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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.

IX. Memoir-Writers, 1715–60

§ 8. His Memoirs and their Character

Apart from the queen and her daughter, Hervey’s portraits are all, without exception, of the Spagnoletto school; he systematically blackens. How far his tendency to detraction may have been the result of his epilepsy, of his vegetarian diet, of his habitual cast of thought, or of his literary predilections, it would be impossible to determine. His narrative was never meant to be scrutinised by contemporaries; its confirmation, in many respects, by Horace Walpole’s Memoirs must be regarded as somewhat ambiguous evidence of accuracy, since it has never yet been tested minutely by any modern critic. The elaborate structure of the periods reveals Hervey as a careful student of the Latin historians of the empire. It must be remembered that he occasionally composed Latin epitaphs and letters. He was a useful patron to Conyers Middleton, who showed his gratitude by dedicating to Hervey his famous Life of Cicero. The panegyric earned for its victim the gibe, containing an unkind allusion to Hervey’s cadaverous complexion:

  • Narcissus, praised with all a parson’s power,
  • Look’d a white lily sunk beneath a shower.
  • To whatever cause we may attribute the fact, there can be little doubt that Hervey was a virtuoso in defamatory epithets and studied forms of detraction. Akin to Horace Walpole in rancour, the note-taking Hervey, warmed in the bosom of the court, stung the king and nearly all around him to the full extent of his powers.
  • “A court,” says Lord Rosebery, “is considered fair game by such reptiles. But it is hard to see why princes who after all are human beings should not be allowed to some extent the same sanctity of family life which humbler human beings claim and maintain. Hervey was the intimate associate of the King, the confidential friend of the Queen, the lover of one of their daughters, he was the tame cat of the family circle. He thought it seemly to narrate their secrets in so brutal a fashion that some more decent members of his family tore out and destroyed the coarsest and bitterest passages. What remains is coarse and bitter enough. It shews the King and Queen in a most unfavourable light. But that aspect is fascinating, compared to that in which he presents himself.”
  • Lord Rosebery justly concludes that it is most unwise to attribute literal exactitude or even general veracity to such broken confidences and chronicles, too amusing to be likely to be strictly true, as those of Lord Hervey and his fellow cynic, the “inimitable” Horace.