1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Hardinge

G. G. Cunningham, in Memoirs of Illustrious Englishmen (1834-37) 7:255-58.



GEORGE, second son of Nicholas Hardinge, chief clerk in the house of commons, was born in 1743. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. Having studied for the bar, he soon came into considerable practice, and in 1780 was appointed solicitor-general for the queen. In 1783 he defended Sir Thomas Rumbold against a threatened bill of pains and penalties, and also spoke in favour of Warren Hastings, in his place as member for Old Sarum. In 1787 he was appointed one of the senior Welsh judges.

The following address to the grand jury of Presteigne, on the 12th of April, 1808, will convey some idea of Mr. Hardinge's style and sentiments at once: — "Gentlemen of this grand jury, — It is now the 21st year of my judicial attendance in this court, — a period in which 'more signs and wonders,' more 'distresses of nations,' and more awful changes, (not of empire alone, but of man,) have convulsed and have desolated the world, than ever before took effect in so limited a compass of time. Yet, in the midst of such alarming visitations around us on every side, this island — this little spot in the map — holds up its head, and covers under its wings the most envied community of the inhabited earth, What is it that has accomplished this unexampled security, and this elevated character? Is it the army? Is it the navy? Is it the peasant? or the merchant? It is not any one of these, nor all of these united, though each of them tells powerfully in the balance; but it is the soul which animates them, it is the constitution of the government, and the native spirit of the people! There are vital parts of us which the tyrant of Paris cannot reach, which his inordinate wealth cannot impoverish, and which his gifted abilities in seduction cannot mislead. We cherish these barriers against him, the more because we have taken a note from the example of his friends. The enemy there has been our friend. A reluctant witness against his own credit is, in court of justice, the most powerful advocate upon earth for the interests of truth. A time was — it was a passing cloud — that some of us were tinged with levelling principles; but the good sense of the national mind and spirit soon recovered its tone; and, with prophetic sagacity, escaped in time from those vipers of the bosom. What is it that we now live to see in the wisdom of that awful instructor, Time? Engrafted upon the savage phrenzy of popular clamour against all government, whether of God or of man, is a despotism the most unbridled, and the most insolent, that ever degraded the liberty it overcame. Every nominal stake, for which innocent blood was the order of the day, and the policy of the guillotine, has been more than superseded, it has been thrown into wanton ridicule by the parade of that supercession. Kings were to be dethroned and murdered; — regicide was an attribute of honour; — the very name of king was to be a curse. An imperial king has not only taken the sceptre of his own 'French territory,' as he calls it, into his personal hand; but, as if to laugh at the fools he has enslaved, has littered, if I may use that phrase, half the continent with petty sovereigns, at the mercy of his breath.

—What seem their heads
The likeness of a regal crown have on.

The pillars of the church were to be subverted; the pope of the day was banished, was degraded, was imprisoned, vas a rambling fugitive under a guard, and shown to the multitude as an object of derision; it was a murder; it took his heart. The successor of that pope, terrified or corrupted, is received into the very heart of Paris, and consecrates the imperial diadem, with all the imposing fopperies of the Catholic altar. The nobles were to sink into the dust; — all were to be citizens. One of the noblesse, who was descended from the Bourbon race, took the name of D'Egalste, and paid for it with his head. What has become of that vulgar and brutal spirit now? Ask the dukes and princes, elevated into the peerage for being janizaries to the usurper, who animates their energies by terror, not by love! All badges of honour were to be torn off, trampled under foot, and abjured as humiliating memorials of slavery to kings. They are now spread over a court as full of parade as that of Louis XIV., and are wantonly exchanged in the coquetting intercourse of a regal confederacy against the obstinate, though solitary embers of spirit, independence, and freedom, left on earth! We thank him for this note which he has given to history, — for the living proof, upon a record which 'he who runs may read,' — that 'rebellion against the legitimate principles of government and of religion, is the unequivocal parent of tyranny in the church and state.' Returning home with a generous abhorrence from the awful picture of experiments like these, upon a foreign shore, our national spirit feels pride of heart in the scene before us. The dignity of independence receives every one of us into its open arms, animated by a social union of all the links in our political chain from the palace to the cottage; each of them sacred and revered in its turn, but not one of them intrusted with a power to injure the rest. You, gentlemen of this county in particular, if you are asked, 'what you have done as contributors to the bank and stock of your country's welfare?' can tell us, without one feather of arrogance, that you have promoted with success, tranquillity, and justice, the most valuable blessings of human life — that your judges, who visit you at stated periods, find their office anticipated or disarmed by your public spirit as magistrates, and by your example as men."

