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writes Lord Morley, " that Bolingbroke was the direct pro-
genitor of Voltaire's opinions in religion." Voltaire, who
had read Locke, now studied the Deistical controversy
which was raging, and read the works of such men as
Toland and Collins, Shaftesbury, and Chubb. From them,
through, as it were, the medium of Bolingbroke, Voltaire
gradually formed his religious philosophy. These studies
he continued in France in after years, and throughout his
writings, which so profoundly affected the thought of
Europe and to some extent the political action of France,
the influence of Bolingbroke can be constantly discerned.

As we study with intense interest the literature and
politics in Bolingbroke's days, we are tempted to look back
to the times of Lorenzo de' Medici, under whose sway
Florentine society, like English Society under Queen Anne
and George I., was largely affected by politics and literature.
In Florence, as in England, men delighted in literary and
philosophical conversation. At Dawley and Twickenham,
just as in the Ruccellai Gardens, men met together in
social clubs, which often had a political and philosophical
character. The death of Lorenzo heralded the enslavement
of Italy ; even before Bolingbroke's death, the tendencies of
the age had shrivelled up the literary aspirations, and with
them had brought to an end the literary friendships of one
of the most interesting periods of English literar history.



CHAPTER X

BOLINGBROKE'S POLITICAL, PHILOSOPHICAL, AND
TPIEOLOGICAL OPINIONS.

Note on his political writings — Charge of inconsistency — His political aims
in Anne's reign — His short period of Jacobitism — His political theories
when opposing Walpole — The Dissertation on Parties — His recon-
struction of Toryism — The Patriot King — Its effect on the policy of
George III. and on the future of Toryism — Bolingbroke a democratic
Tory — Lord Beaconsfield's opinion as to the value of his services to the
Tory party — Bolingbroke's philosophical and religious opinions — His
writings — Their uncritical and unhistorical character — Opinion of
Lechler — The principles of the Deistic writers well illustrated from
Bolingbroke's writings — Contempt for all dogmatic theologians— Impor-
tance of reason— Memory — Influence of the rationalistic point of view
upon psychology — Bolingbroke's treatment of ethics and theology — His
political theory.

The political opinions of Bolingbroke are in part of little
permanent value, being for the most part written in the
heat of exciting party struggles. To two classes of persons
his writings appeal. The admirer of eloquent expression
and of splendid diction will read Bolingbroke's writings.
He will find there the inexhaustible resources of the English
language ; he will learn how varied, how flexible, how
dignified it becomes in the hand of a master. He will find
there the perfection of English prose ; he will appreciate
the undefinable influence of style. The historical student
will find in his political writings the explanations of much
that would otherwise be inexplicable. ^

^ Bolingbroke's political opinions are to be gathered from : —

(i) His political correspondence during the time he was Secretary of
State, which is our principal guide to the policy of the Ministry
during the negotiations of the Peace of Utrecht.

i88



BOLINGBROKE'S OPINIONS 189

Bolingbroke, it must never be forgotten, always threw
himself heart and soul into the questions which were
immediately pressing for solution. It has been well said of
him that he was " a consummate master of political strategy,
as well as a great Constitutional moralist " [Bolingbroke, by
Harrop, p. 25). As soon as fresh problems appeared or a
fresh development in politics took place, he at once boldly
examined the situation and came forward with a programme,
without apparently any regard for consistency. He had a
wonderful knack of adapting himself to fresh circumstances,
and, with the keen eye of a man accustomed to move behind
the scenes of political life, of choosing the right watchw^ord
by which a defeated party might be rallied. It is often

(2) His contributions to T/ie Craftsman — the principal of which in

their collected form are known as Remarks on the History 0/
England and the Dissertation on Parties — are most valuable
aids to our knowledge of the domestic politics of the day.

(3) A variety of dissertations and essays, partly purely historical,

partly merely political.

