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A MISFORTUNE FOR A MAN OF SOCIETY.
became Lord-Lieutenant of Somerset. Nay, poets began to worship him, and even to pronounce him to be well born:
“Descended from old British sires;
Great Dodington to kings allied;
My patron then, my laurels' pride." It would be consolatory to find that it is only Welsted who thus profaned the Muse by this abject flattery, were it not recorded that Thomson dedicated to him his "Summer.” The dedication was prompted by Lord Binning; and “Summer" was published in 1727, when Dodington was one of the Lords of the Treasury, as well as Clerk of the Pells in Ireland. It seemed, therefore, worth while for Thomson to pen such a passage as this : “Your example, sir, has recommended poetry with the greatest grace to the example of those who are engaged in the most active scenes of life; and this, though confessedly the least considerable of those qualities that dignify your character, must be particularly pleasing to one whose only hope of being introduced to your regard is thro’ the recommendation of an art in which you are a master.” Warton adding this tribute:
"To praise a Dodington, rash bard, forbear!
When on that theme both Young and Thomson fail ?” Yet even when midway in his career, Dodington, in the famous political caricature called the “Motion," is depicted as "the Spaniel,” sitting between the Duke of Argyle's legs, while his grace is driving a coach at full speed to the Treasury, with a sword instead of a whip in his hand, with Lord Chesterfield as postillion, and Lord Cobham as a footman, holding on by the straps; even then the servile though pompous character of this true man of the world was comprehended completely; and Bubb Dodington's characteristics never changed.
In his political life, Dodington was so selfish, obsequious, and versatile as to incur universal opprobrium; he had also another misfortune for a man of society—he became fat and lethargic. “My brother Ned,” Horace Walpole remarks," says he is grown of less consequence, though more weight.” And on another occasion, speaking of a majority in the House of Lords, he adds, “I do not count Dodington, who must now always be in the minority, for no majority will accept him.”
While, however, during the factious reign of George II., the town was declared, even by Horace, to be “wondrous dull; operas unfrequented, plays not in fashion, and amours old as marriages,” Bubb Dodington, with his wealth and profusion, contrived always to be in vogue as a host, while he was at a discount as a politician. Politics and literature are the high
roads in England to that much-craved-for distinction, an admittance into the great world; and Dodington united these passports in his own person : he was a poetaster, and wrote political pamphlets. The latter were published and admired; the poems were referred to as
very pretty love verses” by Lord Lyttelton, and were never published--and never ought to have been published, it is stated.
His bon mots, his sallies, his fortune and places, and continual dangling at court, procured Bubo, as Pope styled him, one pre-eminence. His dinners at Hammersmith were the most recherché in the metropolis. Every one remembers, or ought to remember, Brandenburgh House, when the hapless Caroline of Brunswick keld her court there, and where her brave heart -burdened probably with many sins-broke at last. It had been the residence of the beautiful and famous Margravine of Anspach, whose loveliness in vain tempts us to believe her innocent, in despite of facts. Before those eras—the presence of the Margravine, whose infidelities were almost avowed, and the abiding of the queen, whose errors had, at all events, verged on the very confines of guilt—the house was owned by Dodington. There he gave dinners; there he gratified a passion for display which was puerile; there he indulged in eccentricities which almost implied insanity; there he concocted his schemes for court advancement; and there, later in life, he contributed some of the treasures of his wit to dramatic literature. “The Wishes,” a comedy, by Bentley, was supposed to owe much of its point to the brilliant wit of Dodington.*
At Brandenburgh House, a nobler presence than that of Dodington still haunted the groves and alleys, for Prince Rupert had once owned it. When Dodington bought it, he gave itin jest, we must presume—the name of La Trappe; and it was not called Brandenburgh House until the fair and frail Margravine came to live there. Its gardens were long famous, and
in the time of Dodington were the scene of revel. Thomas Bentley, the son of Richard Bentley, the celebrated critic, had written a play called “The Wishes,” and during the summer of 1761 it was acted at Drury Lane, and met with the especial approbation of George III., who sent the author, through Lord Bute, a present of two hundred guineas as a tribute to the good sentiments of the production.
This piece, which, in spite of its moral tendency, has died out, while plays of less virtuous character have lived, was rehearsed in the gardens of Brandenburgh House. Bubb Dodington associated much with those who give fame; but he
* See Walpole's “Royal and Noble Authors.”
JOHNSON'S OPINION OF FOOTE.
courted among them also those who could revenge affronts by bitter ridicule. Among the actors and literati who were then sometimes at Brandenburgh House were Foote and Churchill; capital boon companions, but, as it proved, dangerous foes.
Endowed with imagination; with a mind enriched by classical and historical studies; possessed of a brilliant wit, Bubb Dodington was, nevertheless, in the sight of some men, ridiculous. While the rehearsals of “The Wishes” went on, Foote was noting down all the peculiarities of the Lord of Brandenburgh House, with a view to bring them to account in his play of "The Patron.” Lord Melcombe was an aristocratic Dombey: stultified by his own self-complacency, he dared to exhibit his peculiarities before the English Aristophanes. It was an act of imprudence, for Foote had long before (in 1747) opened the little theatre of the Haymarket with a sort of monologue play, “ The Diversions of the Morning,” in which he convulsed his audience with the perfection of a mimicry never beheld before, and so wonderful, that even the persons of his models seemed to stand before the amazed spectators.
