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spoke the carpenter, “we have been working for you these six months, and cannot get one penny of money. Pray, sir, when do you mean to pay us.” “Very well, very well,” interrupted Sir Richard, “ pray come down, I've heard quite enough, I can't but own you speak very distinctly, though I don't much admire your subject.”
On the accession of Mr Walpole to power, Steele was reinstated in the theatrical station, from which he had, according to his own account of the matter, been ejected by the private malice of the chamberlain. The influence of this happy circumstance gave new spirit to his dramatic talents, and he soon after produced the most successful of his comedies—the “ Conscious Lovers”—which was received with the highest applause of the theatre; and, having published it with a dedication to the king, his majesty presented him with £500.
Steele was one of that not very uncommon order of persons, who cannot be permanently benefited by kindness-money to him was like water to a sieve. Few had, indeed, been more fortunate, if favourable circumstances could counterbalance the total want of prudence. In addition to the successes which attended his literary and political course, his first wife brought him a handsome fortune, which, with a little judicious management in the beginning, might alone have secured a respectable independence. This lady having died soon, he married his second wife, a lady possessed of an estate in Wales. Happily, this lady, or more probably her family, took the most necessary precaution to secure her property in her own hands; and to this alone, perhaps, he was indebted for a retreat in the last days of his life. He was greatly attached to his second wife, who appears to have deserved his love by kindness. Mutual discontents must have frequently interrupted their peace, as Steele's desperate and unreflecting extravagance was to be resisted by her prudence. She has been accused of parsimony; but we can have no hesitation in rejecting the imputation, too obviously the result of circumstances which made it her daily duty to resist the extreme and wilful folly of her spendthrift husband.
Sir Richard Steele would have spent his wife's patrimony with the same rapidity, and by the same ready channels which quickly carried away his own resources. He was not long in disencumbering himself of the royal bounty, of the profits of his play and theatre, and compelled to resign whatever estate he was in any way possessed of for the benefit of his creditors. He retired to Llanqunnor, in Carmarthenshire-the estate of his wife. There the short remainder of his life was spent.
In the solitude of retirement, and in the languor of impaired health, when ordinary men have rarely the courage or the reflection to survey the errors of past life, or to turn in search of the long neglected narrow path, which is the only refuge in the end, Steele's devotional temper, which had always maintained a place, in “ spite of folly”—for he never sunk into vice-obtained the entire possession of his breast. He carried, happily, with him into retirement, the recollection, that though he had been led away by his vanity and his impetuous impulses, he had never attempted to justify folly at the expense of truth; but in his writings had strenuously and effectually vindicated the supremacy of order, sound morality, and true religion. Men of ordinary ingenuity, when they follow an erroneous career, seldom fail to seek for peace and self-content, by some dexterous misrepresentation. Steele was too honest—he was quite incapable of guile, and he now experienced the reward. It pleased God to visit him with mercy in his retreat; and he there entered on a sternly sober course of sacred study and preparation, which excluded all other occupations.
For such an interval, no long pause was needful. And we have to trace no long period between the world and the grave. He was seized with a paralytic affection, from which he recovered but partially-and soon after, died, on 21st September, 1729, and was privately interred in Carmarthen church.
Robert Molesworth, Wiscount Molesworth.
BORN A.D. 1656.—DIED A.D. 1725. The Molesworth family anciently possessed rank and fortune in the counties of Bedford and Northampton; and are traced so far back as the reign of the first Edward, from whom their ancestor, Sir William de Molesworth, received knighthood in 1306, on the occasion when prince Edward was knighted. He had attended the king in his expedition to the Holy Land, and, at several times, received distinguished honours from him and his successor.
From a younger branch of his descendants in a direct line, came Robert, the father of the person here under our notice. In the rebellion of 1641, he came into Ireland as a captain in the regiment commanded by his elder brother. At the termination of the civil wars, he became an undertaker, and obtained 2500 acres of land in the county of Meath. He afterwards became a merchant in Dublin, and rose into great wealth and favour with the government. He died in 1656.
Four days after his father's death, in the same year, Robert Molesworth was born-the only son of his father.
