Page images
PDF
EPUB

even if he had had no immediate hand in Becket's death, he knew that the world would not hold him guiltless, and he could not deny that his intemperate passion had been the occasion of the impious deed. It was something to have to face the curses and contempt of Christendom. It was more, to a prince of Henry's character, to find himself exposed in a tenfold degree to all the evils which he had feared from bis enemy while he was yet living. The dead martyr was a far more formidable foe than the live archbishop. Only one course was now open to the king. He must make his peace, at every sacrifice, with the church. Humiliating, indeed, it must have been for this proud monarch to purchase the forbearance of the Papal court by the abandonment of those very constitutions which he had so stoutly and angrily maintained during an harassing struggle of six years.

But he was reduced to it. Within six months after Becket's death, he took a solemn oath before the legates of the Pope, that he had never commanded or wished that Becket should be put to death, and that, when he heard of the murder, he rather grieved than rejoiced. He also swore to renounce the unlawful statutes of Clarendon, to make full restitution to the church of Canterbury, to send a company of knights to the Holy Land, and, if need were, to undertake a crusade in person against the infidels in Spain. The bystanders were doubtless highly edified by the meek demeanour of this mighty king. The cardinals, when they heard him say,

My lords the legates, I am wholly in your hands, and shall do whatever you tell ; I will go to Rome, to Jerusalem, or to Saint Jago, if you wish it,” were probably too polite to remind him of a complimentary remark of his, some three or four years before, –“I hope to God I may never set eyes again on a cardinal."

The pious contemporaries of Becket dwell with much complacency on the miserable fate of his assassins. They set out, as the story goes, for the Holy Land; and all, within the space of three years, "most miraculously and undoubtedly” perished. The worthy chroniclers, however, deserve credit for a charitable acknowledgment of their “real and fruitful penitence.'

For a year after Becket's death, the Canterbury cathedral was left defiled and neglected. No service was celebrated at the altar, and no care was taken to efface the marks of the murder, or to cleanse the church from the dust of the thousands of feet by which it was visited. That portion of the consecrated edifice in which the archbishop was slain is called to this day “the Martyrdom”; and a semicircular projection at the upper end of the building is known by the name of 6 Becket's Crown." The miracles of the new martyr soon began to be noised abroad; the blind received their sight, the maimed were made whole again, and even the dead were raised.

The court of Rome soon became sensible of the expediency of giving Saint Elphage a companion in the calendar. A bull of canonization was accordingly issued in 1173, rather more than two years after the martyrdom, and Thomas à Becket rose at once to the first rank

among

the English saints.

Dark days, meanwhile, fell upon King Henry. The coronation of his son, that measure on which he had set bis heart, puffed up the mind of the prince and made him his father's rival. Family quarrels and parricidal wars seem to have been the destiny of the Norman race of kings. Henry's last days were embittered by the rebellion of his sons; and it was almost in the act of cursing one of them that he breathed his last. He had, however, long before, made his peace with the martyr. It must have been with a strange conflict of emotions that he presented himself barefooted at the shrine of Saint Thomas, and offered his back to the scourges of the monks. The pious credulity of the age acknowledged, in the signal victory which his army that day gained over the Scots, the seal of reconciliation.

Thus ended one of the most remarkable controversies in the history of Europe. The church was indeed victorious, but Becket was the Curtius who threw himself into the gulf to secure that victory. Henry lost the day, because the time was not ripe for his purposes. So long as the Pope was acknowledged as the head of the church, the strife, however adjusted in this instance, must have recurred. If Henry bad conquered in this struggle, it would not have rescued his son John from the grasp of Innocent the Third. Henry was right in theory, but Becket, though wrong in the abstract, was practically right. The state still needed the church, and was too weak to declare its independence ; nor was it till after the lapse of three centuries and a half, that a king of England dared, by subjecting the church to the throne, to make all rivalry between them impossible.

ART. V. - Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington

and John Adams, edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury. By George Gibbs. New York: Printed for the Subscribers. 1846. 2 vols. 8vo.

This work is a valuable contribution to the early political history of the United States, and we have finished the perusal of it with no ordinary degree of satisfaction. In regard either to the able and distinguished statesman whose biography it includes, or to the more general view it exhibits of the administrations of which he was a member, it must be considered as one of the most interesting works of an interesting class.

