The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 4/Memoirs relating to the Change in the Queen's Ministry in the Year 1710
RELATING TO THAT CHANGE WHICH HAPPENED IN THE QUEEN'S MINISTRY IN THE YEAR 1710.
HAVING continued for near the space of four years in a good degree of confidence with the ministry then in being, although not with so much power as was believed, or at least given out by my friends, as well as by my enemies, especially the latter, in both houses of parliament; and this having happened during a very busy period of negotiations abroad, and management of intrigue at home; I thought it might probably, some years hence, when the present scene shall have given place to many new ones that will arise, be an entertainment to those who will have any personal regard for me or my memory, to set down some particularities which fell under my knowledge and observation, while I was supposed, whether truly or not, to have part in the secret of affairs.
One circumstance I am a little sorry for, that I was too negligent (against what I had always resolved, and blamed others for not doing) in taking hints, or journals of every material as it passed, whereof I omitted many that I cannot now recollect, although I was convinced, by a thousand instances, of the weakness of my memory. But, to say the truth, the nearer knowledge any man has in the affairs at court, the less he thinks them of consequence, or worth regarding. And those kind of passage which I have with curiosity found or searched for in memoirs, I wholly neglected when they were freely communicated to me from the first hand, or were such wherein I acted myself. This I take to be one among other reasons, why great ministers seldom give themselves the trouble of recording the important parts of that administration, where they themselves are at the head. They have extinguished all that vanity, which usually possesses men, during their first acquaintance at courts; and like the masters of a puppetshow, they despise those motions, which fill common spectators with wonder and delight. However, upon frequently recollecting the course of affairs during the time I was either trusted or employed; I am deceived, if in history there can be found any period, more full of passages, which the curious of another age, would be glad to know the secret springs of; or whence more useful instructions may be gathered, for directing the conduct of those, who shall hereafter have the good or ill-fortune, to be engaged in business of the state.
It may probably enough happen, that those who shall at any time hereafter peruse these papers, may think it not suitable to the nature of them, that upon occasion I sometimes make mention of myself; who, during these transactions, and ever since, was a person without titles or publick employment. But, since the chief leaders of the faction then out, of power, were pleased, in both houses of parliament, to take every opportunity of showing their malice, by mentioning me (and often by name) as one who was in the secret of all affairs, and without whose advice or privity nothing was done, or employment disposed of, it will not, perhaps, be improper to take notice of some passages, wherein the publick and myself were jointly concerned; not to mention that the chief cause of giving myself this trouble, is, to satisfy my particular friends; and at worst, if, after the fate of manuscripts, these papers shall, by accident or indiscretion, fall into the publick view, they will be no more liable to censure than other memoirs, published for many years past, in English, French, and Italian. The period of time I design to treat on will commence with September 1710; from which time, till within two months of the queen's death, I was never absent from court, except about six weeks in Ireland.
But, because the great change of employments in her majesty's family, as well as in the kingdom, was begun some months before, and had been thought on from the time of Dr. Sacheverell's trial, while I was absent, and lived retired in Ireland; I shall endeavour to recollect, as well as I am able, some particulars I learned from the earl of Oxford, the lord viscount Bolingbroke, the lady Masham, and doctor Atterbury, who were best able to inform me.
I have often with great earnestness pressed the earl of Oxford, then lord treasurer, and my lady Masham, who were the sole persons which brought about that great change, to give me a particular account of every circumstance and passage, during that whole transaction. Nor did this request proceed from curiosity, or the ambition of knowing and publishing important secrets; but from a sincere honest design of justifying the queen, in the measures she then took, and afterwards pursued, against a load of scandal, which would certainly be thrown on her memory, with some appearance of truth. It was easy to foresee, even at that distance, that the queen could not live many years; and it was sufficiently known what party was most in the good graces of the successor, and consequently, what turns would be given by historians, to her majesty's proceedings, under a reign, where directly contrary measures would probably be taken. For instance, what would be more easy to a malicious pen, than to charge the queen with inconstancy, weakness, and ingratitude, in removing and disgracing the duke of Marlborough, who had so many years commanded her armies with victory and success; in displacing so many great officers of her court and kingdom, by whose counsels she had, in all appearance, so prosperously governed; in extending the marks of her severity and displeasure, toward the wife and daughters, as well as relations and allies, of that person, she had so long employed, and so highly trusted; and all this, by the private intrigues of a woman of her bedchamber, in concert with an artful man, who might be supposed to have acted that bold part, only from a motive of revenge upon the loss of his employments, or of ambition to come again into power?
