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The Great Object of Lewis

British Isles Genealogy | Critical And Historical Essays, Volume I

The great object of Lewis, from the beginning to the end of his reign, was the acquisition of those large and valuable provinces of the Spanish monarchy, which lay contiguous to the eastern frontier of France. Already, before the conclusion of the treaty of Breda, he had invaded those provinces. He now pushed on his conquest with scarcely any resistance. Fortress after fortress was taken. Brussels itself was in danger; and Temple thought it wise to send his wife and children to England. But his sister, Lady Giffard, who had been some time his inmate, and who seems to have been a more important personage in his family than his wife, still remained with him.

De Witt saw the progress of the French arms with painful anxiety. But it was not in the power of Holland alone to save Flanders; and the difficulty of forming an extensive coalition for that purpose appeared almost insuperable. Lewis, indeed, affected moderation. He declared himself willing to agree to a compromise with Spain. But these offers were undoubtedly mere professions, intended to quiet the apprehensions of the neighboring powers; and, as his position became every day more and more advantageous, it was to be expected that he would rise in his demands.

Such was the state of affairs when Temple obtained from the English Ministry permission to make a tour in Holland incognito. In company with Lady Giffard he arrived at the Hague.

He was not charged with any public commission, but he availed himself of this opportunity of introducing himself to De Witt. "My only business, sir," he said, "is to see the things which are most considerable in your country, and I should execute my design very imperfectly if I went away without seeing you." De Witt, who from report had formed a high opinion of Temple, was pleased by the compliment, and replied with a frankness and cordiality which at once led to intimacy. The two statesmen talked calmly over the causes which had estranged England from Holland, congratulated each other on the peace, and then began to discuss the new dangers which menaced Europe. Temple, who had no authority to say any thing on behalf of the English Government, expressed himself very guardedly. De Witt, who was himself the Dutch Government, had no reason to be reserved. He openly declared that his wish was to see a general coalition formed for the preservation of Flanders. His simplicity and openness amazed Temple, who had been accustomed to the affected solemnity of his patron, the Secretary, and to the eternal doublings and evasions which passed for great feats of statesmanship among the Spanish politicians at Brussels. "Whoever," he wrote to Arlington, "deals with M. de Witt must go the same plain way that he pretends to in his negotiations, without refining or coloring or offering shadow for substance." Temple was scarcely less struck by the modest dwelling and frugal table of the first citizen of the richest state in the world. While Clarendon was amazing London with a dwelling more sumptuous than the palace of his master, while Arlington was lavishing his ill-gotten wealth on the decoys and orange-gardens and interminable conservatories of Euston, the great statesman who had frustrated all their plans of conquest, and the roar of whose guns they had heard with terror even in the galleries of Whitehall, kept only a single servant, walked about the streets in the plainest garb, and never used a coach except for visits of ceremony.

Temple sent a full account of his interview with De Witt to Arlington, who, in consequence of the fall of the Chancellor, now shared with the Duke of Buckingham the principal direction of affairs. Arlington showed no disposition to meet the advances of the Dutch minister. Indeed, as was amply proved a few years later, both he and his masters were perfectly willing to purchase the means of misgoverning England by giving up, not only Flanders, but the whole Continent to France. Temple, who distinctly saw that a moment had arrived at which it was possible to reconcile his country with Holland, to reconcile Charles with the Parliament, to bridle the power of Lewis, to efface the shame of the late ignominious war, to restore England to the same place in Europe which she had occupied under Cromwell, became more and more urgent in his representations. Arlington's replies were for some time couched in cold and ambiguous terms. But the events which followed the meeting of Parliament, in the autumn of 1667, appear to have produced an entire change in his views. The discontent of the nation was deep and general. The administration was attacked in all its parts. The King and the ministers labored, not unsuccessfully, to throw on Clarendon the blame of past miscarriages; but though the Commons were resolved that the late Chancellor should be the first victim, it was by no means clear that he would be the last. The Secretary was personally attacked with great bitterness in the course of the debates. One of the resolutions of the Lower House against Clarendon was in truth a censure of the foreign policy of the Government, as too favorable to France. To these events chiefly we are inclined to attribute the change which at this crisis took place in the measures of England. The Ministry seem to have felt that, if they wished to derive any advantage from Clarendon's downfall, it was necessary for them to abandon what was supposed to be Clarendon's system, and by some splendid and popular measure to win the confidence of the nation. Accordingly, in December 1667, Temple received a dispatch containing instructions of the highest importance. The plan which he had so strongly recommended was approved; and he was directed to visit De Witt as speedily as possible, and to ascertain whether the States were willing to enter into an offensive and defensive league with England against the projects of France. Temple, accompanied by his sister, instantly set out for the Hague, and laid the propositions of the English Government before the Grand Pensionary. The Dutch statesman answered with characteristic straightforwardness, that he was fully ready to agree to a defensive confederacy, but that it was the fundamental principle of the foreign policy of the States to make no offensive alliance under any circumstances whatever. With this answer Temple hastened from the Hague to London, had an audience of the King, related what had passed between himself and De Witt, exerted himself to remove the unfavorable opinion which had been conceived of the Grand Pensionary at the English Court, and had the satisfaction of succeeding in all his objects. On the evening of the first of January, 1668, a council was held, at which Charles declared his resolution to unite with the Dutch on their own terms. Temple and his indefatigable sister immediately sailed again for the Hague, and, after weathering a violent storm in which they were very nearly lost, arrived in safety at the place of their destination.

On this occasion, as on every other, the dealings between Temple and De Witt were singularly fair and open. When they met, Temple began by recapitulating what had passed at their last interview. De Witt, who was as little given to lying with his face as with his tongue, marked his assent by his looks while the recapitulation proceeded, and, when it was concluded, answered that Temple's memory was perfectly correct, and thanked him for proceeding in so exact and sincere a manner. Temple then informed the Grand Pensionary that the King of England had determined to close with the proposal of a defensive alliance. De Witt had not expected so speedy a resolution, and his countenance indicated surprise as well as pleasure. But he did not retract; and it was speedily arranged that England and Holland should unite for the purpose of compelling Lewis to abide by the compromise which he had formerly offered. The next object of the two statesmen was to induce another government to become a party to their league. The victories of Gustavus and Torstenson, and the political talents of Oxenstiern, had obtained for Sweden a consideration in Europe, disproportioned to her real power: the princes of Northern Germany stood in great awe of her; and De Witt and Temple agreed that if she could be induced to accede to the league, "it would be too strong a bar for France to venture on." Temple went that same evening to Count Dona, the Swedish Minister at the Hague, took a seat in the most unceremonious manner, and, with that air of frankness and goodwill by which he often succeeded in rendering his diplomatic overtures acceptable, explained the scheme which was in agitation. Dona was greatly pleased and flattered. He had not powers which would authorize him to conclude a treaty of such importance. But he strongly advised Temple and De Witt to do their part without delay, and seemed confident that Sweden would accede. The ordinary course of public business in Holland was too slow for the present emergency; and De Witt appeared to have some scruples about breaking through the established forms. But the urgency and dexterity of Temple prevailed. The States-General took the responsibility of executing the treaty with a celerity unprecedented in the annals of the federation, and indeed inconsistent with its fundamental laws. The state of public feeling was, however, such in all the provinces, that this irregularity was not merely pardoned but applauded. When the instrument had been formally signed, the Dutch Commissioners embraced the English Plenipotentiary with the warmest expressions of kindness and confidence. "At Breda," exclaimed Temple, "we embraced as friends, here as brothers."

