« ElőzőTovább »
in-law, Lord Townshend, (in the possession of his grandson the Marquis Townshend,) were another important source of information to which Mr. Coxe obtained access with some difficulty, and by the aid of kind and powerful intercessors. On receiving the long-desired permission, he lost not a day in presenting himself at Rainham, the seat of the Marquis, in Norfolk, overjoyed at the acquisition about to be placed within his reach, yet feeling, with the natural delicacy of a well-constituted mind, the anomalous situation of a visitor who, in the mere character of a literary man, establishes himself in a nobleman's house for the purpose of examining its archives. His reception, however, banished uneasy feelings, and his researches were abundantly rewarded.
No man ever appreciated more justly or requited more faithfully than Mr. Coxe the confidence reposed in an author by intrusting him with family papers. There are some things, perhaps, in every such collection which the writer v.ho makes use of it must consider sacred from public curiosity; but it requires great delicacy and judgment to apprehend, and great self-denial to observe, this obligation in its full extent. That truth be not violated, whether by suppression or addition, is the plain rule of every historical work; but when that law is satisfied—when the question is only of illustrating, enlivening, enriching—of an anecdote, a saying, a characteristic word or gesture—of all, in short, that most captivates the merely inquisitive reader, it will often become a perplexing and uneasy task to the privileged compiler to decide how much may be allowed to his literary interest and ambition on the one hand, and how much is justly exacted by respect and gratitude on the other. In calculating the forbearance required of him, he must estimate feelings with which the public have little sympathy. To them, representing that large and indefinite posterity for which, professedly, so much is said and acted, the great names of a former age are important only as they aie connected with events; but descendants, the true and natural posterity, have a domestic as well as historical interest in the fame of an ancestor; they may shrink from a ridicule, or resent a misconstruction, which the world would deem harmless and trivial ; and they must always be liable to some uneasiness in reflecting that an indiscretion of the author whom they have indulged may expose themselves to reproach for committing the records of their house to the callous hand of a stranger.
The access which Mr. Coxe now enjoyed, not only to the Wal pole, Orford, and Townshend papers, but to the manuscript col lections of the Hardwicke, Grantham, Waldegrave, and other distinguished families, induced him to suspend the undertaking he had commenced, and apply himself to one of a wider scope and higher interest, the ' Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir
Vol. L. No. xcix. i Robert Robert Walpole,' which he first published in 1798. A more judicious and instructive biographical work, or one more satisfactory to every rational desire of knowledge, is not found in English literature. It combines in a remarkable degree the exact and dispassionate inquiry which forms the great merit of compiled history, with the lively circumstantial illustration which belongs to contemporary narrative, or that drawn from recent tradition. But this latter source of knowledge is never approached without the strictest caution. He was enabled, as he states in his preface, 'to elucidate many parts of secret history, either totally unknown or wholly misrepresented;' but he adds, that in collecting political information, he always considered and allowed forthe connexions and principles of those from whom he derived it, and that, in taking up anecdotes from tradition, he scrupulously confined himself to the narrowest limits, and ' never once adopted the hearsay of a hearsay.' It would be superfluous to dwell longer on a book with which no accurate reader of English history can permit himself to be unacquainted. The Memoirs of Lord Walpole, which for a time had given place to those of Sir Robert, were published four years afterwards.
An excursion which he accidentally made in the autumn of 1798, with his friend Sir Richard Colt Hoare, suggested to Mr. Coxe the design of one of his most agreeable works, 'An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire.' He passed several months of 1799 in exploring, with his accustomed enthusiasm and active curiosity, the antiquities and natural beauties of that delightful country, which, in its miniature mountain scenery, contained some sequestered spots that reminded him of his beloved Switzerland, and were then as little or less known to English travellers. The Tour, with prints from the drawings of Sir Richard Hoare, was published in 1801, and may be ranked among the most elegant and interesting publications extant on British topography.
In 180:j, Mr. Coxe married Eleonora, daughter of Walter Shairp, Esq., consul-general of Russia, and widow of Thomas Yeldham, Esq., a lady whom he had long known and esteemed, and whose society, through the remaining twenty-five years of his life, was the chief source of his happiness. He was now, by the aid of friends to whom his talents had made him known, and his worth had endeared him, raised above uneasiness with respect to pecuniary fortune. Sir Richard Hoare had given him the rectory of Stourhead, which he afterwards resigned, on being presented by Lord Pembroke to that of Fovant. Bishop Douglas conferred on him a valuable prebend, and the archdeaconry of Wilts; and, by the influence chiefly of the same good patron, he was elected a canon-residentiary of Salisbury.
In the grave but not melancholy retirement of his parsonage at Bemerton, situate a mile from Salisbury, and commemorated by Walton as the residence of the saintly George Herbert, the Archdeacon passed the residue of his life, devoting himself to literature, and to the duties of his sacred office. In the absences occasionally rendered necessary by his literary undertakings, or by other causes, his mind always returned with fondness and longing to Bemerton, the home where his affections most dwelt, and the haven granted him by Providence from many wanderings and many anxieties, it was also the scene of labours which he loved more than other men iove rest or the enjoyment of fortune. 'His habits of literary composition' (we borrow the language of a gentleman well acquainted with them*) 'were so confirmed, that they were almost essential to his health. No sooner had he completed one great work, than he laid the foundation for another. He could not, as he expressed it, rest " les bras croises." In earlier life his application was so incessant, that it encroached on the hours requisite for healthful amusement, and even dinner would sometimes be forgotten till nine in the evening. In later years his hours of study were from ten in the morning till three in the afternoon, a period seldom interrupted by any accident, for visitors of whatever rank knew and observed the rule of nonintercourse.' At other times all were cheerfully received. 'Five hours might seem a long time to devote to sedentary occupation, but it was not sedentary, it was active: making due allowances, there was almost as much walking about, and as little rest, as if the employment had been some animating field sport.' His strong memory and extensive knowledge, his longestablished habits of study and great practice in composition, enabled him to refer, to collate, to arrange, and to dictate, with a wonderful rapidity and precision; and these advantages, with his untameable ardour and activity of disposition, carried him through a series of literary undertakings, after the fifty-sixth year of his age, which to most men would appear ample occupation for a life.
