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LIFE OF LORD CHARLEMONT
Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont, Knight of St. Patrick, &c. &c. By FRANCIS HARDY, Esq., Member of the House of Commons in the three last Parliaments of Ireland. 4to. pp. 436. London: 1810.*
THIS is the life of a Gentleman, written by a Gentleman; -and, considering the tenor of many of our late biographies, this of itself is no slight recommendation. But it is, moreover, the life of one who stood foremost in the political history of Ireland for fifty years preceding her Union, - that is, for the whole period during which Ireland had a history or politics of her own -written by one who was a witness and a sharer in the scene, — a man of fair talents and liberal views, -and distinguished, beyond all writers on recent politics that we have yet met with, for the handsome and indulgent terms in which he speaks of his political opponents. The work is enlivened, too, with various anecdotes and fragments of the correspondence of persons eminent for talents, learning, and political services in both countries; and with a great number of characters, sketched with a very powerful, though somewhat too favourable hand, of almost all who distinguished themselves, during this momentous period, on the scene of Irish affairs.
From what we have now said, the reader will conclude that we think very favourably of this book: And we do think it both entertaining and instructive. But (for there is always a but in a Reviewer's praises) it has also its faults and imperfections; and these, alas! so great
*I reprint only those parts of this paper which relate to the personal history of Lord Charlemont, and some of his contemporaries: with the exception of one brief reference to the revolution of 1782, which I retain chiefly to introduce a remarkable letter of Mr. Fox's on the formation and principles of the new government of that year.
and so many, that it requires all the good nature we can catch by sympathy from the author, not to treat him now and then with a terrible and exemplary severity. He seems, in the first place, to have begun and ended his book, without ever forming an idea of the distinction between private and public history; and sometimes tells us stories about Lord Charlemont, and about people who were merely among his accidental acquaintance, far too long to find a place even in a biographical memoir; — and sometimes enlarges upon matters of general history, with which Lord Charlemont has no other connexion, than that they happened during his life, with a minuteness which would not be tolerated in a professed annalist. The biography again is broken, not only by large patches of historical matter, but by miscellaneous reflections, and anecdotes of all manner of persons; while, in the historical part, he successively makes the most unreasonable presumptions on the reader's knowledge, his ignorance, and his curiosity, -overlaying him, at one time, with anxious and uninteresting details, and, at another, omitting even such general and summary notices of the progress of events as are necessary to connect his occasional narratives and reflections.
MERITS AND FAULTS OF THE BOOK.
The most conspicuous and extraordinary of his irregularities, however, is that of his style;-which touches upon all the extremes of composition, almost in every page, or every paragraph;-or rather, is entirely made up of those extremes, without ever resting for an instant in a medium, or affording any pause for softening the effects of its contrasts and transitions. Sometimes, and indeed most frequently, it is familiar, loose, and colloquial, beyond the common pitch of serious conversation; at other times by far too figurative, rhetorical, and ambitious, for the sober tone of history. The whole work indeed bears more resemblance to the animated and versatile talk of a man of generous feelings and excitable imagination, than the mature production of an author who had diligently corrected his manuscript for the press, with the fear of the public before his eyes. There is a spirit about the work, however,-independent of the spirit of
EARLY LIFE OF LORD CHARLEMONT.
candour and indulgence of which we have already spoken, —which redeems many of its faults; and, looking upon it in the light of a memoir by an intelligent contemporary, rather than a regular history or profound dissertation, we think that its value will not be injured by a comparison with any work of this description that has been recently offered to the public.
The part of the work which relates to Lord Charlemont individually,-though by no means the least interesting, at least in its adjuncts and digressions,— may be digested into a short summary. He was born in Ireland in 1728; and received a private education, under a succession of preceptors, of various merit and assiduity. In 1746 he went abroad, without having been either at a public school or an university; and yet appears to have been earlier distinguished, both for scholarship and polite manners, than most of the ingenuous youths that are turned out by these celebrated seminaries. He remained on the Continent no less than nine years; in the course of which, he extended his travels to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt; and formed an intimate and friendly acquaintance with the celebrated David Hume, whom he met both at Turin and Paristhe President Montesquieu. the Marchese Maffei Cardinal Albani-Lord Rockingham - the Duc de Nivernois and various other eminent persons. He had rather a dislike to the French national character; though he admired their literature, and the general politeness of their manners.
