Page images
PDF
EPUB

STUDY OF ORATORY. -DUTY OF AN EMBASSADOR.

205

Notwithstanding that Chesterfield, when young, injured both soul and body by pleasure and dissipation, he always found time for serious study: when he could not have it otherwise, he took it out of his sleep. How late soever he went to bed, he resolved always to rise early; and this resolution he adhered to so faithfully, that at the age of fifty-eight he could declare that for more than forty years he had never been in bed at nine o'clock in the morning, but had generally been up before eight. He had the good sense, in this respect, not to exaggerate even this homely virtue. He did not rise with the dawn, as many early risers pride themselves in doing, putting all the engagements of ordinary life out of their usual beat, just as if the clocks had been set two hours forward. The man who rises at four in this country, and goes to bed at nine, is a social and family nuisance.

Strong good sense characterized Chesterfield's early pursuits. Desultory reading he abhorred. He looked on it as one of the resources of age, but as injurious to the young

in the extreme. “Throw away,” thus he writes to his son,“none of your time upon those trivial, futile books, published by idle necessitous authors for the amusement of idle and ignorant readers."

Even in those days such books “swarm and buzz about one:” “flap them away,” says Chesterfield,“ they have no sting.” The earl directed the whole force of his mind to oratory, and became the finest speaker of his time. Writing to Sir Horace Mann, about the Hanoverian debate (in 1743, Dec. 15), Walpole praising the speeches of Lords Halifax and Sandwich, adds, “ I was there, and heard Lord Chesterfield make the finest oration I ever heard there." This from a man who had listened to Pulteney, to Chatham, to Carteret, was a singularly valuable tribute.

While a student at Cambridge, Chesterfield was forming an acquaintance with the Hon. George Berkeley, the youngest son of the second Earl of Berkeley, and remarkable rather as being the second husband of Lady Suffolk, the favorite of George II., than from any merits or demerits of his own.

This early intimacy probably brought Lord Chesterfield into the close friendship which afterward subsisted between him and Lady Suffolk, to whom many of his letters are addressed.

His first public capacity was a diplomatic appointment: he afterward attained to the rank of an embassador, whose duty it is, according to a witticism of Sir Henry Wotton's, " to lie abroad for the good of his country;" and no man was in this respect more competent to fulfill these requirements than Chesterfield. Hating both wine and tobacco, he had smoked and

[ocr errors]

206

GEORGE II.'s OPINION OF HIS CHRONICLERS.

[ocr errors]

drunk at Cambridge,“ to be in the fashion;" he gamed at the Hague, on the same principle; and, unhappily, gaming became a habit and a passion. Yet never did he indulge it when acting, afterward, in a ministerial capacity. Neither when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, or as Under-secretary of State, did he allow a gaming-table in his house. On the very night that he resigned office he went to White's.

The Hague was then a charming residence: among others who, from political motives, were living there, were John Duke of Marlborough and Queen Sarah, both of whom paid Chesterfield marked attention. Naturally industrious, with a ready insight into character-a perfect master in that art which bids us keep one's thoughts close, and our countenances open, Chesterfield was admirably fitted for diplomacy. A master of modern languages and of history, he soon began to like business. When in England, he had been accused of having “ a need of a certain proportion of talk in a day:” “ that,” he wrote to Lady Suffolk, “is now changed into a need of such a proportion of writing in a day.”

In 1728 he was promoted : being sent as embassador to the Hague, where he was popular, and where he believed his stay would be beneficial both to soul and body, there being “fewer temptations, and fewer opportunities to sin,” as he wrote to Lady Suffolk, “than in England." Here his days passed, he asserted, in doing the king's business very ill-and his own still worse: sitting down daily to dinner with fourteen or fifteen people; while at five the pleasures of the evening began with a lounge on the Voorhoot, a public walk planted by Charles V.: then, either a very bad French play, or a reprise quadrille,” with three ladies, the youngest of them fifty, and the chance of losing, perhaps, three florins (besides one's time)

-- lasted till ten o'clock; at which time “His Excellency” went home, “reflecting with satisfaction on the innocent amusements of a well-spent day, that left nothing behind them," and retired to bed at eleven, “ with the testimony of a good conscience.”

All, however, of Chesterfield's time was not passed in this serene dissipation. He began to compose “The History of the Reign of George II.” at this period. About only half a dozen characters were written. The intention was not confined to Chesterfield : Carteret and Bolingbroke entertained a similar design, which was completed by neither. When the subject was broached before George II., he thus expressed himself: and his remarks are the more amusing as they were addressed to Lord Hervey, who was, at that very moment, making his notes for that bitter chronicle of his majesty's

LIFE IN THE COUNTRY.

