GEORGE LYTTELTON, an elegant English writer, was the eldest son of sir Thomas Lyttelton, of Hagley, in Worcestershire, bart. and was born in 1709. He came into the world two months before the usual time, and was imagined by the nurse to be dead, but upon closer inspection was found alive, and with some difficulty reared. At Eton school, where he was educated, he was so much distinguished that his exercises were recommended as models to his school-fellows. From Eton he went to Christ Church, where he retained the same reputation of superiority, and displayed his abilities to the public in a poem on Blenheim. He was a very early writer, both in verse and prose; his "Progress of Love," and his "Persian Letters," having both been written when he was very young. After a short residence at Oxford, he began his travels in 1728, and visited France and Italy. From Rome he sent those elegant verses which are prefixed to the works of Pope, whom he consulted in 1730 respecting his four pastorals. Pope made some alterations in them, which may be seen in Bowles's late edition of that poet's works (vol. IV. p. 139). We find Pope, a few years afterwards, in a letter to Swift, speak thus of him: He is "one of those whom his own merit has forced me to contract an intimacy with, after I had sworn never to love a man more, since the sorrow it cost me to have loved so many now dead, banished, or unfortunate, I mean Mr. Lyttelton, one of the worthiest of the rising generation," &c. In another letter Mr. Lyttelton is mentioned in a manner with which Dr. Warton says he was displeased.
When he returned from his continental tour, he was (May 4, 1729) made page of honour to he princess royal. He also obtained a seat in parliament, and soon distinguished himself among the most eager opponents of sir Robert Walpole, though his father, who was one of the lords of the admiralty, always voted with the court. For many years the name of George Lyttelton was seen in every account of every debate in the house of commons. Among the great leading questions, he opposed the standing army, and the. excise, and supported the motion for petitioning the king to remove Walpole. The prince of Wales having, in consequence of a quarrel with the king, been obliged to leave St. James's in 1737, kept a separate court, and opened his arms to the opponents of the ministry. Mr. Lyttelton was made his secretary, and was supposed to have great influence in the direction of his conduct. His name consequently occurs, although not very often, in Doddington's Diary. He persuaded the prince, whose business it was now to be popular, that he would advance his character by patronage. Mallet was made under-secretary, with £200 a year; and Thomson had a pension of £100. The disposition of the two men must account for the difference in the sums. Mallet could do more political service than the honest-hearted Thomson. For Thomson, however, Mr. Lyttelton always retained his kindness, and was able at last to place him at ease. Moore courted his favour by an apologetical poem called "The Trial of Selim," and was paid with kind words, which, as is common, says Dr. Johnson, raised great hopes, that at last were disappointed. This matter, however, is differently stated in our account of Moore.
Mr. Lyttelton now stood in the first rank of opposition; and Pope, who was incited, it is not easy to say how, to increase the clamour against the ministry, commended him among the other patriots. This drew upon him the reproaches of Mr. Henry Fox, who, in the House of Commons, was weak enough to impute to him as a crime his intimacy with a lampooner so unjust and licentious. Lyttelton supported his friend, and replied, "that he thought it an honour to be received into the familiarity of so great a poet." While he was thus conspicuous, he married (1741) Miss Lucy Fortescue, sister to Matthew lord Fortescue, of Devonshire, by whom he had a son, Thomas, and two daughters, and with whom he appears to have lived in the highest degree of connubial felicity but human pleasures are short; she died in childbed about six years afterwards (1747); and lie solaced his grief by writing a "Monody" to her memory, without, however, condemning himself to perpetual solitude and sorrow; for soon after he sought to find the same happiness again in a second marriage with the daughter of sir Robert Rich (1749); but the experiment was unsuccessful, and he was for some years before his death separated from this lady. "She was," says Gilbert West in a letter to Dr. Doddridge, "an intimate and dear friend of his former wife, which is some kind of proof of her merit; I mean of the goodness of her heart, for that is the chief merit, which Mr. Lyttelton esteems; and I hope she will not in this disappoint his expectations; in all other points she is well suited to him; being extremely well accomplished in languages, music, painting, &c. very sensible, and well bred." This lady died Sept. 17, 1795.
