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who Ferguson was, and how he earned received hire, and the director of a secret press his nickname of the Plotter. He was
from which pamphlets, bearing no name, were a native of Aberdeenshire, born pro
daily issued. He boasted that he had con
trived to scatter lampoons about the terrace of bably about 1630. After studying at Windsor, and even to lay them under the royal the University of Aberdeen, he entered pillow. In this way of life he was put to many the Church, and at the time of the shifts, was forced to assume many names, and
at one time had four different lodgings in four Restoration held the living of God
different corn of London." mersham in Kent, from which he was ejected by the Act of Uniformity. These are Macaulay's words, and He then seems to have been master of though Mr. Ferguson has included a Dissenting school at Islington, a them in a passage which he instances preacher at Moorfields, and assistant as a specimen of moral caricature, only to the Nonconformist theologian, Dr. to be paralleled by the afore-quoted John Owen. But he soon began to personal caricature, they receive full earn his name. Within less than six corroboration in his own text. months after his ejection from his But now affairs began to take a living, he was lodged in the Gate darker complexion. From seditious house prison for treasonable practices, talking and writing the disaffected which however do not seem at that Whigs turned to insurrection and time to have then gone beyond dan murder. What is known in history gerous or, to
own phrase, as the Rye House Plot consisted really “ lavish ” talking. After nearly four of two separate schemes, one for a months' imprisonment he was released general rising in England and Scoton bail, and for the next sixteen years land, and another, growing out of the seems to have contented himself with first, for the assassination of the King composing theologicaltreatises, of which and the Duke of York. How many the curious will find a sufficient account of the promoters of the first scheme in this volume. But in 1679 he de approved of the latter never has been, finitely abandoned theology for politics; and probably never will be, ascertained. and from that year till 1682 he had a That they were most of them aware hand in the ablest and most seditious of it is almost certain, and that many of the pamphlets which gathered round of them disapproved of it may well be the fabled contents of the notorious believed. Men like Russell and Sidney, Black Box, and by means of which Argyll and Baillie of Jerviswood, were Shaftesbury and his party strove to no assassins. Monmouth was not a set up the Protestant Duke of Mon scrupulous man, and had little affecmouth, as heir apparent to the Crown, tion for his uncle, but he would never against the Popish Duke of York. have consented to the murder of his In 1680 the genius of Halifax moved father. Shaftesbury's complicity must the House of Lords to reject the remain more doubtful. But it is with Exclusion Bill by a large majority; Ferguson that we are directly conand the hasty dissolution of the new cerned. That he was at a very early parliament which met at Oxford in the stage in the confidence of the more following spring stopped the Bill again desperate plotters his biographer adand for ever. Then the triumph of mits; but he claims to prove that his the Court party received a check. It hero used his knowledge to thwart the was determined to try Shaftesbury for scheme, and that its miscarriage was high treason, but it was necessary to solely due to his courage and ingenuity. try him in London, and a grand jury, He has undoubtedly shown cause for carefully packed by the Wbig sheriffs, reconsidering the unanimous verdict threw out the bill. Through all this which has for more than two centuries time Ferguson's busy intriguing spirit named Ferguson as the prime mover knew no rest.
