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Politics without Party: the Marquis of Halifax's Dream

David Mitchell introduces a seventeenth-century politician who hoped to see the art of government reduced to an exact science, free from “the noise and dirt of party strife.”

When, after nearly twenty years of shifting and scrounging, false hopes and cheap pleasures, Charles II landed at Dover in 1660, he had to accept the gift of a Bible from the Mayor, and protested that it was the thing he loved above all things in the world.

He had to submit to convention, though he found zeal and loyalty, and old-fashioned virtues in general, embarrassing.

“This being galled with importunities, pursued from one room to another with asking faces; the dismal sound of unreasonable complaints and ill-grounded pretences; the deformity of fraud ill-disguised; all these would make any man run away; and I used to think it was the motive for making him walk so fast.

When once the aversion to bear uneasiness taketh place in a man’s mind, it doth so check all the passions that they are damped into a kind of indifference. The motive of his bounties was rather to make men less uneasy to him than more easy to themselves. He would slide from an asking face and could guess very well.”

So, many years later, wrote Lord Halifax; but when he first observed the King, he was plain Sir George Savile, a young Royalist from Yorkshire who had managed to survive the Revolution without too much loss and unpleasantness, and shared the King’s aversion from true-blue loyalists, “antediluvian families, fellows that the Flood could not wash away,” as Congreve put it in Love for Love.

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