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A History of the Four Georges, Volume I (of 4)
by Justin McCarthy
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Among the chief prisoners were Lord Widdrington, the Earl of Nithisdale, the Earl of Wintoun, the Earl of Carnwath, the Earl of Derwentwater, Viscount Kenmure, and Lord Nairn. These noblemen were impeached before the House of Lords, and all, except Lord Wintoun, pleaded guilty, and prayed for the mercy of the King. Every effort was made to obtain a pardon for some of the condemned noblemen. Women of rank and beauty implored the King's mercy. Audacious attempts were made to bribe the ministers. Some eminent members of the Whig party in the House of Commons spoke up manfully and courageously in favor of a policy of mercy. It is something pleasant to recollect that Sir Richard Steele, who had got into Parliament again, was conspicuous among these. In the House of Lords the friends of the condemned men succeeded in carrying, despite the strong {138} resistance of the Government, a motion for an address to the King, beseeching him to extend mercy to the noblemen in prison. Walpole himself had spoken very harshly in the House of Commons, and condemned in unmeasured terms those of his party—the Whig party—who could be so unworthy as, without blushing, to open their mouths in favor of rebels and parricides, and he had carried an adjournment of the House of Commons from the 22d of February to the 1st of March, in order to prevent any further petitions in favor of the rebel lords from being presented before the day fixed for their execution. One of these petitions, it is worth while recollecting, was presented by the kindly hand and supported by the manly voice of Sir Richard Steele. The ministers returned a merely formal answer on the King's behalf to the address, but they thought it wise to recommend a respite to be given to Lord Nairn, the Earl of Carnwath, and Lord Widdrington; and in order to get rid of any further appeals for mercy, they resolved that the execution of Lord Nithisdale, Lord Derwentwater, and Lord Kenmure should take place the very next day. Lord Nithisdale, however, was lucky enough to make his escape, somewhat after the fashion in which Lavalette, at a much later date, contrived to get out of prison, by the courage, devotion, and ingenuity of his wife. It is a curious fact that most of the contemporaries of Nithisdale who tell the story of his escape have represented his mother, and not his wife, as the woman who took his place in prison, and to whose energy and adroitness he owed his life. Smollett is one of those who give this version as if there were no doubt about it. Lord Stanhope, in the first edition of his "History of England, from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Versailles," accepted the story on authorities which seemed so trustworthy. Lord Stanhope knew that many modern writers had described the escape as being effected by Lord Nithisdale's wife, but he assumed that "the name of the wife was substituted in later tradition as being more romantic." A letter from Lady Nithisdale herself, {139} written to her sister, settles the whole question, and of course Lord Stanhope immediately adopted this genuine version. Lady Nithisdale tells how at first she endeavored to present a petition to the King. The first day she heard that the King was to go to the drawing-room, she dressed herself in black, as if in mourning, and had a lady to accompany her, because she did not know the King personally, and might have mistaken some other man for him. This lady and another came with her, and the three remained in the room between the King's apartments and the drawing-room. When George was passing through, "I threw myself at his feet, and told him in French that I was the unfortunate Countess of Nithisdale. . . . Perceiving that he wanted to go off without receiving my petition, I caught hold of the skirt of his coat that he might stop and hear me. He endeavored to escape out of my hands, but I kept such strong hold that he dragged me upon my knees from the middle of the room to the very door of the drawing-room." One of the attendants of the King caught the unfortunate lady round the waist, while another dragged the King's coat-skirt out of her hands. "The petition, which I had endeavored to thrust into his pocket, fell down in the scuffle, and I almost fainted away through grief and disappointment." Seldom, perhaps, in the history of royalty is there a description of so ungracious, unkingly, and even brutal reception of a petition presented by a distracted wife praying for a pardon to her husband.

[Sidenote: 1716—This most constant wife]

Then Lady Nithisdale determined to effect her husband's escape. She communicated her design to a Mrs. Mills, and took another lady with her also. This lady was of tall and slender make, and she carried under her own riding-hood one that Lady Nithisdale had prepared for Mrs. Mills, as Mrs. Mills was to lend hers to Lord Nithisdale, so that in going out he might be taken for her. Mrs. Mills was also "not only of the same height, but nearly of the same size as my lord." On their arrival at the Tower, Mrs. Morgan was allowed to go in with {140} Lady Nithisdale. [Sidenote: 1716—Lord Nithisdale's escape] Only one at a time could be introduced by the lady. She left the riding-hood and other things behind her. Then Lady Nithisdale went downstairs to meet Mrs. Mills, who held her handkerchief to her face, "as was very natural for a woman to do when she was going to bid her last farewell to a friend on the eve of his execution. I had indeed desired her to do it, that my lord might go out in the same manner." Mrs. Mills's eyebrows were a light color, and Lord Nithisdale's were dark and thick. "So," says Lady Nithisdale, "I had prepared some paint of the color of hers to disguise his with. I also bought an artificial head-dress of the same color as hers, and I painted his face with white, and his cheeks with rouge to hide his long beard, which he had not time to shave. All this provision I had before left in the Tower. The poor guards, whom my slight liberality the day before had endeared me to, let me go quietly with my company, and were not so strictly on the watch as they usually had been, and the more so as they were persuaded, from what I had told them the day before, that the prisoners would obtain their pardon." Then Mrs. Mills was taken into the room with Lord Nithisdale, and rather ostentatiously led by Lady Nithisdale past several sentinels, and through a group of soldiers, and of the guards' wives and daughters. When she got into Lord Nithisdale's presence she took off her riding-hood, and put on that which Mrs. Morgan had brought for her. Then Lady Nithisdale dismissed her, and took care that she should not go out weeping as she had come in, in order, of course, that Lord Nithisdale, when he wont out, "might the better pass for the lady who came in crying and afflicted." When Mrs. Mills was gone, Lady Nithisdale dressed up her husband "in all my petticoats excepting one." Then she found that it was growing dark, and was afraid that the light of the candles might betray her. She therefore went out, leading the disguised nobleman by the hand, he holding his handkerchief pressed to his eyes, as Mrs. Mills had done when she came in. The {141} guards opened the doors, and Lady Nithisdale went down-stairs with him. "As soon as he had cleared the door I made him walk before me for fear the sentinels should take notice of his walk." Some friends received Lord Nithisdale, and conducted him to a place of security. Lady Nithisdale went back to her husband's prison, and "When I was in the room I talked to him as if he had been really present, and answered my own questions in my lord's voice as nearly as I could imitate it. I walked up and down, as if we were conversing together, till I thought they had time enough to clear themselves of the guards. I then thought proper to make off also. I opened the door, and stood half in it, that those in the outward chamber might hear what I said, but held it so close that they could not look in. I bid my lord a formal farewell for that night," and she added some words about the petition for his pardon, and told him, "I flattered myself that I should bring favorable news." Then she closed the door with some force behind her, and "I said to the servant as I passed by"—who was ignorant of the whole transaction—"that he need not carry any candles to his master till my lord sent for him, as he desired to finish some prayers first. I went down-stairs and called a coach, as there were several on the stand. I drove home to my lodgings." Soon after Lady Nithisdale was taken to the place of security where her husband was remaining. They took refuge at the Venetian ambassador's two or three days after. Lord Nithisdale put on a livery, and went in the retinue of the ambassador to Dover. The ambassador, it should be said, knew nothing about the matter, but his coach-and-six went to Dover to meet his brother; and it was one of the servants of the embassy who acted in combination with Lord and Lady Nithisdale. A small vessel was hired at Dover, and Lord Nithisdale escaped to Calais, where his wife shortly after joined him. It is said by nearly all contemporary writers that King George, when he heard of the escape, took it very good-humoredly, and even {142} expressed entire satisfaction with it. Lady Nithisdale does not seem to have believed this story of George's generosity. The statement made to her was that "when the news was brought to the King, he flew into an excess of passion and said he was betrayed, for it could not have been done without some confederacy. He instantly despatched two persons to the Tower to see that the other prisoners were well secured."

[Sidenote: 1716—Anti-Catholic legislation]

Lord Derwentwater and Lord Kenmure were executed on Tower Hill on the 24th of February. The young and gallant Derwentwater declared on the scaffold that he withdrew his plea of guilty, and that he acknowledged no one but James Stuart as his king. Kenmure, too, protested his repentance at having, even formally, pleaded guilty, and declared that he died with a prayer for James Stuart. Lord Wintoun was not tried until the next month. He was a poor and feeble creature, hardly sound in his mind. "Not perfect in his intellectuals," a writer in a journal of the day observed of him. He was found guilty, but afterwards succeeded in making his escape from the Tower. Like Lord Nithisdale, he made his way to the Continent; and, like Lord Nithisdale, he died long after at Rome.

