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your advice. If a true account may be expected by future ages from the present, your lordship will be delivered over to posterity in a fairer character than I have given; and be read, not in the preface of a play, (whose author is not vain enough to promise immortality to others, or to hope it for himself,) but in many pages of a chronicle, filled with praises of your administration. For, if writers be just to the memory of King Charles II., they cannot deny him to have been an exact knower of mankind, and a perfect distinguisher of their talents. It is true, his necessities often forced him to vary his counsellors and councils, and sometimes to employ such persons in the management of his affairs, who were rather fit for his present purpose than satisfactory to his judgment: but where it was choice in him, not compulsion, he was master of too much good sense to delight in heavy conversation; and whatever his favourites of state might be, yet those of his affection were men of wit * He was easy with these, and complied only with the
* Lord Halifax was unquestionably a man of wit; and we have some tolerable bon mots of his, handed down by his contemporaries. Burnet says, “ The liveliness of his imagination was always too hard for his judgment. A severe jest was preferred by him to all arguments whatever; and he was endless in consultations; for when, after much discourse, a point was settled, if he could find a new jest to make even that which was suggested by himself ridiculous, he could not hold, but would study to raise the credit of his wit, though it made others call his judgment in question.” We may not, perhaps, refine too far in supposing, that the bishop was not always able to estimate the policy of this subtle statesman. It was more frequently his wish to avoid taking decisive steps than to recommend them; and what could more effectually retard violent councils than the conduct remarked by Burnet, or what argument would have weighed with Charles II. like a keen jest?
former. But in the latter part of his life, which certainly required to be most cautiously managed, his secret thoughts were communicated but to few, and those selected of that sort who were amici omnium horarum, able to advise him in a serious consult, where his honour and safety were concerned, and afterwards capable of entertaining him with pleasant discourse, as well as profitable. In this maturest part of his age, when he had been long seasoned with difficulties and dangers, and was grown to a niceness in his choice, as being satisfied how few could be trusted,-and, of those who could be trusted, how few could serve him,-he confined himself to a small number of bosom friends, amongst whom the world is much mistaken if your lordship was not first.
If the rewards which you received for those services were only honours, it rather shewed the necessities of the times, than any want of kindness in your royal master; and, as the splendour of your fortune stood not in need of being supported by the Crown, so likewise, in being satisfied without other recompence, you showed yourself to be above a mercenary interest, and strengthened that power which bestowed those titles on you; which, truly speaking, were marks of acknowledgement more than favour.
But, as a skilful pilot will not be tempted out to sea in suspected weather, so have you wisely chosen to withdraw yourself from public business, when the face of heaven grew troubled, and the frequent shifting of the winds foreshewed a storm. There are times and seasons when the best patriots are willing to withdraw their hands from the commonwealth, as Phocion, in his latter days, was observed to decline the management of affairs; or as Cicero, (to draw the similitude more home) left the pulpit
for Tusculum, and the praise of oratory for the sweet enjoyments of a private life; and, in the happiness of those retirements, has more obliged posterity by his moral precepts, than he did the republic in quelling the conspiracy of Catiline. What prudent man would not rather follow the example of his retreat, than stay, like Cato, with a stubborn unseasonablevirtue, to oppose the torrent of the people, and at last be driven from the market-place by a riot of a multitude, uncapable of counsel, and deaf to eloquence? There is likewise a portion of our lives, which every wise man may justly reserve to his own peculiar use, and that without defrauding his native country. A Roman soldier was allowed to plead the merit of his services for his dismission at such an age; and there was but one exception to that rule, which was, an invasion from the Gauls. How far that may work with your lordship, I am not certain, but I hope it is not coming to the trial *
In the mean time, while the nation is secured from foreign attempts by so powerful a fleet, and we enjoy, not only the happiness, but even the ornaments of peace, in the divertisement of the town, I humbly offer you this trifle, which, if it succeed upon the stage, is like to be the chiefest entertainment of our ladies and gentlemen this summer. When I wrote it, seven years ago, I employed some reading about it, to inform myself out of Beda, Bochartus, and other authors, concerning the rites and customs of the heathen Saxons; as I also used the little skill I have in poetry to adorn itt. But, not to offend the present times, nor a government which has hitherto protected me, I have been obliged so much to alter the first design, and take away so many beauties from the writing, that it is now no more what it was formerly, than the
* The Roman veterans were dismissed after twenty years serrice; a regulation equally politic and humane. In 1691 a French invasion, in behalf of King James, appeared not improbable.
present ship of the Royal Sovereign, after so often taking down and altering, is the vessel it was at the first building. There is nothing better than what I intended, but the music; which has since arrived to a greater perfection in England than ever formerly; especially passing through the artful hands of Mr Purcell, who has composed it with so great a genius, that he has nothing to fear but an ignorant, ill-judging audience. But the numbers of poetry and vocal music are sometimes so contrary, that, in many places, I have been obliged to cramp my verses, and inake them rugged to the reader, that they may be harmonious to the hearer; of which I have no reason to repent me, because these sorts of entertainments are principally designed for the ear and eye; and therefore, in reason, my art, on this occasion, ought to be subservient to his. And, besides, I flatter myself with an imagination, that a judicious audience will easily distinguish betwixt the songs wherein I have complied with him, and those in which I have followed the rules of poetry, in the sound and cadence of the words Notwithstanding all these disadvantages, there is somewhat still remaining of the first spirit with which I wrote it; and though I can only speak by guess, of what pleased my first and best patroness the Duchess of Monmouth in the reading, yet I will venture my opinion, by the knowledge I have long had of her Grace's excellent judgment and true taste of poetry, that the parts of the airy and earthy spirits, and that fairy kind of writing which depends only upon
+ We cannot trace the result of this study any where but in the
song of the Saxon priests; and it did not surely require much reading to glean up the names of the Saxon deities, which are almost the only traits of national manners exhibited through the drama.
the force of imagination, were the grounds of her liking the poem, and afterwards of her recommending it to the Queen. I have likewise had the satisfaction to hear, that her majesty has graciously been pleased to peruse the manuscript of this opera, and given it her royal approbation. Poets, who subsist not but on the favour of sovereign princes, and of great persons, may have leave to be a little vain, and boast of their patronage, who encourage the genius that animates them; and therefore, I will again presume to guess, that her majesty was not displeased to find in this poem the praises of her native country, and the heroic actions of so famous a predecessor in the government of Great Britain as King Arthur.
All this, my lord, I must confess, looks with a kind of insinuation, that I present you with somewhat not unworthy your protection; but I may easily mistake the favour of her majesty for her judgment: I think I cannot be deceived in thus addressing to your lordship, whom I have had the honour to know, at that distance which becomes me, for so many years. It is true, that formerly I have shadowed some part of your virtues under another name; but the character, though short and imperfect, was so true, that it broke through the fable, and was discovered by its native light * What I
* Under that of Jotham in “ Absalom and Achitophel."