« ZurückWeiter »
Bolingbroke's Literary Occupations during this period— His
Religious Sentiments, as expressed among his private friends.
to 17 35.
CHAP. We have hitherto reviewed the political portion
only of those labours which relieved the monotony of Bolingbroke's rustic retirement. These, however, formed but a small part of his literary occupations. It had been happy for his fame as a philosopher, and his réputation as a member of society, had all the efforts of his powerful mind been made in the pursuit of objects as laudable as those which prompted his contributions to the Craftsman. Posterity might then have regarded him as a man who retrieved the errors of his youth by the virtues of his age, and his country might have received the unbought services of his later years in expiation of the evils which he had inflicted as the leader of a faction. But the biographer is not allowed to draw a curtain over a peculiar feature of his subject's character. We must exbibit Bolingbroke as his life and conversation portrayed him to his contempora
ries, and as his works have transmitted him to
When Bolingbroke returned from his long exile, and abandoned himself to rustic employments, domestic duties, and literary leisure, he was in his forty-sixth year; an age when the judgment is matured without being impaired, and the mind is fortified with experience without being weakened by age. The vices of youth had then lost their power,
, and the passions which had lent them force had expired with the strength and vigour which prompted and sustained them. The characteristic vices of old age Bolingbroke never contracted. The avarice which tormented Swift never embittered his repose; on the contrary, one of his friends remarks that he never knew him live so expensively as he did for some time after his return from exile. Thus, with no irregularities to indulge or palliate, we might expect to find him abandoning, with the practice, the sentiments of the libertine, and assenting with an unbiassed judgment to the truths which his passions had before disguised or concealed. But very
different was the conduct of this extraordinary man. He had been early disgusted by a puritanical tutor, and he afterwards easily coincided with the opinions of the company he affected. He had originally received his sceptical ideas from disgust and example,-he now retained them from what he considered to be the dictates of his reason.
* Pope's Letters.
CHAP. Unhappily, he had not sufficient resolution to con
fine his sentiments to his own breast. There is a spirit of proselytism which comprehends error as well as truth ; and although during his lifetime his infidelity was masked to the world, it was discovered to his private friends. The chief of these friends were Pope and Swift: with the former, during his seclusion, he maintained an uninterrupted friendship; with the latter he exchanged a frequent and copious correspondence. In this correspondence the scepticism of the writer occasionally peeps out. Swift is sometimes told that mystery is his profession, and hints are often dropped that it was a mystery rather politically useful than intrinsically sacred. These profane and jesting allusions seem never to have called forth a reproof from the dignitary to whom they were addressed : in his replies they are rather eluded than reproved. Swift's later biographers have represented bim as a pattern of unostentatious piety; and his family prayers and his attention to his clerical duties are triumphantly brought forward to repel the accusations which have not unfrequently been brought against him, that he himself had little confidence in the doctrines he preached.* The opinions of his contemporaries cer
* General Grimouard, in his with Bolingbroke, Swift, Pope, “Essai sur Bolingbroke,” says, and many other distinguished that he was intiinate with the characters of the day, who frewidow of Mallet the poet, who, quently met at her house. The he says, was a lady of much general adds, that this lady has talent and learning, and had been frequently heard to declare lived upon terms of friendship that these inen were all equally
tainly inclined to this decision. It is well known CHAP.
VII. that the queen, upon the representation of one of
A.D. 1725 her prelates, absolutely refused to confer upon
to 1735. a bishoprick which her ministers had reserved for him ; a resolution which, as he was never accused of gross immorality, must have proceeded rather from his presumed opinions than his actions. The loss of his support in the house of lords was at this season no slight inconvenience to the ministry; and if their representations had no weight with Anne, she must have been thoroughly convinced of the validity of the objections which had been made to him.*
An imputation was yet more publicly cast deistical in their sentiments ;: broke were of the same senti(“. que c'était une société de ment in religion as well as polipurs déistes ;') that Swift from tics." But was not Swift also his clerical character
one of those whom Pope eslittle more reserved than the teemed ? others, but that he was evi- * Dr. King says, that he was dently of the same sentiments told by Bolingbroke that this at botton. There is a remark- version of the affair was incorable passage in one of Pope's rect; that the queen never opletters to Swift, which seems posed Swift's elevation to the rather corroborative of this ac- bench; but this was merely an count of the general's. He is excuse which Harley invented inviting Swift to come and see to meet the applications of him. The day is coine," he Swift, whoin he could not afsays, or which I have often ford to affront. Dr. King, howwished, but never thought to ever, did not believe this acsee, when every mortal that I count, but attributed it to Boesteem is of the same sentiment lingbroke's hatred of Harley. in politics and religion.” Dr. The account given in the text Warton remarks upon this pa- is that which is more generally ragraph, " At tbis time there- received.-- Dr. King's Anecfore, (1733,) he and Boling- dotes. VOL. II.
upon his religious character. The Earl of Nottingham, in the debate upon the Dissenters' Bill, chiefly founded his objection to the provision that the bishops should have the only power of licensing tutors, upon the likelihood, he said, there was that a man was then in a fair way of becoming a bishop who was hardly suspected of being a Christian.* This pointed allusion to Swift passed without comment or reply, in a public assembly composed in a great measure of his private friends and associates. This seems to intimate that the opinion of his contemporaries was not very strong in favour of Swift's religious principles, though it certainly does not prove that their opinion was correct.
It has been attempted, with equal zeal but with even less probability, to show that Pope had no community of feeling with Bolingbroke ; that he was the dupe of the latter's designing infidelity, and was even ignorant that he entertained the sentiments he found means to promulgate through him, Dr. Johnson says,t probably upon Bishop Warburton's authority, (an authority for which upon other occasions he shows little deference,) that Bolingbroke boasted, among those who were in his confidence, of the deception he had practised upon the poet. Who those persons were who were so honoured with his confidence, we are not told ; but it will require very strong evidence to prove, that the man who was Bo
* Parliamentary History.
+ Life of Pope.