HotFreeBooks.com
A History of the Four Georges, Volume I (of 4)
by Justin McCarthy
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Sidenote: 1721—Anticipations of free-trade]

These troubles might have proved serious but for the determined policy of Townshend and of Walpole. We have not thought it necessary to weary our readers with the details of this little running fire of dispute which was kept up for some years between England and Spain. We saw in an earlier chapter how the quarrel began, and what {229} the elements were which fed it and kept it burning. This latter passage is really only a continuation of the former; both, except for the sake of mere continuity of historic narrative, might have been told as one story, and, indeed, would perhaps not have required many sentences for the telling. Walpole applied himself at home to the work of what has since been called Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform. He was the first great English finance minister; perhaps we may say he was the first English minister who ever sincerely regarded the development of national prosperity, the just and equal distribution of taxation, and the lightening of the load of financial burdens, as the most important business of a statesman. The whole political and social conditions of the country were changing under his wise and beneficent system of administration. Population was steadily increasing; some of the great rising towns had doubled their numbers since Walpole's career began. Agriculture was better in its systems, and was brightening the face of the country everywhere; the farmer had almost ceased for the time to grumble; the laborer was well fed and not too heavily worked. We do not mean to say that Walpole's administration was the one cause of all this improvement in town and country, but most assuredly the peace, and the security of peace, which Walpole's administration conferred was of direct and material influence in the growing prosperity of the nation. His financial systems lightened the burdens of taxation, distributed the load more equally everywhere, and enabled the State to get the best revenue possible at the lowest cost and with the least effort. It might almost be said that Walpole anticipated free-trade. The Royal speech from the Throne at the opening of Parliament, on October 19, 1721, declared it to be "very obvious that nothing would more conduce to the obtaining so public a good"—the extension of our commerce—"than to make the exportation of our own manufactures, and the importation of the commodities used in the manufacturing of them, as practicable and as easy as may be; by this means the balance {230} of trade may be preserved in our favor, our navigation increased, and greater numbers of our poor employed." "I must, therefore," the speech went on, "recommend it to you, gentlemen of the House of Commons, to consider how far the duties upon these branches may be taken off and replaced, without any violation of public faith or laying any new burden upon my people; and I promise myself that, by a due consideration of this matter, the produce of those duties, compared with the infinite advantages that will accrue to the kingdom by their being taken off, will be found so inconsiderable as to leave little room for any difficulties or objections." In furtherance of the policy indicated in these passages of the Royal speech, more than one hundred articles of British manufacture were allowed to be exported free of duty, while some forty articles of raw material were allowed to be imported in the same manner. Walpole was anxious to make a full use of this system of indirect taxation. He desired to levy and collect taxes in such a manner as to avoid the losses imposed upon the revenue by smuggling and by various forms of fraud. His principle was that the necessaries of life and the raw materials from which our manufactures were to be made ought to remain, as far as possible, free of taxation. The whole history of our financial systems since Walpole's time has been a history of the gradual development of his economic principles. There has been, of course, reaction now and then, and sometimes the counsels of statesmen appear for a while to have been under the absolute domination of the policy which he strove to supplant; but the reaction has only been for seasons, while the progress of Walpole's policy has been steady. We have now, in 1884, nearly accomplished the financial task Walpole would, if he could, have accomplished a century and a half earlier.

[Sidenote: 1723—Parliamentary corruption]

No one can deny that Walpole was an unscrupulous minister. He would gladly have carried out the best policy by the best means; but where this was not practicable or convenient he was perfectly willing to carry {231} out a noble policy by the vilest methods. He was not himself avaricious; he was not open to the temptations of money. He had a fortune large enough for him, and he spent it freely, but he was willing to bribe and corrupt all those of whom he could make any use. Under his rule corruption became a settled Parliamentary system. He had done more than any other man to make the House of Commons the most powerful factor in the government of England; he had therefore made a seat in the House of Commons an object of the highest ambition. To sit in that House made the obscurest country gentleman a power in the State. Naturally, therefore, a seat in the House of Commons was struggled for, scrambled for, fought for—obtained at any cost of money, influence, time, and temper. Naturally, also, a seat thus obtained was a possession through which recompense of some kind was expected. Those who buy their seats naturally expect to sell their votes; at least that was so in the days of Walpole. In times nearer to our own, England has seen a condition of things in which public opinion and the development of a sort of national conscience absolutely prevented members from taking bribes, although it allowed them the most liberal use of bribery and corruption in the obtaining of their seats. The member of Parliament who, twenty or thirty years ago, would have bought his seat by means of the most unblushing and shameless corruption, would no more have thought of selling his vote to a minister for a money payment than he would have thought of selling his wife at Smithfield. But in Walpole's time the man who bought his seat was ready to sell his vote. Walpole, the minister, was willing to buy the vote of any man who would sell it. He was lavish in the gift of lucrative offices, of rich sinecures, of pensions, and even of bribes in a lump sum, money down. He would bribe a member's wife, if that were more convenient than openly to bribe the member himself. He had no particular choice as to whether the bribe should be direct or indirect, open or secret; he {232} wanted to get the vote, he was willing to pay the price, and he cared not who knew of the arrangement. We have already mentioned that the saying ascribed to him about every man having his price was never uttered by him. What he said probably was, that "each of these men," alluding to a certain group or party, had his price. He is reported to have said that he never knew any woman who would not take money, except one noble lady, whom he named, and she, he said, took diamonds. He acted consistently and was not ashamed. He was incorrupt himself; he was even in that sense incorruptible; but in order to gain his own public purposes, wise and just as they were, he was willing to corrupt a whole House of Commons, and would not have shrunk from corrupting a nation.

[Sidenote: 1723—Lord Carteret]

It ought to be pointed out that the very pacific nature of Walpole's policy and the security and steadiness of his administration made it sometimes all the more necessary for him to have recourse to questionable methods. Great controversies of imperial or national interest—controversies which stir the hearts of men, which appeal to their principles and awaken their passions—did not often arise during his long tenure of power. Agitations of this kind, whatever trouble and disturbance they may bring with them, have a purifying effect upon the political atmosphere. Only a very ignoble creature is to be bribed out of his opinions when some interest is at stake, on which his heart, his training, and his associations have already taught him to take sides. Walpole kept the nation out of such controversies for the most part, and one result was that small political combinations of various kinds were free to form themselves around him, beneath him, and against him. The House of Commons sometimes threatened to dissolve itself into a number of little separate sections or factions, none of them representing any real principle or having more than a temporary attraction of cohesion. Walpole was again and again placed in the position of having to encounter {233} some little faction of this kind by open exercise of power or by the process of corruption, and he usually found the latter course more convenient and ready. Nor could such a man at any period of English history have remained long without more or less formidable rivals. Walpole himself must have known well enough that the death of men like Sunderland, or the death or any number of men, could not, so long as England was herself, secure him for long an undisturbed political field, with no head raised against him. A country like this is never so barren of political intellect and courage as to admit of a long dictatorship in political life.

Walpole had already one rising rival in the person of Lord Carteret, afterwards Earl of Granville. John Carteret was born April 22, 1690, and was only five years old when the death of his father, the first Lord Carteret, made him a member of the House of Lords. He distinguished himself greatly at Oxford, and entered very early into public life. He was from the beginning a favorite of George the First, and by the influence of Stanhope was intrusted with various diplomatic missions of more or less importance. In 1721 he was actually appointed ambassador to the Court of France. The death of Craggs, the Secretary of State, however, made a vacancy in the administration, and the place was at once assigned to Carteret. Carteret was one of those men whose genius we have to believe in rather on the faith of contemporary judgment than by reason of any track of its own it has left behind. The unanimous opinion of all who knew him, and more especially of those who were commonly brought into contact with him, was that Carteret possessed the rarest combination of statesmanlike and literary gifts. Probably no English public man ever exhibited in a higher degree the qualities that bring success in politics and the qualities that bring success in literature. It seems strange to have to say this when one remembers a man like Bolingbroke and a man like Burke; but it is certain that neither Bolingbroke nor Burke could {234} boast of such scholarship and accomplishments as those of Carteret. [Sidenote: 1723—Carteret's German] He was a profound classical scholar; he was a master of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Swedish. His scientific knowledge was extraordinary for that time; he was a close student of the history of past and passing time; he was deeply interested in constitutional law, and had a passion for Church history. He was a great parliamentary debater—some say he was even a great orator. He was prompt and bold in his decisions; he was not afraid of any enterprise; he was not depressed or abashed by failure; he could take fortune's buffets and rewards with equal thanks. Large brains and small affections are, according to Mr. Disraeli, the essential qualities for success in public life. Carteret had large brains and small affections; he had no friendships and no enmities. Like Fox, he was a bad hater, but, unlike Fox, he had not a heart to love. He was fond of books and of wine and of women; he was a great drinker of wine, even for those days of deep drink. Beneath all the apparent energy and daring of his character there lay a voluptuous love of ease and languor. He was not a lazy man, but his inclination was always to be an indolent man. He leaped up to sudden political action when the call came, like Sardanapalus leaping up to the inevitable fight; but, like Sardanapalus, he would have been always glad to lie down again and loll in ease the moment the necessity for action had passed away. No doubt his daily allowance of Burgundy—a very liberal and generous allowance—had a good deal to do with his tendency to indolence. Whatever the reason, it is certain that, with all his magnificent gifts and his splendid chances, he did nothing great, and has left no abiding mark in history. Every one who came near him seems to have regarded his as a master-spirit. Chesterfield said of him, "When he dies, the ablest head in England dies too, take it for all in all." Horace Walpole declares him to be superior in one set of qualities to his father. Sir Robert Walpole, {235} and in others to the great Lord Chatham. "Why did they send you here?" Swift said to Carteret, with rough good-humor, when Carteret came over to Dublin to be Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. "You are not fit for this place; let them send us back our boobies." Carteret's fame has always seemed to us like the fame of Sheridan's Begum speech. Such poor records as we have of that speech seem hardly to hint at any extraordinary eloquence; yet the absolutely unanimous opinion of all that heard it—of all the orators and statesmen and critics of the time—was that so great a speech had never before been spoken in Parliament. Those men can hardly have been all wrong, one would think; and yet, on the other hand, it is not easy to believe that those who made such record of the speech as we have can have purposely left out all the eloquence, the wit, and the argument. In like manner, readers of this day may perplex themselves about the fame of Carteret. All the men who knew him can hardly have been mistaken when they concurred in giving him credit for surpassing genius; and yet we find no evidence of that genius either in the literature or the political history of England.