Of the historical dissertations, the Letter to Sir William Wyndham,
written in 1717, but not published till 1753, is perhaps the most celebrated.
In most points the statements are trustworthy, and it forms a very interest-
ing chapter of history. Next in importance come the letters on The Study
of History, of which the first five point out that history should be studied
philosophically ; the sixth and seventh give a summary of the course of
English history in the sixteenth and seventeenth, and early years of the
eighteenth centuries ; the eighth is a defence of the Peace of Utrecht. In
1749 he wrote the dissertation on the State of Parties at the Accession of
George I. The essays in which he deals more especially with political
theory are : The Letters on the Spirit of Patriot is fu, The Patriot King, and
The Dissertation on Parties. Of these, the influence of The Patriot King,
which was published in 1749, was immense on that and the next genera-
tion, and is seen in many of Lord Beaconsfield's ideas and not unfrequently
in his language. All Bolingbroke's writings mentioned in this chapter are
to be found in his collected works, and all references are to the 1809
edition, in eight volumes.

(4) A great number of letters, or which the most important are to be

found in the Marchmont Papers. '^



igo HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

pointed out how the policy of a coalition against Walpole
was directly opposed to his policy of Tory consolidation
under Anne. Hence he is usually accused of inconsistency
and insincerity. Such charges show a want of knowledge
of the character and tendency of the political movements
under Anne and her two successors.

During the last four years of Anne's reign, Bolingbroke
certainly employed all his efforts in opposition to Oxford,
who, like Marlborough, loved divided administrations, to
make the lines between parties as clear as possible, and to
form a strong united Tory Ministry. To establish the
Government on a Tory basis was an intelligible policy.
The overthrow of the Whig influence was to be accom-
plished by means of the authority of the Queen, supported
by the will of the people. Coalitions, the object of Oxford's
policy, must be discarded for ever. No terms were to be
made with political opponents. By a policy of proscription
and exclusion, that is, by a series of Acts brought forward
and carried in a constitutional manner, all the governing
power was to be placed in the hands of the High Church
party. The majority of the nation was decidedly Tory, and
the nation must be appealed to. Swift held similar views,
and The Conduct of the Allies marks the first definite attempt
in English political life to appeal to public opinion. That
this policy was primarily in the interest of the Church and
the landed gentry is not to be denied, and in his Letter to
Sir William Wyndham his political theories during these
years are clearly described.

After his exile, which included a desperate attempt to
restore Jacobitism, he entered upon a new struggle under
fresh circumstances. He was again opposed to the Whigs,
who now, supported by the Sovereign and headed by a
sagacious Minister, governed the country. He accordingly
devoted himself to the difficult task of making the Hano-
verian Tories and Jacobites recognize the existing dynasty.



BOLINGBROKE'S OPINIONS IQI

and of persuading the Malcontent Whigs that their former
opponents had given up their Jacobite doctrines. Walpole
was firmly established in power, and was carrying out in the
interest of his followers that policy of proscription and
exclusion formerly advocated by Bolingbroke. While
engaged in the difficult task of conciliating the Malcontent
Whigs Bolingbroke professed himself a warm advocate of
the Revolution principles, but deprecated the system of
Government by party, and the substitution of a united
Cabinet for the ancient Royal Council. He consistently
pointed out that the choice before the electors was between
Oligarchy and Democracy. He thus threw aside his
former opinions, his ancient belief in the existence of strong
party divisions ; in their stead he advocated a Coalition. In
his Dissertation on Parties he points out that the old political
divisions have lost their meaning, that the old '* associations
of ideas " are broken, that new combinations had forced
themselves into notice ;

"that it would be as absurd to impute to the Tories the principles which
were laid to their charge formerly as it would be to ascribe to the projector
(Walpole) and his faction the name of Whigs, while they daily forfeit that
character by their actions" (vol. iii. p. 39).

The Revolution Settlement is now secure, the new dynasty
is generally recognized. But a fresh danger has arisen.
" King William defended us from Popery and slavery,"
after the Revolution had saved us from the attempt of James
to increase his prerogative. The object of the Revolution
was plainly designated to restore and secure our Govern-
ment, ecclesiastical and civil, on true foundations (vol. iii.
p. 171). But certain defects in our constitution not noticed
in 1688-9 have become dangerous. The design of the
Revolution could not be accomplished unless "the freedom
of elections and the frequency, integrity, and independence
of Parliaments were sufficiently provided for " (vol. iii. p. 1 77).
Walpole and his faction, by discrediting the Tories, keep



192 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

themselves in power. This perpetuated power leads to
corruption. To such an extent had corruption grown, that
the "independency of Parliament, in which the essence of
our constitution, and by consequence of our liberty, consists,
seems to be in great, not to say in imminent, danger of
being lost" (vol. iii. p. 277).

