Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects/On the Characteristic Differences between Medieval and Modern History (1)
ON THE CHARACTERISTIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN HISTORY.
(April 15, 1880.)
IF I were asked for what reason I have, in my teaching in this place, preferred medieval to later modern history, I should answer, because I think that for the training of the judgment, the former furnishes material more readily applicable to educational purposes than the latter. It is further removed from the arena of political controversy, and, whilst it possesses interest quite sufficient to awaken every sentiment that may lawfully affect the judgment, it stirs no emotion that could reasonably be expected to pervert or overbalance it. We find in it heroes and heroines quite heroic enough to justify hero-worship; we find in it questions of controversy quite sufficiently exciting to divide parties; and points of sufficiently continuing and permanent importance to kindle our zeal in a moderate degree in connexion with the questions and interests of to-day. The rights and wrongs of the political life of modern Europe are rooted in the medieval history of Europe, and we can trace sufficient connexion between the extreme past and the present, to give interest to the earliest investigations. So we try to train the judgment by investigating causes, effects, ideas and results, rights and wrongs, in a subject-matter sufficiently akin to modern life to engage lively feeling, and yet sufficiently apart from it to prevent party views from being predominant. I have said this so often on these occasions that I am almost ashamed to say it again; I must however go on until I can find some one to believe me. The use to which the trained student may put his judgment when he has educated it is a quite different thing: only I believe that whatever side he may take, or, even if he turn his back altogether on the line of study along which I have tried to lead him, he will approach questions of the day with a more balanced judgment; he will be less disposed to see all good on one side of the great questions, and all evil on the other; he will come to the strife of politics with his weapons more carefully chosen, better handled and better sharpened than if he had never passed through the training
Medieval History is a history of rights and wrongs; modern, History as contrasted with medieval divides itself into two portions ; the first a history of powers, forces, and dynasties; the second, a history in which ideas take the place of both rights and forces. The point of time at which we should mark the separation in the latter is the first French revolution. There is a continuity of life through the three; the fundamental principle, which still holds its ground in the struggle of ideas, is distinctly traceable in the primitive struggle of rights and wrongs; and far more and more distinctly in the more modern struggle of the balance of power; but in the first and second period, ideas have little weight compared with rights and forces; in the first rights are more potent than force, in the second forces are more potent than rights; and now rights, forces, and ideas are matched in the arena of modern politics in such a way as to make right and force themselves ideas. At this moment—I use an illustration which ought properly to grow out of something that must show further on—Austria may be regarded as representing the more ancient form of right, Russia as representing the form of force, and Germany, Italy, and France different forms of leading idea. I do not mean that Austria is justified on appeal to right, or that Russia relies solely on force, or that the other three states have not ample grounds, both in right and force, for their present position, but that historically those are distinctions essentially characteristic.
You may wonder at my temerity in the use of such very abstract terms, and you have a right to bid me define more clearly the historical periods of which I am speaking I will then define medieval history for our present purpose as beginning with the eleventh century, and proceed to state next what sorts of rights, forces, and ideas, I consider, mark differentially the three periods at which I have been looking. It may almost provoke a smile that I should use words so, that I should speak of rights and wrongs in ages in which all was done with the strong hand, or of forces where intrigue and policy conspicuously take the place of violence and bloodshed, or of ideas in connexion with the present age at all. I do not care now to justify my use of these particular words, but I can tell you what I mean, and then, if you can supply me with better formulae, I will use them.
Our first position then is, that the idea of right or rights was the leading idea of the middle ages. I say now right or rights, because, whilst in the greatest men of the period there was a conscious attempt to exalt law and a willingness to abide by it, there was in the inferior actors, in the worse men, a disposition to maintain their own rights within recognised limits, and, when they attacked the possessions or infringed the apparently equal rights of their opponents, to do it on the ground of legal pleas. We all know how enormous is the debt which English law owes to the great legislators of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries; Henry II and Edward I are, both of them, conspicuous examples of both the tendencies which I have coupled under the term; in their better actions defenders of the law, in their worse actions captious defenders of their right. The same is approximately true in other countries; Lewis IX is not only the great legislator of France, but almost the single example of the period, in which the more powerful sovereign grants to his competitor, even in the hour of his utmost weakness, the full extent of his legal right; the treatment of Henry III by S. Lewis is a very striking example of the respect for rights that do not happen to be your own. As to generalities, I need only remark that the names of Frederick II and Alfonso the Wise stand by those of Edward and Lewis as the founders of the non- Roman jurisprudence of Europe, and that in Germany in the fourteenth century the two great legislators are the two champions of the rival houses, Lewis of Bavaria on the one side, and Charles the IVth on the other; the codification of Bavarian law and the issue of the Golden Bull were at all events attempts in the direction of civilisation in accordance with the highest existing ideal.
