Copyright
Arthur Hassall.

Life of Viscount Bolingbroke online

. (page 5 of 20)
Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 5 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


History remain as an introduction to the greater work. At
no previous or succeeding period has the EngUsh nation
worked itself into such a pitch of excitement ; at no other
period have such m.omentous questions awaited decision.
Never before or since have antagonisms been keener or
more bitter. Neither the strong party feeUngs engendered
by the course of the French Revolution, nor the antagonisms
caused in late years by the Irish question, are to be com-
pared to the tremendous issues which divided the Whigs
and Tories in the four last years of Queen Anne's reign.
Party spirit ran as high in London as in Florence or Verona
in the Middle Ages. When one reads how the Tory gentle-
men thirsted for the blood of the late Whig Ministers, and
how, on the accession of George, the exultant Whigs
clamoured for revenge on the authors of the Peace of
Utrecht, one is irresistibly reminded of the feuds of the
Bianchi and Neri, or of the rivalries of Capulet and Mon-
tague. The Whig and Tory ladies sat on different sides of
the opera ; they carried different kinds of fans ; they
"patched" on different sides of the face. "They have
made schisms in the play-house," wrote Swift ; '* and each
have their particular sides at the opera ; and, when a man
changes his party, he must invariably count upon the loss
of his mistress." Old friendships which had existed for
years were broken. Swift and Addison became ordinary
acquaintances ; Prior was avoided by his old political
friends ; the friendship between Marlborough and St. John
came to an end.

With the exception of the younger Pitt, it is impossible
to find an instance of a statesman of St. John's years being
placed in so important an office at such a critical epoch in
our history. He had certainly shown unexpected capacity
as Secretary-at-War, but he was best known as a brilliant
orator, an excellent conversationalist, a man of wit and



THE PEACE OF UTRECHT 43



fashion, a hard drinker, a gay companion, a modern Alci-
biades. In spite of the Queen's personal dislike of him, he
was suddenly elevated to a position in a Government which
was called upon to administer the affairs of the country at
an unusually grave crisis. St. John, no doubt, owed his
position partly to his oratorical power, partly to his know-
ledge of French, partly to the lack of ability among the
Tories. In his Ldter to Sir William Wyndham he confesses
that the Tories came into office at that crisis with no very
high notion of public duty :

"I am afraid that we came to Court in the same disposition as all
parties have done ; that the principal spring of our actions was to have the
government of the State in our hands ; that our principal views were the
conservation of this power, great employment to ourselves, and great
opportunities of rewarding those who had helped to raise us, and of hurting
those who stood in opposition to us. It is, however, true that with these
considerations of private and party interest there were others intermingled
which had for their object the public good of the nation— at least, what
we took to be such."

Parliament was dissolved in September, 17 10. The result
of the elections was to give the Tories a strong majority in
the Commons. St. John was returned for Berkshire.
William Bromley, the Tory member of Oxford University,
was elected Speaker, and on the same day Atterbury was
chosen Prolocutor of Convocation — elections which typified
the close connection between the Government and the
Church. In spite, however, of the overthrow of the Whigs,
the Government was from the first in a far from secure posi-
tion. A general panic had seized the nation that the Whig
Ministers were bent on overthrowing the Church. The
conviction that all Whigs were Republicans, Atheists, or
Nonconformists, was widespread. It was believed that the
continuance of the Yv'higs in office meant the downfall of
the Church in England. Religious feeling had been vio-
lently stirred up. For the time, the French war had been
forgotten, and the great Whig Ministry had been prevented,



