Page images


The Briton lies low on a wreath of snow,

From his Island home afar,
And the bright ice sheets and the wild storm sleets

Round the rest of the gallant tar.
He had spread his sail to the Arctic gale,

On a course that no mortal knew;
With a spirit brave he had plough'd the wave,

While the freezing tempest blew.
Where the finty North sends its terrors forth,

And life is in man alone-
Where the insect that plays in the short summer rays

Is in winter a thing of stone.t-
There long had he been, and with wonder seen

In a circle the sun career,
And flash through the night in his radiance bright

In the June of the Polar year.
And a wintry night by the snow-beams' light

He had worn for dull weeks away,
And the north lights had shed on his hardy head

Their gleam, in day's mockery.
And his task was o'er, and he sought the shore-

The shore of his native Isle:
And his bold heart burn'd, as he homeward turn'd,

At the thought of its green fields' smile.
And he counted with joy that his brave employ

Had won him his Country's praise :
And he fondly dream'd, as the prospect gleam'd,

On an hour of toil-purchased ease.
And cheerful he past over antres vast,

While the deep snow hid the ground,
At night 'twas his bed, and pillow'd his head

Mid the horrors reigning round.
But the famine came, and he dragg'd his frame,

Hunger-stung and wearily,
Over morass and stone of that frozen zone,

To his cold log hut to die.
They have laid him there in their hearts' despair,

Where the stunted pine-trees grow,
Where alone the sky with blue canopy

Covers the bold heart low.-
Where no breath is heard—where no wing of bird

Cleaves the desolate atmosphere;
Where the softest sound is a thunder-bound

In the hush of the fear-struck air.
Oh there he is laid !--but no time shall shade

The worth of his honest name :-
Though the life of the brave may set dark in the grave,

There's a dawn for their glorious fame!


* See Captain Franklin's Narrative of his Journey to the Polar Sea.

+ Insects, such as spiders and others, are frozen bard during the Polar winters, and may be thrown about like stones without injury. On being brought to a fire, they recover animation, and move their limbs as actively as in the summer-season.


Louis XI. to whom the public attention has lately been drawn in "Quentin Durward,” like most of those men of extensive power and extraordinary character in whose hands lay the fate of nations, has been variously represented by historians. Some have confined themselves to a recapitulation of his cruelties, his treacheries, his tyrannical conduct, his superstitious practices, and the sad and desolate termination of his career ; while others appear to have been more struck by his fortitude, his prudence in the conduct of the important enterprises he undertook, the success of his efforts in abolishing the power of the great vassals of the crown, augmenting the royal prerogative, and aggrandizing France. Under this last point of view, that country

has been more indebted to him than to any other of her monarchs ; for he augmented her territory and influence by the important addition of the Duchy of Burgundy and the States of Provence, Anjou, and Maine. Amongst those who were nearest his person, and in whom he most confided, he has found an admirer in Philip de Comines, who has held bim up to posterity as almost an excellent king. Duclos, also, who, though historiographer, possessed independence of mind and elevation of character enough to dissuade him from any false adulation, towards at least a deceased monarch, concludes the two volumes of his Memoirs of Louis XI. in these words,

“ Although Louis XI. was far from being without reproach (for few monarchs have deserved more severe ones), yet it may be said that he was celebrated equally for his virtues as his vices, and all things considered that he was a king.

Notwithstanding this grave dictum, it is not unreasonable to doubt, whether the talismanic word king be possessed of such sovereign virtue as to obliterate the deep-dyed crimes which stain the character of this despot. Fenelon, whose candour and rectitude of mind furnished him with no other criterion for judging of kings than the happiness or misery of the people under their sway, represents Louis XI. in his Dialogues of the Dead, as a wicked and ferocious being, the scourge of mankind.” The virtuous prelate puts the following bitter reproaches into the mouth of the Cardinal de la Balue, who was very little less of a villain than his master.

