|Simplicity & Clearness|
|Early French Influence|
|Later French Influence|
|Le Bossu & Rymer|
|Sir William Temple|
|Influence of Montaigne|
|His Advice To A Daughter|
PERHAPS the most important literary achievement that falls within the period covered by this volume is the creation of a prose style, which, in structure if not in vocabulary, is essentially the same as that of today. Caroline prose, the prose of Milton and Taylor, of Browne and Clarendon, had produced, in the hands of genius, some of the noblest passages in our literature. But, at the restoration, men began to feel the need of an instrument upon which the everyday performer might play — an instrument suited to an age of reason, possessing, before all things, the homely virtues of simplicity, correctness, lucidity and precision. These qualities, indeed, were not unknown to English prose before the restoration. They are to be found in private letters, not meant for the public eye. Above all, they are to be found in the writings of the veteran Hobbes, who, like Bacon and Ben Jonson, with both of whom he had literary relations, disdained all superfluity of ornament, and was content to make his prose a terse and pregnant expression of a clear and vigorous intellect. But even Hobbes is by no means free from the besetting sins of the older prose — careless construction and trailing relative clauses.
Demand for Simplicity and Clearness
The new prose was the work of a multiplicity of causes, all more or less reflecting the temper of the age. One of these was the growing interest in science, and the insistence of the new Royal Society on the need of a clear and plain style for scientific exposition.
There is one thing more about which the Society has been most solicitous; and that is the manner of their Discourse: which, unless they had been only watchful to keep in due temper, the whole spirit and vigour of their Design had been soon eaten out by the luxury and redundance of speech. .. And, in few words, I dare say that of all the Studies of men, nothing may be sooner obtain'd than this vicious abundance of Phrase, this trick of Metaphors, this volubility of Tongue, which makes so great a noise in the World. ... It will suffice my present purpose to point out what has been done by the Royal Society towards the correcting of excesses in Natural Philosophy, to which it is of all others, a most profest enemy. They have therefore been most vigorous in putting in execution the only Remedy that can be found for this extravagance, and that has been a constant Resolution to reject all amplification, digressions, and swellings of style; to return back to the primitive purity and shortness, when men deliver'd so many things almost in an equal number of words. They have exacted from all their members a close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses, a native eas'ness, bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness as they can, and preferring the language of Artizans, Countrymen, and Merchants before that of Wits or Scholars.
So writes Sprat, the first historian of the Royal Society. Almost at the same time, in December 1664, his colleagues gave effect to their views by appointing a committee for the improvement of the English language, which included, besides himself, Waller, Dryden and Evelyn. (1) Doubtless, it was out of this committee that the idea arose of founding an English academy for the 'improvement of speaking and writing' on the model of the French one. This idea was discussed at three or four meetings held at Gray's inn, where, in addition to the above, Cowley and the duke of Buckingham, also members of the Royal Society, were present. But, in consequence of the plague and 'other circumstances intervening,' the plan 'came to nothing.' (2)
The same need for greater plainness and simplicity of language was felt in pulpit oratory so far back as 1646, when Wilkins, afterwards bishop of Chester, one of the founders of the Royal Society, and its first secretary, had recommended, in his popular Ecclesiastes or the Gift of Preaching, that the style of preaching should be plain and without rhetorical flourishes. (3) After the restoration, these views found an adequate exponent in his friend John Tillotson, whose sermons at Lincoln's inn and St Lawrence Jewry attracted large congregations. (4) His St Paul's sermon, preached before the lord mayor, in March 1661, and printed by request under the title The Wisdom of being religious, is, in its perfect plainness and absence of rhetoric, an instructive contrast to the brilliantly imaginative discourse which Jeremy Taylor delivered, only eight months earlier, at the funeral of archbishop Bramhall. But the reformation of pulpit oratory was not the work of one sermon or one man. Both Stillingfleet, reader at the Temple, who was even more popular than Tillotson, and South, public orator at Oxford, who was made a prebendary of Westminster in 1663, belonged to the modern schooL In a sermon preached on Ascension day 1667, the latter divine commended apostolic preaching for its plainness and simplicity:
nothing here of the finger of the North-star... nothing of the door of angel's wings or the beautiful locks of cherubims: no starched similtudes, introduced with a 'thus have I seen a cloud rolling in its airy mansion,' and the like.
This ungenerous hit at Jeremy Taylor, who was lately dead, well marks the antithesis between the new age and the old, between wit and poetry, between reason and imagination.
Dryden's statement that
'if he had any talent for English prose it was owing to his having often read the writings of the great archbishop Tillotson'
must be regarded as a piece of generous exaggeration At the most, he can only have learnt from him the virtues of clear and logical statement, and of short, well coordinated sentences. In the epistle dedicatory of The Rival-Ladies (1664), and in the earlier part of the Essay of Dramatick Poesie written in the summer of 1665, his management of the clause is still somewhat uncertain. It is not till Neander, who represents Dryden, joins in the discussion that we recognise our first master of modern prose.
In the Essay of Dramatick Poesie, the conversational character of Dryden's style is, also, already apparent. This, of course, is due, in part, to the dialogue form, but we may also trace in it the influence of Will's coffee-house, where, though he was 'not very conversible,'(5) he was listened to as an oracle. The statement suggests a man who talked with unusual deliberation and precision, and with a nice choice of words, and whose written style was thus a more exact copy of his talk than is ordinarily the case. Moreover, that style is always refined and well bred, reflecting, in this, the tone of the court and, particularly, that of the king.
'The desire,' says Dryden in his Defence of the Epilogue (1672), of imitating so great a pattern loosened' the English 'from their stiff forms of conversation, and made them easy and pliant to each other in discourse.'
