Page images

subscribers might have readily looked for in this second volume; but that manuscript being in the hands of some of the author's relations, who think it not ready for the press until it be carefully revised, they have reckoned it more proper to have it printed by way of Appendix to this second volume, howsoon they have it revised and transcribed by a good hand.'

For many years, the History thus announced was supposed to have been either suffered to perish, or to have been intentionally destroyed. The second Earl of Bute, who supported the government of the House of Hanover, and had married the sister of John Duke of Argyll, the celebrated leader of the Whig party in Scotland, enjoyed, in the year 1722, the estates of Sir George Mackenzie, and probably possessed his papers. It was not unnatural that he should be suspected, at that juncture, of suppressing such a manuscript, more especially as his family, by conforming to the Revolution, and accepting a title from Anne, had rendered themselves peculiarly obnoxious to the adherents of the House of Stuart. Whatever might have been the plausibility of these conjectures, they have been, in part at least, proved to be false, by the discovery of the present manuscript.

large mass of papers was sold to a shopkeeper in Edinburgh. From these, his curiosity induced him to select a manuscript volume, which appeared to him to be something of an historical nature; and, by another and equal piece of good fortune, he communicated this volume to Dr M'Crie, ihe well known author of the Lives of Knox and of Melville. On examining this volume, Dr M'Crie discovered that it was the composition of Sir George Mackenzie, and that it must be a portion of that history of his own times, which had been so long a desideratum in Scottish literature. Of this the intrinsic evidence was obvious and complete; and the manuscript, though written by one of the ordinary transcribers of that age, was decisively identified by numerous corrections and additions in the well known handwriting of Sir George Mackenzie himself.

Sir George Mackenzie, the author of these Memoirs, was the grandson of Kenneth, first Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, and the nephew of Colin and George, first and second Earls of Seaforth. He was born at Dundee in 1636; and, after passing through the usual course of education in his own country, he was sent for three years to the University of Bourges, at that

all Jacobites, refused to acknowledge that their dialect was not a national language. The omission of the substantive year' between the article and the numeral, is peculiar to Scotland.

time, as he tells us, called the Atheris of Lawyers.' The Scotch lawyers, who had no sufficient means of instruction in the Roman law at home, were then accustomed to frequent the Unia versity of Bourges, as in later times they usually repaired to Utrecht and Leyden. He was called to the Bar, and began to practise before the Restoration; and, in a sketch of an eminent advocate, has given us a picture (probably heightened by party spirit) of the canting tone which courts then adopted, and to which the most learned advocates were obliged to conform.

Immediately after the Restoration, he was appointed one of the Justices-Depute,-criminal judges who exercised that jurisdiction, which was soon after vested in five Lords of Session, under the denomination of Commissioners of Justiciary. In 1661, he and his colleagues were, in Parliament ordained to • repair, once in the week at least, to Mussellburgh and Dal

keith, and to try and judge such persons as are ther or therabouts dilate of witchcraft ; ' so much more urgent did the Scotch Parliament then deem the punishment of that offence than of any other criine. His name appears in the Parliamentary proceedings as counsel in almost every important cause; and his connexion in that character with the Marquis of Argyll, gives no small importance to a passage which will be presently considered in the present Memoirs, respecting a circumstance in the trial of that Nobleman, which has been the subject of much historical controversy. Between 1663 and 1667, he was knighted. He represented the county of Ross for the four Sessions of the Parliament which was called in 1669. In 1677 he was appointed Lord Advocate, in the room of Sir John Nisbet, who, if we may believe Mackenzie himself, was ó a person of • deep and universal lcarning;' + and of whom, in another place, he says, that in the conduct of causes he displayed the great• est learning and consummate eloquence. ' I By that preferment he was, most unhappily for his character, involved in the worst acts of the Scotch administration of Charles II. ; a system of misgovernment which has only one parallel in the un

* Nicholsonus junior eloquio usus est fanatico non Romano ; et hinc concionabatur potius quam orabat : documentum posteris futufus, iilud ad persuadendum aptius quod seculo, licet sordido, et jus dicibus, licet hebetioribus placet. Si autem doctus hic Orationes Posa teris transmisisset, Augusti seculum (illi notissimum) imitatus fuisset.' -Charac. quorundam ap. Scot. Advocat.' + Mem. 32+.

Char. Advoc.' Qui summâ doctrinâ consummatâque eloquentia causas agebat.'

ropean territories of the British empire. Having betrayed some repugnance to concur in those measures which openly and directly led to the establishment of Popery, he was removed from his office in 1686,—but reinstated in February 1688, when such measures were still more avowedly carried on. At the Revolution, he adhered to the fortunes of his master. Being elected a member of the Convention, he maintained the pretensions of James with courage and ability against Sir John Dalrymple and Sir James Montgomery, who were the most considerable speakers of the Revolutionary party; and, remaining in his place after the imprisonment of Balcarras and the escape of Dundee, he was one of the minority of five in the memorable division on the forfeiture of the Crown. * King William had before refused to accede to a proposal of some eager partisans for incapacitating Mackenzie and a few others from all public office,-agreeably to the maxims of that wise policy, which uniformly induced that illustrious monarch not to concur in those measures, even of the most just retribution, which in moments of violent change are apt to degenerate into proscription and revenge. It shows considerable firmness in Sir G. Mackenzie to have composed and delivered his inaugural speech on the foundation of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates, at so critica? a moment as that in which the Crown + was placed on the head of a new King. When the death of Dundee destroyed the hopes of his party in Scotland, he took refuge at Oxford, the natural asylum of so learned and inveterate a Tory. Under the tolerant government of William, he appears, however, to have enjoyed his ample fortune (the fruit of his professional labours) with perfect comfirt as well as security. In Evelyn's Diary of the 9th March 1690, we have the following account of the freedom of Sir George's conversation at the table of a Prelate, who was a zealous


of the new Government. . I dined at • the Bishop of St Asaph's, almoner to the new Queen, with • the famous lawyer Sir G. Mackenzie (late Lord Advocate of • Scotland), against whom both the Bishop and myself had • written and published books, both now most friendly recon• ciled. He related to us many particulars of Scotland, the pre6 sent sad condition of it, the inveterate hatred which the Pres• byterians show to the family of the Stewarts, and the exceed• ing tyranny of those bigots, who acknowledge no superior on

* Balcarras Memoirs, MS.

+ This oration was .published at London in 1689, under the following title :- Oratio Inauguralis habita Edenburgi Id. Mar. 1689 • a Dom. Georgeo Mackenzco, de Structura Bibliothecæ pure Juri• dicæ,'&e.

• earth in civil or divine matters, maintaining that the people • only have the right of government, their implacable hatred

to the Episcopal order and the Church of England. He ob

served, that the first presbyter dissents from our discipline ' were introduced by the Jesuits order about the twentieth of • Queen Elizabeth ; a famous Jesuit among them feigning him

self a Protestant, and who was the first who began to pray ' extempory, and brought in that which they since called, and • are still so fond of-praying by the Spirit.'—Evelyn Memoirs, II. 19. *

He was allowed to publish, while the censorship of the press still subsisted, a very inadequate Vindication of the Government of Scotland under Charles II. He died in St James's Street in May 1691; and his death is mentioned as that of an extraordinary person by several of those who recorded the events of their time, before the necrology of this country was so undistinguishing as it has now become. The pomp and splendour of his interment at Edinburgh, affords farther evidence how little the administration of William was disposed to discourage the funeral honours paid to his most inflexible opponents.

The writings of Sir George Mackenzie are literary, legal and political. His Miscellaneous Essays, both in prose and verse, may now be dispensed with, or laid aside, without difficulty. They have not vigour enough for long life. But if they be considered as the elegant amusements of a statesman and lawyer, who had little leisure for the cultivation of letters, they afford a striking proof of the variety of his accomplishments, and of the refinement of his taste. In several of his Moral Essays, both the subject and the manner betray an imitation of Cowley, who was at that moment beginning the reformation of English style. Sir George Mackenzie was probably tempted, by the example of this great master, to write in praise of Solitude: and Evelyn answered by a panegyric on Active life. It seems singular that Mackenzie, plunged in the harshest labours of ambition, should be the advocate of retirement; and that Evelyn, comparatively a recluse, should have commended that mode of life which he did not chuse. Both works were, however, rhetorical exercises, in which a puerile ingenuity was employed on questions which admitted no answer, and were not therefore the subject of sincere opinion. Before we can decide whether a retired or a public life be best, we must ask— best for whom?

* It is needless to warn any readers against fictions so absurd. It is wonderful that Sir George did not represent John Knox as a disguised Jesuit.



If the meaning be, best for all, the absurdity of the question strikes the mind at the first glance. If it be, best for some, we must be told who are the sorts and classes of men who are intended. The absurdity of these childish generalities, which exercised the wit of our forefathers, has indeed been long aeknowledged. Perhaps posterity may discover, that many political questions which agitate our times, are precisely of the same nature; and that it would be almost as absurd to attempt the establishment of a Democracy in China, as the foundation of a Nobility in Connecticut. That Evelyn indeed did not believe his own book, we are assured by himself, in his letter to Cowley, 12th March 1666.-—- You had reason to be astonishFed that I, who had so much celebrated recess, should become an advocate for the enemy, I conjure you to believe that I

still of the same mind, and that there is no person who can do more honour, and breathe more after the life and repose you so happily cultivate and advance by your example;

but as those who praised <lirt, a flea, or the gout, so have " I public employment, and that in so weak a style compared

with my antagonists, as by that alone it may appear that I

neither was nor could be serious.' The praise thus bestowed by so competent a judge as Evelyn, in a confidential letter to the greatest master of English prose then living, must be considered as a testimony of great weight to Mackenzie's character as an English writer. He is not, it must be owned, exempt from Scoiticisms; but he is perfectly free from those, perhaps, more disagreeable vices into which more celebrated Scotch writers have been betrayed, by a constant fear of Scotticism. He composes easily and freely; and his style is that of a man who writes his native language. Neither he, nor Burnet, nor Fletcher, has any degree of that painful constraint, that demure stiffness, that constant air of dreading impropriety, which makes the writings of some Scotchmen of distinguished talent, in more modern times, like compositions in a dead language:-in which indeed they avoid Scotch, but at the same time sacrifice all that is living and idiomatic in English. They use no spoken language; and their style has therefore, in many places, the cold and dull stateliness of a diction timidly selected by a foreigner from books. It would be injustice to the memory of Mackenzie, not to mention the extraordinary praise bestowed on him by Dryden, the successor, but hardly the superior, of Cowley, in English prosc. The praises of that great poet are indeed not always of equal importance; and it is unfortunately necessary to the value of the following commendation to say, that it was published in 1693, two years after the death of Sir George Mackenzie.

« PreviousContinue »