« PreviousContinue »
treason, on the face of them. What was his real offence is not clear.
He had not an opportunity of explaining the motives and design of that treasonable correspondence. judged by his own words he must be convicted of treason, that of aiding to restore james. This treason is extenuated by Archdeacon Coxe, his most favourable biographer, who uses the term “ amusive ” in the sense of deluding by hopes falsely raised. Mr. Paget, in his Examen, and other writers, have also so extenuated the crime.
In familiar phrase, it is said of him, as of others, that “ he hedged.” It may be so. The evidence in some degree supports this conclusion. james, on whose evidence alone the treason is proved, grumbles at being tricked, as it were, out of a pardon, for no service rendered in return. He uses the querulous tone of one duped in a bargain. The meagreness and tardiness of the intelligence given by Marlborough to James proves the distrust of the latter not to have been groundless. Be this as it may, nevertheless, the falsehood, double dealing, and cruelty of all these treacherous courses, duping the unfortunate, encouraging traitors, and disheartening the loyal, leave an indelible stain on his memory, little, if at all, short of the crime of treason. Still, a traitor, once, is not always a traitor. Had Churchill been found out, pardoned, and employed by VVilliam, and had he then served his sovereign well and faithfully for I4 years or more, we should have said, that formerly a traitor he became a loyal and true subject of the Crown. How then is the case varied, merely because his treason lay concealed? Condé and Turenne were both traitors, and Condé worse far than Churchill, since Condé fought at the head of the Spanish armies against his own sovereign. Both did good loyal service to Louis afterwards. Are they accounted too bad for praise?
Lord Macaulay supposes that Churchill meditated a double treason, viz., to baffle james, by raising Anne to the
throne on the overthrow of the sovereignty of William and Mary. This supposition is founded on no evidence whatever. Its original basis was mere suspicion: the suspicion of some unknown conspirators, a suspicion which James, who narrates it, treats as groundless ; some, he says, very indiscreetly, by their communication to Bentinck, spoiled the real plot in which Marlborough was engaged, viz., that to restore James. Therefore, a mere suspicion, founded on a report of some persons unknown, to Bentinck, discredited by james, the sole reporter of it to aftertimes, not credited by William, who told Burnett that he believed Marlborough to have made his peace at St. Germains, is made the foundation of a charge of treason, which no historian before Lord Macaulay has seriously insisted on. It is, when examined, found to rest on no basis of evidence whatever. That mere conjecture may be met by a conjecture much more probable, but I have not space for the further exposure of its weakness as the basis of historical inference.
Lord Macaulay considers that Burnett, in his original MSS., confirmed the Memoir of James. The supposed confirmation is this, that he reports the same report. What confirmation is this? Both narrate hearsay. Their concurrence merely proves, or would prove, if in fact they concurred, that they had heard the same story and believed it. Burnett, however, in his history, drops the charge. Lord Macaulay attributes this variation in Burnett to party zeal. Marlborough and the VVhigs, he says, were then acting together. Burnett was a Whig, and therefore in his history he softened matters against Marlborough. The facts, however, do not support this inference as to Burnett's motive, for Burnett and Marlborough were friends at an earlier date. Marlborough was the governor and Burnett the preceptor of the Duke of Gloucester. The governor was a Tory, the preceptor a Whig. They did not quarrel over their charge, but did their duty by him. It is plain
their mutual respect and liking had this origin. Mrs. Burnett was a friendly correspondent of the Duchess; her letters show the friendly feelings of the families. The common inference from history is, that if the writer of it has said a thing in his rough MSS. which he does not put into his printed history, he has seen reason to doubt its truth. The fact that he has given in to another error in his history about the same matter, and that his account is inexact, confused, and erroneous, may prove him to be
ill-informed and in the dark, but it does not set up the dropped fable.
