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The prosecution of my history was soon afterwards checked by another controversy of a very different kind. At the request of the lord chancellor, and of lord Weymouth, then secretary of state, I vindicated, against the French manifesto, the justice of the British arms. The whole correspondence of lord Stormont, our late ambassador at Paris, was submitted to my inspection; and the "Mémoire Justificatif," which I composed in French, was first approved by the cabinet ministers, and then delivered as a state paper to the courts of Europe. The style and manner are praised by Beaumarchais himself, who, in his private quarrel, attempted a reply; but he flatters me by ascribing the memoir to lord Stormont; and the grossness of his invective betrays the loss of temper and of wit; he acknowledged, that "le style ne seroit pas sans grace, ni la logique sans justice," &c. if the facts were true, which he undertakes to disprove. For these facts my credit is not pledged; I spoke as a lawyer from my brief; but the veracity of Beaumarchais may be estimated from the assertion that France, by the treaty of Paris (1763) was limited to a certain number of ships of war. On the application of the duke of Choiseul, he was obliged to retract this daring falsehood.
Among the honourable connections which I had formed, I may justly be proud of the friendship of Mr Wedderburne, at that time attorney-general, who now illustrates the title of lord Loughborough, and the office of chief justice of the Common Pleas. By his strong recommendation, and the favourable disposition of lord North, I was appointed one of the lords commissioners of Trade and Plantations; and my private income was enlarged by a clear addition of between seven and eight hundred pounds a-year. The fancy of an hostile orator may paint, in the strong colours of ridicule, “the perpetual virtual adjourn
*Euvres de Beaumarchais, tom. iii. pp. 299, 355.
ment, and the unbroken sitting vacation, of the Board of Trade." But it must be allowed that our duty was not intolerably severe, and that I enjoyed many days and weeks of repose, without being called away from my library to the office. My acceptance of a place provoked some of the leaders of opposition, with whom I had lived in habits of intimacy ;t and I was
* I can never forget the delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator, Mr Burke, was heard by all sides of the house, and even by those whose existence he proscribed. (See Mr Burke's speech on the Bill of Reform, p. 72-80.) The lords of Trade blushed at their insignificancy, and Mr Eden's appeal to the two thousand five hundred volumes of our reports served only to excite a general laugh. I take this opportunity of certifying the correctness of Mr Burke's printed speeches, which I have heard and read.
+ It has always appeared to me that nothing could be more unjustifiable than the manner in which some persons allowed themselves to speak of Mr Gibbon's acceptance of an office at the Board of Trade. I can conceive that he may carelessly have used strong expressions in respect to some or all parties; but he never meant that such expressions should be taken literally; and I know, beyond all possibility of question, that he was so far from being "in a state of savage hostility towards lord North," as it is savagely expressed by Mr Whitaker, that he always loved and esteemed him. I saw Mr Gibbon constantly at this time, and was well acquainted with all his political opinions. And although he was not perfectly satisfied with every measure, yet he uniformly supported all the principal ones regarding the American war; and considered himself, and indeed was, a friend to administration to the very period of his accepting office. He liked the brilliant society of a club, the most distinguished members of which were notorious for their opposition to government, and might be led, in some degree, to join in their language; but Mr Gibbon had little, I had almost said no political acrimony in his character. If the opposition of that or any other time could claim for their own every person who was not perfectly satisfied with all the measures of government, their party would unquestionably have been more formidable. S.
