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The Jacobite poets of Richmond.

SUCH is the dexterity of Thackeray's sombre and even bitter novel, Henry Esmond (1852). that, although many of us know its outcome already, we read its last chapters spellbound. In the end the son of King James II (whom Thackeray calls by the neutral title of the Chevalier St George), favoured by his half-sister Queen Anne to succeed her, throws away his chance of the throne to his distant cousin, the Electoral Prince of Hanover. Instead, the Chevalier sets out in pursuit of Beatrix Esmond, who has taken his nonchalant glancing fancy. Henry Esmond, who has undergone so many risks and given so much thought to bring the trifling Chevalier to England, only to forfeit Beatrix to him, reflects that there is sense in the view taken by the Whigs and expressed by their mild spokesman Joseph Addison: 'Parliament and people consecrate the Sovereign, not bishops nor genealogies, nor oils, nor coronations' (Esmond Book III, chapter ix). There is a touch of irony in Esmond's conversion to Addison's view.

The episode in Henry Esmond is, of course, fiction. Believable though it is because of the author's skill, it belongs to what Thackeray himself called Fableland. The Chevalier did not come to England or meet Queen Anne. His loyalists did not gather in Kensington Square but in a riverside villa in a large garden with a grotto, soundproof when the gates were locked, at Twickenham, in the borough of Richmond upon Thames.

The leaseholder. Alexander Pope, was proud both of his estate and his guests. He describes the property in a poem to John Gay written in 1720, strangely in the form of a lament for the absence of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (whom he was later to call 'filthy Sappho') from Saville House, her residence in what is now Heath Street:
In vain fair Thames reflects the double scenes
Of hanging mountains and sloping greens.


There were certainly no hanging mountains in Twickenham: only the pastoral slope of Richmond Hill and the moderate ascent of Strawberry Hill, both too distant to be reflected in the Thames. With the villa came five acres of gardens, the objects of Pope's ardent diligence, later built over, in part by St Catherine's Convent School. (My elder daughter, who was a pupil at the school, can testify to the excellence of the fruit from the carefully nurtured descendants of Pope's orchard.) Gardening was long favoured by English landowners, but that seldom meant actual digging and planting. For that others were employed; yet glorying in his friend, the 3rd Earl of Peterborough, who defeated the French at Barcelona and Valencia between 1705 and 1706, Pope wrote of him in 1733:
And he, whose Lightning pierc'd th' Iberian Lines,
Now forms my Quincunx and now ranks my Vines


Peterborough was about seventy-five years old in 1733. Planting trees and wine-stocks was a strenuous task for a man of that age.

Meanwhile, the former Secretary of State, Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, twenty years younger than Peterborough:
      mingles with my friendly bowl
The Feast of Reason and the Flow of Soul.


Unallured by Bolingbroke, it is doubtful that Pope, although a Catholic, would have been a Jacobite, or even a royalist at all. He told Joseph Spence that the reign of James I was the worst we ever had, 'except perhaps that of James II'. Having heard of George II's profitable dealings in South Sea Stock, he remarked, 'Kings are now the worst things on earth. They are turned mere tradesmen' (One must allow for Pope's dislike of George II and his adherence to the alienated court of Frederick, the Prince of Wales, but note his general condemnation of 'Kings'.) Pope's old family friend, Edward Blount asserted, 'Mr Pope is a Whig, and would be a Protestant, if his mother were dead'.

On 1 August, 1714, when the death of Queen Anne transferred power from the Tories to the Whigs, there was no such conviviality at Pope's villa. Instead Bolingbroke, the Jacobite first Minister, gathered his fellows at the lawyer Viscount Harcourt's country house in Oxford: the military Duke of Ormonde; Pope's correspondent, Earl Bathurst; Bolingbroke's constant loyalist, Sir William Wyndham; and the irascible Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester. Atterbury was the fiercest of all. He declared that help should be sought from Louis XIV and proposed that he should don his bishop's robes to proclaim the young Prince James, the Chevalier de St George, King at the Royal Exchange in the City of London. Bolingbroke pointed out the dangers of such procedures. At that Atterbury called him 'a pusillanimous fellow' and walked out of the meeting.

Atterbury's vehemence suggests that there is some truth in the story that he was given the see of Rochester because, as Master of Christ Church in Oxford, he had quarrelled with so many members of his college. For all that, he was a firm friend of Pope, who too was not known for his placid nature. Like Prior, Swift and Gay (all opposed to the Hanoverian government and, in Pope's words, 'intimately acquainted') Pope often visited Atterbury at the Bishop's Palace in Bromley, near Croydon, traditionally the residence of the Bishops of Rochester. According to Lord Macaulay, Pope found in Atterbury 'a most faithful, fearless and judicious adviser'.