The foundation of legal studies in the Universities, the attempts by legal means to control the customs of private war,—private war being itself an example of the strength of the idea of rights,—the proclamation of the public peace from time to time in Germany by emperors who had the will but not the power to enforce it, and the multiplication of central tribunals in the place of local ones, are examples of the same. No doubt they are developments, evolutions of the unconscious progress of civilisation; that I am not enough of a philosopher to dogmatise about, but if they were, that is the line which the development or evolution took. The middle ages proper, the centuries from the year 1000 to the year 1500, from the Emperor Henry II to the Emperor Maximilian, were ages of legal growth, ages in which the idea of right, as embodied in law, was the leading idea of statesmen, and the idea of rights justified or justifiable by the letter of law, was a profound influence with politicians. It may seem fanciful, but I cannot help adding a parallel illustration. The scholastic philosophy was an attempt to codify all existing knowledge under laws or formulae analogous to the general principles of justice. It was no attempt, as is sometimes said, to bind all knowledge with chains to the rock of S. Peter, or even to the rock of Aristotle; just as right is one and indivisible, and all rights are referable to it (if we only knew where to find it) as the ultimate touchstone and arbiter, so Truth is one and indivisible, and the medieval philosophy found its work in reconciling all existing knowledge logically with the One Truth which it believed itself to possess. What logic was to the philosopher legislation was to the statesman and moralist, a practical, as the other was a theoretical, casuistry; an attempt to justify all its conclusions by direct reference to first principles.
You may tell me, if this is true, the age of which you are speaking ought to have been a scientific age, or at least a mathematical age, and it was not. I reply that it was a scientific age in many respects, only it had misunderstood to some extent the character of its subject-matter; it applied scientific method to matters which were not capable of being scientifically treated, an error which it had in common with a good deal of the scientific philosophy of other ages, the present age not least signally. It used principles and applied demonstration in matter to which neither the principles nor the method were properly applicable; it argued too rashly from the known to the unknown, and relied too implicitly on its own implements. But that is by the way: our present parallel is simply, that in both philosophy and law the middle ages exemplified a like tendency to generalise and to syllogise; the names of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus stand over against the names of Edward I and Lewis IX as leaders of thought, emancipators for the time, imprisoners for the future, in a far wider realm than that of practical legislation.
But this has taken me rather off the point. The great men, I have said, were law abiding; so also were the small men: and the same standing ground furnished the strength of both. Perhaps the easiest example to take is from the end of the period, the Emperor Frederick III; a man whose history, if it did not fall in a period of worn-out influences, in which,the old order was vanishing in the twilight that ushered in the new, would be worthy of the deepest study. Here was a man, nominally the master of the world; a man capable of the highest aspirations for the future of his house, able to lay his plans and to compass designs which, read by the light of his existing means, look like the merest dreams of the merest visionary; a man of capacity and a man of ambition, but possessing with the crown of the Cæsars hardly a rood of land in his own undivided possession;—within his reach, with but an infant's life between, a great inheritance to which he might assert a colourable claim, and which ultimately fell to his descendants, yet silently, patiently waiting, and holding back his hand from all unrighteous aggression: his designs, dreams as they seem, come to fruition in the third generation, and his impoverished house becomes mistress of half, or more than half. the world. He contented himself with his right and his rights, and the idea was still so potent as to lay the basis for the powers of the next age. Unfortunately no one can be enthusiastic about Frederick III, but he has his place in the moral history of kings.
