« ElőzőTovább »
SKETCH OF CHARLES II.
HISTORY OF MY OWN TIME."
Bishop Burnet gives us a lifelike picture of the “Merry Monarch,” Charles II of England. The era of the English Restoration (1660-1685) was one of the most profligate and debased in English history. In courtly society patriotism was almost extinct, purity and fidelity had become a jest and a scoffing. From the extreme austerity of Puritanism, the more polished elements of society, upon the restoration of Charles II (1660), went to the extreme of debauchery and licentiousness. Never was the honor of England at so low an ebb. Under Cromwell her name was honored and respected throughout Europe; under Charles II she sunk to the level of a dependency of France. The age, however, was not without its great men. During the Restoration Milton produced his “Paradise Lost," and Sir Isaac Newton was in the vigor of his manhood. The student should consult Macaulay's "History of England,” Masson's "Life and Times of Milton," and Pepys's Diary."
Thus lived and died King Charles II. He was the 1 greatest instance in history of the various revolutions of which any one man seemed capable. He was bred, up to the first twelve years of his life, with the splendor that became the heir of so great a crown. After that, he passed through eighteen years of great inequalities—un happy in the war, in the loss of his father, and of the crown of England. Scotland did not only receive him, though upon terms hard of digestion, but made an attempt upon England for him, though a feeble one. He lost the battle of Worcester with too much indifference. And then he showed more care of his person than became one who had so much at stake. He wandered about England for ten weeks after that, hiding from place to place. But, under all the apprehensions he had then upon him, 2 he showed a temper so careless, and so much turned to levity, that he was then diverting himself with little
household sports, in as unconcerned a manner as if he had made no loss, and had been in no danger at all. He got at last out of England. But he had been obliged to so many who had been faithful to him, and careful of him, that he seemed afterward to resolve to make an equal return to them all ; and finding it not easy to reward them all as they deserved, he forgot them all alike. Most princes seem to have this pretty deep in them, and to think that they ought never to remember past services, but that their acceptance of them is a full reward. He, of all in our age, exerted this piece of prerogative in the amplest manner, for he never seemed to charge his memory or to trouble his thoughts with the sense of any of 3 the services that had been done him. While he was
abroad at Paris, Cologne, or Brussels, he never seemed to lay anything to heart. He pursued all his diversions and irregular pleasures in a free career, and seemed to be as serene under the loss of a crown as the greatest philosopher could have been. Nor did he willingly hearken to any of those projects with which he often complained that his chancellor persecuted him. That in which he seemed most concerned was to find money for supporting his expenses. And it was often said that if Cromwell would have compounded the matter, and have given him a good round pension, that he might have been induced to resign his title to him. During his exile he delivered himself so entirely to his pleasures that he became incapable of application. He spent little of his time in read4 ing or study, and yet less in thinking. And in the state his affairs were then in, he accustomed himself to say to every person, and upon all occasions, that which he thought would please most; so that words or promises went very easily from him. And he had so ill an opinion of mankind that he thought the great art of living
and governing was to manage all things and all persons with a depth of craft and dissimulation. And in that few men in the world could put on the appearances of sincerity better than he could, under which so much artifice was usually hid ; that, in conclusion, he could deceive none, for all were become mistrustful of him. He had great 5 vices, but scarce any virtues to correct them. He had in him some vices that were less hurtful, which corrected his more hurtful ones. He was, during the active part of life, given up to sloth and lewdness to such a degree that he hated business, and could not bear the engaging in anything that gave him much trouble, or put him under any constraint. And though he desired to become absolute, and to overturn both our religion and our laws, yet he would neither run the risk nor give himself the trouble which so great a design required. He had an appearance of gentleness in his outward deportment, but he seemed to have no tenderness in his nature, and in the end of his life he became cruel. He was apt to forgive 6 all crimes, even blood itself, yet he never forgave anything that was done against himself after his first and general act of indemnity, which was to be reckoned as done rather upon maxims of state than inclinations of mercy. He delivered himself up to a most enormous course of vice, without any sort of restraint, even from the consideration of the nearest relations. The most studied extravagances that way seemed, to the very last, to be much delighted in and pursued by him. He had the art of making all people grow fond of him at first, by a softness in his whole way of conversation, as he was certainly the best-bred man of the age. But when it appeared how little could be built on his promise, they were cured of the fondness that he was apt to raise in them. When he saw young men of quality, who had something more
than ordinary in them, he drew them about him, and set himself to corrupt them both in religion and morality, in which he proved so unhappily successful that he left England much changed at his death from what he had found 7 it at his restoration. He loved to talk over all the stories of his life to every new man that came about him. His stay in Scotland, and the share he had in the war of Paris, in carrying messages from the one side to the other, were his common topics. He went over these in a very graceful manner, but so often and so copiously that all those who had been long accustomed to them grew weary of them; and when he entered on those stories they usually withdrew; so that he often began them in a full audience, and before he had done there were not above four or five persons left about him, which drew a severe jest from Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He said he wondered to see a man have so good a memory as to repeat the same story without losing the least circumstance, and yet not remember that he had told it to the same person the very day before. This made him fond of strangers, for they hearkened to all his often-repeated stories, and went away as in a rapture at such an uncommon condescension in a king. 8 His person and temper, his vices as well as his fortunes, resemble the character that we have given us of Tiberius so much that it were easy to draw the parallel between them. Tiberius's banishment, and his coming afterward to reign, makes the comparison in that respect come pretty near. His hating of business and his love of pleasures; his raising of favorites, and trusting them entirely; his pulling them down, and hating them excessively; his art of covering deep designs, particularly of revenge, with an appearance of softness, brings them so near a likeness that I did not wonder much to observe
the resemblance of their faces and persons. At Rome I saw one of the last statues made for Tiberius, after he had lost his teeth. But, bating the alteration which that made, it was so like King Charles that Prince Borghese and Signior Dominico, to whom it belonged, did agree with me in thinking that it looked like a statue made for him.
Few things ever went near his heart. The Duke of 9 Gloucester's death seemed to touch him much. But those who knew him best thought it was because he had lost him by whom only he could have balanced the surviving brother, whom he hated, and yet embroiled all his affairs to preserve the succession to him.
His ill conduct in the first Dutch war, and those terrible calamities of the plague and fire of London, with that loss and reproach which he suffered by the insult at Chatham, made all people conclude there was a curse upon
his government. His throwing the public hatred, at that time, upon Lord Clarendon was both unjust and ungrateful. And when his people had brought him out of all his difficulties upon his entering into the triple alliance, his selling that to France, and his entering on the second Dutch war with as little color as he had for the first; his beginning it with the attempt on the Dutch Smyrna fleet; the shutting up the exchequer; and his declaration for toleration-make such a chain of black actions, flowing from blacker designs, that it amazed those who had known all this to see with what impudent strains of flattery addresses were penned during his life, and yet more grossly after his death. His contributing 10 so much to the raising the greatness of France, chiefly at sea, was such an error that it could not flow from want of thought, or of true sense. Ruvigny told me he desired that all the methods the French took in the increase