These were some of the arguments I often made use of, with great freedom, both to the earl of Oxford, and my lady Masham, to incite them to furnish me with materials for a fair account of that great transaction; to which they always seemed as well disposed as myself. My lady Masham did likewise assure me, that she had frequently informed the queen of my request; which her majesty thought very reasonable, and did appear, upon all occasions, as desirous of preserving reputation with posterity, as might justly become a great prince to be. But that incurable disease, either of negligence or procrastination, which influenced every action both of the queen and the earl of Oxford, did, in some sort, infect every one who had credit or busmess in the court: for, after soliciting near four years, to obtain a point of so great importance to the queen and her servants, whence I could propose nothing but trouble, malice, and envy to myself, it was perpetually put off.
The scheme I offered was, to write her majesty's reign; and that this work might not look officious or affected, I was ready to accept the historiographer's place, although of inconsiderable value, and of which I might be sure to be deprived upon the queen's death. This negligence in the queen, the earl of Oxford, and my lady Masham, is the cause that I can give but an imperfect account of the first springs of that great change at court, after the trial of doctor Sacheverell; my memory not serving me to retain all the facts related to me: but what I remember I shall here set down.
There was not, perhaps, in all England, a person who understood more artificially to disguise her passions than the late queen. Upon her first coming to the throne, the duchess of Marlborough had lost all favour with her, as her majesty has often acknowledged to those who have told it me. That lady had long preserved an ascendant over her mistress while she was princess; which her majesty, when she came to the crown, had neither patience to bear, nor spirit to subdue. This princess was so exact an observer of forms, that she seemed to have made it her study, and would often descend so low as to observe, in her domesticks of either sex who came into her presence, whether a ruffle, a periwig, or the lining of a coat, were unsuitable at certain times. The duchess, on the other side, who had been used to great familiarities, could not take it into her head that any change of station should put her upon changing her behaviour; the continuance of which was the more offensive to her majesty, whose other servants, of the greatest quality, did then treat her with the utmost respect.
The earl of Godolphin held in favour about three years longer, and then declined, although he kept his office till the general change. I have heard several reasons given for her majesty's early disgust against that lord. The duchess, who had long been his friend, often prevailed on him to solicit the queen upon things very unacceptable to her; which her majesty liked the worse, as knowing whence they originally came: and his lordship, although he endeavoured to be as respectful as his nature would permit him, was, upon all occasions, much too arbitrary and obtruding.
To the duke of Marlborough she was wholly indifferent, (as her nature in general prompted her to be) until his restless impatient behaviour had turned her against him.
The queen had not a stock of amity to serve above one object at a time; and, farther than a bare good or ill opinion, which she soon contracted and changed, and very often upon light grounds, she could hardly be said either to love or to hate any body. She grew so jealous upon the change of her servants, that often, out of fear of being imposed upon, by an over caution she would impose upon herself: she took a delight in refusing those who were thought to have greatest power with her, even in the most reasonable things, and such as were necessary for her service; nor would let them be done, till she fell into the humour of it herself.
Upon the grounds I have already related, her majesty had gradually conceived a most rooted aversion from the duke and duchess of Marlborough, and the earl of Godolphin; which spread in time, through all their allies and relations, particularly to the earl of Hertford, whose ungovernable temper had made him fail in his personal respects to her majesty. This I take to have been the principal ground of the queen's resolutions to make a change of some officers both in her family and kingdom; and that these resolutions did not proceed from any real apprehension she had of danger to the church or monarchy: for, although she had been strictly educated in the former, and very much approved its doctrine and discipline, yet she was not so ready to foresee any attempts against it by the party then presiding. But the fears that most influenced her, were such as concerned her own power and prerogative, which those nearest about her were making daily encroachments upon, by their undutiful behaviour and unreasonable demands. The deportment of the duchess of Marlborough, while the prince lay expiring, was of such a nature, that the queen, then in the height of grief, was not able to bear it; but with marks of displeasure in her countenance, she ordered the duchess to withdraw, and send Mrs. Masham to her.
