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Born at Horton, in Northamptonshire - Educated at Westminster and
Cambridge — His Poem on Charles II.'s death — Joins with Prior in • The Country Mouse and City Mouse '—Introduced to William III. — His several Offices — Made Chancellor of the Exchequer and Earl of Halifax — His Patronage of Poets – Burial in Westminster Abbey.
The Life of the Earl of Halifax was properly that of an artful and active statesman, employed in balancing parties, contriving expedients, and combating opposition, and exposed to the vicissitudes of advancement and degradation ; but, in this collection, poetical merit is the claim to attention; and the
1 account which is here to be expected may properly be proportioned not to his influence in the state, but to his rank among the writers of verse."
Charles Montague was born April 16, 1661, at Horton, in Northamptonshire, the son of Mr. George Montague, a younger son of the Earl of Manchester. He was educated first in the country, and then removed to Westminster, where, in 1677, he was chosen a King's scholar, and recommended himself to Busby by his felicity in extemporary epigrams. He contracted a very intimate friendship with Mr. Stepney; and in 1682, when Stepney was elected at Cambridge, the election of Montague being not to proceed till the year following, he was afraid lest by being placed at Oxford he might be separated from his companion, and therefore solicited to be removed to Cambridge, without waiting for the advantages of another year.
' Of the fifty poets whose lives Johnson has written, Montague and Prior were the only two who were distinguished by an intimate knowledge of trade and finance.—MACAULAY: History of England, ii, 200, 9th ed.
Henry, first Earl of Manchester. The parish register of St. Margaret's, Westminster, contains the entry of the poet's baptism under 12th May, 1661.
It seems indeed time to wish for a removal; for he was already a school-boy of one-and-twenty.
His relation, Dr. Montague, was then master of the college in which he was placed a fellow-commoner, and took him under his particular care.
Here he commenced an acquaintance with the great Newton, which continued through his life, and was at last attested by a legacy.3
In 1685 his verses on the death of King Charles made such impression on the Earl of Dorset, that he was invited to town, and introduced by that universal patron to the other wits. In 1687 he joined with Prior in the • Country Mouse and the City Mouse,' a burlesque of Dryden's Hind and Panther.'He
Не signed the invitation to the Prince of Orange, and sat in the Convention. He about the same time married the Countess Dowager of Manchester, and intended to have taken orders ; but afterwards altering his purpose, he purchased for 15001, the place of one of the clerks of the council.
After he had written his epistle on the victory of the Boyne,“ his patron Dorset introduced him to King William with this expression : “Sir, I have brought a mouse to wait on your Majesty.” To which the King is said to have replied, “ You do well to put me in the way of making a man of him ;" and ordered him a pension of 5001. This story, however cur
, rent, seems to have been made after the event. The King's answer implies a greater acquaintance with our proverbial
3 I am sorry to add that he lived with Newton's niece, Mrs. Catherine Barton, a great toast, after Halifax's death married to Mr. Conduit, Newton's successor as Master of the Mint. She died in 1739, and is pleasantly perpetuated in Swift's 'Journal to Stella.' She is amply and affectionately remembered in Halifax's will.
* Compare Johnson, in Dryden's Life, vol. i. p. 313.
5 Anne Yelverton, daughter of Sir Christopher Yelverton, of Easton Mauduit, in Northamptonshire, and widow of the third Earl of Manchester, who died in 1682. The Countess died in July, 1698, in the heat of a contested Westminster election, at which, however, her husband was returned at the head of the poll. (See ‘Vernon Correspondence,' ii. 140.) Her son by the third Earl of Manchester was the first Duke of Manchester.
6 • An Epistle to the Right Honourable Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, Lord Chamberlain of His Majesty's Household, occasioned by His Majesty's victory in Ireland.' London: F. Saunders. 1690, fol. A second edition, in folio, same year.
HIS PROMOTIONS IN THE STATE.
and familiar diction than King William could possibly have attained.
In 1691, being member of the House of Commons, he argued warmly in favour of a law to grant the assistance of counsel in trials for high treason; and, in the midst of his speech, falling into some confusion, was for a while silent; but, recovering himself, observed, “how reasonable it was to allow counsel to men called as criminals before a court of justice, when it appeared how much the presence of that assembly could disconcert one of their own body.” 1
After this he rose fast into honours and employments, being made one of the commissioners of the Treasury, and called to the Privy Council. In 1694 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the next year engaged in the great attempt of the re-coinage, which was in two years happily completed. In 1696 he projected the general fund, and raised the credit of the Exchequer ; and, after inquiry concerning a grant of Irish crown-lands, it was determined by a vote of the Commons, that Charles Montague, Esquire, had deserved his Majesty's favour. In 1698, being advanced to the first commission of the Treasury, he was appointed one of the regency in the King's absence : the next year he was made Auditor of the Exchequer, and the year after [4th Dec., 1700] created Baron Halifax, He was however impeached by the Commons; but the articles were dismissed by the Lords.
