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“ You, Lord Archbishop,
SHAKSPEARE: 2 Hen. IV.
The epoch when the individuals last named lived was also that of another considerable person, designed like them for better things, and like them ruined by an extravagant ambition. Nor can we, without pity and grief, contemplate the fate of Atterbury. The politeness of his mind as a scholar and man of taste, his learning as a divine, his influence in his great college * over the studies of the high-born youth whom he governed, his eloquence, and the veneration shown him by some of the best spirits of the land, all combine to make us regret that these advantages were so thrown away by the devastating power, when ill-regulated, of which we are treating. View him in his private and professional life, and we love him. We can scarcely believe that the cloistered yet amiable scholar and divine, as he appears in his correspondence with Pope, so seemingly above the struggles of the world, and so little looking for happiness to anything but his sacred functions mixed with the graces of polite learning, could have been politically ambitious, much less a dabbler in treason. Courts or factions, least of all treason or rebellion, seem not to have belonged to him, yet they absorbed, and in the end destroyed, him. What is remarkable is, that he too, while most meditating on dangerous changes in the state, looking at nothing less than the dethronement and restoration of kings, seemed most smitten with the love of sacred song, of ease, and philosophic quiet. His correspondence with Pope, even at the moment when plotting these changes, possesses a charm which every lover of letters must feel with delight. He loved the poet both for his poetry and good qualities, and shows it amiably as well as amicably. Of course the subjects between them are poetical, and we feel and admire the bishop's taste and criticisms on Milton, Homer, and other favourites. We see him, too, with interest, in his matted room, recovering from illness, little thinking, God knows that he must even then have been contemplating revolution. As to his fondness for ease and learned leisure, he says: “If I am good for any thing, 'tis in angulo cum libello. In the meantime the judicious world is pleased to think that I delight in work which I am obliged to undergo, and aim at things which I from my heart despise. Let them think as they will, so I might be at liberty to act as I will, and spend my time in such a manner as is most agreeable to me. I cannot say I do so now, for I am here without any books.” In another letter it should seem that he disclaims all worldly concerns, and says that the single point he now aims at is to be allowed to be quiet, and live to himself with the very few friends he likes, though he knows the generality of the world, who are unacquainted with his intentions and views, think the very reverse of this belongs to him. At another time he is annoyed at being dragged to town as Dean of Westminster, to perform “ the last scene of pompous vanity" at the funeral of the Duke of Marlborough. “I know,” he says, “I shall often say to myself, while I am expecting the funeral:
* As Dean of Christchurch.
с с 3
'O rus, quando ego te aspiciam ? quandoque licebit
Ducere solicitæ jucunda oblivia vitæ ?'” Seemingly still more estranged from the world, particularly the ambitious world, he says (April, 1722) in regard to the great: “Visits to statesmen always were to me (and are now more than ever) insipid things; let the men that expect, that wish to thrive by them, pay them that homage; I am free. When I want them, they shall hear of me at their doors ; when they want me, I shall be sure to hear of them at mine. But probably they will despise me so much, and I shall court them so little, that we shall both of us keep our distance.” Then follow some observations on the great men of the time (1722), in which, whether merited or not, he seems at least sincere. “When I come to you, it is in order to be with you only. A president of the council, or a star and garter, will make no more impression upon my mind at such a time, than the hearing of a bagpipe, or the sight of a puppet-show. I have said to greatness some time
ago, 'Tuas tibi res habeto; egomet curabo meas.' The time is not far off when we shall all be upon a level, and I am resolved for my part to anticipate that time, and be upon a level with them now, for he is so that neither seeks nor wants them. Let them have more virtue and less pride, and then I'll court them as much as anybody; but till they resolve to distinguish themselves some way else than by their outward trappings, I am determined (and I think I have a right) to be as proud as they are, though I trust in God my pride is neither of so odious a nature as theirs, nor of so mischievous a consequence.
Who that reads this would not suppose that he had here met with a man who had subdued all worldly cares, certainly all worldly ambition, and was saying to himself, 'mea virtute me involvo ?' Indubitably one would not suppose that this seemingly wise and virtuous person, who apparently was contemplating his worldly end, was at that instant engaged in a conspiracy against the state.
Here then let us pause, to ascertain, if possible, the prompting cause of this spleen (for surely it was spleen) in one usually so decorous and polished, though he is represented as of a warm temperament. Had it been Swift's or Bolingbroke's case, we should have understood it at once; they were angry, and kept no terms with those that angered them. But Atterbury not only had far more of the decencies of life than Swift, but, from his rank and power in the church, almost approached the level of Bolingbroke. Yet the complaint seems to savour more of some little
commonplace heartburning, found chiefly in vulgar life, the consequence of an affronted though little pride, than belonging to one of his dignity, or size of mind. It is evident that he had been neglected by some great people (probably Whigs, on account of his party), and resented it accordingly; but we should be loth to attribute to this, in a man of his sense, those treasonable machinations which, spite of his eloquent defence, were proved against him. Be this as it
may, this letter, as well as the case established on evidence of his intended guilt, not to mention the facts related of him on the death of the queen *, prove beyond question, that, with all his beautiful cultivation, he also was influenced by what we have called the unsound ambition. How compatible that is with the sentimental turn of a delicate mind, a classic elegance, and a philosophic feeling, the farther investigation of his correspondence will show. Meantime it is not incurious to remark that he too, when exiled and disappointed, sought for consolation in rural retirement like the rest. For, from the Oxford papers preserved by Coxe, it appears that at Montpelier, though even then engaged in violent intrigues to remove rivals in the Pretender's service, he affected a love of retreat, and the calm pleasures of a country life.t Yet much of what is said of his restless and
* That he was willing and ready to assist in proclaiming the Pretender in his lawn sleeves, and that never was so good a cause lost for want of spirit. This accusation was made by Lord-Chancellor Harcourt. (Core, Memoirs of Sir R. Walpole, i. 167.) He certainly refused to sign the declaration of his brother bishops in favour of George I. (Ibid. 168.)
† Ibid. 173.