I forgot to relate an affair that happened, as I remember, about a twelvemonth before prince George's death. This prince had long conceived an incurable aversion from that party, and was resolved to use his utmost credit with the queen his wife, to get rid of them. There fell out an incident which seemed to favour this attempt; for the queen, resolving to bestow a regiment upon Mr. Hill, brother to Mrs. Masham, signified her pleasure to the duke of Marlborough; who, in a manner not very dutiful, refused his consent, and retired in anger to the country. After some heats, the regiment was given to a third person. But the queen resented this matter so highly, which she thought had been promoted by the earl of Godolphin, that she resolved immediately to remove the latter. I was told, and it was then generally reported, that Mr. St. John carried a letter from her majesty to the duke of Marlborough, signifying her resolution to take the staff from the earl of Godolphin, and that she expected his grace's compliance; to which the duke returned a very humble answer. I cannot engage for this passage, it having never come into my head to ask Mr. St. John about it: but the account Mr. Harley and he gave me was, That the duke of Marlborough, and the earl of Godolphin, had concerted with them upon a moderating scheme, wherein some of both parties should be employed, but with a more favourable aspect toward the church: That a meeting was appointed for completing this work: That in the mean time, the duke and duchess of Marlborough, and the earl of Godolphin, were secretly using their utmost efforts with the queen, to turn Mr. Harley (who was then secretary of state) and all his friends, out of their employments: That the queen, on the other side, who had a great opinion of Mr. Harley's integrity and abilities, would not consent: and was determined to remove the earl of Godolphin. This was not above a month before the season of the year when the duke of Marlborough was to embark for Flanders; and the very night in which Mr. Harley and his friends had appointed to meet his grace and the earl of Godolphin, George Churchill the duke's brother, who was in good credit with the prince, told his highness, "That the duke was firmly determined to lay down his command, if the earl of Godolphin went out, or Mr. Harley and his friends were suffered to continue in." The prince, thus intimidated by Churchill, reported the matter to the queen; and the time and service pressing, her majesty was unwillingly forced to yield. The two great lords failed the appointment; and the next morning, the duke, at his levee, said aloud in a careless manner, to those who stood round him, "That Mr. Harley was turned out."
Upon the prince's death, November 1708, the two great lords so often mentioned, who had been for some years united with the low church party, and had long engaged to take them into power, were now in a capacity to make good their promises, which his highness had ever most strenuously opposed. The lord Somers was made president of the council, the earl of Wharton lieutenant of Ireland, and some others of the same stamp were put into considerable posts.
It should seem to me, that the duke and earl were not very willingly drawn to impart so much power to those of that party, who expected these removals for some years before, and were always put off upon pretence of the prince's unwillingness to have them employed. And I remember, some months before his highness's death, my lord Somers, who is a person of reserve enough, complained to me, with great freedom, of the ingratitude of the duke and earl, who, after the service he and his friends had done them in making the Union, would hardly treat them with common civility. Neither shall I ever forget, that he readily owned to me, that the Union was of no other service to the nation, than by giving a remedy to that evil which my lord Godolphin had brought upon us, by persuading the queen to pass the Scotch act of security. But to return from this digression.
Upon the admission of these men into employments, the court soon ran into extremity of low church measures; and although, in the house of commons, Mr. Harley, sir Simon Harcourt, Mr. St. John, and some others, made great and bold stands in defence of the constitution, yet they were always born down by a majority.
It was, I think, during this period of time, that the duke of Marlborough, whether by a motive of ambition, or a love of money, or by the rash counsels of his wife the duchess, made that bold attempt, of desiring the queen to give him a commission to be general for life. Her majesty's answer was, "That she would take time to consider it;" and in the mean while, the duke advised with the lord Cowper, then chancellor, about the form in which the commission should be drawn. The chancellor, very much to his honour, endeavoured to dissuade the duke from engaging in so dangerous an affair, and protested, "he would never put the great seal to such a commission." But the queen was highly alarmed at this extraordinary proceeding in the duke; and talked to a person whom she had taken into confidence, as if she apprehended an attempt upon the crown. The duke of Argyle, and one or two more lords, were (as I have been told) in a very private manner brought to the queen. This duke was under great obligations to the duke of Marlborough, who had placed him in a high station in the army, preferred many of his friends, and procured him the garter. But his unquiet and ambitious spirit, never easy while there was any one above him, made him, upon some trifling resentments, conceive an inveterate hatred against his general. When he was consulted what course should be taken upon the duke of Marlborough's request to be general for life, and whether any danger might be apprehended from the refusal; I was told, he suddenly answered, "That her majesty need not be in pain; for he would undertake, whenever she commanded, to seize the duke at the head of his troops, and bring him away either dead or alive."
About this time happened the famous trial of Dr. Sacheverell, which arose from a foolish passionate pique of the earl of Godolphin, whom this divine was supposed, in a sermon, to have reflected on under the name of Volpone, as my lord Somers, a few months after, confessed to me; and at the same time, that he had earnestly and in vain endeavoured to dissuade the earl from that attempt. However, the impeachment went on, in the form and manner which every body knows; and therefore there need not be any thing said of it here.
