Page images

stone doublet would probably have been of some service to that author's infirmity."

"Would you imprison a man for singularity in writing?"

"Why let me tell you," replied Addison," if he had been a horse he would have been pounded for straying, and why he ought to be more favoured because he is a man, I cannot understand."


A medical confession, frankly delivered by that eminent physician and wit, Sir Samuel Garth, has been fortunately preserved; perhaps the truth it reveals is as conspicuous as its humour.

Dr. Garth (so he is called in the manuscript) who was one of the Kit-Kat Club, coming there one night, declared he must soon be gone, having many patients to attend; but some good wine being produced he forgot them. When Sir Richard Steele reminded him of his appointments, Garth immediately pulled out his list, which amounted to fifteen-and said, "It's no great matter whether I see them to-night or not, for nine of them have such bad constitutions, that all the physicians in the world can't save them, and the other six have so good constitutions that all the physicians in the world can't kill them."


Sir Godfrey Kneller latterly painted more for profit than for praise, and is said to have used some whimsical preparations in his colours which made them work fair and smoothly off, but not endure. A friend noticing it to him, said, "What do you think posterity will say, Sir Godfrey Kneller, when they see these pictures some years hence ?"

[ocr errors]

Say!" replied the artist: "Why they'll say Sir Godfrey Kneller never painted them!"


Many epitaphs and inscriptions were composed for Sir Isaac Newton. It was a contest with the wits of the day. We are only acquainted with the fine poem of Thomson, dedicated to his memory, and the inscription designed by Pope. I discovered an epitaph on the father of modern philosophy, which, as far as I have been enabled to ascertain, still lies in its manuscript state. The conception is sublime, as the subject.


More than his name were less-'twould seem to fear
He who increased heaven's fame, could want it here;
Yet when the suns he lighted up shall fade,

And all the worlds he found, are first decayed,

Then void and waste Eternity shall lie,

And Time, and Newton's name, together die.


An epitaph on the Scottish Mary, may be found in the Harleian MS. 681. The original may serve as an extraordinary specimen of the noble lapidary manner of compression on the style and the subject. It is the whole biography of that victim of love, of state policy, and of female jealousy. The close translation which accompanies the original, not inadequately conveys its force.

Regibus orta, auxi Reges, Reginaque vixi;

Ter Nupta, et tribus orba viris, tria Regna reliqui :

Gallus opes, Scotus cunas, habet Angla sepulchrum.

Issued from Kings, I greatened Kings, and kingly crowns have worne;
Thrice wedded, thrice a widow, I three kingdoms have foregone;

The French my wealth, the Scot my birth, the English hath my tomb.


The enthusiasm which at first was caught by the readers of the works of the platonic Dr. Henry More, is remarkable; but Henry More was himself an enthusiast. So necessary is it, that there should be some reality in every great illusion, if we hope to create the sympathy of those around us. Time however has long cast into shade the visionary pages of Henry More, and he seems himself to have survived that fame which he had once promised to himself. I find a curious fact relating to his works. A gentleman who had died beyond sea, left a legacy of three hundred pounds for the translation of Dr. Henry More's works. The task was cheerfully undertaken by the Doctor himself, but when he had finished, he was forced to give the bookseller the three hundred pounds to print them.


An extraordinary prosecution for a singular libel occurred under the administration of the Duke of Buckingham. Some fiddlers at Staines were indicted for singing scandalous songs of the Duke. The songs also did not fail to libel both James and Charles. The Bench were puzzled how to proceed. The offensive passages they would not permit to be openly read in court, lest the scandals should spread. It was a difficult point to turn. They were anxious that the people should see that they did not condemn these songs without due examination. They hit upon this expedient. Copies of the songs were furnished to every Lord and Judge present; and the AttorneyGeneral in his charge, when touching on the offending passages, did not, as usual, read them out, but noticed them by only repeating the first and the final lines, and when he had closed they were handed to the fiddlers at the bar, interrogating them whether these were not the songs which they had sung of the Duke? To this they confessed, and were condemned in a heavy fine of 500l. and to be pilloried and whipped.


