Curiosities of Literature, Vol. II (of 3) - Edited, With Memoir And Notes, By His Son, The Earl Of Beaconsfield
by Isaac D'Israeli
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It was in the lodgings of Dr. Wilkins in Wadham College that a small philosophical club met together, which proved to be, as Aubrey expresses it, the incunabula of the Royal Society. When the members were dispersed about London, they renewed their meetings first at a tavern, then at a private house; and when the society became too great to be called a club, they assembled in "the parlour" of Gresham College, which itself had been raised by the munificence of a citizen, who endowed it liberally, and presented a noble example to the individuals now assembled under its roof. The society afterwards derived its title from a sort of accident. The warm loyalty of Evelyn in the first hopeful days of the Restoration, in his dedicatory epistle of Naude's treatise on libraries, called that philosophical meeting THE ROYAL SOCIETY. These learned men immediately voted their thanks to Evelyn for the happy designation, which was so grateful to Charles the Second, who was himself a virtuoso of the day, that the charter was soon granted: the king, declaring himself their founder, "sent them a mace of silver-gilt, of the same fashion and bigness as those carried before his majesty, to be borne before the president on meeting days." To the zeal of Evelyn the Royal Society owes no inferior acquisition to its title and its mace:[277] the noble Arundelian library, the rare literary accumulation of the noble Howards; the last possessor of which had so little inclination for books, that the treasures which his ancestors had collected lay open at the mercy of any purloiner. This degenerate heir to the literature and the name of Howard seemed perfectly relieved when Evelyn sent his marbles, which were perishing in his gardens, to Oxford, and his books, which were diminishing daily, to the Royal Society!

The SOCIETY of ANTIQUARIES might create a deeper interest, could we penetrate to its secret history: it was interrupted, and suffered to expire by some obscure cause of political jealousy. It long ceased to exist, and was only reinstated almost in our own days. The revival of learning under Edward the Sixth suffered a severe check from the papistical government of Mary; but under Elizabeth a happier era opened to our literary pursuits. At this period several students of the Inns of Court, many of whose names are illustrious for their rank or their genius, formed a weekly society, which they called "the Antiquaries' College." From very opposite quarters we are furnished with many curious particulars of their literary intercourse: it is delightful to discover Rawleigh borrowing manuscripts from the library of Sir Robert Cotton, and Selden deriving his studies from the collections of Rawleigh. Their mode of proceeding has even been preserved. At every meeting they proposed a question or two respecting the history or the antiquities of the English nation, on which each member was expected, at the subsequent meeting, to deliver a dissertation or an opinion. They also "supped together." From the days of Athenaeus to those of Dr. Johnson, the pleasures of the table have enlivened those of literature. A copy of each question and a summons for the place of conference were sent to the absent members. The opinions were carefully registered by the secretary, and the dissertations deposited in their archives. One of these summonses to Stowe, the antiquary, with his memoranda on the back, exists in the Ashmolean Museum. I shall preserve it with all its verbal aerugo.


"To MR. STOWE. "The place appointed for a conference upon the question followinge ys att Mr. Garter's house, on Frydaye the 2nd. of this November, being Al Soule's daye, at 2 of the clocke in the afternoone, where your oppinioun in wrytinge or otherwise is expected.

"The question is,

"Of the antiquitie, etimologie, and priviledges of parishes in Englande.

"Yt ys desyred that you give not notice hereof to any, but such as haue the like somons."

Such is the summons; the memoranda in the handwriting of Stowe are these:—

[630. Honorius Romanus, Archbyshope of Canterbury, devided his province into parishes; he ordeyned clerks and prechars, comaunding them that they should instruct the people, as well by good lyfe, as by doctryne.

760. Cuthbert, Archbyshope of Canterbury, procured of the Pope, that in cities and townes there should be appoynted church yards for buriall of the dead, whose bodies were used to be buried abrode, & cet.]

Their meetings had hitherto been private; but to give stability to them, they petitioned for a charter of incorporation, under the title of the Academy for the Study of Antiquity and History, founded by Queen Elizabeth. And to preserve all the memorials of history which the dissolution of the monasteries had scattered about the kingdom, they proposed to erect a library, to be called "The Library of Queen Elizabeth." The death of the queen overturned this honourable project. The society was somewhat interrupted by the usual casualties of human life; the members were dispersed or died, and it ceased for twenty years. Spelman, Camden, and others, desirous of renovating the society, met for this purpose at the Herald's-office; they settled their regulations, among which, one was "for avoiding offence, they should neither meddle with matters of state nor religion." "But before our next meeting," says Spelman, "we had notice that his majesty took a little mislike of our society, not being informed that we had resolved to decline all matters of state. Yet hereupon we forbore to meet again, and so all our labour's lost!" Unquestionably much was lost, for much could have been produced; and Spelman's work on law terms, where I find this information, was one of the first projected. James the First has incurred the censure of those who have written more boldly than Spelman on the suppression of this society; but whether James was misinformed by "taking a little mislike," or whether the antiquaries failed in exerting themselves to open their plan more clearly to that "timid pedant," as Gough and others designate this monarch, may yet be doubtful; assuredly James was not a man to contemn their erudition!

The king at this time was busied by furthering a similar project, which was to found "King James's College at Chelsea;" a project originating with Dean Sutcliff; and zealously approved by Prince Henry, to raise a nursery for young polemics in scholastical divinity, for the purpose of defending the Protestant cause from the attacks of catholics and sectaries; a college which was afterwards called by Laud "Controversy College." In this society were appointed historians and antiquaries, for Camden and Haywood filled these offices.

The Society of Antiquaries, however, though suppressed, was perhaps never extinct; it survived in some shape under Charles the Second, for Ashmole in his Diary notices "the Antiquaries' Feast," as well as "the Astrologers'," and another of "the Freemasons'."[278] The present society was only incorporated in 1751. There are two sets of their Memoirs; for besides the modern Archaeologia, we have two volumes of "Curious Discourses," written by the Fathers of the Antiquarian Society in the age of Elizabeth, collected from their dispersed manuscripts, which Camden preserved with a parental hand.

The philosophical spirit of the age, it might have been expected, would have reached our modern antiquaries; but neither profound views, nor eloquent disquisitions, have imparted that value to their confined researches and languid efforts, which the character of the times, and the excellence of our French rivals in their "Academie," so peremptorily required. It is, however, hopeful to hear Mr. Hallam declare, "I think our last volumes improve a little, and but a little! A comparison with the Academy of Inscriptions in its better days must still inspire us with shame."

Among the statutes of the Society of Antiquaries there is one which expels any member "who shall, by speaking, writing, or printing, publicly defame the society." Some things may be too antique and obsolete even for the Society of Antiquaries! and such is this vile restriction! It compromises the freedom of the republic of letters.


It is generally supposed that where there is no QUOTATION, there will be found most originality. Our writers usually furnish their pages rapidly with the productions of their own soil: they run up a quickset hedge, or plant a poplar, and get trees and hedges of this fashion much faster than the former landlords procured their timber. The greater part of our writers, in consequence, have become so original, that no one cares to imitate them; and those who never quote, in return are seldom quoted!

This is one of the results of that adventurous spirit which is now stalking forth and raging for its own innovations. We have not only rejected AUTHORITY, but have also cast away EXPERIENCE; and often the unburthened vessel is driving to all parts of the compass, and the passengers no longer know whither they are going. The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by QUOTATION.

It seems, however, agreed, that no one would quote if he could think; and it is not imagined that the well-read may quote from the delicacy of their taste, and the fulness of their knowledge. Whatever is felicitously expressed risks being worse expressed: it is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us. We quote to save proving what has been demonstrated, referring to where the proofs may be found. We quote to screen ourselves from the odium of doubtful opinions, which the world would not willingly accept from ourselves; and we may quote from the curiosity which only a quotation itself can give, when in our own words it would be divested of that tint of ancient phrase, that detail of narrative, and that naivete which we have for ever lost, and which we like to recollect once had an existence.

The ancients, who in these matters were not, perhaps, such blockheads as some may conceive, considered poetical quotation as one of the requisite ornaments of oratory. Cicero, even in his philosophical works, is as little sparing of quotations as Plutarch. Old Montaigne is so stuffed with them, that he owns, if they were taken out of him little of himself would remain; and yet this never injured that original turn which the old Gascon has given to his thoughts. I suspect that Addison hardly ever composed a Spectator which was not founded on some quotation, noted in those three folio manuscript volumes which he previously collected; and Addison lasts, while Steele, who always wrote from first impressions and to the times, with perhaps no inferior genius, has passed away, insomuch that Dr. Beattie once considered that he was obliging the world by collecting Addison's papers, and carefully omitting Steele's.

