Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Critical Introduction by W. Wallace
Bulstrode Whitelocke (16051675)
[The author of Memorials of the English Affaires was the son of a judge, and was born in London in 1605. He was educated at Oxford under the eye of Laud, studied law, and was called to the bar before the accession of Charles I., at which point in history his Memorials begin. After a youth noted, it would seem, by frivolity, he was elected to the Long Parliament, and soon made his mark in it. Of all his impeachers, Stratford said Palmer and Whitelocke used him like gentlemen. Originally a moderate Royalist, he offered a determined resistance to the attempt to make Presbytery jure Divino. Although he was a member of the Westminster Assembly, he lost no opportunity of fostering a reconciliation between King and Parliament, and was indeed fiercely assailed in the House of Commons for alleged treachery in the course of a private interview which Hollis and he had with Charles at Oxford. Later on, impelled by various motives, he veered round to the side of the more uncompromising opponents of the King. He even became the confidant of Cromwell, and had the courage, when sounded on the subject, to dissuade his chief from assuming the title of King. He was sent by Cromwell as ambassador to Sweden, and on his return resumed his place in Parliament and a practice at the bar, which, though often broken in upon by the exigencies of public affairs was, at some periods of his life, positively enormous. He was included in the Act of Oblivion, and died in 1675 1n his house in Wiltshire. Whitelocke, who was married three times, was distinguished by his religious though not ultra-puritanical sentiments, and by a love of his family which justified, in his own eyes at least, the scrupulous care for his own interests that characterised his action at many critical moments in his life.]
WHITELOCKE wrote complete Annals of his life, of which the Memorials are mere extracts. Judged by the latter, which have alone survived, he has no claim to the title of historian. The Memorials are a diary, the mere raw material of history. For philosophical deductions and general views the reader must have recourse to the diarists Parliamentary speeches, which are scattered liberally throughout the text. Apart from these, and the accounts of conversations, the work is the bald record of events almost no care being bestowed either on arrangement of facts or on style. Neither the excitement of debate nor the heat of battle seems to quicken his pulse or disturb the even flow of his pen. Yet his language is naturally apt, and he has a keen appreciation of the value of the personal in narrative. Thus he hastily summarises an important but tedious portion of the proceedings against Stafford after this fashion: A Bill was brought into the House of Commons to attaint the earl of high treason; upon debate whereof they noted him guilty of high treason. Yet he can spare time and space for a genuinely picturesque passage like this:The Earl was brought to the bar by the lieutenant of the Tower; his habit black, wearing his George in a gold chain; his countenance nearly black, his person proper, but a little stooping with his distemper or habit of body; his behaviour exceedingly graceful, and his speech full of weight, reason, and pleasingness. Only Whitelockes speeches and records of conversations smell of the closet lamp. Yet, granted that he was able in the subsequent writing of his orations to heighten their polish, it is evident that he was an effective speaker. Though the best service he rendered to the public was the passing of a measure for putting all the books of law and proceedings in the Courts of Justice into the English tongue, he did not disdain the rhetorical device of quotation, and his speeches are much more thickly studded with Latin phrases than with appeals to passion. The conversations which he commits to paper are stilted and formal. To sum up, the motto on the title-page of the Memorials is an index to the value of the book. It is important because it deals with events of which Whitelocke could say, Quæque ipse miserrima vidi, et quorum pars magna fui. He set down his impressions while they were fresh, and there is nothing in his character, so far as it is known, to lead us to suspect his bona fides. In his later years, living in enforced retirement, he wrote many religious books which were never published, but there is extant a posthumous volume of Essays, Ecclesiastical and Civil.