I have sent you in a packet which your Leipsig acquaintance, Duval, sends to his correspondent at Rome, Lord Bolingbroke's book,--["Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism," on the Idea of a Patriot King which he published about a year ago.]-- I desire that you will read it over and over again, with particular attention to the style, and to all those beauties of oratory with which it is adorned. Till I read that book, I confess I did not know all the extent and powers of the English language. Lord Bolingbroke has both a tongue and a pen to persuade; his manner of speaking in private conversation is full as elegant as his writings; whatever subject he either speaks or writes upon, he adorns with the most splendid eloquence; not a studied or labored eloquence, but such a flowing happiness of diction, which (from care perhaps at first) is become so habitual to him, that even his most familiar conversations, if taken down in writing, would bear the press, without the least correction either as to method or style. If his conduct, in the former part of his life, had been equal to all his natural and acquired talents, he would most justly have merited the epithet of all-accomplished. He is himself sensible of his past errors: those violent passions which seduced him in his youth, have now subsided by age; and take him as he is now, the character of all-accomplished is more his due than any man's I ever knew in my life.
But he has been a most mortifying instance of the violence of human passions and of the weakness of the most exalted human reason. His virtues and his vices, his reason and his passions, did not blend themselves by a gradation of tints, but formed a shining and sudden contrast. Here the darkest, there the most splendid colors; and both rendered more shining from their proximity. Impetuosity, excess, and almost extravagance, characterized not only his passions, but even his senses. His youth was distinguished by all the tumult and storm of pleasures, in which he most licentiously triumphed, disdaining all decorum. His fine imagination has often been heated and exhausted, with his body, in celebrating and deifying the prostitute of the night; and his convivial joys were pushed to all the extravagance of frantic Bacchanals. Those passions were interrupted but by a stronger ambition. The former impaired both his constitution and his character, but the latter destroyed both his fortune and his reputation.
He has noble and generous sentiments, rather than fixed reflected principles of good nature and friendship; but they are more violent than lasting, and suddenly and often varied to their opposite extremes, with regard to the same persons. He receives the common attentions of civility as obligations, which he returns with interest; and resents with passion the little inadvertencies of human nature, which he repays with interest too. Even a difference of opinion upon a philosophical subject would provoke, and prove him no practical philosopher at least.
Notwithstanding the dissipation of his youth, and the tumultuous agitation of his middle age, he has an infinite fund of various and almost universal knowledge, which, from the clearest and quickest conception, and happiest memory, that ever man was blessed with, he always carries about him. It is his pocket-money, and he never has occasion to draw upon a book for any sum. He excels more particularly in history, as his historical works plainly prove. The relative political and commercial interests of every country in Europe, particularly of his own, are better known to him, than perhaps to any man in it; but how steadily he has pursued the latter, in his public conduct, his enemies, of all parties and denominations, tell with joy.
He engaged young, and distinguished himself in business; and his penetration was almost intuition. I am old enough to have heard him speak in parliament. And I remember that, though prejudiced against him by party, I felt all the force and charms of his eloquence. Like Belial in Milton, "he made the worse appear the better cause." All the internal and external advantages and talents of an orator are undoubtedly his. Figure, voice, elocution, knowledge, and, above all, the purest and most florid diction, with the justest metaphors and happiest images, had raised him to the post of Secretary at War, at four-and-twenty years old, an age at which others are hardly thought fit for the smallest employments.
During his long exile in France, he applied himself to study with his characteristical ardor; and there he formed and chiefly executed the plan of a great philosophical work. The common bounds of human knowledge are too narrow for his warm and aspiring imagination. He must go 'extra flammantia maenia Mundi', and explore the unknown and unknowable regions of metaphysics; which open an unbounded field for the excursion of an ardent imagination; where endless conjectures supply the defect of unattainable knowledge, and too often usurp both its name and its influence.
He has had a very handsome person, with a most engaging address in his air and manners; he has all the dignity and good-breeding which a man of quality should or can have, and which so few, in this country at least, really have.
He professes himself a deist; believing in a general Providence, but doubting of, though by no means rejecting (as is commonly supposed) the immortality of the soul and a future state.
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