Humbler Jacobites could escape too. Forster escaped from Newgate through the aid of a clever servant, and got off to France, while the angry Whigs hinted at connivance on the part of persons in high places. The redoubted Brigadier Mackintosh, who figures in descriptions of the time as a "beetle-browed, gray-eyed" man of sixty, speaking "broad Scotch," succeeded in escaping, together with his son and seven others, in a rush of prisoners from the Newgate press-yard. Mr. Charles Radcliffe had an even stranger escape; for one day, growing tired, as well he might, of prison life, he simply walked out of Newgate under the eyes of his jailers, in the easy disguise of a morning suit and a brown tie-wig. Once some Jacobite prisoners, who were being sent to the West Indian plantations, rose against the crew, seized the ship, steered it to France, and quietly settled down {143} there. Later still some prisoners got out even more easily. Brigadier Mackintosh's brother was discharged from Newgate on his own prayer, and on showing that "he was very old, and altogether friendless."

Immediately after the execution of the rebel noblemen the ministry set to work to take some steps which might render political intrigue and conspiracy less dangerous in the future. One idea which especially commended itself to the statesmen of that time was to make the laws more rigorous against Roman Catholics. Law and popular feeling were already strongly set against the Catholics. On the death of Queen Anne, officers in the army, when informing their companies of the accession of the Elector of Hanover, carried their loyal and religious enthusiasm so far as to call upon any of their hearers who might be Catholics to fall forthwith out of the ranks. The writers who supported the Hanoverian succession, and were in the service of the Whig ministry, were not ashamed to declare that the ceremony of the Paternoster would infallibly cure a stranger of the spleen, and that any man in his senses would find excellent comedy in the recital of an Ave Mary. "How common it is," says the writer of the Patriot, "to find a wretch of this persuasion to be deluded to such a degree that he shall imagine himself engaged in the solemnity of devotion, while in reality he is exceeding the fopperies of a Jack-pudding!" So great was the distrust of Catholics that it was often the practice to seize upon the horses of Catholic gentlemen in order to impede them in the risings which they were always supposed to be meditating. But the condition of the Catholics in England was not bad enough to content the ministry. An Act was passed, in fact what would now be called "rushed," through Parliament, to "strengthen the Protestant interest in Great Britain," by making more severe "the laws now in being against Papists," and by providing a more effective and exemplary punishment for persons who, being Papists, should venture to enlist in the service of his Majesty.

{144}

The spirit of political freedom, as we now understand it, had not yet even begun to glimmer upon the counsels of statesmen. The idea had not yet arisen in the minds of Englishmen—even of men as able as Walpole—that liberty meant anything more than liberty for the expression of one's own opinions, and for the carrying into action of one's own policy. Those who were in power immediately made it their business to strengthen their own hands, and to prevent as far as possible the growth of opinions, the expression of ideas, unfavorable to themselves. Yet at such a time there were not wanting advocates of the administration to write that it was "indeed the peculiar happiness and glory of an Englishman that he must first quit these kingdoms before he can experimentally know the want of public liberty." Most people, even still, read history by the light of ideas which prevailed up to the close of George the First's reign. We are all ready enough to admit that in our time it would not be a free system which suppressed or prevented the expression of other men's opinions, or which attached any manner of penal consequence to the profession of one creed or the adhesion to one party. But most of us are, nevertheless, ready enough to describe one period of English history, the reign perhaps of one sovereign, as a period of religious liberty, and another season, or reign, as a time when liberty was suppressed. Some Englishmen talk with enthusiasm of the spirit of Elizabeth's reign, or the spirit of the reign of William the Third, and condemn in unmeasured terms the spirit which influenced James the Second, and which would no doubt have influenced James the Second's son if he had come to the throne. But any one who will put aside for the moment his own particular opinions will see that in both cases the guiding principle was exactly the same. Never were there greater acts of political and religious intolerance committed than during the reign of Elizabeth and during the reign of William the Third. The truth is that the modern idea of constitutional and political liberty did not {145} exist among English statesmen even so recently as the reign of William the Third. At the period with which we are now dealing it would not have occurred to any statesman that there could be a wiser course to take than to follow up the suppression of the insurrection of 1715 by making more stringent than ever the laws already in existence against the religion to which most of the rebels belonged.

[Sidenote: 1716—The Triennial Bill]

The Government made another change of a different kind, and for which there was better political justification. They passed a measure altering the period of the duration of parliaments. At this time the limit of the existence of a parliament was three years. An Act was passed in 1641 directing that Parliament should meet once at least in every three years. This Act was repealed in 1664. Another, and a different kind of Triennial Parliament Bill, passed in 1694. This Act declared that no parliament should last for a longer period than three years. But the system of short parliaments had not apparently been found to work with much satisfaction. The impression that a House of Commons with so limited a period of life before it would be more anxious to conciliate the confidence and respect of the constituencies had not been justified in practice. Indeed, the constituencies themselves at that time were not sufficiently awake to the meaning and the value of Parliamentary representation to think of keeping any effective control over those whom they sent to speak for them in Parliament. Bribery and corruption were as rife and as extravagant under the triennial system as ever they had been before, or as they ever were since. But no doubt the immediate object of repealing the Triennial Bill was to obtain a better chance for the new condition of things by giving it a certain time to work in security. If the new dynasty was to have any chance of success at all, it was necessary that ministers should not have to come almost immediately before the country again.

Shippen in the Commons and Atterbury in the Lords {146} were among the most strenuous opponents of the new measure. Both staunch Jacobites, they had everything to gain just then by frequent appeals to the country. Shippen urged that it was unconstitutional in a Parliament elected for three years to elect itself for seven years without an appeal to the constituencies. Steele defended the Bill on the ground that all the mischiefs which could be brought under the Septennial Act could be perpetrated under the Triennial, but that the good which might be compassed under the Septennial could not be hoped for under the Triennial. Not a few persons in both Houses seemed to be of one mind with the bewildered Bishop of London, who declared that he did not know which way to vote, for "he was confounded between dangers and inconveniences on one side and destruction on the other." It is not out of place to mention here that when a Bill was unsuccessfully brought in nearly twenty years after for the Repeal of the Septennial Act, many of those who had voted in favor of parliaments of seven years in 1716 voted the other way, while opponents in 1716 were turned into allies in 1734.

[Sidenote: 1716—Death of Lord Somers]

The system of short parliaments has ardent admirers in our own day. "Annual Parliaments" formed one of the points of the People's Charter. Many who would not accept the Chartist idea of annual parliaments would still regard as one of the articles of the true creed of Liberalism the principle of the triennial parliament. But even if that creed were true in the politics of the present day, it would not have been true in the early days of King George. One of the great constitutional changes which the times were then making, and which Walpole welcomed and helped to carry out, was the change which gave to the House of Commons the real ruling power in the Constitution. No representative chamber could then have held its own against the House of Lords, or the Court, or the Court and the House of Lords combined, if it had been subject to the necessity of frequent re-elections. Short parliaments have even in our own days been made {147} in Europe the most effective weapons of despotic power. No test more trying can be found for a party of men sincerely anxious to maintain constitutional rights at a season of danger than to subject them to frequent and close electoral struggles. Much more important in the historical and constitutional sense was it at the opening of King George's reign that the House of Commons should be strengthened than that any particular party should have unlimited opportunities of trying its chances at a general election. It mattered little, when once the position of the representative body had been made secure, whether George or James sat on the throne. With the representative body an inconsiderable factor in the State system, Brunswick would soon have been as unconstitutional as Stuart.

One of the last acts of the life of Lord Somers was to express to Lord Townshend his approval of the principle of the Septennial Bill. He did not live to see it actually passed into law. He was but sixty-six years old at the time of his death. Disease and not age had weakened his fine intellect, and had kept him for many years from playing any important part in the affairs of the State. The day when Somers died was the very day when the Septennial Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. It had come down from the House of Lords, and had to go back to that House, in consequence of some alterations made in the Commons. Somers lived just long enough to be assured of its safety. Born in 1650, the son of a Worcester attorney, he had won for himself the proudest honors of the law, and had written his name high up in the roll of English statesmen. Steele wrote of him that he was "as much admired for his universal knowledge of men and things as for his eloquence, courage, and integrity in the exerting of such extraordinary talents." The Spectator, in dedicating its earliest papers to him, spoke of him as one who brought into the service of his sovereign the arts and policies of ancient Greece and Rome, and praised him for a certain dignity in {148} himself which made him appear as great in private life as in the most important offices he had borne. It was in allusion to Somers, indeed, that Swift said Bolingbroke wanted for success "a small infusion of the alderman." This was a sneer at Somers, as well as a sort of rebuke to Bolingbroke. If the "small infusion of the alderman" was another term for order and method in public business, then it may be freely admitted by his greatest admirers that Somers had more of the alderman in his nature than Bolingbroke. Perhaps the only thing, except great capacity, which he had in common with Bolingbroke was an ungoverned admiration of the charms of women. His fame was first established by the ability with which he conducted his part of the defence of the seven bishops in James the Second's reign. His consistent devotion to the Whig party, and his just and almost prescient appreciation of the true principles of that party, set him in sharp contrast to other statesmen of the time—to men like Marlborough and Shrewsbury and Bolingbroke. His is a noble figure, even in its decay, and the historian of such a time parts from him with regret, feeling that the average of public manhood and virtue is lowered when Somers is gone.