He received his education in Dublin, and entered the university. He married early, probably in his twentieth year, a sister of the earl of Bellamont. In the struggle previous to the Revolution, he came forward early in support of the prince of Orange, for which his estates were seized by king James, under whose parliament he was attainted. He was, however, soon restored to his rights, by king William, who entertained a high esteem for him; and, soon after his accession to the throne, sent him as an envoy into Denmark.
At Denmark he fell into some disfavour with the Danish court. The circumstances are only known through the representations of an adversary; but they are probable, and may be substantially true. He is stated, by Dr King, on the authority of the Danish envoy, to have most unwarrantably trespassed on the royal privileges, by hunting in the royal preserves, and riding on the road exclusively appropriated to the king. In consequence of those freedoms, he was forbidden the court, and left the country without the ordinary form of an audience.
On his arrival in England, he wrote and published “ An Account of Denmark.” The book was written under the influence of resentment, and gave a very unfavourable account of the Danish government. It was, of course, highly resented by that court, and most especially by prince George, who was married to the English princess Anne, afterwards queen of England. A complaint was made to king William, by Scheele, the Danish envoy in London-he also supplied Dr King with materials for a reply-on the warrant of which we have the above particulars.
Molesworth's book became at once popular, and was the means of greatly extending his reputation, and raising him in the estimation of the most eminent literary characters of the day. He served in the Irish house of commons, for the borough of Swords. He was elected to a seat in the English parliament, for East Retford. He obtained a seat in the privy councis, in the reign of queen Anne—but lost it in 1713, in the heat of party, in consequence of a complaint brought against him by the lower house of convocation, for some words of an insulting purport spoken by him in public. It is, however, easy to see that, in the fierce animosity of the tories then striving for existence, a stanch supporter of the house of Hanover had little chance of favour. The “ Crisis," mentioned in the previous memoir, was partly written in defence of Molesworth.
At length the accession of George the first once more restored the Whigs to place and favour. Molesworth was again named as one of the Irish privy council, and a commissioner of trade and plantations.
In 1716, the king created him an Irish peer, under the titles of baron Philipstown and viscount Molesworth of Swords, by patent, dated 16th July, 1716. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and took a prominent part in every concern which affected the welfare of his country, till the last two years of his life, when he withdrew from public affairs, and devoted his time to literary retirement.
He died 22d May, 1725, and was buried at Swords,
Besides his “ Account of Denmark,” he wrote several pieces of considerable ability, which had, in their day, the effect of exciting public attention, and awakening a useful spirit in Ireland.
In 1723, he published an address to the Irish house of commons for the encouragement of agriculture, and in 1719, a letter relative to the Irish peerage. He translated a political treatise of the civilian Hottoman, from the Latin, and this work reached a second edition, in 1721. His tracts were numerous, and were generally approved for their strong sense and plain force of style.
The subject of this memoir, Charles Boyle, second surviving son to the second earl of Orrery, and the lady Mary Sackville, second daughter to the earl of Dorset, was born in 1676. He received his education in English schools; from which he became a student in
Christ Church, Oxford, under the tuition of the celebrated Atterbury and the Rev. Dr Friend. He possessed that industrious energy of temperament which had distinguished many of his race, and applied himself to study with a devotion which injured his health. His industry was repaid by the acquisition of a very high academic reputation, and the more substantial attainment of such knowledge as the studies then pursued in his university were likely to impart. Dr Aldrich, the head of his college, formed a very high opinion of his merits, and dedicated to him his “ Compendium of Logic,” in which he calls him, “ Magnum ædis nostræ ornamentum.” Mr Boyle's literary ambition seems to have been strongly excited while yet a student. He translated the life of Lysander from Plutarch, and published it. This was probably undertaken at the suggestion of Aldrich, who presently after set him upon a task of far more doubtful result-an edition of the “ Epistles of Phalaris.”
Boyle readily entered upon the work, and translated the epistles into Latin, which he published with the Greek text. Toward the end of his Latin preface, he dropped an unlucky sentence, in which he accused the librarian, who was no less a person than Dr Bentley, of unpolitely withholding from him the manuscript. Bentley wrote a letter in explanation, in which he denied the imputation of having withheld the manuscript. The truth appears to be, that the bookseller who had been employed to collate the manuscript in St James' library with that in Oxford, neglected the task, and excused himself by a falsehood. But to this person Bentley had expressed his opinion that the letters were spurious; and this being conveyed to Boyle, he felt offended, and gave way to the natural petulance of his temper. He replied, “that what Mr Bentley said might be true, but that the bookseller had represented the matter quite otherwise;" and ended by a very unwarrantable defiance, telling Bentley that “he might seek redress in what way he pleased."
