Page images
PDF
EPUB

Gentlemen, your Recorder has said very truly, that whoever, in this free and enlightened state, aims at political eminence, and discharges political duties, must cxpect to have his conduct scrutinised, and every action of his public life sifted with po ordinary jealousy, and with no sparing criticism ; and such may have been my lot as much as that of other public men. But, gentlemen, unmerited obloquy seldom fails of an adequate, though perhaps tardy, compensation. I must think myself, as my honourable friend has said, eminently fortunate, if such compensation as he describes, has fallen to me at an earlier period than to many others : if I dare flatter myself (as his partiality has flattered me), that the sentiments that you are kind enough to entertain for me, are in unison with those of the country; if, in addition to the justice done me by my friends, I may, as he has assured me, rely upon a candid construction, even from political opponents.

But, Gentlemen, the secret of such a result does not lie deep.

It consists only in an honest and undeviating pursuit of what one conscientiously believes to be one's public duty-a pursuit which, steadily continued, will, however detached and separate parts of a man's conduct may be viewed under the influence of partialities or prejudices, obtain for it, when considered as a whole, the approbation of all honest and honourable minds.

Any man may occasionally be mistaken as to the means most conducive to the end which he has in view ; but if the end be just and praiseworthy, it is by that he will be ultimately judged, either by his contemporaries or by posterity.

Gentlemen, the end which I confess I have always had in view, and which appears to me the legitimate object of pursuit to a British statesman, I can describe in one word. The language of modern philosophy is wisely and diffusively benevolent; it professes the perfection of our species, and the amelioration of the lot of all mankind. Gentlemen, I hope that my heart beats as high for the general interest of humanity

- I hope that I have as friendly a disposition towards other nations of the earth, as any one who vaunts his philanthropy most highly; but I am contented to confess that, in the conduct of political affairs, the grand object of my contemplation is the interest of England.

Not, Gentlemen, that the interest of England is an interest which stands isolated and alonc. The situation which she holds forbids an exclusive selfishness; her prosperity must contribute to the prosperity of other nations, and her stability to the safety of the world. But, intimately connected as we are with the system of Europe, it does not follow that we are therefore called upon to mix ourselves on every occasion, with a restless and meddling activity, in the concerns of the nations which surround us. It is upon a just balance of conflicting duties, and of rival, but sometimes incompatible, advantages, that a government must judge when to put forth its strength, and when to husband it for occasion yet to come.

Our ultimate object must be the peace of the world. That object may sometimes be best attained by prompt exertions—sometimes by abstinence from interposition in contests which we cannot prevent. It is upon these principles, that, as has been most truly observed by my worthy friend, it did not appear to the government of this country to be necessary that Great Britain should mingle in the recent contest between France and Spain.

Your worthy Recorder has accurately classed the persons who would have driven us into that contest. There were undoubtedly among them those who desired to plunge this country into the difficulties of war, partly from the hope that those difficulties would overwhelm the administration ; but it would be must unjust not to admit that there were others who were actuated by nobler principles and more generous feelings, who would have rushed forward at once from the sense of indiguation at aggression, and who deemed that no act of injustice could be perpetrated from one end of the universe to the other, but that the sword of Great Britain should leap from its scabbard to avenge it. But as it is the province of law to control the excess even of laudable passions and propensities in individuals, so it is the duty of government to restrain within due bounds the ebullition of national sentiment, and to regulate the course and direction of impulses which it cannot blame. Is there any one among the latter class of persons described by my honourable friend (for to the former I have nothing to say) who continues to doubt whether the government did wisely in declining to obey the precipitate enthusiasm which prevailed at the commencement of the contest in Spain? Is there any body who does not now think, that it was the office of government to examine more closely all the various bearings of so complicated a question, to consider whether they were called upon to assist a united nation, or to plunge themselves into the internal feuds by which that nation was divided—to aid in repelling a foreign invader, or to take part in a civil war ? Is there any man that does not now see what would have been the extent of burdens that would have been cast upon this country? Is there any one who does not acknowledge that, under such circumstances, the enterprise would have been one to be characterized only by a term borrowed from that part of the Spanish literature with which we are most familiar—Quixotic; an enterprise, romantic in its origin, and thankless in the end ?

But while we thus control even our feelings by our duty, let it not be said that we cultivate peace, either because we fear, or because we are unprepared for, war; on the contrary, if eight months ago the government did not hesitate to proclaim that the country was prepared for war, if war should be unfortunately necessary, every month of peace that has since passed has but made us so much the more capable of exertion. The resources created by peace are means of war. In cherishing those resources, we but accumulate those means. Our present repose is no more a proof of inability to act, than the state of inertness and inactivity in which I have seen those mighty masses that float in the waters above your town, is a proof they are devoid of strength, and incapable of being fitted out for action. You well know, Gentlemen, how soon one of those stupendous masses, now reposing on their shadows in perfect stillness—how soon, upon any call of patriotism or of necessity, it would assume the likeness of an animated thing, instinct with life and motion—how soon it would ruffle, as it were, its swelling plumage-how quickly would it put forth all its beauty and its bravery, collect its scattered elements of strength, and awaken its dormant thunder. Such as is one of these magnificent machines when springing from inaction into a display of its might-such is England herself, while apparently passive and motionless she silently concentrates the power to be put forth on an adequate occasion But God forbid that that occasion should arise. After a war sustained for nearly a quarter of a century-sometimes single-handed, and with all Europe arranged at times against her or at her side, England needs a period of tranquillity, and may enjoy it without fear of misconstruction. Long may we be enabled, Gentlemen, to improve the blessings of our present situation, to cultivate the arts of peace, to give to commerce, now reviving, greater extension and new spheres of employment, and to confirm the prosperity now generally diffused throughout this island. Of the blessings of peace, Gentlemen, I trust that this borough, with which I have now the honour and happiness of being associated, will receive an ample share. I trust the time is not far distant, when that noble structure of which, as I learn from your Recorder, the box with which you have honoured me, through his hands, formed a part, that gigantic barrier against the fury of the waves that roll into your harbour, will protect a commercial marine not less considerable in its kind, than the warlike marine of which your port has been long so distinguished an asylum, wher: the town of Plymouth will participate in the commercial prosperity as largely as it has hitherto done in the naval glories of England.

12.--SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY.MI.

AUDISON

(JOSEPH ADDISON was born on the 1st of May, 1672, at Milston, Wilts, of which parish his father was rector. His early education was at the Charter-house, from which celebrated school he proceeded to Oxford, and obtained a scholarship of Magdalen College. In 1694, he published his first English poem. Men of letters at that period were sought out for public employments. Addison filled several official appointments, for which he seems to have been peculiarly unfitted. With his contemporaries his fame was that of a poet. With us Cato' is forgotten; the “Spectator' and “Guardian' are the best monuments of Addison's genius. He died in 1719.]

Cowley is a pretty village about two miles from Oxford; and here some one lived in the days of the Tudors who was famous enough to have his name linked with the pretty dancetune that has once again become fashionable. But he had a higher honour. The popularity of the dance in the days of Queen Anne gave a name to the most famous character in “The Spectator;' and ever afterwards the dance itself gathered an accession of dignity even in its name; and plain Roger of Cowley became Sir Roger de Coverley. Some of the most delightful papers of Addison, in which Steele occasionally assisted, are devoted to the fictitious character of Sir Roger. Few people now read • The Spectator' as a whole. One or two of the more celebrated essays, such as The Vision of Mirza,' find their place in books of extract. The delicate humour of the delineation of Sir Roger de Coverley is always referred to as the highest effort of Addison's peculiar genius; but not many will take the pains to select these sixteen or seventeen papers from the six hundred and thirty which form the entire work. These papers have a completeness about them which shows how thoroughly they were written upon a settled plan. Steele appears to have first conceived the character in the second number of 'The Spectator:' but Addison very soon took it out of his friend's hands, who was scarcely able to carry on the portraiture with that refinement which belonged to Addison's conception of the character. Addison, it is said, killed Sir Roger in the fear that another hand would spoil him.

As a representation of manners a century and a half ago, the picture of Sir Roger de Coverley has a remarkable value. The good knight is thoroughly English; and in him we sce a beautiful specimen of the old-fashioned gentleman, with a high soul of honour, real benevolence, acute sense, mixed up with the eccentricities which belong to a nation of humourists. The readers of “The Spectator' are fast diminishing. No one now gives "his days and nights to the volumes of Addison ;” but his gentle graceful humour has never been excelled, and nowhere is it more conspicuous than in the papers of which Sir Roger de Coverley is the hero.]

The plan of “The Spectator' is founded upon the fiction of a club that assembles every Tuesday and Thursday to carry on the publication. Sir Roger does not appear highly qualified for a literary colleague—a collaborateur, as the French style it, but he nevertheless is the foremost in “The Spectator's' “account of those gentlemen who are concerned with me in the work.”

“The first of our society is a gentleman of Worcestershire, of an ancient descent, a baronet, his name Sir Roger de Coverley. His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous country-dance which is called after him. All who know that shire are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger. He is a gentleman that is very singular in his behaviour, but his singularities proceed from his good sense, and are contradictions to the manners of the world, only as he thinks the world is in the wrong. However, this humour creates him no enemies, for he does nothing with sourness or obstinacy, and his being unconfined to modes and forms makes him but the readier and more capable to please and oblige all who know him. When he is in town he lives in Soho Square. It is said he keeps himself a bachelor by reason he was crossed in love by a perverse beautiful widow of the next county to him. Before this disappointment, Sir Roger was what you call a fine gentleman, had often supped with my Lord Rochester and Sir George Etherege, fought a duel upon his first coming to town, and kicked bully Dawson in a public coffee-house for calling him youngster: but being ill used by the above-mentioned widow, he was very serious for a year and a half; and though, his temper being naturally jovial, he at last got over it, he grew careless of himself, and never dressed afterward. He continues to wear a coat and doublet of the same cut that were in fashion at the time of his repulse, which, in his merry humour's, he tells us has been in and out twelve times since he first wore it. He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty ; keeps a good house both in town and country ; a great lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behaviour, that he is rather beloved than esteemed.

“His tenants grow rich, his servants look satisfied, all the young women profess love to him, and the young men are glad of his company.

When he comes into a house he calls the servants by their names, and talks all the way up stairs to a visit. I must not omit that Sir Roger is a justice of the quorum, that he fills the chair at a quarter-session with great abilities, and three months ago gained universal applause by explaining a passage in the Game Act.”

We hear little of Sir Roger, except an occasional opinion, till we reach the 100th number, when Addison takes up the man of whom he said “we are born for each other.”

“Having often received an invitation from my friend Sir Roger de Coverley to pass away a month with him in the country, I last week accompanied him thither, and am settled with him for some time at his country-house, where I intend to form several of my ensuing speculations. Sir Roger, who is very well acquainted with my humour, lets me rise and go to bed when I please, dine at his own table or in my chamber, as I think fit, sit still and say nothing without bidding me be merry. When the gentlemen of the country come to see him, he shows me at a distance. As I have been walking in his fields I have observed them stealing a sight of me over a hedge, and have heard the knight desiring them not to let me see them, for that I hated to be stared at.

“I am the more at ease in Sir Roger's family, because it consists of sober, staid persons ; for as the knight is the best master in the world, he seldom changes hi servants; and as he is beloved by all about him, his servants never care for leaving him; by this means his domestics are all in years, and grown old with their master. You would take his valet-de-chambre for his brother; his butler is grey-headed, his groom is one of the gravest men that I have ever seen, and his coachman has the looks of a privy councillor. You see the goodness of the master even in his old house-dog, and in a grey pad that is kept in the stable with great care and tenderness, out of regard for his past services, though he has been useless for several years.

I could not but observe with a great deal of pleasure the joy that appeared in the countenances of these ancient domestics upon my friend's arrival at his countryseat. Some of them could not refrain from tears at the sight of their old master ; every one of them pressed forward to do something for him, and scemed discouraged if they were not employed. At the same time the good old knight, with a mixture of the father and the master of the family, tempered the inquiries after his own affairs with several kind questions relating to themselves. This humanity and good nature engages every body to him, so that when he is pleasant upon any of them, all his family are in good humour, and none so much as the person whom he diverts him. self with : on the contrary, if he coughs, or betrays any infirmity of old age, it is easy for a stander-by to observe a secret concern in the looks of all his servants.

‘My worthy friend has put me under the particular care of his butler, who is a very prudent man, and, as well as the rest of his fellow-servants, wonderfully desirous of pleasing me, because they have often heard their master talk of me as of his particular friend.”

Such is the general outline of the character and position of Sir Roger de Coverley.
The humour of Addison is manifest in his delineation of Sir Roger's chaplain; and that

66

[ocr errors]

personage is a pleasing specimen of the unarobitious, quiet, placable clerryman of the days of Annc, when there was not a vast annount of zeal in the Church, and perhaps not quite so much picty as an carnest Christian would desire.

“My chicf companion, when Sir Roger is diverting himself in the woods or the fields, is a very venerable man who is ever with Sir Roger, and has lived at his house in the nature of a chaplain above thirty years. This gentleman is a person of good senso and some learning, of a very regular life and obliging conversation ; he heartily lover Sir Roger, and knows that he is very much in the old knight's esteem, so that he lives in the family rather as a relation than a dependant.

“I have observed in several of my papers that my friend Sir Roger, amidst all his good qualitics, is something of a humourist; and that his virtues as well as imperfections are, as it were, tinged by a certain extravagance which makes them particularly his, and distinguishes them from those of other men. This cast of mind, as it is generally very innocent in itself, so it renders his conversation highly agreeable and more delightful than the same degree of sense and virtue would appear in their common and ordinary colours. As I was walking with him last night, he asked me how I liked the good man whom I have just now mentioned: and without staying for my answer, told me that he was afraid of being insulted with Latin and Greek at his own tablo; for which reason he desired a particular friend of his at the university to find him out a clergyman rather of plain sense than much learning, of a good aspect, al clear voice, a sociable temper, and, if possible, a man that understood a little of backgammon. “My friend,' says Sir Roger, ‘found me out this gentleman, who, besides tho endowments required of him, is, they tell me, a good scholar, though he does not show it. I have given him the parsonage of the parish; and because I know his valuo, have set upon him a good annuity for life. If he outlives me, he shall find that ho was higher in my esteem than perhaps he thinks he is. He has now been with mo thirty years; and though he does not know I have taken notice of it, has nover in all that time asked any thing of me for himself, though he is every day soliciting mo for something in behalf of one or other of my tenants his parishoners. Thoro has not been a law-suit in the parish since he has lived among them ; if any disputo arises, they apply themselves to him for the decision ; if they do not acquiosco in his judgment, which I think never happened above once or twice at most, thoy apponl to me. At his first settling with me, I made him a present of all the good sermons which have been printed in English, and only begged of him that every Sunday ho would pronounce one of them in the pulpit. Accordingly he has digested them into such a scries that they follow one another naturally, and make a continued system of practical divinity."

The Specintor goes to church, and hears “the Bishop of St Asaph in the morning, and Dr. South in the afternoon;" that is, he hears the chaplain read a sermon from Fleetwood's and South's printed collections. He says, “I was so charmed with the gracefulness of his figure and delivery, as well as with tho discourses he pronounced, that I think I never passed any timo more to my satisfaction." This is to speak of a sermon as he would of a play; which was indeed very much the temper of the Spectator's age. He recommends to the country clergy not "to waste their spirits in laborious compositions of their own;" but to enforce “ by a handsome clocution" those discourses which have been penned by great masters.” Whether the advice be judicious or not is scarcely necessary to be discussed. There is something higher to be attained by prenching than enabling a listener to pass his time to his satisfaction; but something oven worse may be effected by cold, incoherent, and dull preaching—drowsiness under the shadow of high pews.

Sir Roger's picture gallery is an interesting portion of his ancient mansion. There is one picture in it which has reference to his own personal history:

“At the very upper end of this handsome structure I saw the portraiture of two young men standing in a river, the one naked, the other in a livery. The person

« EelmineJätka »