But to proceed; the continued existence of small states throughout the middle ages is a very important illustration of the subject before us; another is the extreme dislike, apparent in both continental and English history, to the forcible extinction of historical claims to territory. I do not mean to say that there were not some very remarkable instances of departure from this rule; indeed, as I shall show, two at least of the most important changes in the map of Europe, the most potential and far-reaching changes, were produced by the breach of it; but the rule as a rule was observed. In England we know how the long-suffering of the Plantagenet kings allowed the continuance of such houses as the Mowbrays, the Ferrers, the Mortimers, the Despensers; how, when generation after generation had proved that disaffection was a part of the hereditary constitution of the offending races, the heirs of the traitors were restored or rehabilitated, until, in the wars of the Roses, the opposing houses perished in one another's downfall. There was no fear of shedding blood, but there was great fear of destroying right. So, too, with small states abroad. The little principalities of the Low Countries subsisted side by side with their powerful neighbours; the small kingdoms of Spain united and separated according to the special law of inheritance that was recognised by each; and where an attempt at infringement was made, the aggressor found himself matched against a wide and powerful union of powers instinctively actuated by the intention of right. In France we see this exemplified, not merely by the long continuance of the Plantagenet inheritance in the South, but by the existence of Provence, by the toleration of the accumulations of the Burgundian inheritance, by the independence of Flanders and Lorraine. In all these cases there were conducing causes, but in each case there was also the plea of right. Proprietary right, we say; the recognition by kings that, if they do not recognise the proprietary rights of the weaker, then the stronger will not consider theirs; proprietary rights, the leading idea that the tenant belongs to the land and the land to the landlord, and if the principle be broken down in one case, it cannot be maintained in another: proprietary right, I grant, but still right, still something that may be justified by law, not merely by the logic of the strong hand.
The whole history of Germany is, during this period, full of the same idea: small states continuing to exist side by side with larger ones; each of them in one aspect a centre of light and political culture, in another a centre of intrigue and petty tyranny: I am not concerned to defend them, but to adduce them as facts. Italy can show parallels, but her history is, to a great extent, here, as elsewhere, exceptional, and may more instructively be made to furnish counter illustrations; but the long struggle of the Hohenstaufen in the South, and of the Lombard cities in the North, is capable of being read in the same light: they would have perished before they did, if not as they did, if it had not been for the idea of right, inspiriting the weak, dismaying the strong, and affording a rallying point for the wronged from generation to generation.
But two great influences in the medieval world, the medieval empire and the medieval papacy, how are we to class them? Is the permanent toleration of their existence to be accounted for by the fact of their legal claims, or by that sort of prestige which might seem to throw them into the class of ideas; the inherited dignity of Cæsar and of Peter? The imperial dignity, during a great part of the period before us, was shadowy in the extreme; nay, during the whole period its substantive existence depended on the strength which the families who passed it on amongst themselves derived from their patrimonial estates. After the extinction of the Hohenstaufen, the imperial dignity became in itself an almost honorary distinction; either shunned for its costliness or coveted for the chances which it gave to a second-rate house of increasing its power by such little windfalls as might come to it. Yet it continued to subsist when any one of the great vassals might with impunity not only have declared his own independence but have extinguished the dignity which had ceased to symbolise, not only universal empire, but even national unity.
From time to time the phantom empire clothes itself in power and strength; the house of Bavaria fails to hold the dignity, but, on legal pleas which, if their legality were contested, it could not vindicate by arms, possesses itself of two or three electorates, and founds a distinct family policy of most important consequence. The house of Luxemburg, a little county under Henry VII, gains in the third generation the superiority of the two non-Teutonic kingdoms, and under Sigismund, knight-errant and political pedant, sways the destinies, for the moment, of Christendom itself. The house of Austria, in the same way, lays thus the foundation of that empire which is to be one of the great forces of the next age; not by fraud, not by violence, but here by a politic marriage, here by a well advocated inheritance, here by a claim on an imperial fief forfeited or escheated: honestly where the letter of the law is in her favour, by chicanery it may be here and there, but that a chicanery that wears a specious garb of right. The imperial idea was but a small influence compared with the superstructure of right, inheritance, and suzerainty, that legal instincts and a general acquiescence in legal forms had raised upon it. In the counter influence, that of the Roman see, there is perhaps more of the idea and less of the substantive right. I am speaking, of course, politically, and not theologically. The idea of the Petrine succession was a developing idea, that of the Cæsarean succession was a waning and diminishing one: the latter was the declining from a great fact, the ancient dignity and power of imperial Rome; the former was the growth into a great fiction, the temporal supremacy of papal Rome.
