Collections and Recollections
by George William Erskine Russell
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"Prince of Wales, Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Duke and Dutchess of Cumberland, and Miss Pigott, Mrs. F.'s companion, went a Party to Windsor during the absence of The Family fm. Windsor; and going to see a cold Bath, Miss P. expressed a great wish to bathe this hot weather. The D. of C. very imprudently pushed her in, and the Dut. of C. having the presence of mind to throw out the Rope saved her when in such a disagreeable State from fear and surprise as to be near sinking. Mrs. F. went into convulsion Fits, and the Dut. fainted away, and the scene proved ridiculous in the extreme, as Report says the Duke called out to Miss P. that he was instantly coming to her in the water, and continued undressing himself. Poor Miss P.'s clothes entirely laid upon the Water, and made her appear an awkward figure. They afterwards pushed in one of the Prince's attendants."

So much for High Life at the close of the eighteenth century. It is more difficult to realize that we are separated only by some sixty years from a time when a Cabinet Minister and a brother of the Sovereign conducted a business-like correspondence on the question whether the Minister had or had not turned the Prince out of the house for insulting his wife. The journals, newspapers, and memoirs of the time throw (especially for those who can read between the lines) a startling light on that hereditary principle which plays so important a part in our political system. All the ancillary vices flourished with a rank luxuriance. Hard drinking was the indispensable accomplishment of a fine gentleman, and great estates were constantly changing owners at the gaming-table.

The fifth Duke of Bedford (who had the temerity to attack Burke's pension, and thereby drew down upon himself the most splendid repartee in literature) was a bosom-friend of Fox, and lived in a like-minded society. One night at Newmarket he lost a colossal sum at hazard, and, jumping up in a passion, he swore that the dice were loaded, put them in his pocket, and went to bed. Next morning he examined the dice in the presence of his boon companions, found that they were not loaded, and had to apologize and pay. Some years afterwards one of the party was lying on his death-bed, and he sent for the duke. "I have sent for you to tell you that you were right. The dice were loaded. We waited till you were asleep, went to your bedroom, took them out of your waistcoat pocket, replaced them with unloaded ones, and retired."

"But suppose I had woke and caught you doing it."

"Well, we were desperate men—and we had pistols."

Anecdotes of the same type might be multiplied endlessly, and would serve to confirm the strong impression which all contemporary evidence leaves upon the mind—that the closing years of the eighteenth century witnessed the nadir of English virtue. The national conscience was in truth asleep, and it had a rude awakening. "I have heard persons of great weight and authority," writes Mr. Gladstone, "such as Mr. Grenville, and also, I think, Archbishop Howley, ascribe the beginnings of a reviving seriousness in the upper classes of lay society to a reaction against the horrors and impieties of the first French Revolution in its later stages." And this reviving seriousness was by no means confined to Nonconformist circles. In the eighteenth century the religious activities of the time proceeded largely (though not exclusively) from persons who, from one cause or another, were separated from the Established Church. Much theological learning and controversial skill, with the old traditions of Anglican divinity, had been drawn aside from the highway of the Establishment into the secluded byways of the Nonjurors. Whitefield and the Wesleys, and that grim but grand old Mother in Israel, Selina Countess of Huntingdon, found their evangelistic energies fatally cramped by episcopal authority, and, quite against their natural inclinations, were forced to act through independent organizations of their own making. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century things took a different turn.

The distinguishing mark of the religious revival which issued from the French Revolution was that it lived and moved and had its being within the precincts of the Church of England. Of that Church, as it existed at the close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the characteristic feature had been a quiet worldliness. The typical clergyman, as drawn, for instance, in Crabbe's poems and Miss Austen's novels, is a well-bred, respectable, and kindly person, playing an agreeable part in the social life of his neighbourhood, and doing a secular work of solid value, but equally removed from the sacerdotal pretensions of the Caroline divines and from the awakening fervour of the Evangelical preachers. The professors of a more spiritual or a more aggressive religion were at once disliked and despised. Sydney Smith was never tired of poking fun at the "sanctified village of Clapham" and its "serious" inhabitants, at missionary effort and revivalist enthusiasm. When Lady Louisa Lennox was engaged to a prominent Evangelical and Liberal—Mr. Tighe of Woodstock—her mother, the Duchess of Richmond, said, "Poor Louisa is going to make a shocking marriage—a man called Tiggy, my dear, a Saint and a Radical." When Lord Melbourne had accidently found himself the unwilling hearer of a rousing Evangelical sermon about sin and its consequences, he exclaimed in much disgust as he left the church, "Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life!"

Arthur Young tells us that a daughter of the first Lord Carrington said to a visitor, "My papa used to have prayers in his family, but none since he has been a Peer." A venerable Canon of Windsor, who was a younger son of a great family, told me that his old nurse, when she was putting him and his little brothers to bed, used to say, "If you're very good little boys, and go to bed without giving trouble, you needn't say your prayers to-night." When the late Lord Mount Temple was a youth, he wished to take Holy Orders; and the project so horrified his parents that, after holding a family council, they plunged him into fashionable society in the hope of distracting his mind from religion, and accomplished their end by making him join the Blues.

The quiet worldliness which characterized the English Church as a whole was unpleasantly varied here and there by instances of grave and monstrous scandal. The system of Pluralities left isolated parishes in a condition of practical heathenism. Even bare morality was not always observed. In solitary places clerical drunkenness was common. On Saturday afternoon the parson would return from the nearest town "market-merry." He consorted freely with the farmers, shared their habits, and spoke their language. I have known a lady to whom a country clergyman said, pointing to the darkened windows where a corpse lay awaiting burial, "There's a stiff 'un in that house." I have known a country gentleman in Shropshire who had seen his own vicar drop the chalice at the Holy Communion because he was too drunk to hold it. I know a corner of Bedfordshire where, within the recollection of persons living thirty[8] years ago, three clerical neighbours used to meet for dinner at one another's parsonages in turn. One winter afternoon a corpse was brought for burial to the village church. The vicar of the place came from his dinner so drunk that he could not read the service, although his sister supported him with one hand and held the lantern with the other. He retired beaten, and both his guests made the same attempt with no better success. So the corpse was left in the church, and the vicar buried it next day when he had recovered from his debauch.

