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3745. HISTORY (English), Distorted.—

Hume's[History], were it faithful, would be
the finest piece of history which has ever been
written by man. Its unfortunate bias may be
partly ascribed to the accident of his having
written it backwards. His maiden work was
the History of the Stuarts. It was a first essay
to try his strength before the public. And
whether as a Scotchman he had really a partiality
for that family, or thought that the lower
their degradation, the more fame he should acquire
by raising them up to some favor, the
object of his work was an apology for them.
He spared nothing, therefore, to wash them
white, and to palliate their misgovernment.
For this purpose he suppressed truths, advanced
falsehoods, forged authorities and falsified
records. All this is proved on him unanswerably
by Brodie. But so bewitching was
his style and manner, that his readers were un-willing
to doubt anything, swallowed everything,
and all England became tories by the magic
of his art. His pen revolutionized the public
sentiment of that country more completely than
the standing armies could ever have done, which
were so much dreaded and deprecated by the
patriots of that day. Having succeeded so eminently
in the acquisition of fortune and fame
by this work, he undertook the history of the
two preceding dynasties, the Plantagenets and
Tudors. It was all important in this second
work, to maintain the thesis of the first, that
“it was the people who encroached on the sovereign,
not the sovereign who usurped on the
rights of the people”. And, again, chapter 53d,
“the grievances under which the English labored [
to wit: whipping, pillorying, cropping,
imprisoning, fining, &c.], when considered in
themselves, without regard to the constitution,
scarcely deserve the name, nor were they either
burthensome on the people's properties, or anywise
shocking to the natural humanity of mankind
”. During the constant wars, civil and
foreign, which prevailed while those two families
occupied the throne, it was not difficult to
find abundant instances of practices the most
despotic, as are wont to occur in times of violence.
To make this second epoch support the
third, therefore, required but a little garbling of
authorities. And it then remained, by a third
work, to make of the whole a complete history
of England on the principles on which he had
advocated that of the Stuarts. This would
comprehend the Saxon and Norman Conquests,
the former exhibiting the genuine form and
political principles of the people constituting
the nation, and founded in the rights of man;
the latter built on conquest and physical force,
not at all affecting moral rights, nor even assented
to by the free will of the vanquished.
The battle of Hastings, indeed, was lost, but
the natural rights of the nation were not staked
on the event of a single battle. Their will
to recover the Saxon constitution continued
unabated, and was at the bottom of all the
unsuccessful insurrections which succeeded in
subsequent times. The victors and vanquished
continued in a state of living hostility, and
the nation may still say, after losing the battle
of Hastings,

“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will
And study of revenge, immortal hate
And courage never to submit or yield.”

The government of a nation may be usurped
by the forcible intrusion of an individual into
the throne. But to conquer its will, so as to
rest the right on that, the only legitimate basis,
requires long acquiescence and cessation of all
opposition. The whig historians of England,
therefore, have always gone back to the Saxon
period for the true principles of their constitution,
while the tories and Hume, their Coryph
æus, date it from the Norman Conquest, and
hence conclude that the continual claim by the
nation of the good old Saxon laws, and the
struggles to recover them, were “ encroachments
of the people on the crown, and not
usurpations of the crown on the people”.—
To——. Washington ed. vii, 412.
(M. 1825)