[Sidenote: 1716—Mary Wortley Montagu]

While Jacobites were lingering in prison and dying on Tower Hill, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was writing from abroad imperishable letters to her friends. We may turn away from politics for a moment to observe her and her career. Mr. Wortley Montagu had been appointed Ambassador to Constantinople, and had set out for his post, accompanied by the witty and beautiful wife for whom he cared so little. Ever since he first met her and presented her with a copy of "Quintus Curtius," in honor of her Latinity, and some original verses of his own, in earnest of his admiration, he had been an exacting, impatient lover. After his marriage he seems to have grown absolutely indifferent to her, leaving her alone for months together while he remained in town, and pleading as his excuse his Parliamentary duties. {149} She who, on the contrary, had made no unreasonable display of affection for the lover, appears to have become deeply attached to the husband, and to have been bitterly pained by his careless indifference, an indifference which at last, and it would appear most unwillingly, she learned to return. When this life had been lived for a year or two Queen Anne died, and with Walpole's accession to power Mr. Wortley got office, and brought his beautiful wife up from Yorkshire to be the wonder and admiration of the English Court and the Hanoverian monarch. For two bright years Lady Mary shone like a star in the brilliant constellation of women, of wits, of politicians, and men of letters, who thronged St. James's Palace and peopled St. James's parish. Then came the Constantinople embassy. Lady Mary had always a longing for foreign travel, and now that her desires were gratified she enjoyed herself with all the delight of a child and all the intelligence of a gifted woman. Travel was a rare pleasure for women then. A young English gentleman made the grand tour, and brought back, if he were foolish, nothing better than a few receipts for strange dishes, and some newer notions of vice than he had set out with; if he were wise he became "possessed of the tongues," and bore home spoils of voyage in the shape of Titians and Correggios and Raphaels—genuine or the reverse—to stock a picture-gallery in the family mansion. But women very seldom travelled much in those days. Certainly no man or woman could then write of travels as Mary Wortley Montagu could and did. We may well imagine the delight with which Mistress Skerret and Lady Rich and the Countess of Bristol, languid Lord Hervey's mother, and adoring Mr. Pope received these marvellous letters, which were destined to rank with the epistles of the younger Pliny and of Madame de Sevigne. Mr. Pope—whose translation of the "Odyssey" had not yet made its appearance—may well have thought that Ulysses himself had not seen men and cities to greater advantage than the beautiful wanderer whom he was destined first {150} to love and then to hate. As we read her letters we seem to live with her in the great, gay, gloomy life of Vienna, to hear once more the foolish squabbles of Ratisbon society as to who should and should not be styled Excellency, and to smile at the loyal crowds of English thronging the wretched inns of Hanover. But the fidelity of her descriptions may best be judged from her accounts of life in Constantinople. The Vienna of to-day is very different from the ill-built, high-storied city of Maria Theresa; but the condition of Constantinople has scarcely changed with the century and a half that has gone by since Lady Mary was English Ambassadress there. She seems, indeed, to have seen the heads upon the famous monument of bronze twisted serpents in the Hippodrome; and perhaps she did, for Spon and Wheler's sketch of it in 1675 gives it with the triple heads still perfect, though these serpent heads, and all traces of them, have long since disappeared. In Constantinople Lady Mary first became acquainted with that principle of inoculation for the small-pox which she so enthusiastically advocated, which she introduced into England in spite of so much hostility and disfavor, and which, now accepted by almost all the civilized world, is still wrangled fiercely over in England.

[Sidenote: 1716—Lady Mary's career]

Perhaps we may anticipate by some half-century to tell of Lady Mary's further career. She came back to London again, and shone as brilliantly as before, and was made love to by Pope, and laughed at her lover, and was savagely scourged by him in return with whips of stinging and shameful satire. One can understand better the story of the daughters of Lycambes hanging themselves under the pain of the iambics of Archilochus when one reads the merciless cruelty with which the great English satirist treated the woman he had loved. When Lady Mary grew old she went away abroad to live, without any opposition on her husband's part. They parted with mutual indifference and mutual esteem. She lived for many years in Italy, chiefly in Venice. Then she came back to London for a short time to live in lodgings off Hanover Square, and be the curiosity of the town; and then she died. Lady Mary always had a dread of growing old; and she grew old and ill-favored, as Horace Walpole was spiteful enough to put on record. When Pope was laughed at by the beauty, he might have said to her in the words that Clarendon used to the fair Castlemaine, "Woman, you will grow old," and have felt that in those words he had almost repaid the bitterness of her scorn. Horace Walpole indeed avenged the offended poet, long dead and famous, when he wrote thus of Lady Mary: "Her dress, her avarice, and her impudence must amaze any one that never heard her name. She wears a foul mob that does not cover her greasy black locks, that hang loose, never combed or curled; an old mazarine blue wrapper, that gapes open and discovers a canvas petticoat. Her face . . . partly covered . . . with white paint, which for cheapness she has bought so coarse that you would not use it to wash a chimney." Such is one of the latest portraits of the woman who had been a poet's idol and the cherished beauty of a Court. Lady Mary, who had outlived her husband, left an exemplary daughter, who married Lord Bute, and a most unexemplary son, to whom she bequeathed one guinea, and who spent the greater part of his life drifting about the East, and acquiring all kinds of strange and useless knowledge.



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CHAPTER IX.

"MALICE DOMESTIC.—FOREIGN LEVY."

[Sidenote: 1716—Visit to Hanover]

Some of the earlier letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu are written from Hanover, and give a lively description of the crowded state of that capital in the autumn of 1716. Hanover was crowded in this unusual way because King George was there at the time, and his presence was the occasion for a great gathering of diplomatic functionaries and statesmen, and politicians of all orders. Some had political missions, open and avowed; some had missions of still greater political importance, which, however, were not formally avowed, and were for the most part conducted in secret. A turning-point had been reached in the affairs of Europe, and the King's visit to Hanover was an appropriate occasion for the preliminary steps to certain new arrangements that had become inevitable. Even before the King's visit to his dear Hanover the English Government had been paving the way for some of these new combinations and alliances. The very day after the royal coronation, Stanhope had gone on a mission to Vienna which had something to do with the arrangements subsequently made.

It would, however, be paying too high a compliment to the patriotic energy of the King to suppose that he had gone to Hanover for the sake of promoting arrangements calculated to be of advantage to England. Let us do justice to George's sincerity: he never pretended to any particular concern for English interests when they were not bound up with the interests of Hanover. But he had long been pining for a sight of Hanover. He had now been away from his beloved Herrenhausen for nearly two {153} years, and he was consumed by an unconquerable homesickness. That his absence might be inconvenient to his newly acquired country or to his ministers had no weight in his mind to counterbalance the desire of walking once more in the prim Herrenhausen avenues and looking over the level Hanoverian fields, or treading the corridors of the old Schloss, where the ancestral Guelphs had revelled, and where the ghost of Koenigsmark might well be supposed to wander. The Act for restraining the King from going out of the kingdom was repealed in May, 1716. The Prince of Wales was to be appointed temporary ruler in the King's absence. This appointment was the only obstacle that George admitted to his journey. In the Hanover family, father had hated son, and son father with traditional persistence. George was animated by the sourest jealousy of his son. One reason, if there had been no other, for this animosity was that the young man was well known to have some sympathy for the sufferings of his mother, the unhappy Sophia Dorothea, imprisoned in Ahlden, and he had at least once made an unsuccessful effort to see her. Since George came to England he persisted in regarding his eldest son as a rival for popular favor, and this feeling was naturally kept alive by the enemies of the House of Hanover. To this detested son George had now to intrust the care of his kingdom, or else abandon his visit to dear Herrenhausen. The struggle was severe, but patriotic affection triumphed over paternal hatred. The Prince was named not indeed Regent, but Guardian of the Realm and Lieutenant, with as many restrictions upon his authority as the King was able or was allowed to impose, and on July 9th George set out for Hanover, accompanied by Secretary Stanhope. He was not long absent from England, however. On November 14th he came back again. Loyalists issued prints of the monarch waited upon by angels, and accompanied by flattering verses addressed to the "Presedent of ye Loyall Mug Houses." But the devotion of the mug-houses could not make George personally popular, or diminish the {154} general dislike to his German ministers, his German mistresses, and the horde of hungry foreigners—the Hanoverian rats, as Squire Western would have called them—who came over with him to England, seeking for place and pension, or pension without place.

