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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VII. Historical and Political Writers

§ 20. Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun; His Political Career and Discourses

A place of his own among the political writers of the close of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century must be assigned to Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun. Though his public life was entirely associated with Scotland and its affairs, his political speculations took a wider range, and exhibit that cosmopolitanism which has for centuries been a distinctive mark of his nationality. Of his training, in his early years, at the hand of Burnet, mention has already been made; after this he travelled and acquired a knowledge of French, as well as of Italian so far as to compose and publish a treatise in that tongue. In 1678, he was sent as one of the members for his native Haddingtonshire to the convention of estates summoned for the purpose of supplying money for the maintenance of the soldiery employed for the suppression of presbyterian conventicles; but he joined the opposition to this and other ecclesiastical measures of the government, incurring thereby the implacable enmity of James duke of York. In the end he made his way to Holland, and, though he accompanied Monmouth to England in 1685, did not return to Scotland till the time of the revolution. The second chapter in his political career culminated in the Darien expedition, of which he was a primary promoter; and it was about this time (1698) that he first appeared as a political writer. A Discourse of Government with relation to Militias, published at Edinburgh in 1698, is thoroughly characteristic of the writer, who, plunging into the midst of the war of pamphlets on the question of standing armies which raged after the peace of Ryswyk, was ready with a complete plan for rendering unnecessary the dangerous expedient of a standing mercenary force. The people must be trained to the use of arms on a carefully planned system but for the purpose of defence only; for the sea is the only empire naturally belonging to Britain. In the same year—clearly in the autumn—Fletcher wrote Two Discourses on the affairs of Scotland, shortly after (2nd of July) the Darien expedition had failed. On the fostering of the new colony, the writer declares, depended the whole future of Scotland, cruelly impoverished partly through her own fault, and partly because of the removal of the seat of her government to London. After provision has been made for the colony, thought must be taken of the stricken country at home; and it is in the second of these Discourses that Fletcher prescribes the drastic remedy of domestic slavery—especially for the population of the Highlands, for which, it must be observed, he entertained great contempt. A little earlier in the same year was written his Italian discourse on Spanish affairs, apparently suggested by the first Partition Treaty. The Speech upon the State of the Nation (1701)—which was probably never delivered—deals with the second of these treatises, as completing the establishment of Bourbon ascendancy—it “is like an alarum bell rung over all Europe. Pray God it may not prove to you a passing-bell.” In the heated debates of the Scottish parliament of 1703 Fletcher took a leading part, preparing a bill of Security which would have very narrowly limited the royal authority in Scotland, and, when this was dropped, joining in the refusal of supplies. At least one speech and one pamphlet of this period attributed to him are spurious; but he completed, at the end of 1703, a short piece called An Account of a Conversation concerning a Right Regulation of Government for the Common Good of Mankind, which reports, with much vivacity and aptness, “from London” to the marquis of Montrose and other Scots lords a dialogue on the relations between England and Scotland, held in the earl of Cromartie’s lodgings at Whitehall. Scene, personalities and subject are treated very attractively; the conclusion is that, not an incorporating union, but a federal union is the desideratum for keeping the three kingdoms together. The style of this letter is admirable, and approaches the best English prose style of the age at a time when there was little of performance or even of pretension in Scottish prose. Here is to be found “the famous saying,” attributed to “a very wise man,” that, “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”