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

"Compton," whom the King had thus curtly designated, was Sir Spencer Compton, who had been chosen Speaker of the House of Commons in 1715. He had been one of George the Second's favorites while George was still Prince of Wales. He was a man of respectable character, publicly and privately, but without remarkable capacity of any kind. He knew little or nothing of the business of a minister, and it is said that when Walpole {276} came to him to tell him of the King's command he frankly acknowledged that he did not know how to draw up the formal declaration. Walpole good-naturedly came to his assistance, took his pen, and did the work for him.

[Sidenote: 1727—Compton's evaporation]

If the King had persevered in his objection to Walpole, the story of the reign would have to be very differently told. Walpole was the one only man who could at the time have firmly stood between England and foreign intrigue—between England and financial blunder. Nor is it unlikely that the King would have persevered and refused to admit Walpole to office but that he happened to be, without his own knowledge, under the influence of the one only woman who had any legitimate right to influence him—his wife Caroline. Caroline, daughter of a petty German prince—the Margrave of Brandenburg-Anspach—was one of the most remarkable women of her time. Her faults, foibles, and weaknesses only served to make her more remarkable. She had beauty when she was young, and she still had an expressive face and a sweet smile. She was well educated, and always continued to educate herself; she was fond of letters, art, politics, and metaphysics. She delighted in theological controversy, and also delighted in contests of mere wit. But of all her valuable gifts, the most valuable for herself and for the country was the capacity she had for governing her husband. She governed him through his very anxiety not to be governed by his wife. One of George's strongest, and at the same time meanest, desires was to let the world see that he was absolute master in his own house, and could rule his wife with a rod of iron. Caroline, having long since discovered this weakness, played into the King's hands, and always made outward show of the utmost deference for his authority, and dread of his anger. She put herself metaphorically, and indeed almost literally, under his feet. She was pleased that all the Court should see her thus grovelling. George was in the habit of making jocular allusion, in his jovial, graceful way, to living and dead sovereigns who were {277} governed by their wives, and he often invited his courtiers to notice the difference between them and him, and to admire the imperial supremacy which he exercised over the humble Caroline. By humoring him in this way Caroline obtained, without any consciousness on his part, an almost absolute power over him. Another and a worse failing of the King's she humored as well. She had suffered much in the beginning of her married life because of his amours and his mistresses. Her true and faithful heart had been wrung by long jealousies; but, happily for herself and for the country, she was able at last to rise superior to this natural weakness of woman. Indeed, it has to be said with regret for her self-degradation, that she not only tolerated the love-makings of the King and his favorites, but even showed occasionally a politic interest in the promotion of the amours and the appointment of the ladies. She humored her lord and master's avarice with as little scruple. Thus his principal defects—his sordid love of money, his ignoble passion for women, and his ridiculous desire to seem the absolute master of his wife—became in her skilful hands the leading-strings by which she drew and guided him whither she would have him go. Through Caroline's influence mainly Walpole was retained in power. She played on the King's avarice, and poured into his greedy ear the assurance that Walpole could raise money as no other living man could. Caroline acted in this chiefly from a sincere love of her husband, and anxiety for his good, but partly also, it has to be acknowledged, because it had been made known to her that Walpole would provide her with a larger allowance than it was Compton's intention to do. The result was that Walpole was retained in office, or, perhaps it should be said, restored to office. The crowds of courtiers who love to worship the rising sun had hardly time to offer their adoration to Compton when they found that the supposed rising sun was only a meteor, which instantly vanished. Horace Walpole the younger describes the event by a happy phrase as "Compton's evaporation." Compton {278} himself had soon found that the responsibility would be too much for him. He besought the King to relieve him of the burden to which he found himself unequal. The King acceded to his wish. Walpole became once again First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Townshend continued to be Secretary of State. The crisis was over.

[Sidenote: 1727—Condolence and congratulation]

Parliament assembled on June 15th, after the death of George the First. As the law then stood, any Parliament summoned by a sovereign was not to be dissolved by that sovereign's death, but should continue to sit and act during a term of six months, "unless the same shall be sooner prorogued or dissolved by such person who shall be next heir to the Crown of this Realm in succession." The meeting of June 15th was merely formal. Parliament was prorogued by a Commission from George the Second until the 27th of the month. Both Houses then met at Westminster, and the King came to the House of Peers in his royal robes and ascended the throne with all the regular ceremonial. Sir Charles Dalton, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, was sent with a message from the King commanding the attendance of the Commons. When the Commons had crowded into the space appointed for them in the Peers' Chamber, the King "delivered from his own mouth" the Royal speech. George the Second had at all events one advantage over George the First as a King of England—he understood the language of his subjects, and could speak to them in their own tongue. The Royal speech began by expressing the King's persuasion that "you all share with me in my grief and affliction for the death of my late royal father." The King was well warranted in this persuasion; nothing could be more correct than his assumption. The Lords and Commons quite shared with him his grief and affliction for the death of his royal father. They felt just as much distress at that event as he did. The King then went on to declare his fixed resolution to merit by all possible means the love and affection of his people; to preserve the Constitution {279} "as it is now happily established in Church and State;" and to secure to all his subjects the full enjoyment of their religious and civil rights. He expressed his satisfaction at the manner in which tranquillity and the balance of power in Europe had been maintained, the strict union and harmony which had hitherto subsisted among the allies of the Treaty of Hanover, and which had chiefly contributed to the near prospect of a general peace. Finally, the King pointed out that the grant of the greatest part of his Civil List revenues had now run out, and that it would be necessary for the House of Commons to make a new provision for the support of him and of his family. "I am persuaded," said the King, "that the experience of past times and a due regard to the honor and dignity of the Crown will prevail upon you to give me this first proof of your zeal and affection in a manner answerable to the necessities of my Government." Then the King withdrew, and Lord Chesterfield moved for "an address of condolence, congratulation, and thanks." The condoling and congratulating address was unanimously voted, was presented next day to his Majesty, and received his Majesty's most gracious acknowledgment. Meanwhile the Commons having returned to their House, several new members took the oaths. Sir Paul Methuen, Treasurer of the Household, the author of the commercial treaty with Portugal which still bears his name, moved an address of condolence and congratulation to the King. The motion was seconded by Sir Robert Walpole, and as the formal record puts it, "voted nemine contradicente." A committee was appointed to draw up the address, Sir Robert Walpole, of course, being one of its members. The chairman of the committee paid Walpole the compliment of handing him the pen, "whereupon," as a contemporary account reports it, "Sir Robert, without hesitation and with a masterly hand, drew up the said address." Walpole could be courtly enough when he thought fit. He seems to have distinctly outdone the House of Lords in the fervor of his grief for the late King and his devotion {280} to the present. The death of George the First, Walpole pronounced to be "a loss to this nation which your Majesty alone could possibly repair." Having mentioned the fact that the death of George the First had plunged all England into grief, Walpole changed, "as by the stroke of an enchanter's wand," this winter of our discontent into glorious summer. "Your immediate succession," he assured the King, "banished all our grief."

