« PreviousContinue »
De For himself treated the whole affair with the contempt it deserved, by publishing a “Hymn to the pillory,' full of pointed satire against his persecutors. Whilst in prison, his ever-active mind projected a variety of cmployment for the future, in all which the great objects of religious and political freedom were kept steadily in view. In August, 1704, he was released from prison through the interference of Harley, then secretary of state, who evinced a desire to protect him against his numerous enemies, and even recommended him to the queen and Lord Go. dolphin as a man of talents and integrity, whose services might be of use to the government. Harley's recommendation led to his employment in several important and delicate affairs of state. In 1706 he undertook a mission to Scotland, connected with the then projected union of the two kingdoms, and in this service he proved an invaluable ally to the ministry, though he suffered a second prosecution for his political writings before the death of the queen. In 1709 he published his . History of the Union.' It would lead us into greater length of detail than our limits afford to enumerate all the successive publications of this indefatigable author. With the exception of Prynne himself, De Foe was the most voluminous writer of his age. His biographer, Wilson, has furnished a list of two hundred and ten separate pieces from his pen, and he does not consider the list complete. His · History of the Union' is a book of first-rate authority and importance. His . Review,' a periodical work which he conducted for a period of nine years, gave to Steele and Addison the first idea of their celebrated Guardians and Spectators. His · Tour through England and Scotland' is one of the best as well as earliest of a family which has since become so numerous in the annals of our literature. His • Family Instructor,' published in 1715, gave Richardson the first idea of his . Pamela,' • Clarissa Harlowe,' and other novels. His · History of the Plague' is a piece of unrivalled descriptive narrative, and was mistaken by Mead himself for an authentic record of facts. But the work which must ever immortalize his name, is his · Robinson Crusoe,' which, from its first appearance up to the present hour, has been the most popular work of fiction in the English language. His · Memoirs of a Cavalier during the civil wars in England' is another romance the most like to truth that ever was written. It was a favourite book with the great earl of Chatham, who, before he discovered it to be a fiction, used to speak of it as the best account of the civil wars extant. Upon a review of the various and multiform writings of this extraordinary man, Mr Wilson draws the satisfactory conclusion, that “ religion was uppermost in his mind, that he reaped its consolations, and lived under an habitual sense of its practical importance.” He died on the 24th of April, 1731.
His reflections on his own history present us with a better, and we doubt not, a more faithful view of the entire man, than any thing we can offer in their room, and we shall, therefore, insert them here: “I am a stoick," says he, “ in whatever may be the event of things. I'll do and say what I think is a debt to justice and truth, without the least regard to clamour and reproach ; and as I am utterly unconcerned at human opinion, the people that throw away their breath so freely in censuring me, may consider of some better improvement to make of their passions, than to waste them on a man that is both above and below the reach of them. I know too much of the world to expect good in it, and have learnt to value it too little to be concerned at the evil. I have gone through a life of wonders, and am the subject of a vast variety of providences: I have been fed more by miracle than Elijah, when the ravens were his purveyors. I have sometime ago summed up the scenes of my life in this distich :
No man has tasted differing fortunes more,
In the school of affliction I have learnt more philosophy than at the academy, and more divinity than from the pulpit: in prison I have learnt to know that liberty does not consist in open doors, and the free egress and regress of locomotion. I have seen the rough side of the world as well as the smooth ; and have, in less than half a year, tasted the difference between the closet of a king and the dungeon of Newgate. I have suffered deeply for cleaving to principles, of which integrity I have lived to say, none but those I suffered for ever reproached me with it.” Such was the man who, by his writings, exercised a greater influence over the public mind in the beginning of the last century than any of his gifted contemporaries. He was framed for the period in which his lot was cast. The times were troublous, and the politics of the day too often of a suspicious and shifting cast; but De Foe's principles were of the sternest kind, and his own character was one of adamantine firmness. Unawed by threats,—undeterred by suffering,—uninfluenced by personal interest,—he held on the upright tenor of his way, amidst difficulties which would have crushed a less intrepid soul than his; and it is for a grateful posterity, now rejoicing in the possession of these civil and religious liberties to a full sense of the importance of which De Foe first awoke his countrymen, to award him a place amongst the urest, most intrepid, and, on the whole, most successful of England's patriots.
