Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by G. S. Street
John, Lord Hervey (16961743)
[John Hervey was the eldest son of the first Earl of Bristol (of this family) and his second wife, Elizabeth Felton, and was born on the 15th of October, 1696. By the death of his half-brother Carr, he succeeded to the courtesy title of Baron Hervey of Ickworth in 1723. He was educated at Westminster and Clare Hall, Cambridge, taking his M.A. degree in 1715. He was returned to the House of Commons in 1725, and in 1733 was called to the House of Lords by the Barony of Ickworth. He was a partizan and a prominent member of the Court of George II., when the latter was Prince of Wales, and was of course in opposition to Walpole; on the death of George I., and the reconciliation of that minister to George II. he became the adherent of Walpole, and was given the office of Vice-Chamberlain. From this time to the death of Queen Caroline he occupied the position of continual adviser and friend of the Queen, and of intermediary between her and the minister, and attained to an indirect influence in the government of the country of very considerable extent, enforcing his views in Parliament with cogency and effect. She died in 1737, and his influence, combated by his old enemy the Duke of Newcastle, rapidly waned, shone for a while in opposition, when Walpole had resigned, and was extinguished on the 5th of August 1743, when his thoroughly undermined constitution gave way, and he died in the forty-seventh year of his age. He was the author of a number of political pamphlets, and of verses chiefly political and satirical, and his Memoirs are amongst the principal authorities for the early years of George II. Three incidents of his career may be added to a summary, his marriage with the beautiful Molly Lepell, famous in ballad, his duel with Pulteney, and his quarrel with Pope. His Memoirs have no pretence to impartiality; they are minutely scandalous and the only edition of them (that of John Wilson Croker, published in 1848 and republished in 1884), is an expurgated one.]
LORD HERVEYS prose is the prose of an intellectual man of affairs, whose first concern was to make his points effectively, whose second was to express himself as an educated man and a scholar. He had good living models of recent date to his hand. But though an extremely careful, and a tolerably pure writer (in a linguistic sense), he is mostly ineffective, for he lacked a sense of rhythm and he lacked restraint. Lady Mary Wortley, his constant and intimate friend, divided the human race into men, women, and Herveys, and no worthy critic could deny him individuality, wit, a mordant sort of humour, and a delicate intuition into character. His matter is therefore attractive and interesting, and to elaborate a foregoing remark to perfect accuracy, one must say he is intellectually effective, æsthetically not so. His sentences are nearly always long, and not seldom cumbrous; he is diffuse and tautologous. In Popes Epistle to Arbuthnot, which contains a venomous attack on Hervey, under the infamous name of Sporus, amid much abominable exaggeration, there is a sentenceHis wit all see-saw between that and thiswhich, if we modify the all, is excellent criticism. Antitheses in Hervey are innumerable and tedious. He likes to contrast two characters and to say while A. was this B. was that, ad infinitum, or to say of such an one that he was this without that, so-and-so without such and such a quality, and so forth. One may fancy he took the trick from Tacitus, whom he evidently knew well and frequently quotes. He is at his best as a writer when he has to describe some dramatic scene; he can then be terse and vivid, but only to lapse after a few good sentences into his customary mode. His place in a descriptive history of English prose is due to the fact that his writing represents what the English of his time was in the hands of a cultivated man, undistinguished as a master of writing.