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To sing Britannic trophies, inexpert
Of war, with mean attempt."

During the years of his Secretaryship, the literary circle
with which he associated contained, among others, Swift,
Pope, Congreve, Parnell, Arbuthnot, Prior, and Gay. Most,
if not all, of them were members of the Society of Brothers,
and later of the famous Scriblerus Club.

Pope, whose acquaintance with Bolingbroke was to lead
to such momentous results, was introduced to him by Swift.
The great Doctor had been pleased with the poet's Windsor
Castle J which appeared in March, 17 13, and in which Pope
sneered at the Revolution, declared enthusiastically for the
Peace, and wrote a flattering dedication to Bolingbroke.
Even in those busy days, Bolingbroke undertook to correct
portions of the Translation of the Iliad, at which Pope was
then working. The appearance of the first volume, how-
ever, found Bolingbroke in exile, Oxford in prison, and
Swift in Ireland. By his leaning towards the Tories in
his Windsov Castle, Pope had offended his old Whig friends,
and had been attacked in an underhand manner in the
Guardian. His recompense for his partial alienation from
the Whig coterie, and for his abandonment of his original


intention to keep clear from politics, was that friendship
with Bolingbroke, which grew into the devotion of a life.

Swift and Prior saw probably more of Bolingbroke than
the others, as in their respective ways they were both occu-
pied in giving very valuable aid to the Government. One
of the accusations brought afterwards against Prior and
Bolingbroke was that they had been unseasonably witty
during the most serious and solemn negotiations. Swift
had been introduced by Oxford to Bolingbroke in October,
1 710, and, as has been seen, speedily became a political
power on the Tory side. He soon grew very intimate with
the leading Ministers, and his Journal to Stella is full of most
valuable political and social information. He has left a
very interesting sketch of St. John's character as it appeared
to him in the autumn of 171 1.

"I think Mr. St. John," he writes, "the greatest young man I ever
knew ; wit, capacity, beauty, quickness of apprehension, good learning, and
an excellent taste ; the best orator in the House of Commons, admirable
conversation, good nature, and good manners ; generous, and a despiser of
money. His only fault is talking to his friends in way of complaint of too
great a load of business, which looks a little like aftectation ; and he
endeavours too much to mix the fine gentleman and man of pleasure with
the man of business."

As early as February, 171 1, he had been admitted to
Harley's regular Saturday dinners, where Harley and
St. John both addressed him as Jonathan. Swift's alliance
with the Tories marks the time when the power of the Press
in England was greater than at any previous period, and
when political writers for the first time ceased to be mere
hirelings, and became the intimates of Ministers, " I dined
to-day with Mr. Secretary St. John," wrote Swift in these
years of his prosperity : " I went to the Court of Requests
at noon, and sent Mr. Harley into the House to call the
Secretary, and let him know I would not dine with him if
he dined late." From the beginning of 171 1, too, Swift
began to dine with Bolingbroke every Sunday, and during


the summer months of 171 1, when the Queen's residence
at Windsor necessitated St. John's presence there every
other Sunday, Swift not unfrequently visited him. Some-
times Bolingbroke broke his journey at Peterborough
House. On September the ist, 1711, he and Swift dined
there in Peterborough's absence — the occasion when Swift
was much struck with the kitchen -garden. " It is," he wrote,
*' the finest fruit garden I have ever seen about this town,
and abundance of hot walls for grapes, which are ripening

The second period in Bolingbroke's literary career may
be said to date from his return from exile. During this
period he had more leisure and more time to consider
political, philosophical, and religious questions. He was
older, he had gained more experience ; his residence at
La Source had resulted in much mental activity. On his
return to England, in 1725, Dawley became the centre 0£
a literary circle, which included for a time Pope, Swift,
Gay, and Voltaire. Dawley itself was a fine^ spacious
residence, situated in the village of Harlington, near Ux-
bridge, fourteen miles from London and one mile from the
Bath Road. The Manor House was taken down in 1780.
There, in Bolingbroke's own words, " he was in a hermitage
where no man came but for the sake of the hermit": for
then he found " that the insects, which used to hum and
buzz about him in the sunshine, fled to men of more pros-
perous fortune, and forsook him when in the shade." There
his life at Bucklersbury, in the years 1708 and 1709, was
reproduced in many of its' features. True, he still took an
interest in politics, and during the greater part of his resi-
dence at Dawley was busy organizing attacks on Walpole
in The Craftsman, and within the walls of Parliament. But
during intervals of the struggle, as, for example, in 1728,
after the failure of his hopes to see Walpole ruined upon
the accession of George H., he lived the life of a country



gentleman, devoting himself on the one hand to study, and
on the other to farming and hunting. On June the 28th,
1728, Pope wrote from Dawley to Swift a letter which is
often quoted : —