[Sidenote: 1727—"Honest Shippen"]

On Monday, July 3d, the Commons met to consider the amount of supply to be granted to his Majesty. Walpole, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated to the House that the annual sum of seven hundred thousand pounds, granted to the late King "for the support of his household and of the honor and dignity of the Crown," had fallen short every year, and that ministers had been obliged to make it up in other ways. The present sovereign's necessary expenses were likely to increase, the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained, "by reason of the largeness of his family" and the necessity of "settling a household for his royal consort." The Chancellor of the Exchequer therefore moved that the entire revenues of the Civil List, which produced about one hundred and thirty thousand pounds a year above the yearly sum of seven hundred thousand pounds already mentioned, should be settled on his Majesty during life. The motion was supported by several members, but Mr. Shippen, the earnest and able, though somewhat eccentric, Jacobite and Tory, had the spirit and courage to oppose it. Shippen's speech was expressed in a spirit of loyalty, but was direct and incisive in its criticism of the Government proposal. Shippen pointed out that the yearly sum of seven hundred thousand pounds, now thought too little, was not obtained by the late sovereign without a long and solemn debate, and was described by every one who contended for it as an ample revenue for a king. He reminded the House that Queen Anne used to pay about nineteen thousand pounds a year out of her own pocket for the augmentation of the salaries of poor clergymen, {281} allowed five thousand pounds a year out of the Post-office revenue to the Duke of Marlborough, gave several hundred thousand pounds for the building of the castle of Blenheim; and by this means came under the necessity of asking Parliament for five hundred thousand pounds, which she determined never to do again, and had therefore prepared a scheme for the reduction of her expenses, which was to bring her full yearly outlay down to four hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Shippen then severely criticised the foreign policy of the late King's reign, and with justice condemned the extravagance which required to be met by repeated grants from the nation. "I confess," he said, "that if the same management was to be continued, and if the same ministers were to be again employed, a million a year would not be sufficient to carry on the exorbitant expenses so often and so justly complained of in this House." He deplored the vast sum "sunk in the bottomless gulf of secret service." "I heartily wish," he exclaimed, "that time, the great discoverer of hidden truths and concealed iniquities, may produce a list of all such—if any such there were—who have been perverted from their public duty by private pensions, who have been the hired slaves and the corrupt instruments of a profuse and vainglorious administration." Shippen concluded by moving as an amendment that the amount granted to his Majesty be the clear yearly sum of seven hundred thousand pounds. It is worth noticing that when Shippen had occasion once to refer to some of Walpole's arguments he spoke of him as "my honorable friend," and then, suddenly correcting himself, said, "I ask pardon; I should have said the honorable person, for there is no friendship betwixt us."

Shippen's speech hit hard, and must have been felt by the ministry. The one charge against Walpole's government which he could not refute was the charge of extravagance in corruption. The ministers, however, affected to treat the speech with contempt, and were justified in doing so by the manner in which the House of Commons {282} dealt with it. No answer was given to Shippen's statements, because Shippen's motion was not seconded and fell to the ground. The resolutions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were carried without a division, and a bill was ordered to be brought in to give effect to them. A provision of one hundred thousand pounds a year was voted for the Queen, in case she should survive the King. The vote was agreed to without division or debate. Parliament was dissolved by proclamation on August 7th.

[Sidenote: 1728—Onslow as Haroun-al-Raschid]

The new Parliament met on January 23d, 1728. It was found that the ministerial majority was even greater than it had been before. The King opened Parliament in person, and directed the Commons, who had been summoned to the House of Peers, to return to their own House and choose their Speaker. The Commons unanimously chose Arthur Onslow to this high office. Compton, the former Speaker, had been soothed with a peerage after his "evaporation." Arthur Onslow was born in 1691, and had been in Parliament from 1719; in July, 1728, he was made Privy Councillor. We may anticipate events a little for the purpose of mentioning the fact that all the writers of his time united in ascribing to Speaker Onslow, as he has always since been called, a combination of the best attributes which fit a man to preside over the House of Commons. It is said that his election to the Speaker's chair was brought about mainly by Sir Robert Walpole, and that Walpole expected Onslow to use his great abilities and authority to suit the policy and serve the wishes of the administration. If this was Walpole's idea, he must soon have found himself as much mistaken as the conclave of cardinals about whom so much is said in history, romance, and the drama, who elected one of their order as Pope because they believed him to be too feeble and nerveless to have any will of his own, and were much amazed to find that the moment the new Pope had been elected he suddenly became strong and energetic—the master and not the servant. Onslow's whole {283} conduct in the chair of the House of Commons during the many years which he occupied it displayed an absolute and fearless impartiality. The chair has never been better filled in English history; the very title of "Speaker Onslow," ever afterwards given to him, is of itself a tribute to his impartiality and his services. Onslow was a man who loved letters and art, and also, it is said, loved studying all varieties of life. It is reported of him that he used to go about disguised, like a sort of eighteenth-century Haroun-al-Raschid, among the lowest classes of men, in out-of-the-way parts of the capital, for the purpose of studying the forms and manners of human life. Legend has preserved the memory of a certain public-house, called "The Jews'-harp," where Onslow is said to have amused himself many an evening, sitting in the chimney-corner and exchanging talk and jests with the company who frequented the place. It is pleasant to be able to believe these stories of Speaker Onslow in that highly artificial and formal age—that age of periwigs and paint and shallow formulas. It is somewhat refreshing to meet with this clever man of eccentric ways, the great "Speaker," who could wear his official robes with so much true dignity, and then, when he had laid them aside, could amuse himself after his own fashion, and study life in some of its queerest corners with the freshness of a school-boy and the eye of an artist.




[Sidenote: 1728—Pulteney's place in history]

The name and the career of William Pulteney are all but forgotten in English political life. It is doubtful whether Pulteney's name, if pronounced in the course of a debate in the House of Commons just now, would bring with it any manner of idea to the minds of nine-tenths of the listening members. Yet Pulteney played, all unconsciously, a great part in the development of the Parliamentary life of this country. So far as intellectual gifts are concerned, he is not, of course, to be named in the same breath with a man like Burke, for example; one might as well think of comparing Offenbach with Mozart or Handel. But the influence of the career of Pulteney on the English Parliament is nevertheless more distinctly marked than the influence of the career of Burke. We are speaking now not of political thought—no man ever made a greater impression on political thought than Burke has done—but only of the forms and the development of English Parliamentary systems. For Pulteney was, beyond all question, the founder of the modern practice of Parliamentary opposition. Walpole was mainly instrumental in transferring the seat of political power from the House of Lords to the House of Commons. Never, since Walpole's time, has the House of Lords exercised any real influence over the political life of England. This was not Walpole's doing; it was the doing of time and change, of altered conditions and new forces. But Walpole saw the coming change, and bent all the energies of his robust intellect to help and forward it. Pulteney is in the same sense the author of {285} the modern principle of Parliamentary opposition; but there is no reason to believe that Pulteney saw what he was doing as clearly as Walpole did. Until the beginning of Pulteney's brilliant career, the opposition between parties had been mainly a competition for the ear and the favor of the sovereign. Thus Harley strove against Marlborough, and Bolingbroke against Harley, and the Whigs against Harley and Bolingbroke. But the course of action taken by Pulteney against Walpole converted the struggle into one of party against party, inside and outside of the House of Commons. The object sought was the command of a majority in the representative assembly. Pulteney showed how this was to be obtained by the voices of the public out-of-doors as well as by the votes of the elected representatives in Westminster. Walpole had made it clear that in the House of Commons the battle was to be fought; Pulteney showed that in the House of Commons the victory was to be gained, not by the favor of the sovereign, but by the co-operation of the people.

We have said in a former chapter that Pulteney's form of procedure, become now a component part of our whole Parliamentary system, brings with it some serious disadvantages from which, for the present, it is not easy, it is not even possible, to see any way of escape. The principle of government by party will some time or other come to be put to the challenge in English political life. For the present, however, we have only to make the best we can of it; and no one in his senses can doubt that it was an immense advance on the system of back-stairs influence and bedchamber intrigue, the policy, to use the great Conde's expression, "of petticoats and alcoves," which prevailed in the days when Mrs. Masham was competing with Sarah Jennings, and later still, when Walpole was buying his way back to power through the influence of the sovereign's wife, in co-operation with the sovereign's paramour.

