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LIFE OF LORD CHANCELLOR CHARLES YORKE FROM HIS BIRTH TILL
Glance at the career of Charles Yorke.
Difficulties he had to struggle against from the wealth and power of his father.
Were it not for the melancholy spectacle which presents itself at the end of the vista, I should start on this new excursion into the field of biography with alacrity and delight. The subject of the present memoir was possessed of the finest talents,— of the most varied accomplishments,—of every virtue in public and in private life; •— but when he seemed to have reached the summit of his lofty ambition he committed a fatal error, and the grave closed upon him under circumstances the most afflicting. His end was " doubtful," and it has cast a shade over the whole of his career, which ought to have appeared so brilliant. The attainment of the Great Seal proved his destruction. "As if there were contagion in the touch, instant disappointment, anguish and death — such was the strange and melancholy fate of Charles Yorke. The allegory of the eastern monarch devoting one day to supreme felicity, yet finding every hour perversely darkened with chagrin and sorrow — the fable of the Persian fruit — sweet to the eye, and ashes to the taste — were only the image and symbol of this great lawyer's miserable destiny."*
There are some examples in England of a great lawyer having a great lawyer for his son; but in most of these, as in the case of Sir Nicholas Bacon,—the father had died while the son was very young, leaving him to struggle for a subsistence. Charles Yorke, the second son of the great Lord Hardwicke, was born on the 10th of January, 1723, in a splendid mansion in Great Ormond Street. His father, then Attorney General, and making a larger income than had ever fallen to the lot of an English barrister, continued near forty years afterwards to fill the highest offices of the law,
* Law Magazine, No. LXI., where will he found an ahle vindication of his memory from the charge preferred hy Junius.
accumulating immense wealth, and able to make a splendid CHAP.
provision for all the members of his family. Yet Charles,'
even under the enervating influence of a sine euro place which Jj;s induawas conferred upon him,—from a noble love of honourable try antl distinction, exerted himself as strenuously and perseveringly as if, being the son of a poor Scotch clergyman, who could give him nothing beyond a good education, he had depended entirely on his own exertions for his bread, and for his position in the world.
Like Lord Bacon, he was most fortunate in his mother; His early who, while his father was absorbed in professional and official duties, watched over his education with great discretion as well as tenderness. She brought up all her children in thrifty habits, and taught them the most valuable of all virtues — the virtue of self-denial. The boys, instead of going to Eton, At school, where they were in danger of learning idleness, extravagance, and contempt of parental rule, were sent to a most excellent private school at Hackney, kept by the Rev. Dr. Newcombe, a sound classical scholar, and a strict disciplinarian. Here Charles remained from childhood till he was seventeen; and here he must have acquired the taste for literature, and the steady habit of application, for which he was afterwards remarkable. He was then removed " to Ben'et (now Corpus At CamChristi) College, Cambridge, where his elder brother had been bndgean under-graduate two years; and he was placed, like him, under the tuition of the pains-taking Dr. Birch. Little aided by academical rules, he now devoted himself to study with great enthusiasm, and he soon gave extraordinary proofs of his progress.
I doubt not that, upon the whole, Cambridge, as a place of Advantages education, has derived benefit from the mathematical and the vantages of classical tripos since established, and the other distinctions at |he represent held out to rouse emulation and to encourage industry; but a spontaneous, genuine, ardent love of knowledge, which sometimes springs up in those happily born, and is fostered there, by the mutual converse of kindred minds, perhaps formerly led to a higher degree of mental cultivation and really valuable attainment. While Charles Yorke was an under-graduate, there was probably a good deal of general idleness among
A.d. 1740. The Athenian Letters.
C. Yorke's contributions to them.
History of the work.
Cantabrigians, and few could have gone through what now would be considered a creditable examination in the Greek measures or the higher mathematics; but I question whether all the present resident members of the University could compose the " Athenian Letters."
This work, consisting of two quarto volumes, I have lately perused, and I strongly recommend it to all who would, in a most agreeable manner, extend or refresh their acquaintance with the institutions, the literature, the manners, and the distinguished men of Greece at the most interesting period of her history. To it Charles Yorke was the principal contributor before he had completed his twentieth year, and, considering the knowledge of books and men which his contributions exhibit, I own they seem to me a more wonderful instance of precocity than the early Latin verses of Cowley and Milton, which clever schoolboys can so closely imitate.
The undertaking was commenced under the auspices of Dr. Birch, as an exercise to his pupils, for the purpose of imprinting their reading on their memory, and initiating them in English composition, so miserably neglected at our universities. Cleander, an agent of the King of Persia, is supposed to be resident in Athens during the Peloponnesian war, and to carry on a correspondence, not only with his court, but with his brother living at home, and with private friends in Egypt and other provinces of the Persian empire. These letters are stated, in a lively preface written by Charles Yorke, to be translations from a MS. in the library at Fez, in the King of Morocco's dominions, the supposed deposit of vast treasures of oriental learning.
