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Art. II.—Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses connected
with the Royal Succession of Great Britain. By Agnes STRICKLAND, Author of " Lives of Queens of England.” Blackwood and Son, Edinburgh and London. 1854.
“ICI CI ils commencent par faire tuer un homme, et puis
lui fait son procès. The precedent that so alarmed M. de Porceaugnac is followed more frequently and more closely in every country than people at all suppose, and the posthumous justice administered by history is to the full as halting, as contentious, and as unreal as any process complained of in our own day. The infallible judgment of history, and its assured reversal of cotemporary injustice, is one of the hollowest, and precisely for that reason not least sonorous clap-traps, that ever deluded an enthusiast or heated even a cool head like that of Bacon, when he said he appealed from the judgment of the hour to foreign countries and posterity. All the fine things that Cicero has said of history—and they are very fine - apply, unfortunately, not to history as it is, but to history as it might be. They are true of a mere abstraction, and may be affirmed of history as certain qualities may undoubtedly be predicated of centaurs and hippogriffs.
It is not pretended, of course, that this should be taken literally, but what we mean to convey is, that for the bulk of men, in these countries at least, no authentic or faithworthy history exists. Thousands will read the “ Child's History of England,” not so useful a production by half as the “Child's Own Book," for one that masters Lingard ; while Pinnock's Goldsmith, not to speak of Hume and Smollet, will keep up the Protestant tradition in ten thousand schools, whose scholars will never dream of looking for anything more safe or correct. Some fair-minded men of all parties will profit by the labours of any faithful investigator, and range themselves on whatever side they are attracted to by the weight of evidence and light of demonstration; but the mass, even of the learned, will carefully guard the deposit of fiction that has come down to them, and even should the controversy divide them into camps,
the world at large will swear by Goldsmith, believe in the cruelty of Mary and virtue of Elizabeth, inevitably associate popery with slavery and wooden shoes, and cling with unshaken devotedness to the other truths of the glorious Reformation.
The history of Mary Queen of Scots sadly illustrates what we have been saying. It is conceded by those who view her character least favourably, that none of the proceedings by which it was attempted to colour her deposition or death, were in any respect trials, whether as regards the competency of the jurisdiction, the character of the judges, or the machinery of the investigation. But if Mary had no trial for her own benefit before death, her subsequent trial has lasted for the benefit of posterity well nigh three centuries, and is likely to last as many more; though not very long since everything seemed to promise the exhaustion of the enquiry.
The discoveries of successive explorers have been scrutinized by careful and candid, as well as jealous and hostile criticism., Miss Strickland's Life of Mary Stuart is the work of an undisguised admirer, and we are bound to add not unsuccessful apologist of that unfortunate princess. M. Mignet, whose work upon the same controversy we noticed in a former number of this Journal, is very frequently at issue with our authoress, as might be anticipated from the general difference of their views, and she is by no means hesitating in her opinion of his merits, For our own part, it is the result of our experience, such as it is, that a claim set up by any man to a perfectly balanced judgment and entire freedom from prejudice, raises a vehement presumption that his judgment is far weaker than his self-esteem. M. Mignet in his preface, it will be admitted, reaches that commanding eminence from which all party and religious predilections diminish and fade, but once out of the preface he finds his level. His miracle resembles that of Simon Magus; he has strength to jerk himself into the air, but at a certain height his gods desert him, and he drops. But Miss Strickland, though she makes slight, we should rather say, no pretensions to impartiality, is by no means dogmatical, and seldom speaks without at least some degree of warrant for what she advances. Rather more chatty and familiar than quite beseems an historian, she is not at all trifling or sketchy, and very few writers satisfy you more completely of the soundness of her views, when they are sound, than Miss Strickland. This is owing most probably to the absence of affectation, whether of earnestness or candour, and the consequent conviction left upon your mind that all she allows you to see of herself, or the subject of her biography, is genuine. That some of her views should be erroneous, is of course inevitable, and that some inferences should be strained, is as little surprising, but it is not to be denied that there is scarce one of the principal controversies in connection with the name of Mary Stuart on which she has not thrown some light, and amassed considerable materials for judgment, investigating evidence and collecting proofs with great ingenuity and great fairness, qualities that often have been thought to exclude each other.
