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SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE."
(Edinburgh Review, Uctober, 1838.)
MR. COURTENAY has long been well known to politicians as an industrious and useful official man, and as an upright and consistent member of Parliament. He has been one of the most moderate, and, at the same time, one of the least pliant members of the Conservative party. His conduct has, indeed, on some questions, been so Whiggish, that both those who applauded and those who condemned it have questioned his claim to be considered as a Tory. But his Toryism, such as it is, he has held fast through all changes of fortune and fashion; and he has at last retired from public life, leaving behind him, to the best of our belief, no personal enemy, and carrying with him the respect and good will of many who strongly dissent from his opinions.
This book, the fruit of Mr. Courtenay's leisure, is introduced by a preface in which he informs us that the
1 Memoirs of the Life, Works, and Correspondence of Sir William Tem. ple. By the Right Hon. Thomas PEREGRINE COURTENAY. vols Svo. London: 1836.
Assistance furnished to him from various quarter's “lias taught him the superiority of literature to politics for developing the kindlier feelings, and conducing to an agreeable life.” We are truly glad that Mr. Courtenay is so well satisfied with his new employment, and we heartily congratulate him on having been driven by events to make an exchange which, advantageous as it is, few people make while they can avoid it. He has little reason, in our opinion, to envy any of those who are still engaged in a pursuit from which, at most, they can only expect that, by relinquishins liberal studies and social pleasures, by passing nights without sleep and summers without one glimpse of the beauty of nature, they may attain that laborious, that invidious, that closely watched slavery which is mocked with the name of power.
The volumes before us are fairly entitled to the praise of diligence, care, good sense, and impartiality; and these qualities are suiticient to make a book valuable, but not quite sufficient to make it readable. Mr. Courtenay has not sufficiently studied the arts of selection and compressicn. The information with which he furnishes us, must still, we apprehend, be considered as so much raw material. To manufacturers it will be
. highly useful; but it is not yet in such a form that it can be enjoyed by the idle consumer. To drop metaplior, we are afraid that this work will be less acceptable to those who read for the sake of reading, than to Those who read in order to write.
We cannot help addirig, though we are extremely anwilling to quarrel with Mr. Courtenay about politics, that the book would not be at all the worse if it contained fewer snarls against the Whigs of the present day. Not only are these passages out of place in a historical work, but some of them are intrinsically such that they would become the editor of a third-rate party newspaper better tlian a gentleman of Mr. Courtenay's talents and knowledge. For example, we are told that, “it is a remarkable circumstance, familiar to those who are acquainted with history, but suppressed by the new Whigs, that the liberal politicians of the seventeenth century and the greater part of the eighteenth, never extended their liberality to the native Irish, or the professors of the ancient religion.” What schoolboy of fourteen is ignorant of this remarkable circumstance? What Whig, new or old, was ever such an idiot as to think that it could be suppressed ? Really we might as well say that it is a remarkable circumstance, familiar to people well read in history, but carefully suppressed ly the Clergy of the Established Church, that in the fifteenth century England was in communion with Rome. We are tempted to make some remarks on another passage, which seems to be the peroration of a speech intended to have been spoken against the Reform Bill: but we forbear.
We doubt whether it will be found that the memory of Sir William Temple owes much to Mr. Courtenay's researches. Temple is one of those men whom the world has agreed to praise highly without knowing much about them, and who are therefore more likely to lose than to gain by a close examination. Yet he is not without fair pretensions to the most honourable place among the statesmen of his time. A few of them equalled or surpassed him in talents; but they were men of no good repute for honesty. A few may be vamed whose patriotism was purer, nobler, and more disinterested than his; but they were men of no emiaent ability. Morally, he was above Shaftesbury; intellectually, he was above Russell.