Halifax, Charles Montague
king political earl lord william council house time lords england
HALIFAX, CHARLES MONTAGUE, EARL OF (1661-1715), English statesman and poet, fourth son of the Honourable George Montague, who was fifth son of the first earl of Manchester, was born at Horton, Northamptonshire, on the 16th April 1661. In his fourteenth year he was sent to Westminster school, where he was chosen king's scholar in 1677, and distinguished himself in the composition of extempore epigrams made according to custom upon theses appointed for king's scholars at the time of election. In 1682 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he acquired a solid knowledge of the classics and surpassed all his contemporaries at the university in logic and ethics. Latterly, however, he preferred to the abstractions of Descartes the practical philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton ; and he was one of the small band of students who assisted Newton in forming the Philosophical Society of Cambridge. But it was his facility in verse-writing, and neither his scholarship nor his practical ability, that first opened up to him the way to fortune. His clever but absurdly panegyrical poem on the death of Charles II., which was published in the Book of Condolence and Congratulation presented by the university to James II., secured for him the notice of the earl of Dorset, who invited him to town and introduced him to the principal wits of the time ; and in 1687 his joint authorship with Prior of the Town, and Country Mouse, a happy parody of Dryden's hind and Panther, not only increased his literary reputation but directly helped him to political influence. In 1688, through the patronage of the earl of Dorset, he entered parliament as member for Maldon, and sat in the convention which resolved that William and Mary should be declared king and queen of England. About this time he married the countess-dowager of Manchester, and it would appear, according to Johnson, that it was still his intention to take orders ; but after the coronation he purchased a clerkship to the council. On being introduced by Earl Dorset to King William, after the publication of his poetical Epistle occasioned by his Majestys Victory in Ireland, he was ordered to receive an immediate pension of £500 per annum, until an opportunity should present itself of "making a man of him," In 1691 he was chosen chairman of the committee of the House of Commons appointed to confer with a committee of the Lords in regard to the Bill for regulating trials in cases of high treason ; and he displayed in these conferences such tact and debating power that he was made one of the commissioners of the treasury and called to the privy council. It was during these debates that he had recourse to the peculiar oratorical device of losing his presence of mind, in order to give a practical illustration of the necessity of allowing the privilege of counsel to criminals before a court of justice. Bat his success as a politician was less due to his oratorical gifts than to his skill in finance, and in this respect he soon began to manifest such brilliant talents as completely eclipsed the painstaking abilities of Godolphin. Indeed it may be affirmed that no other statesman has initiated schemes which have left a more permanent mark on the financial history of England. Although perhaps it was inevitable that England should sooner or later adopt the Continental custom of lightening the annual taxation in times of war by contracting a national debt, the actual introduction of the expedient was due to Montague, who on the 15th December 1692 proposed to raise a million of money by way of loan. Previous to this a Scotchman named William Paterson had submitted to the Government his plan of a national bank, and when in the spring of 1694 the prolonged contest with France had rendered another large loan absolutely necessary, Montague introduced a Bill for the incorporation of the Bank of England. The bill after some opposition passed the House of Lords in May, and immediately after the prorogation of parliament Montague was rewarded by the chancellorship of the exchequer. In the following year lie was triumphantly returned for the borough of Westminster to the new parliament, and succeeded in passing his celebrated measure to remedy the depreciation which had taken place in the currency on account of dishonest manipulations. Too,provide for the expense of recoinage, Montague, instead of reviving the old tax of hearth money, introduced the window tax, and the difficulties caused by the temporary absence of a metallic currency were avoided by the issue for the first time of exchequer bills. His other expedients for meeting the emergencies of the financial crisis were equally successful, and the rapid restoration of public credit secured him a commanding influence both in the House of Commons and at the board of the treasury ; but although Godolphin resigned office in October 1696, the king hesitated for some time between Montague and Sir Stephen Fox as his successor, and it was not till 1697 that the former was appointed first lord. In 1698 and 1699 he acted as one of the council of regency during the king's absence from England. When in February of the former year he had been accused of peculation in connexion with the issue of exchequer bills, not only had he been triumphantly acquitted but the House had declared that for his good services to the Government he had deserved his Majesty's favour ; and his reputation was still further increased in the same year by the extraordinary popularity of his project for a new East India Company. With the accumulation of his political successes his vanity and arrogance became, however, so offensive that latterly they utterly lost him the influence he had acquired by his administrative ability and his masterly eloquence ; and when his power began to be on the wane he set the seal to his political overthrow by conferring the lucrative sinecure office of auditor of the exchequer on his brother in trust for himself should lie be compelled to retire from power. For some time after this is attempting to lead the House of Commons be had to submit to constant mortifications, often verging on personal insults, and after the return of the king in 1699 he resigned Ids offices in the Government and succeeded his brother in the auditorship. On the accession of the Tories to power lie was removed in 1701 to the House of Lords by the title of Lord Halifax. In the same year he was impeached for malpractices along with Lord Somers and the earls of Portland and Orford, but all the charges were dismissed by the Lords ; and in 1703 a second attempt to impeach him was still more unsuccessful. He continued out of office during the reign of Queen Anne, but in 1706 he was named one of the commissioners to negotiate the union with Scotland ; and after the passing of the Act of Settlement in favour of the house of Hanover, he was appointed ambassador to the elector's court to convey the insignia of order of the garter to George I. On the death of Anne (1714) he was appointed one of the council of regency until the arrival of the king from Hanover ; and after the coronation he received the office of first lord of the treasury in the new ministry, being at the same time created Earl of Halifax and Viscount Sunbury. He died on the 15th May of the following year, and left no issue. his nephew succeeded to the barony, and was raised to the earldom ; he left it to his son George Dunk, a statesman of sonic eminence, with whose death without issue in 1771 the Halifax titles became extinct.
