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Matthew Prior is another distinguished name in the band of the Tory writers of this age, and he was also an associate of Pope and Swift, although we hear less of him in their epistolary correspondence than of most of their other friends. Yet perhaps no one of the minor wits and poets of the time has continued to enjoy higher or more general favour with posterity. Much that he wrote, indeed, is now forgotten; but some of the best of his comic tales in verse will live as long as the language, which contains nothing that surpasses them in the union of ease and fluency with sprightliness and point, and in all that makes up the spirit of humorous and graceful narrative. They are our happiest examples of a style that has been cultivated with more frequent success by French writers than by our own. Prior, who was born in 1664, commenced poet before the Revolution, by the publication in 1688 of his City Mouse and Country Mouse, written in concert with Charles Montagu, afterwards Earl of Halifax, in ridicule of Dryden's Hind and Panther; and he continued a Whig nearly to the end of the reign of William ; but he then joined the most extreme section of the Tories, and acted cordially with that party down to his death in 1721. Such also was the political course of Parnell, only that, being a younger man, he did not make his change of party till some years after Prior. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Parnell was born at Dublin in 1679, and left his original friends the Whigs at the same time with Swift, on the ejection of Lord Godolphin's ministry, in 1710. He died in 1718. Parnell is always an inoffensive and agreeable writer, and sometimes, as, for example, in his Nightpiece on Death,
which probably suggested Gray's more celebrated Elegy, he rises to considerable impressiveness and solemn pathos. But, although his poetry is uniformly fluent and transparent, and its general spirit refined and delicate, it has little warmth or richness, and can only be called a sort of water-colour poetry. One of Parnell's pieces, we may remark,—his Fairy Tale of Edwin and Sir Topaz,-may have given some hints to Burns for his Tam o' Shanter.
The mention of Prior naturally suggests that of his friend and patron, and also the friend of Swift and Pope --Henry St. John, better known by his title of the Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, although his era comes down to a later date, for he was not born till 1678, and he lived to 1751. Bolingbroke wrote no poetry, but his collected prose works fill five quarto volumes (without including his letters), and would thus entitle him by their quantity alone to be ranked as one of the most considerable writers of his time; of which we have abundant testimony that he was one of the most brilliant orators and talkers, and in every species of mere cleverness one of the most distinguished figures. His writings, being principally on subjects of temporary politics, have lost much of their interest; but a few of them, especially his Letters on the Study and Use of History, his Idea of a Patriot King, and his account and defence of his own conduct in his famous Letter to Sir William Windham, will still reward perusal even for the sake of their matter, while in style and manner almost everything he has left is of very remarkable merit. Bolingbroke's style, as we have elsewhere observed,
was a happy medium between that
of the scholar and that of the man of society-or rather it was a happy combination of the best qualities of both, heightening the ease, freedom, fluency, and liveliness of elegant conversation with many of the deeper and richer tones of the eloquence of formal orations and of books. The example he thus set has probably had a very considerable effect in moulding the style of popular writing among us since his time."*
Bolingbroke's elaborate defence of his own political course in his Letter to Sir William Windham (which is of great length, making a volume of above 300 pages) involves the wholesale condemnation of every person with whom or in whose service he had ever acted, beginning with the Earl of Oxford (Harley) and ending with the Pretender. The following is a part of what he says of the former:
These were in general the views of the Tories [in 1710]; and for the part I acted in the prosecution of them, as well as of all the measures accessory to them, I may appeal to mankind. To those who had the opportunity of looking behind the curtain I
may likewise appeal for the difficulties which lay in my way, and for the particular discouragements which I met with. A principal load of parliamentary and foreign affairs in their ordinary course lay upon me : the whole negotiation of the peace, and of the troublesome invidious steps preliminary to it, as far as they could be transacted at home, were thrown upon me. I continued in the House of Commons during that important session which preceded the peace; and which, by the spirit shown through the whole course of it, and by the resolutions taken in it, rendered the conclusion of the treaties practicable. After this I was dragged into the House of Lords, in such a manner as to make my promotion a punishment,
* Article on Bolingbroke in Penny Cyclopædia, v. 78.
not a reward; and was there left to defend the treaties almost alone.
It would not have been hard to have forced the Earl of Oxford to use me better. His good intentions began to be very much doubted of: the truth is, no opinion of his sincerity had ever taken root in the party; and, which was worse perhaps for a man in his station, the opinion of his capacity began to fall apace. He was so hard pushed in the House of Lords in the beginning of one thousand seven hundred and twelve, that he had been forced, in the middle of the session, to persuade the Queen to make a promotion of twelve peers at once ; which was an unprecedented and invidious measure, to be excused by nothing but the necessity, and hardly by that. In the House of Commons his credit was low, and my reputation very high. You know the nature of that assembly: they grow, like hounds, fond of the man who shows them game, and by whose halloo they are used to be encouraged.
I thought my mistress treated me ill : but the sense of that duty which I owed her came in aid of other considerations, and prevailed over my resentment. These sentiments, indeed, are so much out of fashion, that a man who avows them is in danger of passing for a bubble in the world : yet they were, in the conjuncture I speak of, the true motives of my conduct; and you saw me go on as cheerfully in the troublesome and dangerous work assigned me as if I had been under the utmost satisfaction. I began, indeed, in my heart, to renounce the friendship which till that time I had preserved inviolable for Oxford. I was not aware of all his treachery, nor of the base and little means which he employed then, and continued to employ afterwards, to ruin me in the opinion of the queen, and every where else. I saw, however, that he had no friendship for anybody, and that, with respect to me, instead of having the ability to render that merit which I endeavoured to acquire an addition of strength to himself, it became the object of his jealousy, and a reason for undermining me.
He was the first spring of all our motion by his credit with the queen, and his concurrence was necessary to every thing we did by his rank in the state : and yet this man seemed to be sometimes asleep, and sometimes at play. He neglected the thread of business ; which was carried on for that reason with less despatch and less advantage in the proper channels ; and he kept none in his own hands. He negotiated, indeed, by fits and starts, by little tools and indirect ways; and thus his activity became as hurtful as his indolence; of which I could produce some remarkable instances.
Whether this man ever had any determined view besides that of raising his family is, I believe, a problematical question in the world. My opinion is, that he never had any other. The conduct of a minister who proposes to himself a great and noble object, and who pursues it steadily, may seem for a while a riddle to the world; especially in a government like ours, where numbers of men, different in their characters, and different in their interests, are at all times to be managed; where public affairs are exposed to more accidents and greater hazards than in other countries; and where, by consequence, he who is at the head of business will find himself often distracted by measures which have no relation to his purpose, and obliged to bend himself to things which are in some degree contrary to his main design. The ocean which environs us is an emblem of our government; and the pilot and the minister are in similar circumstances. It seldom happens that either of them can steer a direct course, and they both arrive at their port by means which frequently seem to carry them from it. But, as the work advances, the conduct of him who leads it on with real abilities clears up, the appearing inconsistencies are reconciled, and, when it is once consummated, the whole shows itself so uniform, so plain, and so natural, that every dabbler in politics will be apt to think he could have done the same. But, on the other hand, a man who proposes no such object, who substitutes artifice in the place of ability, who, instead of leading parties, and governing accidents, is eternally agitated backwards and forwards by both, who begins every day something new and carries nothing on to per