Page images
PDF
EPUB

1

[blocks in formation]

a

preceptors, paid or gratuitous, and treated the plenipotentiary with the same coolness as he had served the Huguenot tutor. When the former, praising the late marquis, expressed—by way of a slight hint—a hope “ that he would follow so illustrious an example of fidelity to his prince, and affection to his country, by treading in the same steps,” the young scamp replied, cleverly enough, “That he thanked his excellency for his good advice, and as his excellency had also a worthy and deserving father, he hoped he would likewise copy so bright an example, and tread in all his steps;" the pertness of which was pertinent enough, for old Lord Stair had taken a disgraceful part against his sovereign in the massacre of Glencoe.

His frolics at Paris were of the most reckless character for a young nobleman.

At the embassador's own table he would occasionally send a servant to some one of the guests, to ask him to join in the Old Chevalier's health, though it was almost treason at that time to mention his name even.

And again, when the windows at the embassy had been broken by a young English Jacobite, who was forthwith committed to Fort i’Evêque, the harebrained marquis proposed, out of revenge, to break them a second time, and only

abandoned the project because he could get no one to join him in it. Lord Stair, however, had too much sense to be offended at the follies of a boy of seventeen, even though that boy was the representative of a great English family; he, probably, thought it would be better to recall him to his allegiance by kindness and advice, than, by resenting his behavior, to drive him irrevocably to the opposite party; but he was doubtless considerably relieved when, after leading a wild life in the capital of France, spending his money lavishly, and doing precisely every thing which a young English nobleman ought not to do, my lord marquis took his departure in December, 1716.

The political education he had received now made the unstable youth ready and anxious to shine in the State; but being yet under age, he could not, of course, take his seat in the House of Lords. Perhaps he was conscious of his own wonderful abilities; perhaps, as Pope declares, he was thirsting for praise, and wished to display them; certainly he was itching to become an orator, and as he could not sit in an English Parliament, he remembered that he had a peerage in Ireland, as Earl of Rathfernhame and Marquis of Catherlogh, and off he set to see if the Milesians would stand upon somewhat less ceremony. He was not disappointed there. “His brilliant parts,” we are told by contemporary writers, but rather, we should think, his reputation for wit and eccentricity, “found favor in the eyes of Hibernian quicksilvers, and in spite of his years, he was admitted to the Irish House of Lords."

152

ZEAL FOR THE ORANGE CAUSE.

When a friend had reproached him, before he left France, with infidelity to the principles so long espoused by his family, he is reported to have replied, characteristically enough, that "he had pawned his principles to Gordon, the Chevalier's banker, for a considerable sum, and, till he could repay him, he must be a Jacobite; but when that was done, he would again return to the Whigs.” It is as likely as not that he borrowed from Gordon on the strength of the Chevalier’s favor, for though a marquis in his own right, he was even at this period always in want of cash; and on the other hand, the speech, exhibiting the grossest want of any sense of honor, is in thorough keeping with his after-life. But whether he paid Gordon on his return to England—which is highly improbable—or whether he had not honor enough to keep his compact-which is extremely likely—there is no doubt that my lord marquis began, at this period, to qualify himself for the post of parish weathercock to St. Stephens.

His early defection to a man who, whether rightful heir or not, had that of romance in his history which is even now sufficient to make our young ladies “thorough Jacobites” at heart, was easily to be excused, on the plea of youth and high spirit. The same excuse does not explain his rapid return to Whiggery-in which there is no romance at all—the moment he took his seat in the Irish House of Lords. There is only one way to explain the zeal with which he now advocated the Orange cause: he must have been either a very designing knave, or a very unprincipled fool. As he gained nothing by the change but a dukedom for which he did not care, and as he cared for little else that the government could give him, we may acquit him of any very deep motives. On the other hand, his life and some of his letters show that, with a vast amount of bravado, he was sufficiently a coward. When supplicated, he was always obstinate; when neglected, always supplicant. Now it required some courage in those days to be a Jacobite. Perhaps he cared for nothing but to astonish and disgust every body with the facility with which he could turn his coat, as a hippodromist does with the ease with which he changes his costume. He was a boy and a peer, and he would make pretty play of his position. He had considerable talents, and now, as he sat in the Irish House, devoted them entirely to the support of the government.

For the next four years he was employed, on the one hand in political, on the other in profligate, life. He shone in both; and was no less admired, by the wits of those days, for his speeches, his arguments, and his zeal, than for the utter disregard of public decency he displayed in his vices.