And, of Charles II, Halifax says that his wit 'consisted chiefly in the quickness of his apprehension.' It was a trait which he inherited — with others — from his grandfather Henry IV, and he gave expression to it with a refinement of language and a conversational ease natural to one who had spent five years in Paris society.
Early French Influence.
The influx of French fashions at the restoration has become a commonplace with historians; but, so far as regards literature, it had begun at least as early as the reign of Elizabeth. The marriage of Charles I with Henrietta Maria (1625) gave a fresh impulse to the movement, and it was under the queen's auspices, if not by her actual command, that an English version of Corneille's Cid was put on the stage in 1638, little more than a year after its publication in French. In the same year, three volumes of Balzac's Letters appeared in an English translation, one of them in a second edition. The vogue of a rhetorician like Balzac, whose style is more important than his thought, is a striking testimony to the high estimation in which the language and literature of France were then held. It must be remembered that Richelien's great design of making France the first power in Europe was just beginning to be successful, and that it was partly in furtherance of this that, in 1634, he had founded the Académie française. Though the civil war (1642-8) checked, for a time, the French studies of Englishmen, it ultimately contributed to their diffusion. For it sent most leading English men of letters to Paris. In 1646, Hobbes, 'the first of all that fled,' Waller, D'Avenant, Denham, Cowley and Evelyn were all gathered together in the French capital. Cowley remained there till 1656; D'Avenant returned, a prisoner, in 1650, the others in 1652.
In 1651, D'Avenant published his unfinished heroic poem Gondibert, which he had written at Paris, and which, in general conception and tone, shows the influence of the heroic romances. (6) Their popularity in England is well known. (7) Gomberville's Polexandre appeared in an English dress in 1647 but 'so disguised' that Dorothy Osborne, that ardent reader of romances, 'hardly knew it.' A translation of La Calprenède's Cléopâtre and two translations of his Cassandre, began to appear in 1652 (Sir Charles Cottrell's translation of the former was published in 1676). English versions of Madeleine de Scudery's Ibrahim, Le Grand Cyrus and Clélie followed in 1652, 1653-5 and 1656-61. There was a subsequent version of the last named in 1678, and translations by John Phillips of La Calprenède's Pharamond and of Madeleine de Scudéry's Almahide in the previous year. English imitations also appeared, such as lord Broghill (Orrery)'s Parthenissa (first part) in 1654, with which, in spite of its 'handsome language,' Dorothy Osborne was not very much taken, and Sir George Mackenzie's Aretina or the Serious Romance in 1661. A complete edition of Parthenissa in three volumes was published in 1665 and 1667. The most active translator at this time was John Davies of Kidwelly. Besides Clélie (1652) and the last four parts of Cléopâtre (1658-60), he translated novels by Scarron (1657-67); Voiture's Letters (1637), which soon eclipsed Balzac's in favour and are recommended by Locke as a pattern for 'letters of compliment, mirth, railery or conversation'; Sorel's Le Berger extravagant (1653); and Scarron's Nouvelles tragi-comiques (1657-62). The same author's Don Japhet d'Arménie and Les trois Dorothées were translated in 1657, and his Roman comique in 1676. But it was his burlesques which had the greatest vogue in this country and produced numerous imitators. Charles Cotton led the way with his Scarronides, a burlesque of the first book of Vergil, in 1664, and followed it up with the fourth book in 1665. Other writers burlesqued Homer and Ovid, all outdoing Scarron in coarseness and vulgarity. In the words of Dryden, Parnassus spoke the cant of Billingsgate.
But, to return to the days of the commonwealth, there appeared, in 1653, the translation of a more famous work, which, in one sense, was a burlesque. This was Sir Thomas Urquhart's remarkable version of the first two books of Rabelais's great romance. It apparently fell flat, for the third book was not published till forty years later. (8) Greater success attended the translation of another monument of French prose, Pascal's Lettres Provinciales, which, under the title The Mysterie of Jesuitisme, discovered in certain letters, was published in 1657, the year in which Pascal wrote the last of the letters, a new edition being called for in the following year. And a translation of Descartess Traité des passions de l'âme (1650) testifies to an interest in that psychological analysis which was to be a brilliant feature of the new school of French writers.
Later French Influence.
At the restoration, there was a decided falling off in this work of translation. In fact, all the translations from the French produced during the twenty-five years of Charles II's reign hardly surpass in number those which appeared during the last eight years of the commonwealth. The first decade after the restoration was marked chiefly by a fairly successful attempt to acclimatise Corneille, the details of which have been given in a previous chapter. (9) The psychological tragedies of Racine were less to the taste of English audiences, and it was not till nearly the close of queen Anne's reign that they secured a footing on the English stage with Ambrose Philips's Distrest Mother (Andromaque) . The unparalleled debt to Molière has been pointed out in an earlier chapter. (10) It need only be said here that, of all his thirty-one plays, only about half-a-dozen escaped the general pillage. (11) La Fontaine was not translated into English till the next century; but he was read and admired by the English wits, and it was only his growing infirmities which, towards the end of his life, prevented him from accepting an invitation sent by some of his English admirers, who 'engaged to find him an honourable subsistence' in London.
To Boileau, the remaining member of this illustrious group of friends, Dryden refers in 1677, three years after the publication of L'Art Poétique, as one of the chief critics of his age; while, in the Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693), he pays a splendid tribute to him, as
'the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed and whose sense is close.'