Even more than Atterbury, Pope revered Bolingbroke. Taking Ormonde with him, Bolingbroke had fled to France and the side of the Chevalier de St George soon after the death of Queen Anne, only to be discarded by that mercurial claimant to the throne two years later. Bolingbroke was attainted as a traitor, but was placably restored to his property and inheritance in 1723 during the premiership of Sir Robert Walpole. In spite of that, he strenuously continued his opposition to Walpole and perpetuated his plots at Pope's villa. The Memoirs of Walpole's son, Horace, include a temperate and generous but half-amused, half-puzzled character-sketch of Bolingbroke. Horace Walpole concedes and at the same time limits the extent of Bolingbroke's ability: 'a great genius who is not one of the greatest'. His claims to statesmanship 'almost balance stubborn facts'. This 'author of a bounded genius' was not merely over-rated but 'deified' by Pope. In an inscription which Pope proposed to write for his grotto, he compared Bolingbroke to Numa who, supernaturally inspired by the nymph Egeria, gave the Roman people their first laws:
        Lo! the Egerian grot
Where, nobly pensive, St John sat and thought.


In one of his many causeries with the Rev. Joseph Spence, Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, Pope wonders who could speak to Bolingbroke without deference. Pope substitutes Bolingbroke for Maecenas, patron of Virgil and Horace, in his imitation of the first of Horace's Epistles. Pope's Essay on Man is an imaginatively embellished version of Bolingbroke's intelligent and frequently coherent thoughts on the reasons for injustice and pain.

The company at Twickenham was not confined to statesmen and the clergy. Gay was often there. Swift's stays were less frequent but longer. Swift, going deaf, bewailed that he was not lively company, 'plodding in a book' whilst Pope was cheerfully writing a poem. Congreve was an occasional guest. All four read Gay's Beggars' Opera together. They were all doubtful of its success. Indeed, Cibber refused it for his theatre and the famous actor Quin declined to play MacHeath. In the end the impresario Rich produced it at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre. It ran for two months and made Gay [pounds sterling]800, most of which he lost in speculation. Voltaire visited Pope at least twice during his exile from France between 1726 and 1729, although his Candide, written in England, certainly did not endorse Pope's exposition of a benign Providence in An Essay on Man. Pope's mother is said to have left the dinner table because of Voltaire's freedom of thought and expression in his newly acquired and perhaps over-fluent English.

Pope' friendship with the Jacobite poets of Richmond, implanted by Bolingbroke, blossomed in the warmth of the hospitality of the Duchess of Queensberry who lived across the Thames at Douglas House, now the German School, in Petersham. At that time there was no bridge at Richmond, but Pope had his own boat, with a boatman readily available, for his trips across the Thames. He differed from Horace Walpole who, once settled into Strawberry Hill, wrote 'Thank God I have the Thames between me and the Duchess of Queensberry'. Catherine Douglas, daughter of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon, was the child of a household frequented by Matthew Prior (who wrote her a gallant poem, The Female Phaeton, when he was her elder by thirty-seven years), Pope and Gay. Gay had been secretary to her father whilst he was ambassador to the Court of Hanover in 1714 but, because of his friendship with Bolingbroke, was no longer employed by the new Whig government. Catherine married Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, in 1720, and thereafter the ducal pair devoted themselves to the protection and advancement of John Gay. The Duchess openly sold subscriptions at the royal court for Gay' operetta, Polly (a sequel to his Beggars' Opera, a mild satire on the Hanoverian administration) which George II had banned. The King's response was to expel her from his court, to which she replied by letter, 'The Duchess of Queensberry is surprised and well pleased that the King has given her so agreeable a command as to stay away from Court, where she never came for diversion, but to bestow civility on the King and Queen'. They tended Gay in illness and arranged a magnificent funeral for him in Westminster Abbey in 1732. To their credit both Walpoles subscribed to his collected Poems on Several Occasions. Pope adulated Bolingbroke and Atterbury, but Gay was probably his closest friend.