While the prevailing tone of quiet worldliness was thus broken, here and there, by horrid scandals, in other places it was conspicuously relieved by splendid instances of piety and self-devotion, such as George Eliot drew in the character of Edgar Tryan of Milby. But the innovating clergy of the Evangelical persuasion had to force their way through "the teeth of clenched antagonisms." The bishops, as a rule, were opposed to enthusiasm, and the bishops of that day were, in virtue of their wealth, their secular importance, and their professional cohesiveness, a formidable force in the life of the Church.

In the "good old days" of Erastian Churchmanship, before the Catholic revival had begun to breathe new life into ancient forms, a bishop was enthroned by proxy! Sydney Smith, rebuking Archbishop Howley for his undue readiness to surrender cathedral property to the Ecclesiastical Commission, pointed out that his conduct was inconsistent with having sworn at his enthronement that he would not alienate the possessions of the Church of Canterbury. "The oath," he goes on, "may be less present to the Archbishop's memory from the fact of his not having taken the oath in person, but by the medium of a gentleman sent down by the coach to take it for him—a practice which, though I believe it to have been long established in the Church, surprised me, I confess, not a little. A proxy to vote, if you please—a proxy to consent to arrangements of estates, if wanted; but a proxy sent down in the Canterbury Fly to take the Creator to witness that the Archbishop, detained in town by business or pleasure, will never violate that foundation of piety over which he presides—all this seems to me an act of the most extraordinary indolence ever recorded in history." In this judgment the least ritualistic of laymen will heartily concur. But from Archbishop Howley to Archbishop Temple is a far cry, and the latest enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral must have made clear to the most casual eye the enormous transformation which sixty years have wrought alike in the inner temper and the outward aspect of the Church of England.

Once Dr. Liddon, walking with me down the hall of Christ Church, pointed to the portrait of an extremely bloated and sensual-looking prelate on the wall, and said, with that peculiar kind of mincing precision which added so much to the point of his sarcasms, "How singular, dear friend, to reflect that that person was chosen, in the providential order, to connect Mr. Keble with the Apostles!" And certainly this connecting link bore little resemblance to either end of the chain. The considerations which governed the selection of a bishop in those good old days were indeed not a little singular. Perhaps he was chosen because he was a sprig of good family, like Archbishop Cornwallis, whose junketings at Lambeth drew down upon him the ire of Lady Huntingdon and the threats of George III., and whose sole qualification for the clerical office was that when an undergraduate he had suffered from a stroke of palsy which partially crippled him, but "did not, however, prevent him from holding a hand at cards." Perhaps he had been, like Bishop Sumner, "bear-leader" to a great man's son, and had won the gratitude of a powerful patron by extricating young hopeful from a matrimonial scrape. Perhaps, like Marsh or Van Mildert, he was a controversial pamphleteer who had tossed a Calvinist or gored an Evangelical. Or perhaps he was, like Blomfield and Monk, a "Greek Play Bishop," who had annotated Aeschylus or composed a Sapphic Ode on a Royal marriage. "Young Crumpet is sent to school; takes to his books; spends the best years of his life in making Latin verses; knows that the Crum in Crumpet is long and the pet short; goes to the University; gets a prize for an Essay on the Dispersion of the Jews; takes Orders; becomes a bishop's chaplain; has a young nobleman for his pupil; publishes a useless classic and a Serious Call to the Unconverted; and then goes through the Elysian transitions of Prebendary, Dean, Prelate, and the long train of purple, profit, and power."

Few—and very few—are the adducible instances in which, in the reigns of George III., George IV., and William IV., a bishop was appointed for evangelistic zeal or pastoral efficiency.

But, on whatever principle chosen, the bishop, once duly consecrated and enthroned, was a formidable person, and surrounded by a dignity scarcely less than royal. "Nobody likes our bishop," says Parson Lingon in Felix Holt. "He's all Greek and greediness, and too proud to dine with his own father." People still living can remember the days when the Archbishop of Canterbury was preceded by servants bearing flambeaux when he walked across from Lambeth Chapel to what were called "Mrs. Howley's Lodgings." When the Archbishop dined out he was treated with princely honours, and no one left the party till His Grace had made his bow. Once a week he dined in state in the great hall of Lambeth, presiding over a company of self-invited guests—strange perversion of the old archiepiscopal charity to travellers and the poor—while, as Sydney Smith said, "the domestics of the prelacy stood, with swords and bag-wigs, round pig and turkey and venison, to defend, as it were, the orthodox gastronome from the fierce Unitarian, the fell Baptist, and all the famished children of Dissent." When Sir John Coleridge, father of the late Lord Chief Justice, was a young man at the Bar, he wished to obtain a small legal post in the Archbishop's Prerogative Court. An influential friend undertook to forward his application to the Archbishop. "But remember," he said, "in writing your letter, that his Grace can only be approached on gilt-edged paper." Archbishop Harcourt never went from Bishopthorpe to York Minster except attended by his chaplains, in a coach and six, while Lady Anne was made to follow in a pair-horse carriage, to show her that her position was not the same thing among women that her husband's was among men. At Durham, which was worth L40,000 a year, the Bishop, as Prince Palatine, exercised a secular jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, and the Commission at the Assizes ran in the name of "Our Lord the Bishop." At Ely, Bishop Sparke gave so many of his best livings to his family that it was locally said that you could find your way across the Fens on a dark night by the number of little Sparkes along the road. When this good prelate secured a residential canonry for his eldest son, the event was so much a matter of course that he did not deem it worthy of special notice; but when he secured a second canonry for his second son, he was so filled with pious gratitude that, as a thank-offering, he gave a ball at the Palace of Ely to all the county of Cambridge. "And I think," said Bishop Woodford, in telling me the story, "that the achievement and the way of celebrating it were equally remarkable."