Carteret had one great advantage over Walpole and over all his contemporaries in political life—he was able to speak German fluently; he was able to talk for hours with the King in the King's own guttural tongue. The King clung to Carteret's companionship because of his German. While Walpole was trying to instil his policy and counsels into George's mind through the non-conducting medium of very bad Latin, while other ministers were endeavoring to approach the Royal intelligence by means of French, which they spoke badly and he understood imperfectly, Carteret could rattle away in idiomatic German, and could amuse the Royal humor even with voluble German slang. Carteret had come into public life under the influence of Lord Sunderland and Lord Stanhope, and he regarded himself as the successor to their policy. He never considered himself as quite in {236} understanding and harmony with Townshend and Walpole. His principal idea was that the time had passed when it was proper or expedient to exclude the Tories or the High-churchmen from the political service of the Crown. He desired to enlarge the basis of administration by admitting some of the more plastic and progressive of the Tories to a share in it. There was, however, something more than a conflict of political views between Carteret and Walpole. Walpole's ambition was to be the constitution dictator of England. We do not say that this was a mere personal ambition; on the contrary, we believe Walpole acted on the honest conviction that he knew better than any other man how England ought to be governed. He was sure, and reasonably sure, that no other statesman could play the game so well; he therefore claimed the right to play it. Carteret, on the other hand, was far too strong a man to be quietly pushed into the background. He was determined that if he remained in the service of the State he would be a statesman, and not a clerk.

[Sidenote: 1723—A match making intrigue]

Therefore, while Carteret and Walpole were colleagues there was always a struggle going on between them, and, like all the political struggles of the time, it had a great deal of underhand influence, and the worst kind of petticoat influence, engaged in it. One of the King's mistresses—the most influential of them—gave all her support to Walpole; another Royal paramour lent her aid to Carteret's side. Carteret played into the King's hands as regarded the Hanoverian policy, and was for taking strong measures against Russia. Townshend and Walpole would hear of no schemes which threatened to entangle England in war for the sake of Hanoverian interests. George liked Carteret, and was captivated by his policy as well as by his personal qualities, but he could not help seeing that Townshend's advice was the sounder, and that no man could manage the finances like Walpole. George went to Hanover in the summer of 1723, and both the Secretaries of State went with him. This was {237} something unusual, and even unprecedented; but the King would not do without the companionship of Carteret, and knew that he could not do without the advice of Townshend. So both Townshend and Carteret went with his Majesty to Herrenhausen, and Walpole had the whole business of administration in his own hands at home.

A very paltry and pitiful intrigue at length settled the question between Townshend and Carteret. A marriage had been arranged between a niece, or so-called niece, of one of George's mistresses and the son of La Vrilliere, the French Secretary of State. Madame La Vrilliere insisted, as a condition of the marriage, that her husband should be made a duke, and it was assumed that this could be brought about by the influence of the English Government. King George was anxious that the marriage should take place, and Carteret, of course, was willing to assist him. The English ambassador at the Court of France was a man named Sir Luke Schaub, by birth a Swiss, who had been Stanhope's secretary, and by Stanhope's influence was pushed up in the diplomatic service. Sir Luke Schaub was in close understanding with Carteret, and was strongly hostile to Townshend and Walpole. Of this fact Townshend was well aware, and he took care that Schaub should be closely watched in Paris. Schaub was instructed by Carteret to do all he could in order to obtain the dukedom for Madame La Vrilliere's husband. Cardinal Dubois died, and his place in the councils of the Duke of Orleans was taken by Count Noce, who was believed to be hostile to England. This fact gave Townshend an excuse for suggesting to the King that some one should be sent to Paris to watch over the action of the French Government and the conduct of the English ambassador, "in such a manner," so Townshend wrote from Hanover to Walpole, "as may neither hurt Sir Luke Schaub's credit with the Duke of Orleans, nor create a jealousy in Sir Luke of the King's intending to withdraw his confidence from him." This was, of course, exactly what Townshend wanted to do—to {238} induce the King to withdraw his confidence from poor Sir Luke. The King agreed that it was necessary some one "in whose fidelity and dexterity he can depend" should set out from England to Hanover, "and take Paris on his way hither, under pretence of a curiosity to see that place, and without owning to any one living the business he is employed in." The person selected for this somewhat delicate mission was Horace Walpole, Robert Walpole's only surviving brother.

[Sidenote: 1724—Carteret goes to Ireland]

Horace Walpole acquitted himself very cleverly of the task assigned to him. He was a man of uncouth manners, but of some shrewd ability and of varied experience. He had been a soldier with Stanhope before acting as Under-Secretary of State to Townshend; he had managed to distinguish himself in Parliament and in diplomacy. He soon contrived to obtain the ear of the Duke of Orleans, and he found that Sir Luke Schaub had been deceiving himself and his sovereign about the prospect of La Vrilliere's dukedom. Philip of Orleans told Horace Walpole frankly that there never was the slightest idea of giving such a dukedom, and added that the dignity of France would be compromised if such a concession were made in order to enable the King of England "to marry his bastard daughter"—so the Duke put it—into the French noblesse. Sir Luke Schaub's haste and indiscreet zeal had, in fact, brought his sovereign into discredit, and even compromised the good understanding between England and France.

Philip of Orleans died almost immediately. His death was sudden, but he had long run a course which set all laws of health at defiance. He stuck to his pleasures to the very last—died, one might say, in harness. His successor in the administration of France, under the young King Louis the Fifteenth, who had just been declared of age, was the Duke de Bourbon, Philip's equal, perhaps, in profligacy, but not by any means his equal in capacity. Horace Walpole won over the new administrator. The Duke de Bourbon told him that Sir Luke Schaub was {239} obnoxious to every one in the French Court, and that he was not fit, by birth, breeding, or capacity, to represent England there.

We need not follow the intrigue through all its turns and twists. Walpole and Townshend succeeded. Schaub was recalled; Horace Walpole was appointed ambassador in his place. The recall of Schaub involved the fall of Carteret. Carteret, however, was not a man to be rudely thrust out of office, and a soft fall was therefore prepared for him; he was made Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. He knew that he was defeated. Then, as at a later day and at an earlier, the Viceroyalty of Ireland was the gilding which enabled a man to gulp down the bitter pill of political failure. When Lord John Russell obtained the dismissal of Lord Palmerston from his cabinet in 1851, he endeavored, somewhat awkwardly, to soften the blow by offering to his dispossessed rival the position of Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. Lord Palmerston understood the meaning of the offer, and treated it—as was but natural—with open contempt. Carteret acted otherwise. Probably he felt within himself that he was not destined to a great political career. In any case, he accepted the offer with perfect good-humor, declaring that, on the whole, he thought he should be much more pleasantly situated as a dictator in Dublin than as the servant of a dictator in London.



{240}

CHAPTER XV.

THE DRAPIER'S LETTERS.

[Sidenote: 1724—Wood's coinage]

Lord Carteret arrived at the seat of his Viceroyalty in the midst of a political storm which threatened at one time to blow down a good many shaky institutions. He found the whole country, and especially the capital, convulsed by an agitation the like of which was not seen again until the days of Grattan and the Volunteers. The hero of the agitation was Swift; the spell-words which gave it life and direction were found in "The Drapier's Letters."

