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  Clarendon Clarendon’s skill in character drawing  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

IX. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 15. The History of the Rebellion.


It was under the pressure of all this trouble that Hyde sat down on 18 March, 1646, in his exile in one of the Scilly isles, to write his History of the Rebellion and carried on his task during a period of two years in Jersey. “By the spring of 1648,” says. Firth, “he had brought the story down to the opening of the campaign of 1644, and had written seven books of the work, and a few sections of the eighth.”   25
  Hyde’s purpose was to recount, not for publication, but for the use of future statesmen, and after a fashion which would be appreciated by them, the origin of the great struggle whose present issue seemed to have overwhelmed both crown and church; to tell of all the errors that had been committed from the point of view of constitutional principle, as well as of the great sacrifices that had been made, in order that they might be remembered, and not remembered in vain, by later and more fortunate generations. Though, in this first version of the earlier part of the great work, there is very little personal mention of the writer, his whole heart and mind were with the country from which he had been driven because of his loyalty to her ancient institutions in church and state. In this loyalty, he had been born and bred as the descendant of an old Cheshire family, as a student of the university where his name was afterwards to be gratefully cherished, as an inns of court man and lawyer, and as a constitutionalist member of parliament, who had separated from the popular party so soon as it had begun to tamper with the interests of the episcopacy, and whose advice to king Charles I, since he had been taken into the royal confidence, had consistently been that in any steps the sovereign might take, or in any concessions he might make, he should remain within the limits of the law and the constitution.   26
  Hyde’s second “recess or acquiescence” was during the two years which, with lord Cottington, he spent in Spain as the ambassador of the titular king Charles II. Dark as had been the days of his Jersey exile, at this later stage all hope for the recovery of the royal cause had been extinguished, except such as could be extracted from an alternative policy of abject submission on the part of Charles (whom Hyde had joined in Paris six months before the axe fell at Whitehall) or intrigue with Irish rebels or a foreign power not to be trusted much further than they. Hyde, who inclined to the latter line of policy, set his hand to assist in weaving a web of diplomacy which he could not but know to be futile. Of the fourteen years of exile during which he was the chief adviser of the younger Charles, this period of waiting upon Providence at Madrid was probably that in which public trouble, private sorrow and the sickness of hope deferred weighed most heavily upon his trained self-control and extraordinary elasticity of mind; it was during his embassy in Spain that he took comfort from the Psalms of David, and produced the bulk of those Contemplations and Reflections upon them which fill half the folio volume of his Miscellaneous Works. But he could not, in these years of a depression which hardly ever lifted, though it failed to affect a fidelity which never swerved,  21  resume the self-imposed task undertaken by him long since; and, even when they came to an end, it seemed as if, during the remainder of his days, his hand would be on the helm of state, and he would be able to enforce in practice the lessons which he had sought to place on record in the first large instalment of his History. But this was not to be.   27
  “And the third was his last recess, by the disgrace he underwent, and by the act of banishment. In which three acquiescences,” the passage cited concludes, “he had learned more, knew himself and other men much better, and served God and his country with more devotion, and he hoped more effectually, than in all his life.” There was no conscious hypocrisy in Clarendon, but the forms which his self-confidence assumed were Protean in their variety.   28
  This third retreat upon himself, to which his comment upon all three must, of course, be intended to apply with special force, was by far the longest in duration, and one from which there was to be no return to action or power. The abrupt and sultan-like taking from Clarendon of the great seal, held by him for seven laborious years since the king’s return, to the accomplishment of which no other of his subjects can have contributed so much thought and labour, and the subsequent flight from England of the disowned minister, followed by his impeachment and banishment, put an end to his public life. To the last, however—and this should not be overlooked by readers of the works which were the chief occupation of the remaining seven years of his life—he was scheming and hoping for his return, or, at least, when even hope began to grow faint, anxious to spend his last days in the country of his birth and state. It was all in vain: neither king nor country had any wish to see him again.   29
