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“ In attempting to supply this obvious desideratum in our national literature, the present writer has spared no pains in his enquiries after new and important facts. And, notwithstanding many disappointments, he trusts that some curious and interesting information will be found to have rewarded his research. If, indeed, he had fortunately succeeded in recovering Sydney's letters to his uncle, the Earl of Northumberland, or those successively addressed to Sir John and Sir William Temple, he might have done greater justice to the theme. But whilst every attention was paid to his enquiries, by the noble families in whose possession there seemed to be the greatest probability of their being still preserved, no traces of these letters could be found.
The author's access to manuscript authorities has consequently been confined to a few documents which still remain ‘at Penshurst, unnoticed or misquoted by Collins; and such, as being deposited in the public offices, which are now, for the first time, presented to the world. But he has endeavoured to supply the defect of original information, by a careful search after all that is contained in the histories, or even in the journals of the times: and he has neglected no means of procuring either facts or illustrations which might tend to the improvement of his work, ever remembering the chief duty of a biographer, to trace the progress of his hero through surrounding circumstances, and not too minutely to detail the story of his age.”
The Sydneys, or Sidneys, as they formerly denominated themselves, were originally of French extraction. They settled in England in the reign of Henry II., at which period, one of that family (Sir William) accompanied the king as his chamberlain from Anjou. They chiefly resided in the counties of Sussex and Surrey until the reign of Edward VI., who in 1552, was pleased to reward the services of his tutor, Sir William Sydney with the forfeited park and manor of Penshurst, in Kent, on which they removed to Sussex. His son, Sir Henry, was for many years chief-governor of Ireland; one
of his grandsons was the gallant and accomplished Sir Philip; and Sir Robert, another, obtained the honours of the peerage from James I., first as Baron Sydney, of Penshurst, and after. wards as Viscount Lisle and Earl of Leicester.
Algernon, the second son of Robert, the second Earl of Leicester, by the Lady Dorothy Percy, daughter of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, was born in 1622; and it is no less surprising than true, that the precise month and day has never been ascertained by the present or any former biographer. Descended from a line of ancestors, distinguished no less by the splendour of their family alliances, than the eminent virtues displayed, and the high offices exercised by them, this youth soon exhibited talents of no ordinary kind. During the unhappy civil wars, he took part with the parliament, and enjoyed high military rank both in England and Ireland. When it was proposed by the ruling party to bring Charles to trial, his name was included in the list of judges ; but although he was present at one or two meetings of the commissioners, yet he declined to sit in judgment on his sovereign. Notwithstanding this, on the restoration, he was obliged to live a considerable time, as an exile, in foreign countries, and was only permitted to return, at the request of his dying father. Being afterwards included in the act of indemnity, he resided in his native country, until cut off, during the reign of Charles II., by one of the most flagitious violations of justice that ever disgraced any state in Christendom.
It is supposed that Algernon Sydney gave great offence to the court, by his answer to Filmer, in which he not only maintained the doctrine of resistance to tyranny, but the right of the people “ to change the families or persons who abused the power with which they had been entrusted.” The perjury employed to cut him off; the nomination of a packed jury by a sheriff of London ; the brutal conduct of Sir George Jefferies, by constantly interrupting the prisoner in his defence, as well as by the virulence of his charge; his subsequent conviction and execution; are all facts well known to the public. Indeed, in the reign of William III., the attain
der was reversed, and the whole of the proceedings, on this memorable occasion, obliterated from the public records.
The name of the presiding judge has been long held in execration. We are told, indeed, “ that the inhuman Jefferies boasted to the king of the important services he had rendered him by such a gross violation of law and decency; and is said to have been afterwards rewarded for such services, with a present of a valuable ring !"
After estimating his various claims as a patriot, an author, and a statesman, his biographer concludes as follows:
“ Such was Algernon Sydney ; such, by the liberal and enlightened, has he ever been esteemed. His little errors are lost in the blaze of transcendent genius; of virtues, such as fall not to the common lot of man! Let those who calumniate his character, and revile his principles, remember, that to the practical assertion of those very principles, at the revolution, England has owed her best superiority over the nations of Europe.