This memorable negotiation occupied only five days. De Witt complimented Temple in high terms on having effected in so short a time what must, under other management, have been the work of months; and Temple, in his dispatches, spoke in equally high terms of De Witt. "I must add these words, to do M. de Witt right, that I found him as plain, as direct and square in the course of this business as any man could be, though often stiff in points where he thought any advantage could accrue to his country; and have all the reason in the world to be satisfied with him; and for his industry, no man had ever more I am sure. For these five days at least, neither of us spent any idle hours, neither day nor night."

Sweden willingly acceded to the league, which is known in history by the name of the Triple Alliance; and, after some signs of ill-humor on the part of France, a general pacification was the result.

The Triple Alliance may be viewed in two lights; as a measure of foreign policy, and as a measure of domestic policy; and under both aspects it seems to us deserving of all the praise which has been bestowed upon it.

Dr. Lingard, who is undoubtedly a very able and well-informed writer, but whose great fundamental rule of judging seems to be that the popular opinion on a historical question cannot possibly be correct, speaks very slightingly of this celebrated treaty; and Mr. Courtenay, who by no means regards Temple with that profound veneration which is generally found in biographers, has conceded, in our opinion, far too much to Dr. Lingard.

The reasoning of Dr. Lingard is simply this. The Triple Alliance only compelled Lewis to make peace on the terms on which, before the alliance was formed, he had offered to make peace. How can it then be said that this alliance arrested his career, and preserved Europe from his ambition? Now, this reasoning is evidently of no force at all, except on the supposition that Lewis would have held himself bound by his former offers, if the alliance had not been formed; and, if Dr. Lingard thinks this is a reasonable supposition, we should be disposed to say to him, in the words of that, great politician, Mrs. Western: "Indeed, brother, you would make a fine plenipo to negotiate with the French. They would soon persuade you that they take towns out of mere defensive principles." Our own impression is that Lewis made his offer only in order to avert some such measure as the Triple Alliance, and adhered to his offer only in consequence of that alliance. He had refused to consent to an armistice. He had made all his arrangements for a winter campaign. In the very week in which Temple and the States concluded their agreement at the Hague, Franche Comte was attacked by the French armies, and in three weeks the whole province was conquered. This prey Lewis was compelled to disgorge. And what compelled him? Did the object seem to him small or contemptible? On the contrary, the annexation of Franche Comte to his kingdom was one of the favorite projects of his life. Was he withheld by regard for his word? Did he, who never in any other transaction of his reign showed the smallest respect for the most solemn obligations of public faith, who violated the Treaty of the Pyrenees, who violated the Treaty of Aix, who violated the Treaty of Nimeguen, who violated the Partition Treaty, who violated the Treaty of Utrecht, feel himself restrained by his word on this single occasion? Can any person who is acquainted with his character and with his whole policy doubt that, if the neighboring powers would have looked quietly on, he would instantly have risen in his demands? How then stands the case? He wished to keep Franche Comte It was not from regard to his word that he ceded Franche Comte. Why then did he cede Franche Comte? We answer, as all Europe answered at the time, from fear of the Triple Alliance.

But grant that Lewis was not really stopped in his progress by this famous league; still it is certain that the world then, and long after, believed that he was so stopped, and that this was the prevailing impression in France as well as in other countries. Temple, therefore, at the very least, succeeded in raising the credit of his country, and in lowering the credit of a rival power. Here there is no room for controversy. No grubbing among old state-papers will ever bring to light any document which will shake these facts; that Europe believed the ambition of France to have been curbed by the three powers; that England, a few months before the last among the nations, forced to abandon her own seas, unable to defend the mouths of her own rivers, regained almost as high a place in the estimation of her neighbors as she had held in the times of Elizabeth and Oliver; and that all this change of opinion was produced in five days by wise and resolute counsels, without the firing of a single gun. That the Triple Alliance effected this will hardly be disputed; and therefore, even if it effected nothing else, it must still be regarded as a masterpiece of diplomacy.

