SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE, a very eminent statesman and writer, was the son of sir William Temple, of Sheen, in Surrey, master of the rolls and privy-counsellor in Ireland, in the reign of Charles II. by a sister of the learned Dr. Henry Hammond. His grandfather, sir William Temple, the founder of the family, was the younger son of the Temples, of Temple-hall, in Leicestershire. He was fellow of King's college, in Cambridge, afterwards master of the free-school at Lincoln, then secretary successively to sir Philip Sidney, to William Davison, esq. one of queen Elizabeth's secretaries, and to the celebrated earl of Essex, whom he served while he was lord-deputy of Ireland. In 1609, upon the importunate solicitation of Dr. James Usher, he accepted the provostship of Trinity college, in Dublin; after which he was knighted, and made one of the masters in chancery of Ireland. He died about 1626, aged seventy-two, after having given proof of his abilities and learning, by several publications in Latin.
The subject of the present memoir was born in London in 1628, and first sent to school at Penshurst in Kent, under the care of his uncle Dr. Hammond, then minister of that parish. At the age of ten he was removed to a school at Bishop Stortford, in Hertfordshire, kept by Mr. Leigh, where he was taught Greek and Latin. At the age of fifteen he returned and remained at home for about two years, from some doubts, during these turbulent times, as to the propriety of sending him to any university. These having been removed, he was about two years after entered of Emanuel college, Cambridge, under the tuition of the learned Cudworth. His father intending him for political life, seems not to have thought a long residence here necessary; and therefore about 1647, or 1648, sent him on his travels. While on his way to France he visited the Isle of Wight, where his majesty Charles I. was then a prisoner; and there formed an attachment to Dorothy, second daughter of sir Peter Osbor, of Chicksand, in Bedfordshire, whom he afterwards married.
His travels extended to France, Holland, Flanders, and Germany; during which he acquired a facility in speaking and reading those modern languages, which then formed a necessary accomplishment in a statesman. In 1654, on his return, he married the above-mentioned Mrs. Osborn, and passed his time for some years with his father and family in Ireland, improving himself in the study of history and philosophy, and cautiously avoiding any employment during the usurpation. At the restoration, in 1660, he was chosen a member of the convention in Ireland, and first distinguished himself by opposing the poll-bill, a very unpopular ministerial measure; which he did with so much independence of spirit, as to furnish a presage of his future character. In the succeeding parliament, in 1661, he was chosen, with his father, for the county of Carlow, where he distinguished himself by voting and speaking indifferently, as he approved or disapproved their measures, without joining any party. In 1662 he was chosen one of the commissioners to be sent from that parliament to the king, and took this opportunity of waiting on the lord lieutenant, the duke of Ormond, then at London, and seems at the same time to have now formed the design of quitting Ireland altogether, and residing in England. It was necessary, however, to return to Ireland, where on a second interview with the duke of Ormond, then at Dublin, the duke made extraordinary professions of respect for him, complaining, with polite irony, that he was the only man in Ireland who had never asked him any thing and when he found him bent on going to England, insisted on giving him letters of recommendation to Clarendon, the lord chancellor, and to Arlington, secretary of state.
