« PreviousContinue »
ier, who had been in a hurry for forty years, who never “walked but always ran,” greatly alarmed, begged Chesterfield not to stir matters that had been long quiet ; adding, that he did not like “new-fangled things." "He was, as we have seen, overruled, and henceforth the New Style was adopted; and no special calamity has fallen on the nation, as was expected, in consequence. Nevertheless, after Chesterfield had made his speech in the House of Lords, and when every one had complimented him on the clearness of his explanation—“God knows,” he wrote to his son, “I had not even attempted to explain the bill to them; I might as soon have talked Celtic or
I Sclavonic to them, as astronomy. They would have understood it full as well.” So much for the “Lords” in those days!
After his furore for politics had subsided, Chesterfield returned to his ancient passion for play. We must linger a little over the still brilliant period of his middle life, while his hearing was spared; while his wit remained, and the charming manners on which he had formed a science, continued; and before we see him in the mournful decline of a life wholly given to the world.
He had now established himself in Chesterfield House. Hitherto his progenitors had been satisfied with Bloomsbury Square, in which the Lord Chesterfield mentioned by Dę Grammont resided; but the accomplished Chesterfield chose a site near Audley Street, which had been built on what was called Mr. Audley's land, lying between Great Brook Field and the “ Shoulder of Mutton Field.” And near this locality with the elegant name, Chesterfield chose his spot, for which he had to wrangle and fight with the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, who asked an exorbitant sum for the ground. Isaac Ware, the editor of “ Palladio,” was the architect to whom the erection of this handsome residence was intrusted. Happily, it is still untouched by any renovating hand. Chesterfield's favorite apartments, looking on the most spacious private garden in London, are just as they were in his time; one especially, which he termed the “finest room in London,” was furnished and decorated by him. “The walls," says a writer in the “Quarterly Review," "are covered half way up with rich and
” classical stores of literature; above the cases are in close series the portraits of eminent authors, French and English, with most of whom he had conversed; over these, and immediately under the massive cornice, extend all round in foot-long capitals the Horatian lines :
“Nunc . veterum . libris . Nunc . somno . et . inertibus . Horis.
Lucen . solicter . jucunda . oblivia . vitea.
tors, interspersed with voluptuous vases and bronzes, antique or Italian, and airy statuettes in marble or alabaster of nude or semi-nude opera nymphs.”
What Chesterfield called the “cannonical pillars” of the house were columns brought from Cannons, near Edgeware, the seat of the Duke of Chandos. The antechamber of Chesterfield House has been erroneously stated as the room in which Johnson waited the great lord's pleasure. That state of endurance was probably passed by “Old Samuel" in Bloomsbury.
In this stately abode one of the few, the very few, that seem to hold noblesse apart in our leveling metropolis—Chesterfield held his assemblies of all that London, or indeed England, Paris, the Hague, or Vienna, could furnish of what was polite and charming. Those were days when the stream of society did not, as now, flow freely, mingling with the grace of aristocracy the acquirements of hard-working professors: there was then a strong line of demarkation; it had not been broken down in the same way as now, when people of rank and wealth live in rows, instead of inhabiting hotels set apart. Paris has sustained a similar revolution, since her gardens were built over, and their green shades, delicious, in the centre of that hot city, are seen no more. In the very Faubourg St. Germain, the grand old hotels are rapidly disappearing, and with them something of the exclusiveness of the higher orders. Lord Chesterfield, however, triumphantly pointing to the fruits of his taste, and distribution of his wealth, witnessed in his library at Chesterfield House, the events which time produced. He heard of the death of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and of her bequest to him of twenty thousand pounds, and her best and largest brilliant diamond ring, “out of the great regard she had for his merit, and the infinite obligations she had received from him.” He witnessed the change of society and of politics which occurred when George II. expired, and the Earl of Bute, calling himself a descendant of the house of Stuart, “and humble enough to be proud of it,” having quitted the Isle of Bute, which
Lord Chesterfield calls “but a little south of Nova Zembla," took possession, not only of the affections, but even of the senses of the young king, George III., who, assisted by the widowed Princess of Wales (supposed to be attached to Lord Bute), was “lugged out of the seraglio,” and “placed upon the throne.”
Chesterfield lived to have the honor of having the plan of Johnson's Dictionary” inscribed to him, and the dishonor of neglecting the great author. Johnson, indeed, denied the truth of the story which gained general belief, in which it was as
RECOMMENDING “ JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY.” 217 serted that he had taken a disgust at being kept waiting in the earl's antechamber, the reason being assigned that his lordship “had company with him;" when at last the door opened, and forth came Colley Cibber. Then Johnson—so report said -indignant, not only for having been kept waiting, but also for whom, went away, it was affirmed, in disgust; but this was solemnly denied by the doctor, who assured Boswell that his wrath proceeded from continual neglect on the part of Chesterfield.
While the Dictionary was in progress, Chesterfield seemed to forget the existence of him, whom, together with other literary men, he affected to patronize.