Quotation, like much better things, has its abuses. One may quote till one compiles. The ancient lawyers used to quote at the bar till they had stagnated their own cause. "Retournons a nos moutons," was the cry of the client. But these vagrant prowlers must be consigned to the beadles of criticism. Such do not always understand the authors whose names adorn their barren pages, and which are taken, too, from the third or the thirtieth hand. Those who trust to such false quoters will often learn how contrary this transmission is to the sense and the application of the original. Every transplantation has altered the fruit of the tree; every new channel the quality of the stream in its remove from the spring-head. Bayle, when writing on "Comets," discovered this; for having collected many things applicable to his work, as they stood quoted in some modern writers, when he came to compare them with their originals, he was surprised to find that they were nothing for his purpose! the originals conveyed a quite contrary sense to that of the pretended quoters, who often, from innocent blundering, and sometimes from purposed deception, had falsified their quotations. This is an useful story for second-hand authorities!

Selden had formed some notions on this subject of quotations in his "Table-talk," art. "Books and Authors;" but, as Le Clerc justly observes, proud of his immense reading, he has too often violated his own precept. "In quoting of books," says Selden, "quote such authors as are usually read; others read for your own satisfaction, but not name them." Now it happens that no writer names more authors, except Prynne,[279] than the learned Selden. La Mothe le Vayer's curious works consist of fifteen volumes; he is among the greatest quoters. Whoever turns them over will perceive that he is an original thinker, and a great wit; his style, indeed, is meagre, which, as much as his quotations, may have proved fatal to him. But in both these cases it is evident that even quoters who have abused the privilege of quotation are not necessarily writers of a mean genius.

The Quoters who deserve the title, and it ought to be an honorary one, are those who trust to no one but themselves. In borrowing a passage, they carefully observe its connexion; they collect authorities to reconcile any disparity in them before they furnish the one which they adopt; they advance no fact without a witness, and they are not loose and general in their references, as I have been told is our historian Henry so frequently, that it is suspected he deals much in second-hand ware. Bayle lets us into a mystery of author-craft. "Suppose an able man is to prove that an ancient author entertained certain particular opinions, which are only insinuated here and there through his works, I am sure it will take him up more days to collect the passages which he will have occasion for, than to argue at random on those passages. Having once found out his authorities and his quotations, which perhaps will not fill six pages, and may have cost him a month's labour, he may finish in two mornings' work twenty pages of arguments, objections, and answers to objections; and consequently, what proceeds from our own genius sometimes costs much less time than what is requisite for collecting. Corneille would have required more time to defend a tragedy by a great collection of authorities, than to write it; and I am supposing the same number of pages in the tragedy and in the defence. Heinsius perhaps bestowed more time in defending his Herodes infanticida against Balzac, than a Spanish (or a Scotch) metaphysician bestows on a large volume of controversy, where he takes all from his own stock." I am somewhat concerned in the truth of this principle. There are articles in the present work occupying but a few pages, which could never have been produced had not more time been allotted to the researches which they contain than some would allow to a small volume, which might excel in genius, and yet be likely not to be long remembered! All this is labour which never meets the eye. It is quicker work, with special pleading and poignant periods, to fill sheets with generalising principles; those bird's-eye views of philosophy for the nonce seem as if things were seen clearer when at a distance and en masse, and require little knowledge of the individual parts. Such an art of writing may resemble the famous Lullian method, by which the doctor illuminatus enabled any one to invent arguments by a machine! Two tables, one of attributes, and the other of subjects, worked about circularly in a frame, and placed correlatively to one another produced certain combinations; the number of questions multiplied as they were worked! So that here was a mechanical invention by which they might dispute without end, and write on without any particular knowledge of their subject!

But the painstaking gentry, when heaven sends them genius enough, are the most instructive sort, and they are those to whom we shall appeal while time and truth can meet together. A well-read writer, with good taste, is one who has the command of the wit of other men;[280] he searches where knowledge is to be found; and though he may not himself excel in invention, his ingenuity may compose one of those agreeable books, the deliciae of literature, that will outlast the fading meteors of his day. Epicurus is said to have borrowed from no writer in his three hundred inspired volumes, while Plutarch, Seneca, and the elder Pliny made such free use of their libraries; and it has happened that Epicurus, with his unsubstantial nothingness, has "melted into thin air," while the solid treasures have buoyed themselves up amidst the wrecks of nations.

On this subject of quotation, literary politics,—for the commonwealth has its policy and its cabinet-secrets,—are more concerned than the reader suspects. Authorities in matters of fact are often called for; in matters of opinion, indeed, which perhaps are of more importance, no one requires any authority. But too open and generous a revelation of the chapter and the page of the original quoted has often proved detrimental to the legitimate honours of the quoter. They are unfairly appropriated by the next comer; the quoter is never quoted, but the authority he has afforded is produced by his successor with the air of an original research. I have seen MSS. thus confidently referred to, which could never have met the eye of the writer. A learned historian declared to me of a contemporary, that the latter had appropriated his researches; he might, indeed, and he had a right to refer to the same originals; but if his predecessor had opened the sources for him, gratitude is not a silent virtue. Gilbert Stuart thus lived on Robertson: and as Professor Dugald Stewart observes, "his curiosity has seldom led him into any path where the genius and industry of his predecessor had not previously cleared the way." It is for this reason some authors, who do not care to trust to the equity and gratitude of their successors, will not furnish the means of supplanting themselves; for, by not yielding up their authorities, they themselves become one. Some authors, who are pleased at seeing their names occur in the margins of other books than their own, have practised this political management; such as Alexander ab Alexandro, and other compilers of that stamp, to whose labours of small value we are often obliged to refer, from the circumstance that they themselves have not pointed out their authorities.

One word more on this long chapter of QUOTATION. To make a happy one is a thing not easily to be done.[281] Cardinal du Perron used to say, that the happy application of a verse from Virgil was worth a talent; and Bayle, perhaps too much prepossessed in their favour, has insinuated, that there is not less invention in a just and happy application of a thought found in a book, than in being the first author of that thought. The art of quotation requires more delicacy in the practice than those conceive who can see nothing more in a quotation than an extract. Whenever the mind of a writer is saturated with the full inspiration of a great author, a quotation gives completeness to the whole; it seals his feelings with undisputed authority. Whenever we would prepare the mind by a forcible appeal, an opening quotation is a symphony preluding on the chords whose tones we are about to harmonise. Perhaps no writers of our times have discovered more of this delicacy of quotation than the author of the "Pursuits of Literature;" and Mr. Southey, in some of his beautiful periodical investigations, where we have often acknowledged the solemn and striking effect of a quotation from our elder writers.


Nearly six centuries have elapsed since the appearance of the great work of Dante, and the literary historians of Italy are even now disputing respecting the origin of this poem, singular in its nature and in its excellence. In ascertaining a point so long inquired after, and so keenly disputed, it will rather increase our admiration than detract from the genius of this great poet; and it will illustrate the useful principle, that every great genius is influenced by the objects and the feelings which occupy his own times, only differing from the race of his brothers by the magical force of his developments: the light he sends forth over the world he often catches from the faint and unobserved spark which would die away and turn to nothing in another hand.

The Divina Commedia of Dante is a visionary journey through the three realms of the after-life existence; and though, in the classical ardour of our poetical pilgrim, he allows his conductor to be a Pagan, the scenes are those of monkish imagination. The invention of a VISION was the usual vehicle for religious instruction in his age; it was adapted to the genius of the sleeping Homer of a monastery, and to the comprehension, and even to the faith of the populace, whose minds were then awake to these awful themes.

The mode of writing visions has been imperfectly detected by several modern inquirers. It got into the Fabliaux of the Jongleurs, or Provencal bards, before the days of Dante; they had these visions or pilgrimages to Hell; the adventures were no doubt solemn to them—but it seemed absurd to attribute the origin of a sublime poem to such inferior, and to us even ludicrous, inventions. Every one, therefore, found out some other origin of Dante's Inferno—since they were resolved to have one—in other works more congenial to its nature; the description of a second life, the melancholy or the glorified scenes of punishment or bliss, with the animated shades of men who were no more, had been opened to the Italian bard by his favourite Virgil, and might have been suggested, according to Warton, by the Somnium Scipionis of Cicero.

But the entire work of Dante is Gothic; it is a picture of his times, of his own ideas, of the people about him; nothing of classical antiquity resembles it; and although the name of Virgil is introduced into a Christian Hades, it is assuredly not the Roman, for Dante's Virgil speaks and acts as the Latin poet could never have done. It is one of the absurdities of Dante, who, like our Shakspeare, or like Gothic architecture itself, has many things which "lead to nothing" amidst their massive greatness.

Had the Italian and the French commentators who have troubled themselves on this occasion known the art which we have happily practised in this country, of illustrating a great national bard by endeavouring to recover the contemporary writings and circumstances which were connected with his studies and his times, they had long ere this discovered the real framework of the Inferno.

