Imágenes de página
PDF

GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE.

MEMOIRS OF THE LIFE OF SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE.

BY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE T. PEREGRINE COURTENAY. 2 Vols. 8v0.

Mr. Courtenay mentions the circumstances which induced him to become the biographer of Temple:—" He found that his style was a favourite theme with all writers on English Literature; and that the skilfulness and integrity of his diplomacy were celebrated by all politicians; at the same time, he ascertained that the excellencies of his style were praised by those who never read his works; and the honesty of his politics admitted by those who never traced his conduct." We believe that Mr. Courtenay'8 assertion is true, and that the fame of Temple rests rather on tradition than absolute knowledge; it is received, because it has been received: and thepublic having no motives to suspect the correctness of their opinions, had no leisure to investigate the evidence on which they are founded. The fact is, such writers as Sir W. Temple cannot expect to form exceptions to the neglect which gradually closes round all but those of eminent genius: as past times fade insensibly from view; as new opinions arise; as the circumference of knowledge increases; as taste refines; even as style and language alter; and as the eventful history of the present day, rising in bold relief,—and in bright colours before us, throws an obscure twilight on the shadows of the past. Temple was once a favourite writer, and was read " by the witty and the fair." Then, on the strength of that reputation, he was read less, but equally praised: subsequently, his reputation, though somewhat impaired in brightness, still remained, and his works were found even in small and select libraries; but the eventful period of the last quarter of a century has, by its proximity and its greatness, reduced the importance of his political conduct, while in literature, other writers of far deeper learning and brighter genius have taken the place which he once occupied; and his works are now consulted by the scholar alone, who considers them as forming part of the history of literature, and who, like Mr. Courtenay, gives an account of them to a public, who are very willing to trust to the judgment of the biographer and critic* Greater men, the contemporaries and successors of Temple, have shared the same fate; familiar and celebrated as is the name of Dryden, yet scarcely any English poet is so little in demand. The works of our old writers that are most read, are all in the department of Theology. It is a professional demand; but the volumes that used, in our boyhood, to be found by the side of Temple, those of Locke, Bolingbroke, Sydney, Harrington, where are they now seen? Must we say it ?—even those exquisite and unrivalled pages that were dictated by the Muse herself to her favourite son, and that showed the form of the all-accomplished Atticus, as he appeared behind the mask of Clio; those enchanting pages, without which the breakfast-table was mute, and the saloon was dull; those pages, which formed the amusement of the fair, and ensured the admiration of the studious; which were seen with equal success in the walks of

* " People (says an Eastern proverb) resemble more the timet in which they live, than they resemble their fathers.'

poetry or philosophy; which to-day could brush with a light and graceful hand the follies of the prude and the levity of the coquette; and tomorrow could examine with critical discrimination the sublime beauties of Milton's Creation, or investigate the philosophy of the human mind ;—even the Spectator itself, once the model and exemplar of all that was refined in thought and expression, has passed from the toilet and the table, to the shelves of the collector; and is to be met with only in some critical dissection of its neglected beauties, in the pages of a Mackintosh or a Coleridge. Still, what was once important in history, must always retain a value; what was once correct in taste, must always be worthy of preservation. The life of a statesman like Temple must be well worth recording. His name is closely united to an eventful period of English history; and his writings, the elegant amusement of his hours of "lettered ease," can never be without attraction to the intelligent reader, and must form part of the select literature of the country.

From these observations it will be seen, that we approached Mr. Courtenay's work with the expectation of having our curiosity gratified; and we think that he has well deserved the praise of being an honest and intelligent biographer. That his work will be popular we do not expect; a century and a half have closed over the Triple Alliance; and the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle and the politics of the Hague, have ceased much to interest Europe; while comparisons of antient and modern learning have been found to be neither very instructive nor very entertaining: but that which is worth knowing at all, is worth knowing with correctness j and Mr. Courtenay has given us a biography exceeding all former ones, in the history of Temple's public conduct, and iu the interesting details of his familiar and domestic life.

The first Life of Temple was written by Boyer, a French Protestant refugee, the author of the well-known and very useful Dictionary; this, Mr. Courtenay calls a very plain and useful work. In 1720, when Sir VV. Temple's Works were collected, a Life formed from that of Boyer was prefixed to them; and in 1731, Lady Gifford, Temple's sister, prefixed a new Life to the next edition; but both these accounts had the same defect of passing over the private life of Temple; Boyer saying very little, and Lady Gifford omitting all. It was to be feared that such a defect could not be supplied; but fortunately, Mr. Courtenay discovered that the property and valuable papers of Sir W. Temple, had descended through the Bacons into the family of the Rev. Mr. Longe of Coddenham* in Suffolk, who with great liberality and courtesy offered him the use of all the documents in his possession. Among these papers is the Life of Temple by Lady Gifford, with the suppressed passages.t There are various letters; some unpublished romances and essays, a family prayer, and a pleasing collection of letters written by Lady Temple before marriage to her future husband. The papers of public interest, and those relating to Temple's correspondence with the Secretaries of State, during his employment abroad, Mr. Longe presented to the British Museum, where they are found in five volumes, under the name of the Longe Papers. In the State Paper Office, many other unpublished documents were found. Mr. Courtenay