His Lutrin appeared in English in 1682; his Art Poétique, translated by Sir William Soames and revised by Dryden, in 1683; and, about the same time, Oldham imitated two of his satires, the fifth and the eighth. The second had been already translated by Butler, and the third by Buckingham and Rochester. Bossuet is represented by some of his controversial writings, such as his Exposition de la Doctrine de l'Église Catholique and Conférence avec M. Claude, and by his great Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle, which was translated in 1686. Malebranche's Recherche de la Vérité; and La Rochefoucauld's Maximes both appeared in English in 1694, and, of the latter, there had been an earlier translation by Mrs Aphra Behn. Pascal's Pensées and La Bruyere's Caractères, which Dryden couples together as 'two of the most entertaining books that modern French can boast of,' were translated in 1688 and 1699 respectively; in 1688, too, appeared an English version of Mine de la Fayette's Princesse de Clèves. But a mere record of translations from a foreign literature is far from constituting a measure of its influence. The real influence which French literature exercised upon our own between the restoration and the close of the seventeenth century may be classified under four heads: that of Corneille and the heroic romances upon tragedy, that of Moliere upon comedy, that of Moutaigne upon the essay and that of French criticism upon English criticism. Neither the first nor the second of these influences is really important: for the fashion of the rim ing heroic play soon passed away; and, though our comedy borrowed its materials from Moliere, it took over little of his form, and nothing of his spirit. The influence of Montaigne upon the essay will he discussed later. But it may be well, in the first instance, to consider the influence which is the most important of all, because it affected our whole literature and not merely some special department of it.
Le Bossu and Rymer
The debt of English literature to French criticism begins with D'Avenant's laboured and longwinded preface to Gondibert, written in Paris and there published, with an answer by Hobbes, in 1650. It was, no doubt, suggested by Chapelain's turgid and obscure preface to Marino's Adone (1623). In 1650, Chapelain was at the height of his authority as a critic, and the whole tone of this piece of writing, with the talk about nature and the insistence on the need of criticism as well as inspiration in poetry, is thoroughly French. Dryden, in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie, is perfectly independent in his views; but he must have written it with a copy of the 1660 edition of Corneille's plays, which contain his Examens and Discours, by his side. (12) Among the French critics of the next generation, Boileau stands out prominent, but his authority in England during the last quarter of the seventeenth century was balanced by that of Rapin, whose Réflexions sur la poétique d'Aristote was translated by Rymer in the same year in which it appeared in French (1674), and of whom Dryden says that he 'is alone sufficient, were all other critics lost, to teach anew the rules of writing.'(13) Le Bossu and Dacier were also highly esteemed. Dryden speaks of Le Bossu as 'the best of modern critics,' and the greater part of his Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693) is little more than an adaptation of Dacier's Essai sur la Satire. A translation of this treatise, which consists of only a few pages, was printed in an appendix to one of Le Bossu's, Du poèmé épique, in 1695.
'I presume your Ladyship has read Bossu,'says Brisk to lady Froth, in Congreve's Double-Dealer (1693). (14) '0 Yes, and Rapin and Dacier upon Aristotle and Horace'
and, in Dennis's The Impartial Critic, produced in the same year as Congreve's play, frequent appeals are made to Dacier's translation of Aristotle's Poetics, which he had published, avec des Remarques, in the previous year.
Of these three Frenchmen, all of whom have now passed into oblivion, it may be said that, like Boileau, they express in their literary criticism the absolutist ideas of their age. But their outlook is narrower, and their attitude towards the ancients less independent, than Boileau's. Conform to 'the Precepts of Aristotle and Horace and to the Practice of Homer and Virgil,' is the summary of Le Bossu's longwinded treatise. Rapin says that 'to please against the rules is a bad principle,' and he defines art as 'good sense reduced to method.' In Thomas Rymer, who prefixed to his translation a characteristic preface, he found an interpreter who, with equal respect for Aristotle, laid even greater emphasis on commonsense. He aspired to be 'the Plain Dealer' of criticism, and, having examined modern epic poems in the preface to Rapin, proceeded, four years later (1678), to 'handle 'The Tragedies of the Last Age' with the same liberty.' He was answered in verse by Butler (Upon Critics who judge of modern plays by the rules of the Ancients), and in prose by Dryden, who, in his preface to All for Love, the play in which he renounced rime, rebels against the authority of
'our Chedreux critics,' and, while he admits that 'the Ancients as Mr Rymer has judiciously observed, are and ought to be our masters,' qualifies his admission with the remark that, 'though their models are regular, they are too little for English tragedy.'
The earl of Mulgrave (afterwards marquis of Normanby and duke of Buckinghamshire), in his much admired Essay upon Poetry (1682), drew largely from Boileau's Art Poétique; and, in 1684, the authority of 'the rules' was reinforced by a translation of the abbe d'Aubignac's Pratique du théâtre:
Then, 'tis the mode of France; without whose rules
None must presume to set up here as fools. (15)
Rymer's Short view of Tragedy (1693), with its famous criticism of Othello, roused Dryden to another spirited defence of English tragedy. (16) But the authority of Rymer continued to stand high, even with Dryden. It was well, therefore, for English literature that there were critics in France who paid little or no respect to the rules, and who believed that individual taste was a better criterion than Rymer's 'common-sense of all ages.' Such were the chevalier (afterwards marquis) de Méré, whose letters, containing a good deal of scattered criticism, were published in 1687; the père Bouhours, whose Manière de penser sur les ouvrages de l'esprit appeared in the same year; and La Bruyere, whose Caractères, with the admirable opening chapter Des Ouvrages de l'esprit, followed at the beginning of the next. All these three writers, of whom the second and third were known in England before the close of the century, may be said to belong to the school of taste, when taste was still a matter of individual judgment, and had not yet stiffened into the narrow code of an oligarchy.
