[ocr errors][ocr errors]

already—there are many gainsayers. A distinguished historian (Mr. GARDINER) asperses Corron’s character both for statesmanship and for truthfulness; whilst a distinguished archaeologist (Mr. BREWER) charges him with embezzling records.

The first charge has been partly met, in these pages, by the simple apposition and collation of contemporary evidence. The reader has his choice between the cumulative testimony of several English peers and statesmen ; and the unsupported testimony of one foreign diplomatist, who made it his boast to be the enemy of Englishmen, and Whose hostility was graduated in tolerably exact accordance with the qualities and the deeds which have made England proud of them. The home witnesses gave their testimony whilst the events were still fresh in men’s minds. They gave it in broad daylight, and with open doors. The foreign witness put his evidence into a secret dispatch, to be seen by no human eye, out of the Spanish Cabinet, until our own historian disinterred it, at Simancas, two centuries and a half after date. Nor is this quite all.

If Gonnoman’s account be true, not only was Sir Robert Co'r'ron’s life as a statesman a protracted lie, but his duplicity was so superbly cloaked as to deceive the most keen-sighted of his contemporaries. The men who sat habitually at his board in his days of health, and who ministered at his bedside in all the offices of tender friendship in his days of sickness and of death, were all wrong about his character. And there is this other little fact to boot: Sir Robert Corron began his public life by as open a declaration of anti-Spanish policy in relation to the great question of the Netherlands as ever came from the lips of our RALEGH. He ended his public life with as staunch an

seqq-<B-M-)~ adherence to the principles, both in Church and State, which the rulers of Spain abhorred as that which had been shown by RALEGH on the scaffold in Old Palace Yard, or by ELIOT in the dungeon of the Tower of London. Meanwhile, just in the mid-channel of his career, and in the prime of his faculties, Sir Robert COTTON threw himself, gratuitously, at the feet of GONDOMAR. He humbly asked leave to take Spanish service in the guise of a political slave. The historian’s proposition is a bold one. And its evidence needs to be cogent. English readers now know quite enough about GONDOMAR to judge whether or not his sole testimony is sufficient to damn the fame of such a man as COTTON ;-—to degrade him from the rank of an English worthy ;—to brand him as a criminal virtually convicted of apostacy in religion, and of treason to his avowed convictions in politics P *

* I have dwelt, somewhat protractedly, on this one interesting point in Cotton’s history,—pressing as are the limits prescribed to this volume, —under the belief that many readers will bear in mind that Sir Robert's misfortune beneath the recent disinterment of ambassador-ial despatches, written to foreign courts, is not an exceptional misfortune. Sir Walter Ralegh has fared still worse, in Mr. Gardiner’s able hands, by being held up to public seem as a knavish liar, upon the uncorroborated testimony of certain avowed and bitter enemies of England. See Prince Charles and the Spanish Marriage (1869), vol. i, Chaps. 1 and 2, passim. Readers of the admirable History of England by Mr. Froudchand who has not read that history P—will easily call to mind several not dissimilar instances. Nor is it at all surprising that it should be so. The most warin judicial of intellects can nOVer be quite independent of that factitious charm which there will always bc—over and above the legiti

. mate charm—in telling an old story from an entirely new point of view. If, besides the attraction of mere novelty, there should chance to have been a. keen burst of search over a. difiicult country, before the eager searcher could succeed in running down his quarry, he would be more than human if, in the moment of victory, he could weigh and balance with exzwt precision the real value of the hard-won spoil. At present, historians are too keenly chasing after new evidence to be able to estimate quite fairly its relative importance or net result. The most part both of writers and of readers are far too busy over newly-discovered

13001: 1, Chap. 11. LII-‘2 AND Clumcrus or Sin RousinCurran.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

From the nature of things the second charge cannot be so directly, so compactly, or so effectively met. Almost a third of the manuscripts which form the most important section of the Cotton Library consist of, or contain, Papers of State. Of these a very considerable proportion once belonged to the State. How came they to pass into the hands of Sir Robert COTTON P