When, after a long struggle, Walpole gave way, and honour and profit were distributed among his conquerors, Lyttelton was made in (1744) one of the lords of the treasury; and from that time was engaged in supporting the schemes of ministry. Politics did not, however, so much engage him as to withhold his thoughts from things of more importance. He had, in the pride of juvenile confidence, with the help of corrupt conversation, entertained doubts of the truth of Christianity; but he thought the time now come when it was no longer fit to doubt or believe by chance, and applied himself seriously to the great question. His studies being honest, ended in conviction. He found that Religion was true, and what he had learned he endeavoured to teach, by "Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul," printed in 1747; a treatise to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer. This book his father had the happiness of seeing, and expressed his pleasure in a letter which deserves to be inserted, and must have given to such a son a pleasure more easily conceived than described: "I have read your religious treatise with infinite pleasure and satisfaction. The style is fine and clear, the arguments close, cogent, and irresistible. May the King of kings, whose glorious cause you have so well defended, reward your pious labours, and grant that I may be found worthy, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to be an eye-witness of that happiness which I don't doubt He will bountifully bestow upon you! In the mean time, I shall never cease glorifying God, for having endowed you with such useful talents, and given me so good a son. Your affectionate father, THOMAS LYTTELTON" — When the university of Oxford conferred the degree of LL.D. on Mr. West for his excellent work on the "Resurrection," the same honour is said to have been offered to our author for the above piece, but he declined it in a handsome manner, by saying that he chose not to be under any particular attachments, that, if he should happen to write any thing of the like kind for the future, it might not appear to proceed from any other motive whatsoever, but a pure desire of doing good.
A few years afterwards, in 1751, by the death of his father, he inherited the title of baronet, with a large estate, which, though perhaps he did not augment, he was careful to adorn, by a house of great elegance and expence, and by much attention to the decoration of his park at Hagley. As he continued his exertions in parliament, he was gradually advancing his claim to profit and preferment; and accordingly was made in 1754 cofferer and privy-counsellor. This place he exchanged next year for that of chancellor of the exchequer, an office, however, that required some qualifications which he soon perceived himself to want. It is an anecdote no less remarkable than true, that he never could comprehend the commonest rules of arithmetic. The year after, his curiosity led him into Wales; of which he has given an account, perhaps rather with too much affectation of delight, to Archibald Bower, a man of whom he had conceived an opinion more favourable than he seems to have deserved, and whom, having once espoused his interest and fame, he never was persuaded to disown. It must indeed have proceeded from a strong conviction of Bower's innocence, however acquired, that such a man as Lyttelton adhered to him to the very last. About 1755, he prevented Garrick from bringing Bower on the stage in the character of a mock convert, to be shewn in various attitudes, in which the profligacy of his conduct was to be exposed: and a very few years before his own death, he declared to the celebrated Dr. Lardner his opinion of Bower in these words, "I have no more doubt of his having continued a firm protestant to the last hour of his life, than I have of my not being a papist myself."
About this time he published his "Dialogues of the Dead," which were very eagerly read, though the production rather, as it seems, of leisure than of study, rather effusions than compositions. When, in the latter part of the last reign, the inauspicious commencement of the war made the dissolution of the ministry unavoidable, sir George Lyttelton, losing his employment with the rest, was raised to the peerage, Nov. 19, 1757, by the title of lord Lyttelton, baron of Frankley, in the county of Worcester. His last literary production was "The History of Henry the Second," 1764, elaborated by the researches and deliberations of twenty years, and published with the greatest anxiety, which Dr. Johnson, surely very improperly, ascribes to vanity. The story of the publication, however, we allow to be remarkable. The whole work was printed twice over, greatest part of it three times, and many sheets four or five times. The booksellers paid for the first impression; but the charges and repeated alterations of the press were at the expence of the author, whose ambitious accuracy is known to have cost him at least a thousand pounds. He began to print in 1755. Three volumes appeared in 1764; a second edition of them in 1767; a third edition in 1768; and the conclusion in 1771. Andrew Reid, a man not without considerable abilities, and not unacquainted with letters or with life, undertook to persuade the noble author, as he had persuaded himself, that he was master of the secret of punctuation; and, as fear begets credulity, he was employed, we know not at what price, to point the pages of "Henry the Second," as if, said Johnson once in conversation, "another man could point his sense better than himself." The book, however, was at last pointed and printed, and sent into the world. His lordship took money for his copy, of which, when he had paid the pointer, he probably gave the rest away; for he was very liberal to the indigent. When time brought the history to a third edition, Reid was either dead or discarded; and the superintendence of typography and punctuation was committed to a man originally a comb-maker, but then known by the style of Dr. Saunders. Something uncommon was probably expected, and something uncommon was at last done; for to the edition of Dr. Saunders is appended, what the world had hardly seen before, a list of errors of nineteen pages.
Lord Lyttelton had never the appearance of a strong or a healthy man; he had a slender uncompacted frame, and a meagre face: he lived, however, above sixty years, and then was seized with his last illness. Of his death this very affecting and instructive account has been given by his physician, Dr. Johnstone of Kidderminster. "On Sunday evening the symptoms of his lordship's disorder, which for a week past had alarmed us, put on a fatal appearance, and his lordship believed himself to be a dying man. From this time he suffered by restlessness rather than pain; and though his nerves were apparently much fluttered, his mental faculties never seemed stronger, when he was thoroughly awake. His lordship's bilious and hepatic complaints seemed alone not equal to the expected mournful event; his long want of sleep, whether the consequence of the irritation in the bowels, or, which is more probable, of causes of a different kind, accounts for his loss of strength, and for his death, very sufficiently. Though his lordship wished his approaching dissolution not to be lingering, he waited for it with resignation. He said, 'It is a folly, a keeping me in misery, now to attempt to prolong life;' yet he was easily persuaded, for the satisfaction of others, to do or take any thing thought proper for him. On Saturday he had been remarkably better, and we were not without some hopes of his recovery. On Sunday, about eleven in the forenoon, his lordship sent for me, and said he felt a great hurry, and wished to have a little conversation with me in order to divert it. He then proceeded to open the fountain of that heart, from whence goodness had so long flowed as from a copious spring. 'Doctor,' said he, 'you shall be my confessor: When I first set out in the world, I had friends who endeavoured to shake my belief in the Christian religion. I saw difficulties which staggered me; but I kept my mind open to conviction. The evidences and doctrines of Christianity, studied with attention, made me a most firm and persuaded believer of the Christian religion. I have made it the rule of my life, and it is the ground of my future hopes. I have erred and sinned; but have repented, and never indulged any vicious habit. In politics, and public life, I have made the public good the rule of my conduct. I never gave counsels which I did not at the time think the best. I have seen that I was sometimes in the wrong, but I did not err designedly. I have endeavoured, in private life, to do all the good in my power, and never for a moment could indulge malicious or unjust designs upon any person whatsoever.' At another time he said, 'I must leave my soul in the same state it was in before this illness; I find this a very inconvenient time for solicitude about any thing.' On the evening when the symptoms of death came on him, he said, 'I shall die; but it will not be your fault.' When lord and lady Valentia came to see his lordship, he gave them this solemn benediction, and said, 'Be good, be virtuous, my lord. You must come to this.' Thus he continued giving his dying benediction to all around him. On Monday morning a lucid interval gave some small hopes, but these vanished in the evening; and he continued dying, but with very little uneasiness, till Tuesday morning, August 22, when between seven and eight o'clock he expired, almost without a groan." His lordship was buried at Hagley; with an inscription cut on the side of his lady's monument.
He was succeeded by his son THOMAS, second lord Lyttelton, of whom the following too just character is on record: "With great abilities generally very ill applied; with a strong sense of religion, which he never suffered to influence his conduct, his days were mostly passed in splendid misery; and in the painful change of the most extravagant gaiety, and the deepest despair. The delight, when he pleased, of the first and most select societies, lie chose to pass his time, for the most part, with the most profligate and abandoned of both sexes. Solitude was to him the most insupportable torment; and to banish reflection, he flew to company whom he despised and ridiculed. His conduct was a subject of bitter regret both to his father and all his friends." He closed this unhappy life, Nov. 27, 1779. Two volumes of "Letters" published in 1780 and 1782, though attributed to him, are known to have been the production of am ingenious writer yet living; and a quarto volume of "Poems," published in 1780, was, as well as the "Letters," publicly disowned by his executors, but as to the "Poems," they added, "great part whereof are undoubtedly spurious."
We have more pleasure, however, in returning to the character of George lord Lyttelton, which has been uniformly delineated by those who knew him best, in favourable colours. Of the various sketches which we have seen, we are inclined to give a place to the following, which, although somewhat long, is less known than those to be found in the accounts of his biographers, and appears to have been written by a near observer: "Few characters," says the writer, "recorded in the annals of this country, ever united so many rare, valuable, and amiable qualities, as that of the late lord Lyttelton. Whether we consider this great man in public or private life, we are justified in affirming, that he abounded in virtues not barely sufficient to create reverence and esteem, but to insure him the love and admiration of all who knew him. — Look upon him as a statesman, and a public man; where shall we find another, who always thought right and meant well, and who so seldom acted wrong, or was misled or mistaken in his ministerial, or senatorial conduct? Look upon his lordship in the humbler scene of private and domestic life; and if thou hadst the pleasure of knowing him, gentle reader, point out the breast warm or cold, that so copiously abounded with every gift and acquirement which indulgent nature could bestow, or the tutored mind improve and refine, to win and captivate mankind.
"His personal accomplishments, and the sweetness and pliability of his temper, which accompanied and swayed them, always recalled to my memory, that line of his own, only varying the sex; his 'Wit was Nature by the Graces drest.' — His affability and condescension to those below him, was not the effect of art, or constrained politeness dictated by the hackneyed sterile rules of decorum and good breeding: no, the benevolence of his heart pervaded the whole man; it illuminated his countenance, it softened his accents, it mixed itself with his demeanour, and gave evidence at once of the goodness of his heart, and the soundness of his understanding.
"To such as were honoured with his friendship and his intimacy, his kindness was beyond example; he shared at once his affections and his interests among his friends, and towards the latter part of his life, when his ability to serve them ceased, he felt only for those who depended on him for their future advancement in life. The unbounded authority he possessed over them was established in parental dominion, not in the cold, haughty, supercilious superiority of a mere patron. — Among this latter description, the author of the present rude outline is proud of ranking himself, and is happy in recollecting, that he obeyed, or rather anticipated, the wishes of his noble friend, as far as lay in his power, with more chearfulness and alacrity than he would in executing even the confidential mandates of the greatest monarch or minister in Christendom.
"His lordship's acquaintance with men and books was accurate and extensive. His studies in the early part of his life must have been well directed, and his taste remarkably judicious, for no person ever lived who was less tinctured with the vulgar moroseness, and self-conceited air of a pedant, nor with the affectation and frivolity of that rank in life, which his birth, fortune, and situation, rendered customary and familiar to him.
"He was perfectly and intimately acquainted with the works of the most celebrated writers of antiquity in verse and prose. His memory was stocked with the most striking passages contained in them; but he never indulged nor gave way to the strong impressions they had stamped on his mind, but to gratify his confidential friends. Whenever he consented to their entreaties, his allusions were judiciously selected, and applied with the most consummate propriety. His language was manly, nervous, and technical. It was suited to the personal rank, knowledge, and disposition, of those lie conversed with; by which means he rendered himself agreeable and intelligible to every person, whom chance, amusement, or business, threw in his way.
"His discernment of spirits, the term which the late lord Bolingbroke substitutes for the familiar phrase of knowing mankind, was no less conspicuous, when he thought proper to exert it with steadiness and vigour; but unfortunately for his own domestic peace, it was extremely difficult to rouse him. He trusted too much to the representations of others, and was always ready to leave the labour of discriminating characters, to those who too often found an interest in deceiving him. Though his steadiness of principle, penetration, and justness of reflection, might be well ranked in the first class, those talents were in a great measure effectually lost, because his employments and pursuits as a public man, his amusements as a man of taste and science, and, in the latter part of his life, his avocations as a writer, so totally engrossed his attention, that he entirely neglected his private affairs, and in a variety of instances fell a prey to private rapine and literary imposition. This was the joint effect of native indolence, and a certain incurable absence of mind. To show that his want of discrimination was not native, but that the power of knowing those he communicated with, was rendered to some purpose useless, because it was not employed, a stronger proof need not be given, than his thorough knowledge of the court, as exhibited in parties, and the several individuals who composed them. He could tell the political value of almost every veteran courtier, or candidate for power. He could develope their latent views, he could foretell their change of conduct. He foresaw the effect of such and such combinations, the motives which formed them, the principles which held them together, and the probable date of their dissolution. Whenever he was imposed on, it was through the want of attention, not of parts; or from a kind of settled opinion, that men of common plain understandings, and good reputation, would hardly risque solid advantages in pursuit of unlawful gain, which last might eventually be accompanied with loss of character, as well as the object proposed to be attained. Whatever plausibility there may appear in this mode of reasoning, experience frequently informed his lordship, that it was not to be depended on. He was plundered by his servants, deceived by his humble companions, misled by his confidents, and imposed on by several of those whom he patronized. He felt the effects of all this, in his family, in his finances, and even in the rank he should have preserved. Those who were not acquainted with the solidity of his judgment, the acuteness of his wit, the brilliancy and justness of his thoughts, the depth of his penetration, and with the amazing extent of his genius, were apt to confound the consequences of his conduct, with the powers and resources of his mind. If his lordship remained out of place, on principle, the ignorant inclined to ascribe this seeming court proscription to simplicity or want of talents. If he did not support his rank with that ostentatious splendour now become so fashionable, the world was ready to impute it to a want of oeonomy, or a want of spirit; but in all those conjectures and conclusions, the world were much mistaken and misled. He had frequent offers, some of them the most flattering, to take a part in administration; but he uniformly rejected them. His manner of living at his seat at Hagley was founded on the truest principles of hospitality, politeness, and society; and as to money, he knew no other use of it but to answer his own immediate calls, or to enable him to promote the happiness of others" [author's note: St. James's Chronicle, Sept. 1776].