But there was another critic of the same school who exercised a far greater influence on writers, for he was living in our midst. This was Saint-Évremond, who, exiled from his own country, made England his home from 1662 to 1665 and, again, from 1670 to his death in 1703. He was on intimate terms with the English wits and courtiers, with Hobbes, WaIler and Cowley, with Buckingham, Arlington and St Albans, and his conversational powers were highly appreciated at Will's and other places of resort. His occasional writings were translated from time to time into English, the first to appear being a small volume of essays on the drama, including one on English comedy (1685). Regarded as an oracle on both sides of the Channel, he had a marked influence on English literary criticism. But, though he had a real critical gift, he was neither catholic nor profound. He clung to the favourites of his youth, to Montaigne, Malherbe, Corneille, Voiture, and, having been exiled from France at the close of la bonne Régence, he had little sympathy for the age of Louis XIV. Moliere and La Fontaine barely found favour in his eyes; he was unjust to Racine, and he detested Boileau. Yet much should be pardoned in a man who ventured to say, in the year 1672, that
'there is nothing so perfect in the Poetics of Aristotle that it should be a rule to all nations and all ages.'
It was possibly owing to Saint-Évremond that Montaigne's popularity in this country, which had lain dormant for a season, blossomed afresh after the restoration, and gave a new stimulus to the literary essay, which owed to him its name and original inspiration. For, after 1625, the year in which Bacon's Essays received their final form, the essay began to lose its popularity. Then, at the beginning of the commonwealth, a versatile writer, named Thomas Forde, produced a volume of essays, Lusus Fortunae (1649), the common topic of which, the mutability of man and human affairs, strongly suggests Montaigne; and, on the eve of the restoration, Francis Osborne published A Miscellany of Sundry Essayes Paradoxes and Problematical Discourses, Letters and Characters (1659), of which the style has all the faults, and none of the virtues, of the older prose. (17) The author, who was master of the horse to Shakespeare's patron William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, is best known for his Advice to a Son, which, first published in 1656, went through numerous editions. It is a strange admixture of platitude and paradox, much of which might have come straight from the lips of Polonius. The style, when it is not terse and apophthegmatic, as of one trying to imitate Bacon, is stiff with conceits and longwinded sentences.
It was Abraham Cowley, a friend of Saint-Évremond, who gave a new turn to the essay. Cowley has often been called a transitional writer; but he is one in the sense, not that he dallied in a halfway house, but that, both in prose and verse, he made a complete transit from the old school to the new. It is particularly interesting to trace this progress in his prose writings. In the earliest of these, the preface to the 1656 edition of his poems, his sentences are at first cumbrous and involved, and though, when lie warms to his work, they become shorter and better balanced, there remains a certain stiffness in the style quite unlike the conversational ease of his later essays. It is nearer to Jeremy Taylor (who was only five years Cowley's senior, and who died in the same year) than to Dryden. To the older school also belongs the Discourse by way of Vision concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell (1661), of which the latter part is a fine example of rhetorical prose. Even in the preface to Cutter of Coleman Street (18) (1663), though the sentences, as a rule, are short and well coordinated, Cowley has by no means shaken himself free from the old mannerism. The essays proper, eleven in number, were all written during the last four or five years of his life, and, to most of them, a more approximate date can be assigned. In 1663, having been disappointed of the mastership of the Savoy hospital, he accomplished his design of withdrawing himself from 'all tumults and business of the world,' by retiring to Barn Elms on the Thames, then a favourite resort of Londoners. Before this, he must have written the essay entitled The danger of Procrastination, in which he refers to his 'design' as only in contemplation. It is not without charm, but long sentences still occur. Transitional in style, also, is the essay Of Agriculture, in which he proposes that 'one college in each University should be erected and appropriated to this Study,' and the short essay entitled The Garden, dedicated to his friend Evelyn, which was written in 1664, between the publication of Evelyn's Kalendarium Hortense and that of his Gardening. Cowley speaks of himself as 'sticking still in the inn of a hired house and a garden.' In April 1665, he moved to the Porch House, Chertsey, and there he died two years later. To these last two years of his life belong the essays Of Obscurity, Of My Self and that entitled The dangers of an Honest man in such Company; and to the same period we may with all probability assign Of Solitude, Of Greatness and The Shortness of Life and uncertainty of Riches. In these six essays, Cowley has found his style and his method. The influence of Montaigne is unmistakable. In the two essays in which he is mentioned by name, Of Solitude and Of Greatness, not only the titles, but some of the contents, are borrowed from him. Of those chief characteristics which mark the essai of Montaigue in its final phase of development — the examples from classical and other authors, the personal element and the artistic workmanship — none is wanting in Cowley. Yet he is no mere satellite of Montaigne. He is saved from this by the personal element in his writings. In the words of his biographer, his essays are 'a real chronicler of his own thoughts upon the point of his retirement.' In spite of The Spectator's sneer that 'he praised solitude when he despaired of shining in a court,' there is no reason to doubt his earnest affection for obscurity and retirement. We can see, too, in his essays, the other qualities ascribed to him by Sprat — his lack of affectation, his modesty and humility, and, above all, the pleasant gravity of his speech. The essay Of Greatness may be taken as an example of his method. Here we find, not the solitary self-communing of a Burton or a Browne, but a friendly interchange of confidence between author and reader — an anecdote freely translated from the elder Seneca, a few examples from Suetonius of the foibles of the Roman emperors; a pointed reference to 'the late giant of our nation'; a quotation or two from the Latin poets; and a few lines of the author's own. There is no disdain of commonplaces; but they are dressed up as 'ridiculous paradoxes,' before being stripped and presented to the reader as brand-new truths. As for the style, it is neither stiff nor slovenly; neither a court suit, nor a dressing gown and slippers. The choice of words is fastidious, without being affected; the use of metaphor is restrained; sentences are well turned, but not all cut to the same pattern. The artist, in short, has concealed his art. Cowley, we are told, intended to publish a discourse upon style. It would have been agreeable reading; but it would doubtless have revealed as little of his secret as have similar treatises by later masters of the art of prose.
