Henry St. John Bolingbroke.

The works of the late Right Honourable Henry St. John, lord viscount Bolingbroke (Volume 4) online

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or who were infatuated with the national necessity
of continuing the war. The clamour could not
have been greater, if the queen had signed her
peace separately : and, I think, the appearances
might have been explained as favourably in one
case, as in the other. From the death of the
emperor Joseph, it was neither our interest, nor
the common interest, well understood, to set the
crown of Spain on the present emperor's head.
As soon therefore as Philip had made his option,
and if she had taken this resolution early, his
option would have been sooner made, I presume
that the queen might have declared, that she
would not continue the war an hour longer to
procure Spain for his Imperial Majesty; that the
engagements, she had taken while he was arch-
duke, bound her no more ; that, by his accession
to the empire, the very nature of them was alter-
ed ; that she took effectual measures to prevent,
in any future time, a union of the crowns of
France and Spain, and, upon the same principle,
would not consent, much less fight, to bring
about an immediate union of the Imperial and
Spanishcrowns; that they, who insisted to pro-
tract the war, intended this union ; that they
could intend nothing else, since they ventured to
break with her, rather than to treat, -and were so
eager to put the reasonable satisfaction, that they



might have in every other case without hazard,
on the uncertain events of the war; that she
.would not be imposed on any longer in this man-
ner, and that she had ordered her ministers to sign
her treaty with France, on the surrender of Dun-
kirk into her hands ; that she pretended not to
prescribe to her allies; but that she had insisted,
in their behalf, on certain conditions, that France
was obliged to grant to those of them, who should
sign their treaties at the same time as she did, or
who should consent to an immediate cessation of
arms, and during the cessation treat under her
mediation. There had been more frankness, and
more dignity in this proceeding, and the effect
must have been more advantageous. France
\vould have granted more for a separate peace,
than for a cessation : and the Dutch would
have been more influenced by the prospect
of one, than of the other : especially since this
proceeding would have been very different from
theirs at Munster, and at Nimeghen, where they
abandoned their allies, without any other pretence
than the particular advantage they found in doing
so. A suspension of the operations of the queen's
troops, nay a cessation of arms between her and
France, was not definitive ; and they might, and
they did, hope to drag her back under their and
the German yoke. This therefore was not suffi-
cient to check their obstinacy, nor to hinder them
from making all the unfortunate haste they did
make to get themselves beaten at Denain. But
they would possibly have laid aside their vain
hopes, if they had seen the queen's ministers



ready to sign her treaty of peace, and those of
some principal allies ready to sign at the same
time ; in which case the mischief, that followed,
had been prevented, and better terms of peace
had been obtained for the confederacy : a prince
of the house of Bourbon, who could never be
king of France, would have sat on the Spanish
throne instead of an emperor: the Spanish scep-
tre would have been weakened in the hands of
one, and the Imperial sceptre would have been
strengthened in those of the other : France would
have had no opportunity of recovering from for-
mer blows, nor of finishing a long unsuccessful
war by two successful campaigns : her ambition,
and her power, would have declined with her old
king, and under the minority that followed : one
of. them at least might have been so reduced by
the terms of peace, if the defeat of the allies in one
thousand seven hundred and twelve, and the loss
of so many towns as the French took in that and
the following year, had been prevented, that the
other would have been no longer formidable, even
supposing it to have continued j whereas I sup-
pose that the tranquillity of Europe is more due,
at this time, to want of ambition, than to want of
power, on the part of France. But, to carry the
comparison of these two measures to the end, it
may be supposed that the Dutch would have
taken the same part, on the queen's declaring a
separate peace, as they took on her declaring a
cessation. The preparations for the campaign in
the Low Countries were made ; the Dutch, like
the other confederates, had a just confidence in



