« AnteriorContinuar »
MEMOIRS OF GEORGE II.-BY LORD WALPOLE.
It is only a few months since the attention of the public was called to the Memoirs by Lord Waldegrave, of the Reign of George the Second. Scanty, and, in some measure, bald as they were, they nevertheless excited a strong degree of interest, on account of the perfect integrity, and simplicity of character, which distinguished their illustrious author; and the consideration that he had not only been an eye-witness, but also an actor in all the scenes which he has described. The same period is now laid open, the same characters exhibited, the same cabals penetrated, by a writer of very different disposition and pursuits; but who had the same advantage of being at once spectator and actor in the busy drama which he delineates; and who, if he had not Lord Waldegrave's habitual integrity of judgment, was at least gifted with that native quickness of discernment which enabled him to trace effects, even though he mistook the cause; and with that liveliness of imagination which prevents his mistakes from being mischievous, by at once revealing the impressions under which he conceived them. We allude to the “Memoirs of the last ten years of the reign of George the Second,” just now given to the world, with the name of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, for their author; decked out in all the elegance of type and decoration which might be looked for from the private press of Strawberry-hill itself, and under circumstances which preclude the most sceptical from entertaining doubts as to their authenticity.
The period of which they particularly treat is, in itself, at this distance of time, but little interesting; being destitute of great events, or any extraordinary features that may be supposed to have extended their influence to the present day. The petty cabals called forth by the forming of an establishment for the Prince of Wales, and, after his death, for his son George, are made, for want of more important matter of dispute, of as much consequence as if they were national feuds, endangering the safety of the state, instead of the salaries of a few domestics, or the nominal dignity of higher officers of the household. Nevertheless, it is always instructive to see how easily the passions of mankind are brought into play, by trifles almost as much as by matters of importance: and even erroneous opinions have their uses, as well as those which are just; if the reader be enabled to see in what respect their erroneousness consists, and to unravel the circumstances which have led to the assumption of them. On all these accounts Lord Orford's work is, to a certain degree, interesting and valuable. It is one of the many, from which the judicious historian may glean occasionally information of importance, and oftener still, the lighter personal anecdotes which relieve the dry details of state negotiations, like flowers unexpectedly springing on a barren heath.
The picture of the royal family, as delineated by the spirited pencil of this author, so famous for conveying a likeness by almost a stroke, contains not one amiable portrait. The King acknowledged that he never liked his children when they were young; though the period of infancy is generally fraught with attractions, even to an uninterested observer of its graces ;—and as his family grew up, the feuds between him and his eldest son early initiated them all into the petty arts of intrigues, backbiting, jealousies, and suspicions. The character of the King himself, as drawn by Horace Walpole, differs from that given of him by Lord Waldegrave, only as an object would naturally be changed by looking at it through a different-coloured medium: the outline is the same, but all the tints are heightened. The good-nature of Lord Waldegrave, and the habitual satire of Horace Walpole, are distinctly marked in each performance.
“ The King had fewer sensations of revenge, or, at least, knew how to hoard them better than any man who ever sat upon a throne. The insults he experienced fron his own, and those obliged servants, never provoked him enough to make him venture the repose of his people, or his own. If any object of his hate fell in his way, he did not pique himself upon heroic forgiveness, but would indulge it at the expense of his integrity, though not of his safety. He was reckoned strictly honest; but the burning his father's will must be an indelible blot upon his memory; as a much later instance of his refusing to pardon a young man who had been condemned at Oxford for a most triAing forgery, contrary to all example when recommended to mercy by the Judge-merely because Willes, who was attached to the Prince of Wales, had tried liim, and assured him his pardon-will stamp his name with cruelty, though in general his disposition was mercifull, if the offence was not murder. His avarice was much less equivocal than his courage: he had distinguished the latter early; it grew more doubtfull afterwards : the former he distinguished very near as soon, and never deviated from it. His understanding was not near so deficient, as it was imagined; but though his character changed extremely in the world, it was without foundation; for (whether] he deserved to be so much ridiculed as he had been in the former part of his reign, or so respected as in the latter, he was consistent in himself, and uniformly meritorious or absurd. His other passions were, Germany, the army, and women. Both the latter had a mixture of parade in them: he (treated) my Lady Suffolk, and afterwards Lady Yarmouth, as his mistresses, while he admired only the Queen; and never described what he thought was a handsome woman, but he drew her picture. Lady Suffolk was sensible, artfull, and agreeable, but had neither sense nor art enough to make him think her so agreeable as his wife. When she had left him, tired of acting the mistress, while she had in reality all the slights of a wife, and no interest with him, the opposition affected to cry up her virtue, and the obligations the King had to her for consenting to seem his mistress, while in reality she had confined him to meer friendship-a ridiculous pretence, as he was the last man in the world to have taste for talking sentiments, and that with a woman who was deaf! Lady Yarmouth was inoffensive, and attentive only to pleasing him, and to selling peerages whenever she had an opportunity. The Queen had been admired and happy for governing him by address; and it was not then known how easily he was to be governed b; fear. Indeed there were few arts by which he was not governed at some time or other of his life; for not to mention the late Duke of Argyle, who grew a favourite by imposing him. self upon him for brave; nor Lord Wilmington, who imposed himself upon bim for the Lord knows what; the Queen governed him by dissimulation, by affected tenderness and deference: Sir Robert Walpole by abilities and influence in the House of Commons; Lord Granville by flattering him in his German politics; the Duke of Newcastle by teazing and betraying him; Mr. Pelham by bullying him,—the only man by whom Mr. Pelham was not bullied himself. Who, indeed, had not sometimes weight with the King, except his children and his mistresses? With them he maintained all the reserve and majesty of his rank. He had the haughtiness of Henry the Eighth, without his spirit; the avarice of Henry the Seventh, without his exactions; the indignities of Charles the First, without his bigotry for his prerogative; the vexations of King William, with as little skill in the management of parties; and the gross gallantry of his father, without his good nature or his honesty :-he might, perhaps, have been honest, if he had never bated his father, or had ever loved his son."
The Queen seems to have taken a lesson in the art of hypocritical submission, from Madame de Maintenon, who, all the time that she was secretly married to Louis the Fourteenth, sat “with spectacles on nose," and in all the affected silence and humility of a sempstress, at her embroidering frame, in a corner of the room where the monarch listened, with assumed greatness, to those political communications on which he was all the while resolved to be guided by her sole decision. The Queen always affected, if any body was present, and the King liked she should, the humble, ignorant wife, that never meduled with politics. The Duke of Grafton, who possessed as much acuteness in discovering the foibles of persons around him, as wit in rallying them, annoyed the Queen greatly, by making her feel that he saw through all her assumed qualities. Looking upon himself as of the blood royal, he conversed with her in a tone of familiarity by no means agreeable to her, particularly as she was extremely angry with him on account of the gallantry in which he indulged with the Princess Amelia, her second daughter. The duke, however, cared as little for her real displeasure, as for her feigned civilities. “He always teazed her, and insisted that she loved nobody. He had got a story of some prince in Germany, that she had been in love with before her marriage: *G*d, madam," he used to say, “I wish I could have seen that man that you could love !"—“Why,” replied she,“ do you think I don't love the King ?”-“G*d, I wish I was King of France, and I would be sure whether you do or not." (Vol. i. p. 159.) Her love for the King was certainly not of that delicate kind which shrinks from the idea of participation; as she carried her complaisance towards his mistresses so far, that Blackbourn, the Archbishop of York, thought proper, whether in his spiritual capacity or not is not stated, to congratulate her upon it, telling her " That he had been talking to her minister Walpole about the new mistress, (Lady Yarmouth,) and was glad to find that her majesty was so sensible a woman as to like her husband should divert himself.” (Vol. i. p. 513.) The King returned her forbearance by unlimited confidence in her, insomuch that Mrs. Selwyn, one of the bedchamber-women, told him he should be the last man with whom, she would have an intrigue, because he always told the Queen; indeed, his conduct as a lover was at all times too cool and methodical to wound any passion in the Queen but her vanity, which, however, it did sorely; though even that might have found consolation when she saw her royal spouse walking calmly up and down the gallery, with his watch in his hand, waiting for his regular hour of eleven o'clock, to visit Lady Suffolk, without even evincing the slightest inclination to break through his accustomed rule, by going to her a single minute before his usual time.
In a subsequent part of his Memoirs, Lord Orford speaks somewhat more favourably of the King, and tries to rescue him from the imputation of avarice, on the score of his leaving but little property behind him, notwithstanding the great income, which, from various sources, he was in the receipt of: a circumstance very frequently attendant on royal riches, which seem to possess, in a peculiar degree, not only the quality ascribed to riches in general, of making unto themselves wings and flying away, but of flying in a direction that can neither be traced, nor even guessed at. He endeavours also to vindicate him, respecting the charge of being negligent in the encouragement of literature ; but in so doing, he speaks himself of literary men with that flippant unconsciousness of either their importance or their deserts, which he continually betrayed in his intercourse with them; and of which his treatment of Chatterton must always be remembered as a most disgraceful instance. His character, indeed, too much resembled the sparkling frost-work of Fontenelle's.
In the whole course of these Memoirs he is only twice hurried into any thing like warmth of feeling: once when he speaks of the treatment of the Duke of Cumberland, by his royal father, respecting the campaign in Germany; and again on the conduct of government, with regard to Admiral Byng, whose death he justly styles “ a perfect tragedy, for there were variety of incidents, villany, murder, and a hero." Lord Orford always believed this unfortunate man to have been unjustly aspersed, maliciously condemned, and put to death contrary to all equity and precedent.
