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as party writers, the fact would scarce be worthy the remark. Even thus, however, it is not always that a Secretary of State and a chargé d'affaires would, as Bolingbroke at St. James's and Matthew Prior at Paris, drop the “My Lord” and “Sir” in all letters not strictly official, and prefer to write to each other as “ Harry to Matt” and
Matt to Harry.” But the case went much farther than this. Somers and Halifax especially on the one side, Bolingbroke and Oxford on the other, being themselves accomplished in literature, loved the society of men of letters for its own sake, and although there might not be the smallest object of any political advantage accruing from it. Nay, more, they would sometimes on personal grounds help forward or promote an adherent, or at least a well-wisher, of the opposite side. With men of genius, of whatever rank, they lived not on the footing of chiefs or patrons, but on equal terms as friends. All state or ostentation was avoided. Thus when Harley was created Earl of Oxford, he would not for some time allow Swift to call him by his new title; and whenever Swift did so, Oxford gave a jesting nickname in return. Thus also one day at Court, when Oxford, as Lord Treasurer, was in state attire and held the white staff in his hand, he walked up through the crowd of courtiers to Swift, and asked to be made known to Dr. Parnell, who was standing by. “I value myself” (says Swift)“ upon making the Ministry desire to be acquainted with Parnell, and not Parnell with the Ministry.” Indeed, there was perhaps no man of his time more genial, more truly at home with men of genius, more thoroughly enjoying their converse and desirous of their friendship, than this the last of the Lord Treasurers of England. They were not ungrateful, and through their means it has happened that, while Harley is but little to be valued or honoured as a statesman, he shines in history with a lustre not his own. Certainly, if he showed favour to the Muses, the debt has been most amply repaid.' (Pp. 545-547.)
There is no doubt a certain foundation for the received belief, here expressed by Lord Stanhope, that the relation between lords and wits in England was never established on a footing so satisfactory to the latter party as during the few years of good Queen Anne. Yet it is a doctrine which might perhaps be accepted with considerable modification, and the circumstances on which it rests were rather the result of a series of accidents than of any especial virtue of the time, such as his Lordship seems to imply. As for Swift, he came clearly within the first of Lord Stanhope's exceptions : his treatment by the great was regulated by the sense of his political value. He
for short time a power in the State. This we know from much better authority than his own. The Duchess of Marlborough, who had reason to know what she said, believed him to have contributed largely · to the pulling down of the • most honest and best intentioned Ministry that ever I knew, • with the help only of Abigail and one or two more.' But
we are surprised that Lord Stanhope should cite Swift's own statements respecting the haughty familiarity with which he treated Harley as a proof of the real terms on which he, and literary men like himself, stood with the political leaders of the time; even though Lord Orrery described him as affect‘ing more to dictate than advise. Those statements illustrate rather his own eccentricities than the habits of society. Proud, and shy, and yet a man of the world into the bargain, one can hardly conceive his playing off these airs of affected familiarity in public. But in writing to his simple female confidantes in Ireland, he makes up to himself for this forbear
To them he complains how it is hard to see these * great men use me like one who was their better, and the
puppies with you in Ireland hardly regarding me.' Them he informs how he sent Mr. Harley into the House to call Mr. Secretary St. John, to let him know I would not dine with him if he dined late;' and how, after a slight difference, Harley would have had me dine with him and Mr. Masham's • brother to make up matters, but I would not: I don't know, • but I would not :' how he went to the Saturday Club, and Mr. Secretary there told him,' the Duke of Buckingham had been talking to him much about me, and desired my ac
quaintance. I answered, it could not be; for he had not * made sufficient advances. ... I said I could not help that; for • I always expected advances in proportion to men's quality, • and more from a Duke than from other men.' All this only means that the great Swift was in his heart the victim of the most ordinary of weaknesses; that he worshipped rank under the pretence of philosophically disdaining it. The avowal cannot be made without a sense of humiliation on behalf of poor human nature. That such a genius as that of Swift could have thus abased itself before such a creature as Harley-could have suffered its owner to be thus cajoled by a few affected advances made to him by one or two great men, who well knew at once the strength and keenness of the instrument they wanted, and the ease with which it was to be purchased by such cajolery—is a circumstance which cannot be contemplated with much satisfaction ; notwithstanding our inevitable sense of the poetical justice with which Swift was thrown away, when thoroughly squeezed, by the purchasers who had procured the use of him so cheaply.