The student of English history will have to turn with {286} close attention to the reigns of the First and Second George. In those reigns the transfer of power to the representative chamber began, and the modern system of Parliamentary opposition grew into form. The student will have to remember that the time he is studying was one when there was no such thing known in England as a public meeting. There were "demonstrations," as we call them now; there were crowds; there were processions; there were tumults; there were disturbances, riots, reading of Riot Acts, dispersion of mobs, charges of cavalry, fusillades of infantry; but there were no great public meetings called together for the discussion of momentous political questions. The rapid growth of the popular newspaper, soon to swell up like the prophet's gourd, had hardly begun as yet. We cannot call the Craftsman a newspaper; it was rather a series of pamphlets. It stood Pulteney instead of the more modern newspaper. He worked on public opinion with it outside the House of Commons. Inside the House he made it his business to form a party which should assail the ministry on all points, lie in wait to find occasion for attacking it, attack it rightly or wrongly, attack it even at the risk of exposing national weakness or bringing on national danger, keep attacking it always. In former days a leader of opposition had often been disdainful of the opinion of the vulgar herd out-of-doors; Pulteney and his companions set themselves to appeal especially to the prejudices, passions, and ignorance of the vulgar herd. They made it their business to create a public opinion of their own. They dealt in the manufacture of public opinion. They set up political shops wherein to retail the article which they had thus manufactured. Pulteney was now in his prime—still some years inside fifty. He was full of energy and courage, and he threw his whole soul into his work. Much of what he did was undoubtedly dictated by his spite against Walpole, but much, too, was the mere outcome of his ambition, his energy, and the peculiar character of his intellect. He enjoyed playing a {287} conspicuous part and he liked attacking somebody. People used to think at one time that Mr. Disraeli had a profound personal hatred for Sir Robert Peel when he was flinging off his philippics against that great minister. It afterwards appeared clear enough that Mr. Disraeli had no particular dislike to his opponent, but that he enjoyed attacking an important statesman. Pulteney, of course, did actually begin his career of imbittered opposition because of his quarrel with Walpole; but it is likely enough that even if no quarrel had ever taken place and he never had been Walpole's friend and colleague, he would sooner or later have become the foremost gladiator of opposition all the same.

[Sidenote: 1728—Materials of opposition]

The materials of opposition consisted of three political groups of men. There were the Jacobites, under Shippen; the Tories who no longer acknowledged themselves Jacobites, and who were led by Sir William Wyndham; and there were the discontented Whigs whom Pulteney led and whose discontent he turned to his own uses. It had long been a scheme of Bolingbroke's—up to this time it should perhaps rather be called a dream than a scheme—to combine these three groups into one distinct party, having its bond of union in a common detestation of Walpole. The dream now seemed likely to become a successful scheme. The conception of this plan of opposition was unquestionably Bolingbroke's and not Pulteney's; but it fell to Pulteney's lot to work it out in the House of Parliament, and he performed his task with consummate ability. Pulteney was probably the greatest leader of Opposition ever known in the House of Commons, with the single exception of Mr. Disraeli. Charles Fox, with all his splendid genius for debate, was not a skilful or a patient leader of Opposition. Perhaps he was too great of heart for such a part; certain it is that as a leader of Opposition he made some fatal mistakes. Pulteney seemed cut out for the part which a strange combination of chances had allowed him to play. He was not merely a debater of inexhaustible resource {288} and a master of all the trick and craft of Parliamentary leadership; but he thoroughly understood the importance of public support out-of-doors, and the means of getting at it and retaining it. Pulteney saw that the time had come when the English people would have their say in every political question.

[Sidenote: 1728—Sir William Wyndam]

By the combined influence of Pulteney and Bolingbroke there was formed a party of ultra-Whigs, who somewhat audaciously called themselves "The Patriots." Perhaps the title was first given to them by Walpole, in contempt; if so, they accepted and adopted it. Again and again in our history this phenomenon presents itself. Some men of ability and unsatisfied ambition belonging to the Liberal party become discontented with the policy of their leaders. When the first opportunity arises they make a public declaration against that policy. In the Conservative ranks there are to be found some other men, also able and also discontented, to whom the general policy of Opposition seems unsatisfactory and feeble. Each of these discontented parties fancies itself to be truly patriotic, public-spirited, and independent. The two factions at length unite for the common good of the country; they tell the world that they are patriots, that they are the only patriots, and the world for a while believes them. This was the condition of things when Pulteney in Parliament joined with Sir William Wyndham, the extreme Jacobite, the Wyndham who is mentioned in Pope's poem about his Twickenham grotto, the Wyndham with whom Bolingbroke corresponded for many years, and to whom he addressed one of his most important political manifestoes. Sir William Wyndham belonged to an old Somersetshire family. He was a staunch Tory. He had powerful connections; his first wife was a daughter of the haughty Duke of Somerset. He entered Parliament and made a considerable figure there. He had been Secretary at War and afterwards Chancellor of the Exchequer under the Tories; he had clung to Bolingbroke's fortunes at the time of Bolingbroke's {289} rupture with Harley. He underwent the common fate of Tory statesmen on the accession of George the First; he was deprived of office, was accused of taking part in the Jacobite conspiracy, and was committed to the Tower. There was, however, no evidence against him, and he resumed his political career. His eloquence is described by Speaker Onslow as "strong, full, and without affectation, arising chiefly from his clearness, propriety, and argumentation; in the method of which last, by a sort of induction almost peculiar to himself, he had a force beyond any man I ever heard in public debates." Lord Hervey, who can be trusted not to overdo the praise of any one, says of Wyndham that "he was very far from having first-rate parts, but by a gentleman-like general behavior, a constant attendance in the House of Commons, a close application to the business of it, and frequent speaking, he had got a sort of Parliamentary routine, and without being a bright speaker was a popular one, well heard, and useful to his party." So far as we now can judge, this seems a very correct estimate of Wyndham's Parliamentary capacity and position. He had a noble presence, singularly graceful and charming manners, and a high personal character. A combination between such a man as Pulteney and such a man as Wyndham could not but be formidable even to the most powerful minister.

Shippen, the leader of the Jacobites—"honest Shippen," as Pope calls him—we have often met already. He was a straightforward, unselfish man, absolutely given up to his principles and his party. He was well read and had written clever pamphlets and telling satirical verses. His speeches, or such reports of them as can be got at, are full of striking passages and impressive phrases; they are speeches which even now one cannot read without interest. But it would seem that Shippen often marred the effect of his ideas and his language by a rapid, careless, and imperfect delivery. He appears to have been one of the men who wanted nothing but a clear {290} articulation and effective utterance to be great Parliamentary debaters, and whom that single want condemned to comparative failure. Those who remember the late Sir George Cornewall Lewis, or, indeed, those who have heard the best speeches of Lord Sherbrooke, when he was Mr. Robert Lowe, can probably form a good idea of what Shippen was as a Parliamentary debater. Shippen was nothing of a statesman, and his occasional eccentricities of manner and conduct prevented him from obtaining all the influence which would otherwise have been fairly due to his talents and his political and personal integrity.

[Sidenote: 1729—The Hessians]

Pulteney's party had in Parliament the frequent, indeed for a time the habitual, assistance of Wyndham and of Shippen. Outside Parliament Bolingbroke intrigued, wrote, and worked with the indomitable energy and restless craving for activity and excitement which, despite all his professions of love for philosophic quiet, had been his life-long characteristic. The Craftsman was stimulated and guided much more directly by his inspiration than even by that of Pulteney. The Craftsman kept showering out articles, letters, verses, epigrams, all intended to damage the ministry, and more especially to destroy the reputation of Walpole. All was fish that came into the Craftsman's net. Every step taken by the Government, no matter what it might be, was made an occasion for ridicule, denunciation, and personal abuse. Not the slightest scruple was shown in the management of the Craftsman. If the policy of the Government seemed to tend towards a Continental war, the Craftsman cried out for peace, and vituperated the minister who dared to think of involving England in the trumpery quarrels of foreign States. Walpole, however, we need hardly say, made it a set purpose of his administration to maintain peace on the Continent; and as soon as the patriots began to find out in each particular instance that his policy was still the same, they turned round and shrieked against the minister whose feebleness and cowardice were laying England at the feet of foreign alliances and Continental {291} despots. Walpole worked in cordial alliance with the French Government, the principal member of which was now Cardinal Fleury. It became the object of the Craftsman to hold Walpole up to contempt and derision, as the dupe of a French cardinal and the sycophant of a French Court. The example of the Craftsman was speedily followed by pamphleteers, caricaturists, satirists, and even ballad-mongers without end. London and the provinces were flooded with such literature. Walpole was described as "Sir Blue String," the blue string being a cheap satirical allusion to the blue ribbon which was supposed to adorn him as Knight of the Garter. He was styled Sir Robert Brass, Sir Robert Lynn, more often simple "Robin" or plain "Bob." He was pictured as a systematic promoter of public corruption, as one who fattened on the taxation wrung from the miserable English taxpayer. His personal character, his domestic life, his household expenses, the habits of his wife, his own social and other enjoyments, were coarsely criticised and lampooned. The Craftsman and its imitators attacked not only Walpole himself, but Walpole's friends. The political satire of that day was as indiscriminate as it was unsparing. It was enough to be a political or even a personal friend of Walpole to become the object of the Craftsman's fierce blows. Pulteney did not even scruple to betray the confidence of private conversation, and to disclose the words which, in some unguarded moments of former friendship, Walpole had spoken of George the Second when George was Prince of Wales.