Within the last twenty years it had been rumoured that Dante had borrowed or stolen his Inferno from "The Vision of Alberico," which was written two centuries before his time. The literary antiquary, Bottari, had discovered a manuscript of this Vision of Alberico, and, in haste, made extracts of a startling nature. They were well adapted to inflame the curiosity of those who are eager after anything new about something old; it throws an air of erudition over the small talker, who otherwise would care little about the original! This was not the first time that the whole edifice of genius had been threatened by the motion of a remote earthquake; but in these cases it usually happens that those early discoverers who can judge of a little part, are in total blindness when they would decide on a whole. A poisonous mildew seemed to have settled on the laurels of Dante; nor were we relieved from our constant inquiries, till il Sigr. Abbate Cancellieri at Rome published, in 1814, this much talked-of manuscript, and has now enabled us to see and to decide, and even to add the present little article as an useful supplement.

True it is that Dante must have read with equal attention and delight this authentic vision of Alberico; for it is given, so we are assured by the whole monastery, as it happened to their ancient brother when a boy; many a striking, and many a positive resemblance in the "Divina Commedia" has been pointed out; and Mr. Gary, in his English version of Dante, so English, that he makes Dante speak in blank verse very much like Dante in stanzas, has observed, that "The reader will, in these marked resemblances, see enough to convince him that Dante had read this singular work." The truth is, that the "Vision of Alberico" must not be considered as a singular work—but, on the contrary, as the prevalent mode of composition in the monastic ages. It has been ascertained that Alberico was written in the twelfth century, judging of the age of a manuscript by the writing. I shall now preserve a vision which a French antiquary had long ago given, merely with the design to show how the monks abused the simplicity of our Gothic ancestors, and with an utter want of taste for such inventions, he deems the present one to be "monstrous." He has not told us the age in which it was written. This vision, however, exhibits such complete scenes of the Inferno of the great poet, that the writer must have read Dante, or Dante must have read this writer. The manuscript, with another of the same kind, is in the King's library at Paris, and some future researcher may ascertain the age of these Gothic compositions; doubtless they will be found to belong to the age of Alberico, for they are alike stamped by the same dark and awful imagination, the same depth of feeling, the solitary genius of the monastery!

It may, however, be necessary to observe, that these "Visions" were merely a vehicle for popular instruction; nor must we depend on the age of their composition by the names of the supposititious visionaries affixed to them: they were the satires of the times. The following elaborate views of some scenes in the Inferno were composed by an honest monk who was dissatisfied with the bishops, and took this covert means of pointing out how the neglect of their episcopal duties was punished in the after-life; he had an equal quarrel with the feudal nobility for their oppressions: and he even boldly ascended to the throne.

"The Vision of Charles the Bald, of the places of punishment, and the happiness of the Just.[282]

"I, Charles, by the gratuitous gift of God, king of the Germans, Roman patrician, and likewise emperor of the Franks;

"On the holy night of Sunday, having performed the divine offices of matins, returning to my bed to sleep, a voice most terrible came to my ear; 'Charles! thy spirit shall now issue from thy body; thou shalt go and behold the judgments of God; they shall serve thee only as presages, and thy spirit shall again return shortly afterwards.' Instantly was my spirit rapt, and he who bore me away was a being of the most splendid whiteness. He put into my hand a ball of thread, which shed a blaze of light, such as the comet darts when it is apparent. He divided it, and said to me, 'Take thou this thread, and bind it strongly on the thumb of thy right hand, and by this I will lead thee through the infernal labyrinth of punishments.'

"Then going before me with velocity, but always unwinding this luminous thread, he conducted me into deep valleys filled with fires, and wells inflamed, blazing with all sorts of unctuous matter. There I observed the prelates who had served my father and my ancestors. Although I trembled, I still, however, inquired of them to learn the cause of their torments. They answered, 'We are the bishops of your father and your ancestors; instead of uniting them and their people in peace and concord, we sowed among them discord, and were the kindlers of evil: for this are we burning in these Tartarean punishments; we, and other men-slayers and devourers of rapine. Here also shall come your bishops, and that crowd of satellites who surround you, and who imitate the evil we have done.'

"And while I listened to them tremblingly, I beheld the blackest demons flying with hooks of burning iron, who would have caught the ball of thread which I held in my hand, and have drawn it towards them, but it darted such a reverberating light, that they could not lay hold of the thread. These demons, when at my back, hustled to precipitate me into those sulphureous pits; but my conductor, who carried the ball, wound about my shoulder a double thread, drawing me to him with such force, that we ascended high mountains of flame, from whence issued lakes and burning streams, melting all kinds of metals. There I found the souls of lords who had served my father and my brothers; some plunged in up to the hair of their heads, others to their chins, others with half their bodies immersed. These yelling, cried to me, 'It is for inflaming discontents with your father, and your brothers, and yourself, to make war and spread murder and rapine, eager for earthly spoils, that we now suffer these torments in these rivers of boiling metal.' While I was timidly bending over their suffering, I heard at my back the clamours of voices, potentes potenter tormenta patiuntur! 'The powerful suffer torments powerfully;' and I looked up, and beheld on the shores boiling streams and ardent furnaces, blazing with pitch and sulphur, full of great dragons, large scorpions, and serpents of a strange species; where also I saw some of my ancestors, princes, and my brothers also, who said to me, 'Alas, Charles! behold our heavy punishment for evil, and for proud malignant counsels, which, in our realms and in thine, we yielded to from the lust of dominion.' As I was grieving with their groans, dragons hurried on, who sought to devour me with throats open, belching flame and sulphur. But my leader trebled the thread over me, at whose resplendent light these were overcome. Leading me then securely, we descended into a great valley, which on one side was dark, except where lighted by ardent furnaces, while the amenity of the other was so pleasant and splendid, that I cannot describe it. I turned, however, to the obscure and flaming side; I beheld some kings of my race agonised in great and strange punishments, and I thought how in an instant the huge black giants who in turmoil were working to set this whole valley into flames, would have hurled me into these gulfs; I still trembled, when the luminous thread cheered my eyes, and on the other side of the valley a light for a little while whitened, gradually breaking: I observed two fountains; one, whose waters had extreme heat, the other more temperate and clear; and two large vessels filled with these waters. The luminous thread rested on one of the fervid waters, where I saw my father Louis covered to his thighs, and though labouring in the anguish of bodily pain, he spoke to me. 'My son Charles, fear nothing! I know that thy spirit shall return unto thy body; and God has permitted thee to come here that thou mayest witness, because of the sins I have committed, the punishments I endure. One day I am placed in the boiling bath of this large vessel, and on another changed into that of more tempered waters: this I owe to the prayers of Saint Peter, Saint Denis, Saint Remy, who are the patrons of our royal house; but if by prayers and masses, offerings and alms, psalmody and vigils, my faithful bishops, and abbots, and even all the ecclesiastical order, assist me, it will not be long before I am delivered from these boiling waters. Look on your left!' I looked and beheld two tuns of boiling waters. 'These are prepared for thee,' he said, 'if thou wilt not be thy own corrector, and do penance for thy crimes!' Then I began to sink with horror; but my guide perceiving the panic of my spirit, said to me, 'Follow me to the right of the valley, bright in the glorious light of Paradise.' I had not long proceeded, when, amidst the most illustrious kings, I beheld my uncle Lotharius seated on a topaz, of marvellous magnitude, covered with a most precious diadem; and beside him was his son Louis, like him crowned, and seeing me, he spake with a blandishment of air, and a sweetness of voice, 'Charles, my successor, now the third in the Roman empire, approach! I know that thou hast come to view these places of punishment, where thy father and my brother groans to his destined hour: but still to end by the intercession of the three saints, the patrons of the kings and the people of France. Know that it will not be long ere thou shalt be dethroned, and shortly after thou shalt die!' Then Louis turning towards me: 'Thy Roman empire shall pass into the hands of Louis, the son of my daughter; give him the sovereign authority, and trust to his hands that ball of thread thou holdest.' Directly I loosened it from the finger of my right hand to give the empire to his son. This invested him with empire, and he became brilliant with all light; and at the same instant, admirable to see, my spirit, greatly wearied and broken, returned gliding into my body. Hence let all know whatever happen, that Louis the Young possesses the Roman empire destined by God. And so the Lord who reigneth over the living and the dead, and whose kingdom endureth for ever and for aye, will perform when he shall call me away to another life."

The French literary antiquaries judged of these "Visions" with the mere nationality of their taste. Everything Gothic with them is barbarous, and they see nothing in the redeeming spirit of genius, nor the secret purpose of these curious documents of the age.

The Vision of Charles the Bald may be found in the ancient chronicles of Saint Denis, which were written under the eye of the Abbe Suger, the learned and able minister of Louis the Young, and which were certainly composed before the thirteenth century. The learned writer of the fourth volume of the Melanges tires d'une grande Bibliotheque, who had as little taste for these mysterious visions as the other French critic, apologises for the venerable Abbe Suger's admission of such visions: "Assuredly," he says, "the Abbe Suger was too wise and too enlightened to believe in similar visions; but if he suffered its insertion, or if he inserted it himself in the chronicle of Saint Denis, it is because he felt that such a fable offered an excellent lesson to kings, to ministers and bishops, and it had been well if they had not had worse tales told them." The latter part is as philosophical as the former is the reverse.

