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From The Quarterly Review. which, at last, set bounds to the immod. JOHN DE WITT..
erate power and pretensions of France. THESE volumes record the events of a Though he failed, too, at the end of his life of high renown in a memorable age. career to free his country from foreign John de Witt was not the most illustrious invasion, it is now known that he in no of the soldiers and statesmen who, in the sense merited the furious obloquy that seventeenth century were placed at the broke out against him, and that led to his head of the Dutch republic; but there is calamitous death; his exertions, indeed, not a more noble and impressive figure for the defence of the State, if somewhat in that long procession of distinguished tardy, deserve high praise, and were frusworthies. The grand pensionary had not, trated only by causes beyond the control indeed, all the qualities of a born ruler of of men at a disastrous time; and, in fact, men; and his training and babits were he cemented the very alliances, through not of a kind that removed the inherent which, under his famous successor, the defects in his character. He had not the republic ultimately emerged from danger. quick intuitive genius which seizes the He accomplished all these things, moreoccasion at great crises, and adjusts the over, though he ruled the commonwealth course of the State to it; and, though with a doubtful title; and though, during capable of heroic conduct, he was rather the whole time of his power, he was op. too prone 10 a policy of device, or com- posed and thwarted by a large party in promise, and of attending events, which the State, and by a pretender of imposing he sometimes failed to foresee or to mas. claims, the efforts of both being a conter. With an intellect, too, more serene tinual source of division, strife, and na. than vivid, and essentially that of a philotional weakness. Nevertheless, though sophic jurist, he was apt to forget how great as a man of action, it is chiefly as a passion and feeling blind nations, like far-sighted thinker that John de Witt men, to their real interests ; and being a claims the attention of history. He was member of a great middle class, accom- the most judicious statesman of his time; plished and learned but somewhat exclu- the one who most clearly perceived what sive, he was at this disadvantage in con- were the permanent interests of the States ducting affairs, that he was not versed in of Europe, apart from passing and disthe intrigues of courts, and that he stood | turbing influences; and in this respect be aloof from popular sympathies. And yet was like Richelieu, but Richelieu without this eminent man ruled the Seven Prov. bis hard craft and ambition. The couninces, during a long period of danger sels be offered to Louis XIV., though abroad and trouble at home, with a suc- given with a view to national interests, cess that must be pronounced remarkable ; remain a monument of his sagacious in. and the commonwealth, under his auspi- sight, and attest his deep political wisdom. cious policy, attained its highest degree Had not the great king, in the pride of of power and greatness. The republic his power, turned a deaf ear to the Dutch seemed on the verge of ruin through rev. statesman, William III. might never have olution and a destructive war, when he ruled these kingdoms, and England, pero took in his hand the reins of government; haps, would not have attained the su. but he extricated it from this extremity premacy on the seas she has so long of peril; and he enabled it ere long to enjoyed. On the other hand, France assume a position of formidable weight would have been spared the fierce and among the powers of Europe. He was, protracted strife with Europe, which lest besides, the principal author of the cele. her exhausted at the Peace of Utrecht; brated league which, for the first time, her sovereign would have died the chief checked the ambitious violence of Louis of the Continent; and the seeds might XIV.; and he may be said to have pre never have grown on her soil, of which pared the way for the grand alliances the Revolution was the deadly barvest. • Jean de Witt, Grand Pensionnaire de Hollande.