The behaviour of the King, with respect to the Duke of Cumberland, exhibited a refinement of dissimulation that might bear comparison with the most notorious instances of that quality as practised by Queen Elizabeth, that mistress of the art, when it suited her purpose to blame those around her, rather than herself. The account of the transaction is extremely interesting. The avarice of the King was at the bottom of the whole affair; causing him secretly to prevent the duke from being supplied with troops sufficient to enable him to keep his ground in Germany: he was therefore compelled, after the battle of Hastenbecke, to submit to a suspension of arms, at which the King affected extraordinary indignation and surprise, though fully aware, all the time, that the measure was in itself unavoidable, circumstanced as his son was for want of supplies. When it was known in England, it caused a great commotion, and Lord Orford minutely relates the behaviour of the duke, under the trying circumstances in which his father's duplicity had placed him, concluding with the following observations:
“ A young prince, warm, greedy of military glory, yet resigning all his passions to the interested dictates of a father's pleasure, and then loaded with the imputation of having acted basely without authority; hurt with unmerited disgrace, yet never breaking out into the least unguarded expression; preserving dignity under oppression, and the utmost tenderness of duty under the utmost delicacy of honour - this is an uncommon picture, for the sake of human nature, I hope the conduct of the father is uncommon too! When the duke could tear himself from his favourite passion, the army, one may judge how sharply he must have been wounded. When afterwards the King, pertidiously enough, broke that famous convention, mankind were so equitable as to impute it to the same unworthy politics, not to the disapprobation he had pretended to feel on its being made. In a former part of this history I have said with regard to his eldest, that the King inight have been an honest man, if he had never hated his father, or had ever loved his son-what double force has this truth, when it is again applied to him on his treachery to the best son that ever lived! Considering with what freedom I have spoken of the duke's faults in other parts of this work, I may be believed in the just praise bestowed on him here."
It is indeed rarely that Lord Orford expresses himself thus; he was not apt to praise,- for this simple reason, that he was not apt to admire; and perhaps the only instance of his portrait-painting, wherein fidelity has been sacrificed to partiality, is in his own character, as traced by his own hand:
• Walpole,” says he, speaking of himself in the third person, “had a warm conception, vehement attachments, strong aversions; with an apparent contradiction in his temper-for he had numerous caprices, and invincible perseverance. His principles tended to republicanism, but without any of its austerity; his love of faction was unmixed with any aspiring. He had great sense of honour, but not great enough, for he had too much weakness to resist doing wrong, though too much sensibility not to feel it in others. He had a great measure of pride, equally apt to resent neglect, and scorning to stoop to any meanness or flattery. A boundless friend; a bitter, but a placable enemy. His humour was satyric, though accompanied with a most compassionate heart. Indiscreet and abandoned to his passions, it seemed as if he despised or could bear no restraint; yet this want of government of himself was the more blameable, as nobody had greater command of resolution whenever he made a point of it. This appeared in his person : naturally very delicate, and educated with too fond a tenderness, by unrelaxed temperance and braving all inclemency of weathers, he forined and enjoyed the firmest and unabated health. One virtue he possessed in a singular degree-disinterestedness and contempt of money—if one may call that a virtue, which really was a passion. In short, such was his promptness to dislike superiors, such his humanity to infe. riors, that, considering how few men are of so firm a texture as not to be influenced by their situation, he thinks, if he may be allowed to judge of himself, that had either extreme of fortune been his lot, he should have made a good prince, but not a very honest slave.”
The compassionate heart, and contempt of money, of which the noble author accuses himself in this delineation, must be adduced as a proof in favour of the truth of that maxim, which holds, that all persons are most anxious to assume the appearance of those qualifications which they are conscious they least
possess. It was probably the complacency with which he viewed himself, that prevented Lord Orford from being dazzled with striking qualities in any other person. He professes to have known, in his own time, only five great inen, viz. the Duke of Cumberland, Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Granville, Lord Mansfield, and Mr. Pitt. The characters of these personages
he delineates and contrasts in a very lively manner: “Lord Granville was most a genius of the five: he conceived, knew, expressed, whatever he pleased. The state of Europe and the state of literature were equally familiar to him. His eloquence was rapid, and flowed from a source of wit, grandeur, and knowledge. So far from premeditated, he allowed no reflection to chasten it. It was entertaining, it was sublime, it was hyperbole, it was ridiculous, according as the profusion of ideas crowded from him. He embraced systems like a legislator, but was capable of none of the detail of a magistrate. Sir Robert Walpole was much the reverse: he knew mankind, not their writings; he consulted their interests, not their systems; he intended their happiness, not their grandeur. Whatever was beyond cominon sense, be disregarded. Lord Mansfield, without the elevation of Lord Granville, had great powers of eloquence. It was a most accurate understanding, and yet capable of shining in whatever it was applied to. He was as free from vice as Pitt, more unaffected, and formed to convince, even where Pitt had dazzled. The Duke of Cumberland had most expressive sense, but with that connexion between his sense and sensibility, that you must mortify his pride before you could call out the radiance of his understanding. Being placed at the head of armies without the shortest apprenticeship, no wonder he miscarried: it is cruel to have no other master than one's own fauts. Pitt's was an unfinished greatness: considering how much of it depended on his words, one may almost call buis
VOL. III. No. 16.--1822.