In these extraordinary productions of a Gothic age we may assuredly discover Dante; but what are they more than the framework of his unimitated picture! It is only this mechanical part of his sublime conceptions that we can pretend to have discovered; other poets might have adopted these "Visions;" but we should have had no "Divina Commedia." Mr. Gary has finely observed of these pretended origins of Dante's genius, although Mr. Gary knew only the Vision of Alberico, "It is the scale of magnificence on which this conception was framed, and the wonderful development of it in all its parts, that may justly entitle our poet to rank among the few minds to whom the power of a great creative faculty can be ascribed." Milton might originally have sought the seminal hint of his great work from a sort of Italian mystery. In the words of Dante himself,

Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda. Il Paradiso, Can. i.

——From a small spark Great flame hath risen. CARY.

After all, Dante has said in a letter, "I found the ORIGINAL of MY HELL in THE WORLD which we inhabit;" and he said a greater truth than some literary antiquaries can always comprehend![283]


Such a title might serve for a work of not incurious nor unphilosophical speculation, which might enlarge our general views of human affairs, and assist our comprehension of those events which are enrolled on the registers of history. The scheme of Providence is carrying oil sublunary events, by means inscrutable to us,

A mighty maze, but not without a plan!

Some mortals have recently written history, and "Lectures on History," who presume to explain the great scene of human affairs, affecting the same familiarity with the designs of Providence as with the events which they compile from human authorities. Every party discovers in the events which at first were adverse to their own cause but finally terminate in their favour, that Providence had used a peculiar and particular interference; this is a source of human error and intolerant prejudice. The Jesuit Mariana, exulting over the destruction of the kingdom and nation of the Goths in Spain, observes, that "It was by a particular providence that out of their ashes might rise a new and holy Spain, to be the bulwark of the catholic religion;" and unquestionably he would have adduced as proofs of this "holy Spain" the establishment of the Inquisition, and the dark idolatrous bigotry of that hoodwinked people. But a protestant will not sympathise with the feelings of the Jesuit; yet the protestants, too, will discover particular providences, and magnify human events into supernatural ones. This custom has long prevailed among fanatics: we have had books published by individuals, of "particular providences," which, as they imagined, had fallen to their lot. They are called "passages of providence;" and one I recollect by a crack-brained puritan, whose experience never went beyond his own neighbourhood, but who having a very bad temper, and many whom he considered his enemies, wrote down all the misfortunes which happened to them as acts of "particular providences," and valued his blessedness on the efficacy of his curses!

Without venturing to penetrate into the mysteries of the present order of human affairs, and the great scheme of fatality or of accident, it may he sufficiently evident to us, that often on a single event revolve the fortunes of men and of nations.

An eminent writer has speculated on the defeat of Charles the Second at Worcester, as "one of those events which most strikingly exemplify how much better events are disposed of by Providence, than they would be if the direction were left to the choice even of the best and the wisest men." He proceeds to show, that a royal victory must have been succeeded by other severe struggles, and by different parties. A civil war would have contained within itself another civil war. One of the blessings of his defeat at Worcester was, that it left the commonwealth's men masters of the three kingdoms, and afforded them "full leisure to complete and perfect their own structure of government. The experiment was fairly tried; there was nothing from without to disturb the process; it went on duly from change to change." The close of this history is well known. Had the royalists obtained the victory at Worcester, the commonwealth party might have obstinately persisted, that had their republic not been overthrown, "their free and liberal government" would have diffused its universal happiness through the three kingdoms. This idea is ingenious; and might have been pursued in my proposed "History of Events which have not happened," under the title of "The Battle of Worcester won by Charles the Second." The chapter, however, would have had a brighter close, if the sovereign and the royalists had proved themselves better men than the knaves and fanatics of the commonwealth. It is not for us to scrutinise into "the ways" of Providence; but if Providence conducted Charles the Second to the throne, it appears to have deserted him when there.

Historians, for a particular purpose, have sometimes amused themselves with a detail of an event which did not happen. A history of this kind we find in the ninth book of Livy; and it forms a digression, where, with his delightful copiousness, he reasons on the probable consequences which would have ensued had Alexander the Great invaded Italy. Some Greek writers, to raise the Parthians to an equality with the Romans, had insinuated that the great name of this military monarch, who is said never to have lost a battle, would have intimidated the Romans, and would have checked their passion for universal dominion. The patriotic Livy, disdaining that the glory of his nation, which had never ceased from war for nearly eight hundred years, should be put in competition with the career of a young conqueror, which had scarcely lasted ten, enters into a parallel of "man with man, general with general, and victory with victory." In the full charm of his imagination he brings Alexander down into Italy, he invests him with all his virtues, and "dusks their lustre" with all his defects. He arranges the Macedonian army, while he exultingly shows five Roman armies at that moment pursuing their conquests; and he cautiously counts the numerous allies who would have combined their forces; he even descends to compare the weapons and the modes of warfare of the Macedonians with those of the Romans. Livy, as if he had caught a momentary panic at the first success which had probably attended Alexander in his descent into Italy, brings forward the great commanders he would have had to encounter; he compares Alexander with each, and at length terminates his fears, and claims his triumph, by discovering that the Macedonians had but one Alexander, while the Romans had several. This beautiful digression in Livy is a model for the narrative of an event which never happened.

The Saracens from Asia had spread into Africa, and at length possessed themselves of Spain. Eude, a discontented Duke of Guienne in France, had been vanquished by Charles Martel, who derived that humble but glorious surname from the event we are now to record. Charles had left Eude the enjoyment of his dukedom, provided that he held it as a fief from the crown; but blind with ambition and avarice, Eude adopted a scheme which threw Christianity itself, as well as Europe, into a crisis of peril which has never since occurred. By marrying a daughter with a Mahometan emir, he rashly began an intercourse with the Ishmaelites, one of whose favourite projects was to plant a formidable colony of their faith in France. An army of four hundred thousand combatants, as the chroniclers of the time affirm, were seen descending into Guienne, possessing themselves in one day of his domains; and Eude soon discovered what sort of workmen he had called, to do that of which he himself was so incapable. Charles, with equal courage and prudence, beheld this heavy tempest bursting over his whole country; and to remove the first cause of this national evil, he reconciled the discontented Eude, and detached the duke from his fatal alliance. But the Saracens were fast advancing through Touraine, and had reached Tours by the river Loire: Abderam, the chief of the Saracens, anticipated a triumph in the multitude of his infantry, his cavalry, and his camels, exhibiting a military warfare unknown in France; he spread out his mighty army to surround the French, and to take them, as it were in a net. The appearance terrified, and the magnificence astonished. Charles, collecting his far inferior forces, assured them that they had no other France than the spot they covered. He had ordered that the city of Tours should be closed on every Frenchman, unless he entered it victorious; and he took care that every fugitive should be treated as an enemy by bodies of gens d'armes, whom he placed to watch at the wings of his army. The combat was furious. The astonished Mahometan beheld his battalions defeated as he urged them on singly to the French, who on that day had resolved to offer their lives as an immolation to their mother-country. Eude on that day, ardent to clear himself from the odium which he had incurred, with desperate valour, taking a wide compass, attacked his new allies in the rear. The camp of the Mahometan was forced: the shrieks of his women and children reached him from amidst the massacre; terrified he saw his multitude shaken. Charles, who beheld the light breaking through this dark cloud of men, exclaimed to his countrymen, "My friends, God has raised his banner, and the unbelievers perish!" The mass of the Saracens, though broken, could not fly; their own multitude pressed themselves together, and the Christian sword mowed down the Mahometans. Abderam was found dead in a vast heap, unwounded, stifled by his own multitude. Historians record that three hundred and sixty thousand Saracens perished on la journee de Tours; but their fears and their joy probably magnified their enemies. Thus Charles saved his own country, and, at that moment, all the rest of Europe, from this deluge of people, which had poured down from Asia and Africa. Every Christian people returned a solemn thanksgiving, and saluted their deliverer as "the Hammer" of France. But the Saracens were not conquered; Charles did not even venture on their pursuit; and a second invasion proved almost as terrifying; army still poured down on army, and it was long, and after many dubious results, that the Saracens were rooted out of France. Such is the history of one of the most important events which has passed; but that of an event which did not happen, would be the result of this famous conflict, had the Mahometan power triumphed! The Mahometan dominion had predominated through Europe! The imagination is startled when it discovers how much depended on this invasion, at a time when there existed no political state in Europe, no balance of power in one common tie of confederation! A single battle, and a single treason, had before made the Mahometans sovereigns of Spain. We see that the same events had nearly been repeated in France: and had the Crescent towered above the Cross, as every appearance promised to the Saracenic hosts, the least of our evils had now been, that we should have worn turbans, combed our beards instead of shaving them, have beheld a more magnificent architecture than the Grecian, while the public mind had been bounded by the arts and literature of the Moorish university of Cordova!

