine which turned to clotted blood ere it touched his lips; and the active copartnership of Satan in his private affairs,—when we lay aside these picturesque traditions, there is little left save a charge, not altogether uncommon, of indecorum in his cups, the ever-vexed question of the Wigtown martyrs, and a few rebels who were shot, like John Bell, after scant trial, but who, Heaven knows, would have gained cold comfort by having their cases laid before the council. On the other hand, it might be worth while to mention that Lag was brave, honest, not rapacious, and, above all, true to his colors when the tide had turned, and he was left alone in his old age to suffer imprisonment and disgrace.
But if the memory of a minor actor in these dark scenes has come down to us so artistically embellished, what may we not expect of one who played a leading part through the whole stormy drama? "The chief of this Tophet on earth," is the temperate phrase applied to Claverhouse by Macaulay, and it sufficiently illustrates the position popularly assigned him by his foes. Rumor asserted in his behalf her triumphant immortality, and crystallized into tradition every floating charge urged by the Covenanters against his fame. So potent and far-reaching was her voice that it became in time a virtuous necessity to echo it; and we actually find Southey writing to Scott in 1807, and regretting that Wordsworth should have thought fit to introduce the Viscount of Dundee into the sonnet on Killiecrankie, without any apparent censure of his conduct. Scott, who took a somewhat easier view of poetical obligations, and who probably thought that Killiecrankie was hardly the fitting spot on which to recall Dundee's shortcomings, wrote back very plainly that he thought there had been censure enough already; and nine years later he startled the good people of Edinburgh, on his own account, by the publication of that eminently heterodox novel, Old Mortality. Lockhart tells us that the theme was suggested to Sir Walter by his friend Mr. Joseph Train, who, when visiting at Abbotsford, was much struck by the solitary picture in the poet's library, a portrait of Graham of Claverhouse.
"He expressed the surprise with which every one who had known Dundee only in the pages of the Presbyterian annalists must see for the first time that beautiful and melancholy visage, worthy of the most pathetic dreams of romance. Scott replied that no character had been so foully traduced as the Viscount of Dundee; that, thanks to Wodrow, Cruikshanks, and such chroniclers, he who was every inch a soldier and a gentleman still passed among the Scottish vulgar for a ruffian desperado, who rode a goblin horse, was proof against shot, and in league with the devil.
"'Might he not,' said Train, 'be made, in good hands, the hero of a national romance, as interesting as any about either Wallace or Prince Charlie?'
"'He might,' said Scott, 'but your western zealots would require to be faithfully portrayed in order to bring him out with the right effect.'"
Train then described to Sir Walter the singular character of Old Mortality, and the result was that incomparable tale which took the English reading world by storm, and provoked in Scotland a curious fever of excitement, indignation, and applause. The most vigorous protest against its laxity came from Thomas MacCrie, one of the numerous biographers of John Knox, "who considered the representation of the Covenanters in the story of Old Mortality as so unfair as to demand, at his hands, a very serious rebuke." This rebuke was administered at some length in a series of papers published in the Edinburgh Christian Instructor. Scott, the "Black Hussar of Literature," replied with much zest and spirit in the Quarterly Review; cudgels were taken up on both sides, and the war went briskly on, until Jeffrey the Great in some measure silenced the controversy by giving it as his ultimatum that the treatment of an historical character in a work of pure fiction was a matter of very trifling significance. It is not without interest that we see the same querulous virtue that winced under Sir Walter's frank enthusiasm for Claverhouse uttering its protest to-day against the more chilly and scrupulous vindications of Mr. Morris's biography. "An apology for the crimes of a hired butcher," one critic angrily calls the sober little volume, forgetting in his heat that the term "hired butcher," though most scathing in sound, is equally applicable to any soldier, from the highest to the lowest, who is paid by his government to kill his fellow-men. War is a rough trade, and if we choose to call names, it is as easy any time to say "butcher" as "hero." Stronger words have not been lacking to vilify Dundee, and many of these choice anathemas belong, one fears, to Luther's catalogue of "downright, infamous, scandalous lies." Their freshness, however, is as amazing as their ubiquity, and they confront us every now and then in the most forlorn nooks and crannies of literature. Not very long ago I was shut up for half an hour in a boarding-house parlor, in company with a solitary little book entitled Scheyichbi and the Strand, or Early Days along the Delaware. Its name proved to be the only really attractive thing about it, and I was speculating drearily as to whether Charles Lamb himself could have extracted any amusement from its pages, when suddenly my eye lighted on a sentence that read like an old familiar friend: "The cruelty, the brutality, the mad, exterminating barbarity of Claverhouse, and Lauderdale, and Jeffreys, the minions of episcopacy and the king." There it stood, venerably correct in sentiment, with a strangely new location and surroundings. It is hard enough, surely, to see Claverhouse pilloried side by side with the brute Jeffreys; but to meet him on the banks of the Delaware is like encountering Ezzelin Romano on Fifth Avenue, or Julian the Apostate upon Boston Common.
