Page images


It was the pleasure of Elizabeth, and of her successors James and Charles, to take upon them the office of the persecutor. In that honourable vocation they found coadjutors of suitable capacity and temper, in Whitgift, Bancroft, and Laud. The sovereign and the priest gave themselves to such employment, in the sagacious expectation that the opinions of men were matters to be shaped according to the royal pleasure, with little more difficulty than the order of a court ceremonial. But the policy intended to secure an abject submission at home, became the unwilling parent of an enlightened independence abroad. Intolerance of freedom forced it upon new experiments, and proved eminently favourable to its development and power. The seed cast out found a better lodgment, and sent forth a richer fruit

. The new world afforded space for its germination and growth which the old could not have supplied ; and the new world has re-acted upon the old in the cause of freedom, as the old could not have acted upon itself. Even now, also, we are only in the beginning of that great outburst of enterprise and improvement which we trace to those memorable times, and in great part to the narrow and selfish policy of the agents above

The mind of the people of England two centuries since teemed with thoughts and excitements, of which the men of our time have no just conception. Our knowledge in this respect must depend on the force of our imagination, hardly less than on the extent of our reading. The great questions, both in politics and religion, which then agitated society, were comparative novelties. The wonders of the new world, and of the whole southern hemisphere, were discoveries of yesterday. National questions, accordingly, were debated with a degree of passionateness and earnestness, such as we seldom feel; while distant regions loomed before the fancies of men in alliance with every; thing shadowy, strange, and mysterious. The old world seemed to be waking at their side, as from the sleep of ages; and a new world rose to their

view, presenting treasures which seemed to be inexhaustible. The wonder of to-day was succeeded by the greater wonder of to-morrow, and the revelations seemed to have no end. At the same time, to very many their native land had become as a house of bondage, and the waters of the Atlantic were the stream which separated between them and their promised home.

That feeling is now among the bygone in our social history. But the traces of it are still at times discoverable. The broader and deeper stream, now rolling on, leaves its nooks and eddying points, where something of the past still retains a place, and still

secures to it some influence over the

present. It is now about twice seven years since we passed a few pleasant weeks in one of the less peopled districts of Dorsetshire-that county which Charles II. is said to have described as the only county in England fit to be the home of a gentleman. What the qualities were which, in the estimation of royalty, gave so much of the air proper to the home of gentle blood to the county of Dorset, it will not be difficult to conjecture. Dorsetshire is remarkable for the almost total absence of the usual signs of trade and manufactures. It is no less remarkable, as a natural consequence, for the absence of any considerable middle class to separate between the serfs who till the ground, and the lords who own it. Even agriculture is prosecuted within such limits as may consist with leaving an ample portion of its surface in the good feudal condition of extended sheep-walks and open downs. Such Dorsetshire has ever been, such it still is; but, thanks to projected railroads, such we trust it is not always to be.

On the occasion adverted to, we were indebted for a season to the hospitalities of an honest yeoman, whose residence had been occupied in other days by personages of much higher pretension than our host. It was an ancient mansion on a hill-side, overlooking an extended valley, which, from the corresponding forms of the hills fronting each other, resembled the bed of some departed Ganges, or St. Lawrence. The lower part of the valley was cultivated and wooded, but the high slopes of the hills were treeless and shrubless, except on the spot where the dwelling of our yeoman friend presented itself. That structure, with its somewhat castellated front, with its long ascent of half-decayed steps, its mutilated balustrades, and its ample terrace, rose amid lofty elms and chesnuts, forming a picture not the less pleasant to look upon, from its contrast with the surrounding barrenness. Altogether this Dorset mansion was of a sort to work powerfully on that superstitious feeling and credulity, which are so deeply rooted in the mind of every rural and secluded population. The sounds which came after nightfall, in the autumnal and winter season, across that valley, from the distant sea, and which passed in such wild and strange notes through the branches of those ancient trees, and through the crazy apertures of that more ancient building, did not fall upon the ear without some awakening effect upon the imagination. The dead, who once had paced those terrace walks, were not forgotten; and where could there be a more fitting haunt for those sights which we fools of nature,” shrink from, than the spaces covered with the deep shadows of those overhanging trees—the living things, which budded and grew in the times of other generations, and which seemed to lift themselves aloft, as in a proud consciousness of being more associated with what has been than with what is. Within, also, there was much to strengthen fancies of this complexion. There were the gloomy stairs, with their dark walls, their long worn steps, and their railwork of massy oak. Apartments, with their antique panellings, their faded tapestry, and their concealed doorways. At night, the birds, who chose their lodgment amidst the ancient masonry of the chimneys, failed not to send their tokens of inquietude into the chambers below, as the gale from the neighbouring channel came with tumultuous force upon the land. Part of the building, also, had become a ruin, thickly mantled with ivy, where owls might have pleaded their long holding as a right of tenantry, and from which they sallied forth at such times, as if glad to mingle their screams with the night storm, or to flap their wings against the casement of the sleeper,