* The Bacon family lived at Shrubland near Coddenham, bought afterwards by Sir W. Middleton. It is now one of the best seats in the county, and wants only water to make it an agreeable place.

f These suppressed passages are the most interesting part of the whole Life.

says, he is at a loss to discover any principle upon which former selections have been made; some of the most curious particulars having been taken from these neglected papers. Many letters also existed in the rich library at Stowe, which were freely lent. On the subject of the collocation of our historical records, Mr. Courtenay makes an observation which we consider well worthy the attention of Government. He says, " Nothing is more common than to find an official letter in the State Paper Office, and the answer to it in the British Museum, and the reply in the State Paper Office again; or perhaps, not forthcoming anywhere. For this the keepers of the several repositories are in no way blameable; each keeps and communicates his own papers with care and liberality; but it were well worthy of the consideration of Government, whether at least all the materials of the history of one period, might not be collected into one place of deposit." Mr. Courtenay is aware of the too common impropriety of letting biography spread into the province of general history, and he has mentioned the effect which the preservation of this distinction has had on his work: " 1 have endeavoured to proportion the length of my narrative to the importance of each transaction to Temple's fame. Thus the Triple Alliance, and still more the negotiation with the Bishop of Munster, would bear an undue proportion to the history of the Congress of Nimeguen, if my book were a history of Europe; but in this great affair. Temple, though one of the plenipotentiaries, had a small share and no influence: whereas in the others he was a principal actor, and the principles of the Triple Alliance formed his political creed."

Mr. Courtenay also, for the unusual frequency and minuteness of his references, affords a twofold explanation, which we offer to the dispassionate consideration of the Lingards and Brodies, and the other unbiassed writers of the day. "In the first place," he says, " my conversance with histories has taught me that not the most honest and veracious of historians is to be depended upon for a matter of fact. It may seem a harsh judgment, but I believe it to be a just one, that when the best of men, in the best of language, makes an averment for which he gives no authority, there is an equal chance, whether it be false, or whether it be true: and if he founds it upon an unnamed document, there is always a high probability that the document will bear another construction. No man can write from his own knowledge of that which passed before he was born; he must take his notions from some evidence, or from some authority; and he who conceals from those whom he teaches, the grounds of his own belief, may be suspected of caring more for establishing his own views, than for the truth of the matter."

We have no space to follow Mr. Courtenay's history of Temple's political conduct, which commenced with his mission to Von Ghalen, the Bishop of Munster, and finally closed with the failure of the Privy Council scheme. He came forward under the protection of Arlington j but the integrity and simplicity of his conduct gained him ultimately that confidence and respect, which placed him on the sure foundation of his own merits. He had the misfortune, as a statesman, to live in times when intrigue was esteemed the best policy, when to negotiate secretly with one's enemies,* to deceive one's allies, and even to blind those who are nego

• On Charles the Second, his secret negotiations with Louis, and the projected abandonment of the TripleAUiance, see Mem. I. p. 314. The whole of the thirteenth chapter is well worth reading: Temple's ingenuous character, and his hatred of nil dating for us, were accounted master-strokes of infinite sagacity and wisdom. Temple served a capricious and faithless monarch, and a corrupt and profligate administration. In his disposition he was splenetic and melancholy. In his views he was oftener more speculative than a politician is wont to be; hence many of his conjectures were not confirmed by the event, and many of his propositions were treated with neglect. But it was the straightforwardness and honour of his principles and conduct that gained him the friendship of De Witt, and subsequently ensured him the confidence and respect of William. The two great acts of his political life, were the Triple Alliance and the plan of the popular Council. It is the former of these transactions, as Mr. Courtenay says, that has immortalized the name of Temple ,- and which he carried through in the face of one of the most skilful diplomatists that was ever sent to protect or forward the interests of France. Burnet styles this treaty "the masterpiece of Charles's life." Bolingbroke called the principles on which it was founded, "just and wise, and worthy of a King of England." The objections raised by later historians against it, we consider to be well answered by Mr. Courtenay. It is true, we think, that the treaty brought about by Temple differs materially from that contemplated by Louis: it broke, instead of strengthening, the union between France and Holland, "and wounded Louis with the weapon he himself had forged:" and this new character the transaction obtained, mainly through the personal exertions of SirWilliam Temple. Certainly, the character of the uegociator stood in strong and illustrious contrast with that of the court which he represented: Temple found that candour and confidence were the truest policy, and he had fortunately to deal with a statesman of a character like his own. De Witt wrote to Lord Arlington to say, "that it was impossible to send a minister of greater capacity, or more proper for the genius and temper of the nation than Sir W. Temple;" and in a letter from Temple to Gourville, he says, "There was also another accident which contributed very much to this affair; and that was a great confidence between the Pensioner and me. He is extremely pleased with me, and my sincere way of dealing; and I, with all the reason in the world, am infinitely pleased with him upon the same score: and look on him as one of the greatest geniuses I have known, as a man of honour, and the most easy in conversation as well as business." After all, this alliance seemed more pleasing to the people of both countries, than to the English court. The Grand Pensionary, indeed, seemed so well satisfied " that he danced at the ball given, better than any other man in the room;" but the honours which Temple received from his master were certainly disproportionate to those which were showered on others, who served the Crown in civil stations. Yet "the transaction," says his biographer, which he describes as a nine days' wonder, "still ranks in history among the greatest of diplomatic achievements, and the name of Temple is compensated in posthumous fame for the nobility which was denied to its illustrious bearer." A baronetcy which he owed to the friendship of Onnond, was the only honour that he ever received from the Crown; and as to fortune, it seems at no time to have

