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Chapter 3 - The Statesman - Part 3


On the Plutarchian system of comparison, John Law and William Paterson should pair off together—the one, as having ruined France with the Mississippi scheme, the other as having ruined Scotland with the Darien scheme. They had other parallel conditions in life, in that they were competitors in laying schemes before their own countrymen. Law had proposed certain projects to the Parliament of Scotland, which, being in a cautious humour, they declined to adopt, and he then carried his genius abroad. Paterson’s schemes were all directed to the aggrandisement of his own country, and there-fore he does not appear, at first sight, within the category of those Scotsmen whose genius and achievements have been exhibited among foreigners. But Paterson during a large part of his life was busy abroad. His practical information on foreign countries guided the Darien Company and the Scottish Parliament in all their operations. The way in which he obtained this information was connected with two rather inconsistent - looking accusations touching the occupations of his earlier days. The one was that he had obtained it as a buccaneer or pirate in the Spanish Main; the other, that he picked it up while acting as a canting missionary in communication with the Puritans of New England. When we think of men and their actions, we should always endeavour to see them by the light of their own times. The two professions were not so utterly inconsistent in the seventeenth as they are in the nineteenth century. Paterson’s correspondence shows him to have been slightly pious. But a good deal of piety need not have been inconsistent with the transaction of business after the usual manner on the Spanish Main. Few commanders of vessels who found themselves strong enough to get off with it could then resist the temptation to mix up a little buccaneering with legitimate commerce. Sea rights and sea ethics were by no means so distinctly defined as they now are. The rule then was that good old rule which Wordsworth admired so much for its patriarchal simplicity—

"That he should take who has the power,
And he should keep who can."

Once in blue water, the Tarpaulin, as the rough-handed skipper of that day was called, considered that he was free of land-laws and diplomatic obligations—a sort of separate self-acting power; and as there was generally some war or other going on, he was free to take either side and plunder the enemy, and to change sides as opportunity suggested. Paterson’s own colony was considered a nest of buccaneers by the Spaniards, and indeed their conduct was not calculated to rebut the charge. They seized all the Spanish vessels they could lay hand on, as those of enemies; but having on one occasion mistaken an English vessel for a Spanish and seized it, they could not be prevailed on to rectify the mistake by a restoration.

People open their eyes at the great buccaneer, Henry Morgan, having been knighted; but there was nothing anomalous had he even also, as the biographer of Paterson says he was, been made governor of Jamaica. He was so great a leader of ruffians as to be almost an independent sovereign, like the Dey of Algiers. He would have boasted of his feats at court. Perhaps a day may come when it will be considered flagitious to appoint an aristocratic blackleg to a post of trust; and Thackeray’s promotion of Rawdon Crawley to the government of a colony may be cited as a type of the habits our generation, as Defoe’s Colonel Jack exemplifies the time—not much more than a century old—when young men were kidnapped on the streets of Newcastle or Aberdeen, and sold as slaves to very respectable houses concerned in the plantation trade.

Paterson’s zealous biographer, Mr Saxe Bannister, repudiates the charge against him, saying that it rests on no better authority than Burnet’s general observation, "There was one Paterson, a man of no education, but of great notions, which it was generally said he had learned from the buccaneers, with whom he had consorted for some time." And certainly, as nothing more specific can be discovered about his early pursuits, we have no right to hold that they must have been tinged with piracy.

His later transactions with foreign countries are sufficiently ostensible. When his scheme was at its climax, he directed some very important negotiations on the Continent, where he in some measure tried his strength against the power of William III. The cause of the calamities of Scotland at that time was the determination of the Dutch King to sacrifice everything to his European system. To this end, when he had to consider whether he should be just to Scotland, or propitiate the great trading interests of England, he chose the latter alternative. The Darien Scheme, as most people are aware, was a plan to enable Scotland to have a foreign trade and colonies of her own, since the Navigation Act made her a foreign country to England, not entitled to participate in the English shipping privileges and colonial trade. The projectors of the Darien Scheme naturally enough courted English capital, and established an office in London. This was denounced as a breach of the privileges of the East India Company, as well as in various other shapes offensive, and the eminent men who represented the Company in London were hunted out of England as criminals.