Much of this universal harmony of abuse may be fairly charged to Macaulay, for it is he who in a few strongly written passages has presented to the general reader that remarkable compendium of wickedness commonly known as Dundee. "Rapacious and profane, of violent temper and obdurate heart," is the great historian's description of a man who sought but modest wealth, who never swore, and whose imperturbable gentleness of manner was more appalling in its way than the fiercest transports of rage. Under Macaulay's hands Claverhouse exhibits a degree of ubiquity and mutability that might well require some supernatural basis to sustain it. He supports as many characters as Saladin in the Talisman; appearing now as his brother David Graham, in order to witness the trial of the Wigtown martyrs, and now as his distant kinsman, Patrick Graham, when it becomes expedient to figure as a dramatic feature of Argyle's execution. He changes at will into Sir Robert Grierson, and is thus made responsible for that highly curious game which Wodrow and Howie impute to Lag's troopers, and which Macaulay describes with as much gravity as if it were the sacking and pillage of some doomed Roman town. It is hard to understand the precise degree of pleasure embodied in calling one's self Apollyon and one's neighbor Beelzebub; it is harder still to be properly impressed with the tremendous significance of the deed. I have known a bevy of schoolgirls, who, after an exhaustive course of Paradise Lost, were so deeply imbued with the sombre glories of the satanic court that they assumed the names of its inhabitants; and, for the remainder of that term, even the mysterious little notes that form so important an element of boarding-school life began—heedless of grammar—with "Chère Moloch," and ended effusively with "Your ever-devoted Belial." It is quite possible that these children thought and hoped they were doing something desperately wicked, only they lacked a historian to chronicle their guilt. It is equally certain that Lag's drunken troopers, if they ever did divert themselves in the unbecoming manner ascribed to them, might have been more profitably, and, it would seem, more agreeably, employed. But, of one thing, at least, we may feel tolerably confident. The pastime would have found scant favor in the eyes of Claverhouse, who was a man of little imagination, of stern discipline, and of fastidiously decorous habits. Why, even Wandering Willie does him this much justice, when he describes him as alone amid the lost souls, isolated in his contemptuous pride from their feasts and dreadful merriment: "And there sat Claverhouse, as beautiful as when he lived, with his long, dark, curled locks streaming down over his laced buff-coat, and his left hand always on his right spule-blade, to hide the wound that the silver bullet had made. He sat apart from them all, and looked at them with a melancholy, haughty countenance." If history be, as Napoleon asserts, nothing but fiction agreed upon, let us go straight to the fountainhead, and enjoy our draught of romance unspoiled by any dubious taint of veracity.
Mr. Walter Bagehot, that most keen and tolerant of critics, has pointed out to us with his customary acumen that Macaulay never appreciated in the highest degree either of the two great parties—the Puritans and the Cavaliers—who through so many stirring events embodied all the life and color of English history. In regard to the former, it may be safely said that whatever slights they have received at the hands of other historians have been amply atoned for by Carlyle. He has thrown the whole weight of his powerful personality into their scale, and has fairly frightened us into that earnestness of mind which is requisite for a due appreciation of their merits. His fine scorn for the pleasant vices which ensnare humanity extended itself occasionally to things which are pleasant without being vicious; and under his leadership we hardly venture to hint at a certain sneaking preference for the gayer side of life. When Hazlitt, with a shameless audacity rare among Englishmen, disencumbers himself lightly of his conscience, and apostrophizes the reign of Charles II. as that "happy, thoughtless age, when king and nobles led purely ornamental lives," we feel our flesh chilled at such a candid avowal of volatility. Surely Hazlitt must have understood that it is precisely the fatal picturesqueness of that period to which we, as moralists, so strenuously object. The courts of the first two Hanoverians were but little better or purer, but they were at least uglier, and we can afford to look with some leniency upon their short-comings. His sacred majesty George II. was hardly, save in the charitable eyes of Bishop Porteus, a shining example of rectitude; but let us rejoice that it never lay in the power of any human being to hint that he was in the smallest degree ornamental.