"I now hold the pen for my Lord Bolingbroke, who is reading your
letter between two haycocks ; but his attention is somewhat diverted by
casting his eyes on the clouds, not in admiration of what you say, but for
fear of a shower. ... As to the return of his health and vigour, were you
here, you might inquire of his haymakers ; but, as to his temperance, I can
answer that (for one whole day) we have had nothing for dinner but mutton
broth, beans and bacon, and a barndoor fowl. Now his lordship is run
after his cart, I have a moment left to myself to tell you that I overheard him
yesterday agree with a painter for ^200 to paint his country hall with
trophies of ricks, spades, prongs, etc., and other ornaments, merely," added
the poet maliciously, " ' to countenance his calling this place a farm.' "

But it is in its relation to Bolingbroke's intellectual
influence that this handsome country-house has become so
widely known. Dawley was within a pleasant ride from
Twickenham, where Pope had lived since 1718, and Dawley
and Twickenham both became literary centres, the fame of
which will live long in the history of English literature.

Time had already laid its hand on many of the members
of that brilliant circle which had gathered round Boling-
broke during the last years of Anne's reign. Atterbury
was an exile, Prior and Parnell were both dead. At Dawley
and Twickenham, however, the survivors of that circle and of
that celebrated literary association, the Scriblerus Club, again
came together. The year 1725 and the next few years were
to make many of those survivors famous. The year 1725
marks the beginning of that period in Pope's literary career
in which the works he composed are his greatest in "sheer
literary power." In 1727 three volumes of his Miscellanies,
followed in 1728 by The Dunciad, showed the world the
strength of Pope's satire. In 1726 Swift was at Dawley and
Twickenham, and on July the 7th Pope entertained at a
dinner, which may be termed historical, Congreve, Boling-


broke, Gay, and Swift, who had lately arrived from Ireland
bringing with him the manuscript of Gtdlivers Travels, which
in 1727 was published anonymously. At the end of May,
1726, Voltaire arrived in England, and at once renewed the -
acquaintance he had made with Bolingbroke at La Source
in 1 72 1. That Statesman in 1727 wrote the Vision of v
Camelick in the Craftsman, and further attacked Walpole in ^
the first number of the Occasional Writer. In 1728 Gay's
Beggars' Opera was produced, over the success of which the
inmates of Dawley rejoiced.

What a picture is presented to us ! Bolingbroke affect-
ing to be merely interested in country pursuits, and rarely
mentioning politics when conversing with his friends, but
still burning with restless ambition, and sparing no pains to
secure Walpole's downfall ; Swift busy with his charming
satire, which was to secure an instantaneous and per-
manent popularity ; Voltaire correcting his Henriade, which
he at first intended to dedicate to Bolingbroke ; and which,
having already appeared in 1723 as La Ligne,\v3.s published
in March, 1728 ; Arbuthnot, Gay, and Pope full of plans for
revenge on the miserable Whig writers, the result of their
deliberations being The Dunciad. Powerful as The Dimciad
is, it belongs to a far lower level of poetry than The Essay
on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock, which had already
won for Pope a foremost place among living English

The establishment of Bolingbroke in Pope's neighbour-
hood resulted, not only in a warm friendship between the two
men, but enabled Bolingbroke to influence beneficially the
genius of Pope. The correspondence of Bolingbroke and
Pope with Swift gives a pleasant idea of their mutual rela-
tions, and of their friendship with Arbuthnot, Gay, and Con-
greve. Any one who reads those letters will emphatically
endorse Leslie Stephen's assertion, " that there is scarcely a
more interesting volume in the language than that which


contains the correspondence of Swift, Bolingbroke, and
Pope " {Pope^ by Leslie Stephen, p. 156).