and guider of these murderous de“He was the keeper of a secret purse from
signs ; but that he has conclusively which agents too vile to be acknowledged
established his case is not so certain,
Together with the letters to his wife The evidence outside Ferguson's own there was discovered in the same office testimony is pretty equally divided. a manuscript in Ferguson's hand Rumsey and West, two of the conwriting, endorsed by him, " Concerning spirators who turned King's evidence, the Rye House business ”; and the laid the chief blame on him. Another whole question turns upon the amount of them, Bourne, with whom Ferguson of credence that, in the face of all had often lodged in London and who evidence to the contrary, can be given seems to have been much in his conto the writer's vindication of his own fidence, said that he had learned from character. Mr. Ferguson of course him that the design had been preclaims for it implicit credence, but vented—which, however, is not, as not all the arguments by which he his biographer seems to think, the supports his claim move us equally. same thing as saying that Ferguson The pious and kindly language of had prevented it. Moreover, this witthose letters to the wife, on which ness owned on another occasion to a he so triumphantly relies, seem to us certain speech of Ferguson, directly of little real value. The history of incompatible with any hesitation to human nature has long ago proved that take life. Holloway, who was exethe domestic affections can co-exist cuted, acquitted Ferguson, and declared with the blackest crimes. That one of West and Rumsey to be the guilty them at any rate tends to contradict parties. It is more pleasant to believe Burnet's statement that Ferguson was
that the man who suffers for his fault a common swindler we cordially ad is speaking truth, than to believe the mit; but, because he, when in hiding man who saves his own life by befor his life on a charge of treason, traying his comrades: on the other sent his wife a recipe for her gout and hand must be remembered the natural expressed his sorrow at being separ inclination of a man, brought to death ated from her and her children, to by treachery, to give his last breath maintain that he was incapable of to the confusion of the traitor. Still, countenancing assassination to further it may be fairly argued that so far bis political designs, seems to us, we
the evidence makes more for Ferguson frankly own, absurd. Ferguson was than against him. On the other side is a fanatic, and a religious fanatic, the Monmouth, who, on Sprat's authority, most dangerous of the breed : "half told the King that Ferguson maniac and half knave," Macaulay always for cutting of throats, saying calls him, and his biographer, though it was the most compendious way.' he is clearly unaware of it, practically Lord Howard of Escrick spoke also to leads his readers to the conclusion that certain dark hints; and Carstares, not these stern epithets were not unde the ally of the villain Oates, but the served. The history of those times brave clergyman who had kept his faith shows very plainly what religious under torture, and who was loved and fanatics were capable of. The assassins trusted by William as much as any of Sharp professed to believe their man after Bentinck, owned that Ferdeed directly inspired and sanctioned guson had declared it would be necesby God, and rode to their bloody sary to “cut off a few.” The evidence work with His name upon their lips. of neither Monmouth nor Howard goes Are we compelled to believe that a for much: both were men who in man, who manifestly bad in his own moments of extreme peril would hesicomposition much of the qualities tate at nothing to save themselves. which make such men as Burley and But Carstares was an honest as well Hamilton, was incapable of assenting as a brave man, and his testimony it to the murder of two enemies whom seems impossible to explain away by he called tyrants and heretics, be interpreting the words spoken to him cause he could pray God to bless his as referring only to the insurrection. wife?
This, we think, fairly represents the
sum of the evidence for and against find ourselves at issue with Mr. Ferthe Plotter, and it will thus be seen guson; and on them we must be brief. that the verdict must go by the mea Macaulay bas branded the declaration sure of belief due to his own story. which was read at the market cross Briefly told that story is to this effect. of Lyme on the fourth of June, 1685, As soon as the scheme for the assassin as a libel of the lowest class both ation of the two brothers was revealed in sentiment and language.
This to him, he carried the news at once to declaration was confessedly the work Monmouth, who swore he would not of Ferguson, and his biographer has have it, and charged him to stop it at therefore to defend it. “ It was," he his peril. This he did ; but, as the says, “ viewed very differently by those Duke had strictly enjoined that his to whom it was addressed.” No doubt; knowledge of the plot should never be and the speeches made by certain lawrevealed, bis lips were closed while less ruffians both in England and IreMonmouth lived. This is all clear and land today are no doubt viewed very reasonable enough. Monmouth, when differently by those to whom they are confessing to his father his share in the addressed, without changing the views plan of the insurrection, had denied all of all decent members of the commuknowledge of the intended murder; nity, Irish and English alike, who may and Ferguson therefore could not ex be at the pains to read them. It culpate himself without giving his best contained,” says Macaulay, patron the lie. His biographer, however, rather discounts his own belief “undoubtedly many just charges against the
Government. in this story by the suggestion that his
But these charges were hero's mysterious and inexplicable es
forth in the prolix and inflated style of a bail
pamphlet; and the paper contained other cape might be due to the Government's
charges, of which the whole disgrace falls on consent to favour a man who, as they
those who made them. The Duke of York, had learned from Monmouth, had
it was positively affirmed, had burned down
London, had strangled Godfrey, had cut the managed at great personal risk to
throat of Essex, and had poisoned the late save the King's life. But not to press King.” this point, what is not clear or reasonable is Ferguson's silence after Mon These charges, says Mr. Ferguson, mouth's death had upsealed his lips. were “but the ordinary missiles of It seems probable that his manuscript factious politics.” The “missiles of was seized, with the writer's other factious politics' are no doubt, as papers, in 1696, after the discovery of Macaulay says, and as certain persons the Assassination Plot. During ten
who call themselves statesmen years therefore Ferguson had ample now proving to their unalloyed satisopportunity for clearing himself from faction, extremely useful in “stimuan odious charge which he knew to be lating the passions of the vulgar." But universally believed against him. Yet they are not, we submit, well placed in he made no sign.
