Page images

H A L L F A X.


life of the Earl of Halifax was properly that of an artful and active statesman, employed in balancing parties, contriving expedients, and combating cpposition, and exposed to the vicissitudes of advancement and degradation; but in this collection, poetical merit is the claim to attention ; and the account which is here to be expected may properly be proportioned not to his influence in the state, but to his rank among the writers of versc.

Charles Montague was born April 16, 1661, at Horton in Northampton shire, the son of Mr. George Montague, a younger son of the earl of Manchester. He was educated first in the country, and then removed to Westminster ; where in 1677 he was chosen a king's scholar, and recommended himself to Busby by his felicity in extemporary epigrams. He contracted a very intimate friendship with Mr. Stepney; and in 1682, when Stepney was elected at Cambridge, the election of Montague being not to proceed till the year following, he was afraid lest by being placed at Oxford he might be separated from his companion, and therefore solicited to be removed to Cambridge, without waiting for the advantages of another year.

It seems indeed time to wish for a removal; for he was already a schoolboy of one and twenty.

His relation Dr. Montague was then master of the college in which he was placed a fellow commoner, and took him under his particular care. Here he commenced an acquaintance with the great Newton, which continued through his life, and was at last attested by a legacy

In 1685, his verses on the death of king Charles made such impression on the earl of Dorset, that he was invited to town, and introduced by that universal patron to the other wits. In 1687, he joined with Prior in the City Mouse and Country Mouse, a burlesque of Dryden's Hind and Panther. He signed the invitation to the Prince of Orange, and sat in the convention. He about the same time married the countess dowager of Manchester, and intended to have taken orders; but afterwards altering his purpose, he purchased for 15001, the place of one of the clerks of the council.


After he had written his epistle on the victory of the Boyne, his patron Dorset introduced him to king William with this expression; “ Sir, I have * brought a Mouse to wait on your Majesty." To which the king is said to have replied. “You do well to put me in the way of making a Man of him ;” and ordered him a pension of five hundred pounds. This story, horrever current, seems to have been made after the event. The king's answer implies a greater acquaintance with our proverbial and familiar diction than king William could possibly have attained.

In 1691, being member in the house of commons he argued warmly in favour of a law to grant the assistance of counsel in trials for high treason, and in the midst of his speech, falling into some confusion, was for a while silent ; but recovering himself, observed, show reasonable was it to allow “ counsel to men called as criminals before a court of justice, when it ap"peared how much the presence of that assembly could disconcert one of " their own body *."

After this he rose fast into honours and employments; being made one of the commissioners of the treasury and called to the privy council. In 1694, he became chancellor of the Exchequer; and the next year engaged in the great attempt of the re-coinage, which was in two years happily compleated. In 1696, he projected the general fund, and raised the credit of the Exchequer ; and, after enquiry concerning a grant of Irish crown-lands, it was determined by a vote of the commons, that Charles Montague, esquire, had deserved his Majesty's favour. In 1898, being advanced to the first commission of the treasury, he was appointed one of the regency in the king's absence : the next year he was made auditor of the Exchequer, and the year after created baron Halifax. He was however impeached by the commons; but the articles were dismissed by the lords.

At the accession of queen Anne he was dismissed from the council: and in the first parliament of her reign was again attacked by the commons, and again escaped by the protection of the lords. In 1704, he wrote an answer to Bromley's speech against occasional conformity. He headed the Enquiry into the danger of the Church. In 1706, he proposed and negotiated the Union with Scotland ; and when the elector of Hanover received the garter, after the act had passed for securing the Protestant Succession, he was appointed to carry the ensigns of the order to the electoral court. He sat as one of the judges of Sacheverell ; but voted for a mild sentence. Being now no longer in favour, he contrived to obtain a writ for summoning the electoral prince to parliament as duke of Cambridge.

* This anecdote is related by Mr. Walpole, in bis Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, of the Earl of Shaftesbury, author of the Characteristicks. E.


At the queen's death he was appointed one of the regents; and at the accession of George the First was made earl of Halifax, knight of the garter, and first commissioner of the treasury, with a grant to his nephew of the reversion of the auditorship of the Exchequer. More was not to be had, and this he kept but a little while; for on the 19th of May, 1715, he died of an inflammation of his lungs.

Of him, who from a poet became a patron of poets, it will be readily believed that the works would not miss of celebration. Addison began to praise him early, and was followed or accompanied by other poets ; perhaps by almost all, except Swift and Pope ; who forbore to flatter him in his life, and after his death spoke of him, Swift with slight censure, and Pope in the character Bufo with acrimonious contempt.

He was, ás Pope says, “ fed with dedications ;" for Tickell affirms that no dedication was unrewarded. To charge all unmerited praise with the guilt. of flattery, and to suppose that the encomiast always knows and feels the falsehoods of his assertions, is surely to discover great ignorance of human nature and human life. In determinations depending not on rules, but OR experience and comparison, judgment is always in some degree subject to affection. Very near to admiration is the wish to admire.

