Abbildungen der Seite

mercy (if he must err at all), that they went away convinced of his sincerity, and took their measures with such success that the motion was condemned as an insult to the sovereign and rejected without a division. Penn began to feel some hope that Parliament would find itself in a tem per to discuss a general act.

Literature came to the aid of freedom, from an unexpected quarter. Penn's acquaintance with the Duke of Buckingham was of old standing; and the public fancied it was at Penn's instigation or through his influence, that the Duke brought out his Essay on Religion. Buckingham argues for universal charity towards opinion. He says he had long been convinced that nothing can be more anti-Christian nor more contrary to sense and reason, than to molest our feilow-Christians because they cannot be exactly of our minds in all that relates to the worship of God. The effusion breathes this spirit; and it is not a little to the author's credit that during a life of more than ordinary fickleness and change he never wavered from this view. He concludes his discourse with the paraphrase of a thought often expressed by Penn, to the effect that if Parliament refused to adopt a more liberal policy towards opinion, the result would be “a general discontent, the dispeopling of our poor country and the exposing us to the conquest of a foreign nation.' A pamphlet on such a subject by the author of the Rehearsal naturally excited much attention. The wit of the court was answered by wits of the coffee-house. Some of these answers were rather smart. One writer alludes to the great rake taking up with Whiggism in her old age, when she is a poor cast-off mistress, that porters and footmen turn away from in scorn; and wonders how his grace can think of making himself the champion of any thing so out of all countenance as religion and toleration. The graver argument adduced by these writers against any concession to the sectaries, was the alleged peril of the nation. Liberty, they said, was fraught with danger. There had been liberties in the time of Charles the First, and Charles the First lost his head; there was toleration under the Commonwealth,-and the Commonwealth fell i

One of the disputants charged the Duke with having been misled by Penn; and being thus dragged into the lists, a duty to maintain the right urged Penn to add his testimony to the principle of enlightened policy advocated by the Duke. A vein of satire runs through his discourse. He expresses his great pleasure in seeing a work in defence-of religion from such a pen and sincerely hopes that the witty writer may soon begin to enjoy those felicities of a good life which he has proved himself able to describe. When that day arrives, he says in conclusion he will be happy to press the gentlemen of England to imitate so illustrious an example. At first, the King affected to take no notice of this literary combat; but when he found the Church party in alarm, and heard from those about him that nothing else was talked of in the coffee-houses, he began to read the book. Barillon saw its importance from the first; and as soon as Buckingham's pamphlet appeared he caused it to be translated, and sent over to his master as a key to the new and serious questions which were now dividing England into hostile camps.

The expeditions under Monmouth and Argyle failed. These events and the trials and executions to which they led belong to the domain of general history. Penn's connexion with them was but slight. He was himself an object of suspicion to the court. Though it is not imagined that he gave the followers of Monmouth any reason to believed he approved their projects, it is known that they regarded him as a friend to their cause, and that in their plans they set him down as one of the half-dozen persons who might help to bring over the American colonies to accept a Protestant revolution. The ministry were conscious that his sympathies were not with them, and they professed to regard him as a partisan of the Prince of Orange. Against these suspicions and misgivings he had no protection save the private favour of the King. Penn strove to mitigate the sufferings of men who had been drawn into rebellion. God had given him an asylum for the oppressed; and when the prisoners were sentenced to transportation beyond sea, he offered them a home in Pennsylvania, where the climate would agree with them, and their offences would be looked upon with lenient eyes.

When the trials in the country were over and those in London began, Penn was still more anxiously employed in the work of mediation. One of the first victims of royal rigour was an old acquaintance of his own. Five years before this time, when the court was moving heaven and earth to defeat the Sydney party in elections two liberals, Henry Cornish and Slingsby Bethel, had the courage to stand for the office of sheriffs in the city of London; and in spite of bribery and threats, they carried the election. The mob gave vent to their triumph by party cries; and James took this defeat to heart as if it had been a personal insult. From that day Cornish was a marked man; and when the Rye-House plot exploded, he was believed to be involved in it past recovery. The evidence, however, was not complete, and he had now been two years at large after the execution of Sydney, and was congratulating himself on his escape, when James obtained the evidence required. He was arrested, tried, found guilty, and gibbeted in front of his own house in Cheapside. That Cornish was accused and sentenced as the accomplice of Sydney was not without its weight with Penn; but the mediator took a higher view; he declared his belief that the condemned man was innocent of the crimes alleged against him, and he begged the King to pause ere signing warrants for his death. His arguments failed to touch the King. Another case, pending at the same moment, interested his feelings, not less strongly. Elizabeth Gaunt a lady of religious temperament and of spotless life, whose time and fortune had been spent in visiting prisons and relieving the wretched, had in a moment of compassion given the shelter of her house to one of the fugitive rebels; but as the government declared its determination to punish those who harboured traitors with as much severity as the traitors themselves, the scoundrel whom she had tried to save informed against his humane protectress, and she was thereupon arrested, found guilty, and condemned to be burnt at Tyburn. For her Penn also interceded—but in vain.

Penn stood near Cornish to the last, -and vindicated his memory after death. The creatures of the court, annoyed at the indignant bearing of the city merchant on the scaffold, gave out that he was drunk. Penn repelled the charge : he said he could see nothing in his conduct but the natural indignation of an Englishman about to be murdered by form of law. From Cheapside Penn went to Tyburn. The poor lady met her fate with calmness and resignation. She had obeyed

the merciful promptings of her heart in sheltering a fellow-creature from the blood-bounds of the law; and when grave judges pronounced this act worthy of fire and faggot, she submitted to the King's pleasure in silence. As she arranged the straw about her feet, that the flame might do its work more quickly, the whole concourse of spectators burst into tears. To the last she asserted her innocence, her loyalty, her respect for the laws. But she did not repent of what she had done. The cause in which she suffered was, she said, the cause of humanity-the cause of God.

Penn was able when he afterwards pleaded with his sovereign for mercy, to quote these instances of persons who had gone down to the grave protesting their innocence. But some of James's ministers disliked his interference; and to punish his presumption they contrived not only to postpone his legal investiture with the Delaware province, though, as he enjoyed it in fact, there could be no reason for withholding it in form, but under pretence of a general measure of reform for the colonies, they also gave orders to the crown lawyers to issue a quo warranto against his province of Pennsylvania, and proceed against him with such vigour as to compel him to vacate his charter.

James was then at Windsor Castle ; Penn went to see him; and in less than a week Sunderland wrote to the Attorney-general to suspend proceedings until further orders. Further orders were not issued. James listened to his counsels with interest, even where his own temper forbade him to follow them -for his manner was soft and winning, and he had not only clear ideas but wit and scholarship to recommend his views. His opportunities were nobly used. If any fault can be

« ZurückWeiter »