« PreviousContinue »
IN AID OF THE REVOLUTION.
William of Orange came ostensibly only to persuade his father-in-law, at the point of the bayonet, to rule England according to law; but no one was deceived as to his intentions. It was clear that he either must be driven back as a usurper, or must drive the traitor-king from the throne. James the Second did not wait for much pressure, and William had little more to do than leisurely to march up to London, and there make terms with the irregular parliament that he had convened.
Some very useful and some rather discreditable diplomacy had to be gone through between the day of William's arrival and the day on which his wife joined him at Whitehall; but with the history, well known in the outline and in many of its details, of those three months we need not here concern ourselves, especially as we know nothing of Locke's connection with it. We can do little more than guess as to the extent of Locke's share in the earlier stage of the Revolution, though that he had some considerable share therein is quite certain; and it seems clear that he had no direct share at all in this second stage. Any advice he may have given to Lord Mordaunt
and others must have been given before the prince and his chief advisers left Holland, and, whatever that advice, whether followed or neglected, he only came to participate personally in the work after the prince had virtually become king. The part waiting to be taken by him, however, was a large one, and more was expected of him than he felt able to do.
On Wednesday, the 13th of February, 1688-9, the day after the Princess Mary's arrival, with Locke as one of her company, she and her husband were visited at Whitehall by the lords and commons, who formally tendered to them the throne that had been vacated by James the Second ; and on the same day the new sovereigns were proclaimed. Within a week of that memorable turningpoint in our history, Locke received a remarkable proposal from King William.
William's first business was to fill up the ministerial and other offices through which public affairs were to be conducted, and not the least of his early difficulties was the selecting from the clamorous crowd of influential men who had helped him to success, and who now looked for rewards, of persons suitable for the vacant posts. He certainly was at no loss for candidates, and he seriously embarrassed his prospects by selecting from them, as he felt it necessary to do, many whose claims were based upon their influence in the country rather than upon
their fitness for responsible public work. He offended many by taking upon himself the management of foreign affairs, and he must have given further offence by offering one of the most important positions under him to a man—one who, as a popular politician, was so insignificant, and indeed so utterly unknown as Locke. That he should have done this is certainly a very notable evidence of the
high opinion he had formed of Locke's capacity for good and loyal work, and thus, by inference, clear proof that, while they were in Holland together, he had had satisfactory experience of the philosopher's abilities as a statesman.
An ambassador had to be sent to Frederick the Third, the new elector of Brandenburg, who in 1701 was, as Frederick the First, to begin the new kingdom of Prussia, and who was already King William's ablest and most honest ally in opposition to Louis the Fourteenth; and a man of rare talents and rarer virtues was needed for the post. Through Lord Mordaunt it was offered to Locke, apparently on the afternoon of the 20th of February, just a week after William's accession and the very day on which the new privy council was formed. At Mordaunt's chambers in Whitehall, Locke wrote this characteristic letter on the 21st:
“ MY LORD,—I cannot but in the highest degree be sensible of the great honour his majesty has done me in those gracious intentions towards me which I have understood from your lordship; and it is the most touching displeasure I have ever received from that weak and broken constitution of my health which has so long threatened my life, that it now affords me not a body suitable to my mind in so desirable an occasion of serving his majesty. I make account every Englishman is bound in conscience and gratitude not to content himself with a bare, slothful, and inactive loyalty where his purse, his head, or his hand may be of any use to this our great deliverer. He has ventured and done too much for us to leave room for indifferency or backwardness in any one who would avoid the reproach and contempt of all mankind. And if with the great concerns of my country and all Christendom I may be permitted to mix so mean a consideration as my own private thoughts, I can truly say that the particular veneration I have for his person carries me beyond an ordinary zeal for his service. Besides this, my lord, I am not so ignorant as not to see the great advantages of what is proposed to me.
There is honour in it enough to satisfy an ambition greater than mine, and a step to the making my fortune which I could not have expected. These are temptations that would not suffer me easily to decline so eminent a favour, as the other are obligations to a forward obedience in all things, where there are hopes it may not be unuseful.