In an age with a preference for the prosaic, even in verse, the Pastoral was often mocked, although neither by Ambrose Philips nor by Pope, who both wrote Pastorals, with occasional sentiments to which one can respond. Pope composed a sympathetic Discourse on Pastoral Poetry and, in emulation of Virgil's Fourth Bucolic and its parallels in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, The Messiah. Gay was less reverential, preferring a mundane British folklore, shepherdesses called Hobnelia and Bumkinet, shepherds called Cloddipole and Gubbinol, and a wood-god called Bowzybeus, in The Shepherds Week, dedicated to Bolingbroke. 'You will not find my shepherdesses piping on oaten reeds', Gay warns the reader; and certainly his countryside is no Arcadia. Unfortunately, the humour does not extend much beyond finding unpoetic counterparts for situations in Theocritus and Virgil. Although a countryman from Barnstaple, his best poetry was urban, as in Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716). During his decade there, he became expert in the topography of the capital and its seasons, such as autumn:
Where all the Mall in leafy ruin lies,
And damsels first renew their oyster cries (I, 28-9)


Oysters were considered such a mean fare in the eighteenth century that Samuel Johnson went out to buy oysters for his tomcat Hodge, who was fond of them, to spare his black servant, Francis Barber, embarrassment. Gay for his part, enjoyed sharing the pleasures of the poor:
The damsel's knife the gaping shell commands,
While the salt liquor streams between her hands (III, 193-4)


He remained as contemptuous as Swift of the lackeys of the rich:
Yet who the footman's arrogance can quell
Whose flambeau gilds the sashes of Pell-mell,
Where in long rank a train of torches flame,
To guide the midnight visits of his dame (III, 157-160)


Matthew Prior was another egalitarian Tory who enjoyed the informality of the common people. Kneller painted him wigless and in his waistcoat. His Chloe may well have been his legatee Bessie Cox, keeper of a tavern in Long Acre and a daughter of the people, whose quick Cockney wit may have concurred with his own deftness in repartee. Johnson was nearer in time to Prior than we are, but seems to have known as little about Prior's private life as we do. Johnson may have been too severe in describing Mistress Cox as a 'despicable drab'. Johnson's view was that of the relatively demure early reign of George III, not that of the Restoration into which Prior was born in 1664.

This contemporary of Vanbrugh and Congreve had a sharp eye for the confusions of a libertine life:
My lyre I tune, my voice I raise,
But with my numbers mix my sighs;
And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise,
I fix my soul on Cloe's eyes.
Fair Cloe blushed: Euphelia frown'd:
I sang and gazed: I played and trembled;
And Venus to the Loves around
Remark'd, how ill we all dissembled. (An Ode, 9-16)


Prior permeated the smart sayings, and the monotonous tramp of the iambic pentameters of his age, with song:
For what tomorrow shall disclose
May spoil what you tonight propose:
England may change or Cloe stray:
Life and love are for today. (Quid Sit Futurum, 1-4)


His brevity is as Horatian (Carmina I, xi) as his sentiment. Here he writes a quatrain for an ageing lady who abandons her looking-glass:
Venus, take my votive glass;
Since I am not what I was,
What from this day 1 shall be,
Venus, let me never see.


He is the nonchalant chronicler of the transitory loves and debonair farewells of the bright heartless court of Charles II:
Let us no impositions set
Or clogs upon each other's heart;
But, as for pleasure first we met
So now for pleasure let us part.
We both have spent our stock of love,
So consequently should be free:
Thyrsis expects you in yon grove;
And pretty Chloris stays for me. (To Phyllis, 13-20)


His epitaph for himself is more in character than the grandiloquent Latin inscription on his memorial in Westminster Abbey:
To me 'twas given to die, to thee 'tis given
To live: alas! one moment sets us even.


Neither epitaph records the perilous eminence of Prior from 1712 to 1714, when he was a prominent Tory minister, deputy to Bolingbroke in negotiating the Treaty of Utrecht, and in effect the English ambassador to Paris. He won the smiles of both Chloe and Louis XIV. Louis XIV wrote to Queen Anne in favour of 'Mr Prior, whose conduct is agreeable to me'. In the same letter Louis proposed, as an alternative to a Jacobite successor to the English throne, the Elector of Bavaria, who was descended from Charles I of England through his daughter Henrietta Anne. The Treaty of Utrecht, which Prior and Bolingbroke negotiated, angered the Whigs for making unnecessary concessions to the French. So indignant were the Whigs that with the death of Queen Anne, the accession to the throne of George I and their own consequent accession to governmental power, Bolingbroke, the former Chief Minister the Earl of Oxford, Ormonde and Prior were impeached for treachery.

Bolingbroke and Ormond escaped to France, Oxford was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years of legal delays. Prior was kept in close and isolated custody for over two years. It is understandable that, as Pope told Spence, Prior became 'a violent Tory, who did not care to converse with any Whigs'. On his release he retrieved his fortune by the sale, by subscription, of his collected poems, which brought him four thousand guineas. This the Earl of Oxford's son, Lord Harley, doubled. In his will Prior repaid Lord Harley with the house he had bought for Harley's four thousand guineas, and divided the rest of his estate between his secretary, his valet and his proletarian mistresses. Apart from Wycherley, he was the eldest of Pope's friends.