most unjustly accused of deserting a party in which I had never inlisted.*
From EDWARD GIBBON, Esq. to EDWARD ELLIOT, Esq of Port Elliot (afterwards LORD ELLIOT.) Dear Sir, 2d July, 1779. Yesterday I received a very interesting communication from my friend the attorney-general, whose kind and honourable behaviour towards me I must always remember with the highest gratitude. He informed me that, in consequence of an arrangement, a place at the Board of Trade was reserved for me, and that as soon as I signified my acceptance of it, he was satisfied no farther difficulties would arise. My answer to him was sincere and explicit. I told him that I was far from approving all the past measures of the administration, even some of those in which I myself had silently concurred; that I saw, with the rest of the world, many capital defects in the characters of some of the present ministers, and was sorry that in so alarming a situation of public affairs the country had not the assistance of several able and honest men who are now in opposition. But that I had not formed with any of those persons in opposition any engagements or connections which could in the least restrain or affect my parliamentary conduct; that I could not discover among them such superior advantages, either of measures or of abilities, as could make me consider it as a duty to attach myself to their cause; and that I clearly understood, from the public and private language of one of their leaders (Charles Fox) that in the actual state of the country he himself was seriously of opinion that opposition could not tend to any good purpose, and might be productive of much mischief; that, for those reasons, I saw no objections which could prevent me from accepting an office under the present government, and that I was ready to take a step which I found to be consistent both with my interest and my honour.
It must now be decided, whether I may continue to live in England, or whether I must soon withdraw myself into a kind of philosophical exile in Switzerland. My father left his affairs in a state of embarrassment, and even of
Alexander Wedderburne, since created lord Loughborough earl of Roslin, and lord chancellor.
The aspect of the next session of parliament was stormy and perilous; county meetings, petitions, and committees of correspondence, announced the public discontent; and instead of voting with a triumphant majority, the friends of government were often exposed to a struggle, and sometimes to a defeat. The house of Commons adopted Mr Dunning's motion, "That the influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished:" and Burke's bill of reform was framed with skill, introduced with eloquence, and supported by numbers. Our late president, the American secretary of state, very narrowly escaped the sentence of proscription; but the unfortunate Board of Trade was abolished in the committee by a small majority (207 to 199) of eight votes. The storm, however, blew over for a time; a large defection of country gentlemen eluded the sanguine hopes of the patriots: the lords of Trade were revived; administration recovered their strength and spirit; and the flames of London, which were kindled by a mischievous madman, admonished all thinking men of the danger of an appeal to the people. In the premature dissolution which followed this session of parliament I lost my seat. Mr Elliot was now deeply engaged in the measures of opposition, and the electors of Liskeard" are commonly of the same opinion as Mr Elliot.
In this interval of my senatorial life, I published
distress. My attempts to dispose of a part of my landed property have hitherto been disappointed, and are not likely at present to be more successful; and my plan of expense, though moderate in itself, deserves the name of extravagance, since it exceeds my real income. The addition of the salary which is now offered will make my situation perfectly easy; but I hope you will do me the justice to believe that my mind could not be so, unless I were satisfied of the rectitude of my own conduct.
*The borough which Mr Gibbon had represented in parliament.
the second and third volumes of the Decline and Fall My ecclesiastical history still breathed the same spirit of freedom; but Protestant zeal is more indifferent to the characters and controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. My obstinate silence had damped the ardour of the polemics. Dr Watson, the most candid of my adversaries, assured me that he had no thoughts of renewing the attack; and my impartial balance of the virtues and vices of Julian was generally praised. This truce was interrupted only by some animadversions of the Catholics of Italy, and by some angry letters from Mr Travis, who made me personally responsible for condemning, with the best critics, the spurious text of the three heavenly wit
The piety or prudence of my Italian translator has provided an antidote against the poison of his original. The fifth and seventh volumes are armed with five letters from an anonymous divine to his friends, Foothead and Kirk, two English students at Rome; and this meritorious service is commended by monsignor Stonor, a prelate of the same nation, who discovers much venom in the fluid and nervous style of Gibbon. The critical essay at the end of the third volume was furnished by the abbate Nicola Spedalieri, whose zeal has gradually swelled to a more solid confutation in two quarto volumes.-Shall I be excused for not having read them?
The brutal insolence of Mr Travis's challenge can only be excused by the absence of learning, judgment, and humanity; and to that excuse he has the fairest or foulest pretension. Compared with archdeacon Travis, Chelsum and Davies assume the title of respectable enemies.
The bigoted advocate of popes and monks may be turned over even to the bigots of Oxford; and the wretched Travis still smarts under the lash of the merciless Porson. I consider Mr Porson's answer to archdeacon Travis as the most acute and accurate