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it is clear, that every man near him is aware of his presence and his power. No doubt, a great deal is still wanting to make him an object of interest. Even the changing fortunes of a public man lend no charm to his history. A baffled and disgraced statesman, driven into exile or waiting for impeachment, has sometimes obtained a place in our affections, which all the splendor, talent, and enterprise of his administration would never have secured. But Chesterfield received no heavy blow from any of his employers. He was never more active and cheerful than while in the opposition ; and when he resigns the seals and retires for ever, it is to suit himself.
" The audience, which Lord Chesterfield had of his Majesty on resigning the seals, passed in a very different way from that which he had four years before, when he took leave on setting out for his embassy. The King urged him to retain his office, and expressed his satisfaction of the manner in which he had filled it. His Lordship’s answer was, that he found he could be but a useless servant, and that his honor and conscience did not permit him to continue in a post, in which he had not been suffered to do any one service to any one man; and in which his master himself was not at liberty to distinguish those who had his service most at heart. The monarch was not offended at this freedom. He even offered to give him per sonal marks of his satisfaction, either by a pension or the title of duke. These offers were declined, and only one of the places at the Board of Admiralty, for his brother John Stanhope, accepted. In return, he begged leave to assure his Majesty, that though he ceased now to be in his immediate service, he would never cease to give him proofs of his respectful attachment, and, reserving to himself the liberty of giving his vote on national points as his reason should direct him, he would keep himself entirely clear of cabals and opposition.”—Maty's Life of Chesterfield, pp. 182, 183.
Writing to Dayrolles, shortly after his resignation, he says,
“I shall now, for the first time in my life, enjoy that philosophical quiet, which, upon my word, I have long wished for. While I was able, that is, while I was young, I lived in a constant dissipation and tumult of pleasures; the hurry and plague of business, either in or out of court, succeeded, and continued till now. And it is now time to think of the only real comforts in the latter end of life, quiet, liberty, and health. Do not think, by the way, that by quiet and retirement, I mean solitude and misanthropy ; far from it ; my philosophy, as you know, is of a cheerful and social nature. My horse, my books, and my friends will divide my time pretty equally. I shall not keep less company, but only better, for I shall choose it." Miscellaneous Works, Vol. II. pp. 177, 178.
Such language is very common in the mouths of retired statesmen, but probably is not often as sincere as in the present case. So far as we can discern, Chesterfield would not suffer himself any more than another man to deceive him, nor use unmeaning commonplaces, when he was talking to a friend of his own state. Disease followed bim to his retirement, and bis philosophy was soon to have its trial. And it is now that for the first time we see a shade of tenderness, and privacy stealing over his mind. For once, his pursuits seem to be wholly suggested by his condition, and therefore to be natural, or, at least, unforced. He is in bis garden, or among his books and his friends, or corresponding with the absent, or occupied with building a house in town and furnishing it to his taste, and collecting pictures and arranging his library ; and in summer he is improving his beloved villa and grounds at Blackheath. For once, he is conversing with people as if they were private men, and had an interest in bim and a beauty in themselves, unconnected with the charm of mere manners and the fascination of public office. To say, as many readers probably will do, that he has no depth of feeling, no romance, no poetry, no undefined visions of glory in the improvement of his own soul, is to say what he would have admitted as not entering into his plan or into his nature. He would not have admitted, however, nor would it have been true, that the strictest adherence to his system of manners, or devotion to affairs of state, necessarily brings to an end whatever of imagination and warmth may have belonged to the mind originally. The natural quality is not so easily destroyed, if it ever existed in any considerable strength. But he had little or none of it. He was content to accomplish what he aimed at. The object was not very high ; and he would only have been impeded by affections and desires, which naturally looked another way and far higher.
