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against the commonwealth a severe judge, in like offences committed against himself a ready fort and refuge of mercy, except to such as would persist incorrigibly. A man he was in gifts of nature and of grace peerless; and to conclude, a man above all praises. Such a king did God set to reign over England, whereof this realm may well vaunt above all others.”
Such being the estimation in which we are told by a justly popular historian we ought to hold the detested Eighth Henry: let us see whether a careful scrutiny of the evidence for and against Abdallah, will not serve in some degree to modify our opinions respecting him also.
To us, deeply meditating on these things, we confess there appears much to be urged in his defence.
With our present ideas of social economy, our improved criminal code, and milder administration of laws, we dare not absolutely hold him up as a model, in all respects to be copied in the present day: but if our readers will only carry back their minds to the age in which he probably lived, and prevail on themselves to discard early prejudices, and take up the investigation with an honest and impartial mind, we do despair of seeing his statue occupying in the Walhalla of nations a far different place from that to which we have hitherto been accustomed to consign it. The history is simply this :-Abdallah was an eastern prince. We do not know the exact locality of his dominions, or the age in which he lived, or the language spoken by his people. Whether he was independent of the Porte or not, does not appear, but it is clear that he had at least supreme and arbitrary power in matters of life and death within the realm submitted to his sway. He lived in great magnificence, and in a palace and park of exceeding beauty.
Of his military or administrative talents we are left in ignorance: of his personal appearance also we are told but little, and that little is not prepossessing. In fact the only peculiarity of which contemporary history and tradition have recorded any mention, is the colour of his beard-a singular hue certainly, if we are to suppose that the description in the original manuscripts has been correctly rendered into our own language,—but of this hereafter. Singular however as it was, and repulsive to our tastes, it does not appear to have operated at all to his disadvantage with the other sex, with whom personal appearance is usually considered to have greater weight than with ourselves. He seems, on the contrary, to have been more than commonly acceptable to them. Like our own Henry VIII. he is said to have had a plurality of wives, (in succession, not at one time, be it observed, for there is no reason to suppose that he was a polygamist; and this is, by the way, significant as fixing his status, in point of civilization, among other oriental princes). How many times the marriage knot was tied we are not told, neither do we know anything regarding the rank or character of his earlier wives : but history tells us that, last of all, he espoused, with the full consent and approbation of her parents, Fatima, the daughter of one of his own nobles. He is admitted to have been for some time, at least, subsequently to his marriage, a most indulgent and affectionate husband. Being, then, obliged to leave his palace, either on a tour to some distant part of his dominions,'or for a conference of princes, or on some other affairs of importance, he took a tender leave of his bride, and confided to her the entire control of his palace and household, withholding from her nothing-not even the keys of his most sacred and secret apartments.
This unlimited confidence was, however, accompanied by a specific and emphatic charge,-that one particular room was on no account to be entered—not a very unreasonable request, or command if you will, when so much licence was ungrudgingly given. She hesitated not to give a solemn pledge of obedience, and the confiding husband departed upon his mission,-not doubting, but doting not suspecting, but madly loving. Availing herself of the generous permission which he had given, she summoned around her all her friends and relations, and a sort of carnival was proclaimed. Feasting and dancing, the banquet and the ball; every species of amusement which the wit of woman could devise, or the possession of unbounded wealth supply, was provided; and the cup of pleasure mantled before them, to be drained, if they pleased, to the very lees. Would that she had been content with this! but no! Female curiosity is almost as old as the creation, and this daughter of Eve was not exempt from the weaknesses of her mother. An act of wilful disobedience ensued: either
: stung, or suggested by the taunts of her acquaintances, or urged by her own inquisitiveness, she enters the forbidden chamber, and we all know what she witnessed there,—the corpses of several unhappy women, her predecessors, as we are told, in the possession of the hand and affection of the husband whose authority she had set at naught, and the victims of his righteous indignation, and the violated laws of his kingdom.
We know also the vain attempts which she made to escape detection, the key of the chamber was so ingeniously contrived, as to record the fact of its having been used: we are not in possession of the means by which this was effected: it is a lost secret in chemistry or mechanics, the recovery of which would be most valuable to us : but whatever the means employed, there was an ineffaceable mark left on the key, which was at once detected by the jealous eye of her husband on his return. Disappointment and rage on his part,-accusation, confession, condemnation, follow in rapid succession : the punishment of death, certain and immediate, is denounced against her. From this sentence there is no appeal: like the laws of the Medes and Persians, the prince's judgment altereth not! Execution is near at hand. A brief space, however, a decent interval is allowed. “In one hour, Madam, from this time, your body will be laid with those of my other wives, whose insatiable curiosity has led them to disobey my commands.”
The sentence, however, as we know, was not carried out: justice was robbed of its victim. A commotion was occasioned by the sudden appearance of her two brothers upon the scene,—an appeal to popular sympathy, an emeute, an insurrection followed: the prisoner was rescued, and Abdallah himself slain in the tumult. Her cause having been once successfully espoused by the people, she naturally became their idol: a provisional government was at once formed: the throne was declared vacant: she was placed at the head of affairs, and assumed the reins of power. We know but little of her subsequent history; but we have no reason to doubt that it was prosperous, for we are expressly told that “she lived very happily ever afterwards.”
Such are the general details of the history, as derived, let it be remembered, exclusively from female sources : for it is only from our nurses, and mothers, and maiden aunts, and elder sisters, that we ever heard it. The written
histories are evidently from female hands, and the embellishments and illustrations equally display a feminine origin. Such, we say, are the general details; and now let us ask ourselves what impression do they convey to us of the character of the monarch implicated in them. Stern he was, and unbending; but firmness in the execution of his decrees is at least no fault in princes. Cruel and sanguinary was he ? That is a question not so easily answered. Doubtless a Reformed British House of Commons, at least since the introduction of the ladies' gallery, would not for a moment entertain a proposition to make the indulgence of female curiosity a capital offence. We are not, however, dealing with a British House of Commons, but with an eastern despotism, and with a state of affairs widely differing from our own. We know that in Sparta, the punishment of death was inflicted for offences which would now be expiated by a detention for fourteen days in the House of Correction, with or without hard labour. Even in our own country, it is not very long since, that stealing linen from a hedge was a capital offence; so that all argument on the footing of the inadequacy of punishment to the offence committed, without reference to times and circumstances, is futile and irrational. It is sufficient to say that, by a competent authority in the dominions of Abdallah, the crime committed by Fatima was declared punishable with death; and that he, to whom the administration and execution of the laws was entrusted, swerved not from his duty in the application of them. Whether the law is reasonable or not is no affair of ours,—nor are we at all competent to give an opinion on the subject. There may have been important state reasons for the existence of so severe a law. We know