This grand tradition of mingled splendour and profit ran down, in due degree, through all ranks of the hierarchy. The poorer bishoprics were commonly held in conjunction with a rich deanery or prebend, and not seldom with some important living; so that the most impecunious successor of the Apostles could manage to have four horses to his carriage and his daily bottle of Madeira. Not so splendid as a palace, but quite as comfortable, was a first-class deanery. A "Golden Stall" at Durham or St. Paul's made its occupant a rich man. And even the rectors of the more opulent parishes contrived to "live," as the phrase went, "very much like gentleman."

The old Prince Bishops are as extinct as the dodo. The Ecclesiastical Commission has made an end of them. Bishop Sumner of Winchester, who died in 1874, was the last of his race. But the dignified country clergyman, who combined private means with a rich living, did his county business in person, and performed his religious duties by deputy, survived into very recent times. I have known a fine old specimen of this class—a man who never entered his church on a week-day, nor wore a white neckcloth except on Sunday; who was an active magistrate, a keen sportsman, an acknowledged authority on horticulture and farming; and who boasted that he had never written a sermon in his life, but could alter one with any man in England—which, in truth, he did so effectively that the author would never have recognized his own handiwork. When the neighbouring parsons first tried to get up a periodical "clerical meeting" for the study of theology, he responded genially to the suggestion: "Oh yes; I think it sounds a capital thing, and I suppose we shall finish up with a rubber and a bit of supper."

The reverence in which a rector of this type was held, and the difference, not merely of degree but of kind, which was supposed to separate him from the inferior order of curates, were amusingly exemplified in the case of an old friend of mine. Returning to his parish after his autumn holiday, and noticing a woman at her cottage door with a baby in her arms, he asked, "Has that child been baptised?" "Well, sir," replied the curtsying mother, "I shouldn't like to say as much as that; but your young man came and did what he could."

Lost in these entrancing recollections of Anglicanism as it once was, but will never be again, I have wandered far from my theme. I began by saying that all one has read, all one has heard, all one has been able to collect by study or by conversation, points to the close of the eighteenth century as the low-water mark of English religion and morality. The first thirty years of the nineteenth century witnessed a great revival, due chiefly to the Evangelical movement, and not only, as in the previous century, on lines outside the Establishment, but in the very heart and core of the Church of England. That movement, though little countenanced by ecclesiastical authority, changed the whole tone of religious thought and life in England. It recalled men to serious ideas of faith and duty; it curbed profligacy, it made decency fashionable, it revived the external usages of piety, and it prepared the way for that later movement which, issuing from Oxford in 1833, has transfigured the Church of England.

"I do not mean to say," wrote Mr. Gladstone in 1879, "that the founders of the Oxford School announced, or even that they knew, to how large an extent they were to be pupils and continuators of the Evangelical work, besides being something else.... Their distinctive speech was of Church and priesthood, of Sacraments and services, as the vesture under the varied folds of which the Form of the Divine Redeemer was to be exhibited to the world in a way capable of, and suited for, transmission by a collective body from generation to generation. It may well have happened that, in straining to secure for their ideas what they thought their due place, some at least may have forgotten or disparaged that personal and experimental life of the human soul with God which profits by all ordinances but is tied to none, dwelling ever, through all its varying moods, in the inner courts of the sanctuary whereof the walls are not built with hands. The only matter, however, with which I am now concerned is to record the fact that the pith and life of the Evangelical teaching, as it consists in the reintroduction of Christ our Lord to be the woof and warp of preaching, was the great gift of the movement to the teaching Church, and has now penetrated and possessed it on a scale so general that it may be considered as pervading the whole mass."


[6] Lord Holland's Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii. p. 123.

[7] The property of Colonel Davies-Evans of Highmead.

[8] Written in 1897.



It was a characteristic saying of Talleyrand that no one could conceive how pleasant life was capable of being who had not belonged to the French aristocracy before the Revolution. There were, no doubt, in the case of that great man's congeners some legal and constitutional prerogatives which rendered their condition supremely enviable; but so far as splendour, stateliness, and exclusive privilege are elements of a pleasant life, he might have extended his remark to England. Similar conditions of social existence here and in France were similarly and simultaneously transformed by the same tremendous upheaval which marked the final disappearance of the feudal spirit and the birth of the modern world.

The old order passed away, and the face of human society was made new. The law-abiding and temperate genius of the Anglo-Saxon race saved England from the excesses, the horrors, and the dramatic incidents which marked this period of transition in France; but though more quietly effected, the change in England was not less marked, less momentous, or less permanent than on the Continent. I have spoken in a former chapter of the religious revival which was the most striking result in England of the Revolution in France. To-day I shall say a word about another result, or group of results, which may be summarized as Social Equalization.