Montague's association with Prior in the travesty of Dryden's hind and Panther has no doubt largely aided in preserving his literary reputation ; but he is perhaps indebted for it chiefly to his subsequent influential position and to the fulsome flattery of the men of letters who enjoyed Ids friendship, and who, in return for his liberal donations and the splendid banqueting which they occasionally enjoyed at his villa on the Thames, " fed him," as Pope says, " all day long with dedications." That, however, Ids beneficence to needy talent, if sometimes attributable to an itching ear for adulation, was at others prompted by a sincere appreciation of intellectual merit, is sufficiently attested by the manner in which he procured from Godolphin a commissionership for Addison, and also by his lifelong intimacy with Newton, for whom he obtained the mastership of the mint. The small fragments of poetry which he left behind him, and which were almost solely the composition of his early years, display a certain facility and vigour of diction, but their thought and fancy are never more than commonplace, and not unfrequently in striving to be eloquent and impressive he is only grotesquely and extravagantly absurd. In administrative talent he was the superior of all his contemporaries, and his only rival in parliamentary eloquence was Somers ; but the skill with which he managed measures was superior to his tact in dealing with men, and the effect of his brilliant financial successes on his reputation was gradually almost nullified by the affected arrogance of his manner and by the eccentricities of his sensitive vanity. So eager latterly was his thirst for fame and power that perhaps Marlborough did not exaggerate when he said that "he had no other principle but his ambition, so that he would put all in distraction rather than not gain his point."
Among the numerous notices of Halifax uy contemporaries may be mentioned the eulogistic reference which concludes Addison's account of the " greatest of English poets"; the dedications by Steel to the second volume of the Spectator and to the fourth of the Taller ; Pope's laudatory mention of him in the epilogue to his Satires and in the preface to the Iliad, and his portrait of him as "Full-blown Bufo " in the Epistle to Arbuthnot. Various allusions to him are to be found in Swift's works and in Marlborough's Letters. See also Burnet's History of his Own, Times ; The Parliamentary History; I fowell's State Trials ; Johnson's Lives of the Poets ; and Macaulay's History of England. His Miscellaneous Works were published at London in 1704; his Life and Miscellaneous Works in 1715; and his Poetical Works, to which also his " Life" is attached, in 1716. His poems were reprinted in the 9th volume of Johnson's English Poets.
HALIFAX, GEORGE SAVILE, MARQUIS OF (C. 16301695), English statesman and author, son of Sir William Savile, a Yorkshire baronet of ancient family, and of Anne, daughter of the lord-keeper Coventry and sister of the wife of the first earl of Shaftesbury, was born about 1630.
He succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father, and, having taken an active part in the Restoration, he was in3o7 created Baron Savile and Viscount Halifax. Subsequently his political conduct gave deep offence to the king, but although, on his being mentioned in 1672 for a seat in the privy council, Charles at first "kicked at the name," the necessities of the political situation induced him to yield to the solicitations of his advisers, whose arguments for the admission of Halifax were based upon "his family, his abilities, his state and credit, as well as talent to ridicule and unravel whatever lie was spited at." Already he was known as one of the most brilliant orators in the House of Lords, and although his political opinions seemed to be shifting and uncertain, the fascination of his manner aided his formidable talents in gradually- securing him the permanent favour. of the king. In June 1672 he was sent to negotiate terms of peace with France, but he was kept in ignorance of the agreement between Charles and Louis in regard to the establishment of popery in England. He strenuously opposed the Test Bill introduced by Lord Danby in 1675, but continued to sit at the council hoard till the fallowing year when, having provoked Lord Danby by a witticism in reference to ins mild manner of refusing a bribe, the latter procured his dismissal. In 1679 he was, however, created an earl, and having become a member of the new council after the fall of Danby, he differed from the earl of Shaftesbury and his other colleagues in reference to the Exclusion Bill, and by an extraordinary manifestation of nearly all the resources of oratory was instrumental in causing its rejection by the Lords. On this account an address was presented by the Commons praying his "dismissal from the king's person and councils for ever ;" but the king, whose confidence lie had now completely won, retained him in the council, and in 1682 he was created a marquis and became lord privy seal. Although, however, chiefly instrumental in securing the duke of York's succession, his proposed limitations of James's authority when the crown should devolve upon him, as well as his subsequent leaning to Whig principles, awakened the duke's settled hostility, and this was further deepened by his exposure of the malversation of the earl of Rochester. After the accession of James he was accordingly removed from the office of privy seal to that of president of the council, a less important position ; and when in 1685 he refused to give his vote for the repeal either of the Test Act or of the Habeas Corpus