Page images

the genius of the Council-chamber of the Commonwealth, or the bravery of her sons upon the waves.” Milton addresses a famous sonnet to Vane about this time, and the tribute of such a poet must carry weight with those who wish to judge impartially of the poet's subject.

As Cromwell's schemes were developed, Vane and he gradually diverged into separate paths, until the latter's forcible dissolution of the Parliament quenched Sir Harry's last hope of their establishing a pure republic. Vane was Cromwell's greatest rival, not in seeking honour and power for himself, but in genius and in those qualities that make a great statesman ; and when the members withdrew from the House that memorable day, Cromwell, unable to accuse Vane of anything whatsoever, “in a loud and troubled voice," addressed to him those words that have been so often quoted against their subject (as if implying unutterable censure, but which are really empty of any such meaning), “Sir Harry Vane! Sir Harry Vane! The Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane! We cannot doubt which was the greater man—he who took up his residence in Whitehall, or he who, feeling no longer able to serve his country, could return to his own home, and the shattered remains of a fortune, which he had cheerfully and generously sacrificed for that country's weal. At Raby, or at his other seat of Belleau, in Lincolnshire, he resumed his studies, enjoyed the society of his family once more, and waited patiently until he could use his talents and influence for the benefit of his beloved land. It was at this time he published his “ Retired Man's Meditations," and other works referring to religion and philosophy. The Meditations contain some of the noblest sentiments that have ever been inscribed; our space forbids our making quotations, but Vane's writings always evince a public spirit, quite contrary to the mere visionary character that is generally attached to him.

Though he refused to take part in any of the conspiracies to upset Cromwell's government, Vane watched the course of events with a patriot's anxiety, and at length wrote a political treatise, in which he pointedly reproved Cromwell for certain actions; but, before it was printed, Vane sent the manuscript to Fleetwood, hoping that the Protector would be warned and induced to follow his advice; but Fleetwood, it is supposed, had not the courage to present the treatise, so on its being returned to Vane a month afterwards, without comment, the latter immediately published it.

The effect of the pamphlet was such that Cromwell at last trembled, and summoned Vane before the Council with the simple command, are to attend." Irritating as this unceremonious mandate must have been to the man that so long held one of the foremost, if not the foremost position in the nation, Vane complied, though he did not arrive in London until some days later than the order named. The Council decided that he must “either stand committed, or give a bond for five thousand pounds, as a security for his doing nothing in prejudice of the present government." Vane refused to do this, and after the lapse of fourteen days a warrant was made out against him, and he was conducted to the Isle of Wight as a close prisoner. No public reason was given for this step, and the people were left to suppose that he had been guilty of some terrible crime.

6 You

It was the 9th of September, 1656, when he entered Carisbrook Castle, and the 31st of December following he was released. His treatise was everywhere read, and his influence perceptible on every hand, so that his foes fearing to assault his liberty again, used every effort and art to induce him to support the government, threatening, in case he refused, to reduce him to poverty. But all was of no avail; when the republicans gave up hope, or proved false, he stood firm and true.

On the 3rd of September, 1658, Oliver Cromwell died, and Richard, his son, was proclaimed his successor; and when the new election took place, strenuous efforts were made to prevent Sir Harry Vane being returned as a member. He offered himself to Hull, and he was re-chosen by a full majority of votes; but those who managed the election, being creatures of the government, in defiance of justice, gave the certificate to another. At Bristol the same outrage was committed, though this town also showed a great majority in his favour, until he was finally returned for Whitchurch, in Hampshire. The Court trembled when Vane took his seat in the House; there were only forty republicans left, but Sir Harry was at their head; and they had reason to tremble, for his first masterly speech against the recognition of Richard Cromwell's “undoubted” right to the Protectorate, showed that the stateman's retirement had not impaired his powers.

This and several other speeches are on record ; the one that Vane addressed to the House on the part of some royalist prisoners, who had been sent some years before to Barbadoes, attests his impartial justice and humanity.