their own troops, and an unjust contempt for
those of the enemy ; they were transported from
their usual sobriety and caution by the ambitious
prospect of large acquisitions, which had been
opened artfully to them ; the rest of the confede-
rate army was composed of Imperial and German
troops: so that the Dutch, the Imperialists, and the
other Germans, having an interest to decide which
was no longer the interest of the whole confede-
racy, they might have united against the queen in
one case, as they did in the other ; and the mis-
chief that followed to them and the common cause
might not have been prevented. This might have
been the case no doubt. They might have
flattered themselves, that they should be able to
break into France, and to force Philip, by the
distress brought on his grandfather, to resign the
crown of Spain to the emperor, even after Great
Britain, and Portugal, and Savoy too, perhaps,
were drawn out. of the war : for these princes
desired as little as the queen, to see the Spanish
crown on the emperor's head. But even in this
case, though the madness would have been
greater, the effect would not have been worse.
The queen would have been able to serve these
.confederates as well by being mediator in the
negotiations, as they left it in her power to do,
by being a party in them : and Great Britain
would have had the advantage of being delivered
so much sooner from a burden, which whimsical
and wicked politicks had imposed, and continued
upon her till it was become intolerable. Of these
two measures, at the time when we might have



taken either, there were persons who thought the
last preferable to the former. But it never came
into publick debate. Indeed it never could ; too
much time having been lost in waiting for the
option of Philip, and the suspension and cessation
having been brought before the council rather as
a measure taken, than a matter to be debated. If
your lordship, or any one else, should judge, that
in such circumstances as those of the confederacy
in the beginning of one thousand seven hundred
and twelve, the latter measure ought to have been
taken, and the Gordian knot to have been cut
rather than to suffer a mock treaty to languish on^
with so much advantage to the French as the
disunion of the allies gave them; in short, if slow-
ness, perplexity^ inconsistency, and indecision
should .be objected, in some instances, to the
queen's councils at that time , if it should be said
particularly, that she did not observe the precise
moment when the conduct of the league formed
against her, being exposed to mankind, would
have justified any part she should have taken
(though she declared, soon after the moment was
passed, that this conduct had set her free from all
engagements) and when she ought to have taker*
that of drawing, by one bold measure, her allies
out of the war, or herself out of the confederacy,
before she lost her influence on France : if all this
should be objected, yet would the proofs brought
to support these objections show, that we were
better allies than politicians; that the desire the
queen had to treat in concert with her confede-
VOL. IV. L rates,


rates, and the resolution she took not to sign with^
out them, made her bear what no crowned head
had ever borne before ; and that where she erred,
she erred principally by the patience, the compli-
ance, and the condescension she exercised towards
them, and towards her own subjects in league
with them. Such objections as these may lie to
the queen's conduct, in the course of this great
affair ; as well as objections of human infirmity
to that of the persons employed by her in the
transactions of it : from which neither those who
preceded, nor those who succeeded, have, I pre-
sume, been free. But the principles on which
they proceeded were honest, the means they used
were lawful, and the event they proposed to bring
about was just. Whereas the very foundation of
all the opposition to the peace was laid in injustice
and folly : for what could be more unjust, than
the attempt of the Dutch and the Germans, to
force the queen to continue a war for their private
interest and ambition, the disproportionate ex-
pense of which oppressed the commerce of her
subjects, and loaded them with debts for ages yet
to come ? a war, the object of which was sa
changed, that from the year one thousand seven
hundred and eleven she made it not only without
any engagement, but against her own and the
common interest? What could be more foolish ;
you will think that I soften the term too much,
and you will be in the right to think so : what
could be more foolish, than the attempt of a party
ia Britain, to protract a war so ruinous to their



country, without any reason that they durst avow,
except that of wreaking the resentments of Europe
on France, and that of uniting the Imperial and
Spanish crowns on an Austrian head ? one of
which was to purchase revenge at a price too
dear; and the other was to expose the liberties
of Europe to new dangers, by the conclusion of a
war which had been made to assert and secure
them. .