Paterson conceived that, as Scotland was deemed a foreign country, incapable of participating in the trading privileges of England, she was, as a converse, not only entitled, but invited to treat with her old friends on the Continent, without asking leave of her imperious yoke-fellow. It was arranged that the Company should fill up the shares which the English merchants had subscribed, but were obliged to abandon, in that old burghal community which had been long associated with Scotland—the Hanse Towns. But that foreigners should enter in the field of enterprise from which their own jealous laws excluded themselves, was intolerable to the English capitalists, and they had interest enough to get instructions issued to the representatives of England in foreign courts—Scotland could not afford to have representatives—that the Company disposing of its shares was not countenanced by the king, and any communities giving encouragement to it would encounter his displeasure. The Burgomasters of Hamburg indignantly repudiated the King of England’s right to menace them, and said they traded as they pleased; but the Hamburgers did not take stock.

The flow of capital from Northern Europe was in fact effectually checked by the intervention of William. Paterson showed on the occasion his versatile resources, and looked at once to the other side of the Continent. He proposed terms to the Armenian merchants, the great masters of Eastern trade, whose chain of connections passed from Hindostan to Lapland. These men, so remarkable for their honesty, sagacity, and substantiality, would fain have aided the Scots, had they not, through their subtle channels of intelligence, known that the Darien Company was not countenanced by the king who reigned over Scotland. Thus was frustrated a plan by which Paterson and his friends projected an overland traffic to India, and the establishment in the Eastern Peninsula of factories which should rival those of the East India Company of England.

It is matter for much regret that both the beginning and the conclusion, with many portions of Paterson’s life, are so dark to the world. This is not for want of any deficiency in biographical zeal, though it came too late to be effectual. Still there is much for the world to be grateful for in the fruit of the long labours of Mr Saxe Bannister. If he has not done much to clear up the events of Paterson’s life, he has given the clearest possible rendering of his opinions and projects, by discovering and printing all his works. It is a sufficient hint that the contents of these volumes are important, to say that they give forth the earliest practical exposition of the doctrines of free trade, and that they enlarge on the illimitable character of commerce when protected from interference. The editor, among the many vast schemes of his master, has found one of a smaller character, but curious and interesting—a design to found a public library, to consist solely of books bearing on trade. He collected the nucleus of it himself; and if he could read the books he thus bought, which are enumerated in a catalogue made by him, he must have been free, or must have freed himself; from Burnet’s charge of being uneducated.

If it be open, by ingenious special theories, to prove that the Mississippi scheme was not in the end disastrous, it is quite clear that Paterson’s was in the end beneficent. In the first place, Scotland compelled restitution by England of the loss caused to the shareholders of the Darien Company. The amount paid up in calls was refunded to each up to the last penny, from the fund called "The Equivalent." Having tasted the benefits of a free trade with England during Cromwell’s time, the country was determined to have it again, or set up an opposition interest to England by an alliance with France or some other great foreign power. The breaking-down of the dynasty of the daughters of King James, by the death of all Anne’s children, gave Scotland her opportunity. Whatever way England settled the succession, Scotland would settle it otherwise, unless she were made a participator in the English privileges of trade. An Act was passed to arm the country in case England should attempt to force through the Scots Parliament a concurrence in the Hanover succession. As one of the ships of the Darien Company had been seized for a breach of the privileges of the English African Company, an English vessel was seized in the Forth by way of reprisal. On suspicion of having committed piracy on a Scots ship, the English captain and crew were tried and condemned to death. The proof against them was very defective in any eyes not obscured by national wrath, and the Crown wished to spare the men’s lives, but dared not do it in the face of the temper shown by the country. The men were hanged, to express the country’s sense of the grasping selfishness of the English merchants. It was now clear that there was nothing for it but to concede to Scotland the full privilege of participation in English trade, and so came the Treaty of Union.

