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XIX. A few additional Thoughts on the Attempts that may at
particular Times be made to abridge the Power of the
The Book on the English Constitution, of which a new edition is here offered to the public, was first written in French, and published in Holland. Several persons have asked me the question, How I came to think of treating of such a subject ? One of the first things in this country, that engage the attention of a stranger who is in the habit of observing the objects before him, is the peculiarity of its government: I had moreover been lately a witness of the broils which had for some time prevailed in the Republic in which I was born, and of the revolution by which they were terminated. Scenes of that kind, in a state which, though small, is independent, and contains within itself the principles of its motions, had naturally given me some competent insight into the first real principles of governments : owing to this circumstance, and perhaps also to some moderate share of natural abilities, I was enabled to perform the task I had undertaken with tolerable success. I was twenty-seven years old when I came to this country: after having been in it only a year I began to write my work, which I published about nine months afterwards; and have since been surprised to find that I had committed so few errors of a certain kind: I certainly was fortunate in avoiding to enter deeply into those articles with which I was not sufficiently acquainted.
The book met with rather a favourable reception on the continent; several successive editions having been made of it. And it also met here with approbation, even from men of opposite parties; which, in this country, was no small luck for a book on systematical politics. Allowing that the arguments had some connection and clearness, as well as novelty, I think the work was of peculiar utility, if the epoch at which it was published is considered; which was, though without any design from me, at the time when the disputes with the colonies were beginning to take a serious turn, both here and in America. A work which contained a specious, if not thoroughly true, confutation of those political notions, by the help of which a disunion of the empire was endeavoured to be promoted (which confutation was moreover noticed by men in the highest places), should have procured to the author some sort of real encouragement; at least the publication of it should not have drawn him into any inconvenient situation. When my enlarged English edition was ready for the press, had I acquainted ministers that I was preparing to boil my tea-kettle with it, for want of being able conveniently to afford the expense of printing it, I do not pretend to say what their answer would have been ; but I am firmly of opinion, that, had the like arguments in favour of the existing government of this country, against republican principles, been shown to Charles the First, or his ministers, at a certain period of his reign, they would have very willingly defrayed the expenses of the publication. In defect of encouragement from great men (and even from booksellers) I had recourse to a subscription; and my having expected any success from such a plan, shows that my knowledge of this country was at that time very incomplete. *
* In regard to two subscribers in particular, I was, I confess, sadly disappointed. Though all the booksellers in London had at first refused to have any thing to do with my English edition (notwithstanding the French work was extremely well known), yet, soon after I had thought of the expedient of a subscription, I found that two of them, who are both living, had begun a translation, on the recommendation, as they told me, of a noble Lord, whom they named, who had, till a few years before, filled one of the highest offices under the Crown. I paid them ten pounds, in order to engage them to drop their undertaking, about which I understood they already had been at some expense. Had the noble Lord in question favoured me with his subscription, I would
After mentioning the advantages with which my work has not been favoured, it is however just that I should give an account of those by which it has been attended. In the first place, as is above said, men of high rank have condescended to give their approbation to it; and I take this opportunity of returning them my most humble acknowledgments. In the second place, after the difficulties, by which the publication of the book had been attended and followed, were overcome, I began to share with booksellers in the profit arising from the sale of it. These profits I indeed thought to be but scanty and slow: but then I considered this was no more than the common complaint made by every trader in regard to his gain, as well as by every great man in regard to his emoluments and his pensions. After have celebrated the generosity and munificence of my patron; but as he did not think proper so to do, I shall only observe that his recommending my work to a bookseller cost me ten pounds.
At the time the above subscription for my English edition was advertising, a copy of the French work was asked of me for a noble Earl, (a) then invested with a high office in the state, none being at that time to be found at any bookseller's in London. Í gave the only copy I had (the consequence was that I was obliged to borrow one, to make my English edition from); and I added, that I hoped his Lordship would honour me with his subscription. However, my hopes were here again confounded. As a gentleman who continues to fill an important office under the Crown accidentally informed me, about a year afterwards, that the noble Lord here alluded to had lent him my French work, Í had no doubt left that the copy I had delivered had reached his Lordship’s hand; I therefore presumed to remind him, by a letter, that the book in question had never been paid for; at the same time apologising for such liberty from the circumstances in which my late English edi. tion had been published, which did not allow me to lose one copy. I must do his Lordship (who is moreover a Knight of the Garter) the justice to acknowledge, that, no later than a week afterwards, he sent two half-crowns for me to a bookseller's in Fleet Street. A lady brought them in a coach, who took a receipt. As she was, by the bookseller's account, a fine lady, though not a peeress, it gave me much concern that I was not present to deliver the receipt to her myself.
At the same time I mention the noble Earl's great punctuality, I think I may be allowed to say a word of my own merits. I waited, before I presumed to trouble his Lordship, till I was informed that a pension of four thousand pounds was settled upon him (I could have wished inuch my own creditors had, about that time, shown the like tenderness to me); and I moreover gave him time to receive the first quarter.
(a) De Lolme seeme here to allude to the Earl of Rochford.— Ed.