the mouth of one professing to call his On reviewing the whole case we can lawful subjects to aid him in recovering not think that Mr. Ferguson has made his birthright from a usurper, and in good his claim. We are willing to own restoring the religion and liberty of that he has shown cause for an appeal. his kingdom. As for the manner of We are
even willing to allow that this declaration, Mr. Ferguson conthere may be grounds for granting siders it far superior as a specimen of him a verdict of Not Proven. But to
literary style to the declaration drawn allow him to have established his plea up by James Stewart for Argyll. To of Not Guilty is, we must frankly say, decide the literary claims of two such in the face of even bis own witnesses, masterpieces would tax the skill of the impossible.
critic who argued on the superiority of We can only touch on two out of his own fooling over that of his friend, the many other points on which we Sir Toby Belch. But as Mr. Ferguson,
with his rare, but surely somewhat congratulated the country on being puzzling candour, has printed large more ruled by one of the extracts from the English declaration, serene family of Stuarts"; and he the curious have ample opportunity denounced Carstares, who had been for judging its quality. This, however, lately elected Principal of the Uniis more to the purpose : his biographer versity of Edinburgh, as one who had bas based his apology on the ground been deepest in the designs of the that Ferguson, even when most mis- Rye House conspirators. Neverthetaken and when most misled by reli less, despite his declarations, and his gious and political zeal, was at bottom a assurance under examination, he was man of genuine and sincere conviction, again lodged in Newgate. His prowas, in short, a good and honest man. secution, however, came to nothing, Is it, we would ask, the part of a good and after some months' imprisonment and honest man, a professing minister he was set free. From this time he of the Christian religion, to bring seems to have plotted no more. But against another for any purpose charges his pen was as busy as ever; and to of the gravest and most odious nature this period belongs the most remarkwhich he knows to be absolutely false ? able of all his writings, a history of
The last of Mr. Ferguson's claims the Revolution, designed to show that that we propose to traverse is perhaps it was in reality a Popish device, and the most remarkable of all. It does William no more than the unscrupunot involve matters of such grave lous agent of the Jesuits. At length moment as the others, but it is even the end came, as the end of such a life more singular. When William had was fated to come, in poverty and sadbrought his great enterprise to a
In 1710 he lost his faithful and settled conclusion, he did not overlook affectionate wife: the children of his even the meanest of those who had dead brother were taken from him by been associated with it. Wildman their guardian: and in 1714 his dark was made Postmaster-General: Fer and wayward spirit knew rest at last. guson was rewarded with a sinecure His biographer has been at great in the Excise worth five hundred pains to show that this sudden and pounds a year. He had scarcely been startling change from the extreme of settled in his new office when he Whiggery to the extreme of Jacobitturned to his old game. He could no ism was, like all the actions of his longer conspire against the Stuarts : life, based sincere convictions. he therefore turned Jacobite and con The results of the Revolution were not, spired for them. He was in the Scotch we are told, such as he had hoped for : plot of Sir James Montgomery : he the toleration extended by William to was in the plot which Russell crushed the Roman Catholics was naturally in the bay of La Hogue: he was in resented by one whose whole life had the Lancashire plot : he was in the been a struggle against the tyranny of plot of Charnock and Fenwick, which, the Papists. Surely this is a strange like the old affair of the Rye House, way of accounting for this champion included an assassination scheme fo of the Protestant faith throwing himmented by the notorious “ Scum” self into the arms of its bitterest Goodman. For his share in this last enemy. But from arguments Mr. business he was locked up in Newgate Ferguson soon passes
into excuses. for nearly a year.
He was next heard of in connection with those mysterious
“Is it so improbable that an honest but
hot - tempered man, finding himself dis. intrigues of Lovat, popularly known appointed in those from whom he had expected as the Scots, or Queensberry, Plot. something very different from what he saw, This gave him an opportunity of at
and also a little piqued at glaring neglect of once advertising his new principles
his own past exertions, learning that much he
had believed was groundless, should reconsider and paying off an old grudge. He
the past, reverse the engine, and retrace his
career ? Sir Robert Peel was converted to
after William was settled on Free Trade after the triumph of Protection in the throne, not for many years after 1841 ; his most prominent disciple executed a
he was in his grave, was it clear to sharper political curve in the closing months of 1885.
the men of those days that the cause
of the Stuarts was a lost cause. If Few who care to acquaint them
any faith is to be put in the Plotter's selves with the nature of Ferguson's
own language it was certainly not clear exertions, as shown, for example, in the
to him, when he told James that if he Presbyterian meeting-house at Exeter,
landed in England with fifteen thouand to consider how far they were sand men he would be joined by more likely to have furthered the success of
than he brought, and, with God's the Revolution, will probably consider
assistance, would march peaceably to them to have been glaringly neglected Whitehall; or again, when he offered by a sinecure of five hundred pounds
to give himself up for punishment in a year. Nor is it a happier use of
France, if that enterprise should miswords to describe him as retracing his
carry whose utter and irretrievable career. He did no such thing. He had
failure James himself saw accomplished hitherto been a Presbyterian and Non
from the ramparts of Saint Vaast. conformist of the straitest sect. He
And finally we must beg to remind was now to become a High Churchman;
Mr. Ferguson that this honest man and indeed, when he did not hesitate
did not scruple to take the money to declare that, if James were restored, of the king he was betraying till he would put a rope round his neck
his treachery became too gross for and ask pardon of him on his knees, that king's forbearance.
“He was the current report that he had turned free," says his biographer triumphPapist was, to say the least, not un
antly, “from the inexpiable baseness reasonable. But the last excuse is the
of Marlborough and Sunderland." It strangest of all, and most strange strikes us that to live on the bounty indeed to come from a member of Mr.
of the man you are betraying bears a Ferguson's profession. In what court
very strong affinity indeed to the inof law has it been ever held good that
expiable baseness which has been laid the offence of one man is condoned by to the charge of Marlborough. the same offence having been previously
But though we can accept neither committed by another ? Nor is the
Mr. Ferguson's arguments nor his expolitical parallel more happily drawn.
cuses, we cordially agree with him Mr. Gladstone's soul may lack the star that there is nothing improbable in like properties of Milton's, but it his hero's conduct. Nor do we find certainly dwells apart : he is not anything in it inexplicable. It seems made as others are. Those changes of to us, on the contrary, of a piece with political front which so sorely puzzle all the actions of his life, and with his feebler heads, to him are evolutions as
own explanation of those actions. And natural and inevitable as those by it is Mr. Ferguson himself who has which men grew out of monkeys. He made this clear to us. He has told us reposes secure in the belief of his own how, when the Rye House bubble was reasonableness. For our part we can blown, and the conspirators were met only say, with Falstaff's tailor, that for the last time, the confident Plotter we like not the security.
laughed at their fears.
“Gentlemen," But, urges Mr. Ferguson, if the he said, “you are strangers to this Plotter's last state be inexplicable, at kind of exercise ; I have been used to least it was the state of an honest man : fly, I will never leave off as long as I we must not doubt the sincerity of a live.” In these words lies the simple man who, when he changes, changes solution of the whole problem. to the losing side. Again we cannot one of the most amusing of his Idlers accept the excuse.
Johnson has illustrated a class of
Not for many