By a natural transition from that portion of the connection of Scotland with other countries which associates itself with the career of Paterson, we might get among the Hanse Towns, and other trading districts of the north of Europe, where Scots merchants appear to have swarmed. They had established special privileges in the Low Countries, which they kept a kind of ambassador or consul to protect. He was "the Lord Conservator of Scots privileges at Campvere," and the office, having become a sinecure, was given to John Home by way of compensation and consolation when he was deprived of his office as a parish minister for writing ‘Douglas.’ There were a number of merchants in Sweden, who, with the remnant of the Scots soldiers of Gustavus Adolphus, merged into what were called the thirty-six noble Scots houses there. I have in my hand a book by a member of one of them named Andrew Murray; it is a Treatise on the History and Whereabouts of those Kenites who were prophesied against by Balsam, and told that, ‘though strong was their dwelling-place, and they put their nest in a rock, yet they should be wasted until Ashur should carry them away captive.’ The author dedicates his book to three noble merchants of Prussia—two of them his relations and Murrays - John in Memel and Thomas in Dantzic, where there was a considerable fraternity of Scots merchants. Among the Slavonians who do not take to commerce, and have their merchandise done by other races, the Scots seem to have supplied all grades, from the merchant princes to the pedlars, so called from walking about with their available stock in trade. The vacuum they left when the Union opened up the home market to Scots enterprise, seems to have been filled by Jews. Sir John Skene, who put into his Law Dictionary a quantity of the little specialties of personal knowledge which are so valuable when found in old books, but so little likely to be found in law dictionaries, says of pedlars, "Ane pedder is called ane merchand or cremar, quha bears ane pack or crame upon his back, quaha are called bearars of the puddill be the Scottesmen in the realme of Polonia, quhairof I saw ane great multitude in the town of Cracovia, anno Dom. 1569."

I have little doubt that a deal of matter both valuable and curious might be found by an investigation into the conditions which created the class of trading Scots. The present object is, however, rather to tell what has fallen in the writer’s way than to search out new matter; and as I do not happen to possess any notices of them sufficiently picturesque for the present purpose, I again take advantage of the licence to bring forth any occurrences in the career of Scotsmen in the diplomatic service, when these happen to go beyond the ordinary beaten circle of diplomatic functions.

The scene opens in a state to which the world has lately been looking with unusual interest—Denmark—in the remote palace of Friedrichsborg, about the year 1771. The notorious Struensee, who, with a few long strides, passed from the function of a German village-doctor to that of prime minister, or more properly, dictator of Denmark, has just reached the climax of his meteoric career. He was a prodigious reformer; but it is useless to discuss the merit of his projects. If there was any nation in Europe at that time where the Pombals, Josephs, or Potemkins could take great social systems to pieces and reconstruct them scientifically, without mischief or danger, Denmark was not that nation. It is quite different now; but at that time—before the first French Revolution, remember—in no European country was there a harder system of immovable uniformity and routine, protected by a powerful aristocratic order whose existence depended on its being executed to the minutest tittle. The old Norse freedom and heartiness were entirely gone, and everything was frozen into an icy permanence by the frigid influence which the Russian autocracy and bureaucracy were then exercising over the northern nations. But however judicious or acceptable in themselves Struensee’s reforms might have been, they came from a poisoned fountain. He was one of that most odious of all classes of statesmen, a royal favourite; and of the two kinds of royal favouritism his was by repute the more odious—the favouritism of a woman.

The young Queen of Denmark, Caroline Matilda, the sister of George IlI., was reared in a Court where a princess was certainly not likely to imbibe profligacy; and it is difficult to conceive any one brought up under the same auspices as her rigid brother, becoming even amenable to a charge of levity. Her possession of remarkable beauty and great powers of fascination is scarcely less easily reconcilable with that generation of the royal family. That she had these powers of fascination seems, however, to be beyond a doubt. It can be as little doubted that she was wayward and indiscreet; and indeed her own family did little to vindicate her fame from graver charges. If it were any vindication of her conduct, it is certain that her husband Christian was as contemptible and odious a being as ever lived in a sty of profligacy—a sort of vulgarised Darnley, in a single-breasted coat and powdered wig.

Struensee .was originally his own favourite, and was dragged by him, with that indecorous vehemence with which weak men tug at their favourites, into the inmost recesses of the palace. He was highly educated, handsome, clever, and agreeable. The Queen certainly liked him; and she had some good substantial reasons for awarding him a decorous preference. He took in hand the charge of the young Crown Prince’s health, as a physician, and. superintended the training both of his body and mind. A mother might have sympathy for all reasonable dispensations of kindness to such a person, and Struensee had claims perhaps of a still more touching kind, in being the means of reconciling the royal couple to each other—of exacting promises of reformation from the King, and pardon of his past profligacy from the poor Queen.

It is difficult to say which of the three—the King, the Queen, or their favourite—acted the maddest part in the political saturnalia which followed. Struensee’s certainly was the guiding hand, so far as there was guidance. Step by step he rose in political power, each step being attended by an excess of folly and presumption. At length, when he had the fate of Denmark in his hands, he scattered to the winds at one blast the old Council of State, in which the representatives of the chief families of Denmark held absolute oligarchical rule. He transferred the power of government to a ministerial board subservient to his own bidding.

It was scarcely consistent with human nature that the discharged statesmen should bear this act with Christian meekness. At the same time, the favourite could not so easily make good harvests, and abolish idle habits among the people, as he could dismiss the Council. The times happened to be hard, and the people made common cause with the nobles, charging the favourite with their calamities. Drunk with power, he did many frantic and wicked things; but of all his follies and vices, the least defensible part of his conduct was his treatment of the Queen. With such a husband as she had, and with all the Court against her, she unfortunately was too solely dependent on the favourite. He exulted in his strength, and proclaimed, as it were, his triumph in conduct which would have been despicable if the poor woman had been erring, and was fiendish if she were innocent.

At length a blow was struck. The Queen was arrested, so were Struensee and his friend Brand. The triumphant party were madder with success than even the fallen favourite had ever been. They fiercely demanded blood. Struensee was at once hurled with Oriental precipitancy from the throne to the scaffold, and was executed with every concomitant of ignominy and honor.

There is little doubt that the Queen would have been a victim had not a hand been stretched out to save her. The whole wild history was watched by the calm observant eye of a young Scot—Colonel Robert Keith, who, though a novice in diplomacy, was deemed suitable to be trusted with so quiet a post as the Danish mission. But few veteran ambassadors have ever been more sorely tried. Was he to see the sister of his Sovereign put to death? and if not, where were the means by which he could avert her fate? No doubt, national wars had often been caused by acts far more trifling. Philip V. of Spain had declared that rivers of blood would not wash out an incidental slight thrown on his family, and he would not have thought thousands of lives unduly wasted in such a cause. But it was not to be concluded that Britain would plunge into a European war for the fate of one person, though that person were a Princess. These were the diplomatic difficulties which would surround such a question at the conference-table. The young Ambassador solved them all by an act of wise heroism. He was free at all events to sacrifice his own personal safety in the cause. He took it on himself to denounce any act of violence to the Queen as an act of war with England, and to strike his flag as one who was no longer an ambassador protected by the law of nations, but a prisoner in the hands of the enemies of his country.

A little examination will show that this step was as wise as it was disinterested. If it proved successful, and the revolutionists spared the Queen, it would be for the consideration of the British Government whether or not they should punish the successful blusterer for an excess of his constitutional powers as a British ambassador. If he were unsuccessful—if the Danish Cabinet defied the representative of Britain, and sacrificed the Queen to their vengeance—it was still in the power of the British Government to repudiate the act of the Ambassador, and be at peace with Denmark.

The question fortunately did not arise in its more formidable shape. No violence beyond enforced seclusion was offered to the Queen. An uncertainty, which may be called unsatisfactory rather than mysterious, hangs over the subsequent intercourse of the two governments about her destination. The history of the time does not speak of war with Denmark as one of the perils of Britain, but the diplomacy refers to a formidable naval force prepared to rescue the Queen from the hands of her enemies.