They were first printed at Cambridge, in the years 1739 and 1740, but were communicated only to a limited number of friends under the strictest injunctions of secrecy, "from an ingenuous diffidence which forbad the authors, most of them extremely young, to obtrude on the notice of the world what they considered only a preparatory trial of their strength." In 1781, a new edition was published, still only for private circulation—the Editor paying a merited compliment to him, "of whose talents, virtues, and services, the world was unfortunately deprived when they were most wanted, both by his own profession and by the public" The CHAP, real authorship of the different letters was now disclosed. CXLIX
"The work was supposed to be genuine, and a translation A D ,74a from an old Arabic version; but when a due interval of time has elapsed the truth may be owned; the illusion vanishes; it is a masquerade which is closed; the fancy dresses and the dominos are returned to the respective wardrobes; the company walk about again in their proper habits, and return to their proper occupations in life." *
A copy of this edition having been transmitted by the rrai« of it younger brother of Charles Yorke, created Lord Dover, to JjjJ~art,"!" the author of the celebrated " Travels of Anacharsis," BarThelkmi returned an answer, which (after making all due allowance for French politeness), must be considered a high testimony to the merits of our young countrymen :—" Si je l'avois connu plutot, ou je n'aurois commence le mien, ou j'aurois tache d'approcher de ce beau module. Pourquoi ne l'a-t-on pas communique au public? Pourquoi n'est-il pas traduit dans toutes les langues? Je sacrifierois volontiers mcs derniers jours au plaisir d'en enrichir notre litterature, si je connoissois mieux les finesses de la langue Anglaise."f
I will give, as a specimen, a "private and confidential" Specimen, letter from "Cleander to Hydaspes, first Chamberlain Hy^esT of the King of Persia," upon the contrast between the manners on the conto which he had been accustomed and those he saw in his tween travels: —" The first question you would, probably, have Greeks and me resolve is, what peculiar difference I find in the manners of Greece and Persia; since custom has placed as many marks of distinction in the civil manners of every nation as Providence has displayed in the natural bodies of each individual. I will tell you, then. A Persian would find nothing more surprising than the unbounded freedom of action and conversation which reigns here. The councils
* Pref. xv. ed. 1798. There having been some surreptitious editions, this last edition; most splendid and correct, was given to the world by the late Earl of Hardwicke.
f Lord Mansfield's acknowledgment for his copy is touching: "Give me leave to return you my warmest thanks for the Athenian Letters.
——" Veteres rcvocamus amores, Atque olim amissas fltmus amicitias."
VOL. V. B B
CHAP, of the Great King are impenetrable, we discover nothing Cxlix. o£ till iffa effect; whilst here every thing
A. D. 1740. i8 known long before it is put in execution, and canvassed with as much liberty in common conversation as in the assemblies of the people. "We approach our mighty monarch with positions of adoration, and address him in language which is used to the Deity. At Athens, the magistrates are distinguished more by being virulently abused than by any mark of authority. Pericles himself is sure to be the object aimed at by every one who writes either scandalous libels to be dispersed about the city, or performances designed for public representation. The actors themselves sometimes appear upon the stage in masks, which arc made exactly to resemble the face of the person ridiculed. The Persian magnificence appears most at their entertainments; the Athenian at their solemn festivals. The Asiatic feasts are remarkable for the vast quantities of provisions, the costliness of the preparations, and the sumptuous furniture; the chief recommendation of the Greek one is the elegance and variety of the conversation, which induced an Athenian to make this observation: 'Our entertainments not only please when we give them, but the day after.' * The Asiatic taste and grandeur appear in the palaces of their princes and satraps; the Grecian in the temples of their gods and the public buildings. Not a nobleman in Persia but shows his rank by the richness of his dress and the number of his attendants; whereas here you cannot distinguish a citizen from a slave by his habit; and the wealthiest Athenian, the most considerable person in the city, is not ashamed to go to market himself. In Persia, the eyes of all are turned towards the Sovereign, and they regulate their conduct by his: in the free republics of Greece, the people are king, and resemble other monarchs in their bad qualities more than in their good ones; for they are fickle and imperious, severe and obstinate."
Manners In these letters Charles Yorke gives a lively representation Spartans, of the different views that may be taken of Spartan manners.
* This reminds mc of a moral sentiment I have heard given as a toast in Scotland: "May Evening's diversions bear Morning's reflections!"