[Sidenote: 1716—Philip of Orleans]

The Thames was frozen over in the winter of this year, 1716, and London made very merry over the event. The ice was covered with booths for the sale of all sorts of wares, and with small coffee-houses and chop-houses. Wrestling-rings were formed in one part; in another, an ox was roasted whole. People played at push-pin, skated, or drove about on ice-boats brave with flags. Coaches moved slowly up and down the highway of barges and wherries, and hawkers cried their wares lustily in the new field that winter had offered them. All the banks of the river—and especially such places as the Temple Gardens—were crowded with curious throngs surveying the animated and unusual scene.

During George's absence from England he and his ministers had made some new and important arrangements in the policy of Europe. From this time forth—indeed, from the reign of Queen Anne—England was destined—doomed, perhaps—to have a regular part in the politics of the Continent. Before that time she had often been drawn into them, or had plunged enterprisingly or recklessly into them, but from the date of the accession of the House of Hanover England was as closely and constantly mixed up in the political affairs of the Continent as Austria or France. In the opening years of George's reign, France, the Empire—Austria, that is to say, for the Holy Roman Empire had come to be merely Austria—and Spain were the important Continental Powers. Russia was only coming up; the genius of Peter the Great was beginning to make her way for her. Italy was as yet only a geographical expression—a place divided among minor kings and princes, who in politics sometimes bowed to the Pope's authority, and sometimes evaded or disregarded it. The power of Turkey was {155} broken, never to be made strong again; the republic of Venice was already beginning to "sink like a sea-weed into whence she rose." The position of Spain was peculiar. Spain had for a long time been depressed and weak and disregarded. For many years it was thought that she was going down with Turkey and Venice—that the star of her fate had declined forever. Suddenly, however, she began to raise her head above the horizon again, and to threaten the peace of the Continent. The peace of the Continent could not now be threatened without menace to the peace of England, for George's Hanoverian dominions were sure to be imperilled by European disturbance, and George would take good care that Hanover did not suffer while England had armies to move and money to spend. The English Government found it necessary to look out for allies.

France was under the rule of a remarkable man. Philip, Duke of Orleans and Regent of the kingdom, ought to have been a statesman of the Byzantine Empire. He was steeped to the lips in profligacy; he had no moral sense whatever, unless that which was supplied by the so-called code of honor. His intrigues, his carouses, his debaucheries, his hordes of mistresses, gave scandal even in that time of prodigal license. But he had a cool head, a daring spirit, and an intellect capable of accepting new and original ideas. He must be called a statesman; and, despite the vulgarity of some of his vices, he has to be called a gentleman as well. He could be trusted; he would keep his word once given. Other statesmen could treat with him, and not fear that he would break a promise or betray a confidence. How rare such qualities were at that day among the politicians of any country the readers of the annals of Queen Anne do not need to be told. The Regent's principal adviser at this time was a man quite as immoral, and also quite as able, as himself—the Abbe Dubois, afterwards Cardinal and Prime-minister. Dubois had a profound knowledge of foreign affairs, and he thoroughly understood the ways of men. {156} He had fought his way from humble rank to a great position in Church and State. He had trained his every faculty—and all his faculties were well worth the training—to the business of statecraft and of diplomatic intrigue. It is somewhat curious to note that the three ablest politicians in Europe at that day were churchmen: Swift in England, Dubois in France, and Alberoni—of whom we shall presently have to speak—in Spain. The quick and unclouded intelligence of the Regent—unclouded despite his days and nights of debauchery—saw that the cause of the Stuarts was gone. While that cause had hope he was willing to give it a chance, and he would naturally have welcomed its success; but he had taken good care during its late and vain effort not to embroil himself in any quarrel, or even any misunderstanding, with England on its account; and now that that poor struggle was over for the time, he believed that it would be for his interest to come to an understanding with King George.

[Sidenote: 1716—Dubois]

The idea of such an understanding originated with the Regent himself. There has been some discussion among English historians as to the title of Townshend or of Stanhope to be considered its author. Whether Townshend or Stanhope first accepted the suggestion does not seem a matter of much consequence. It is clear that the overture was made by the Regent. While King George and his minister Stanhope were in Hanover, the Regent sent Dubois on various pretexts to places where he might have an opportunity of coming to an understanding with both. Dubois had lived in England, and had made the personal acquaintance of Stanhope there. What could be more natural than that the Regent, who was a lover of art, should ask Dubois to visit the Hague, for the purpose of buying some books and pictures, about the time that the English minister was known to be in the neighborhood? And how could old acquaintances like Stanhope and Dubois, thus brought into close proximity, fail to take advantage of the opportunity, and to {157} have many a quiet, informal meeting? What more natural than that Dubois should afterwards go to Hanover to visit his friend Stanhope there, and that he should live in Stanhope's house? The account which the lively Lady Mary Wortley Montagu gives of the manner in which Hanover was then crowded would of itself explain the necessity for Dubois availing himself of Stanhope's hospitality, and for Stanhope's offer of it. The Portuguese ambassador, Lady Mary says, thought himself very happy to be the temporary possessor of "two wretched parlors in an inn." Dubois and Stanhope had many talks, and the result was an arrangement which could be accepted by the King and the Regent.

The foreign policy of the Whigs had for its object the maintenance of peace on the European continent by a close observance of the conditions laid down in the Treaty of Utrecht. The settlement made under that treaty was, however, very unsatisfactory to Spain. The new Spanish king, Philip of Anjou, had formally renounced his own rights of succession to the throne of France, and had given up the Italian provinces which formerly belonged to the Spanish Crown. But, as in most such instances at that time, an ambitious European sovereign had no sooner accepted conditions which appeared to him in any wise unsatisfactory, than he went to work to endeavor to set them aside, or get out of them somehow. Philip's whole mind was turned to the object of getting back again all that he had given up. This would not have seemed an easy task, even to a man of the stamp of Charles the Fifth. It would almost appear that any attempt in such a direction must bring Europe in arms against Spain. The Regent Duke of Orleans stood next in succession to the French throne, in consequence of Philip's renunciation of his rights by virtue of the Treaty of Utrecht. The Italian provinces which had once been Spain's were now handed over to Austria, and Austria would of course be resolute in their defence. King Philip was not the man to confront the difficulties of a situation of this kind {158} by his own unaided powers of mind. He was very far indeed from being a Charles the Fifth. He was not even a Philip the Second. But he had for his minister a man as richly endowed with statesmanship and courage as he himself was wanting in those qualities. [Sidenote: 1716—Alberoni] Giulio Alberoni, an Italian born at Piacenza, in 1664, was at one time appointed agent of the Duke of Parma at the Court of Spain, and in this position acquired very soon the favor of Philip. Alberoni was of the most humble origin. His father was a gardener, and he himself a poor village priest. He rose, however, both in diplomacy and in the Church, having worked his way up to the favor of the Duke of Parma, to work still further on to the complete favor of Philip the Fifth. The first marked success in his upward career was made when he contrived to commend himself to the Duc de Vendome, the greatest French commander of his day. The Duke of Parma had occasion to deal with Vendome, and sent the Bishop of Parma to confer with him. The Duc de Vendome was a man who affected roughness and brutality of manners, and made it his pride to set all rules of decency at defiance. Peter the Great, Potemkin, Suwarrow, would have seemed men of ultra-refinement when compared with him. His manner of receiving the bishop was such that the bishop quitted his presence abruptly and without saying a word, and returning to Parma, told his master that no consideration on earth should induce him ever to approach the brutal French soldier again. Alberoni was beginning to rise at this time. He offered to undertake the mission, feeling sure that not even Vendome could disconcert him. He was intrusted with the task of renewing the negotiations, and he obtained admission to the presence of Vendome. Every reader remembers the story in the "Arabian Nights" of that brother of the talkative barber who threw himself into the spirit of the rich Barmecide's humor, and by outdoing him in the practical joke secured forever his favor and his friendship. Alberoni acted on this principle at his first meeting with Vendome. {159} He outbuffooned even Vendome's buffoonery. The story will not bear minute explanation, but Alberoni soon satisfied Vendome that he had to do with a man after his own heart, what Elizabethan writers would have called a "mad wag" indeed, and Vendome gave him his confidence.

