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TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL OF DORSET AND MIDDLESEX.
It looks like no great compliment to your lordship, that I prefer your name to this epistle; when, in the preface, I declare the book is published almost against my inclination. But, in all cases, my lord, you have an hereditary right to whatever may be called mine. Many of the following pieces were written by the command of your excellent father; and most of the rest, under his protection and patronage.
The particular felicity of your birth, my lord; the natural endowments of your mind, which, without suspicion of flattery, I may tell you, are very great; the good education with which these parts have been improved; and your coming into the world, and seeing men very early; make us expect from your lordship all the good which our hopes can form in favour of a young nobleman. Tu Marcellus eris — Our eyes and our. hearts are turned on you. You must be a judge and master of polite learning; a friend and patron to men of letters and merit; a faithful and able counsellor to your prince; a true patriot to your country; an ornament and honour to the titles you possess; and, in one word, a worthy son to the great earl of Dorset. . It is as impossible to mention that name, without desiring to commend the person, as it is to give him the commendations which his virtues deserved. Bat I assure myself, the most agreeable compliment I can bring your lordship is to pay a grateful respect to your father's memory: and my own obligations to him were such, that the world must pardon my endeavouring at his character, however I may miscarry in the attempt.
A thousand ornaments and graces met in the composition of this great man, and contributed to make him universally beloved and esteemed. The figure of his body was strong, proportionable, beautiful: and, were his picture well drawn, it must deserve the praise given to the portraits of Raphael; and, at once, create love and respect. While the greatness of his mien informed men, they were approaching the nobleman; the sweetness of it invited them to come nearer to the patron, There was in his look and
gesture something that is more easily conceived than described; that gained upon you in his favour, before he spake one word. His behaviour was easy and courteous to all; but distinguished and adapted to each man in particular, according to his station and quality. His civility was free from the formality of rule, and flowed immediately from his good sense.
Such were the natural faculties and strength of his mind, that he had occasion to borrow very little from education; and he owed those advantages to his own good parts, which others acquire by study and imitation. His wit was abundant, noble, bold. Wit in most writers is like a fountain in a garden, supplied by several streams brought through artful pipes, and playing sometimes agreeably. But the earl of Dorset's was a source rising from the top of a mountain, which forced its own way, and with inexhaustible supplies delighted and enriched the country through which it passed. This extraordinary genius was accompanied with so true a judgment in all parts of fine learning, that, whatever subject was before him, he discoursed as properly of it, as if the peculiar bent of his study had been applied that way: and he perfected his judgment by reading and digesting the best authors, though he quoted them very seldom.
Contemnebat potius literas, quam nesciebat: and rather seemed to draw his knowlege from his own stores, than to owe it to any foreign assistance.
The brightness of his parts, the solidity of his judgment, and the can. dour and generosity of his temper, distinguished him in an age of great politeness, and at a court abounding with men of the finest sense and learn. ing. The most eminent masters, in their several ways, appealed to his determination. Waller thought it an honour to consult him in the softness and harmony of his verse: and Dr. Sprat, in the delicacy and turn of his prose. Dryden determines by him, under the character of Eugenius, as to the laws of dramatic poetry. Butler owed it to him, that the court tasted his Hudibras: Wycherley, that the town liked his Plain Dealer: and the late duke of Buckingham deferred to publish his Rehearsal, till he was sure (as he expressed it) that my lord Dorset would not rehearse upon him again, If we wanted a foreign testimony, La Fontaine and St. Evremond have acknowledged, that he was a perfect master in the beauty and fineness of their language, and of all that they call les belles lettres. Nor was this nicety of his judgment confined only to books and literature; but was the same in statuary, painting, and all other parts of art. Bermini would have taken his opinion upon the beauty and attitude of a figure; and king Charles did not agree with Lely, that my lady Cleveland's picture was finished, till it had the approbation of my lord Buckhurst.
As the judgment which he made of others writings could not be refuted, the manner in which he wrote will hardly ever be equalled. Every one of his
pieces is an ingot of gold, intrinsically and solidly valuable ; such as, wrought or beaten thinner, would shine through a whole book of any other author. His thought was always new; and the expression of it so particularly happy, that every body knew immediately it could only be my lord Dorset's: and yet it was so easy too, that every body was ready to imagine himself capable of writing it. There is a lustre in his verses, like that of the sun in Claude Lorrain's landscapes: it looks natural, and is inimitable. His love-verses have a mixture of delicacy and strength: they convey the wit of Petronius in the softness of Tibullus. His satire indeed is so severely pointed, that in it he appears, what his great friend the earl of Rochester (that other prodigy of the age) says he was,
The best good man, with the worst-natur'd Muse. Yet, even here, that character may justly be applied to him, which Persius gives of the best writer of this kind that ever lived:
Omne vafer vitium ridenti Flaccus amico
Tangit, & admissus circum præcordia ludit: And the gentleman had always so much the better of the satirist, that the persons touched did not know where to fix their resentments; and were forced to appear rather ashamed than angry. Yet so far was this great author from valuing himself upon his works, that he cared not what became of them, though every body else did. There are many things of his not extant in writing, which, however, are always repeated: like the verses and sayings of the ancient Druids, they retain an universal veneration, though they are preserved only by memory.