The empire astonishes us with the vitality which the universal acquiescence in its rights, however attenuated, conserves to it: the papacy appals us by the arrogance and grandeur of assumption which it raises on a foundation that seems to be itself a hypothesis, to say the least. Yet, as the languishing empire lives by law, the aspiring papacy must live by law, and rights and proprietary rights too. So the forged donations of Italian territory, the baseless claims to feudal supremacy within the Sicilian kingdom; the spiritual position based on the false decretals; all of them attempts to supply to the rising power the sort of strength that sustained the felling power. When the point of substantive independence is reached, how are the wider claims made to rest on the firmer basis of spiritual and religious obedience: the law of papal Rome becomes the living voice of the Catholic Church, the voice of the pope in cathedra an infallible utterance; the jurisprudence of the decretals a universal jurisprudence; the sovereignty of Innocent III and Boniface VIII, a sovereignty which it is blasphemous to deny, criminal to gainsay. But when the idea has gained recognition, far be it from us to say that the power so won was used unlawfully. No, the spiritual claims of the papacy, however unjustifiable in their early history, were to a large extent justified by the beneficial use to which they were put by the better pontiffs. The Court of Rome was a tribunal for international arbitrament, the efficiency of which was one great proof of the law-abiding character of the ages which it influenced. I do not forget the wars of the medieval papacy, wars, some of them, which were encouraged and even prompted by those who were ex officio the peace-makers of the world: but when we consider how, with all those exceptions, the influence of the Church, during these ages worked from the Roman centre, was as a rule employed for the prevention of war, for the shortening of inevitable struggles, and for the healing of wounds that could not otherwise have been healed, we cannot deny to it such justification as belongs to men who believe themselves to be the ministers of a higher than human righteousness.
But I have no wish to touch more on controversial points: let papal Rome, as the law-giver of the medieval Church, have all the credit of her great achievements: however based, on law or on idea, her position was a standing protest against brutal force, a standing offer of peace and goodwill to those who could pay for it; a great office of incipient diplomacy, a great treasury of legal chicanery, but still a refuge against overbearing violence. The position of both empire and papacy is historically maintained by a public sense of law and right.
But perhaps the field in which the most abundant illustrations of the thesis will be found is that in which a priori we should be least inclined to look for it; in the region of war; in the drum and trumpet territory in which, according to the new reading of history, so little can be found to indicate the growth of human thought or the development of national character and life. Medieval wars are, as a rule, wars of rights: they are seldom wars of unprovoked, never wars of absolutely unjustifiable, aggression; they are not wars of idea, of liberation, or of glory, or of nationality, or of propagandism. Ah, you will say to me, you are wrong there; how about the Crusades, how about the Norman Conquest, how about Scottish independence, how about Lewis of Bavaria and John XXII, how about the Hundred Years' War? Not one of these was simply a war of aggression which those who waged it felt it to be without justification, except perhaps the Norman Conquest; and we all know what an amount of special pleading was thought necessary to justify that. Do not mistake me: if I had meant to say that law and right were the ruling ideas of medieval politicians, I should have said so at first; but I could only have proved my thesis by showing that there was no war at all. There was war in abundance, public war and private war: the Temple of Janus could not have been shut for all those centuries, if it had been still standing and put to its mythical purpose. What was meant was not that men loved law, but that they did so far respect it as to wish to seem to have it always on their side. They did not attack their neighbours because they wanted glory; or because they could not bear rivalry, or because their neighbours' armies were too strong for their safety, or because their neighbours' armies were so ill equipped that they might be an easy conquest; but they alleged a legal claim or a legal grievance; and in the majority of cases really legal claims and really legal grievances. Of course, if law had been supreme, the wrong-doer would have yielded at once, the false claimant would have Hd his diminished head at the first expression of the opinion of a competent counsel or an authorised judge; we know how often that is done in these days in quarrels great and small. But I make no such claim for these ages; I only say that, when a man coveted his neighbour's vineyard, he went as it were to law for it, and did not simply take it by force. The Norman Conquest of England, I need hardly say, is scarcely a fair illustration. It is at least as much a viking invasion as a war waged according to the international law of the age; yet the pleas of bequest, the legacy of Edward the Confessor, the papal sanction, the oath of Harold, the legal election by the witenagemot of the humbled race, alike the inventions and the ceremonial of the succession, were a concession to a public sense of right. Take the other great wars; of England first: we cannot doubt that in all the quarrels arising from the Norman, Angevin, and Poictevin inheritances, the right of proprietary succession was on both sides distinctly recognised: the wars arose not on account of the mere wish of France to revindicate her alienated provinces, but on account of the disputed right to a feudal superiority, or the possession of a debateable frontier, or the division between two co-heiresses, or the existence of a custom of representation. When, as under Philip Augustus, the design of aggression was strong enough to take a more decided line, still it was on no false pretext that war was waged, and on no merely imaginary process that forfeiture Was decreed; the barons of Poictou legally impleaded John for his treatment of the Count of la Marche, the barons of Brittany legally arraigned him for the destruction of Arthur: as his feudal lord, Philip summoned him, and John, as a contumacious vassal, suffered judgment by default. In the execution of the sentence Philip had on his side, not only the popular hatred of his competitor, but the conscious recognition that legally John had lost his cause. Normandy and Anjou were practically undefended; Philip's victories were justified by the recognition of the countries which renounced their old rulers for sound and lawful reasons. There were no nonjuring bishops in Normandy and Anjou. It would not be difficult to show how the legal aspect of the Poictevin succession affected the different fate of Guienne and Gascony; but I pass on, for I have mentioned that already in reference to Henry III and S. Lewis; I may just add that when Lewis, in 1 359, obtained from his brother-in law a final surrender of Normandy and homage and fealty for Guienne, Henry formally acknowledged the justice of the sentence under which his father had forfeited the former, and Lewis practically acknowledged the justice of the claim by which Henry retained his hold upon the latter. A piece of legal formalism this, we say; yet it was so powerful a piece of formalism that it unquestionably made the breach between Simon de Montfort and the royal party an irreparable breach, and led directly to the catastrophes of Lewes and Evesham.