I have dwelt the longer on the conduct of those
who promoted, and of those who opposed, the
negotiationsof the peace made at Utrecht, and on
the comparison of the measure pursued by the
queen with that which she might have pursued,
because the great benefit we ought to reap from
the study of history cannot be reaped, unless we
accustom ourselves to compare the conduct of-
different governments, and different parties, in
the same "conjunctures, and to observe the mea-f
Mires they did pursue, and the measures they might
have pursued, with the actual consequences,
that followed one, and the possible or probable con-
sequences, that might have followed the other.
By this exercise of the mind, the study of history*
anticipates, as it were, experience, as I have ob-
served in one of the first of these letters, and pre-
pares us for action. If this consideration should
not plead a sufficient excuse for my prolixity on,
this head, I have one more to add that nuiv. A
rage of warring possessed a party in our nation
till the death of the late queen : a rage of nego-
tiating has possessed the same party of men, ever

t z since*


since. You have seen the consequences of one :
you see actually those of the other. The rage of
warring confirmed the beggary of our nation,
which began as early as the revolution ; but then
it gave, in the last war, reputation to our arms,
and our councils too. For though J think, and
must always think, that the principle, on which
we acted after departing from that laid down in
the grand alliance of one thousand seven hundred
and one, was wrong ; yet must we confess that it
was pursued wisely, as well as boldly. The rage
of negotiating has been a chargeable rage likewise,
at least as chargeable in it's proportion. Far
from paying our debts, contracted in war, they
continue much the same, after three and twenty
years of peace. The taxes that oppress our mer-
^antile interest the most are still in mortgage ;
and those that oppress the landed interest the
most, instead of being laid on extraordinary occa-
sions, are become the ordinary funds for the cur-
rent service of every year. This is grievous, and
the more so to any man, who has the honour of
his country, as well as her prosperity at heart, be-
cause we have not, in this case, the airy consola-
tion we had in the other. The rage of negotiat-
ing began twenty years ago, under pretence of
consummating the treaty of Utrecht : and, from
that time to this, our ministers have been in one
perpetual maze. They have made themselves
$nd us, often, objects of aversion to the powers on
the continent : and we are become at last objects
f contempt, even to the Spaniards. What other



effect could our absurd conduct have? What
dther return has it deserved ? We came exhausted
out of long wars ? and, instead of pursuing the
measures necessary to give us means and opporf
tunity to repair our strength and to diminish our
burdens, our ministers have acted, from that time
to this, like men who sought pretences to keep the
nation in the same exhausted condition, and under
the same load of debt. This may have been
their view perhaps : and we could not be surpris-
ed, if we heard the same men declare national
poverty necessary to support the present govern-
ment, who have so frequently declared corruption
and a standing army to be so. Your good sense,
my lord, your virtue, and your love of your
country, will always determine you to oppose
such vile schemes, and to contribute your utmost
towards the cure of both these kinds of rage ; the
rage of warring, without any proportionable
interest of our own, for the ambition of others ;
and the rage of negotiating on every occasion, at
any rate, without a sufficient call to it, and with-
out any part of that deciding influence which we
ought to have. Our nation inhabits an island,
and is one of the principal nations of. Europe j
but to maintain this rank, we must take the ad-
vantages of this situation, which have been neg-
lected by us for almost half a century : we must
always remember, that we are not part of the
continent, but we must never forgot, that we are
neighbours to it. I will conclude, by applying a
rule, that Horace gives for the conduct of an epick

L3 or



or dramatick poem, to the part Great Britain
ought to take in the affairs of the continent, if you
allow me to transform Britannia into a male divi-
nity, as the verse requires.

Nee Dens intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus

If these reflections are just, and I should not have
offered them to your lordship, had they not
appeared both just and important to my best
understanding, you will think that I have not
Spent your time unproiitably in making them,
and exciting you by them to examine the true
interest of your country relatively to foreign
affairs; and to compare it with those principles
of conduct, that, I am persuaded, have no other
foundation than party-designs, prejudices, and
habits, the private interest of some men, and the
ignorance and rashness of others.

