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- Letters to Sir William Windham and Mr. Pope - 1/23 -


LETTERS TO SIR WILLIAM WINDHAM AND MR. POPE BY LORD BOLINGBROKE

Contents Introduction By Henry Morley Letter To Sir William Windham Letter To Alexander Pope

INTRODUCTION

Henry St. John, who became Viscount Bolingbroke in 1712, was born on the 1st of October, 1678, at the family manor of Battersea, then a country village. His grandfather, Sir Walter St. John, lived there with his wife Johanna,--daughter to Cromwell's Chief Justice, Oliver St. John,--in one home with the child's father, Henry St. John, who was married to the second daughter of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick. The child's grandfather, a man of high character, lived to the age of eighty-seven; and his father, more a man of what is miscalled pleasure, to the age of ninety. It was chiefly by his grandfather and grandmother that the education of young Henry St. John was cared for. Simon Patrick, afterwards Bishop of Ely, was for some years a chaplain in their home. By his grandfather and grandmother the child's religious education may have been too formally cared for. A passage in Bolingbroke's letter to Pope shows that he was required as a child to read works of a divine who "made a hundred and nineteen sermons on the hundred and nineteenth Psalm."

After education at Eton and Christchurch, Henry St. John travelled abroad, and in the year 1700 he married, at the age of twenty-two, Frances, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Winchescomb, a Berkshire baronet. She had much property, and more in prospect.

In the year 1701, Henry St. John entered Parliament as member for Wotton Bassett, the family borough. He acted with the Tories, and became intimate with their leader, Robert Harley. He soon became distinguished as the ablest and most vigorous of the young supporters of the Tory party. He was a handsome man and a brilliant speaker, delighted in by politicians who, according to his own image in the Letter to Windham, "grow, like hounds, fond of the man who shows them game." He was active in the impeachment of Somers, Montague, the Duke of Portland, and the Earl of Oxford for their negotiation of the Partition Treaties. In later years he said he had acted here in ignorance, and justified those treaties.

James II. died at St. Germains, a pensioner of France, aged sixty- eight, on the 6th of September, 1701.

His pretensions to the English throne passed to the son, who had been born on the 10th of June, 1688, and whose birth had hastened on the Revolution. That son, James Francis Edward Stuart, who was only thirteen years old at his father's death, is known sometimes in history as the Old Pretender; the Young Pretender being his son Charles Edward, whose defeat at Culloden in 1746 destroyed the last faint hope of a restoration of the Stuarts. It is with the young heir to the pretensions of James II. that the story of the life of Bolingbroke becomes concerned.

King William III. died on the 8th of March, 1702, and was succeeded by James II.'s daughter Anne, who was then thirty-eight years old, and had been married when in her nineteenth year to Prince George of Denmark. She was a good wife and a good, simple-minded woman; a much-troubled mother, who had lost five children in their infancy, besides one who survived to be a boy of eleven and had died in the year 1700. As his death left the succession to the Crown unsettled, an Act of Settlement, passed on the 12th of June, 1701, had provided that, in case of failure of direct heirs to the throne, the Crown should pass to the next Protestant in succession, who was Sophia, wife of the Elector of Hanover. The Electress Sophia was daughter of the Princess Elizabeth who had married the Elector Palatine in 1613, granddaughter, therefore, of James I. She was more than seventy years old when Queen Anne began her reign. For ardent young Tories, who had no great interest in the limitation of authority or enthusiasm for a Protestant succession, it was no treason to think, though it would be treason to say, that the old Electress and her more than forty-year-old German son George, gross-minded and clumsy, did not altogether shut out hope for the succession of a more direct heir to the Crown.

In 1704 St. John was Secretary at War when Harley was Secretary of State, and he remained in office till 1708, when the Whigs came in under Marlborough and Godolphin, and St. John's successor was his rival Robert Walpole. St. John retired then for two year from public life to his country seat at Bucklersbury in Berkshire, which had come to him, through his wife, by the death of his wife's father the year before. He was thirty years old, the most brilliant of the rising statesmen; impatient of Harley as a leader and of Walpole as his younger rival from the other side, both of them men who, in his eyes, were dull and slow. St. John's quick intellect, though eager and impatient of successful rivalry, had its philosophic turn. During these two years of retirement he indulged the calmer love of study and thought, whose genius he said once, in a letter to Lord Bathurst "On the True use of Retirement and Study," "unlike the dream of Socrates, whispered so softly, that very often I heard him not, in the hurry of those passions by which I was transported. Some calmer hours there were; in them I hearkened to him. Reflection had often its turn, and the love of study and the desire of knowledge have never quite abandoned me."

