« AnteriorContinuar »
did not labour under the same disadvantages with himself. His letters in a paper called the Craftsman, were particularly distinguished in this political contest ; and though several of the most expert politicians of the times joined in this paper, his essays were peculiarly relished by the public. However, it is the fate of things written to an occasion, seldom to survive that occasion; the Craftsman, though written with great spirit and sharpness, is now almost forgotten, although when it was published as a weekly paper, it sold much more rapidly than even the Spectator. Beside this work, he published several other separate pamphlets, which were afterwards re-printed in the second edition of his works, and which were very popular in their day.
This political warfare continued for ten years, during which time he laboured with great strength and perseverance, and drew up such a system of politics, as some have supposed to be the most complete now existing. But, as upon all other occasions, he had the mortification once more to see those friends desert him, upon whose assistance he most firmly relied, and all that web of fine spun speculation actually destroyed at once by the ignorance of some, and the perfidy of others. He then declared that he was perfectly cured of his patriotic phrensy; he fell out not only with Pulteney for his selfish views, but with his old friends the tories, for abandoning their cause as desperate, averring that the faint and unsteady exercise of parts on one side, was a crime but one degree inferior to the iniquitous misapplication of them on the other. But he could not take leave of a controversy, in which he had been so many years engaged, without giving a parting blow, in which he seemed to summon up all his vigour at once, and where, as the poet says,
Animam in vulnere posuit.
This inimitable piece is intituled, " A Dissertation on Parties," and of all his inasterly pieces, it is in general esteemed the best.
Having finished this, which was received with the utmost avidity, he resolved to take leave not only of his enemies and friends, but even of his country ; and in this resolution, in the year 1736, he once more retired to France, where he looked to his native country with a mixture of anger and pity, and upon his former professing friends, with a share of contempt and indignation. I expect little, says he, from the principal actors that tread the stage at present. They are divided not so much as it seemed, and as they would have it believed, about measures. The true division is about their different ends. Whilst the minister was not hard pushed, nor the prospect of succeeding to him near, they appeared to have but one end, the reformation of the government. The destruction of the minister was pursued only as a preliminary, but of essential and indisputable necessity, to that end : but when his destruction seemed to approach, the object of his succession interposed to the sight of many, and the reformation of the government was no longer their point of view. They had divided the skin, at least in their thought, before they had taken the beast. The common fear of hastening his downfall for others, made them all faint in the chace. It was this, and this alone, that saved him, and put off his
Such were his cooler reflections, after he had laid down his political pen, to employ it in a manner that was much more agreeable to his usual professions, and his approaching age. He had long employed
the few hours he could spare, on subjects of a more general and important nature to the interests of mankind; but as he was frequently interrupted by the alarms of party, he made no great proficiency in his design. Still, however, he kept it in view, and he makes frequent mention in his letters to Swift, of his intentions to give metaphysics a new and useful turn. I know, says he, in one of these, how little regard you pay to writings of this kind : but I imagine, that if you can like any, it must be those that strip metaphysics of all their bombast, keep within the sight of every well constituted eye, and never bewilder themselves, whilst they pretend to guide the reason of others.
Having now arrived at the sixtieth year of his age, and being blessed with a very competent share of fortune, he returned into France, far from the noise and hurry of party ; for his seat at Dawley was too near to devote the rest of his life to retirement and study. Upon his going to that country, as it was generally known that disdain, vexation, and disappointment had driven him there, many of his friends as well as his enemies supposed, that he was once again gone over to the Pretender. Among the number who enter. tained this suspicion was Swift, whom Pope in one of his letters very roundly chides for harbouring such an unjust opinion. “ You should be cautious," says he, 66 of censuring any motion or action of Lord Boling« broke, because you hear it only from a shallow, en« vious, and malicious reporter. What you wrii to
me about him, I find, to my great scandal, repeated « in one of yours to another. Whatever you might " hint to me, was this for the profane ? The thing, if 66 true, should be concealed ; but it is, I assure you, « absolutely untrue in every circumstance. He has “ fixed in a very agreeable retirement, near Fontain
« bleau, and makes it his whole business vacare lit6 teris."
This reproof from Pope was not more friendly than it was true ; Lord Bolingbroke was too well acquainted with the forlorn state of that party, and the folly of its conductors, once more to embark in their desperate concerns He now saw that he had gone as far towards reinstating himself in the full possession of his former honours, as the mere dint of parts and application could go, and was at length experimentally convinced, that the decree was absolutely irreversible, and the door of the House of Lords finally shut against him. He therefore, at Pope's suggestion, retired merely to be at leisure from the broils of opposition, for the calmer pleasures of philosophy. Thus the decline of his life, though less brilliant, became more amiable, and even his happiness was improved by age, which had rendered his passions more moderate, and his wishes more attainable.
But he was far from suffering, even in solitude, his hours to glide away in torpid inactivity. That c tive, restless disposition still continued to actuate his pursuits; and having lost the season for gaining power over his contemporaries, he was now resolved upon acquiring fame from posterity. He had not been long in his retreat near Fontainbleau, when he began a course of letters on the study and use of his. tory, for the use of a young nobleman. In these he does not follow the methods of St. Real and others who have treated on this subject, who make history the great fountain of all knowledge ; he very wisely confines its benefits, and supposes them rather to consist in deducing general maxims from particular facts, than in illustrating maxims by the application of historical passages. In mentioning ecclesiastical history, he gives his opinion very freely upon the subjeot of the divine original of the sacred books, which he supposes to have no such foundation. This new system of thinking, which he had always propagated in conversation, and which he now began to adopt in his more laboured compositions, seemed no way supported either by his acuteness or his learning. He began to reflect seriously on these subjects too late in life, and to suppose those objections very new and unanswerable, which had been already confuted by thousands. « Lord Bolingbroke," says Pope, in one of his letters, “ is above trifling, when he writes ef any thing in this world, he is more than mortal. If ever he trifles, it must be when he turns divine."
In the mean time, as it was evident that a man of his active ambition, in choosing retirement when no longer able to lead in public, must be liable to ridicule in resuming a resigned philosophical air : in order to obviate the censure, he addressed a letter to Lord Bathurst, upon the true use of retirement and study ; in which he shows himself still able and willing to undertake the cause of his country, whenever its distresses should require his exertion. I have, says he, renounced neither my country, nor my friends ; and by friends I mean all those, and those alone, who are such to their country. In their prosperity they shall never hear of me; in their distress always. In that retreat, wherein the remainder of my days shall be spent, I may be of some use to them, since even thence I may advise, exhort, and warn them. Bent
this pursuit only, and having now exchanged the gay statesman for the grave philosopher, he shone forth with distinguished lustre. His conversation took a different turn from what had been usual with him ; and, as we are assured by Lord Orrery, who knew him, it united the wisdom of Socrates, the dignity and ease of Pliny, and the wit of Horace.