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still something ordinary about the government; but if Bolingbroke were to become sole minister, or chief minister, we should be subjected to the bold schemes of undiluted genius.
In this difficult position, Bolingbroke showed great ability. He could not indeed remove its irremovable defects, - he could not declare for the house of Hanover and he could not declare for the house of Stuart, he could not remove the dislike which a dull queen and a dull party felt for a brilliant man ; but what could be done, he did. He showed great parliamentary ability, and was ever ready with wonderful eloquence. He pleased his party by a schism bill, agreeable to High-Churchmen and disagreeable to Dissenters. He obtained the favor of the waitingmaid, if he could not obtain that of the Queen her mistress. Miss Hill (or Lady Masham, as she now was) was a sort of relation of Oxford's; and this had first brought them together. For a long time the union was firm : he gave her much counsel and some money, and she gave him much power. But Oxford had a conscience, or vestiges of a conscience, in the use of public money: he was not ready to give Miss Hill or Miss Hill's brother all that they wanted. Swift puts it that he was too careful of the public interest for the corruption of the time ;* or as we should put it, he would not bribe without limit against the public interest out of the public treasury.
But Bolingbroke had no scruples : he bid higher; he gave Miss Hill and “Jack Hill” all he could, and promised that they should have more if they would make him first minister and maintain him as such. He himself may tell the result : “ The Earl of Oxford was removed on Tuesday; the Queen died on Sunday. What a world is this! and how does Fortune banter us!” + Such was the close of three years of intrigue: he had bribed the waiting-maid just when the mistress was no more.
*“ His avarice for the public was so great that it neither consisted with the present corruptions of the age nor the circumstances of the time.". “Inquiry into the Behavior of the Queen's Last Ministry."
+ Letter to Swift, Aug. 3, 1714.
Nor at the moment was this the worst. The Queen's distrust of Bolingbroke had lasted till her death. The white staff, - the “magic wand," as Bolingbroke calls it,* — long disused in English politics, but then the symbol of the Lord High Treasurer and of the Prime Minister, had been taken from Oxford, but it had not been given to any one ; Bolingbroke could not gain it for himself. It was arranged that the Treasury should be put into commission, as it had been in King William's time and as it always now is. Bolingbroke was to continue Secretary of State, and be in fact principal minister; yet he was not to have the indefinite power of the Lord Treasurer, the mystic power of the white staff. But on her death-bed Queen Anne felt that Bolingbroke could not be trusted even so far. She was dying, and knew that she was dying; she doubtless felt it was her duty to place the administration in the hands of some one who would obey the law on her death. She did not like the family of Hanover; she had the most keen repugnance to the presence of any of them in England during her life, — she could not endure to see her successor close at hand, and it probably never struck her as a matter of duty to save the country from a possible convulsion of civil war. She was a very little-minded woman, but at the same time she was a decorous woman and a well-meaning woman : she would not have planned or dared or wished to break the law which she had passed. As death was coming upon her, she knew that the practical premiership of Bolingbroke would endanger the security of the Act of Settlement: of all statesmen he was least likely to obey it, and therefore most unfit to be Prime Minister when it was of critical importance to obey it. Obscurely perhaps, but effectually, Queen Anne felt this: she gave the white staff to Shrewsbury, and Bolingbroke's three days of premiership were at an end.
* Letter to Sir William Wyndham.
Probably Bolingbroke felt the disaster the more that he was obliged to seem to assent to it. Shrewsbury had been acting as confidential adviser to the Queen for some time, to Bolingbroke's dismay. He knew, he said, how he stood with Oxford, -- that was open war ; but how he stood with Shrewsbury he did not know.* As soon as the Queen was despaired of, the Privy Council was summoned, and by ordinary rule only those summoned should attend; a ministry thus secures a Privy Council of chosen friends. But at this meeting two Whig dukes — the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Argyle - attended, though not summoned ; and by their influence the Council was induced to ask the Queen to make Shrewsbury High Treasurer, and Bolingbroke was obliged to assent. Neither in the nation nor at the court had he substantial influence or effectual power.