With these " high sentiments of constitutional morality "
in his pamphlets, Bolingbroke appealed to the conservative
instincts of the people against dangerous and pernicious in-
novations. In a very striking letter to Lord Polwarth in
July, 1739, after Walpole had been in office nearly twenty
years, he despaired of saving the independence of Parlia-
ment. An Administration on what he calls a national basis
would alone restore that independence : for then the people
would be able to insist on their right " to preserve that fun-
damental principle of their free constitution of Government "
[Mavchmont Papers, vol. ii. p. 191).

As long as Bolingbroke lived, he could not break through
the Whig phalanx. With all their faults, England owes a
debt of gratitude to the great Whig families. Their adminis-
trative powers were admirable ; they had the interest of the
country at heart ; they established the Hanoverian dynasty
firmly on the throne ; under them, the elder Pitt carried on
a successful war, resulting in the establishment of England's
Empire ; the country had never been so uniformly pros-
perous, the division between rich and poor had rarely been
so slight as during the reigns of the first two Georges, when
the Revolution families governed. But by George I IP's
accession the new professional politician, a Whig parasite,
belonging to a class admirably described by Sir George
Trevelyan in his Early History of Charles James Fox, had
entered upon the Whig heritage. The Whig party, under-
mined by corruption, the result of long tenure of power, had
spHt into sections. George III.'s policy was to put into
practice the views of Bolingbroke as expressed in the Dis-



BOLINGBROKE'S OPINIONS 193



sevtation on Parties , and in his letter to Polwarth, and to
preserve the Constitution by establishing a Government
independent of party, on a national basis. He wished to be
a king in reality, not merely in name ; a patriot king after
the pattern drawn by Bolingbroke.

We have seen in a former chapter how it came to pass
that Bolingbroke's political ideas, described above, were
never put into force during his lifetime. His second, and
this time self-imposed exile, in 1735 marks the failure of the
third phase of his political ideas. He had first, between
1710 and 1 714, attempted, without abolishing the Act of
Settlement, to replace the Tory party in that position of
supremacy which it enjoyed at the time of the Revolution
of 1688 ; he had secondly, in 171 5, aided in an unsuccessful
attempt to restore Jacobitism and overthrow the Act of
Settlement. He had, thirdly, failed, after a gallant effort, to
abolish party distinctions by means of a coalition of all
parties. He now, after having broken with Pulteney and
the Malcontent Whigs, entered upon the fourth phase of
his political ideas, adopted in some respects a new political
theory, and attempted to reconstruct Toryism on the basis ^
of patriotism. The Patriot King expresses this theory, and,
on its publication in 1749, became widely known. It appeals
to all who hate the name of party and dislike the existence
of party government. According to the system of govern-
ment sketched out in this treatise, " a limited monarchy is
the best of governments," and a hereditary monarchy of
monarchies. ** The good of the people is the ultimate and
true end of Government," and " the greatest good of a
people is their liberty." The best way to provide for the
continuance of that liberty is by securing the accession of a
patriot king, who will not be a sovereign by divine right,
nor the mere figure-head of a Government directed by an
oligarchy. He will be a constitutional sovereign, whose
power is limited by his consent to exercise that power sub-

13



IX



194 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

ject to public opinion expressed in a free Parliament. Under
him corruption will cease, for a patriot king has no reason
to be corrupt.

"He is the most powerful of all reformers, for he is himself a sort of
standing miracle so rarely seen, and so little understood, that the sure
effects of his appearance will be admiration and love in every honest breast,
confusion and terror to every guilty conscience, but submission and resig-
nation in all" (vol. iv., p. 273).