Swift's dislike to his residence in Ireland gives his letters
a bitter turn : " I reckon no man is thoroughly miserable
unless he be condemned to dwell in Ireland," he had written
some sixteen years previously, and he continued to hold the
same views. He took, however, great interest in the doings
of his friends in England, though he only crossed over from
Dublin twice during the period, in 1726, and for the last
time in 1727. He was delighted at the success of Gay's
opera, he was impatient to see The Dunciad ; he regarded
Bolingbroke, Pope, and himself as " a peculiar triumvirate,
who have nothing to expect or to fear." But his letters are
those of an avowed misanthrope. Everything had gone
wrong with him, his friends were either dead or far away,
his health was rapidly declining, his hopes of English pre-
ferment on the death of George I. had been dashed to the
ground, and he had now returned to Ireland to leave it no
more. In 1729 he wrote to Bolingbroke : —

" ' You think, as I ought to think, that it is time for me to have done with
the world ; and so I would, if I could get into a better before I was called
into the best, and not die here in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole.'"

His sorrows and despondency colour the whole of his cor-
respondence with his old friends, and increase till death in
October, 1745, withdraws from life's stage that stern
humorist, who had played so important a part during the
period when Bolingbroke s star was in the ascendant. He
rose with Bolingbroke to a political importance never before
realized by a man of letters. After the death of Anne,
though, like Bolingbroke, he secured certain political suc-
cesses, as in the case of Wood's Halfpence, he never mixed
again with members of Cabinets or advised Ministers on
questions of policy.

Bolingbroke's correspondence is of an entirely different
character. Though, like Swift, cut off from any active


share in politics, though like him a disappointed man,
though similarly bristling with keen prejudices, his letters
have no despairing tone. Leslie Stephen describes in some
admirable words the effect upon the reader of a perusal of
Bolingbroke's letters to Swift and Pope : —

"We see through Bolingbroke's magnificent self-deceit; the flowing
manners of the statesman, who, though the game is lost, is longing for a
favourable turn of the card, but still affects to solace himself with philosophy,
and wraps himself in dignified reflections upon the blessings of retirement,
contrast with Swift's downright avowal of indignant scorn for himself and
mankind" {-Pope, by Leslie Stephen, p. 157).

Pope's letters are, as might be expected, characterized by
hypocrisy, sympathy with his friends, and great admiration
for Bolingbroke. Of the three friends. Pope w^as during
these years alone successful. His frequent declarations of
indifference to the applause of the world came strangely
from a man who was above all men most keenly desirous of
fame and sensitive of adverse criticism. His worship of
Bolingbroke was sincere. At one time he writes that " it
looks as if that great man had been placed here by mistake."
And he continues that, " when the comet appeared a month
or two ago, I sometimes fancied that it might be come to
carry him home, as a coach comes to one's door for other
visitors." And later he begs Swift to argue Bolingbroke
out of his fruitless interference with politics, and complains
that that statesman is so taken up with particular men, that
he neglects mankind, and is still a creature of the world,
not of the universe.

Meanwhile the genius of Pope, which had just shown its
power of direct satire in The Dunciad, fell under the influence
of Bolingbroke.

"Between 1732 and 1740," says De Quincey, "he was chiefly engaged
in satires, which uniformly speak a high moral tone in the midst of personal
invective ; or in poems directly philosophical, which almost as uniformly
speak the bitter tone of satire in the midst of dispassionate ethics."


His Essay on Man was undertaken at the instigation of
Bolingbroke, who showed the greatest interest in the work.
In Pope's garden at Twickenham he had already frequently
conversed with him on philosophic subjects, and further, in
order to make clear his meaning, Bolingbroke described, in
an enormous number of letters or essays to Pope, his philo-
sophic system.

" Does Pope talk to you," writes Bolingbroke to Swift in 1731, " of the
noble work which, at my instigation, he has begun in such a manner that
he must be convinced by this time I ^udged better of his talents than he did?"

