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DUCHESS OF MARLBOROUGH.
Character of Lord Peterborough-Of Lord MontagueMarriage of the Lady Mary Churchill with Lord Monthermer-Character and success of her husband—The violence of party spirit at this era- - Conduct of the Duchess in politics-Her dislike to Lord Rochester-His character Preferment of Harley to the secretaryship—Views originally entertained by Marlborough and Lord GodolphinAnecdote of Lord Wharton at Bath-A proof of political
AMONGST those friends who hastened to pour forth their condolences to the Duchess of Marlborough on the loss of her son, the celebrated
Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, was one of the first, and amongst the most eager to testify his concern. This nobleman, whose enmity towards Marlborough became afterwards conspicuous, was at this time one of the numerous votaries of the arrogant Duchess. Lord Peterborough’s extravagances gave a meteor-like celebrity to his general character. Among many of the celebrated individuals who illumined the age, he would, nevertheless, have been eminent, even had his course been less peculiar, and his deportment like that of ordinary men.
The eventful public life of this nobleman began in the reign of Charles the Second ; at the early age of eighteen, he had distinguished himself in the cause of patriotism by attending Algernon Sidney to the scaffold, an act of kindness and of courage, which was the commencement of his singular career. “ He lived,” says Horace Walpole, “a romance, and was capable of making it a history.” | At this period of his life, nature and fortune alike combined to favour the brilliancy of that career, which, in its eccentricities, and in the rapid succession of events by which it was marked, had not a parallel in the times of which we treat. Lord Peterborough owed much to circumstances. Of high ancestry, an earl by birth, and afterwards by creation, being the first Earl of Monmouth, he graced his favoured station by the charm of his manners, by his varied accomplishments, and by the union of a daring courage with the highest cultivation of the intellectual powers. . Celebrated for the wit which he delighted to display, his enterprising character was enhanced in the estimation of all who admired valour, by those personal advantages which the imagination is disposed to combine with heroism and with eloquence. In both, he exceeded most other men of his time. Without being worthy of challenging a comparison with Marlborough, he dazzled, he interested, he astonished the world. He man," as Pope truly describes him, “ resolved neither to live nor to die like other men." * In those days, when a constellation of bright stars threw a lustre over the annals of our country, Lord Peterborough shone conspicuous, even whilst Marlborough lived to pursue successive triumphs.
* Royal and Noble Authors, art. Peterborough.
The varied scenes through which Lord Peterborough passed, contributed to form “the strange compound” which so much amused society. He began his warlike exploits in the naval service; and even whilst he cultivated the Muses,“ appeared
* Pope's Letters to Swift, p. 76.
emulous to mix only with the rough and then untutored tars of ocean." * Disgusted with a maritime life, he became a land officer; yet alternately assisted in the council, or dazzled the senate with his oratory. His brilliant exploits in Spain were the result of consummate skill, aided by a romantic daring, which converted even the gallantries into which the profligacy of the age and his own laxity of principle betrayed him, into sources of assistance to his designs. It has been said that he employed the illusions of perspective, which he well understood, to impose on the enemy with respect to the number of troops under his command. Whatever were bis arts, the results of his wonderful energy and bravery were so effective as very nearly to transfer the crown of Spain from the Bourbon to the Austrian family.
The abilities of this nobleman as a negociator were equally remarkable; nor was the celerity of his movements a circumstance to be overlooked, in times when such exertions as those which Peterborough made to compass sea and land, appeared almost miraculous. Ever on the wing, he excelled even Lord Sunderland in the rapidity of his migrations, and is said “ to have seen more kings and postilions than any man in Europe.”
* Noble, vol. ii. p. 43.
So singular a course could not be maintained, nor such unparalleled dexterity acquired, without the strong, impelling power of vanity. Lord Peterborough, with all his attainments, after long experience, with some admirable qualities of the heart, was the slave of that pervading impulse, the love of admiration. The friend of Pope and Swift, the associate of Marlborough, delighted to declaim in a coffee-house, and to be the centre of any admiring circle, no matter whom or what. The vanity of Peterborough is, however, matter of little surprise: it was the besetting sin of those wild yet gifted companions of the days of his early youth, Rochester, Sedley, Buckingham, and Wharton, who competed to attain the highest pitch of profligacy, characterised by the most extravagant degree of absurdity and reckless eccentricity. To be pre-eminent in demoralisation was not, in such times, a matter of easy attainment; therefore it became necessary for the aspirant for that species of fame to garnish deeds of guilt which might be deemed commonplace, with such accompaniments of fancy as men utterly lost to shame, without a sense of decency, without time for remorse, without fear of hell, or belief in heaven, could, in the depths of their infamy, contrive and devise.
Lord Peterborough and Lord Wharton, dis