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nation, I say, in this condition (which extravagant supposition one cannot
make without horror), he might have dishonoured her abroad, and
impoverished and oppressed her at home, though he had been the weakest
prince on earth, and his Ministers the most odious and contemptible men
that ever presumed to be ambitious. Our fathers might have fallen into
circumstances which compose the very quintessence of political misery.
They might have sold their ' birthright for porridge,' which was their own ;
they might have been bubbled by the foolish, bullied by the fearful, and
insulted by those whom they despised. They would have deserved to be
slaves, and they might have been treated as such. When a free people
crouch like camels to be loaded, the next at hand, no matter who, mounts
them, and they soon feel the whip and the spur of their tyrant ; for a
tyrant, whether prince or minister, resembles the devil in many respects,
particularly in this, he is often both the tempter and tormentor. He makes
the criminal, and he punishes the crime" (vol. iii., pp. no, in).

This passage, which was much admired by Lord
Brougham, well carries out what Bolingbroke himself once


said, that " eloquence must flow like a stream that is fed
by an abundant spring," and inclines me to believe that he
dictated most of his writings to an amanuensis.


The whole of the eighth Letter on The Study of History,
which contains his defence of the Treaty of Utrecht^ is
nothing less than a brilliant speech. Brougham relates of
Pitt that,

" when the conversation rolled upon lost works, and some said they should
prefer restoring the books of Livy, some of Tacitus, and some a Latin
tragedy, he at once decided for a speech of Bolingbroke."

In this eighth Letter Pitt might have found a masterpiece
of Parliamentary oratory unsurpassed in Bolingbroke's age.
It was undoubtedly his eloquence which brought him into
the foremost ranks of the Tory party and secured his rapid
advance. It is always said that Walpole's fear of the
influence of his oratory in the House of Lords was the
principal reason of his refusal to allow Bolingbroke to
re-enter Parliamentary life. There is no doubt whatever
that Henry St. John was the first orator of his age. His
intellectual qualities were of a high order, he had an
intimate acquaintance with the great authors of antiquity,
he had a perfect mastery of French and Italian, and a fair
acquaintance with Spanish. He loved learning and litera-
ture for its own sake; he excelled in history; he explored
" the unknown and unknowable regions of metaphysics."
As he had a great love of acquiring knowledge and a mar-
vellously retentive memory, it is no surprise to read that
" the relative political and commercial interests of every
country in Europe, particularly of his own, are better
known to him than perhaps to any man in it." His clear
conception of the exigencies of a situation and of the neces-
sary means to be adopted, his power of seizmg opportunities,
and the possession of the valuable instinct of leading men,
marks him out as a true statesman.


Nor can it be objected that in him the more solid
qualities which in such an eminent degree distinguished his
rival, Robert Walpole, causing sober people to regard the
Norfolk squire with something akin to enthusiasm, were
wanting in Bolingbroke. His application astounded all
who knew him. " He engaged young," wrote Chesterfield,
" and distinguished himself in business, and his penetration
was almost intuition." " He would plod," according to
Swift, "whole days and nights like the lowest clerk in an
office." Marlborough and Godolphin were delighted with
the diligence of the young Secretary-at-War, who had
applied himself with such energy to master the intricate
financial and military details of his office. The history of
England's statesmen furnishes few examples of such
capacity and ability, combined with such power of applica-
tion and concentration, as were to be found united in the
person of Bolingbroke.

In spite of these very remarkable powers, he was, owing
to the political circumstances of his day, only in office from
1704 to 1708, and from 1710 to 171 4, and of those eight
years his only opportunity of showing his real statesmanlike
qualities was during the last four years of Anne's reign.
Before 1704 he was on the side of the Government, and
busy in making his way. From 171 5 to 1751, when his
powers were at their best, he was in perpetual Opposition,
employing his energies, so well adapted to political life,
either in the service of a faction or in writing brilliant but,
generally speaking, ephemeral essays. This exclusion from
a Parliamentary career during these thirty-six years was
due to his flight, the great mistake of his life. It is impos-
sible to guess to what extent his continued presence in
Parliament would have modified the Whig triumph. Would
he ever have gained, or, if gained, continued to enjoy, the
unanimous confidence of the Tory party ? Mr. Lecky
would reply in the negative.


