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The Arduous Wooing Continued

British Isles Genealogy | Critical And Historical Essays, Volume I

Near seven years did this arduous wooing continue. We are not accurately informed respecting Temple's movements during that time. But he seems to have led a rambling life, sometimes on the Continent, sometimes in Ireland, sometimes in London. He made himself master of the French and Spanish languages, and amused himself by writing essays and romances, an employment which at least served the purpose of forming his style. The specimen which Mr. Courtenay has preserved of these early compositions is by no means contemptible: indeed, there is one passage on Like and Dislike which could have been produced only by a mind habituated carefully to reflect on its own operations, and which reminds us of the best things in Montaigne.

Temple appears to have kept up a very active correspondence with his mistress. His letters are lost, but hers have been preserved; and many of them appear in these volumes. Mr. Courtenay expresses some doubt whether his readers will think him justified in inserting so large a number of these epistles. We only wish that there were twice as many. Very little indeed of the diplomatic correspondence of that generation is so well worth reading. There is a vile phrase of which bad historians are exceedingly fond, "the dignity of history." One writer is in possession of some anecdotes which would illustrate most strikingly the operation of the Mississippi scheme on the manners and morals of the Parisians. But he suppresses those anecdotes, because they are too low for the dignity of history. Another is strongly tempted to mention some facts indicating the horrible state of the prisons of England two hundred years ago. But he hardly thinks that the sufferings of a dozen felons, pigging together on bare bricks in a hole fifteen feet square, would form a subject suited to the dignity of history. Another, from respect for the dignity of history, publishes an account of the reign of George the Second, without ever mentioning Whitefield's preaching in Moorfields. How should a writer, who can talk about senates, and congresses of sovereigns, and pragmatic sanctions, and ravelines, and counterscarps, and battles where ten thousand men are killed, and six thousand men with fifty stand of colors and eighty guns taken, stoop to the Stock Exchange, to Newgate, to the theatre, to the tabernacle?

Tragedy has its dignity as well as history; and how much the tragic art has owed to that dignity any man may judge who will compare the majestic Alexandrines in which the Seigneur Oreste and Madame Andromaque utter their complaints, with the chattering of the fool in Lear and of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.

That a historian should not record trifles, that he should confine himself to what is important, is perfectly true. But many writers seem never to have considered on what the historical importance of an event depends. They seem not to be aware that the importance of a fact, when that fact is considered with reference to its immediate effects, and the importance of the same fact, when that fact is considered as part of the materials for the construction of a science, are two very different things. The quantity of good or evil which a transaction produces is by no means necessarily proportioned to the quantity of light which that transaction affords, as to the way in which good or evil may hereafter be produced. The poisoning of an emperor is in one sense a far more serious matter than the poisoning of a rat. But the poisoning of a rat may be an era in chemistry; and an emperor may be poisoned by such ordinary means, and with such ordinary symptoms, that no scientific journal would notice the occurrence. An action for a hundred thousand pounds is in one sense a more momentous affair than an action for fifty pounds. But it by no means follows that the learned gentlemen who report the proceedings of the courts of law ought to give a fuller account of an action for a hundred thousand pounds, than of an action for fifty pounds. For a cause in which a large sum is at stake may be important only to the particular plaintiff and the particular defendant. A cause, on the other hand, in which a small sum is at stake, may establish some great principle interesting to half the families in the kingdom. The case is exactly the same with that class of subjects of which historians treat. To an Athenian, in the time of the Peloponnesian war, the result of the battle of Delium was far more important than the fate of the comedy of The Knights. But to us the fact that the comedy of The Knights was brought on the Athenian stage with success is far more important than the fact that the Athenian phalanx gave way at Delium. Neither the one event nor the other has now any intrinsic importance. We are in no danger of being speared by the Thebans. We are not quizzed in The Knights. To us the importance of both events consists in the value of the general truth which is to be learned from them. What general truth do we learn from the accounts which have come down to us of the battle of Delium? Very little more than this, that when two armies fight, it is not improbable that one of them will be very soundly beaten, a truth which it would not, we apprehend, be difficult to establish, even if all memory of the battle of Delium were lost among men. But a man who becomes acquainted with the comedy of The Knights, and with the history of that comedy, at once feels his mind enlarged. Society is presented to him under a new aspect. He may have read and traveled much. He may have visited all the countries of Europe, and the civilized nations of the East. He may have observed the manners of many barbarous races. But here is something altogether different from everything which he has seen, either among polished men or among savages. Here is a community politically, intellectually, and morally unlike any other community of which he has the means of forming an opinion. This is the really precious part of history, the corn which some threshers carefully sever from the chaff, for the purpose of gathering the chaff into the garner, and flinging the corn into the fire.