In the ‘Annual Register’ for the year, there is a pretty full history of the revolution, followed by an account of the conclusion of the contest between Denmark and the Dey of Algiers. About the position of the Queen of Denmark, the writer of the chronicle for the year speaks as one who desired information, but had it not to give. Nothing is said of an armed force being fitted out, yet the following passage of a letter from Lord Suffolk, the Foreign Secretary, has an air as if Britain had made preparation for war. "The national object," he says, "of procuring the liberty of a daughter of England, confined in Denmark after her connection with Denmark was dissolved, is now obtained. For this alone an armament was prepared, and therefore, as soon as the acquiescence of the Court of Copenhagen was known, the preparations were suspended, that the mercantile and marine interests of this kingdom might be affected no longer than was necessary by the expectation of a war. Instead of a hostile armament, two frigates and a sloop are now ordered to Elsinore. One of them is already in the Downs, the others will repair thither immediately, and as soon as the wind permits they will proceed to their destination."

The small force was sent as a sort of guard of honour to accompany the Queen to her place of retreat at Zell, known from its tragic association with another princess connected with the house of Hanover. The allusion to the larger force which might have been fitted out, but was not, may be suspected to have been a small diplomatic expedient for imparting a wholesome alarm to the ruling powers in Denmark.

The shape in which the acknowledgments of his Court seem to have been conveyed to the spirited young Ambassador has the same unsatisfactory mystery or uncertainty which characterises the whole conduct of the British Court in this matter. The anxiously awaited despatch, in which his conduct was to be approved or condemned, contained, if we may believe the laborious editor of his papers, neither approval nor condemnation; but "the parcel flew open, and the Order of the Bath fell at his feet! The insignia had been enclosed by the King’s own hands, with a despatch commanding him to invest himself forthwith, and appear at the Danish Court."

It had got wind among the gossips of the day that there was something peculiar in the acknowledgment of Keith’s services, for Horace Walpole is found writing: "Mr Keith’s spurt in behalf of the Queen has been rewarded. The red ribbon has been sent him, though there was no vacancy, with orders to put it on directly himself, as there is no sovereign in Denmark to invest him with it." A letter from Lord Suffolk to the father of the new-made knight enlarges on the eminence of the distinction conferred. "The dispensation with ceremonies is carried further than usual;" the dependence of negotiations is chosen as the time for conferring the decoration, because his Majesty wishes it to be the reward of merit, independently of success; it is the King’s own personal act; and "Sir R. Keith is not to inquire into the expenses of the present his Majesty has made." So the Secretary parades the reward, carefully avoiding any reference to the nature of the service for which it is conferred. I admit that something like an idle curiosity has led me into these piebald criticisms on the conduct of the British Government with reference to the history of Queen Matilda. When the subject is old enough, and the state papers bearing on it are freely published, it will doubtless afford matter for a curious secondary chapter in British history.

The young knight, whose mission it appeared to be to revive the institutions of ancient chivalry, by winning his spurs in the defence of injured and imperilled beauty, had very little romance in his character, but a great fund of Scottish shrewdness, tempered by honourable uprightness, and put to good service by various qualifications, in which we may fairly include the pen of a ready writer. His father, Robert Keith of Craig, in Kincardineshire, the country of The Keiths, was also a diplomatist. He rose from the office of Lord Stair’s military secretary to be Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and afterwards Ambassador at Vienna and at St Petersburg. Both the father and the son witnessed, and were more or less concerned in, several of the historical events marking the progress of the northern courts—events which, though they seem to have been buried under the more convulsive revolutions of later times, are yet eminently deserving of careful study, as the organic elements out of which several of the states of Europe have grown, and from which they take their political character and destiny.

The elder Keith thus describes a great revolution in Russia. On Friday, the 13th day of July 1762, he had an appointment to meet the Emperor. It was thus interrupted: "About nine o’clock one of my servants came running into my bed-chamber, with a frighted countenance, and told me that there was a great uproar at the other end of the town; that the guards, having mutinied, had assembled, and talked of no less than dethroning the Emperor. He could tell me no other circumstances, nor could give me any answer to the only question I asked— namely, if the Empress was in town: but about a quarter of an hour after, one of the gentlemen of our factory came in, and informed me that the Empress was in town; that she had been declared by the guards and the other troops of the garrison their Empress and Sovereign; and that she was then actually at the Casansky church to hear mass and the ‘Te Deum’ sung on the occasion."

