John Sheffield

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 3:285-300.

This nobleman, who made a very great figure in the last age, as an author, a statesman, and a soldier; was born about the year 1650. He lost his father when he was about nine years of age, and his mother soon after marrying lord Offulton; the care of his education was left entirely to a governor, who though a man of letters, did not much improve him in his studies. Having parted with his governor, with whom he travelled into France; he soon found by conversing with men of genius, that he was much deficient in many parts of literature, and that while he acquired the graces of a gentleman, he was yet wanting in those higher excellencies; without which politeness makes but an indifferent figure, and can never raise a man to eminence.

He possessed an ample fortune, but for a while laid a restraint upon his appetites, and passions, and dedicated for some time a certain number of hours every day to his studies, by which means he acquired a degree of learning, that entitled him to the character of a fine scholar. But not content with that acquisition, our noble author extended his views yet farther, and restless in the pursuit of distinction, we find him at a very early age entering himself a volunteer in the second Dutch war; and accordingly was in that famous naval engagement, where the duke of York commanded as admiral, on which occasion his lordship behaved himself so gallantly, that he was appointed commander of the royal Katherine, a second rate man of war.

His lordship in his own Memoirs, tells us, that when he entered himself a volunteer under his royal highness the duke of York, he was then deeply engaged, and under the soft influence of love: He says, he never shall forget the tenderness of parting front his mistress. On this account double honour is due to him: — To enter the bustle of war, without any other call, but that of honour, at an age when most young noblemen are under the tuition of a dancing master, argued a generous intrepid nature; but to leave the arms of his mistress, to tear himself from her he dusted on, in order to serve his country, carries in it yet a higher degree of merit, and ought to put all young men of fortune to the blush, who would rather meanly riot in luxurious ease at home, than do honour to themselves and their country, by endeavouring to serve it.

His lordship acknowledges in the above-mentioned Memoirs, that the duke of York did wonders in the engagement; and that he was as intrepid in his nature, as some of his enemies supposed him to be of an opposite character; though, says he, alluding to what afterwards happened, misfortunes, age, and other accidents, will make a great man differ from himself. We find our young nobleman while he was aboard a ship, amidst the noise of the crew, could yet indulge his genius for poetry. One would imagine that the ocean is too boisterous an element for the Muses, whose darling wish is for ease and retirement yet, we find him amidst the roaring of winds and waves, open his Poem with these soothing lines.

Within the silent shades of soft repose,
Where fancy's boundless stream for ever flows;
Where the enfranchis'd soul, at ease can play,
Tir'd with the toilsome bus'ness of the day.
Where princes gladly rest their weary heads,
And change uneasy thrones for downy beds:
Where seeming joys delude despairing minds,
And where even jealousy some quiet finds;
There I, and sorrow, for a while could part,
Sleep clos'd my eyes, and eas'd a sighing heart.

Our author afterwards made a campaign in the French service.

As Tangier was in danger of being taken by the Moors, he offered to head the forces which were to defend it; and accordingly he was appointed commander of them. He was then earl of Mulgrave, and one of the lords of the bed-chamber to king Charles the IId. In May 28, 1674, he was installed knight of the Garter.

As he now began to be eminent at court, it was impossible but he must have enemies, and these enemies being mean enough to hint stories to his prejudice, in regard to some ladies, with whom the king was not unconcerned; his lordship's command was not made so agreeable as it otherwise would have been. The particulars of this affair have been disputed by historians, some have imagined it to refer to some celebrated courtezan, whole affections his lordship weaned from the king, and drew them to himself; but Mrs. Manly, in her new Atalantis, and Boyer, in his History of queen Anne, assign a very different cause. They say, that before the lady Anne was married to prince George of Denmark, she encouraged the addresses which the earl of Mulgrave was bold enough to make her; and that he was lent to Tangier to break off the correspondence.

Mrs. Manly in her Atalantis, says many unhandsome things of his lordship, under the title of count Orgueil. Boyer says, some years before the queen was married to prince George of Denmark, the earl of Mulgrave, a nobleman of singular accomplishments, both of mind and person, aspired to high as to attempt to marry the lady Anne; but though his addresses to her were checked, as soon as discovered, yet the princess had ever an esteem for him.