The fashion of petting literary men, transient enough, was chiefly set by Lord Halifax; and, if we may trust the satirists, his lordship was careful to put himself to little expense, beyond that of patronage, in their behalf. Among the eminent writers
who were much conversant with society of the 'ton,' Congreve was himself a man of fashion, whom circumstances of breeding had placed in that class, and who piqued himself on that character much more than on literary eminence, according to the well-known anecdote respecting him and Voltaire. Addison was one of Nature's own gentlemen; which is a great deal more than can be said of Swift, or of Pope. Prior is more commonly cited as an instance of one who achieved familiarity with the great solely through the pen. It was certainly a singular combination of circumstances which placed a writer, second-rate at best as a wit and a pamphleteer, in the position of representing this country at Versailles at a critical moment. But Lord Strafford, who was to have been joined with him in commission, absolutely refused to be yoked with a fellow of such low birth, and the arrangement had to be remodelled. A proceeding which, in the reign of Victoria, would have afforded strong evidence for suing out a commission of lunacy against his lordship; but which, in that of Anne, was regarded by Swift as very natural on the part of a nobleman as proud as
All things considered, we doubt if it can be said with truth, that the literary class occupied a higher rank in the social world in the age which we are now considering than in subsequent times, or in our time. In this respect we admit of no superiority in the reign of Anne over that of Victoria. But in another and still more important point of view, as respects the general character, and still more the general happiness of the class, the authors of that day had no doubt a great advantage over their successors. Writers might be servile towards their patrons, mercenaries in the pay of political partisanship; but they were not, as yet, absolute slaves to the reading public; compelled to work continually against time, to deny themselves repose until they lost the taste for it, to tax their brains beyond natural strength, in order to supply the constant cravings of popular demand. As the great gains of modern literary labour were unknown, so was the strained and unnatural exertion to which those gains give the stimulus. • The pace which kills ’ was not as yet the ordinary march of popular composition. The men of letters • of Queen Anne's reign, so says Lord Stanhope, and we fully agree with him, “ derived especial lustre from the collections of * periodical essays, which in their various merits have never • yet been equalled in any other country, or in any other age.'
* Dr. Johnson, in his ' Life of Prior,' tells this story of the Duke of Shrewsbury, on the (very inferior) authority of Abel Boyer.
Now Addison stood at the head of the essayist profession; and the Spectator' comprises the choicest efforts of Addison's genius. Addison contributed 240 essays to the first series of the “Spectator,' between March 1711 and December 1712; after which period it languished and died of a half-penny stamp duty, although it subsequently revived for some months. This represents intellectual labour at the rate of about three Spectators per week; and the other writings produced by Addison in the same space could have occupied but little of his time and thoughts. Let us only for a moment compare this simple account of drafts drawn on the mind with any corresponding statement which might be furnished in our own time by one deeply engaged in the service of the Press. Such a comparative statement would almost justify the wild supposition that the brain is of different texture in our generation than in those which have passed away. But it is not so. Nature is the same. The ablest living man is no abler, the tallest no taller, the strongest no stronger, than some one or more of his ancestors. What is called progress in society at large is progress, as regards individuals, only in a certain limited sense. Having the advantage of the accumulated knowledge of their predecessors, the moderns start in the career of authorship from a more advanced point. But their ideas come no faster, and are neither richer nor truer. The great change, and the only one which, after all, seems likely to be durable, is this, that finish of style, to which, at the particular time under review, perhaps too great labour was devoted, is now, with slight exception, unknown. As Leopardi says in the graceful verses
, which he entitles - Scherzo,' The Muse's file is worn out, and . we have not time to make a new one :'
• La lima è consumata : or facciam senza,
Disse; hassi da rifar, ma 'l tempo manca.' The habit of careful correction in composition is now as nearly obsolete as the elaborate external peculiarities which then prevailed—the toilets, male and female, which occupied hours to adjust, the formalities of presentation, and compliment, and leave-taking, the indispensable prolixities of speech and letterwriting, the solemn minuet in assembly rooms, and the more solemn drive round the Hyde Park · Ring.' In manners, all these changes may be pure gain; in literature, the balance of gain and loss is very doubtful
. Nor can we omit one other point of contrast, which tells even more seriously against our modern literary world in the scale of comparison. We have said that, although authorship was already to some extent a profession followed for a livelihood, the art of making fortunes by it, such as may be acquired by commerce or speculation, was as yet undreamt of. Consequently, one ever-present temptation to the finest genius, strongest in proportion at once to the power of that genius to make itself appreciated, and to the eager irritability of soul which is its almost inseparable accompaniment, was as yet unknown. The most popular English writers of fiction, in this our century, have killed themselves by excess of work; not by mere mechanical overwork; but by constantly straining their creative imagination to produce merchantable novelty. And the feat was accomplished, in each case, by men of powerful bodily frame, at the critical period which precedes longevity — a little before or after sixty. The history of Walter Scott is familiar to us all; how the possessor of a name which will perhaps be ultimately recognised as the greatest in modern poetry and romance, sacrificed himself by slow self-murder, first, to make himself a laird ; secondly, to help a mad bookseller in his childish speculations; lastly, in the honourable but dreary task of repairing for his creditors' and children's sake an enormous pecuniary ruin. In his own words, • If
there be a mental drudgery which lowers the spirits and lace* rates the nerves like the toil of the slave, it is that which is
exacted by literary composition when the heart is not in • unison with the work on which the head is employed.' There is a passage in Lockhart's life of him, which reads like the story of an uneasy dream. The describer is a young lawyer, living close and at right angles to Scott's house in Edinburgh. There is a confounded hand in sight of me
• here, which has often bothered me before, and now it won't • let me fill my glass with good-will. Since we sat down, I • have been watching it; it fascinates my eye; it never stops ;
page after page is thrown on that heap of manuscript, and still • it goes on unwearied; and so it will be till candles are brought
in, and God knows how long after that. It is the same every night; I can't stand the sight of it when I am not at my « books. The hand was Walter Scott's, then at the task of finishing off, in the evenings of three summer weeks, the last two volumes of Waverley.' We may compare this oppressive story with what was said of another distinguished man, who died simply of over-writing--Southey—that no visitor ever saw him, in his own home, except either mending a pen or using
And, to pass to our own time, it is only a very few years since we lost one of the most accomplished, and nearly the