De Lolme, John Louis

, a political writer of great abilities, was born at Geneva about 1745. He received a liberal education, and embraced the profession of the law, but diJ not long practise as an advocate before he formed the resolution of quitting his native country, that he might display his lively talents and his literary attainments on a more conspicuous theatre of action, and might personally observe the constitutions and customs of more powerful states. The English) government, in particular, excited his curiosity; and he resolved to study its nature and examine its principles with particular care and attention. He even endeavoured in the first work which he published after his arrival in England, to lead his readers into an opinion that he was a native of this favoured country. It was written in our language, and appeared in 1772, with the title “A parallel between the English Government and the former Government of Sweden; containing some observations on the late revolution in that kingdom, and an examination of the causes that secure us against both aristocracy and absolute monarchy.” Many of our countrymen were apprehensive that our constitution might be subverted like that of Sweden; but the learned doctor | (for M. De Lolme had previously taken the degree of LL. D.) by contrasting with the polity of England the government which Gustavus III. had overturned, plausibly argued that such fears were ill-founded.

He soon alter commenced that work which has established his literary and political fame, entitled “The Constitution of England; or an account of the English Government: in which it is compared, both with the republican form of government, and the other monarchies in Europe.” It was applauded, on its first appearance (in Holland) in the French language, as a very ingenious and spirited performance, combining originality of thought with justness of remark and perspicuity of expression. A translation of it being earnestly desired, the author enlarged and improved it, and published the first English edition in June 1775, 8vo. It was supposed that he was the translator of his own work from the French; and his great knowledge of our language was the subject of high encomium. But if the general style of the work be compared with that of the dedication, which, in every sentence, bears marks of a foreign pen, it will readily be concluded, that the body of the publication was chiefly translated by an Englishman, under the author’s eye.

His next publication is said to have proceeded from his aversion to superstition, but it is scarcely reconcileable to decorum in style or matter. This was his “History of the Flagellants; or, Memorials of Human Superstition,1783, 4to. His attention being afterwards more usefully called to the subject of the legislative union between England and Scotland, by an intended re-publication of De Foe’s history of that memorable transaction, he wrote, in 1787, a judicious essay, calculated for an introduction to that work. In the following year he published observations relative to the tax upon window-lights, the shop-tax, and the impost upon hawkers and pedlars. In these he urges his objections with humour as well as argument. When the question of the regency agitated the minds of the public, he wrote, in 1789, “Observations upon the National Embarrassment, and the proceedings in parliament relative to the same.” In this pamphlet ho coincides with the plan proposed by Mr. Pitt, and adopted by the par^ liament, with the concurrence of the gre::t majority or the nation. These are supposed to be all Mr. De Lolme’s avowed publications; but he wrote some letters in the | newspapers, particularly, we remember, a very ingenious paper on the question, “whether the impeachment of Mr. Hastings abated by a dissolution of parliament?” At what time he left England we have not been able to discover, but he died in Swisserland in 1807, leaving a name certainly of considerable eminence in the annals of literature. His perception was acute, and his mind vigorous. Not content with a hasty or superficial observation of the characters of men and the affairs of states, he examined them with a philosophic spirit and a discerning eye. He could ably speculate on the different modes of government, develope the disguised views of princes and ministers, and detect, the arts and intrigues of demagogues and pseudopatriots. His work on the Constitution of England has been generally supposed the most rational and enlightened survey of the subject; and his last editor is of opinion that even the labours of professor Millar and other British writers do not appear to have discredited or falsified this high character of the work.

By this, we regret to add, De Lolme was not much a gainer. It was discouraged on its first appearance, and although mentioned with high respect by some leading men in parliament, nothing substantial was done for its author. His private life, however, had many singularities, and De Lolme was not a man to be provided for by casual bounty, or casual patronage. He expected, and had reason to expect, some permanent reward that might have led to independence. Disappointed in this, his pride of spirit would not suffer him to solicit inferior rewards. For some years, when inquiries were made by men of rank, who probably meant to have assisted him, it was almost impossible to trace his lodgings, which he frequently changed, and in some of which he passed by fictitious names. He lived on little, and his appearance and personal habits became slovenly. Before he left this country, we are told, he received some aid from the Literary Fund; but how he lived abroad, we have not heard. From personal knowled;. e we can subscribe to the conclusion of Dr. Coote’s character of him “He had the art of pleasing in conversation, though the graces did not appear in his manners or deportment. He had a turn for pleasantry and humour; and has been compared to Burke for the variety of his illusions, and the felicity of his illustrations. His general temper has been praised; but his spirit was considered by | many as too high for his fortune; yet, in one respect, his mind assimilated to the occasional penury under which he laboured; for, in his mode of living, he could imitate the temperance and self-denial of a philosopher.” In 1807, an edition of his work on the Constitution was published, illustrated by notes, and a critical and biographical preface by Dr. Charles Coote. Of this last we have availed ourselves in the present sketch. For an account of the early neglect with which De Lolme was treated, the reader may be referred to his own preface. 1


Biog. preface as above. Mr. D’Israeli has paid an affectionate and spirited tribute to De Loline’s memory in his “Calamities of Authors.