« AnteriorContinuar »
the guidance of common sense and an ordinary knowledge of mankind, have waited, more or less patient, more or less tranquil, for the season of returning calm, when justice might be surely expected? But could anything be more inconsistent with all supposition of innocence than instantly to commit the offence in question, because there was a delay of justice, through the prevalence of popular prejudice? What would be said of any man's honesty who had fled from a charge of theft which he denied, and feared to meet, because supported by perjured witnesses, if he instantly took to the highway for his support? If, indeed, he says that the attainder gave him a right to take part against the government, then it must be observed that some months were allowed him by the act to return and take his trial, and that he never even waited to see whether, before the given time expired, men's minds should become so calm as to let him safely encounter the charge.
But another and a higher ground must be taken. Who can maintain that it is the part of an honest man, to say nothing of a patriotic statesman, to leave the party of his country, and go over to her enemies, the instant he has been maltreated, however grievously, however inexcusably by her that is, by a party of his enemies who happen to guide her councils? Is it the part of public virtue—but is it the part of common honesty-to side with the enemy and war with our own country because she or her rulers have oppressed us after the abominable example of the unprincipled chiefs in the Greek republic? Then, if all men are agreed that this affords no justification for such treason, how much worse is his crime who would plunge his country into civil war, to wreak his vengeance on the faction that has oppressed and banished him? The Revolution Settlement had obtained Bolingbroke's deliberate approbation: no man has spoken more strongly in its favour; it was the guarantee, according to him, of both civil and religious liberty. Yet against this settlement he declares war to subvert it he exerts all his powers, merely because the Whig party had maltreated himself, and created against him a prejudice he was afraid to face. Nay more -be the settlement the very best conceivable scheme of government or not, it was established, and could only be
upset by civil commotion, and probably required the aid of foreign invasion to overthrow it. To darken the face of his native land with those worst of all plagues was his desire, that he might take his revenge on his enemies, and trample upon them, when he should be raised to power under the restored dynasty of the bigoted and tyrannical Stuarts! This is not the charge made against Bolingbroke by his adversaries; it is not the sentence pronounced upon him by an impartial public; it is the case made for himself by himself, and it is as complete a confession of enormous guilt as ever man made. It further betokens a mind callous to all right feelings; and understanding perverted by the sophistries of selfish ingenuity; a heart in which the honest, with the amiable sentiments of our nature, have been extinguished by the habitual contemplations familiar to a low ambition.
From a man who could thus act in sharing the Pretender's fortunes, and could thus defend his conduct, little honesty could be expected to the party with which he had now ranged himself. The charge of having neglected the interests of the Pretender, and done less than he ought to further the rebellion in 1715, made against him by the thoughtless zeal, the gross ignorance, the foolish presumption of the Jacobites, and to which is almost entirely confined the defence of himself, in his celebrated, and for composition justly celebrated, 'Letter to Sir William Windham,' was plainly groundless. It was likely, indeed, to be groundless; for the interests of Bolingbroke, all the speculations of his ambition, all the revengeful passions of his nature, were enlisted to make him zealous in good earnest for the success of the rebellion; and to aid that enterprise, however much he might despair of it, he exerted his utmost resources of intrigue, of solicitation, of argument. But as soon as it had failed, the Pretender probably yielded to the misrepresentations of Bolingbroke's enemies, possibly lent an ear to the vulgar herd of detractors, who could not believe a man was in earnest to serve the Prince because he refused, like them, to shut his eyes against the truth, and believe their affairs flourishing when they were all but desperate. The intrigues of Lord Mar worked upon a mind so prepared; and advantage being taken of a coarse though
strong expression of disrespect towards the Prince, he was induced to dismiss by far his ablest supporter, and take that wily old Scotchman as his minister.