While the Essay on Man was still in progress, Pope wrote
the Moral Essavs, which Bolingbroke, in a letter to Swift,
describes as a fine work, and in its way superior to Horace.
The first of the four epistles which composed the Essay on
Man appeared in 1733, and the other parts followed during
1733 and 1734. Ill them religion is put on a rational basis,
and Bolingbroke's sentiments find full expression throughout
the whole poem. Between 1735 and 1738, in the Satires
and Epistles of Horace Imitated, Pope attacked violently the
followers of Walpole. These satires and epistles form, it
has been said, " a concentrated essence of the bitterness of
the Opposition." Pope made no secret of his obligations to
Bolingbroke. His admiration for that statesman and his
writings remained unchecked till death came in 1744 to
sever one of the most famous literary friendships on record.
In 1738 Bolingbroke, during a visit to England, spent some
time at Twickenham, and in the next year Pope wrote an
account of his doings to Swift, then in his declining years :

" He has sold Dawley for ;^"26,ooo, much to his own satisfaction. His
plan of life is now a very agreeable one ; in the finest country of France,
divided between study and exercise, for he still reads and writes five or six
hours a day, and generally hunts twice a week. He has the whole forest
of Fontainebleau at his command, with the King's stables and dogs, etc.,
• his lady's son-in-law bemg governor of the place. ... I never saw him
in stronger health, or in better humour with his friends, or more indifferent
and dispassionate to his enemies. . . . We often commemorated you


during the five months we lived together at Twickenham, at which place
could I see you again, as I hope to see him, I would envy no country in
the world."

The complete ascendancy which Bolingbroke had gained
during his residence at Dawley over Pope is well illustrated
by a letter written by the poet shortly after Wyndham's
death. In it he assures Bolingbroke that England can now
be saved only by his ability. And his resolution to return
to England, should it be necessary, he styles as being " not
patriotism, but downright piety." Little less than canoniza-
tion w^ould, in his opinion, be fitting for such a man.

To Bolingbroke Pope's death was a great blow. For
upwards of twenty years they had been the closest friends,
seeing much of one another, engaged in similar works,
holding the same views. Bolingbroke's influence had done
much for Pope, and the sensitive Pope had repaid the debt
by persuading Bolingbroke to withdraw his exclusive
interest in politics and " low ambitions." Pope loved fame ;
Bolingbroke enabled him to produce the Essay on Man.
Pope enjoyed revenge ; Bolingbroke's suggestion that he
should write the Imitations of Horace was carried out with
triumphant success. On the other hand, the close intimacy
with the poet had a corresponding effect on the statesman.
Bolingbroke's Epistolary Essays were written in answer to
Pope's appeal, and Bolingbroke's great interest in the higher
regions of thought during these years was in no small
measure due to the presence of an enthusiastic disciple.
Bolingbroke's influence over Pope was exercised principally
by means of conversation. " His manner of speaking in
private conversation," says Chesterfield, " is as full and ele-
gant as his writings." Voltaire had already felt the influence
of these conversations.

The author of the Henriade first met Bolingbroke at
La Source in 1721, and was profoundly impressed by his
host's philosophical and historical ideas. Bolingbroke had



pleased him by placing La Ligue at the head of French
poetry, and Voltaire became then, like Pope later, an eager
disciple of the English statesman. In 1724 Bolingbroke
writes from France to Pope, that he is reading Voltaire's
Death of Mariamne, which was to be played that Lent, and
that Voltaire hopes soon to introduce himself to Pope.
^ This introduction took place in 1726, when Voltaire paid
his first visit to England. Before that visit. Pope, not
being a French scholar, had with difficulty read La Ligue,
and had written to Bolingbroke, praising the poem in a
qualified manner : " I cannot," he says, " pretend to judge
with any exactness of the beauties of a foreign language
which I understand but imperfectly."

The circumstances under which the young Fran9ois
Arouet paid his celebrated visit to England tended to
heighten his admiration for much that he saw and heard.
Twice had he tasted of the Bastille, the first time (1716) his
imprisonment being the result of a poem commenting upon
the social abuses of the day. The Government of the
Regent, which is supposed by some to have inaugurated a
reaction from the despotism of Louis XIV., was not going to
allow without protest a criticism of the social and govern-
mental evils under which France was then groaning. The
young Arouet was therefore shut up in the Bastille on the
suspicion of being the author of the poem. His challenge
of the Chevalier de Rohan for an insult was answered by
another imprisonment followed by an injunction to leave
Paris. With a keen sense of the disadvantages of living
under a tyrannical government, Voltaire, as he is now called,
came to England. " He left France," says Lord Morley,
"a poet ; he returned to it a sage."

