Page images

prominence was gratified. To him was intrusted the chief support of the ministry in the lower house; and of a surety, large as was the majority which he could command, it required all his keen sarcasm and brilliant rhetoric to withstand the small but formidable mass of the opposition. To him is to be ascribed the credit or discredit of managing the treaty of Utrecht; and however much we may blame the terms of this celebrated peace,—the desertion of our allies,—the base cringing to France,-and the ignominious surrender of our just claims,' we cannot refuse to admire the energy and tact displayed by St John in carrying it through. Feebly backed by that solemn trifler, Harley-opposed with the utmost vehemence by an opposition of extraordinary talent, and deriving incalculable advantages from a minute acquaintance with business,—having to counteract the unceasing hostility of our numerous and powerful allies,—to animate with his own spirit the flagging zeal of the supporters of government,—and, in addition to all this, being unable to rest securely on the promises of the French king, who again and again destroyed all the negotiations by the ever-increasing arrogance of his demands-St John, nevertheless, surmounted every difficulty, and by dint of unremitting application and singular address, at length carried the measure into execution. His spirit seemed to rise higher as difficulties and dangers increased upon bim, and where other men would have been baffled by the prospect, he only nerved his arm to grapple with them more vigorously. Conscious as he must have been that he was the chief support of the ministry, it was not unnatural that his aspiring mind should be chagrined at beholding the most prominent place in the eyes of men, filled by one for whom he now began to entertain a thorough contempt; and his chagrin was in. creased in 1712 by his being raised to the peerage with the title of Viscount only, while that of Earl had been given to Harley, and by his having been omitted in a recent distribution of six vacant ribands of the order of the Garter, But besides this, there were other causes of a public nature. Bolingbroke detested Harley's trimming policy, and was constantly urging him to adopt high tory measures, and to clear the cabinet of every man favourable to the Revolution. He was also much more deeply implicated than the treasurer in the infamous correspondence which the Memoires de Berwic' satisfactorily show them both to have carried on with the Stuart family. The differences between the two ministers gradually increased to such a height, that it became evident the present cabinet could not long hold together; and as Bolingbroke, besides contriving to win the favour of the queen's minion, Mrs Masham, was a much more decided Jacobite than his col. league, Anne determined to sacrifice the lord-treasurer. Before the explosion took place, however, Bolingbroke exhibited his attachment to the principles of his family, and his fond remembrances of the lessons and companions of his boy hood, by introducing into the house of lords, in a pompous speech, the memorably-infamous bill, “ to prevent the growth of schism,” by which dissenters were forbidden to instruct their

St John himself confesses that England might have obtained more advantageous

It is a curious proof of Bolingbroke's love for truth, that, in his letter to Wyndham, he solemnly denies having ever corresponded with the court at St Germains previous to his impeachment. Whoever will read the Memoirs of Marshal Berwick, will find ample reason for disbelieving his lordship.

3 terms.

[ocr errors]

own children, and the whole country was to be “ dragooned into ignorance and irreligion.” On the 27th of July, 1714, the white staff was taken from Harley; and Bolingbroke, believing now that the supreme power was lodged in his hands, began' with his characteristic energy to form a ministry of which every member elect was noted for his hostility to the protestant succession. Fortunately for the country and for posterity, the whig party was not less active; and Anne being declared to be in inminent danger, from an illness brought on by the late disBensions in the cabinet, the council, under the dukes of Argyle and Somerset, recommended the duke of Shrewsbury to hold the vacant staff, to which Anne gave her assent, and shortly after expired. No. thing could exceed the rage of Bolingbroke and his associates on this unexpected event. The crisis they had long looked for was come, and behold! the game had gone against them. By the bold and skilful management of the whigs, the country, in this hour of imminent peril, was delivered unscathed,—the protestant succession was firmly established,—the Jacobites received a blow from which they never recovered,—and the religion and liberty of the nation were placed on a sure foundation. On the third day after Anne's death, Addison was appointed by the regency to the foreign secretaryship, and Bolingbroke was made to deliver up all the letters and papers belonging to his office. On the arrival of the new monarch, Bolingbroke requested permission to kiss his hand, and sent most humble assurances of his obedience; but his request was refused; and to such a height had the rage of his opponents been raised, that it was resolved to impeach him of high treason. Instead of staying to meet the charge, he fled in disguise to France, “ in consequence,” says he, in a letter to Lord Lansdowne, “of having received certain and repeated information from some who are in the secret of affairs, that a resolution was taken by those who had power to execute it, to pursue me to the scaffold.” Immediately on his flight being known, a bill of attainder was brought in against bim by his ancient school-fellow, Walpole; and so general was the impression of his guilt, that only two members—both of whom were rank Jacobites-ventured to utter a word in the fugitive's defence. The bill passed through the upper house; and as if to justify it, Bolingbroke, with the smart of attainder tingling in his veins, accepted the office of secretary in the mock court of the pretender. But he soon discovered the madness of the step he had taken. It was just at this period that the ill-fated rebellion of 1715 was concocting, and on entering into office he found the treasury empty,—the French court indisposed to render any assistance,—the supporters of the cause full of ungrounded confidence and ill-regulated zeal,—the prince himself weak-headed and irresolute,his chief counsellors struggling among themselves for place,—the English Jacobites unwilling to countenance the undertaking,--and all the affairs of the court and plans of the rising entangled in such inextricable confusion, and surfeited with such preposterous folly, that it seemed as if Providence had sent infatuation on them to destroy them. Despairing of success, Bolingbroke nevertheless determined to prop the falling cause to the best of his ability, and

: 'There is an amusing anecdote in the Secret History of the White Stati,' detailing the conterence between Bolingbroke and Attesbury, immediately after the queen had given away the staff.

exerted himself strenuously to reduce matters to something like order, and to obtain supplies from the French court. But even his talents failed of success; and to add to his mortification, he was summarily and insolently dismissed from the pretender's service, and articles of impeachment exhibited against him. What was the cause of this strange proceeding cannot now be ascertained; but Bolingbroke appears to have viewed it with sincere pleasure, as it at once set him at liberty from any engagements or obligations to the pseudo-monarch ; and when he was requested to reassume his office, he said, “ I am a freeman, and I wish my arm may rot off if I ever draw my sword, or employ my pen, in his service."

Being proscribed by both parties, it was with no little pleasure that he received from the earl of Stair, the English ambassador at Paris, an intimation of the king's favourable disposition to him, and he now turned all his thoughts to effecting a reconciliation with his enemies the whigs. We learn from Horace Walpole's letters, that he made professions of the most implicit submission and support to the whig government; and as an earnest of his anxiety to serve them, published, in 1717, his celebrated letter to Sir W. Wyndham, in which he displayed, with great effect, the insignificance and folly of the pretender's party. Though it is confessed that this production gave a death-blow to the Jacobite cause, it does not appear that it effected Bolingbroke's real object, for he was still unable to return to England. During the early part of his exile his first wife had died, and he now married the widow of the Marquis de Villette, and niece of the celebrated Madam Maintenon, a woman of great beauty and talent, in whose society, aided by the philosophical spirit which circumstances had forced upon bim, and by the glittering gaieties of the French capital, he passed his time as happily as could wisely be expected for a spirit burning with the desire of action, and yet pent up in an inglorious idleness. In 1723, he obtained from England a pardon, as to his personal safety, but which restored him neither to his title or inheritance, nor to his seat in parliament. In consequence of this act of favour, he returned to England. Just as he was about to embark in the packet-boat at Calais, he met with his ancient ally Atterbury, who, after weathering the storm which had burst on the head of Bolingbroke, was now setting out on a banishment for new offences, at the very time that his former coadjutor was returning. As soon as Bolingbroke arrived in England, he used all his arts and energy to obtain the reversal of his attainder, not scrupling to humble himself to degradation before his enemy Walpole, that he might accomplish his object; and his efforts were so far successful, that in two years after his return from banishment, his family-estate was restored to him, and he was allowed to possess any other estate in the kingdom which he might think proper to purchase. This remission of his sentence has always been charged upon Walpole as one of the most unwise acts of his administration; but Coxe, in his life of that statesman, shows pretty clearly that it was a measure unwillingly brought forward by Walpole, in obedience to the express commands of his sovereign, whose ear Bolingbroke had contrived in some way to gain. The bitterness with which this act of indulgence was opposed in parliament, and the feelings of dislike which it excited throughout the country, are remarkable proofs of the extent