We come next to the French and Scottish wars of Edward I. The claim of the Scottish overlordship was made with every pretence to legality, and, there can be little doubt, was believed by the king himself and accepted by the lords of Scotland as long as they remained hopeless of their national independence or blind to their chances of escape. John Balliol's forfeiture, his renunciation of homage, his cession of the crown to Edward, were all legal acts: the attempt of Philip the Pair to exert over Edward the same sort of jurisdiction that Philip Augustus had successfully exercised over John, was foiled by Edward, but was in itself an almost exact parallel to his treatment of Balliol. The Scottish war was again, in his eyes, an attempt not to choke national independence, but to enforce legal right. As the age advances, we find Philip of Valois and Edward III comparing pedigrees before they go to war; for more than a century two rival kings, Philip and Charles, kings of the French, and Edward, Richard and the Henries, kings of France, dispute the sovereignty of a great nation which is not consulted under which lord it will live, but has to abide by the conflicting judgments of varying courts appellate on the field of battle.
After that come the wars of the Roses; wars which were at once fought out in battle, camp and court, pamphlet, book and parliament. In the wars of York and Lancaster, just as in the war of Stephen and Matilda, the legal recognition of the rightful king; the existence of the .king de facto a? a bar to the recognition of the king de jure; the solemn character of the ties that unite the baronage to the head, which they are determined to disown, but will not disown without a formal legal sentence; the parallels furnished by the cession of Edward II and Richard II, the curious pedantic circumstantiality of processes which, before they reached the stage of reality, had cost the lives of thousands; all these mark not merely the legal character and instinct of Englishmen, but the characteristic of the long medieval centuries, the conscience that war is justifiable only by law.
If we turn to Germany, the great struggle of the Investitures is in its outer aspect a struggle about legal forms: there were deeper causes at work, the national schism between Saxony and Swabia, caused by the legal wrongs which the Saxons believed themselves to have endured from Henry III, and the religious schism which arose from the rival ambitions, personal and ideal, of Henry IV and the popes; but the bone of contention was a legal claim. The struggle of the Welf and the Hohenstaufen was a legal struggle; although the weaker went to the wall, his cause was capable of very definite defence; the sentence under which he fell, although unrighteous, was formally legal. Other illustrations are furnished by the dealings of the Hohenstaufen with the popes; the great house fells by manœuvres and expedients of much the same sort as those by which it had destroyed the Welfs: the papacy expands the principles on which it had claimed the inheritance of the countess Matilda, and at the same time formulates the claims by which in the fourteenth century it was to cripple the central power of Europe and reduce, itself an exile, the rival influence to the shadow of a shade.
Let these, however, suffice for the pattern wars; the same characteristics belong in varying intensity to all the minor quarrels, down to the lowest grades of recognised private wars; war for the right of a bridge-toll, a mill or a pigeon-cote. War was, in one aspect, a sublime ordeal, but, like the ordeal, it was attended with all the forms and ceremonies of law: public war was an ordeal resorted to when all inferior tribunals had failed to satisfy the litigants; and private war was little else, except that there the coercive power of the tribunals which should have been appealed to was greater, and the waging of war in contempt or despite of them a bolder defiance of the laws of human society. Public war was not, like private war, branded as a social crime, because the one tribunal which might have decided the questions at issue without bloodshed was both dishonest and weak. Private war was not only a contempt of competent jurisdiction but a sin against social order. Yet down to the close of the period, the habit of private war was in a great part of Europe unbroken and unrepressed: in the empire the successive proclamations of the peace were inoperative; in the other states the custom was extinguished only with the independence of the powers that practised it: wherever there was disorganisation, wherever the feudal, spirit broke the bonds in which constitutional rule had limited its powers, there private war was regarded as the ultimate appeal: men went to law to avenge their wrongs and to vindicate rights, and, when they could not get law that was strong enough to enforce itself, they went to war.
