Savile, Sir George

, marquis of Halifax, a celebrated statesman, but of equivocal character, was descended from an ancient family in Yorkshire. He was the son of sir William Savile, bart. and Anne, daughter of Thomas lord Coventry, lord keeper of the great seal. He was born, probably about 1630. Upon the death of his father, he succeeded to the title of baronet, and soon distinguished himself by his abilities in public affairs; and being zealous in bringing about the restoration, was created a peer, in consideration of his own and his father’s merits. In 1668 he was appointed of that remarkable committee, which sat | at Brook-hall for the examination of the accounts of the money which had been given during the Dutch war, of which no member of the House of Commons was admitted. In April 1672 he was called to a seat in the privy council; and, June following, went over to Holland with the duke of Buckingham and the earl of Arlington, as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, to treat about a peace with France, when he met with great opposition from hi* colleagues.

In 1675 he opposed with vigour the non-resisting testbill; and was removed from the council-board the year following by the interest of the earl of Dauby, the treasurer. He had provoked this lord by one of those witticisms in which he dealt so largely. In the examination before the council concerning the revenue of Ireland, lord Widrington confessed that he had made an offer of a considerable sum to the lord treasurer, and that his lordship had rejected it very mildly, and in such a mariner as not to discourage a second attempt. Lord Halifax observed upon this, that “it would be somewhat strange if a man should ask the use of another man’s wife, and the other should indeed refuse it, but with great civility.” His removal was very agreeable to the duke of York, who at that time had a more violent aversion to him than even to Shaftesbury himself, because he had spoken with great firmness and spirit in the House of Lords against the declaration for a toleration. However, upon a change of the ministry in 1679, his lordship was made a member of the new council. The same year, during the agitation of the bill for the exclusion of the duke of York, he seemed averse to it; but proposed such limitations of the duke’s authority when the crown should devolve upon him, as should disable him from doing any harm either in church or state; such as the taking out of his hands all power in ecclesiastical matters^ the disposal of the public money, and the power of peace or war, and lodging these in the two Houses of Parliament; and that the parliament in being at the king’s death should continue without a new summons, and assume the administration; but his lordship’s arguing so much against the danger of turning the monarchy, by the bill of exclusion, into an elective government, was thought the more extraordinary, because he made an hereditary king the subject of his mirth, and had often said “Who takes a coachman to drive him, because his father was a good coachman| Yet he was now jealous of a small slip in the succession; though he at the same time studied to infuse into some persons a zeal for a commonwealth; and to these he pretended, that he preferred limitations to an exclusion, because the one kept up the monarchy still, only passing over one person; whereas the other really introduced a commonwealth, as soon as there was a popish king on the throne. And it was said by some of his friends, that the limitations proposed were so advantageous to public liberty, that a man might be tempted to wish for a popish king, in order to obtain them. Upon this great difference of opinion, a faction was quickly formed in the new council; lord Halifax, with the earls of Essex and Sunderland, declaring for limitations, and against the exclusion, while the earl of Shaftesbury was equally zealous for the latter; and when the bill for it was brought into the House of Lords, lord Halifax appeared with great resolution at the head of the debates against it. This so highly exasperated the House of Commons, that they addressed the king to remove him from his councils and presence for ever: but he prevailed with his majesty soon after to dissolve that parliament, and was created an earl. However, upon his majesty’s deferring to call a new parliament, according to his promise to his lordship, his vexation is said to have been so great as to affect his health, and he expostulated severely with those who were sent to him on that affair, refusing the post both of secretary of state and lord-lieutenant of Ireland. A parliament being called in 1680, he still opposed the exclusion-bill, and gained great reputation by his management of the debate, though it occasioned a new address from the House of Commons to remove him. However, after rejecting that bill in the House of Lords, his lordship pressed them, though without*success, to proceed to limitations; and began with moving that the duke might be obliged to live five hundred miles out of England during the king’s life. In August 1682, he was created a marquis, and soon after made privy-seal, and, upon king James’s accession, president of the council. But on refusing his consent to the repeal of the tests, he was told by that monarch, that, though he could never forget his past services, yet, since he would not comply in that point, he was resolved to have unanimity in his councils, and, therefore, dismissed him from all public employments. He was afterwards consulted by Mr. Sidney, whether he would | advise the prince of Orange’s coming over; but, this matter being only hinted, he did not encourage a farther explanation, looking upon the attempt as impracticable, since it depended on so many accidents. Upon the arrival of that prince, he was sent by the king, with the earls of Kochester and Godolphin, to treat with him, then at Hungerford.

In that assembly of the lords which met after king James’s withdrawing himself the first time from Whitehall, the marquis was chosen their president; and, upon the king’s return from Feversham, he was sent, together with the earl of Shrewsbury and lord Delamere, from the prince of Orange, ordering his majesty to quit his palace at Whitehall, and retire to Hull. In the convention-parliament, he was chosen speaker of the House of Lords; and strenuously supported the motion for the vacancy of the throne, and the conjunctive sovereignty of the prince and princess, upon whose accession he was again made privy-seal. But, in the session of 1689, upon the inquiry into the authors of the prosecutions against lord Russell, Algernon Sidney, &c. the marquis, having concurred in these councils in 1683, now quitted the court, and became a zealous opposer of the measures of the government till his death, which happened in April 1695, and was occasioned by a gangrene in a rupture he had long neglected. There seems little in his conduct that is steady, or in his character that is amiable. Towards his end he showed some signs of repentance, which, according to Burnet, were transient. “He was,” says that writer, “a man of great and ready wit, full of life and very pleasant, much turned to satire be let his wit turn upon matters of religion so that he passed for a bold and determined atheist, though he often protested to me, that he was not one, and said, he believed there was not one in the world. He confessed he could not swallow down all that divines imposed on the world; he was a Christian in submission; he believed as much as he could; and hoped, that God would not lay it to his charge, if he could not digest iron as an ostrich did, nor take into his belief things that must burst him. If he had any scruples, they were not sought for nor cherished by him; for he never read an atheistical book in his life. In sickness, I knew him very much affected with a sense of religion I was then often with him, he seemed full of good purposes, but they went off with his sickness he was | continually talking of morality and friendship. He was punctual in his payments, and just in all private dealings; but, with relation to the public, he went backward and forward and changed sides so often, that in the conclusion no side trusted him; he seemed full of commonwealth notions, yet he went into the worst part of king Charles’s reign. The liveliness of his imagination was always too hard for his judgment. His severe jest was preferred by him to all arguments whatever; and he was endless in council; for, when after much discourse a point was settled, if he could find a new jest, whereby he could make that which was digested by himself seem ridiculous, he could not hold, but would study to raise the credit of his wit, though it made others call his judgment in question. When he talked to me, as a philosopher, of the contempt of the world, I asked him what he meant by getting so many new titles, which I callecl the hanging himself about with bells and tinsel; he had no other excuse for it but this, that, if the world were such fools as to value those matters, a man must be a fool for company he considered them but as rattles, yet rattles please children so these might be of use to his family.

By his first wife, daughter of Henry Spencer, earl of Sunderland, he had a son William, who succeeded him; and by a second wife, the daughter of William Pierrepoint, second son of Robert earl of Kingston, he had a daughter Gertrude, who was married to Philip Stanhope, third earl of Chesterfield, and was mother to the celebrated earl, who, says Maty, may be perhaps justly compared to his grandfather in extent of capacity, fertility of genius, and brilliancy of wit. They both, adds he, distinguished themselves in parliament by their eloquence; at court, by their knowledge of the world; in company, by their art of pleasing. They were both very useful to their sovereigns, though not much attached either to the prerogative or to the person of any king. They both knew, humoured, and despised the different parties. The Epicurean philosophy was their common study. William, the second marquis of Halitax, died in 1699, when the dignity became extinct in his family, but was revived in 1700 in the person of Charles Montague. The -marquis William left three daughters Anne, married to Charles Bruce, earl of Aylesbury Dorothy, to Richard Boyle, the last earl of Burlington; and Mary, to Sackville Tuftou, earl of Thanet. | George,: marquis of Halifax, was the author of some tracts, written with considerable spirit and elegance. Besides his “Character of a Trimmer,” he wrote “Advice to a Daughter;” “The Anatomy of an Equivalent;” “A Letter to a Dissenter, upon his Majesty’s laie Glorious Declaration of Indulgences;” “A rough Draught of a new Model at Sea, in 1694;” “Maxims of State.Ah which were printed together after his death; and the third edition came out in 1717, 8vo. Since these, /there was alsa published under his name, “The Character of king Charles the Second to which is subjoined, Maxims of State, &c,1750, 8vo. “Character of Bishop Burnet,” printed at the end of his “History of his own Times;” “Historical Observations upon the Reigns of Edward I. II. III. and Richard II. with Remarks upon their faithful Counsellors and false Favourites,” 1689. He also left memoirs of his own times* from a journal which he kept every day of all the conversations which he had with Charles II. and the most distinguished men of his time. Of these memoirs two fair copies were made, one of which fell into the hands of Daniel earl, of Nottingham, and was destroyed by him. The other devolved on the marquis’s grand-daughter, lady Burlington, in whose possession it long remained; but Pope, as the late lord Orford informed Mr. Mai one, finding, on a perusal of these memoirs, that the papists of those days were represented in an unfavourable light, prevailed on her to burn them; and thus the public have been deprived of probably a curious and valuable work. 1


Birch’s Lives. Royal and Noble Authors, by Mr. Park. Malone’s Life of Dryden. Chesterfield’s Memoirs, by Dr. Maty.