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Letters upon the History of England-Prosecutions threatened. -Bolingbroke's Reply to the Threat.-Conduct of the Opposition. Their Success.-Disunion.-Bolingbroke secedes from them.-His Dissertation upon Parties.
SOME of Bolingbroke's contributions to the CraftsVI. man are of a less ephemeral character. Of these A.D. 1725 the most remarkable are his letters upon the History of England, written under the signature of Humphrey Oldcastle. This performance manifests such an intimate acquaintance with his subject, as proves that Bolingbroke had not neglected the history of his own country in his anxiety to become conversant with that of others. The just opinions he had formed of the genius of our constitution, and the soundness of his views of public policy, were in these letters made apparent; and the reader of them must acknowledge that, so far at least as theoretical knowledge can qualify, Bolingbroke had the highest claims to the reputation of an able statesman. The judgment with which his maxims of policy and government are applied to the different conjunctures which have happened in our history, discovers the acuteness and penetration of the author. The sub
ject indeed was generally treated with a regard to CHAP. the object of the paper in which the letters appeared, and it was itself fertile in opportunities for insi- A.D. 1725 nuating or enforcing topics of opposition. But now that the circumstances of the time are more remote, and more faintly remembered, the excellence of the observations is admitted, and their propriety acknowledged. We lose the pungency of the satire conveyed in the intended application, but we understand the principle insisted upon, and feel it to be good.
Several of these letters were so annoying to the ministers, that they vented their rage in prosecutions against the publisher. Bolingbroke's practice under similar circumstances had not been such as to entitle him to use any very high language upon this occasion but injustice is far more apparent to him who suffers than to him who inflicts; and the indignant defiance which he hurled against the prosecutors is one of the most brilliant pieces of impassioned eloquence in our language. "The persons whom you threaten, sir," he says upon this occasion, "neither value your favour nor fear your anger. Whenever you attempt any act of power against any of them, you shall find that you have to do with men who know they have not offended the law, and therefore trust they have not offended the King; who know they are safe so long as the laws and liberties of their country are so; and who are so little desirous of being safe any longer, that they would be the first to bury themselves in the ruins of the British consti
to 17 35.
CHAP. tution, if you or any minister as desperate as you VI. should be able to destroy it. But let us ask, on this A.D. 1725 occasion, what you are who thus presume to threaten? Are you not one whose measure of folly and iniquity is full? who can neither hold nor quit his power with impunity, and over whose head the longgathering cloud of national vengeance is ready to burst? Is it not time for you, sir, instead of threatening to attack others, to consider how soon you may be attacked yourself? How many crimes may be charged upon you and yours which almost every man can prove? and how many more are ready to start into light as soon as the power by which you now conceal them shall determine? When next you meditate revenge upon your adversaries, remember this truth --the laws must be destroyed before they can suffer or you escape. 99*
These letters procured for the Craftsman an immense sale; so that, during their appearance, it far exceeded even that of the Spectator. They were afterwards collected into a volume, and published with a dedication and a preface. The dedication is to Sir Robert Walpole, then the Earl of Orford, and written in the ironical strain of the Occasional Writer.†
* Letter xii.
It was at that time an or-
to dedicate it to the person
years before written a similar dedication for Walpole's Account of the Parliament, which was inscribed to the Earl of Oxford.
To remark upon every pamphlet which at this CHAP. time proceeded from Dawley Farm, would exceed the importance which has been attached to them by pos. terity; and to notice the answers they called forth, would lead us into a minute history of the reign of George the Second. Suffice it to say, that the productions of Bolingbroke in disgrace and retirement were as widely circulated and as universally read as those had been which appeared as the work of St. John the favoured minister. The circumstance of his absence from the arena of politics by no means lessened the weight of his influence: his writings penetrated where his voice was forbidden to be heard; and perhaps, from the distance at which he was placed, he could judge more impartially of the policy of the government, and was less liable to be distracted by private bias or party prejudice from what was now become the real object of his solicitude-the welfare of his country.
That there was ample occasion for the efforts of an impartial and experienced observer, few modern writers upon this period of our history have denied. The shining talents of Walpole were exerted rather to preserve himself in power than his country in prosperity. His plausible eloquence was well adapted and was entirely consecrated to the recommendation of that ruinous German policy which the King approved, and which he therefore found it his interest to second. The nation in general, however, wanted something more than words to persuade them that
CHAP. it was prudent to risk the fortune of England in VI. perpetual contests for the aggrandizement of a petty A.D. 1725 state which had its value only in the estimation of its sovereign, but which to the people he was now raised to govern was rather an encumbrance than an advantage. Walpole found it necessary to add this more substantial persuasive; and his administration has become infamous for the unbounded and shameless corruption by which it was sustained. Against this corruption, and against this unnational policy, the keen satire of Bolingbroke was continually levelled; and while Pulteney* was silenced by overwhelming majorities in the senate, his coadjutor was imperceptibly, but surely, opening the eyes of the people, and more certainly undermining the power of the ministry, by gradually destroying their popularity.
This opposition, extending as it did over such a number of years, was varied by many political events; but Bolingbroke's part in these was now too subordinate to require any notice of them at our hands. The death of George the First, in 1727, caused but little change in the measures of government; but it annihilated all Bolingbroke's hopes of further restoration. George the Second was at least free from one of his father's weaknesses-he allowed
*Franklin, the printer of the Craftsman, told Horace Walpole that Pulteney never contributed any entire papers to the Craftsman, although he
sometimes supplied hints: the contrary was the general opinion at the time.-H. Walpole's Letters to Sir Horace Mann.