Montague, Charles, Earl Of Halifax

, an English statesman and poet, was born April 16, 1661, at Horton in Northamptonshire. He was 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 the celebrated master of the school, Busby, by his felicity in extemporary epigrams. He contracted a very intimate friendship with Mr. Stepney; and, in 1682, when Stepney was elected to Cambridge, the election of Montague not being 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. He was now in his twenty-first year, and his relation, Dr. Montague, was then master of Trinity 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.

In 1685, he wrote some verses on the death of king Charles, which made such an 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 City Mouse and the Country Mouse,” one of his best compositions, which was intended as a burlesque of Dryden’s “Hind and Panther.” Commencing his political career, he signed the invitation to the prince of Orajge, 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 1500l. 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 moirsc 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 five hundred pounds. This story, however current, says Dr. Johnson, seems to have been made after the event^ The king’s answer implies a greater acquaintance with our proverbial and familiar diction than king William could possibly have attained.

In March 1691, Mr. Montague first displayed his abilities in the debates upon the bill for regulating trials in cases of high treason; the design of this bill, among other things, was to allow counsel to prisoners charged w4th that offence, while the trial was depending. Montague rose up to speak for it, but after uttering a few sentences, was struck so suddenly with surprise, that, for a while, he was not able to go on. Recovering himself, he took occasion, from this circumstance, “to enforce the necessity of allowing counsel to prisoners, who were to appear before their judges; since he, who was not only innocent, and unaccused, but one of their own members, was so dashed | when he was to speak before that wise and illustrious assembly.*

*

Mr. Reed observes that this anecdote is related by Mr. Walpole, in his Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, of the earl of Shaftesbury, author of the “Characteristics;” but it appears to be a mistake, if we are to understand that the words were spoken by Shaftesbury at this time, when he had no seat in the House of Commons; nor did the bill pass at this lime, be­ ing thrown out by the House of Lords, It became a law in the 7th William, when Halifax and Shaftesbury both had seats. The editors of the “Biographia Britannica” adopt Mr.WaFpole’s story, but they are not speaking of this period. The story first appeared in the Life of lord Halifax, published in 1715.

In this year, 1691, he was made one of the commissioners of the treasury, and called to the privy council; and in 1694 was appointed second commissioner and chancellor of the exchequer, and under-treasurer. In 1695, he entered into the design of re-coining all the current money of the nation; which, though great difficulties attended it, he completed in the space of two years. In 1696, he projected the scheme for a general fund, which gave rise to the sinking fund, afterwards established by sir Robert Walpole. The same year, he found out a method to raise the sinking credit of the Bank of England; and, in 1697, he provided against the mischiefs from the scarcity of money, by raising, for the service of the government, above two millions in exchequer-notes; on which occasion he was sometimes called the British Machiavel. Before the end of this session of parliament, it was resolved by the House of Commons, that “Charles Montague, esq. chancellor of the exchequer, for his good services to the government, did deserve his majesty’s favour.” This vote, when we consider that the public affairs called for the skill of the ablest statesmen, and that he was at this time not more than thirty-six years of age, may be admitted as a proof of the high esteem entertained of his abilities.

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 created baron Halifax. He was, however, impeached by the Commons; but the articles were dismissed by the Lords.

At the accession of queen Anne 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 negociated the union with Scotland; and wheu the elector of Hanover had received the garter, after the act had passed for securing the protestant successipr, he was appointed to carry the ensigns of the order to the electoral court. He sat 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 he was appointed one of the regency, during her successor’s absence from his kingdoms; and, as soon as George I. had taken possession of the throne, he was created earl of Halifax, installed knight of the garter, and expected to have been appointed lord high treasurer; but as he was only created first commissioner, he was highly chagrined, nor was he pacified by the above honours, or by the transfer of the place of auditor of the exchequer to his nephew. Inflamed, says Mr. Coxe, by disappointed ambition, he entered into cabals with the tory leaders, for the removal of those with whom he had so long cordially acted; but his death put an end to his intrigues. While he appeared to be in a very vigorous state of health, he was suddenly taken ill, May 15, and died on the 19th, 1715.

As he was a patron of poets, his own works did 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, because he had disappointed their hopes; and after his death spoke of him, Swift with slight censure, and Pope in the character of Bufo with acrimonious contempt*.

He was, as Pope says, “fed with dedications;” and Tickell affirms that no dedication was unrewarded. Dr. Johnson’s remarks on this are too valuable to be omitted.

f * Pope’s contemptuous character of quarrel is stated in Johnson’s life of

lord Halifax as Bufo occurs in the Pope, with a ludicrous anecdote re­“Prologue to the Satires,” and yet in specting Halifax’s talents as a critic.

the “Epilogue” to the same, he says Swift’s dislike was founded on the same

in a note that Halifax was " a peer no cause as Pope’s, disappointment of

less distinguished by his love of letters certain expectations from lord Halif’X,

than his abilities in parliament.“In of whom he said that” his encouragethe preface to the Ilvad, he also speaks raents were only good words and good

highly of him, but they had not at that dinners.“time fallen out. The cause of their | ”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 which 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, affection 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.“The opinion of the same critic, on the poetry of Montague, may safely be quoted, as it seems to be the general one. <c It would now be esteemed no honour, by a contributor to the monthly bundle of verses, to be told, that, in strains either familiar or solemn, he sings like Montague.” His poems and speeches, with memoirs of his life, were published in 1715. The former were inserted in Dr. Johnson’s edition of the English Poets, but although they have served to make his name more familiar with the public, it is in political history that his character appears to greatest advantage. 1

1

Biog. Brit. Life prefixed to his Works. Johnson’s Life in English Poets. Gibber’s Lives. Swift’s and Pope’s Works; see Indexes. Park’s edition of the Royal and Noble Authors.