Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

In 1723 he was permitted to return to England, his estates were restored; but the House of Lords was still closed against him. In conjunction with Wyndham and Pulteney he waged for ten years a fierce party war against Sir Robert Walpole—the Craftsman, a periodical of the day, being the vehicle of their bitter attacks.

In 1726 he revisited France, and remained there until the death of his father, in 1742, when he retired to his seat at Battersea, and lived there until 1751, when he died of cancer in the face. Bolingbroke was the esteemed friend of, and watched over the death-bed of Alexander Pope, the poet.

The sceptical opinions of Bolingbroke failed to support him at the last, as we read from Spence's Anecdotes, that he was overcome with terrors and excessive passion in his last illness. Sir Henry Mildmay overhearing him saying to himself, “What will my poor soul undergo 'for all these things!' (These sceptical opinions have no place in this Reprint.-A. M.)

6

“When the passions of Bolingbroke subsided by years and dis'appointments, he improved his rational faculties by more grave studies and reflection; he shone out in his retirement with a lustre peculiar to himself.

The wisdom of Socrates, the dignity and ease of 'Pliny, and the wit of Horace appeared in all his writings.'— Memoirs of Dean Swift.

LETTERS

ON THE

STUDY AND USE OF HISTORY.

LETTER I.

OF THE STUDY OF HISTORY.

CHANTELOU IN TOURAINE, Nov. 6, 1735. MY LORD,-I have considered formerly, with a good deal of attention, the subject on which you command me to communicate my thoughts to you ; and I practised in those days, as much as business and pleasure allowed me time to do, the rules that seemed to me necessary to be observed in the study of history. They were very different from those which writers on the same subject have recommended, and which are commonly practised. But I confess to your lordship that this neither gave me then, nor has given me since, any distrust of them. I do not affect singularity. On the contrary I think that a due deference is to be paid to received opinions, and that a due compliance 'with received customs is to be held ; though both the one and the other should be, what they often are, absurd or ridiculous. But this servitude is outward only, and abridges in no sort the liberty of private judgment. The obligations of submitting to it likewise, even outwardly, extend no further than to those opinions and customs which cannot be opposed ; or from which we cannot deviate without doing hurt, or giving offence, to society. In all these cases, our speculations ought to be free : in all other cases, our practice may be so. regard therefore to the opinion and practice even of the learned world, I am very willing to tell you mine. But as it is hard to recover a thread of thought long ago laid aside, and impossible to prove some things and explain others, without the assistance of many books which I have not here, your lordship must be content with such an imperfect sketch as I am able to send you in this letter.

The motives that carry men to the study of history are different. Some intend, if such as they may be said to study, nothing more than amusement, and read the life of Aristides or Phocion, of Epaminondas

Without any

2

TO WHOM THE STUDY OF HISTORY IS ADVANTAGEOUS.

or Scipio, Alexander or Cæsar, just as they play a game at cards, or as they would read the story of the seven champions.

Others there are whose motive to this study is nothing better, and who have the further disadvantage of becoming a nuisance very often to society, in proportion to the progress they make. The former do not improve their reading to any good purpose : the latter pervert it to a very bad one, and grow in impertinence as they increase in lear ng. I think I have known most of the first kind in England, and most of the last in France. The persons I mean are those who read to talk, to shine in conversation, and to impose in company : who, having few ideas to vend of their own growth, store their minds with crude unruminated facts and sentences; and hope to supply, by bare memory, the want of imagination and judgment.

But these are in the two lowest forms. *The next I shall mention are in one a little higher ; in the form of those who grow neither wiser nor better by study themselves, but who enable others to study with greater ease, and to purposes more useful : who make fair copies of foul manuscripts, give the signification of hard words, and take a great deal of other grammatical pains. The obligation to these men would be great indeed, if they were in general able to do anything better, and submitted to this drudgery for the sake of the public; as some of them, it must be owned with gratitude, have done, but not later, I think, than about the time of the resurrection of letters. When works of importance are pressing, generals themselves may take up the pickaxe and the spade ; but in the ordinary course of things, when that pressing necessity is over, such tools are left in the hands destined to use them, the hands of common soldiers and peasants. I approve therefore very much the devotion of a studious man at Christ Church, who was overheard in his oratory entering into a detail with God, acknowledging the divine goodness in furnishing the world with makers of dictionaries ! These men court fame, as well as their betters, by such means as God has given them to acquire it: and Littleton exerted all the genius he had when he made a dictionary, though Stephens did not. They deserve encouragement, however, whilst they continue to compile, and neither affect wit, nor presume to reason.

There is a fourth class, of much less use than these, but of much greater name. Men of the first rank in learning, and to whom the whole tribe of scholars bow with reverence. A man must be as indifferent as I am to common censure or approbation, to avow a thorough contempt for the whole business of these learned lives; for all the researches into antiquity, for all the systems of chronology and history, that we owe to the immense labours of a Scaliger, a Bochart, a Petavius, an Usher, and even a Marsham. The same materials are common to them all ; but these materials are few, and there is a moral impossibility that they should ever have more. They have combined

« EelmineJätka »