« AnteriorContinuar »
SELECT BRITISH ELOQUENCE.
SIR JOHN ELIO...
John Eliot was descended from a family of great respectability in Cornwall, and was born on the 20th of April, 1590. After enjoying the best advantages for education which England could afford, and spending some years in foreign travel, he was. elected to Parliament at the age of thirty-three, and became one of the most prominent members in the House of Commons under Charles I.
The House embraced at this time, some of the ablest and most learned men of the age, such as Sir Edward Coke, John Hampden, Selden, St. John, Pym, &c. Among these, Sir John Eliot stood pre-eminent for the force and fervor of his eloquence. The general style of speaking at that day was weighty, grave, and sententious, but tinctured with the pedantry of the preceding reign, and destitute of that warmth of feeling which is essential to the character of a great orator. Eliot, Wentworth, and a few others were exceptions; and Eliot especially spoke at times with all the enthusiasm and vehemence of the early days of Greece and Rome.
Hence he was appointed one of the managers of the House when the Duke of Buckingham was impeached in 1626, and had the part assigned him of making the closing argument against the Duke before the House of Lords. This he did with such energy and effect as to awaken the keenest resentment of the Court; so that two days after he was called out of the House, as if to receive a message from the King, and was instantly seized and hurried off by water to the Tower.
The Commons, on hearing of this breach of privilege, were thrown into violent commotion. The cry - Rise !".-- Rise !" was heard from every part of the hall. They did immediately adjourn, and met again only to record their resolution, “ Not to do any more business until they were righted in their privileges.” This decisive measure brought the government to a stand, and reduced them to the humiliating necessity of releasing Sir John Eliot, and also Sir Dudley Diggs, another of the managers who had been arrested on the same occasion. Eliot and his companion returned in triumph to the House, which voted that “they had not exceeded the commission intrusted to them.”
In consequence of this defeat, and the backwardness of the Commons to grant the supplies demanded, Charles soon after dissolved Parliament, and determined to raise money by "forced loans." Great numbers resisted this imposition, and among them Eliot and Hampden, who, with seventy-six others of the gentry, were thrown into prison for refusing to surrender their property to the Crown; while hundreds of inferior rank were impressed into the army or navy by way of punishment. The King found, however, that with all this violence he could not raise the necessary supplies, and was compelled to call another Parliament within eight months. Eliot, Hampden, and many others who had been lying under arrest, were elected members of the new House of Commons while thus confined in prison, and were released only a few days before the meeting of Parliament.
These violent invasions of the rights of property and person, naturally came up for consideration at an early period of the session. The Commons, as the result of their discussions, framed, on the 27th of May, 1628, that second Great Charter of the liberties of England, the PETITION OF RIGHT; so called because drawn
in the humble spirit of the day, in the form of a petition to the King, but having, when ratified by his concurrence, all the authority of a fundamental law of the kingdom. This document was prepared by Sir Edward Coke at the age of eighty-three, and was one of the last public acts of that distinguished lawyer. It provided, that no lóan or tax might be levied but by consent of Parliament; that no man might be imprisoned but by legal process that soldiers might not be quartered on people contrary to their wills; and th commissions be granted for executing martial law. On the 2d of June, Charl urned an evasive answer, in which he endeavored to satisfy the Commons withi iving a legal and binding assent to the petition. The next day, Sir John Eliot made the following speech. It breathes throughout, that spirit of affection and reverence for the King's person which was still felt by both houses of Parliament. It does not dwell, therefore, on those recent acts of arbitrary power in which the King might be supposed to have reluctantly concurred; and the fact is a striking one, that Eliot does not even allude to his late cruel imprisonment, a decisive proof that he was not actuated by a spirit of personal resentment. The enure speech was directed against the royal Favorite, the Duke of Buckingham. Its object was, to expose his flagrant misconduct during the preceding ten years, under the reign of James as well as Charles; and to show that through his duplicity, in competency, and rash counsels, the honor of the kingdom had been betrayed, its allies sacrificed, its treasures wasted, and those necessities of the King created which
gave rise to the arbitrary acts referred to in the Petition of Right. The facts which Eliot adduces in proof, are very briefly mentioned, or barely alluded to, because they were fresh in the minds of all, and had created a burning sense of wrong and dishonor throughout the whole kingdom. They will be explained in brief notes appended to the speech ; but, to feel their full force, the reader must go back to the history of the times, and place himself in the midst of the scene.
There is in this speech, a union of dignity and fervor which is highly characteristic of the man. “His mind," says Lord Nugent, " was deeply imbued with a love of philosophy and a confidence in religion which gave a lofty tone to his eloquence." His fervor, acting on a clear and powerful understanding, gives him a simplicity, directness, and continuity of thought, a rapidity of progress, and a vehemence of appeal, which will remind the reader of the style of Demosthenes. His whole soul is occupied with the subject. He seizes upon the strong points of his case with such absorbing interest, that all those secondary and collateral trains of thought with which a speaker like Burke, amplifies and adorns the discussion, are rejected as unworthy of the stern severity of the occasion. The eloquence lies wholly in the thought; and the entire bareness of the expression, the absence of all ornament, adds to the effect, because there is nothing interposed to break the force of the blow. The antique air of the style heightens the interest of the speech; and will recommend it particularly to those who have learned to relish the varied construc tion and racy English of our early writers.