The Puritan, then, has been wafted into universal esteem by the breath of his great eulogist; but the Cavalier still waits for his historian. Poets and painters and romancers have indeed loved to linger over this warm, impetuous life, so rich in vigor and beauty, so full to the brim of a hardy adventurous joy. Here, they seem to say, far more than in ancient Greece, may be realized the throbbing intensity of an unreflecting happiness. For the Greek drank deeply of the cup of knowledge, and its bitterness turned his laughter into tears; the Cavalier looked straight into the sunlight with clear, joyous eyes, and troubled himself not at all with the disheartening problems of humanity. How could a mind like Macaulay's, logical, disciplined, and gravely intolerant, sympathize for a moment with this utterly irresponsible buoyancy! How was he, of all men, to understand this careless zest for the old feast of life, this unreasoning loyalty to an indifferent sovereign, this passionate devotion to a church and easy disregard of her precepts, this magnificent wanton courage, this gay prodigality of enjoyment! It was his loss, no less than ours, that, in turning over the pages of the past, he should miss half of their beauty and their pathos; for History, that calumniated muse, whose sworn votaries do her little honor, has illuminated every inch of her parchment with a strong, generous hand, and does not mean that we should contemptuously ignore the smallest fragment of her work. The superb charge of Rupert's cavalry; that impetuous rush to battle, before which no mortal ranks might stand unbroken; the little group of heart-sick Cavaliers who turned at sunset from the lost field of Marston Moor, and beheld their queen's white standard floating over the enemy's ranks; the scaffolds of Montrose and King Charles; the more glorious death of Claverhouse, pressing the blood-stained grass, and listening for the last time to the far-off cries of victory; Sidney Godolphin flinging away his life, with all its abundant promise and whispered hopes of fame; beautiful Francis Villiers lying stabbed to the heart in Surbiton lane, with his fair boyish face turned to the reddening sky,—these and many other pictures History has painted for us on her scroll, bidding us forget for a moment our formidable theories and strenuous partisanship, and suffer our hearts to be simply and wholesomely stirred by the brave lives and braver deaths of our mistaken brother men.
"Every matter," observes Epictetus, "has two handles by which it may be grasped;" and the Cavalier is no exception to the rule. We may, if we choose, regard him from a purely moral point of view, as a lamentably dissolute and profligate courtier; or from a purely picturesque point of view, as a gallant and loyal soldier; or we may, if we are wise, take him as he stands, making room for him cheerfully as a fellow-creature, and not vexing our souls too deeply over his brilliant divergence from our present standard. It is like a breath of fresh air blown from a roughening sea to feel, even at this distance of time, that strong young life beating joyously and eagerly against the barriers of the past; to see those curled and scented aristocrats who, like the "dandies of the Crimea," could fight as well as dance, facing pleasure and death, the ball-room and the battle-field, with the same smiling front, the same unflagging enthusiasm. No wonder that Mr. Bagehot, analyzing with friendly sympathy the strength and weakness of the Cavalier, should find himself somewhat out of temper with an historian's insensibility to virtues so primitive and recognizable in a not too merry world.
"The greatness of this character is not in Macaulay's way, and its faults are. Its license affronts him, its riot alienates him. He is forever contrasting the dissoluteness of Prince Rupert's horse with the restraint of Cromwell's pikemen. A deep, enjoying nature finds in him no sympathy. He has no tears for that warm life, no tenderness for that extinct mirth. The ignorance of the Cavaliers, too, moves his wrath: 'They were ignorant of what every schoolgirl knows.' Their loyalty to their sovereign is the devotion of the Egyptians to the god Apis: 'They selected a calf to adore.' Their non-resistance offends the philosopher; their license is commented on in the tone of a precisian. Their indecorum does not suit the dignity of the narrator. Their rich, free nature is unappreciated; the tingling intensity of their joy is unnoticed. In a word, there is something of the schoolboy about the Cavalier; there is somewhat of a schoolmaster about the historian."
