Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/285

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
273
LITERARY NOTICES.

opposed in principle and in purpose. The vigilance committee is not a mob; it is to a mob as revolution is to rebellion, the name being somewhat according to its strength. Neither is a tumultuous rabble a vigilance committee. Indeed, prominent among its other functions is that of holding brute force and vulgar sentiment in wholesome fear." It is founded on a principle, and this is that "the people, or a majority of them, possess the right, nay, that it is their bounden duty, to hold perpetual vigil in all matters relating to their government, to guard their laws with circumspection, and sleeplessly to watch their servants chosen to execute them. Yet more is implied. Possessing this right, and acknowledging the obligation, it is their further right and duty, whenever they see the laws which they have made trampled upon, distorted, or prostituted, to rise in their sovereign privilege, remove such unfaithful servants, lawfully if possible, arbitrarily if necessary. . . . When law fails—that is to say, when a power rises in society antagonistic at once to statutory law and to the will of the people—the people must crush the enemy of their law or be crushed by it. A true vigilance committee is the expression of power on the part of the people in the absence or impotence of law.". . . As defined in this book, "the principle of vigilance takes its place above formulated law, which is its creature, and is directly antagonistic to the mobile spirit which springs from passion and contemptuously regards all law save the law of revenge." As may be inferred from these quotations, Mr. Bancroft is rather warmly in favor of California "vigilance," and appreciates highly the fruits which San Francisco has reaped from the exercise of it. He has obtained the materials for the historical record of its operations from first hands. Besides printed books, manuscripts, and the several journals of the period advocating both sides of the question, he secured all the archives of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, and had free access to the voluminous records and documents of the great committee of 1856. Further than these, he personally questioned the actors in the scenes who were living, and, after a little difficulty in overcoming the reserves of some of them, obtained such information as they could give him. The questioning, he thinks, was done at a most opportune time. "Ten years earlier, the actors in these abnormal events would, on no account, have divulged their secrets; ten years later, many of them will have passed away, and the opportunity be forever lost for obtaining information which they alone can give." The story is of the most fascinating character; and did not require, to intensify its interest—which is marred rather than heightened by it—the sensational style, hardly befitting a sober history, which the narrator has employed in some parts of his account. About four hundred pages of the volume are taken up with the history of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1851; the rest is devoted to the operations of the "country committees of vigilance," and of popular tribunals in other States and Territories of the West, British Columbia, and Alaska.

English History from Contemporary Writers. Edward III and his Wars. Arranged and edited by W. J. Ashley. The Misrule of Henry III. Selected and arranged by Rev. W. H. Hutton. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1887.

The study of history in the usual way, though it gives a comprehensive view of the subject in the language of our own time, has nevertheless its drawbacks. However scientific the historian's work may be, and however entertaining his story, it does not give us that vivid and characteristic view of an age that we get from the contemporary writers. A consciousness of this fact has led to the preparation of this series of volumes on the history of England. They consist entirely of extracts from writers who lived in the times treated, with only such brief notes and introductions as are necessary to explain their significance and connection. The authors from which the compilation is made are of course the mediæval chroniclers, such as Froissart, Matthew of Paris, and others, while laws and other public documents are cited as occasion requires. The volumes now before us treat of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and others are projected covering the whole period of mediæval and Renaissance history. The series is under the editorship