Alberoni was made prime-minister by Philip in 1716, and cardinal by the Court of Rome shortly after. The ambition of Alberoni was in the first instance to recover to Spain her lost Italian provinces, and to raise Spain once more to the commanding position she had held when Charles the Fifth abdicated the crown. Alberoni's policy, indeed, was a mistake as regarded the strength and the prosperity of Spain. Spain's Italian and Flemish provinces were of no manner of advantage to her. They were sources of weakness, because they constantly laid Spain open to an attack from any enemy who had the advantage of being able to choose his battle-ground for himself so long as Spain had outlying provinces scattered over the Continent. Indeed, it is made clear, from the testimony of many observers, that Spain was rapidly recovering her domestic prosperity from the moment when she lost those provinces, and when the continual strain to which they exposed her finances was stopped. At that epoch of Europe's political development, however, the idea had hardly occurred to any statesman that national greatness could come about in any other way than by the annexing or the recovery of territory. Alberoni intrigued against the Regent, and was particularly anxious to injure the Emperor. He was well inclined to enter into negotiations, and even into an alliance, with England. He lent his help when first he took office to bring to a satisfactory conclusion some arrangements for a commercial treaty between England and Spain. This treaty gave back to British subjects whatever advantages in trade they had enjoyed under the Austrian kings of Spain, and contained what we should now call a most favored nation clause, providing that no British subjects should be {160} exposed to higher duties than were paid by Spaniards. Alberoni cautiously refrained from giving any encouragement to the Stuarts, and always professed to the British minister the strongest esteem and friendship for King George. Stanhope himself had known Alberoni formerly in Spain, and had from the first formed a very high opinion of his abilities. He now opened a correspondence with the cardinal, expressing a strong wish for a sincere and lasting friendship between England and Spain; and this correspondence was kept up for some time in so friendly and confidential a manner that very little was left for the regular accredited minister from Spain at the Court of King George to do.

[Sidenote: 1714-1718—The Triple Alliance]

Alberoni, however, was somewhat too vain and impatient. He had brought over Sweden to his side, partly because he found Charles the Twelfth in a bad humor on account of the cession to Hanover of certain Swedish territories by the King of Denmark, who had clutched them while the warlike Charles was away in Turkey. The cession of those places brought Hanover to the sea, and was of importance thus to Hanover and to England alike. George the Elector was in his petty way an ambitious Hanoverian prince, however little interest he had in English affairs. He had always been anxious to get possession of the districts of Bremen and Verden, which had been handed over to Sweden at the Peace of Westphalia. Reckless enterprise had carried Charles the Twelfth—"Swedish Charles," with "a frame of adamant, a soul of fire," whom no dangers frighted, and no labors tired, the "unconquered lord of pleasure and of pain"—too far in the rush of his chivalrous madness. His vaulting ambition had overleaped itself, and fallen on the other side; and after his defeat at Pultowa, all his enemies, some of whom he had scared into inaction before, turned upon him as the nations of Europe turned upon Napoleon the First after Moscow. Charles had gone into Turkey and taken refuge there, and it seemed as if he had fallen never to rise again. In his absence the King of Denmark {161} seized Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen, and Verden. At the close of 1714 Charles suddenly roused himself from depression and appeared at the town of Stralsund, almost as much to the alarm of Europe as Napoleon had caused when he left Elba and landed on the southern shore of France. The King of Denmark shuddered at the prospect of a struggle with Charles, and in order to secure some part of his spoils he entered into a treaty with the Elector of Hanover, by virtue of which he handed over Bremen and Verden to George, on condition that George should pay him a handsome sum of money, and join him in resisting Sweden.

Nothing could be less justifiable, or indeed more nefarious, than these arrangements. They were discreditable to George the First, and they were disgraceful to the King of Denmark. Yet the general policy of that time seems to have approved of the whole transaction, and regarded it merely as a good stroke of business for Hanover and for England. Alberoni, having secured the help of Sweden, got together great forces both by sea and by land, and prepared for a reconquest of the lost Italian provinces. He occupied Sardinia, and made an attempt on Sicily. But this was going a little too far and too fast. Alberoni frightened the great States of Europe into activity against him. England, France, and Holland formed a triple alliance, the basis of which was that the House of Hanover should be guaranteed in England, and the House of Orleans in France, should the young King, Louis the Fifteenth, die without issue. Not long after, the triple alliance was expanded into a quadruple alliance, the Emperor of Germany becoming one of its members. An English fleet appeared in the Straits of Messina, and a sea-fight took place in which the Spaniards lost almost all their vessels. Alberoni tried to get up another fleet under the Duke of Ormond for the purpose of making a landing in Scotland, with a view to a great Jacobite rising. But the seas and skies seem always to have been fatal to Spanish projects against England, and {162} the expedition under Ormond was as much of a failure as the far greater expedition under Alexander of Parma. The fleet was wrecked in the Bay of Biscay. The French were invading the northern provinces of Spain, and the King of Spain was compelled not only to get rid of Alberoni, but to renounce once more any claim to the French throne, and to abandon his attempts on Sardinia and Sicily. Another danger was removed from England by the death of Charles the Twelfth. "A petty fortress and a dubious hand" brought about the end of him who had, "like the wind's blast, never-resting, homeless," stormed so long across war-convulsed Europe, and "left that name at which the world grew pale to point a moral or adorn a tale." Charles the Twelfth had just entered into an alliance with Peter the Great for an enterprise to destroy the House of Hanover and restore the Stuarts, when the memorable bullet at the siege of Frederickshald, in Norway, brought his strange career to a close in December, 1718. A junction between such men as Charles the Twelfth and Peter the Great might indeed have had matter in it. Peter was probably the greatest sovereign born to a throne in modern Europe. An alliance between Peter's profound sagacity and indomitable perseverance, and Charles's unbounded courage and military skill, might have been ominous for any cause against which it was aimed. The good-fortune which from first to last seems on the whole to have attended the House of Hanover, and followed it even in spite of itself, was with it when the bullet from an unknown hand struck down Charles the Twelfth.

[Sidenote: 1715-1718—Futility of the Triple Alliance]

These international arrangements have for us now very little real interest. They were entirely artificial and temporary. Nothing came of them that could long endure or make any real change in the relations of the European States. They had hardly anything to do with the interests of the various peoples over whose heads and without whose knowledge or concern they were made. It was still firmly believed that two or three diplomatists, meeting in {163} a half-clandestine way in a minister's closet or a lady's drawing-room, could come to agreements which would bind down nations and rule political movements. The first real upheaving of any genuine force, national or personal, in European life tore through all their meshes in a moment. Frederick the Great, soon after, is to compel Europe to reconstruct her scheme of political arrangements; later yet, the French Revolution is to clear the ground more thoroughly and violently still. The triple alliance, concocted by the Regent and Stanhope and Dubois, had not the slightest permanent effect on the general condition of Europe. It was a clever and an original idea of the Regent to think of bringing England and France, these old hereditary enemies, into a permanent alliance, and it was right of Stanhope to enter into the spirit of the enterprise; but the actual conditions of England and France, did not allow of an abiding friendship. The national interest, as it was then understood, of the one State was in antagonism to the national interest of the other. Nor could France and England combined have kept down the growth of other European States then rising into importance and beginning to cast their shadows far in front of them. It seems only amusing to us now to read of King George's directions to his minister—"To crush the Czar immediately, to secure his ships, and even to seize his person." The courageous and dull old King had not the faintest perception of the part which either the Czar or the Czar's country was destined to play in the history of Europe. At present we are all inclined, and with some reason, to think that French statesmen, as a rule, are wanting in a knowledge of foreign politics—in an appreciation of the relative proportions of one force and another in the affairs of Europe outside France. But in the days of George the First French statesmen were much more accomplished in the knowledge of foreign politics than the statesmen of England. There was not, probably, in George's administration any man who had anything like the knowledge of the {164} affairs of foreign countries which was possessed by Dubois. But it had not yet occurred to the mind of Dubois, or the Regent, or anybody else, that the relations of one State to another, or one people to another, are anything more than the arrangements which various sets of diplomatic agents think fit to make among themselves and to consign to the formality of a treaty.

