Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

cacy, or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He, also, had in some degree that weakness, which disgusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve: though he seemed to value others chiefly according to the progress they had made in knowledge, yet he could not bear to be considered himself merely as a man of letters; and though without birth, or fortune, or station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private independent gentleman, who read for his amusement. Perhaps it may be said, What signifies so much knowledge, when it produces so little ? Is it worth taking so much pains, to leave no memorial but a few poems? * But let it be considered, that Mr.

Gray was, to others, at least innocently employed; - to himself, certainly, beneficially. His time passed

agreeably: he was every day making some new acquisition in science: his mind was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strengthened: the world and mankind were shown to him without a mask; and he was taught to consider every thing as trifling, and unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of virtue in that state wherein God hath placed us."

Upon his monument in Westminster Abbey are inscribed the following lines, from the pen of Mr. Mason:

No more the Grecian Muse unrivall'd reigns :

To Britain let the nations homage pay!
She boasts a Homer's fire in Milton's strains,

A Pindar's rapture in the lyre of GRAY.

* Mason's well-chosen motto from Quintilian is, Multum et veræ gloriæ, quamvis uno libro, meruit, (Inst. Orat. x. i. De Persio,)

206

PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE,

EARL OF CHESTERFIELD.*

[1694–1773.]

THIS nobleman, whose father (the third Earl of Chesterfield) married Lady Elizabeth Saville, daughter of George Marquis of Halifax, was the eldest of four sons, and born in London, September 22, 1694.

After being educated chiefly, in consequence of his father's neglect, under the superintendence of his maternal grandmother, who was fully equal to the office, at the age of eighteen he was sent to Cambridge, where he remained two years. † From his own account in his writings, it appears that his knowledge about this time was principally confined to classical learning, in which he had made a consi

* AUTHORITIES. Dodsley's Annual Register, 1774, and Mortimer's History of England.

† As an instance of his resolution to persevere in whatever he approved notwithstanding every difficulty, it is related that he approved Lord Galway, discerning in him (while very young) a strong passion for political distinction combined with a great love of pleasure and a propensity to laziness, gave him a friendly lecture upon the duty and the advantages of Early Rising—with such effect, that he immediately adopted and throughout his long life (lengthened, most probably, by that very circumstance) never relinquished the practice.

derable progress : in polite literature he esteemed himself deficient. “ When he talked best, he quoted Horace: when he aimed at being facetious, he quoted Martial; and, when he had a mind to be a fine gentleman, he talked Ovid. He was convinced that none but the ancients had common sense, and that the classics contained every thing that was either necessary, useful, or ornamental.* In the first parliament of George I., he was elected a burgess for St. Germain's, in Cornwall; and, in the next, for Lestwithiel in the same county. He informs us, “ that he spoke in parliament the first month he was in it, t and from the day he was elected to the day he spoke, thought and dreamed of nothing but speaking.”

Prior however to the opening of the session, by a few months' residence at the Hague he had worn off the rust of college-pedantry; but he had, at the same time, acquired propensities forming a bad exchange for it, gallantry and gaming. I Frequenting the court, introducing himself into the best company, attentively studying and imitating the air, manners, and conversation of such as were distinguished for their politeness, were the means which he adopted to familiarise himself to the great world. To a

* Satisfied that eloquence was the accomplishment which most commanded notice in parliament, he judiciously accustomed himself to note down the fine passages which these volumes so abundantly supply, in order to form his stile by translating them afterward.

† And with such juvenile violence, as produced an intimation from the opposite party, that advantage would probably be taken of his being under the legal age for moving his exclusion from the House.? Upon this hint, he immediately set off for Paris. i.

I The latter passion never entirely forsook him. .

strong desire of pleasing he added a fund of goodhumour, and vivacity. With these qualifications, he entered the senaté; and it was soon discovered, that he possessed talents to render him conspicuous: for his eloquence was masterly, his sentiments pa. triotic, and his address peculiarly engaging. .

He now stood foremost among those, who loyally tendered their lives and fortunes' in support of the Sovereign against the designs of the Pretender and his adhérents. His principles, and talents, could not long remain unnoticed: he was nominated one of the Lords of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales. A disagreement however having arisen between the King and his son in 1717, in consequence of which his Royal Highness was forbidden the court, Stanhope received no farther token of his Majesty's favour till 1723, when he was appointed Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard in reward of his support of a motion for an augmentation of the army, which was probably essential to the security of the reigning family. As a proof of his disinterestedness, it is recorded that, when advised by his predecessor Lord Townshend to render the office more lucrative by the sale of the subordinate places, he replied : “ In the present instance I wish to follow rather your Lordship’s example, than your advice.” From this post he was dismissed in 1725. The year following, he succeeded to the Earldom of Chesterfield on the demise of his father, with whom he had never lived on terms of cordiality.

He entered the House of Lords in the ranks of opposition. This theatre seems to have been better suited to his stile of speaking, than that in which he had before appeared. His eloquence, the fruit of much study, was characterised by elegance and perspicuity, and still more by an urbane and delicate irony which, while it sometimes inflicted severe strokes, never passed the limits of decency and propriety. In the union of wit and good sense with politeness, indeed, Lord Chesterfield had no competitor. These qualities were matured by the advantage which he assiduously sought, and obtained, of a familiar acquaintance with almost all the eminent wits and writers of his time, many of whom had been the ornaments of a preceding age of literature, while others were destined to become those of a later period. It was to his honour, that he knew how to appreciate genius and talents in the comparison with rank and wealth; and, though undoubtedly not indifferent to the favour of a court, thought it worth his while to solicit the notice of a poet. His attentions and prepossessing manners overcame the shyness of Pope, who was happy to receive him in his select parties at Twickenham, where he met the first of the nobility in association with the most distinguished votaries of the Muses. : · Soon after the accession of George II., he was sworn one of the Privy Council; and, in 1728, appointed Embassador Extraordinary to Holland. In this high station, which he supported with the greatest dignity, he concluded treaties equally beneficial to his own country and satisfactory to the States General, who manifested their regard for him by every mark of respect in their power.*

* The Hague, it must be remembered, was at that time the centre of the principal political negotiations carrying on throughout Europe.

VOL. VI.

« ZurückWeiter »