Mr. Harley, who came up to town during the time of the impeachment, was, by the intervention of Mrs. Masham, privately brought to the queen; and in some meetings, easily convinced her majesty of the dispositions of her people, as they appeared in the course of that trial, in favour of the church, and against the measures of those in her service. It was not without a good deal of difficulty, that Mr. Harley was able to procure this private access to the queen; the duchess of Marlborough, by her emissaries, watching all the avenues to the back stairs, and upon all occasions discovering their jealousy of him; whereof he told me a passage, no otherwise worth relating, than as it gives an idea of an insolent, jealous minister, who would wholly engross the power and favour of his sovereign. Mr. Harley, upon his removal from the secretary's office, by the intrigues of the duke of Marlborough and the earl of Godolphin, as I have above related, going out of town, was met by the latter of these two lords near Kensington gate. The earl, in a high fit of jealousy, goes immediately to the queen, reproaches her for privately seeing Mr. Harley, and was hardly so civil as to be convinced, by her majesty's frequent protestations to the contrary.
These suspicions, I say, made it hard for her majesty and Mr. Harley to have private interviews: neither had he made use of the opportunities he met with to open himself so much to her, as she seemed to expect, and desired; although Mrs. Masham, in right of her station in the bedchamber, had taken all proper occasions of pursuing what Mr. Harley had begun. In this critical juncture, the queen, hemmed in, and as it were imprisoned, by the duchess of Marlborough and her creatures, was at a loss how to proceed. One evening a letter was brought to Mr. Harley, all dirty, and by the hand of a very ordinary messenger. He read the superscription, and saw it was the queen's writing. He sent for the messenger, who said, "he knew not whence the letter came, but that it was delivered him by an under gardener," I forget whether of Hampton Court or Kensington. The letter mentioned the difficulties her majesty was under; blaming him for "not speaking with more freedom and more particularly; and desiring his assistance." With this encouragement, he went more frequently, although still as private as possible, to the back stairs; and from that time began to have entire credit with the queen. He then told her of the dangers to her crown, as well as to the church and monarchy itself, from the counsels and actions of some of her servants: "That she ought gradually to lessen the exorbitant power of the duke and duchess of Marlborough, and the earl of Godolphin, by taking the disposition of employments into her own hands: That it did not become her to be a slave to a party, but to reward those who may deserve by their duty and loyalty, whether they were such as were called of the high church or low church." In short, whatever views he had then in his own breast, or how far soever he intended to proceed, the turn of his whole discourse was intended, in appearance, only to put the queen upon what they called a moderating scheme; which, however, made so strong an impression upon her, that when this minister led by the necessity of affairs, the general disposition of the people, and probably by his own inclinations, put her majesty upon going greater lengths than she had first intended, it put him upon innumerable difficulties, and some insuperable; as we shall see in the progress of this change.
Her majesty, pursuant to Mr. Harley's advice, resolved to dispose of the first great employment that fell, according to her own pleasure, without consulting any of her ministers. To put this in execution, an opportunity soon happened, by the death of the earl of Essex, whereby the lieutenancy of the Tower became vacant. It was agreed between the queen and Mr. Harley, that the earl Rivers should go immediately to the duke of Marlborough, and desire his grace's good offices with the queen, to procure him that post. The earl went accordingly; was received with abundance of professions of kindness by the duke, who said, "The lieutenancy of the Tower was not worth his lordship's acceptance;" and desired him to think of something else. The earl still insisted, and the duke still continued to put him off; at length, lord Rivers desired his grace's consent to let him go himself and beg this favour of the queen; and hoped he might tell her majesty, "his grace had no objection to him." All this the duke readily agreed to, as a matter of no consequence. The earl went to the queen, who immediately gave orders for his commission. He had not long left the queen's presence, when the duke of Marlborough, suspecting nothing that would happen, went to the queen, and told her, "The lieutenancy of the Tower falling void by the death of the earl of Essex, he hoped her majesty would bestow it upon the duke of Northumberland, and give the Oxford regiment, then commanded by that duke, to the earl of Hertford." The queen said, "He was come too late; that she had already granted the lieutenancy to earl Rivers, who had told her, that he [the duke] had no objection to him." The duke, much surprised at this new manner of treatment, and making complaints in her majesty's presence, was however forced to submit.
The queen went on by slow degrees. Not to mention some changes of lesser moment, the duke of Kent was forced to compound for his chamberlain's staff, which was given to the duke of Shrewsbury, while the earl of Godolphin was out of town, I think at Newmarket. His lordship, on the first news, came immediately up to court; but the thing was done, and he made as good a countenance to the duke of Shrewsbury as he was capable of. The circumstances of the earl of Sunderland's removal, and the reasons alleged, are known enough. His ungovernable temper had overswayed him to fail in his respects to her majesty's person.
