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FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of James Cauldfield, 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. 406. 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 of 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 ever met with, for the handsome and indulgent terms in which he speaks of his political opponents. The work is enlivened, too, with va rious 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 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.
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. Here, it runs into little trifling jokes and stories; there, into weighty aphorisms and potent antitheses. One page is filled with vulgar idiom and ungrammatical familiarity; and another teems with more classical allusions, than would serve to season a whole quarto of parliamentary orations. The ingenious author, in short, has never hit, by any accident, upon the proper tone for impressive narrative, or important discussion; but is perpetually carried away, by ambition, or carelessness, or vivacity of temper, or deficiency of taste, into all sorts of strange and contradictory excess. To our colder temperaments a good deal of this appears strained and unnatural; but, to an Irishman, it is very probably natural enough; and indeed, the whole work 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 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 very 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 historian David Hume, whom he met both at Turin and Paris-the 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 28; 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 had 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!
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 characterhe 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 ne
cessary 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 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 befel 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 gentlemen, 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.
One of the first characters that appears on the scene, is our excellent countryman, the celebrated David Hume, whom Lord Charlemont first met with at Turin, in the year 1750:-and of whom he has given an account rather more entertaining, we be- . lieve, than accurate. We have no doubt, however, that it records with perfect fidelity, the impression which he then receiveti
from the appearance and conversation of that distinguished philosopher. But, with all our respect for Lord Charlemont, we cannot allow a young Irish Lord, on his first visit at a foreign court, to have been precisely the person most capable of appretiating the value of such a man as David Hume;-and though there is a great fund of truth in the following observations, we think they illustrate the character and condition of theperson who makes them, fully as much as that of him to whom they are applied.
"Nature, I believe, never formed any man more unlike his real character, than David Hume. The powers of physiognomy were baffled by his countenance: neither could the most skilful, in that science, pretend to discover the smallest trace of the faculties of his mind, in the unmeaning features of his visage. His face was broad and fat, his mouth wide, and without any other expression than that of imbecility. His eyes vacant and spiritless; and the corpulence of his whole person was far better suited to communicate the idea of a turtle-eating alderman, than that of a refined philosopher. His speech, in English, was rendered ridiculous by the broadest Scotch accent; and his French was, if possible, still more laughable; so that wisdom, most certainly, never disguised herself before in so uncouth a garb. Though now near fifty years old, he was healthy and strong; but his health and strength, far from being advantageous to his figure, instead of manly comeliness, had only the appearance of rusticity. His wearing an uniform added greatly to his natural awkwardness; for he wore it like a grocer of the trained bands. Sinclair was a Lieutenant-general, and was sent to the courts of Vienna and Turin as a military envoy, to see that their quota of troops was furnished by the Austrians and Piedmontese. It was therefore thought necessary that his secretary should appear to be an officer; and Hume was accordingly dis. guised in scarlet.
"Having thus given an account of his exterior, it is but fair that I should state my good opinion of his character. Of all the philosophers of his sect, none, I believe, ever joined more real benevolence to its mischievous principles, than my friend Hume. His love to mankind was universal, and vehement; and there was no service he would not cheerfully have done to his fellow-creatures, excepting only that of suffering them to save their souls in their own way. He was tender. hearted, friendly, and charitable in the extreme." p. 8, 9.
His Lordship then tells a story in illustration of the philosopher's benevolence, which we have no other reason for leaving out-but that we know it not to be true; and concludes a little dissertation on the pernicious effects of his doctrines, with the following little anecdote; of the authenticity of which, also, we should entertain some doubts, did it not appear likely to have fallen within his own personal knowledge.
"He once professed himself the admirer of a young, most beautiful, and accomplished lady, at Turin, who only laughed at his passion.