“The fundamental maxim of all those counsels, which you (Louis XI.) took such pains to instil into those that surrounded you, was, that every thing they could do was to be done for you, and you alone. You reckoned as nothing the princes of your blood ; nor the Queen, whom you kept at a distance from you and in captivity ; nor the Dauphin, whom you had brought up in ignorance and confinement; nor the kingdom, which


desolated by your harsh and cruel policy-the interests of which were always sacrificed to the jealousy of your tyrannous authority. You even set no value upon your most devoted favourites and ministers, whom you made use of merely to deceive others. You never had the least affection for, nor put the least confidence in any one of them, unless when driven to it by the utmost necessity. It was your delight to deceive them in their turn, as you had employed them to deceive others; and they were sure to become your victions on the slightest umbrage, or when the most trifling benefit could result to you from their destruction. There was not a moment of security for any one within your sphere. You played with the lives of men. You never loved a human being, -how then could you expect that any one should love you

You delighted to deceive every one,-how could you hope then that any one should confide in you from motives of esteem or friendship! Such disinterested fidelity, where was it to have been learned ? Did you deserve it, or dared you to hope for it? Could it have been practised towards you, or within the precincts of your court? Was it possible to preserve an upright and sincere heart for the space of eight days passed under your influence ? Were we not forced to be scoundrels the moment we approached you? Were we not declared villains by the very circumstance of gaining your favour, as the only way of attaining it was by villainy? Those who wished to preserve their honour untouched, and their conscience unstained, took care to keep far away from you. They would have gone to the remotest bounds of the earth sooner than live in your service.”

Voltaire has, with his usual perspicacity, distinguished in the character of Louis XI. those traits which may claim the approbation of posterity, from those which are calculated only to excite their horror; he remarks,

“ The life of Louis XI. offers a most singular contrast; and as if for the purpose of humiliating and confounding virtue, we are obliged to regard as a great king, a being whom history has handed down to us as an unnatural son, a barbarous brother, an unkind husband, a bad father, and a perfidious neighbour. He filled with bitterness the last years of his father's life, and was the cause of his death. The unfortunate Charles VII. as is well known, died through fear of being made away with by his son; he chose starving himself to death to being poisoned by his own child! The mere dread of such an event by a father, proves that the son was at least considered capable of perpetrating so horrible a crime.”

Duclos also proves, in a more detailed manner, that the conduct of this prince exhibited qualities of the most opposite and conflicting nature : at one time giving way to the impulses of cruelty, pride, jealousy, and vindictiveness, while at another he acted with perfect bonhommie, trusting confidence and even kindness. An author of the present day, Dumesnil, in a work on Louis XI. has hazarded the surmise, that the extreme mistrust observable in Charles VII. and the sombre melancholy and cruelty of Louis XI. had come to them with their blood as descendants of Charles VI. who had fallen into a state of complete mental alienation, in the paroxysms of which he shewed himself equally suspicious and cruel. It may be that Charles VI. left this “ heritage of woe” to his descendants : a surmise that becomes the more probable when we examine with attention, the last years of the life of Louis XI. When, shut up in the chateau of Plessis les Tours, and hemmed in by numerous guards, he was terrified by the appearance of every new face ; when he delivered over to the murderous hands of his executioner and favourite Tristan the Hermit, those who, however innocent, excited his suspicions, whilst he sought to dissipate his thick-coming fancies and black melancholy, by viewing from the walls of the chateau the simple dances and amusements of the shepherds and villagers; when he had recourse to all the relics that it was possible to procure; when he caused himself to be anointed from head to foot with the oil of the holy Ampoule, kept at Rheims, in order to prolong his life; when he conferred the title of Countess of Bologne upon the Virgin Mary; when he drank the blood of young children, in order to renovate his strength and bring back his youthful vigour ;—when, I repeat, we think upon these facts, we can scarcely hesitate to recognize a taint of insanity in the singular compound of this monarch's mind, similar to that with

which Charles VI. was afflicted. It is, at all events, the only, or at least the best excuse, that can be offered in his favour. However, Charles VI. did not display these propensities before the period of his madness; while on the contrary, Louis XI., during the full vigour of his faculties mental and corporeal, while he was conceiving and executing vast and well-organized plans for the aggrandisement of his power, shewed himself always suspicious, false, treacherous, and cruel. A certain portion of this cruelty must, in fairness, be put to the account of the barbarity of the times in which he lived ; few if any of the princes of that period being exempt from charges of this nature. Knowing or employing no other means than terror and cruelty to quell the turbulence of their subjects, they took vengeance for barbarous insurrections by still more barbarous punishments. In the long struggle between Louis and Charles the Bold, the famous Duke of Burgundy, a struggle which renders the annals of this reign so interesting, we are presented with a regular trial of skill between the bad faith, treachery, and cruelty of the two rivals. It has been pretended that Charles the Bold was naturally good and generous, and that it was the vices of Louis XI. that forced him to adopt the use of similar weapons. But this, we think, is giving too great an extension to charitable surmise. It would be a strange effect of rivalry to make Charles thus adopt the crimes and bad qualities of his adversary. A more reasonable supposition is, that the unprincipled and atrocious conduct of both was the result of the savage sentiments so generally prevalent at that period, pushed to excess under the baleful influence of violent passions and uncontrolled power.