This novel and covert mode of trial excited great discontent among the friends of civil freedom. It was asserted, that all trials should be open, and that a court of justice was always a public place, where the judges publicly delivered the reasons and the grounds of their judgThe mode now resorted to, was turning a court of judgment into a private chamber, and excluded the hearers from understanding the reasons of every judge's opinion, and the court themselves from hearing each other's. It was farther alleged, that in the present case, the Lords could not be sure that the copies showed to the prisoners were the same as that which each had before him, or that every Lord had looked into the same paper which was showed to the fiddlers, so that they might be condemned for that in which they stood not implicated. I suppose this singular case of the Fiddlers of Staines to be unique, and never to have been perpetuated in any of our law books.


PERHAPS the annals of the world do not furnish an epoch more worthy of fixing the attention of those, who regard the history of their race with the eye either of a philosopher or philanthropist, than the few years that immediately preceded the outbreaking of the first French Revolution.

When Louis XVI. came to the throne, an attempt had been made to retard the fate of the falling monarchy by the appointment of the Minister Turgot: the first time, perhaps, in the history of the human race that the administration of the affairs of a great nation had been committed to the hands of a truly virtuous and philosophic statesman. But the aristocratic and ecclesiastical faction, whose interests were so much opposed to those of their fellow-citizens, soon succeeded in driving him from his post, and the vessel, with additional speed, continued to drift down the torrent of her fate. Some idea of the number, and the rate of increase of the number, of those who were as much opposed to any reform in the government or finances of France of that day as those whose family names have for the last fifty years figured on the British pension-list, may be formed from the following statement made by Necker in his work, "De l'Administration des Finances de la France:"

"Il ne m'avoit point paru indifférent," he says, "de connoître, quelle est la quantité de charges, en France, qui procurent la noblesse héréditaire, soit dès l'instant qu'on en est revêtu, soit à la seconde ou à la troisieme génération, soit au bout d'un certain nombre d'années de possession. Le nombre passe quatré mille, et je crois à-peu-près juste, l'énumération succinte que je vais en donner. "80 charges de Maître des Requêtes.

"1000 charges, environ, dans les Parlements, en retrenchant celles qui sont possédées par les conseillers-clercs.

"900 charges, environ, dans les Chambres des Comptes, et les Cours des Aides.

"70 dans le Grand Conseil.

"30 dans la Cour des Monnoies.

"20 au Conseil Provincial d'Artois.

"80 au Châtelet de Paris.

"740 dans les Bureaux des Finances.

"50 charges de grands baillifs, sénéchaux, gouverneurs et lieutenants géné raux d'épée.

"900 charges de Secretaires du Roi.

"Enfin, on peut fixer à 200, environ, les offices en commission au Parlement de Nanci, et au Conseil Souverain d'Alsace, plusieurs charges tenant en second ordre au Conseil et à la Chancellerie, celles aux Tribunaux de la Table de marbre, et quelques autres encore."

In order fully to appreciate the advantage and ornament which this noblesse thus formed conferred on the French nation, it is necessary to bear in mind that a large proportion of these offices were utterly useless, and that those who bore them enjoyed certain exemptions from the payment of taxes. Necker does not inform us whether any of them were held by ladies, though there are many instances in French history of women of intrigue about the Court being placed at the

Tom. iii. p. 145.



head of a convent of monks; and, no doubt, cases might be produced where the proper performance of certain functions by an agreeable woman was rewarded by a pension, that, computed in English money, might even amount to little less than twelve hundred pounds a year.

Though we think there is no parallel between the Ministry now ruling England and that which then governed France, yet there is a certain fearful analogy between the state of France at that time and that of England at this, some points of which we shall present to the attention of our countrymen, as we pass in rapid review some of the leading measures of M. Necker's administration. We may state at the outset, that our opinion of Necker's merits as a statesman is by no means very high; though, at the same time, we consider him to have been, perhaps, as much underrated by some writers as he has been overrated in the estimation of himself and his daughter. There was little hope that he would succeed in accomplishing that in which Turgot had failed, with both more knowledge and greater firmness of character, with a stronger will, and a more powerful and enlightened understanding.