In writing The Patriot King^ Bolingbroke was advancing
political theories to some extent similar to those laid down
in the Dissertation on Parties. His immediate object at the
time was to establish his position with Frederick, the Prince
of Wales, and to checkmate Pulteney and his followers,
who had just wrecked his scheme of a Coalition. That all
the views expressed in The Patriot King could ever be
realized hardly needs demonstration. Where was the king
to be found who would act the part described ? Even sup-
posing that one prince of ability conformed to the require-
ments set forth in this treatise, what guarantee would there
be that his successors would follow in his footsteps? Was
it really likely that corruption and party spirit would dis-
appear before this magic centre ? Nor can Bolingbroke
explain satisfactorily the steps in the transformation of Par-
liamentary Government into a national council existing
^ without parties. In spite of all these difficulties the fact
remains that his famous essay became a real force in political
life, a mighty lever which largely contributed to the ruin of
the Venetian oligarchy. By its aid George III. smote the
Whigs hip and thigh, and for ten years, without, indeed,
rising to the sublime height of Tlie Patriot King, carried out
in certain points some of the principles laid down in that
famous treatise.

Thus it cl|ne about that the object at which Bolingbroke
had aimed all his life and by various methods, was attained
by his means after his death. The Patriot King very largely



BOLINGBROKE'S OPINIONS 195

aided in the reconstruction of that Tory party which found
leaders in Bute, North, the younger Pitt, and Disraeli. In
a critical estimate of the causes of the successful assertion
by the Tories of their right to a share in the Government of
the country in the reign of George III., The Patviot King
occupies with regard to public opinion a position similar to
that of T/^^ Conduct of the Allies. In each case the popular
feeling which had already declared itself was powerfully
fostered and accelerated by these respective treatises. In
1710 the people were, for several well-known reasons, weary
of the Whig Government, and Swift's writings not only
strengthened them in their desire to end the war, but also
expressed what was the general view. " Many of " the
elder Pitt's "utterances were," writes Mr. Grant Robertson,
" strongly tinged with Bolingbroke's ideas, which identified
party with faction, and aimed at breaking up the prevailing
system and machinery."^ On George III.'s accession Par-
liament had ceased to represent the people, and had become
factious and corrupt. The Patriot King became the watch-
word for the literary class, who never had any sympathy
with Walpole's system of Government, for the Tories, who
wished after their long exclusion from the Government to
again direct affairs, for Whigs like Pitt, who hated the party
system, and for George III., who was determined to free
himself from the thraldom of the Whig families.

The strength of the Whig position lay in this, that they
had made the executive practically responsible to Parlia-
ment. But, while securing in great measure the direction
of affairs, they had endeavoured to make their position safe
by controlling the members of Parliament, and the elections
to Parliament, by means of corruption. They failed to see
the advantage of a Parliament responsible to the people.
They were anxious to govern in the interest of the nation,

^ C. Grant Robertson, England under the Hanoverians, p. 138.
London : Methuen and Co.



196 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

but they did not permit the nation to exercise any control
over, or to possess any influence in Parliament. The
abuses to which such a system was liable were obvious, and
these were violently attacked by Bolingbroke in the palmy
days of Whig ascendancy. The publication of The Patriot
King found Walpole's system in a state of decay, and Par-
liament the battle-ground of various small bodies of self-
seeking politicians. Is it to be wondered at if Tories like
Johnson despised Whiggism, which under " the Pelhams
was no better than the politics of stock-jobbers, and the
religion of infidels," and believed that a Prince who pursued
the " interest of his people could not fail of Parliamentary
concurrence " ? In spite, then, of many manifest absurdities,
The Patriot King was immediately popular because it struck
a national chord, and expressed a widespread feeling of dis-
content.

We have lastly to summarize Bolingbroke's political
views, and to consider shortly the direct bearing of his
political theories on the future of the Tory party. We have
seen the four phases through which his political opinions
passed. In each phase he adapted his views to a special
contingency ; but one principle runs throughout his political
writings, the principle, namely, of strengthening the Crown
by popular safeguards. BoUngbroke was never a Tory in
the sense that Rochester, or Bute, or North, or Eldon were
Tories. The Toryism of his day was largely tinged with
Jacobitism, and, even if opposed to the return of the Pre-
tender, never shook itself quite clear from divine right, pas-
sive obedience, and the like. Bolingbroke was always
ahead of his party. In his first Parliament he had seen
Harley, who had no sympathy with high monarchical doc-
trines, compel the Tory party to pass the Act of Settlement
and the Abjuration Bill. He never seems to have entirely
discarded this popular form of Toryism then adopted by
Harley ; he ridiculed divine right ; he always hated a



BOLINGBROKE'S OPINIONS 197

Venetian oligarchy, and, in opposition to Walpole's system,
pressed for the greater independence of the House of Com-
mons. The Patriot King was to be subjected to public
opinion as manifested in a free territorial Parliament of
andlords chosen by widest suffrage.