A fall from his horse hastened his death, which took place in April, 1816. He died at Presteigne, "leaving behind him," says the writer of the biographical notice appended to his Miscellaneous Works, "the character of possessing, rather than profiting by, great talent. From his father he enjoyed a very good hereditary estate; and with his wife, who still survives him, he obtained a very handsome dower. Either or both of these circumstances, united with a strong love for independence, might have rendered him less anxious for advance rent. Mr. Hardinge seems to have had some forebodings of the melancholy event which took him from his friends and the world. In one of his latest letters to Lady Knowles, he says, 'I despair of taking leave of Davies until the undertaker is waiting for me.' He had proposed to visit at Kingsland the shrine of Dr. Davies. His remains passed through Kingsland to be interred with those of his family at Kingston-upon-Thames. A melancholy association with the recollection of the intended visit to the tomb of his last favoured hero of taste and virtue is formed in the mind, and painful moral feelings of regret arise, which teach us more forcibly to remember that man proposes, but God disposes. Mr. Hardinge was rather short of stature, but very handsome, with a countenance expressive of the good qualities he possessed. His temper was admirable, and his perseverance in the cause of those he protected most extraordinary and exemplary. When we consider that few live to the advanced age Mr. Hardinge attained without sustaining a loss in some material faculty, we shall more highly prize the rare gifts he enjoyed, both mentally and bodily; for, excepting the wrinkles and grey hairs, which hoary time by its iron grasp will leave on the strongest, his life may be said to have been mental youth, and his death a short interruption and passage to that blessed state of perfection which his goodness and philanthropy sought after while on earth. As a Christian, Mr. Hardinge, in all circumstances, and in every part of his life, appears to have been a steady believer, and at times pious and devout in the extreme. In the character of a judge he was irreproachable; and his various charges for many years, at the different assizes in Wales, are admirable. In that respectable function, one of the latest acts of his life was the sifting to the bottom the grounds upon which all judges before his time had charged juries in cases of child-murder. Some excellent notes for a charge were prepared by the benevolent judge in April, 1816, not many days before his decease; but he did not live to deliver it. Mr. Hardinge's ideas on this subject were fully confirmed by the unquestionable concurrent opinions of several professional gentlemen of first-rate eminence; and that this important subject had long before excited his attention, will appear from a letter addressed in 1805, to Dr. Horsley, then bishop of St. Asaph. Mr. Hardinge had brilliant talents, and a power of showing them so as to afford to his companions and correspondents the greatest gratification. The talent of society he possessed in an eminent degree; and the rank which he held among the wits of his day, and the illustrious personages by whom he was admitted into familiarity, sufficiently evince how much, in conversation at least, he must have displayed the gentleman and the scholar. In conversation indeed he had few equals; as he had an astonishing flow and choice of words, and an animated delivery of them, such as few persons possess. He delighted in pleasantries, and always afforded to his auditors an abundance of mirth and entertainment, as well as information. His passion for the muses commenced in infancy, and continued to the close of life. The correspondence of Mr. Hardinge was most extensive. His letters were extraordinary from their wit, fancy, and gaiety. They seemed to be the productions of a youth of twenty, rather than a man upwards of sixty years of age. Of his various compositions his letters were pre-eminent. Notwithstanding his talents and acquirements, he had a rare humility for an author, being ready at all times to adopt the suggestions of his friends, in preference to his own expressions. Of this he gave a striking proof, in permitting me to expunge some unpleasant reflections on a deceased commentator on Shakspeare, for whom I had a great respect, and whom he had treated somewhat too cavalierly. On the suggestion of n gentleman on whose judgment he had great reliance, he destroyed one of his early productions, on which he had bestowed much labour. Mr. Hardinge, like the generality of mankind, was not without his failings. Men of genius are often negligent in concerns they deem trivial. Anxious as he was that his own literary productions should be preserved, his inattention to their preservation is much to be lamented. Those who were in habits of intimacy with him must have experienced the frequency with which he requested the loan of books, and sometimes the difficulty of recovering them from what he called 'the chaos of his library.' But whatever were his merits or his defects, they were greatly overbalanced by his active benevolence. By ardent zeal and perseverance he obtained immense sums by subscription for such persons as he thought worthy of his protection. This activity of friendship, almost always successful, was the principal feature in his character. It was wholly disinterested; it was noble, and ought to be held forth to general example."