The colleges of the empire, and all the great people, were pressing to take the oaths, like people crowding to a fashionable singer or a popular preacher. The whole affair occupied two hours, during which the quarter of the town where the English resided "was as quiet as if nothing extraordinary had happened; the only novelty to be seen was some pickets placed at the bridges and corners of the streets, and some of the home-guards patrolling, in order to preserve the public tranquillity." To make clean work of it, in the evening the Empress was seen marching forth, "at the head of ten or twelve thousand men, with a great train of artillery, on the road to Peterhoff, in order to attack the Emperor, whether at Peterhoff or Oranienbaum; and the next day, in the afternoon, we received the accounts of His Imperial Majesty having, without striking a stroke, surrendered his person and resigned his crown." Such was the installation of the Semiramis of the North, the great Catherine—an event pregnant with great results both to Europe and Asia.

A considerable number of letters by the elder Keith, and a far greater number of his son’s, are to be found in the two octavo volumes just referred to. To people who are fond of reading old family papers in fluent print, without floundering through the blots, or stumbling over the crabbed cacography of the original manuscript, the volumes will have an interest; and the historian who gropes diligently through them will find a few facts. Some of the best letters in the collection were addressed to "Sister Anne," Mrs Murray Keith, a lady occupying a niche in literature as the Mrs Bethune Balliol of Scott, who says of her, in a letter printed, with pardonable pride, by the editing relation: "I never knew any one whose sunset was so enviably serene; and such was the benevolence of her disposition, that one almost thought time respected a being so amiable, and laid his hand upon her so gradually, that she reached the extremity of age, and the bowl was broken at the cistern before she experienced either the decay of her organs or of her excellent intellect. The recollection of her virtues and her talents is now all that remains to us; but it will be a valued treasure to all who shared her esteem."

Throughout these Keith papers there are pleasant glimpses of a Scottish family of gentlefolks of the old school. The men, all brave and persevering, are scattered over the world, bettering the fortunes of their house, and raising the national character. The women are gentle and domestic, with a strong sense both of humour and pathos, with a certain Scottish liveliness, too, and those profuse and friendly manners, said to have been derived from the long intercourse with the French, of which I have had so much to say. Middle-aged people have seen specimens of it in very old women. It was something which, though totally different from the manners of the English gentry, had an unmistakable character of high breeding. To the young ambassador it was a sad change to pass from his own genial circle into the cold routine of diplomatic life at so obdurately formalised a court as that of Denmark. He wailed loudly from time to time about his lots after this fashion.

"The nonsense of etiquette has already thrown a stumbling-block in my way, by a new and, I believe, unprecedented regulation with respect to private audiences. But as I have preserved all possible respect towards this court, and made my report with fairness and temper to my own, I can be under no uneasiness with regard to my share of the innovation and its consequences. A shut or an open door—for that is the point—is a subject to be canvassed by the higher pens. My duty is to wait for instructions, and adhere to them quietly. In the mean time I heartily coasign that old harridan Etiquette, with all her trumpery, to the lowest underling of all possible devils. After looking round me with an anxious, yet a benevolent eye, for anything that may be called a society, or even a single friend, male or female, I am forced to own to myself that there is not any hope of succeeding. I do not mean to asperse a whole nation, in which there are undoubtedly many worthy people; but such is the shyness of all those I have seen to each other, and still more to men of my cloth, that meeting them now and then at dinner, or in a public place, forms not a more intimate connection than that of three or four Dutchmen who have crossed in the same doit-boat at Rotterdam....A Monsieur and Madame Juel are just come to town, with a sweet little cherub of a daughter just fifteen; consequently just the very thing that can be turned to no earthly advantage by a gentleman of my years. These good people curtsied to me very politely at my presentation; and as they are renowned for hospitality, I have since had the happiness of seeing the outside of their street door, which is of strong handsome oak, and painted yellow... Our week is now going to be parcelled out in plays and operas, and there will be at least a place of rendezvous every evening. Yet are we starched and demure even in our playhouses, for every human being has his or her place allotted by the Book of Etiquette, and sticks to it during the whole performance. Those who are two boxes from me might as well be in Norway, for any manner of communication I can have with them. My little Juel is within five seats of being as great a lady as Madame de Blosset; and as I squat next to Madame L’Ambassadrice, I can, at least twice in an evening see the tip of my cherub’s nose. Were she to marry into the third class of grandees, I should see no more of her during my stay in Denmark. It is really ridiculous to see how the world is parcelled out here into no less than nine classes, six of whom I must never encounter without horror. Yet my opera-glass tells me that numbers eight and nine beat us all hollow as to flesh and blood."