Such a

a

THE TRIAL OF ATTERBURY.

153

[ocr errors]

promising youth, adhering to the government, merited some mark of its esteem, and accordingly, before attaining the age of twenty-one, he was raised to a dukedom. Being of age, he took his seat in the English House of Lords, and had not been long there before he again turned coat, and came out in the light of a Jacobite hero. It was now that he gathered most of his laurels.

The Hanoverian monarch had been on the English throne some six years. Had the Chevalier's attempt occurred at this period, it may be doubted if it would not have been successful. The “Old Pretender" came too soon, the “Young Pretender” too late. At the period of the first attempt, the public had had no time to contrast Stuarts and Guelphs: at that of the second, they had forgotten the one and grown accustomed to the other; but at the moment when our young duke appeared on the boards of the senate, the vices of the Hanoverians were beginning to draw down on them the contempt of the educated and the ridicule of the vulgar; and perhaps no moment could have been more favorable for advocating a restoration of the Stuarts. If Wharton had had as much energy and consistency as he had talent and impudence, he might have done much toward that desirable, or undesirable, end.

The grand question at this time before the House was the trial of Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, demanded by Sir Robert Walpole. The man had a spirit almost as restless as his defender. The son of a man who might have been the original of the Vicar of Bray, he was very little of a poet, less of a priest, but a great deal of a politician. He was born in 1662, so that at this time he must have been nearly sixty years old. He had had by no means a hard life of it, for family interest, together with eminent talents, procured him one appointment after another, till he reached the bench, at the age of fifty-one, in the reign of Anne. He had already distinguished himself in several ways, most, perhaps, by controversies with Hoadly, and by sundry high-church motions. But after his elevation, he displayed his principles more boldly, refused to sign the Declaration of the Bishops, which was somewhat servilely made to assure George the First of the fidelity of the Established Church, suspended the curate of Gravesend for three years because he allowed the Dutch to have a service performed in his church, and even, it is said, on the death of Anne, offered to proclaim King James III., and head a procession himself in his lawn sleeves. The end of this and other vagaries was, that in 1722, the Government sent him to the Tower, on suspicion of being connected with a plot in favor of the Old Chevalier. The case excited no little attention, for it was

154

WHARTON'S DEFENSE OF THE BISHOP.

long since a bishop had been charged with high treason; it was added that his jailers used him rudely; and, in short, public sympathy rather went along with him for a time. In March, 1723, a bill was presented to the Commons, for “inflicting certain pains and penalties on Francis, Lord Bishop of Rochester,” and it passed that House in April; but when carried up to the Lords, a defense was resolved on. The bill was read a third time on May 15th, and on that occasion the Duke of Wharton, then only twenty-four years old, rose and delivered a speech in favor of the bishop. This oration far more resembled that of a lawyer summing up the evidence than of a parliamentary orator enlarging on the general issue. It was remarkable for the clearness of its argument, the wonderful memory of facts it displayed, and the ease and rapidity with which it annihilated the testimony of various witnesses examined before the House. It was mild and moderate, able and sufficient, but seems to have lac all the enthusiasm we might expect from one who was afterward so active a partisan of the Chevalier's cause. In short, striking as it was, it can not be said to give the duke any claim to the title of a great orator; it would rather prove that he might have made a firstrate lawyer. It shows, however, that had he chosen to apply himself diligently to politics, he might have turned out a great leader of the Opposition.

Neither this speech nor the bishop's able defense saved him; and in the following month he was banished the kingdom, and passed the rest of his days in Paris.

Wharton, however, was not content with the House as an arena of political agitation. He was now old enough to have matured his principles thoroughly, and he completely espoused the cause of the exiled family. He amused himself with agitating throughout the country, influencing elections, and seeking popularity by becoming a member of the Wax-chandlers' Company. It is a proof of his great abilities, so shamefully thrown away, that he now, during the course of eight months, issued a paper, called “The True Briton,” every Monday and Friday, written by himself, and containing varied and sensible arguments in support of his opinions, if not displaying any vast amount of original genius. This paper, on the model of “The Tatler," " The Spectator," etc., had a considerable sale, and attained no little celebrity, so that the Duke of Wharton acquired the reputation of a literary man as well as of a political leader.

But, whatever he might have been in either capacity, his disgraceful life soon destroyed all hope of success in them. He was now an acknowledged wit about town, and, what was then

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »