« ZurückWeiter »
made a hundred and nineteen sermons on the hundred and nineteenth psalm.» Dr Manton and his sermons were not likely to prevail much on one who was, perhaps, the most sharp-sighted in the world at discovering the absurdities of others, however he might have been guilty of establishing many of his own. 1, Du
But these dreary institutions were of no very long continuance; as soon as it was fit to take him out of the hands of the women, he was sent to Eton school, and removed thence to Christ-church college in Oxford. His genius and understanding were seen and admired in both these seminaries, but his love of pleasure had so much 'the ascendency, that he seemed contented rather with the consciousness of his own great powers than their exertion. However, his friends, and those who knew him most intimately, were thoroughly sensible of the extent of his mind; and when he left the university, he was considered as one who had the fairest opportunity of making a shining figure in active life.
Nature seemed not less kind to him in her external embellishments than in adorning his mind. With the graces of a handsome person, and a face in which dignity was happily blended with sweetness, he had a manner of address that was very engaging. His vivacity was always awake, his apprehension was quick, his wit refined, and his memory amazing: his subtlety in thinking and reasoning was profound; and all these talents were adorned with an elocution that was irresistible. To the assemblage of so many gifts from nature,
it was expected that art would soon give her finishing hand; and that a youth, begun in excellence, would soon arrive at perfection : but such is the perverseness of human nature, that an age which should have been employed in the
acquisition of knowledge, was dissipated in pleasure; and instead of aiming to excel in praiseworthy pursuits, Bolingbroke seemed more ambitious of being thought the greatest rake about town. This period might have been compared to that of fermentation in liquors, which grow muddy before they brighten; but it must also be confessed, that those liquors which never ferment are seldom clear. In this state of disorder, he was not without his lucid intervals; and even while he was noted for keeping Miss Gumley, the most expensive prostitute in the kingdom, and bearing the greatest quantity of wine without intoxication, he even then despised his paltry ambition. love of study,» says he, « and desire of knowledge, were what I felt all my life; and though my genius, unlike the demon of Socrates, whispered so softly, that very often I heard him not in the hurry of these passions with which I was transported, yet some calmer hours there were, and in them I hearkened to him. These sacred admonitions were indeed very few, since his excesses are remembered to this very day. I have spoken to an old man, who assured me, that he saw him and one of his companions run naked through the Park in a fit of intoxication, but then it was a time when public decency might be transgressed with less danger than at present.
During this period, as all his attachments were to pleasure, so his studies only seemed to lean that way. His first attempts were in poetry, in which he discovers more wit than taste, more labour than harmony in his versification. We
appears fond of this figure, for we find it introduced into his Essay on Polite Literature. The propriety, however, both of the simile, and of the position it endeavours to illustrate, is ahly examined in a periodical work, entitled the Philanthrope, published in London in the year 1797:
have a copy of his verses prefixed to Dryden's Virgil, complimenting the poet, and praising his translation. We have another, not so well known, prefixed to a French work, published in Holland by the Chevalier de St Hyacinth, entitled, Le Chef-d'OEuvre d'un Inconnu. This performance is a humorous piece of criticism upon a miserable old ballad; and Bolingbroke's compliment, though written in English, is printed in Greek characters, so that at the first glance it may deceive the eye, and be mistaken for real Greek. There are two or three things more of his composition, which have appeared since his death, but which do honour neither to his parts nor memory.
In this mad career of pleasure he continued for some time; but at length, in 1700, when he arrived at the twenty-eighth year of his age, he began to dislike his method of living, and to find that sensual pleasure alone was not sufficient to make the happiness of a reasonable
He therefore made his first effort to break from his state of infatuation, by marrying the daughter and coheiress of Sir Henry Winchescomb, a descendant from the famous Jack of Newbury, who, though but a clothier in the reign of Henry VIII., was able to entertain the king and all his retinue in the most splendid manner.
This lady was possessed of a fortune exceeding forty thousand pounds, and was not deficient in mental accomplishments; bất whether he was not yet fully satiated with his former pleasures, or whether her temper was not conformable to his own, it is certain they were far from living happily together. After cohabiting for some time together, they parted by mutual consent, both equally displeased; he complaining of the obstinacy of her temper, she of the shamelessness of his infidelity. A great part of her fortune, some time after, upon his attainder, was given her
back; but, as her family estates were settled upon him, he enjoyed them after her death, upon the reversal of his attainder.
Having taken a resolution to quit the allurements of pleasure for the stronger attractions of ambition, soon after his marriage he procured a seat in the House of Commons, being elected for the borough of Wotton-Basset, in Wiltshire, his father having served several times for the same place. Besides his natural endowments and his large fortune, he had other very considerable advantages that gave him weight in the senate, and seconded his views of preferment. His grandfather, Sir Walter St John, was still alive; and that gentleman's interest was so great in his own county of Wilts, that he represented it in two Parliaments in a former reign. His father also was then the representative for the same; and the interest of his wife's family in the House was very extensive. Thus Bolingbroke took his seat with many accidental helps, but his chief and great resource lay in his own extensive abilities.
At that time the whig and the tory parties were strongly opposed in the House, and pretty nearly balanced. In the latter
years of King William, the tories, who from every motive were opposed to the court, had been gaining popularity, and now began to make a public stand against their competitors. Robert Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, a staunch and confirmed tory, was in the year 1700 chosen Speaker of the House of Commons, and was continued in the same upon the accession of Queen Anne, the year ensuing. Bolingbroke had all along been bred up, as was before observed, among the dissenters, his friends leaned to that persuasion, and all his connexions were in the whig interest. However, either from principle, or from perceiving the tory party to be then gaining ground, while the whigs were declining, he soon changed his connexions, and joined himself to Harley, for whom then he had the greatest esteem; nor did he bring him his vote alone, but his opinion, which, even before the end of his first session, he rendered very considerable, the House perceiving even in so young a speaker the greatest eloquence, united with the profoundest discernment. The year following he was again chosen anew for the same borough, and persevered in his former attachments, by which he gained such an authority and influence in the House, that it was thought proper to reward his merit; and, on the 10th of April, 1704, he was appointed Secretary at War and of the Marine, his friend Harley having a little before been made Secretary of State. In The tory party being thus established in
may easily be supposed that every method would be used to depress the whig interest, and to prevent it from rising; yet so much justice was done even to merit in an enemy, that the Duke of Marlborough, who might be considered as at the head of the opposite party, was supplied with all vigour: and it carrying on the war in Flanders with vigour: and it is remarkable, that the greatest events of his campaigns, such as the battles of Blenheim and Ramilies, and several glorious attempts made by the duke to shorten the war by some decisive action, fell out while Bolingbroke was Secretary at War. In fact, he was a sincere admirer of that great general, and avowed it upon all occasions to the last moment of his life: he knew his faults, he admired his virtues, and had the boast of being instrumental in giving lustre to those triumphs by which his own power was in a manner overthrown.
As the affairs of the nation were then in as fluctuating a state as at present, Harley, after maintaining the lead for