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And this, no doubt, was true, in a sense. Historians, finding that Strafford expressed surprise, and even indignation, that the king had complied with Strafford's own letter releasing him from all obligation to save his life, have intimated that the letter was written out of policy. But this is a superficial view; it produces very different results from giving up all to another to see him take it; and, though Strafford must have known Charles's weakness too well to expect any thing good from him, yet the consummation must have produced fresh emotion, for a strong character cannot be prepared for the conduct of a weak one ; there is always in dishonour somewhat unexpected and incredible to one incapable of it.
The speeches in parliament are well translated from the page of history. The poet, we think, has improved upon it in Straf. ford's inention of his children; it has not the theatrical tone of the common narrative, and is, probably, nearer truth, as it is more consistent with the rest of his deportment.
He has made good use of the fine anecdote of the effect produced on Pym by meeting Strafford's eye at the close of one of his most soaring passages.
Would turn his kind to planless brutishness.
(Strafford fixes his eyes on Pym, who hesitates.)
(Aloud.) Oh! no, my Lords, the very self-same rule, &c. The eloquence of this period could not be improved upon; but it is much to select from and use its ebullitions with the fine effect we admire in this play. Whatever view be taken of Strafford, whether as condemnatory as the majority of writers popular among us, the descendants of the puritans, would promote, or that more lenient and discriminating, brought out in this play, for which abundant grounds may be discovered by those who will seek, we cannot view him at this period but with the interest of tragedy as of one suffering unjustly. For however noble the eloquence of the parliamentary leaders in appealing to a law above the law, to an eternal justice in the breast, which afforded sufficient sanction to the desired measure, it cannot but be seen, at this distance of time, that this reigned not purely in their own breasts, that his doom, though sought by them from patriotic, not interested, motives, was, in itself, a measure of expediency. He was the victim, because the most dreaded foe, because they could not go on with confidence, while the only man lived, who could and would sustain Charles in his absurd and wicked policy. Thus, though
* Through the whole of the speech Strafford is described to have been closely and earnestly watching Pym, when the latter suddenly turning, met the fixed and faded eyes and haggard features of his early associate, and a rush of feelings from other days, so fearfully contrasting the youth and friendship of tho past with the love-poisoned hate of the present, and the mortal agony impending in the future, for a moment deprived the patriot of self-possession. “His papers he looked on,” says Baillie, “but they could not help him, so he behoov. ed to pass them.” For a moment only; suddenly recovering his dignity and self-command, he told the court, &c.--Life of Pym, Cabinet Cyclopædia.
he might deserve that the people on whom he trampled should rise up to crush him, that the laws he had broken down should rear new and higher walls to imprison him, though the shade of Eliot called for vengeance on the counsellor who alone had so long saved the tyrant from a speedier fall, and the victims of his own oppressions echoed with sullen murmur to the “ silver trumpet” call,* yet the greater the peculiar offences of this man, the more need that his punishment should have been awarded in an absolutely pure spirit. And this it was not ; it may be respected as an act of just retribution, but not of pure justice.
Men who had such a cause to maintain, as his accusers had, should deserve the praise awarded by Wordsworth to him who,
In a state where men are tempted still
To virtue every triumph that he knows. The heart swells against Strafford as we read the details of his policy. Even allowing that his native temper, prejudices of birth, and disbelief in mankind, really inclined him to a despotic government, as the bad best practicable, that his early espousal of the popular side was only a stratagem to terrify the court, and that he was thus, though a deceiver, no apostate, yet, he had been led, from whatever motives, to look on that side ; his great intellect was clear of sight, the front presented by better princi. ples in that time commanding. We feel that he was wilful in the course he took, and self-aggrandizement his principal, if not his only motive. We share the hatred of his time, as we see him so triumphant in his forceful, wrongful measures. But we would not have had him hunted down with such a hue and cry,
"I will not repeat, Sirs, what you have heard from that silver trumpet." One of the parliament speaking of Rudyard.
that the tones of defence had really no chance to be heard. We would not have had papers stolen, and by a son from a father who had entrusted him with a key, to condemn him. And what a man was this thief, one whose high enthusiastic hope never paused at good, but ever rushed onward to the best.
Who would outbid the market of the world,
Begin to-day, nor end till evil sink
He is not the first, who, by looking too much at the stars has lost the eye for severe fidelity to a private trust. He thought himself “obliged in conscience to impart the paper to Master Pym.” Who that looks at the case by the code of common rectitude can think it was ever his to impart ?
What monstrous measures appear the arbitrary construction put on the one word in the minutes which decided the fate of Strafford, the freeing the lords of council from the oath of secrecy under whose protection he had spoken there, the conduct of the Ilouse towards Lord Digby, when he declared himself not satisfied that the prisoner could with justice be declared guilty of treason; the burning his speech by the common hangman when he dared print it, to make known the reasons of his course to the world, when placarded as Straffordian, held up as a mark for popular rage for speaking it.* Lord Digby was not a man of honour, but they did not know that, or if they did, it had nothing to do with his right of private judgment. What could Strafford, what could Charles do more high-handed ? If they had violated the privileges of parliament, the more reason parliament should respect their privileges, above all the privilege of the prisoner, to be supposed innocent until proved guilty. The accusers, obliged to set aside rule, and appeal to the very foundations of equity, could only have sanctioned such a course by the religion and pure justice of their proceedings. Here the interest of the accusers made them not only demand, but insist upon, the condemnation ; the cause was prejudged by the sentiment of the people, and the resentments of the jury, and the proceedings conducted, beside, with the most scandalous disregard to the sickness and other disadvantageous circumstances of Strafford. He was called on to answer “if he will come,” just at the time of a most dangerous attack from his cruel distemper; if he will not come, the cause is still to be pushed forward. He was denied the time and means he needed to collect his evidence. The aid to be given him by counsel, after being deprived of his chief witness “ by a master stroke of policy,” was restricted within narrow limits. While he prepared his answers, in full court, for he was never allowed to retire, to the points of accusation, vital in their import, requiring the closest examination, those present talked, laughed, ate, lounged about. None of this disturbed his magnanimous patience ; his conduct indeed is so noble, through the whole period, that he and his opponents change places in our minds; at the time, he seems the princely deer, and they the savage hounds.†
* See Parliamentary History, volume ix. + Who can avoid a profound feeling, not only of compassion, but sympathy, when he reads of Strafford obliged to kneel in Westminster Hall. True, he would, if possible, have brought others as low; but there is a deep pathos in the contrast of his then, and his former state, best shown by the symbol of such an