In 1755 he returned to his native country, at the age of twenty-eight; an object of interest and respect to all parties, and to all individuals of consequence in the kingdom. His intimacy with Lord John Cavendish naturally disposed him to be on a good footing with his brother, who was then Lord Lieutenant; and "the outset of his politics," as he has himself observed, " gave reason to suppose that his life would be much more courtly than it proved to be." The first scene of profligacy and court intrigue, however, which he witnessed, determined him to act a more manly part-"to be a
Freeman," as Mr. Hardy says, "in the purest sense of the word, opposing the court or the people indiscriminately, whenever he saw them adopting erroneous or mischievous opinions." To this resolution, his biographer adds, that he had the virtue and firmness to adhere; and the consequence was, that he was uniformly in opposition to the court for the long remainder of his life!
ULTIMATELY SETTLES IN IRELAND.
Though very regular in his attendance on the Irish Parliament, he always had a house in London, where he passed a good part of the winter, till 1773; when feelings of patriotism and duty induced him to transfer his residence almost entirely to Ireland. The polish of his manners, however, and the kindness of his disposition,— his taste for literature and the arts, and the unsuspected purity and firmness of his political principles, had before this time secured him the friendship of almost all the distinguished men who adorned England at this period. With Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Beauclerk-Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Johnson, Sir William Chalmers-and many others of a similar character- he was always particularly intimate. During the Lieutenancy of the Earl of Northumberland, in 1772, he was, without any solicitation, advanced to the dignity of an Earl; and was very much distinguished and consulted during the short period of the Rockingham administration; though neither at that time, nor at any other, invested with any official situation. In 1768 he married; and in 1780, he was chosen General of the Irish Volunteers, and conducted himself in that delicate and most important command, with a degree of temper and judgment, liberality and firmness, which we have no doubt contributed, more than any thing else, both to the efficacy and the safety of that most perilous but necessary experiment. The rest of his history is soon told. He was the early patron and the constant friend of Mr. Grattan; and was the means of introducing the celebrated Single-Speech Hamilton to the acquaintance of Mr. Burke. Though very early disposed to relieve the Catholics from a part of their disabilities, he certainly was doubtful of the
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prudence, or propriety, of their more recent pretensions. He was from first to last a zealous, active, and temperate advocate for parliamentary reform. He was averse to the Legislative Union with Great Britain. He was uniformly steady to his principles, and faithful to his friends; and seems to have divided the latter part of his life pretty equally between those elegant studies of literature and art by which his youth had been delighted, and those patriotic duties to which he had devoted his middle age. The sittings of the Irish Academy, over which he presided from its first foundation, were frequently held at Charlemont House; - and he always extended the most munificent patronage to the professors of art, and the kindest indulgence to youthful talents of every description. His health had declined gradually from about the year 1790; and he died in August 1799,-esteemed and regretted by all who had had any opportunity of knowing him, in public or in private, as a friend or as an opponent. Such is the sure reward of honourable sentiments, and mild and steady principles !
To this branch of the history belongs a considerable part of the anecdotes and characters with which the book is enlivened; and, in a particular manner, those which Mr. Hardy has given, in Lord Charlemont's own words, from the private papers and memoirs which have been put into his hands. His Lordship appears to have kept a sort of journal of every thing interesting that befell him through life, and especially during his long residence on the Continent. From this document Mr. Hardy has made copious extracts, in the earlier part of his narrative; and the general style of them is undoubtedly very creditable to the noble author, - a little tedious, perhaps, now and then,—and generally a little too studiously and maturely composed for the private memoranda of a young man of talents; - but always in the style and tone of a gentleman, and with a character of rationality, and calm indulgent benevolence, that is infinitely more pleasing than sallies of sarcastic wit, or periods of cold-blooded speculation.
- HIS JOURNAL WHILE ABROAD.