30 DECEMBER 1882, Page 20


now becoming tolerably evident under what conditions and by what processes we shall obtain that satisfactory " History of the Reign of Queen Anne," which everybody admits to be a great desideratum, and of which death is believed to have robbed us when it carried off Macaulay and Thackeray in succession, and for which the works of Lord Stanhope, Mr. Wyon, and Dr. Hill Burton are certainly but the pioneers. We shall probably have, in the first place, a number of exhaustive biographies of the men who between them gave the reign its reputation, and even its character. There has been for some years a quiet " revival " of Bolingbroke, because we all run, at least for phrases, to Burke ; and there is a wide-spread suspicion, which has possibly some slight foundation in fact, that Burke derived his early style from Bolingbroke, if not a little more. That being the case, some one may be expected to do for Boling- broke what Mr. Forster and Mr. Craik have done for Swift, what has, in a variety of. ways, been lately done for Pope—so far as his works and his relations to other men of the Anne epoch are concerned—or at least what Coxe and Alison have -done for Marlborough. We shall not be content for over to believe that Godolphin and Harley were simply dull men who • Social Life in the Reite, of Queen Anne. By John Ashton, 2 vols. London 'Diktat° and Windup'. 1883. were devoted to coarse pleasures, and were thought to be wise simply because they were reticent. We shall not be con- tent for ever with desultory " studies " in the Anne litera- ture, but we shall expect ere long a coherent account and full view of it, and its relations to the time, and to all time. Then some one with Mr. Green's tastes and his eye to the future will endeavour to ascertain what the true "people of England " were about while Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Morley were tearing each other's hair, and Sacharissa and Chloe, the exquisites and the Mohocks, the literati and the politicians, were making their usual din on the summit of the social mountain, thinking—or if thinking, reeking—but little of the recording angel at elbow,—the mild philosopher, made of somewhat "bibulous clay," from Oxford, or the half-mad but terribly sober parson from Ireland. Finally, there will arrive on the scene some historian of the calibre and equipment of Mr. Freeman, but without his passion, as capable of bringing order out of a chaos of materials collected from all quarters, as willing to give up to a period what might have been given, but not so wisely, to the history of a nation or of a century. Then the long-looked for history of the reign of Queen Anne will make its appearance. But not till then, unless the unexpected come to pass, and individual genius in history, as in poetry, anticipate the process of the suns by half a century.

Mr. Ashton's Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne is one of the pioneers of this history of the future. The writer of it does not claim too much for himself or for his researches, even although he seems somewhat forgetful of investigators of the excellent type of Dr. Doran, when he tells us that "from the time of Dean Swift downwards to our own day many political histories of the reign of Queen Anne have been written ; but its social life we have been left to gather mainly from the efforts- of novelists, who have been more or less conscientious, according to their knowledge, in placing it before us." He has made no discoveries, such as that of special documents, or of letters hitherto unknown, from the more heroic, or, at least, histrionic, of the figures which have obtained for this period the name of Augustan. He has gone to the old sources of information,—the newspapers and the advertisements and the manuscripts, the Spectator and the Tatler and the Guardian, the " social " passages in the works of Defoe and Gay, Swift and Brown. The least familiar of his authorities are the French Misson and the English Ward. But Mr. Ashton has undoubtedly read carefully all that has come under his notice ; he has investigated for himself the mystery of the real Queen-Anne houses, which are very different indeed from their present-day imitations ; above all, he has taken care to reproduce the illustrations he gives of social foibles and fashions from the original prints, in spite of "all their uncouthness and reality." There is no philosophic depth in • these two considerable volumes ; but on the other hand, there is no egotism or pretence. As a picture, the work suggests con- scientiousness alike in the delineation of the leading figures and features and in the labour that is bestowed on minor details. There are singularly few errors in the numerous statements of fact with which the book abounds. Those that strike the reader's eye, like the assigning of the appearance of Robinson, Crusoe to 1772, are both so trifling and so obvious as hardly to be worth mentioning. Altogether, this is by far the best, the highest, and the most promising literary work that Mr. Ashton has yet given us.

What makes Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne especially readable is the excellence of the plan on which it is arranged,— although, by the way, we must consider it a great oversight on Mr. Ashton's part not to have provided his readers with an index. We are first introduced to the child born in the reign of Queen Anne. The mysteries of the nursery are revealed, to be followed by those of education, of business, of marriage, of daily life, of death. Coffee-houses, clubs, sports, the drama, spas, duelling, " the Mohocks," naturally come in for a great share of the attention of an author dealing with a period much more addicted to pleasure and much less addicted to work than our own, and perhaps on that very account much more distinguished by violence and roughness of all kinds. Such titles as Literature," " The Streets," "Religions," "The River," " Crime," and" Prisons," speak for themselves. Mr. Ash- ton's chapter on " Painters and Architects " is one of the least satisfactory in his two volumes. It is sketchy, and the anecdotes and smart sayings he reproduces are painfully familiar. Nor has Mr. Ashton gone to the root of the matter in his chapter on " Religions." He has contented himself with accepting all that the satirists of the period had to say about the "deadness " of the Church of England. Satirists in a metropolis always find in the clergy a butt for their peculiar weapons, for they neces- sarily see the worst—the most cynically selfish—side of clerical, as of all other life. It would be quite as absurd to take Thackeray's Charles Honeyman as a typical Angli- can clergyman of our time, as it would be to take his Sir Barnes Newsome as a typical banker. Happily, in our time there have been a George Eliot and an Anthony Trollope, not to mention one other eminent and gifted living adthoress with as accurate knowledge as even they of the religious side of social life, to represent clergy actually at work. Certainly, no one will venture to say, after reading their representations, that the Georgian and Victorian clergy have not been a moral and social power in the country. But in the reign of Queen Anne there was no such corrective to Addison's playful and Swift's biting sarcasm. And so, because Addison, who knew the town, but did not thoroughly know the country, represents Sir Roger as dragooning all his tenants to church, Mr. Ashton must needs indulge in such writing as this :—" There were priests in the livings then as now, and they duly baptised, married, preached, and buried their Hock ; but there was little vitality in their ministrations, little or no zeal or earnestness as to the spiritual state of those committed to their charge, and very little of practical teaching, in the way of setting before them a higher social standard for them to imitate. The Church services had no life in them ; with the exception of the cathedrals [sic] the services were read, and the soul-depressing parson-and.clerk duet had its usual effect of deadening the religious sensibilities of the so-called worshippers." Mr. Ashton's failure to grasp the meaning of what we may, for want of a better phrase, style " the religious situation" in England during the period of which he writes, is further evidenced by such a remark as this :— " Although Atheists were professed to be looked upon then, as they are now, as moral lepers, yet still there they were." Atheism in the reign of Queen Anne was a very different thing from Atheism now-a-days, and was regarded in a very different way; but "moral leprosy" was not, and is not, an adequate expression of the ordinary feeling in society towards it. In the earlier period, Freethinking was a French affectation, and supposed to be a mark of a fine gentleman, like a clouded cane or a reputation for gallantry ; and it was generally under- stood to be such, and nothing more. Now, it is earnest even to fanaticism. But equally earnest believers do not regard it as a " moral leprosy ;" their attitude was, indeed, never better expressed than by Mr. Gladstone, in the course of one of the Bradlaugh debates, when he described disbelief in the existence of a Deity as a deplorable misfortune.

Few, if any, readers of these volumes will wish they had lived in the London of Queen Anne, rather than in that of Queen Victoria. It had three thousand coffee-houses, three fairish libraries, Sion College, Westminster, and Teal- son's ; and three sights for strangers, the lions in the Tower, Don Saltero's Museum in Cheyne Walk, and Bedlam. Then the stranger could get a house in the suburbs for £10 a year ; but if he were detained late in town by the opera or the acting of Mrs. Braeegirdle or of Estconrt, how was he to venture home P If he were not assaulted by the Mohocks or the Hawkubites, he was tolerably certain to be deluged by a tor- rent of water from a gutter-spout, or to be prostrated by some huge sign-board, thrown down by a gust of wind. There were, indeed, pleasures for the frivolous or the active,—the smiles of the fair," the walk in the Mall, the gossip over the news- letter, the pleasant company at Button's. But the further the Queen-Anne period recedes, the more superficial seem its delights, the less earnest and real its labours. What if, when the "final" history of it comes to be written, the readers of that work pronounce it to be fiat, stale, and unprofitable, in spite of its merits, or rather because of them I'