One of the great revolutions of Modern Europe perhaps had not occurred, had the personal feelings of Luther been respected, and had his personal interest been consulted. Guicciardini, whose veracity we cannot suspect, has preserved a fact which proves how very nearly some important events which have taken place, might not have happened! I transcribe the passage from his thirteenth book: "Caesar (the Emperor Charles the Fifth), after he had given an hearing in the Diet of Worms to Martin Luther, and caused his opinions to be examined by a number of divines, who reported that his doctrine was erroneous and pernicious to the Christian religion, had, to gratify the pontiff, put him under the ban of the empire, which so terrified Martin, that, if the injurious and threatening words which were given him by Cardinal San Sisto, the apostolical legate, had not thrown him into the utmost despair, it is believed it would have been easy, by giving him some preferment, or providing for him some honourable way of living, to make him renounce his errors." By this we may infer that one of the true authors of the reformation was this very apostolical legate; they had succeeded in terrifying Luther; but they were not satisfied till they had insulted him; and with such a temper as Luther's, the sense of personal insult would remove even that of terror; it would unquestionably survive it.[284] A similar proceeding with Franklin, from our ministers, is said to have produced the same effect with that political sage. What Guicciardini has told of Luther preserves the sentiment of the times. Charles the Fifth was so fully persuaded that he could have put down the Reformation, had he rid himself at once of the chief, that having granted Luther a safeguard to appear at the Council of Worms, in his last moments he repented, as of a sin, that having had Luther in his hands he suffered him to escape; for to have violated his faith with a heretic he held to be no crime.

In the history of religion, human instruments have been permitted to be the great movers of its chief revolutions; and the most important events concerning national religions appear to have depended on the passions of individuals, and the circumstances of the time. Impure means have often produced the most glorious results; and this, perhaps, may be among the dispensations of Providence.

A similar transaction occurred in Europe and in Asia. The motives and conduct of Constantine the Great, in the alliance of the Christian faith with his government, are far more obvious than any one of those qualities with which the panegyric of Eusebius so vainly cloaks over the crimes and unchristian life of this polytheistical Christian. In adopting a new faith as a coup-d'etat, and by investing the church with temporal power, at which Dante so indignantly exclaims, he founded the religion of Jesus, but corrupted its guardians. The same occurrence took place in France under Clovis. The fabulous religion of Paganism was fast on its decline; Clovis had resolved to unite the four different principalities which divided Gaul into one empire. In the midst of an important battle, as fortune hung doubtful between the parties, the pagan monarch invoked the God of his fair Christian queen, and obtained the victory! St. Remi found no difficulty in persuading Clovis, after the fortunate event, to adopt the Christian creed. Political reasons for some time suspended the king's open conversion. At length the Franks followed their sovereign to the baptismal fonts. According to Pasquier, Naude, and other political writers, these recorded miracles,[285] like those of Constantine, were but inventions to authorise the change of religion. Clovis used the new creed as a lever by whose machinery he would be enabled to crush the petty princes his neighbours; and, like Constantine, Clovis, sullied by crimes of as dark a dye, obtained the title of "The Great." Had not the most capricious "Defender of the Faith" been influenced by the most violent of passions, the Reformation, so feebly and so imperfectly begun and continued, had possibly never freed England from the papal thraldom;

For Gospel light first beamed from Bullen's eyes.

It is, however, a curious fact, that when the fall of Anne Bullen was decided on, Rome eagerly prepared a reunion with the papacy, on terms too flattering for Henry to have resisted. It was only prevented taking place by an incident that no human foresight could have predicted. The day succeeding the decapitation of Anne Bullen witnessed the nuptials of Henry with the protestant Jane Seymour. This changed the whole policy. The despatch from Rome came a day too late! From such a near disaster the English Reformation escaped! The catholic Ward, in his singular Hudibrastic poem of "England's Reformation," in some odd rhymes, has characterised it by a naivete, which we are much too delicate to repeat. The catholic writers censure Philip for recalling the Duke of Alva from the Netherlands. According to these humane politicians, the unsparing sword, and the penal fires of this resolute captain, had certainly accomplished the fate of the heretics; for angry lions, however numerous, would find their numerical force diminished by gibbets and pit-holes. We have lately been informed by a curious writer, that protestantism once existed in Spain, and was actually extirpated at the moment by the crushing arm of the Inquisition.[286] According to these catholic politicians, a great event in catholic history did not occur—the spirit of catholicism, predominant in a land of protestants—from the Spanish monarch failing to support Alva in finishing what he had begun! Had the armada of Spain safely landed with the benedictions of Rome, in England, at a moment when our own fleet was short of gunpowder, and at a time when the English catholics formed a powerful party in the nation, we might now be going to mass.

After his immense conquests, had Gustavus Adolphus not perished in the battle of Lutzen, where his genius obtained a glorious victory, unquestionably a wonderful change had operated on the affairs of Europe; the protestant cause had balanced, if not preponderated over, the catholic interest; and Austria, which appeared a sort of universal monarchy, had seen her eagle's wings clipped. But "the Antichrist," as Gustavus was called by the priests of Spain and Italy, the saviour of protestantism, as he is called by England and Sweden, whose death occasioned so many bonfires among the catholics, that the Spanish court interfered lest fuel should become too scarce at the approaching winter—Gustavus fell—the fit hero for one of those great events which have never happened!

On the first publication of the "Icon Basilike," of Charles the First, the instantaneous effect produced on the nation was such, fifty editions, it is said, appearing in one year, that Mr. Malcolm Laing observes, that "had this book," a sacred volume to those who considered that sovereign as a martyr, "appeared a week sooner, it might have preserved the king," and possibly have produced a reaction of popular feeling! The chivalrous Dundee made an offer to James the Second, which, had it been acted on, Mr. Laing acknowledges, might have produced another change! What then had become of our "glorious Revolution," which from its earliest step, throughout the reign of William, was still vacillating amidst the unstable opinions and contending interests of so many of its first movers?

The great political error of Cromwell is acknowledged by all parties to have been the adoption of the French interest in preference to the Spanish; a strict alliance with Spain had preserved the balance of Europe, enriched the commercial industry of England, and, above all, had checked the overgrowing power of the French government. Before Cromwell had contributed to the predominance of the French power, the French Huguenots were of consequence enough to secure an indulgent treatment. The parliament, as Elizabeth herself had formerly done, considered so powerful a party in France as useful allies; and anxious to extend the principles of the Reformation, and to further the suppression of popery, the parliament had once listened to, and had even commenced a treaty with, deputies from Bordeaux, the purport of which was the assistance of the French Huguenots in their scheme of forming themselves into a republic, or independent state; but Cromwell, on his usurpation, not only overthrew the design, but is believed to have betrayed it to Mazarin. What a change in the affairs of Europe had Cromwell adopted the Spanish interest, and assisted the French Huguenots in becoming an independent state! The revocation of the edict of Nantes, and the increase of the French dominion, which so long afterwards disturbed the peace of Europe, were the consequence of this fatal error of Cromwell's. The independent state of the French Huguenots, and the reduction of ambitious France, perhaps to a secondary European power, had saved Europe from the scourge of the French revolution!

The elegant pen of Mr. Roscoe has lately afforded me another curious sketch of a history of events which have not happened.

M. de Sismondi imagines, against the opinion of every historian, that the death of Lorenzo de' Medici was a matter of indifference to the prosperity of Italy; as "he could not have prevented the different projects which had been matured in the French cabinet for the invasion and conquest of Italy; and therefore he concludes that all historians are mistaken who bestow on Lorenzo the honour of having preserved the peace of Italy, because the great invasion that overthrew it did not take place till two years after his death." Mr. Roscoe has philosophically vindicated the honour which his hero has justly received, by employing the principle which in this article has been developed. "Though Lorenzo de' Medici could not perhaps have prevented the important events that took place in other nations of Europe, it by no means follows that the life or death of Lorenzo was equally indifferent to the affairs of Italy, or that circumstances would have been the same in case he had lived, as in the event of his death." Mr. Roscoe then proceeds to show how Lorenzo's "prudent measures and proper representations might probably have prevented the French expedition, which Charles the Eighth was frequently on the point of abandoning. Lorenzo would not certainly have taken the precipitate measures of his son Piero, in surrendering the Florentine fortresses. His family would not in consequence have been expelled the city; a powerful mind might have influenced the discordant politics of the Italian princes in one common defence; a slight opposition to the fugitive army of France, at the pass of Faro, might have given the French sovereigns a wholesome lesson, and prevented those bloody contests that were soon afterwards renewed in Italy. As a single remove at chess varies the whole game, so the death of an individual of such importance in the affairs of Europe as Lorenzo de' Medici could not fail of producing such a change in its political relations as must have varied them in an incalculable degree." Pignotti also describes the state of Italy at this time. Had Lorenzo lived to have seen his son elevated to the papacy, this historian, adopting our present principle, exclaims, "A happy era for Italy and Tuscany HAD THEN OCCURRED! On this head we can, indeed, be only allowed to conjecture; but the fancy, guided by reason, may expatiate at will in this imaginary state, and contemplate Italy re-united by a stronger bond, flourishing under its own institutions and arts, and delivered from all those lamented struggles which occurred within so short a period of time."