The barriers between ranks and classes were to a large extent broken down. The prescriptive privileges of aristocracy were reduced. The ceremoniousness of social demeanour was diminished. Great men were content with less elaboration and display in their retinues, equipages, and mode of living. Dress lost its richness of ornament and its distinctive characteristics. Young men of fashion no longer bedizened themselves in velvet, brocade, and gold lace. Knights of the Garter no longer displayed the Blue Ribbon in Parliament. Officers no longer went into society with uniform and sword. Bishops laid aside their wigs; dignified clergy discarded the cassock. Coloured coats, silk stockings, lace ruffles, and hair-powder survived only in the footmen's liveries. When the Reform Bill of 1832 received the Royal Assent, the Lord Bathurst of the period, who had been a member of the Duke of Wellington's Cabinet, solemnly cut off his pigtail, saying, "Ichabod, for the glory is departed;" and to the first Reformed Parliament only one pigtail was returned (it pertained to Mr. Sheppard, M.P. for Frome)—an impressive symbol of social transformation.

The lines of demarcation between the peerage and the untitled classes were partially obliterated. How clear and rigid those lines had been it is difficult for us to conceive. In Humphrey Clinker the nobleman refuses to fight a duel with the squire on the ground of their social inequality. Mr. Wilberforce declined a peerage because it would exclude his sons from intimacy with private gentlemen, clergymen, and mercantile families. I have stated in a previous chapter that Lord Bathurst, who was born in 1791, told me that at his private school he and the other sons of peers sate together on a privileged bench apart from the rest of the boys. A typical aristocrat was the first Marquis of Abercorn. He died in 1818, but he is still revered in Ulster under the name of "The Owld Marquis." This admirable nobleman always went out shooting in his Blue Ribbon, and required his housemaids to wear white kid gloves when they made his bed. Before he married his first cousin, Miss Cecil Hamilton, he induced the Crown to confer on her the titular rank of an Earl's daughter, that he might not marry beneath his position; and when he discovered that she contemplated eloping, he sent a message begging her to take the family coach, as it ought never to be said that Lady Abercorn left her husband's roof in a hack chaise. By such endearing traits do the truly great live in the hearts of posterity.

In the earlier part of this century Dr. Arnold inveighed with characteristic vigour against "the insolencies of our aristocracy, the scandalous exemption of the peers from all ignominious punishments short of death, and the insolent practice of allowing peers to vote in criminal trials on their honour, while other men vote on their oath." But generally the claims of rank and birth were admitted with a childlike cheerfulness. The high function of government was the birthright of the few. The people, according to episcopal showing, had nothing to do with the laws but to obey them. The ingenious author of Russell's Modern Europe states in his preface to that immortal work that his object in adopting the form of a Series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son is "to give more Weight to the Moral and Political Maxims, and to entitle the author to offer, without seeming to dictate to the World, such reflections on Life and Manners as are supposed more immediately to belong to the higher orders in Society." Nor were the privileges of rank held to pertain merely to temporal concerns. When Selina Countess of Huntingdon asked the Duchess of Buckingham to accompany her to a sermon of Whitefield's, the Duchess replied: "I thank your ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers; their doctrines are most repulsive, and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth; and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding."

The exclusive and almost feudal character of the English peerage was destroyed, finally and of set purpose, by Pitt when he declared that every man who had an estate of ten thousand a year had a right to be a peer. In Lord Beaconsfield's words, "He created a plebeian aristocracy and blended it with the patrician oligarchy. He made peers of second-rate squires and fat graziers. He caught them in the alleys of Lombard Street, and clutched them from the counting-houses of Cornhill." This democratization of the peerage was accompanied by great modifications of pomp and stateliness in the daily life of the peers. In the eighteenth century the Duke and Duchess of Atholl were always served at their own table before their guests, in recognition of their royal rank as Sovereigns of the Isle of Man; and the Duke and Duchess of Argyll observed the same courteous usage for no better reason than because they liked it. The "Household Book" of Alnwick Castle records the amplitude and complexity of the domestic hierarchy which ministered to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland; and at Arundel and Belvoir, and Trentham and Wentworth, the magnates of the peerage lived in a state little less than regal. Seneschals and gentlemen-ushers, ladies-in-waiting and pages-of-the-presence adorned noble as well as royal households. The private chaplain of a great Whig duke, within the recollection of people whom I have known, used to preface his sermon with a prayer for the nobility, and "especially for the noble duke to whom I am indebted for my scarf"—the badge of chaplaincy—accompanying the words by a profound bow toward his Grace's pew. The last "running footman" pertained to "Old Q."—the notorious Duke of Queensberry, who died in 1810. Horace Walpole describes how, when a guest playing cards at Woburn Abbey dropped a silver piece on the floor, and said, "Oh, never mind; let the Groom of the Chambers have it," the Duchess replied, "Let the carpet-sweeper have it; the Groom of the Chambers never takes anything but gold."

These grotesque splendours of domestic living went out with the eighteenth century. Dr. Johnson, who died in 1784, had already noted their decline. There was a general approach towards external equalization of ranks, and that approach was accompanied by a general diffusion of material enjoyment. The luxury of the period was prodigal rather than refined. There lies before me as I write a tavern bill for a dinner for seven persons in the year 1751. I reproduce the items verbally and literally, and certainly the bill of fare is worth studying as a record of gastronomical exertion on a heroic scale:—

Bread and Beer. Potage de Tortue. Calipash. Calipees. Un Pate de Jambon de Bayone. Potage Julien Verd. Two Turbots to remove the Soops. Haunch of Venison. Palaits de Mouton. Selle de Mouton. Salade. Saucisses au Ecrevisses. Boudin Blanc a le Reine. Petits Pates a l'Espaniol. Coteletts a la Cardinal. Selle d'Agneau glace aux Cocombres. Saumon a la Chambord. Fillets de Saules Royales. Une bisque de Lait de Maquereaux. Un Lambert aux Innocents. Des Perdrix Sauce Vin de Champaign. Poulets a le Russiene. Ris de Veau en Arlequin. Quee d'Agneau a la Montaban. Dix Cailles. Un Lapreau. Un Phesant. Dix Ortolans. Une Tourte de Cerises. Artichaux a le Provensalle. Choufleurs au flour. Cretes de Cocq en Bonets. Amorte de Jesuits. Salade. Chicken. Ice Cream and Fruits. Fruit of various sorts, forced. Fruit from Market. Butter and Cheese. Clare. Champaign. Burgundy. Hock. White Wine. Madeira. Sack. Cape. Cyprus. Neuilly. Usquebaugh. Spa and Bristol Waters. Oranges and Lemons. Coffee and Tea. Lemonade.