It was at this period of illness and decay, and of subdued ambition, that Johnson took offence at the Earl's superfluous patronage, and recalled an instance of his real or supposed
neglect in former years, when encouragement was needed. Johnson had a right to his own view of the matter, and Boswell has given it to the public. Chesterfield, it should seem, took no notice of the indignant letter beyond reading it to his visiters, commending the style, extolling the powers of the writer, and pointing out the severest passages ; and this liberality and indifference are ascribed to duplicity. He had been a patron of Johnson, and it has been said, that he hoped to secure the dedication by publicly showing an interest in the English Dictionary on the eve of its publication. And as it is assumed, that he must have been mortified by Johnson's disdainful repulse of his commendation, what else could he do but appear magnanimous and unburt ? Certainly, nothing else but to be so. Why should we enter so narrowly into the motives of this old man of the world, who had, for all that appears, done nothing more than a kind and seasonable act for an adventurous author ? He did not go out of his way to offer a compliment to Johnson, for he was already a contributor to 6 The World”; and the style of the two papers referred to is as familiar, and the topics are sometimes as light, as those of his other essays. Probably he was glad to have so good a subject for a new article; and felt much less disquiet about the whole affair than Johnson. He would, we believe, have given Johnson money after the letter, as cheerfully as he had done before ; and he would have done it, we believe, after the publication of the Dictionary without a dedication; and this too would have been ascribed to duplicity. We see little, in his history, that shows sensitiveness on the score of vanity, and therefore have little reason to suspect him of practising art to conceal the torture of a wound. "He probably received Johnson's taunting letter with more composure than he would have received a visit from him, with the most flattering dedication in his hand. And here, if we are allowed to entertain a not very unreasonable conjecture, we may find one mode of explaining why matters should not stand very propitiously between the parties. What contrast can we imagine more strong than between these two men at any period of their lives? The delicacy of the one might be false, and the ungracefulness of the other was a missortune for which he was not to blame ; but we are speaking of tastes in the choice of our society, a point on which no man should bear dictation. NO. 107.
The Earl would have endured Johnson, if necessary, or else he had gone to the school of manners for nothing ; but he would most probably have held it a better course to avoid him. Such we may suppose to have been the relation between the parties, before Chesterfield had grown old, deaf, infirm, and humbled by slow decay, and had withdrawn to seek, within a limited circle of friends, and in a few unambitious employments, the only relief he expected but death. What must the relation have been afterwards ?
Johnson was more reserved than Chesterfield about the letter, but he seems to have made up for his abstinence by assailing him on other points. He said of the " Letters to his Son,” that they “taught the morals of a prostitute and the manners of a dancing master"; and there is much truth in the denunciation. But when he calls him "a wit among lords,” we cannot perceive equal application in the sarcasm, if the term is used in its ordinary modern sense. It cannot be just in its contemptuous bearing upon the English peers ; and, as to Chesterfield's wit, though not of the highest order, it is prompt, flowing, and graceful, and belongs to the matter, and runs in the best English of the age. It is the most natural thing about him. If a lord could relish it, we should think none the worse of him for it. Those who dislike the French, may call it French wit; those who regard him as a petit-maitre in every thing, may call it fashionable wit. These are phrases, and they are meant for something ; but the wit is very agreeable notwithstanding.
It is a practice with some to sneer at the literature of that age for its barrenness, flimsiness, and varnish. It would have been better, if the changes, which are supposed to bare put us so far forward, bad taught us the first and most natural lesson, which a sense of superiority in any thing should inculcate, the lesson of humility. No portion of the past is worthless as a study, and none is unconnected with the state of things which follows. When we have passed through a few more changes, we shall begin to feel our literary connexion with the last century to be a privilege, and to inquire how we came to overlook it; how we could suppose that a modern age, which abounded with great spirits in science, theology, and the questions of political freedom, should have been meagre in elegant and popular literature.
We shall begin to
observe with some interest, that a system of taste and of literary propriety, partly scholastic and partly modish, had power enough then to fasten itself upon men of the highest genius, who would have been part of the glory of England in any age, and who were capable, one would think, of effecting a radical change in letters whenever they chose.
We shall observe, that it was the trying time for authors, when men in power began to discourse upon settling the language, and particular writers of the day were put forward as authorities.
It cannot be above the spirit of any sound philosophy to observe the workings of really powerful minds under restraints and influences like these, and how much they accomplished, and how well our language passed through the inquisition. And quite as important will it be to observe the course of some who broke loose ; for, instead of returning to what is simple and true, as they would have done if instinct had not been harmed, they ran into pedantry, conceit, bombast, or vulgarity, each according to his temper, with the merit, however, that they were original in their errors, and more than atoned for them by their vigor and their example of freedom. Men should never talk contemptuously or lightly of English literature in any part of the eighteenth century.
If we have been drawn from our subject, we return to it to say, that Chesterfield was not one of the sufferers. He was thoroughly a man of the time in literature, and wore his chains like a gentleman. They were an ornament. He could not have spared them. To be clear-headed, and free from all mistakes about himself, with vivacity, shrewdness, and fancy enough for a wit, with the best society at home and abroad at his command, and a good library, — these were qualities and advantages for a man of letters, which he would prize higher than the lawless excursions and original meditations of genius.
A few personal passages from his letters will show the state of his mind in retirement, and his general estimate of himself. The first extract is from a letter to his son, in his sixty-sixth year.
“I have been settled here [Blackheath] near a week ; c'est ma place, and I know it, which is not given to everybody. Cut off from social life by my deafness, as well as other physical ills, and being at best but the ghost of my former self, I walk here in silence and solitude becomes a ghost ; with this only