  As a matter of course, the topic of his downfall and its causes dominated the thoughts of his later years; in his Life, he demonstrated the injustice of his doom in a series of answers to the articles of impeachment drawn up against him, extending over some seventy or eighty pages; while, in the preface to the first edition of his History, he discusses the subject on broader lines. He here comes to the conclusion that the chief authors of his catastrophe were papists and women; and, so far as the immediate agencies of his overthrow were concerned, he was probably not far mistaken. In truth, however, Clarendon, who, in his youth, had justly gloried in his capacity for making friends, found very few to uphold him in the days of his downfall. He was confronted by antagonistic interests with which he scorned to hold parley—the catholics, whose advance he strove to stem, and the protestant nonconformists, of whom he openly avowed his detestation.  22  He was incapable either of the duplicity of gaining the gratitude of the hungry rank and file of the royalists by seeking, or seeming to seek, to advance their personal claims, or of the meanness which is ready to cringe to mistresses and favourites, and affects to be hail-fellow with the revel rout of frivolity and pleasure. Thus, Clarendon paid the penalty of an isolation due, at the same time, to his qualities and their defects. He says of himself, on one occasion, that (like Laud) he was “too proud of a good conscience.” Possibly so; but it is certain that, in his days of power, Clarendon, even with the aid of the church which he upheld with unselfish consistency, failed to create a party that would have rallied round him in his season of adversity, and might have saved his name from being added to the list of victims of a fickleness not confined to democracies.   30
  No sooner had Clarendon, after chicaneries and discomforts, settled down at Montpellier and indited his replies to the articles exhibited against him,  23  than he began, as, with his essentially literary temperament, he could not have failed to do, to write his reminiscences. The portion of The History of the Rebellion which he had composed twenty years earlier he had left behind him in England with the rest of his manuscripts. Moreover, his present design differend from that which had occupied him during his two years of continuous labour in Jersey; what he had at heart now was the vindication of his own career in the eyes of his children—a memoir of his own life, introducing, of course, some of the great events or transactions with which he was in contact, rather than a history of the great struggle and its ultimate issue, in which he, too, played his part. Thus, during two or three years, working, we may rest assured, con amore, but without haste or even allowing the whole of his literary energies to be absorbed by his task,  24  he composed so much of his Life as preceded the date of the restoration. (This amounted to more than half of the first of the three printed volumes.) In this part of the autobiography, the literary powers of the author are displayed at their height, while the freedom with which, in the absence of a great pressure of materials, he could allow himself to write, gives a flow to his composition which is not characteristic of the completed Rebellion. This earlier part of the Life contains some of the most admirable among the many admirable characters drawn by Clarendon—a gallery which, in their different ways, neither Thucydides nor Macaulay has surpassed—including the exquisite miniature of Sydney Godolphin the elder, the delightful portraits of Hales, Earle and Chillingworth, the discriminating sketch of Colepeper and, above all, the famous character of Falkland. Here and there occur some of those indications of an intuitive perception of the weak sides of human nature which, in Clarendon, are at all times compatible with a very imperfect openness to his own failings—the recognition of the sharpness which marred the dignity of Laud, and the insight into the true nature of the relations between Charles I and his consort, and, again, of those between the king and his “servants.” In Clarendon’s account of his own early days, his narrative, like the memoirs of so many successful lawyers, furnishes us, unintentionally, with instruction as to the art of “getting on”; as he progresses, he falls into a way of attributing prejudice against, or dislike of, himself to small and more or less accidental causes (see his account of his early quarrel with Cromwell), and begins his long list of nolo’s with a statement as to his resolution not to be named secretary of state.   31
