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needed a champion, the lion-heart of Thomas was certainly less fitted for the office than the true union of dove and serpent to be found in his friend and monitor John of Salisbury.
Our estimate of Thomas's personal character ought not to be at all affected by modern notions, however well founded, as to the abstract justice of the cause which he maintained. The immunity of clerks from the jurisdiction of the civil power would now be justly considered monstrous in every well-governed country. All that is wanted is, to show that it was a cause which might be honestly maintained in the twelfth century, And that it surely was.
Thomas did not invent the ecclesiastical claims; he merely defended them as he found them. Even if the “Customs” were, which seems very doubtful, the established laws of the land, they were laws which a churchman of those days could at most submit to in patience, and could not be expected to approve or subscribe to. None of his fellowbishops loved the Constitutions of Clarendon any better than Thomas did ; they simply submitted through fear, some of them at least clearly against their own judgment. The most violent attack on Thomas ever penned, the famous letter of Gilbert Foliot, * does not blame the archbishop for resisting the king, but for not resisting him more strenuously. And we must reinember that if the so-called liberties of the church were utterly repugnant to our notions of settled government, they did not appear equally so in those times. The modern idea of government is an equal system of law for every part of the territory and for every class of the nation. In the middle ages every class of men, every district, every city, tried to isolate itself within a jurisprudence of its own. Nobles, burghers, knights of orders, wherever either class was strong enough, refused the jurisdiction of any but their own peers. Every town tried to approach as nearly as it could to the condition of a separate republic. A province thought itself privileged if it could obtain a judicial system separate from the rest of the kingdom. Even within the ecclesiastical pale we find peculiar jurisdictions: orders, monasteries, chapters, colleges, shake off the authority of the regular ordinaries, and substitute some exceptional tribunal of their own. For the clergy to be amenable only to a clerical judicature was really nothing very monstrous in such a state of things. It was of course defended on totally different grounds from any other exemption; but it could hardly have arisen except in a state of things when exemptions of all kinds were familiar. And we must also remember that ecclesiastical privileges were not so exclusively priestly privileges as we sometimes fancy. They sheltered not only ordained ministers, but all ecclesiastical officers of every kind; the
Ep. Gilb. Fol., ap. Giles, v. 272.
church courts also claimed jurisdiction in the causes of widows and orphans." In short, the privileges for which Thomas contended transferred a large part of the people, and that the most helpless part, from the bloody grasp of the king's courts to the milder jurisdiction of the bishop. The ecclesiastical judicature was clearly inadequate to deal with the most serious class of offences; but, on the other hand, it did not, like that of the royal courts, visit petty thefts or assaults with such monstrous penalties as blinding and castration.t One of the Constitutions of Clarendon, that which forbade the ordination of villeins without the consent of their lords, was directly aimed at the only means by which the lowest class in the state could rise. And this constitution did not, as Dean Milman says,& pass unheeded; on the contrary, it called forth an indignant burst of almost democratic sentiment from the French biographer of Thomas.
But while we do justice to Thomas, we must also do justice to Henry. Foreigner as he was, careless of special English interests, and stained as his life was by vices and faults of various kinds, Henry had still many of the qualities of a great ruler, and we have no reason to doubt that he was sincerely desirous for the good government of his kingdom. The civil wars of Stephen's reign had left England in a state of utter anarchy. This state of things King Henry and Chancellor Thomas set themselves to work in good earnest to undo. Their government did much to restore order and peace; but it is easy to see that to restore perfect order and peace, no class of men nust be allowed to break the law with the certainty of an inadequate punishment. Thomas's own admirers state Henry's case very fairly, and do full justice to his motives. || Herbert himself goes so far as to say that king and archbishop alike had a zeal for God, and leaves it to God Himself to judge which zeal was according to knowledge. No doubt both Henry and Thomas saw the evil, and each set himself vigorously to correct it in his own way. The number of clerical offenders was large, and some of their offences were very serious. Thomas, during the short time that he lived in England as archbishop, certainly did his best to strike at the root of the evil by unusual care as to those whom he ordained; and he also passed
See the letter of John of Poitiers, Giles, Ep. Gilb. Fol. vi. 238. + See a most curious story in Benedict's Miracles of St. Thomas, pp. 184-193. On the cruelty of the royal jurisprudence, see Herb. vii. 105. | Lat. Christ. iii. 465.
$ " • Fils à vilains ne fust en nul liu ordenez
Sanz l’otrei sur seignur de cui terre il fu nez.'
Que ne feit gentilz hum failliz et debutez." Garnier, p. 89. | See Herb., ap. Giles, vii. 102, 122; Ann. Lamb. ii. 85, 86. ( Herb. vii. 108, 109.
severe sentences, though of course not of life or limb, upon the offenders whom he sheltered from the royal vengeance. Still there can be no doubt that there were a good many churchmen in the kingdom for whom the gallows was the only appropriate remedy. Henry had a noble career before him, had he but adhered steadily to his own principles. The only danger was, that the full carrying out of those principles would have led to consequences which in the twelfth century would have been altogether premature. They involved not only the subjection of the clergy to the ordinary jurisdiction, but the throwing off of all dependence upon the see of Rome. This noble, but perhaps impracticable cause Henry wilfully threw away. He let the contest degenerate from a strife of principles into a petty personal persecution of the archbishop. In the scene at Clarendon we see the clashing of two causes, both of which contained elements of right. In the scene at Northampton we see only a series of mean and malignant attempts to crush a man who had become offensive and dangerous. Henry was now the tyrant, and Thomas the hero. By allowing his bishops to appeal to the Pope, by appealing to the Pope himself, Henry gave up his own cause. Nor did he mend it when he recognised the Pope as arbiter whenever he thought him favourable, but whenever he turned against him, denounced savage penalties on all who should introduce any papal letters into the kingdom. Henry, at the beginning at least, appears as the statesman of wider and clearer vision
; but Thomas deserves the higher moral praise of sticking firmly and manfully to the principles which he conscientiously believed to be right.
