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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VIII. Historical and Political Writers

§ 11. Idea of a Patriot King

In 1738, by which time Bolingbroke had recognised the futility of hoping for a personal return to power—whatever means he might employ for the attainment of this object—he composed what (with the exception of two smaller pieces) was the last, as it was one of the most notable, of his contributions to political literature—The Idea of a Patriot King. It was not published till 1749, when the public situation had greatly changed, when Pelham was at the head of the government, and Lyttelton, to whom, as private secretary of Frederick prince of Wales, this treatise and the Spirit of Patriotism had been addressed, was not in opposition, but in office. But it seemed entirely opportune to the public which read and admired it, and it continued to be a sort of symbolic book to the party which set its hopes on Frederick prince of Wales, and, after his death in 1751, with perhaps more show of reason, on his son, afterwards king George III. That monarch himself has been justly described as having “derived the articles of his political creed” from Bolingbroke’s treatise, which supplied the materials for the political programme of “the King’s Friends.” Thus, it was not wonderful that The Patriot King should continue to be read with an interest never aroused by its predecessor. Nor does the splendour of its eloquence show any falling off from that exemplar. The patriot king, who begins to govern so soon as he begins to reign, and his ministers, selected by him at once as men sure to serve on the same principles as those on which he is prepared to govern—what blessings may not be reckoned upon to flow from these miraculous assumptions!

Of course, the argument has its ironical side or aspect, and, viewed as a satire upon the non-patriot king, and his nonpatriotic followers, the essay retained its force so long as it was worth finding fault with George II and the epigoni of Walpole. But the historical comment upon the positive value of Bolingbroke’s sovereign cure was furnished, not so much by the career of Frederick prince of Wales (of which there is “no more to be said”), as by the history of the earlier years of the reign of George III and of the part played by his “Friends” in English constitutional life. The idea of The Patriot King was a fabric of sand, and became a heritage of the winds.