Cowley's essays were first printed, under the title Several Discourses, by way of Essays, in Verse and Prose, in 1668, the year after his death. In the same year, his friend Thomas Sprat (afterwards bishop of Rochester) wrote an 'elegant' account of his life and writings, which, unfortunately, is as sparing of facts as the same writer's History of the Royal Society. Worse than this, having told us that Cowley excelled in his letters to his private friends — as we can well believe from the one letter of this sort which has escaped destruction (19) — Sprat declines to publish them on the ground that
'in such letters the souls of men should appear undressed; and in that negligent habit, they may be fit to be seen by one or two in a chamber, but not to go abroad into the street.'
Happily, one collection of private letters of this period has been preserved, which reveals a 'native tenderness and innocent gaiety of mind' equal to Cowley's. These are the letters of Dorothy Osborne, niece of Francis Osborne, written to her future husband, Sir William Temple, between the autumn of 1652 and that of 1654. She not only writes delightful letters, full of good sense, penetration and humour, but she has views of her own about the epistolary style.
'All letters, methinks, should be free and easy as one's discourse: not studied as an oration, not made up of hard words like a charm. '
This criticism she does not consider applicable to the letters of her lover.
Sir William Temple
Nothing is more pleasant than to trace through the records of Temple's political life the services rendered to him, and, through him, to the public interest, by this most devoted of women, though the title has been held to be disputable on behalf of Temple's sister, lady Giffard, whom he commemorated with his wife and himself on his tombstone. Lady Giffard gave up the whole of her long widowhood to the companionship and service of her beloved brother, and wrote anonymously the brief Life and admirable character of him, afterwards prefixed to the folio edition of his works (1750). But, although, at times, it was more convenient for lady Giffard to be the companion of her brother's journeys than it was for his wife, the latter was by no means, as has been suggested, thrown into the shade by her, and a complete harmony of purpose and feeling seems to have existed among the trio. Lady Temple was taken into her husband's confidence as completely in his public, as in his private, business, except when he was under obligations of absolute secrecy; when left behind at the Hague, she was able to give him trustworthy information as to Buckingham's negotiations with France; and she had the principal share in the confidential enquiries as to what 'concern'd the Person, Humour and Dispositions' of the young princess Mary of York whose hand William of Orange thereupon made up his mind to ask in marriage. (20) Lady Giffard's own letters, which have been recently published, (21) lack the rare charm which attaches to those of her sister-in-law, after, as well as before, marriage, even at seasons when, according to lady Temple's own description, she felt 'as weary as a dog without his Master.' The greatest tragedy of her life, the death by his own hand of the son of whom, in his babyhood, she had written as 'the quietest best little boy that ever was borne,' seems to school her into a calm solemnity of expression which has a pathos of its own, unlike that which mingles with the humour of her earlier writing.
Temple's own letters — not including those to Dorothy — were published after his death by his quondam secretary Swift (whose reverence for his patron certainly did not go deep), the first two volumes appearing in 1700, and the third in 1703. (22) This correspondence, which includes many letters from Arlington, lord keeper Bridgeman, and others (with Clifford, notwithstanding their connection through lady Temple, her husband was quite out of touch from the first), fails to warrant the statement of its title-page, that it contains 'an account of the most Important Transactions that pass'd in Christendom' during the period which the earlier volumes cover (1665-72) (23); but it furnishes a lucid survey of unusual interest. In his Letters, even more conspicuously than in his Memoirs, Temple's style is wholly unaffected and unambitious, and the early letter to his father in Ireland, giving an account of his visit to the slippery bishop of Munster, is an admirable specimen of lively narrative. It is worth noticing that not only Temple but most of the men of affairs who correspond with him write in the same straightforward and simple style — it was a period when much importance had begun to be attached in France to the clearness and readableness of diplomatic despatches, and it was natural that the same habit should have become more common in English diplomatic correspondence. In 1666, Temple was, as he says, 'Young and Very New in Business'; but it was not long before he was engaged in the negotiations of which the result was a diplomatic masterpiece, the famous Triple Alliance of 1668, and in those which accompanied its break-up. A considerable number of Temple's letters and other papers are in French, Latin or Spanish, in all of which tongues he was a proficient; but he naturally finds few opportunities for a display of literary taste as well as of linguistic ability. (24) The personal interest of some of his letters is, however, considerable; not only his trust in his wife, but his modest and unaffected estimate of the value of his own public services, even in so exceptional an instance as the carrying through of the Triple Alliance, and bringing 'Things drawn out of their Center' back 'to their Center again,' cannot fail to engage the sympathy of the reader.