The copper coinage of Ireland had been for a long time deficient. Employers of labor had in many cases been obliged to pay their workmen in tokens; sometimes even with pieces of card, stamped and signed, and representing each a small amount. During Sunderland's time of power, the Government set themselves to work to supply the lack of copper, and invited tenders from the owners of mines for the supply. A Mr. William Wood, a man who owned iron and copper mines, and iron and copper works, sent in a tender which was accepted. A patent was given to Wood permitting him to coin halfpence and farthings to the value of one hundred and eight thousand pounds. Walpole had not approved of the scheme himself, but for various reasons he did not venture to upset it. He had the patent prepared, and consulted Sir Isaac Newton, then Master of the Mint, with regard to the objects which the Government had in view, and the weight and fineness of the coin which Wood was to supply. The halfpence and farthings were to be a little less in weight than the coin of the same kind {241} current in England. Walpole considered this necessary because of the difference in exchange between the two countries. Sir Isaac Newton was of opinion that the Irish coin exceeded the English in fineness of metal. As to the King's prerogative for granting such patents, Walpole himself explained in a letter to Lord Townshend, then in Hanover with the King, that it was one never disputed and often exercised. The granting of this patent, and the mode of supplying the deficiency in copper coin, might seem little open to objection; but the Irish Privy Council at once declared against the whole transaction. Both Houses of the Irish Parliament passed addresses to the King, declaring that the introduction of Wood's coinage would be injurious to the revenue and positively destructive of trade. The Irish Lord Chancellor set himself sternly against the patent in private, and urged all his friends, comrades, and dependents, to act publicly against it. The addresses from the two Houses of Parliament were sent to Walpole, who transmitted them to Lord Townshend. Walpole accompanied the addresses with an explanation in which he vindicated the policy represented by the granting of the patent, and insisted that no harm whatever could be done to the trade or revenue of Ireland by the introduction of the new copper coinage. Walpole advised that the King should return a soothing and a conciliatory reply to the addresses, and the King acted accordingly. It seemed at one time probable that a satisfactory compromise would be arranged between the Irish Parliament and King George's ministers. This hope, however, was soon dispelled.

One objection felt by the Irish people in general to the patent and the new coinage was founded on the discovery of the fact that Wood had agreed to pay a large bribe to the Duchess of Kendal for her influence in obtaining the patent for him. The objection of the Irish Executive and the Irish Parliament was mainly based on the fact that Dublin had not been consulted in the arrangement of the business. The ministers in London {242} settled the whole affair, and then simply communicated the nature of the arrangement to Dublin. Wood himself was unpopular, so far as anything could be known of him, in Ireland. He was a stranger to Ireland, and he was represented to be a boastful, arrogant man, who went about saying he could do anything he liked with Walpole, and that he would cram his copper coins down the throats of the Irish people. All these objections, however, might have been got over but for the sudden appearance of an unexpected and a powerful actor on the scene. One morning appeared in Dublin "A letter to the shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers, and common people of Ireland, concerning the brass halfpence coined by one William Wood, hardwareman, with a design to have them pass in this kingdom; wherein is shown the power of his patent, the value of his halfpence, and how far every person may be obliged to take the same in payments; and how to behave himself in case such an attempt should be made by Wood or any other person." The letter was signed "M. B., Drapier." This was the first of those famous "Drapier's Letters" which convulsed Ireland with a passion like that preceding a great popular insurrection. It may be questioned whether the pamphlets of a literary politician ever before or since worked with so powerful an influence on the mind of a nation as these marvellous letters.

[Sidenote: 1724—Swift's sincerity]

The author of "The Drapier's Letters," we need hardly say, was Dean Swift. Swift had for some years withdrawn himself from the political world. He is described by one of his biographers as having "amused himself for three or four years with poetry, conversation, and trifles." Now and then, however, he published some letter which showed his interest in the condition of the people among whom he lived; his proposal, for example, "for the universal use of Irish manufacture in clothes and furniture of houses, etc.," was written in the year 1720. This letter—the printer of which was subjected to a Government prosecution—contains a passage which has been, perhaps, {243} more often and more persistently misquoted than any other observation of any author we can now remember. It seems to have become an article of faith with many writers and most readers that Swift said, "Burn everything that comes from England, except its coals." Without much hope of correcting that false impression so far as the bulk of the reading and quoting public is concerned, we may observe that Swift never said anything of the kind. This is what he did say: "I heard the late Archbishop of Tuam mention a pleasant observation of somebody's that 'Ireland would never be happy until a law were made for burning everything that came from England, except their people and their coals.' I must confess that, as to the former, I should not be sorry if they would stay at home, and, for the latter, I hope in a little time we shall have no occasion for them." Swift was not an Irish patriot; he was not, indeed, an Irishman at all, except by the accident of birth, and now by the accident of residence. He did not love the country; he would not have lived there a week if he could. He had no affection for the people, and, at first, very little sympathy with them. He was always angry if anybody regarded him as an Irishman. His friends were all found among what may be described as the English and Protestant colony in Ireland. He felt towards the native Irish—the Irish Catholics—very much as the official of an English Government might feel towards some savage tribe whom he had been sent out to govern. But at the same time it is an entire mistake to represent Swift as insincere in the efforts which he made to ameliorate the condition of the Irish people, and to redress some of the gross wrongs which he saw inflicted on them. The administrator of whom we have already spoken might have gone out to the savage country with nothing but contempt for its wild natives, but if he were at all a humane and a just man, it would be natural for him as time went on to feel keenly if any injustice were inflicted on the poor creatures whom he despised, and at last to stand up {244} with indignation as their defender and their champion. So it was with Swift. [Sidenote: 1724—The drapier's arguments] Little as he liked the Irish people in the beginning, yet he had a temper and a spirit which made him intolerant of injustice and oppression. That fierce indignation described by himself, and of which such store was always laid up in his heart, was roused to its highest point of heat by the sight of the miseries of the Irish people and of the frequent acts of neglect and injustice by which their misery was deepened. He felt the most sincere resentment at the arbitrary manner in which the Government in London were dealing with Ireland in the matter of Wood's patent and Wood's copper coin. Swift, of course, knew well by what influence the patent had been obtained, and he knew that when obtained it had been simply thrust upon the Irish authorities, Parliament, and people without any previous sanction or knowledge on their part. Very likely he was also convinced, or had convinced himself, that the patent and the new coin would be injurious to the revenues and the trade of the country. Certainly, if he was not convinced of this, he gave to all his diatribes against Wood, Wood's patent, and Wood's halfpence the tones of profoundest conviction. He assumed the character of a draper for the moment—why he chose to spell draper "drapier" nobody knew—and he certainly succeeded in putting on all the semblance of an honest trader driven to homely and robust indignation by an impudent proposal to injure the business of himself and his neighbors. In England, he says, "the halfpence and farthings pass for very little more than they are worth, and if you should beat them to pieces and sell them to the brazier, you would not lose much above a penny in a shilling." But he goes on to say that Mr. Wood, whom he describes as "a mean, ordinary man, a hardware dealer"—Wood was, as we have already seen, a large owner of iron and copper mines and works, but that was all one to Dean Swift—"made his halfpence of such base metal, and so much smaller than the English ones, that the brazier would hardly give you {245} above a penny of good money for a shilling of his; so that this sum of one hundred and eight thousand pounds in good gold and silver may be given for trash that will not be worth above eight or nine thousand pounds real value." Nor is even this the worst, he contends, "for Mr. Wood, when he pleases, may by stealth send over another hundred and eight thousand pounds and buy all our goods for eleven parts in twelve under the value." "For example," says Swift, "if a hatter sells a dozen of hats for five shillings apiece, which amounts to three pounds, and receives the payment in Wood's coin, he really receives only the value of five shillings." Of course this is the wildest exaggeration—is, in fact, mere extravagance and absurdity, if regarded as a financial proposition. But Swift understood, as hardly any other man understood, the art of employing exaggeration with such an effect as to make it do the business of unquestionable fact. He was able to make his literary coins pass for much more than Wood could do with his halfpence and farthings. The artistic skill which bade the creatures whom Gulliver saw in his travels seem real, life-like, and living, made the fantastic extravagance of the "Drapier's Letters" strike home with all the force of truth to the minds of an excited populace.

