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CRITICAL AND HISTORICAL ESSAYS
THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE. to make an exchange which, advanta(OCTOBER, 1838.)
geous as it is, few people make while
they can avoid it. He has little reason, Memoirs of the Life, Works, and Corre
c in our opinion, to envy any of those spondence of Sir William Temple. By the Right Hon. THOMAS PEREGRINE | who are still engaged in a pursuit from
COURTENAY. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1836. which, at most, they can only expect MR. COURTENAY has long been well that, by relinquishing liberal studies known to politicians as an industrious and social pleasures, by passing nights and useful official man, and as an up-, without sleep and summers without one right and consistent member of Parlia- | glimpse of the beauty of nature, they ment. He has been one of the most may attain that laborious, that invidimoderate, and, at the same time, one ous, that closely watched slavery which of the least pliant members of the is mocked with the name of power. Conservative party. His conduct has, The volumes before us are fairly indeed, on some questions, been so entitled to the praise of diligence, care, Whiggish, that both those who ap- good sense, and impartiality; and plauded and those who condemned it these qualities are sufficient to make a have questioned his claim to be consi- book valuable, but not quite sufficient dered as a Tory. But his Toryism, to make it readable. Mr. Courtenay such as it is, he has held fast through has not sufficiently studied the arts of all changes of fortune and fashion ; selection and compression. The inforand he has at last retired from public mation with which he furnishes us, life, leaving behind him, to the best of must still, we apprehend, be considered our belief, no personal enemy, and car- as so much raw material. To manurying with him the respect and good facturers it will be highly useful; but will of many who strongly dissent it is not yet in such a form that it can from his opinions.
be enjoyed by the idle consumer. To This book, the fruit of Mr. Courte- drop metaphor, we are afraid that this nay's leisure, is introduced by a pre-work will be less acceptable to those face in which he informs us that the who read for the sake of reading, than assistance furnished to him from vari. to those who read in order to write. ous quarters " has taught him the su- ! We cannot help adding, though we periority of literature to politics for are extremely unwilling to quarrel with developing the kindlier feelings, and Mr. Courtenay about politics, that conducing to an agreeable life.” We the book would not be at all the worse are truly glad that Mr. Courtenay is if it contained fewer snarls against the so well satisfied with his new employ. Whigs of the present day. Not only ment, and we heartily congratulate are these passages out of place in a him on having been driven by events historical work, but some of them are VOL. II.
intrinsically such that they would be- | a turbulent people, without being guilty come the editor of a third-rate party of any disgraceful subserviency to newspaper better than a gentleman of either, seems to be very high praise ; Mr. Courtenay's talents and knowledge. and all this may with truth be said of For example, we are told that, “ it is a Temple. remarkable circumstance, familiar to Yet Temple is not a man to our taste. those who are acquainted with history, | A temper not naturally good, but unbut suppressed by the new Whigs, that der strict command; a constant regard the liberal politicians of the seventeenth to decorum; a rare caution in playing century and the greater part of the that mixed game of skill and hazard, eighteenth, never extended their libe- human life ; a disposition to be content rality to the native Irish, or the pro- with small and certain winnings rather fessors of the ancient religion.” What than to go on doubling the stake ; these schoolboy of fourteen is ignorant of seem to us to be the most remarkable this remarkable circumstance? What features of his character. This sort of Whig, new or old, was ever such an moderation, when united, as in him it idiot as to think that it could be sup- was, with very considerable abilities, is, pressed ? Really we might as well under ordinary circumstances, scarcely say that it is a remarkable circum- to be distinguished from the highest stance, familiar to people well read in and purest integrity, and yet may be history, but carefully suppressed by the perfectly compatible with laxity of prinClergy of the Established Church, that ciple, with coldness of heart, and with in the fifteenth century England was the most intense selfishness. Temple, in communion with Rome. We are we fear, had not sufficient warmth and tempted to make some remarks on elevation of sentiment to deserve the another passage, which seems to be name of a virtuous man. He did not the peroration of a speech intended to betray or oppress his country: nay, he have been spoken against the Reform rendered considerable services to her ; Bill : but we forbear.
but he risked nothing for her. No We doubt whether it will be found temptation which either the King or that the memory of Sir William Temple the Opposition could hold out ever inowes much to Mr. Courtenay's re- duced him to come forward as the supsearches. Temple is one of those men porter either of arbitrary or of factious whom the world has agreed to praise measures. But he was most careful highly without knowing much about not to give offence by strenuously opthem, and who are therefore more posing such measures. He never put likely to lose than to gain by a close himself prominently before the public examination. Yet he is not without eye, except at conjunctures when he fair pretensions to the most honourable was almost certain to gain, and could place among the statesmen of his time. not possibly lose, at conjunctures when A few of them equalled or surpassed the interest of the State, the views of the him in talents ; but they were men of Court, and the passions of the multino good repute for honesty. A few tude, all appeared for an instant to comay be named whose patriotism was incide. By judiciously availing himself purer, nobler, and more disinterested of several of these rare moments, he than his ; but they were men of no succeeded in establishing a high chaeminent ability. Morally, he was above racter for wisdom and patriotism. When Shaftesbury; intellectually, he was the favourable crisis was passed, he above Russell.
never risked the reputation which he To say of a man that he occupied a had won. He avoided the great offices high position in times of misgovern- of State with a caution almost pusillament, of corruption, of civil and reli- nimous, and confined himself to quiet gious faction, that nevertheless he con- and secluded departments of public tracted no great stain and bore no business, in which he could enjoy mopart in any great crime, that he won derate but certain advantages without the esteem of a profligate Court and of incurring envy. If the circumstances
of the country became such that it was | Pole or to the source of the Nile. This impossible to take any part in politics kind of valetudinarian effeminacy, this without some danger, he retired to his habit of coddling himself, appears in library and his orchard, and, while the all parts of his conduct. He loved nation groaned under oppression, or re- fame, but not with the love of an exsounded with tumult and with the din alted and generous mind. He loved it of civil arms, amused himself by writing as an end, not at all as a means; as a memoirs and tying up apricots. His personal luxury, not at all as an instrupolitical career bore some resemblance ment of advantage to others. He to the military career of Lewis the scraped it together and treasured it up Fourteenth. Lewis, lest his royal dig- with a timid and niggardly thrift; and nity should be compromised by failure, never employed the hoard in any enternever repaired to a siege, till it had prise, however virtuous and useful, in been reported to him by the most skil- which there was hazard of losing one ful officers in his service, that nothing particle. No wonder if such a person could prevent the fall of the place. did little or nothing which deserves When this was ascertained, the monarch, positive blame. But much more than in his helmet and cuirass, appeared this may justly be demanded of a man among the tents, held councils of war, possessed of such abilities, and placed dictated the capitulation, received the in such a situation. Had Temple been keys, and then returned to Versailles brought before Dante's infernal tributo hear his flatterers repeat that Tu-nal, he would not have been condemned renne had been beaten at Mariendal, to the deeper recesses of the abyss. He that Condé had been forced to raise the would not have been boiled with Dundee siege of Arras, and that the only war- in the crimson pool of Bulicame, or rior whose glory had never been ob- hurled with Danby into the seething scured by a single check was Lewis the pitch of Malebolge, or congealed with Great. Yet Condé and Turenne will Churchill in the eternal ice of Giualways be considered as captains of a decca ; but he would perhaps have been very different order from the invincible placed in the dark vestibule next to the Lewis ; and we must own that many shade of that inglorious pontiffstatesmen who have committed great 1 “Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto." faults, appear to us to be deserving of Of course a man is not bound to be more esteem than the faultless Temple. a politician any more than he is bound For in truth his faultlessness is chiefly to be a soldier; and there are perfectly to be ascribed to his extreme dread of honourable ways of quitting both poliall responsibility, to his determination tics and the military profession. But rather to leave his country in a scrape neither in the one way of life, nor in the than to run any chance of being in a other, is any man entitled to take all scrape himself. He seems to have been the sweet and leave all the sour. A averse from danger ; and it must be man who belongs to the army only in admitted that the dangers to which a time of peace, who appears at reviews public man was exposed, in those days in Hyde Park, escorts the Sovereign of conflicting tyranny and sedition, with the utmost valour and fidelity to were of the most serious kind. He and from the House of Lords, and recould not bear discomfort, bodily or tires as soon as he thinks it likely that mental. His lamentations, when in the he may be ordered on an expedition, course of his diplomatic journeys, he is justly thought to have disgraced was put a little out of his way, and himself. Some portion of the censure forced, in the vulgar phrase, to rough due to such a holiday-soldier may justly it, are quite amusing. He talks of fall on the mere holiday-politician, who riding a day or two on a bad West- flinches from his duties as soon as those phalian road, of sleeping on straw for duties become difficult and disagreeable, one night, of travelling in winter when that is to say, as soon as it becomes pethe snow lay on the ground, as if he culiarly important that he should resohad gone on an expedition to the North lutely perform them.
