12 APRIL 1935, Page 20

Royal Letters

By BONAMY DOBREE IT is time for original documents to be made easily available, so that we, the general public, can get our information at first hand. No history without bias is worth reading (we beg the historian's pardon for the word " bias " ; we should have said " philosophy of history "), and it is easy for historians to select extracts to make true whatever they wish to have been so. We have never been allowed to make up our minds for ourselves ; there has been denigration and whitewashing ; what to one historian has been a sublime struggle for principles, to another has seemed a sordid struggle over money-bags. This excellent series, of which we now have the two first delightfully readable volumes,* should go far to free us of our limitations as ordinary readers, free us too, perhaps, from the Whig dominance which dates from Macaulay. There have, it is true, been efforts to upset this dominance, but to the popular mind these have been merely the attempts of brilliant men to show their originality by trying to make us doubt what we have been bred up to know as true. Now, at last, the responsibility rests upon us, and we have no excuse for violently taking sides. .

For alas, as with so many quarrels, on looking into these we find that both sides were right, and both sides were wrong; what might be noble in one man was ignoble in another. If Charles I fought for the monarchical principle it was because he thought it was divine : his son fought for it because he was determined never to go on his travels again. Throughout it is hard to distinguish black from white. If Charles I seemed tyrannical to those who did not wish to pay their taxes (there was more in it than that, of course), at least he was against the vested interests. If Charles II's secret Treaty of Dover looks very like cheating, the King at least had a far more enlightened foreign and imperial policy than his Parliaments, squabbling over this, that, and the other, ever had a notion of. And is secret diplomacy so wicked after all ? The open sort, so far as it may have been carried out, does not seem so far to have been any more virtuous. And if 'Charles II took' bribes (though Mr. Bryant calls them subsidies), so did the members of Parliament, from the same source too. On the whole our sympathies are with the monarchs, who might well approve of Dryden's statement about the English, that they were

" God's pampered people, whom, debauched with ease, No King could govern nor no God could please " and it certainly does not,

redound to the credit of Parliament that it would not allow Charles II to carry out the promises he made at Breda to be clement, and to grant religious toleration.

These books do not pretend to be histories ; they have the effect, rather, of biographies written from the point of view of the hero. Yet they cannot fail to be history, because these kings were protagonists in a crucial phase of our con- stitutional development, the passing of supreme power from the hands of the monarch to those of a rich oligarchy. We are helped in seeing the historical significance by the brief notes which link up the letters. As biographies, they provide an extraordinarily interesting contrast between the characters of father and son. Charles I was narrow, rigid, unable to realize what other people felt (qualities which, exaggerated in his son James, proved as fatal to that monarch as to * Letters of King _Charles I, edited by Sir Charles Petrie. Letters of King Charles II, edited by Arthur Bryant. (Cassell. 10s. tid. each.)

himself), but he was at least a fine gentleman. Charles II was astute, supple, alive to feelings around him ; but it must be admitted that he was something of a cad. He had " as little mixture of the Seraphick part as ever man had." The father, in fact, was stupid ; the son was a little too clever. Charles I had a love of the arts, while Charles II's efforts to have built a magnificent London to replace the ashes of the old were, one feels, due to his wish to have a grandiose capital. One can very well see how men could like Charles II very much indeed ; one can understand them loving his father.

One is curiously aware, in reading their letters, that they belonged to a different age, simply from their prose style. There is something of the grand ring of Elizabethan prose about the Petition of Right being " hatched out of the ,- passionate brains of a few particular persons " ; just as we are very much in the Restoration period when we read, " We have the same disease of sermons that you complain of there, but I hope you have the same convenience that the rest of the family has of sleeping out most of the time." So, too, in the relations between the kings and their most intimate servants. You cannot imagine this interchange proceeding between Charles I and Strafford :

" KING : I would willingly make a visit to my sister at Tunbridge for a night or., two at farthest . . . CLARENDON : . . . rsuppose you will go with a light train f Kure : I intend to take nothing but my night bag.

CLARENDON : Yes, you will not go without forty or fifty horse I Kura : I count that part of my night bag."

But then the reign of Charles H reads like a comedy, that of Charles I as the tragedy that it was. Something more than an individual head fell at Whitehall that cold winter's morning, something . fine was permanently broken. The story of Charles II's reign is that of a struggle of wits, and the best wits won, temporarily. Charles II might have made his triumph last, but whenever he died, the stage would have been set for the ignominious collapse of any successor who tried to carry on his tradition. The peace between himself and his subjects to which Mr. Bryant refers, was only an armistice in which the subjects were piling up ammunition, while the -king - strengthened his interests in the boroughs, by means which were scarcely in harmony with the feelings of his opponents.

There is inevitably a touch of bias in these biographies, not a philosophy of history, no, but a personal liking, such as is almost bound to occur. Sir 'Charles Petrie does more to correct the balance than Mr. Bryant does, and prints docu, ments setting forth the view of the other side. There is more to be said for Charles II than, is. usually said, but Mr. Bryant is perhaps a little too inclined to regard his hero as " the best good man that ever ruled a throne,"- and to gloze over certain horrors. The remark that Lauderdale was " successfully engaged in taming Scotland " is, shall we say, an understatement. But both books are admirably done, and are especially valuable in bringing home to us how things actually happen in real political life, as opposed to the way in which they happen in history books. They will lead to a revaluation in the popular mind. We hear nothing of the glories of Pym and Hampden, nothing about Shaftesbury's " Country Party," little about _ Temple's abortive Council of State : these persons and things drop into a perspective

different from that we are used to, and it is just as well that - we should have to consider whether it is not, perhaps, a_ better one.