Sir Robert’s next embassy was to Vienna; and it will show that diplomacy had done little to conventionalise his British feelings, to give a few sentences expressing his sensations on hearing of the American revolutionary war. He writes from Vienna, on the 5th of February 1775: "I think next post will bring me a handsome sheet of daylight into American matters, which to me are hitherto all mirk and mystery. I am out of all patience with the six hundred congresses of as many American villages, and I long to hear old Mother England hold to them the language of affectionate authority and dignified firmness. I would not hurt a hair of their crazy heath if I could help it; but I would enforce the laws with temper and moderation, in order to impress upon their memories this first salutary lessen of filial obedience.... The ferocious miscreants who inhabit the outskirts of our colonies in America may be guilty of all the crimes you ascribe to them, without their affecting my opinions concerning the bulk of the community, and I’ll tell you why: because when I buy a large piece of broadcloth, and convince myself by a thorough examination that it is well spun, well woven, and warm and durable through nine-tenths of the web, I don’t value it a pin the less because it has been fretted and moth-eaten within two inches of the selvage. I love mankind and our own homespun part of it from the bottom of my heart; and it would be a pretty thing indeed if a fellow like me, who has, his Suffolks, his Chamiers, his Drummonds, his Campbells, and his Conways to boast of, should lay thorns upon his own pillow, because there are thieves and pickpockets in the purlieus of St Gies."

Sir Robert Keith is one of the many Scotsmen who saw Frederick the Great, and left notes of their impressions of one whom it was so great a thing to have seen. Fritz might have supposed that Scotsmen formed the greater portion of the inhabitants of Britain, and that the predominating name among the Scots was Keith, or Kite, as it was pronounced in Prussia. There were the two Roberts, the father and son—the Earl Marischal of Scotland, and his own field-marshal. There were two other Keith—brothers—intimately connected with the adventures of Frederick’s early life. One of them appears with the title of Lieutenant, the other of Page. They were the chief abettors of his attempt to escape—or desert, as it was called in the Prussian official documents—at Steinfurth, when travelling with his tyrant father in 1730. These Kites had for their accomplice a Lieutenant Katt, who, until the story came to be fully unravelled by Carlyle, was often confounded with them. Katt was hanged with ignominy, but the two Keiths escaped. The page, in fact, confessed the whole affair. The lieutenant, who was waiting at Wesel to give assistance, was warned in time; and so one evening Lieutenant Keith, "doubtless smelling something," saddled his horse, and "decided to have a ride in the country this fine evening, and issued out at the Brunnen Gate of Wesel. He is on the right bank of the Rhine; pleasant yellow fields on this side and on that. He ambles slowly for a space, then gradually awakens into speed—into full speed; arrives within a couple of hours at Dingden, a village in the Munster territory, safe over the Prussian border by the shortest line; and from Dingden rides at more leisure, but without losing time, into the Dutch Overyssel region." He was taken in hand by Chesterfield, the British Ambassador at the Hague, who sent him to England. The old King had to content himself with symbolical redress, and sentenced him "to be hanged in effigy, cut in four quarters, and nailed to the gallows at Wesel."

As intimately as with any of the Scotsmen in his own employment was Frederick connected with the British Ambassador, Sir Alexander Mitchell, of the Mitchells of Thainston in Aberdeenshire. Frederick talked speculative republicanism and speculative virtue to him; and when the Scotsman seemed to show a dangerous inclination for putting the speculative virtues into a practical shape, he could say "I have no doubt of your good and honourable sentiments, my dear Mr Mitchell. I could wish that everybody thought in the same manner: the world would be all the happier for it, and men more virtuous."

