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

§ 8. Burnet in Exile

In the last years of Charles II’s reign, Burnet, from fairmindedness rather than from caution, declined to throw in his lot with the extreme protestant faction, though he was always more or less in touch with them. On the discovery of the Rye house plot (1683)—early in which year Burnet seems first to have set hand to The Memoirs, or Secret History, which were ultimately to become The History of My Own Time—he, after a passing moment of ignoble fear, courageously devoted himself to the interests of Lord Russell, and addressed to him two discourses not published till 1713, besides composing for Lady Russell a journal of the last five years of her husband’s life, which has justly attained imperishable renown. The connection of Burnet with the Russell family inevitably brought him into worse odour with the court, although the belief which the king seems to have entertained that Burnet wrote Lord Russell’s dying speech was not founded on fact; and, after he had been deprived of both his lectureship and his preachership, he, in 1685, thought it safest to leave the country. Of the travels with which he occupied nine months, an account, as a matter of course both intelligent and lively, remains in Some Letters (to Robert Boyle), printed at Amsterdam in the following year. The accession of James II had made the prolongation of his exile more necessary than ever. In 1686, he settled down at the Hague, where, after a time, he became the confidential adviser of the princess of Orange, and, in a more restricted measure, of her wary consort. Burnet’s activity as a political writer was now at its height, and, of the Eighteen Papers relating to the Affairs of Church and State, during the reign of King James the Second, all but one were written during his residence in Holland. It must suffice to note among these A Letter, written some little time before, Containing some Remarks on the two Papers writ by King Charles II, concerning Religion (1686), which contributed to the stir created by their publication and the comments from opposite points of view of Stillingfleet and Dryden; Vindication from the two Letters containing some Reflections on His Majesty’s Proclamation for Liberty of Conscience, dated, respectively, 12 February and 4 April, 1687; Reflections on the pamphlet entitled Parliamentum Pacificum, and charges contained in it (1688); the important and anonymous Enquiry into the measures of submission to the supreme authority (1688), which, by allowing restrictions upon the duty of non-resistance, practically rendered it futile. William’s army of invasion was supplied with copies of this pamphlet (for gratuitous circulation), which completes the orbit of its author’s political tenets.