Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the Methodist,* with many others whom it would be difficult to remember and tedious to rehearse. The list of my adversaries, however, was graced with the more respectable names of Dr Priestley, sir David Dalrymple, and Dr White, and every polemic, of either university, discharged his sermon or pamphlet against the impenetrable silence of the Roman historian. In his " History of the Corruptions of Christianity,” Dr Priestley threw down his two gauntlets to bishop Hurd and Mr Gibbon. I declined the challenge in a letter, exhorting my opponent to enlighten the world by his philosophical discoveries, and to remember that the merit of his predecessor Servetus is now reduced to a single passage which indicates the smaller circulation of the blood through the lungs, from and to the heart.t Instead of listening to this friendly advice, the dauntless philosopher of Birmingham continued to fire away his double battery against those who believed too little, and those who believed too much. From my replies he has nothing to hope or fear: but his Socinian shield has repeatedly heen pierced by the mighty spear of Horsley, and his trumpet of sedition may at length awaken the magistrates of a free country.

The profession and rank of sir David Dalrymple (now a lord of session) have given a more decent colour to his style. But he scrutinized each separate passage of the two chapters with the dry minuteness of a special pleader; and as he was always solicitous to make, he may have succeeded sometimes in finding, a

* From his grammar-school, at Kingston-upon-Hull, Mr Joseph Milner pronounces an anathema against all rational , religion. His faith is a divine taste, a spiritual inspira

tion; his church is a mystic and invisible body; the natural Christians, such as Mr Locke, who believe and interpret the Scriptures, are, in his judgment, no better than pro. fane infidels.

+ Astruc de la Structure du Coeur, tom. i. 77, 79.

flaw. In his “Annals of Scotland," he has shewn himself a diligent collector and an accurate critic.

I have praised, and I still praise, the eloquent sermons which were preached in St Mary's pulpit at Oxford by Dr White. If he assaulted me with some degree of illiberal acrimony, in such a place, and before such an audience, he was obliged to speak the language of the country. I smiled at a passage in one of his private letters to Mr Badçock—“The part where we encounter Gibbon must be brilliant and striking.”

In a sermon preached before the university of Cambridge, Dr Edwards complimented a work “ which can only perish with the language itself;" and esteems the author a formidable enemy. He is, indeed, astonished that more learning and ingenuity have not been shewn in the defence of Israel; that the prelates and dignitaries of the church (alas, good man!) did not vie with each other, whose stone should sink the deepest in the forehead of this Goliah.

But the force of truth will oblige us to confess that, in the attacks which have been levelled against our sceptical historian, we can discover but slender traces of profound and exquisite erudition, of solid criticism and accurate investigation ; but we are too frequently disgusted by vague and inconclusive reasoning; by unseasonable banter and senseless witticisms; by imbittered bigotry and enthusiastic jargon; by fútile cavils and illiberal invectives. Proud and elated by the weakness of his antagonists, he condescends not to handle the sword of controvery."*

Let me frankly own that I was startled at the first discharge of ecclesiastical ordnance; but as soon as I found that this empty noise was mischievous only in the intention, my fear was converted into indignation; and every feeling of indignation or curiosity has long since subsided in pure and placid indifference.

* Monthly Review, Oct. 1790.

The prosecution of my history was soon afterwards checked by another controversy of a very different kind. At the request of the lord chancellor, and of lord Weymouth, then secretary of state, I vindicated, against the French manifesto, the justice of the British arms. The whole correspondence of lord Stormont, our late ambassador at Paris, was submitted to my inspection; and the “ Mémoire Justificatif,” which Í composed in French, was first approved by the cabinet ministers, and then delivered as a state paper to the courts of Europe. The style and manner are praised by Beaumarchais himself, who, in his private quarrel, attempted a reply; but he flatters me by ascribing the memoir to lord Stormont; and the grossness of his invective betrays the loss of temper and of wit ; he acknowledged,* that “le style ne seroit pas sans grace, ni la logique sans justice," &c. if the facts were true, which he undertakes to disprove. For these facts my credit is 'not pledged; I spoke as a lawyer from my brief ; but the veracity of Beaumarchais may be estimated from the assertion that France, by the treaty of Paris (1763) was limited to a certain number of ships of war. On the application of the duke of Choiseul, he was obliged to retract this daring falsehood.