He had in truth no alternative. A frantic bishop - Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester — wanted him to proclaim the Pretender : but Bolingbroke, though a hot-headed statesman, had a notion of law and a perception of obvious consequences, - he was not a hotheaded divine: he knew that by law George I. must be proclaimed at once; he knew that Shrewsbury, who wielded the white staff which every one would obey, would at once proclaim George I.; he knew that he could not himself command the obedience of a watchman. All the force of government had at once passed from him, and he acquiesced in the new order of things; he assisted at the proclamation of George I.
The law had indicated the steps which should be taken in case of the Queen's death, and before her successor could be brought over from Germany. A document was produced by the Hanoverian minister, naming Lords Justices who were to administer the government until the arrival of George I.; of these Lords Justices, Bolingbroke of course was not one, they were all sound Whigs, and steady friends to the house of Hanover. As Bolingbroke had for four years been wielding the force of government so as to give pain to them, they immediately began to exercise it so as to give pain to him. They appointed Addison as their secretary ; desired all documents to be addressed to him; and though. Bolingbroke was still in high office, and had at the last moment been real Prime Minister, they kept him waiting at their door with studied circumstances of indignity, which were much remarked on then and which much tried his philosophy.
* Arbuthnot to Swift, July 17, 1714.
It would, however, have been well for Bolingbroke if mere indignities like these had been all which was in store for him, or all which he deserved. When Parliament met, zealous Whigs naturally began to murmur a good deal as to the past. Bolingbroke had ruled them hardly during his reign. His ministry had removed Marlborough from his appointments; his ministry had expelled Walpole from the House of Commons. Walpole would most likely have said that the Whig “innings” had arrived, and that the actions of their predecessors must be scrutinized. Bolingbroke for a time affected to fear nothing; Oxford went to and fro in London, and Bolingbroke followed his example. All at once he changed his policy: he appeared at the theater in state, and took pains while there to attract attention; went home, changed his dress, and fled to France.
In truth, he was thoroughly frightened. He declared that “his blood was," he understood, “to have been the cement of a new alliance”* between the moderate Tories and the Whigs. Some have traced this notion to the hints of Marlborough;t but it was most likely due as much to Bolingbroke's own conscience. He knew well that the secret negotiations prior to the peace of Utrecht would not bear even fair scrutiny; he knew that they were now to be subjected to hostile scrutiny: even from impartial judges he could only expect condemnation, and his case would now be tried by his enemies. His life indeed was in no danger, - neither the nation nor the party opposed to him were inclined to bloodshed; but he felt he was in danger of something. His guilty conscience magnified the possibilities of punishment; to escape them, he did exactly what was worst for his reputation, – though it was as much as pleading guilty, he fled.
* Letter to Lord Lansdowne, March 27, 1715; see first ed. “Biographia Britannica” (1760), article “St. John," or Swift's Works, Vol. xvi., page 289.
+ Bolingbroke himself plainly intimates as much in the letter to Sir William Wyndham, though he denies that it swayed bis course. —
He was attainted as a traitor in his absence; and there may be legal doubt as to whether the attainder was deserved. That a minister who advises his sovereign to violate a treaty, and who violates it accordingly, is worthy of severe punishment, will be admitted by every one; and that Bolingbroke had done this is beyond question or dispute. But this offense does not amount to high treason, and the details of an incidental transaction as to the town of Tournay had to be pressed into the service; and it required much stretching to make these amount even to a constructive treason. But whatever might be the legal correctness or the incorrectness of the precise punishment inflicted on Bolingbroke is scarcely material now. He well deserved a bill of “pains and penalties”; and whether he was or was not visited with the very penalty that was most suitable does not matter much.
On Bolingbroke's arrival in France, he looked about him for a while. He was at once solicited by the emissaries of the Pretender; but he deliberated for some time, and it would have been wiser for him to have deliberated longer. He well knew that though there was much latent Jacobite sentiment in England, there was no good material for a Jacobite rebellion.