The distinctive qualities of Temple as a writer of clear and agreeable prose are even more distinctive of his Memoirs, which are concerned with the later years of his career — from 1674, when the conclusion of peace with the Dutch and the general desire of inducing the French government to follow the example of the English brought him again to the front, to the conclusion of the peace of Nymegen, in 1678, and thence to his final withdrawal, at the very height of political agitation at home, from all further open share in public affairs. The second part professes to begin in 1672 (though it cannot really be said to go back beyond 1674), and was preceded by a first part beginning with 1665, which, at some unknown period of his life, and for reasons which can only be conjectured, (25) was destroyed by the author himself. Thus, only the second part, published without authority in 1691 and republished by Swift in 1692, and the third part, published by him on his own motion, remain to us. But they are among the best examples of a class of literature which was as yet new in England-memoirs of affairs, as well as of personal experiences, conveying the information and instruction which they are designed to impart in a thoroughly readable and often highly attractive style. It would not be easy to find a more lucid account of the political results of the declaration of war by England against the Dutch, with which the narrative opens, or of the impasse to which the selfishness of party purposes and personal interests had reduced English politics when Temple bade them a long farewell. On the other hand, few memoirs or diaries of the time succeed better in suggesting a lifelike, and, at the same time, reasonable, conception of both the ways of talking and the ways of thinking of two princes so different from one another as were Charles II and William III (before his accession to the English throne). It is not a little to Temple's credit as a diplomatist that he should have been able, in a very uncommon degree, to gain the confidence of both; it is hardly less to his credit as a writer that, especially in the case of Charles II, to none of whose weaknesses he was blind, he should have been able to show what there was in him that fitted him for his destiny.
In the preface to part III of these Memoirs, Swift is at pains to refute the objections taken against them 'first, as to the Matter; that the Author speaks too much of himself; next, as to the Style; that he affects the Use of French Words, as well as some Turns of Expression peculiar to that Language.' Temple's nature, no doubt, was, in a sense, self-centred, but his Memoirs preserve a due balance between egotism and a reticence about himself which would have detracted from the impression of veracity conveyed by them, besides depriving them of much of the human interest without which many valuable political memoirs have become virtually closed books. Temple's Gallicisms of vocabulary and expression Swift seeks to excuse by more or less ingenious pleas; but, to modern English readers, Temple's style will not seem to stand in need of defence, whether or not there were many French words which he blotted out, as Swift states, in order to put English in their place. On the other hand, if we may ourselves be guilty of the fault imputed to him, he was an excellent raconteur; and his good stories are all the better because they are neither too long nor too numerous. They often point a characteristic trait in princes or statesmen or, like the anecdote of Richelieu's wrathful outburst against Charles I, illustrate the genesis of a whole Iliad of truths; occasionally, they are merely amusing 'problems,' like the story of the old count of Nassau and the parrot. But the writer is at his best in the light-handed analysis of character and conduct (including his own) which shows the influence of French example far more notably than does his choice of words or phrases. Yet, even when speaking of himself; he could write with force, when it seemed in place:
I have had in Twenty Years Experience, enough of the Uncertainty of Princes, the Caprices of Fortune, the Corruption of Ministers, the Violence of Factions, the Unsteddyness of Counsels, and the Infidelity of Friends; Nor do I think the rest of my Life enough to make any new Experiments.
Temple's general judgment of the political and social characteristics of a people whom he learnt to know well, not only by long sojourns among them, but because, as he relates with pardonable pride, his visits were welcomed by them as are those of the swallow in the spring, is laid down in his sympathetic but unprejudiced Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands (1672). They present themselves as the expansion of a summary of the condition of the country, sent in, according to custom, at the close of an ambassador's stay there; but they are put together under the impression of the great and, as it seemed to Temple, decisive catastrophe, which had suddenly brought to the brink of destruction a state, 'the Envy of some, the Fear of others, and the Wonder of all' its neighbours. It is the growth of that polity's greatness, due to moral, as well as physical, causes — to the principle of tolerance as well as the control of the sea — which this admirable essay demonstrates with equal lucidity and conviction.
During the same period of leisure, he produced, in 1667 or 1668, An Essay upon the present State and Settlement of Ireland, which, though censuring the process of the late settlement, advises no remedy for existing results beyond that which had been commended by Spenser. In 1673, Temple published An Essay upon the Advancement of Trade in Ireland, which asserts
'the true and natural ground of Trade and Riches' to be the 'Number of People in proportion to the Ground they inherit,'
but proposes some useful developments of the export trade suggested to him by his own residence in Leinster.
Part I of the Miscellanea contains A Survey of the Constitution and Interests of the Empire and other principal European countries, with their Relations to England in the Year 1671, presented in that year to Arlington: a clear exposition of the political situation and of the reasons for and against England's joining France against the Dutch, with a specially luminous account of the general history of Spanish politics and of the rise of the United Provinces to the rank of a first-rate power. It will be noted that this diplomatic summary, clear as it is, opens with sentences of almost Clarendonian length. To a later period seems to belong An Introduction to the History of England (published in 1695), which may possibly have been intended as an introduction to Kennett's History, the editors of which, however, proposed to use Milton for the period before the Norman conquest. Temple shows a characteristic contempt for mythology, and treats no part of his subject very assiduously till he comes to the reign of William the Conqueror, whom he holds to have been unjustly censured by ecclesiastical writers. Like all Temple's writings, this abridgment is very readable, though, unlike most of them, the work of a dilettante. Of much greater interest is his Essay upon the Original and Nature of Government (written about 1672), which is noticeable as arguing, in direct contravention of the theory of a social contract elaborated by Hobbes and Locke, that state government arose out of an extension of paternal and patriarchal authority. It is not too much to say that, in this argument, Temple was before his times; Locke takes no notice of his speculations. (26)
Temple's essays, or, as they were called, Miscellanea, appeared in three parts; the first in 1680 the second in 1690 and the third, two years after the author's death, in 1701. The most widely read of these essays, Upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1690), was inspired by that quarrel between the ancients and the moderns which, for more than two years, had divided the literary world of Paris, and was, in its turn, the origin of the celebrated controversy on the Letters of Phalaris between Bentley and Charles Boyle. But neither in this nor in the companion essay, Upon Poetry, does Temple show to much advantage. His knowledge is too superficial for his task. He has a bowing acquaintance with many authors, but he is not on intimate terms with any. He has sauntered through the outer courts of literature, but he has never penetrated to the sanctuary. It is interesting, however, to note his opinions on French literature. In poetry, he only mentions two names, Ronsard for the past and Boileau for the present. For prose, he names Rabelais, Montaigne, and, among the moderns, Voiture, La Rochefoucauld and Bussy — Rabutin, whose Histoire Amoureuse de Gaule (1665) had a succès de scandale in this country as well as in France. (27) Of the French language, Temple justly observes that, as it
'has much more Finess and Smoothness at this time, so I take it to have had much more Force, Spirit, and Compass in Montaigne's Age'; while, of Rabelais, he says that he 'seems to have been Father of the Ridicule, a man of universal learning as well as wit.'
