« PreviousContinue »
would risk nothing to do so. As Scott well puts it, “ he had sworn to himself never to kiss the pillow his father slept his last sleep upon.” But if he could have cheated England into Popery by those picaroon arts which he had learned during his prince-errantry abroad, or have worried sturdy opposition to death by petty persecutions, which, disarming the nation in detail
, would not endanger a national convulsion, there is reason to know, from modern revelations of his private intrigues, that the elder brother was just as willing an agent of the designs of France and Rome as ever the younger was—as willing, but not as “thorough-going." Hence it was that the agencies, put in action by these brothers, were highly characteristic. Charles met and counterplotted “ Titus Oates," with the “ Rye House” and “Meal-tub” plots, and “ did the noble Russel to death by slanderous tongues.” James, on the contrary, with high hand and shallow policy, sent his musqueteers to eject the "Fellows of Magdelene," and shipped the seven bishops for the Tower! in sight of a city and nation boiling up to the last point
of endurance. Their ends were conformable. "Charles II.,” says Junius, "lived and died a hypocrite;" and James departed, a sullen exile, to end his days in impotent attempts at carrying out plans, to which he seemed to cling the more fondly as they became daily less practicable.
As with the prince so with the people. Sovereigns will ever find courtiers adapting their service to the personal character of the master whose favour they court ; and as headlong James found his agencies in the turbulence of Tyrconnel
, the rashness of Petre, the fury of Jeffreys, so Charles carried out his purposes through the teazing, worrying chicanery, and vexatious prosecutions of his subtle and pliant men of the law-his Jenkinses, his Joneses, his Norths !-men who ran as breast-high for prerogative as they were ruthless in pursuing “ peevish” opposers to death or banishment. To complete the antithesis : as James sat in sullen, formal state at the head of his council-table to discuss with his headlong advisers the courses which led him to ruin, so Charles used to end his stroll in the park by sidling into the snuggery of his pander Chiffinch, there to “earwig á Scroggs” as to the issue to which he wished a trial to be brought, or to consult with his “cabal” whether it were better to take away the licenses - from the coffee-houses!” or to leave them open and send spies there to countermine the “ trepanners of the day."
This is a long by-way. We are slow in arriving at “ Mr. Wilmer" and his "replegium !” We must be a little longer yet, and go back and forward a little before we can take up his case by the right clue.
Among the marks of pride which went before James's destruction, was the issuing from the press, in the very last year of his reign, in all the pomp of line-engraving and large type, the narrative of “ Castlemain's Embassy of Reconciliation and Submission to the Pope.” This volume has now fallen low in the lists of curious books; when it is to be had, it may be bought for a trifle, and yet for more than its worth. It was out of date and out of fashion before the close of the very year in which it was printed ; and probably those very flatterers, who made their court by their haste to buy it, were equally hasty in destroying and getting rid of the vaunting, vain-glorious volume, which, compiled and composed by the house-steward of the embassy, is minute to tediousness and gossip in describing and delineating not merely the laying out of Castlemain's state banquet at Rome, but also the very carving of the wheels of his state
chariot, and of the emblematic designs with which this wretched minion of a wretched king celebrated his abject prostration of his master, and his master's kingdom, at the foot and to the slipper of the pontiff.
Among these emblematic ornamentings is one which, while it brings us to our subject, also illustrates the “ inconceivably small mind” of the second James, and the mode in which his flatterers knew how they could best propitiate it.
When Castlemain opened his mission at Rome, his first act was to blazon the hotel of the Embassy escutcheon-wise with the arms of England and Rome. This is an usual ambassadorial act, but was scarcely done on the usual scale by this ambassador extraordinary, if we may judge from the dimensions and other statistics of the two pieces of ponderous framework which bore the armorial and other devices. These were, we are told, twenty-four feet high by sixteen broad! braced together by great beams, and fastened with eight hundred-weight of iron, and being hoisted with great labour to the front of the first story of the house, told all Rome that, as far as the King's will could accomplish it, the Pope was once more to adorn his tiara with a long-lost and most valued jewel.
The design of the royal emblem of England was to represent James as supreme in power at home, as he was willing to show himself abject in submission abroad; all the devices were intended to signify that rebellion was crushed, resistance vain ; that James could do with England according to his pleasure, and that his pleasure was to deliver it, bound hand and foot, to the Papal jurisdiction. Mr. Macaulay's keen eye did not fail to notice among these “absurd and gigantic devices” St. George displaying his prowess in “ spearing" Doctor Titus Oates, while Hercules ! was using his giant strength to " depress” “Stephen College, the Protestant joiner,” “the inventor of the Protestant flail”-a bold but “inconsiderable” man, whom the legal persecutions of the last reign having "done to death by a most foul legal murder,” had thereby exalted into a martyr and a hero, who yet fills a niche in the history of the time.