In his now never-perused Epistle on the Origin of Evil, he could speak of "mon cher Mitchell" as

"Ministre vertuenx d’un peuple dont les lois
Ont leur sage frein assujetti les rois"

He is said to have wept—whether sincerely or not— as he saw Mitchell’s funeral procession pass. And he might well have been sincere, for he was under many obligations to the Scot. As we have seen some of his countrymen sent abroad to intimidate aggressive powers, so Mitchell was sent to cheer and to help a struggling cause with which Britain had more sympathy than it was expedient for her rulers to show. He did his mission bravely and honourably. Whatever our general view over the field of past history reveals to us about a policy for the aggrandisement of one house, by squeezing out one small state after another, the position in which the British people at that time saw Frederick was the same that the gods love to look on—a brave man struggling against fate in the shape of enemies stronger than himself. It was as the representative of British sympathy with this that Mitchell went over.

One who seems to have inherited the ancient spirit of his countrymen, ever to give a good word in the go-by to any respectable brother Scot casually met in the course of his inquiries, gives this testimony to Mitchell : — "One wise thing the English have done—sent an Excellency Mitchell, a man of loyalty, of sense, and honesty, to be their resident at Berlin. This is the noteworthy, not yet much noted, Sir Andrew Mitchell, by far the best Excellency England ever had in that Court; an Aberdeen Scotsman, creditable to his country, hardheaded, sagacious, sceptical of shows, but capable of recognising substances withal, and of standing loyal to them stubbornly if needful; who grew to a great mutual regard with Friedrich, and well-deserved to do so: constantly about him during the next seven years, and whose letters are among the perennially valuable documents in Friedrich’s history."

A life more at variance with the placid luxurious ease of an embassy to some great court cannot well be conceived. It was a mission, indeed, not to a court, but to a camp. In critical times Mitchell was ever present. Whether when abandoned by the world, and seemingly by Providence, Frederick sat in his old coat, in a dirty hovel writing French poetry, or stood exulting over the wondrous field of Rosbach..—Mitchell was at his side, not a cold diplomatist watching and reporting, but a friend and champion, sharing his dangers and helping to overcome them. He is even now and then actually under fire; then he makes a narrow escape from capture, because, in his eagerness to join his royal friend, he passes too near the enemy’s lines. At another time he has to endure the hardships of a disastrous march, want of food included. "The Prussian camp," he says, "is no place of pleasure. Neither convenience nor luxury dwell here. You are well provided with everything, if you bring it along with you. I find I must increase my equipage or starve. All my family are like spectres....Pray let me know if my long letter of the 21st was intelligible. It cost me much labour. I was twelve hours on horseback in one day. I understand nothing by description. I must see it, and therefore I fear what I write is not intelligible."

Where is the Secretary for Foreign Affairs who has been accustomed to receive from his own ambassador such a hint as the following, written on the 28th of August 1757, to Lord Holderness, and explaining sufficiently the juncture to which it refers?

"England is cheated and ministers duped by Hanover. What a pitiful figure will they make in Europe! The most notorious breach of faith has been wantonly committed to support a weak, ill-judged, and ineffectual measure. You know what has happened. ‘Why was not the King of Prussia previously consulted? I can answer with my head he would have yielded to any reasonable proposition for the safety of Hanover. ‘What will posterity say of an Administration that made the Treaty of Westminster for the safety of Hanover, and suffered the Hanover ministers to say openly that they have no treaty with the King of Prussia, nay, have suffered them to betray that prince who has risked his all to save them, and whose misfortunes are owing to his generosity and good faith? . . . . Let us have done with negotiating. After what has happened, no man will trust us. I know not how to look the King of Prussia in the face; and honour, my lord, is not to be purchased with money."

To one by whom he was backed in this fashion, Frederick might well afford a little license of remonstrance and sarcasm. Mitchell was celebrated for the broad, strong censures which he often levelled against the King’s acts of cruelty and aggression, and there is no doubt that Frederick stood in awe of his honest, observing eye. He could be sarcastic and epigrammatic too, and one of his retorts has been often repeated. Discussing the disaster of Port-Mahon, Mitchell remarked, in a manner not congenial with the usual conversation of Sans Souci, that Britain must place her trust in God. The King was not aware that Britain had such an ally, "He is the only ally," said Mitchell, "who requires no subsidies from us."


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