An excellent opportunity was soon given to Pulteney to make an open and a damaging attack on the ministry. Horace Walpole, British Ambassador to the French Court, had been brought over from Paris to explain and justify his brother's foreign policy. The Government put forward a resolution in the House of Commons on February 7, 1729, for a grant of some two hundred and fifty thousand pounds "for defraying the expense of twelve thousand Hessians taken into his Majesty's pay." Even {292} if the maintenance of this force had been a positive necessity, which it certainly was not, it would, nevertheless, have been a necessity bringing with it disparagement and danger to the Government responsible for it. Pulteney made the most of the opportunity, and in a speech of fine old English flavor denounced the proposal of the ministers. [Sidenote: 1729—Subsidies voted] He asked with indignation whether Englishmen were not brave enough or willing enough to defend their own country without calling in the assistance of foreign mercenaries. It might, he admitted, be some advantage to Hanover that German soldiers should be kept in the pay of England, but he wanted to know what benefit could come to the English people from paying and maintaining such a band. These men were kept, he declared, in the pay of England, not for the service of England, but for the service of Hanover. It need hardly be said that during all the earlier years of the Brunswick accession, a bare allusion to the name of Hanover was enough to stir an angry feeling in the minds of the larger number of the English people. Even the very men who most loyally supported the House of Brunswick winced and writhed under any allusion to the manner in which the interests of England were made subservient to the interests of Hanover. Pulteney therefore took every pains to chafe those sore places with remorseless energy. Sir William Wyndham supported Pulteney, and Sir Robert Walpole himself found it necessary to throw all his influence into the scale on the other side. His arguments were of a kind with which the House of Commons has been familiar during many generations. His main point was, that by maintaining a large body of soldiers, Hessian among the rest, the country had been enabled to avoid war. The Court of Vienna, with the assistance of Spanish subsidies, had been making preparation for war, Walpole contended; and were it not for the maintenance of this otherwise superfluous body of troops, the Emperor of Austria would probably never have accepted the terms of peace. "If you desire peace, {293} prepare for war," may be an excellent maxim, but its value lies a good deal in its practical application. It is a remarkably elastic maxim, and in times nearer to our own than those of Walpole has been made to expand into a justification of the most extravagant and unnecessary military armaments and of schemes of fortification which afterwards were abandoned before they had been half realized. In this instance, however, there was something more to be said against the proposal of the Government. Some of the speakers in the debate pointed out that England in former days, if it engaged in a quarrel with its neighbors, fought the quarrel out with its own strength, and was not in the habit of buying and maintaining the forces of foreign princes to help Englishmen to hold their own. The resolution, of course, was carried. It was even carried by an overwhelming majority: 256 were on the "court side," as it was called, against 91 on the "country side." Fifty thousand pounds was also voted as "one year's subsidy to the King of Sweden," and twenty-five thousand pounds for one year's subsidy to the Duke of Brunswick. In order, however, to appease the consciences of some of those who supported the resolution as well as those who had opposed it, the Government permitted what we should now call a "rider" to be added to the resolution requesting his Majesty that whenever it should be necessary to take any foreign troops into his service, "he will be graciously pleased to use his endeavors that they be clothed with the manufactures of Great Britain." It was supposed to be some solace to the wounded national pride of Englishmen to be assured that if they had to pay foreigners to fight for them, the foreigners should at least not be allowed to come to this country clothed in the manufactures of their own land, but would be compelled to buy their garments over the counter of an English shop.

On Friday, February 21st, an event which led directly and indirectly to results of some importance occurred. Three petitions from the merchants trading in tobacco {294} in London, Bristol, and Liverpool were presented to the House of Commons. These petitions complained of great interruptions for several years past of the trade with the British colonies in America by the Spaniards. The depredations of the Spanish, it was said, endangered the entire loss of that valuable trade to England. The Spaniards were accused of having treated such of his Majesty's subjects as had fallen into their hands in a barbarous and cruel manner. The petitioners prayed for the consideration of the House of Commons, and such timely remedy as the House should think fit to recommend. These petitions only preceded a great many others, all in substance to the same effect. The Commons entered upon the consideration of the subject in a Committee of the whole House, heard several petitioners, and examined many witnesses. An address was presented to the Crown, asking for copies of all memorials, petitions, and representations to the late King or the present, in relation to Spanish captures of British ships. [Sidenote: 1729—The Campeachy logwood] Copies were also asked for of the reports laid before the King by the Commissioners of Trade and of Plantations, concerning the dispute between England and Spain, with regard to the rights of the subjects of Great Britain to cut logwood in the Bay of Campeachy, on the western shore of that Yucatan peninsula which juts into the Gulf of Mexico. English traders had been for a long time in the habit of cutting logwood along the shores in the Bay of Campeachy, and the logwood trade had come to be one of the greatest importance to the West Indies and to England. The Spanish Government claimed the right to put a stop to this cutting of logwood, and the Spanish Viceroy and Governor had in some instances declared that they would dislodge the Englishmen from the settlements which they had established, and even treat them as pirates if they persisted in their trade. There was, in fact, all the material growing up for a serious quarrel between England and Spain.

Despite the recent treaties which were supposed to {295} secure the peace of Europe, the times were very critical. "The British nation," says a contemporary writer, "had for many years past been in a state of uncertainty, scarce knowing friends from foes, or indeed whether we had either." Each new treaty seemed only to disturb the balance of power, as it was called, in a new way. The Quadruple Alliance was intended to rectify the defects of the Treaty of Utrecht; but it gave too much power to the Emperor, and it increased the bitterness and the discontent of the King of Spain. The Treaty of Vienna, made between the Empire and Spain, was justly regarded in England as portending danger to this country. It was even more dangerous than Englishmen in general supposed at the time, although Walpole knew its full purport and menace. The Treaty of Vienna led to the Treaty of Hanover, an arrangement made in the closing years of George the First's reign between Great Britain, France, and Prussia, by virtue of which if any one of the contracting parties were to be attacked, the other two were pledged to come to the assistance with funds and with arms. All these arrangements were in the highest degree artificial; some of them might fairly be described as unnatural. It might be taken for granted that not one of the States whom they professed to bind to this side or to that would hold to the engagements one hour longer than would serve her own interests. No safety was secured by these overlapping treaties; no one had any faith in them. It was quite true that England did not know her friends from her enemies about the time at which we have now arrived.