The total charge for this dinner for seven amounted to L81, 11s. 6d., and a footnote informs the curious reader that there was also "a turtle sent as a Present to the Company, and dressed in a very high Gout after the West Indian Manner." Old cookery-books, such as the misquoted work of Mrs. Glasse, Dr. Kitchener's Cook's Oracle, and the anonymous but admirable Culina, all concur in their testimony to the enormous amount of animal food which went to make an ordinary meal, and the amazing variety of irreconcilable ingredients which were combined in a single dish. Lord Beaconsfield, whose knowledge of this recondite branch of English literature was curiously minute, thus describes—no doubt from authentic sources—a family dinner at the end of the eighteenth century:—

"The ample tureen of potage royal had a boned duck swimming in its centre. At the other end of the table scowled in death the grim countenance of a huge roast pike, flanked on one side by a leg of mutton a la daube, and on the other by the tempting delicacies of Bombarded Veal. To these succeeded that masterpiece of the culinary art a grand Battalia Pie, in which the bodies of chickens, pigeons, and rabbits were embalmed in spices, cocks' combs, and savoury balls, and well bedewed with one of those rich sauces of claret, anchovy, and sweet herbs in which our grandfathers delighted, and which was technically termed a Lear. A Florentine tourte or tansy, an old English custard, a more refined blamango, and a riband jelly of many colours offered a pleasant relief after these vaster inventions, and the repast closed with a dish of oyster-loaves and a pomepetone of larks."

As the old order yielded place to the new, this enormous profusion of rich food became by degrees less fashionable, though its terrible traditions endured, through the days of Soyer and Francatelli, almost to our own time. But gradually refinement began to supersede profusion. Simultaneously all forms of luxury spread from the aristocracy to the plutocracy; while the middle and lower classes attained a degree of solid comfort which would a few years before have been impossible. Under Pitt's administration wealth increased rapidly. Great fortunes were amassed through the improvement of agricultural methods and the application of machinery to manufacture. The Indian Nabobs, as they were called, became a recognized and powerful element in society, and their habits of "Asiatic luxury" are represented by Chatham, Burke, Voltaire, and Home Tooke as producing a marked effect upon the social life of the time. Lord Robert Seymour notes in his diary for 1788 that a fashionable lady gave L100 a year to the cook who superintended her suppers; that at a sale of bric-a-brac 230 guineas were paid for a mirror; and that, at a ball given by the Knights of the Bath at the Pantheon, the decorations cost upwards of L3000. The general consumption of French and Portuguese wines in place of beer, which had till recently been the beverage even of the affluent, was regarded by grave writers as a most alarming sign of the times, and the cause of a great increase of drunkenness among the upper classes. The habits and manners prevalent in London spread into the country. As the distinction between the nobility, who, roughly speaking, had been the frequenters of the capital, and the minor gentry, who had lived almost entirely on their own estates, gradually disappeared, the distinction between town and country life sensibly diminished.

The enormous increase in the facilities for travelling and for the interchange of information contributed to the same result; and grave men lamented the growing fondness of the provincial ladies for the card-table, the theatre, the assembly, the masquerade, and—singular social juxtaposition—the Circulating Library. The process of social assimilation, while it spread from town to country and from nobility to gentry, reached down from the gentry to the merchants, and from the merchants to the tradesmen. The merchant had his villa three or four miles away from his place of business, and lived at Clapham or Dulwich in a degree and kind of luxury which had a few years before been the monopoly of the aristocracy. The tradesman no longer inhabited the rooms over his shop, but a house in Bloomsbury or Soho. Where, fifty years before, one fire in the kitchen served the whole family, and one dish of meat appeared on the table, now a footman waited at the banquet of imported luxuries, and small beer and punch had made way for Burgundy and Madeira.

But the subject expands before us, and it is time to close. Now I propose to inquire how far this Social Equalization was accompanied by Social Amelioration.



At this point it is necessary to look back a little, and to clear our minds of the delusion that an age of splendour is necessarily an age of refinement. We have seen something of the regal state and prodigal luxury which surrounded the English aristocracy in the middle of the eighteenth century. Yet at no period of our national history—unless, perhaps, during the orgies of the Restoration were aristocratic morals at so low an ebb. Edmund Burke, in a passage which is as ethically questionable as it is rhetorically beautiful, taught that vice loses half its evil when it loses all its grossness. But in the English society of his time grossness was as conspicuous as vice itself, and it infected not only the region of morals, but also that of manners.

Sir Walter Scott has described how, in his youth, refined gentlewomen read aloud to their families the most startling passages of the most outrageous authors. I have been told by one who heard it from an eye-witness that a great Whig duchess, who figures brilliantly in the social and political memoirs of the eighteenth century, turning to the footman who was waiting on her at dinner, exclaimed, "I wish to G—- that you wouldn't keep rubbing your great greasy belly against the back of my chair." Men and women of the highest fashion swore like troopers; the Princes of the Blood, who carried down into the middle of the nineteenth century the courtly habits of their youth, setting the example. Mr. Gladstone told me the following anecdote, which he had from the Lord Pembroke of the period, who was present at the scene.