"His eminently Italian character," he writes, "delighting in elaborate
intrigue, the contrast between his private life and his stoical professions,
his notorious indifference to the religious tenets which were the very basis
of the politics of his party, shook the confidence of the country gentry and
country clergy, who formed the bulk of his followers" [History of England
in the Eighteenth Century, vol. i., p. 131).

Mr. Harrop, in his Political Study and Criticism of Boling-
hroke (pp. 191, 192), takes the same view in more elaborate
language :

"His polished manners, his lively wit, his quick perceptions, his facile
speech, his ready invention, the ease with which he caught and mimicked
the intemperate tone of his rude supporters, his fondness for subterfuge and
artifice, his affection of philosophical indifference to the objects for which
he was at the moment most eagerly striving, his vanity, his industry, his
simulated idleness, his unfeigned respect for speculative truth, the vastness
and boldness of his political enterprises, the nervous apprehension of
physical danger, the loftiness of his moral conceptions ... all these things
were the marks of a character which, in its strange and various traits, an
Italian of the great age of Florence would have studied with respectful
interest, but which repelled the Trullibers and Westerns from its very dis-
similarity to their own."

His faults were partly hereditary, partly due to the
manners of the time. " Violent partisanship," it has been
said, ran in his blood. In the Barons' War, in the struggle
of Henry VH. against Pretenders to his throne, in the Irish
wars of Elizabeth, members of the St. John family were to
be found. In the seventeenth century the combative and
partisan nature of the family still more strongly asserted
itself, various members of the different branches into which
the family was divided fighting respectively for King and
Parliament. And Bolingbroke found in the politics of his
day ample opportunity for the exercise of his partisan spirit.
During the whole of Anne's reign, party considerations were
mixed up inextricably with every question of home or
foreign policy. The absence of political morality in the
statesmen of the day needs no demonstration. Boling-
broke's own mercurial temperament fell in too readily with


the prevailing sentiments of his time. Circumstances made
opportunism the characteristic of his age, and BoUngbroke,
hke Marlborough, Shrewsbury, Harley, and, in fact, like
most of the leading politicians, tends at times, especially in
the reign of George II., to lay himself open to the charge of

"He has noble and generous sentiments," wrote Chesterfield, "rather
than fixed reflected principles of good nature and friendship ; but they are
more violent than lasting, and suddenly and often varied to their opposite
extremes, with regard even to the same persons."

Always impulsive and impetuous, " his virtues and his
vices, his reason and his passions did not," Chesterfield
tells us, " blend themselves by a gradation of tints, but
formed a shining and sudden contrast." His conduct and
actions, however intemperate at times, did not preclude the
existence from his youth upwards of a devouring ambition,
which pursued him all his life, and which seems to have not
only deprived him of the power of appreciating the meaning
of peace and content, but led him at times into violent
courses. Mr. Wyon thinks that his ambition in 1715 had
slifled his patriotism, and that, had he thought the project
a feasible one, he would, for the sake of retention of office,
have brought in the Pretender. This also seems to be the
view held by Count Remusat. To this insane thirst for
power Mr. Wyon also attributes Bolingbroke's blunder in
joining the Jacobites. To gain the support of his extreme
Tory followers he allowed an intolerant Bill to pass, though
he himself despised the men who persecuted their religious
opponents. The opinion held by Torcy and the Scotch
Jacobites that he was insincere was probably erroneous, due
to their ignorance of the English Constitution. The Spanish
Ministers in the early part of the seventeenth century fell
into the same blunder. They thought James I. was all-
powerful, and could restore Roman Catholicism by a wave
of his hand ; the French Minister similarly was unable to


understand why Anne and her Ministers could not repeal
the Act of Settlement and bring in James Edward.
Throughout his life, Bolingbroke was always full of self-
confidence, struggling to be first, in no matter what circum-
stances he found himself. He took the lead in literary
coteries, and in social clubs, no less than in the Cabinet of
a Ministry, and in the deliberations of the Opposition. His
talents gave him the foremost position, and he always had
a considerable number of devoted followers. His outbursts
of recklessness and defects in judgment tended to modify
his fitness to lead a large and influential party. His corre-
spondence indeed goes to show that his individuality made
itself felt on all with whom he came in contact. Walpole
feared its power ; Pulteney fell under its influence ; the
" Boy Patriots " all yielded to the fascination of the per-
sonality of the old statesman. In 1712 the dignity of his
manners and his handsome presence had made a profound
impression on the French nobility.