After Richard Cromwell's abdication, the Long Parliament was revived for a short time, and government administration conducted on republican principles. But we must pass on to the closing scene of Vane's life. At the Restoration, Charles II. granted a wide and merciful indemnity, and as Vane had taken no share in the trial and death of Charles I. he would certainly be supposed to be included in the grant; but in July, 1660, he was arrested at his residence at Hampstead, and flung into the Tower. During the debates in Parliament upon the necessity of excluding Vane from the general pardon, the victim himself was removed from prison to prison, until at length he was immured in a solitary castle, on one of the isles of Scilly.

Clarendon advised the Lords to exclude Vane, calling him “a man of mischievous activity." The Commons, after some delay, agreed to the proposal, provided that the King should be petitioned to spare his life; and the King promised to grant their request.

Charles and Clarendon were bent upon Vane's murder, and he was kept at Scilly until an obedient Parliament could be got together, thus delaying

his trial for two years.

He could not have had a doubt how this dismal and solitary imprisonment would end, but his lofty spirit never quailed; he was cut off from all human intercourse, and in almost perpetual darkness, hearing nothing but the waves surging and dashing round his prison walls, and the storms raging round the turrets, yet within his heart was rest and peace, and who shall say that gleams at least of bright happiness did not visit his dungeon? When it was permitted, he solaced himself with his pen, and referring to his productions at this time we see how unchanged were his views and principles, even in the light of eternity. In a touching letter to his wife in March, 1662, just before his removal from Scilly back to the Tower, he endeavours to prepare her for his approaching death, and tries to reconcile her and his family to the poverty that would also be their lot.

He was arraigned before the King's Bench, “as a false traitor,” the 2nd of June, in the same year. He was refused counsel, and stood quite alone; nor was he permitted to see his indictment, or have a copy of it. Every indignity and injustice was heaped upon him throughout his trial, so that it was made a mere mockery and pretence. The lawyers and judges found Vane more than a match for them in legal knowledge, and though he was fully prepared to die, and had little reason to desire to linger out an existence such as he had lately led, yet he felt bound to take every advantage that he could, and resist to his utmost the shameless and illegal proceedings of his judges. After promising him the assistance of a counsel, he was remanded to prison for four days, and then when brought to trial, was told by his merciful judges that they would be his counsel. Chief Justice Forster (who presided) had been to Hampton Court for instructions in the interim, and had been heard to say, “Though we know not what to say to him, we know what to do with him.” Vane undertook his own defence since there was none to defend him, and in a most masterly and ever memorable style, brought law and reason to bear upon his cause ; but what could these avail, when his sentence had been passed in Charles' mind two years before. The Solicitor-General rose, and in a most brutal speech declared, “that the prisoner must be made a public sacrifice,"— words as true as inhuman. A verdict of guilty was passed, and Vane returned to the Tower.

His friends who saw him just after his trial, were astonished to find him in cheerful spirits, though for more than ten hours he had been in court without any refreshment, and had most of the time been energetically engaged in speaking. Charles II. proved himself a true son of Charles I., inheriting all that father's duplicity and falseness, without possessing any of his virtues; and we see how the promise was kept to remit Vane's sentence (in case he should be found guilty), by a passage in a letter the King addressed to Clarendon in reference to Sir Henry's trial; he writes, “If he has given no new occasion to be hanged, certainly he is too dangerous a man to let live, if we can honestly put him out of the way.Failing to

and on

find honest means, Charles did not scruple to use any, however mean and dishonourable.

Vane was brought up to receive his sentence the 11th of June, his being asked if he had anything to say, rose up; and his judges soon found that he had many things to say, why sentence of death should not be passed upon him; indeed he plainly showed that he had legal right on his side, until the judges became excited, and impatient to put an end to his able and reasonable defence. During its course, Vane alluded to the fact of the King “being out of possession;" he was interrupted and told with vehemence that “ the King was never out of possession ; ” Sir Harry instantly replied, “ that if the King was never out of possession, the indictment against him must inevitably fall to the ground, for the charge it alleged was, that he endeavoured to keep out His Majesty.”” In answer to the charge that he had violated the Covenant, he said, “Whatever defections did happen by apostates, hypocrites and time-serving worldlings, there was a party amongst them that continued firm, sincere, and chaste unto that cause to the last, and loved it better than their very lives; of which number I am not ashamed to profess myself to be; not so much admiring the form and words of the Covenant, as the righteous and holy ends therein expressed, and the true sense and meaning thereof, which I have reason to know." His only answer was “judgment of death;” this was on a Wednesday, and it was to be carried into execution the following Saturday.