44 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE



in a moment of frenzy, from carrying on and concluding the
war which it had hitherto successfully waged. It was
obvious a reaction would ere long set in — a reaction danger-
ous to the new Ministers, if they had not in the interval
proved themselves worthy of confidence. Even at the time
of the Sacheverell trial the Tory leaders feared that if Marl-
borough resigned the nation might suddenly return to its
senses. As soon as Godolphin's dismissal was known, the
commercial classes had shown their distrust of the change
of Government ; a panic had taken place in the City, and
the Bank shares fell from 140 to no. Unless the Ministers
could gain the confidence of the " moneyed " classes, it
would be impossible to raise the enormous loans which were
absolutely necessary. Then, again, the large Tory majority
was itself a difficulty to Harley and the moderate section of
the Tories, who had desired a mixed administtation, in
which the Tory element should merely preponderate. They
found themselves in the hands of men like St. John and
Harcourt, who, supported by the country members full of
animosity towards Nonconformists, and the " moneyed "
class, were for no half measure. But the Tory squires, half
unconsciously, no doubt, were only endeavouring to carry
out a line of policy which, though ultimately unsuccessful,
was, nevertheless, a distinct policy. The Revolution had
destroyed the predominance of the Church and of the landed
interest in the Government. The object of the Tories was
to restore that predominance. To defend the Church from
the encroachments of Nonconformists, to vest the Govern-
ment of the country in the hands of the landed gentry, to
recognize as far as possible hereditary right in the succes-
sion — these were the principles which Queen Anne's
Ministers, from 1710 to 1714, attempted to assert.

"We looked," wrote St. John in after-years, "on the political prin-
ciples which had generally prevailed in our Government from the Revolu-
tion of 1688 to be destructive to our true interest, to have mingled us too



THE PEACE OF UTRECHT 45

much in the affairs of the Continent to tend to the impoverishing our
people, and to the loosening the bands of our constitution in Church and
State."

Both Harley and St. John were in full agreement on the
question of peace. Peace was an absolute necessity. As long
as the war continued, Marlborough was the most powerful
subject, and the Ministry remained dependent on the
" moneyed interest." The continuance of the war would
obviously only result in the triumphant supremacy of
Marlborough and the Whigs. Besides, it was the conviction
of the Ministers that : —

"the war, which had been begun for the security of the Allies, was con-
tinued for their grandeur ; that the ends proposed when we engaged in it
might have been answered long before ; and therefore that the first
favourable occasion ought to be seized of making peace."

In other words, considerations of foreign policy rendered
the Ministers desirous to end a war with the aims of which
they had no sympathy. Important questions of internal
policy, too, demanded their full attention.

The questions of peace and of the succession were closely
connected. The Whigs firmly believed that the existence
of a free Government in England, as well as the Hanoverian
succession, depended on upholding the Grand Alliance and
on reducing France to the position of a second-rate power.
If the Queen's death found the Whig party in power,
strongly supported by the " moneyed " class and by a large
army led by a successful and popular general, the Parlia-
mentary succession would be safe. The Tories, on the
other hand, disliked standing armies, and, like many people
at the present day, wished to strengthen, and to rely almost
entirely on the fleet for defence against external foes. So
far from thinking with the Whigs that the succession of an
Austrian prince to Spain was a matter of European im-
portance, they regarded Austria as a power which already
had leant on England long enough, and had pursued her



46 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

own separate advantage at the expense of the alhes to an

extent sufficient to deprive her of any further consideration

at the hands of England. Both Austria and Holland were

indeed actively engaged in looking after their own territorial

and commercial ends, while England, who was bearing by

far the largest share of the expense, could gain but little to

compensate her for the money and blood expended. The

Tories, too, represented the dislike of the great mass of the

people to foreign interference. To withdraw England, then,

from her Continental connections, so as to enable her to

deal with her own domestic affairs without any foreign

interference, w^as the main plank in St. John's foreign policy —

a policy of non-intervention. It was of the greatest possible

importance that peace should be made before the death of

the Queen. Each party thought the possession of power,

when that event should take place, was most vital to their

respective interests. The hands of Ministers must be free,

so as to enable them to make terms with the successor of the

Queen, and thus to secure the continuance of their party in

the enjoyment of the executive power. It is well to note

that St. John, in his Letter to Sir William Wyndham, says that

at this time "there was no formed design in the party against

His Majesty's accession to the throne. On the latter, and

most other points, they affected a most glorious neutrality."

The Tory policy was then clear. Satisfactory terms

must be forced from Louis by an active prosecution of the

war, and, at the same time, the war policy of the Whigs

must be rendered unpopular. The attempts of Harley and

St. John to impress their views on the public mind constitute

an epoch in the history of English political literature. As

early as August, 1710, the Examiner had made its first

appearance chiefly owing to the efforts of St. John in order

to educate public opinion. No. 10, afterwards entitled a

Letter to The Examiner, though written anonymously, was

soon known to have come from the pen of St. John himself.