Want of consistency is to be found in much of his life and
writings, due in great measure, to the peculiar circumstances
of the times. As the history of the life of this remarkable
man is studied, it will be seen that he is distinctly the child
of an age full of inconsistencies and contradictions. The
reign of Anne found the Church a powerful corporation in
touch with the mass of the nation ; Bolingbroke led the
High Church party. The eighteenth century, before it has
far advanced, shakes off its earlier religious enthusiasm, and
becomes scientific, materialistic, the age of common sense ;
Bolingbroke, the friend of Voltaire, becomes the exponent
of a crude rationalism.

His intense political interests did not preclude the exist-
ence of a genuine love of the country and country pursuits.
Like his rival Walpole, he had keen sporting tastes. At
Bucklersbury, at Ashdown Park, at La Source, Dawley,
and at Argeville, he took the most genuine pleasure in hi§


hounds and horses. His beautiful home at Bucklersbury
lay in the heart of the country. There he had spent most
of the two years of his first retirement from political life ;
during the last four years of Anne's reign he was very fond
of driving there from Windsor and spending a night or two
in the country. At Bucklersbury he was no longer the
statesman, but the model country gentleman, interested in
his garden and his hounds. He would smoke with his
neighbours, and discuss the affairs of the country and the
prospects of the crops. Swift describes how he went in the
summer of 171 1 to Bucklersbury, and how Mr. Secretary
was a perfect country gentleman there. " He smoked
tobacco with one or two neighbours, he inquired after the
wheat in such a field, he went to visit his hounds, and knew
all their names." A considerable part of these years he
spent at Peterborough's house at Parson's Green, Fulham,
which the erratic Earl had allowed him to use. Even in
the autumn of 1713, Bolingbroke, in spite of the critical
state of affairs, found time to combine with politics the
enjoyment of his favourite pursuit. A letter to Strafford,
dated Ashdown Park, October the 8th, begins : " Tired as
I am with fox hunting, since the messenger is to return im-
mediately to London, I cannot neglect," etc. We find also
a letter to the Due d'Aumont, the French Ambassador,
dated, De mon Ecurie le 2ime Octobre, 1713, and beginning:
" Parmi les chiens et les chevaux, au milieu de la plus pro-
fonde retraite, je n'ai rien a souhaiter pour etre tout-a-fait
heureux que la conversation du cher Due d'Aumont," etc.
On December the 3rd of the same year, writing to Sir John
Stanley, he excuses the delay of General Evans in setting
out for his command on the plea that his Colonel, ** young
Hawley, had the misfortune to break his bones in fox hunt-
ing with me."

La Source, whither he retired in 1720, was a beautiful
spot. There he, as usual, combined study and field


sports, and took a great interest in beautifying his new

" I have in my wood," he wrote to Swift on July the 21st, 1721, "the
biggest and clearest spring in Europe. ... If in a year's time you should
find leisure to write to me, send me some mottoes for groves, and streams,
and fine prospects and retreats, and contempt for grandeur, etc. I have
one for my green -houses, and one for an alley which leads to my apartment,
which are happy enough. The first is, //z'c ver assiduum atque alienis
mensibus cestas ; the other is, Fallentis seinita vitcEy

At Dawley he built stables and kennels, and expended,

it is said, ^23,000 on improvements. During his first

autumn there he was thrown from his horse : " I am in

great concern," wrote Swift to Pope, *' at what I am just

told is in some of the newspapers, that Lord Bolingbroke is

much hurt by a fall in hunting." Swift's fears proved,

however, groundless, as Pope wrote, in answer, to assure

him that " Lord Bolingbroke had not the least harm by his

fall." On his retirement to France, in 1735, he divided his

time between Chanteloup and his hunting-lodge at Arge-

ville. At both residences he was surrounded by horses and

dogs. It is difficult to understand why the editor of the

latest edition of Pope's works should indulge in the sneer

that Bolingbroke " at least thought himself attached to the

diversion of hunting." The minute details into which he

enters in his correspondence with Wyndham about his dogs

and horses point to a real interest in these things, not to a

mere attempt

" To beguile the thing he was
By seeming otherwise."