The life and career of John de Witt are Par M. Antonin Lefèvre Pontalis. Paris, 1894. not, we believe, well known in England, partly because most of the accounts of to that intricate maze of intrigue and them were written in the Dutch tongue; statecraft, in which John de Witt played and partly because his fame has suffered a conspicuous part. Even external events from the discredit that follows a defeated are badly depicted ; and such striking
We eagerly turned to these vol- scenes as the great naval battles between umes to ascertain if they were worthy of the fleets of the States and of England the theme, but we cannot say very much from 1652 to 1666, and the memorable in their favor. M. Pontalis, no doubt, campaign of 1672, are feebly and indishas toiled hard at his work; he has col- tinctly portrayed. We must add that lected materials of real value from the mistakes in names abound, which we charlibrary and the archives of the Hague, itably hope are errors of the press; from the correspondence of the De Witt the book, in a word, is another example of family, and from State papers in London a singular fact in the literature of our and Paris; and the Duc d'Aumale, with day, how the French intellect, ever in excharacteristic kindness, has placed at his tremes, has forsaken its methods of the disposal a number of letters of the Great last century in the province of history and Condé, preserved at Chantilly, which kindred studies, and contents itself with throw fresh light on the invasion of Hol- amassing details, without an attempt to land. The author's researches on other generalize, or to observe the rules of art, points have also produced some fruitful order, or clear arrangement. results; we would especially refer to im. John de Witt was born in 1625. The portant details contained in the De Witt family of the future head of the commonpapers, respecting the policy of the grand wealth had been originally feudal nobles; pensionary, and his preparations for the but, like many of their order, they had defence of the States, before the campaign turned from the land to commerce in the of 1672; and many incidents of the fright. sixteenth century; and they had long ful tragedy, in which the brothers De formed a part of the high burgher caste, Witt perished and William III. succeeded which had freely lavished its wealth and to power, have been disclosed, for the iis blood in the protracted struggle with first time, in these pages. The book, the monarchy of Spain. Jacob de Witt, however, is in some respects disappoint. father of his illustrious soo, had, like many ing; it is a dull chronicle, and not a biogo of his ancestors, filled offices in the gove raphy connecting important events in erning bodies of his native town, Dort; history; it is a mere assemblage of illo and he had even risen to high place in digested facts, not the well-ordered work the States, for he was an ambassador from of a skilful artist. Notwithstanding his the republic to the court of Sweden. The long and assiduous labors, M. Pontalis boy was brought up with the attentive has failed to place before us the living care bestowed by his class in that day on images of John de Witt, of the remarkable their offspring; he was sent at an early men who shared his councils, and of the age to the high school of Dort, a seminary statesmen with whom he played for nearly of European fame, and in time he became twenty years the great game of politics ; a student at Leyden, the chief university and Mazarin and Cromwell, Charles II. of the seventeenth century. Young John and Temple, De Lionne, Louis XIV., gave proof at these places of learning, of and Louvois, nowhere stand out on bis great industry, and the finest parts; he crowded canvas in their personality and showed an extraordinary turn for law, estrue lineaments. His narrative, too, is pecially in its noblest branch, developed confused and obscure; it is, no doubt, dif- lately by the hand of Grotius; and he not ficult to describe clearly the shifts and
• We mention some of these, and could mention moves on the stage of Europe, of which
more: Vol. i., p. 7, “Spinosa” for “Spinola ;"p. 143, the Peace of Breda, the Triple Alliance, “Askue” for “ Ascue; p. 371, “Robert" for "Ruthe Treaty of Dover, and the war of 1672,
pert; p. 378, “Hartman” for “Harman;
in Sherness" for “Sheerness.” Vol. ii., p. 103, “Ose were only the outward and visible signs; sery” for “Ossory;" P. 314, "Solsbay” for “Solebui we seek in vain for a clue in this book / bay.”
only mastered mathematics with ease, but movement, which, after a series of rapid displayed much aptitude in applying the changes, ended in assuring the ascenscience to numerous inventions of his in- dency, sor a time, of the high burgher genious countrymen. The influences, too, families that ruled Holland. William II., which surrounded the youth in the circle the stadtbolder, the hot.brained chief of of home were well fitted to make the stu- the illustrious house of Orange-Nassau, dent a cultivated man of the world. At had for years aspired to a higher position this period many eminent men of let. than that of a mere chief magistrate. Alters in France held close relations with lied by marriage with the king of England, the aristocracy of the burghers of the he naturally desired to wear a crown; and States; Montaigne and other distin- with the connivance, perhaps, of Charles guished Frenchmen had found an asylum 1., and certainly of the crafty Mazarin, he or home in the Provinces, and the philos- bad secretly plotted to subvert the repubophy and manners of France flourished at lic. A proposition made by the States of Dort and other chief towns of Holland. Holland to reduce the army under his John de Witt, in his teens, had the great command, gave the prince the opportunity advantage of mixing with this brilliant he sought; at the head of a soldiery desociety; he became a disciple and friend voted to him, he attempted to surprise and of Descartes; and the French sympathies, take Amsterdam; and he suddenly arwhich he felt through life, were largely rested and cast into prison * six deputies due to the memories of these days. As of the obnoxious province. His supremthe high burgher, too, like the noble of|acy seemed, for the moment, complete, for, Venice, received a very comprehensive though loud murmurs of discontent were training, John de Witt became versed in heard, the different States of the Seven many accomplishments; he learned fenc- Provinces were not agreed on the vote for ing, tennis, music, and so forth; and, like the arıny, and in many respects were ill other future beads of States, he dabbled in accord; but death unexpectedly closed in verse with some success. To complete his career, and, for a time, defeated the an education of the most liberal kind, he hopes of his party. A counter-revolution made, with his elder brother Cornelius, - speedily followed ; and as the stadtholdfor in life, as in death, the pair were er's heir was only an infant — William united, — the grand tour of the seven- 111. was born eight days after his father's teenth century; the brothers travelled death — and the States.General had little through a large part of France, and visited real power without the support of the London and the southern counties. It chief magistrate, authority passed to the was the time of the troubles of the Fronde, States of Holland, at all times the first of of the close of the civil wars of England, the United Provinces, and, as we have and of the tragical fate of Charles I.; but, said, centred in its great burgher houses. curiously enough, the letters of the De The occasion brought John de Witt forth Witts take no notice of these great events, from the obscurity of a learned profession. though they certainly must have impressed His father had been one of the imprisoned them deeply. Very probably, with char-deputies; he was known to be a young acteristic caution, the young men man of parts; and he was chosen, accordunwilling, when in foreign lands, to place ingly, by his fellow-townsmen, as pensionon record their views respecting affairs of | ary, or head of its governing body, to State of the highest inoment.
