Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE

ART. VII.—The Life of Sidney, Earl Godolphin, K.G., Lord

High Treasurer of England, 1702–1710. By the Hon. Hugh
Elliot. London, 1888.
THE first Tory Prime Minister of England was a man of

whose private life few particulars have come down to us, though his personal tastes and habits have been described by Swift and Pope. The additional information, therefore, relating to the family history which, Mr. Elliot has been able to supply from the new materials placed at his disposal, will be welcome to the curious in such matters. This information is nearly all contained in the second chapter of the book; which, with this brief exception, is exclusively dependent for its tinterest on the political questions of the day, and on the light which it throws on the parties and party intrigues of the time. In this branch of his subject the author has not, however, much to tell us which is absolutely new. No biography of Lord Godolphin, he confesses, 'can be really complete, till much material which is at present entombed in family archives is rendered accessible.' But the official life of Lord Godolphin embraces several great public questions; and as Mr. Elliot, by his manner of dealing with these questions, challenges criticism, we will now reconsider some of the political controversies, and personal mysteries, by which students of the reign of Queen Anne still find themselves confronted. There are three questions still sub judice on which we shall join issue with Mr. Elliot: namely, Godolphin's relations with the Stuarts after the Revolution ; his connection with the betrayal of the Brest expedition ; his differences with Lord Peterborough ; and a fourth, which is now raised for the first time, namely, his general scheme for governing without party.

Sidney Godolphin was a gentleman of an ancient Cornish family, claiming descent from the De Godolghan, who held land in Cornwall under the Norman Kings. His immediate ancestor was Sir John Godolphin, High Sheriff of the county in the reign of Henry VII. In the seventeenth century the Godolphins were Cavaliers, and the statesman's father and uncle were both in arms for the King. Sidney, the uncle, was one of the soldier-poets of that romantic era, and some verses quoted by Mr. Elliot possess considerable merit. He was killed at Chagford, in Devonshire, in 1643, and buried in Okehampton Church. Clarendon has described his character ; Waller collated his poems; and Hobbes wrote his epitaph.

At the ancestral seat in Cornwall, situated between the Lizard and the Land's End, Sidney Godolphin was born in the summer

of

of 1645, and was christened in the neighbouring church of St. Breage on the 15th of July, a month after the battle of Naseby. He is said to have been a master of classical learning, but he did not acquire his scholarship either at a public school or a University. Mr. Elliot thinks that, while still a boy, he joined Charles II. on the Continent, and that it was the recollection of the wretched life then led by so many British exiles, which determined him at a later stage of his career not to go on his travels again. But the first thing known about him with certainty is that, in April 1664, when he was not quite nineteen, he was a page at Whitehall. Here he learned some accomplishments which were useful to him in after life: the art of keeping his countenance; of assuming a vacant look when he heard tidings which he did not wish to seem to understand ; perfect self-possession; and the manners necessary to a courtier. During the Dutch war of 1667, he obtained a commission and served as cornet in a troop of horse ; but he never was on active service ; and in October 1668 he was returned to Parliament for the family borough of Helston.

He married in May 1675, at the age of twenty-nine, Margaret Blague, one of the maids of honour Evelyn's Mrs. Godolphin—then in her twenty-third year, who died in September 1678, leaving an only son Francis, who married in 1698 Lady Henrietta Churchill, eldest daughter of the Duke of Marlborough, and became the second Earl Godolphin. Sidney Godolphin and his wife were devotedly attached to each other. She was good, beautiful, and clever, and Ben Jonson's epitaph on Lady Pembroke might, it seems, with almost equal propriety have been applied to her. Her husband mourned for her as one that would not be comforted, and all the romance of his life was buried in her grave.

It is something in Godolphin's favour that he inspired such a with a genuine passion, when he had neither rank, wealth, nor a handsome face nor figure to recommend him. He was called • Baconface' by his contemporaries; and though the bust in Westminster Abbey is more favourable to his features than Kneller's portrait, it is clear that he never had the form and mien which ladies love to look upon. At the best he must have been a heavy, phlegmatic-looking man, though, according to Boyer, he had a bright piercing eye; and his habitual gravity, almost bordering on pomposity, was occ

pomposity, was occasionally relieved by a very pleasant smile. He had, we are told, a brown complexion, a little disfigured by the small-pox, and, what Mr. Elliot omits to mention, . a very amorous temper,' which at a later period of his life seems to have exercised some influence on his fortunes.

Lord

woman

as this

Lord Macaulay has drawn the character of the statesmen of the Revolution in a few bold lines which, granted his premisses, convey, no doubt, a tolerably just impression of them. All, however, was not dishonesty which seemed such to Lord Macaulay. If the Revolution was an unmixed good, if the honest men opposed to it were destitute of ability, and if the able men opposed to it were destitute of honesty, there is an end of argument. But this reasoning is based on an assumption, which history will hardly sustain, that the balance of advantage in favour of the Revolution was so heavy, and so obvious, that there could be no occasion for doubt in the mind of any real statesman. The general accusation against the cluster of distinguished men, who stood at the head of affairs in this country from 1680 to 1720, is, that they played a double game in politics, courting the confidence of one dynasty while engaged in the service of another; and thinking rather of their own security and success than of what was most conducive to the interests of their country.

But their excuse is that it was not altogether so easy then, as it may be now, to see what really were the true interests of the country. A very large part of the nation, probably a large majority, thought that, it only the Stuarts could be brought to conform to the Church of England, the public interests would be best served by their restoration. This would save all the evils of a disputed succession; and would save England at the same time from the unpalatable expedient of handing herself over to the rule of foreigners, and from being drawn into those European complications which were destined to cost her so dear. That the Stuarts would never take kindly to the system of Parliamentary government was an argument which the men of that day could not be expected to appreciate as clearly as we do now. Why should not James III. be contented to rule like William III.? 'If it was quite certain that the father would never change his religion, the son might. The duty of a wise and prudent man, with a reasonable regard for his own interests, did not in this matter seem inconsistent with the duty of a patriot. If the Revolution government was only a provisional government, there was surely no harm in taking thought of what was to follow, and in being prepared for all eventualities.

There was, in the abstract, nothing dishonest in this mode of reasoning ; but it is easy to see that it might soon become so in the concrete ; such reasoning involved a principle of action which it was not possible to avow, and which it might become necessary to conceal by the wilful deception of individuals. Professions of attachment to the exiled dynasty were

not

not likely always to end in words. Sooner or later, some earnest of their sincerity was sure to be required. And so we see that men, not naturally dishonourable or unprincipled, were seduced into actions which no casuistry can defend. But, except in these extreme cases, much of the language which has been applied to the statesmen of the Revolution is wholly out of place. Events had lowered the moral tone of English public life, and had created a class of statesmen not above doing the dirty work of Revolutions. Rival factions must be kept quiet for the time by working on the hopes of some and for the present interests of others; and while the infant dynasty is taking root and gaining strength, rival claimants to the throne must be put off with fair words and specious promises. The statesmen who are willing to do these things are not likely to be men of exalted virtue, or to be unmindful of their own safety; they will make a point of standing well with all parties, and of securing their retreat, in case their position proves untenable. But these are the men who prevent civil wars : who, in the exercise of their peculiar talents, stand between disaffection and despair; and who avert violence by insinuating in the most plausible tones all that may be won by patience. It is bardly fair to call them dishonest, unprincipled, or immoral. They are the men of the age ; and one of the most finished specimens of the class was the Lord Godolphin who served four sovereigns, and, though strictly faithful to none, was trusted by them all.

Godolphin's first public employment was, in 1678, as Envoy Extraordinary to the Spanish Netherlands. Here he made the

. acquaintance of the Prince of Orange, who seems to have been much pleased with him, and who, on Mrs. Godolphin's death in the following September, sent a message of condolence to her husband. He also at this time fell in with Sir W. Temple, who was engaged in negociating the Treaty of Nimeguen; and when on the failure of Sir William's Council of Thirty in 1678 the Government was partly reconstructed, Godolphin was recommended by Temple for a seat at the Treasury, the first Lord being Hyde, Earl of Rochester, and Halifax and Sunderland being leading members of the Government.

The Parliament of 1661 had been dissolved in January 1678. But the new Parliament did not meet till the following March, when it was found that in the House of Commons the Whig party had a majority. Charles II., finding this Parliament obstinate respecting the Exclusion Bill, dissolved it in the following July. Its successor, elected in October 1679, was not called together for another twelve months; and when it

met

[ocr errors]

met in October 1680, it proved just as intractable as the last. The King dissolved it in January 1681, and summoned another one to meet at Oxford in March. It met on the 21st, and was dissolved on the 28th: and no other Parliament was called during the remainder of the King's reign. It is remarkable that in all these Parliaments, though Godolphin, who always swam in the stream, voted with the Exclusionists, his opposition to the Court lost him the favour neither of the King nor of the Duke of York. At that time he was the only member of the Government who understood finance; and, down to the day of his death, he had but one equal in that department. He was therefore too useful a man to be got rid of; and his opposition was not sufficiently formidable to counterbalance his utility. Charles II. found in him a convenient and accommodating servant, who was never in the way and never out of the way.

And for James II., we suppose it was enough, that Godolphin consented to attend mass, and helped him in his arrangements with Louis.

Between the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament in the spring of 1681, and the death of Charles in February 1685, the Cavalier party were dominant. A strong Tory reaction, admirably described by Lord Macaulay, set in against the Exclusionists; and the King, we may charitably conclude, took advantage of this interval of quiet to reflect upon his own position, and to ask himself whether the course, which he had hitherto pursued, had been in reality conducive either to his own honour or his own comfort. He had reached that time of life, when men often exchange pleasure for politics, and develop qualities hitherto unsuspected by their most intimate associates. After the many things which he had done to excite the suspicion and distrust of his subjects, he found himself once more, at the age of fifty-two, the most popular man in his dominions.' With such a hold upon his people as this, might it not be worth while, after all, to try the part of a patriot King? It is quite possible that Charles at this time, while resolved to take vengeance on his ene,nies, had other and better aspirations, and that the rumours of some new system of policy which began to be heard in 1684 were not destitute of foundation. In August of this year Godolphin was raised to the peerage, with the title of Lord Godolphin of Rialton, and appointed First Commissioner of the Treasury in place of Rochester, who became President of the Council. Godolphin, at this time, belonged more decidedly than ever to the moderate section of the Tories; and though he took care to observe a prudent neutrality between Halifax and Rochester, the heads

of

6

« AnteriorContinuar »