Many biographers and historians have expressed a blank and utter amazement at the effect which Swift's letters produced. They have chosen to regard it as a mere historical curiosity, a sort of political paradox and puzzle. They have described the Irish people at the time as under the spell of something like sorcery. Even in our own days, Mr. Gladstone, in a speech delivered to the House of Commons, treated the convulsion caused by Swift's letters and Wood's halfpence as an outbreak of national frenzy, called up by the witchery of style displayed in the "Drapier's Letters." To some of us it is, on the other hand, a matter of surprise to see how capable writers, and especially how a man of Mr. Gladstone's genius and political knowledge, could for a moment be thus deceived. {246} One is almost inclined to think that Mr. Gladstone could not have been reading the "Drapier's Letters" recently, when he thus spoke of the effect which they produced, and thus was willing to explain it. [Sidenote: 1724—The drapier's victory] Any one who reads the letters with impartial attention will see that from first to last the anger that burns in them, the sarcasm that withers and scorches, the passionate eloquence which glows in even their most carefully measured sentences, are directed against Wood and his halfpence only because the patent, the bribe by which it was purchased, and the manner in which it was forced on Ireland, represented the injustice of the whole system of Irish administration, and the wrongs of many generations. "It would be very hard if all Ireland," Swift declares with indignation, "should be put into one scale, and this sorry fellow Wood into the other." "I have a pretty good shop of Irish stuffs and silks," the Drapier declares, "and instead of taking Mr. Wood's bad copper, I intend to truck with my neighbors, the butchers and bakers and brewers, and the rest, goods for goods; and the little gold and silver I have, I will keep by me like my heart's blood till better times, or until I am just ready to starve." "Wood's contract?" he asks. "His contract with whom? Was it with the Parliament or people of Ireland?" The reader who believes that such a passage as that, and scores of similar passages, were inspired merely by disapproval of the introduction of one hundred and eight thousand pounds in copper coin, must have very little understanding of Swift's temper or Swift's purpose, or the condition of the times in which Swift lived. "I will shoot Mr. Wood and his deputies through the head, like highwaymen or house-breakers, if they dare to force one farthing of their coin on me in the payment of a hundred pounds. It is no loss of honor to submit to the lion, but who in the figure of a man can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat?" . . . "If the famous Mr. Hampden rather chose to go to prison than pay a few shillings to King Charles I., without authority of Parliament, I will {247} rather choose to be hanged than have all my substance taxed at seventeen shillings in the pound, at the arbitrary will and pleasure of the venerable Mr. Wood." Mr. Gladstone, perhaps, did not observe this allusion to "the famous Mr. Hampden." If he had done so, he would have better understood the inspiration of the "Drapier's Letters." Mr. Hampden was not so ignorant a man as to believe that the mere collection of the ship-money—the mere withdrawal of so much money from the pockets of certain tax-payers—would really ruin the trade and imperil the national existence of England. What Mr. Hampden objected to, and would have resisted to the death, was the unconstitutional and despotic system which the levy of the ship-money represented. The American colonists did not rise in rebellion against the Government of George III. merely because they had eaten of the insane root, and fancied that a trifling tax upon tea would destroy the trade of Boston and New York. They rose in arms against the principle represented by the imposition of the tax. We can all understand why there should have been a national rebellion against ship-money, and a national rebellion against a trumpery duty on tea, but English writers and English public men seem quite unable to explain the national outcry against Wood's patent, except on the theory that a clever writer, pouring forth captivating nonsense, bewitched the Irish Parliament and the Irish people, and sent them out of their senses for a season.

Swift followed up his first letter by others in rapid succession. Lord Carteret arrived in Ireland when the agitation was at its height. He issued a proclamation against the "Drapier's Letters," offered a reward of three hundred pounds for the discovery of the author, and had the printer arrested. The Grand Jury, however, unanimously threw out the bill sent up against Harding, the printer. Another Grand Jury passed a presentment against all persons who should by fraud or otherwise impose Wood's copper coins upon the public. This {248} presentment is said to have been drawn up by Swift's own hand. Lord Carteret at last had the good-sense to perceive, and the spirit to acknowledge, that there was no alternative between concession and rebellion. He strongly urged his convictions on the Government, and the Government had the wisdom to yield. The patent was withdrawn, a pension was given to Wood in consideration of the loss he had sustained, and Swift was the object of universal gratitude, enthusiasm, love, and devotion, on the part of the Irish nation. Many a patriotic Irishman would fain believe to this very day that Swift, too, was Irish, and an Irish patriot. Ireland certainly has not yet forgotten, probably never will forget, the successful stand made by Swift against what he believed to be an insult to the Irish nation, when he took up his pen to write the first of the Drapier's immortal Letters.



{249}

CHAPTER XVI.

THE OPPOSITION.

[Sidenote: 1725—Troubles in Scotland]

The trouble had hardly been got rid of in Ireland by Carteret's judicious advice and the withdrawal of Wood's patent when a commotion that at one time threatened to be equally serious broke out in Scotland. English members of Parliament had been for many years complaining that Scotland was exempt from any taxation on malt. Up to that time no Government had attempted to take any steps towards establishing equality in this respect between the two countries. Walpole now strove to deal with the question. It was proposed in the House of Commons that instead of a malt duty in Scotland a duty of sixpence should be levied on every barrel of ale. Walpole at first was not inclined to deal with the difficulty in this way, but as the feeling of the House was very strongly in favor of making some attempt, he consented to adopt the principle suggested, but required that the duty should be threepence instead of sixpence. The moment it became known in Scotland that any tax on malt or ale was to be imposed, rioting began in the principal cities; the spirit of the national motto asserted itself—"nemo me impune lacessit." The ringleaders of various mobs were arrested and sent for trial, but the Scotch juries, following the recent example of the Irish, refused to convict. Brewers all over Scotland entered into a sort of league, by virtue of which they pledged themselves not to give any securities for the new duty and to cease brewing if the Government exacted it. Unluckily for Walpole, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Duke of Roxburgh, was a great friend of Carteret's, {250} and had joined with Carteret in endeavoring to thwart Walpole in all his undertakings. The success of Walpole's policy in any instance was understood by Carteret and by Roxburgh to mean Walpole's supremacy over all other ministers. The Duke of Roxburgh therefore took advantage of the crisis in Scotland to injure the administration, and especially to injure Walpole. In a subtle and underhand way he contrived to favor and foment the disturbance. He took care that the orders of the Government should not be too quickly carried out, and he gave more than a tacit encouragement to the common rumor that the King in his heart was hostile to the new tax, that the tax was wholly an invention of Walpole's, and that resistance to such a measure would not be unwelcome to the Sovereign, and would lead to the dismissal of the minister. Walpole was not long in finding out the treachery of the Duke of Roxburgh. To adopt a homely phrase, he "took the bull by the horns" at once. Lord Townshend was in Hanover with the King, and Walpole wrote to Lord Townshend, giving him a full account of all that was going on in Scotland, and laying the chief blame for the continuance of the disturbance on the Duke of Roxburgh. "I beg leave to observe," wrote Walpole, "that the present administration is the first that was ever yet known to be answerable for the whole Government, with a Secretary of State for one part of the kingdom who, they are assured, acts counter to all their measures, or at least whom they cannot confide in." His remonstrance had to be pressed again and again upon Townshend before anything was done to satisfy him. Walpole, however, was a man to press where he thought the occasion demanded it, and he was successful in the end. The Duke of Roxburgh had to resign, and Walpole added to his own duties those of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He appointed, however, as his agent or deputy in the administration of Scotland, the Earl of Isla, Lord-keeper of the Privy Seal in that country, and a man on whose allegiance he could entirely rely. Having {251} thus secured a full power to act, Walpole was not long in bringing the disturbances to an end. He displayed both discretion and resolve. He was able to satisfy the most reasonable among the brewers and maltsters that their interests would not really suffer by the proposed resolutions. The natural result was that the combination of brewers began to melt away. The brewers held a meeting, and it was soon found that it would not be possible to secure a general resolution to meet the legislation of the Government by passive resistance and by ceasing to brew. As all would not stand together, every man was left to take his own course, and the result was that what we should now call a strike came quietly to an end.

[Sidenote: 1725—Intrigue and counter-intrigue]

A modern reader is naturally shocked and surprised at the manner in which members of the same Government in Walpole's day intrigued against one another, and strove to thwart each other's policy. No actual defence is to be made for such a practice; but it is only fair to observe that up to Walpole's own entrance into office, and after it, the habit of English sovereigns had been to make up an administration by taking members of different and even of opposing parties and bringing them together, in the hope of securing thereby the co-operation of all parties. Under these circumstances it was natural, it was only to be expected, that the minister who was pledged to one policy would endeavor by all means in his power to counteract the designs of the minister whom he knew to be pledged to a very different kind of policy. Nor, indeed, is the practice of intrigue and counter-intrigue among members of the same cabinet actually unknown in our own days, when there is not the same excuse to be pleaded for it that might have been urged in the time of Walpole. In the case of the Duke of Roxburgh, however, the attempt to counteract the policy of Walpole was made in somewhat bolder and less subtle fashion than was common even in those days, and Walpole was well justified in the course he took. For once his high-handed way of dealing with men was vindicated {252} by its principle and by the unqualified advantage it brought to the interests of the State and to those of the minister as well.