represent Dort in the States of the provAt the age of twenty-four John de Witt ince. He took a prominent part in the became an advocate of the Supreme Court long debates which followed the recent at the Hague. He carried to the bar change of government; sustained with precocious fame, and some of his youthful great force a scheme to exclude the young pleadings are extremely good ; but he was child of the late stadtholder from the
; not destined to devote to law abilities fit
* The attempt of Charles I. to arrest the leaders of for a nobler calling. In 1650 the Seven the opposition in the House of Commons will recur to Provinces were shaken by a revolutionary the mind of the reader of English history.
hereditary place of chief of the army; and | enough concerning the right of search ; gave proof of such talent and ripe discre- and other States, which had felt the arms tion, that he became known in the States or envied the wealth of the Venice of the as the “wise youth of Holland.” His north, had tacitly combined in a league rise, in fact, was so complete and sudden, against her. The Portuguese had reconthat in 1652 he was selected to fill the quered Brazil and certain Durch settleoffice, temporarily, of grand pensionary, ments in the Indian seas; the court of or head of the province; and this, too, at Sweden was openly hostile ; nd even the a critical juncture, when the common Empire and its subject princes anticipated wealth was in extreme danger. The gladly the ruin of a power which, in many choice, nevertheless, was well" justified; respects, had presented a contrast humil. he showed ability of the highest order in iating to their own needy arrogance. negotiations with foreign powers; and he Revolution, besides, with its train of evils, succeeded by admirable skill and firmness had, as we have seen, disturbed the nain preventing an Orange rising in Zealand, tion; it had envenomed faction, destroyed which threatened to overthrow the exist. credit, and generally impaired that stead. ing government. Already recognized as fast patriotism which is the best hope of a the real leader of the class now dominant people in danger. The disasters that in the republic, John de Witt was con. soon overtook a community depending for firmed, in 1653, in the high place he had the most part on commerce were grievous, held for a time, and he was made grand and threatened to become intolerable. pensionary for the legal term of five years. The public distress was so great that He was a little older than Pilt when that “grass,” it was said, "grew in the streets great minister came to the helm of affairs of Amsterdam, and hundreds of ships in England; and, like Pitt, he was for rotted along the wharves;” many of the nearly twenty years supreme.
chief citizens of the large trading towns The office to which John de Witt suc- shut up their houses and shops in deceeded made him president of the States spair; a whole population was reduced of Holland, and administrative head of the to want, deprived of its yearly harvests of whole province, through the governing the sea; even the peasantry suffered and bodies of the leading towns; and it gave murmured loudly; and it had become imhim large influence in the States-General, possible to collect the taxes, the State especially in their external relations. By being menaced with general bankruptcy: the law, however, the grand pensionary The nation which, a few years before, had was in no sense chief of the entire com- emerged victorious from a deatb-struggle, monwealth ; and his prerogatives, in fact, which had founded colonies in many lands, were strictly limited to the narrow bounds had extended its commerce to distant con. of a single province. Partly, however, tinents, and had made Europe minister to because, as we have said, after the decline its wealth, seemed about to fall from its of constitutional powers, authority natu- high estate. rally passed to Holland, which was always The grand pensionary contrived to res. the dominant State, but chiefly perhaps, cue his countrymen from these depths of because a great man almost always draws disaster by a policy necessarily not brilauthority to himself, John de Witt be liant, and even, in some degree, tortuous, came, in a short time, the virtual ruler of but well considered and ably conducted. the Dutch republic. It was fortunate the one great enemy of the States was that he attained this position, for a mas. England, which, under the vigorous rule ter band was needed, at this time, to guide of Cromwell, was making Europe feel how the nation through a sea of troubles. The intense may be the energy of a revolujealousy of a rival maritime power had tionary power, and which seemed to have brought on a terrible war with England; so completely beaten down the republic, but, though Tromp had upheld the glory that the Protector contemplated its annex. of his flag, the fleets of the States had ation. To make peace with England, on been defeated in a series of fiercely con. any fair conditions, John de Witt pertested actions, and ba taken refuge ceived was therefore essential; and he within their barbors, and the victorious addressed himself to the arduous task enemy was preying upon the vast coin- with characteristic skill and judgment. merce of the defenceless commonwealth, The existing English and Dutch govern. and was sapping its resources by a strict ments had one common ground of feeling blockade, from the mouths of the Scheldt and interest: Cromwell was naturally jealto those of the Ems. Meanwhile a quar- ous of the Prince of Orange, a kinsman rel had broken out with France, curiously of the fallen house of Stuart; the bigh