  In 1671, Clarendon’s son Lawrence (afterwards earl of Rochester) visited him in his exile, bringing with him the unfinished MS. of the Rebellion, mainly written in Jersey. It was now that Clarendon made up his mind to a process of contamination for which, considering the scale on which it was conducted and the rare importance of the writings to which it was applied, a parallel cannot easily be found in literary history.  25  Taking the MS. History, so far as it went, as the framework of his book, he inserted into it a great number of passages from the portion of the Life which he had recently written; and then added, as books XXVI of the work, the whole of the latter part of the Life, from the restoration to his days of exile. By way of a link between the earlier and later parts of the work, he wrote book VIII and part of book IX, as more or less new matter, and then, after putting the whole into a shape which, so far as possible, concealed the operations by which it was joined together, he left the whole History of the Restoration in the condition in which, after his death, it was given to the world (in 1702).   32
  Inasmuch as the original History and the first part of the Life, as has been seen, were written with different ends in view, the result of the dovetailing process could not but be what Firth, perhaps rather sternly, calls patchwork. It is, however, equally clear that, in the whole work, we shall find some of the qualities which belong to a reasoned history, and some of those that belong to a personal memoir, fresh from the hands of an actor in the scenes and events narrated by him. Among the former is the faculty of taking and conveying a comprehensive view of an entire situation or conjuncture in the affairs of the nation, or of the court, or of a party or influential section of the community. The picture of happy England (before the out-break of the great civil war) is, indeed, more or less conventional, and will be found in the Life as well as in the History. But how excellent, in the History, is the connected and succinct narrative of the Spanish journey of the prince of Wales and Buckingham, and of the triumph of the latter over the better judgment of his master king James; how persuasive, without any attempt at a whole-hearted defence, is the pleading for the action of king Charles I in the critical matter of Strafford’s catastrophe; how ingenious is the sketch of the attitude of the foreign powers after the death of Charles I himself; how masterly, too, in the later portion of the Life, is the description of the jealousies and other foibles of the royalist party in the period preceding the restoration!   33

Note 21. The active services of Clarendon to the royal court cannot be described here. [ back ]
Note 22. See for instance, his remark, Life, vol. II, p. 121, on the unhappy policy of making concessions to “that classis of men.” Charles II, it may be added, broke his promise to the protestant dissenters chiefly because of Clarendon’s advice. [ back ]
Note 23. The Vindication, which is also included in the Life, forms part of the Miscellaneous Works, and is dated Montpellier, 24 July, 1668. [ back ]
Note 24. It is impossible to date most of Clarendon’s miscellaneous writings, of which a list will be found in the bibliography. The Contemplations and Reflections upon the Psalms of David, already mentioned as, to a large extent, composed at an earlier date, were concluded at Montpellier on 27 February, 1670, and the dedication “to my children” is dated in the following year; the concluding personal note, which has both dignity and pathos, still breathes the hope that the writer may be restored to the favour of the king. Among Essays Divine and Moral, that Of Human Nature is dated Montpellier, 1668; that Of Liberty is an attack on Hobbes; that Of Repentance has a very practical bearing on the question of the restoration of property taken away in the rebellion. The others, for the most part, are moral rather than polemical, and very readable. The essay on the old debating problem of the comparative advantages of An Active and Contemplative Life, argues very strongly against monastic vows; and the essay Against multiplying Controversies, etc., may be described as, in purport, an elaborate defence of the laws for the maintenance of the church of England and for keeping the Roman Catholics in order. Finally, there are two well sustained dialogues On the Reverence due to Old Age and On Education, conducted by a group of representatives of the previous generation, among whom, however, are to be found advocates of conservative reform. The dialogue On Education has a few good points and a few which are not quite out of date; but it is not, on the whole, a very luminous contribution to the discussion of a theme which some of Clarendon’s contemporaries had treated with far greater power and profundity. [ back ]
Note 25. The process summarised by Firth in his lecture on Clarendon is detailed by him in three articles contributed to The English Historical Review, 1904. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Clarendon Clarendon’s skill in character drawing  
 
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