Dumesnil, who has been already cited, has remarked some extraordinary coincidences between the lives of Louis XI. and Tiberius. The commencement of the career of both these princes began by a long exile. Louis at the court of Burgundy practised an equal degree of dissimulation with Tiberius during his sojourn at Rhodes. They were both equally addicted to astrology, and put a like faith in superstitious practices and relics. They were both equally anxious to avoid war, not from motives of humanity, but that they considered the conquests or acquirements made by political intrigue, as reflecting more personal credit upon them, and the honour of which they were not obliged to divide with their military forces. After a harsh and tyrannous reign, both these princes precipitately retired into seclusion, and sought to shun the sight of their subjects, except those chosen from amongst them to be immolated as victims before their eyes. It is also said, that Louis, like Tiberius, divided the last hours of his existence between alternate debaucheries and cruelties. Notwithstanding these points of resemblance, these two tyrants are widely distinguished from each other by the different motives of their dissimulation, their cruelty, and their seclusion. The moving principle of Tiberius was, hatred and scorn of mankind; that of Louis, an insatiable love of sway. The latter retired into seclusion for the purpose of building up an artificial power, capable of resisting the approaches of old age and infirmities. founded and astonished the neighbouring princes by the rapidity of his negotiations, by the number of ambassadors and political agents that he sought to multiply in foreign courts. When there was no treaty on the tapis to countenance their presence, he took care to employ

[ocr errors]

He con

them in administering to his fancies or caprices. He sent agents all over Europe to purchase the most celebrated coursers and the rarest dogs. Sweden and Denmark were put under contribution for the wild beasts of their forests ; lions and leopards were brought at an immense expense from the burning deserts of Africa. Nothing was talked of but the magnificence and spirit of the monarch: which was the object he had in view, as he was desirous of concealing the approaches of death by the affectation of youthful sports and caprices.* This pretended trait of policy may, however, have been nothing more than an access of folly that developed itself in solitude. Happy would it be for their people, if the follies of kings were only exhibited in such harmless vagaries. It is, however, certain that a remorse of conscience weighed heavily upon Louis towards the close of his life, and this might have been one of the means he employed to escape from it. He ordered an enquiry to be made, whether his subordinate agents had not abused the powers intrusted to them: a rather extraordinary scruple on the part of a prince who had delivered thousands of his subjects into the hands of the hangman. He exhorted the parliament to be less free in receiving accusations. About the same time he made a bargain for his monument with Conrad de Cologne, a goldsmith, and Laurence Wear, a brass-founder, to whom he engaged to pay a thousand golden crowns. And in order that his bust might be an accurate resemblance of him in his best days, he ordered the artists to examine his former portraits, and add from them whatever old age might have altered or effaced in his features.

Some modern authors, in seeking an excuse to extenuate the crimes of Louis XI., have chosen rather untenable ground for their approbation. Duclos, for instance, asserts, that Louis XI. was, of all the French monarchs, he who best knew how to manage or turn to his own advantage, the States who then represented the kingdom, and eulogizes him for his prudence in not convoking them but when the malcontents and the factions pushed their enterprises to excess.

He admires the policy of Louis in inflaming the choice of the deputies, and by thus making sure of their suffrages beforehand, being enabled in some measure to dictate the decisions of an assembly, of which he wished to make an instrument and not a partner in power. This, in the present day, would be called, and properly so, a corrupting of the national representation. Under Louis XV. when Duclos wrote, they must have entertained but very loose and erroneous ideas of the dignities and duties of the representatives of the nation, for Duclos thus to hold up as an object almost of eulogium, one of the greatest crimes which the French nation has to lay to the charge of the despot of Plessis les Tours. Louis corrupted the judges as well as the deputies of the people, and enriched them with the spoils of those whom they condemned. An

* It would be endless to enumerate the absurdities to which he had recourse to ward off death, which he so much feared. We shall merely inention two. He had brought from Cologne some of the pretended bones of tlre three Eastern Kings who are said to have visited the infant Christ, and which bones were supposed to be of sovereign virtue in the cure of royal ailments. In a letter of Louis's to one of the Priors of Notre Dame de Salles, he vehemently entreats of Our Lady to grant him & quartan fever, as his plıysicians assure him that this is the only malady which is good for the health.


« PreviousContinue »