He once sent him ten pounds, after which he forgot Johnson's address, and said "the great author had changed his lodgings.” People who really wish to benefit others can always discover where they lodge. The days of patronage were then expiring, but they had not quite ceased, and a dedication was always to be in some way paid for.
When the publication of the Dictionary drew near, Lord Chesterfield flattered himself that, in spite of all his neglect, the great compliment of having so vast an undertaking
dedicated to him would still be paid, and wrote some papers in the “World,” recommending the work, more especially referring to the “plan," and terming Johnson the“ dictator," in respect to language: “I will not only obey him," he said, “ as my dictator, like an old Roman, but like a modern Roman, will implicitly believe in him as my pope.”
Johnson, however, was not to be propitiated by those “honeyed words.” He wrote a letter couched in what he called “civil terms,” to Chesterfield, from which we extract the following passages:
“When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address; and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre —that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your lordship in publick, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could ; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
“ Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward room, or was repulsed from your door, during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at
last, to the verge of publication without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour: such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before. Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man who is struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, cncumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the publick should consider me as owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.”
The conduct of Johnson, on this occasion, was approved by most manly minds, except that of his publisher, Mr. Robert Dodsley; Dr. Adams, a friend of Dodsley, said he was sorry that Johnson had written that celebrated letter (a very model of polite contempt). Dodsley said he was sorry too, for he had a property in the Dictionary, to which his lordship's patronage might be useful. He then said that Lord Chesterfield had shown him the letter. "I should have thought,” said Adams, “that Lord Chesterfield would have concealed it.” “Pooh !” cried Dodsley,“ do you think a letter from Johnson could hurt Lord Chesterfield ? not at all, sir. It lay on his table where any one might see it. He read it to me; said, “this man has great powers,' pointed out the severest passages, and said, “how well they were expressed.' The art of dissimulation, in which Chesterfield was perfect, imposed on Mr. Dodsley.
Dr. Adams expostulated with the doctor, and said Lord Chesterfield declared he would part with the best servant he had, if he had known that he had turned away a man who was “always welcome.” Then Adams insisted on Lord Chesterfield's affability, and easiness of access to literary men. the sturdy Johnson replied, “Sir, that is not Lord Chesterfield; he is the proudest man existing.” “I think,” Adams rejoined, “I know one that is prouder; you, by your own account, are the prouder of the two." “But mine,” Johnson answered, with one of his happy turns," was defensive pride." “This man,” he afterward said, referring to Chesterfield, “I thought had been a lord among wits, but I find he is only a wit among lords.”
In revenge, Chesterfield in his Letters depicted Johnson, it is said, in the character of the “respectable Hottentot." Among other things he observed of the Hottentot, “he throws
THE GLASS OF FASHION.
his meat any where but down his throat.” This being remarked to Johnson, who was by no means pleased at being immortalized as the Hottentot—“Sir,” he answered, “Lord Chesterfield never saw me eat in his life.”
Such are the leading points of this famous and lasting controversy. It is amusing to know that Lord Chesterfield was not always precise as to directions to his letters. He once directed to Lord Pembroke, who was always swimming, “To the Earl of Pembroke, in the Thames, over against Whitehall.” This, as Horace Walpole remarks, " was sure of finding him within a certain fathom.”
Lord Chesterfield was now admitted to be the very “glass of fashion,” though age, and, according to Lord Hervey, a hideous person, impeded his being the mould of form.” “I don't know why," writes Horace Walpole, in the dog-days, from Strawberry Hill, “but people are always more anxious about their hay than their corn, or twenty other things that cost them more: I suppose my Lord Chesterfield, or some such dictator, made it fashionable to care about one's hay. Nobody betrays solicitude about getting in his rents.” “The prince of wits, as the same authority calls him—“his entrance into the world was announced by his bon-mots, and his closing lips dropped repartees that sparkled with his juvenile fire.”
No one, it was generally allowed, had such a force of tablewit as Lord Chesterfield; but while the “Graces” were ever his theme, he indulged himself without distinction or consideration in numerous sallies. He was, therefore, at once sought and feared; liked but not loved; neither sex, nor relationship, nor rank, nor friendship, nor obligation, nor profession, could shield his victim from what Lord Hervey calls those pointed, glittering weapons, that seemed to shine only to a stander-by, but cut deep into those they touched.”
He cherished “a voracious appetite for abuse;"2. fell upon every one that came in his way, and thus treated each one of his companions at the expense of the other. To him Hervey, who had probably often smarted, applied the lines of Boileau :
“Mais c'est un petit fou qui se croit tout permis,
Et qui pour un bon mot va perdre vingt amis.” Horace Walpole (a more lenient judge of Chesterfield's merits) observes that “ Chesterfield took no less pains to be the phenix of fine gentlemen, than Tully did to qualify himself as an orator. Both succeeded : Tully immortalized his name; Chesterfield's reign lasted a little longer than that of a fashionable beauty.” It was, perhaps, because, as Dr. Johnson said, all Lord Chesterfield's witty sayings were puns, that even this brilliant wit failed to please, although it amused and surprised its hearers.