Oliver Wolcott was an admirable specimen of the New England character, such a character, indeed, as you do not often find out of New England. There is little violation of modesty in saying this, as it was not marked by any of the higher traits of genius. Sagacious, prudent, industrious, temperate and frugal, enterprising and persevering, he added to these national characteristics the personal and hereditary qualities of honesty, independence, modesty, and firmness, with purity and simplicity of manners, and great amiability of temper ; and, as if to give zest to the whole, and to show the difference between him and the other members of his family, his character was marked by a slight touch of eccentricity. His grandfather, Roger Wolcott, was descended from one of the Pilgrim fathers of New England, and was distinguished in the colony both for his civil and military services. His father, Oliver, a name doubtless given in honor of “ Old Noll,” served as a captain in the provincial forces of New York, in defence of the northern frontier against the French and Indians. He continued in the army from 1747 to the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. He then studied medicine, and settled at Litchfield, in Connecticut, at that period the outskirts of New England civilization”; and by his practice, aided by the cultivation of a small farm, was enabled to marry and to rear a family, of whom the future secretary of the treasury was the first-born.

The younger Oliver Wolcott was born at Litchfield, in 1760, and acquired the rudiments of his education at the

on

common school of that town. In the intervals of his attendance at school, he was employed in looking after the cattle, and in the other usual occupations upon the farm. At the age of fourteen, he entered Yale College, and had for his classmates Joel Barlow, Uriah Tracy, Zephaniah Swist, and Noah Webster. The last mentioned of these village prophets and patriarchs tells us that Wolcott “ was a good scholar, though not brilliant, frank and faithful in his friendships, and generous to the extent of his means ; and that "he possessed the firmness and strong reasoning powers of the Wolcott family, but with some eccentricities in his reasoning.”

While he was pursuing his studies at Yale, his father, who had served in several civil offices in Connecticut, and had risen to be a general in the militia, was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in that capacity signed the Declaration of Independence. He remained in Congress till the end of the war, was then made a commissioner of Indian affairs under the government of the Confederation, and after the year 1786 was annually elected lieutenant-governor of Connecticut, until 1796, when he was chosen governor, which office he held till his death, at the close of the follow

General Wolcott seems to have possessed a full measure of the qualities ascribed to his family, and his letters contained in the present publication convey a very favorable impression both of his head and heart, and do equal honor to the writer and his son, to whom they were addressed.

To return to the latter; in April, 1777, while at Litchfield on a visit to his mother, his father being absent, attending Congress, news arrived of the march of the enemy to Danbury. The young collegian was summoned to repair to the rendezvous of the militia of the neighbourhood. His mother armed him, furnished his knapsack with provisions and a blanket, and dismissed him with the charge“ to conduct himself like a good soldier.” The party to which he was attached had several skirmishes with the enemy during their retreat, in all of which he participated. The next year he took his first degree at Yale, and immediately commenced the study of the law at Litchfield, under Tapping Reeve, well known as the founder and head of a private law-school of great celebrity. After the destruction of Fairfield and

ing year.

Norwalk, in 1779, our young soldier attended his father, as a volunteer aid, to the coast, and at the close of the expedition was offered a commission in the Continental service. This he declined, having already made some progress in his professional studies; but he accepted an appointment at Litchfield, in the quartermaster's department, which did not materially interfere with their farther pursuit.

In January, 1781, he came of age, and was admitted to the bar. He removed shortly afterwards to Hartford, having left home with three dollars in his pocket ; this circumstance accounts for his acceptance, immediately on his arrival, of a clerkship in one of the public offices, with a salary of fifty cents a day. His diligence in this station attracted the notice of the General Assembly, who, the next year, promoted him to a higher post, as member of the central board of accounts. Here his activity and usefulness were such as to procure his further advancement to be comptroller, when that office was substituted for the board of accounts.

This early attainment of an honorable and responsible situation in public life introduced him to the society of the principal men of his own State, and to the acquaintance of many eminent men out of it. Ít led eventually to his appointments in the treasury of the United States, upon its organization under the present constitution, - first as auditor, afterwards as comptroller, and finally as head of the department. The first of these offices he owed to the suggestion and influence of Jeremiah Wadsworth; the second and third, to the recommendation of Alexander Hamilton; but neither of them to his own solicitation.

So well did Mr. Wolcott fulfil the expectations of his friends as secretary of the treasury, to which he succeeded upon the resignation of Hamilton, that he was continued in it by Mr. Adams, although known to agree in opinion with Pickering and McHenry, who were dismissed for their adherence to Hamilton in his preference of General Pinckney to Mr. Adams as a candidate for the presidency. Nor did he quit the cabinet until the second nomination of Mr. Adams, when he considered it indelicate longer to remain in it.

At this period, his whole fortune consisted of about three hundred dollars in cash, and a farm of about twenty acres upon Connecticut river, to which he retired. And yet, this man, whose conduct had been sisted again and again by his

« PreviousContinue »