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For JULY, 1839.
Art. I. Montrose and the Covenanters; their Character and Conduct,
Illustrated from Private Letters and other Original Documents hitherto unpublished ; embracing the Times of Charles the First, from the Rise of the Troubles in Scotland, to the Death of Montrose. By MARK NAPIER, Esq., Advocate. 8vo. 2 Vols. Pp. xxii., 538,
582. London: James Duncan. 1838. THIS is a work of very considerable merit both for the labo
rious research which it displays on the part of the author, and for the ingenuity with which he has worked up and set out his materials to the best advantage for the side which he has espoused; but the value of which, in a historical and philosophical point of view, is, in our opinion, very much impaired by the vehement party-spirit by which the author seems to be actuated, and the consequent absence from its pages of that impartiality of statement, calmness of decision, and moderation of language, which form such essential ingredients in a good history. Mr. Napier is evidently a member of that religious party which styles itself • The Church in Scotland,' in contradistinction to that which has assumed the title of The Church of Scotland,' and with that title has appropriated the patrimony which of divine right belongs only to the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church as purified at the Reformation; and with all the characteristic hauteur, superstition, bigotry, and fierce intolerance of his party, he seems to be plentifully endowed. We question if a sounder Tory of the very oldest school at this moment walks the earth, or a more thoroughgoing Churchman can be found even among the rising hopes of Oxford. With such opinions and prejudices it was hardly possible that Mr. Napier should discuss the character and conduct of the parties engaged in the great struggle between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, which has rendered so memorable the period
he has undertaken to illustrate, with that patient deliberation and candid impartiality which the importance of the case, and the numerous difficult points involved in it, render so desirable ; and, accordingly he has from the very first taken a side, and throughout the volumes, quoted and argued, and declaimed with all the onesided vehemence of a special pleader. He never seems to forget that he writes himself. Advocate,' and that, in the present instance, Montrose and the Malignants are his clients. Hence he eagerly lays hold of every opportunity of magnifying the virtues, and wailing over the unmerited sufferings of the Royalists, whilst he is equally assiduous to bring out into prominent relief all that tends to depreciate the character, impugn the motives, and blacken the memory of their opponents. Charles I. is set forth as a “truly • Christian king, with domestic virtues and private accomplishóments infinitely superior to the age in which he suffered,—S0 illustrious a compound of all that is generous and righteous, that he 'would do a favour to any one, but could do an injustice for no
one'-ever magnanimous and benevolent, yet ever harassed, insulted, and deceived by his rebellious and ungrateful subjectsthe model of royal virtue, the victim of perfidy, rapacity, and insubordination. For the unfortunate Covenanters, on the other hand, Mr. N. finds no appellation too severely abusive, and from the frequency with which his abuse is bestowed upon them, it would seem as if he felt that it was only by a series of repeated efforts that he could extort from the feeble powers of language an expression sufficiently strong of the indignation and scorn with which he regards their persons and labours. They are desig.nated as a “Scotch faction,' of whose proceedings 'a savage con
tempt for royal authority, the arts of popular agitation, the spirit o of persecution that instantly sprung up to clear the path for • democracy' were characteristics (vol. i. p. 21);-as the impious contrivers of the Covenant,' whose prime minister ' appears in · England collecting round the devoted monarch the toils of the great rebellion---scenting, not afar off, his blood in the blood of • Strafford, and howling, like a savage, for the rewards that were "to satiate the malice and the avarice of Scotland (pp. 21,
21, 22). Their clergy, we are told, ' were born of democracy and fanaticism,' and were for the most part uncouth, unlearned, and un
enlightened,' yet persons who felt their passions and their lungs “strong enough to afford them a chance, when the waters were
troubled of emulating the popularity of Knox' (pp. 100, 101). The Covenant itself the wicked Covenant' is described as the bond of faction and banner of rebellion' (p. 146), and to its real history, we are assured, hardly one generous feeling, one
Christian impulse, or one legitimate act belongs' (p. 71). We might multiply quotations of a similar cast, for Mr. Napier scatters the flowers of his vituperative rhetoric with no penurious hand; but the above will, we think, be sufficient to evince to our readers the spirit and temper in which he has undertaken his work, and the very accurate estimate he has formed of what is due to the gravity and moderation of the historian. The acerbity of his language is the more unpardonable, that he is perpetually seizing the opportunity of lecturing others for their sins in this particular. Mr. Brodie, Malcolm Laing, Lord Nugent, as well as the whole body of covenanting annalists, are brought under his lash on every occasion on which they have used a harsh expression or pronounced a strong censure regarding any of the party for which he pleads. We must do Mr. Napier the justice, however, to add, that he has had the grace to offer in his preface an expression of regret for the vehemence of language into which he has been betrayed; though of a much more feeble nature than the flagrant violations of good taste and proper feeling of which he has been guilty would require.
We the more regret this display of petulance and party-spirit on the part of our author, that his work is in other respects deserving of commendation and respect. Its contributions to our stores of materials for forming an accurate estimate of the men and events of the important period to which it refers, are numerous and valuable, and such as are calculated to correct not a few prevailing mistakes into which our most respectable historians have fallen. Mr. Napier has made ample use of his privilege of access to that prodigious treasure of authentic information on all matters relating to the History of Scotland, the MSS. of the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh; and to the mass of original and curious facts and evidence which he has adduced from this source, he has made many not unimportant noruninteresting additions from sources of a more private kind, especially from the Charter-chest of that illustrious family whose name he bears, and of whose most illustrious member he is already advantageously known as the biographer. The aspect under which the details he has brought forward place the character of Montrose is new, and greatly more favourable in a moral point of view, to that remarkable and, we must add, much misunderstood individual, than that under which he has hitherto for the most part, been presented to us.