The dispute between England and Spain concerning the question of the Campeachy logwood was to involve a controversy as to the interpretation of certain passages in the Treaty of Utrecht. It was distinctly a matter for calm consideration, for compromise, and for an amicable settlement. But each of the two parties mainly concerned showed its desire to push its own claim to an extreme. English traders have never been particularly {296} moderate or considerate in pressing their supposed rights to trade with foreign countries. In this instance they were strongly backed up, encouraged, and stimulated by the band of Englishmen who chose to call themselves "The Patriots." Few of the "Patriots," we venture to think, cared a rush about the question of the Campeachy logwood, or were very deeply grieved because Spain bore herself in a high-handed fashion towards certain English merchants and ship-owners. But the opportunity seemed to the "Patriots" admirably adapted for worrying and harassing, not the Spaniards, but the administration of Sir Robert Walpole. They used the opportunity to the very full. [Sidenote: 1729—Gibraltar] The debates on the conduct of Spain brought out in the House of Lords the acknowledgment of the fact that King George I. had at one time actually written to the Government of Spain, distinctly undertaking to bring about the restitution of Gibraltar. A copy of the letter in French, with a translation, was laid before the House. It seemed that on June 1, 1721, George, the late King, wrote to the King of Spain, "Sir, my brother," a letter concerning the treaties then in the course of being re-established between England and Spain. In that letter occurred these words: "I do no longer balance to assure your Majesty of my readiness to satisfy you with regard to your demand touching the restitution of Gibraltar; promising you to make use of the first favorable opportunity to regulate this article with the consent of my Parliament." The House of Lords had a long and warm debate on this subject. A resolution was proposed, declaring that "for the honor of his Majesty, and the preservation and security of the trade and commerce of this kingdom," care should be taken "that the King of Spain do renounce all claim and pretension to Gibraltar and the island of Minorca, in plain and strong terms." This resolution, however, was thought in the end to be rather too strong, and it was modified into a declaration that the Lords "do entirely rely upon his Majesty, that he will, for the maintaining the honor and securing the {297} trade of this kingdom, take effectual care in the present treaty to preserve his undoubted right to Gibraltar and the island of Minorca." This resolution was communicated to the House of Commons, and the Lords asked for a conference with that House in the Painted Chamber. The Commons had a long debate on the subject. The Opposition strongly denounced the ministers who had advised the late King to write such a letter, and declared that it implied a positive promise to surrender Gibraltar to Spain. The courtiers, as the supporters of the Ministry were then called, to distinguish them from the country party—that is to say, the Opposition—endeavored to qualify and make light of the expressions used in the late King's letter, to show that they were merely hypothetical and conditional, and insisted that effectual care had since been taken in every way to maintain the right of England to Gibraltar. The country party moved that words be added to the Lords' resolution requiring "that all pretensions on the part of the Crown of Spain to the said places be specifically given up." Two hundred and sixty-seven votes against one hundred and eleven refused the addition of these words as unnecessary, and too much in the nature of a challenge and defiance to Spain. But the motion that "this House does agree with the Lords in the said resolution" was carried without a division, the Court party not venturing to offer any objection to it. The King received the address of both Houses on Tuesday, March 25th, and returned an answer thanking them for the confidence reposed in him, and assuring them that "I will take effectual care, as I have hitherto done, to secure my undoubted right to Gibraltar and the island of Minorca."

The difficulty was over for the present. The Government contrived to arrange a new treaty with Spain, the Treaty of Seville, in which France also was included. This treaty settled for the time the disputes about English trade with the New World, and the claims of Spain for a restoration of Gibraltar were, indirectly at least, {298} given up. Perhaps the whole story is chiefly interesting now as affording an illustration of the manner in which the Patriots turned everything to account for their one great purpose of harassing the administration of Sir Robert Walpole. All the patriotic effusiveness about the undoubted right of England to Gibraltar was merely well-painted passion. Such sentiment as exists in the English mind with regard to the possession of "the Rock" now, did not exist, had not had time to come into existence, then. Gibraltar was taken in 1704; its possession was confirmed to England by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Since that time English Ministers had again and again been considering the expediency of restoring Gibraltar to the Spaniards. Stanhope had been in favor of the restoration; Townshend and Carteret had been in favor of it. Some of the Patriots themselves, before they came to be dubbed Patriots, had been in favor of it. Only the unreasonable and insolent behavior of Spain herself stood at one time in the way of the restitution. Gibraltar was one capture, like many others; captured territory changed and changed hands with each new arrangement in those days. Minorca, which was included with Gibraltar in the resolution of the two Houses of Parliament and the consequent promise of the King, was taken by the English forces shortly after the capture of Gibraltar, and was settled upon England by the same Treaty of Utrecht. Yet, as we all know, it was given up by England at the peace of Amiens, and no tears of grief were shed by any English eyes. But the discovery that the late King had at one time been willing to restore Gibraltar to Spain for a consideration came in most opportunely for the Patriots. To most of them it was, of course, no discovery at all. They had always known of the intention, and some of them had approved of it. None the less shrill were their cries of surprise; none the less vociferous their shouts of patriotic anger.




[Sidenote: 1729—Death of Congreve]

Literature lost some great names in the early part of George the Second's reign. William Congreve and Richard Steele both died in 1729. Congreve's works do not belong to the time of which we are writing. He was not sixty years old when he died, and he had long ceased to take any active part in literature. Swift deplores, in a letter to an acquaintance, "the death of our friend Mr. Congreve, whom I loved from my youth, and who surely, besides his other talents, was a very agreeable companion." Swift adds that Congreve "had the misfortune to squander away a very good constitution in his younger days," and "upon his own account I could not much desire the continuance of his life under so much pain and so many infirmities." Congreve was beyond comparison the greatest English comic dramatist of his time. Since the days of Ben Jonson and until the days of Sheridan there was no one who could fairly be compared with him. His comedy was not in the least like the bold, broad, healthy, Aristophanic humor of Ben Jonson; the two stand better in contrast than in comparison. Jonson drew from the whole living English world of his time; Congreve drew from the men and women whom he had seen in society. Congreve took society as he found it in his earlier days. The men and women with whom he then mixed were for the most part flippant, insincere, corrupt, and rather proud of their corruption; and Congreve filled his plays with figures very lifelike for such a time. He has not drawn many men or women whom one could admire. Even his heroines, if they are chaste in their lives, {300} are anything but pure in their conversation, and seem to have no moral principle beyond that which is represented by what Heine calls an "anatomical chastity." Angelica, the heroine of "Love for Love," is evidently meant by Congreve to be all that a charming young Englishwoman ought to be; and she is charming, fresh, and fascinating even still. But she occasionally talks in a manner which would be a little strong for a barrack-room now; and nothing gives her more genuine delight than to twit her kind, fond old uncle with his wife's infidelities, to make it clear to him that all the world is acquainted with the full particulars of his shame, and to sport with his jealous agonies. Congreve was the first dramatic author who put an English seaman on the stage; and, after his characteristic fashion, he made his Ben Legend a selfish, coarse, and ruffianly lout. But if one cannot admire many of Congreve's characters, on the other hand one cannot help admiring every sentence they speak. The only fault to be found with their talk is that it is too witty, too brilliant, for any manner of real life. Society would have to be all composed of male and female Congreves to make such conversation possible. There is more strength, originality, and depth in it than even in the conversation in "The Rivals" and "The School for Scandal." The same fault has been found with Sheridan which is to be found with Congreve. We need not make too much of it. No warning example is called for. There will never be many dramatists whose dialogue will deserve the censure of critics on the ground that it is too witty.

[Sidenote: 1729—Death of Steele]

Of Steele we have often had occasion to speak. His fame has been growing rather than fading with time. At one period he was ranked by critics as far below the level of Addison; few men now would not set him on a pedestal as high. He was more natural, more simple, more fresh than Addison. There is some justice in the remark of Hazlitt that "Steele seems to have gone into his closet chiefly to set down what he had observed out-of-doors;" {301} while Addison appears "to have spent most of his time in his study," spinning out to the utmost there the hints "which he borrowed from Steele or took from nature." Every one, however, will cordially say with Hazlitt, "I am far from wishing to depreciate Addison's talents, but I am anxious to do justice to Steele." There are not many names in English literature round which a greater affection clings than that of Steele. Leigh Hunt, in writing of Congreve, speaks of "the love of the highest aspirations" which he sometimes displays, and which makes us think of what he might have been under happier and purer auspices. Leigh Hunt refers in especial to Congreve's essay in the Tatler on the character of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, whom Congreve calls Aspasia—"an effusion so full of enthusiasm for the moral graces, and worded with an appearance of sincerity so cordial, that we can never read it without thinking it must have come from Steele." "It is in this essay," Leigh Hunt goes on, "that he says one of the most elegant and truly loving things that were ever uttered by an unworldly passion: 'To love her is a liberal education.'" Leigh Hunt's critical judgment was better than his information. The words "to love her is a liberal education" are by Steele, and not by Congreve. They do not appear in the essay by Congreve on the character of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, but in a subsequent essay by Steele, in which, after a fashion common enough in the Tatler and the Spectator, one author takes up some figure created or described by another, and gives it new touches and commends it afresh to the reader. Steele was doing this with Congreve's picture of Aspasia, and it was then that he crowned the whole work by the exquisite and immortal words which Leigh Hunt could never read without thinking they must have come from the man who was in fact their author.

If literature had its losses in these years, it had also its gains. Not long before the time at which we have now arrived, English literature had achieved three great successes. Pope wrote the first three books of his {302} "Dunciad," Swift published his "Gulliver's Travels," and Gay set the town wild with his "Beggar's Opera." We are far from any thought of classifying the "Beggar's Opera" as a work of art on a level with the "Dunciad" or "Gulliver's Travels," but in its way it is a masterpiece. It is thoroughly original, fresh, and vivid. It added one or two distinctly new figures to the humorous drama. It is clever as a satire and charming as a story. One cannot be surprised that when it had the attraction of novelty the public raved about it. To say anything about "Gulliver's Travels" or the "Dunciad," except to note the historical fact that each was published, would of course be mere superfluity and waste of words.

In 1731 the first steps were taken in a reform of some importance in the liberation of our legal procedure. It was arranged that English should be substituted for Latin in the presentments, indictments, pleadings, and all other documents used in our courts of law. The early stages of this most wise and needful reform were met with much opposition by lawyers and pedants. One main argument employed in favor of the retention of the old system was that, if the language of our legal documents were to be changed, no man would be at the pains of studying Latin any more, and that in a few years no one would be able to read a word of some of our own most valuable historical records. It was mildly suggested on the other side that there would always be some men among us who "either out of curiosity, or for the sake of gain," would make it their business to keep up the knowledge of Latin, and that a very few of such antiquarians would suffice to give the country all the information drawn from Latin records which it could possibly require or care to have. We have had some experience since that time, and it does not appear that the disuse of Latin in our legal documents has led to its falling into absolute disuse among reading men. There are still among us, and apparently will always be, persons who, "either out of curiosity, or for the sake of gain," keep up their knowledge of Latin. {303} The curiosity to read Virgil and Horace and Cicero and Caesar, in the tongue which those authors employed, is more keen than it ever was before. Men indulge themselves freely in it, even without reference to the sake of gain.

[Sidenote: 1731—Quarrel of Walpole and Townshend]

Meanwhile a change long foreseen by those who were in the inner political circles was rapidly approaching. The combination between Walpole and his brother-in-law, Lord Townshend, was about to be broken up. It had for a long time been a question whether it was to be the firm of Townshend and Walpole, or Walpole and Townshend; and of late years the question was becoming settled. If the firm was to endure at all, it must clearly be Walpole and Townshend. Walpole had been growing every day in power and influence. The King, as well as the Queen, treated him openly and privately as the head of the Government. Townshend saw this, and felt bitterly aggrieved. He had for a long time been a much more powerful personage socially than Walpole, and he could not bear with patience the supremacy which Walpole was all too certainly obtaining. Great part of that supremacy was due to Walpole's superiority of talents; but something was due also to the fact that the House of Commons was becoming a much more important assembly than the House of Lords. The result was inevitable. Townshend for a long time struggled against it. He tried to intrigue against Walpole; he did his best to ingratiate himself with the King. He was a man of austere character and stainless life; but he seems, nevertheless, to have tried at one time the merest arts of the political intriguer to supplant his brother-in-law in the favor and confidence of the King. Perhaps he might have succeeded—it is at least possible—but for the watchful intelligence of Queen Caroline. She saw through all Townshend's schemes, and took care that they should not succeed. At last the two rivals quarrelled. Their quarrel broke out very openly, in the drawing-room of a lady, and in the presence of several distinguished {304} persons. From hot words they were going on to a positive personal struggle, when the spectators at last intervened to "pluck them asunder," in the words of the King in "Hamlet." They were plucked asunder, and then there was talk of a duel. The friends of both succeeded in preventing this scandal, but the brothers-in-law were never thoroughly reconciled, and after a short time Lord Townshend resigned his office. He withdrew from public life altogether, and devoted his remaining years to the enjoyment of the country and the cultivation of agriculture. It is to his credit that when once he had given way to the superior influence of Walpole, he did not afterwards cabal against him, or try to injure him, according to the fashion of the statesmen of the time. On the contrary, when he was once pressed to join in an attack on Walpole's ministry, he firmly refused to do anything of the kind. He said he had resolved to take no further part in political contests, and he did not mean to break his resolution. He was particularly determined not to depart from his resolve in this case, he explained, because his temper was hot, and he was apprehensive that he might be hurried away by personal resentment to take a course which in his cooler moments he should have to regret. Nothing in his public life, perhaps, became him so well as his dignified conduct in his retirement. His place in history is not strongly marked; in this history we shall not hear of him any more.

[Sidenote: 1730—Signs of change in foreign policy]

Colonel Stanhope, who had made the Treaty of Seville, and had been raised to the peerage as Lord Harrington for his services, succeeded Townshend as Secretary of State. Horace Walpole, the brother of Robert, was at his own request recalled from Paris. Walpole, the Prime-minister, had begun to see that it would be necessary for the future to have something like a good understanding with Austria. The friendship with France had been a priceless advantage in its time, but Walpole believed that it had served its turn. It was valuable to England chiefly because it had enabled the Sovereign to keep {305} the movements of the Stuart party in check, and Walpole hoped that the House of Hanover was now secure on the throne, and believed, with too sanguine a confidence, that no other effort would be made to disturb it. Moreover, he saw some reason to think that France, no longer guided by the political intelligence of a man like the Duke of Orleans, was drawing a little too close in her relationship with Spain. Walpole was already looking forward to the coming of a time when it might be necessary for England to strengthen herself against France and Spain, and he therefore desired to get into a good understanding with the Emperor and Austria.

Walpole now had the Government entirely to himself. He was not merely all-powerful in the administration, he actually was the administration. The King knew him to be indispensable; the Queen put the fullest trust in him. His only trouble was with the intrigues of Bolingbroke and the opposition of Pulteney. The latter sometimes affected what would have been called at the time a "mighty unconcern" about political affairs. Writing once to Pope, he says, "Mrs. Pulteney is now in labor; if she does well, and brings me a boy, I shall not care one sixpence how much longer Sir Robert governs England, or Horace governs France." This was written while Horace Walpole was still Ambassador at the French Court. Pulteney, however, was very far from feeling anything like the philosophical indifference which he expressed in his letter to Pope. He never ceased to attack everything done by the Ministry, and to satirize every word said by Walpole. At the same time Pulteney was complaining bitterly to his friends of the attacks made on him by the supporters of Walpole. On February 9, 1730, he wrote a letter to Swift, in which he says that "certain people" had been driven by want of argument "to that last resort of calling names: villain, traitor, seditious rascal, and such ingenious appellations have frequently been bestowed on a couple of friends of yours." "Such usage," he complacently adds, "has made it {306} necessary to return the same polite language; and there has been more Billingsgate stuff uttered from the press within these two months than ever was known before." Swift himself had previously written to his friend Dr. Sheridan a letter in which he declared that "Walpole is peevish and disconcerted, stoops to the vilest offices of hireling scoundrels to write Billingsgate of the lowest and most prostitute kind, and has none but beasts and blockheads for his penmen, whom he pays in ready guineas very liberally." One would have thought that beasts and blockheads could hardly prove very formidable enemies to Swift and Bolingbroke and Pulteney.

[Sidenote: 1730—Lord Hervey]

