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Alexander Pope

Of Scoundrels

Of Patriots, Kings & Scoundrels - Part 3
by | Monday, 31st May 2010
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king, Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring, Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, But leech-like to their fainting country cling, Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow, A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field, An army, which liberticide and prey Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay; Religion Christless, Godless a book sealed; A Senate, Time's worst statute unrepealed, Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day. - Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sonnet: England in 1819

In the previous two parts of this series, we related how it came to pass that the machinations of the Anglo-Dutch-Venetian financial powers, working through their agents in the opposing Whig and Tory political parties, succeeded in effecting a political coup d’etat against the efforts of Lord Bolingbroke and his faction to influence the foreign policy of our newly created nation towards the common good of the continent of Europe. This strategic defeat was to have catastrophic consequences for world history.

But to better situate our final part on the legacy of Henry St John, we shall first leap forward to 1822, to examine these events retrospectively, through the eyes of perhaps our greatest national poet and political agitator, Percy Bysse Shelley. In a grim realisation of how little things had moved forward for most of the century following the passing of Lord Bolingbroke, Shelley was to write the following as part of a pamphlet intended to be his first foray into mass political organising in England, his prior efforts having been confined to Ireland:

Right government being an institution for the purpose of securing such a moderate degree of happiness to men as has been experimentally practicable, the sure character of misgovernment is misery, and, first, discontent, and, if that be despised, then insurrection, as the legitimate expression of that misery.  The public right to demand happiness is a principle of nature...Laws and assemblies and courts of justice and delegated powers placed in balance and in opposition are the means and the form, but public happiness is the substance and the end of political institutions.

The pamphlet itself, called simply "Reform", while devoting several pages at the outset to an appreciation of the American political system, focuses primarily on the economic and political crisis in Britain at that time. What is germane to our story however is Shelley’s adoption of a historical perspective which is palpably analogous to that of Lord Bolingbroke, who, as we have already seen, paid a heavy price for questioning the legitimacy of those economic and political institutions which had their genesis in the 1688 accession of William of Orange in the "Glorious Revolution". This was no co-incidence, since in the introduction to this politically explosive pamphlet, Shelley had identified himself quite explicitly as the latest in a long line of British and French political reformers throughout history, the first two of which, noted for the sake of posterity, were none other than Swift and Bolingbroke. Interestingly, for reasons that will soon become apparent, the famous political philosopher Alexander Pope, despite his close collaboration with these two men, was not to be found among the list. Tragically for his country however, Shelley never succeeded in publishing the pamphlet, on account of his untimely death by drowning, in what some consider suspicious circumstances, during his return from Italy that very same year.

A Scoundrel Emerges

So what could possibly have been the basis for the exclusion of Alexander Pope as an influence of Shelley's aborted efforts at political reform in Great Britain? To answer that question, we must return to 1744, the year of Pope’s death, and the unleashing of an explosive chain of events which remains a controversial topic in literary circles to the present day. Bolingbroke, as Pope’s friend and collaborator in the Scriblerus Club, had attended his death watch in person. Following this, our Lord finds among Pope’s papers some 1500 copies of his own unpublished work "The Idea of a Patriot King" which had been "revised". Outraged at this inexplicable treachery, Bolingbroke writes to all known associates of Pope requesting the surrender of any such unauthorised copies in their possession, so that he may deny authorship and destroy them. The original version, written for Prince Frederick, had been widely circulated at court, whereas Pope's version had been circulated primarily in literary circles.

Alexander PopeIn July of the following year, Bolingbroke writes to his editor David Mallet, after Pope's mentor Warburton had complained about his "abuse" of Pope:

They say that Warburton talks very indecently of your humble servant, and threatens him with the terrible things he shall throw out in a Life he is writing of our poor deceased friend Pope.  I value neither the good nor the ill-will of this man; but if he has any regard for the man he flattered living and thinks himself obliged to flatter dead, {he ought to let a certain proceeding die away in silence,} as I endeavour it should.

Death Alone Cannot Silence Him

But even as this unseemly literary war of words continued to escalate, Lord Bolingbroke, the great patriot, statesman and thinker, passed away, in 1751. Within a year of his death, an even deeper treachery is committed by Mallet, who appropriates materials of a philosophical and religious nature, supposedly written by Bolingbroke. These essays are presented either as a series of letters to Pope, or as tracts dedicated to Pope as being the "inspiration."

Meanwhile in France, the networks of Voltaire also produce similar philosophical essays, apparently in co-ordination. It should therefore come as no great surprise that these essays are virulently anti-Leibnizian, while at the same time extolling every rank empiricist of Britain or France. Anyone even vaguely familiar with Bolingbroke's political tracts, pamphlets, open letters, and newspaper articles, which he published over a period of five decades, should be able to easily spot the obvious divergence in style and outlook of those works, in comparison with these highly dubious ones. Yet even as late as 1836, one utterly confused biographer complains:

How shall we account for the conduct which afterwards enrolled Bolingbroke among...these objects of his detestation [freethinkers and materialists]?  Shall we attribute it to the doting fondness of old age, or the accidental omission to perform a virtuous resolve?

Meanwhile, during the 1750s, following the aforementioned publication of the "posthumous" works of Lord Bolingbroke, Warburton had become famous by his meticulous refutations of the curiously materialistic and atheistic ideology contained in those works. In doing so, Warburton had established himself as the leading theologian, if not metaphysician, of England. But, as we have just shown, the travesty was that the works in question, having been posthumously attributed to Bolingbroke, were, in fact, forgeries, composed by none other than Alexander Pope, under the tutelage of Warburton himself. But not everyone was fooled by these nefarious antics. In their 1754 pamphlet "Pope: A Metaphysician!", Gotthold Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn quote Warburton in the following contradiction:

Pope is entirely not a follower of Herr von Leibniz, but rather of Plato, when he claims that God has, of all possible worlds, really allowed the best to be...Pope has taken the Platonic teaching within its appropriate limit, while Leibniz has stretched it in a powerful way.

The Price Of Truth

And thus the scandal raged on, igniting debate between the pro and anti-Bolingbroke circles for more than a century after the events themselves, until 1862, when an honest researcher finally presents the evidence of the treachery of Pope (and implicitly Warburton) by his rewriting all sorts correspondence, to and from a variety of individuals. Whitwell Elwin had been the editor of "The Quarterly Review;" but was fired when it was discovered that he intended to publish an edition of Pope's collected works, with an introduction exposing his many frauds.  The following is taken from his "Memoir" of Pope, in the introduction to the first volume of Pope's letters: 

The scrutiny to which the lives of celebrated men are subjected is one of the severest penalties they pay for fame. Their private weaknesses have often been exposed with wanton cruelty; but the delinquencies of Pope are public acts by which he himself has challenged inquiry.  He endeavoured to pass off a sophisticated correspondence for genuine, and the interests of truth demand that the deception should be exposed.  He laboured to throw his own misdoings upon innocent men and justice requires that his victims should be absolved, and the discredit, augmented beyond measure by the perfidy and deceit, be laid where it is due.  He was the bitter satirist of individuals out of an assumed indignation at everything base, and his claim to adopt this lofty strain, his sincerity in it, and his fairness are all involved in his personal dealings...  I have endeavoured to investigate the facts with impartiality, and narrate them with fidelity, and if I have anywhere failed, it is from unconscious, not wilful error; but having once been satisfied of the guilt of Pope, I do not pretend to think that genius is an extenuation of rascality.

Universal History

So what was it that was so controversial in Bolingbroke's "The Idea of a Patriot King", to provoke such intense hostility within the ranks of the "Venetian Party"? Why they would feel compelled to go to such extraordinary lengths to infiltrate and subvert the literary society which he had founded in alliance with Swift, and having accomplished these ends via the convoluted machinations of Warburton and Pope, to go on from there to engage in an egregious posthumous literary fraud and character assassination?

Well, if we compare the central concepts that Shelley, by channelling Bolingbroke, had articulated about the mission of government in his unpublished pamphlet “Reform”, with those for example of Leibniz’s “Discourse on Metaphysics”, we begin to expose the true nature of the epistemological issues underlying the war that raged within our political system in their wake. For in this treatise, Leibniz had confidently stated that:

God is the monarch of the most perfect republic composed of all the spirits, and the happiness of this city of God is his principal purpose.

We will not delve into the prima facie evidence of the influence that Leibniz, working through known intermediaries, may have exerted on Lord Bolingbroke, but to the extent that his own works exhibit clearly identifiable Leibnizian philosophical foundations, Bolingbroke’s influence would instantly have been recognized by the Venetian Party in London as an existential threat to their own utterly bestial political philosophy, based as it was on entirely contrary axioms. For it requires no great leap of the imagination to state that a true Patriot King, steeped in such conceptions of right government, would not long tolerate the existence of a regime of such endemic corruption and evil of the sort that was subsequently established under the Walpole administration.

And what would this have meant in respect of the trajectory of scientific and intellectual development of our national culture? Would such a King have stood by and watched his Royal Society be taken over by the rank dogmatic empiricism of Isaac Newton and his collaborators? In truth, no Empire such as that which soon came to dominate Great Britain, and infects our civilization now more than ever, could persist without first subduing and controlling the minds of men. Thus, just as the political classes fought their very bitter public battles for control of the affairs of state, these skirmishes had their echoes amongst the more rarified correspondence of the scientific layers of the European elite. Nowhere is this vital dimension of our tragedy more apparent than in the famous Leibniz-Clarke letters, which reveal for all posterity the irreconcilable philosophical and scientific chasm between these two factions, and hence the broader consequences of the defeat of Leibniz in his attempt at shaping the culture and policies of our nation during the reign of Queen Anne and the rise of the Hanoverian dynasty.

Conclusion: Our Future, A Warning ...

Let not what is past be forgotten, for history is a living thing, and we must let it breathe the poisoned air of our present calamities if we are to strike a blow for freedom that would make our most honoured forebears, and our adopted patron Lord Bolingbroke in particular, proud to call us their ancestors. We, here today, call them forth with the hue and cry:

Awake, arise, ye shades of ancient titans! Inspire us once again with your words and deeds, for we have not forgotten you!

And so, beware you traitors and modern day scoundrels from the lowest bowels of party trough to the highest towers of cold, impervious stone: the patience of our trampled, confounded, abused and battered people grows thin, and this ancient, proud nation weary of the lies and deceit that have led us here, to this, our very own "tempestuous day". You may well be the heirs of our ancient nemeses, but have you so blithely forgotten that at Agincourt, Waterloo, Dunkirk, and countless other fields of battle, our people have faced greater dangers, and mightier foes than you, and we have always prevailed against all the odds?

For was it not a certain rebellious Englishman himself, who, when confronted with the overpowering naval forces of his own tyrannical government said, “I have not yet begun to fight!”? And did not Leibniz himself ultimately have the last laugh, when a few years before this great military confrontation, Benjamin Franklin sat down with Thomas Jefferson to add the phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” to the American Declaration of Independence?

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