This recommendation was effectual with both these statesmen, as well as with the king, although he was not immediately employed. Sir William Temple was never forgetful of this obligation: he constantly kept up a correspondence with the duke of Ormond, and afterwards zealously defended him against the attempt of the earl of Essex to displace him from the government of Ireland. In the mean time, during his interviews with lord Arlington, who seems to have had his promotion at heart, he took occasion to hint to his lordship, that if his majesty thought him worthy of any employment abroad, he should be happy to accept it; but begged leave to object to the northern climates, to which he had a great aversion. Lord Arlington expressed his regret at this, because the place of envoy at Sweden was the only one then vacant. In 1665, however, about the commencement of the first Dutch war, lord Arlington communicated to him that his majesty wanted to send a person abroad upon an affair of great importance, and advised him to accept the offer, whether in all respects agreeable or not, as it would prove an introduction to his majesty's service. This business was a secret commission to the bishop of Munster, for the purpose of concluding a treaty between the king and him, by which the bishop should be obliged, upon receiving a certain sum of money, to join his majesty immediately in the war with Holland. Sir William made no scruple to accept this commission, which he executed with speed and success, and in the most private manner, without any train or official character. In July he began his journey to Coeavelt, and not long after it was known publicly, that he had in a very few days concluded and signed the treaty there, in which his perfect knowledge in Latin, which he had retained, was of no little advantage to him, the bishop conversing in no other language. After signing the treaty, he went to Brussels, saw the first payment made, and received the news that the bishop was in the field, by which this negotiation began first to be discovered; but no person suspected the part he had in it; and he continued privately at Brussels till it was whispered to the marquis Castel-Rodrigo the governor, that he came upon some particular errand (which he was then at liberty to own). The governor immediately sent to desire his acquaintance, and that he might see him in private, to which he easily consented. Soon after a commission was sent him to be resident at Brussels, a situation which he had long contemplated with pleasure, and his commission was accompanied with a baronet's patent.
Sir William now sent for his family (April 1666); but, before their arrival, was again ordered to Munster, to prevent the bishop's concluding peace with the Dutch, which he threatened to do, in consequence of some remissness in the payments from England, and actually signed it at Cleve the very night sir William Temple arrived at Munster. On this he returned to Brussels; and before he had been there a year, peace with the Dutch was concluded at Breda. Two months after this event, his sister, who resided with him at Brussels, having an inclination to see Holland, he went thither with her incognito, and while at the Hague, became acquainted with the celebrated Pensionary De Witt.
In the spring of 1667, a new war broke out between France and Spain, which rendering Brussels a place of insecurity, as it might fall into the hands of the French, he sent his family to England, but remained himself until the end of the year, when the king ordered him to return privately to England, and in his way to go secretly to the Hague, and concert with the states the means of saving the Netherlands. Sir William, whom, Hume says, philosophy had taught to despise the world, without rendering him unfit for it, was frank, open, sincere, superior to the little tricks of vulgar politicians; and meeting in De Witt with a man of the same generous and enlarged sentiments, be immediately opened his master's intentions, and pressed a speedy conclusion. A treaty was from the first negotiated between these two statesmen, with the same cordiality as if it were a private transaction between intimate companions. Deeming the interests of their country the same, they gave full scope to that sympathy of character which disposed them to an entire reliance on each other's professions and engagements. The issue was the famous triple alliance between England, Sweden, and Holland, which being ratified Feb. 15, 1668, sir William Temple had orders to return to Brussels, and promote the treaty of peace between France and Spain, then carrying on at Aix-la-Chapelle. He was accordingly sent thither in April, as his majesty's ambassador-extraordinary and mediator, and brought the affair to a happy conclusion. Soon alter, be was sent ambassador-extraordinary to the States-General, with instructions to confirm the triple alliance, and so, licit the emperor and German princes, by their ministers, to enter into it. Being the first English ambassador that had been there since king James's time, he was received and distinguished by every mark of regard and esteem they could express for his character and person; and, by the good opinion he had gained, was able to bring the States into such measures, as, M. de Witt said, he was sure was not in the power of any other man to do. He lived in confidence with that great minister, and in constant and familiar conversation with the prince of Orange, then eighteen years old. Yet, although he had a difficult part to act, he compassed the chief design of his embassy, in engaging the emperor and Spain in the measures that were then desired; but by this time the measures of his own court took a new turn; and though he had observed a disposition before, to complain of the Dutch upon trifling occasions, yet he suspected nothing till lord Arlington, in September 1669, hurried him over, by telling him as soon as he received his letter he should put his foot into the stirrup. When he came to his lordship, whom he always saw the first, and with great eagerness desired to know the important affair that required his sudden recall, he found that his lordship had not one word to say to him; and, after making him wait a great while, only asked him several indifferent questions about his journey; and next day be was received as coldly by time king. The secret, however, soon came out; and sir William Temple was pressed to return to the Hague, and make way for a war with Holland, which, less than two years before, he had been so much applauded for preventing by a strict alliance: but he excused himself from having any share in it, which so much provoked the lord treasurer Clifford, that he refused to pay him an arrear of two thousand pounds, due from his embassy. All this passed without any particular unkindness from the king; but lord Arlington's usage, so unlike to the friendship he had professed, was resented by sir William Temple with much spirit. He now retired to his house at Sheen, and employed this interval of leisure in writing his "Observations on the United Provinces," and one part of his "Miscellanies."
