1769 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Temple

James Granger, in Biographical History of England (1769; 1824) 5:104-05, 291-92.



Sir William Temple was descended from a younger branch of a family of that name, seated at Temple Hall in Leicestershire. His grandfather was secretary to the unfortunate Earl of Essex, favourite of Queen Elizabeth, and his father was Sir John Temple, master of the rolls in Ireland. He was as much above the common level of politicians, as he was above the herd of authors. He displayed his great abilities in several important treaties and negotiations, the most considerable of which was the bringing to a happy conclusion the famous triple league betwixt England, Sweden, and Holland. This alliance, though the most prudent step ever taken by Charles II. was soon defeated by the Cabal, a set of men who were as great a disgrace to their country, as Sir William Temple was an honour to it. He was strongly solicited to go over to Holland, in order to break that league which he had a little before concluded: but he was too much a patriot to yield to any solicitations of that kind; and chose to retire into the country, where he was much better employed in writing his excellent Observations on the United Provinces, and other elegant works.

Few authors have been more read, or more justly admired, than Sir William Temple. He displays his great knowledge of books and men in an elegant, easy, and negligent style, much like the language of genteel conversation. His vanity often prompts him to speak of himself; but he and Montaigne are never more pleasing company than when they dwell on that difficult subject. It is a happy circumstance for his readers, that so polite and learned a writer was also a vain one: they are great gainers by this foible. He is sometimes inaccurate; but his inaccuracies escape us unseen, or are very little attended to. We can easily forgive a little incorrectness of drawing in the paintings of a Correggio, when there is so much beauty and grace to adorn it. Ob. Jan. 1698, Aet. 70.