There was the usual amount of royal perfidy in the manner of his dismissal, and not much more. At night he squeezed his hand, and expressed his regard for the man whom in the morning he dismissed by a civil message requiring the seals of his office, and renewing his protestations of gratitude for his services, and of confidence in his attachment. Bolingbroke appears to have felt this deeply. He instantly left the party, and for ever; but he affects to say that he had previously taken the determination of retiring from all connexion with the service as soon as the attempt of 1715 should be made and should fail. Assuming this to be true, which it probably is not, he admits that his course was to depend, not on any merits of the Stuart cause, not on any view of British interests, not on any vain, childish, romantic notions of public duty and its dictates, but simply upon his own personal convenience, which was alone to be consulted, and which was to exact his retirement unless the dynasty were restored-which was, of course, to sanction his continuance in the service in the event of success crowning the Prince, and enabling Bolingbroke to be minister of England. But whatever might have been his intentions in the event of the Pretender retaining him as his Secretary of State, his dismissal produced an instantaneous effect. All regard for the cause which he had made his own was lost in the revenge for his deprivation of place under its chief; and he lost not a moment in reconciling himself with the party whom he had betrayed, and deserted, and opposed. To obtain an amnesty for the present, and the possibility of promotion hereafter, no professions of contrition were too humble, no promises of amendment too solemn, no display of zeal for the Government which he had done his utmost to destroy too extravagant. To a certain extent he was believed, because the Pretender's cause was now considered desperate, and Bolingbroke's interest coincided with the duty of performing his promise. To a certain extent, therefore, his suit was successful, and he was suffered to return home and resume his property with his rank; but the doors of Parliament and
office were kept closed against him, and the rest of his life was spent in unavailing regrets that he had ever left his country, and as unavailing rancour against the great and honest minister who had shown him mercy without being his dupe-who had allowed him to make England a dwelling-place once more, without letting him make it once more the sport of his unprincipled ambition.
Here, again, regarding his final abandonment of the Pretender, we have his own account, and on that alone we are condemning him. Because the Parliament of the Brunswicks attainted him when he confessed his guilt by his flight, he joined the standard of the Stuarts. It was covered with irremediable defeat, and he resolved to quit it. But meanwhile the master into whose service he came as a volunteer chose to take another minister: therefore Bolingbroke deserted him, and deserted him when his misfortunes were much more unquestionable than his ingratitude. The pivot of all his actions, by all that he urges in his own behalf, was his individual, private, personal interest. To this consideration all sense of principle was sacrificed, all obligation of duty subjected; whatever his revenge prompted, whatever his ambition recommended, that he deemed himself justified in doing, if not called upon to do.
Bolingbroke's 'Idea of a Patriot King' certainly differed exceedingly from his idea of a Patriot Subject. The duty of the former, according to him, required a constant sacrifice of his own interests to the good of his country; the duty of the latter he considered to be a constant sacrifice of his country to himself. The one was bound on no account ever to regard either his feelings or his tastes, the interests of his family, or the powers of his station; the other was justified in regarding his own gratification, whether of caprice, or revenge, or ambition, as the only object of his life. Between the ruler and his subjects there was in this view no kind of reciprocity; for all the life of selfsacrifice spent by the one was to be repaid by a life of undisturbed and undisguised self-seeking in the other. But if the guarantee which his system proposed to afford for the performance of the patriot king's duties, or for making patriots of kings, was somewhat scanty and precarious, not to say fantastical, ample security was held out for the
patriot citizen's part being well filled. The monarch was enticed to a right and moderate use of power by clothing him with prerogative, and trusting rather to that not being abused than to influence not being very extravagantly employed; the secret for moderating the love of dominion was to bestow it without any restraint; the protection given to the people against the prerogative of the prince was to deliver them over into his hands; the method proposed for putting the wolf out of conceit with blood was to throw the lamb to him bound. If this did not seem a very hopeful mode of attaining the object, a very likely way to realize the Idea of a Patriot King,' the plan for producing Patriot Citizens in unlimited supply was abundantly certain. Whatever defects the one scheme might disclose in the knowledge of human nature, whatever ignorance of human frailty, none whatever could be charged upon the other; for it appealed to the whole selfish feelings of the soul, made each man the judge of what was most virtuous for him to do, and to guide his judgment furnished him with a pleasing canon enough-he had only to follow his own inclinations whithersoever they might lead. Such was the system of Bolingbroke upon the relative duties of sovereigns and subjects a system somewhat more symmetrically unfolded as regards the former; but, touching the latter, fully exemplified by his practice, and also plainly sketched by his writings composed in his own defence. For it must never be forgotten that he is not like most men who have gone astray by refusing to practise what they preach, or proving unequal to square their own conduct by the rules which in general they confess to be just. His conduct has been openly and deliberately vindicated by himself upon the ground that all he did, at least all he admitted himself to have done, he was justified in doing; and he has confessed himself to have acted in every particular with an undeviating regard to the pursuit of his own interests and the gratification of his own passions.
Of Bolingbroke's private life and personal qualities, as apart from his public and political, little needs be added. He who bore the part in affairs which we have been contemplating could not easily have been a man of strict integrity, or of high principle in any relation of life. There