Whitaker, in his "Vindication of Mary Queen of Scots," has a speculation in the true spirit of this article. When such dependence was made upon Elizabeth's dying without issue, the Countess of Shrewsbury had her son purposely residing in London, with two good and able horses continually ready to give the earliest intelligence of the sick Elizabeth's death to the imprisoned Mary. On this the historian observes, "And had this not improbable event actually taken place, what a different complexion would our history have assumed from what it wears at present! Mary would have been carried from a prison to a throne. Her wise conduct in prison would have been applauded by all. From Tutbury, from Sheffield, and from Chatsworth, she would have been said to have touched with a gentle and masterly hand the springs that actuated all the nation, against the death of her tyrannical cousin," &c. So ductile is history in the hands of man! and so peculiarly does it bend to the force of success, and warp with the warmth of prosperity!

Thus important events have been nearly occurring, which, however, did not take place; and others have happened which may be traced to accident, and to the character of an individual. We shall enlarge our conception of the nature of human events, and gather some useful instruction in our historical reading by pausing at intervals; contemplating, for a moment, on certain events which have not happened!


"A false report, if believed during three days, may be of great service to a government." This political maxim has been ascribed to Catharine de' Medici, an adept in coups d'etat, the arcana imperii! Between solid lying and disguised truth there is a difference known to writers skilled in "the art of governing mankind by deceiving them;" as politics, ill-understood, have been defined, and as, indeed, all party-politics are. These forgers prefer to use the truth disguised to the gross fiction. When the real truth can no longer be concealed, then they can confidently refer to it; for they can still explain and obscure, while they secure on their side the party whose cause they have advocated. A curious reader of history may discover the temporary and sometimes the lasting advantages of spreading rumours designed to disguise, or to counteract the real state of things. Such reports, set a going, serve to break down the sharp and fatal point of a panic, which might instantly occur; in this way the public is saved from the horrors of consternation, and the stupefaction of despair. These rumours give a breathing time to prepare for the disaster, which is doled out cautiously; and, as might be shown, in some cases these first reports have left an event in so ambiguous a state, that a doubt may still arise whether these reports were really destitute of truth! Such reports, once printed, enter into history, and sadly perplex the honest historian. Of a battle fought in a remote situation, both parties for a long time, at home, may dispute the victory after the event, and the pen may prolong what the sword had long decided. This has been no unusual circumstance; of several of the most important battles on which the fate of Europe has hung, were we to rely on some reports of the time, we might still doubt of the manner of the transaction. A skirmish has been often raised into an arranged battle, and a defeat concealed in an account of the killed and wounded, while victory has been claimed by both parties! Villeroy, in all his encounters with Marlborough, always sent home despatches by which no one could suspect that he was discomfited. Pompey, after his fatal battle with Caesar, sent letters to all the provinces and cities of the Romans, describing with greater courage than he had fought, so that a report generally prevailed that Caesar had lost the battle: Plutarch informs us, that three hundred writers had described the battle of Marathon. Many doubtless had copied their predecessors; but it would perhaps have surprised us to have observed how materially some differed in their narratives.

In looking over a collection of manuscript letters of the times of James the First, I was struck by the contradictory reports of the result of the famous battle of Lutzen, so glorious and so fatal to Gustavus Adolphus; the victory was sometimes reported to have been obtained by the Swedes; but a general uncertainty, a sort of mystery, agitated the majority of the nation, who were staunch to the protestant cause. This state of anxious suspense lasted a considerable time. The fatal truth gradually came out in reports changing in their progress; if the victory was allowed, the death of the Protestant Hero closed all hope! The historian of Gustavus Adolphus observes on this occasion, that "Few couriers were better received than those who conveyed the accounts of the king's death to declared enemies or concealed ill-wishers; nor did the report greatly displease the court of Whitehall, where the ministry, as it usually happens in cases of timidity, had its degree of apprehensions for fear the event should not be true; and, as I have learnt from good authority, imposed silence on the news-writers, and intimated the same to the pulpit in case any funeral encomium might proceed from that quarter." Although the motive assigned by the writer, that of the secret indisposition of the cabinet of James the First towards the fortunes of Gustavus, is to me by no means certain, unquestionably the knowledge of this disastrous event was long kept back by "a timid ministry," and the fluctuating reports probably regulated by their designs.

The same circumstance occurred on another important event in modern history, where we may observe the artifice of party writers in disguising or suppressing the real fact. This was the famous battle of the Boyne. The French catholic party long reported that Count Lauzun had won the battle, and that William the Third was killed. Bussy Rabutin in some memoirs, in which he appears to have registered public events without scrutinising their truth, says, "I chronicled this account according as the first reports gave out; when at length the real fact reached them, the party did not like to lose their pretended victory." Pere Londel, who published a register of the times, which is favourably noticed in the "Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres," for 1699, has recorded the event in this deceptive manner: "The Battle of the Boyne in Ireland; Schomberg is killed there at the head of the English." This is "an equivocator!" The writer resolved to conceal the defeat of James's party, and cautiously suppresses any mention of a victory, but very carefully gives a real fact, by which his readers would hardly doubt of the defeat of the English! We are so accustomed to this traffic of false reports, that we are scarcely aware that many important events recorded in history were in their day strangely disguised by such mystifying accounts. This we can only discover by reading private letters written at the moment. Bayle has collected several remarkable absurdities of this kind, which were spread abroad to answer a temporary purpose, but which had never been known to us had these contemporary letters not been published. A report was prevalent in Holland in 1580, that the kings of France and Spain and the Duke of Alva were dead; a felicity which for a time sustained the exhausted spirits of the revolutionists. At the invasion of the Spanish Armada, Burleigh spread reports of the thumb-screws, and other instruments of torture, which the Spaniards had brought with them, and thus inflamed the hatred of the nation. The horrid story of the bloody Colonel Kirk is considered as one of those political forgeries to serve the purpose of blackening a zealous partisan.

False reports are sometimes stratagems of war. When the chiefs of the League had lost the battle at Ivry, with an army broken and discomfited they still kept possession of Paris merely by imposing on the inhabitants all sorts of false reports, such as the death of the king of Navarre at the fortunate moment when victory, undetermined on which side to incline, turned for the Leaguers; and they gave out false reports of a number of victories they had elsewhere obtained. Such tales, distributed in pamphlets and ballads among a people agitated by doubts and fears, are gladly believed; flattering their wishes or soothing their alarms, they contribute to their ease, and are too agreeable to allow time for reflection.

The history of a report creating a panic may be traced in the Irish insurrection, in the curious memoirs of James the Second. A forged proclamation of the Prince of Orange was set forth by one Speke, and a rumour spread that the Irish troops were killing and burning in all parts of the kingdom! A magic-like panic instantly ran through the people, so that in one quarter of the town of Drogheda they imagined that the other was filled with blood and ruin. During this panic pregnant women miscarried, aged persons died with terror, while the truth was, that the Irish themselves were disarmed and dispersed, in utter want of a meal or a lodging!