Among the honourable connections which I had formed, I may justly be proud of the friendship of Mr Wedderburne, at that time attorney-general, who now illustrates the title of lord Loughborough, and the office of chief justice of the Common Pleas. By his strong recommendation, and the favourable disposition of lord North, I was appointed one of the lords commissioners of Trade and Plantations; and my private income was enlarged by a clear addition of between seven and eight hundred pounds a-year. The fancy of an hostile orator may paint, in the strong colours of ridicule,“ the perpetual virtual adjourn

* Euvres de Beaumarchais, tom. iii. pp. 299, 355.

ment, and the unbroken sitting vacation, of the Board of Trade.”* But it must be allowed that our duty was not intolerably severe, and that I enjoyed many days and weeks of repose, without being called away from my library to the office. My acceptance of a place provoked some of the leaders of opposition, with whom I had lived in habits of intimacy;t and I was

* I can never forget the delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator, Mr Burke, was heard by all sides of the house, and even by those whose existence he proscribed. (See Mr Burke's speech on the Bill of Reform, p. 72–80.) The lords of Trade blushed at their insignificancy, and Mr Eden's appeal to the two thousand five hundred volumes of our reports served only to excite a general laugh. I take this opportunity of certifying the correctness of Mr Burke's printed speeches, which I have heard and read.

+ It has always appeared to me that nothing could be more unjustifiable than the manner in which some persons allowed themselves to speak of Mr Gibbon's acceptance of an office at the Board of Trade. I can conceive that he may carelessly have used strong expressions in respect to some or all parties; but he never meant that such expressions should be taken literally: and I know. beyond all possibility of question, that he was so far from being “ in a state of savage hostility towards lord North,” as it is savagely expressed by Mr Whitaker, that he always loved and esteemed him. I saw Mr Gibbon constantly at this time, and was well acquainted with all his political opinions. And although he was not perfectly satisfied with every measure, yet he uniformly supported all the principal ones regarding the American war; and considered himself, and indeed was, a friend to administration to the very period of his accepting office. He liked the brilliant society of a club, the most distinguished members of which were notorious for their opposition to government, and might be led, in some degree, to join in their language; but Mr Gibbon had little, I had almost said no political acrimony in his character. If the opposition of that or any other time could claim for their own every person who was not perfectly satisfied with all the measures of government, their party would unquestionably have been more formidable. S.

most unjustly accused of deserting a party in which I had never inlisted.*

* From Edward Gibbon, Esq. to Edward Elliot, Esq

of Port Elliot (afterwards LORD Elliot.) Dear Sir,

2d July, 1779. • Yesterday I received a very interesting communication from my friend the attorney-general," whose kind and honourable behaviour towards me I must always remember with the highest gratitude. He informed me that, in consequence of an arrangement, a place at the Board of Trade was reserved for me, and that as soon as I signified my acceptance of it, he was satisfied no farther difficulties would arise. My answer to him was sincere and explicit. I told him that I was far from approving all the past mea. sures of the administration, even some of those in which I myself had silently concurred; that I saw, with the rest of the world, many capital defects in the characters of some of the present ministers, and was sorry that in so alarining a situation of public affairs the country had not the assistance of several able and honest men who are now in oppo. sition. But that I had not formed with any of those persons in opposition any engagements or connections which could in the least restrain or affect my parliamentary conduct; that I could not discover among them such superior advantages, either of measures or of abilities, as could make me consider it as a duty to attach myself to their cause ; and that I clearly understood, from the public and private language of one of their leaders (Charles Fox) that in the actual state of the country he himself was seriously of opinion that opposition could not tend to any good purpose, and might be productive of much mischief; that, for those reasons, I saw no objections which could prevent me from accepting an office under the present government, and that I was ready to take a step which I found to be consistent both with my interest and my honour.

It must now be decided, whether I may continue to live in England, or whether I must soon withdraw myself into a kind of philosophical exile in Switzerland. My father left his affairs in a state of embarrassment, and even of

Alexander Wedderburne, since created lord Loughborough earl of Roslin, and lord chancellor.

« AnteriorContinuar »