burghers of Holland regarded the child of the commonwealth, which had always as a dangerous pretender to their own been the favorite service of the high power; and both viewed with dislike the burgher class, became more formidable royalist exiles, who, with Charles 11. had than at any previous time; the ships of fled from England and taken refuge in the its merchanis filled every port, and carried territory of the Seven Provinces. Mak. the products of more than half of Europe; ing dexterous use of these sentiments, the and the world — forgetting how frail and grand pensionary, after a long game of precarious was all that sustained this brildiplomatic address and intrigue, suc- liant opulence admired the restoration ceeded in obtaining the coveted peace, of the Dutch republic. The government, and that on better terms than might have meanwhile, appeared secure; taxation been thought possible. England, indeed, was lessened by the reduction of the debt; obtained a complete recognition of her the great office committed to John de Witt ancient claim to the sovereignty of the was entrusted to bim for the second time, seas, and compensation for bygone in and the Orange party was for a while juries; but the States suffered little ma- silent amidst general plenty and content. terial loss, and the idea of annexation was A new era, however, soon opened in forever abandoned. It was stipulated, Europe; the Commonwealth of England too, between the contracting powers, that passed away with Cromwell; Charles II. an asylum should be refused in the States sat on his father's throne, and France, to the royal family of England and their rich in all kinds of resources, and ruled adherents; and the Prince of Orange was by a young and ambitious king, had be. declared excluded froin the high com. come the dominant power of the Con. mands that had belonged to his house. tinent. The Dutch republic felt ere long A singular incident proves how complete the consequences of these momentous was the ascendency of Holland at this changes. Charles II. had made smooth time. John de Witt
, foreseeing that the professions to the States, and had sailed States-General, and indeed the States of from the Hague on his way to England; the other provinces, would never consent but he had not forgotten the Treaty of to the clause of exclusion, proposed that Westminster, and he longed to chastise it should be submitted to, and ratified by, the insolent burghers who had dared to the States of Holland only; and Cromwell offer an affront to royalty. Besides, an accepted this strange compromise, though increasing rivalry kept up the old feud it had no sanction from usage or law, and between the. States and England; the though it was opposed by inany even of traders and seamen of the two nations the Holland deputies. The treaty, how. had quarrels in every part of the globe; ever, if irregularly made, had brought the the Cavalier Parliament joined in the out. war with England to a close ; and, as John cry, and the king encouraged a national de Witt had correctly judged, the republic sentiment that fell in with his own pur. could deal with her remaining enemies. pose. Filibustering expeditions against The dispute with France was quickly the settlements of the States in Africa patched up, though it left bitter recollec- and the West Indies provoked a rupture tions behind; for France, at this period, already imminent; the republic instantly had no navy that could pretend to cope declared war, and the two nations rushed with the Dutch squadrons. As for the to arms once more. We shall not attempt Portuguese, they retained Brazil, but they even to sketch the scenes of the short were driven from the Indian islands and but tremendous struggle that followed, seas, and their government was soon and wbich is described at length, but not brought to reason, a feet under De Ruyter well, in this book. England was never having blockaded Lisbon. A great naval engaged in such another strife at sea as victory won in the Baltic disposed equally the terrible Battle of Four Days, and Enof the threats of Sweden, and the Empire gland has seen few such days of shame as and its vassals were obliged to acquiesce that on which the Dutch ships forced in the revival of the successful republic. their way past Chatham, and made their Within eighteen months from the Treaty guns to be heard at Gravesend. Of the of Westminster, the commonwealth was feets of the contending powers, the Enat peace with all foreign powers, and was glish, on which the Duke of York had able, so to speak, to breathe freely again. certainly bestowed extreme care, appar.
During the years that followed, the ently made the braver show; it went into States regained, and even increased, their action in a more orderly line, its maneuformer prosperity; and they attained the vres were more exact and brilliant. But highest point of their power. The navy the artillery of the Dutch was the more