Much of this character corresponds with the accounts which might be extracted from the correspondence of his friends, who were so numerous as perhaps to include all the eminent literary persons of his time. With such he delighted to associate, was often a useful patron of rising genius, and to the last was ambitious of a personal acquaintance with men whose works he admired. We have a remarkable instance of this in his visiting (in 1767) old Dr. Lardner, and introducing himself as one who had read his volumes with pleasure and profit. Lardner was at this time so deaf that his visitors were obliged to carry on conversation with him by writing, to which tiresome condition lord Lyttelton gladly submitted.
Lord Lyttelton's literary character has been so long established that it is unnecessary to add much on the subject. His Miscellaneous Works have been often reprinted, and, although in some of them rigid criticism may find objections, cannot be read without pleasure and advantage. His "History of Henry II." is also now a standard work, valuable both for matter and style. His "Persian Letters," written when a very young man, are included among his miscellaneous works, but Dr. Warton informs us that he had intended to discard them, as there were principles and remarks in them that he wished to retract and alter. The reader finds them, however, as originally published, and they contain many shrewd remarks and just ridicule on the manners of the times. His juvenile pieces were not always his worst. Dr. Warton remarks that his Observations on the life of Cicero contain perhaps a more dispassionate and impartial character of that great orator than is exhibited in the panegyrical volumes of Middleton. It may here be noticed that some of his letters to Warton occur in Wooll's Life, by which we learn that lord Lyttelton made him his chaplain in 1756. As a poet, we do not find among critics any wide departure from Dr. Johnson's opinion. Lord Lyttelton's poems are to be praised chiefly for correctness and elegance of versification and style. His "Advice to Belinda," though for the most part written when he was very young, contains, Dr. Johnson says, "much truth and much prudence, very elegantly and vigorously expressed, and shows a mind attentive to life, and a power of poetry which cultivation might have raised to excellence." As far, however, as this implies that lord Lyttelton did not cultivate his powers, we are inclined to think our great critic in error. Lord Lyttelton was very early a poet, and appears to have not only valued his talent, but acquired his first reputation from the exercise of it. He was very early a critic too, as appears by his account of Glover's "Leonidas," printed in 1737, and few men were oftener consulted by young poets in the subsequent part of his life. Mickle may be instanced as one whose first pieces were carefully perused and corrected by him, and although Mickle was disappointed in the hopes he entertained from him as a patron, he often owned his obligations to him as a critic. Lord Lyttelton's was the patronage of kindness rather than of bounty. He courted the acquaintance and loved the company of men of genius and learning, with whom his correspondence also was extensive, but he had little of his own to give away, and was so long of the party in opposition to ministers, as to have very little state interest.
His collected works, first printed in 4to, in 1774, and since in 8vo, consist of, 1. "Observations on the Life of Cicero." 2. "Observations on the Roman History." 3. Observations on the present state of our affairs at home and abroad," &c. 4. "Letters from a Persian in England to his friend at Ispahan." 5. "Observations on the conversion and apostleship of St. Paul." 6. "Dialogues of the Dead." 7. "Four Speeches in parliament." 8. " Poems." 9. "Letters to Sir Thomas Lyttelton." 10. "Account of a Journey into Wales." Some other lesser pieces, which appeared in the periodical journals, have been attributed to him, and some anonymous political pamphlets. Lord Orford mentions him as a writer in the paper called "Common Sense," but has not discovered his share. In that, however, he certainly wrote the criticism on "Leonidas," which occurs in p. 72, of the first volume. In vol. II. p. 31, is a paper from the pen of lord Chesterfield, dated March 4, 1738, in defence of lord (then Mr.) Lyttelton against the attacks of the writers in the Daily Gazetteer. From his connection with the party in opposition to sir Robert Walpole, it seems not unreasonable to conjecture that he wrote in the "Craftsman;" but for this we have no positive authority.