The “ murder" of Talmash has been fully refuted by Mr. Paget in his Examen, to whose account I refer my readers. Had Marlborough, however, been the first to inform the French Government of the real destination of the expedition against Brest, still the inferences of Lord Macaulay, from that act of treason, would have been erroneously drawn. A man is an accessory to that crime which he means by his act to aid ; not to a deed to which it leads, but which he has not conceived, and which does not necessarily flow from his meditated crime. Thus, if a porter quits his post at night, negligently leaves the door he is to guard unguarded, and thieves enter and steal, his negligence, though it has led to the loss, is not morally nor legally to be confounded with stealing. If he had left his post purposely, and with knowledge of the intended theft, then his moral guilt is that of theft, plus culpable and treacherous breach of duty. His legal crime is that of an accessory.
Mr. Wild gives his son, Jonathan VVild, this advice, “Never to do more mischief than the occasion requires, because mischief is much too precious athing to be wasted.” Therefore a jonathan \Vild would not plan a needless crime.
Men in general have motives for their crimes. A rival would not murder his competitor, whose disgrace would equally serve his purpose; therefore, under these rules of construction of motives, Marlborough would not desire to do more than disgrace Talmash. To suppose he meant to murder him into the bargain, is to suppose Marlborough not up to the VVild axioms of mischief.
But would the disgrace of Talmash have been a reasonable and necessary consequence of Marlborough’s information? Not so, because a prudent commander would not have attacked the place; and it would not be in the common course of things for a good soldier and prudent man like William to entrust an expedition to an incompetent man, or to censure his commander for the prudent conduct of an expedition. We find William and Shrewsbury both lamenting and condemning the rashness of the assault. Therefore the inference is not legitimate from the premises, even had
the premises been true. I have said that Marlborough’s later public life was loyal
and true. The evidence of this is too extensive to be inserted here. It may be found in the whole correspondence of Marlborough, a large part of which may be seen abridged in Coxe’s “ Life of Marlborough.” It may be summarised thus: On the death of Mary, the internal feuds of royalty ceased. The King and the Princess Anne were reconciled. Marlborough offered his sword to be employed in the King’s service. Shrewsbury advised the King to accept the service, saying, “his interest will keep him true.” No high compliment to Marlborough, certainly. The King, at that time, declined, and a year or two later accepted that service. \/Villiam was too wise a man to do anything by halves; accepting the service he trusted the man, and was well served. Marlborough always served faithfully those whom he served. His desertion of james, that King caused. William in his last year gave ample proof of his trust in Marlborough by employing him to negotiate the war treaties on which the subsequent war against France was based and carried on. That negotiation was fully and ably conducted to the entire satisfaction of William, who, dying, recom
mended Anne to take Marlborough as her general and counsellor, whom William himself had chosen for his commander to conduct that war.
the commencement of Marlborough’s good career as a politician, then, preceded the reign of Anne. The war was Vt/illiam’s; he bequeathed it, as it were, to his successor. The war was defensive and just. For two reigns the French monarch was a secret conspirator with two English Kings in succession against the religion and the liberties of England. The French King was the supporter and maintainer of a standing treason by English subjects against William. The jacobites admitted their sole hope to be in a French invasion. The Whigs were the war party, reasonably and justly. Therefore principle attracted them to Marlborough, and Marlborough to them. The Tories and Marlborough had no agreement as to the war, or the mode of conducting it. The Tories blamed Marlborough for coalescing with the Whigs. Their censure was groundless and unmerited. The war was the great political question of the times.
Throughout this long war Marlborough acted strictly upon, and executed the policy of, William. He was William himself redivivus, as the Spirit of the alliance, if not so great in policy, equally great in negotiation, and greater in arms. He advised Anne in the same spirit throughout, respectfully, boldly, honestly; strengthened the weakness of Godolphin, andwas the animating, guiding mind of that great and just European Confederacy. No man before him did his country greater service. He re-made England England,— the England of Cromwell in the eyes of foreign rulers. Henceforward during Anne’s reign and his power the evidence is overwhelming that he was a good minister, and a great statesman, consistent, firm, and true. If patience, selfcontrol, silence under unjust charge, from good motives for a great purpose, are virtues, those virtues he amply exercised. If humanity to the wounded, including those of the enemy, respect for virtue in an enemy, tenderness to