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giving me notice of young Evertson, and some other considerable commanders newly taken in the fight with the Dartmouth and Diamond frigates, whom he had sent me as prisoners of war; I went to know of his majesty how he would have me treat them, when he commanded me to bring the young captain to him ..... &c. (he was eldest son of Cornelius, Vice Admiral of Zealand, and nephew of John, now admiral, a most valiant person)..... The king gave him his hand to kiss, and gave him his liberty; asked many questions concerning the fight, (it being the first blood drawn,) his majesty remembering the many civilities he had formerly received from his relations abroad... Then I was commanded to go with him to the Holland ambassador, where he was to stay for his passport, and I was to give him fifty pieces in broad gold.” . Charles's liberality, however, or want of it, had very little to do with the main question at issue between himself and his people; as a sovereign he was little better, or little worse, for being endowed with a greater or less proportion of generosity, an ingredient of rather a doubtful description in the composition of a monarch's character, and full as likely to be displayed at the expense, as for the benefit, of his subjects. The two best. and wisest sovereigns of any age, or country, our own Elizabeth, and her contemporary, Henry IV. of France, neither of those affected the praise of generosity, or were very liberal of their bounty; and those who served them with the sword, or the pen, were apt to complain, and not always without reason, that their rewards were by no means proportioned to the length or nature of their services. Yet we know not that the sage statesmen, or armed warriors, who, in their different vocations, adorned the reigns of these two sovereigns, were, on that account, less zealous or less active in their cause; and that which the courtier might term the niggardliness of their temper, was certainly, in its effects, generosity to the people, whom they governed. To be lavish of what is not one's own, is a cheap and easy method of acquiring a reputation for liberality; and that profuse expenditure of the public money, which opens a hundred yenal throats in praise of the monarch, is nothing but an ungenerous waste of the property of the subjects. The country is drained of that, which, if allowed to circulate freely through its veins, would promote health and vegetation, clothing the hills with verdure, and making the valleys smile with plenty; but, to vary the favourite metaphor of the advocates of taxation, the dews, thus exhaled, descend not back, in refreshing showers, upon their mother earth, but are rained down on a thirsty and barren sand, which returns neither herb nor tree, fruit nor flower. A tender care of the purses, no less than of the persons, of his subjects, with which lavish grants and
indiscriminate bounty are utterly inconsistent, is true generosity in a prince; and had the insensibility, which Charles too often evinced, to the services of his ancient friends, proceeded from this motive, that which his contemporaries called ingratitude, posterity would have more justly pronounced a considerate regard for the interests of his people. But the character, which the Roman historian has given of a great patriot of his time, might be applied, with but little modification, to the merry monarch; he was as greedy of his subjects' property as he was lavish of his own; though not generous, he was profuse and extravagant; his mistresses, and the companions of his social pleasures, could gain, by solicitation, from the easiness of his temper, what, on better principles, would have been vainly sought from his justice, or liberality. Sir John Reresby gives a ludicrous instance of the extreme readiness of the people about the Court to snap up every thing that fell in their way, as well as of his majesty to grant what was not even his to dispose of. A foolish and scandalous report had some how got abroad, of his having caused the death of a black servant of his, by an operation, which he was said to have had performed upon him. Sir John laughed at it at first, but he quickly changed his note, when he heard that the Duke of Norfolk had been begging his estate of the king, as forfeited by the felony; and on his arrival in town, he found that a Mr. Felton, of the bed-chamber, had not only asked, but actually obtained a grant of it. Sir John could not well digest this readiness of the king's to grant away his estate ; but his majesty professed he did not remember any grant he had made of it to any person whatsoever. The Lord Treasurer assured him also, that he had taken great pains to prevent the begging of his estate; and Sir John believed it to be true, but shrewdly suspected it was with design, had it proved a forfeiture, to have secured it for himself. Indeed he was told as much afterwards.*
Whenever Charles's bounty flowed, it proceeded from no sense of gratitude, or consideration of policy, but entirely from an imbecillitas frontis, t which left 'him no power to utter a denial, and no other means of rescuing himself from importunity, than granting whatever was requested. It is a just observation of one, who understood his character, but has naturally enough shewn himself too indulgent to its defects, that when once aversion to bear uneasiness takes place in a man's mind, the passions are damped into a kind of indifference, grow faint and languishing, and become subordinate to the funda
* Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, p. 36. &c.