To one apartment in that interior a special mystery attached. It bore the name of the book-room. Of that room the master of the house always retained the key. It was a part of his tenure that the contents of the book-room should on no account be disturbed. Among those contents, beside a curious library, were many other curious things—such as a bonnet, said to have been worn by Queen Elizabeth when visiting those western parts of her dominions; also a fan, which had been wielded by that royal hand; a whole suit of kingly apparel, reported to have been worn by Charles II., and to have been left at the mansion by its royal visitor. Above all, a skull was there. It was the skull of a murdered man. The mark of the death wound was visible


Tradition said that the victim of human violence was an African-a faithful servant in the family which once found its stately home beneath that venerable roof. Amidst so much pointing to the dim past, we may be sure that the imagination of the dwellers in the old hall on the hill-side was not by any means unproductive.

Of course we must not confess to any participation in such susceptibilities in our own case. It was, however, a dark night, and a rough one too, when we obtained our first admission to the mysterious book-room. By the aid of our lamp, we explored the matters of virtu which it contained; examined the dreaded cranium, and found the mark of the wound upon it, strictly as reported. But our attention was soon directed from the curiosities to the literature. The contents of the library we found in no very orderly condition, and not a few of its treasures had evidently suffered much from the state of uselessness to which the whole had been for so long a time reduced. The books were partly on shelves and tables, and partly in heaps upon the


floor. Among them were many existing in all the venerableness of the times before the invention of the printing-press. One of these sets proved to be an illuminated vellum transcript of the epistles of Innocent III.-a pontiff who, in common with many of his race during the middle age, conducted a correspondence exceeding that of all the princes of Europe taken together. Many such works were there, and many learned volumes which had strayed from their fellows, and which bore upon them the marks of having suffered much in their wanderings. But the point which has brought the old Dorset hall on the hill-side, in this manner to our memory is, that, among the printed works in this long-neglected library, was a number of tracts, and pamphlets, and small publications, relating to the countries of the new world, and to the marvels of recent voyaging. Some of them bore date as far back as the time of Elizabeth, but most of them were of the time of James I., and a little later.

Some hours passed, and we were still beguiled by the perusal and comparison of these remains, which, like some newly-disco« vered fossil bed, pointed our imagination to a former condition of society, if not to a former world. We felt as though drifted back to those times. We thought we saw good Mr. White, the puritan minister of the neighbouring town of Dorchester, as he went forth the spiritual leader of the little band, who, more than two centuries since, sought their spiritual as well as their natural home on the shores of New England. We seemed to listen to the talk of such men as the brave John Smith, and the governor Winthorp; and to be witnesses to the conferences of such men as the lords Say and Brooke, Harry Vane, and John Hampden, as they cogitated their schemes of settlement for injured and free-hearted men on the other side the Western Ocean. We remembered Queen Elizabeth, too — the grave men who were honoured as her counsellors, her own stately presence, her own pliant but masculine temper, and the skill with which she dispensed the tokens both of her pleasure and of her pride. Her arts of cajolery to-day, her haughty invective to-morrow, her ambition—her innate love of rule at all times, and in all things. Her successor, also, we remembered—the king whose flesh gave signs of fear at the sight of a drawn sword. One of the most timid among men, having the place of chief over the bravest of nations. The monarch who presumed that he was born a great king, and who supposed that he had made himself a great clerk. The ruler whose soul was below all feeling of enterprise, presiding among a people with whom that feeling was strong, irrepressible, almost boundless. The frivolous imbecile, whose days were spent at the chase or at the cock-pit, and whose nights


[ocr errors]

7. Heads of Consideration on the Case of Mr. Ward. By

the Rev. John Keble, M.A., late Fellow of Oriel

College, Oxford.
8. Revise the Liturgy. By a Peer.

436 VI. History of the House of Commons, from the Convention

Parliament of 1688-9, to the Passing of the Reform
Bill in 1832. By Charles Townsend, Esq., A.M.,
Recorder of Macclesfield. .

472 VII. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Third Edition.

490 VIII. 1. Petition of the Merchants of the City of London, to

the House of Commons. May, 1820.
2. Report of the Select Committee of the House of

Commons, appointed to inquire into the several Duties
levied on Imports into the United Kingdom. August,

3. Speech of the Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, in

the House of Commons, March 11, 1842.
4. Speech of the Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, in

the House of Commons, February 14, 1845.
5. Remarks upon Recent Commercial Legislation. By the

Right Honourable W. E. Gladstone, M.P. 1845.
6. American Corn and British Manufactures. 1845.
7. The Economist Newspaper.

. 514 IX. Imagination and Fancy; or, Selections from the English

Poets, illustrative of those first requisites of their Art;
with Markings of the best Passages; Critical Notices
of the Writers, and an Essay, in answer to the Question
“What is Poetry?” By Leigh Hunt. Second Edition.

563 X. Past and Present Policy of England towards Ireland. 1845 582



. 621

« PreviousContinue »