Was it this praise which led to the publication, in the following year (1693), thirty-three years after the author's death, of Sir Thomas Urquhart's translation of the third book of Pantagruel,(28) followed, in 1708, by that of the fourth and fifth books from the pen of Pierre-Antonius Motteux, one of the 84,000 refugees whom the revocation of the edict of Nantes sent to this country? The most agreeable of Temple's essays are those Upon the Cure of the Gout (part I), Upon the Gardens of Epicurus, or Of Gardening (part II) and Upon Health and Long Life (part III). The latter is especially interesting for the light that it throws upon the notions of the age as to health and longevity, and the specifics in use for the cure of ordinary ailments. Thus, we learn that alehoof or ground-ivy is 'most sovereign for the eyes' and 'admirable in Frenzies' and that the constant use of alehoof ale is a
'specifick Remedy or Prevention of the Stone'; that 'the Spirit of Elder is sovereign in Cholicks, and the use of it in general very beneficial in Scurvies and Dropsies'; and that 'for Rheums in the Eyes and the Head a leaf of Tobacco put into the Nostrils for an Hour each Morning is a Specifick Medicine.'
In the essay Of Gardening, written in 1685, Temple gives an agreeable account of his own garden at Sheen, which was renowned for its fruit trees, discoursing of his grapes and figs, his peaches and apricots, with that complacent sense of superiority which is the foible of most gardeners. The essay entitled Gout, written in 1677, gives much information as to various cures for that malady of statesmen, and, incidentally, introduces us to several of Temple's diplomatic colleagues in a new and entertaining light. Temple's style was highly thought of in his own day.
'It is generally believed,' said Swift, 'that this author has advanced our English tongue to as great perfection as it can well bear.'
But this is the exaggerated praise of an editor. Lamb's 'plain, natural, chit-chat' is nearer the mark. Temple writes like a fine gentleman at his ease, without any affectation, but with considerable negligence. His syntax is sometimes faulty, and his expression does not always fit his thought. Though his sentences are kept, as a rule, within convenient bounds, they straggle occasionally and leave trailing ends. To agree wholly with Johnson that 'Temple was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose,' is to forget Browne and Taylor; but Temple has a true feeling for cadence; in this alone he is Cowley's superior. It is largely through this quality that he rises at times beyond the level of 'natural chit-chat,' as in the fine passage in praise of poetry and music which concludes the essay Upon Poetry and ends with the often quoted comparison between human life and a froward child.
Influence of Montaigne
Like Cowley, Temple came under the spell of Montaigne. In the essay Of Gardening, he borrows from him the story of Heraclitus playing with the boys in the porch of the Temple, and he refers to him in two later essays, Upon Popular Discontents and Upon Health and Long Life. Moreover, two essays, heads for which were found among his papers, Upon the different conditions of life and fortune and Upon Conversation, suggest, not only in the titles, but in the subjects themselves, frequent intercourse with the father of the essay. There were other Englishmen of letters, too, who kept the same excellent company. Dryden quotes from 'Honest Montaigne' in the preface to All for Love, (29) while, according to Pope, Montaigne and La Rochefoucauld were among the livres de chevet with which Wycherley was wont to 'read himself to sleep.' In 1685, Montaigne was popular enough in England to warrant the publication of a new translation of his essays from the pen of Charles Cotton. Cotton sometimes misses his author's meaning, but he does not write sheer nonsense, as Florio sometimes does. On the other hand, his style lacks the glamour and quaint individuality of the Elizabethan translation, and, though sound on the whole, is somewhat unequal. His work is dedicated to George Savile, marquis of Halifax, who, in acknowledging the dedication, says that 'it is the book in the world I am best entertained with.'
Halifax's own Miscellanies, first collected in 1700, are, for the most part, political pamphlets, but a few words concerning them may, perhaps not inappropriately, find a place here. For his finest piece of writing is his praise of truth in The Character of a Trimmer — a passage worthy of Montaigne, whom Halifax also resembles in his bold and happy use of metaphor. Although this famous pamphlet, which, notwithstanding its substantial length, must have circulated largely between the date of its composition (early in 1685) and that of its first publication (April 1688), was then ascribed on the title-page to Sir William Coventry, there can be no doubt that it was by Halifax, who 'owned it to his friends.' (30) The title was suggested to him by a paper by his subsequent adversary L'Estrange; but the use made of the term 'trimmer,' and the lesson read to the nation on the ever old and ever new truth that there are times when the ship of state has to be steadied against the excesses of each of 'the two extremes,' must alike be placed to the credit of Halifax himself. Few publications of the kind, intended to allay, not to heighten or inflame, the changes of an important crisis, have exercised a more direct effect.