At the accession of Queen Anne [8th March, 1702] he was dismissed from the council; and in the first parliament of her reign was again attacked by the Commons, and again escaped by the protection of the Lords. In 1704 he wrote an answer to Bromley's speech against occasional conformity. He headed the inquiry into the danger of the Church. In 1706 he proposed and negotiated the Union with Scotland; and when the Elector of Hanover received the Garter, after the act had passed for securing the Protestant Succession, he was appointed to carry the ensigns of the order to the Electoral court. He sat
? The same story is related by Walpole, in his · Royal and Noble Authors,' of the Earl of Shaftesbury, author of the Characteristics.'
as one of the judges of Sacheverell, but voted for a mild sentence. Being now no longer in favour, he contrived to obtain a writ for summoning the Electoral Prince to parliament as Duke of Cambridge.
At the Queen's death (1st Aug., 1714] he was appointed one of the regents; and at the accession of George the First was made [14th Oct., 1714] Earl of Halifax, Knight of the Garter, and first Commissioner of the Treasury, with a grant to his nephew of the reversion of the auditorship of the Exchequer. More was not to be had, and this he kept but a little while; for on the 19th of May, 1715, he died of an inflammation of his lungs.'
Of him, who from a poet became a patron of poets, it will be readily believed that the works would not miss of celebration. Addison began to praise him early,'° and was followed or accompanied by other poets; perhaps by almost all, except Swift and Pope, who forbore to flatter him in his life, and after his death spoke of him, Swift with slight censure, and Pope in the character Bufo with acrimonious contempt."
8 A copy of verses, by Rowe, was published on this occasion, entitled, Mecænas : Verses occasioned by the honours conferred on the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax.' By N. Rowe, Esq. London: Lintot. 1714, fol.
9 He was buried in Henry the Seventh's Chapel, and Addison, whose genius he had fostered, was afterwards buried by his side.
10 In · An Account of the greatest English Poets,' printed in Dryden's · Fourth Miscellany,' 8vo. 1691.
" Swift's only public censure of Halifax as a patron occurs in ' A Libel on the Rev. Dr. Delany and his Excellency Johu Lord Carteret, 1729,' where be accuses him most unjustly of neglecting Congreve, and hints only too broadly that the great dramatist owed his places more to his politics than his poetry.
Thus Congreve spent in writing plays
His encouragements were only good words and good dinners. I never heard him say one good thing, or seem to taste what was said by another.—SWIFT : MS. Remarks on the Characters of the Court of Queen Anne (Scott, xii. 237).
FED WITH DEDICATIONS.
He was, as Pope says, “ fed with dedications ;"!2 for Tickell affirms that no dedication was unrewarded.13 To charge all unmerited praise with the guilt of flattery, and to suppose that the encomiast always knows and feels the falsehoods of his assertions, is surely to discover great ignorance of human nature and human life. In determinations depending not on rules, but on experience and comparison, judgment is always in some degree subject to affection. Very near to admiration is the wish to admire.
Every man willingly gives value to the praise which he receives, and considers the sentence passed in his favour as the sentence of discernment. We admire in a friend that understanding that selected us for confidence; we admire more, in a patron, that judgment which, instead of scattering bounty indiscriminately, directed it to us; and, if the patron be an author, those performances which gratitude forbids us to blame, affectation will easily dispose us to exalt.
To these prejudices, hardly culpable, interest, adds a power always operating, though not always, because not willingly, perceived. The modesty of praise wears gradually away; and perhaps the pride of patronage may be in time so increased, that modest praise will no longer please.
Many a blandishment was practised upon Halifax, which he would never have known, had he no other attractions than
Of those [letters] from Lord Halifax, I burnt all but one; which I keep as a most admirable original of court-promises and professions.-SWIFT to Lady Betty Germain, June 8, 1735 (Scott, xviii. 327). Halifax's letter is dated 6th October, 1709, and is in Scott, xv. 348.
“The Earl of Halifax was one of the first to favour me; of whom it is hard to say, whether the advancement of the Fine Arts is more owing to his generosity or his example."--POPE: Preface to Niad.
12 Fed with soft dedication all day long,
POPE: Character of Bufo in Ep. to Arbuthnot. 13 Tickell's Dedication of the “Iliad.' Congreve dedicated to him his ‘Double Dealer;' Smith his “Phædra and Hippolitus ;' D'Urfey his “Third Part of Don Quixote;' Tickell his translation of the first “Iliad ;' Steele the fourth volume of the “ Tatler' and the second volume of the Spectator. Tickell's dedication was posthumous.