This account is more probably true, than the former when it is considered, that by sending the earl to Tangier, a scheme was laid for destroying him, and all the crew aboard the same vessel. For the ship which was appointed to carry the general of the forces, was in such a condition, that the captain of her declared, he was afraid to make the voyage. Upon this representation, lord Mulgrave applied both to the lord admiral, and the king himself: The first said, the ship was safe enough, and no other could be then procured. The king answered him coldly, that he hoped it would do, and that he should give himself no trouble about it. His lordship was reduced to the extremity either of going in a leaky ship, or absolutely refusing; which he knew his enemies would impute to cowardice, and as he abhorred the imputation, he resolved, in opposition to the advice of his friends, to hazard all; but at the same time advised several volunteers of quality, not to accompany him in the expedition, as their honour was not so much engaged as his; some of whom wisely took his advice, but the earl of Plymouth, natural son of the king, piqued himself in running the same danger with a man who went to serve his father, and yet was used so strangely by the ill-offices of his ministers.

Providence, however defeated the ministerial scheme of assassination, by giving them the finest weather during the voyage, which held three weeks, and by pumping all the time, they landed safe at last at Tangier, where they met with admiral Herbert, afterwards earl of Torrington, who could not but express his admiration, at their having performed such a voyage in a ship he had sent home as unfit for service; but such was the undisturbed tranquility and native firmness of the earl of Mulgrave's mind, that in this hazardous voyage, he composed the Poem, part of which we have quoted.

Had the earl of Mulgrave been guilty of any offence, capital, or otherwise, the ministry might have called him to account for it; but their contriving, and the king's consenting to so bloody a purpose, is methinks such a stain upon them, as can never be wiped off; and had that nobleman and the ship's crew perished, they would have added actual murther, to concerted baseness.

Upon the approach of his lordship's forces, the Moors retired, and the result of this expedition was, the blowing up of Tangier. Some time after the king was appeased, the earl forgot the ill offices, that had been done him; and enjoyed his majesty's favour to the last. He continued in several great posts during the short reign of king James the IId, till that prince abdicated the throne. As the earl constantly and zealously advised him against several imprudent measures, which were taken by the court, the king, some months before the revolution, began to grow cooler towards him; but yet was so equitable as not to remove him from his preferments: And after the king lost his crown, he had the inward satisfaction, to be conscious, that his councils had not contributed to that prince's misfortunes; and that himself, in any manner, had not forfeited his honour and integrity.

That his lordship was no violent friend to, or promoter of, the revolution, seems to appear from his conduct during that remarkable aera: and particularly from the unfinished relation he left concerning it, which was suppressed some years ago, by order of the government.

In a passage in his lordship's writings, it appears he was unwilling that king James should leave England. Just as the king was stepping into bed the night before his going away, the earl of Mulgrave came into the bed-chamber, which, being at so late an hour, might possibly give the king some apprehensions of that lord's suspecting his design, with which he was resolved not to trust him, nor any protestant: He therefore stopped short, and turned about to whisper him in the ear, that his commissioners had newly sent him a very hopeful account of some accommodation with the Prince of Orange; to which that lord only replied with a question, asking him if the Prince's army halted, or approached nearer to London? the King owned they still marched on; at which the earl shook his head, and said no more, only made him a low bow, with a dejected countenance, humbly to make him understand that he gave no credit to what the King's hard circumstances at that time obliged him to dissemble. It also appears that the earl of Mulgrave was one of those lords, who, immediately after the King's departure, sent letters to the fleet, to the abandoned army of King James, and to all the considerable garrisons in England, which kept them in order and subjection, not only to the present authority, but that which should be settled afterwards.