That the gay gentlemen who glittered in the courts of the Stuarts were enviably ignorant of much that, for some inscrutable reason, we feel ourselves obliged to know to-day may be safely granted, and scored at once to the account of their good fortune. It is probable that they had only the vaguest notions about Sesostris, and could not have defined an hypothesis of homophones with any reasonable degree of accuracy. But they were possessed, nevertheless, of a certain information of their own, not garnered from books, and not always attainable to their critics. They knew life in its varying phases, from the delicious trifling of a polished and witty society to the stern realities of the camp and battle-field. They knew the world, women, and song, three things as pleasant and as profitable in their way as Hebrew, Euclid, and political economy. They knew how to live gracefully, to fight stoutly, and to die honorably; and how to extract from the gray routine of existence a wonderfully distinct flavor of novelty and enjoyment. There were among them, as among the Puritans, true lovers, faithful husbands, and tender fathers; and the indiscriminate charge of dissoluteness on the one side, like the indiscriminate charge of hypocrisy on the other, is a cheap expression of our individual intolerance.
The history of the Cavalier closes with Killiecrankie. The waning prestige of a once powerful influence concentrated itself in Claverhouse, the latest and strongest figure on its canvas, the accepted type of its most brilliant and defiant qualities. Readers of old-fashioned novels may remember a lachrymose story, in two closely printed volumes, which enjoyed an amazing popularity some twenty years ago, and which was called The Last of the Cavaliers. It had for its hero a perfectly impossible combination of virtues, a cross between the Chevalier Bayard and the Admirable Crichton, labeled Dundee, and warranted proof against all the faults and foibles of humanity. This automaton, who moved in a rarefied atmosphere through the whole dreary tale, performing noble deeds and uttering virtuous sentiments with monotonous persistency, embodied, we may presume, the author's conception of a character not generally credited with such superfluous excellence. It was a fine specimen of imaginative treatment, and not wholly unlike some very popular historic methods by which similar results are reached to-day. Quite recently, a despairing English critic, with an ungratified taste for realities, complained somewhat savagely that "a more intolerable embodiment of unrelieved excellence and monotonous success than the hero of the pious Gladstonian's worship was never moulded out of plaster of Paris." He was willing enough to yield his full share of admiration, but he wanted to see the real, human, interesting Gladstone back of all this conventional and disheartening mock-heroism; and, in the same spirit, we would like sometimes to see the real Claverhouse back of all the dramatic accessories in which he has been so liberally disguised.
But where, save perhaps in the ever-delightful pages of Old Mortality, shall we derive any moderate gratification from our search? Friends are apt to be as ill advised as foes, and Dundee's eulogists, from Napier to Aytoun, have been distinguished rather for the excellence of their intentions than for any great felicity of execution. The "lion-hearted warrior," for whom Aytoun flings wide the gates of Athol, might be Cœur-de-Lion himself, or Marshal Ney, or Stonewall Jackson, or any other brave fighter. There is no distinctive flavor of the Graeme in the somewhat long-winded hero, with his "falcon eye," and his "war-horse black as night," and his trite commonplaces about foreign gold and Highland honor. On the other hand, the verdict of the disaffected may be summed up in the extraordinary lines with which Macaulay closes his account of Killiecrankie, and of Dundee's brief, glorious struggle for his king: "During the last three months of his life he had proved himself a great warrior and politician, and his name is therefore mentioned with respect by that large class of persons who think that there is no excess of wickedness for which courage and ability do not atone." No excess of wickedness! One wonders what more could be said if we were discussing Tiberius or Caligula, or if colder words were ever used to chill a soldier's fame. Mr. Mowbray Morris, the latest historian in the field, seems divided between a natural desire to sift the evidence for all this wickedness and a polite disinclination to say anything rude during the process, "a common impertinence of the day," in which he declares he has no wish to join. This is exceedingly pleasant and courteous, though hardly of primary importance; for a biographer's sole duty is, after all, to the subject of his biography, and not to Macaulay, who can hold his own easily enough without any assistance whatever. When Sir James Stephens published, some years ago, his very earnest and accurate vindication of Sir Elijah Impey from the charges so lavishly brought against him in that matchless essay on Warren Hastings, he expressed at the same time his serene conviction that the great world would go on reading the essay and believing the charges just the same,—a new rendering of "Magna est Veritas et prævalebit," which brings it very near to Hesiod's primitive experience.