As it is often seen, that those men who are least qualified for business love it most; my lord Dorset's character was, that he certainly understood it, but did not care for it.
Coming very young to the possession of two plentiful estates, and in an age when pleasure was more in fashion than business, he turned his parts rather to books and conversation, than to politics, and what more immediately related to the public. But, whenever the safety of his country demanded his assistance, he readily entered into the most active parts of life; and underwent the greatest dangers, with a constancy of mind which showed, that he had not only read the rules of philosophy, but understood the practice of them.
In the first Dutch war, he went a volunteer under the duke of York: his behaviour, during that campaign, was such as distinguished the Sackville descended from that Hildebrand of the name, who was one of the greatest captains that came into England with the Conqueror. But his making a song the night before the engagement (and it was one of the prettiest that ever was made) carries with it so sedate a presence of mind, and such an
unusual gallantry, that it deserves as much to be recorded, as Alexander's jesting with his soldiers before he passed the Granicus; or William the First of Orange giving orders over-night for a battle, and desiring to be called in
the morning, lest he should happen to sleep too long. " From hence, during the remaining part of king Charles's reign, he con
tinued to live in honourable leisure. He was of the bed-chamber to the king, and possessed not only his master's favour, but in a great degree) his familiarity; never leaving the court, but when he was sent to that of France, on some short commissions and embassies of compliment: as if the king designed to show the French, (who would be thought the politest nation) that one of the finest gentlemen in Europe was his subject; and that we had a prince who understood his worth so well, as not to suffer him to þe long out of his presence.
The succeeding reign neither relished my lord's wit, nor approved his maxims: so he retired altogether from court. But, as the irretrievable mistake of that unhappy government went on to threaten the nation with some. thing more terrible than a Dutch war, he thought it became him to resume the courage of his youth, and once more to engage himself in defending the liberty of his country, He entered into the prince of Orange's interest; and carried on his part of that great enterprise here in London, and under the eye of the court, with the same resolution, as his friend and fellow, patriot, the late duke of Devonshire, did in open arms at Nottingham; till the dangers of those times increased to extremity, and just apprehensions arose for the safety of the princess, our present glorious queen: then the earl of Dorset was thought the properest guide of her necessary fight, and the person under whose courage and direction the nation might most safely trust a charge so precious and important,
After the establishment of their late majesties upon the throne, there was room again at court for men of my lord's character. He had a part in the councils of those princes, a great share in their friendship, and all the marks of distinction with which a good government could reward a patriot. He was made chamberlain of their majesties household; a place which he so eminently adorned by the grace of his person, the fineness of his breeding, and the knowledge and practice of what was decent and magnificent, that he could only be rivalled in these qualifications by one great man, who has since held the same staff.
The last honours he received from his sovereign (and indeed they were the greatest which a subject could receive) were, that he was made knight of the garter, and constituted one of the regents of the kingdom during his majesty's absence. But his health, about that time, sensibly declining, and the public affairs not threatened by any imminent danger, he left the business to those who delighted more in the state of it, and appeared only
sometimes at council, to show his, respect to the commission; giving as much leisure as he could to the relief of those pains with which it pleased God to afflict him; and indulging the reflections of a mind, that had looked through the world with too piercing an eye, and was grown weary of the prospect: Upon the whole, it may very justly be said of this great man with regard to the public, that through the course of his life he acted like an able pilot in a long voyage; contented to sit quiet in the cabin, when the winds were allayed, and the waters sinooth; but vigilant and ready to re. sume the helm, when the storm arose, and the sea grew tumultuous,
I ask your pardon, my lord, if I look yet a little more nearly into the late lord Dorset's character: if I exainine it not without some intention of finding fault, and (which is an odd way of making a panegyric) set his ble. mishes and imperfections in open view.
The fire of his youth carried him to some excesses; but they were accom, panied with a most ļively invention, and true humour. The little violences and easy inistakes of a night too gaily spent (and that too in the beginning of life) were always set right the next day, with great humanity, and ample retribution. His faults brought their excuse with them; and his very failings had their beauties. So much sweetness accompanied what he said, and so great generosity what he did, that people were always prepossessed in his favour: and it was in fact true, what the late earl of Rochester said in jest to king Charles, that he did not know how it was, but my lord Dorset might do any thing, yet was never to blame.
He was naturally very subject to passion; but the short gust was soon øver, and served only to set off the charms of his temper, when more coniposed. That very passion broke out with a force of wit, which made even anger agreeable: while it lasted, he said and forgot a thousand things, which other men would have been glad to have studied and wrote; but the impetuosity was corrected upon a moment's reflection, and the measure allered with such grace and delicacy, that you could scarce perceive where the key was changed,
He was very sharp in his reflections; but never in the wrong place. His dasts were sure to wound; but they were sure too to hit none, but those whose follies gave him very fair aim. And, when he allowed no quarter, he had certainly been provoked by more than common errour; by men's tedious and circumstantial recitals of their affairs; or by their multiplied questions about his own; by extreme ignorance and impertinence; or the mixture of these, an ill-judged and never-ceasing civility; or, lastly, by the two things which were his utter aversion, the insinuation of a flatterer, and the whisper of a tale-bearer.
If therefore we set the piece in its worst position, if its faults be most exposed, the shades will still appear very finely joined with their liglits, and