Anecdotes from Manuscripts
THE following extracts are taken from Dr. Birch’s memorandum books, preserved in the British Museum. I am sorry to observe the Doctor was an egregious trifler; for in several books I could only collect the few anecdotes here inserted. Those of Charles the First are curious; that of William the Third characterises this prince; and the other particulars relating to literary men may be acceptable.
“June 4, 1754. Archdeacon Donne told me at dinner, that when Dr. Samuel Clarke was urged to write against, Mr. A. Collins’s Grounds and Reasons, he excused himself from undertaking the task, as it was to little purpose to answer a writer upon particular points of religion, who, by denying human liberty, sapped the foundation of morality as well as religion.
“June 25, 1754. At dinner, Lord Macclesfield told us, that in a cause relating to the estate of Mr. Wycherley, the poet, before his lordship’s father, in Chancery, Sir Thomas Powis being council, having spoken of poets in a ludicrous way, and of their usual distemper, poverty, Mr. John Hughes standing in court said loud enough to be heard by Sir Thomas, ‘Though we poets have no honey, yet we have stings.’
“June 28, 1758. Dr. Ward gave the company an account of the rise of Mr. Ainsworth’s Latin Dictionary; that Mr. Nathan Bailey (the Dictionary-monger) having proposed to Mr. John Darby, the printer, a scheme of a Latin Dictionary, like that of Schrevelius’s Greek Lexicon, to be compiled chiefly out of the ancient authors read in schools, and Mr. Darby having mentioned it to Dr. Ward, the latter thought it capable of improvement, but that Mr. Bailey would not be equal to the task, and therefore recommended Mr. Ainsworth, who was engaged in it.
“August 13, 1757. After dinner, at the Master of the Rolls at Hampstead, Mr. Solicitor General told us, that his father, the Earl of Hardwicke, had read the manuscript memoirs of Edward Earl of Manchester, who was Lord Kimbolton in the beginning of the disputes between Charles the First and the Long Parliament; and that in these memoirs were mentioned the two following remarkable facts: ‘That upon the impeachment of the Earl of Strafford, the King came into the House of Lords, and desired that the articles against him might be read, which the Lord Keeper ordered to be done, while many lords cried out Priviledge! Priviledge! and that when the King was departed, the House ordered that no entry should be made of the King’s demand of hearing the articles read, or of the Keeper’s compliance with it.’
“The other fact was, ‘That the King offered Lord Strafford, that he would come to the Tower with a large train, and give him an opportunity of escaping, but that his lordship refused this offer. King Charles describes his favourite in these words, in the Eikon Basilike.’ ‘I looked upon my Lord of Strafford as a gentleman, whose abilities might make a prince rather afraid, than ashamed, in the greatest affairs of state.’
“June 14, 1754. Lord Viscount Royston told me, at dinner, the following story, as related by Sir George Clarke; that when King William came to his tent, wounded in his shoulder by a cannon ball, the day before the battle of the Boyne, he said with some satisfaction, ‘Now I shall not be expected to wear armour to-morrow.’
“The growth of irreligion was complained of, even in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, as may be seen in a paper of Secretary Cecil about the year 1569.
“August 17, 1749. Mr. George Faulkner, of Dublin, told me, that Dr. Swift had long conceived a mean opinion of Mr. Pope, on account of his jealous, peevish, avaricious temper.—The Doctor gave Mr. Pope the property of his Gulliver, which he sold the copy of for three hundred pounds, and gave up to him, in 1727, his share of the copy of the three volumes of their Miscellanies, which came to one hundred and fifty pounds.—The Doctor was angry with Mr. Pope for his satire upon Mr. Addison, whom the former esteemed as an honest, generous, and friendly man.—Worsdale the painter was employed by Mr. Pope to go to Curl in the habit of a clergyman, and sell him the printed copies of his letters. Mr. Pope sent to Ireland to Dr. Swift, by Mr. Gerard, an Irish gentleman then at Bath, a printed copy of their letters, with an anonymous letter, which occasioned Dr. Swift to give Mr. Faulkner leave to reprint them at Dublin, though Mr. Pope’s edition was published first”