The intervening time was spent by the prisoner in prayer and exhortation with his family, who were allowed to remain th him. On Friday, at the hour of midnight, the warrant for his execution was brought to him. Mentioning this the next morning to his friends, he said, “There was no dismalness at all in it. After the receipt of the message I slept for hours so soundly, that the Lord hath made it sufficient for me; and now I am going to sleep my last, after which I shall need sleep no more." He earnestly prayed his family and friends not to mourn for him; then, kissing his children, he said, “ The Lord bless you; he will be a better Father to you; I must now forget that ever I knew you. . . . I have made it my business to acquaint myself with the society of heaven. troubled, for I am going home to my Father." Vane's passage to the scaffold was a triumphant procession, the prisoners in the Tower and others praying the Lord to go with him; outside the Tower gates, the people all the way, upon the tops of the houses, and out of the windows, prayed for him, and manifested deep sorrow at his fate. But while the people blessed him, the officers in charge made his position as painful and ignominious as it was in their power to do. When he ascended the scaffold, the vast multitude was astonished at his composed and Christian deportment, they could hardly be persuaded that he was indeed the prisoner. He was dressed in a black suit and cloak, with a scarlet silk waistcoat (the victorious colour), and all admired the “noble and great presence he appeared ir.”

Be not you

He seriously and majestically addressed the assembled multitude, recounting the injustice of his trial, when he was furiously interrupted by Sir John Robinson, who cried out : “Sir, you must not go on thus, you must not rail at the judges; it is a lie.” Vane replied :

Vane replied: “God will judge between

you and me in this matter. I speak but matter of facts, and cannot

you bear that? 'Tis evident the judges have refused to sign my bill of exceptions." The trumpeters were here ordered to blow in his face to prevent his being heard, when Sir Henry again spoke with unruffled patience, concluding with the words, “ I shall only say this, that whereas the judges refused to seal with their hands what they have done, I am come to seal that with my blood that I have done.” He resumed his speech to the multitude until again interrupted, and his notes snatched out of his hand, and hands were thrust into his pockets for papers, to the indignation of the beholders, and even of many royalists present, one of whom swore that “he died like a prince,” for he never lost his dignity and patience.

The whole scene made a powerful impression on the spectators; "the people remembered his career of inflexible virtue and patriotism, his trial having revived the memory of his services and sufferings. His noble countenance, serene and almost divine in its composure ; his visible triumph over the fear of death, and the malice of his enemies," created intense sympathy and enthusiasm on his behalf. Vane refrained from further efforts in his justification, saying simply, “It is a bad cause which cannot bear the words of a dying man,” then knelt down and prayed for a few minutes. Just before the stroke he spoke again, “I bless the Lord who hath accounted me worthy to suffer for His name. Blessed be the Lord that I have kept a conscience void of offence to this day. I bless the Lord I have not deserted the righteous cause for which I suffer;" and, as he bent his head, he exclaimed, “ Father, glorify thy servant in the sight of men, that he may glorify them in the discharge of his duty to Thee and to his country." He stretched out his arms, and with one blow of the axe fell the head of one of the purest and greatest of men that ever walked the earth.

The fall of Vano shook the government of Charles II., and Burnet says, "it was generally thought it lost more than it gained by his death." Pepys, a devoted royalist, remarks, " that the King lost more by that man's death than he will get again for a good while.” The character of Vane has been inexplicable to ordinary minds, because he judged of the goodness of a cause not by its apparent success and prosperity, but by the righteousness of its principles. Neither failures, disappointments, nor desertions had power to weaken his faith in principles he believed to be right. He has been called a visionary in religion, because he soared beyond the most enraptured enthusiast of his time; yet his religion actuated him to practise such repeated acts of self-denial, that made even his detractors admit that he was as superior to the temptations of personal aggrandisement as he was to the allurements of ambition. By the civil and religious liberties we enjoy this day, we know that Vane's life was not a failure. To quote the

« PreviousContinue »