But though we are far indeed from / admiration, fixedness of purpose, intenconsidering Temple as a perfect states- sity of will, enthusiasm, which is not man, though we place him below many the less fierce or persevering because it statesmen who have committed very is sometimes disguised under the semgreat errors, we cannot deny that, when blance of composure, and which bears compared with his contemporaries, he down before it the force of circummakes a highly respectable appearance. stances and the opposition of reluctant The reaction which followed the vic- minds. These qualities, variously comtory of the popular party over Charles bined with all sorts of virtues and vices, the First, had produced å hurtful effect may be found, we think, in most of the on the national character; and this authors of great civil and religious effect was most discernible in the classes movements, in Cæsar, in Mahomet, in and in the places which had been most Hildebrand, in Dominic, in Luther, in strongly excited by the recent revolu- Robespierre; and these qualities were tion. The deterioration was greater in found, in no scanty measure, among the London than in the country, and was chiefs of the party which opposed greatest of all in the courtly and official Charles the First. The character of circles. Almost all that remained of the men whose minds are formed in the what had been good and noble in the midst of the confusion which follows a Cavaliers and Roundheads of 1642, great revolution is generally very difwas now to be found in the middling ferent. Heat, the natural philosophers orders. The principles and feelings tell us, produces rarefaction of the air ; which prompted the Grand Remon- and rarefaction of the air produces strance were still strong among the cold. So zeal makes revolutions; and sturdy yeomen, and the decent God- revolutions make men zealous for nofearing merchants. The spirit of Derby thing. The politicians of whom we and Capel still glowed in many se- speak, whatever may be their natural questered manor-houses; but among capacity or courage, are almost always those political leaders who, at the time characterised by a peculiar levity, a of the Restoration, were still young or peculiar inconstancy, an easy, apathetic in the vigour of manhood, there was way of looking at the most solemn neither a Southampton nor a Vane, questions, a willingness to leave the neither a Falkland nor a Hampden. direction of their course to fortune and The pure, fervent, and constant loyalty popular opinion, a notion that one pubwhich, in the preceding reign, had re- lic cause is nearly as good as another, mained unshaken on fields of disastrous and a firm conviction that it is much battle, in foreign garrets and cellars, better to be the hireling of the worst and at the bar of the High Court of cause than to be a martyr to the best. Justice, was scarcely to be found among This was most strikingly the case the rising courtiers. As little, or still with the English statesmen of the less, could the new chiefs of parties lay generation which followed the Restoraclaim to the great qualities of the states. tion. They had neither the enthusiasm men who had stood at the head of the of the Cavalier nor the enthusiasm of Long Parliament. Hampden, Pym, the Republican. They had been early Vane, Cromwell, are discriminated from emancipated from the dominion of old the ablest politicians of the succeeding usages and feelings; yet they had not generation, by all the strong lineaments acquired a strong passion for innovawhich distinguish the men who produce tion. Accustomed to see old estarevolutions from the men whom revo- blishments shaking, falling, lying in lutions produce. The leader in a great ruins all around them, accustomed to change, the man who stirs up a re- live under a succession of constitutions posing community, and overthrows a of which the average duration was deeply-rooted system, may be a very about a twelvemonth, they had no relidepraved man; but he can scarcely be gious reverence for prescription, nodestitute of some moral qualities which thing of that frame of mind which natuextort even from enemies a reluctant rally springs from the habitual contem