One of the incidents in the controversy carried on by the Ministerial penmen and the Craftsman was a duel between Pulteney and Lord Hervey. Pulteney and his friends were apparently under the impression that they had a right to a monopoly of personal abuse, and they resented any effusion of the kind from the other side as a breach of their privilege. Hervey had written a tract called "Sedition and Defamation displayed, in a Letter to the Author of the Craftsman;" and this led to a new outburst of passion on both sides. Pulteney stigmatized Hervey, on account of his effeminate appearance, as a thing that was half man, half woman, and a duel took place in which Hervey was wounded. Hervey was a remarkable man. His physical frame was as feeble as that of Voltaire. He suffered from epilepsy and a variety of other ailments. He had to live mainly on a dietary of ass's milk. His face was so meagre and so pallid, or rather livid, that he used to paint and make up like an actress or a fine lady. Pope, who might have been considerate to the weak of frame, was merciless in his ridicule of Hervey. He ridiculed him as Sporus, who could neither feel satire nor sense, and as Lord Fanny. Yet Hervey could appreciate satire and sense; could write satire and sense. He was a man of very rare capacity. He had already distinguished himself as a debater in the House of Commons, and was afterwards to distinguish himself as a {307} debater in the House of Lords. He wrote pretty verses and clever pamphlets, and he has left to the world a collection of "Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second," which will always be read for its vivacity, its pungency, its bitterness, and its keen, penetrating good-sense. Hervey succeeded in obtaining the hand of one of the most beautiful women of the day, the charming Mary Lepell, whose name has been celebrated in more than one poetical panegyric by Pope, and he captivated the heart of one of the royal princesses. The historical reader must strike a sort of balance for himself in getting at an estimate of Hervey's character. No man has been more bitterly denounced by his enemies or more warmly praised by his friends. Affectation, insincerity, prodigality, selfishness, servility to the great, contempt for the humble, are among the qualities his opponents ascribe to him. According to his friends, his cynicism was a mere affectation to hide a sensitive and generous nature; his bitterness arose from his disappointment at finding so few men or women who came up to a really high standard of nobleness; his homage of the great was but the half-disguised mockery of a scornful philosopher. Probably the picture drawn by the friends is on the whole more near to life than that painted by the enemies. The world owes him some thanks for a really interesting book, the very boldness and bitterness of which enhance to a certain extent its historical value. At this time Hervey was but little over thirty years of age. He was the son of the first Earl of Bristol by a second marriage, had been educated at Westminster School and at Clare Hall, Cambridge; had gone early through the usual round of Continental travels, and became a friend of George the First's grandson, now Prince of Wales, at Hanover. This friendship not merely did not endure, but soon turned into hate. Hervey was an admirer of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and was admired by her; but her own assurances, which may be trusted to, declared that there had been nothing warmer than friendship between them. Lady Mary afterwards {308} maintained that the relationship between Hervey and her established the possibility of "a long and steady friendship subsisting between two persons of different sexes without the least admixture of love." Hervey was in his day a somewhat free and liberal lover of women, and it is not surprising that the world should have regarded his acquaintanceship with Lady Mary as something warmer than mere friendship. We shall have occasion to refer to Hervey's memoirs of the reign of George the Second more than once hereafter, and may perhaps now cite a few words which Hervey himself says in vindication of their sincerity and their historical accuracy; "No one who did not live in these times will, I dare say, believe but some of those I describe in these papers must have had some hard features and deformities exaggerated and heightened by the malice and ill-nature of the painter who drew them. Others, perhaps, will say that at least no painter is obliged to draw every wart or wen or humpback in its full proportions, and that I might have softened these blemishes where I found them. But I am determined to report everything just as it is, or at least just as it appears to me; and those who have a curiosity to see courts and courtiers dissected, must bear with the dirt they find in laying open such minds with as little nicety and as much patience as, in a dissection of their bodies, if they wanted to see that operation, they must submit to the disgust."

Hervey fought with spirit and effect on the side of Walpole, although Lady Hervey strongly disliked the Minister and was disliked by him. Walpole had at one time, it was said, made unsuccessful love to the beautiful and witty Molly Lepell, and he did not forgive her because of her scornful rejection of his ponderous attempts at gallantry. Hervey, nevertheless, took Walpole's side, and proved to be an ally of some importance. A great struggle was approaching, in which the whole strength of Walpole's hold on the Sovereign and the country was to be tested by the severest strain.


[Sidenote: 1730—The Sinking Fund]

Walpole was, as we have said more than once, the first of the great financier statesmen of England. He was the first statesman who properly appreciated the virtue and the value of mere economy in the disposal of a nation's revenues. He was the first to devise anything like a solid and symmetrical plan for the fair adjustment of taxation. Sometimes he had recourse to rather poor and common-place artifices, as in the case of his proposal to meet a certain financial strain by borrowing half a million from the Sinking Fund. This proposal he carried by a large majority, in spite of the most vehement and even furious opposition on the part of the Patriots. It must be owned that the Patriots were right enough in the principle of their objection to this encroachment on the Sinking Fund, although their predictions as to the ruin it must bring upon the country were preposterous. Borrowing from a sinking fund is always rather a shabby dodge; but it is a trick familiar to all statesmen in difficulties, and Walpole did no worse than many statesmen of later days, who, with the full advantages of a sound and well-developed financial system, have shown that they were not able to do any better.

The Patriots seem to have made up their minds to earn their title. They fought the "Court," or Ministerial, party on a variety of issues. They supported motions for the reduction of the numbers of the army, and they declaimed against the whole principle of a standing army with patriotic passion, which sometimes appeared for the time quite genuine. They brought illustrations of all kinds, applicable and inapplicable, from Greek and Roman, from French and Spanish history, even from Eastern history, to show that a standing army was invariably the instrument of despotism and the forerunner of doom to the liberties of a people. The financial policy of the Government gave them frequent opportunities for using the sword of the partisan behind the fluttering cloak of the patriot. On both sides of the House there was considerable confusion of ideas on the subject of political economy {310} and the incidence of taxation. Walpole was ahead of his own party as well as of his opponents on such subjects; his followers were little more enlightened than his antagonists.

[Sidenote: 1732—The American colonies]

In 1732 there was presented to the House of Commons an interesting report from the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations on "the state of his Majesty's colonies and plantations in America, with respect to any laws made, manufactures set up, and trade carried on there, which may affect the trade, navigation, and manufactures of this kingdom." From this report we learn that at the time there were three different systems of government prevailing in the American colonies. Some provinces were immediately under the administration of the Crown: these were Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, the Jerseys, New York, Virginia, the two Carolinas, Bermuda, Bahama Islands, Jamaica, Barbadoes, and the Leeward Islands. Others were vested in proprietors—Pennsylvania, for example, and Maryland—and the Bahamas and the two Carolinas had not long before been in the same condition. There were three Charter Governments, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, in which the power was divided between the Crown and the population, where the people chose their representative assemblies, and the Governor was dependent upon the Assembly for his annual support, "which," as the report observed ingenuously, "has so frequently laid the Governor of such a province under temptations of giving up the prerogative of the Crown and the interest of Great Britain." The report contains a very full account of the state of manufactures in all the provinces. New York, for example, had no manufactures "that deserved mentioning;" the trade there "consisted chiefly in furs, whalebone, oil, pitch, tar, and provisions." In Massachusetts "the inhabitants worked up their wool and flax, and made an ordinary coarse cloth for their own use, but did not export any." In Pennsylvania the "chief trade lay in the exportation of provisions and lumber," and there were {311} "no manufactures established, their clothing and utensils for their houses being all imported from Great Britain." For the object of the whole report was not to discover how far the energy of the colonists was developing the resources of the colonies, in order that the Government and the people of England might be gratified with a knowledge of the progress made, and give their best encouragement to further progress. The inquiry was set on foot in order to find out whether the colonists were presuming to manufacture for themselves any goods which they ought by right to buy from English makers, and to recommend steps by which such audacious enterprises might be rebuked and prevented. This is the avowed object of the report, and we find governor after governor assuring the Commissioners earnestly and plaintively that the population of his province really manufacture nothing, or at all events nothing that could possibly interfere with the sacred privileges of the English monopolists. The report significantly recommends the House of Commons to take into consideration the question "whether it might not be expedient to give these colonies proper encouragements for turning their industry to such manufactures and products as might be of service to Great Britain, and more particularly to the production of all kinds of naval stores." The proper encouragement given to this sort of productiveness would imply, of course, proper discouragement given to anything else. The colonies were to exist merely for the convenience and benefit of the so-called mother country, a phrase surely of sardonic impressiveness. Such, however, was the common feeling of that day in England. It was so with regard to India; it was so with regard to Ireland. The story of the pelican was reversed. The pelican did not in this case feed her young with her blood; the young were expected to give their blood to feed the pelican.