[Sidenote: 1717—Walpole bides his time]

The interest we have now in all these "understandings," engagements, and so-called alliances is personal rather than national. So far as England is concerned, they led to a squabble and a split in George's administration. It would hardly be worth while to go into a minute history of the quarrel between Townshend and Stanhope, Sunderland and Walpole. Sunderland, a man of great ability and ambition, had never been satisfied with the place he held in the King's administration, and the disputes which sprang up out of the negotiations for the triple alliance gave him an opportunity of exerting his influence against some of his colleagues. Fresh occasion for intrigue, jealousy, and anger was given by the desire of the King to remain during the winter in Hanover, and his fear, on the other hand, that his son—the Prince who was at the head of affairs in his absence—was forming a party against him, and was caballing with some of the members of the Government. Sunderland acted on the King's narrow and petty fears. He distinctly accused Townshend and Walpole of a secret understanding with the Prince and the Duke of Argyll against the Sovereign's interests. The result of all this was that the King dismissed Lord Townshend, and that Walpole insisted on resigning office. The King, to do him justice, would gladly have kept Walpole in his service, but Walpole would not stay. It is clear that Walpole was glad of the opportunity of getting out of the ministry. He professed to be deeply touched by the earnestness of the King's remonstrances. He was moved, it is stated, to tears. At all events, he got very successfully through the ceremony of tear-shedding. But although he wept, he did not {165} soften. His purpose remained fixed. He went out of office, and, to all intents and purposes, passed straightway into opposition. Stanhope became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

For a long time it must have been apparent to every one that Walpole was the coming minister. Walpole himself must have felt satisfied on the point; but he was probably well content to admit to himself that his time had not yet come. Walpole was not a great man. He wanted the moral qualities which are indispensable to greatness. He was almost as much wanting in them as Bolingbroke himself. But if his genius was far less brilliant than that of Bolingbroke, he was amply furnished with patience and steadiness. He could wait. He did not devise half a dozen plans for one particular object, and fly from one to the other when the moment for action was approaching, and end by rejecting them all when the moment for action had arrived. He made up his mind to a certain course, and he held to it; if its chance did not come to-day, it might come to-morrow. He had no belief in men's sincerity—or women's either. There seems reason to believe that the famous saying ascribed to him, about every man having his price, was not used by him in that unlimited sense; that he only spoke of "these men"—of certain men—and said that every one of them had his price. But he always acted as if the description he gave of "these men" might safely be extended to all men. He had a coarse, licentious nature. He enjoyed the company of loose women. He loved obscene talk; not merely did he love it, but he indulged in and encouraged it for practical purposes of his own; he thought it useful at men's dinner-parties, because it gave even the dullest man a subject on which he could find something to say. One could not call Walpole a patriot in the higher sense; he wanted altogether that fine fibre in his nature, that exalted, half-poetic feeling, that faculty of imagination which quickens practical and prosaic objects with the spirit of the ideal, and which are {166} needed to make a man a patriot in the noblest meaning of the word. But he loved his country in his own heavy, practical, matter-of-fact sort of way, and that was just the sort of way which at the time happened to be most useful to England. Let it be said, too, in justice to Walpole, that the most poetic and lyrical nature would have found little subject for enthusiasm in the England of Walpole's earlier political career. It was not exactly the age for a Philip Sidney or for a Milton. England's home and foreign policy had for years been singularly ignoble. At home it had been a conflict of mean intrigues; abroad, a policy of selfish alliances and base compromises and surrenders. The splendid military genius of Marlborough only shone as it did as if to throw into more cruel light the infamy of the intrigues and plots to which it was often sacrificed. No man could be enthusiastic about Queen Anne or George the First. The statesmen who professed the utmost ardor for the Stuart cause were ready to sell it at a moment's notice, to secure their own personal position; most of those who grovelled before King George were known to have been in treaty, up to the last, with his rival. [Sidenote: 1717—Economist statesmen] We may excuse Walpole if, under such conditions, he took a prosaic view of the state of things, and made his patriotism a very practical sort of service to his country. It was, as we have said, precisely the sort of service England just then stood most in need of. Walpole applied himself to secure for his country peace and retrenchment. He did not, indeed, maintain a sacred principle of peace; he had no sacred principle about anything. We shall see more lately that he did not scruple, for party reasons, to lend himself to a wanton and useless war, well knowing it was wanton and useless; but his general policy was one of peace, and so long as he had his own way there would have been no waste of England's resources on foreign battle-fields. He despised war, and the trade of war, in his heart. To him war showed only in its vulgar, practical, and repulsive features; the soldier was a man who got paid for the {167} trade of killing. Walpole might be likened to a shrewd and sensible steward who is sincerely anxious to manage his master's estate with order and economy, and who, for that very reason, is willing to indulge his master's vices and to sanction his prodigalities to a certain extent, knowing that if he attempts to draw the purse-strings too closely an open rupture will be the result, and then some steward will come in who has no taste for saving, and who will let everything go to rack and ruin. He was the first of the long line of English ministers who professed to regard economy as one of the great objects of statesmanship. He established securely the principle that to make the two ends meet was one of the first duties of patriotism. He founded, if we may use such an expression, the dynasty of statesmen to which Pitt and Peel and Gladstone belong. The change in our constitutional ways which set up that new dynasty was of infinitely greater importance to England than the change which settled the Brunswicks in the place of the Stuarts.



{168}

CHAPTER X.

HOME AFFAIRS.

[Sidenote: 1717—Oxford's impeachment]

Meanwhile the public seemed to have forgotten all about Lord Oxford. "Harley, the nation's great support," as Swift had called him, had been nearly two years in the Tower, and the nation did not seem to miss its great support, or to care anything about him. In May, 1717, Lord Oxford sent a petition to the House of Lords, complaining of the hardship and injustice of this unaccountable delay in his impeachment, and the House of Lords began at last to put on an appearance of activity. The Commons, too, revived and enlarged their secret committee, of which it will be remembered that Walpole was the chairman. Times, however, had changed. Walpole was not in the administration, and felt no anxiety to assist the ministry in any way. He purposely absented himself from the sittings, and a new chairman had to be chosen. Probably Walpole had always known well enough that there was not evidence to sustain a charge of high-treason against his former rival; perhaps, now that the rival was down in the dust, never to rise again, he did not care to press for his punishment. At all events, he made it clear that he felt no interest in the impeachment of Lord Oxford. The friends of the ruined minister had recourse to an ingenious artifice. June 24, 1717, had been appointed for the opening of the proceedings. Westminster Hall, lately the scene of the impeachment of Somers, and soon to be the scene of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, was of course the place where Oxford had to come forward and meet his accusers. The King, the Prince and the Princess of Wales were seated in the {169} Hall; most of the foreign ambassadors and ministers were spectators. The imposing formalities and artificial terrors of such a ceremonial were kept up. Lord Oxford had been brought from the Tower to Westminster by water. He was now led bareheaded up to the bar by the Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower, having the axe borne before him, its edge turned away from him as yet, symbolic of the doom that might await the prisoner, but to which he had not yet been declared responsible. When the reading of the articles of impeachment and other opening passages of the trial had been gone through, Lord Harcourt, Oxford's friend, interposed, and announced that he had a motion to make. In order to hear his motion, the Peers had to withdraw to their own House. There Lord Harcourt moved that the House should dispose of the two articles of impeachment for high-treason before going into any of the evidence to support the charges for high crimes and misdemeanors. The argument for this course of proceeding was plausible. If Oxford were convicted of high-treason he would have to forfeit his life; and in such case, where would be the use of convicting him of a minor offence? The plan on which the Commons proposed to act, that of taking all the evidence in order of time, no matter to which charge it had reference, before coming to any conclusion, might, as Lord Harcourt put it, "draw the trial into prodigious length," and absolutely to no purpose. Should the accused be found guilty of high-treason he must suffer death, and there would be an end of the whole business. Should he be acquitted of the graver charge, he might then be impeached on the lighter accusation; and what harm would have been done or time lost? The motion was carried by a majority of eighty-eight to fifty-six.

Now it is hardly possible to suppose that the Peers who voted in the majority did not know very well that the Commons would not, and could not, submit to have their mode of conducting an impeachment, which it was their business to manage, thus altered at the sudden {170} dictation of the other chamber. The House of Commons was growing in importance every day; the House of Lords was proportionately losing its influence. The Commons determined that they would conduct the impeachment in their own way or not at all. Doubtless some of them, most of them, were glad to be well out of the whole affair. July 1st was fixed for the renewal of the proceedings. Some fruitless conferences between Lords and Commons wasted two days, and on the evening of July 3d the Lords sat in Westminster Hall, and invited by proclamation the accusers of Oxford to appear. No manager came forward to conduct the impeachment on the part of the Commons. The Peers sat for a quarter of an hour, as if waiting for a prosecutor, well knowing that none was coming. A solemn farce was played. The Peers went back to their chamber, and there a motion was made acquitting "Robert, Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer," on the ground that no charge had been maintained against him. A crowd without hailed the adoption of the motion with cheers. Oxford was released from the Tower, and nothing more was ever heard of his impeachment. The Duke of Marlborough was furious with rage at Oxford's escape, and the duchess is described as "almost distracted that she could not obtain her revenge." Magnanimity was not a characteristic virtue of the early days of the Georges.

