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CHANCELLOR SOMERS.

105

forgetful of the douceur which well-tuned verses were accustomed to receive. He himself had tried to be a poet, and in 1703 wrote verses for the toasting-cups of the Kit-kat. His lines to a Dowager Countess of ****, are good enough to make us surprised that he never wrote any better.

Take a speci

men:

was

“Fair Queen of Fop-land in her royal style ;

Fop-land the greatest part of this great isle!
Nature did ne'er so equally divide
A female heart 'twixt piety and pride:
Her waiting-maids prevent the peep of day,
And all in order at her toilet lay
Prayer-books, patch-boxes, sermon-notes, and paint,

At once t'improve the sinner and the saint.' A Mæcenas who paid for his dedications was sure to be well spoken of, and Halifax has been made out a wit and a poet, as well as a clever statesman. He reminds me of a young Oxford man whom I knew in my college-days, and who never walked down the street without half a dozen loafers touching their hats to him. It was affirmed that he distributed sundry crowns among them in consideration of this honor; and certainly, when he left the university, I never spoke of him to any of that order of nondescripts who infest a university town without being assured that Mr. A

one of the right sort —a rale gen’lman he was, and no mistake.” Halifax got his earldom and the garter from George I., and died, after enjoying them less than a year, in 1715.

Chancellor Somers, with whom Halifax was associated in the impeachment case in 1701, was a far better man in every respect. His was probably the purest character among those of all the members of the Kit-kat. He was the son of a Worcester attorney, and born in 1652. He was educated at Trinity, Oxford, and rose purely by merit, distinguishing himself at the bar and on the bench, unwearied in his application to business, and an exact and upright judge. At school he was a terrible good boy, keeping to his book in play-hours. Throughout life his habits were simple and regular, and his character unblemished. He slept but little, and in later years had a reader to attend him at waking. With such habits he can scarcely have been a constant attender at the club; and as he died å bachelor, itawould be curious to learn what ladies he selected for his toasts. In his later years his mind weakened, and he died in 1716 of apoplexy. Walpole calls him

one of those divine men who, like a chapel in a palace, remain unprofaned, while all the rest is tyranny, corruption, and folly.” Å huge stout figure rolls in now to join the toasters in

106

CHARLES SACKVILLE, LORD DORSET.

*

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Shire Lane. In the puffy, once handsome face, there are signs of age, for its owner is past sixty; yet he is dressed in superb fashion; and in an hour or so, when the bottle has been diligently circulated, his wit will be brighter and keener than that of a

'any young man present. I do not say it will be repeatable, for the talker belongs to a past age, even coarser than that of the Kit-kat. He is Charles Sackville,* famous as a companion of the merriest and most disreputable of the Stuarts, famous-or, rather, infamous—for his mistress, Nell Gwynn, famous for his verses, for his patronage of poets, and for his wild frolics in early life, when Lord Buckhurst. Rochester called him

The best good man with the worst-natured muse;" and Pope says he was

“The scourge of pride, though sanctified or great,

Of fops in learning and of knaves in state;" Our sailors still sing the ballad which he is said to have written on the eve of the naval engagement between the Duke of York and Admiral Opdam, which begins

"To all you ladies now on land

We men at sea indite." With a fine classical taste and a courageous spirit, he had in early days been guilty of as much iniquity as any of Charles's profligate court. He was one of a band of young libertines who robbed and murdered a poor tanner on the high-road, and were acquitted, less on account of the poor excuse they dished up for this act than of their rank and fashion. Such fine gentlemen could not be hanged for the sake of a mere workman in those days—no! no! Yet he does not seem to have repented of this transaction, for soon after he was engaged with Sedley and Ogle in a series of most indecent acts at the Cock Tavern in Bow Street, where Sedley, in “birthday attire,” made a blasphemous oration from the balcony of the house. In later years he was the pride of the poets: Dryden and Prior, Wycherley, Hudibras, and Rymer, were all encouraged by him, and repaid him with praises. Pope and Dr. King were no less bountiful in their eulogies of the Mæcenas. His conversation was so much appreciated that gloomy William III. chose him as his companion, as merry Charles had done before. The famous Irish ballad, which my Uncle Toby was always humming, "Lillibullero bullen-a-lah,” but which Percy attributes to the Marquis of Wharton, another member of the Kit-kat, was said to have been written by Buckhurst. He retained his wit to the last; and Congreve, who visited him when he was dying, said, “Faith, he stutters more

* For some notice of Lord Dorset, see p. 72.

LESS CELEBRATED WITS.

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wit than other people have in their best health.” He died at Bath in 1706.

Buckhurst does not complete the list of conspicuous members of this club, but the remainder were less celebrated for their wit. There was the Duke of Kingston, the father of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; Granville, who imitated Waller, and attempted to make his “Myra” as celebrated as the court-poet's Saccharissa, who, by the way, was the mother of the Earl of Sunderland; the Duke of Devonshire, whom Walpole calls “a patriot among the men, a gallant among the ladies," and who founded Chatsworth; and other noblemen, chiefly belonging to the latter part of the seventeenth century, and all devoted to William III., though they had been bred at the courts of Charles and James.

With such an array of wits, poets, statesmen, and gallants, it can easily be believed that to be the toast of the Kit-kat was no slight honor; to be a member of it a still greater one; and to be one of its most distinguished, as Congreve was, the greatest. Let us now see what title this conceited beau and poet bad to that position.

a

WILLIAM CONGRE V E.

a

WHEN “Queen Sarah” of Marlborough read the silly epitaph which Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough, had written and had engraved on the monument she set up to Congreve, she said, with one of the true Blenheim sneers, “I know not what happiness she might have in his company, but I am sure it was no honor,” alluding to her daughter's eulogistic phrases.

Queen Sarah was right, as she often was when condemnation was called for; and however amusing a companion the dramatist may

have been, he was not a man to respect, for he had not only the common vices of his age, but added to them a foppish vanity, toadyism, and fine-gentlemanism (to coin a most necessary word), which we scarcely expect to meet with in a man who sets up for a satirist.

It is the fate of greatness to have falsehoods told of it, and of nothing in connection with it more so than of its origin. If the converse be true, Congreve ought to have been a great man, for the place and time of his birth are both subjects of dispute. Oh, happy Gifford ! or happy Croker! why did you not-perhaps you did-go to work to set the world right on this matter-you, to whom a date discovered is the highest palm (no pun intended, I assure you) of glory, and who would

Ι rather Shakspeare had never written “Hamlet,” or Homer the “Iliad,” than that some miserable little forgotten scrap which decided a year or a place should have been consigned to flames before it fell into your hands? Why did you not bring the thunder of

your
abuse and the pop-gunnery of

your

satire to bear upon the question, “How, when, and where was William Congreve born ?” It was Lady Morgan, I think, who first “saw the light”

I (that is, if she was born in the daytime) in the Irish Channel. If it had been only some one more celebrated,.we should have had by this time a series of philosophical, geographical, and ethnological pamphlets to prove that she was English or Irish, according to the fancies or prejudices of the writers. It was certainly a very Irish thing to do, which is one argument for the Milesians, and again it was done in the Irish Channel, which is another and a stronger one; and altogether we are not inclined to go into forty-five pages of recondite facts and fine-drawn arguments, mingled with the most vehement abuse

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