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prising that a man in the plenitude of his power, at the very moment when his ambition has obtained the most complete triumph, should leave the House which procured him that power, and which alone could ensure its maintenance, to retire into that Hospital for Incurables, the House of Lords.”
It is not my intention here to estimate the political career of Lord Chesterfield. Nevertheless, if I hazarded a judgment upon it as a whole, I should say that his ambition was never wholly satisfied, and that the brilliant distinctions with which his public life was filled, covered, at bottom, many lost desires and the decay of many hopes. Twice, in the two decisive circumstances of his political life, he failed. Young, and in the first heat of ambition, he took an early opportunity of staking his odds on the side of the heir presumptive to the throne, who became George the Second. He was one of those who, at the accession of that prince, counted most surely upon his favor, and upon enjoying a share of power. But this clever man, wishing to turn himself to the rising sun, knew not how to accomplish it with perfect justice; he had paid court to the prince's mistress, believing in her destined influence, and he had neglected the legitimate wife, the future queen, who alone had the real power. Queen Caroline never pardoned him, and this was the first check in the political fortune of Lord Chesterfield, then thirty-three years old, and in the full flush of hope. He was in too great a hurry and took the wrong road. Robert Walpole, less active, and with less apparent skill, took his measures and made his calculations better.
Thrown with éclat into the opposition, especially from 1732, the time when he had to cease his court duties, Lord Chesterfield worked with all his might for ten years for the downfall of Walpole, which did not take place until 1742. But even then he inherited none of his power, and he remained out of the new ministries. When two years afterwards, in 1744, he became one of the administration, first as ambassador to the Hague and Viceroy of Ireland, then as Secretary of State and member of the Cabinet (1746–1748), the honor was more nominal than real. In a word, Lord Chesterfield, at all times a noted politician in his own country, whether as one of the chiefs of the opposition, or as a clever diplomatist, was never a powerful, or even a very influential, minister.
In politics he certainly possessed that farsightedness and those glimpses into the future which belong to very wide intelligence, but he possessed those qualities to a much greater de
gree than the patient perseverance and constant practical firmness that are so necessary to the members of a government. It may truly be said of him, as of Rochefoucauld, that politics served to make an accomplished moralist of the imperfect man of action.
In 1744, when he was only fifty years of age, his political ambition seemed, in part, to have died out, and the indifferent state of his health led him to choose a private life. And then the object of his secret ideal and his real ambition we know now. Before his marriage he had, about the year 1732, by a French lady (Madame de Bouchet) whom he met in Holland, a natural son to whom he was tenderly attached. He wrote to this son, in all sincerity: “From the first day of your life, the dearest object of mine has been to make you as perfect as the weakness of human nature will allow." Towards the education of this son all his wishes, all his affectionate and worldly predilections tended. And whether Viceroy of Ireland or Secretary of State in London, he found time to write long letters full of minute details to him, to instruct him in small matters and to perfect him in mind and manner.
The Chesterfield, then, that we love especially to study is the man of wit and experience, who knew all the affairs and passed through all phases of political and public life only to find out its smallest resources, and to tell us the last mot; he who from his youth was the friend of Pope and Bolingbroke, the introducer into England of Montesquieu and Voltaire, the correspondent of Fontenelle and Madame de Teucin, he whom the Academy of Inscriptions placed among its members, who united the wit of the two nations, and who, in more than one intellectual essay, but particularly in his letters to his son, shows himself to us as a moralist as amiable as he is consummate, and one of the masters of life. It is the Rochefoucauld of England of whom we speak. Montesquieu, after the publication of “L'Esprit des Lois,” wrote to the Abbé de Guasco, who was then in England: “Tell my Lord Chesterfield that nothing is so flattering to me as his approbation ; but that, though he is reading my work for the third time, he will only be in a better position to point out to me what wants correcting and rectifying in it; nothing could be more instructive to me than his observations and his critique." It was Chesterfield who, speaking to Montesquieu one day of the readiness of the French for revolutions, and their impatience at slow reforms, spoke this sentence, which is a résumé of our whole history: “You French know how to make barricades, but you never raise barriers.”
Lord Chesterfield certainly appreciated Voltaire ; he remarked, à propos of the “Siècle de Louis XIV.”: “Lord Bolingbroke had taught me how to read history ; Voltaire teaches me how it should be written.” But, at the same time, with that practical sense which rarely abandons men of wit on the other side of the Straits, he felt the imprudences of Voltaire, and disapproved of them. When he was old, and living in retirement, he wrote to a French lady on the subject thus :
“Your good authors are my principal resource : Voltaire especially charms me, with the exception of his impiety, with which he cannot help seasoning all that he writes, and which he would do better carefully to suppress, for one ought not to disturb established order. Let every one think as he will, or rather as he can, but let him not communicate his ideas if they are of a nature to trouble the peace of society.”
What he said then, in 1768, Chesterfield had already said more than twenty years previously, writing to the younger Crebillon, a singular correspondent and a singular confidant in point of morality. Voltaire was under consideration, on account of his tragedy of “Mahomet,” and the daring ideas it contains :
“What I do not pardon him for, and that