Meantime both parties stood at gaze, not knowing to what these steps would lead, or where they would end. The earl of Wharton, then in Ireland, being deceived by various intelligence from hence, endeavoured to hide his uneasiness as well as he could. Some of his sanguine correspondents had sent him word, that the queen began to stop her hand, and the church party to despond. At the same time, the duke of Shrewsbury happened to send him a letter filled with great expressions of civility. The earl was so weak, upon reading it, as to cry out, before two or three standers by, "Damn him, he is making fair weather with me; but, by G—d, I will have his head." But these short hopes were soon blasted, by taking the treasurer's staff from the earl of Godolphin; which was done in a manner not very gracious, her majesty sending him a letter, by a very ordinary messenger, commanding him to break it. The treasury was immediately put into commission, with earl Poulett at the head; but Mr. Harley, who was one of the number, and at the same time made chancellor of the exchequer, was already supposed to preside behind the curtain.
Upon the fall of that great minister and favourite, that whole party became dispirited, and seemed to expect the worst that could follow. The earl of Wharton immediately desired and obtained leave to come for England; leaving that kingdom, where he had behaved himself with the utmost profligateness, injustice, arbitrary proceedings, and corruption, with the hatred and detestation of all good men, even of his own party.
And here, because my coming into the knowledge of the new ministry began about this time, I must digress a little, to relate some circumstances previous to it.
Although I had been for many years before no stranger at court, and had made the nature of government a great part of my study, yet I had dealt very little with politicks, either in writing or acting, until about a year before the late king William's death; when, returning with the earl of Berkeley from Ireland, and falling upon the subject of the five great lords who were then impeached, for high crimes and misdemeanors, by the house of commons, I happened to say, "That the same manner of proceeding, at least as it appeared to me from the news we received of it in Ireland, had ruined the liberties of Athens and Rome; and that it might be easy to prove it from history." Soon after I went to London; and, in a few weeks, drew up, a discourse, under the title of, the Contests and Dissensions of the Nobles and Commons in Athens and Rome, with the Consequences they had upon both those States. This discourse I sent very privately to the press, with the strictest injunctions to conceal the author, and returned immediately to my residence in Ireland. The book was greedily bought, and read; and charged some time upon my lord Somers, and some time upon the bishop of Salisbury; the latter of whom told me afterward, "that he was forced to disown it in a very publick manner, for fear of an impeachment, wherewith he was threatened."
Returning next year for England, and hearing of the great approbation this piece had received, (which was the first I ever printed) I must confess, the vanity of a young man prevailed with me, to let myself be known for the author: upon which, my lords Somers and Halifax, as well as the bishop abovementioned, desired my acquaintance, with great marks of esteem and professions of kindness — not to mention the earl of Sunderland, who had been my old acquaintance. They lamented that they were not able to serve me since the death of the king; and were very liberal in promising me the greatest preferments I could hope for if ever it came in their power. I soon grew domestick with lord Halifax, and was as often with lord Somers, as the formality of his nature (the only unconversable fault he had) made it agreeable to me.
It was then I began to trouble myself with the differences between the principles of whig and tory; having formerly employed myself in other, and I think, much better speculations. I talked often upon this subject with lord Somers; told him, "That, having been long conversant with the Greek and Roman authors, and therefore a lover of liberty, I found myself much inclined to be what they call a whig in politicks; and that, besides, I thought it impossible, upon any other principle, to defend, or submit to, the revolution: but, as to religion, I confessed myself to be a high churchman, and that I did not conceive, how any one who wore the habit of a clergyman, could be otherwise: That I had observed very well with what insolence and haughtiness, some lords of the high church party treated not only their own chaplains, but all other clergymen whatsoever, and thought this was sufficiently recompensed by their professions of zeal to the church: That I had likewise observed how the whig lords took a direct contrary measure, treated the persons of particular clergymen with great courtesy, but showed much ill will and contempt for the order in general: That I knew it was necessary for their party, to make their bottom as wide as they could, by taking all denominations of protestants to be members of their body: That I would not enter into the mutual reproaches made by the violent men on either side; but that the connivance, or encouragement, given by the whigs to those writers of pamphlets, who reflected upon the whole body of the clergy without any exception, would unite the church, as one man, to oppose them: And that, I doubted, his lordship's friends did not consider the consequence of this."
My lord Somers in appearance, entered very warmly into the same opinion, and said very much of the endeavours he had often used to redress that evil I complained of. This his lordship, as well as my lord Halifax, (to whom I have talked in the same manner) can very well remember: and I have indeed been told by an honourable gentleman of the same party, "That both their lordships, about the time of lord Godolphin's removal, did, upon occasion, call to mind what I had said to them five years before."
In my journeys to England, I continued upon the same foot of acquaintance with the two lords last mentioned, until the time of prince George's death; when the queen, who, as is before related, had for some years favoured that party, now made lord Somers president of the council, and the earl of Wharton lieutenant of Ireland. Being then in London, I received letters from some bishops of Ireland, to solicit the earl of Wharton about the remittal of the first-fruits and tenths to the clergy there, which the queen had long promised, and wherein I had been employed before, with some hopes of success from the earl of Godolphin. It was the first time I ever was in company with the earl of Wharton: he received me with sufficient coldness, and answered the request I made in behalf of the clergy, with very poor and lame excuses, which amounted to a refusal. I complained of this usage to lord Somers, who would needs bring us together to his house, and presented me to him; where he received me as dryly as before.