Considered as a measure of domestic policy, this treaty seems to be equally deserving of approbation. It did much to allay discontents, to reconcile the sovereign with a people who had, under his wretched administration, become ashamed of him and of themselves. It was a kind of pledge for internal good government. The foreign relations of the kingdom had at that time the closest connection with our domestic policy. From the Restoration to the accession of the House of Hanover, Holland and France were to England what the right-hand horseman and the left-hand horseman in Burger's fine ballad were to the Wildgraf, the good and the evil counselor, the angel of light and the angel of darkness. The ascendancy of France was as inseparably connected with the prevalence of tyranny in domestic affairs. The ascendancy of Holland was as inseparably connected with the prevalence of political liberty and of mutual toleration among Protestant sects. How fatal and degrading an influence Lewis was destined to exercise on the British counsels, how great a deliverance our country was destined to owe to the States, could not be foreseen when the Triple Alliance was concluded. Yet even then all discerning men considered it as a good omen for the English constitution and the reformed religion, that the Government had attached itself to Holland, and had assumed a firm and somewhat hostile attitude towards France. The fame of this measure was the greater, because it stood so entirely alone. It was the single eminently good act performed by the Government during the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution.1 Every person who had the smallest part in it, and some who had no part in it at all, battled for a share of the credit. The most parsimonious republicans were ready to grant money for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of this popular alliance; and the great Tory poet of that age, in his finest satires, repeatedly spoke with reverence of the "triple bond."

This negotiation raised the fame of Temple both at home and abroad to a great height, to such a height, indeed, as seems to have excited the jealousy of his friend Arlington. While London and Amsterdam resounded with acclamations of joy, the Secretary, in very cold official language, communicated to his friend the approbation of the King; and, lavish as the Government was of titles and of money, its ablest servant was neither ennobled nor enriched.

Temple's next mission was to Aix-la-Chapelle, where a general congress met for the purpose of perfecting the work of the Triple Alliance. On his road he received abundant proofs of the estimation in which he was held. Salutes were fired from the walls of the towns through which lie passed; the population poured forth into the streets to see him; and the magistrates entertained him with speeches and banquets. After the close of the negotiations at Aix he was appointed Ambassador at the Hague. But in both these missions he experienced much vexation from the rigid, and, indeed, unjust parsimony of the Government. Profuse to many unworthy applicants, the Ministers were niggardly to him alone. They secretly disliked his politics; and they seem to have indemnified themselves for the humiliation of adopting his measures, by cutting down his salary and delaying the settlement of his outfit.

At the Hague he was received with cordiality by De Witt, and with the most signal marks of respect by the States-General. His situation was in one point extremely delicate, The Prince of Orange, the hereditary chief of the faction opposed to the administration of De Witt, was the nephew of Charles. To preserve the confidence of the ruling party, without showing any want of respect to so near a relation of his own master, was no easy task, But Temple acquitted himself so well that he appears to have been in great favor, both with the Grand Pensionary and with the Prince.

In the main, the years which he spent at the Hague seem, in spite of some pecuniary difficulties occasioned by the ill-will of the English Ministers, to have passed very agreeably. He enjoyed the highest personal consideration. He was surrounded by objects interesting in the highest degree to a man of his observant turn of mind. He had no wearing labor, no heavy responsibility; and, if he had no opportunity of adding to his high reputation, he ran no risk of impairing it.

But evil times were at hand. Though Charles had for a moment deviated into a wise and dignified policy, his heart had always been with France; and France employed every means of seduction to lure him back. His impatience of control, his greediness for money, his passion for beauty, his family affections, all his tastes, all his feelings, were practiced on with the utmost dexterity. His interior Cabinet was now composed of men such as that generation, and that generation alone, produced; of men at whose audacious profligacy the renegades and jobbers of our own time look with the same sort of admiring despair with which our sculptors contemplate the Theseus, and our painters the Cartoons. To be a real, hearty, deadly enemy of the liberties and religion of the nation was, in that dark conclave, an honorable distinction, a distinction which belonged only to the daring and impetuous Clifford. His associates were men to whom all creeds and all constitutions were alike; who were equally ready to profess the faith of Geneva, of Lambeth, and of Rome; who were equally ready to be tools of power without any sense of loyalty, and stirrers of sedition without any zeal for freedom.

It was hardly possible even for a man so penetrating as De Witt to foresee to what depths of wickedness and infamy this execrable administration would descend. Yet, many signs of the great woe which was coming on Europe, the visit of the Duchess of Orleans to her brother, the unexplained mission of Buckingham to Paris, the sudden occupation of Lorraine by the French, made the Grand Pensionary uneasy, and his alarm increased when he learned that Temple had received orders to repair instantly to London. De Witt earnestly pressed for an explanation. Temple very sincerely replied that he hoped that the English Ministers would adhere to the principles of the Triple Alliance. "I can answer," he said, "only for myself. But that I can do. If a new system is to be adopted, I will never have any part in it. I have told the King so; and I will make my words good. If I return you will know more: and if I do not return you will guess more." De Witt smiled, and answered that he would hope the best, and would do all in his power to prevent others from forming unfavorable surmises.

In October 1670, Temple reached London; and all his worst suspicions were immediately more than confirmed. He repaired to the Secretary's house, and was kept an hour and a half waiting in the ante-chamber, whilst Lord Ashley was closeted with Arlington. When at length the doors were thrown open, Arlington was dry and cold, asked trifling questions about the voyage, and then, in order to escape from the necessity of discussing business, called in his daughter, an engaging little girl of three years old, who was long after described by poets "as dressed in all the bloom of smiling nature," and whom Evelyn, one of the witnesses of her inauspicious marriage, mournfully designated as "the sweetest, hopefullest, most beautiful, child, and most virtuous too." Any particular conversation was impossible: and Temple, who with all his constitutional or philosophical indifference, was sufficiently sensitive on the side of vanity, felt this treatment keenly. The next day he offered himself to the notice of the King, who was snuffing up the morning air and feeding his ducks in the Mall. Charles was civil, but, like Arlington, carefully avoided all conversation on politics. Temple found that all his most respectable friends were entirely excluded from the secrets of the inner council, and were awaiting in anxiety and dread for what those mysterious deliberations might produce. At length he obtained a glimpse of light. The bold spirit and fierce passions of Clifford made him the most unfit of all men to be the keeper of a momentous secret. He told Temple, with great vehemence, that the States had behaved basely, that De Witt was a rogue and a rascal, that it was below the King of England, or any other king, to have anything to do with such wretches; that this ought to be made known to all the world, and that it was the duty of the Minister of the Hague to declare it publicly. Temple commanded his temper as well as he could, and replied calmly and firmly, that he should make no such declaration, and that, if he were called upon to give his opinion of the States and their Ministers, he would say exactly what he thought.

He now saw clearly that the tempest was gathering fast, that the great alliance which he had formed and over which he had watched with parental care was about to be dissolved, that times were at hand when it would be necessary for him, if he continued in public life, either to take part decidedly against the Court, or to forfeit the high reputation which he enjoyed at home and abroad. He began to make preparations for retiring altogether from business. He enlarged a little garden which he had purchased at Sheen, and laid out some money in ornamenting his house there. He was still nominally ambassador to Holland; and the English Ministers continued during some months to flatter the States with the hope that he would speedily return. At length, in June 1671, the designs of the Cabal were ripe. The infamous treaty with France had been ratified. The season of deception was past, and that of insolence and violence had arrived. Temple received his formal dismission, kissed the King's hand, was repaid for his services with some of those vague compliments and promises which cost so little to the cold heart, the easy temper, and the ready tongue of Charles, and quietly withdrew to his little nest, as he called it, at Sheen.

There he amused himself with gardening, which he practiced so successfully that the fame of his fruit-trees soon spread far and wide. But letters were his chief solace. He had, as we have mentioned, been from his youth in the habit of diverting himself with composition. The clear and agreeable language of his dispatches had early attracted the notice of his employers; and, before the peace of Breda, he had, at the request of Arlington, published a pamphlet on the war, of which nothing is now known, except that it had some vogue at the time, and that Charles, not a contemptible judge, pronounced it to be very well written. Temple had also, a short time before he began to reside at the Hague, written a treatise on the state of Ireland, in which he showed all the feelings of a Cromwellian. He had gradually formed a style singularly lucid and melodious, superficially deformed, indeed, by Gallicisms and Hispanicisms, picked up in travel or in negotiation, but at the bottom pure English, which generally flowed along with careless simplicity, but occasionally rose even into Ciceronian magnificence. The length of his sentences has often been remarked. But in truth this length is only apparent. A critic who considers as one sentence everything that lies between two full stops will undoubtedly call Temple's sentences long. But a critic who examines them carefully will find that they are not swollen by parenthetical matter, that their structure is scarcely ever intricate, that they are formed merely by accumulation, and that, by the simple process of now and then leaving out a conjunction, and now and then substituting a full stop for a semicolon, they might, without any alteration in the order of the words, be broken up into very short periods with no sacrifice except that of euphony. The long sentences of Hooker and Clarendon, on the contrary, are really long sentences, and cannot be turned into short ones, without being entirely taken to pieces.

The best known of the works which Temple composed during his first retreat from official business are an Essay on Government, which seems to us exceedingly childish, and an Account of the United Provinces, which we value as a masterpiece in its kind. Whoever compares these two treatises will probably agree with us in thinking that Temple was not a very deep or accurate reasoner, but was an excellent observer, that he had no call to philosophical speculation, but that he was qualified to excel as a writer of Memoirs and Travels.

While Temple was engaged in these pursuits, the great storm which had long been brooding over Europe burst with such fury as for a moment seemed to threaten ruin to all free governments and all Protestant churches. France and England, without seeking for any decent pretext, declared war against Holland. The immense armies of Lewis poured across the Rhine, and invaded the territory of the United Provinces. The Dutch seemed to be paralyzed by terror. Great towns opened their gates to straggling parties. Regiments flung down their arms without seeing an enemy. Guelderland, Overyssel, Utrecht were overrun by the conquerors. The fires of the French camp were seen from the walls of Amsterdam. In the first madness of despair the devoted people turned their rage against the most illustrious of their fellow-citizens. De Ruyter was saved with difficulty from assassins. De Witt was torn to pieces by an infuriated rabble. No hope was left to the Commonwealth, save in the dauntless, the ardent, the indefatigable, the unconquerable spirit which glowed under the frigid demeanor of the young Prince of Orange.

That great man rose at once to the full dignity of his part, and approved himself a worthy descendant of the line of heroes who had vindicated the liberties of Europe against the house of Austria. Nothing could shake his fidelity to his country, not his close connection with the royal family of England, not the most earnest solicitations, not the most tempting offers. The spirit of the nation, that spirit which had maintained the great conflict against the gigantic power of Philip, revived in all its strength. Counsels, such as are inspired by a generous despair, and are almost always followed by a speedy dawn of hope, were gravely concerted by the statesmen of Holland. To open their dykes, to man their ships, to leave their country, with all its miracles of art and industry, its cities, its canals, its villas, its pastures, and its tulip gardens, buried under the waves of the German ocean, to bear to a distant climate their Calvinistic faith and their old Batavian liberties, to fix, perhaps with happier auspices, the new Stadthouse of their Commonwealth, under other stars, and amidst a strange vegetation, in the Spice Islands of the Eastern seas; such were the plans which they had the spirit to form; and it is seldom that men who have the spirit to form such plans are reduced to the necessity of executing them.

1 "The only good public thing that bath been done since the King came into England."--Pepys's Diary, February 14, 1667-8.

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

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