THE PEACE OF UTRECHT 47

In this, St. John's first famous pohtical production, he
blames the late Ministry for neglecting to obtain at the first
opportunity an honourable peace, and ends his paper by a
violent denunciation of the Duchess of Marlborough, and of
her tyranny over the Queen. No. 10 attracted very con-
siderable attention and provoked several replies, of which
the most celebrated was written by Cowper, who attacked
the views of Harley and St. John in the Tatler. We have
here, as Sir Walter Scott observes, " the singular picture of
two statesmen, each at the head of their respective parties,
condescending to become correspondents of the conductors
of the periodical writings in politics."

In November, 1710, Swift, now animated by deep
hostility to the Whigs, was intoduced to Harley, and began
a series of celebrated articles in the Examiner, in which,
following on the lines of No. 10, he attacked the Whigs and
their policy, urged the repudiation of the National Debt,
and still further undermined the popular regard for Marl-
borough. There is no doubt whatever that, as long as
Marlborough remained m command of the army and still
retained a considerable amount of popularity at home, peace
was practically impossible. To destroy his influence by
repeated invectives in the Examiner against ambition and
avarice, and then to deprive him of his command, became a
necessary preliminary to the conclusion of any peace between
a Tory Ministry and Louis XIV. Before, however, such a
step could be taken, all Harley 's political skill had to be
called into play, in order to educate public opinion, and
place the Ministry in a sufficiently strong position. During
the winter the struggle was severe, and for a time the result
seemed doubtful.

Always anxious to conciliate opponents, and to rely on the
moderate Tories, and if possible on the moderate Whigs,
Harley had at first attempted to make an arrangement with
Marlborough. Through his agent John Drummond, an



48 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

Amsterdam merchant, St. John laid down the terms which
the Ministers demanded from Marlborough. He must give
up his old friends and make " positive engagements to co-
operate heartily in all the policy of the Tories."

Late in December, 1710, Marlborough arrived in England,
and had two interviews with St. John, by whom he was
soundly lectured for abandoning the Tory party. Marl-
borough, however, did not join the Tories, and, though he
continued at the head of the army, it was obvious that his
fall was only a matter of time, and Harley was forced to
rely more and more on the Tory squires, then as ever
strongly opposed to a policy of moderation. The disaster
of Brihuega in December had given them a welcome oppor-
tunity for attacking the late Ministers. The Tories had
always held, in opposition to Marlborough, that the opera-
tions in Spain ought not to be subordinate to those in
Flanders. Brihuega, they asserted, proved the justice of
this view. In both houses the late administration was
attacked. In the House of Lords, the Whig stronghold,
resolutions w^ere passed blaming Whig ministers for the mis-
fortunes in Spain, and complimenting Peterborough, who
was now attached to the Tory leaders. In the Commons
the financial administration of the Whigs was violently cen-
sured. A Bill repealing the Naturalization Act was thrown
out by the Lords after it had passed the Commons. A Bill
praised by Swift in the Examiner as " that noble Bill of
Qualification," and warmly supported by St. John, compel-
ling all Members of Parliament to possess a certain income
from landed property, passed both Houses of Parliament,
and a committee organized by Harley and St. John was
named to inquire into the expenditure of the Whig Govern-
ment. But such measures did not satisfy the Tory squires.
They wanted the dismissal of the Whigs from all posts in
the country as well as in London. They expected the im-
mediate repression of Nonconformists and the establishment



THE PEACE OF UTRECHT 49



of the Crown on the basis of hereditary right ; they looked
for impeachments and executions. The October Club,
which, founded in the autumn of 1710, met at the Bell
Tavern in King Street, Westminster, held nightly meetings,
at which the discontented Members of ParUament inveighed
against Harley's moderation, to them so incomprehensible.
St. John, with his invincible eloquence, was far more to
their taste than the temporizing, unintelligible Harley. The
former understood the nature of the men who then composed
the House of Commons. " They grow," he wrote, " like
hounds, fond of the men who show them game, and by
whose halloa they are used to be encouraged." His experi-
ence, too, as Secretary-at-War gave him unusual oppor-
tunities for discovering blots in the financial administration
of the war. His growing popularity in the House of Com-
mons had not escaped the notice of Harley, who now began
to fear that St. John might prove a successful rival.