It was every body's opinion, that the earl of Wharton would endeavour, when he went to Ireland, to take off the test, as a step to have it taken off here: upon which, I drew up and printed a pamphlet, by way of a letter from a member of parliament here, showing the danger to the church by such an intent. Although I took all care to be private, yet the lieutenant's chaplain, and some others, guessed me to be the author, and told his excellency their suspicions; whereupon I saw him no more until I went to Ireland. At my taking leave of lord Somers, he desired I would carry a letter from him to the earl of Wharton, which I absolutely refused; yet he ordered it to be left at my lodgings. I staid some months in Leicestershire, went to Ireland; and immediately upon my landing, retired to my country parish, without seeing the lieutenant, or any other person; resolving to send him lord Somers's letter by the post. But, being called up to town, by the incessant intreaties of my friends, I went and delivered my letter, and immediately withdrew. During the greatest part of his government, I lived in the country, saw the lieutenant very seldom when I came to town, nor ever entered into the least degree of confidence with him, or his friends, except his secretary Mr. Addison, who had been my old and intimate acquaintance. Upon the news of great changes here, he affected very much to caress me; which I understood well enough to have been an old practice with him, in order to render men odious to the church party.
I mention these insignificant particulars, as it will be easily judged, for some reasons that are purely personal to myself, it having been objected by several of those poor pamphleteers, who have blotted so much paper to show their malice against me, that I was a favourer of the low party: whereas it has been manifest to all men, that, during the highest dominion of that faction, I had published several tracts in opposition to the measures then taken; for instance, A Project for the Reformation of Manners, in a Letter to the Countess of Berkeley; The Sentiments of a Church-of-England-man; An Argument against abolishing Christianity; and lastly, A letter to a Member of Parliament against taking off the Test in Ireland, which I have already mentioned to have been published at the time the earl of Wharton was setting out to his government of that kingdom. But those who are loud and violent in coffeehouses, although generally they do a cause more hurt than good, yet will seldom allow any other merit; and it is not to such as these that I attempt to vindicate myself.
About the end of August 1710, I went for England, at the desire, and by the appointment, of the archbishops and bishops of that kingdom; under whose hands I had a commission to solicit, in conjunction with two bishops who were then in London, the first-fruits and tenths to the clergy, which had been many years solicited in vain. Upon my arrival in town, I found the two bishops were gone into the country; whereupon I got myself introduced to Mr. Harley, who was then chancellor of the exchequer, and acted as first minister. He received me with great kindness; told me, "that he and his friends had long expected my arrival;" and, upon showing my commission, immediately undertook to perform it; which he accordingly did in less than three weeks, having settled it at five meetings with the queen, according to a scheme I offered him, and got me the queen's promise for a farther and more important favour to the clergy of Ireland; which the bishops there, deceived by misinformation, not worth mentioning in this paper, prevented me from bringing to a good issue.
When the affair of the first-fruits was fully dispatched, I returned my humble thanks to Mr. Harley, in the name of the clergy of Ireland, and in my own; and offered to take my leave, as intending immediately to return to that kingdom. Mr. Harley told me, "He and his friends knew very well what useful things I had written against the principles of the late discarded faction; and that my personal esteem for several among them, would not make me a favourer of their cause: That there was now entirely a new scene: That the queen was resolved to employ none but those who were friends to the constitution of church and state: That their great difficulty lay in the want of some good pen, to keep up the spirit raised in the people, to assert the principles, and justify the proceedings of the new ministers." Upon that subject he fell into some personal civilities, which will not become me to repeat. He added, "That this province was in the hands of several persons, among whom some were too busy, and others too idle to pursue it;" and concluded, "That it should be his particular care, to establish me here in England, and represent me to the queen as a person they could not be without."
I promised to do my endeavours in that way for some few months. To which he replied, "He expected no more; and that he had other and greater occasions for me."
Upon the rise of this ministry, the principal persons in power, thought it necessary that some weekly paper should be published, with just reflections upon former proceedings, and defending the present measures of her majesty. This was begun about the time of the lord Godolphin's removal, under the name of the Examiner. About a dozen of these papers, written with much spirit and sharpness, some by Mr. secretary St. John, since lord Bolingbroke; others by Dr. Atterbury, since [[w:Bishop of Rochester|bishop of Rochester; and others again by Mr. Prior, Dr. Freind, &c.; were published with great applause. But, these gentlemen being grown weary of the work, or otherwise employed, the determination was, that I should continue it; which I did accordingly about eight months. But, my style being soon discovered, and having contracted a great number of enemies, I let it fall into other hands, who held it up in some manner until her majesty's death.