The two most notable of the Jacobite poets of Richmond lived at the extremes of the borough; Pope in Twickenham and James Thomson (1700-1748) in the lane which led to Kew. Between them lay a deer-park, Richmond Green, the Castle Inn (where Thomson spent most of his evenings), the Duchess of Queensberry's house, Ham Meadows and the bridgeless Thames (although Pope had a ferryman on call). Thomson is not much remembered in the town where he spent over twenty years of his life although, as relics of a more grateful age, his tombstone dominates the nave of the parish church; and a large board, near the entrance of Richmond Park, praises, in well-meaning but inept verse, the poet who is the park's presiding genius.

His individuality severed the thread between Dryden and Wordsworth. The imaginative writers of the Regency period, such as Hazlitt and Keats, read Thomson's Seasons with enthusiasm and wonder. In his My First Acquaintance with the Poets, Hazlitt relates how Coleridge came across a well-thumbed copy of The Seasons in an inn-parlour and exclaimed 'That is true fame!' Burns, having crowned Thomson's statute in Roxburgh with a laurel wreath in 1791, wrote, 'Scotia, with exulting tear, Proclaims that Thomson was her son'. Wordsworth, although he deplored eighteenth-century verse, agreed that 'The Seasons is a work of inspiration'.

James Thomson grew up in the Trossachs north of the Scottish border, which may be why his Seasons start with Winter. Intending to follow his father into the Presbyterian ministry, he enrolled in the Faculty of Divinity in Edinburgh; but incensed when his Professor reprimanded this poet for not expounding the Scriptures in commonplace language, at the age of twenty-five Thomson renounced the University, the city and, indeed, Scotland for ever. He set out south, like his compatriot Smollett, empowered with the script for a drama which he was sure would thrill the audiences in the London theatres. Both were wrong. Fortunately, Thomson also took with him, apart from large holes in his shoes, the manuscript of Winter. After many dispiriting trudges around the London publishers, he persuaded the bookseller Millan to buy Winter for a derisive sum. He was too timid to introduce himself to Sir Spenser Compton, later Earl Wilmington and Prime Minister, to whom the work is dedicated, until a friend intervened, which brought him twenty guineas. It is strange that Thomson's first patron was a Whig minister.

Thomson's memories of a Scottish winter were harsh. Across the 'trackless plains' and in the 'darkened air', 'the foodless wilds/Pour forth their brown inhabitants':
Drooping the labourer ox
Stands covered o'er with snow, and then demands
The fruit of all his toil (Winter 240-243)


The ox receives no cheer from his companions:
      The bleating kind
Eye the bleak heaven, and next the glistening earth.
With looks of dumb despair (Winter 261-263).


There is no abatement:
The cattle from the untasted field return.
And ask. with meaning low, their wonted stalls;
Or ruminate in the contiguous shade (Winter 84-87).


Even the hardy folk of the Trossachs are glad that winter has its end:
And see where surly Winter passes off,
Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts (Spring 11-12)


These examples from Winter, the first-written and last-printed part of the collected edition of The Seasons, demonstrate that between Marvell and Keats, no British poet paid so much attention to the particularities of landscape and animal life as Thomson. The favourite word, and the last word of the French prose-poet, Colette, was Regardez! Here Thomson, with his minute observation (as in his hundred lines on forest-insects in Summer 241-350) anticipated her command. He needed to see for himself, and is not at his best when describing the torrid zones in India and South America, which he had never visited but only read about. His style is lightly Miltonic, with a wide, sometimes latinate, vocabulary in which he maintains a scholarly regard to the precision of words and the implied metaphors of their etymologies. He constantly revised and corrected what he had written. His envisagement is total. The spider advances on the fly 'With rapid glide along the leaning line' (Summer 275). Depicting withered flowers, he adds, 'So fade the fair, When fevers revel through their azure veins" (Summer 214-215). He is the master of the gradual, almost elusive transition, as when he celebrates the refoliation of the woods:
The hawthorn whitens, and the juicy
Groves put forth their buds, unfolding by degrees
Till the whole leafy forest stands displayed ...
Where the deer rustle through the twining brake (Spring 90-94)


Somehow one does not envisage a rhapsodic poet as round-bellied, but the truth is that Horace, Chaucer and Thomson were all notably obese. His devoted friend and patron, Sir George Lyttelton, inserted a stanza into Thomson's Castle of Indolence (a largely facetious mock-Spenserian work in which the Castle of Indolence was probably the Castle Inn at the foot of Richmond Hill) in which Lyttelton mocked him as 'more fat than bard beseems':
Here laughed he careless in his easy seat;
Here quaffed, encircled with the joyous train.