The following passages, which we select from his treatise, entitled * The Original Power of the Collective body of the People of England examined and asserted,' will give the reader a pretty clear idea of De Foe's political sentiments :
"1. Salus Populi Suprema Lex: all government, and consequently our whole constitution, was originally designed, and is maintained, for the support of the people's property, who are the governed.
“2. All the members of government,—whether king, lords, or conimons,—if they invert the great end of their institution, the public good, cease to be, in the same public capacity, and power retreats to its original.
"3. No collective or representative body of men whatsoever, in matters of politics any more than religion, are, or ever have been, infallible.
“4. Reason is the test and touch-stone of laws; and all law or power that is contradictory to reason is, ipso facto, void in itself, and ought not to be obeyed. “Some other maxims less general are the consequence of these ; as,
"First, That such laws as are agreeable to reason and justice being once made, are binding both to king, lords, and commons, either separately or conjunctively, till they are actually repealed in due form.
" That if either of the three powers do dispense with, suspend, or otherwise break, any of the known laws so made, they injure the con
stitution; and the power so acting ought to be restrained by the other powers not concurring, according to what is lately allowed, that every branch of power is designed as a check upon each other.
“ But if all the three powers should join in such an irregular action, the constitution suffers a convulsion, dies, and is dissolved of course.
“ Nor does it suffice to say, that king, lords, and commons, can do no wrong ; since the mutual consent of parties, on which that foolish maxim is grounded, does not extend to every action king, lords, and commons, are capable of doing.
“ There are laws which respect the common rights of the people, as they are the parties to be governed: and with respect to these the king can do no wrong, but all is laid upon his ministers, who are accountable.
“ And there are laws which particularly respect the constitution, the king, lords, and commons, as they are the parties governing: in this regard, each branch may wrong and oppress the other, or altogether may do wrong to the people they are made to govern.
“ The king may invade the people's properties ; and if the lords and commons omit to defend and protect them, they all do wrong, by a tacit approving those abuses they ought to oppose.
“The commons may extend their power to an exorbitant degree, in imprisoning the subject,—dispensing with the Habeas Corpus act,giving unlimited power to their serjeant to oppress the people in his custody,—withholding writs of election from boroughs and towns, and several other ways; which, if they are not checked, either by the king or the lords, they are altogether parties to the wrong, and the subject is apparently injured.
“ The lords may err in judicature, and deny justice to the commons, or delay it upon punctilios and studied occasions; and if neither the king nor the conimons take care to prevent it, delinquents are excused, and criminals encouraged, and all are guilty of the breach of common justice.
“ That, to prevent this, it is absolutely necessary, that in matters of dispute the single power should be governed by the joint, and that nothing should be so insisted upon as to break the correspondence.
“ That the three should be directed by the law, and where that is silent, by reason.
“ That every person concerned in the law is in his measure a judge of the reason, and therefore in his proper place ought to be allowed to give his reason, in case of dissent.
“ That every single power has an absolute negative upon the acts of the other; and if the people, who are without doors, find reason to object, they may do it by petition.
“ But because, under pretence of petitioning, seditious and turbulent people may foment disturbances, tumults, and disorders, the subject's right of petitioning being yet recognised and preserved, the circumstances of such petitions are regulated by laws as to the numbers and qualities of the persons petitioning.
“ But the laws have no where prescribed the petitioners to any form of words; and therefore no pretence of indecency of expression can be so criminal as to be destructive of the constitution, because though it may deserve the resentment of the petitioned, yet it is not an illegal act, nor a breach of any law.
“And yet the representative body of the people ought not to be bantered or affronted neither, at the will and pleasure of any private person without doors, who finds cause to petition them.
“ But if any expression be offensive to the house, it seems reasonable that the persons who are concerned therein should be required to explain themselves; and if upon such explanation the house find no satisfaction as to the particular affront, they are at liberty to proceed as the law directs, but no otherwise.
“ And to me the silence of the law in that case seems to imply, that rejecting the petition is a contempt due to any indecency of that nature, and as much resentment as the nature of the thing requires; but, as to breaking in upon personal liberty, which is a thing the law is so tender of, and has made so strong a fence about, I dare not affirm it is a justifiable procedure ; no, not in the house of commons. It is alleged, that it has been practised by all parliaments; which is to me far from an argument to prove the legality of it.