It was Mr. Harley's custom, every Saturday, that four or five of his most intimate friends, among those he had taken in upon the great change made at court, should dine at his house; and after about two months acquaintance, I had the honour always to be one of the number. This company, at first, consisted only of the lord keeper Harcourt, the earl Rivers, the earl of Peterborough, Mr. secretary St. John, and myself; and here, after dinner, they used to discourse, and settle matters of great importance. Several other lords were afterward, by degrees, admitted; as, the dukes of Ormond, Shrewsbury, and Argyll; the earls of Anglesey, Dartmouth, and Poulett; the lord Berkeley, &c. These meetings were always continued, except when the queen was at Windsor; but, as they grew more numerous, became of less consequence, and ended only in drinking and general conversation: of which I may, perhaps, have occasion to speak hereafter.
My early appearance at these meetings, which many thought to be of greater consequence than really they were, could not be concealed, although I used all my endeavours to that purpose. This gave the occasion to some great men, who thought me already in the secrct, to complain to me of the suspicions entertained by many of our friends in relation to Mr. Harley, even before he was lord treasurer; so early were sown those seeds of discontent, which afterward grew up so high! The cause of their complaint was, That so great a number of the adverse party continued in employment; and some, particularly the duke of Somerset and earl of Cholmondeley, in great stations at court. They could not believe Mr. Harley was in earnest; but that he designed to constitute a motley comprehensive administration, which, they said, the kingdom would never endure. I was once invited to a meeting of some lords and gentlemen, where these grievances were at large related to me, with an earnest desire that I would represent them in the most respectful manner to Mr. Harley, upon a supposition that I was in high credit with him. I excused myself from such an office, upon the newness of my acquaintance with Mr. Harley. However, I represented the matter fairly to him; against which he argued a good deal, from the general reasons of politicians; the necessity of keeping men in hopes, the danger of disobliging those who must remain unprovided for, and the like usual topicks among statesmen. But there was a secret in this matter, which neither I, nor indeed any of his most intimate friends were then apprised of; neither did he, at that time, enter with me farther than to assure me very solemnly, "That no person should have the smallest employment, either civil or military, whose principles were not firm for the church and monarchy."
However, these over moderate proceedings in the court, gave rise to a party in the house of commons, which appeared under the name of the October Club; a fantastick appellation, found out to distinguish a number of country gentlemen and their adherents, who professed, in the greatest degree, what was called the high church principle. They grew in number to almost a third part of the house, held their meetings at certain times and places, and there concerted what measures they were to take in parliament. They professed their jealousy of the court and ministry; declared, upon all occasions, their desire of a more general change, as well as of a strict inquiry into former mismanagement; and seemed to expect that those in power should openly avow the old principles in church and state. I was then of opinion, and still continue so, that if this body of men could have remained some time united, they would have put the crown under a necessity of acting in a more steady and strenuous manner. But Mr. Harley, who best knew the disposition of the queen, was forced to break their measures: which he did by that very obvious contrivance, of dividing them among themselves, and rendering them jealous of each other. The ministers gave every where out, that the October Club were their friends, and acted by their directions: to confirm which, Mr. secretary St. John and Mr. Bromley, afterward chancellor of the exchequer, publickly dined with them at one of their meetings. Thus were eluded all the consequences of that assembly; although a remnant of them, who conceived themselves betrayed by the rest, did afterward meet under the denomination of the March club, but without any effect.
The parliament, which then rose, had been chosen without any endeavours from the court, to secure elections; neither, as I remember, were any of the lieutenancies changed throughout the kingdom: for the trial of Dr. Sacheverell had raised, or discovered, such a spirit in all parts, that the ministers could very safely leave the electors to themselves, and thereby gain a reputation of acting by a free parliament. Yet this proceeding was, by some refiners of both parties, numbered among the strains of Mr. Harley's politicks, who was said to avoid an over great majority, which is apt to be unruly, and not enough under the management of a ministry. But, from the small experience I have of courts, I have ever found refinements to be the worst sort of all conjectures; and, from this one occasion, I take leave to observe, That of some hundreds of facts, for the real truth of which I can account, I never yet knew any refiner to be once in the right. I have already told, that the true reason, why the court did not interpose in the matter of elections, was, because they thought themselves sure of a majority, and therefore could acquire reputation at a cheap rate. Besides, it afterwards appeared, upon some exigencies which the court had much at heart, that they were more than once likely to fail for want of numbers. Mr. Harley, in order to give credit to his administration, resolved upon two very important points: first, to secure the unprovided debts of the nation; and secondly, to put an end to the war. Of the methods he took to compass both those ends, I have treated at large in another work: I shall only observe, that while he was preparing to open to the house of commons his scheme for securing the publick debts, he was stabbed by the marquis de Guiscard, while he was sitting in the council chamber at the Cockpit, with a committee of nine or ten lords of the cabinet, met on purpose to examine the marquis, upon a discovery of a treasonable correspondence he held with France.