We are now within a step of Mr. Wilmer. College, as we have said, was done to death by such foul practices of "court” and “ counsel,” “gaoler” and “witnesses” alike, as would now sound monstrous even to tell, if we had time to tell them, though Chief Justice North's brother and biographer does not hesitate to admit and justify them ; they were such that poor College might well exclaim, as he did, “This is a horrid conspiracy to take away my life.” As well might his bold solicitor, “ Aaron Smith,” mutter, “Our lives and estates are beset here !" a muttering which that watchful and cool courtier, Chief Justice North, instantly took down as grounds for a "judgment (without even trial!) for a misdemeanour!" The solicitor was brow beaten and silenced, his client out-argued and executed, though he showed in his trial an ability, and in his death a constancy, which deserved a better fate. Having hunted their victim to death, his persecutors, apparently anxious that the memory of his foul trial should gain as little publicity as might be, offered him, as a boon, that after he was hung! he should not be quartered! and gibbeted! but this was a kindness! which the resolute man slighted, saying, “He cared little whether he should give a feast to the flies or the worms."
These things were done at Oxford, but not until a London grand jury had, to use the quaint language of the time, “spewed out a previous bill
of indictment with an ignoramus.” “Wilmer was foreman,” says my authority College escaped for the time, but “Wilmer was afterwards forced to fly his country.
This is the first mention we find of this individual, whose case, lost in the crowd of thick-coming events which issued in Revolution, seems as remarkable as any; and as the relater of it justly says, though he escaped the doom of those victims prosecuted criminally, though the engine of persecution put in action against him was at the civil and not at the criminal side of Westminster Hall, yet did it “ do as much mischief," " strike as great terror,” and neutralise all resistance to the court measures as effectually as the halter which hanged College or Cornish, or the axe which struck off the head of the noble Russel. And this engine was the writ “ De Homine Replegiando” issued out against him.
Mr. Wilmer's position as foreman of a grand jury at a time when leading Londoners did not think civic honours and offices beneath them, is proof that he must have been a substantial and respected citizen of London, It was a time to try men's calibre and firmness; the city of London was the chief battle-field in which the contest between power and public spirit was raging. The court had entered on a course of legal persecution; the City met them by appointing steady sheriffs, these returned as steadfast juries, and then the battle between “prerogative” and “passive resistance” began ; the bills against College were "ignored," the bills against Shaftesbury were “ignored;" the evidence which suited the court did not satisfy the juries; even though the King's counsel would sometimes intrude themselves into the jury-room to enlighten them ! and, in fact, this determination of juries not to find bills of indictment at court bidding, which North's servile brother and biographer personifies into "a certain monster that raged in the years 1680-1-2, styled . Ignoramus,'” became to Charles and his subtle men of law a " Mordecai in the gate,” which must be got out of the
somehow-anyhow. With this view Mr. Wilmer's persecution commenced, and North's brother, Sir Dudley, was thrust into the shrievalty, and crammed down the throats of the livery of London “ against the stomach of their sense !"
Wilmer, as became a topping London merchant, was a “man of argosies,” foreign ventures, “far-off correspondents.” In furtherance of his commerce, he had sent abroad a young man in his employ, just as any man of business would despatch a confidential managing clerk. How the court slot-hounds got hold of this fact is not known. (Could it be that North wormed it out of his brother Dudley, the Turkey merchant ?) Be this as it may, upon this fact measures were taken to “ lay the ignoramus foreman” by the heels, by means of a writ “De Homine Replegiando," and to mew him up from ever again thwarting the court measures. deed, North, in his curious “ Examen" (p. 580), unblushingly says that it was done in terrorem, "to show Mr. Wilmer, and others of his bold usurpation, that they must look to their hits, for if they may, they will be caught napping.” Well might Burnet suggest, that with all his trained caution, "if North had lived to attract the notice of an impeaching parliament, he would have felt the ill-effects of his unblushing subserviency." If he was cautious and moderate, as his biographer boasts him to have been, what may we think of the thorough-going court agents ?
Poor Mr. Wilmer, who doubtlesss thought himself "wide awake” when he sent his man to look after his interests abroad, was unaware of
the lengths to which court vengeance go to oppress him at home. He was called upon by a writ of “ Řeplegiare Facias” to perform the physical impossibility of bringing in the body of a man beyond seas,-or else to “ look to his hits.”
To “unlegal minds” nothing might seem easier than for Mr. Wilmer to furnish the sheriffs with a return to the effect that the man had gone away of his own free will to look after his master's business. But Charles and his beagles were not to be put off the scent by such a foil as that. In the palmy prerogative days before the Revolution, this common-sense answer was no legal answer at all.
The king, by his trusty counsel learned in the law, told the sheriffs to “go about their business,” to “do their business,” and “ amend their return." In short, according to that celebrated triple dilemma, which since formed so large a part of the late Sir Robert Peel's logic, the sheriffs were given their choice of three courses :
1. Either to bring the man replevined into court; or,
2. To return that Mr. Wilmer had “esloigned" (abducted) him; or else,
3. To be themselves "laid by the heels.".
Of these three courses, the sheriffs found the first impossible ; the last unpleasant! And so there remained but the second; which was what the court lawyers wanted from the beginning, as a ground whereon to issue a “ WITHERNAM” against the devoted Wilmer.