The death of Charles II put an end to the trimmer's plan of inducing the king to free himself from an overbearing influence which had now become sovereign authority. Halifax appears to have consoled himself by composing his admirable Character of King Charles the Second, which was not published, with an appendix of Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections, till 1750. The literature of characters, which the circumstances of the times and the art of both historians and satirists had brought to a great height of perfection, received a notable addition in this admirable portrait, by a man of the world, of a prince whom he thoroughly understood and for whom he did not care to conceal a liking which was not all loyalty.
'The thing called Sauntering is a stronger Temptation to Princes than it is to others.'
In this vein of easy philosophy, he delivered a judgment far nearer the truth than many more incisive censures. (31)
Halifax's second political pamphlet of importance, A Letter to a Dissenter Upon Occasion of His Majesties late Gracious Declaration of Indulgence, was first printed, with the signature 'J. W.', in 1687. It is much shorter than The Character of a Trimmer, but not less notable; for it may unhesitatingly be described as one of the pithiest and most straightforward productions of its kind, abounding in homethrusts and exhibiting throughout the clear candour of a writer sure of his ground and convinced of the necessity of his conclusions. It is wholly directed against the dangerous, indeed suicidal, policy of an alliance between nonconformity and an unlawful strain of the prerogative, and, on the face of it, is written by a loyal patriot possessed by complete distrust of Rome. (32) The Anatomy of an Equivalent (probably printed without an author's name in 1688, certainly in 1689) is a tract of considerable subtlety of argument on a cognate subject. (33)
Of the collection of aphoristic Thoughts and Reflections, published with the Character of King Charles the Second, the political section is characterised by much wit, at times thoroughly cynical, as is shown by the trimmer's assertion that
'the best Party is but a kind of a Conspiracy against the rest of the Nation,'
and by several of the aphorisms under the head 'Religion.' But not a little. wisdom as well as wit is to be found both in these, and in the 'Moral' and 'Miscellaneous' sayings; and, on the whole, there is no unfairness, though there is some severity, in the 'reprisals' made by this shrewd philosopher upon the generation which had grown up under his observant eye.
Halifax's Advice To A Daughter
More in the nature of an essay than any of his other productions, was Halifax's A Lady's Gift, or Advice to a Daughter (by which latter name it is generally known). First printed in 1688, it went through many editions. This little book, addressed to his own daughter (mother of lord Chesterfield, author of perhaps the most celebrated Letters ever addressed to a son), shows much knowledge of the human, especially of the feminine, heart, and much of it is still so appropriate that one may wonder why it has not been reprinted in modern times. Aphorisms like
'Love is a passion that hath friends in the garrison,' and 'You may love your children without living in the nursery,' and, of an 'empty' woman, 'such an one is seldom serious but with her tailor,'
have lost none of their force. The chapter on vanity and affectation contains a character of a vain woman quite in the manner of La Bruyère. The chapter on a husband is full of worldly wisdom, and good sense, and is based on a frank recognition of the 'inequality in the sexes,' and the imperfection of husbands. The treatment of religion is just what you might expect from a man who, in religion as well as in politics, had 'his dwelling in the middle between the two extremes.' If it is a little cold and unspiritual, it is tolerant, cheerful and reasonable; it breathes the temper of his contemporaries Barrow and Tillotson. Halifax's style is thoroughly individual. It is the style not of an essayist communing with his readers for his own pleasure in the seclusion of his study, but of a man of the world who takes up the pen for the practical purpose of convincing others. He had a great reputation as an orator, and this is easy to believe, for, in his written speech, he often rises to real eloquence.
There is no trace of Montaigne in the Reflections upon several Christian Duties, Divine and Moral, by way of Essays, which Clarendon wrote, for the most part, at Montpellier, during the years 1669 and 1670. (34) It is true that, in at least six of them, notably those Of Contempt of Death, Of Friendship and Of Repentance, he deals with themes also treated by Montaigne. But the treatment is quite independent; indeed, the essay Of Repentance, with its definitely Christian doctrine, forms a striking contrast to Montaigne's famous essay on the same subject. The style is that of the History, diffuse and unequal — pregnant phrases of high imaginative beauty alternating with sentences a page long — but always that of a sincere and serious thinker, of one who is learned, high-minded and conversant with affairs. Alike in thought and in style, Clarendon's essays belong to the Caroline age.
Thus, the essay, with its near allies, the literary preface and the political pamphlet, played a large part in the formation of the new prose. We have seen that it was in the same year (1665) that Cowley and Dryden achieved independently the mastery of their instruments. Cowley only played on his for a brief moment, but Dryden's mastery became more and more perfect, till, in the last year of the century, he produced his masterpiece in 'the other harmony of prose'; the Preface to the Fables. In its numerous digressions — 'the nature of a Preface,' he says, 'is rambling' — and in the pleasant intrusion of his own personality, it reminds one happily of Montaigne. (35) But the style is all Dryden's own — short and well balanced sentences, restraint, lucidity and precision, a tone of friendly intercourse with the reader, an ease which never becomes familiarity, and a dignity which never stiffens into pomposity. When, nine years later, Steele wrote the first number of The Tatler, he found an instrument ready to his hand. Steele's style suggests Dryden, just as Addison's model in the first paper which he contributed to the same journal is, obviously, Cowley. Steele and Addison addressed themselves to a wider audience than Dryden, not only to scholars and wits and courtiers, but to ordinary middle-class citizens; they made the essay lighter, and introduced into it humour and a spice of malice. But they were not the creators either of the essay or of modern prose. The foundations of most of the literature of the first half of the eighteenth century were already laid down in the seventeenth. Dryden not only dominates his own age, but throws his shadow over the next.