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For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review. REVIEW OF CHARLES W. UPHAM'S LIFE OF SIR HENRY VANE,
FOURTH GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS.
BY REV. JOSEPH HOLDICH, A. M,
In no period of her history did Great Britain produce a larger number of illustrious men, than during the reign of the first Charles, and the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell. The following century is indeed denominated the Augustan age of English literature, wherein flourished many imposing names, such as Pope, Swift, Addison. Thomson, Watts, Young, and others equally distinguished. But if the reign of Queen Anne was more remarkable for productions in belles lettres, the former were more so for bold, original thinkers. for profound investigation, and laborious inquiry. This may be easily accounted for by the peculiar state of the world at the time. Some of the most signal events in the history of mankind had just occurred. The Reformation had but recently broken the chains of papal despotism, and freed the mind of man from the darkness and Thraldom in which it had been held for ages. The recent invention of the mariner's compass, the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope, and the discovery of the Western Continent, had opened up boundless views to ambitious enterprises. These things, added to the still recent perfection of the art of printing, and increasing facility of multiplying and circulating thought, had given an impulse to mind such as had never been known before, and to which, indeed, history affords no parallel. Thought could now be no longer suppressed: mind would not be enslaved. The effects were immediately seen in every direction. The compression was no sooner removed than the mind, by its own powerful elasticity, burst from its confinement, and spread with the rapidity of light over the entire surface of human knowledge. New sciences were brought out, new inventions and discoveries were made, the principles of government were thoroughly sifted, and thought upon every subject stretched to its utmost capacity. To this age, be it remembered, we are to refer the names of Hariot, the inventor of algebra; Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood; Napier, the inventor of logarithms; with Hale, Coke, Locke, Bacon, Milton, Shakspeare,
Vol. VII.- October, 1836. 41
Algernon Sidney, Tillotson, Chillingworth, Prideaux, and a multitude of others in every department of learning and science. This may be justly considered the age of experiment and discovery, the age of strength and adventure, the age of theory and elements. It remained for the succeeding age to give polish and refinement to the materials which were now produced.
Among the vast multitude of illustrious men in that epoch, it could hardly be expected that all should occupy equally conspicuous places in the records of history. All we could expect was, that each should have the portion of notice which his character and attainments merited. It might be expected, too, that some men would have injustice done them by the historian without design: for amid such an array, it might sometimes happen that the less deserving would be brought conspicuously forward, while others, with better claims to notice, would be thrown into the back ground. Admitting all this in excuse for the historians of that period, we still think with Mr. Upham, that "there is something very remarkable,” to say the least, " in the manner in which the name of Sir Henry Vane is passed over by the principal English writers.” In Clarendon he is never named but to be placed in an unfavorable light, except when praise is absolutely extorted from him. Neale, though writing expressly on the Puritans, of whom Sir Henry was a distinguished leader, has made a very sparing use of his name. We might have expected better things from the author of the Saints' Everlasting Rest and the Reformed Pastor. Yet even Baxter presents him in a light very unenviable and not less unjust. Of the more modern historians, much justice was not perhaps to be expected. They chiefly follow the authors who fall in with their own modes of thought, and have not ordinarily given themselves much trouble in searching the true sources of secret history, or extend. ing their inquiries into musty folios or worm eaten parchments. We ought to except, however, from this charge of injustice, several of our more recent historians. Among others, Sir James Mackintosh, and Mr. Hallam in his Constitutional History of Great Britain, have helped to rescue his name from undeserved odium. And the excellent author of the Life and Times of Richard Baxter, has corrected the mistake into which his subject had fallen. Mr. Orme observes, “Baxter did not understand him, and therefore could not do him justice :” and adds with great force and propriety, “ The man who was feared by Cromwell, hated by Charles, and praised by Milton, could not have been a silly fanatic or an unprincipled knave."
Such omissions, however, can be very easily explained. Sir Henry Vane was a man too far above the spirit of the age he lived in to be duly appreciated. His principles were too pure, and his views too enlightened to be identified with any party in Church or State. He was consequently feared or hated by all. The royalists hated him for his republican principles : the Cromwellians for his opposition to their despotic aims: the Episcopalians because of his contempt of unmeaning ceremonies and idle pageantry in the Church: and a large portion of the Puritans for his liberal senti
Life and Times of Richard Baxter, vol. i, p. 85. Note.
ments on religious liberty and toleration. None of these subjects were at that time properly understood. He was two hundred years in advance of his countrymen. Had he lived in the nineteenth, instead of the seventeenth century, he had been regarded as one of the most pure and patriotic statesmen, a most sincere and devoted Christian, and in every respect a most distinguished man. Of this we have some evidence in the testimonies to which we have referred, Hallam, Orme, and Mackintosh. To these we now add Mr. Upham, who deserves the warmest thanks of the American nation for rescuing such a name from the obscurity in which it was involved, and for bringing to light so remarkable a testimony to the excellence of those principles on which our government is founded. There is, too, a peculiar appropriateness in the Life of Sir Henry Vane being written in America by an American. For as he was essentially American in his views, principles, and character, so there is no other nation in the world by whom he would be so correctly, or at least so generally appreciated.
This work will be found not less acceptable to the general reader on another ground. It throws considerable light on one of the most interesting periods of English history, and gives us an insight into the character, the principles, the motives, and the secret designs of that singular being, at once the wonder and execration of his country, Oliver Cromwell. There is no part of English history less generally understood than this. Not many in this day have the patience to wade through Clarendon, Burnet, and Neale, and by a comparison of their conflicting accounts arrive at the truth. A more convenient and much more general mode is to adopt, without examination, the statements of the popular and fascinating Hume. And yet our modern historian is but little entitled to our confidence. Setting aside his religious, or rather anti-religious views, which alone would disqualify him for writing the history of that period ; he is now known to have been very indifferent to historical accuracy, and to fidelity of relation. Indeed he seems to have been chiefly intent on producing a popular work, and if he could only secure readers, he seemed to care for little more. We think no one will fail to detect this, if he turn to his account of the trial and execution of the earl of Strafford, Cromwell's dissolution of the Parlia. ment, or the dethronement of Richard Cromwell. On none of these, to say nothing of many other parts, will he find that satisfaction which I fancy he would desire.* The patient and laborious Dr. Lingard has approached as near to impartiality as could be ex. pected: but it must be evident that this is a chapter in British history that a papist was very ill qualified to undertake. Indeed the history of this period yet remains to be written. Nevertheless Mr. Upham has collected some important information, which will be new, at any rate, to the reader of only Hume and Lingard, especially on those events in which the subject of his memoir was concerned.
But not to exhaust our reader's patience by farther prefatory remarks, let us turn to our author.
* See D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature, 2d series, 24 vol., article “True Sources of Secret History,” for a singular instance of Hume's indolence, and indifference to historical accuracy.