Lastly, look at the Crusades. The Crusades were the great exception to the rule as I have stated it; they were not wars waged for proprietary rights; they scarcely even pretended to be so. The Holy Land, the patrimony of the Crucified, as the Crusaders called it, was not theirs by any title of law; historically the only power which had a legal claim to Palestine was the Byzantine empire, but the territorial claims of the Comneni were, throughout the crusading period, defied where they were not ignored; the Crusaders believed the Greek emperors to be either in league with the Moslems, ready to betray Christendom for a price, or else, as schismatics, one shade more or less culpable than the Mahometans. The Crusades were, moreover, at least in the commencement, originated not by the national authority, king or emperor, of a Christian state, but by adventurers, who might for the purpose be called private adventurers, acting under the exhortations of the popes. In one aspect they were wars of speculation, in another wars of religion, in another wars of defence. The first Crusade was perhaps more than the others a war of speculation, the second a war of religion, the third a war of defence; in the fourth, again, speculation under Venetian influence threw both religion and defence into the shade: and all the later Crusades were wars of defence. Yet, although to say this is a partial condemnation, I cannot go further. The conquest of Palestine was to Robert of Normandy, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Tarentum, a sanctified experiment of vikingism; but to Godfrey of Bouillon, to the great mass of the Crusading armies, to the popes even, it was something far different. It was a war of idea; a going forth to recover the heritage of Christ, the land, as they termed it, on which His feet had stood: it was a going out of the petty range of proprietary rights and wrongs, out of the petty interests of armed litigation. As I have said before in this place, the Crusades, with all their drawbacks, were the trial feat of a new world, a reconstituted Christendom, striving after a better ideal than that of piracy and fraternal bloodshed. In the character of wars of defence they need not be defended: they stemmed the tide that but for them must have covered Europe, as it had covered Asia, with desolation.
Perhaps I need go no further; but there is one class of wars which I have not yet noticed, and which yet are very characteristic in their history of the principle for which I have been contending. The civil wars which were waged for national liberties were not in any great measure wars for ideas, but wars for rights. I do not mean to say that this was quite the case in Italy: in Italy the question of rights had become so complicated that nothing but the infusion of an element of idea could have produced even a semblance of order out of the chaos. The old sway of Rome, the successive deluges of Goth, Lombard, Greek and German, had thrown rights and wrongs into an inextricable hotchpot. The restoration of order was the initiation of liberty; with liberty, or the idea of it, came new forms of organisation, democracies, aristocracies, municipalities, tyrannies, monarchies: each formulating rights and laws as they arose, but less bound by laws of rights and obligations because for the most part they lacked historic basis. What the faction of to-day might set up, the faction of to-morrow might pull down: the exiles of to-day were the governors of to-morrow, the forfeitures of to-day only the reprisals of the forfeitures of yesterday. In England it is very different. Here the rights struggled for are historical rights, and the liberties secured are historical liberties. Step by step, from precedent to precedent, the national growth asserts itself, and the kings, yielding their consent, recognise the justice of the claim, or, exchanging resistance for sympathy, throw new but still historical energies into the common growth. We have in the medieval growth of our constitution little to be ashamed of; little of conspiracy, little of fanaticism, little—as little as there can be in the essential character of a politician—of self-seeking. There is enough of the idea of liberty and sound government to lift the struggle out of the region of mere legal resistance to mere legal oppression: there is a growth towards liberty in all the vindication of even class rights and special privileges: a growth towards liberty so spontaneous, I had almost said so little self-conscious, as to show that it is a natural, not a factitious growth: it is not taught by philosophers, it is not extorted by agitators, it is the outgrowth of law and a law-abiding spirit, tending by its very nature to freedom and order conjointly. The transition from medieval to modern history is in this department of national life not an abrupt transition, but a growth befitting a land of settled government;
A land of just and old renown,
Where Freedom broadens slowly down
From precedent to precedent;
Where faction seldom gathers head,
But, by degrees to fulness wrought,
The strength of some diffusive thought
Hath time and space to work and spread.