He arrived in England just before the blighting influence
of Walpole's government had fallen upon the men of letters.
The brilliant group of the Queen Anne men, though sadly
decimated, was still in existence. The close connection


between literature and politics continued, and the contrast
between the state of things in France, where a poet was
caned by a nobleman's lackey, and the feeling in England,
which rewarded poetic ability with political posts and with
well-endowed sinecures, was thoroughly appreciated by the
author of the Henviade.

None the less striking to the French poet was the, to
him, extraordinary liberty enjoyed by the Press. He saw
a people not only saying what they pleased, but printing
without let or hindrance the most direct personal attacks
on the Ministers and the most scathing criticisms on their
policy. He perceived that invectives against the religion
of the country were permitted, and that new religious and
philosophical theories could be freely propounded. Not
even the sovereign could escape from openly expressed
criticism. Then, again, he found that exemption of certain
classes from taxation — that curse of ancient France — did not
exist in England. All that is implied in the terms consti-
tutional freedom, liberty of the Press and of the subject,
equality of taxation, mixture of ranks, nobility of labour,
came more or less as a revelation to Voltaire.

Till 1729 Voltaire lived almost entirely in England. A
very interesting account of his residence here, and an
estimate of Bolingbroke's influence on his writings is to be
found in the late Mr. Churton Collins' essay on Voltaire in
England. After the publication of the Henviade he began, at
the instigation of Bolingbroke, the Tragedy of Brutus, which
when completed, he dedicated to that statesman. He was
at the same time working at his history of Charles XII.,
and collecting materials for his history of Louis XIV. But,
while producing, he was busy accumulating with a zest that
is simply astounding. He plunged into the study of all
branches of English Hterature ; poetry, history, theology,
natural science, and philosophy. He read Shakespeare,
Milton, and Dryden most carefully. His admiration for


Pope's poetry was unbounded, and he considered Addison's
Cato a fine production. The works of Waller, Prior, Con-
greve, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, and Rochester were all
devoured, and he took an especial interest in Hudibras, so
seldom read at the present day. He had unusual advantages
for obtaining special information on English Constitutional
history, and facts for his histories of the Great French and
Swedish Monarchs. Though he apparently made Dawley
his headquarters, he also stayed with Peterborough, and
Bubb Doddington. At one or other of the houses of his
friends he made the acquaintance of Swift, and ofCongreve,
of Gay, and of Young; with the Dowager Duchess of
Marlborough he discussed Louis XIV. and Charles XII.

Most of his views on the political condition of England,
on its institutions, and on the spirit of its laws are largely
affected by the opinions of Bolingbroke, who held, during
the period of his residence at Dawley, that a corrupt
oligarchy was transforming the old free English institutions
into a government, the aim of which was to advance party
at the expense of national interests. Hence Bolingbroke's
complaints about the decadence of the spirit of liberty mis-
led Voltaire, who in consequence failed to understand the
real character of the Revolution of 1688. His observations
on English political life, contained in his Letters on the
English, written before he left England, presented such a
contrast to the state of things existing in France, that they
were ordered to be burnt in 1734. It is probably owing to
Bolingbroke's inlluence that they are wanting in any
adequate account of our political liberties, and entirely fail
to show that the author had grasped the importance of the
English free constitutional forms.

In Voltaire's religious and philosophic studies the
influence which Bolingbroke had already exercised at La
Source was developed and largely amplified. From
Bolingbroke Voltaire had derived the rationalistic spirit.


It was at La Source that Bolingbroke finished his Letters to
M. de Poiiilly ; he was also busy writing the Reflections on
Lnnate Moral Principles while Voltaire was his guest. When
they again met at Dawley the seed already sown was
beginning to bear fruit, and Voltaire found frequent oppor-
tunities of continuing his discussions. In England the
opinions of the Deists were being much canvassed, and
Bolingbroke was a Deist. "It is not too much to say,"

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Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 16 of 20)