Thinking thus, we are glad to learn so much, and would willingly learn more, about the loves of Sir William and his mistress. In the seventeenth century, to be sure, Lewis the Fourteenth was a much more important person than Temple's sweetheart. But death and time equalize all things. Neither the great King, nor the beauty of Bedfordshire, neither the gorgeous paradise of Marli nor Mistress Osborne's favorite walk "in the common that lay hard by the house, where a great many young wenches used to keep sheep and cows and sit in the shade singing of ballads," is anything to us. Lewis and Dorothy are alike dust. A cotton-mill stands on the ruins of Marli; and the Osbornes have ceased to dwell under the ancient roof of Chicksands. But of that information for the sake of which alone it is worth while to study remote events, we find so much in the love letters which Mr. Courtenay has published, that we would gladly purchase equally interesting billets with ten times their weight in state-papers taken at random. To us surely it is as useful to know how the young ladies of England employed themselves a hundred and eighty years ago, how far their minds were cultivated, what were their favorite studies, what degree of liberty was allowed to them, what use they made of that liberty, what accomplishments they most valued in men, and what proofs of tenderness delicacy permitted them to give to favored suitors, as to know all about the seizure of Franche Comte and the treaty of Nimeguen. The mutual relations of the two sexes seem to us to be at least as important as the mutual relations of any two governments in the world; and a series of letters written by a virtuous, amiable, and sensible girl, and intended for the eye of her lover alone, can scarcely fail to throw some light on the relations of the sexes; whereas it is perfectly possible, as all who have made any historical researches can attest, to read bale after bale of dispatches and protocols, without catching one glimpse of light about the relations of governments.

Mr. Courtenay proclaims that he is one of Dorothy Osborne's devoted servants, and expresses a hope that the publication of her letters will add to the number. We must declare ourselves his rivals. She really seems to have been a very charming young woman, modest, generous, affectionate, intelligent, and sprightly; a royalist, as was to be expected from her connections, without any of that political asperity which is as unwomanly as a long beard; religious, and occasionally gliding into a very pretty and endearing sort of preaching, yet not too good to partake of such diversions as London afforded under the melancholy rule of the Puritans, or to giggle a little at a ridiculous sermon from a divine who was thought to be one of the great lights of the Assembly at Westminster; with a little turn of coquetry, which was yet perfectly compatible with warm and disinterested attachment, and a little turn for satire, which yet seldom passed the bounds of good-nature. She loved reading; but her studies were not those of Queen Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey. She read the verses of Cowley and Lord Broghill, French Memoirs recommended by her lover, and the Travels of Fernando Mendez Pinto. But her favorite books were those ponderous French romances which modern readers know chiefly from the pleasant satire of Charlotte Lennox. She could not, however, help laughing at the vile English into which they were translated. Her own style is very agreeable; nor are her letters at all the worse for some passages in which raillery and tenderness are mixed in a very engaging namby-pamby.

When at last the constancy of the lovers had triumphed over all the obstacles which kinsmen and rivals could oppose to their union, a yet more serious calamity befell them. Poor Mistress Osborne fell ill of the small-pox, and, though she escaped with life, lost all her beauty. To this most severe trial the affection and honor of the lovers of that age was not infrequently subjected. Our readers probably remember what Mrs. Hutchinson tells of herself. The lofty Cornelia-like spirit of the aged matron seems to melt into a long-forgotten softness when she relates how her beloved Colonel "married her as soon as she was able to quit the chamber, when the priest and all that saw her were affrighted to look on her. But God," she adds, with a not ungraceful vanity, "recompensed his justice and constancy, by restoring her as well as before." Temple showed on this occasion the same justice and constancy which did so much honor to Colonel Hutchinson. The date of the marriage is not exactly known. But Mr. Courtenay supposes it to have taken place about the end of the year 1654. From this time we lose sight of Dorothy, and are reduced to form our opinion of the terms on which she and her husband were from very slight indications which may easily mislead us.

Temple soon went to Ireland, and resided with his father, partly at Dublin, partly in the county of Carlow. Ireland was probably then a more agreeable residence for the higher classes, as compared with England, than it has ever been before or since. In no part of the empire were the superiority of Cromwell's abilities and the force of his character so signally displayed. He had not the power, and probably had not the inclination, to govern that island in the best way. The rebellion of the aboriginal race had excited in England a strong religious and national aversion to them; nor is there any reason to believe that the Protector was so far beyond his age as to be free from the prevailing sentiment. He had vanquished them; he knew that they were in his power; and he regarded them as a band of malefactors and idolaters, who were mercifully treated if they were not smitten with the edge of the sword. On those who resisted he had made war as the Hebrews made war on the Canaanites. Drogheda was as Jericho; and Wexford as Ai. To the remains of the old population the conqueror granted a peace, such as that which Israel granted to the Gibeonites. He made them hewers of wood and drawers of water. But, good or bad, he could not be otherwise than great. Under favorable circumstances, Ireland would have found in him a most just and beneficent ruler. She found in him a tyrant; not a small teasing tyrant, such as those who have so long been her curse and her shame, but one of those awful tyrants who, at long intervals, seem to be sent on earth, like avenging angels, with some high commission of destruction and renovation. He was no man of half measures, of mean affronts and ungracious concessions. His Protestant ascendancy was not an ascendancy of ribands, and fiddles, and statues, and processions. He would never have dreamed of abolishing the penal code and withholding from Catholics the elective franchise, of giving them the elective franchise and excluding them from Parliament, of admitting them to Parliament, and refusing to them a full and equal participation in all the blessings of society and government. The thing most alien from his clear intellect and his commanding spirit was petty persecution. He knew how to tolerate; and he knew how to destroy. His administration in Ireland was an administration on what are now called Orange principles, followed out most ably, most steadily, most undauntedly, most unrelentingly, to every extreme consequence to which those principles lead; and it would, if continued, inevitably have produced the effect which he contemplated, an entire decomposition and reconstruction of society. He had a great and definite object in view, to make Ireland thoroughly English, to make Ireland another Yorkshire or Norfolk. Thinly peopled as Ireland then was, this end was not unattainable; and there is every reason to believe that, if his policy had been followed during fifty years, this end would have been attained. Instead of an emigration, such as we now see from Ireland to England, there was, under his government, a constant and large emigration from England to Ireland. This tide of population ran almost as strongly as that which now runs from Massachusetts and Connecticut to the states behind the Ohio. The native race was driven back before the advancing van of the Anglo-Saxon population, as the American Indians or the tribes of Southern Africa are now driven back before the white settlers. Those fearful phenomena which have almost invariably attended the planting of civilized colonies in uncivilized countries, and which had been known to the nations of Europe only by distant and questionable rumor, were now publicly exhibited in their sight. The words "extirpation," "eradication," were often in the mouths of the English back-settlers of Leinster and Munster, cruel words, yet, in their cruelty, containing more mercy than much softer expressions which have since been sanctioned by universities and cheered by Parliaments. For it is in truth more merciful to extirpate a hundred thousand human beings at once and to fill the void with a well-governed population, than to misgovern millions through a long succession of generations. We can much more easily pardon tremendous severities inflicted for a great object, than an endless series of paltry vexations and oppressions inflicted for no rational object at all.

Ireland was fast becoming English. Civilization and wealth were making rapid progress in almost every part of the island. The effects of that iron despotism are described to us by a hostile witness in very remarkable language. "Which is more wonderful," says Lord Clarendon, "all this was done and settled within little more than two years, to that degree of perfection that there were many buildings raised for beauty as well as use, orderly and regular plantations of trees, and fences and enclosures raised throughout the kingdom, purchases made by one from another at very valuable rates, and jointures made upon marriages, and all other conveyances and settlements executed, as in a kingdom at peace within itself, and where no doubt could be made of the validity of titles."

All Temple's feelings about Irish questions were those of a colonist and a member of the dominant caste. He troubled himself as little about the welfare of the remains of the old Celtic population, as an English farmer on the Swan River troubles himself about the New Hollanders, or a Dutch boor at the Cape about the Caffres. The years which he passed in Ireland, while the Cromwellian system was in full operation, he always described as "years of great satisfaction." Farming, gardening, county business, and studies rather entertaining than profound, occupied his time. In politics he took no part, and many years later he attributed this inaction to his love of the ancient constitution, which, he said, "would not suffer him to enter into public affairs till the way was plain for the King's happy restoration." It does not appear, indeed, that any offer of employment was made to him. If he really did refuse any preferment, we may, without much breach of charity, attribute the refusal rather to the caution which, during his whole life, prevented him from running any risk, than to the fervor of his loyalty.

In 1660 he made his first appearance in public life. He sat in the convention which, in the midst of the general confusion that preceded the Restoration, was summoned by the chiefs of the army of Ireland to meet in Dublin. After the King's return an Irish parliament was regularly convoked, in which Temple represented the county of Carlow. The details of his conduct in this situation are not known to us. But we are told in general terms, and can easily believe, that he showed great moderation, and great aptitude for business. It is probable that he also distinguished himself in debate; for many years afterwards he remarked that "his friends in Ireland used to think that, if he had any talent at all, it lay in that way."

In May, 1663, the Irish parliament was prorogued, and Temple repaired to England with his wife. His income amounted to about five hundred pounds a-year, a sum which was then sufficient for the wants of a family mixing in fashionable circles, He passed two years in London, where he seems to have led that easy, lounging life which was best suited to his temper.

He was not, however, unmindful of his interest. He had brought with him letters of introduction from the Duke of Ormond, then Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, to Clarendon, and to Henry Bennet, Lord Arlington, who was Secretary of State. Clarendon was at the head of affairs. But his power was visibly declining, and was certain to decline more and more every day. An observer much less discerning than Temple might easily perceive that the Chancellor was a man who belonged to a by-gone world, a representative of a past age, of obsolete modes of thinking, of unfashionable vices, and of more unfashionable virtues. His long exile had made him a stranger in the country of his birth. His mind, heated by conflict and by personal suffering, was far more set against popular and tolerant courses than it had been at the time of the breaking out of the civil war. He pined for the decorous tyranny of the old Whitehall; for the days of that sainted king who deprived his people of their money and their ears, but let their wives and daughters alone; and could scarcely reconcile himself to a court with a seraglio and without a Star-Chamber. By taking this course he made himself every day more odious, both to the sovereign, who loved pleasure much more than prerogative, and to the people, who dreaded royal prerogatives much more than royal pleasures; and thus he was at last more detested by the Court than any chief of the Opposition, and more detested by the Parliament than any pandar of the Court.

Temple, whose great maxim was to offend no party, was not likely to cling to the falling fortunes of a minister the study of whose life was to offend all parties. Arlington, whose influence was gradually rising as that of Clarendon diminished, was the most useful patron to whom a young adventurer could attach himself. This statesman, without virtue, wisdom, or strength of mind, had raised himself to greatness by superficial qualities, and was the mere creature of the time, the circumstances, and the company. The dignified reserve of manners which he had acquired during a residence in Spain provoked the ridicule of those who considered the usages of the French court as the only standard of good breeding, but served to impress the crowd with a favorable opinion of his sagacity and gravity. In situations where the solemnity of the Escurial would have been out of place, he threw it aside without difficulty, and conversed with great humor and vivacity. While the multitude were talking of "Bennet's grave looks,"1 his mirth made his presence always welcome in the royal closet. While Buckingham, in the antechamber, was mimicking the pompous Castilian strut of the Secretary, for the diversion of Mistress Stuart, this stately Don was ridiculing Clarendon's sober counsels to the King within, till his Majesty cried with laughter, and the Chancellor with vexation. There perhaps never was a man whose outward demeanor made such different impressions on different people. Count Hamilton, for example, describes him as a stupid formalist, who had been made secretary solely on account of his mysterious and important looks. Clarendon, on the other hand, represents him as a man whose "best faculty was raillery," and who was "for his pleasant and agreeable humor acceptable unto the King." The truth seems to be that, destitute as Bennet was of all the higher qualifications of a minister, he had a wonderful talent for becoming, in outward semblance, all things to all men. He had two aspects, a busy and serious one for the public, whom he wished to awe into respect, and a gay one for Charles, who thought that the greatest service which could be rendered to a prince was to amuse him. Yet both these were masks which he laid aside when they had served their turn. Long after, when he had retired to his deer-park and fish-ponds in Suffolk, and had no motive to act the part either of the hidalgo or of the buffoon, Evelyn, who was neither an unpracticed nor an undiscerning judge, conversed much with him, and pronounced him to be a man of singularly polished manners and of great colloquial powers.

Clarendon, proud and imperious by nature, soured by age and disease, and relying on his great talents and services, sought out no new allies. He seems to have taken a sort of morose pleasure in slighting and provoking all the rising talent of the kingdom. His connections were almost entirely confined to the small circle, every day becoming smaller, of old cavaliers who had been friends of his youth or companions of his exile. Arlington, on the other hand, beat up everywhere for recruits. No man had a greater personal following, and no man exerted himself more to serve his adherents. It was a kind of habit with him to push up his dependants to his own level, and then to complain bitterly of their ingratitude because they did not choose to be his dependants any longer. It was thus that he quarreled with two successive Treasurers, Gifford and Danby. To Arlington Temple attached himself, and was not sparing of warm professions of affection, or even, we grieve to say, of gross and almost profane adulation. In no long time he obtained his reward.

England was in a very different situation with respect to foreign powers from that which she had occupied during the splendid administration of the Protector. She was engaged in war with the United Provinces, then governed with almost regal power by the Grand Pensionary, John de Witt; and though no war had ever cost the kingdom so much, none had ever been more feebly and meanly conducted. France had espoused the interests of the States-General. Denmark seemed likely to take the same side. Spain, indignant at the close political and matrimonial alliance which Charles had formed with the House of Braganza, was not disposed to lend him any assistance. The great plague of London had suspended trade, had scattered the ministers and nobles, had paralyzed every department of the public service, and had increased the gloomy discontent which misgovernment had begun to excite throughout the nation. One continental ally England possessed, the Bishop of Munster, a restless and ambitious prelate, bred a soldier, and still a soldier in all his tastes and passions. He hated the Dutch for interfering in the affairs of his see, and declared himself willing to risk his little dominions for the chance of revenge. He sent, accordingly, a strange kind of ambassador to London, a Benedictine monk, who spoke bad English, and looked, says Lord Clarendon, "like a carter." This person brought a letter from the Bishop, offering to make an attack by land on the Dutch territory. The English ministers eagerly caught at the proposal, and promised a subsidy of 500,000 rix-dollars to their new ally. It was determined to send an English agent to Munster; and Arlington, to whose department the business belonged, fixed on Temple for this post.

Temple accepted the commission, and acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employers, though the whole plan ended in nothing, and the Bishop, finding that France had joined Holland, made haste, after pocketing an installment of his subsidy, to conclude a separate peace. Temple, at a later period, looked back with no great satisfaction to this part of his life; and excused himself for undertaking a negotiation from which little good could result, by saying that he was then young and very new to business. In truth, he could hardly have been placed in a situation where the eminent diplomatic talents which he possessed could have appeared to less advantage. He was ignorant of the German language, and did not easily accommodate himself to the manners of the people. He could not bear much wine; and none but a hard drinker had any chance of success in Westphalian society. Under all these disadvantages, however, he gave so much satisfaction that he was created a Baronet, and appointed resident at the vice-regal court of Brussels.

Brussels suited Temple far better than the palaces of the boar-hunting and wine-bibbing princes of Germany. He now occupied one of the most important posts of observation in which a diplomatist could be stationed. He was placed in the territory of a great neutral power, between the territories of two great powers which were at war with England. From this excellent school he soon came forth the most accomplished negotiator of his age.

In the meantime the government of Charles had suffered a succession of humiliating disasters. The extravagance of the court had dissipated all the means which Parliament had supplied for the purpose of carrying on offensive hostilities.

It was determined to wage only a defensive war; and even for defensive war the vast resources of England, managed by triflers and public robbers, were found insufficient. The Dutch insulted the British coasts, sailed up the Thames, took Sheerness, and carried their ravages to Chatham. The blaze of the ships burning in the river was seen at London: it was rumored that a foreign army had landed at Gravesend; and military men seriously proposed to abandon the Tower. To such a depth of infamy had a bad administration reduced that proud and victorious country, which a few years before had dictated its pleasure to Mazarine, to the States-General, and to the Vatican. Humbled by the events of the war, and dreading the just anger of Parliament, the English Ministry hastened to huddle up a peace with France and Holland at Breda.

But a new scheme was about to open. It had already been for some time apparent to discerning observers, that England and Holland were threatened by a common danger, much more formidable than any which they had reason to apprehend from each other. The old enemy of their independence and of their religion was no longer to be dreaded. The scepter had passed away from Spain. That mighty empire, on which the sun never set, which had crushed the liberties of Italy and Germany, which had occupied Paris with its armies, and covered the British seas with its sails, was at the mercy of every spoiler; and Europe observed with dismay the rapid growth of a new and more formidable power. Men looked to Spain and saw only weakness disguised and increased by pride, dominions of vast bulk and little strength, tempting, unwieldy, and defenseless, an empty treasury, a sullen and torpid nation, a child on the throne, factions in the council, ministers who served only themselves, and soldiers who were terrible only to their countrymen. Men looked to France, and saw a large and compact territory, a rich soil, a central situation, a bold, alert, and ingenious people, large revenues, numerous and well-disciplined troops, an active and ambitious prince, in the flower of his age, surrounded by generals of unrivalled skill. The projects of Lewis could be counteracted only by ability, vigor, and union on the part of his neighbors. Ability and vigor had hitherto been found in the councils of Holland alone, and of union there was no appearance in Europe. The question of Portuguese independence separated England from Spain. Old grudges, recent hostilities, maritime pretensions, commercial competition separated England as widely from the United Provinces.

1 "Bennet's grave looks were a pretence" is a line in one of the best political poems of that age,

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Critical And Historical Essays, Volume I, Thomas Babbington Macaulay, 1843

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