When he finally settled at Battersea, in 1744, his health
was much broken. Pitt found him dogmatic and pedantic,
often querulous and fretful. It is a matter of regret that
Pitt only knew him when he was succumbing to the
infirmities of age. He was much attached to his wife, and
a good master to his servants, whom he remembered in his


will. He was kind and good-natured in ordinary life. Mrs.
Delaney, the niece of Sir John Stanley, remembered sitting
when a child on Lord Bolingbroke's knee at a puppet-show.
He always treated his half-brothers with great consideration.
George, the eldest, had received from him constant assist-
ance, and on his early death Bolingbroke helped the two
younger brothers. At Battersea his household was mainly
French. His position as Lord of the Manor brought with
it performance of certain duties. We find him commission-
ing Marchmont to buy him " a decent Common Prayer
Book, such an one as a Lord of the Manor may hold forth
to the edification of the parish. Let it be quarto." At
times, too, he occupied the family pew in the old parish
church. As old age crept on he stayed more and more at
home. In September, 1746, he visited Lord Cornbury in
Oxfordshire, where he met, among others, Pitt, then Pay-
master of the Forces. In 1747 his old enemies, gout and
rheumatism, drove him to Bath. From that time he was
constantly a cripple, and frequently deprived of the use of
his right hand.

With his death England lost a statesman who in good
and evil fortunes made his personality felt on all who came
across his path. " The Opposition," wrote the late Mr.
Leadam, " was sensibly weakened by the death of their
inspirer, Bolingbroke." In both public and in private life
he had always been the centre of a political party or of a
literary coterie. At La Source, at Chanteloup, at Dawley,
and at Battersea, we see him surrounded by an admiring
throng of visitors, who were for the most part attracted by
his marvellous conversational powers, and to whom he
discoursed on philosophy and politics. His successful con-
clusion of the Peace of Utrecht, his share in the overthrow
of Walpole, his influence not only on the rising English
politicians, but also on Pope and on Voltaire, combined to
raise him to an almost European position. In expressing


his admiration of the deceased Statesman, in March, 1752,
the President of the Grand Chamber of the Parliament of
Paris only reflected the sentiment of all men who have
studied the political aims and literary career of the Great

Lord Bolingbroke.



Close connection between politics and literature — Its results — Defoe —
Importance of political writings — Addison — John Philips — Boling-
broke's literary friends — Pope — Parnell — Arbuthnot — Prior — Gay —
Swift — Society of Brothers — Effect of Anne's death — Bolingbroke at
Dawley — Pope at Twickenham — Meeting of the survivors of the
Scriblerus Club — The correspondence of Bolingbroke, Pope, and Swift
— Influence of Bolingbroke on Pope — The Essay on Man — The Aloral
Essays — Satires and Epistles of Horace iinitated — Devotion of Pope to
Bolingbroke — Influence of Pope on Bolingbroke — Voltaire's relations
with Bolingbroke — They meet first at La Source — Voltaire's exile —
Comes to England — Studies English literature — Influence of Boling-
broke on Voltaire's Lettres stir les Anglais — Voltaire's philosophical
views — Extent of the influence of Bolingbroke's deistical opinions on
Voltaire — Bolingbroke^s literary tastes and literary friendships.

Of the statesmen who are no longer with us there is no
name more intimately connected with literature than that of
Bolingbroke. His influence on the whole train of thought,
and consequently on the productions of two men as dis-
similar as were Pope and Voltaire, is most marked. A very
delightful volume might be written upon Bolingbroke as a
man of letters. In an age singularly fertile in prose writers,
who were remarkable for the elegance and lucidity of their
style, Bolingbroke more than held his own. In an age
distinguished for the exquisite skill in its versification,
Bolingbroke was considered competent to revise the proofs
of one of the most renowned poems of the greatest master
of style in the eighteenth century. In an age when episto-
lary correspondence was the fashion, Bolingbroke's letters
will bear comparison with the correspondence of Lady Mary
Montague or with the letters of Pope.