In the unhappy times of our civil wars under Charles the First, the newspapers and the private letters afford specimens of this political contrivance of false reports of every species. No extravagance of invention to spread a terror against a party was too gross, and the city of London was one day alarmed that the royalists were occupied by a plan of blowing up the river Thames, by an immense quantity of powder warehoused at the river-side; and that there existed an organised though invisible brotherhood of many thousands with consecrated knives; and those who hesitated to give credit to such rumours were branded as malignants, who took not the danger of the parliament to heart. Forged conspiracies and reports of great but distant victories were inventions to keep up the spirit of a party, but oftener prognosticated some intended change in the government. When they were desirous of augmenting the army, or introducing new garrisons, or using an extreme measure with the city, or the royalists, there was always a new conspiracy set afloat; or when any great affair was to be carried in parliament, letters of great victories were published to dishearten the opposition, and infuse additional boldness in their own party. If the report lasted only a few days, it obtained its purpose, and verified the observation of Catharine de' Medici. Those politicians who raise such false reports obtain their end: like the architect who, in building an arch, supports it with circular props and pieces of timber, or any temporary rubbish, till he closes the arch; and when it can support itself, he throws away the props! There is no class of political lying which can want for illustration if we consult the records of our civil wars; there we may trace the whole art in all the nice management of its shades, its qualities, and its more complicated parts, from invective to puff, and from inuendo to prevarication! we may admire the scrupulous correction of a lie which they had told, by another which they are telling! and triple lying to overreach their opponents. Royalists and Parliamentarians were alike; for, to tell one great truth, "the father of lies" is of no party![287]

As "nothing is new under the sun," so this art of deceiving the public was unquestionably practised among the ancients. Syphax sent Scipio word that he could not unite with the Romans, but, on the contrary, had declared for the Carthaginians. The Roman army were then anxiously waiting for his expected succours: Scipio was careful to show the utmost civility to these ambassadors, and ostentatiously treated them with presents, that his soldiers might believe they were only returning to hasten the army of Syphax to join the Romans. Livy censures the Roman consul, who, after the defeat at Cannae, told the deputies of the allies the whole loss they had sustained: "This consul," says Livy, "by giving too faithful and open an account of his defeat, made both himself and his army appear still more contemptible." The result of the simplicity of the consul was, that the allies, despairing that the Romans would ever recover their losses, deemed it prudent to make terms with Hannibal. Plutarch tells an amusing story, in his way, of the natural progress of a report which was contrary to the wishes of the government; the unhappy reporter suffered punishment as long as the rumour prevailed, though at last it proved true. A stranger landing from Sicily, at a barber's shop, delivered all the particulars of the defeat of the Athenians; of which, however, the people were yet uninformed. The barber leaves untrimmed the reporter's beard, and flies away to vent the news in the city, where he told the Archons what he had heard. The whole city was thrown into a ferment. The Archons called an assembly of the people, and produced the luckless barber, who in confusion could not give any satisfactory account of the first reporter. He was condemned as a spreader of false news, and a disturber of the public quiet; for the Athenians could not imagine but that they were invincible! The barber was dragged to the wheel and tortured, till the disaster was more than confirmed. Bayle, referring to this story, observes, that had the barber reported a victory, though it had proved to be false, he would not have been punished; a shrewd observation, which occurred to him from his recollection of the fate of Stratocles. This person persuaded the Athenians to perform a public sacrifice and thanksgiving for a victory obtained at sea, though he well knew at the time that the Athenian fleet had been totally defeated. When the calamity could no longer be concealed, the people charged him with being an impostor: but Stratocles saved his life and mollified their anger by the pleasant turn he gave the whole affair. "Have I done you any injury?" said he. "Is it not owing to me that you have spent three days in the pleasures of victory?" I think that this spreader of good, but fictitious news, should have occupied the wheel of the luckless barber, who had spread bad but true news; for the barber had no intention of deception, but Stratocles had; and the question here to be tried, was not the truth or the falsity of the reports, but whether the reporters intended to deceive their fellow-citizens? The "Chronicle" and the "Post" must be challenged on such a jury, and all the race of news-scribes, whom Patin characterises as hominum genus audacissimum mendacissimum avidissimum. Latin superlatives are too rich to suffer a translation. But what Patin says in his Letter 356 may be applied: "These writers insert in their papers things they do not know, and ought not to write. It is the same trick that is playing which was formerly played; it is the very same farce, only it is exhibited by new actors. The worst circumstance, I think, in this is, that this trick will continue playing a long course of years, and that the public suffer a great deal too much by it."


Manuscripts are suppressed or destroyed from motives which require to be noticed. Plagiarists, at least, have the merit of preservation: they may blush at their artifices, and deserve the pillory, but their practices do not incur the capital crime of felony. Serassi, the writer of the curious Life of Tasso, was guilty of an extraordinary suppression in his zeal for the poet's memory. The story remains to be told, for it is but little known.

Galileo, in early life, was a lecturer at the university of Pisa: delighting in poetical studies, he was then more of a critic than a philosopher, and had Ariosto by heart. This great man caught the literary mania which broke out about his time, when the Cruscans so absurdly began their "Controversie Tassesche," and raised up two poetical factions, which infected the Italians with a national fever. Tasso and Ariosto were perpetually weighed and outweighed against each other; Galileo wrote annotations on Tasso, stanza after stanza, and without reserve, treating the majestic bard with a severity which must have thrown the Tassoists into an agony. Our critic lent his manuscript to Jacopo Mazzoni, who, probably being a disguised Tassoist, by some accountable means contrived that the manuscript should be absolutely lost!—to the deep regret of the author and all the Ariostoists. The philosopher descended to his grave—not without occasional groans—nor without exulting reminiscences of the blows he had in his youth inflicted on the great rival of Ariosto—and the rumour of such a work long floated on tradition! Two centuries had nearly elapsed, when Serassi, employed on his elaborate Life of Tasso, among his uninterrupted researches in the public libraries of Rome, discovered a miscellaneous volume, in which, on a cursory examination, he found deposited the lost manuscript of Galileo! It was a shock from which, perhaps, the zealous biographer of Tasso never fairly recovered; the awful name of Galileo sanctioned the asperity of critical decision, and more particularly the severe remarks on the language, a subject on which the Italians are so morbidly delicate, and so trivially grave. Serassi's conduct on this occasion was at once political, timorous, and cunning. Gladly would he have annihilated the original, but this was impossible! It was some consolation that the manuscript was totally unknown—for having got mixed with others, it had accidentally been passed over, and not entered into the catalogue; his own diligent eye only had detected its existence. "Nessuno fin ora sa, fuori di me, se vi sia, ne dove sia, e cosi non potra darsi alia luce," &c. But in the true spirit of a collector, avaricious of all things connected with his pursuits, Serassi cautiously, but completely, transcribed the precious manuscript, with an intention, according to his memorandum, to unravel all its sophistry. However, although the Abbate never wanted leisure, he persevered in his silence; yet he often trembled lest some future explorer of manuscripts might be found as sharpsighted as himself. He was so cautious as not even to venture to note down the library where the manuscript was to be found, and to this day no one appears to have fallen on the volume! On the death of Serassi, his papers came to the hands of the Duke of Ceri, a lover of literature; the transcript of the yet undiscovered original was then revealed! and this secret history of the manuscript was drawn from a note on the title-page written by Serassi himself. To satisfy the urgent curiosity of the literati, these annotations on Tasso by Galileo were published in 1793. Here is a work, which, from its earliest stage, much pains had been taken to suppress; but Serassi's collecting passion inducing him to preserve what he himself so much wished should never appear, finally occasioned its publication! It adds one evidence to the many which prove that such sinister practices have been frequently used by the historians of a party, poetic or politic.

Unquestionably this entire suppression of manuscripts has been too frequently practised. It is suspected that our historical antiquary, Speed, owed many obligations to the learned Hugh Broughton, for he possessed a vast number of his MSS. which he burnt. Why did he burn? If persons place themselves in suspicions situations, they must not complain if they be suspected. We have had historians who, whenever they met with information which has not suited their historical system, or their inveterate prejudices, have employed interpolations, castrations, and forgeries, and in some cases have annihilated the entire document. Leland's invaluable manuscripts were left at his death in the confused state in which the mind of the writer had sunk, overcome by his incessant labours, when this royal antiquary was employed by Henry the Eighth to write our national antiquities. His scattered manuscripts were long a common prey to many who never acknowledged their fountain head; among these suppressors and dilapidators pre-eminently stands the crafty Italian Polydore Vergil, who not only drew largely from this source, but, to cover the robbery, did not omit to depreciate the father of our antiquities—an act of a piece with the character of the man, who is said to have collected and burnt a greater number of historical MSS. than would have loaded a wagon, to prevent the detection of the numerous fabrications in his history of England, which was composed to gratify Mary and the Catholic cause.

The Harleian manuscript, 7379, is a collection of state-letters. This MS. has four leaves entirely torn out, and is accompanied by this extraordinary memorandum, signed by the principal librarian.

"Upon examination of this book, Nov. 12, 1764, these four last leaves were torn out. "C. MORTON. "Mem. Nov. 12, sent down to Mrs. Macaulay."

As no memorandum of the name of any student to whom a manuscript is delivered for his researches was ever made, before or since, or in the nature of things will ever be, this memorandum must involve our female historian in the obloquy of this dilapidation.[288] Such dishonest practices of party feeling, indeed, are not peculiar to any party. In Roscoe's "Illustrations" of his Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, we discover that Fabroni, whose character scarcely admits of suspicion, appears to have known of the existence of an unpublished letter of Sixtus IV., which involves that pontiff deeply in the assassination projected by the Pazzi; but he carefully suppressed its notice: yet, in his conscience, he could not avoid alluding to such documents, which he concealed by his silence. Roscoe has apologised for Fabroni overlooking this decisive evidence of the guilt of the hypocritical pontiff in the mass of manuscripts; a circumstance not likely to have occurred, however, to this laborious historical inquirer. All party feeling is the same active spirit with an opposite direction. We have a remarkable case, where a most interesting historical production has been silently annihilated by the consent of both parties. There once existed an important diary of a very extraordinary character, Sir George Saville, afterwards Marquis of Halifax. This master-spirit, for such I am inclined to consider the author of the little book of "Maxims and Reflections," with a philosophical indifference, appears to have held in equal contempt all the factions of his times, and consequently has often incurred their severe censures. Among other things, the Marquis of Halifax had noted down the conversation he had had with Charles the Second, and the great and busy characters of the age. Of this curious secret history there existed two copies, and the noble writer imagined that by this means he had carefully secured their existence; yet both copies were destroyed from opposite motives; the one at the instigation of Pope, who was alarmed at finding some of the catholic intrigues of the court developed; and the other at the suggestion of a noble friend, who was equally shocked at discovering that his party, the Revolutionists, had sometimes practised mean and dishonourable deceptions. It is in these legacies of honourable men, of whatever party they may be, that we expect to find truth and sincerity; but thus it happens that the last hope of posterity is frustrated by the artifices, or the malignity, of these party-passions. Pulteney, afterwards the Earl of Bath, had also prepared memoirs of his times, which he proposed to confide to Dr. Douglas, bishop of Salisbury, to be composed by the bishop; but his lordship's heir, the General, insisted on destroying these authentic documents, of the value of which we have a notion by one of those conversations which the earl was in the habit of indulging with Hooke, whom he at that time appears to have intended for his historian. The Earl of Anglesea's MS. History of the Troubles of Ireland, and also a Diary of his own Times, have been suppressed; a busy observer of his contemporaries, his tale would materially have assisted a later historian.

The same hostility to manuscripts, as may be easily imagined, has occurred, perhaps more frequently, on the continent. I shall furnish one considerable fact. A French canon, Claude Joly, a bold and learned writer, had finished an ample life of Erasmus, which included a history of the restoration of literature at the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. Colomies tells us, that the author had read over the works of Erasmus seven times; we have positive evidence that the MS. was finished for the press: the Cardinal do Noailles would examine the work himself; this important history was not only suppressed, but the hope entertained, of finding it among the cardinal's papers, was never realised.

These are instances of the annihilation of history; but there is a partial suppression, or castration of passages, equally fatal to the cause of truth; a practice too prevalent among the first editors of memoirs. By such deprivations of the text we have lost important truths, while, in some cases, by interpolations, we have been loaded with the fictions of a party. Original memoirs, when published, should now be deposited at that great institution, consecrated to our national history—the British Museum, to be verified at all times. In Lord Herbert's history of Henry the Eighth, I find, by a manuscript note, that several things were not permitted to be printed, and that the original MS. was supposed to be in Mr. Sheldon's custody, in 1687. Camden told Sir Robert Filmore that he was not suffered to print all his annals of Elizabeth; but he providently sent these expurgated passages to De Thou, who printed them faithfully; and it is remarkable that De Thou himself used the same precaution in the continuation of his own history. We like remote truths, but truths too near us never fail to alarm ourselves, our connexions, and our party. Milton, in composing his History of England, introduced, in the third book, a very remarkable digression, on the characters of the Long Parliament; a most animated description of a class of political adventurers with whom modern history has presented many parallels. From tenderness to a party then imagined to be subdued, it was struck out by command, nor do I find it restituted in Kennett's Collection of English Histories. This admirable and exquisite delineation has been preserved in a pamphlet printed in 1681, which has fortunately exhibited one of the warmest pictures in design and colouring by a master's hand. One of our most important volumes of secret history, "Whitelocke's Memorials," was published by Arthur, Earl of Anglesea, in 1682, who took considerable liberties with the manuscript; another edition appeared in 1732, which restored the many important passages through which the earl appears to have struck his castrating pen. The restitution of the castrated passages has not much increased the magnitude of this folio volume; for the omissions usually consisted of a characteristic stroke, or short critical opinion, which did not harmonise with the private feelings of the Earl of Anglesea. In consequence of the volume not being much enlarged to the eye, and being unaccompanied by a single line of preface to inform us of the value of this more complete edition, the booksellers imagine that there can be no material difference between the two editions, and wonder at the bibliopolical mystery that they can afford to sell the edition of 1682 at ten shillings, and have five guineas for the edition of 1732! Hume who, I have been told, wrote his history usually on a sofa, with the epicurean indolence of his fine genius, always refers to the old truncated and faithless edition of Whitelocke—so little in his day did the critical history of books enter into the studies of authors, or such was the carelessness of our historian! There is more philosophy in editions than some philosophers are aware of. Perhaps most "Memoirs" have been unfaithfully published, "curtailed of their fair proportions;" and not a few might be noticed which subsequent editors have restored to their original state, by uniting their dislocated limbs. Unquestionably Passion has sometimes annihilated manuscripts, and tamely revenged itself on the papers of hated writers! Louis the Fourteenth, with his own hands, after the death of Fenelon, burnt all the manuscripts which the Duke of Burgundy had preserved of his preceptor.

As an example of the suppressors and dilapidators of manuscripts, I shall give an extraordinary fact concerning Louis the Fourteenth, more in his favour. His character appears, like some other historical personages, equally disguised by adulation and calumny. That monarch was not the Nero which his revocation of the edict of Nantes made him seem to the French protestants. He was far from approving of the violent measures of his catholic clergy. This opinion of that sovereign was, however, carefully suppressed, when his "Instructions to the Dauphin" were first published. It is now ascertained that Louis the Fourteenth was for many years equally zealous and industrious; and, among other useful attempts, composed an elaborate "Discours" for the dauphin for his future conduct. The king gave his manuscript to Pelisson to revise; but after the revision our royal writer frequently inserted additional paragraphs. The work first appeared in an anonymous "Recueil d'Opuscules Litteraires, Amsterdam, 1767," which Barbier, in his "Anonymes," tells us was "redige par Pelisson; le tout publie par l'Abbe Olivet." When at length the printed work was collated with the manuscript original, several suppressions of the royal sentiments appeared; and the editors, too catholic, had, with more particular caution, thrown aside what clearly showed Louis the Fourteenth was far from approving of the violences used against the protestants. The following passage was entirely omitted: "It seems to me, my son, that those who employ extreme and violent remedies do not know the nature of the evil, occasioned in part by heated minds, which, left to themselves, would insensibly be extinguished, rather than rekindle them afresh by the force of contradiction; above all, when the corruption is not confined to a small number, but diffused through all parts of the state; besides, the Reformers said many true things! The best method to have reduced little by little the Huguenots of my kingdom, was not to have pursued them by any direct severity pointed at them."

Lady Mary Wortley Montague is a remarkable instance of an author nearly lost to the nation; she is only known to posterity by a chance publication; for such were her famous Turkish letters, the manuscript of which her family once purchased with an intention to suppress, but they were frustrated by a transcript. The more recent letters were reluctantly extracted out of the family trunks, and surrendered in exchange for certain family documents, which had fallen into the hands of a bookseller. Had it depended on her relatives, the name of Lady Mary had only reached us in the satires of Pope. The greater part of her epistolary correspondence was destroyed by her mother; and what that good and Gothic lady spared, was suppressed by the hereditary austerity of rank, of which her family was too susceptible. The entire correspondence of this admirable writer and studious woman (for once, in perusing some unpublished letters of Lady Mary's, I discovered that "she had been in the habit of reading seven hours a day for many years") would undoubtedly have exhibited a fine statue, instead of the torso we now possess; and we might have lived with her ladyship, as we do with Madame de Sevigne. This I have mentioned elsewhere; but I have since discovered that a considerable correspondence of Lady Mary's, for more than twenty years, with the widow of Colonel Forrester, who had retired to Rome, has been stifled in the birth. These letters, with other MSS. of Lady Mary's, were given by Mrs. Forrester to Philip Thicknesse, with a discretionary power to publish. They were held as a great acquisition by Thicknesse, and his bookseller; but when they had printed off the first thousand sheets, there were parts which they considered might give pain to some of the family. Thicknesse says, "Lady Mary had in many places been uncommonly severe upon her husband, for all her letters were loaded with a scrap or two of poetry at him."[289] A negotiation took place with an agent of Lord Bute's; after some time Miss Forrester put in her claims for the MSS.; and the whole terminated, as Thicknesse tells us, in her obtaining a pension, and Lord Bute all the MSS.

The late Duke of Bridgewater, I am informed, burnt many of the numerous family papers, and bricked up a quantity, which, when opened after his death, were found to have perished. It is said he declared that he did not choose that his ancestors should be traced back to a person of a mean trade, which it seems might possibly have been the case. The loss now cannot be appreciated; but unquestionably stores of history, and perhaps of literature, were sacrificed. Milton's manuscript of Comus was published from the Bridgewater collection, for it had escaped the bricking up!

Manuscripts of great interest are frequently suppressed from the shameful indifference of the possessors.

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