“But such is the misfortune of my circumstances, that I cannot accept the honour that is designed me without rendering myself utterly unworthy of it. And, however tempting it be, I cannot answer to myself or the world my embracing a trust which I may be in danger to betray even by my entering upon it. This I shall certainly be guilty of, if I do not give your lordship a true account of myself, and what I foresep may be prejudicial to his majesty's affairs.
“My lord, the post that is mentioned to me is at this time, if I mistake not, one of the busiest and most important in all Europe, and, therefore, would require not only a man of common sense and good intentions, but one whom experience in the methods of such business has fitted with skill and dexterity to deal with, not only the reasons of able, but the more dangerous artifices of cunning men, that in such stations must be expected and mastered. But, my lord, supposing industry and good-will would in time work a man into some degree of capacity and fitness, what will they be able to do with a body that hath not health and strength enough to comply with them ? what shall a man do in the necessity of application and variety of attendance on business to be followed there, who sometimes, after a little motion, has not breath to speak, and cannot borrow an hour or two of watching from the night without repaying it with a great waste of time the next day? Were this a conjuncture wherein the affairs of Europe went smooth, or a little mistake in management would not be soon felt, but that the diligence or change of the minister might timely enough recover it, I should perhaps think I might, without being unpardonably faulty, venture to try my strength and make an experiment so much to my advantage. But I have a quite other view of the state of things at present, and the urgency of affairs comes on so quick that there was never such need of successful diligence and hands capable of despatch as now. The dilatory methods and slow proceedings, to say no worse of what I cannot without indignation reflect on, in some of my countrymen, at a season when there is not a moment of time lost without endangering the protestant and English interest throughout Europe, and which have already put things too far back, make me justly dread the thought that my weak constitution should in so considerable a post any way clog his majesty's affairs; and I think it much better that I should be laid by to be forgotten for ever than that they should at all suffer by my ambitiously and forwardly undertaking what my want of health or experience would not let me manage to the best advantage; for I VOL. II,
must again tell your lordship that, however unable I might prove, there will not be time in this crisis to call me home and send another.
“If I have reason to apprehend the cold air of the country, there is yet another thing in it as inconsistent with my constitution, and that is, their warm drinking. I confess obstinate refusal may break pretty well through it, but that at best will be but to take more care of my own health than the king's business. It is no small matter in such stations to be acceptable to the people one has to do with, in being able to accommodate one's self to their fashions; and I imagine, whatever I may do there myself, the knowing what others are doing is at least one half of my business, and I know no such rack in the world to draw out men's thoughts as a well-managed bottle. If, therefore, it were fit for me to advise in this case, I should think it more for the king's interest to send a man of equal parts, that could drink bis share, than the soberest man in the kingdom.
“I beseech you, my lord, to look on this, not as the discourse of a modest or lazy man, but of one who has truly considered himself, and, above all things, wishes well to the designs which his majesty has so gloriously begun for the redeeming England, and with it all Europe, and I wish for no other happiness in this world but to see it completed, and shall never be sparing of my mite where it may contribute any way to it; which I am confident your lordship is sufficiently assured of, and therefore I beg leave to tell your lordship that if there be anything wherein I may flatter myself I have attained any degree of capacity to serve his majesty, it is in some little knowledge I perhaps may have in the constitutions of my country, the temper of my countrymen, and the divisions amongst them, whereby I persuade myself I may be more useful to him at home, though I cannot but see that such an employment would be of greater advantage to myself abroad, would but my health consent to it.
“My lord, missing your lordship at your lodging this morning, I have taken the liberty to leave you my thoughts in writing, being loth that in anything that depends on me there should be a moment's delay, a thing which at this time I look on as so criminal in others. “ I am, my lord, your lordship’s most humble and most obedient servant,
“ J. Locke.” 1 Probably that letter was unique among all the answers that were received by King William or his deputies to offers of lucrative employment under the crown either at
1 Lord King, p. 178; Locke to Mordaunt, 21 Feb., 1688-9.