Page images
PDF
EPUB

quite dirty with this thaw, the other really slubbered with my tears. I am so inuch in earnest in this sad affair, that people think I am something very considerable in England, that have such a regard to the public, and it makes me cry afresh when they ask me in what county my lands are. Whether this proceeds from loyalty or interest God knows—but I have truly cried a basin full. Je n'en puis plus ; 'tis impossible for me to tell you the sorrow that reigns universally in Holland : these people, who never had any passions before, are now touched, and marble weeps.'—p. 47.

Stepney, another, though minor poet, just appointed minister at Dresden, was also a correspondent of Lord Lexington's, and he too thought it necessary to put his muse into court mourning, in an elaborate poem which was published in the London Gazette of the 11th March, 1695, and is really not without merit; but he confesses to Lord Lexington that with the beggarly impudence of a poet' he took this occasion of reminding Lord Portland of a gold medal and chain which that lord had promised him four years before, for his poem on the king's voyage, and which he had never yet seen' (p. 73). Moreover, a month before the gazetted poem Stepney celebrated the king's grief in a way that seems to leave little doubt that he had been invited to take up that theme, and that he was laughing at it in his sleeve :

'I have several elegies from good hands on the Queen's death, which I will forward to Vienna for the Ladies' entertainment when I get to Dresden. I have had no time to settle to it, and could only hammer out one distich upon the Queen's dying resolutely and the King's grieving immoderately, which is as follows:

So greatly Mary died and William grieves,

You'd think the hero gone, the woman lives
Which a friend has thus burlesqued :-

Sure death 's a Jacobite that thus bewitches :
His soul wears petticoats, and hers the breeches ;
Alas! alas! we've err'd in our commanders,

Will should have knotted and Moll gone for Flanders.' This doggrel seems to realise the old dramatic paradox, "a lamentable tragedy full of pleasant mirth!'

Of Stepney so little is known, that we shall extract one or two passages from his letters to Lord Lexington, which are amongst the liveliest of the whole series :

Wesel, Feb. 23,1 1694,

13, ) 1695. • I should send your Lordship some news from England, but I know not where to begin. If you have anything particular to ask me, state your queries, and I will resolve them as well as I can when I get to Dresden. The great Court is at Barclay House (Berkeley House, the residence of the Princess Anne], for the ladies must have some place

to 1695.

to show themselves. I had an audience of congé, both of Princess and Prince, and never saw a greater concourse. The King will certainly make the campaign, and, I believe, will declare as much to the Parliament when he sees them nextto have, in a manner, their consent, lest his crossing the water in this nice conjuncture be called abdication. This is the talk of the Jacobites, who say likewise he will take Prince George over with him to be sure of him. Poor Duke Shrewsbury will be quite blind, and Sir J. Trenchard stone dead, very shortly. We have a weak Ministry at present, and, for aught I see, nobody brigues the employment [of Secretary of State]. Mr. Blathwayt might have it, but seems to decline it, because, without envy, he is warmer as he is. The vogue of the town speaks of Lord Montague and Comptroller Wharton. I wish your Lordship were at home to end the dispute, and be our provincial, instead of our correspondent.'

16 . At the King's Quarters before Namur, Aug.

26' • You will allow me to magnify my merit in telling you that I have brought my detachment* safe and sound to join our armies just in time, when we have most need of them. I have been here three days, and expect to satisfy my curiosity in seeing both a battle and a storm, for we think we shall have both within three or four days.

. I never led a more pleasant life; the King is very gracious to me, and continues my allowance for only attending him from one camp to another on other people's horses.

• We are confident the coehorn and castle will be ours; the breaches are large in both of them. You may believe me: I have seen them, for I have been both on the batteries and in the trenches without being Godfreyed.+ We are likewise certain of beating the French if they dare to attack us, for we have 70,000 men, which is as great an army as they are able to bring together.

