1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Charles Hanbury Williams

Edward S. Creasy, "Sir Charles Hanbury Williams" Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1850) 279-80.



This once celebrated statesman and popular writer was the third son of John Hanbury, Esq., a South Sea Director, who died in 1734. Charles Hanbury, who assumed the name of Williams, in compliance with the will of his godfather, Charles Williams, Esq. of Caerleon, was born in 1709. He was educated at Eton, and he there made himself a good classical scholar. After leaving Eton, he travelled through various parts of Europe, and on his return, in 1732, married Lady Frances Coningsby, youngest daughter of Thomas Earl of Coningsby.

In 1733, he was elected member of Parliament for the county of Monmouth, and immediately became a warm partisan of Sir Robert Walpole, with whom he lived on terms of intimate personal friendship. Walpole thoroughly liked, and greatly trusted him. In 1739 he was appointed to the office of Paymaster of the Marines. His name does not often appear as that of a speaker in the Parliamentary reports; but there are many ways besides speechmaking in which a member may do a minister good service. Williams had an independent fortune; kept up liberal and elegant hospitality; and by the charm of his own manners, and the ready brilliancy of his wit, he was admirably calculated to be the centre of a gay and convivial circle, whose members were united in politics, as well as in pleasure.

But his principal importance as an ally to the minister consisted in his power of writing, almost extempore, light pasquinades and tart lampoons on their political opponents, as each passing event prompted either the spirit of malice or the spirit of fun. The greater part of these have lost their interest; for squibs can only sparkle for a time. But some of Sir Charles's lighter compositions are still popular, and several which are unconnected with politics, are pleasing for their grace and smartness. His ballad, written in 1740, on Lady Ilchester asking Lord Ilchester how many kisses he would have, is a very successful song. The editor of Sir Charles Hanbury's songs (ed. 1822) calls this an imitation of Martial (lib. vi. ep. 34). So it perhaps is; but the original ideas came from a far superior poet, Catullus. The classical reader will at once remember (as no doubt the author remembered) the

Quris quot mihi basiationes, &c.,

and the conclusion to the

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, &c.,

of the most poetical of all the Latin writers.

Dear Betty, come give me sweet kisses,
For sweeter no girl ever gave;
But why, in the midst of our blisses,
Do you ask me how many I'd have?
I'm not to be stinted in pleasure,
Then, prithee, dear Betty, be kind;
For as I love thee beyond measure,
To numbers I'll not be confined.

Count the bees that on Hybla are straying,
Count the flowers that enamel the fields,
Count the flocks that on Tempe are playing,
Or the grains that each Sicily yields;
Count how many stars are in heaven,
Go, reckon the sands on the shore,
And when so many kisses you've given,
I still shall be asking for more.

To a heart full of love let me hold thee,
A heart that, dear Betty, is thine;
In my arms I 'll for ever enfold thee,
And curl round thy neck like a vine.
What joy can be greater than this is?
My life on thy lips shall be spent;
But those who call number their kisses,
With few will be always content.

In 1746 he was made Knight of the Bath, and soon afterwards was appointed envoy to Dresden, where he displayed great and unexpected talents in negotiation.

This was the beginning of a regular diplomatic career, in which his old friend and schoolfellow, Henry Fox, procured him various important appointments, in which his success was by no means uniform. At length, a failure, in 1757, on a mission to St. Petersburgh, to detach the Empress from a coalition with Austria and France, completely broke his spirits. His health failed, and the powers of his mind were obviously affected. He determined to return to England. An accidental fall on shipboard aggravated the painful symptoms of cerebral disease under which he was suffering; and after a brief rally on his return, his powers, both bodily and mental, entirely failed, and he died on the 2nd of November, 1759, at the age of fifty years.

(Chalmers's Biog. Dict. — Life, prefixed to edition of his Works, 1822.)