In the early days of the first Reformed Parliament the Whig Government were contemplating a reform of the law of Church Rates. Success was certain in the House of Commons, but the Tory peers, headed by the Duke of Cumberland, determined to defeat the Bill in the House of Lords. A meeting of the party was held, when it appeared that, in the balanced state of parties, the Tory peers could not effect their purpose unless they could rally the bishops to their aid. The question was, What would the Archbishop of Canterbury do? He was Dr. Howley, the mildest and most apostolic of men, and the most averse from strife and contention. It was impossible to be certain of his action, and the Duke of Cumberland posted off to Lambeth to ascertain it. Returning in hot haste to the caucus, he burst into the room, exclaiming, "It's all right, my lords; the Archbishop says he will be d——d to hell if he doesn't throw the Bill out." The Duke of Wellington's "Twopenny d——n" has become proverbial; and Sydney Smith neatly rebuked a similar propensity in Lord Melbourne by saying, "Let us assume everybody and everything to be d—- d, and come to the point." The Miss Berrys, who had been the correspondents of Horace Walpole, and who carried down to the 'fifties the most refined traditions of social life in the previous century, habitually "d——d" the tea-kettle if it burned their fingers, and called their male friends by their surnames—"Come, Milnes, will you have a cup of tea?" "Now, Macaulay, we have had enough of that subject."

So much, then, for the refinement of the upper classes. Did the Social Equalization of which we have spoken bring with it anything in the way of Social Amelioration? A philosophical orator of my time at the Oxford Union, now a valued member of the House of Lords, once said in a debate on national intemperance that he had made a careful study of the subject, and, with much show of scientific analysis, he thus announced the result of his researches: "The causes of national intemperance are three: first, the adulteration of liquor; second, the love of drink; and third, the desire for more." Knowing my incapacity to rival this masterpiece of exact thinking, I have not thought it necessary in these chapters to enlarge on the national habit of excessive drinking in the late years of the eighteenth century. The grossness and the universality of the vice are too well known to need elaborating. All oral tradition, all contemporary literature, all satiric art, tell the same horrid tale; and the number of bottles which a single toper would consume at a sitting not only, in Burke's phrase, "outraged economy," but "staggered credibility." Even as late as 1831, Samuel Wilberforce, afterwards Bishop, wrote thus in his diary:—"A good Audit Dinner: 23 people drank 11 bottles of wine, 28 quarts of beer, 2-1/2 of spirits, and 12 bowls of punch; and would have drunk twice as much if not restrained. None, we hope, drunk!" Mr. Gladstone told me that once, when he was a young man, he was dining at a house where the principal guest was a Bishop. When the decanters had made a sufficient number of circuits, the host said, "Shall we have any more wine, my Lord?" "Thank you—not till we have disposed of what is before us," was the bland episcopal reply.

But still, in the matter of drinking, the turn of the century witnessed some social amelioration among the upper classes. There was a change, if not in quantity, at least in quality. Where port and Madeira had been the Staple drinks, corrected by libations of brandy, less potent beverages became fashionable. The late Mr. Thomson Hankey, formerly M.P. for Peterborough, told me that he remembered his father coming home from the city one day and saying to his mother, "My dear, I have ordered a dozen bottles of a new white wine. It is called sherry, and I am told the Prince Regent drinks nothing else." The fifteenth Lord Derby told me that the cellar-books at Knowsley and St. James's Square had been carefully kept for a hundred years, and that—contrary to what every one would have supposed—the number of bottles drunk in a year had not diminished. The alteration was in the alcoholic strength of the wines consumed. Burgundy, port, and Madeira had made way for light claret, champagne, and hock. That, even under these changed conditions of potency, the actual number of bottles consumed showed no diminution, was accounted for by the fact that at balls and evening parties a great deal more champagne was drunk than formerly, and that luncheon in a large house had now become practically an earlier dinner.

The growth of these subsidiary meals was a curious feature of the nineteenth century. We exclaim with horror at such preposterous bills of fare as that which I quoted in my last chapter, but it should be remembered, in justice to our fathers, that dinner was the only substantial meal of the day. Holland House was always regarded as the very temple of luxury, and Macaulay tells us that the viands at a breakfast-party there were tea and coffee, eggs, rolls, and butter. The fashion, which began in the nineteenth century, of going to the Highlands for shooting, popularized in England certain northern habits of feeding, and a morning meal at which game and cold meat appeared was known in England as a "Scotch breakfast." Apparently it had made some way by 1840, for the Ingoldsby Legends published in that year thus describe the morning meal of the ill-fated Sir Thomas:—

"It seems he had taken A light breakfast—bacon, An egg, with a little broiled haddock; at most A round and a half of some hot buttered toast; With a slice of cold sirloin from yesterday's roast."

Luncheon, or "nuncheon" as some very ancient friends of mine always called it, was the merest mouthful. Men went out shooting with a sandwich in their pocket; the ladies who sat at home had some cold chicken and wine and water brought into the drawing-room on a tray. Miss Austen in her novels always dismisses the midday meal under the cursory appellation of "cold meat." The celebrated Dr. Kitchener, the sympathetic author of the Cook's Oracle, writing in 1825, says: "Your luncheon may consist of a bit of roasted poultry, a basin of beef tea, or eggs poached, or boiled in the shell; fish plainly dressed, or a sandwich; stale bread; and half a pint of good homebrewed beer, or toast-and-water, with about one-fourth or one-third part of its measure of wine." And this prescription would no doubt have worn an aspect of liberal concession to the demands of the patient's appetite. It is difficult, by any effort of a morbid imagination, to realize a time when there was no five-o'clock tea; and yet that most sacred of our national institutions was only invented by the Duchess of Bedford who died in 1857, and whose name should surely be enrolled in the Positivist Kalendar as a benefactress of the human race. No wonder that by seven o'clock our fathers, and even our mothers, were ready to tackle a dinner of solid properties; and even to supplement it with the amazing supper (which Dr. Kitchener prescribes for "those who dine very late") of "gruel, or a little bread and cheese, or pounded cheese, and a glass of beer."