to which Bolingbroke was hated and feared. Methuen, the comptroller
of the household, declared in the debate, that “the public crimes for
which this petitioner stood attainted, were so heinous, so flagrant, and
of so deep a dye, as not to admit of any expiation or atonement; and
whatever he might have done to deserve his majesty's private grace and
pardon, yet he thought him altogether unworthy of any national favour.”
Bolingbroke took advantage of the favour shown him, to purchase a
seat of Lord Tankerville's, at Dawley, near Uxbridge in Middlesex,
and here he devoted himself to farming, painting his hall with spades,
rakes, ploughs, and other emblems of agriculture. He maintained a
constant correspondence with Swift, now banished, as he himself said,
to Ireland, and Pope resided within a short distance, so that he was
not wholly deprived of the society of eminent men. In writing to
Swift about this period, he says, “I am on my own farm, and here I
shoot strong and tenacious roots; I have caught hold of the earth, to
use a gardener's phrase, and neither my friends nor my enemies will
find it an easy matter to transplant me again.” But he had not yet
learned to know his own temperament. However often he might make
use of, he never felt the expression, “ Innocuas amo delicias, doctamque
quietem.” His was not the spirit to which “rural amusements and
philosophical meditations could make the hours glide smoothly on.”
Finding that there was no hope of his being restored to his dignities so
long as Walpole held the reins of power, and heedless of the gratitude
which he had again and again professed to that statesman, he leagued him-
self with the tory party, and with the discontented whigs who clung to
Pulteney, and commenced an opposition to the Walpole administration
more implacable, and more systematic, than any other recorded in the
history of English factions. While Wyndham and Pulteney attacked
the minister in parliament, Bolingbroke and others were not less
active with their pens; and in a series of papers published in .The Crafts-
man,' Walpole was assailed with a ferocity, and it is but fair to add, a
talent, rarely paralleled in political controversy. During ten years this
warfare was carried on; but the genius and the arts of Walpole pre-
vailed, and at length Bolingbroke was deserted by those over whom he
had so long been the presiding genius. Pulteney, his ally, advised him
to retire from the scene, declaring that the knowledge of his co-opera-
tion was more injurious than beneficial to the enemies of the admin-
istration, and the tories seem at last to have become restive under the
yoke of “the mounting Bolingbroke." Finding himself thus useless,
he took the resolution of retiring to France. “I am still,” says he in
a letter to Wyndham, written at this period, “ the same proscribed
man, surrounded with difficulties, exposed to mortifications, and unable
to take any share in the service but that which I have taken, and
which I think you would not persuade me to take in the present state
of things. My part is over; and he who remains on the stage after his
part is over, deserves to be hissed off." Before his withdrawal, he
summoned up all his energies to deal one parting-blow against the
minister, in his Dissertation on Parties,' one of the ablest, if not the
ablest, of his political writings. He retired to France in 1736, and
took up his residence in an agreeable retirement near Fontainebleau.
Here he devoted himself to more exalted studies than had previously
occupied him. To use his own language in the • Reflections upon

[ocr errors]

Esile,' he resolved, “ far from the burry of the world, and almost an unconcerned spectator of what passed in it, having paid in a public life what he owed to the present age, to pay in a private life what he owed to posterity." The first fruits of his leisure was a series of Letters on the Study and Use of History,' in the course of which he takes occasion to develope the opinion which he had long previously maintained in conversation, that the scriptures are not the revealed will of God. The shallowness and triteness of the reasoning with which he supports this doctrine, were too obvious to escape even the eyes of his most intimate friends. “ If ever Bolingbroke trifles," said Pope, “it must be when he turns divine." The assumption of philosophical resignation and contempt for the accidents of life, which he displays in these letters, excited considerable ridicule at home; and to obviate this, he addressed a Letter to Lord Bathurst, on the true use of retirement and study. But in spite of his assuined philosophy, there was still beating beneath the dark mantle of the sage, a heart as open to human passions, as restless, and as warm with hatred, party-spirit, and love of power, as any through which the stream of life ever circulated. He returned to England in the course of a few years, and took up his residence at his family-seat in Battersea, which had now fallen to him by the death of his father. Unable to look upon the course of events with that calm spirit of indifference, with the possession of which he had flattered himself, he plunged once again into the party-politics of the day. His 'Letters on Patriotism and Idea of a Patriot King,' is one of his last productions; and although the writer was bordering on his seventieth year, it displays as much fire, ingenuity, and florid rhetoric, and as little profound judgment, as the earliest of his productions. After sketching a patriot king to be such an one as, if ever he existed, would be a sort of standing miracle, he concludes his airy speculation by saying, “ Those who live to see such happy days, and to act in so glorious a scene, will, perhaps, call to mind with some tenderness of sentiment, when he is no more, a man who contributed his mite to carry on so good a work, and who desired life for nothing so much as to see a king of Great Britain the most popular man in his country, and a patriot king at the head of an united people.” The last composition which flowed from his pen, was an Essay upon the state of the nation; but ere it could be completed death arrested the writer's hand. After suffering excruciating agony from a cancer on his cheek, he expired at his family-seat, on the 15th of November, 1751, and was interred in Battersea church. With his dying breath he maintained the dark tenets of infidelity which he had professed during life, and some of his latest orders were, that none of the clergy should be allowed to disturb his dying hours. After his decease a number of productions intended for publication were

his papers, one of which was his celebrated Essay on the nature, extent, and reality of human knowledge.

It appears to us that nothing can be more absurd than the attempt which has been frequently made—and has of late been renewed by a writer of considerable ability in the department of fiction—to represent Bolingbroke as a man more sinned against than sinning, and animated at heart by a sincere desire to serve his country, though occasionally the ardour of his passions drove him into perilous errors. If there be one feature of his character which stands out more prominently than

found among

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »