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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 4 - Chapter 11. An Interview
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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 11. An Interview Post by :sportstoto3368 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1150

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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 11. An Interview


I WENT a little out of my way, on departing from Paris, to visit Lord Bolingbroke, who at that time was in the country. There are some men whom one never really sees in capitals; one sees their masks, not themselves: Bolingbroke was one. It was in retirement, however brief it might be, that his true nature expanded itself; and, weary of being admired, he allowed one to love, and, even in the wildest course of his earlier excesses, to respect him. My visit was limited to a few hours, but it made an indelible impression on me.

"Once more," I said, as we walked to and fro in the garden of his temporary retreat, "once more you are in your element; minister and statesman of a prince, and chief supporter of the great plans which are to restore him to his throne."

A slight shade passed over Bolingbroke's fine brow. "To you, my constant friend," said he, "to you,--who of all my friends alone remained true in exile, and unshaken by misfortune,--to you I will confide a secret that I would intrust to no other. I repent me already of having espoused this cause. I did so while yet the disgrace of an unmerited attainder tingled in my veins; while I was in the full tide of those violent and warm passions which have so often misled me. Myself attainted; the best beloved of my associates in danger; my party deserted, and seemingly lost but for some bold measure such as then offered,--these were all that I saw. I listened eagerly to representations I now find untrue; and I accepted that rank and power from one prince which were so rudely and gallingly torn from me by another. I perceive that I have acted imprudently; but what is done, is done: no private scruples, no private interest, shall make me waver in a cause that I have once pledged myself to serve; and if I _can do aught to make a weak cause powerful, and a divided party successful, I will; but, Devereux, you are wrong,--this is _not my element. Ever in the paths of strife, I have sighed for quiet; and, while most eager in pursuit of ambition, I have languished the most fondly for content. The littleness of intrigue disgusts me, and while _the branches of my power soared the highest, and spread with the most luxuriance, it galled me to think of the miry soil in which that power was condemned to strike _the roots_,* upon which it stood, and by which it must be nourished."

* "Occasional Writer," No. 1. The Editor has, throughout this work, usually, but not invariably, noted the passages in Bolingbroke's writings, in which there occur similes, illustrations, or striking thoughts, correspondent with those in the text.

I answered Bolingbroke as men are wont to answer statesmen who complain of their calling,--half in compliment, half in contradiction; but he replied with unusual seriousness,

"Do not think I affect to speak thus: you know how eagerly I snatch any respite from state, and how unmovedly I have borne the loss of prosperity and of power. You are now about to enter those perilous paths which I have trod for years. Your passions, like mine, are strong! Beware, oh, beware, how you indulge them without restraint! They are the fires which should warm: let them not be the fires which destroy."

Bolingbroke paused in evident and great agitation; he resumed: "I speak strongly, for I speak in bitterness; I was thrown early into the world; my whole education had been framed to make me ambitious; it succeeded in its end. I was ambitious, and of all success,--success in pleasure, success in fame. To wean me from the former, my friends persuaded me to marry; they chose my wife for her connections and her fortune, and I gained those advantages at the expense of what was better than either,--happiness! You know how unfortunate has been that marriage, and how young I was when it was contracted. Can you wonder that it failed in the desired effect? Every one courted me; every temptation assailed me: pleasure even became more alluring abroad, when at home I had no longer the hope of peace; the indulgence of one passion begat the indulgence of another; and, though my better sense _prompted all my actions, it never _restrained them to a proper limit. Thus the commencement of my actions has been generally prudent, and their _continuation has deviated into rashness, or plunged into excess. Devereux, I have paid the forfeit of my errors with a terrible interest: when my motives have been pure, men have seen a fault in the conduct, and calumniated the motives; when my conduct has been blameless, men have remembered its former errors, and asserted that its present goodness only arose from some sinister intention: thus I have been termed crafty, when I was in reality rash, and that was called the inconsistency of interest which in reality was the inconsistency of passion.* I have reason, therefore, to warn you how you suffer your subjects to become your tyrants; and believe me no experience is so deep as that of one who has committed faults, and who has discovered their causes."

* This I do believe to be the real (though perhaps it is a new) light in which Lord Bolingbroke's life and character are to be viewed. The same writers who tell us of his ungovernable passions, always prefix to his name the epithets "designing, cunning, crafty," etc. Now I will venture to tell these historians that, if they had studied human nature instead of party pamphlets, they would have discovered that there are certain incompatible qualities which can never be united in one character,--that no man can have violent passions _to which he is in the habit of yielding_, and be systematically crafty and designing. No man can be all heat, and at the same time all coolness; but opposite causes not unoften produce like effects. Passion usually makes men changeable, so sometimes does craft: hence the mistake of the uninquiring or the shallow; and hence while------writes, and------compiles, will the characters of great men be transmitted to posterity misstated and belied.--ED.

"Apply, my dear Lord, that experience to your future career. You remember what the most sagacious of all pedants,* even though he was an emperor, has so happily expressed,--'Repentance is a goddess, and the preserver of those who have erred.'"

* The Emperor Julian. The original expression is paraphrased in the text.

"May I _find her so!" answered Bolingbroke; "but as Montaigne or Charron would say,* 'Every man is at once his own sharper and his own bubble.' We make vast promises to ourselves; and a passion, an example, sweeps even the remembrance of those promises from our minds. One is too apt to believe men hypocrites, if their conduct squares not with their sentiments; but perhaps no vice is more rare, for no task is more difficult, than systematic hypocrisy; and the same susceptibility which exposes men to be easily impressed by the allurements of vice renders them at heart most struck by the loveliness of virtue. Thus, their language and their hearts worship the divinity of the latter, while their conduct strays the most erringly towards the false shrines over which the former presides. Yes! I have never been blind to the surpassing excellence of GOOD. The still, sweet whispers of virtue have been heard, even when the storm has been loudest, and the bark of Reason been driven the most impetuously over the waves: and, at this moment, I am impressed with a foreboding that, sooner or later, the whispers will not only be heard, but their suggestion be obeyed; and that, far from courts and intrigue, from dissipation and ambition, I shall learn, in retirement, the true principles of wisdom, and the real objects of life."

* "Spirit of Patriotism."

Thus did Bolingbroke converse, and thus did I listen, till it was time to depart. I left him impressed with a melancholy that was rather soothing than distasteful. Whatever were the faults of that most extraordinary and most dazzling genius, no one was ever more candid* in confessing his errors. A systematically bad man either ridicules what is good or disbelieves in its existence; but no man can be hardened in vice whose heart is still sensible of the excellence and the glory of virtue.

* It is impossible to read the letter to Sir W. Windham without being remarkably struck with the dignified and yet open candour which it displays. The same candour is equally visible in whatever relates _to himself_, in all Lord Bolingbroke's writings and correspondence; and yet candour is the last attribute usually conceded to him. But never was there a writer whom people have talked of more and read less; and I do not know a greater proof of this than the ever-repeated assertion (echoed from a most incompetent authority) of the said letter to Sir W. Windham being the finest of all Lord Bolingbroke's writings. It is an article of great value to the history of the times; but, as to all the higher graces and qualities of composition, it is one of the least striking (and on the other hand it is one of the most verbally incorrect) which he has bequeathed to us (the posthumous works always excepted). I am not sure whether the most brilliant passages, the most noble illustrations, the most profound reflections, and most useful truths, to be found in all his writings, are not to be gathered from the least popular of them,--such as that volume entitled "Political Tracts."--ED.

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