• This I tell you that you may drink your bottle quietly with Mr. Heemskerck, without being molested with what other letters and gazettes may

tell

you. • This day the Duke of Ormond remembered you, and the other day Mr. Blathwayt, in the best Grecian wine that was ever tipped over tongue. You know Jupiter was born in Candia, and were I a god, I would live in an island that produces such wines. Coehorn has laid the Elector of Bavaria 400 pistols that all the works are ours, and we masters of the place, before Wednesday the 31st. Others may write you more serious news.'

General Cohorn, the celebrated rival of Vauban, and who had constructed the work at Namur distinguished by his name, lost

• Mr. Stepney had been commissioned to hurry the advance of a body of Hessian troops which were marching to Namur.'

† The Editor says—Mr. Godfrey, the Deputy-Governor of the Bank of England, was killed by a cannon ball in the trenches before Namur, while in attendance on the King. He was the brother of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey.'- This hauker had come over to arrange some money matters with the King, and would needs ste something of real war.

his wager without any derogation from his skill, for the garrison capitulated the very next day to that he had named.

Prior's letters afford abundant evidence that Pope's mean opinion of his talents for business was exceedingly unjust. It is sufficiently clear, à priori, that having been favourably distinguished by his services under William's own eye, as secretary to the mission at the Hague, he would not, if he had not shown himself quite equal to the employment, have been advanced to the important post of secretary to the negotiation at Ryswick, in which William took so great a part and so deep an interest. Nor, again, would he, but for his personal merit, have been selected from so many diplomatists to be secretary of Lord Portland's ostentatious embassy to Paris ; nor, after some years' absence from public affairs, could he, without a considerable reputation in diplomacy, have been called from his retirement by such men as Oxford and Bolingbroke, on so great and so delicate an occasion as the treaty of Utrecht; nor, above all, would he have been so cruelly and groundlessly persecuted by the Whigs, after the Hanoverian succession, if he had not been a person

of considerable merit, weight, and importance. Mr. Manners Sutton of course has selected from his correspondence, apparently very voluminous, such passages as seemed to afford the most intelligible and amusing extracts, which of course can give but a very imperfect view of his graver labours. Our extracts must lie under a greater degree of the same difficulty. We select two or three that throw a little light on Prior's personal history, of which we know less than of any man of equal station in literature and politics, for though, as Johnson says of him, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman nor elegance as a poet,' his literature was for a time obscured by his politics, and his politics have been since forgotten in his literature, and between two stools his fame seems to us to have sunk lower than it deserves.

6

Mr. Prior to Lord Lecington.

Hague, Oct. 9, 1696, N. S. As to my own concerns, I have been briguing and flattering at Loo, and, I believe, have brought the matter so far, as that nobody will stand before me in my pretensions to the secretaryship of the embassy ; but, my God! what is it I ask or am fond of having? since there is not five pounds to be got out of the Treasury, and I owe five hundred.

. It would have been better manners to have named your Lordship before me, but we are in a world where no man thinks of anything but himself. What I hear, is that wherever the parade of this embassy may be, the substance of it will be at Vienna, and that your Lordship is too useful there to think, on this occasion, to be removed : this is the terrrible effect of doing your duty, and you ought to have had less sense to be signing a treaty amongst others, since you are thought to have enough to do the thing, in effect, alone.

sense

• My obedient service is never to be omitted to the fair Secretary [Lady Lexington); I have but one piece of news for her this time, which is, that my Lady Athlone, being a provident housewife, has at several times killed ten of the stags about Loo, and salted them for her servants, for which the King has fined the dame 600 pounds sterling.'

P. 224.

was,

The correspondence is full of complaints of the scantiness and irregularity with which our foreign ministers were paid-and poor Prior in all his public life, a sad instance of it, for at the close of his last mission to France he was actually detained in Paris for the very moderate debt he had been forced to incur for his subsistence, and might have been at last really reduced (as he says) to be a blind ballad-singer on Fleet Bridge,' if he had not had, during his exaltation, the prudence of retaining a fellowship which he had early attained at St. John's College, Cainbridge. When he was reproached, while holding high and brilliant office, with the retention of this humble but honourable provision, he is reported to have excused himself by saying, in a homely but expressive phrase, that ' after all it would secure him a joint of mutton and a clean shirt.' His performance of his duties at the Hague and Ryswick seems to have conciliated the special favour of Lord Villiers-soon after Earl of Jersey-himself a favourite with the king, and ambassador to the Congress; for we find (what we had only had a hint of in the Vernon Correspondence) that on the nomination of Lord Jersey to the Viceroyalty of Ireland, Prior was appointed his secretary :

• Wish me joy of my being nanied Secretary for Ireland, which I hope will prove some settlement, and be a patent for hindering me from starving. I know nothing that would make my new dignity more agreeable to me than it is, but that your Lordship in England should be in the post you deserve [Secretary of State], and send me the King's orders to Dublin.'--p. 265.

Neither of these appointments, it seems, took place. Lord Jersey was for a short time Secretary of State, when Prior became his under-secretary; the Peer, however, was soon removed, and Prior was compensated by being appointed a Lord of Trade, which place he seems to bave held till 1706—but it does not appear how or where his time was occupied from that date till Queen Anne's Tory ministry recalled him in 1710 to, as Johnson says, “his former employment of making treaties,' and used him most confidentially in the negotiations that were concluded the next year at Utrecht. It is beyond our present bounds to say anything more of the treaty of Utrecht, but we think it right to observe that the charge made against Prior of having changed his party, which no doubt occasioned the subsequent animosity of the Whigs, was to a great degree unjust. It is clear, from his correspondence with Lord Lex. ington, that he was on principle exceedingly averse to the continental war which we were then waging, and he would naturally be so to the more exhausting and not more justifiable one in which we were subsequently involved; but, moreover, a diplomatist by profession is something like a soldier or a sailor, who is not at liberty to refuse his services, when the government thinks proper to employ him, on any plea of personal opinions or connexions.

Shortly after Queen Mary's death, the discovery of a system of corruption in the Speaker, some members, and officers of the House of Commons, excited much interest :

The Chamberlain of London has given the committee an account that, by order of the Court of Aldermen, he paid the Speaker 1000 guineas, as their acknowledgment for his kindness to them in expediting the Orphans Bill, and the Clerk of the House, Mr. Joddrell, had 1001. 'Tis said that more has been given for that bill, by the parties concerned, to whom above 50001. has been brought to account for the charges of that act, but to whom the same has been disbursed does not yet appear.'- Vernon to Lexington, p. 67.

Lord Portland, who was not over fond of a House of Commons that had already showed some jealousy of the King's grants to his Dutch favourites, says

• You will have heard enough of what has passed, and is passing, in the Lower House, and that they are likely to push still further their inquiry respecting the affair of the Orphans and the East India Company, which may touch their own members.

It reminds me of a party who, having got drunk together, quarrel, and separate with bloody noses.'— p. 72.

It was alleged that Lord Portland himself had been offered 50,0001., but it is certain that even if offered it was refused: there is, however, little doubt that the Duke of Leeds, so remarkable in the reign of Charles II. and at the Revolution, had accepted 50001. for his good offices in a particular measure; and Mr. Guy, M.P., and Secretary of the Treasury, was expelled and sent to the Tower for having received a bribe of 200 guineas for passing the accounts of a regiment. Certainly those Whig gentlemen who regenerated our constitution, and affected such political puritanism, appear to have introduced into the management of public business a laxity of personal principle quite worthy of their predecessors in patriotism-Algernon Sidney and his fellow-worthies, who were bribed by the French king to play the parts of English patriots. We have an instance of this laxity, in perhaps its most venial form, in Mr. Vernon himself thanking Lord Lexing

[ocr errors]

ton

« PreviousContinue »