In fact, there was a good deal of the democratic Tory
about Bolingbroke. '* Good government depends, under
our constitution, on the unity of interest between the King
and his subjects," he had written some years before the ap-
pearance of The Patriot King, and, in doing so, had appealed
to a sentiment which was destined to become a mighty force
after his own death. George III., in establishing the power
of the Crown against Parliament and in reducing his min-
isters to the position of mere agents and advisers, was acting
as much in harmony with the wish of the people as with the
political theories of Bolingbroke. After the American War
the Whigs again came into power, but they had not learnt
wisdom during adversity. Dreading the influence of the
Crown and ignoring the popular feeling, they ruined them-
selves for some fifty years by their fatal Coalition with
Lord North. Pitt's policy of appealing from a selfish oli-
garchy to the mass of the voters and of establishing, by
means of a beneficent policy, good relations between the
Crown and the people, was a practical expression of Boling-
broke's political opinions.

The success of Bolingbroke's reconstruction of Toryism
was well described by Disraeli in 1835 :

" He eradicated from Toryism all their absurd and odious doctrines
which Toryism had adventitiously adopted, clearly developed its essential
and permanent character, discarded /z/r^ divino, demolished passive obedi-
ence, threw to the winds the doctrine of non-resistance, placed the abolition
of James, and the accession of George on their right bases, and, in the
complete reorganization of the public mind, laid the foundation for the
future accession of the Tory party to power, and to that popular and
triumphant career which must ever await the policy of an administration
inspired by the spirit of our free and ancient institutions."



igS HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

Disraeli, unlike Burke, fully appreciated and acknowledged
the debt which he owed to Bolingbroke. " Many of his
(Disraeli's) telling phrases . . . are derived from Boling-
broke. His constitutional theories . . . are Bolingbroke's ;
so were his foreign and fiscal policies." ^ His attitude
towards the Ministry during the Crimean War and the
Danish War of 1864 has been compared to that of Boling-
broke in 1729.

The philosophical and religious opinions of Lord Boling-
broke are now of comparatively little importance, either in
the history of philosophy and theology or in the history of
the life of their author. They are to be found in the last
three volumes of Mallet's edition of his works. The Essays,
in which they are embodied, are addressed to Alexander
Pope, and were all published for the first time after Boling-
broke's death. There are four Essays so addressed : Con-
cerning the Nature, Extent, and Reality of Human Knowledge ;
On the Folly and Presumption of Philosophers ; On the Rise and
Progress of Monotheism ; and On Authority in matters of Re-
ligion. Besides these, there is a letter occasioned by reading
one of Archbishop Tillotson's Sermons, and a series of
Fragments or Minutes of Essays, dealing with similar sub-
jects, in a somewhat less connected form. As these works
were published posthumously, their actual date has to be
determined inferentially. In the Introduction to the first
Essay the following statement occurs : " You have begun
your Ethic Epistles in a masterly manner " (vol. v. p. 72,
ed. 1809). The first instalment of the Moral Essays came
out in 1730 — that to the Earl of Burlington. To this, allu-
sion seems to be made in Bolingbroke's Introductory Essay.
The letters to Pope cannot, therefore, have been written
earlier than 1731. They were most probably composed
before their author retired to France in 1735, since he de-
scribes himself (p. 77, op. cit.) as " once more engaged in the

^ Sichel, Bolingbroke a?id His Time. Vol. III., p. 450.



BOLINGBROKE'S OPINIONS igg

service of my country." They are very free in style. They
pretend to no seriousness or philosophic exactness. They
follow no very settled plan, but deal with a host of subjects
promiscuously, just as they arose in the mind. They show


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Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 17 of 20)