As for Mr. Morris's book, it is a carefully dispassionate study of a wild and stormy time, with a gray shadow of Claverhouse flitting faintly through it. In his wholesome dislike for the easy confidence with which historians assume to know everything, its author has touched the opposite extreme, and manifests such conscientious indecision as to the correctness of every document he quotes, that our heads fairly swim with accumulated uncertainties. This method of narration has one distinct advantage,—it cannot lead us far into error; but neither can it carry us forward impetuously with the mighty rush of great events, and make us feel in our hearts the real and vital qualities of history. Mr. Morris proves very clearly and succinctly that Claverhouse has been, to use his temperate expression, "harshly judged," and that much of the cruelty assigned to him may be easily and cheaply refuted. He does full justice to the scrupulous decorum of his hero's private life, and to the wonderful skill with which, after James's flight, he roused and held together the turbulent Highland clans, impressing even these rugged spirits with the charm and force of his vigorous personality. In the field Claverhouse lived like the meanest of his men; sharing their poor food and hard lodgings, marching by their side through the bitter winter weather, and astonishing these hardy mountaineers by a power of physical endurance fully equal to their own. The memory of his brilliant courage, of his gracious tact, even of his rare personal beauty, dwelt with them for generations, and found passionate expression in that cry wrung from the sore heart of the old chieftain at Culloden, "Oh, for one hour of Dundee!"
But in the earlier portions of Mr. Morris's narrative, in the scenes at Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge, at Ayrshire and Clydesdale, we confess that we look in vain for the Claverhouse of our fancy. Can it be that this energetic, modest, and rather estimable young soldier, distinguished, apparently, for nothing save prompt and accurate obedience to his orders, is the man who, in a few short years, made himself so feared and hated that it became necessary to credit him with the direct patronage of Satan? One is tempted to quote Mr. Swinburne's pregnant lines concerning another enigmatic character of Scottish history:—
"Some faults the gods will give to fetter
Man's highest intent,
But surely you were something better
Of the real Dundee we catch only flying glimpses here and there,—on his wedding night, for instance, when he is off and away after the now daring rebels, leaving his bride of an hour to weep his absence, and listen with what patience she might to her mother's assiduous reproaches. "I shall be revenged some time or other of the unseasonable trouble these dogs give me," grumbles the young husband with pardonable irritation. "They might have let Tuesday pass." It is the real Dundee, likewise, who, in the gray of early morning, rides briskly out of Edinburgh in scant time to save his neck, scrambles up the castle rock for a last farewell to Gordon, and is off to the north to raise the standard of King James, "wherever the spirit of Montrose shall direct me." In vain Hamilton and the convention send word imperatively, "Dilly, dilly, dilly, come and be killed." The wily bird declines the invitation, and has been censured with some asperity for his unpatriotic reluctance to comply. For one short week of rest he lingers at Dudhope, where his wife is awaiting her confinement, and then flies further northward to Glen Ogilvy, whither a regiment is quickly sent to apprehend him. There is a reward of twenty thousand pounds sterling on his head, but he who thinks to win it must move, like Hödr, with his feet shod in silence. By the time Livingstone and his dragoons reach Glamis, Dundee is far in the Highlands, and henceforth all the fast-darkening hopes of the loyalists are centred in him alone. For him remain thirteen months of incredible hardships and anxiety, a single stolen visit to his wife and infant son, heart-sick appeals to James for some recognition of the desperate efforts made in his behalf, a brilliant irregular campaign, a last decisive victory, and a soldier's death. "It is the less matter for me, seeing the day goes well for my master," he answers simply, when told of his mortal hurt; and in this unfaltering loyalty we read the life-long lesson of the Cavalier. If, as a recent poet tells us, the memory of Nero be not wholly vile, because one human being was found to weep for him, surely the memory of James Stuart may be forgiven much because of this faithful service. It is hard to understand it now.
"In God's name, then, what plague befell us,
To fight for such a thing?"
is our modern way of looking at the problem; but the mental processes of the Cavalier were less inquisitorial and analytic. "I am no politician, and I do not care about nice distinctions," says Major Bellenden bluntly, when requested to consider the insurgents' side of the case. "My sword is the king's, and when he commands, I draw it in his service."