Act, he was dismissed from the cabinet. But though made privy to the negotiations entered into with the prince of Orange, Halifax, notwithstanding his pol itical humiliation, was opposed to armed intervention, and endeavoured to obtain such concessions from the king as would render this unnecessary. Even after the landing of the prince he consented to act as one of the three commissioners appointed to treat with him, and it was only the cowardly and traitorous flight of James that induced him finally to abandon his cause and to take measures for raising William to the throne. In the Convention Parliament he was chosen speaker of the Lords, and strongly opposed the motion for a regency. On the accession of William he was made lord privy seal, but the disasters of the Irish campaign gave such a plausible colour to the arguments of his opponents against his competency, and to their insinuations regarding his political honesty, that, though still retaining the office of privy seal, he in October 1689 ceased to take part in the councils of the king. He succeeded before the committee of the House of i Lords in clearing himself from all guilt in eonnexion with the murder of Russell and Sidney, but shortly afterwards resigned his office. Irritated doubtless by the bitter animosity of the Whigs and by the coldness of William, he now at first joined himself to the opposition, and even went so far as to hold communications with St Germains; but either because his anger had cooled, or because he had become convinced of the hopelessness of the fortunes of the Stuarts, lie gradually veered back to the support of the Government. He died somewhat suddenly, 20th April 1695. He was succeeded by his son William, with whose death in 1699 the title became extinct in his family. A daughter by his second marriage was the mother of the fourth and celebrated earl of Chesterfield ; and from his natural son, Henry Carey the dramatist, was descended the celebrated Edmund Kean.
Halifax is portrayed in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel as" Jotham of piercing wit and pregnant thought, Endued by nature and by learning taught To move assemblies."
Of his speeches not the smallest fragment remains, but it is admitted that his highest efforts far excelled in effect even those of Shaftesbury, who was his only rival. "Old men," says Macaulay, "who lived to admire the eloquence of Pulteney in its meridian and that of Pitt in its splendid dawn, still murmured that they had heard nothing like the great speeches of Lord Halifax on the Exclusion Bill." The key to the greater part of his political conduct is to be found in the pamphlet On the Character of a Trimmer, of which he was undoubtedly the author. He was a trimmer, but a trimmer in the best sense of the term ; for though not insensible to worldly advantages, and, notwithstanding his philosophical professions, a lover of pomp and external honours, he was remarkably uncontaminated by the political corruption then almost universally prevalent, and was so emancipated both from party prejudice and selfish ambition as to be able generally to guide his political course by a regard to the best interests of the nation. His sudden changes from one side in politics to another, so far from indicating a loose political morality, were in reality due to the very opposite reason ; for in times so unsettled violent and dangerous oscillations were apt to result from a tendency to extremes in both parties. But though 'his peculiar mental constitution enabled him to play a more important and beneficent part in the politics of his time than any of his contemporaries, it unfitted him for achieving success as a minister of the crown, and rendered his political career a seeming failure. His bent was philosophical rather than practical, and, notwithstanding his great prudence and judgment in several important emergencies, he was apt to be timid and indecisive when the chief burden of responsibility rested upon himself. His writings are neither large nor numerous ; but their pure, polished, and nervousEnglish, acute reasoning, mature if somewhat worldly wisdom, apt and varied illustration, and clever and genial wit, fairly entitle them to a place among English classics. Privately he was, according to Burnet, "a man of a great and ready wit, full of life and very pleasant, much given to satire." He had the reputation of holding atheistical opinions, but on his deathbed "professed himself a sincere Christian."
He was the author of The Anatomy of an Equivalent, printed in the collection of State Tracts, vol. ii. ; A Letter to a Dissenter ; an Essay upon Taxes ; Advice to a Daughter ; The Character of a Trimmer, published anonymously ; Maxims of State applicable to all Times ; Character of Bishop Burnet ; A Seasonable Address to both Houses of Parliament; Cautions for Choice of Parliament Men; A Rough Draught of a New Model at Sea ; Obseroations upon the Reigns of Edwards 1, IL, IIL, and Richard IL ; and A Character of King Charles the Second, and Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections, first published in 1780. His Miscellanies, consisting of seven of the above pamphlets, appeared in 1700. A notice by the lion. Hugh F. Elliot of a " New Manuscript of George Savile, first marquis of Halifax," will be found in Macmillan's Magazine for October 1877. He also left Memoirs of his Life, which were destroyed. See besides the histories of Hume, Fox, Lingard, and Macaulay ; Birch's Lives ; Burnet's History of his 02676 Times; Chesterfield's Memoirs ; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors; Courtenay's Life of ,Sir William Temple ; and Seward's Anecdotes, vol. ii.