[Sidenote: 1718—Disabilities of dissenters]

This was what has sometimes been called the honorable acquittal of Oxford. An English judge once spoke humorously of a prisoner having been "honorably acquitted on a flaw in the indictment." Harley's was like this: it was not an acquittal, and it was not honorable to the man impeached, the House that forebore to press the impeachment, or the House that contrived his escape from trial. Oxford had been committed to the Tower and impeached for reasons that had little to do with his guilt or innocence, or with true public policy; he was released from prison and relieved from further proceedings in just the same way. There was not evidence against {171} him on which he could be convicted of high-treason, and this was well known to his enemies when they first consigned him to the Tower. But there could not be the slightest moral doubt on the mind of any man that Oxford had intrigued with the Stuarts, and had endeavored to procure their restoration, and that he had done this even since his committal to the Tower. His guilt, whatever it was, had been increased by him, and not diminished, since the beginning of the proceedings taken against him. But he had only done what most other statesmen of that day had been doing, or would have done if they had seen advantage in it. He was not more guilty than some of his bitterest opponents, the Duke of Marlborough among others. All but the very bitterest opponents were glad to be done with the whole business. It must have come to a more or less farcical end sooner or later, and sensible men were of opinion that the sooner the better. Of Harley, "Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer," as his titles ran, we shall not hear any more; we have already foreshadowed the remainder of his life and his death. This short account of his sham impeachment is introduced here merely as a part of the historic continuity of the narrative. History has few characters less interesting than that of Oxford. He held a position of greatness without being great; he fell, and even his fall could not invest him with tragic dignity.

On December 13, 1718, Lord Stanhope, who had been raised to the peerage, first as Viscount and then as Earl Stanhope, introduced into the House of Lords a measure ingeniously entitled "A Bill for Strengthening the Protestant Interest in these Kingdoms." The title of the Bill was strictly appropriate according to our present ideas, and according to the ideas of enlightened men in Stanhope's days also; but it must at first have misled some of Stanhope's audience. Most Churchmen are now ready to admit that the interests of the Church of England are strengthened by every measure which tends to secure religious equality; but most Churchmen were not quite so {172} sure of this in the reign of George the First. The Bill brought in by Stanhope was really a measure intended to relieve Dissenters from some of the penalties and disabilities imposed on them in the reign of Queen Anne.

[Sidenote: 1719—Catholic emancipation foreshadowed]

The second reading of the Bill was the occasion of a long and animated debate. Several noble lords appealed to the opinion of the bishops, and the bishops spoke in answer to the appeal. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Bristol, the Bishop of Rochester (Atterbury), the Bishop of Chester, and other prelates, spoke against the Bill. The Bishop of Bangor, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Bishop of Lincoln, the Bishop of Norwich, and the Bishop of Peterborough spoke in its favor. The Bishop of Peterborough's was a strenuous and an eloquent argument in favor of the principle of the Bill. "The words 'Church' and 'Church's danger,'" said the Bishop of Peterborough, "had often been made use of to carry on sinister designs; and then these words made a mighty noise in the mouth of silly women and children;" but in his opinion the Church, which he defined to be a scriptural institution upon a legal establishment, was founded upon a rock, and "could not be in danger as long as we enjoyed the light of the Gospel and our excellent constitution." The argument would have been perfect if the eloquent bishop had only left out the proviso about "our excellent constitution;" for the opponents of the measure were contending, as was but natural, that the Bill, if passed into law, would not leave to the Church the constitutional protection which it had previously enjoyed.

The Bill passed the House of Lords on December 23d, and was sent down to the Commons next day. It was read there a first time at once, was read a second time after a debate of some nine hours, and was passed without amendment by a majority of 221 against 170 on January 10, 1719. The test majority, however, by which the Bill had been decisively carried, on the motion to go into committee, was but small—243 against 202—and this {173} majority was mainly due to the vote of the Scottish members. Stanhope, it is well known, would have made the measure more liberal than it was, and was dissuaded from this intention by Sunderland, who insisted that if it were too liberal it would not pass the House of Commons. The result seems to prove that Sunderland was right. Walpole spoke against the Bill, limited as its concessions were. It would be interesting to know what sort of argument a man of Walpole's principles could have offered against a measure embodying the very spirit and sense of Whig policy. Unfortunately we have no means of knowing. The galleries of the House of Commons were rigidly closed against strangers on the day of the debate, and all we are allowed to hear concerning Walpole's part in the discussion is that "Mr. Robert Walpole made a warm speech, chiefly levelled against a great man in the present administration." There is something characteristic of Walpole in this. He was never very particular about principle, or even about seeming consistency; but still, when opposing a measure which he might have been expected to support, he would have probably found it more expedient, as well as more agreeable, to confine himself chiefly to the task of attacking some "great man in the present administration."

It ought to be said of Stanhope that he was distinctly in advance of his age as regarded the recognition of the principle of religious equality. He was not only anxious to put the Protestant Dissenters as much as possible on a level with Churchmen in all the privileges of citizenship, but he was even strongly in favor of mitigating the severity of the laws against the Roman Catholics. In his "History of England, from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Versailles," Lord Stanhope, the descendant of the minister whose career and character have done so much honor to a name and a family, claims for him the credit of having put on paper a scheme "not undeserving of attention as the earliest germ of Roman Catholic emancipation." Stanhope's life was too soon and too {174} suddenly cut short to allow him to push forward his scheme to anything like a practical position, and it is not probable that he could in any case have done much with it at such a time. Still, though fate cut short the life, it ought not to cut short the praise.

[Sidenote: 1719—The Peerage Bill]

The Peerage Bill raised a question of some constitutional importance. The principal object of this measure, which was introduced on February 28, 1719, in the House of Lords, by the Duke of Somerset, and was believed to have Lord Sunderland for its actual author, was to limit the prerogative of the Crown in the creation of English peerages to a number not exceeding six, in addition to those already existing. According to the provisions of the Bill, the Crown might still create new Peers on the extinction of old titles for want of male heirs; but with this exception the power of adding new peerages would be limited to the number of six. It was also proposed that, instead of the sixteen elective Peers from Scotland, twenty-five hereditary Peers should be created. This part of the Bill was that which at the time gave rise to most of the debate, in the House of Lords at least; but the really important constitutional question was that which involved the limitation of the privilege of the Sovereign. The Sovereign himself sent a special message to the House of Lords, informing them that "he has so much at heart the settling the Peerage of the whole kingdom upon such a foundation as may secure the freedom and constitution of Parliament in all future ages, that he is willing that his prerogative stand not in the way of so great and necessary a work." The ostensible motive for the proposed legislation was to get rid of difficulties caused by the over-increase of the numbers of the peerage since the union of England and Scotland; the real object was to guard against such a coup-d'etat as that accomplished in Anne's later days by the creation of the twelve Peers, of whom Mrs. Masham's husband was one. Nothing could be more generous and liberal, it might have been thought, than the expressed willingness of the {175} King to surrender a part of his prerogative. This very readiness, however, expressed as it was by anticipation, and before the measure had yet made any progress, set a great many persons in and out of Parliament thinking. A vehement dispute soon sprang up, in which the pamphleteer, as usual, bore an important part. Addison, in one of his latest political and literary efforts, defended the proposed change. He described his pamphlet as the work of an "Old Whig." It was written as a reply to a pamphlet by Steele condemning the Bill, and signed "A Plebeian." Reply, retort, and rejoinder followed in more and more heated and personal style. The excitement created caused the measure to be dropped for the session, but it was brought in again in the session following, and it passed through all its stages in the Lords without trouble and with much rapidity.

When it came down to the House of Commons, however, a very different fate awaited it. Walpole assailed it with powerful eloquence and with unanswerable argument. The true nature of the scheme now came out. It would have simply rendered the representative chamber powerless against a majority of the chamber which did not represent. This will be readily apparent to any one who considers the subject for a moment by the light of our more modern experience. A majority of the House of Commons, representing, it may be, a vast majority of the people, agree to a certain measure. It goes up to the House of Lords, and is rejected there. What means in the end have the Commons, who represent the nation, of giving effect to the wishes of the nation? They have none but the privilege of the Crown to create, under the advice of ministers, a sufficient number of new Peers to outvote the opponents of the measure. No alternative but revolution and civil war would be left if this were taken away. It is true that the power might be again abused by the Sovereign, as it was abused in Anne's days on the advice of the Tories; but we know that, as a matter of fact, it is hardly ever abused—hardly ever even used. {176} Why is it hardly ever used? For the good reason that all men know it is existing, and can be used should the need arise. Even were it to be misused, the misuse would happen under responsible ministers, who could be challenged to answer for it, and who would have to make good their defence. But if the House of Lords were made supreme over the House of Commons in every instance, by abolishing the unlimited prerogative which alone keeps it in check, who could then be held responsible for abuse—and before whom? Who could call the House of Lords to account? Before what tribunal could it be summoned to answer? The Peers are now independent of the people, and would then be also independent of the Crown. There is hardly a great political reform known to modern England which, if the Peerage Bill had become law, would not have been absolutely rejected or else carried by a popular revolution.