This is a long digression from the subject of excessive drinking, with which, however, it is not remotely connected; and, both in respect of drunkenness and of gluttony, the habits of English society in the years which immediately succeeded the French Revolution showed a marked amelioration. To a company of enthusiastic Wordsworthians who were deploring their master's confession that he got drunk at Cambridge, I heard Mr. Shorthouse, the accomplished author of John Inglesant, soothingly remark that in all probability "Wordsworth's standard of intoxication was miserably low."[9] Simultaneously with the restriction of excess there was seen a corresponding increase in refinement of taste and manners. Some of the more brutal forms of so-called sport, such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting, became less fashionable. The more civilized forms, such as fox-hunting and racing, increased in favour. Aesthetic culture was more generally diffused. The stage was at the height of its glory. Music was a favourite form of public recreation. Great prices were given for works of art. The study of physical science, or "natural philosophy" as it was called, became popular. Public Libraries and local "book societies" sprang up, and there was a wide demand for encyclopaedias and similar vehicles for the diffusion of general knowledge. The love of natural beauty was beginning to move the hearts of men, and it found expression at once in an entirely new school of landscape painting, and in a more romantic and natural form of poetry.

But against these marked instances of social amelioration must be set some darker traits of national life. The public conscience had not yet revolted against violence and brutality. The prize-ring, patronized by Royalty, was at its zenith. Humanitarians and philanthropists were as yet an obscure and ridiculed sect. The slave trade, though menaced, was still undisturbed. Under a system scarcely distinguishable from slavery, pauper children were bound over to the owners of factories and subjected to the utmost rigour of enforced labour. The treatment of the insane was darkened by incredible barbarities. As late as 1828 Lord Shaftesbury found that the lunatics in Bedlam were chained to their straw beds, and left from Saturday to Monday without attendance, and with only bread and water within their reach, while the keepers were enjoying themselves. Discipline in the services, in poorhouses, and in schools was of the most brutal type. Our prisons were unreformed. Our penal code was inconceivably sanguinary and savage. In 1770 there were one hundred and sixty capital offences on the Statute-book, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century the number had greatly increased. To steal five shillings' worth of goods from a shop was punishable by death. A girl of twenty-two was hanged for receiving a piece of woollen stuff from the man who had stolen it.

In 1789 a woman was burnt at the stake for coining. People still living have seen the skeletons of pirates and highwaymen hanging in chains. I have heard that the children of the Bluecoat School at Hertford were always taken to see the executions there; and as late as 1820 the dead bodies of the Cato Street conspirators were decapitated in front of Newgate, and the Westminster boys had a special holiday to enable them to see the sight, which was thus described by an eye-witness, the late Lord de Ros: "The executioner and his assistant cut down one of the corpses from the gallows, and placed it in the coffin, but with the head hanging over on the block. The man with the knife instantly severed the head from the body, and the executioner, receiving it in his hands, held it up, saying in a loud voice, 'This is the head of a traitor.' He then dropped it into the coffin, which being removed, another was brought forward, and they proceeded to cut down the next body and to go through the same ghastly operation. It was observed that the mob, which was very large, gazed in silence at the hanging of the conspirators, and showed not the least sympathy; but when each head as cut off and held up, a loud and deep groan of horror burst from all sides, which was not soon forgotten by those who heard it."

Duelling was the recognized mode of settling all personal disputes, and no attempt was made to enforce the law which, theoretically, treated the killing of a man in a duel as wilful murder; but, on the other hand, debt was punished with what often was imprisonment for life. A woman died in the County Jail at Exeter after forty-five years' incarceration for a debt of L19. Crime was rampant. Daring burglaries, accompanied by every circumstance of violence, took place nightly. Highwaymen infested the suburban roads, and not seldom plied their calling in the capital itself. The iron post at the end of the narrow footway between the gardens of Devonshire House and Lansdowne House is said by tradition to have been placed there after a Knight of the Road had eluded the officers of justice by galloping down the stone steps and along the flagged path. Sir Hamilton Seymour (1797-1880) was in his father's carriage when it was "stopped" by a highwayman in Upper Brook Street. Young gentlemen of broken fortunes, and tradesmen whose business had grown slack, swelled the ranks of these desperadoes. It was even said that an Irish prelate—Dr. Twysden, Bishop of Raphoe—whose incurable love of adventure had drawn him to "the road," received the penalty of his uncanonical diversion in the shape of a bullet from a traveller whom he had stopped on Hounslow Heath. The Lord Mayor was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green. Stars and "Georges" were snipped off ambassadors and peers as they entered St. James's Palace.

It is superfluous to multiply illustrations. Enough has been said to show that the circumscription of aristocratic privilege and the diffusion of material luxury did not precipitate the millennium. Social Equalization was not synonymous with Social Amelioration. Some improvement, indeed, in the tone and habit of society occurred at the turn of the century; but it was little more than a beginning. I proceed to trace its development, and to indicate its source.


[9] I have since been told that this happy saying was borrowed from Sir Francis Doyle.



Mr. Lecky justly remarks that "it is difficult to measure the change which must have passed over the public mind since the days when the lunatics in Bedlam were constantly spoken of as one of the sights of London; when the maintenance of the African slave-trade was a foremost object of English commercial policy; when men and even women were publicly whipped through the streets when skulls lined the top of Temple Bar and rotting corpses hung on gibbets along the Edgware Road; when persons exposed in the pillory not unfrequently died through the ill-usage of the mob; and when the procession every six weeks of condemned criminals to Tyburn was one of the great festivals of London."