And now for a few words on the closing scene. As usual, we find a heroic firmness, a lofty sense of right, mixed up with circumstances detracting from the purely saintly ideal. We admire rather than approve. We hold Thomas to have been highly blameworthy in returning to England among a storm of censures and excommunications; so id
of his wisest contemporaries. An amnesty on such a triumphal return would have been naturally expected from a secular conqueror; much more would it have become a minister of peace victorious in a bloodless struggle. But in the state of fanatic exaltation into which Thomas had now wrought himself, lenity would have seemed a crime which would incur the curse of Meroz; to have failed to smite the contumacious prelates, would have been failing to come to the help of the Lord against the mighty. The quarrel in itself was not so frivolous an one as it seems in these days. The ancient right of the primate of Canterbury to crown the English king seems to us a mere honorary privilege; it was a very different matter when a king was no king till he
was crowned and anointed. And in the actual choice put before him, no one can wish that Thomas had chosen otherwise than he did. “ Absolve the prelates; fly, or die.” He would not fly; he had fled once; he would not again desert his church. As for the absolution, he was probably canonically right in saying that the Pope alone could pronounce it; but a conditional absolution he did offer. Now, whether the sentence was just or unjust, wise or foolish, no public officer, bishop, judge, or any other, could be justified in withdrawing a solemn and regular judgment in answer to the bidding and threats of four ruffians armed with no sort of legal authority. To have absolved the bishops through fear of the words of Tracy and Fitz-Urse, would have been unworthy cowardice indeed. That Thomas showed a most unhealthy craving after martyrdom cannot be denied; but a martyr he clearly was, not merely to the privileges of the church or to the rights of the see of Canterbury, but to the general cause of law and order as opposed to violence and murder.
We have thus tried to deal, by the clear light of impartial historical criticism, with a man whose history has been disfigured by three centuries and a half of adoration, followed by three more centuries of obloquy. The almost deified St. Thomas, the despised Thomas à Becket, appears by that light as a man of great gifts, of high and honest purpose, but whose virtues were disfigured by great defects, and who was placed in a position for which his character was unsuited. Indiscriminate adoration and indiscriminate reviling are alike out of place with so mixed a character; petty carping and sneers are yet more out of place than either. Thomas and his age are gone. He has perhaps no direct claims upon our gratitude* as Englishmen; none certainly for those acts which most won him the admiration of his own day. He won the martyr's crown in contending for principles which we must all rejoice did not ultimately prevail. The Constitutions of Clarendon are now, with the good will of all, part and parcel of our law. We do not claim a place for Thomas of Canterbury beside Alfred and Æthelstan, beside Stephen Langton and Simon de Montfort; yet, as a great and heroic Englishman, he is fully entitled to a respect more disinterested than that which we show to benefactors whose gifts we are still enjoying. Of no man of such widespread fame have we so few visible memorials;— Northampton Castle has vanished, Canterbury Cathedral is rebuilt; a few
* We speak doubtingly, because the account of one exaction of Henry's resisted by Thomas (Edw. Grim, ap. Giles, i. 21; Rog. Pont. i. 113; Garnier, p. 30) reads very much as if it were resisted on general and not on purely ecclesiastical grounds. Even Mr. Robertson allows (p. 74), in his half-sneering way, that “the primate appeared as a sort of Hampden."
fragments alone remain on which the eyes of Thomas can have rested. No great foundation, no splendid minster or castle, survives to bear witness to his bounty or to his skill in the arts. He lived in and for his own age. To understand him thoroughly, one must first thoroughly know what that age was. fair-minded man who has at once mastered the history and literature of the twelfth century, and has attained the faculty of throwing himself with a lively interest into times so alien to our own, can rise from his studies without the conviction that Thomas of Canterbury, with all his faults, is fairly entitled to a place among the worthies of whom England is proud.
ART. V.—MADAME RECAMIER. Souvenirs et Correspondance tirés des Papiers de Madame Récamier.
1859. Such is the title of a publication which has excited more curiosity than any biography neither scandalous nor immoral that has appeared in Paris for years. It is written and collected by Madame Lenormant, the adopted niece of Madame Récamier. To those who, like ourselves, have enjoyed Madame Récamier's conversation in her latter years, these recollections have much the same effect that a hortus siccus of tropical flowers would have on a traveller just returned from seeing them on their native stems. This may be partly owing to the difficulty of giving an accurate account of events the outlines of which are dimmed by time, and of retaining the shades and graces of language ten years after the speaker is no more. But besides this, Madame Lenormant has with laudable caution avoided giving offence to any survivors whose names have been brought into contact with Madame Récamier’s. Hence it follows as a matter of course, that private conversation so trimmed and docked must lose much of its value. Moreover, Madame Recamier's style had a peculiarly delicate flavour; and as we have no remains of the parler Mortemart, which so charmed the fastidious taste of Louis XIV.and his court, so we fear Madame Recamier's parler will never be known to posterity.
Besides Madame Lenormant's recollections of her conversation, we have a few fragments of an autobiography, in which her friends were more prominent than herself. These had been lent to M, de Chateaubriand and not returned. The manuscript