[Sidenote: 1720—The Irish House of Lords]

Walpole attacked the Bill on every side. Such legislation, he insisted, "would in time bring back the Commons into the state of servile dependency they were in when they wore the badges of the Lords." It would, he contended, take away "one of the most powerful incentives to virtue, . . . since there would be no coming to honor but through the winding-sheet of an old decrepit lord and the grave of an extinct noble family." Walpole knew well his public and his time. He dwelt most strongly on this last consideration—that the Bill if passed into law would shut the gates of the Peerage against deserving Commoners. He asked indignantly how the House of Lords could expect the Commons to give their concurrence to a measure "by which they and their posterities are to be excluded from the Peerage." The commoner who, after this way of putting the matter, assented to the Bill, must either have been an unambitious bachelor, or have been blessed in a singularly unambitious wife. Steele, who, as we have seen, had fought gallantly against the Bill with his pen, now made a very effective speech against it. He showed that the {177} measure would, alter the whole constitutional position of the House of Lords, whether as a legislative chamber or a court of appeal. "The restraint of the Peers to a certain number will make the most powerful of them have all the rest under their direction, . . . and judges so made by the blind order of birth will be capable of no other way of decision." The prerogative, as Steele put it very clearly, "can do no hurt when ministers do their duty; but a settled number of Peers may abuse their power when no man is answerable for them, or can call them to account for their encroachments." The Bill was rejected by a majority of 269 votes against 177.

In March, 1720, was passed an Act with a pompous and even portentous title: it was called "An Act for the better securing the Dependency of the Kingdom of Ireland upon the Crown of Great Britain." The preamble recited that "attempts have been lately made to shake off the subjection of Ireland unto and dependence upon the Imperial Crown of this realm, which will be of dangerous consequence to Great Britain and Ireland." The reader would naturally assume that some fresh designs of the Stuarts had been discovered, having for their theatre the Catholic provinces of Ireland. Was James Stuart about to land at Kinsale? Had Alberoni got hold of the Irish Catholics? Was Atterbury plotting with Swift for an armed insurrection in Munster and Connaught? No; nothing of the kind was expected. The preamble of the alarming Act went on to set forth that the House of Lords in Ireland had lately, "against law, assumed to themselves a power and jurisdiction to examine, correct, and amend the judgments and decrees of the courts of justice in the kingdom of Ireland;" and this alleged trespass of the Irish House of Lords was the whole cause of the new measure. The Act declared that the Irish House of Lords had no jurisdiction "to judge of, affirm, or reverse any judgment, sentence, or decree given or made in any court within the said kingdom." This was an enactment of the most serious {178} moment in a constitutional sense. It made the Parliament of Ireland subordinate to the Parliament of England; it reduced the Irish House of Lords from a position in Ireland equal to that of the House of Lords in England, down to the level of a mere provincial assembly. The occasion of the passing of this Act was the decision given by the Irish House of Lords in the celebrated cause of Sherlock against Annesley. It is not necessary for us to go into the story of the case at any length. It was a question of disputed property. The defendant had obtained a decree in the Irish Court of Exchequer, which decree was reversed on an appeal to the Irish House of Lords. The defendant appealed to the English House of Lords, who confirmed the judgment of the Irish Court of Exchequer, and ordered him to be put in possession of the disputed property. The Irish House of Lords stood by their authority, and actually ordered the Irish Barons of Exchequer to be taken into custody by Black Rod for having offended against the privileges of the Peers and the rights and liberties of Ireland. The Act was passed to settle the question and reduce the Irish House of Lords to submission and subordinate rank. It was settled merely, of course, by the strength of a majority in the English Parliament. The Duke of Leeds recorded a sensible and a manly protest against the vote of the majority of his brother Peers. One or two of the reasons he gives for his protest are worth reading even now. The eleventh reason is, "Because it is the glory of the English laws and the blessing attending Englishmen, that they have justice administered at their doors, and not to be drawn, as formerly, to Rome by appeals;" "and by this order the people of Ireland must be drawn from Ireland hither whensoever they receive any injustice from the Chancery there, by which means poor men must be trampled on, as not being able to come over to seek for justice." The thirteenth reason is still more concise: "Because this taking away the jurisdiction of the Lords' House in Ireland may be a means to {179} disquiet the Lords there and disappoint the King's affairs."

[Sidenote: 1718—Death of William Penn]

The protest, it need hardly be said, received little or no attention. More than sixty years after, when England was perplexed in foreign and colonial troubles, the spirit of the protest walked abroad and animated Grattan and the Irish Volunteers. But in 1720 the Parliament at Westminster was free to do as it pleased with the Parliament in Dublin. To the vast majority of the Irish people it might have been a matter of absolute indifference which Parliament reigned supreme; they had as little to expect from Dublin as from Westminster. The Irish Parliament was quite as ready to promote legislation for the further persecution of Catholics as any English Parliament could be. The Parliament in Dublin was merely an assembly of English and Protestant colonists. Yet it is worthy of remark, that, then and after, the sympathies of the people, when they had any means of showing them, went with the Irish Parliament simply because of the name it bore. It was, at all events, the so-called Parliament of Ireland; it represented, at least in name, the authority of the Irish people. So long as it existed there was some recognition of the fact that Ireland was something more than a merely conquered country, held by the title of the sword, and governed by arbitrary proclamation, secret warrant, and drum-head court-martial.

Death had been busy among eminent men for some few years. The Duke of Shrewsbury, the "king of hearts," the statesman whose appointment as Lord Treasurer secured the throne of Great Britain for the Hanoverian family, died on February 18, 1717. William Penn, the founder of the great American State of Pennyslvania, closed his long active and fruitful life in 1718. We have here only to record his death; the history of his deeds belongs to an earlier time. Controversy has now quite ceased to busy itself about his noble character, and his life of splendid unostentatious beneficence. His name, which without his consent and against his wishes was {180} made part of the name of the State which he founded, will be remembered in connection with its history while the Delaware and the Schuylkill flow. Of his famous treaty with the Indians nothing, perhaps, was ever better said than the comment of Voltaire, that it was the only league between savages and white men which was never sworn to and never broken. Addison died, still comparatively young, on June 17, 1719. He had reached the highest point of his political career but a short time before, when, on one of the changes of office between Stanhope and Sunderland, he became one of the principal secretaries of State. His health, however, was breaking down, and he never had indeed the slightest gift or taste for political life. "Pity," said Mrs. Manley, the authoress of "The New Atlantis," speaking of Addison, "that politics and sordid interest should have carried him out of the road of Helicon and snatched him from the embraces of the Muses." But it seems quite unjust to ascribe Addison's divergence into political ways to any sordid interest. He had political friends who loved him, and he went with them into politics as he might have travelled in company with them, and for the sake of their company, although caring nothing for travel himself. No man was better aware of his incapacity for the real business of public life. Addison had himself pointed out all the objections to his political advancement before that advancement was pressed upon him. He was not a statesman; he was not an administrator; he could not do any genuine service as head of a department; he was not even a good clerk; he was a wretched speaker; he was consumed by a morbid shyness, almost as oppressive as that of the poet Cowper in a later day, or of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American novelist, later still. His whole public career was at best but a harmless mistake. It has done no harm to his literary fame. The world has almost forgotten it. Even lovers of Addison might have to be reminded now that the creator of Sir Roger de Coverley was once a diplomatic agent and a secretary of State, {181} and a member of the House of Commons. Some of the essays which Addison contributed to the Spectator are like enough to outlive the system of government by party, and perhaps even the whole system of representative government. Sir Roger de Coverley will not be forgotten until men forget Parson Adams and Robinson Crusoe and Gil Blas, and for that matter, Sir John Falstaff and Don Quixote.

[Sidenote: 1720—The King and the Prince reconciled]

For some time things were looking well at home and abroad. The policy of the Government appeared to have been completely successful on the Continent. The confederations that had been threatening England were dissolved or broken up; the Jacobite conspiracies seemed to have been made hopeless and powerless. The friendship established between England and the Regent of France had to all seeming robbed the Stuarts of their last chance. James the Chevalier had no longer a home on French soil. Paris could not any more be the head-quarters of his organization and the scene of his mock Court. The Regent had kept his promises to the English Government. It was well known that, so far from encouraging or permitting the designs of the exiled family against England, he would do all in his power to frustrate them; as, indeed, he had an opportunity of doing not long after. Never before, perhaps never since, was there so cordial an understanding between England and France. Never could there have been a time when such an understanding was of greater importance to England.

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