207

66

reign, which has been ushered into the world by the late Wilson Croker—“They will all three,” said King George II., "have about as much truth in them as the Mille et Une Nuits. Not but I shall like to read Bolingbroke’s, who of all those rascals and knaves that have been lying against me these ten years has certainly the best parts, and the most knowledge. He is a scoundrel, but he is a scoundrel of a higher class than Chesterfield. Chesterfield is a little, tea-table scoundrel, that tells little womanish lies to make quarrels in families; and tries to make women lose their reputations, and make their husbands beat them, without any object but to give himself airs; as if any body could believe a woman could like a dwarf baboon.”

Lord Hervey gave the preference to Bolingbroke: stating as his reason, that “though Lord Bolingbroke had no idea of wit, his satire was keener than any one's. Lord Chesterfield, on the other hand, would have a great deal of wit in them; but, in every page you would see he intended to be witty: every paragraph would be an epigram. Polish, he declared, would be his bane;" and Lord Hervey was perfectly right.

In 1732 Lord Chesterfield was obliged to retire from his embassy on the plea of ill-health, but, probably, from some political cause. He was in the opposition against Sir Robert Walpole on the Excise Bill; and felt the displeasure of that all-powerful minister by being dismissed from his office of High Steward.

Being badly received at court, he now lived in the country; sometimes at Buxton, where his father drank the waters, where he had his recreations, when not persecuted by two young brothers, Sir William Stanhope and John Stanhope, one of whom performed “tolerably ill upon a broken hautboy, and the other something worse upon a cracked flute.” There he won three half-crowns from the curate of the place, and a shilling from “Gaffer Foxeley" at a cock-match. Sometimes he sought relaxation in Scarborough, where fashionable beaux “danced with the pretty ladies all night,” and hundreds of Yorkshire country bumpkins “played the inferior parts; and, as it were, only tumble, while the others dance upon the high ropes of gallantry.” Scarborough was full of Jacobites: the popular feeling was then all rife against Sir Robert Walpole's excise scheme. Lord Chesterfield thus wittily satirized that famous measure:

“The people of this town are, at present, in great consternation upon a report they have heard from London, which, if true, they think will ruin them. They are informed, that considering the vast consumption of these waters, there is a design laid of excising them next session; and, moreover, that

[ocr errors]

208

MELUSINA, COUNTESS OF WALSINGHAM.

[ocr errors]

as bathing in the sea is become the general practice of both sexes, and as the kings of England have always been allowed to be masters of the seas, every person so bathing shall be gauged, and pay so much per foot square as their cubical bulk amounts to."

In 1733, Lord Chesterfield married Melusina, the supposed niece, but, in fact, the daughter of the Duchess of Kendal, the mistress of George I. This lady was presumed to be a great heiress, from the dominion which her mother had over the king. Melusina had been created (for life) Baroness of Aldborough, county Suffolk, and Countess of Walsingham, county Norfolk, nine years previous to her marriage.

Her father being George I., as Horace Walpole terms him, “rather a good sort of man than a shining king," and her mother “being no genius," there was probably no great attraction about Lady

Walsingham except her expected dowry. During her girlhood Melusina resided in the apartments at St. James's-opening into the garden; and here Horace Walpole describes his seeing George I., in the rooms appropriated to the Duchess of Kendal, next to those of Melusina Schulemberg, or, as she was then called, the Countess of Walsingham. The Duchess of Kendal was then very “lean and ill-favored." “Just before her," says Horace,"stood a tall, elderly man, rather pale, of an aspect rather good-natured than august: in a dark tie-wig, a plain coat, waistcoat, and breeches of snuffcolored cloth, with stockings of the same color, and a blue ribbon over all. That was George I.”

Ti Di hes of Kendal had been maid of honor to the Electress Sophia, the mother of George I., and the daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia. The duchess was always frightful; so much so that one night the electress, who had acquired a little English, said to Mrs. Howard, afterward Lady Suffolk, glancing at Mademoiselle Schulemberg, "Look at that markin, and think of her being my son's passion !"

The duchess, however, like all the Hanoverians, knew how to profit by royal preference. She took bribes; she had a settlement of £3000 a year. But her daughter was eventually disappointed of the expected

bequest from her father, the king. * In the apartments at St. James's Lord Chesterfield for some time lived, when he was not engaged in office abroad; and

* In the "Annual Register” for 1774, p. 20, it is stated that as George I. had left Lady Walsingham a legacy which his successor did not think proper to deliver, the Earl of Chesterfield was determined to recover it by a suit in Chancery, had not his majesty, on questioning the Lord Chancellor on the subject, and being answered that he could give no opinion extra-judicially, thought proper to fulfill the bequest.

« PreviousContinue »