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MSS. Commission more than a year ago. Now, this was a grievance, and this personal chatter of mine is excused by the public quality of the grievance. The Historical MSS. Commission performs a work of which the importance for the political and social history of the country cannot be overstated. Lord Carlisle's MSS. certainly do not form its least important volume. Yet so little noise was occasioned by its publication that I, who am a diligent student of the so-called "literary" papers, precisely in order that amid the tedious accounts of the trash which fills the contemporary book-market I may hit upon the like discoveries, read nothing whatever about it. Probably the fault was either mine or that of the "literary' papers. But I suggest that if the Historical MSS. Commission were to issue its publications in a less forbidding and official - looking form, in volumes easier handle and printed on better paper-all of which it might do without a large increase of cost-and were to advertise a little, or otherwise insist on impenetrable editors understanding its importance, some of the purposes for which it exists would be better served. However, after wandering for an hour or so in what I do not hesitate to call the purlieus of Fetter Lane, I tracked the belated treasure to its lair: and now I can begin my article.
First, as to the merits of the selection. It can be safely recommended to those whom the subject attracts, but who are
not already familiar with the persons and topics which occur. The editors' notes are clear, succinct, and sufficient. late Mr Jesse was somewhat diffuse, and the incessant biographies which interrupted the letters were sometimes superfluous. Mr Roscoe and Miss Clergue have avoided this mistake: enough is told one of the important people, the very minor characters are swiftly dismissed. The style of biography of which Moore's Byron and Lockhart's Scott are the earliest examples, the style in which the letters are interrupted by a thread of narrative, was not in this case open to the objection occasionally noticed in the others, that one is confused by the two voices of the biographer and the biographeed; because the events of Selwyn's life were so few that the narrative consists merely of an occasional note on politics and the position of his correspondent, as Commissioner in America or as Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. But a drawback to easy and continuous reading exists for a reason in which, practically, I find my only ground for criticism. Selwyn was a careless writer. writer. Evidently he did not. watch his pen closely. He has gone so far astray as to write "make take" for "may take," and he habitually writes a great deal more "like a gentleman than like a grammarian: nominatives and accusatives were all one to him, and he always writes "neither . . . or." Well, that being the case, it was surely enough to note it and assure the reader that the faults were
Selwyn's and not the printer's. In this case there are two
But both the Historical MSS. Commission and the editors of the selection correct him every time. As thus: "neither . . . [n]or," "I [me]," "who[m]," and a whole army of "(sic)"s. Selwyn writes, "terrible long": and why not? "Mighty fine" continues to this day. It annoys one to see "terrible (sic) long," and confuses one's attention. But perhaps this is a small matter. The selection, as a selection, is good. Many of us have a violent prejudice against all selections as selections. But in this case if any but genuine amateurs were to read the book a selection had to be made. Many details of past politics which are (or are not) familiar from other sources were wisely omitted, and many lengthy passages dealing with the more technical aspect of Charles Fox's debts, his multifarious bonds and annuities and so forth, were perhaps (though personally I find the whole story entertaining) rightly thought too voluminous. One principle of omission which in such books I believe to be a radically bad principle was not in question. I refer to omissions made on grounds of "decency or "refinement" or whatever it is called when people are afraid of the common possibilities of life, and I call it a bad principle, because one reads such books largely to observe differences in manners, and greater freedom of language and allusion is one of those very differences -so that the omissions give a false effect.
omissions-one concerning the wild Lord Baltimore and a wickedness he committed, and the other a son of Lord Onslow and a very unpleasant event which ruined him—which, I think, might have been kept, if only to show that the period was no better than our own; but the editors have the justification that such things were alien to the general tone of the letters. Selwyn hardly ever uses a coarse expression, and is far apter to ask kind questions about a man's children than to talk scandal about a man's wife. On the whole, then, the selection is to be cordially praised.
To speak, now, of the letters as a whole. The date of the last of those to Selwyn published in Jesse's book was September 1780. The last of these was dated but a month before Selwyn's death in January 1791. So there is a gain of ten years. On the other hand, the correspondence in Jesse begins when Selwyn was at Oxford: the first of these was written in 1767, when Selwyn was forty-eight: he was thirty years older than Lord Carlisle. However, the intervening years are not largely represented in Jesse, and it is probable, to judge from the rather jerky letters to Selwyn which occur in the interval, that he himself was not so assiduous a correspondent as he became with cooling blood. There is a break between 1767 and 1773; but since Jesse prints several letters from Lord Carlisle in those years, the unfortunate explana
tion must be that Selwyn's were not kept. As for the matter and manner, it must be said at once that whoever was sanguine enough to expect another Horace Walpole must be entirely disappointed. Walpole's cold and impersonal habit of regarding life may be a less sympathetic quality than Selwyn's affectionate and intensely human disposition, but it made a far more entertaining writer. Selwyn wrote, it is true, of everything in the purview of a man who lived almost entirely in London-save for his long stays in Paris in the earlier years who went everywhere and knew everybody, and who had, on the whole, better oppor
tunities for intimate observation in important matters even than Walpole: he writes of all this more or less, but also he hurries quickly from it to write of Mie Mie's health, or to inquire after the health of Lord Carlisle's children. That was what really interested him, and no one but a churl could read the result and not love him therefor no one but a nurse could read the result and not wish that his zeal had been a little less incessant. Selwyn was lazy, and whether Walpole wrote for posterity or not, his observation and wit are incomparably keener. As for style, Walpole's we know; Selwyn's carelessness of grammar is beside the point, except to a pedant, but he was also careless in thought, and therefore often involved and obscure in phrasing. His habit, too, of frequently using French where English would have done as
well, though in him a natural habit, does not make for an easy style.