[Sidenote: 1725—Dictatorship overdone]

The student of history derives one satisfaction from the frequent visits of King George to Hanover. The correspondence between Walpole and Townshend which was made necessary by those visits gives us many an interesting glimpse into political affairs in their reality, in their undress, in their secret movement, which no ordinary State papers or diplomatic despatches could be trusted to give. The Secretary of State often communicates to the representative of his country at some foreign court only just that view of a political situation which he wishes to put under the eyes of the foreign sovereign and foreign statesmen. But Walpole writes to Townshend exactly what he himself believes, and what it is important both to Townshend and to him that Townshend shall fully know. "I think," Walpole says to Townshend, in one of his letters, "we have once more got Ireland and Scotland quiet, if we take care to keep them so." Exactly; if only care be taken to keep them so. The same chance had often been given to English statesmen before; Ireland and Scotland quiet, and might have continued in quietness if care had only been taken to keep them so.

The King was much pleased with Walpole's success. He made him one of the thirty-eight Knights of the Bath. The Order of the Bath had gone out of use, out of existence in fact, since the coronation of Charles the Second; George the First revived it in 1725, and bestowed its honors on Walpole. It seems an odd sort of reward for the shrewd, practical, and somewhat coarse-fibred squire-statesman. The close connection between man and the child, civilized man and the savage, is never more clearly illustrated than in the joy and pride which the wisest statesman feels in the wearing of a ribbon or a star. In the next year the King made Walpole a Knight of the Garter; after this honor all other mark of dignity {253} would be but an anti-climax. From the time of his introduction to the Order of the Bath, the great minister ceased to be plain Mr. Walpole, and became Sir Robert Walpole.

Meanwhile, under Walpole's Order of the Bath, many a throb of pain must have made itself felt. The minister began to find himself harassed by the most formidable opposition that had ever set itself against him. Lord Carteret was out of the way for the moment—and only for the moment; but Pulteney proved a much more pertinacious, ingenious, and dangerous enemy than Carteret had hitherto been. Pulteney was at one time the faithful follower, the enthusiastic admirer, almost the devotee, of Walpole. The one great political defect of Walpole filled him with faults. He could not bear the idea of a divided rule; he would be all or nothing; he would have clerks and servants for his colleagues in office; not real ministers, actual statesmen. He was under the mistaken impression that a man of genius is to be reduced to tame insignificance by merely keeping him out of important office. He had made this mistake with regard to Carteret; he made it now with regard to Pulteney. The consequences were far more serious; for Pulteney was neither so good-humored nor so indolent as Carteret, and he could not be put aside.

Pulteney was a man of singular eloquence, and of eloquence peculiarly adapted to the House of Commons. His style was brilliant, incisive, and penetrating. He could speak on any subject at the spur of the moment. He never delivered a set speech. He was a born parliamentary debater. All his resources seemed to be at instant command, according as he had need of them. His reading was wide, deep, and varied; he was a most accomplished classical scholar, and had a marvellous readiness and aptitude for classical allusion. He was a wit and a humorist; he could brighten the dullest topics and make them sparkle by odd and droll illustrations, as well as by picturesque allusions and eloquent phrases. He {254} could, when the subject called for it, break suddenly into thrilling invective. [Sidenote: 1725—Pulteney] But he had some of the defects of the extemporaneous orator. His eloquence, his wit, his epigrams often carried him away from his better judgment. He frequently committed himself to some opinion which was not really his, and was led far from his proper position in the pursuit of some paradox or by the charm of some fantastic idea. He was a brilliant writer as well as a brilliant speaker. His private character would have little blame if it were not that a fondness for money kept growing with his growing years. "For a good old-gentlemanly vice," says Byron, "I think I must take up with avarice." Pulteney did not even wait to be an old gentleman to take up with "the good old-gentlemanly vice." We have in some measure now to take his talents on trust, as we have those of Carteret. He proved to be little more than the comet of a season; when he had gone, he left no line of light behind him. But it is certain that in the estimation of his contemporaries he was one of the most gifted men of his time; and for a while he was the most popular man in England—the darling and the hero of the multitude. When Walpole was sent to the Tower in the late Queen's reign, Pulteney had spoken up manfully for his friend. When Townshend and Walpole resigned office in 1717, Pulteney went resolutely with them and resigned office also. The time came when Walpole found himself triumphant over all his enemies, and came back not merely to office but likewise to power. Naturally, Pulteney expected that Walpole would invite him to fill some place of importance in the new administration. Walpole did nothing of the kind. He had seen ample evidence of Pulteney's great parliamentary talents in the mean time, and he feared that with Pulteney for an official colleague he could never be a dictator. He was anxious, however, not to offend Pulteney, and he had the curious weakness to imagine that he could conciliate Pulteney by offering him a peerage. Even at that time, when the sceptre of popular power had not yet {255} passed altogether into the hands of the representative chamber, it was absurd to suppose that Pulteney would consent to be withdrawn from the House in which he had made his fame, which was his natural and fitting place, and which already was seen by every man of sense to be the central force of England's political life. Pulteney contemptuously refused the peerage. From that hour his old love for Walpole seems to have turned into hate.

The explosion, however, did not come at once. Pulteney continued to be on seemingly good terms with Walpole, and shortly afterwards the comparatively humble post of Cofferer to the Household was offered to him—some say was asked for by him. It does not seem likely that even then he had any intention of a serious reconciliation with Walpole. Perhaps he accepted this post in the expectation that he would shortly be raised to a much higher position in the State. But Walpole, although willing enough to give him any mark or place of honor on condition that he withdrew to the House of Lords, was afraid to allow him any office of influence while he remained in the Commons. However this may be, Pulteney's ambition was not satisfied, and he very soon broke publicly away from Walpole altogether. When a motion was brought on in April, 1725, for discharging the debts of the Civil List, in reply to a message from the King himself, Pulteney demanded an inquiry into the manner in which the money had been spent, and even made a fierce attack on the whole administration, and accused it of something very like downright corruption. He was dismissed from his office as Cofferer, and, even making allowance for his love of money, the wonder is that he should have held it long enough to be dismissed from it. He then went avowedly over into the ranks of the enemies of Walpole inside and outside the House of Commons.

The position taken by Pulteney is chiefly interesting to us now in the fact that it opened a distinctly new chapter in English politics. Pulteney created the part of what has ever since been called the Leader of Opposition. {256} With him begins the time when the real Leader of Opposition must have a place in the House of Commons; with him, too, begins the time when the Opposition has for its recognized duty not merely to watch with jealous care all the acts of the ministers in order to prevent them from doing anything wrong, but also to watch for every opportunity of turning them out of office. With Pulteney and his tactics began the party organization which inside the House of Commons and outside works unceasingly with tongue and pen, with open antagonism and underhand intrigue, with all the various social as well as political influences—the pamphlet, the press, the petticoat, and even the pulpit—to discredit everything done by the men in office, to turn public opinion against them, and if possible to overthrow them. Pulteney and his supporters were now and then somewhat more unscrupulous in their measures than an English Opposition would be in our time, but theirs was unquestionably the policy of all our more modern English parties. From this time forth almost to the close of his active career as a politician Pulteney performed the part of Leader of Opposition in the strictly modern sense. His position in history seems to us to be distinctly marked as that of the first Leader of Opposition; whether history shows reason to thank him for creating such a part is another and a different question.

[Sidenote: 1725—Bolingbroke again]

Pulteney had some powerful allies. The King, as we know, hated his son, the Prince of Wales; the Prince of Wales hated his father. No reconciliation got up between them could be lasting or real. The father and son hardly ever met except on the occasion of some great public ceremonial. The standing quarrel between the Sovereign and his heir had the effect of creating two parties in political life, one of which supported the King and the King's advisers, while the other found its centre in the house of the Heir to the Throne. We shall see this condition of things re-appearing in all the subsequent reigns of the Georges. The ministry and their friends {257} were detested and denounced by those who surrounded the Prince of Wales; the adherents of the Prince of Wales were virtually proscribed by the King. Then, as at a later date in the history of the Georges, those who favored and were favored by the Prince were looking out with anxious hope for the King's death. When "the old King is dead as nail in door," then indeed each leading supporter of the new king believed he could say with Falstaff, "The laws of England are at my commandment; happy are they which have been my friends." Pulteney and his supporters were among the friends and favorites of the Prince of Wales; they constituted the Prince's party. The Prince's party was composed mainly of the men who were Tories but were not Jacobites, and of the Whigs who disliked Walpole or had been overlooked or offended by him, or who in sober honesty were opposed to his policy. In all these, and in a daily growing number of the people out-of-doors, Pulteney had his friends and Walpole his enemies.

But a more formidable rival than even Pulteney was now again to the front and active in hostility to Walpole. This was the man whom the official records of the time described as "the late Viscount Bolingbroke." The late Viscount Bolingbroke, it need hardly be said, means that Henry St. John whose title of viscount had been forfeited when he fled to France and joined the Pretender. Bolingbroke had lately received the pardon of King George. He had secured the pardon chiefly by means of an influence then familiar and recognized in politics—that of one of the King's mistresses. Bolingbroke had got money with his second wife, and through her he conveyed to the Duchess of Kendal a large sum—about ten thousand pounds—with the intimation that more would be forthcoming from the same place, if necessary, to obtain his object. The Duchess of Kendal was easily prevailed upon, under these circumstances, to recognize the justice of Bolingbroke's claim and the sincerity of his repentance. Moreover, there was about the same time that {258} political intrigue, or rather rivalry of intrigues, going on between Walpole and Carteret, between England and France, in which it was thought the influence of Bolingbroke might be used with advantage—as it was, in fact, used—to Walpole's ends. [Sidenote: 1725—The Bolingbroke Petition] For all these reasons the pardon was obtained, and Bolingbroke was allowed to return to England. Nor was he long put off with a mere forgiveness which kept from him his forfeited estates and his right to the family inheritance. "Here I am," he wrote to Swift soon after, "two-thirds restored, my person safe (unless I meet hereafter with harder treatment than even that of Sir Walter Raleigh), and my estate, with all the other property I have acquired or may acquire, secured to me. But the attainder is kept prudently in force, lest so corrupt a member should come again into the House of Lords, and his bad leaven should sour that sweet, untainted mass." Walpole was quite willing that the forfeiture of Lord Bolingbroke's estates and the interruption of the inheritance should be recalled. It was necessary for this purpose to pass an Act of Parliament. On April 20, 1725, Lord Finch presented to the House of Lords the petition "of Henry St. John, late Viscount Bolingbroke." The petition set forth that the petitioner was "truly concerned for his offence in not having surrendered himself, pursuant to the directions of an act of the first year of his Majesty's reign;" that he had lately, "in most humble and dutiful manner," made his submission to the King, and given his Majesty "the strongest assurances of his inviolable fidelity, and of his zeal for his Majesty's service and for the support of the present happy establishment, which his Majesty hath been most graciously pleased to accept." The petition then prayed that leave might be given to bring in a bill to enable the petitioner and his heirs male to take and enjoy in person the estates of which he was then or afterwards should be possessed. Walpole, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, informed the House that he had received his Majesty's command to say that George was satisfied with Bolingbroke's {259} penitence, was convinced that Lord Bolingbroke was a proper object of mercy, and consented that the petition should be presented to the House.

Lord Finch then moved that a bill be brought in to carry out the prayer of the petition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seconded and strongly advocated the motion. It was opposed with great vigor by Mr. Methuen, the Controller of the Household, and formerly British Minister in Portugal. Methuen denounced Bolingbroke's "scandalous and villainous conduct" during his administration of affairs in Queen Anne's reign; his clandestine negotiation for peace; his insolent behavior towards the allies of England; his sacrificing the interests of the whole Confederacy and the honor of his country—more especially in the abandonment of the Catalans; "and, to sum up all his crimes in one, his traitorous designs of defeating the Protestant succession, and of advancing a Popish pretender to the throne." This speech, we read, "made a great impression on the Assembly," and several distinguished members, Arthur Onslow among the rest, spoke strongly on the same side. The motion, however, was carried by 231 votes against 113. The Bill was prepared, and went up to the House of Lords on May 5th, was carried there by a large majority, was sent back to the House of Commons with some slight amendments, was accepted there, and received the Royal assent. Some of the peers put on record a strong and earnest protest against the passing of such a measure. The protest recited all the charges against Bolingbroke; declared that those who signed it knew of no particular public services which Bolingbroke had lately rendered, and which would entitle him to a generous treatment; and further added that "no assurances which this person hath given" could be a sufficient security against his future insincerity, "he having already so often violated the most solemn assurances and obligations, and in defiance of them having openly attempted the dethroning his Majesty and the destruction of the liberties of his country."

{260}

Bolingbroke, however, wanted something more than restoration to his title and to his forfeited right of inheritance. His active and untamed spirit was eager for political strife again, and his heart burned with a longing to take his old place in the debates of the House of Lords. Against this Walpole had made a firm resolve; on this point he would not yield. He would not allow his eloquent and daring rival to have a voice in Parliament any more. In this, as it seems to us, Walpole acted neither wisely nor magnanimously. Bolingbroke's safest place, so far as the interests of the public, and even the political interests of his rivals, were concerned, would have been in the House of Lords. He would have delivered brilliant speeches there, and would have worked off his energies in that harmless fashion. In Walpole's time, however, the idea had not yet arisen that an enemy to the settled order of things is least dangerous where he is most free to speak. Bolingbroke, who had always hated Walpole, even lately when he was professing regard and gratitude, hated him now more than ever, and set to work by all the means in his power to injure Walpole in the estimation of the country, and, if possible, to undermine his whole political position.

[Sidenote: 1725-1726—The "craftsman"]

Bolingbroke and Pulteney soon came into political companionship. There was a certain affinity between the intellectual nature of the two men; and they had now a common object. Both were literary men as well as politicians, and they naturally put their literary gifts to the fullest account in the campaign they had undertaken. In our days two such men combining for such a purpose would contrive to get incessant leading articles into some daily paper; perhaps would start a weekly or even a daily evening paper of their own. Bolingbroke and Pulteney were men in advance of their age—in some respects at least. They did between them start a paper. They established the famous Craftsman. The Craftsman was started in 1726. It was first issued daily in single leaves or sheets after the fashion of the Spectator. It was soon, {261} however, changed into a weekly newspaper bearing the title of the Craftsman or Country Journal. Its editor, Nicholas Amhurst, took the feigned name of Caleb d'Anvers, and the paper itself was commonly called Caleb accordingly. The Craftsman was brilliantly written, and was inspired by the most unscrupulous passion of partisan hate. Walpole was held up in prose and verse, in bold invective and droll lampoon, as a traitor to the country, as a man stuffed and gorged with public plunder, audacious in his profligate disregard of political principle and common honesty, a danger to the State and a disgrace to parliamentary life. The circulation of the Craftsman at one time surpassed that of the Spectator at the height of the Spectator's popularity. Not always are more flies caught by honey than by vinegar.



{262}

CHAPTER XVII.

"OSNABRUCK! OSNABRUCK!"

[Sidenote: 1725—Trial of Lord Macclesfield]

The impeachment of Lord Macclesfield was ascribed, rightly or wrongly, to the influence of the Prince of Wales; the comparative leniency of Lord Macclesfield's punishment to the favor and protection of the King. Macclesfield was a justly distinguished judge. He had had the highest standing at the bar; had risen, step by step, until from plain Thomas Parker, the son of an attorney, he became Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, then one of the Lords Justices of the kingdom in the interval between Anne's death and the arrival of George the First, and finally Lord Chancellor. George made him Baron, and subsequently Earl, of Macclesfield. He had always borne a high reputation for probity as well as for generosity until the charge was made against him on which he was impeached. He was accused of having, while Lord Chancellor, sold the offices of Masters in Chancery to incompetent persons and men of straw, unfit to be intrusted with the money of suitors, but whom he had publicly represented to be "persons of great fortunes, and in every respect qualified for that trust;" with having extorted money from several of the masters, and with having embezzled the estates of widows and orphans. On May 6, 1725, the managers of the House of Commons appeared at the bar of the House of Lords and presented their articles of impeachment against Macclesfield. The trial took place at the bar of the House, and not in Westminster Hall, where impeachments were usually carried on, and it lasted until May 26th. There was nothing that could be called a defence to some of the charges, and as {263} to others Lord Macclesfield simply insisted that he had followed the example of some of his most illustrious predecessors, and that the moneys he received as presents were reckoned among the known perquisites of the Great Seal, and were not declared unlawful by any Act of Parliament. The Lords were unanimous in finding Macclesfield guilty, and condemned him to be fined thirty thousand pounds, and to be imprisoned in the Tower until the fine had been paid. The motion that he be declared forever incapable of any office, place, or employment in the State was, however, rejected, as was also a motion to prohibit him from ever sitting in Parliament or coming within the verge of the court. It would certainly seem as if these motions ought to have been the natural and necessary consequence of the impeachment and the conviction. If the conviction were just—and it was obviously just—then Lord Macclesfield had disgraced the highest bench of justice, and merely to condemn him to disgorge a part of his plunder was a singularly inadequate sort of punishment. George the First, however, chose to ascribe the impeachment to the malice and the influence of the Prince of Wales, and when Macclesfield had paid the fine by the mortgage of an estate, the King undertook to repay the money to him. George actually did pay to Macclesfield one instalment of a thousand pounds, but fate interposed and prevented any further payment. Macclesfield retired from the world, and spent his remaining years in the study of science and in religious meditation. He died in 1732. His was a strange story. He had many of the noblest qualities; he had had, on the whole, a great career. It is not easy, if we may borrow the words which Burke applied to a more picturesque and interesting sufferer, "to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall."

During all this time of comparative quietude we are not to suppose that there were no threatenings of foreign disturbance. The adherents of the Stuarts were never at rest; the controversies which grew out of the Treaty of Utrecht were always sputtering and menacing. Cardinal {264} Fleury, a statesman devoted to peace and economy, had become Prime-minister of France. Other new figures were arising on the field of Continental politics. Alberoni, in exile and disgrace, had been succeeded by a burlesque imitation of him, the Duke of Ripperda, a Dutch adventurer who turned diplomatist, and had risen into influence through Alberoni's favor. In 1725 Ripperda negotiated a secret treaty between the Emperor, Charles the Sixth, and the King of Spain, and was rewarded with the title of duke. He became Prime-minister of Spain for a short time, to be presently disgraced and thrown into prison, quite after the fashion of a royal favorite in the pages of "Gil Blas." He was a fantastic, arrogant, feather-headed creature, an Alberoni of the opera bouffe. He betook himself at last to the service of the Sovereign of Morocco. England had a sort of Ripperda of her own in the person of the wild Duke of Wharton, the man whose eloquent and ferocious invective had contributed to the sudden death of Lord Stanhope, and who had since that time devoted himself to the service of James Stuart on the Continent, and actually fought as a volunteer in the ranks of the Spanish army at the abortive siege of Gibraltar. It is to the credit of the sincerer and better supporters of the Stuart cause that they would not even still consent to regard it as wholly lost. They kept their eyes fixed on England, and every murmur of national discontent or disturbance became to them a new encouragement, a fresh signal of hope, a reviving incitement to energy. In England men were constantly hearing rumors about the dissolute life of the Chevalier, and his quarrels with his wife, Clementina Maria, a granddaughter of one of the Kings of Poland. The loyalists here at home were ready to believe anything that could be said by anybody to the discredit of James and his adherents; James and his adherents were willing to be fed on any tales about the unpopularity of George the First, and the tottering condition of his throne. Nor could it be said that George was popular with any class of persons in {265} England. If the reign of the Brunswicks depended upon personal popularity, it would not have endured for many years. But the people of England were able to see clearly enough that George allowed his great minister to rule for him, and that Walpole's policy meant prosperity and peace. They did not admire George's mistresses any more now than they had done when first these ladies set their large feet on English soil; but even some of the most devoted followers of the Stuart cause shook their heads sadly over the doings of James in Italy, and could not pretend to say that the cause of morality would gain much by a change from Brunswick to Stuart.

[Sidenote: 1727—Death of George the First]

The end was very near for George. He was now an old man, in his sixty-eighth year, and he had not led a life to secure a long lease of health. His excesses in eating and drinking, his hot punch, and his many mistresses had proved too much even for his originally robust constitution. Of late he had become a mere wreck. He was eager to pay one other visit to Hanover, and he embarked at Greenwich on June 3, 1727, landing in Holland on the 7th of the month. He made for his capital as quickly as he could, but in the course of the journey he was attacked by a sort of lethargic paralysis. Early on June 10th he was seized with an apoplectic fit; his hands hung motionless by his sides, his eyes were fixed, glassy, and staring, and his tongue protruded from his mouth. The sight of him horrified his attendants; they wished to stop at once and secure some assistance for the poor old dying King. George, however, recovered consciousness so far as to be able to insist on pursuing his journey, crying out, with spasmodic efforts at command, the words "Osnabrueck! Osnabrueck!" At Osnabrueck lived his brother the Prince-bishop. The attendants dared not disobey George, even at that moment, and the carriage drove at its fullest speed on towards Osnabrueck. No swiftness of wheels, however, no flying chariot, could have reached the house of the Prince-bishop in time for the King. When the royal carriages clattered into the court-yard of the {266} Prince-bishop's palace the reign of the first George was over—the old King lay dead in his seat. Lord Townshend and the Duchess of Kendal were following in different carriages on the road; an express was sent back to tell them the grim news. Lord Townshend came on to Osnabrueck, and finding that the King was dead, had nothing to do but to return home at once. The Duchess of Kendal is stated to have shown all the signs of grief proper to be expected from a favorite. She tore her hair—at least she pulled and clutched at it—and she beat her ample bosom, and professed the uttermost horror at the thought of having to endure life without the companionship of her lord and master. It is satisfactory, however, to know that she did not die of grief. She lived for some sixteen years, and made her home for the most part at Kendal House, near Twickenham.

[Sidenote: 1727—The raven]

Even such a man as George the First may become invested by death with a certain dignity and something of a romantic interest. Legends are afloat concerning the King's later days which would not be altogether unworthy the closing hours of a great Roman emperor. George had his melting moments, it would seem, and not long before his death, being in a pathetic mood, he gave the Duchess of Kendal a pledge that if he should die before her, and it were possible for departed souls to return to earth and impress the living with a knowledge of their presence, he, the faithful and aged lover, would come back from the grave to his mistress. When the Duchess of Kendal returned to her home near Twickenham she was in constant expectation of a visit in some form from her lost adorer. One day while the windows of her house were open, a large black raven, or bird of some kind—raven would seem to be the more becoming and appropriate form for such a visitor—flew into her presence from the outer air. The lamenting lady assumed at once that in this shape the soul of King George had come back to earth. She cherished and petted the bird, it is said, and lavished all fondness and tenderness upon it. What {267} became of it in the end history does not allow us to know. Whether it still is sitting, like the more famous raven of poetry, it is not for us to guess. Probably when the Duchess herself expired in 1743, the ghastly, grim, and ancient raven disappeared with her. Why George the First, if he had the power of returning in any shape to see his mistress, did not come in his own proper form, it is not for us to explain. One might be disposed to imagine that in such a case it would be the first step which would involve the cost, and that there would be no greater difficulty for the departed soul to come back in the likeness of its old vestment of clay than to put on the unfamiliar and somewhat inconvenient form of a fowl. Perhaps the story is not true. Possibly there was no raven or other bird in the case at all. It may be that, if a black raven did fly in at the Duchess of Kendal's window, the bird was not the embodied spirit of King George. For ourselves, we should be sorry to lose the story. Neither the King nor the mistress could afford to part with any slight clement of romance wherewithal even legend has chosen to invest them. Another story, which probably has more truth in it, adds a new ghastliness to the circumstances of George's death. On November 13, 1726, some seven months before that event, there died in a German castle a woman whom the gazette of the capital described as the Electress Dowager of Hanover. This was the unfortunate Princess Sophia, the wife of George. Thirty-two years of melancholy captivity she had endured, while George was drinking and hoarding money and amusing himself with his seraglio of ugly women. She died protesting her innocence to the last. In the closing days of her illness, so runs the story, she gave into the hands of some one whom she could trust, a letter addressed to her husband, and obtained a promise that the letter should, somehow or other, be delivered to George himself. This letter contained a final declaration that she was absolutely guiltless of the offence alleged against her, a bitter reproach to George for his ruthless conduct, {268} and a solemn summons to him to stand by her side before the judgment-seat of Heaven within a year, and there make answer in her presence for the wrongs he had done her, for her blighted life and her miserable death. There was no way of getting this letter into George's hands while the King was in England, but an arrangement was made by means of which it was put into his coach when he crossed the frontier of Germany on his way towards his capital. George, it is said, opened the letter at once, and was so surprised and horror-stricken by its stern summons that he fell that moment into the apoplectic fit from which he never recovered. Sophia, therefore, had herself accomplished her own revenge; her reproach had killed the King; her summons brought him at once within the ban of that judgment to which she had called him. It would be well if one could believe the story; there would seem a dramatic justice—a tragic retribution—about it. Its very terror would dignify the story of a life that, on the whole, was commonplace and vulgar. But, for ourselves, we confess that we cannot believe in the mysterious letter, the fatal summons, the sudden fulfilment. There are too many stories of the kind floating about history to allow us to attach any special significance to this particular tale. We doubt even whether, if the letter had been written, it would have greatly impressed the mind of George. Remorse for the treatment of his wife he could not have felt—he was incapable of any such emotion; and we question whether any appeal to the sentiment of the supernatural, any summons to another and an impalpable world, would have made much impression on that stolid, prosaic intelligence and that heart of lead. Besides, according to some versions of the tale, it was not, after all, a letter from his wife which impressed him, but only the warning of a fortune-teller—a woman who admonished the King to be careful of the life of his imprisoned consort, because it was fated for him that he should not survive her a year. This story, too, is told of many kings and other persons less illustrious.