In 1673, the king, becoming weary of the second Dutch war, and convinced of its unpopularity, sent for sir William Temple, and wished him to go to Holland, with the offer of the king's mediation between France and the confederates then at war, which was not long after accepted; and in June 1674, lord Berkley, sir William Temple, and sir Leoline Jenkins, were declared ambassadors and mediators, and Nimeguen appointed, by general consent, as the place of treaty. During sir William's stay at the Hague, the prince of Orange, who was fond of speaking English, and of English habits, constantly dined and supped once or twice a week at his house. Sir William insensibly acquired his Highness's confidence, and had a considerable hand in his marriage with the princess Mary, of which he has said so much in his "Memoirs." One instance of his employing his influence with the prince, he used to reckon amongst the good fortunes of his life. Five Englishmen happened to be taken and brought to the Hague whilst he was there, and in the prince's absence, who were immediately tried, and condemned by a council of war, for deserting their colours: some of his servants had the curiosity to visit their unfortunate countrymen, and came home with a deplorable story, that, by what they had heard, it seemed to he a mistake; and that they were all like to die innocent; but, however, that it was without remedy, that their graves were digging, and they were to be shot next morning. Sir William Temple left nothing unattempted to prevent their sudden execution; and sent to the officers to threaten them, that he would complain first to the prince, and then to the king, who, he was sure, would demand reparation, if so many of his subjects suffered unjustly but nothing would move them, till he made it his last request to reprieve them one day, during which the prince happened to come within reach of returning an answer to a message he sent, and they were released. The first thing they did was to go and look at their graves; and the next, to come and thank sir William Temple upon their knees.
In July 1676, he removed his family to Nimeguen, where he passed that year without making any progress in the treaty, which, owing to various circumstances, was then at a stand; and, the year after, his son was sent over with letters from the lord treasurer, to order him to return and succeed Mr. Coventry in his place of secretary of state, which the latter made some difficulty of resigning, unless he had leave to name his successor, which the king refused. Sir William Temple, who was not ambitious of the change at this time, requested his majesty would defer it until all parties were agreed, and the treaty he was then concerned in concluded. This business, however, required his presence in England, and he did not return to Nimeguen that year. About the same time the prince of Orange came over and married the lady Mary, which seems to have occasioned a coolness between sir William Temple and lord Arlington, the latter being offended at sir William's intimacy with the lord treasurer Osborn, who was related to lady Temple, they two being the only persons intrusted with the affair of the marriage.
In the mean time, in 1678, the king, finding that affairs were not likely to come to any conclusion with France, sent for sir William Temple to the council, and told him, that he intended he should go to Holland, in order to form a treaty of alliance with the States; and that the purpose of it should be, like the triple league, to force both France and Spain to accept of the terms proposed. Temple was sorry to find this act of vigour qualified by such a regard to France, and by such an appearance of indifference and neutrality between the parties. He told the king, that the resolution agreed on, was to begin the war in conjunction with all the confederates, in case of no direct and immediate answer from France; that this measure would satisfy the prince, the allies, and the people of England; advantages which could not be expected from such an alliance with Holland alone; that France would be disobliged, and Spain likewise; nor would the Dutch be satisfied with such a faint imitation of the triple league, a measure concerted when they were equally at league with both parties. For these reasons sir William Temple declined the employment; and Lawrence Hyde, second son of the chancellor Clarendon, was sent in his place; and although the measure was not palatable to the prince, the States concluded the treaty in the terms proposed by the king. Just afterwards we find the king a little out of humour with sir William Temple; and when the parliament would not pass the supplies without some security against the prevalence of the popish party, the king thought proper to reproach Temple with his popular notions, as he termed them; and asked him how he thought the House of Commons could be trusted in carrying on the war, should it be entered on, when in the very commencement they made such declarations? Sir William, however, was not daunted by this reproach; and when the king, thwarted by his parliament, began to lend an ear to the proposals of the king of France, who offered him great sums of money, if he would consent to France's making an advantageous peace with the allies, sir William, though pressed by his majesty, refused to have any concern in so dishonourable a negociation. He informs us that the king said, there was one article proposed, which so incensed him, that as long as he lived, he should never forget it. What it was, sir William does not mention; but dean Swift, who was the editor of his works, informs us, that the French, before they would agree to any payment, required as a preliminary, that king Charles should engage never to keep above 8000 regular troops in Great Britain!
