The Mind and Art of Jonathan Swift

By Ricardo Quintana | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
MOOR PARK AND SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE

I

CONCERNING Sir William Temple neither contemporary nor later estimates agree very closely. To his future brother- in-law he was one who considered neither religion nor honour but 'would take any engagement, serve in any employment, or do anything to advance himself.' Bishop Burnet hated him: an epicurean in principle and practice, who corrupted all who came near him. Macaulay found the key to his character to be a mean caution. Recently he has been described as a pompous gentleman who, failing at the political game, sought in retirement to restore his shattered ego. Born in 1628, he had been drawn into diplomatic affairs in 1665, when King Charles and Lord Arlington, then secretary of state, had sent him to the continent to negotiate a treaty with the bishop of Munster. Temple acquitted himself well, was created a baronet, and appointed resident at the vice-regal court at Brussels. In 1668 he achieved lasting fame for his display of diplomatic skill during the negotiations which led up to the Triple Alliance. Afterwards he proceeded to The Hague as English ambassador, but his career as a statesman, begun so brilliantly, went to pieces on the rocks of Stuart intrigue. The Triple Alliance fell before Charles's secret Treaty of Dover. Temple was recalled, and war broke out between England and the States General. In 1674, the war at an end, he again accepted the embassy at The Hague, where he and Lady Temple were received graciously by the prince of Orange, whose marriage in 1677 to Princess Mary was forwarded by Temple's offices. But despite his commanding position and the general confidence which he enjoyed both at home and on the continent, his powers for good were limited -- how severely Temple knew only too well -- by the sordid interests of the king and his councillors. In 1677 Charles summoned him home to London and urged on him

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