The Castle Inn has now been reshaped in Neoclassical style by Quinlan Terry as part of his imposing reconstruction of Richmond's riverfront.

Samuel Johnson, who seems to have liked neither Thomson nor Pope, wrote in his curt life of Thomson that he was 'of a dull countenance, and a gross, unanimated, uninviting appearance'. His obesity (probably pathological, since until his mid-thirties he was physically vigorous) did not discourage 'Amanda', the companion of his walks. He desultorily wooed her and wrote her poems for at least eight years. (She was Elizabeth, daughter of Captain Gilbert Young of Dumfries. Urged by her mother, who did not think Thomson could support a wife as grandly as her mother wished, the docile Elizabeth married an Admiral Campbell.)

Faced with the ascent of Richmond Hill, Thomson suggests a contemplative pause to Amanda at what is now the Terrace: there they may view where 'the Thames first rural grows', and 'Ham's embowering walks' where the Queensberrys 'yet lament their Gay'. Further upstream 'the Muses haunt/In Twit' nam' bowers, and for their Pope implore/The healing god' (Summer 1414-1428: Pope was gravely ill in 1744, when Summer was published.) Turner, who lived in Sandycombe Road in Twickenham, painted this prospect of the Thames several times, and so made it famous.

Thomson was rescued from his distractions as a schoolmaster and a private tutor by the generosity, both direct and vicarious, of Sir George Lyttelton, himself an accomplished writer whose satirical Dialogues of the Dead went into four editions in his own lifetime. Although a member of Sir Robert Walpole's ministry, and finally Chancellor of the Exchequer, he obstinately resisted Sir Robert's policies. He was a member of the Court of Frederick, Prince of Wales, which was set up to oppose that of his father George II and Sir Robert, his father's chief minister. Always magnetic to talent, Lyttelton drew both Thomson and Pope, already close acquaintances and further united by their dislike of George II and his Whig administration, to that Court. Lyttelton obtained a pension from Prince Frederick for their indigent Thomson. In addition, Lyttelton, a minister who opposed Walpole at every turn and petitioned for his removal, even so procured Thomson the post of Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands; a colony Thomson was content to rule from his cottage in the Kew Foot Road.

Prompted by accusations, mostly captious, of tyranny on the part of Walpole, Thomson wrote a long poem called Liberty, in which he dwelt on his experiences whilst accompanying one of his pupils on the Grand Tour. Many readers would agree with his own remark to Lord Melcombe that his Muse did not cross the Channel with him. During the eighteen months that followed his return from abroad, he worked hard on his tragedy, Agamemnon, which was performed before the Prince of Wales in the spring of 1738. A still greater honour on that hectic first night, with Thomson tremulous in the upper gallery, was the attendance of Pope, not a frequent theatre-goer. Pope had a high regard for Thomson, and was bent on encouraging him.

As an aside whilst writing Liberty and Agamemnon and constantly revising The Seasons, he collaborated with David Mallet, a Scottish friend of Bolingbroke, on the libretto of Thomas Arne's Alfred. This opera on the life of King Alfred the Great includes the rousing aria and chorus (Britain's secondary national anthem), Rule, Britannia, its words written by Thomson. The more pugnacious stanzas, seemingly so confident, in fact express the impatience of Lyttelton's faction with Walpole's reluctance to fight the Spanish at sea or the French on land. Walpole was a lover of peace and used every stratagem to preserve it. His wisdom in that respect would be revealed, by cannon-shot and massacre, to the Jacobites at Culloden Moor.

Sources

Basil Williams: The Whig Supremacy, Oxford 1939

Alexander Pope: Poems, ed. Butt. London 1968

Matthew Prior: Works, ed. Wright and Spears. Oxford 1959

John Gay: Poems, ed. Underhill. London 1893

James Thomson: Complete Poetical Works, ed. Robertson. Oxford 1951

Samuel Johnson: Lives of the Poets, ed. Hill. Oxford 1905

Joseph Spence: Anecdotes and Characters of Books and Men, ed. Osborn. Oxford 1966

Horace Walpole: Memoirs and Portraits, ed. Hodgart. London 1963

Edward Walford: Greater London. London 1883-4

Donald Bruce taught for many years in the University of London. His Topics of Restoration Comedy was published by Victor Gollancz in London and by St Martin's in New York.
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Title Annotation:The History of Henry Esmond
Author:Bruce, Donald
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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