Sir William appears frequently to have retired from court disgusted with the fluctuating counsels which prevailed there, but was ever ready to lend his aid to measures which bore the appearance of public advantage and in July 1678, upon the discovery of the French design not to evacuate the Spanish towns agreed on by the treaty to delivered up, the king commanded him to go upon a third embassy to the States, with whom he concluded a treaty, by which England engaged, upon the refusal of the French to evacuate the towns in forty days, to declare immediate war with France: but, before half that time was run out, one Du Cros was sent from our court into Holland, upon an errand that again embarrassed the relative state of affairs; and such sudden and capricious changes in our councils, which sir William Temple had seen too often to be astonished at, increased his growing distaste to all public employment.
In 1679 he went back to Nimeguen, where the French delayed signing the treaty to the last hour; and after he had concluded it, he returned to the Hague, from whence he was soon sent for to enter upon the secretary's place, which Mr. Coventry was at last resolved to part with; and my lord Sunderland, who was newly come into the other, pressed him with much earnestness to accept. He very unwillingly obeyed his majesty's commands to come over, as he had long at heart a visit he had promised to make the great duke, as soon as his embassy was ended; having begun a particular acquaintance with him in England, and kept up a correspondence ever since. Besides, having so ill succeeded in the designs (which no man ever more steadily pursued in the course of his employments) of doing his country the best service, and advancing its honour and greatness to the height of which he thought it capable, he resolved to ask leave of the king to retire. At this time, indeed, no person could engage in public affairs with a worse prospect; the Popish plot being newly broke out, and the parliament violent in the persecution of it, although it is now generally allowed to have been an absurd imposture. On these accounts, although the king, who, after the removal of the lord treasurer Danby, whom the parliament sent to the Tower, had no one with whom he could discourse with freedom on public affairs, sir William, alarmed at the universal discontents and jealousies which prevailed, was determined to make his retreat, as soon as possible, from a scene which threatened such confusion. Meanwhile, as he could not refuse the confidence with which his master honoured him, he represented to the king, that, as the jealousies of the nation were extreme, it was necessary to cure them by some new remedy, and to restore that mutual confidence, so requisite for the safety both of the king and people; that to refuse every thing to the parliament in their present disposition, or to yield every thing, was equally dangerous to the constitution, as well as to public tranquillity; that if the king would introduce into his councils such men as enjoyed the confidence of his people, fewer concessions would probably be required; or if unreasonable demands were made, the king, under the sanction of such counsellors, might be enabled, with the greater safety, to refuse them; and that the heads of the popular party, being gratified with the king's favour, would probably abate of that violence by which they endeavoured at present to pay court to the multitude.
The king assented to these reasons; and, in concert with Temple, laid the plan of a new privy-council, without whose advice he declared himself determined for the future to take no measure of importance. This council was to consist of thirty persons, and was never to exceed that number. Fifteen of the chief officers of the crown were to be continued, who, it was supposed, would adhere to the king, and, in case of any extremity, oppose the exorbitances of faction. The other half of the council was to be composed, either of men of character, detached from the court, or of those who possessed chief credit in both Houses. The experiment seemed at first to give some satisfaction to the people; but as Shaftesbury was made president of the council, contrary to the advice of sir William Temple, the plan upon the whole was of little avail. Temple often joined them, though he kept himself detached from public business. When the bill was proposed for putting restrictions on the duke of York, as successor to the throne, Shaftesbury thought them insufficient, and was for a total exclusion; but sir William Temple thought them so rigorous as even to subvert the constitution; and that shackles, put upon a Popish successor, would not afterwards be easily cast off by a Protestant.
In 1680, when the council was again changed, sir William gradually withdrew himself, for reasons which he has assigned in the third part of his Memoirs; but soon after the king sent for him again, and proposed his going ambassador into Spain, and giving credit to an alliance pretended to be made with that crown, against the meeting of the parliament; but when his equipage was almost ready, the king changed his mind, and told him, he would have him defer his journey till the end of the session of parliament, of which he was chosen a member for the university of Cambridge, and in which the factions ran so high, that he saw it impossible to bring them to any temper. The duke of York was sent into Scotland: that would not satisfy them, nor any thing but a bill of exclusion, against which he always declared himself, being a legal man, and said, his endeavours should ever be to unite the royal family, but that he would never enter into any counsels to divide them. This famous bill, after long contests, was thrown out, and the parliament dissolved; and it was upon his majesty's taking this resolution without the advice of his privy-council, contrary to what he had promised, that sir William Temple spoke so boldly there, and was so ill-used for taking that liberty, by some of those friends who had been most earnest in promoting the last change. Upon this he grew quite tired with public business, refused the offer he had of serving again for the university in the next parliament, that was soon after called and met at Oxford, and was even uneasy with the name of a privy-counsellor, but this he soon got rid of; for the duke being returned, and all the councils changed, lord Sunderland's, Essex's, and sir William Temple's names were by the king's order all struck out of the council-book together. On this occasion he informed his majesty that he would live the rest of his life as good a subject as any in his kingdom, but never more meddle with public affairs. The king assured him that he was not at all angry, and ever after received his visits, when he came into the neighbourhood of Sheen, with respect: nor was less attention shewn to sir William by king James, who used to address his conversation to him the moment he saw him enter the room of the palace at Richmond.
After this retirement, which occurred in 1685, sir William Temple continued a year at Sheen, and, having purchased a small seat called Moor-Park, near Farnham in Surrey, which he preferred for is retirement, and the healthy and pleasant situation, and being much afflicted with the gout, and broken with age and infirmities, he resolved to pass the remainder of his life there; and in November 1686, in his way thither, waited on king James, then at Windsor, and begged his favour and protection to one that would always live a good subject, but, whatever happened, never enter again upon any public employment; and desired his majesty never to give credit to whatever he might hear to the contrary. The king, who used to say sir William Temple's character was always to be believed, promised him what he desired, made him some reproaches for not coming into his service, which he said was his own fault, and kept his word as faithfully to sir William Temple, as he did to his majesty during the turn of affairs that soon after followed by the prince of Orange's coming over, which is said to have been so great a secret to him, that he was not only wholly unacquainted with it, but one of the last men in England that believed it.
At the time of this revolution in 1688, Moor Park growing unsafe by lying in the way of both armies, he went back to the house he had given up to his son at Sheen, whom he would not permit to go and meet the prince of Orange at his landing, as this might appear a breach of his engagement, never to join in any measure that seemed to divide the royal family. After king James's abdication, and the prince's arrival at Windsor, however, sir William Temple went to wait upon his highness, along with his son. On this occasion the prince pressed him to enter into his service, and to be secretary of state; said, it was in kindness to him that he had not been acquainted with his design; came to him two or three times at Sheen, and several of his friends made hint very uneasy, in urging how much the prince (who was his friend), his country, and his religion, must suffer by his obstinate refusal to engage in their defence; adding, that his conduct would give the world an unfavourable opinion of this great undertaking, and make them mistrust some bad design at the bottom, which a man of his truth and honour did not care to be concerned in. Sir William, however, continued unshaken in his resolutions, although very sensible of the trouble and uneasiness the prince and all his friends expressed; and was the more anxious to return to his retirement at Moor Park, about the end of 1689, that he might be less exposed to similar solicitations,
From that time he employed himself wholly, in the cares and amusements of a country life, and saw little company, but had the honour of being often consulted by king William in some of his secret and important affairs, and of a visit from him in his way from Winchester, and used to wait upon his majesty at Richmond and Windsor, where be was always very graciously received with that easiness and familiarity, and particular confidence, that had begun in Holland so many years before.
Sir William Temple died towards the end of 1700, in his seventy-second year, at Moor Park; where, according to express directions in his will, his heart was buried in a silver box, under the sun-dial in his garden. This sun-dial, we are told, was opposite to the window whence he used to contemplate and admire the works of nature with his sister, the ingenious lady Giffard; who, as she shared and eased the fatigues of his voyages and travels, during his public employments, was the chief delight and comfort of his retirement in old age, as he had the misfortune to lose his lady in 1694. As to his person, his stature was above the middle size: he was well-set and well-shaped; his hair chesnut brown, his face oval, his forehead large, a quick piercing eye, and a sedate and philosophical look. Those who have endeavoured to set sir William's character in the best light, have allowed him to have had some tincture of vanity and spleen. Bishop Bur-net has painted him most unfavourably, allowing him to possess a true judgment in all affairs, and very good principles with relation to government, but in nothing else. The bishop adds, that "he seemed to think, that things were as they are from all eternity; at least, he thought religion was fit only for the mob. He was a great admirer of the sect of Confucius in China, who were atheists themselves, but left religion to the rabble. He was a corrupter of all that came near him: and he delivered himself up wholly to study, ease, and pleasure." Burnet's dislike to sir William Temple seems, therefore, to have arisen from a very sufficient cause; from his holding and propagating irreligious principles; but this, others have not only doubted, but peremptorily denied, and have cited his beautiful letter to lady Essex, as a proof of his piety. Burnet, however, we perceive, allows him to have been a great statesman; and, in the very next words to those just cited, refers his reader for "an account of our affairs beyond sea, to his letters; in which," says Burnet, "they are very truly and fully set forth."
Sir William Temple was not only a very able statesman and negotiator, but also a polite and elegant writer. As many of his works have been published, at different times, as amount to two volumes in folio; which have also been printed more than once in octavo. His "Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands," were published in one volume, 8vo, in 1672. His "Miscellanea," consisting of ten tracts upon different subjects, were originally published in two volumes, 8vo. One of these tracts is upon ancient and modern learning; and what he advanced there, as it in some measure gave occasion to, so it involved him in, the controversy, which was soon utter agitated here in England, concerning the superiority of the ancients and the moderns. His "Memoirs" also, of what had passed in his public employments, especially those 'abroad, wake a very interesting part of his works. They were written in three parts; the first of which began with his journey to Munster, contained chiefly his negotiations of the triple alliance, and ended with his first retirement from public business, in 1671, a little before the second Dutch war. He began the second part with the approaches of the peace between England and Holland, in 1673, and concluded it with his being recalled from Holland in February 1678-9, after the conclusion of that of Nimeguen. The third part contains what passed from this peace to sir William's retirement. The second part of these "Memoirs" was published in his life-time, and, it is believed, with his consent; though it is pretended that they were written only for the use of his son, and sent into the world without his knowledge. The third part was published by Swift in 1709, many years after his death. The first part was never published at all; and Swift, in the preface to the third, tells us, that "Sir William often assured him he had burnt those Memoirs; and for that reason was content his letters during his embassies at the Hague and Aix-la-Chapelle (he might have added Munster) should be printed after his death, to supply that loss. What it was," continues Swift, "that moved sir William Temple to burn those first Memoirs, may, perhaps, be conjectured from some passages in the second part formerly printed. In one place the author has these words: 'My lord Arlington, who made so great a figure in the former part of these Memoirs, was now grown out of all credit,' &c. In other parts he tells us, 'That that lord was of the ministry which broke the triple-alliance, advised the Dutch war and French alliance; and, in short, was at the bottom of all those ruinous measures which the court of England was then taking; so that, as I have been told from a good hand, and as it seems very probable, he could not think that lord a person fit to be celebrated for his part in forwarding that famous league, while he was secretary of state, who had made such counterpaces to destroy it.'"