“ I suppose” (says honest David, in the play, to his master, fighting Bob Acres) “there ain't so merciless a beast in the world as your loaded pistol.” Heaven help the simplicity of the man
As little as a saint he knew
All a lawyer's craft can do. There lay more peril in that black-letter word " Withernam”* than in all the “ double-barrelled swords, and cut-and-thrust pistols,” of bloodthirsty Sir Lucias O'Trigger.
If this Withernam had caught Wilmer “napping," it would have kept him in gaol, body for body, until he produced the boy from beyond seas. This, in fact, might be a sentence of perpetual incarceration; for it is no libel to say, that those who were capable of putting such an engine of torture into action against the object of their hate, would think little of keeping the youth out of the way, or spriting him away somewhere never to be heard of again; and so unfortunate Withernam'd Wilmer might have lain in gaol until he rotted.
Wilmer, however, wisely“ esloigned” himself; in other words, “made himself scarce," and fled the country. Whether he lived, or returned to enjoy the fruits of England's deliverance from “ Popery, slavery, arbitrary power, legal chicane, and wooden shoes,” I know not ; but I trust the reader will not regret having accompanied me in this our first stroll down one of the “by-ways of history."
* “ WITHERNAM.”—Cowel tells us that this mysterious-looking process, conpounded of two Saxon words, signifying “altera' captio," authorised the sheriff (breaking all barriers with “posse comitatus") to take an equivalent for replevined goods not forthcoming.- V. CoWEL, In Verb.
Sir Thomas Smith, “ De Respub. Anglor.,” lib. iii. c. 10, tells us that Withernam is equivalent to "reprisal." -“Repressaiiorum et Withernamii, jus idem non est, sed natura plane eadem; eademque utriusque verbi propria significatio."
BEAUMARCHAIS AND HIS TIMES.
PIERRE AUGOSTIN CARON, who when twenty-five years of age took the name of Beaumarchais, was born the 24th of January, 1732, in a watehmaker's shop in the Rue Saint Denis. The quarter of Saint Denis enjoys in Paris å somewhat similar reputation to what Bæotia did in Greece; yet not only did the author of the “ Barber of Seville” and of the " Marriage of Figaro” first see the light there, but Regnard, after Molière, considered to be the first comic poet of France, as also Seribe and Béranger, were born in the same quarter-Scribe at a silk-mercer's and Béranger at a tailor's.
The parents of Beaumarchais had been Protestants. Persecuted for their religion, the family, numerous and poor, had abjured their faith, but the memory of the religion of his ancestors appears never to have been extinguished in Beaumarchais : he was always zealous in the cause of the Protestant party. The only boy in a family numbering five girls, he was the pet of the house, not less on that account than for an inherent spirit and gaiety of heart which never abandoned him through life, and which led even Voltaire to say, when he was charged with poisoning three wives, he who had then only been twice married, “Beaumarchais cannot be a poisoner, he is too full of fun.” At thirteen-the age of Chérubin, Count Almaviva's page*- he was taken from school to be apprenticed to his father's business. He learnt--as he used afterwards to express it--to measure time. It can be easily imagined that the Chérubin of the Rue St. Denis was by no means a model apprentice. passionate taste for music he added other inclinations of a less innocent eharaeter, and these he carried to such an excess as to accuse himself of having entertained boyish projects of suicide, when barely fourteen, for unrequited love. At eighteen, his father was obliged to banish him from the house ; but after a reconciliation, effected by the intervention of friends, Beaumarchais behaved better, and set to work with so much eartestness to master his business, that he discovered the secret of a new piece of mechanism. This led to his first public discussion. A rival watchmaker claimed precedence; the matter was referred to a committee of the Academy, whose verdict was given in favour of "Caron fils.” Only one year afterwards, such was the notoriety brought about by this controversy, that he was enabled to describe himself "Caron fils, horloger du roi." Beaumarchais, in fact, obtained his first entrée at Versailles not, as has been often said, as a musician, but as a watch and clockmaker. In 1754 he wrote to a cousin engaged in the same business in England, intimating that through his kindness “il ose espérer l'honneur d'être agrégé à la Société de Londres !”
A new career now opened itself to the young watchmaker. Beaumar
• M. Genin, in a little work entitled “Des Variations du Langage Français depuis le XIIe siècle,” argues that the idea of Chérubin was borrowed from a mediæval romance—“Le Petit Jehan de Saintré.” M. Louis de Loménie calls Beaumarchais himself Chérubin, which is the most likely.
Beaumarchais et son Temps: Etudes sur la Société en France au XVIII Siècle, d'après des Documents Inédits. Par Louis de Loménie.