Every man willingly gives value to the praise which he receives, and considers the sentence passed in his favour as the sentence of discernment. We admire in a friend that understanding that selected us for confidence; we admire more, in a patron, that judgment which, instead of scattering bounty indiscriminately, directed it to us ; and if the patron be an author, those performances which gratitude forbids us to blame, affectation will easily dispose us to exalt.

To these prejudices, hardly culpable; interest adds a power always operating, though not always, because not willingly perceived. The modesty of praise wears gradually away ; and perhaps the pride of patronage may be in time so increased, that modest praise will no longer please.

Many a blandishment was practised upon Halifax, which he would never have known, had he had no other attractions than those of his poetry, of which a short time has withered the beauties. It would now be esteemed no honour, by a contributer to the monthly bundles of verses, to be told, that, in strains either familiar or solemn, he sings like Montague,



THE Life of Dr. PARNELL is a task which I should very willingly

decline, since it has been lately written by Goldsmith a man of such variety of powers, and such felicity of performance, that he always seemed to do best that which he was doing ; a man who had the art of being minute without tediousness, and general without confusion; whose language was copious without exuberance, exact without constraint, and easy without weakness.

What such an autbor has told, who would tell again? I have made an abstract from his larger narrative : and have this gratification from my attempt, that it gives me an opportunity of paying due tribute to the memory of Goldsmith.

Το γάρ λέρας έξι θανόλων. THOMAS PARNELL was the son of a commomrealthsman of the same name, who at the Restoration left Congleton in Cheshire, where the family had been established for several centuries, and, settling in Ireland, purchased an estate, which, with his lands in Cheshire, descended to the poet, who was born at Dublin in 1679 ; and, after the usual education at a grammar school, was at the age of thirteen admitted into the College, where, in 1700, he became master of arts ; and was the same year ordained a deacon though under the canonical age, by a dispensation from the bishop of Derry.

About three years afrerwards he was made a priest; and in 1705 Dr. Ashe, the bishop of Clogher, conferred upon him the archdeaconry of Clogher. About the same time he married Mrs. Anne Minchin, an amiable lady, by whom he had two sons who died young, and a daughter who long survived him.

At the ejection of the Whigs, in the end of qucen Anne's reign, Parnell was persuaded to change his party, not without much censure from those whom he forsook, and was received by the new ministry as a valuable reinforcement.' When the earl of Oxford was told that Dr. Parnell waited among the crowd in the outer room, he went by the persuasion of Swift, with his Treasurer's stafi in his hand, to enquire for him, and to bid him welcome :, and as may be inferred from Pope's dedication, admitred him as a favourite companion to his convivial hours, but, as it seems often to have




happened in those times to the favourites of the great, without attention to his fortune, which, however, was in no great need of improvement.

Parnell, who did not want ambition or vanity, was desirous to make himsel: conspicuous, and to shew how worthy he was of high preferinent. As he thought himself qualified to become a popular preacher, he displayed his clocution with great success in the pulpits of London ; but the queen's death putting an end to his expectations, abated his diligence : and Pope represents him as falling from that time into intemperance of wine. That in his latter life he was too much a lover of the bottle, is not denied ; but I have heard it imputed to a cause more likely to obtain forgiveness from mankind, the untimely death of a darling son; or, as others tell, the loss of his wife, who died (1712) in the midst of his expectations.

He was now to derive every future addition to his preferments from his personal interest with his private friends, and he was not long uhregarded. He was warmly recommended by Swift to archbishop King, who gave him a prebend in 1713; and in May 1716 presented him to the vicarage of Finglas in the diocese of Dublin, worth four hundred pounds a year. Such notice from such a man inclines me to believe that the vice of which he has been accused was not gross, or not notorious.

But his prosperity did not last long. His end, whatever was its cause, was now approaching. He enjoyed his preferment little more than a year i for in July 1717, in his thirty-eighth year, he died at Chester on his way to Ireland.

He seems to have been one of those poets who take delight in writing. He contributed to the papers of that time, and probably published more than he ou ned. He left many compositions behind him, of which Pope selected those which he thought best, and dedicated them to the earl of Oxford. Of these Goldsmith has given an opinion, and his criticism it is seldom safe to contradict. He bestows just praise upon the Rise of Woman, the Fairy Tale, and the Pervigilium Veneris ; but has very properly remarked, that in the Battle of Mice and Frogs the Greek names have not in English their original effect.

He tells us, that the Bookworm is borrowed from Beza; but he should have added, with modern applications; and when he discovers that Gay Bacchus is translated from Augurellus, he ought to have remarked that the latter part is purely Parnell's. Another poem, When Spring comes on, is, he says, taken from the French. I would add, that the description of Barrenness, in his verses to Pope, was borrowed from Secundus ; but lately searching for the passage which I had formerly read, I could not find it. The Night-Piece on Death is indirectly preferred by Goldsmith to Gray's Church-yard; but, in my opinion, Gray has the advantage is dignity, variery, and originality of


« PreviousContinue »