My letter is grown so long, that I shall say
nothing to your lordship at this time concerning
the study of modern history, relatively to the
interests of your country in domestick affairs ; and
I think there will be no need to do so at any
other. The History of the rebellion by your
great grandfather, and his private memorials,
which your lordship has in manuscript, will guide
you surely as far as they go : where they leave
you, your lordship must not expect any history j
for we have more reason to make this complaint,
" abest enim historia litteris nostrjs," than Tully
had to put it into the mouth of Atticus, in his first



book of laws. But where history leaves you, it
is wanted least : the traditions of this century,
and of the latter end of the last, are fresh.
Many, who were actors in some of these events,
are alive; and many, who have conversed with
those that were actors in others. The publick is
in possession of several collections and memorials,
and several there are in private hands. You will
want no materials to form true notions of trans-
actions so recent. Even pamphlets, writ on dif-
ferent sides and on different occasions in our party
disputes, and histories of no more authority than
pamphlets, will help you to come at truth. Read
them with suspicion, my lord, for they deserve to
be suspected ; pay no regard to the epithets
given, nor to the judgments passed ; neglect all
declamation, weigh the reasoning, and advert to
fact. With such precautions, even Burnet's his-
tory may be of some use. In a word, your lord-
ship will want no help of mine to discover, by
what progression the whole constitution of our
country, and even the character of our nation,
has been altered : nor how much a worse use, in
a national sense, though a better in the sense of
party politicks, the men called Whigs have made
of long wars and new systems of revenue, since
the revolution ; than the men called Tories made,
before it, of long peace, and stale prerogative.
When you look back three or four generations
ago, you will see, that the English were a piain,
pe$haps a rough, but a good-natured, hospitable

L l people,


people, jealous of their liberties, and able as well
as ready to defend them, with their tongues, their
pens, and their swords. The restoration began
to turn hospitality into luxury, pleasure into
debauch, and country peers and country common-
ers into courtiers and men of mode. But while
our luxury was young, it was little more than
elegance: the debauch of that age was enlivened
with wit, and varnished over with gallantry.
The courtiers and the men of mode knew what
the constitution was, respected it, and often
asserted it. Arts and sciences flourished, and, if
we grew more trivial, we were not become either
grossly ignorant, or openly profligate. Since the
revolution, our kings have been reduced indeed to
a seeming annual dependance on parliament ; but
the business of parliament, which was esteemed in
general a duty before, has been exercised in gene-
Tal as a trade since. The trade of parliament,
and the trade of funds, have grown universal.
Men, who stood forward in the world, have
attended to little else. The frequency of parlia-
ments, that increased their importance, and
should have increased the respect for them, has
taken off from their dignity : and the spirit that
prevailed, \vhile the service in them was duty,
has been debased since it became a trade. Few
know, and scarce any respect, the British constitu-
tion : that of the Church has been long since
derided; that of the State as long neglected;
and both have been left at the mercy of the men



in power, whoever those men were. Thus the
Church, at least the hierarchy, however sacred in
it's origin or wise in it's institution, is become a
useless burden on the State : and the State is
become, under ancient and known forms, a new
and ^indefinable monster; composed of a king
without monarchical splendour, a senate of nobles
without aristocrat ical independency, and a senate
of commons without democratical freedom. In
the mean time, my lord, the very idea of wit, and
all that can be called tarte, has been lost among
the great ; aits and sciences are scarce alive j
luxury has been increased but not refined; cor-,
ruption has been established, and is avowed.
When governments are worn out, thus it is : the
decay appears in every instance. Publick and
private virtue, publick mid private spirit, science,
and wit, decline all together.