As for that other and better known Claverhouse, the determined foe of the Covenant, the unrelenting and merciless punisher of a disobedient peasantry, he, too, is best taken as he stands; shorn, indeed, of Wodrow's extravagant embellishments, but equally free from the delicate gloss of a too liberal absolution. He was a soldier acting under the stringent orders of an angry government, and he carried out the harsh measures entrusted to him with a stern and impartial severity. Those were turbulent times, and the wild western Whigs had given decisive proof on more than one occasion that they were ill disposed to figure as mere passive martyrs to their cause.
"For treason, d' ye see,
Was to them a dish of tea,
And murder, bread and butter."
They were stout fighters, too, taking as kindly to their carnal as to their spiritual weapons, and a warfare against them was as ingloriously dangerous as the melancholy skirmishes of our own army with the Indians, who, it would seem, were driven to the war-path by a somewhat similar mode of treatment. There is not the slightest evidence, however, that Claverhouse was averse either to the danger or the cruelty of the work he was given to do. Religious toleration was then an unknown quantity. The Church of England and her Presbyterian neighbor persecuted each other with friendly assiduity, while Rome was more than willing, should an opportunity offer, to lay a chastening hand on both. If there were any new-fangled notions in the air about private judgment and the rights of conscience, Claverhouse was the last man in England to have been a pioneer in such a movement. He was passionately attached to his church, unreservedly loyal to his king, and as indifferent as Hamlet to his own life and the lives of other people. It is strange to hear Mr. Morris excuse him for his share in the death of the lad Hyslop, by urging in his behalf a Pilate-like disinclination to quarrel with a powerful ally, and risk a censure from court. Never was there a man who brooked opposition as impatiently, when he felt that his interests or his principles were at stake; but it is to be feared that the shooting of a Covenanter more or less was hardly, in his eyes, a matter of vital importance. This attitude of unconcern is amply illustrated in the letter written by Claverhouse to Queensberry after the execution of John Brown, "the Christian carrier," for the sole crime of absenting himself from the public worship of the Episcopalians, says Macaulay; for outlawry and resetting of rebels, hint less impassioned historians. Be this as it may, however, John Brown was shot in the Ploughlands; and his nephew, seeing the soldiers' muskets leveled next at him, consented, on the promise of being recommended for mercy, to make "an ingenuous confession," and give evidence against his uncle's associates. Accordingly, we find Claverhouse detailing these facts to Queensberry, and adding in the most purely neutral spirit,—
"I have acquitted myself when I have told your Grace the case. He [the nephew] has been but a month or two with his halbert; and if your Grace thinks he deserves no mercy, justice will pass on him; for I, having no commission of justiciary myself, have delivered him up to the lieutenant-general, to be disposed of as he pleases."
Here, at least, is a sufficiently candid exposition of Claverhouse's habitual temper. He was, in no sense of the word, bloodthirsty. The test oath was not of his contriving; the penalty for its refusal was not of his appointing. He was willing enough to give his prisoner the promised chance for life; but as for any real solicitude in the matter, you might as well expect Hamlet to be solicitous because, by an awkward misapprehension, a foolish and innocent old man has been stabbed like a rat behind the arras.
When Plutarch was asked why he did not oftener select virtuous characters to write about, he intimated that he found the sinners more interesting; and while his judgment is to be deprecated, it can hardly be belied. We revere Marcus Aurelius, but we delight in Cæsar; we admire Sir Robert Peel, but we enjoy Richelieu; we praise Wellington, but we never weary of Napoleon. "Our being," says Montaigne, "is cemented with sickly qualities; and whoever should divest man of the seeds of those qualities would destroy the fundamental conditions of human life." It is idle to look to Claverhouse for precisely the virtues which we most esteem in John Howard; but we need not, on that account, turn our eyes reproachfully from one of the most striking and characteristic figures in English history. He was not merely a picturesque feature of his cause, like Rupert of the Rhine, nor a martyr to its fallen hopes, like the Marquis of Montrose; he was its single chance, and, with his death, it died. In versatility and daring, in diplomatic shrewdness and military acumen, he far outranked any soldier of his day. "The charm of an engaging personality," says a recent critic, "belongs to Montrose, and the pity of his death deepens the romance of his life; but the strong man was Dundee."
- Literary Studies, vol. ii.