{269}

[Sidenote: 1727—Character of the first George]

Much more probable is the rumor that Sophia made a will bequeathing all her personal property to her son, that the will was given to George the First in England, and that he composedly destroyed it. If George committed this act, he seems to have been repaid in kind. His own will left large legacies to the Duchess of Kendal and to other ladies. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the will to the new King, who read it, put it in his pocket, walked away with it, and never produced it again. Both these stories are doubted by some of the contemporaries of George the Second, but they were firmly believed in and strongly asserted by others, who seem to have had authority for their belief. At all events, they fit in better with the character and surroundings of both princes than the tragic story of the letter and its fearful summons, the warning of the fortune-teller, or the soul of the dead King revisiting the earth in the funereal form of a raven.

There is not much that is good to be said of George the First. He had a certain prosaic honesty, and was frugal amid all his vulgar voluptuousness. He managed the expenses of his court with creditable economy and regularity. The officers in his army, and his civil servants, received their pay at the properly-appointed time. It would be hardly worth while recording these particulars to the King's credit, but that it was somewhat of a novelty in the arrangements of a modern court for men to receive the reward of their services at regular intervals and in the proper amount. George occasionally did a liberal thing, and he more than once professed a strong interest in the improvement of university education. He is said to have declared to a German nobleman, who was complimenting him on the possession of two such kingdoms as England and Hanover, that a king ought to be congratulated rather on having two such subjects as Newton in the one country and Leibnitz in the other. We fear, however, that this story must go with the fortune-teller and the raven; one cannot think of dull prosaic {270} George uttering such a monumental sort of sentiment. He cared nothing for literature or science or art. He seems to have had no genuine friendships. He hated his son, and he used to speak of his daughter-in-law, Caroline, as "that she-devil the princess." [Sidenote: 1727—His epitaph] Whatever was respectable in his character came out best at times of trial. He was not a man whom danger could make afraid. At the most critical moments—as, for instance, at the outbreak of the rebellion in 1715—he never lost his head. If he was not capable of seeing far, he saw clearly, and he could look coming events steadily in the face. On one or two occasions, when an important choice had to be made between this political course and that, he chose quickly and well. The fact that he thoroughly appreciated the wisdom and the political integrity, of Walpole speaks, perhaps, his highest praise. His reign, on the whole, was one of prosperity for England. He did not love England—never, up to the very end, cared for the country over which destiny had appointed him to rule. His soul to the last was faithful to Hanover. England was to him as the State wife whom for political reasons he was compelled to marry; Hanover, as the sweetheart and mistress of his youth, to whom his affections, such as they were, always clung, and whom he stole out to see at every possible chance. George behaved much better to his political consort, England, than to the veritable wife of his bosom. He managed England's affairs for her like an honest, straightforward, narrow-minded steward. We shall see hereafter that England came to be governed much worse by men not nearly so bad as George the First. To do him justice, he knew when he ought to leave the business of the State in the hands of those who understood it better than he; this one merit redeemed many of his faults, and, perhaps, may be regarded as having secured his dynasty. Frederick the Great described George as a prince who governed England by respecting liberty, even while he made use of the subsidies granted by Parliament to corrupt the Parliament which voted them. {271} He was a king, Frederick declares, "without ostentation and without deceit," and who won by his conduct the confidence of Europe. This latter part of the description is a little too polite. Kings do not criticise each other too keenly in works that are meant for publication. But the words form, on the whole, an epitaph for George which might be inscribed on his tomb without greater straining of the truth than is common in the monumental inscriptions that adorn the graves of less exalted persons.



{272}

CHAPTER XVIII.

GEORGE THE SECOND.

[Sidenote: 1727—Death of Newton]

The year when George the First died was made memorable forever by the death of a far greater man than any European king of that generation. When describing the events which led to the publication of the "Drapier's Letters," we mentioned the fact that Sir Isaac Newton had been consulted about the coinage of Wood's half-pence. That was the last time that Isaac Newton appeared as a living figure in public controversy of any kind. On March 20, 1727, the great philosopher died, after much suffering, at his house in Kensington. The epitaph which Pope intended for him sums up as well as a long discourse could do his achievements in science—

"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night; God said, 'Let Newton be,' and all was light."

No other discovery ever made in science approaches in importance to the discovery of the principle of universal gravitation—the principle that every particle of matter is attracted by every other particle with a force proportioned inversely to the square of their distances. Vague ideas of some such principle had long been floating in the minds of some men; had probably been thus floating since ever men began to think seriously over the phenomena of inanimate nature. But the discovery of the principle was, however, as distinctly the achievement of Newton as "Paradise Lost" is the work of Milton. We find it hard now to form to ourselves any clear idea of a world to which Newton's principle was unknown. It would be almost as easy to realize the idea of a world without {273} light or atmosphere. Newton is called by Sir David Brewster the greatest philosopher of any age. Sir John Herschel assigns to the name of Newton "a place in our veneration which belongs to no other in the annals of science." In this book we have only to record the date at which the pure and simple life of this great man came to its end. The important events of his career belong to an earlier period; his teachings and his fame are for all time. The humblest of historians as well as the greatest may ask himself what is the principle of history which bids us to assign so much more space to the wars of kings and the controversies of statesmen than to the life and the deeds of a man like Newton. In the whole history of the world during Newton's lifetime, the one most important fact, the one fact of which the magnitude dwarfs all other facts, is the discovery of the principle of gravitation. Yet its meaning may be explained in fewer words than would be needed to describe the nature of the antagonism between Walpole and Pulteney, or the reason why Queen Anne was succeeded by King George.

We have, however, in these pages only to deal with history in its old and, we suppose, its everlasting fashion—that of telling what happened in the way of actual fact, telling the story of the time. The English public took the death of George the First with becoming composure; the vast majority of the people never troubled their heads about it. It gave a flutter of hope to Spain; it set the councils of the Stuart party in eager commotion for a while; but it made no change in England. "George the First was always reckoned Vile; still viler George the Second." These are the lines in which Walter Savage Landor sums up the character of the first and second George before passing on to picture in little the characters of the third and fourth of the name. Landor was not wrong when he described George the Second as, on the whole, rather worse than George the First. George the Second was born at Hanover on October {274} 30, 1683, and was therefore in his forty-fourth year when he succeeded to the throne. He had still less natural capacity than his father. He was parsimonious; he was avaricious; he was easily put out of temper. His instincts, feelings, passions were all purely selfish. He had hot hatreds and but cool friendships. Personal courage was, perhaps, the only quality becoming a sovereign which George the Second possessed. He had served as a volunteer under Marlborough in 1708, and at the battle of Oudenarde he had headed a charge of his Hanoverian dragoons with a bravery worthy of a prince. He is to serve later on at Dettingen, and to be in all probability the last English sovereign who commanded in person on the battlefield. His education was not even so good as that of his father, and he had an utter contempt for literature. He had little religious feeling, but is said to have had a firm belief in the existence of vampires. He was fond of business—devoted to the small ways of routine. He took a great interest in military matters and all that concerned the arrangements and affairs of an army. Like his father he found abiding pleasure in the society of a little group of more or less attractive mistresses.

[Sidenote: 1727—Incredulity of the Prince of Wales]

George the Second had always detested his father, and during the greater part of their lives was equally detested by him. The reconciliation which had lately taken place between them was as formal and superficial as that of the two demons described in Le Sage's story. "They brought us together," says Asmodeus; "they reconciled us. We shook hands and became mortal enemies." When the reconciliation between George the Second and his father was brought about by the influence of Stanhope and of Walpole, the father and son shook hands and continued to be mortal enemies. If George the First had his court at St. James's, George the Second had his court and coterie gathered around him at Leicester Fields and at Richmond. The two courts were, in fact, little better than hostile camps. Walpole had been for long years the confidential and favored servant of George the First. The {275} natural expectation was that he would be instantly discredited and discarded when George the Second came to the throne.

So, indeed, it seemed at first to happen. When Walpole received the news of George the First's death he hastened to Richmond Lodge, where George the Second then was, in order to give him the news and hail him as King. George was in bed, and had to be roused from a thick sleep. He was angry at being disturbed, and not in a humor to admit that there was any excuse for disturbing him. When Walpole told him that his father was dead, the kingly answer of the sovereign was that the statesman's assertion was a big lie. George roared this at Walpole, and then was for turning round in his bed and settling down to sleep again. Walpole, however, persisted in disturbing the royal slumbers, and assured the drowsy grumbler that he really was George the Second, King of England. He produced for George's further satisfaction a letter from Lord Townshend, describing the time, place, and circumstances of the late King's death. Walpole tendered the usual ceremonial expressions of loyalty, which George received coldly, and even gruffly. Then the minister asked whom his Majesty wished to appoint to draw up the necessary declaration for the Privy Council. Walpole assumed as a matter of course that the King would leave the task in his hands. George, however, disappointed him. "Compton," said the King; and when he had spoken that word he intimated to Walpole that the interview was over. Walpole left the royal abode believing himself a fallen man.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse