Page images

was universal ; he regulated all domestic matters with consummate prudence, and on some occasions with a liberal and courteous spirit. In the distant provinces, where wars and disturbances were more frequent, public measures were more indebted for their success to the good policy of his instructions, than to the courage and activity of his generals, though Germanicus was of the number.

The death of that most amiable and excellent prince, which was imputed to the machinations of Cneius Piso, involved Tiberius in some degree in the same suspicion; but as Tacitus, in his account of the event, gives admission to an idle story of sorceries and incantations, practised by Piso for compassing the death of Germanicus, and states no circumstance that can give any reasonable ground for belief, that he actually poisoned him, I am not inclined to give credit to the transaction, even in respect to Piso's being guilty of the murder, much less with regard to Tiberius. Tacitus, indeed, hints at secret orders supposed by some to have been given by the Emperor to Piso ; but this, which at best is mere matter of report, does not go to the affair of the poisoning, but only to some private intimations, in which the Empress was chief mover, for mortifying the pride of Agrippina. It is not to be supposed, when Piso openly returned to Rome, and stood a public trial, that these orders, had any such existed, could have been so totally suppressed, that neither the guilty person should avail himself of them, nor any one member of so great and numerous a family produce them in vindication of him when yet living, or of his memory after death; and this in no period of time, not even when the Claudian family were superseded in the Empire, and anecdotes were industriously collected to blacken the character of Tiberius.

The death of Drusus followed that of Germanicus, and the same groundless suspicions were levelled at the Emperor; but these are rejected by Tacitus with contempt, and the words he uses, which are very strong, are a proper answer to both imputations Neque quisquam scriptor tam infensus extitit, ut Tiberio objectaret, cum omnia alia conquirerent, intenderentque.

It would have been most happy for the memory of Tiberius had his life been terminated at this fatal period; henceforward he seems to have been surrendered to desperation and disgust; he retired to the Campania, and devolved the government upon his minister Sejanus; there were times in which some marks of his former spirit appeared, but they were short and transient emanations: the basest of mankind had possession of his soul, and whether he was dragged by Sejanus and his agents, or that his brain was affected by a revulsion of that scrophulous humour, which broke out with such violence in his face and body, it seems highly natural to conjecture, that he was never in his sound mind during his secession in the Island of Capreæ. A number of circumstances might be adduced in support of this conjecture; it is sufficient to instance his extraordinary letter to the senate; can words be found more expressive of a distracted and desperate state of mind than the following? Quid scribam vobis, Patres Conscripti, aut quomodo scribam, aut quid omnino non scribam hoc tempore, Dii me deæque pejus perdant, quam perire me quotidie sentio, si scio.

I beg leave now to repeat what I advanced in the outset of this paper, and which alone led me to the subject of it, that a detail comprising all the great and interesting events within the life of Tiberius, with reasonings and remarks judiciously interspersed as these occurrences arise in the course of the

narration, would compound such a body of useful precepts and instructions, as would apply to every species of example, which a prince should be taught either to imitate or avoid ; and these lessons would carry the greater force and recommendation with them, and have an advantage over all fabulous morals, by being incorporated with a real history of the most interesting sort.


However disposed we may be to extricate the bloody act of the regicides, yet we must admit the errors and misconduct of Charles's unhappy reign to be such as cannot be palliated ; in our pity for his fate we must not forget the history of his failings, nor, whilst we are sympathising in the pathos of the tragedy, overlook its moral.

Four successive parliaments, improvidently dissolved, were sufficient warnings for the fifth to fall upon expedients for securing to themselves a more permanent duration, by laying some restraints

upon a prerogative so wantonly exerted.

Let us call to mind the inauspicious commencement of this monarch's reign: before the ceremony of his coronation had taken place, he espoused a sister of France, and set a catholic princess on the throne of a protestant kingdom, scarce cool from the ferment of religious jealousies, recently emancipated from the yoke of Rome, and of course intolerant through terror, if not by principle. The most obnoxious man in the kingdom was Montague, author of the proscribed tract, entitled Appello Cæsarem, and him Charles enrolled in his list of royal chaplains: by throwing himself incontinently into the hands of Buckingham, he showed his people

they were to expect a reign of favouritism, and the choice of the minister marked the character of the monarch: he levied musters for the Palatinate of twelve thousand men, exacted contributions for coat and conduct-money, declared martial law in the kingdom, and furnished his brother of France with a squadron of ships for the unpopular reduction of Rochelle, and the mariners refused the service. These measures stirred the parliament then sitting, to move for a redress of grievances, before they provided for his debts, and their remonstrances provoked him upon the instant to dissolve them.

Every one of these proceedings took place before his coronation, and form the melancholy prelude to his misguided government.

A second parliament was called together, and to intimidate them from resuming their redress of grievances, and divert their attempts from the his favourite, he haughtily informs them, that he cannot suffer an enquiry even on the meanest of his servants. What was to be expected from such a menacing declaration? They, disdaining illam osculari, quá sunt oppressi, manum, proceed to impeach Buckingham; the king commits the managers of that process to the Tower, and resorting to his prerogative, dissolves his second parliament as suddenly, and more angrily, than his first.

A third parliament meets, and in the interim new grievances of a more awakening sort had supplied them with an ample field for complaint and remonstrance; in the intermission of their sittings, he had exacted a loan, which they interpreted a tax without parliament, and of course a flagrant violation of the constitution : this he enforced with so high a hand, that several gentlemen of name in their counties had been committed to close imprisonment for refusing payment; ship money also at this time began to be

person of

questioned as an intolerable grievance, and being one of the resources for enabling the crown to govern without a parliament, it was considered by many as a violation of their rights, an inequitable and oppressive tax, which ought to be resisted, and accordingly it was resisted: this parliament, therefore, after a short and inefficient sitting, shared the sudden fate of its predecessors.

The same precipitancy, greater blindness, a more confirmed habit of obstinacy, and a heightened degree of aggravation marked this period of intermission from parliaments, for now the leading members of the late house were sent to close imprisonment in the Tower, and informations were lodged against them in the Star-Chamber.

The troubles in Scotland made it necessary for the king once more to have resort to a parliament; they met for the fourth time on the thirteenth of April 1640, and the fifth day of the following month sent them back to their constituents to tell those grievances in the ears of the people, which their sovereign disdained to listen to

-Ill-counselled sovereign! but will that word apologize for conduct so intemperate? It cannot: A mind, so flexible towards evil council, can possess no requisites for government. What hope now remained for moderate measures, when the people's representatives should again assemble? In this fatal moment the fuel was prepared and the match lighted, to give life to the flames of civil war ; already Scotland had set those sparks into a blaze; the king, unable to extinguish the conflagration by his own power and resources, for the fifth and last time convenes his parliament: but it was now too late for any confidence or mutual harmony to subsist between the crown and commons; on the third of November following their last dissolution, the new elected

« PreviousContinue »