The patron of struggling authors, the friend and protector
of Dryden, the intimate friend and companion of Pope,
Voltaire, and Swift, an author of some of the most interest-
ing political disquisitions ever written, Bolingbroke will be
handed down to posterity as a distinguished member of that
brotherhood of literary statesmen which includes such men
as Burke and Canning, and in our own day has seen added
to its ranks Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Morley, Lord
Iddesleigh and Mr. Gladstone.

Though he may be said, like all lovers of books, to have
read continuously, there are two periods in his life when his
connection with literature and literary men is especially
worthy of notice. In the first of these periods, which ended
with his flight to France, he was the centre of that brilliant
throng of men of letters who gave such a peculiar lustre to
the reign of Queen Anne. A well-known characteristic of
her reign, and to some extent of that of George I., was the
close connection existing between politics and literature, a
connection which brought with it results so acceptable to
the writers of the day.

The social consequence of men of letters followed imme-
diately upon the recognition of their political importance.
Men of literary genius were not only patronized by, but
were brought into familiar intercourse with, the leading
Ministers as well as with the chiefs of the Opposition.
Literary men were found occupying government posts.
Prior and Gay were employed on important embassies,
Addison became a Secretary of State, Swift was the trusted
adviser of Oxford and of Bolingbroke.

The internal history of England from 1688 to 1727 was
exceptionally exciting. The Revolution followed by the
unpopular measures of William, the struggles in connection
with the Peace of Utrecht, the uncertainty hanging over
the Succession, and the opposition of a large portion of
the population to George I., gave great opportunities to


essayists, pamphleteers, and poets. The absence of a daily
press, of public meetings, and of extended electoral cam-
paigns at a period when party interests ran high and the
popular excitement was intense, produced a crowd of
writers of political tracts. No Minister could disdain their
aid, when it was only by means of such pamphlets and
broadsides that he could guide or educate public opinion.
Defoe had already distinguished himself as William III.'s
adjutant. He had, in a stirring pamphlet, shown that a
standing army is not inconsistent with a free Government.
A few years later he stood in the pillory for his Shortest
Way with the Dissenters ; a fine species of irony not appre-
ciated by the High Church party, who were by it recom-
mended to hang any Dissenter found in a Conventicle.
Oxford and Bolingbroke saw at once the immense im-
portance of securing the ablest political writers of their
day. Swift's articles in the Examiner, his Conduct of the
Allies, and his Remarks upon the Barrier Treaty, completely
revolutionized opinion in England with regard to the war.
His Public Spirit of the Whigs was an answer to Steele's
Crisis. The Review appeared in 1704, and supported, as a
rule, whatever Government was in power. The Examiner,
a Thursday weekly paper, founded by Bolingbroke, with
the aid of Atterbury, Prior, and Dr. Freind, in the autumn
of 1710, was opposed the same year by the Whig Examiner,
edited by Addison.

Each side, too, had its own poets. When Addison, the
Whig poet-laureate, and the friend of Halifax, wrote the
Campaign in honour of the victory of Blenheim, Boling-
broke at once employed John Philips, the author of The
Splendid Shilling, and of Cyder, to write his Blenheim.
Literature and politics were indeed closely intertwined,
and it was always Bolingbroke's aim to shine as a leader in
literature no less than in politics. His relations throughout
his life with the great literary giants of the day bring out


the most pleasing side of his character, and give us
ghmpses of the most dehghtful portions of his hfe. Even
before his entry into Parliament he had aspired to be a
poet. He had formed Dryden's acquaintance, and had
written some verses eulogistic of his translation of Virgil.
He patronized, as we have seen, John Philips, a poet who
died in 1708, at the early age of thirty-three, and who ended
his Blenheim with some lines on the Manor House of Buck-
lersbury :

" Thus from the noisy crowd exempt, with ease
And plenty blest, amid the mazy groves.
Sweet solitude ! Where warbling birds provoke
The silent muse, delicious rural seat
Of St. John, English Memmius, I presumed

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Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 15 of 20)