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over him. An immense genius: an awful downfall and ruin. So great a man he seems to me, that thinking of him is like thinking of an empire falling. We have other great names to mention none I think, however, so great or so gloomy.
CONGREVE AND ADDISON
GREAT number of years ago, before the passing
of the Reform Bill, there existed at Cambridge
a certain debating-club, called the “Union; and I remember that there was a tradition amongst the undergraduates who frequented that renowned school of oratory, that the great leaders of the Opposition and Government had their eyes upon the University Debating-Club, and that if a man distinguished himself there he ran some chance of being returned to Parliament as a great nobleman's nominee. So Jones of John's, or Thomson of Trinity, would rise in their might, and draping themselves in their gowns, rally round the monarchy, or hurl defiance at priests and kings, with the majesty of Pitt or the fire of Mirabeau, fancying all the while that the great nobleman's emissary was listening to the debate from the back benches, where he was sitting with the family seat in his pocket. Indeed, the legend said that one or two young Cambridge men, orators of the "Union," were actually caught up thence, and carried down to Cornwall or old Sarum, and so into Parliament. And many a young fellow deserted the jogtrot University curriculum, to hang on in the dust behind the fervid wheels of the parliamentary chariot.
Where, I have often wondered, were the sons of Peers and Members of Parliament in Anne's and George's time? Were they all in the army, or hunting in the country, or boxing the watch? How was it that the young gentlemen from the University got such a pro
digious number of places? A lad composed a neat copy of verses at Christchurch or Trinity, in which the death of a great personage was bemoaned, the French king assailed, the Dutch or Prince Eugene complimented, or the reverse; and the party in power was presently to provide for the young poet; and a commissionership, or a post in the Stamps, or the secretaryship of an Embassy, or a clerkship in the Treasury, came into the bard's possession. A wonderful fruit-bearing rod was that of Busby's. What have men of letters got in our time? Think, not only of Swift, a king fit to rule in any time or empire – but Addison, Steele, Prior, Tickell, Congreve, John Gay, John Dennis, and many others, who got public employment, and pretty little pickings out of the public purse. The wits of whose names we shall treat in this lecture and two following, all (save one) touched the King's coin, and had, at some
1 The following is a conspectus of them : ADDISON. — Commissioner of Appeals; Under Secretary of State; Sec
retary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; Keeper of the Records in Ireland; Lord of Trade; and one of the Prin
cipal Secretaries of State, successively. STEELE. — Commissioner of the Stamp Office; Surveyor of the Royal
Stables at Hampton Court; and Governor of the Royal
Estates in Scotland."
Bedchamber to King William; Secretary to the Embassy in France ; Under Secretary of State; Ambassador to
France. TICKELL. — Under Secretary of State; Secretary to the Lords Justices
of Ireland. CONGREVE. Commissioner for licensing Hackney Coaches; Commis
sioner for Wine Licences; place in the Pipe Office; post
in the Custom House; Secretary of Jamaica. GAY. - Secretary to the Earl of Clarendon (when Ambassador to
“En Angleterre .. les lettres sont plus en honneur qu'ici.” – VOLTAIRE: Lettres sur les Anglais. Let. 20.