"To Die In The Last Ditch"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Gilbert Burnet, born and educated in Scotland, was a strongly anti-Catholic professor of divinity in Glasgow; a man of learning, orthodox in his faith, but honest and bold. He got into difficulties by reprimanding Charles II for his dissolute living, and was outlawed to Holland during the reign of James II. He returned to England for the coronation of William III and Mary, for whom he preached the coronation sermon. They made him Bishop of Salisbury. He was also influential in court during the life of Queen Mary and Queen Anne, who followed her. His son William (1688–1724) served as governor of the colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. As a writer, Bishop Burnet had a casual and inelegant style, but his work was interesting because he knew most of the important political people of his time. So his History of His Own Times, published after his death, is a gossipy account of goingson, written by an incurable namedropper: "As the Duke of Buckingham said to me," "Mr. May of the privy purse told me," "Lord Lauderdale and Sir Robert Murray asked my opinion." One criticism leveled at him as a historian is that he was too uncritical of his sources. On one occasion, mentioning a scandal about the Duchess of Orléans, he writes, "It was told me by a person of distinction who had it from some who were well informed about the matter." In his personal copy, Swift scribbled along-side this sentence: "Poor authority." However, there were many matters included on good authority published in the first folio volume that was printed in 1724. It covers the reigns of Charles II and James II. The second volume, appearing in 1734, edited by the bishop's youngest son, Sir Thomas Burnet, included a note that manuscripts of both the volumes had been deposited in the Cotton Library (associated with the British Museum). However, researchers have never found them. For later editions, like the four-volume 1753 edition and the six-volume Oxford University edition of 1833, notes and corrections by Dean Swift, the Earl of Dartmouth, and the Earl of Hardwicke, have been incorporated to insure accuracy. The historian begins by a survey of conditions in Scotland before the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Book II covers the first twelve years of Charles' reign. The chatty style makes pleasant reading, with the additional satisfaction of knowing it is a firsthand account. There is no chapter division, but the year covered appears at the head of the page. Under the date 1672, Bishop Burnet is describing difficulties encountered by the Prince of Orange whose territory had been seized by the King of France. Burnet pictures the extremities of the Dutch and the partiality of the British Embassy toward the French in negotiations. Its head, the Duke of Buckingham, is trying to get the Prince of Orange to put himself into his hands, but the prince objects because his country trusts him and he will not betray it.

. . . The duke answered, he was not to think any more of his country, for it was lost: if it should weather out the summer, by reason of the waters that had drowned a great part of it, the winter's frost would lay them open: and he repeated the words often, "Do not you see it is lost?" The prince's answer deserves to be remembered: he said, he saw it was indeed in great danger; but there was a sure way never to see it lost, and that was to die in the last ditch.