The matter might have stopped here; but another train of incidents took place at nearly the same time, which led to that subsequent collision, so celebrated in literary history. Sir William Temple, in one of his essays, had cited the epistles of Phalaris and the fables of Æsop, as instances of the superiority of ancient literature. We shall extract the whole of Temple's observation, as it will be the best introduction to the controversy." It may, perhaps, be further affirmed, in favour of the ancients, that the oldest books we have are still, in their kind, the best. The two most ancient that I know, in prose, among those we call profane authors, are Æsop's fables and Phalaris' epistles, both living near the same time, which was that of Cyrus and Pythagoras. As the first has been agreed by all ages since, for the greatest master in his kind, and all others of that sort have been but imitations of his original-so I think the epistles of Phalaris to have more race, more spirit, more force of wit and genius, than any others I have ever seen, either ancient or modern. I know several learned men-or that usually pass for such, under the name of critics—have not esteemed them genuine; and Politian, with some others, have attributed them to Lucian; but I think he must have little skill in painting, that cannot find this out to be an original.-Such diversity of passions upon
such variety of actions and passages of life and government, such freedom of thought, such boldness of expression, such bounty to his friends, such scorn to his enemies, such honour of learned men, such esteem of good, such knowledge of life, such contempt of death, with such fierceness of nature, and cruelty of revenge, could never be represented but by him that possessed them; and I esteem Lucian to have been no more capable of writing, than of acting what Phalaris did. In all one writ, you find the scholar or the sophist; and in all the other, the tyrant and the commander !"** His essay was answered by Wotton's “ Reflections on Ancient and Modern Learning.” While engaged in this essay, Wotton was assured by Bentley that the two examples on which Temple relied were both spurious; on which Bentley was pressed to write his opinions, as an appendix to the projected essay. Bentley assented, but delayed; and the essay came out without his argument. On the publication of the second edition, the importunity of Wotton prevailed; and Bentley, still reluctant to come into collision with the editors of the Oxford edition of the epistles, at last consented, and his dissertation appeared-making good the points of his previous affirmation. Having asserted and explained the habits of forgery—to which the ancients, during many centuries, had been notoriously addicted-he attacked the genuineness of the epistles of Phalaris, on the grounds of their chronology, style, substance, and the date of their first appearance. Having fixed the lowest possible limit for the age of Phalaris, he showed that they contained numerous references to events long subsequent to the death of Phalaris.t He also pointed out that the style was not that of the Dorian princebeing Attic, and not even the Attic style of the age of Phalaris-with other arguments of similar force. With less truth he attacks the letters, as inconsistent with the character of Phalaris; and, lastly, shows the high improbability of their having lain unknown for upwards of a thousand years, until the time of Lucian. He then enters into a vindication of his own conduct from Mr Boyle's aspersion; and concludes by alleging that the version which had recently appeared was full of faults, and hinting that it was not Mr Boyle's own work. Bentley’s dissertation was fully sufficient to set the question at rest, and was at once received by all distinguished scholars as a model of skill and learning. Mr Boyle and his literary allies had, however, the felicity attributed by Goldsmith to the village pedant, for, “e'en tho vanquished he could argue still.” A junto of clever heads joined their contributions of wit and erudition to produce a reply, and demolish Bentley. Boyle was aided by Atterbury, Smalridge, the Friends, and others; and the discharge of their combined
* Temple's Essays, vol. ii. p. 84. Lond. 1821.
+ We presume that the generality of our readers are sufficiently conversant with the most common incidents of ancient history, to recollect the history of Phalaris, whose supposed epistles were the occasion of this celebrated controversy. He is mentioned as a Cretan, who was banished for an attempt to usurp the government of his native city; and, having fled to Sicily, he contrived to usurp that of Agrigentum. He was famous for his cruelty and talent; and is familiarly recollected by the story of Perillus and the brazen bull which he invented for the torture of criminals, and presented to Phalaris, who tried its effect upon the contriver.