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with his practice than on a certain occasion at Bath, when he met in the card-room a young nobleman who had just arrived, and taking him aside, pointed to the company present and whispered, "Beware of these scoundrels; it is by flight alone that you can preserve your purse". So warned, the young man escaped, with expressions of gratitude. But chancing to look in not long after, he found the earl engaged at play "with those very harpies whom, by his advice, he had just escaped ".
At Paris he was received in the best society, and enjoyed himself immensely. The civilisation of the place, and the absence of the boorishness which at that date and long after was to be found even among the aristocracy of England, appealed strongly to his fastidious taste. He writes to Monsieur Jouneau, mentioning with evident pleasure that the French considered him as one of themselves, “le plus grand compliment qu'ils croyent pouvoir faire à personne"; playfully adding their reasons for treating him as a Frenchman: “Je vous dirai seulement que je suis insolent; que je parle beaucoup, bien haut, et d'un ton de maître; que je chante et que je danse en marchant ; et enfin que je fais une dépense furieuse en poudre, plumets, gands blancs, etc." An amusing account of his initiation into the ways of the polite world of Paris is contained in the letter of January 11, 1750.
His continental tour was cut short by the death of Queen Anne and the events which followed the accession of George the First. The political situation was one of extreme delicacy. The sudden death of the Queen found the Jacobites unprepared for prompt action, and in spite of the hopes of the extreme section of the party that the cause of the Pretender would be supported by French arms, the more reasonable of the Tories, with Bolingbroke at their head, realised the hopelessness of any immediate attempt to set aside the Act of Settlement. They made some attempts to obtain the favour of the new King, but were altogether unsuccessful.
George did not hurry over to England on his proclamation, but delayed his departure for some two months. His accession was peaceful; the Whigs had given him his crown, and a Whig Ministry was formed, in which the post of Secretary of State was filled by General (afterwards Earl) Stanhope, grandson of the first Earl of Chesterfield by a second marriage. Walpole and Pulteney were respectively Paymaster-General and Secretary at War.
The future earl, whom we must still call Lord Stanhope, was already a staunch supporter of the Protestant succession, although he was never able to find, in George the First or his successor, any characteristics which could possibly inspire a feeling of personal devotion. He had, it is quite certain, a genuine love of liberty, which he considered to be incompatible with the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England; and although to the modern reader (accustomed to the indifference on such subjects which is usually termed tolerance) some of the remarks about the Papacy which occur in the Letters may appear intemperate, yet, at any time during the first half of the eighteenth century, a strong antiCatholic attitude might very pardonably be adopted by any one who did not wish to throw away all that had been won by the Revolution. Nor should it be forgotten that the Marchioness of Halifax, who had the superintendence of Chesterfield's early years, was the wife of that famous statesman whose talents so strikingly resembled those of his grandson; whose character, like that of Chesterfield, has received much unjust criticism, but in connection with whom Lord Macaulay has very justly observed that "our revolution, as far as it can be said to bear the character of any single mind, assuredly bears the character of the large yet cautious mind of Halifax "1
1 It is remarkable that the only literary work of this great statesman which obtained widespread popularity was his Advice to a Daughter, written for Lord Chesterfield's mother, who, we are told, kept a copy of it always on her table.
Writing from Paris shortly after the death of Queen Anne, young Stanhope refers to that event, occurring as it did at a moment when the Jacobite party were unprepared for it, as an occasion for rejoicing:
"Quand je vois combien loin les choses étoient déjà avancées en faveur du Prétendant et du Papisme, et que nous étions à deux doigts de l'esclavage, je compte absolument pour le plus grand bonheur qui soit jamais arrivé à l'Angleterre, la mort de cette femme, qui, si elle eût vécu encore trois mois, alloit sans doute établir sa religion, et par conséquent la tyrannie.”