OF SIR JOHN ELIOT ON THE PETITION OF RIGHT, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,
JUNE 3, 1628.
We sit here as the great | authority of books ? Look on the collections of Council of the King, and in that capacity, it is the Cominittee for Religion; there is too clear an our duty to take into consideration the state and evidenc: See there the commission procured affairs of the kingdom, and when there is occa- for com. n with the papists of the North ! sion, to give a true representation of them by Mark th "edings thereupon, and yoit will way of counsel and advice, with what we con- find them ale less amounting than a toleraceive necessary or expedient to be done. tion in effect : the slight payments, and the easi
In this consideration, I confess many a sad ness of them, will likewise show the favor that thought hath aflrighted me, and that not only in is intended. Will you have proofs of men ? Witrespect of our dangers from abroad (which yet I ness the hopes, witness the presumptions, witknow are great, as they have been often prestness the reports of all the papists generally. Oband dilated to us), but in respect of our disor- serve the dispositions of commanders, the trust ders here at home, which do enforce those dan- of officers, the confidence in secretaries to emgers, and by which they are occasioned. For Iployments in this kingdom, in Ireland, and elsebelieve I shall make it clear to you, that both at where. These will all show that it hath too first, the cause of these dangers were our disor- great a certainty. And to this add but the ders, and our disorders now are yet our greatest incontrovertible evidence of that All-powerful dangers--that not so much the potency of our Hand, which we have felt so sorely, that gave enemies as the weakness of ourselves, doth threat. it full assurance; for as the heavens oppose en is: so that the saying of one of the Fathers themselves to our impiety, so it is we that first may be assumed by us, non tam potentiâ suâ opposed the heavens.? quum negligentiâ nostrâ," not so much by their
not so much by their II. For the second, our want of councils, that power as by our neglect.” Our want of true great disorder in a state under which there can devotion to heaven--our insincerity and doub- not be stability. If effects may show their causes ling in religion-our want of councils-- our pre- (as they are often a perfect demonstration of cipitate actions--the insufficiency or unfaithful- them), our misfortunes, our disasters, serve to ness of our generals abroad—the ignorance or prove our deficiencies in council, and the consecorruption of our ministers at home--the impov- quences they draw with them. If reason be alerishing of the sovereign--the oppression and lowed in this dark age, the judgment of dependdepression of the subject--the exhausting of our encies and foresight of contingencies in affairs, treasures -- the waste of our provisions- -con- do confirm my position. For, if we view oursumption of our ships---destruction of our men selves at home, are we in strength, are we in these make the advantage to our enemies, not reputation, equal to our ancestors ?
our ancestors ? If we view the reputation of their arms; and is in these ourselves abroad, are our friends as many ? are there be not reformation, we need no foes abroad: our enemies no more? Do our friends retain Time itself will ruin us.
their safety and possessions ? Do not our eneTo show this more fully, I believe you will mies enlarge themselves, and gain from them all hold it necessary that what I say, should not and us? To what council owe we the loss of seem an aspersion on the state or imputation on the Palatinate, where we sacrificed both our honche government, as I have known such motions or and our men sent thither, stopping those greatmisinterpreted. But far is this from me to pro- er powers appointed for the service, by which it. pose, who have none but clear thoughts of the might have been defended ?2 What council gave excellency of the King; nor can I have other ends but the advancement of his Majesty's glory.
i The gun-powder plot for blowing up both hou: I shall desire a little of your patience extraordi- ligion at a single stroke, was still fresh in the mind.
es of Parliament, and extirpating the Protestant re nary, as I lay open the particulars, which I shall of all
. It is not, therefore, surprising, at a perio. lo with what brevity I may, answerable to the when correct views of religious liberty were as ye importance of the cause and the necessity now unknown in England, that any remissness in ex upon us; yet with such respect and observation ecuting the laws against Catholics, was regarder to the time, as I hope it shall not be thought with great jealousy by Eliot and his friends, espe troublesome.
cially as the mother of Buckingham was of that com
inunion. I. For the first, then, our insincerity and doub
2 Frederick V., the Elector Palatine, who married ling in religion, is the greatest and most danger
“the beautiful Elizabeth," sister of Charles I., had ous disorder of all others. This hath never been been attacked on religious grounds by a union of unpunished; and of this we have many strong Catholic states in Germany, with Austria at their oxamples of all states and in all times to awe us. head, stripped of the Palatinate, and driven as an What testimony doth it want? Will you have exile into Holland, with his wife and child . Al