mental maxim of not purchasing, or withstanding any thing, at the price of a difficulty. “This made, that he had as little eagerness to oblige, as he had to hurt men; the motive of his giving bounties, was rather to make men less uneasy to him, than more easy to themselves; and yet no ill-nature all this while. He would slide from an asking face, and could guess very well. It was throwing a man off from his shoulders, that leaned upon them with his whole weight; so that the party was not gladder to receive, than he was to give. It was a kind of implied bargain; though men seldom kept it, being so apt to forget the advantage they had received, that they would presume the king would as little remember the good he had done them, so as to make it an argument against their next request."*
As it is evident that Charles was not of a disposition to be led away by effusions of gratitude, or imprudent bursts of generosity, it might have been expected that his colder temper would have left him free to pursue the dictates of prudence and justice. But the same imbecility of mind, the same unsteadiness of purpose and levity of temper, and the same want of principle, which either made, or found him extravagant and profuse, without being either generous or grateful, left him equally regardless of the distinction of right and wrong, and as prone to violate the rights of his subjects, as he was greedy and lavish of their property. It is but fair, however, to hear what those have to urge in his behalf, who have attempted to vindi
cate his character, or palliate his offences. “He was surely," · says Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham,“ inclined to justice; for nothing else would have retained him so fast to the succession of a brother, against a son he was so fond of, and the humour of a party he so much feared.”+ Agreeable to this view of the matter, is a story which the author of the Examen has quoted from some forgotten pamphlet of that day; the truth of which he finds no reason to doubt,—“the rather because the pamphlet itself is so rare, as looks as if the whole edition had been secured from the public,”—a. practice, it seems, of the whig faction, when any thing, they did not like, was thought fit to be suppressed. Although we think we could assign a much better reason for the scarcity of the pamphlet in question, we see none at all why the account should not be true, since the circumstances related are likely enough to have happened, and are quite consistent with the characters of the parties concerned. It states, that on the 24th of March, 1681, “the great
* Marquis of Halifax, Character of King Charles II. + Character of King Churles II. Duke of Buckingham's Works, vol. ii. patriot, next under God and Dr. Oates, the supreme defender of the nation,” the Earl of Shaftesbury, having received, or pretended to receive a letter in an unknown hand, bustled away to court, “as fast as his legs, man, and stick would carry him.” The Duke of Monmouth, who was supposed to be privy to the search, being asked by the Lord Chamberlain, what this great affair was, answered, with a modest air of self-denial, that it was something concerning himself, in which Lord S., as usual, took a deeper interest than he desired. Meantime Shaftesbury, applying for admittance to the king's presence, was told by the lord in waiting, (Feversham) that as he heard he had business of importance, he would conduct him to his majesty. “The busy earl told him, he was willing to be conducted by so honest a man as his lordship, drolling, and thinking himself guilty of a shrewd irony." Being introduced, he produced his letter; and the plan, for securing the peace and religion of the nation, turned out to be a proposal for settling the crown upon the Duke of Monmouth. The king said, he wondered that, after so many declarations on the contrary, he should still be pressed on that subject; adding, that he was none of those that grew more timorous with age, but that, rather, he grew more resolute, the nearer he approached the grave. Upon the earl's expressing himself mightily concerned to hear such a word, the king said, he might assure himself, that he was as careful of his own preservation, as any of those persons could be, who affected so much concern for his personal safety, but that he would much sooner lose his life, than alter the true succession to the crown, which was repugnant both to law and conscience. “For that matter,” replied the earl, “let us alone, we will make a law for it.” To which the king replied, “if this is your conscience, my lord, it is not mine, and much as I regard my life, I don't think it of sufficient value, after fifty, to be preserved with the forfeiture of my honour, conscience, and the laws of the land."* This is all very well : we never thought so meanly of Charles's conversational powers, as to doubt his ability to talk in terms of virtue and honour. To be sure, he was not much in the habit of expressing himself thus; and the quick unceremonious answer he once gavė Burnet, when the latter told him, there was a report abroad, that he intended to legitimate the Duke of Monmouth, was far more in his natural way,—"as well as I love him, I had rather see him hanged !”—But such were, doubtless, the motives, by which he represented himself to be influenced ; and though he was too clear-sighted to impose upon himself, it was easy enough for him to impose upon
others. His friends have attempted somewhat more, and on this slender foundation have built him up a goodly reputation for justice and equity; although if they had not resolved against seeing any thing, but what favoured their own view of the matter, they might have detected motives, which were likely to have full as much weight with his majesty, as affection for a brother, whom he never loved at heart,* or regard for justice, which every other action of his life shews him to have utterly disregarded. The question with him, was not so much whether his brother should, or should not be excluded from the succession, as whether, in the great struggle that was pending, himself, or the party in parliament, that opposed his measures, should gain the victory. It was not difficult to foresee, that if he yielded in the present instance, the exclusionists would acquire such an influence in the government, as would render impracticable all his favourite measures of policy, whether they regarded mercenary treaties with the French king, or unjust and unprovoked wars upon the states of Holland, or arbitrary designs on the privileges of his own subjects. His fears might even have gone beyond this point. He might, as Burnet supposes, have reflected, that if acts of exclusion were once began, it would not be easy to stop them; and though the party, for decency's sake, masked their attack, by substituting his brother, that he himself was the person chiefly aimed at.
“ Without my leave a future king to choose,
Without absolutely believing, as Spencer has said, that Charles obliged Dryden to put his speech to the Oxford parliament into verse, it may be supposed, the poet would naturally make King David express himself in a strain of argument and insinuation similar to that which King Charles had himself used before. At all events, such was the belief, sincere or pretended, of his partizans,—they hoped, says North, through his brother, to smite him, and that if they could carry a law against the former, the king himself would lie exposed to their aggressions. Rather than thus endanger his own authority, by allowing what he probably looked upon as a sort of prop and
* Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, p. 47.