A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Bolingbroke, Henry St. John, 1st Viscount

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A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John William Cousin
Bolingbroke, Henry St. John, 1st Viscount

Bolingbroke, Henry St. John, 1st Viscount (1678-1751). — Statesman and philosopher, s. of Sir Henry St. J., b. at Battersea, and ed. at Eton and perhaps Oxf., was during his youth noted chiefly for dissipation, but entering Parliament in 1701 as a supporter of Harley, soon made himself a name by his eloquence and talent. He held office as War and Foreign Sec. successively, became a peer in 1712, intrigued successfully against Harley, and formed an administration during the last days of Queen Anne, with the intention of bringing back the Stuarts, which was frustrated by the Queen's death. On the arrival of George I. and the accession to power of the Whigs, B. was impeached, and his name erased from the Roll of Peers. He went to France, and became Sec. of State to the Pretender James, who, however, dismissed him in 1716, after which he devoted himself to philosophy and literature. In 1723 he was pardoned and returned to England, and an act was passed in 1725 restoring his forfeited estates, but still excluding him from the House of Lords. He thereupon retired to his house, Dawley, near Uxbridge, where he enjoyed the society of Swift and Pope, on the latter of whom he exerted a strong influence. After some ineffectual efforts to regain a position in political life, he returned to France in 1735, where he remained for 7 years, and wrote most of his chief works.

B. was a man of brilliant and versatile talents, but selfish, insincere, and intriguing, defects of character which led to his political ruin. His writings, once so much admired, reflect his character in their glittering artificiality, and his pretensions to the reputation of a philosopher have long been exploded; the chief of them are Reflections upon Exile, Letters on the Study of History (in which he attacked Christianity), Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, and Idea of a Patriot King. He left his MSS. to David Mallet (q.v.), who pub. a complete ed. of his works in 5 vols. (1753-54).