That you, my lord, may have a long and
glorious share in restoring all these, and in draw-
ing our government back to the true principles of
it, I wish most heartily. Whatever errours I nfay
have committed in publick life, I have always
loved my country : whatever faults may be
objected to me in private life, I have always
loved my friend ; whatever usage I have received
from my country, it shall never make me break
with her ; whatever usage I have received from
my friends, I shall never break with one of them,
while I think him a friend to my country.
These are the sentiments of my heart. J know



they are those of your lordship's : and a com-
munion of such sentiments is a tie, that will
engage me to be, as long as I live,

My Lord,

Your most faithful servant.

[ '55





I SHALL take the liberty of writing to you a
little oftener than the three or four times a year,
which you tell me, are all you can allow yourself
to write to those you like best : and yet I declare
to you with great truth, that you never knew me
so busy in your life, as I am at present. You
must not imagine from hence, that I am writing
memoirs of myself. The subject is too slight to
descend to posterity, in any other manner, than
by that occasional mention which may be made
of any little actor in the history of our age.
Sylla, Caesar, and others of that rank, were, while
they lived, at the head of mankind : their story
was in some sort the story of the world, and such
as . might very properly be transmitted under
their names to future generations. But for those
who have acted much inferiour parts, if they pub-
lish the piece, and call it after thwr own names,

156 A PLAN FOfc

they are impertinent : if they publish only their
own share in it, they inform mankind by halves,
and neither give much instruction, nor create
much attention. France abounds with writers of
this sort, and I think, we fall into the other
extreme. Let me tell you, on this occasion, what
has sometimes come into my thoughts.

There is hardly any century in history which
began by opening so great a scene, as the century
\vherein we live, and shall, I suppose, die. Com-
pare it with others, even the most famous, and
you will think so. I will sketch the two last, to
help your memory.

The loss of that balance which Laurence of
Medicis had preserved, during his time, in Italy;
the expedition of Charles the eighth to Naples ;
the intrigues of the duke of Milan, who spun,
with all the refinements of art, that net wherein
he was taken at last himself; the successful
dexterity of Ferdinand the catholick, who built
one pillar of the Austrian greatness in Spain, in
Italy, and in the Indies; as the succession of the
house of Burgundy, joined to the imperial dignity
and the hereditary countries, established another
in the upper and lower Germany: these causes;
and many others, combined to form a very extra-
ordinary conjuncture ; and by their consequences,
to render the sixteenth century fruitful of great
events, and of astonishing revolutions.

The beginning of the seventeenth opened still
a greater and more important scene. The Spanish
yoke was well-nigh imposed on Italy by the



famous triumvirate, Toledo at Milan, Ossuaa at
Naples, and La Cueva, at Venice. The distrac-
tions of France, as well as the state-policy of the
queen mother, seduced by Rome, and amused by
Spain ; the despicable character of our James the
first, the rashness of the elector Palatine, the bad
intelligence of the princes and states of the league
in Germany, the mercenary temper of .frolm
George of Saxony, and the great qualities of
Maximilian of Bavaria, raised Ferdinand the
second to the imperial throne ; when, the males
of the elder branch of the Austrian family in Ger-
many being extinguished at the death of Matthias,
nothing was more desirable, nor perhaps more
practicable, than to throw the empire into another
house. Germany ran the same risk as Italy had
done: Ferdinand seemed more likely, even than
Charles the fifth had been, to become absolute
master and, if France had not furnished the
greatest minister, and the North the greatest
captain of that age, in the same point of time,
Vienna and Madrid would have given the law to
the western world.

As the Austrian scale sunk, that of Bourbon
rose. The true date of the rise of that power,
which has made the kings of France so consider-
able in Europe, goes up as high as Charles the
seventh, and Lewis the eleventh. The weakness
of our Henry the sixth, the loose conduct of
Edward the fourth, and perhaps the oversights of
Henry the seventh, helped very much to knit that
monarchy together, as well as to enlarge it.



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Online LibraryHenry St. John BolingbrokeThe works of the late Right Honourable Henry St. John, lord viscount Bolingbroke (Volume 4) → online text (page 10 of 30)