Apparently the Treasurer and Secretary were on the most
intimate terms. With Harcourt they directed the policy of
the Government, and from the end of January, 1711, they 1/
dined together every Saturday afternoon, Swift being, from
February the 17th, included in the party. Just when the
discontent against Harley was assuming dangerous propor-
tions, the attack on him by Guiscard, a French spy, restored
his popularity, and strengthened the position of the Ministry.
During St. John's first tenure of office, he and Guiscard had
been boon companions. Godolphin had aided him to form
a regiment of refugees which was to land in France and
create a diversion in the interest of the Allies. Not being
properly supported by the Whigs, the regiment was dis-
banded, and soon after a pension which had been granted
him was discontinued. On becoming Secretary of State,
St. John had procured for him a pension, which Harley
afterwards reduced. Furious at this treatment, the unfor-
tunate adventurer then offered to act as a spy in England in

4



50 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

the service of the French Government. His letters being
seized, he was brought before the Council and interrogated
by St. John. On being refused a private interview by the
Secretary, Guiscard stabbed Harley, who was near him, in
the breast with a pen-knife. St. John at once ran him

^ through with his sword, and the unfortunate Guiscard died
shortly afterwards in Newgate. Harley, who by the testi-
mony of St. John, had behaved throughout with great firm-
ness, at once became a martyr for religion, his country, and
his Queen. His popularity was immense. The death of
Rochester left him without a rival. On the 23rd of May,
171 1, he was created Baron Harley of Wigmore, Earl of
Oxford, and a week later Lord Treasurer. " He had
grown," as Swift said, "by persecution, turning out and
stabbing." At this very time the Committee employed in
examining the financial administration for the late Govern-
ment presented its report, which showed that upwards of
thirty-five millions sterling were unaccounted for.

In June Parliament was prorogued. Thus far Oxford
had guided the Government with considerable skill. Him-
self a moderate Tory, he had contrived to strengthen the
position of his party without yielding to the extreme section
of his followers. He had seen the necessity of securing
able writers on the side of the Government, and he had em-
ployed Swift, Defoe, Prior, and Parnell. The "moneyed"
class had begun to show confidence in the Ministry, and on
the whole all was going well, though the " isthmus " on
which the Ministry stood was narrow.

In the summer and autumn the Ministry was reconstructed

\J on a firm Tory basis. In June Robert Benson became
Chancellor of the Exchequer, to be succeeded in that post
in November, 1713, by Sir William Wyndham. John
Sheffield, First Duke of Buckinghamshire, was appointed
Lord President, while Plenry St. John and Dartmouth re-
mained Secretaries of State, the latter being succeeded in



THE PEACE OF UTRECHT 5I

August, 1 71 3, by William Bromley. In April John Robin-
son, Bishop of Bristol, had taken the office of Lord Privy
Seal, hitherto held by the Duke of Newcastle, who died in
July. This appointment had led Swift to remark that " it
will bind the Church to him (Harley) for ever." Sir John
Leake and the Duke of Ormonde continued in their offices,
the former being succeeded in 171 2 by the Earl of Strafford.

From this time, however, the rivalry between St. John
and Oxford became a source of weakness to the Administra-
tion. The friendly Saturday dinners ceased soon after
Harley's elevation, and the formation in June of the Society
of Brothers, intended by St. John to be a rival, partly
literary, partly political to the Kitcat Club, failed to heal the
growing bieach between the two Statesmen. But for the
time the struggle for pre-eminence in the Cabinet was de-
ferred. It was evident that the position of the Government
would be imperilled unless peace, and a peace advantageous
to England, was not shortly made.

The advisability of peace had been debated by the
Ministers on their accession to power. " We must have
peace," Swift wrote in March in his Journal, "let it be a
good or a bad one, though nobody dares talk of it." But
the difficulties in the way of peace were enormous. As a
member of the Grand Alliance, England was bound (i) not
to treat with France, except " jointly and in concert " with
the rest of the allies, (2) to co-operate with her allies for the
attainment of certain common objects. St. John, represent-
ing the Government, laid down, early in 171 1 and at various
times throughout the year, the " new footing " on which
England was prepared to act, and " the new principles "
which were to guide the foreign policy of England. Since
1706 there had ceased to be a common cause binding the
allies together ; the object of the Grand Alliance had been
accomplished ; the enormous power of France had been re-
duced ; France had abandoned in 1706 her claim to the



52 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE.

entire Spanish monarchy. After that date the war had
changed its character. It was no longer just or necessary.
It had become a war of ambition, of selfish interests, of
plunder, of individual aggrandizement. Hence it was
resolved that each Ally was to " advance and manage his
own pretensions," that England was to separate her interests
from those of the Allies, though not to formally withdraw
from the Alliance. Having secured her own interests, she
would then at a Conference join the Allies, who would be
compelled to agree to the proposals which England and
France had previously drawn up.

It was obvious to Oxford and St. John that this course
was most perilous. The general opinion in the country
was that the war was a just one, and that, after Marl-
borough's brilliant victories, England ought certainly to
secure enormous advantages. It was uncertain, too, how
their Tory supporters would view a secret arrangement with
France, which, though advantageous to England, would
necessarily mean serious modifications in the concessions of
France to the Allies. To postpone peace would be indeed
fatal to the Tory scheme of policy ; to avow the means by
which alone peace could be made would involve the whole
party in immediate ruin. It was, therefore, determined to
open secret negotiations without delay with France, and at
the same time, till the negotiations had advanced a con-
siderable step, to disclaim, if necessary, all intention of
separating England's interests from those of the Allies.
Dartmouth being Secretary of the Southern Department,
the management of the negotiations should properly have
been in his hands ; but St. John's abilities, combined with
his knowledge of French, rendered it absolutely necessary
that, with the charge of the Northern Department, he should
be practically Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. His
correspondence during these years teems in consequence
with illustrations of the double-dealing, the dissimulation,



THE PEACE OF UTRECHT 53

the trickery necessary to carry through a policy which in-
volved so much intrigue. In the Queen's Speech at the
opening of Parliament at the end of November, 1710, the
vigorous prosecution of the war, especially in Spain, was re-
commended, and for a time the Tories were compelled to
appear as zealous for war as their opponents. None the less
were the Ministers determined to carry out their peace policy
without delay. In January, 171 1, Gaultier, a French priest,
well known to Lord Jersey, St. John's relative, was sent to
inform Torcy, the chief Minister in France, verbally, that
the English Government desired peace. In Gaultier the
Ministers reposed the greatest confidence. " From first to
last," wrote Bolingbroke in later days, " Gaultier has been
in the whole secret of every transaction relating to the
peace." While Marlborough was carrying on a campaign
in the Netherlands, Gaultier was sent a second time to ask
the French Minister for some definite proposals. Louis was
now in a stronger position. The Allies, after the disasters
of Brihuega and Villa Viciosa, only held Catalonia. Louis'
tone, therefore, was very different from what it had been at
the Conferences at the Hague or at Gertruydenburg. Still,
at the end of April, Gaultier returned with technically " the
first overture " from the French Government. On April the
27th St. John sent a copy of the French overture to Lord
Raby, our Ambassador at the Hague, telling him to com-
municate it to the Grand Pensionary Heinsius, and to beg
him to keep the matter secret.

The death of the Emperor Joseph in April, 171 1,
strengthened the hands of the Tories. It was clear to them
that to revive the Empire of Charles V. in the person of the
Archduke Charles would be more disadvantageous to the
balance of power than to allow Philip to remain in possession
of Spain.

From May to the middle of July the negotiations between
England and France were suspended, owing to the en-



54 HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE

deavours — foreseen by St. John — of the Dutch to secure
separate terms from the French. In May St. John made
his well-known attempt to gain popularity for the Ministry
by an expedition, the object of which was the expulsion of


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryArthur HassallLife of Viscount Bolingbroke → online text (page 5 of 20)