This passage, I may observe, occurs in the same letter as
the one already quoted about expenditure on powder and white gloves. Taken together, they give a fair notion of the writer, then just twenty years of age, and show that the gaieties of Paris did not occupy him to the exclusion of more serious matters. He had been intended from the first for a public career. The formation of a Whig Administration in which his kinsman General Stanhope was perhaps the most important member, and the holding of a general election in which the new Government used all their power to obtain the return of candidates favourable to their views, provided an opening which could not be overlooked. The grand tour was curtailed, and Stanhope returned to England, where he was presented to the King and immediately appointed one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber to the Prince of Wales, who was some ten years his senior. Shortly afterwards he was elected member of Parliament for St. Germans in Cornwall.
The style of Halifax differs from that of his grandson as Milton's prose differs from Addison's, but the matter, and still more the humour, of the two writers has many resemblances. Dr. Burnet records that Halifax, whilst protesting against the accusation of atheism, admitted to him that "he could not swallow down everything that divines imposed upon the world; he was a Christian in submission; he believed as much as he could, and he hoped that God would not lay it to his charge if he could not digest iron, as an ostrich did, nor take into his belief things that must burst him”. This is exactly the humour of Chesterfield. (See Life and Letters of Sir George Savile, first Marquis of Halifax, by H. C. Foxcroft,
His experiences on delivering his first speech may be found in the letter to his son of March 15, 1754. On the completion of that speech a member of the Opposition congratulated him on the success of his maiden effort, but took the opportunity to observe that he happened to know that the young orator was not yet of age; that he had no desire to take any unfair advantage of this knowledge; but that if Mr. Stanhope took steps to record a vote, the House should quickly be made aware of the facts. No rejoinder or defence was possible, as the election to Parliament of a person under the age of twenty-one was not recognised as valid, and by sitting and voting without being legally elected the hope of the Whigs would render himself liable to a fine of £500. He said nothing at all; made a low bow; quitted the House, and returned for some months to Paris. Having attained his majority he resumed his place in Parliament and in the Prince of Wales's household. He spoke from time to time with increasing confidence, and (although his greatest oratorical successes were reserved for the House of Lords) with increasing approbation.
The eloquence of Lord Chesterfield has never been disputed. Only an imperfect impression of it can be received from such summaries and reports as have been preserved, and Dr. Johnson laid claim to the composition of some of these. But the judgment of contemporaries is conclusive. Horace Walpole, who was by no means inclined to praise Chesterfield, says that the finest speech he ever heard was from him; and, as Lord Mahon points out, Walpole's experience of the oratory of the eighteenth century was very extensive; he had heard the speeches of his father, of Pitt, of Pulteney, of Wyndham, and of Carteret. Chesterfield had the rare power of reasoning best when he appeared most witty, and there is no doubt that the reputation for literary taste which he enjoyed during his life-time-that is to say before the publication of these or any other of his letters-was due to the
admirable technique of the speeches, which combined elegance with scholarship in a manner to satisfy a generation keenly critical in all matters of form.
In 1717 began a series of squabbles between the Prince of Wales and his father, into the causes of which it is not necessary to enter, but which, together with the King's constant endeavours to subordinate British to Hanoverian interests, led to a schism in the Whig ranks. Feeling ran very high; every public man, and of course everybody connected with the Court, was compelled to take a side. General Stanhope was entirely in the confidence of the King; Townshend was dismissed; Walpole went into opposition, and the future Earl of Chesterfield, although it was scarcely to his advantage to place himself in a position where the interest of his powerful kinsman could be of no help to him, remained with the Prince's party. The efforts which were made to induce him to quit the Opposition show what value was attached to his support in Parliament. They would have made his father a duke: the old earl, who must have been annoyed that such an honour should have been conditional on the action of a son whom he disliked, was still angrier when his son refused to transfer his vote at any price. In 1720-21, with the death of General Stanhope and the return of Townshend and Walpole to office, a partial reconciliation between the King and Prince was brought about, and Lord Stanhope accepted from the former the post of Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, in succession to Lord Townshend. This was an appointment which might have been made lucrative by the sale of commissions, and Townshend, who had not availed himself of this questionable source of profit, recommended his successor to be less scrupulous if he had a mind to be more rich. Stanhope's reply was: "I wish to follow your Lordship's example rather than your advice". This sentiment was in complete accordance with his consistent attitude towards those forms of bribery which were