In the interior administration of the kingdom, Necker's principal act was the adoption of a plan for the establishment of provincial assemblies, which had been conceived by Turgot, but which that Minister had been prevented, by his dismissal from office, from putting in execution. But in one important particular Necker departed from Turgot's system of finance. The three leading points on which Turgot insisted were—

Point de Banqueroute,

Point d'Augmentation d'Impôts,

Point d'Emprunts.

From one, at least, of these Necker departed. By means of his high commercial character he procured loans on tolerably moderate terms, and by that means relieved the immediate distresses of the treasury. These, however, were but temporary expedients, to which Turgot had disdained to stoop.

When Necker was appointed Director-General of the Finances (an office to which all the trouble, and a great part of the responsibility, were attached, without the supreme control), the finances of France were in such a condition that it was little that the most zealously able and active reforming Minister could have accomplished. An Englishman will fully comprehend that condition when we state, that it was somewhat similar to that in which the English Tories, after fifty years' malversation, handed over those of England to Lord Grey and his colleagues. And here a striking analogy appears. One of the first acts of Lord Grey's administration has been to undeceive the country as to the condition of certain branches of the finance, around which their predecessors were in the habit of casting an impenetrable veil of mystery. They were immediately assailed with the most vehement and vulgar clamour by the organs of the Tory faction. One of the principal acts of Necker's first ministry was the publication of the celebrated "Compte-rendu." This was the signal for a general attack from all those who were interested in the preservation, who worshipped the "venerable antiquity," of old abuses. All those

Court-insects, we should say reptiles, for they had not the harmlessness of insects, and rather resembled the noxious grub of Pope

"The bug with gilded wings,

The painted child of dirt, that stinks and stings;"

who had been always accustomed to live on the labour of others, and, what was more, to be insolent to those on whose labour they livedthose favourites, courtiers, and ministers, who concealed amid the glare of imaginary greatness both their real insignificance and their secret rapine-those pretended statesmen, who flattered themselves that they were great politicians because they were great intriguers, cried out "Sacrilege!" and represented the revealing of the mysteries of the Cabinet as an outrage upon the majesty of the Throne.


Another difficulty of Necker, which has been well described by his daughter, Madame de Staël, has likewise a parallel in the present condition of England. The women of a certain rank, as is well known, interfered much in politics before the Revolution, indeed to such a degree that it might be truly affirmed, when we consider the character of the women in question, that at one time France was governed by a dynasty of titled harlots. Their husbands, their brothers, or the men with whom they intrigued, employed them to go to the houses of the Ministers, where they employed all those fascinations of manner and conversation, of which they were such perfect mistresses, to obtain whatever object they had in view. Necker listened to them with great politeness; but he easily saw through their designs, and the graces of their conversation made no impression upon him. Those dames then gave themselves great airs, recalled with affected negli. gence the illustrious names which they bore, and demanded a pension as a matter of right. Necker, however, always adhered to justice, and did not allow himself to lavish the money acquired by the sacrifices of the people. "What is a thousand crowns to the King?" said they, "A thousand crowns!" replied Necker; "it is the taxation of a village."

There is in England at present a dynasty of such women-proud of their rank, and perhaps still prouder of their fashion-immoral, insolent


Empty of all good, wherein consists

Woman's domestic honour and chief praise;

Bred only and completed to the taste

Of lustful appetence; to sing, to dance,

To dress, and troule the tongue, and roll the eye."-MILTON.

Woe to the country where such women have power to give law to their countrywomen in the fashion both of their dress and morals! "What," say they, " is a pension of a thousand pounds a-year to a country like England? And our rank and fashion, you know, must be supported."" Hang ye, gorbellied knaves!" said the high-mettled thieves to the dull, honest citizens; "young men must live." We may answer with Necker that a thousand pounds is the taxation of a

[ocr errors]

Considérations sur les Principaux Evénemens de la Révolution Françoise," tom. i. p. 91.

« PreviousContinue »