A train of reflections, which first rose in his mind on visiting the ruined castle of Rodolph of Hapsburgh, in the canton of Bern, seems gradually to have matured into the design of a History of the House of Austria, which Mr. Coxe at length published in 1807. He had contemplated in that great dynasty ' a family rapidly rising from the possession of dominions which form scarcely a speck in the map of Europe, to a stupendous height of power and splendour; becoming the barrier, under Providence, which arrested the progress of the Mahometan hordes into Chris
* Mr. Rylance, who succeeded Mr. Hatcher in the arduous and confidential office of secretary and amanuensis to Mr. Coxe.
i 2 tendom j tendom; afterwards pre-eminent as the ally of the Catholic church in her struggle against religious truth and civil liberty; but again, in later times, the great bulwark of public freedom, the main counterpoise to the power of France, and the centre on which the vast machine of European politics had invariably revolved.'*
To this magnificent subject a considerable part of his studies and researches had for many years been directed; he had pursued it during several visits to Vienna, among the rich historical stores of the Imperial library, and had kept it in his view while examining the various documentary collections which were opened to him when preparing his Memoirs of the Walpoles. On none of his former works were so much time and industry bestowed; and his exertion was rewarded not only by public approbation, but by a compliment of less ordinary occurrence. The Archdukes John and Louis, in their journey through England in 1817, paid a visit to the Canonry-House at Salisbury, for the purpose of conversing with the historian of their illustrious family. They warmly commended his accuracy and impartiality, and flattered him in a point which, with a writer on state affairs, is always a sensible one, by expressing surprise at his knowledge of some facts with which they had supposed none but their own family were acquainted. The visit was not a mere formal condescension, for these enlightened princes afterwards rendered the Archdeacon an important assistance in the preparation of his Life of Marlborough, by furnishing him with documents from Vienna.
In 1813, he published 'Memoirs of the Kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon, from 1700 to 1788/ a portion of European history familiar to him from his previous researches. He appropriately dedicated it to the Marquis Wellington, who was at that time accomplishing the glorious deliverance of Spain from the usurpers of the Bourbon sceptre.
On the completion of this work his indefatigable mind soon found for itself a new task of higher interest, but of far greater labour; and at the age of sixty-nine, Mr. Coxe began his Memoirs of John, Duke of Marlborough. As yet, no satisfactory life of that great warrior and politician had appeared in England. The duchess, Marlborough's widow, left a thousand pounds for the writer or writers who should complete such a work, but Glover and Mallet, the authors chosen by her for the task, did not even enter upon it. A mightier personage, though not of a more imperious soul, the Emperor Napoleon, willed that a life of Marlborough should be written in Fiance; and the decree was executed by a M. Madgett (assisted, it is said, by the wellknown Abbe Dutens), with as good success as could be ex
* Preface to the History of the House of Austria.
pected pected from an author who had no access to the best sources of mformation. The Archdeacon undertook his work under much happier auspices. The inestimable collection of private and state papers at Blenheim, arranged with great care and accuracy by the late duke, was freely opened by that nobleman to one whose former connexion with the family, added to his other and stronger claims, gave a peculiar propriety to his desire of becoming their historiographer. Lord Hardwicke, and other possessors of original documents, were on this, as on former occasions, liberal and unreserved in confiding them to him; and his good and justlyrespected friend, Lord Sidmouth, then Home Secretary, and ever distinguished by zeal in the cause of literature, gave him access to the Stale Paper Office. The Life appeared in three successive volumes, and was completed in 1819- The testimony of this Journal has been long since given to its merits.* As a memoir illustrative of public transactions, it richly augmented the materials of English and European history; and as a work of biography, it rendered justice to the character of Marlborough, by dif}using a full, clear, and unambiguous light over the events of his astonishing career. Its narrative, authentic and circumstantial, at once satisfies the desire of knowledge and ministers to the love of amusement; and the confidential and animated correspondence with which it is interspersed gives to some parts of it almost the liveliness of those works of fiction where the principal personages, by a series of letters, at once tell the story and develop their own characters and feelings.
While engaged on the Life of Marlborough, Mr. Coxe began to experience that visitation which he pathetically alludes to in his Preface to the Pelham Memoirs,—the failure of sight. The intense labour of a work, in the course of which it is said that he inspected about thirty thousand manuscript letters, gave a confirmed ascendency to the disease, and it terminated in a few years in total blindness. It was not without bitter feelings that a man, to whom study had for fifty years been the chief business of life, perceived the sure approach of this catastrophe; but if reading had not armed him with philosophy, religion had taught him resignation, and with this powerful support the natural energy and vivacity of his mind soon triumphed over the calamity. Nay, so ' sweet are the uses of adversity,' it is said that the social qualities of his mind expanded, and his conversation became more uniformly cheerful and engaging, as the decay of sight obliged him to gain his ideas from the interchange of speech instead of the solitary exercise of the eye. But his literary occupations were not laid aside; with the aid which his infirmity rendered indispensable, he was still able to pursue his long-accustomed labours,