“ If he formed too favourable an opinion of the dignity of human nature, and recommended a freedom too pure and too lofty for the passions and prejudices of the mass of mankind; it was the error of a mind sublime and generous: the greatest benefactors of their species have uniformly cherished an equal enthusiasm. And while the censures of the venal and the base are heard of but for a moment, the name of Sydney will live in the memory of the just, and his conduct will excite the emulation of the honourable; while his character and principles will be applauded by every friend to the liberties of Britain.
“And if, in the revolving annals of her history, that day shall ever arrive, when the despotic prince and the profligate minister shall again prompt the patriot of noble birth to do or to die for his country; then may the image of Algernon Sydney rise up to his admiring eye; and against the darkness of fate, whether its smile or his frown awaits his “ well-considered enterprise," let him fortify its spirit by an example of "magnanimity so choice and so complete."
Meanwhile the health of Mr. Meadley began sensibly to decline, notwithstanding which he had engaged in a life of his friend, the late Dr. Disney. This, however, he never lived to complete; for, after a lingering illness, he expired towards the conclusion of 1818, to the great sorrow of his family and friends.
Inscription Tablet, now placed in the Sunderland Subscription
Library, by a Vote of a General Meeting, Dec. 22. 1818.
TO HONOUR THE MEMORY, AND PERPETUATE THE EXAMPLE,
ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF THIS LIBRARY,
THIS MARBLE WAS ERECTED,
BY THE RESOLUTION
OF A GENERAL MEETING OF SUBSCRIBERS.
HIS CORRECT AND EXTENSIVE KNOWLEDGE,
WAS EVER ZEALOUSLY DEVOTED
TO ADVANCE THE WELFARE OF THIS INSTITUTION,
WHICH THUS RECORDS
ITS GREAT AND IRREPARABLE LOSS.
The following composition, which first appeared in a periodical publication, was afterwards printed for the use of, and circulated among his friends, by one of whom it has been kindly communicated to us.
DIED, At Bishop-Wearmouth, on Saturday last, after a short but severe illness, aged 45, George Wilson Meadley, Esq. author of the Memoirs of Dr. Paley, Algernon Sydney, &c. He was endowed with an acute and comprehensive understanding; his mind was stored with the treasures of literature in a degree seldom attained but by - the most painful and laborious application ; and his memory was
80 powerful and tenacious that he could recal at pleasure the details of any event, or the contents of any book that had ever engaged his attention. He had perhaps read more than any man of his years,
and yet his mental arrangement was so clear and distinct, that his ideas were always expressed with firmness and decision; and on the subject of general literature his authority was unquestionable.
“ In his opinions he was liberal, although it must be acknowledged that on some subjects, (of which he was undoubtedly the master,) his manner occasionally betrayed a conscious superiority; but, with his great and universal acquirements, some shade is necessary to complete the picture.
16 Of the merit of the two works above mentioned the public have formed a favourable opinion, and a second edition of the former is nearly exhausted. If the language of this interesting memoir has been considered occasionally deficient in the graces of harmonious diction, it is sufficiently compensated by an inflexible adherence to truth ; and by a determined expression of exalted and manly sentintent. The Life of Sydney is remarkable for perspicuity of arrangement and energy of style ; and the political opi- . nions of the author are fully expressed in this bold and vigorous sketch. Of his minor tracts and fugitive pieces it is feared no certain account has been preserved. — A Memoir of Mrs. Jebb, however, is entitled to distinct notice, from its dignified and chastened feeling. It was intended to preserve the memory of departed worth,' and was dedicated, with much propriety, to Dr. Disney, who was one of the author's literary friends. In the manner and deportment of Mr. Meadley there were certain peculiarities, which generally accompany studious habits, but which gradually wear away by the collision of polished society. In his general habits he was cheerful and communicative; and in his domestic life, he was a warm friend, a kind brother, and an affectionate son. mains were interred in the burial-ground of the family in Sunderland church-yard, attended by a numerous train of friends, who spontaneously joined the funeral procession, to pay their last and melancholy tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased.”
Thus died, at the age of 45, George Wilson Meadley, a man original in his mamers, character, and modes of life. In respect to religion, he was an Unitarian; in politics, he was a Whig of the last century: he deemed the crimes of Charles I. deserving of his fate; of course, he venerated the memory of Hampden, Sidney, and all the patriots of that day, :who contributed to his fall. Willian III. in his eyes appeared
- His re