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The court of Charles II. carried the dissolution of morals to the greatest pitch. And the stage, at that time, united the profligacy of French, with the coarseness of English manners. The king lived to practise, and was forward to encourage, the most unbounded licence in conversation as well as in conduct. The loosest jests and the most indecent words were admitted into polished society, and even disgraced the literature of the day. Nor was it found possible to import the gallantry and dissipation of other climates without some mixture of the darker vices. Sir John Denham and Lord Chesterfield have both been accused of murdering their wives by poison, and the latter is said to have added deeper horror to his crime by administering death in the cup of the communion. These stories, whether true or false, could only have found belief in a profligate age. It seemed as if the domestic character of the nation was about to undergo an alarming change. But the mass of the English gentry did not follow the example of their sovereign; and he who examined beneath the surface would have found the soil rich in honour and virtue. The same age which produced the poetry of Rochester, and the plays of Dryden, gave birth to the writings of South, Taylor, and Barrow. And whilst the wits of the court were ridiculing the epic poem of Milton, that sublime work was passing through the hands of thousands, and obtaining for its author that better sort of immortality which is gained by uniting the sentiments of a good man with the inspirations of a great poet. "'
The following persons were .the chief favourites at court:
The Duke of Buckingham had been bred up ‘with Charles when he was a boy, and he is accused by Burnet of having been the first'to pervert his principles, when they were together at Paris. But the sovereign seems to have been fullya match for the subject. His love of wit continually led him into satirical remarks on the conduct of Charles, and Charles as often ‘showed himself incapable of long resentment.w Every one knows the admirable lines of Dryden and Pope, to which his character has given rise.
He was the avowed lover of the Countess of Shrewsbury; and it is said that she held his horse, in the dress of a page, whilst he fought with and killed her husband. Such are the ex
*' It is not true that Milton’s poem was not popular at first. Fifteen hundred copies were sold in two years. -Of the first volume of Hume's history, containhrg the reigns of the Stewarts, the number sold in a year was under fifty.
ploits which illustrate the gallantry and gaiety of this famous reign !
Sir Harry Bennet, afterwards Lord Arlington, was a man of no great capacity, but extremely well fitted to his situation. He had great skill in foreign languages, joined with many accomplishments, and did not think any art beneath him which might serve to raise his fortunes. During a mission in Spain, he had corresponded with the king by means of a gentleman of the’ bed-chamber, without the knowledge of the Chancellor or the other ministers. After this, he became the decided enemy of Lord Clarendon, and did his utmost to stimulate the king against him. When he obtained power, he endeavoured to retain it by flattering the king’s taste. He invited Louise de La Querouaille to his house at Euston, where, it is said, ‘the King first enjoyed her favours *; and he afterwards married his daughter, when only five years old, to the Duke of Grafton, the King’s natural son by another of his mistresses.
Arlington was secretly a Catholic, but having observed the antipathy of the people to persons of that religion, he became their decided enemy, and was an object of their jealousy and hatred. Clarendon says, that of the affairs of England
* Evelyn's Memoirs, vol. i. p.‘ 4'19.
he knew no more than of those of China, and always cried up the French government. Of his manners and appearance we have different accounts. The grave and sober Clarendon represents him as agreeable and insinuating, whilst the lively Hamilton, agreeing with a well-known ballad, ‘considers him as dull and mysterious, imposing on the world by an affected solemnity, and made Secretary of State on the credit of his countenance. * A black patch on his nose added much to the gravity of his appearance.
Sir Thomas Clifford, the son of ’ a clergyman in Devonshire, ha'd embraced the Catholic re~ ligion before the Restoration. He was rough, violent, and ambitious in his nature. He was first employed and advanced by Lord Arlington, and appeared very grateful for a subordinate place. But when he found that he had a chance of obtaining the Treasurer’s stafi‘; he told the King that Lord Arlington did not desire to have it, whilst he persuaded Arlington that he was pleading for him. “ This,” says Mr. Eve.
lyn, “ was the only great ingratitude he showed.” 1* He was the sole adviser of that
* Clarendon’s Life, p. 181. 183. fol. Grammont, p.'_l22.quarto.
“ Bennet’s grave look was a pretence,” 810.
See Dryden’s Works. 1‘ Evelyn, p.439.
scandalous expedient, the shutting up of the Exchequer. ' He espoused, without measure or moderation, the interests of the Duke of York, and his imprudence, in this respect, hecame the cause of his disgrace, and soon after, of his death.
Lauderdale was a man formed to be the minister of an unprincipled kin". His knowledge of ‘Scotland, and his own inclinations, led him at first to favour the Presbyterians; but finding that court-favour was to be gained by an opposite conduct, he did not hesitate to execute a most bloody persecution for the purpose of introducing and establishing Episcopacy.
These ministers, together with Lord Ashley, afterwards Lord Shaftesbury, formed the council, “ to all succeeding ages curst,” under the name of the Cabal, which comprehends the initial letters of their names.
Their power, however, was not yet firmly established, and the king had not yet finally rei solved to govern in direct opposition to the 1 wishes of the nation. jifl
_i " Evelyn, p. 425. quarto. A report was current that
Lord Shaftesbury was the author of that measure, which
' Dalrymple of course believes. Mr. Fox positively denies its
' truth, probably on the authority of a passage in Belsham’s
é history, which the reader will find in the Appendix to this work. The testimony of Evelyn seem to set the question at rest.