Instead of the fickle, unprincipled, and ruthless monster which some of our historians have delighted to paint him, he now stands before us in the character of one, in whom a high sense of honour and a stedfast regard to what he considered principle were predominating motives of action,—who was endowed with many private as well as social virtues, -and whose heroic bearing under the trying scenes amid which he closed his earthly career, was not the sudden flashing into brilliancy of a flame that had previously burned with a larid and portentous glare, but was rather the glorious setting of a luminary, which through a long and stormy day had held on its course with untarnished, though not untroubled lustre. On the service thus rendered to the memory of Montrose, however, and the clearing up of one or two obscure points in the history of the times in which he lived, the value of the work before us in a great measure terminates. We still hold our unfavourable opinion of Charles in spite of Mr. Napier's urgent pleading on his behalf, and are still disposed to do honour to the religious part of the Covenanters, notwithstanding his vehement abuse of the whole body. Bishop Burnet is not altogether ruined in our estimation as an historian, because Mr. N. has shown he could write an abject letter when placed in circumstances of peril, and was given occasionally to allow a little clerical spleen to influence his pen in delineating the characters of his contemporaries. Of Johnstone, Hamilton, and Argyle we think much as we did before, only that our unfavourable estimate of their character and conduct has been somewhat confirmed by the evidence Mr. Napier has adduced. And though he has raised Montrose, Napier, and their confederates prodigiously in our esteem, we have not been thereby brought one whit nearer Conservatism, nor rendered in the slightest degree more inclined to give up our attachment to those sound principles of constitutional government for which they at first contended, for the sake of adopting those of a more arbitrary and prescriptive character, to the defence of which the violence of the popular party seems at last to have driven them.
As the personal history of Montrose is the thread by which Mr. Napier has connected his materials in the volumes before us, we cannot do better, in attempting to give our readers a condensed view of their contents, than to follow as nearly as our different circumstances will allow, the course he has adopted. Our object in this survey of the history of Montrose, however, shall be not merely to do justice to the character of that individual, by setting before our readers the true facts of his life as detailed by Mr. Napier, but still more to present to them a correct, though necessarily brief and cursory sketch of the important, and in many respects unparalleled transactions of which Scotland was the theatre during the troubled reign of the first Charles.
MONTROSE was the only son of John, third Earl of that name, and, as appears from an incidental notice of his age furnished by his biographer Wishart, when recording certain events that occurred towards the close of his life, must have been born about the close of 1612, or the commencement of the following year. At the death of his father, which took place unexpectedly on the 24th of November, 1626, he was not more than fourteen years of age. During the remainder of his minority he enjoyed the advantage of being under the guardianship of Lord Napier, the son of the illustrious inventor of Logarithms, who, with a large share of his father's ability and learning, inherited all his
native sagacity and attachment to the Protestant faith. Under the direction of this estimable nobleman, Montrose was introduced to an accurate acquaintance with Latin and Greek, besides being instructed in those other branches of polite education which his station in society required and his means afforded. A temporary interruption to his studies was occasioned by his marriage, which seems to have taken place when he was little more than seventeen years of age, and which was consummated thus early by the advice of his friends, who, warned probably by the sudden demise of his father, were anxious to guard against the misfortune of his noble bouse being left without a lineal representative in case of the like happening to himself. The lady to whom he was united was Magdalene, a daughter of Lord Carnegy, of Kinnaird, afterwards first Earl of Southesk. The interruption caused by this event seems, however, to have been of brief continuance, for as very shortly after coming of age, Montrose entered upon active life, it could only have been by great assiduity and diligence during the years of his minority, that he acquired those literary attainments of which in after years he gave so many proofs.
Towards the commencement of 1633, when just entered on his twenty-first year, Montrose proceeded to the continent, where he remained for three years. During this period his time was occupied principally in improving himself by intercourse with French and Italian society, by the observation of men and manners in the countries through which he travelled, and by prosecuting such branches of intellectual and physical culture as yet remained to complete that course of education which, by the advice doubtless of his accomplished guardian and most tender 'father,' Lord Napier, he proposed to pass before entering upon the stormy scenes of active life. The statement which is frequently made as of unquestioned authority, that during this period he was for a season engaged in the service of the French king as a captain in the Scottish Guard, is shown by Mr. Napier to be a mistake, traceable, in all probability, to some confusion in the minds of those with whom it originated, between the early history of Montrose and that of his future opponent, and ultimately companion in arms, the Marquis of Huntly. The shortness of his residence in France, and the nature of the studies in which he was engaged whilst there, combined with the fact that during the whole of that period the captaincy of the Scottish Guard was held by Lord Gray, place it beyond a question, that no such situation was occupied by Montrose; though there can be little doubt that the scenes of warlike enterprise of which the continent was at that time the theatre, and in which the Scottish mercenaries took so prominent a part, tended in no small degree to foster the military spirit in his bosom, and give an impulse to