Nor should we be justified in overlooking the obstacles by which the subject is cumbered at every step. The difficulty of appreciating the character of Mary with perfect calmness, has been felt and admitted by most who are at all conversant with her history and the history of her times
“Who can be wise, amazed, temperate, furious,
We have to bear in mind, or else to put aside, the peculiar circumstances of her sex and education, the people amongst whom she was reared, and those whom she was born to govern, the storms she had to buffet, and the reeds on which she had to lean-we must be on our guard against the fascination she threw over so many, and equally upon our guard against the dishonesty of her enemies, being bound withal to avoid the danger that may result from that affectation of impassability which has often turned aside the honest and well-intentioned from their obvious duty through fear of being supposed to favour what might be considered their own side of a question, or that to which their tastes and principles might be thought to incline them.
In the history of Mary, nearly all the sources of information were at one time tainted, or at least doubtful. It was strictly a case of circumstantial evidence, and is so to a certain extent even yet; so that friends and foes were obliged to resort largely to conjecture and special pleading, in the absence of any more substantial materials. That
state of things however, has been greatly altered by the labours of Tytler, Labanoff, and (we may be permitted to add) of our authoress. We have already in the notice of M. Mignet's work which appeared in No. LXIII, entered somewhat at large upon the matters in dispute as suggested by his volumes, and perhaps it would be convenient to give a brief resume of what was attempted in that paper, and it will appear how fully most of our positions are sustained by the subsequent investigations of Miss Strickland, which, though they have not brought to light much that is new, have nevertheless elicited facts and dates of trifling individual importance, but certainly corroborative of more important facts and inferences.
The first consideration that forces itself upon any tolerably honest student of this strange history is the difficulty, perfectly unexampled, we holdly affirm, of Mary's position on her return to Scotland. She reached that country at the age of nineteen, after a probation of twelve or thirteen years in a court supposed to be the most corrupt, as it was, even then, the most refined in Europe. She was recent from an atmosphere the most trying to the soul's health, the most redolent of deadly sweets, the most pernicious to every moral sense and virtuous susceptibility, of any that was known, and she left it after having worn the matrimonial crown without any impeachment of honor, or any corruption of heart. The moment she touched the soil of her native kingdom, instead of duty and homage, she met with stiff knees and stubborn wills; the Church was a prey to Calvin and the Commonwealth to anarchy. She had traitors at her council, traitors in her family, she was served by traitors at home, and represented by traitors abroad. The chief business of her few friends was not to train her hand to government, to suggest administrative measures, to open the treasures of their hoary experience at her feet, or freshen her policy by the vigour of their young and impetuous genius; it was no business of theirs to aid her in the development of the country's resources, or in resistance to the country's enemies--the utmost they could do was to put her on her guard, to foster continual suspicion, to keep up a perpetual system of checks and counterchecks, to indoctrinate her with dissimulation as the most elementary, as perhaps tbe only means of self-sustainment, and in their loyalty and truth to destroy the perfection and symmetry of a mind as delicately and as nobly organized as any that ever adorned a throne or blessed a nation. Let her compose her looks or actions in Holyrood as she might, they were perused and reported by the secret-service-men of England. In her invaded Churches, she was denounced by Knox, and his fellows in the judaised slang of the time; the priest was stoned in her domestic chapel; and the royal progress marked its stages by insults. The factions that tore each other in the court and in the country, were all alike the pensioners of England, and the enemies of their Queen. Her vigour, her mercy, her loftiness, her meekness, her gaiety, her seriousness, her conscientiousness, her toleration were equally odious, and equally unfortunate. Her steps, her glances, her words, were scored and registered. It was every man's study to trip her in her speech and ambush in her path. And thus beset, thus waylaid, thus trapped, thus baited, were she from nineteen to twenty-five to have erred, not indeed so deeply and so grievously as her accusers represented, but still seriously and even fatally, it could not be matter of surprise.
This however, was the habitual and, so to speak, the normal condition of Scotland in her reign. But if we look to the extraordinary miseries of her union with Darnley, that impracticable malignant, that miracle of treason and ingratitude, whom no kindness could propitiate, and no law could bind; who was destined for the slaughter from the first, and confederated with the slaughtermen to degrade and depose her who had made him the partner of her throne; and if, in connection with all these circumstances, we take and draw together the good, the gentle, the womanly, the queenly qualities; the firmness, the tact, the moderation, the forbearance, the lovingness of Mary, as instanced by the indisputable facts we find in her historians, and in none more graphically than Miss Strickland; we find it difficult to conceive, even if more positive and peremptory arguments were not at hand, how one so wonderfully endowed could be so vicious and yet so silly, could unite in so uncommon a degree the dupe, the knave, and the blunderer, as Mary is represented to have done,
The inaccuracies of time and place which Miss Strickland detects, and exposes in Mary's adversaries, aro nearly all of primary importance, and surprisingly numer-' ous. Even taken by themselves, they have a strong absolute value, as demonstrating the impossibility of many of