The letters, then, are no such possession as Horace Walpole's. We ought to remember, of course, that we have only these to one correspondent-a few at the end to Lady Carlisle - a man thirty years younger than the writer, and one whose attraction was largely that he was the father of children to whom Selwyn felt as a grandfather. We have not-and would that we had!-his letters to Gilly Williams, or Edgecumbe, or Horace Walpole himself, which three with Selwyn. formed the "out-of-town society at Strawberry Hill, or March or "Bully as they called the second Lord Bolingbroke, or his brother Harry St John, "the Baptist," or in the younger group to Charles Fox or Storer, to whom he was not concerned to be a mentor as he was to Carlisle. We have not those letters; but those we have, apart from their interest and attractiveness as touching the writer's character, to which we shall come later, give us both innumerable details of social interest and a complete picture, painted unconsciously and little by little, of perhaps the most agreeable society these islands have known. Something was said last month in 'Maga' of the licence which power, exclusiveness, and security made possible in this society. Something might now be added of the social ease and gay intimacy and understanding, the light-hearted but not insolent assumption that "Charles's "
faro bank or "Bully's" divorce were matters of prime moment, which were made possible at the same time, and the like of which can never exist for cultivated and intelligent folk again. We may build up an agreeable little society; but it is accidental and partial, and that greater bully the spirit of the age has ordained that if it is to be intelligent it may not be gay. Something of this might be added, but ineffectively; the charm is not to be had at second-hand; you may get it of Walpole or Selwyn, not of
At one point the political interest is considerable-the time (1782) when Fox overthrew Lord North's Ministry and Lord Rockingham came in. Selwyn's position was typical of the intelligent sinecurist of the period; but no one else has given us so frank and amusing an exposition of the intelligent sinecurist's dismay. He had commanded four votes in the House, and still commanded two: as a matter of course he held one of those lucrative posts with no duties attached which rewarded such "political services." Such an arrangement seemed to him to be natural, and indeed necessary to the stability of the country. He does indeed admit a hint that, as a matter of theory, he saw objections to it. When Burke brought in his bill to abolish certain of these posts, Selwyn wrote: "I believe there is no actor upon the stage of either theatre who, repeating what the author has wrote, does not at the same time recite his own private sentiments oftener than
our pantomimes in Parliament " -impartially of both sides; but he voted quietly against the bill. The passage, by the way, contains the first reference to the younger Pitt in the letters: "Jack [Townshend] did better than the time before, but was so eclipsed by Mr W. Pitt, that it appeared to impartial people but an indifferent performance. This young man, Mr Pitt, gained an universal applause. I heard Lord North say it was the best first speech of a young man that he had ever heard." He disapproved of measures, obviously thinking the American War mismanaged -as indeed so did every one else: "I cannot divert myself of thinking upon what must occupy everybody's mind, which is our public calamity and disgrace.' But he was not for dismissing men-men who had made that excellent little arrangement about the sinecure. So that when Lord North fell he was appalled: he thought Fox and his friends mad. It was natural enough. That system of "the king's friends," by which George III. had contrived to do such enormous damage to the country, had existed a good many years; and Selwyn, who knew Charles Fox as an unprecedented and shameless spendthrift and gambler, could not " see him as a Minister. But his lugubrious fears for the constitution, for Carlisle's future, for his own place, are curious and entertaining reading. Fox's abuse of the king horrified him. "He spoke of all coming to a final issue now within a very short space of time; he
Charles will not be so, it is my firm belief." Later on, when Fox was in funds, Selwyn "contrived to wrench out of Charles's black hands 50 pounds for Spencer by watching the There is watching the opportunity of his play."
talked of the King under the
Fox had a brief period of prosperity when he ran his famous faro bank at Brooks's. That faro bank indeed marks an epoch in our social history, and the mere fact that it was held in the face of the world at Brooks's
at Brooks's!-by the chief member of the Opposition, on the verge of being a Minister, tells us what a long journey we have made since then. (It was at this time, I suppose, when Fox's friends came to consult him on politics in the intervals of his banking, that Brooks's first took its tone of a Whig club.) Fox went into partnership with other congenial. spirits, of whom Hare-"the Hare with many friends -was Through all the letters the chief, and they seem to have marches that grand, noble, run their bank day and night, ironic procession of Charles relieving one another for statesJames Fox. As a statesman manship and sleep. They were he was not understood by successful, and if only they Selwyn, who nevertheless re- could have resisted the temptamained on good humoured tion of punting against one terms with him socially. But another, might have made foras the prince of impecunious tunes. "I saw Charles to-day spendthrifts, Selwyn observed in a new hat, frock, waistcoat, him with unfailing humour shirt, and stockings; he was as and irony, really scandalised clean and smug as a gentleman, though he sometimes was, and and upon perceiving my surreally indignant on Carlisle's prise, he told me that it was behalf, who was one of the from the Pharo bank." (There many victims of Charles's com- is a neat pun about "Pharaoh's plicated system of loans and daughter" in another place.) bonds. Early in the corre- "He then talked of the spondence he urges Carlisle to thousands it had lost, which sue Charles: "If you are I told him only proved its subshocked, you will be singly so; stance, and the advantage of