« PreviousContinue »
HENRY SAINT JOHN,
THIS celebrated statesman was the son of Sir Henry St. John, of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, by Mary second daughter and heiress of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick. He was born at Battersea in Surrey, in 1678; and his mother dying young,
he passed his infant years under the care of his grandmother (the daughter of St. John, Chief Justice under the Republic) a strict Presbyterian, whose spiritual guide was the well-known Daniel Burgess. But the impression, which he received from this circumstance, was a rooted aversion to that austere party. At a proper age he was sent to Eton, and thence removed to Christ Church, Oxford. In both these places, his genius and understanding won him the admiration of his contemporaries; but his love of pleasure prevented him from giving his talents their fair range of exertion. Notwithstanding this however, such was the general impression of their brilliance, that when he
* AUTHORITIES. Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke, prefixed to his Works, Rapin's History of England, and Annals of George I.
left the University, he was considered as one who would infallibly make a shining figure in active life.
United with the graces of a handsome person, he had a manner and address irresistibly engaging, a quick apprehension, great strength of memory, peculiar subtilty in reasoning, and a masterly elocution: but, for some years, all these extraordinary endowments were lavished in finishing the character of a complete rake. Yet, even then, he is said daily to have dedicated some time to the acquisition of knowledge. He was the friend and protector of Dryden in his declining years, and prefixed a copy of verses to his translation of Virgil in 1697.
In 1700, by an alliance in all respects suitable to his expectations, he united himself with the daughter and coheiress of Sir Henry Winchescomb, of Bucklebury in Berkshire, Bart. ; and, the same year, made his first appearance in the House of Commons, as member for Wotton Bassett in Wiltshire, which borough his father had several times previously represented in parliament.
In this assembly he presently chose his party, which was that of Harley, now for the first time chosen Speaker; and by persevering steadily in the same connexion, he established such an interest, that in April 1704, he was appointed Secretary at War and of the Marines. This post involving a constant correspondence with the Duke of Marlborough, he became perfectly acquainted with the worth of that illustrious general.*
• The battles of Blenheim and Ramillies, and the several glorious attempts which the Duke made to shorten the struggle by some decisive action, occurred while St. John was Secretary at War.
Upon Harley's removal from the Seals, in 1707, St. John following his friend's fortune resigned his employments : he also followed his example, and behaved, during the whole session, with the utmost temper and decorum. In the parliament, which was elected in 1708, he had no seat: but upon it's dissolution in 1710, Harley being made Chancellor and Under Treasurer of the Exchequer, St. John was appointed to the important office of Secretary of State. About the same time, he wrote the celebrated • Letter to the Examiner.'
This accession of power placed him in a sphere of action, which elicited all his abilities. The English annals do not exhibit a more trying juncture; and he appeared equal to every occasion of trial.
He sustained * almost the whole weight of the difficulties incurred in negotiating the peace of Utrecht;t and, in July 1712, was created Baron St. John of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, and Viscount Bolingbroke. He was also, in the same year, appointed Lord Lieutenant of the county of Essex.
But these honours by no means satiating his ambition, he formed the design of supplanting his old friend Harley, then Earl of Oxford, in the management of public affairs; a project, which proved in the issue unfortunate to them both.
It was not indeed to be expected, that two such
* In the new parliament, he sat as Knight for the county of Berks.
p During his embassy at Paris, he was suspected of having betrayed the secrets of the English cabinet ; in consequence, probably of his connexion with Madame Tencin, a lady equally celebrated for her beauty and her political intrigues, who on the instigation of Torcy contrived to steal from him several important despatches.
opposite characters, as Mr. Coxe has observed, should long or cordially agree. Abounding in wit and fancy, and perfect master of polite learning, which he knew how to draw forth on all occasions, Bolingbroke in his private character was without morals and without principles ; not only not concealing, but rather proud of, his profligacy. He was fond of pleasure, yet never suffered his amusements to interfere with affairs of importance: affecting to resemble the characters of Alcibiades and Petronius by mixing pleasure and business, in which, when necessity required his attendance, he was so indefatigable that he would drudge like a common clerk. Quick in apprehension, easy of access; not less artful in negotiation than decisive and vigorous in action; clear and perspicuous in his stile, but too fond of declamation and metaphor; adopting and enforcing all the violent measures of the Tories, and scorning to temporise, he caballed with the friends of the Pretender, either with a view to place him on the throne, or to obtain the removal of Oxford by their assistance.
Oxford was unimpeached in his private character, never offending against morality, either in conversation or in action, a tender husband and a good father; highly disinterested, and generous. He prided himself on his high descent, was stiff and formal in his deportment, and so forbidding in his manner, as not to attract or conciliate those with whom he acted. Learned and pedantic; embarrassed and inelegant, both in speaking and writing; equally an enemy to pleasure and business; extremely dilatory, and fond of procrastination; timid in public affairs, yet intrepid when his person only was concerned; jealous of
power, indefatigable in promoting the petty intrigues of the Court, but negligent in things of importance; a Whig in his heart, and a Tory from ambition; too ready, for temporary convenience, to adopt measures which he disapproved, yet unwilling wholly to sacrifice his real sentiments to interest or party; af. fecting the most profound secrecy in all political transactions, and mysterious in the most trifling occurrences; liberal in making promises, yet breaking them without scruple (a defect which arose more from facility of temper, than from design), he corresponded at the same time with the dethroned family and the House of Hanover, and was therefore neither trusted nor respected by either party. The only point, in which these two ministers agreed, was the love of literature and the patronage of learned men; this rendered their administration eminently illustrious.
The disagreement, naturally consequent upon such a discordance of tempers and principles, was heightened by a perpetual struggle for power, and the views of disappointed ambition. A farther cause of disgust, also, occurred upon the following occasion :
By the death of an Earl of Bolingbroke, his distant kinsman, a short time before his creation the barony of Bletso had devolved upon Sir Andrew St. John. But the extinct earldom was promised to Mr. St. John: and though with a view to his important services in the Lower House he had been prevailed upon to wave his claim during the current session, upon a promise that his rank should be reserved for him at it's conclusion, he very naturally resented the offer of a viscountship; particularly, as