These entertainments, in which the contriver was at once the author and performer, have been admirably revived by Mathews and others, and in another line by the lamented Albert Smith. The Westminster justices, furious and alarmed, opposed the daring performance, on which Foote changed the name of his piece, and called it “Mr. Foote giving Tea to his Friends,” himself still the sole actor, and changing with Proteus-like celerity from one to the other. Then came his “ Auction of Pictures,” and Sir Thomas de Veil, one of his enemies, the justices, was introduced. Orator Henley and Cock the auctioneer figured also; and year after
the town was enchanted by that which is most gratifying to a polite audience, the finished exhibition of faults and follies. One stern voice was raised in reprobation, that of Samuel Johnson; he, at all events, had a due horror of buffoons; but even he owned himself vanquished.
“ The first time I was in Foote's company was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him; but the dog was so very comical that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back in my chair, and fairly laugh it out. Sir, he was irresistible.” Consoled' by Foote's misfortunes and ultimate complicated misery for his lessened importance, Bubb Dodington still reigned, however, in the hearts of some learned votaries. Richard Bentley, the critic, compared him to Lord Halifax
" That Halifax, my lord, as you do yet,
And Heav'n, nay, even man, repaid him well.” A more remorseless foe, however, than Foote, appeared in the
person of Charles Churchill, the wild and unclerical son of a poor curate of Westminster. Foote laughed Bubb Dodington down, but Churchill perpetuated the satire; for Churchill was wholly unscrupulous, and his faults had been reckless and desperate. Wholly unfit for a clergyman, he had taken orders, obtained a curacy in Wales at £30 a year; not being able to subsist, took to keeping a cider-cellar, became a sort of bankrupt, and, quitting Wales, succeeded to the curacy of his father, who had just died. Still, famine haunted his home; Churchill took, therefore, to teaching young ladies to read and write, and conducted himself in the boarding-school, where his duties lay, with wonderful propriety. He had married at seventeen; but even that step had not protected his morals: he fell into abject poverty. Lloyd, father of his friend Robert Lloyd, then second master at Westminster, made an arrangement with his creditors. Young Lloyd had published a poem called “The Actor;" Churchill, in imitation, now produced “The Rosciad,” and Bubb Dodington was one whose ridiculous points were salient in those days of personality. “The Rosciad” had a signal success, which completed the ruin of its author: he became a man of the town, forsook the wife of his youth, and abandoned the clerical character. There are few sights more contemptible than that of a clergyman who has cast off his profession, or whose profession has cast him off. But Churchill's talents for a time kept him from utter destitution. Bubb Dodington may have been consoled by finding that he shared the fate of Dr. Johnson, who had spoken slightingly of Churchill's works, and who shone forth, therefore, in “ The Ghost,” a later poem, as Dr. Pomposo.
Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, drew a portrait of Lord Melcombe, which is said to have been taken from the life; but perhaps the most faithful delineation of Bubb Dodington's character was furnished by himself in his “Diary;" in which, as it has been well observed, he “unveiled the nakedness of his mind, and displayed himself as a courtly compound of mean compliance and political prostitution.” It may, in passing, be remarked, that few men figure well in an autobiography; and that Cumberland himself, proclaimed by Dr. Johnson to be a “ learned, ingenious, accomplished gentleman,” adding, the “ want of company is an inconvenience, but Mr. Cumberland is a million”-in spite of this eulogium, Cumberland has betrayed
PERSONAL RIDICULE IN ITS PROPER LIGHT,
in his own autobiography unbounded vanity, worldliness, and an undue estimation of his own perishable fame. After all, amusing as personalities must always be, neither the humors of Foote, the vigorous satire of Churchill
, nor the careful limning of Cumberland, while they can not be ranked among talents of the highest order, imply a sort of social treachery. The delicious little colloquy between Boswell and Johnson places low personal ridicule in its proper light.
Boswell.—“Foote has a great deal of humor.” Johnson. -“Yes, sir.” Boswell.--"He has a singular talent of exhibiting characters.” Johnson.—“Sir, it is not a talent-it is a vice; it is what others abstain from. It is not comedy, which exhibits the character of a species—as that of a miser gathered from many misers—it is farce which exhibits individuals.” Boswell.—“Did he not think of exhibiting you, sir ?” Johnson. Sir, fear restrained him; he knew I would have broken his bones. I would have saved him the trouble of cutting off a leg; I would not have left him a leg to cut off.”
Few annals exist of the private life of Bubb Dodington, but those few are discreditable.
Like most men of his time, and like many men of all times, Dodington was entangled by an unhappy and perplexing intrigue.
There was a certain “black woman, as Horace Walpole calls a Mrs. Strawbridge, whom Bubb Dodington admired. This handsome brunette lived in a corner house of Saville Row, in Piccadilly, where Dodington visited her. The result of their intimacy was his giving this lady a bond of ten thousand pounds to be paid if he married any one else. The real object of his affections was a Mrs. Behan, with whom he lived seventeen years, and whom, on the death of Mrs. Strawbridge, he eventually married.
Among Bubb Dodington's admirers and disciples was Paul Whitehead, a wild specimen of the poet, rake, satirist, dramatist, all in one; and, what was quite in character, a Templar to boot. Paul-so named from being born on that saint's daywrote one or two pieces which brought him an ephemeral fame, such as the “State Dunces,” and the “Epistle to Dr. Thompson," "Manners," a satire, and the “Gymnasiad,” a mock heroic poem, intended to ridicule the passion for boxing then prevalent. Paul Whitehead, who died in 1774, was an infamous, but not, in the opinion of Walpole, a despicable poet, yet Churchill has consigned him to everlasting infamy as a reprobate in these lines :
“May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall?)