In 1710 the Whigs were out and Harley in again, with St. John in his ministry as Secretary of State. "I am thinking," wrote Swift to Stella, "what a veneration we used to have for Sir William Temple because he might have been Secretary of State at fifty; and here is a young fellow hardly thirty in that employment."

It was the policy of the Tories to put an end to the war with France, that was against all their political interests. The Whigs wished to maintain it as a safeguard against reaction in favour of the Pretender. In the peace negotiations nobody was so active as Secretary St. John. On one occasion, without consulting his colleagues, he wrote to the Duke of Ormond, who commanded the English army in the Netherlands: "Her Majesty, my lord, has reason to believe that we shall come to an agreement on the great article of the union of the two monarchies as soon as a courier sent from Versailles to Madrid can return; it is, therefore, the Queen's positive command to your grace, that you avoid engaging in any siege or hazarding a battle till you have further orders from her Majesty. I am at the same time directed to let your grace know that the Queen would have you disguise the receipt of this order; and that her Majesty thinks you cannot want pretences for conducting yourself so as to answer her ends without owning that which might at present have an ill effect if publicly known." He added as a postscript: "I had almost forgot to tell your grace that communication is given of this order to the Court of France." The peace was right, but the way of making it was mean in more ways than one, and the friction between Harley and St. John steadily increased. St. John used his majority in the House for the expulsion of his rival Walpole and Walpole's imprisonment in the Tower upon charges of corruption. In 1712, when Harley had obtained for himself the Earldom of Oxford, St. John wanted an earldom too; and the Earldom of Bolingbroke, in the elder branch of his family, had lately become extinct. His ill- will to Harley was embittered by the fact that only the lower rank of Viscount was conceded to him, and he was sent from the House of Commons, where his influence was great, at the age of thirty-four, as Viscount Bolingbroke and Baron St. John. His father's congratulation on the peerage glanced at the perils of Jacobitism: "Well, Harry, I said you would be hanged, but now I see you'll be beheaded."

The Treaty of Utrecht, that closed the War of the Spanish Succession, was signed on the 11th of April (new style), 1713. Queen Anne died on the 1st of August, 1714, when time was not ripe for the reaction that Bolingbroke had hoped to see. His Letter to Windham frankly leaves us to understand that in Queen Anne's reign the possible succession of James II.'s son, the Chevalier de St. George, had never been out of his mind.

The death of the Electress Sophia brought her son George to the throne. The Whigs triumphed, and Lord Bolingbroke was politically ruined. He was dismissed from office before the end of the month. On the 26th of March, 1715, he escaped to France, in disguise of a valet to the French messenger La Vigne. A Secret Committee of the House of Commons was, a few days afterwards, appointed to examine papers, and the result was Walpole's impeachment of Bolingbroke. He was, in September, 1715, in default of surrender, attainted of high treason, and his name was erased from the roll of peers. His own account of his policy will be found in this letter to his friend Sir William Windham, in which the only weak feature is the bitterness of Bolingbroke's resentment against Harley.

When he went in exile to France, Bolingbroke remained only a few days in Paris before retiring to St. Clair, near Vienne, in Dauphiny. His Letter to Windham tells how he became Secretary of State to the Pretender, and how little influence he could obtain over the Jacobite counsels. The hopeless Rebellion of 1715, in Scotland, Bolingbroke laboured in vain to delay until there might be some chance of success. The death of Louis XIV., on the 1st of September in that year, had removed the last prop of a falling cause.

Some part of Bolingbroke's forfeited property was returned to his wife, who pleaded in vain for the reversal of his attainder. Bolingbroke was ill-used by the Pretender and abused by the Jacobites. He had been writing philosophical "Reflections upon Exile," but when he found himself thus attacked on both sides Bolingbroke resolved to cast Jacobitism to the winds, speak out like a man, and vindicate himself in a way that might possibly restore him to the service of his country. So in April, 1717, at the age of thirty-nine, he began work upon what is justly considered the best of his writings, his Letter to Sir William Windham.

Windham was a young Tory politician of good family and great wealth, who had married a daughter of the Duke of Somerset, and had been accepted by the Tories in the House of Commons as a leader, after Henry St. John had been sent to the House of Lords. Windham was "Dear Willie" to Bolingbroke, a constant friend, and in 1715 he was sent to the Tower as a Jacobite. But he had powerful connections, was kindly and not dangerous, and was soon back in his place in the House fighting the Whigs. The Letter to Windham was finished in the summer of 1717. Its frankness was only suited to the prospect of a pardon. It was found that there was no such prospect, and the


Letters to Sir William Windham and Mr. Pope - 1/23

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