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In a prior letter, 1752, Lady Mary says, “ I yet retain, and carefully cherish my love of reading. If relays of eyes were to be hired like post-horses, I would never admit any but silent companions : they afford a constant variety of entertainment, which is almost the only one pleasing in the enjoyment, and inoffensive in the consequence.”
Again, 1753. “Every woman endeavours to breed her daughter a fine lady, qualifying her for a station in which she will never appear; and at the same time incapacitating her for that retirement, to which she is destined. Learning, if she has a real taste for it, will not only make her contented, but happy in it. No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She will not want new fashions, nor regret the loss of expensive diversions, or variety of company, if she can be amused with an author in her closet.”
I am well aware that a rigid censor may blame this view of things exhibited by lady Mary as too limited, and exclaim, in the beautiful words of Mrs. Carter, addressed to another of her own name:
“ How short a period, how confin'd a space,
Must bound thy shining course beneath the skies!
But let it be remembered, that I have not compared the occupations of idle reading with the duties pointed out by religion; but only with the pursuits
of worldly ambition. And surely of those who thus employ themselves it may well be said with Gray;
“Beneath the good how far, yet far above the great!"*
No. XXV. How far History is true.
History is philosophy, teaching by example.”
BOLINGBROKE, from DION HALI,
Sir Robert WALPOLE said to his son Horace, who, with a view to amuse him, was preparing to read some historical performance,“ 0, do not read history, for that I know must be false !” This is a most extraordinary assertion, which exhibits the narrowņess of the minister's mind in very glaring colours. Coxe says he had little taste for literary occupations, and was not a patron of the Muses. He employed low persons to write for government, in consequence of which the political pamphlets in his defence are far inferior to the productions of his adversaries. Hence his administration often suffered in the public opinion, when, as has happened since to others, his measures only wanted an able exposition to make them popular.
* We may perhaps apply to idle reading what Lord Clarendon records as the opinion of James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, as to a life of pleasure in opposition to a life of business. “ He was,” says the noble historian,“ a man of the greatest expense in his own person of any in the age he lived ; and introduced more of that expense in the excess of clothes and diet, than any other man; and was indeed the original of all those inventions, from which others did but transcribe copies. He had a great universal understanding, and could have taken as much delight in any other way, if he had thought any other as pleasant and worth his care. But he found business was attended with more rivals and vexations ; and he thought with much less pleasure, and not more innocence."
All that Walpole knew of history were the lying party productions of the day; for which he knew that the materials were garbled or false, and the reasonings fallacious. But Time draws away the veil, that conceals the form of Truth; and it is probable that we have now a more perfect and comprehensive view of public affairs in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, James the First, and Charles the First, than the most able and best informed actors in those scenes ever possessed. We are more minutely and more correctly acquainted with them, than Burleigh, or Salisbury, or Clarendon. The secrets of Cabinets are laid open; the private objects of both sides are exposed; and the hidden springs of action are discovered.
But it is a strong argument in favour of the credit due to the historian of integrity and talents, even when he has performed bis task without all these aids, that the subsequent publication of State Papers has seldom materially varied the main features of his work. Thus the general fidelity of Camden's account of the reign of Queen Elizabeth remains unimpeached. And this is the case also with Lord Herbert's History of Henry VIII.
The portraits of individuals, drawn by the pens of these writers, have seldom been proved by future lights to be essentially erroneous. The capricious tyranny of Henry; the unfeminine strength and heroism of his daughter; the unprincipled cunning and artifices of Leicester; the imprudent and too confident impetuosity of Essex; and the wary and laborious wisdom of Burleigh, have never been more truly delineated. Even those who have looked through the medium of opposite political principles, have agreed in the same great outlines of portraits; and Arthur Wilson, the puritan, paints his principal characters in colours not inconsistent with those of Clarendon. The noble limner indeed makes his touches with a far finer and more exquisite pencil; and exhibits all the foldings and windings of his subject with inexpressible skill and happiness; but we plainly see the same figure before both draughtsmen, and are therefore sure that it is accurate.
It ought to be an incentive to virtue in public men, that neither titles nor power will long be able to disguise the truth. A lucky and undeserved elevation will only expose a man more obviously to the scrutiny of impartial posterity. Sir Robert Walpole now holds the exact place in history, which he merits: he is no longer injured by the discredit or the weakness of his defenders; nor depressed by the brilliant eloquence or splendid stations of his opponents. His practical wisdom; his strong, though coarse understanding; his dexterity in the management of business, and in allaying the heats of party, his firmness in cultivating the arts of peace, and benefits of commerce, in defiance of clamour, a a critical period when the exigencies of the kingdom in the state of European politics made such a line of conduct a choice of real wisdom, have been justly eulogized by Burke, and detailed by the eminently useful labours of Coxe.
It may seem of little consequence to us, what is
said when our mortal relics are sleeping in the grave. But though“ flattery” cannot “ soothe the dull cold ear of death,” the report of the truth may perhaps delight or torment our departed spirits, accordingly as it is good or evil.
Yet whatever be the import to the dead, to the living the knowledge of the truth is certainly of consequence. All the wisdom, which is supposed to be built on experience, stands on a rotten foundation, if the pages of history are falsified. If the real state of facts be mistaken or concealed, what certainty is there in the deductions which are extracted from them?
It becomes a matter therefore of a very serious nature, to those who study the actions and progress of mankind in society, to vindicate the integrity and accuracy of history.
“ Hither then,
DoDD'S THOUGHTS IN PRISON.
Tae short debate, which took place on Friday the 11th of March 1808, on Lord Moira's Motion for the Second Reading of the Debtor and Creditor Bill, forces from me a few observations, which, though they will contain nothing new, cannot be too often repeated. Lord Moira deserves the thanks of every