“I think it may pass for a maxim, that a man cannot be legally punished for a crime which there is no law to prosecute. Now, since there is no law to prosecute a man for indecency of expression in a petition to the house of commons, it remains a doubt with me how they can be legally punished.
“ Precedents are of use to the houses of parliament, where the laws are silent in things relating to themselves, and are doubtless a sufficient authority to act from ; but whether any precedent, usage, or custom, of any body of men whatever, can make a thing lawful, which the laws have expressly forbid, remains a doubt with me.
“ It were to be wished some of our parliainents would think fit, at one time or another, to clear up the point of the authority of the house of commons in case of imprisoning such as are not of their house, that having the matter stated by those who are the only expositors of our laws, we might be troubled with no more ‘legion libels,' to tell them what is, or is not, legal in their proceedings.
“ The good of the people governed is the end of all government, and the reason and original of governors ; and upon this foundation it is that it has been the practice of all nations, and of this in particular, that if the mal-administration of governors has extended to tyranny and oppression,--to the destruction of right and justice, overthrowing the constitution, and abusing the people, the people have thought it lawful to reassume the right of government into their own hands, and to reduce their governors to reason."
Byng, Lord Wiscount Torrington.
BORN A. D. 1663.—DIED A. D. 1732-3
This nobleman was the eldest son of John Byng, Esq. of Wrotham in the county of Kent. He was born at his father's seat on the 27th of January, 1663. Having imbibed a very early attachment to the naval service, he procured, in the year 1678, through the interest of his royal highness, James, duke of York, what was then called the king's letter,' a necessary species of warrant or permission for entering the service in the rank of an officer. In 1681, he quitted the sea service for a time, and entering into the army, through the persuasion of General Kirk, at that time governor of Tangier, became a cadet. But on its having been determined by the English government to evacuate Tangier, Byng was advised to return again to his original line of service, and was appointed lieutenant of the Oxford.
Although he held no higher station than that of lieutenant in the navy, at the time of the Revolution, yet, having returned to England some months before that event took place, he soon displayed all the propensity to political intrigue which renders the service of a man so gifted peculiarly valuable in the hour of popular tumult and commotion. His abilities in this line of service recommended him to the prince of Orange, who employed him as confidential person to sound the dispositions of, and tamper with such officers as it was thought could be useful, and attach them if possible to the cause of the Revolution. Byng being, froin the strong bias of his political prejudices, a vehement enemy to the government, and perhaps to the person of King James II., executed his function with great diligence and zeal.
Immediately after the accession of William to the British throne, Byng was appointed to the Dover, and quickly afterwards advanced to be captain of a third rate, the Hope, of seventy guns.
He held no naval commission subsequent to the peace of Ryswick, till after the accession of queen Anne; he was then appointed captain of the Nassau, one of the squadron sent under the orders of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, to Vigo, in the month of October, 1702. Soon after his return to England, he was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral of the red squadron, Having hoisted his flag on board the Ranelagh, of eighty guns, he proceeded to the Mediterranean under the orders of Sir Cloudesley Shovel. Towards the close of the same year he was sent to Algiers, to renew a treaty of peace which then subsisted between Great Britain and that regency.
In the brilliant naval operations of 1704, Admiral Byng bore a pre-eminent share. The attack on Gibraltar was solely confided to his command by the admiral-in-chief; and, at the battle of Malaga, his division suffered more than any in the fleet, that of Sir George Rooke only excepted. On his return to England he was received at court with the most flattering approbation by the queen, conferred him the honour of knighthood.
On the 26th of January, 1707, Sir George was advanced to be rearadmiral of the blue, and appointed to command a squadron sent into the North seas, in order to oppose the French armament comnianded by the Chevalier de Forbin, one of the ablest officers in the French navy, equipped for the purpose of covering the invasion of Scotland. The activity displayed by Sir George, and the surprise occasioned by his sudden appearance off the coast of Flanders, paralyzed the further prosecution of the enemy's plan ; and on the French vessels ultimately putting to sea, Sir George compelled them almost instantly to return to port.
Some political disagreements caused him to resign the post of commissioner of the admiralty, in the year 1713; and, during the very short remainder of the queen's reign, he retired into private life. The accession of King George I. reinstated him in his civil appointment; and, in the year 1715, he was again made commander-in-chief of a fleet