To his lordship's humanity was owing the protection King James obtained from the Lords in London, upon his being seized, and insulted by the populace at Feversham in Kent; before which says he, "the Peers sat daily in the council chamber in Whitehall, where the lord Mulgrave one morning happened to be advertised privately that the King had been seized by the angry rabble at. Feversham, and had sent a poor countryman with the news, in order to procure his rescue, which was like to come too late, since the messenger had waited long at the council door, without any body's being willing to take notice of him. This sad account moved him with great compassion at so extraordinary an instance of worldly uncertainty; and no cautions of offending the prevailing party were able to restrain him from shewing a little indignation at so mean a proceeding in the council; upon which, their new president, the marquis of Hallifax, would have adjourned it hastily, in order to prevent him. But the lord Mulgrave earnestly conjured them all to sit down again, that he might acquaint them with a matter that admitted no delay, and was of the highest importance imaginable. Accordingly the Lords, who knew nothing of the business, could not but hearken to it; and those few that guessed it, and saw the consequence, yet wanted time enough for concerting together about so nice, and very important a matter, as saving, or losing a King's life. The Lords then sat down again, and he represented to them what barbarity it would be, for such an assembly's conniving at the rabble's tearing to pieces, even any private gentleman, much more a great Prince, who, with all his popery, was still their Sovereign; so that mere shame obliged them to suspend their politics awhile, and call in the messenger, who told them with tears, how the King had engaged him to deliver a letter from him to any persons he could find willing to save him from so imminent a danger. The letter had no superscription, and was to this effect; To acquaint the reader of it, that he had been discovered in his retreat by some fishermen of Kent, and secured at first there by the gentry, who were afterwards forced to resign him into the hands of an insolent rabble.

"Upon so pressing an occasion, and now so very publickly made known, the council was surprized, and under some difficulty, for as there was danger of displeasing by doing their duty, so there was no less by omitting it, since the Law makes it highly criminal in such an extremity; besides that most of then as yet unacquainted with the Prince of Orange, imagined him prudent, and consequently capable of punishing so base a desertion, either out of generosity, or policy. These found afterwards their caution needless, but at present it influenced the council to send 200 of the life guards under their captain the earl of Feversham; first to rescue the King from all danger of the common people, and afterwards to attend him toward the sea side; if he continued his resolution of retiring, which they thought it more decent to connive at, than to detain him hero by force."

Whoever has the least spark of generosity in his nature, cannot but highly applaud this tender conduct of his lordship's, towards his Sovereign in distress; and look with contempt upon the slowness of the council in dispatching a force to his relief, especially when we find it was only out of dread, left they should displease the Prince of Orange, that they sent any: this shewed a meanness of spirit, a want of true honour, to such a degree, that the Prince of Orange himself could not, consistently with good policy, trust those worshippers of power, who could hear, unconcerned, that their late Sovereign was in the hands of a vile rabble, and intreating them in vain for rescue.

The earl of Mulgrave made no mean compliances to King William, immediately after the revolution, but when he went to pay his addresses to him, he was well received; yet did he not accept of a post in the government till some years after.

May 10, in the 6th year of William and Mary, he was created marquis of Normanby, in the county of Lincoln. When it was debated in Parliament, whether the Prince of Orange should be proclaimed King, or the Princess his wife reign solely in her own right, he voted and spoke for the former, and gave these reasons for it. That he thought the title of either person was equal; and since the Parliament was to decide the matter, he judged it would much better please that Prince, who was now become their Protector, and was also in itself a thing more becoming so good a princess, as Queen Mary, to partake with her husband a crown so obtained, than to possess it entirely as her own. After long debates in Parliament, the crown at last was settled upon William and Mary. Burnet lord bishop of Salisbury, whose affection for the revolution none I believe can doubt, freely acknowledges that the King was resolved not to hold the government by right of his wife; "he would not think of holding any thing by apron strings:" he was jealous of the friends of his wife, and never forgave them; and, last of all, he threatened to leave them in the lurch, that is, to retire to Holland, with his Dutch army; so restless, says Mulgrave in another place, is ambition, in its higher scenes of success.

During the reign of King William however, he enjoyed some considerable posts, and was generally pretty well in his favour, and confidence. April 21, 1702, he was sworn Lord Privy Seal, and the same year appointed one of the commissioners to treat of an union between England and Scotland, and was made Lord Lieutenant, and Custos Rotulorum for the North Riding of Yorkshire, and one of the governors of the Charterhouse.

March 9, 1703, he was created duke of Normanby, having been made marquis of Normanby by King William, and on the 19th of the same month duke of Buckingham. In 1711 he was made Steward of her Majesty's Houshold, and President of the Council and on her decease, was one of the Lords Justices in Great Britain, 'till King George arrived from Hanover.

In 1710 the Whig ministry began to lose ground, and Mr. Harley, since earl of Oxford, and the Lord Treasurer made the proper use of those circumstances, yet wanting some assistance, applied to the duke of Buckingham. The duke, who was not then on good terms with Mr. Harley, at first slighted his proposal, but afterwards joined with him and others, which produced a revolution in the ministry, and shook the power of the duke and duchess of Marlborough, while Mr. Harley, the earl of Shrewsbury, lord Bolingbroke, &c. came into the administration. The duke was attached to Tory principles. Her Majesty offered to make him chancellor, which he thought proper to refuse. He was out of employment for some time, during which, he did not to much as pay his compliments at court, 'till he married his third wife, and then went to kiss her Majesty's hand.

The duke of Buckingham, though reckoned haughty, and ill natured, was yet of a tender, compassionate disposition; but as the best characters have generally some allay, he is allowed to have been very passionate; but after his warmth subsided, he endeavoured to atone for it by acts of kindness and beneficence to those upon whom his passion had vented itself. Several years before his grace died, he was well known to have expressed some concern for the libertinism of his youth, especially regarding the fair sex, in which he had indulged himself very freely. He was survived only by one legitimate son, but left several natural children.

Our noble author has been charged by some of his enemies, with the sordid vice of covetousness, but without foundation; for, as a strong indication that he was not avaritious, he lost a considerable part of his fortune, merely by not taking the pains to visit, during the space of 40 years, his estates at some distance from London; and whoever is acquainted with human nature knows, that indolence and covetousness are incompatible.

His grace died the 24th of February 1720, in the 75th year of his age, and after lying in state for some days at Buckingham-House, was carried from thence with great funeral solemnity, and interred in Westminster-Abbey, where a monument is erected to his memory, upon which the following epitaph is engraved, by his own direction, as appears from a passage in his will. "Since some thing is usually written on monuments, I direct that the following lines shall be put on mine, viz.

In one place.

Pro Rege saepe, pro Republica semper.

In another.

Dubius, sed non improbus vixi.
Incertus morior, sed inturbatus.
Humanum est nescire & errare.
Christum adveneror, Deo confide
Omnipotenti, benevolentissimo.
Ens Entium miserere mihi."

The words "Christum adveneror" are omitted at the desire of the late bishop Atterbury, who thought them not strong enough in regard to Christ; under the whole are the following words,

Catharina Buckinghamicae Ducissa
Maerens extrui curavit Anno MDCCXXI.

Edmund, the duke's eldest son, already mentioned, was snatched away in his bloom; a youth from whom the greatest things might have been expected, as he was untainted with the vices of the age: he was very remarkable for his modesty, which vulgar minds imputed to want of powers, but those who knew him best, have given a different testimony concerning him, and have represented him as possessed of all the genius of his father, with more strict and inviolable morals. With this young nobleman the titles of the Sheffield family expired. The duke, his father, informs us of a duel he was to have fought with the witty earl of Rochester, which he thus relates; after telling us that the cause of the quarrel happened between the first and second Dutch war. "I was inform'd (says his grace) that the earl of Rochester had said something very malicious of me; I therefore sent colonel Aston, a very mettled friend of mine, to call him to account for it; he denied the words, and indeed I was soon convinced he had never said them. But a mere report, though I found it to be false, obliged me (as I then foolishly thought) to go on with the quarrel; and the next day was appointed for us to fight on horseback: a way in England a little unusual, but it was his part to chuse. Accordingly I and my second lay the night before at Knightsbridge privately, to avoid being secured at London on any suspicion, which we found ourselves mere in danger of there, because we had all the appearance of highwaymen, that had a mind to lye skulking in an odd inn for one night. In the morning we met the lord Rochester at the place appointed, who, instead of James Porter, whom he assured Aston he would make his second, brought an errant lifeguard-man, whom nobody knew. To this Mr. Aston took exception, as being no suitable adversary, especially considering how extremely well he was mounted, whereas we had only a couple of pads; upon which we all agreed to fight on foot. But as my lord Rochester and I were riding into the next field in order to it, he told me that he had at first chosen to fight on horseback, because he was so weak with a certain distemper, that he found himself unfit to fight at all any way, much less a foot. I was extremely surprized, because no man at that time had a better reputation for courage; and my anger against him being quite subsided, I took the liberty to represent to him what a ridiculous story it would make, should we return without fighting; and told him, that I must in my own defence be obliged to lay the fault on him, by telling the truth of the matter. His answer was, that he submitted to it, and hoped I would not take the advantage in having to do with any man in so weak a condition: I replied, that by such an argument he had sufficiently tied my hands, upon condition, I might call our seconds to be witnesses of the whole business, which he consented to, and so we parted. Upon our return to London, we found it full of this quarrel, upon our being absent so long; and therefore Mr. Aston thought fit to write down every word and circumstance of this whole matter, in order to spread every where the true reason of our returning without having fought; which being not in the least contradicted, or resented by the lord Rochester, entirely ruined his reputation for courage, though nobody had still a greater as to wit, which supported him pretty well in the world, notwithstanding some more accidents of the same kind, that never fail to succeed one another, when once people know a man's weakness."

The duke of Buckingham's works speak him a beautiful prose writer, and a very considerable poet, which is proved by the testimony of fame of the best writers, his cotemporaries.

His prose works consist chiefly of Historical Memoirs, Speeches in Parliament, Characters, Dialogues, Critical Observations, Speeches and Essays, which, with his poetical compositions, were printed by Alderman Barber in 1723, in two splendid 4to volumes. The first volume containing pieces in most species of poetry, the epic excepted, and also imitations from other authors. His Grace wrote some Epigrams, a great number of lyric pieces, some in the elegiac strain, and others in the dramatic. Amongst his poems, an Essay on Poetry, which contains excellent instructions to form the poet, is by far the most distinguished. He wrote a play called Julius Caesar, and another called Brutus: or rather altered them from Shakespear.

His grace was a great lover of the polite arts in general, as appears from the fondness he expresses for them in several parts of his works; particularly Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture; of the two former he made several curious collections, and his house, built under his direction in St. James's Park, speaks him not unacquainted with the latter. It would be superfluous to enumerate all the writers who have given testimony in his grace's favour as an author. Dryden in several of his Dedications, while he expresses the warmth of his gratitude, fails not to convey the most amiable idea, of his lordship, and represents him as a noble writer. He lived in friendship with that great poet, who has raised indelible monuments to his memory.

I shall add but one other testimony of his merit, which if come should think unnecessary, yet it is pleasing; the lines are delightfully sweet and flowing. In his Miscellanies thus speaks Mr. Pope;

Muse 'tis enough, at length thy labour ends,
And thou shalt live; for Buckingham cornmends.
Let crowds of critics now my verse assail,
Let Dennis write, and nameless numbers rail.
This more than pays whole years of thankless pain,
Time, health, and fortune, are not lost in vain.
Sheffield approves consenting Phoebus bends;
And I, and malice, from this hour are friends.

The two plays of Julius Caesar, which he altered from Shakespear, are both with Chorusses, after the manner of the Ancients: These plays were to have been performed in the year 1729, and all the Chorusses were let to music by that great master in composition, Signor Bononcini; but English voices being few, the Italians were applied to, who demanded more for their nightly performance, than the receipts of the house could amount to at the usual raised prices, and on that account the design was dropt.

It appears that our noble author had conceived a great regard for Mr. Pope, on his earliest appearance in the literary world; and was among the first to acknowledge the young bard's merit, in commendatory verses upon his excellence in poetry.

The following compliment from the duke is prefixed to the first volume of Mr. Pope's works.

With age decay'd, with courts and bus'ness tir'd,
Caring for nothing, but what ease requir'd;
Too dully serious for the muses sport,
And from the critics safe arriv'd in port;
I little thought of launching forth agen,
Amidst advent'rous rovers of the pen;
And after so much undeserv'd success,
Thus hazarding at last to make it less.
Encomiums suit not this censorious time,
Itself a subject for satyric rhime;
Ignorance honour'd, wit and mirth defam'd,
Folly, triumphant, and ev'n Homer blam'd!
But to this genius, join'd with so much art,
Such various learning mix'd in ev'ry part,
Poets are bound a loud applause to pay;
Apollo bids it, and they must obey.
And yet so wonderful, sublime a thing,
As the great ILIAD, scarce cou'd make me sing,
Except I justly cou'd at once commend
A good companion, and as firm a friend.
One moral, or a mere well-natur'd deed
Can all desert in sciences exceed.
'Tis great delight to laugh at some men's ways,
But a much greater to give merit praise.