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37. Williams ART. I.—The History of England, from the Accession of James II. By THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY. Vol. I. New York, 1849.
MR. MACAULAY has long been known as a very brilliant, and at the same time, a very unscrupulous writer. His articles in the Edinburgh Review show him to be, not certainly in the highest sense of the word, an accomplished rhetorician, well-trained in rhetoric as an art, and willing moreover to use it as an art, and nothing more. A clever trader in theories, not a developer of deep and real truths; a taking writer of Scoto-French English, formed on the most approved rules of the triumvirate; affecting an air of candor, which with the majority of people is equally admirable with the thing itself; a generalizer in morals and History, of much such a character as Priestley was in Physics; it is no great wonder that his works, just on a level with his age, should have at the moment a crowd of worshipers. How long the idol will be remembered, how lasting the adoration will be, is a totally distinct question.
The great difficulties with Mr. Macaulay, as an Historian, are, that he never hesitates to sacrifice every thing to the swell of a period, or the point of an antithesis; that he regards truth as a subjective opinion, rather than an objective
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reality; and that he generalizes on most insufficient grounds, and therefore, whether intentionally or not we cannot undertake to say, distorts facts to a most surprising extent. Indeed, nearly as much as this is implied, when we say that he has long been a leading contributor to the Edinburgh Review. His rhetoric we have spoken of, as brilliant. We do not mean, however, that he has any thing like the majesty of Burke, or the glow of Taylor. It is a glare and glitter, rather, which want alike thoroughness of illumination, and intensity of light. And this rhetorical characteristic is of course heightened by his unscrupulous habit of hasty generalization. For this enables him to make the most of any fact for his own purposes, and to present it in that very light which favors his immediate theory, without any great solicitude as to how far it may be modified by other facts. The worst
point, however, is the second one which we have named. There is no possible form of condemnation or contempt, which that man does not deserve, who, looking upon truth not as an objective reality, but only as a subjective notion, plays with it as if it were an opinion, and moulds it as if it were an idea. Such a man as that must one day or another have a terrible awakening. And even before such an awakening comes, a suspicion can hardly fail occasionally to cross his mind, that there are things in the world beside theories; and that if there are, he has sacrilegiously profaned a most holy thing, and made his whole life a sham and a falsehood. The last capacity which such an one is calculated to fill, is that of an Historian. History to him is a juggler's trick, a gamester's calculation. Skimming on the surface of events; considering man as a machine, in whom given wire-pullings produce ascertained movements; never beholding a higher power overruling the world's goings; he can neither rise to the lofty height, whence looking down he may group the events of ages, nor fathom these depths of the human spirit, where he may find the living sources, not the pulled machine wires, of the same events. He can therefore neither classify rightly, nor expound truly and after times forget the clever theory-maker, the skilful partisan, the petty story monger, and recur to the man of truth, and feeling, and principle.
It is generally the case, that such a person as we have been describing, can never sit down to write History, without making it bear distinctly on passing events, and present issues. In one sense indeed, History never should be written otherwise. Never should one attempt that most solemn of all literary labors, without the settled purpose to show alike the work
ings of God's Providence, and the human development of mighty principles. It is of nothing like this that we are speaking now. It is of the disposition to make the narrative subserve the paltry purposes of party: the never failing characteristic of a narrow-minded and superficial Historian. It is amusing to see Mr. Macaulay doing this, with a sort of offhand air of candor, and a delightful freedom from consciousness. One would almost imagine that he had revised his volume, and added some little patches of speculation, on the eve of the late election for the West-Riding of Yorkshire, and when he felt his position as a Cabinet Minister growing insecure. How much his efforts will tell for the Russel administration, will be better shown by time.
But it is time to leave general observations and address ourselves to particulars. If we could go on the principle of some of Mr. Macaulay's co-reviewers, we might perhaps adventure on a review of his whole work. For it has been shrewdly suspected, that Sydney Smith only unfolded a lesson he had learned in certain quarters, when he said, it was never worth while to read a book which one was reviewing, for it was very apt to make one prejudiced. Be that however as it may, we propose to concern ourselves with no more than Mr. Macaulay's first chapter; which contains a brief resumé of English History, down to the restoration of the Stuart line. There is certainly much in it that is admirable, rather indeed in the way of details, than of classification and arrangement. There is much more, however, that is of a very different character; the effect of which is neither to give a true view of facts, nor a correct analysis of events. And it is of some of the more important of these matters, that we purpose now to speak, confining ourselves, as we have intimated, to the first chapter.
The first point which presents itself for consideration, is Mr. Macaulay's view of the Anglican Reformation. It shows that its author's theological acquirements are about on a level with those of Lord Chatham, when he talked of the Popish Liturgy, the Calvinistic creed, and the Arminian clergy; and those of Lord Thurlow, when he gravely announced to the House of Lords, that the practice of praying for Kings, came in with Constantine! It is the very lowest view that can possibly be taken of that great event, or rather congeries of events; and while it degrades and depresses the Church, is anxious to exalt as far a possible the Royal Supremacy, and in that way to carry to the highest point the right of ministerial interference. We should not be surprised indeed, if in
these last words there was expressed Mr. Macaulay's idea of the final cause of the existence upon earth of the Church of England. It is impossible to sum up and present in one general statement, a view so contradictory and disjointed in its parts, as that of our author; and we are therefore compelled to take it up by piecemeal.
We have, then, in the outset, the stale story of a compromise Church, brought out to be sure rather late in the day, and giving an air of antiquated Hanoverianism to the whole chapter. Two elements go to make up this view: namely, a misunderstanding of the reason why the Anglican movement ran in a political as well as a religious line, and an imperfect comprehension of the real status of the Church of England, and the true meaning of the phrase so often quoted, the Via Media. To these points therefore, we shall, in the first instance, address ourselves.
In estimating the shape which any reforming movement takes, we must in the beginning consider the nature of the evils which have rendered it necessary; and which have therefore given it direction as well as impulse. Any other estimation must be imperfect, and may be erroneous. The first question then which presents itself in connexion with the Anglican Reformation, is this: what were the evils which rendered it necessary? Not-that is, what were they in detail, but what were they in kind? It requires but a very slight knowledge of the subject to enable any one to reply, that they were of two kinds; one class of which bore on political and state arrangements, and the rights and prerogatives of government, and the other on the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Church. This distinction, it is most important to keep in mind, for the neglect of it has led to most of the blundering cavils that have harped on a Parliamentary Church. A more detailed exposition may serve perhaps to set it in a clearer light; in making which, our view will, of course, be confined to the realm of England.
We set out then, with this general proposition, that beside these errors in Doctrine, Worship, and Discipline, which so loudly demanded Reformation, there were also encroachments of the Roman Pontiff, on the rights and prerogatives of a Christian State, which no power but that of the State could reach. As then the evils, so also the Reformation of those evils, ran of necessity in two distinct lines-a civil and an ecclesiastical. This is the thesis which we propose to prove.
The acts of Parliament which bear on this political aspect of the Reformation, relate to Annates or first fruits, Bulls, Ap
peals, and Dispensations. We shall take up first, the matter of Appeals, as most plainly illustrating the view which we wish to explain. We must, however, bear in mind, that we have to do with a very different state of things from any thing which exists among us, and that we must not reason from our own condition to that of the English Church in the sixteenth century. Among us, where happily there is no connexion between the State and the Church, and where, therefore, the laws of the Church and the laws of the land are totally distinct, it would not necessarily argue any foreign interference in regard to the latter, if appeals to some external power were permitted in regard to the former. But it certainly would be held, and justly held, that any appeal to a foreign spiritual power, which interfered with the laws of the land, stayed their operations, and nullified, their action, was an intolerable grievance, and inconsistent with the very groundidea of a free, independent, and properly constituted State. Now in England, as in all other countries at that period, there was such a connexion and intermingling of ecclesiastical laws and civil, and they both were so joined together as forming each parts of the one law of the land, that any interference with the one, was of necessity, and to an unknown degree, an interference with the other. It would be an error then in us to imagine, that appeals might lie to a foreign power in causes Ecclesiastical, and still the supreme authority of the State be untouched in civil causes. This point is always slurred by Roman controversialists, and ignored by a whole class of history writers. And both are enabled to do it very successfully in this country, because we forget the important distinction to be made between the condition of things with us, and in England, in relation to the Papal jurisdiction.
With these cautions, we proceed to consider the subject of Appeals. Under the Anglo Saxons, and previous to the Norman Conquest, there was no distinction made between civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The County Court, in which the Bishop of the Diocese, and the Alderman, or in his absence, the Sheriff sat together, had cognizance of all causes, whether civil or ecclesiastical. While the Witena-gemote was the final authority in all matters whatever, being with the King at its head, the highest court, and that in which the sovereignty of the state resided.* Attempts indeed were made on the part of the Roman Pontiff to encroach upon this ju
* Blackstone, B. III, c. 5. Stephen's De Lolme, c. I, § 4, c. II, § 5. Bramhall's Vindication, c. IV.