« ZurückWeiter »
himself to be controlled by no woman; and although CHAP. he compensated for this by the indulgence of many VI. vices from which his father had been free, his firm- A.D. 1725 ness preserved him from the annoyance of those intrigues by which the late King had been continually harassed.
The opposition continued unabated, and Bolingbroke's letters began to work their effect. The signatures he assumed always became popular, and, among others, John Trot was particularly distinguished.
Affairs at last arrived at what the opposition believed to be a crisis, and the fall of the minister was thought to be inevitable. The people were in the highest state of excitement against the Excise Bill, then before the house; mobs besieged the houses of parliament, calling for its rejection; cockades with the words "Liberty, Property, and no Excise, were publicly worn-all things portended Walpole's downfal, and the opposition looked upon their work as done.
While the prey was in view, the pursuers had been ardent and unanimous; now that it appeared to be within their grasp, their exertions were feeble and disunited. Bolingbroke found that the same selfishness and jealousy which he had always experienced in political coadjutors was not banished from the counsels of his present friends. In the commencement of the struggle, they had drawn their weapons of opposition from the armoury of the
CHAP. constitution, and their temper and excellence had VI. alone brought them to the very point of success: A.D. 1725 now, however, they were thrown aside, and the instruments of faction were adopted in their stead. Even these were turned against each other in domestic contest; and Bolingbroke grew disgusted with a cause which was no longer recommended by patriotism or honour. He had long ceased to be the slave of the Tory party; he had long ceased to consider the support of a faction the business of his life. Adversity, and the reflection it induced, had taught him juster views of the duty of a statesman: he was now only the servant of his country. Now, when his companions in opposition were supposed to be upon the very eve of success, Bolingbroke refused to abandon this better principle, which misfortune had taught him to take up. Immediately the expectation of power had blinded them to the object which they had before steadily pursued, he seceded from them, and declared his part was over:* no promises or entreaties could induce him any longer to continue his support.
The attempt upon which Pulteney and his friends had counted with such certainty, signally failed.† The majority which they expected was decisively
* Coxe's Walpole Correspondence, period 3, art. Bolingbroke.
They expected that in the ballot for a committee which
they had obtained to inquire into the frauds in the customs, there would be a majority against the minister; and that many who secretly wished his
against them. The King, whom they supposed dis- CHAP. satisfied with his minister, firmly supported him. The popular tumults, upon the abandonment of the A.D. 1725 obnoxious bill, subsided; and Walpole was again secure. It might be supposed, that when the cause of disunion was withdrawn, the effect would cease, and that Bolingbroke would have again joined the disappointed leader of the independent Whigs. But he had for ever broken the chain which rivetted him to any cause having even the resemblance of a party character. He determined to make one more vigorous effort to enlighten his countrymen; to diminish the bitterness of factious feuds; to show the injury they bring upon the country, and the public calamities they entail; and to illustrate those principles of the constitution which were then most constantly concealed by the well-woven sophistry of the dominant party. Having completed this task, he intended to retire again into France-a country which his determination to retire from all interference with public affairs, and his lady's declining health, particularly recommended to him.
The work which he thus projected is that which has descended to us by the title of "A Dissertation upon Parties," and which is now read as the most masterly treatise upon the subject it embraces which
downfal, but were afraid to declare openly against him, would take that secret manner of accomplishing their wish.
They were deceived: the mi-
A. D. 1725
CHAP. the student in history or politics can peruse. The VI. object of this performance is thus declared by the author: "There is no complaint which hath been more constantly in the mouths, no grief hath lain more heavily at the hearts of all good men, than those about our national divisions; about the spirit of party, which inspires animosity and breeds rancour; which hath so often destroyed our inward peace, weakened our national strength, and sullied our glory abroad. It is time, therefore, that all who desire to be esteemed good men, and to procure the peace, the strength, and the glory of their country, by the only means by which they can be procured effectually, should join their efforts to heal our national divisions, and to change the narrow spirit of party into a diffusive spirit of public benevolence."*
Such were Bolingbroke's more experienced sentiments; sentiments which form a bitter commentary upon those which he has so ostentatiously avowed in his Letter to Sir William Windham. There he considered a devotion to his party a sufficient apology for treason against his country. Then, he ranked himself among those whom he afterwards censured as men who mean little more than to make a private court at the public expense -- who choose to be the instruments of a bad king rather than to be out of power, and who are often so wicked that they would prefer such a service to that of the best of kings:† now, he considers that very party spirit * Dissert. upon Parties, Let. i. + The Idea of a Patriot King.
which he then avowed as a merit, to be a complaint CHAP. and grief among good men, a domestic weakness, and a national disgrace. If we find in the former production the ardour of a party politician, we have no reason to suspect in the present the candour of the patriotic philosopher.
This treatise is comprehended in nineteen letters, and was, like most of his other political works, first printed in the Craftsman. The origin of the great parties which have divided the state is summarily traced, and the causes of their birth assigned; the corruption which marked their future conduct is pointed out; and the injurious consequences which have resulted from the necessity they have each at different times been under to pander to the crown or to corrupt the people, are stated and investigated.
Such was the closing effort of Bolingbroke, in a contest which he had maintained for ten years, a contest in which he had gained an unexampled reputation as a political writer, although little success as a politician. This piece appeared in a complete. state in the year 1736, and was, like others of his works, furnished with a dedication to the Earl of Orford. The eagerness with which it was read must have been flattering to Bolingbroke's feelings as an author; and the reputation which it obtained argued that there was a large class in the country which coincided with his views of the true interest of the nation.