The real strain was to come when Walpole should introduce his famous and long-expected scheme for a reform in the customs and excise laws. Walpole's scheme {312} was inspired by two central ideas. One of these was to diminish the amount of taxation imposed on the land of the country, and make up the deficiency by indirect taxation; the other was to reduce the customs duties by substituting as far as possible an excise duty. Walpole would have desired something like free-trade as regarded the introduction of food and the raw materials of manufacture. Let these be got into the country as easily and freely as possible was his principle, and then let us see afterwards how we can adjust the excise duties so as to produce the largest amount of revenue with the smallest injury to the interest of the consumer, and with the minimum of waste. His design was that the necessaries of life and the raw materials of manufacture should remain as nearly as possible untaxed, and that the revenue of the country should be collected from land and from luxuries. We do not mean to say that the plans which Walpole presented to the country were faithful in all their details to these central ideas. One scheme at least which he laid before Parliament was positively at variance with the main principles which he had long been trying to establish. But in considering the whole controversy between him and his opponents, the reader may take it for granted that such were the principles by which his financial policy was inspired. He had been moving quietly in this direction for some time. He had removed the import duties from tea, coffee, and chocolate, and made them subject to inland or excise duties. In 1732 he revived the salt tax. The Bill which was introduced on February 9, 1732, to accomplish this object, met with a strong opposition in both Houses of Parliament. Walpole's speech in introducing the motion for the revival of the tax contained a very clear statement of his financial creed. "Where every man contributes a small share, a great sum may be raised for the public service without any man's being sensible of what he pays; whereas a small sum raised upon a few, lies heavy upon each particular man, and is the more grievous in that it is unjust; for where {313} the benefit is mutual, the expense ought to be in common." [Sidenote: 1732—Opposition alarm] The general principle is unassailable; but Walpole seems to us to have been quite wrong in his application of it to such an impost as the salt tax. "Of all the taxes I ever could think of," he argued, "there is not one more general, nor one less felt, than that of the duty upon salt." He described it as a "tax that every man in the nation contributes to according to his circumstances and condition in life." This is exactly what every man does not do. The family of the rich man does not by any means consume more salt than the family of the poor man in proportion to their respective incomes. Pulteney knocked Walpole's argument all to pieces in a speech of remarkable force and ingenuity even for him. There was something honestly pathetic in his appeal on behalf of the poor man, whom the duty on salt would touch most nearly. The tax, he said, would be at least one shilling a head for every man or woman able to work; to a man with a family it would average four shillings and sixpence a year. Such a yearly sum "may be looked upon as a trifle by a gentleman of a large estate and easy circumstances, but a poor man feels sometimes severely the want of a shilling; many a poor man has for want of a shilling been obliged to pawn the only whole coat he had to his back, and has never been able to redeem it again. Even a farthing to a poor man is a considerable sum; what shifts do the frugal among them make to save even a farthing!"

Had all Pulteney's speech been animated by this spirit he would have made out an unanswerable case. The objection to a salt tax in England then was not so great as in India at a later period; but the principle of the tax was undoubtedly bad, while the general principle of Walpole's finance was undoubtedly good. The question, however, was not argued out by Pulteney or any other speaker on his side upon such a ground as the hardship to the poor man. The tyranny of an excise system, of any excise system, its unconstitutional, despotic, and inquisitorial nature—this was the chief ground of attack. Sir {314} William Wyndham sounded the alarm which was soon to be followed by a tremendous echo. He declared the proposed tax "not only destructive to the trade, but inconsistent with the liberties of this nation." The very number of the officers who would have to be appointed to collect this one tax, who would be named by the Crown and scattered all over the country, would have immense influence on the elections; and this fact alone would give a power into the hands of the Crown greater than was consistent with the liberties of the people, and "of the most dangerous consequence to our happy constitution." The Bill passed the House of Commons, and was read a first time in the House of Lords on March 22d. The second reading was moved on March 27th, and a long debate took place. Not the least interesting fact concerning this debate was that the leading part in opposition to the Bill was taken by Lord Carteret, who had returned from his Irish Government, and was beginning to show himself a pertinacious and a formidable enemy of Walpole and his administration. Carteret outshone even Pulteney and Wyndham in wholesale and extravagant denunciation of the measure. He likened it to the domestic policy of Cardinal Richelieu, by which the estates of the nobility and gentry were virtually confiscated to the Crown, and the liberties of the people were lost. It would place it in the power of a wicked administration to reduce the English people to the same condition as the people in Turkey; "their only resource will be in mobs and tumults, and the prevailing party will administer justice by general massacres and proscriptions." All this may now seem sheer absurdity; but for the purposes of Carteret and Pulteney it was by no means absurd. The salt tax was carried through the House of Lords; but the public out-of-doors were taught to believe that the Minister's financial policy was merely a series of artifices for the destruction of popular rights, and for robbing England of her political liberty.

[Sidenote: 1733—"A very terrible affair"]

Walpole had long had in his mind a measure of a different {315} nature—a measure to readjust the duties on tobacco and wine. It was known that he was preparing some bill on the subject, and the excitement which was beginning to show itself at the time of the salt tax debates was turned to account by the Opposition to forestall the popular reception of the expected measure. The cry was got up that the administration were planning a scheme for a general excise, and the bare idea of a general excise was then odious and terrible to the public. Whatever Walpole's final purposes may have been, there was nothing to alarm any one in the scheme which he was presently to introduce. Nobody now would think of impugning the soundness of the economical principles on which his moderate, limited, and tentative scheme of fiscal reform was founded.

The coming event threw its shadow before it, and the shadow became marvellously distorted. Pulteney, speaking on February 23, 1733, with regard to the Sinking Fund proposal, talked of the expected excise scheme in language of such exaggeration that it is impossible to believe the orator could have felt anything like the alarm and horror he expressed. There is "a very terrible affair impending," Pulteney said, "a monstrous project—yea, more monstrous than has ever yet been represented. It is such a project as has struck terror into the minds of most gentlemen within this House, and into the minds of all men without-doors who have any regard to the happiness or to the constitution of their country. I mean that monster the excise; that plan of arbitrary power which is expected to be laid before this House in the present session of Parliament." Sir John Barnard, one of the members for the City of London, a man of great respectability, capacity, and influence, ventured to predict that Walpole's scheme would "turn out to be his eternal shame and dishonor, and that the more the project is examined, and the consequences thereof considered, the more the projector will be hated and despised."

Of all this strong language Walpole took little account. {316} He meant to propose his scheme, he said, when the proper time should come, and he did not doubt but that honorable members would find it something very different from the vague and monstrous project of which they had been told. In any case he meant to propose it. [Sidenote: 1733—Walpole's scheme] Accordingly, on Wednesday, March 7, 1733, Walpole moved that the House should on that day week resolve itself into a committee "to consider of the most proper methods for the better security and improvement of the duties and revenues already charged upon and payable from tobacco and wines." On the day appointed, Wednesday, March 14th, the House went into committee accordingly, and Walpole expounded his scheme. It was simply a plan to deal with the duties on wines and tobacco, and Walpole protested that his views and purposes were confined altogether to these two branches of the revenue, and that such a thing as a scheme for a general excise had never entered into his head, "nor, for what I know, into the head of any man I am acquainted with." There was in the mind of the English people then a vague horror of all excise laws and excise officers, and the whole opposition to Walpole's scheme in and out of the House of Commons was maintained by an appeal to that common feeling. Walpole's resolutions with regard to the tobacco trade were taken first and separately. It will soon be seen that the resolutions concerning the duties on wine were destined never to be discussed at all. What Walpole proposed to do in regard to tobacco was to make the customs duty very small and to increase the excise duty; to establish bonded warehouses for the storing of the tobacco imported into this country and meant to be exported again or sold here for home consumption; thus to encourage and facilitate the importation; to get rid of many of the dishonest practices which injured the fair dealer and defrauded the revenue; to put a stop to smuggling; to benefit at once the grower, the manufacturer, the consumer, and the revenue. We need not relate at great length and in minute detail the history of these resolutions {317} and of the debates on them in the House of Commons. But it may be pointed out that, wild and absurd as were the outcries of the Patriots, there yet was good reason for their apprehension of a growing scheme to substitute excise for land-tax or poll-tax or customs. Walpole was, as we know, a firm believer in the advantages of indirect taxation, and of the introduction, as freely as possible, of all raw materials for manufacture, and all articles useful for the food of a nation. He was a free-trader before his time, and he saw that in certain cases there was immense advantage to the consumer and to the revenue in allowing articles to be imported under as light a duty as possible, and then putting an excise duty on their distribution here. Walpole was perfectly right in all this, but his enemies were none the less justified in proclaiming that the proposals he was introducing could not end in a mere readjustment of the tobacco and wine duties.

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