« VorigeDoorgaan »
avocations. In 1657—not ten years after he had been called to the bar--Monk recommended him to Cromwell for the office of Judge, as being 'a very honest man and a good lawyer.' Stair's acceptance of this office seems to Mr. Mackay a thing requiring excuse. In our judgment it was one of the most justifiable steps in his somewhat shifty public life. Nor do we think it worth while to defend a course of which an example was set by such men as Hale in his own profession, and Blake in another. Far more questionable was his conduct under Charles. He was knighted immediately after the Restoration, and included in the first Commission of Scottish Judges. But in 1662 a Declaration was imposed on all persons in offices of trust. This measure was aimed directly at Presbyterians. The declarant affirmed solemnly the illegality of all leagues, covenants, and gathering3 in the late troubles ; and particu'larly, that those oaths, whereof the one was commonly called «« The National Covenant" (as it was sworn and explained in the year 1638 and thereafter), and the other entituled “A "“ Solemn League and Covenant,” were and are, in themselves ' unlawful oaths, and were taken by and imposed upon the subjects of this kingdom against the fundamental laws and liberties of the same.' Stair hesitated. His family was Presbyterian. He himself had all his life been a Presbyterian. In the late troubles' he had for two years borne • for Christ's Crown and Covenant.' He had, at one time, resolved to resign; but a slight concession from those in power sufficed to overcome his scruples. Lauderdale, who seems to have had as much liking for Stair as it was in his nature to have for any man, and who doubtless appreciated the value to the administration of Stair's character and abilities, stood his friend. He was summoned to London, and admitted to an interview with Charles, who possibly may have remembered with favour the secretary of Breda and the Hague. The result was a permission to accompany his signature of the Declaration with the verbal statement, that he was content to declare against ' whatever was opposite to his Majesty's just right and pre
rogative. These words are no real qualification of the terms of the Declaration, and it is difficult to believe that any mind can have regarded the utterance of them as other than a farce. To such paltering with conscience we prefer the frank
* Very different from the qualification with which Burley took the test of drinking the health of the Primate of St. Andrews in Niel Blane’s Change House — May each prelate in Scotland soon be as the Right Reverend James Sharpe.' Well might Bothwell say, 'I don't know what the devil the crop-eared Whig means.'
readiness of Lauderdale to sign a cartfull of such oaths before - he would lose his place.
Stair was created President of the Court of Session, and made a member of the Privy Council in 1671. He held these offices for ten years—years during which, in the calm judgment of Hallam, the wickedness of the administration can find no parallel in modern history. For this Mr. Mackay proposes no defence; Mr. Graham adopts the defence stated by Stair himself in his ' Apology, which is simply that he did not approve of severity against those who suffered for serving • God in the way they were persuaded ;' that he did what he • durst to save them. The defence is not very successfulespecially when we consider the small result of his exertions. The distinction between commissions granted for the performance of necessary public duties and those which relate to · councils for establishing usurped power or burdening the * people, by which Stair justified his holding office urder Cromwell, cannot avail him in this matter. Lauderdale was then carrying out his scheme of subverting the Constitution and governing Scotland by the Privy Council, without a Parliament; and everyone who sat with him in the Privy Council must be held responsible for the guilt of that scheme. No one would impute to Stair the malignity of the apostate Sharpe, or the pleasure in human suffering which showed itself in the dark nature of James ; but a dislike to witness the infliction of torture was a merit which he shared with the majority of his colleagues, and his preference for moderate counsels was only evinced by absence or silence. By the practice of such prudential arts no man can obtain exoneration from whatever blame may attach to the government of which, from motives of ambition or interest, he consents to be a member.
But the time had now come when caution and moderation could no longer avail. The Duke of York came to Scotland as Commissioner in 1679, animated, even then, by that determination to raise up Popery which in the end cost him his crown. It was soon apparent that any such design would be opposed by all but the most subservient of Scottish statesmen. Stair, at his first interview with the Duke, gave offence by welcoming him to an entirely Protestant country.' He filled up the measure of his iniquity by carrying in Parliament an addition to the Test Act of 1681, defining the Protestant religion as the religion contained in the Confession of Faith
recorded in the first Parliament of James VI.' He tells us that his object was to provide the safest hedge against
Popery ;' and this object was perfectly apprehended by
James. Accordingly, Stair on going to London, either to obtain permission to take the test with a qualification, as he had done the Declaration of 1662 ; or, as some have said, with the view of securing for his more complaisant son the place which he foresaw he himself would have to resign, was, at the instance of the Duke of York, refused an audience of the King; and a new Commission was issued in which his name did not appear. Stair assures us he would not have signed the test. Why a man who had signed the Declaration of 1662, and had been for ten years a member of the Privy Council, should have stickled at this test we are wholly unable to understand. But it is unsafe to pronounce judgment on matters of conscienceespecially when the consciences are those of Scottish statesmen of the seventeenth century. The main fact is, that Government never offered him the chance of signing. To have done so would have been a farce. His ruin was determined on. Moderation, not unlike his own, had brought destruction on Argyle. The President's declared hostility to Popery was worse than moderation. His dismissal came from the same cause which, a few years later, raised Perth and Melfort over Queensberry; and which in England led to the downfall of the Hydes—the resolve of James to have in his service no minister who would not do his bidding even in the matter of religious profession.
Stair retired to the country, but was not allowed to enjoy his retirement. The eye of the tyrant was upon him. In 1662 Claverhouse was sent to urge on the persecution in Wigton and Galloway. Of course, he found cause of offence in everything done by the fallen President. It is half melancholy, half ludicrous, to read Stair's appeals to Queensberry, imploring favour, protesting loyalty, and remonstrating against being
disquieted' because his wife won't attend the parish church, which, he plaintively adds, “I cannot help’-an inability easy of credence if the lady had any likeness to the mother of the Bride of Lammermoor. At last, acting on a friendly hint from Sir George Mackenzie, he fled to Holland.
At Leyden—fit refuge for an exiled scholar-Stair found a
* Mr. Mackay's biographical enthusiasm prompts him to stand up for Lady Stair. But he might have remembered that she is thus described by one of her descendants : ‘In Lady Ashton the character of our great-great-grandmother seems in many respects more faith'fully delineated, or at least, less misrepresented. She was an ambitious and interested woman, of a masculine character and understanding.' Letter from Mr. Dalrymple Elphinstone in the Introduction to the Bride of Lammermoor.'
society, composed of the most eminent and learned men in Europe, ready to soothe his six years of banishment. Of his life there little is known. He gave himself to literary pursuits; he supported, in a languid way, the enterprise of Argyle; while resting his hopes, we can readily believe, on a very different deliverer. He, least of all men, was likely to have been led away by the proverbial credulity of exiles. He was recommended by Fagel to the notice of William, who soon saw and valued his cool sagacity. He entered eagerly into William's great design, professing himself willing to venture his head, his own and his children's fortunes, in such an undertaking-a declaration the magnanimity of which is somewhat impaired by the fact that the family estates were perfectly safe in any event, being at that very time enjoyed by his eldest son, serving James as Lord Advocate and Lord Justice Clerk. But William could not afford to look closely into such matters. He knew Stair was able; he had reason to believe him willing to serve the good cause. He, therefore, honoured him with much confidence, and took him over to England in the • Brill.'
Here Stair's work as a statesman begins. He is said, indeed, to have shared the counsels of Monk before the march into England which restored the monarchy. But, with this exception, he had hitherto lived the life of a mere lawyer, avoiding, even to the disregard of duty, any part in state affairs. To such a course he had been led partly by timidity, partly because he disliked the governments he continued to serve. Both causes were now removed. His political views were in accord with the new order of things; there was no longer room for timidity: the only hope of safety to him or his lay in the stability of William's throne. Even now, however, the part which he took was not a public one.
He lived in a beautiful villa on the banks of the Thames belonging to the widow of his old patron Lauderdale, and guided the deliberations of William on Scotch affairs by his experience and sagacity. He was, in the crisis of the Revolution, the confidential adviser Carstairs afterwards became. And, in truth, the sagacity which directed William in these things must have been sagacity of no common order. If, as there is every reason to believe, Stair suggested the mode in which the Convention which was to meet at Edinburgh should be summoned—in righteous disregard of existing laws; if, by his advice, nobles who had been deprived of their honours by the tyranny of the Stuarts were invited to resume their seats in Parliament; if, by his advice, the franchise was so extended that none but Papists were excluded from the vote; if he had any share in William's letter
to the Convention when it did assemble, and in the private instructions sent to the friends of the Government, in which we see not only a statesmanlike view of the position, but an intimate and accurate knowledge of Scotch parties and of the Scotch character; then few advisers have ever given wiser counsel to a prince. Ecclesiastical matters presented, perhaps, the most serious and the most lasting difficulty. William was undoubtedly desirous that the Scotch should be induced to accept a moderate form of Episcopacy. The establishment of Presbytery in Scotland made every Scotch Episcopalian a Jacobite, and was, moreover, in the highest degree distasteful to English churchmen, high and low alike. Nor is it uncharitable to suppose that a prince as greedy of power as any who have ever governed England may have had some preference for a form of Church government which, to say the least, has always been associated with the ascendancy of the Crown. Stair, knowing Scotland, knew the maintenance of Episcopacy to be impracticable. Aided probably by Carstairs, he had little difficulty in bringing William to this opinion. But a further and most important object was that William should be saved from the unpopularity sure to be incurred by him in England were he to countenance the overthrow of Episcopacy in the North. The matter must be decided before he could have any say in it, or any title to interfere. Stair effected this by prevailing upon the managers of the Convention to insert a clause in the Claim of Right declaring Episcopacy an insupportable institution, odious to the nation, which must be abolished. William, therefore, if he accepted the Crown of Scotland at all, had no choice but to accept it on a contract of which this was the first condition.
It seems to have been undetermined whether Stair should be restored to his place as President, then held by Sir George Lockhart. In his Apology' he says he would not have taken the place while Sir George lived; adding, frankly enough, nor
had I any doubt but that the King would have provided me as well as by it.' The murder of Lockhart in March 1689 removed all difficulty; and Stair thus writes, with a certain half-sincerity, as to his own feelings at the time: That shaine'ful murder of Sir George Lockhart touched the King much,
and made him say to me he saw it was necessary that I should * resume my place again, which I was willing, though it was
my right, he should continue to enjoy, being younger and abler to endure the toil than I.'
Accordingly he was re-appointed President of the Court of Session, and held that office till his death in 1695. These