This fact was so uncommon in the manner and circumstances of it, that although it be pretty well known at the time I am now writing, by a printed account, toward which I furnished the author with some materials, yet I thought it would not be proper wholly to omit it here. The assassin was seized, by Mr. Harley's order, upon the eighth of March, 1710-11: and, brought before the committee of lords, was examined about his corresponding with France. Upon his denial Mr. Harley produced a letter, which he could not deny to be his own hand. The marquis, prepared for mischief, had conveyed a penknife into his pocket, while the messenger kept him attending in one of the offices below. Upon the surprise of his letter appearing against him, he came suddenly behind Mr. Harley, and reaching his arm round, stabbed that minister into the middle of the breast, about a quarter of an inch above the cartilago ensiformis; the penknife, striking upon the bone, and otherwise obstructed by a thick embroidered waistcoat, broke short at the handle; which Guiscard still grasped, and redoubled his blow. The confusion upon this accident is easier conceived than described. The result was, that the marquis, whether by the wounds given him by some of the lords, or the bruises he received from the messengers while they were seizing him, or the neglect of his surgeon, or that being unwilling to live, he industriously concealed one of his wounds, died in a few days after. But Mr. Harley, after a long illness, and frequent ill symptoms, had the good fortune to recover.
Guiscard was the younger brother of the count of that name, a very honourable and worthy person, formerly governor of Namur. But this marquis was a reproach to his family, prostitute in his morals, impious in religion, and a traitor to his prince: as to the rest, of a very poor understanding, and the most tedious, trifling talker, I ever conversed with. He was grown needy by squandering upon his vices, was become contemptible both here and in Holland, his regiment taken from him, and his pension retrenched; the despair of which, first put him upon his French correspondence; and the discovery of that, drove him into madness. I had known him some years; and meeting him upon the Mall a few hours before his examination, I observed to a friend then with me, "that I wondered to see Guiscard pass so often by, without taking notice of me."
But although in the latter part of his life his countenance grew cloudy enough; yet, I confess, I never suspected him to be a man of resolution or courage sufficient, to bear him out in so desperate an attempt.
I have some very good reasons to know, that the first misunderstanding between Mr. Harley and Mr. St. John, which afterward had such unhappy consequences upon the publick affairs, took its rise during the time that the former lay ill of his wounds, and his recovery doubtful. Mr. St. John affected to say in several companies, "that Guiscard intended the blow against him;" which if it were true, the consequence must be, that Mr. St. John had all the merit, while Mr. Harley remained with nothing but the danger and the pain. But, I am apt to think, Mr. St. John was either mistaken, or misinformed. However, the matter was thus represented in the weekly paper called the Examiner; which Mr. St. John perused before it was printed, but made no alteration in that passage.
This management was looked upon, at least, as a piece of youthful indiscretion in Mr. St. John; and perhaps, was represented in a worse view to Mr. Harley. Neither am I altogether sure, that Mr. St. John did not entertain some prospect of succeeding as first minister, in case of Mr. Harley's death: which, during his illness, was frequently apprehended. And I remember very well, that upon visiting Mr. Harley, as soon as he was in a condition to be seen, I found several of his nearest relations talk very freely of some proceedings of Mr. St. John; enough to make me apprehend that their friendship would not be of any long continuance.
Mr. Harley, soon after his recovery, was made an earl, and lord treasurer; and the lord keeper, a baron.
- 'Was the more offensive to her majesty, whose other servants,' &c. This is ungrammatical; it should be — 'was the more offensive to her majesty, as her other servants,' &c.
- 'Were making daily encroachments upon,' &c. This mode of separating the preposition from the word to which it belongs, and placing it at the end of a sentence, is a bad arrangement, and should be avoided as much as possible. How much better would the sentence run by restoring it to its proper place! as thus — 'Upon which those nearest about her were making daily encroachments, by their undutiful behaviour,' &c.
- 'As private as possible,' &c. It should be 'as privately as possible.'
- 'The disposition of employments,' &c. This word is not used in that sense; it ought to be, 'the disposal of employments.'
- See History of the Four Last Years, &c.
- 'Is easier conceived,' &c. This use of the adjective instead of the adverb, is not allowable, it should be — 'is more easily conceived,' &c.