In 1693, sir William published an answer to a scurrilous pamphlet, entitled "A Letter from Mr. du Cros to the lord —." This Du Cros bore very impatiently the character which sir William had given him in the second part of his "Memoirs," and wrote the above letter to abuse him for it. In 1695, he published "An Introduction to the History of England:" in which some few mistakes have been discovered, as his speaking of William the Conqueror abolishing the trial of camp-fight, or duel, who, on the contrary, introduced it. Not long after his death, Dr. Swift, then domestic chaplain to the earl of Berkley, who lived many years as an amanuensis in sir William Temple's family, published two volumes of his "Letters," containing an account of the most important transactions that passed it Christendom, from 1667 to 1672; and, in 1703, a third volume, containing "Letters to king Charles II. the prince of Orange, the chief ministers of state, and other persons," in octavo. The editor informs us, that these papers were the last of this or any kind, about which he had received his particular commands; and that they were corrected by himself, and transcribed in his life-time. The whole of his works were handsomely reprinted in 4 vols. 8vo, in 1814.
Sir William Temple had one son, JOHN Temple, esq. a man of great abilities and accomplishments, and who, soon after the Revolution, was appointed secretary at war by king William; but he had scarce been a week in that office, when he drowned himself at London-bridge. This extraordinary affair happened the 14th of April, 1689, when Mr. Temple, having spent the whole morning at his office, took a boat about noon, as if he designed to go to Greenwich; when he had got a little way, he ordered the waterman to set him ashore, and then finishing some dispatches which he had forgot, proceeded. Before he threw himself out, he dropped in the boat a shilling for the waterman, and a note to this effect:
"My folly in undertaking what I was not able to perform, has done the king and kingdom a great deal of prejudice. I wish him all happiness, and abler servants than
It was thought, at first, that he meant by this, his incapacity for the secretaryship at war, which he had asked the king leave to resign the day before; but the fact was, that he had been melancholy for some months before, and the great prejudice to the king's affairs, mentioned in his note, could not be occasioned by mistakes committed in a place in which he had yet done little or nothing. Another cause of his melancholy is assigned, which carries more probability. General Richard Hamilton being upon suspicion confined in the Tower, Mr. Temple visited him sometimes upon the score of a former acquaintance: when discoursing upon the present juncture of affairs, and how to prevent the effusion of blood in Ireland, the general said, "That the best way was, to send thither a person in whom Tyrconnel could trust; and he did not doubt, if such a person gave him a true account of things in England, he would readily submit." Mr. Temple communicated this overture to the king, who approving of it, and looking upon general Hamilton to be the properest person for such a service, asked Mr. Temple whether he could be trusted? Temple readily engaged his word for him, and Hamilton was sent to Ireland; but, instead of discharging his commission and persuading Tyrconnel to submit, he encouraged him as much as possible to stand out, and offered him his assistance, which Tyrconnel gladly accepted. Mr. Temple contracted an extreme melancholy upon Hamilton's desertion; although the king assured him he was convinced of his innocence. Mr. Temple had married Mademoiselle Du Plessis Rambouillet, a French lady, who had by him two daughters, to whom sir William bequeathed the bulk of his estate; but with this express condition, that they should not marry Frenchmen: "a nation," says Boyer, "to whom sir William ever bore a general hatred, upon account of their imperiousness and arrogance to foreigners."
Hume's character of sir William Temple is accurate and comprehensive. "Of all the considerable writers of this age," says that historian, "Sir William Temple is almost the only one that kept himself altogether unpolluted by that inundation of vice and licentiousness which overwhelmed the nation. The style of this author, though extremely negligent, and even infected with foreign idioms, is agreeable and interesting. That mixture of vanity which appears in his works, is rather a recommendation to them. By means of it, we enter into acquaintance with the character of the author, full of honour and humanity; and fancy that we are engaged, not in the perusal of a book, but in conversation with a companion."