By Mr. BREWER the question has been answered, unhesitatingly and exhaustively. Large portions of the Diplomatic Correspondence of HENRY THE EIGHTH were, he says, ‘carried off in 1614, if not before, by Sir Robert ‘ COTTON. . . . The original bundles appear to have been ‘ broken up under the keepership of AGARDE, when the ‘ Treasury of the Exchequer was rifled of its most precious ‘ contents to augment the collections Of Sir R. COTTON. ‘. . . For the early years of HENRY, his [Sir Robert’s] ‘ collections are more numerous, and even more interesting, ‘than the documents in the English, the French, or the ‘ Spanish Archives. They are equally authentic. . . . By ‘ what fraud or negligence they found their way into the ‘ possession of Sir Robert COTTON it is not for me to ‘ inquire.’

N0 writer can be better qualified to speak with authority on such a topic as this than is Mr. BREWER. Familiar with State Papers and with records of all kinds for a very long period, he has won the deep respect of all students of our history by the uses to which his knowledge has been 4 applied. But the ablest writer will sometimes write

materials to adjust with any approach to impartial fairness the vital question of comparative credibility. But the time for doing that must needs come, by and bye. Meanwhile, the fame of not a few of our old and true worthies will—in all probability—suffer some degree of momentary eclipse; just as that of Ralegh and Cotton has suffered.

hastily. The most impartial inquirer will now and then reach a conclusion by overleaping part of the evidence.

The sweeping passage which I have quoted, like other passages in Mr. Rinar’s preface to Liber Castzunarlmz, previously noticed, leaves altogether out of view three or four whole classes of testimony—chains not links— having a vital bearing on the issue. For example—

I. It disregards the fact that certain bundles of State letters and papers were given by the King’s order to Sir Robert Corrou, during the reign of James THE FIRST. These, indeed, were commanded to be ‘subscriptions and signatures of Princes and great men, attached to letters otherwise unimportant.’ But who is to tell us what was the estimate of ‘importanee’ in papers of State formed, two centuries and a half ago, by James, who gave the order, or by Sir Thomas \VILsON, who received it?

II. It disregards the fact that long before, as well as long after, that known order of 1618, Sir Robert’s possession of papers once the property of the Government was so published and so recognized as to imply, by fair induction, that the possession must have been—as far as he was concerned—a lawful one. In his own writings, he iterates and reiterates reference to national documents then in his own collection. His references are specific and minute. Secretaries of State write to him, asking leave to inspect original Treaties (sometimes in order to lay them before the King in person) and promising to return them promptly. Law Officers of the Crown desire him kindly to afford them opportunities for collating public instruments, preserved at Cotton House, with public instruments still in the repositories of the Crown.

III. It leaves out of sight the fact that in the correspondence 'of Sir Edward Gone with Sir Robert Co'rron

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

there is a passage which also implies—though it does not expressly assert—that Sir Robert had received from King Janus a permission to select records, of some kind or other, from the Tower of London, anterior to the qualified permission, above mentioned, given in 1618, to select ‘ autographs ’ from the Paper Ofiice ;

IV. It disregards that strong implication of a lawful possession—so far as Sir Robert COTTON, individually, is concerned—which necessarily arises out of the fact that at two several periods the Cottonian Library was under the sole control and custody of Crown officials; that it remained under such control for an aggregate period of more than two years; that COTTON’s bitter enemies were then at the head of affairs; that in 1630 a Royal Commission was actually issued ‘to search what Records or ‘ other Papers of State in the custody of Sir Robert ‘ COTTON properly belong to His Majesty, and thereof ‘ to certify ;’ and that the existing Cottonian MSS., together with those burned in 17 32, were, one year after the issue of that Commission, restored by the Crown to Sir Robert Co'r'ron’s heirs ;

V. It overlooks the circumstance, vital to the issue now raised, that amongst the MSS. which most indubitably were once Crown property many can still be minutely traced from possessor to possessor, prior to their reception into the Cottonian Library;

And VI. It disregards the fact, hardly less important, that a patriotic statesman conversant both with the arcana of government at large, and with the special arcana of the State Paper Office and Secretary’s offices, under King JAMES the First and King CHARLES the First, might have cogent reasons for believing that some important classes of State Papers would be likely to remain much more truly

« ElőzőTovább »