that was perfidious and false, must have made him despise both Charles and his Cabinet. In the absence of his friend Sir Orlando Bridgman from the Committees, Temple saw a cloud rising up against the national honour and interest j while waiting in Arlington's lobby, his suspicions must have been much confirmed.

been to him a subject of anxiety. The opportunities which the situation afforded him, of adding to his income, all which many would have availed themselves of without scruple, were uniformly rejected by him: while his bold and independent remonstrance with Charles previous to his second embassy at the Hague,* showed that, at the risk of all prudential considerations, he would maintain the honour of the throne, and the liberty, civil and religious, of the subject. "For a king of England to be great," he said to the easy monarch, "he must be the man of the people."t

But we must now turn from the statesman to view him in the mild privacy of domestic life. Disappointed at the failure of his last favourite plan,—disgusted at the growing differences between the king and the parliament, Temple, when little more than fifty years of age, sent to the king his resolution of never again meddling with public affairs.

"Nor was this resolution (he writes) disposition, which a man may disguise to of mine, taken in any heat, or rashly, others, though very hardly, but cannot

but upon the best considerations and to himself. I had learned by being long knowledge I had gained both of the world in courts and public affairs, that I was and of myself; by which I fancied, as fit to live no longer in either. I found Sancho did by governing his island, that the arts of a court are contrary to the he was not fit to govern any thing but frankness and openness of my nature, his shop; so by serving long in courts and the constraints of public business too and public affairs, I discovered plainly great for the liberty of my humour and that I was, at my age, and in the present my life. The common and proper ends conjunctions, fit for neither one nor the of both are the advancement of men's other," &c. • • • • Besides all fortunes; and that I never minded, hav.

these public circumstances I considered ing as much as I needed, and, what is myself in my own humour, temper, and more, as I desired.{ The talent of gain

* While Temple was absent from the Hague, his Secretary of Embassy, Mr. Meredith, received from Secretary Williamson, a letter, of which the following is an extract—Jan. 19th, 1676-7.—" His Majesty is informed of a pernicious book of that late villain Milton, now about to be printed at Leyden. I am commanded to signify to you that you immediately apply yourself to find out, by the best means you may, if there be any such, who is the printer, and by what orders he is set on work. There is one Skinner, a young scholar of Cambridge, that some time since did own to have had such a thing in his intention, but being made sensible, as he seemed to be, of the danger he ran into, in having a hand in any such thing, he promised for ever to lay aside the thoughts of it, and even to give up his copy. 1 know not whether this may be the same thing, and whether it comes from his hand or some other, but you are to use what means possibly you can to find out what there is of it true, to the end timely care may be taken for preventing the thing by seizing the impression or otherwise." Mr. Courtenay doubts whether the above alludes to Milton's Treatise of Christian Doctrine, or to his State Letters. If to the latter, it may have reference to an intended translation of them, as one was printed abroad with curiam interpolation* in 1682, anonymously :—this may be the projected work alluded to; see a narrative of this in our review of Milton, Gent. Mag. Nov. 1836, p. 462, n. Charles's cabinet would show more anxiety to repress political disclosures, than theological heterodoxy: so far the argument is in favour of the Letters: but the expression "giving up the copy," must apply to some other production.

t Should Temple's Works be reprinted in 1837, we hope there will be no misprint of rabble for people.

X "Temple had, in his second embassy at the Hague, an allowance of £100 sterling a week, besides a very rich buffet of plate, with the King of Great Britain's arms upon it. So that there was not any other Ambassador's table where so much was to be seen, nor which was covered with such large dishes, and such fine contrivances for fruit and for sweetmeats." See Wicquefort, 1, 23, p. 207, and Mem. 11, 83. Temple it appears had never more than i.1500 a year, and latterly he divided his property with his son.

« AnteriorContinuar »