Difficult, indeed, it is to measure so great a change, and it is not wholly easy to ascertain with precision its various and concurrent causes, and to attribute to each its proper potency. But we shall certainly not be wrong if, among those causes, we assign a prominent place to the Evangelical revival of religion. It would be a mistake to claim for the Evangelical movement the whole credit of our social reform and philanthropic work. Even in the darkest times of spiritual torpor and general profligacy England could show a creditable amount of practical benevolence. The public charities of London were large and excellent. The first Foundling Hospital was established in 1739; the first Magdalen Hospital in 1769. In 1795 it was estimated that the annual expenditure on charity-schools, asylums, hospitals, and similar institutions in London was L750,000.

Mr. Lecky, whose study of these social phenomena is exhaustive, imagines that the habit of unostentatious charity, which seems indigenous to England, was powerfully stimulated by the philosophy of Shaftesbury and Voltaire, by Rousseau's sentiment and Fielding's fiction. This theory may have something to say for itself, and indeed it is antecedently plausible; but I can hardly believe that purely literary influences counted for so very much in the sphere of practice. I doubt if any considerable number of Englishmen were effectively swayed by that humanitarian philosophy of France which in the actions of its maturity so awfully belied the promise of its youth. We are, I think, on surer ground when, admitting a national bias towards material benevolence, and not denying some stimulus from literature and philosophy, we assign the main credit of our social regeneration to the Evangelical revival.

The life of John Wesley, practically coterminous with the eighteenth century, witnessed both the lowest point of our moral degradation and also the earliest promise of our moral restoration. He cannot, indeed, be reckoned the founder of the Evangelical school; that title belongs rather to George Whitefield. But his influence, combined with that of his brother Charles, acting on such men as Newton and Cecil and Venn and Scott of Aston Sandford; on Selina Lady Huntingdon and Mrs. Hannah More; on Howard and Clarkson and William Wilberforce; made a deep mark on the Established Church, gave new and permanent life to English Nonconformity, and sensibly affected the character and aspect of secular society.

Wesley himself had received the governing impulse of his life from Law's Serious Call and Christian Perfection, and he had been a member of one of those religious societies (or guilds, as they would now be called) with which the piety of Bishop Beveridge and Dr. Horneck had enriched the Church of England. These societies were, of course, distinctly Anglican in origin and character, and were stamped with the High Church theology. They constituted, so to say, a church within the Church, and, though they raised the level of personal piety among their members to a very high point, they did not widely affect the general tone and character of national religion. The Evangelical leaders, relying on less exclusively ecclesiastical methods, diffused their influence over a much wider area, and, under the impulse of their teaching, drunkenness, indecency, and profanity were sensibly abated. The reaction from the rampant wickedness of the eighteenth century drove men into strict and even puritanical courses.

Lord Robert Seymour wrote on the 20th of March, 1788: "Tho' Good Friday, Mrs. Sawbridge has an assembly this evening; tells her invited Friends they really are only to play for a Watch which she has had some time on her Hands and wishes to dispose of."

"'Really, I declare 'pon my honor it's true' (said Ly. Bridget Talmash to the Dutchess of Bolton) 'that a great many People now go to Chapel. I saw a vaste number of Carriages at Portman Chapel last Sunday.' The Dut. told her she always went to Chapel on Sunday, and in the country read Prayers in the Hall to her Family."

But where the Evangelical influence reached, it brought a marked abstention from such forms of recreation as dancing, card-playing, and the drama. Sunday was observed with a Judaical rigour. A more frequent attendance on public worship was accompanied by the revival of family prayers and grace before meat. Manuals of private devotion were multiplied. Religious literature of all kinds was published in great quantity. A higher standard of morals was generally professed. Marriage was gradually restored in public estimation to its proper place, not merely as a civil bond or social festival, but as a chief solemnity of the Christian religion.

There was no more significant sign of the times than this alteration. In the eighteenth century some of the gravest of our social offences had clustered round the institution of marriage, which was almost as much dishonoured in the observance as in the breach. In the first half of that century the irregular and clandestine weddings, celebrated without banns or licence in the Fleet Prison, had been one of the crying scandals of the middle and lower classes; and in the second half, the nocturnal flittings to Gretna Green of young couples who could afford such a Pilgrimage of Passion lowered the whole conception of marriage. It was through the elopement of Miss Child—heiress of the opulent banker at Temple Bar—from her father's house in Berkeley Square (now Lord Rosebery's) that the ownership of the great banking business passed eventually to the present Lord Jersey; and the annals of almost every aristocratic family contain the record of similar escapades.

The Evangelical movement, not content with permeating England, sought to expand itself all over the Empire. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge had been essentially Anglican institutions; and similar societies, but less ecclesiastical in character, now sprang up in great numbers. The London Missionary Society was founded in 1795, the Church Missionary Society in 1799, the Religious Tract Society in the same year, and the British and Foreign Bible Society three years later. All these were distinctly creations of the Evangelical movement, as were also the Societies for the Reformation of Manners and for the Better Observance of the Lord's Day. Religious education found in the Evangelical party its most active friends. The Sunday School Society was founded in 1785. Two years later it was educating two hundred thousand children. Its most earnest champions were Rowland Hill and Mrs. Hannah More; but it is worthy of note that this excellent lady, justly honoured as a pioneer of elementary education, confined her curriculum to the Bible and the Catechism, and "such coarse works as may fit the children for servants. I allow of no writing for the poor."

To the Society of Friends—a body not historically or theologically Evangelical—belongs the credit of having first awoke, and tried to rouse others, to a sense of the horrors and iniquities involved in the slave-trade; but the adhesion of William Wilberforce and his friends at Clapham identified the movement for emancipation with the Evangelical party. Never were the enthusiasm, the activity, the uncompromising devotion to principle which marked the Evangelicals turned to better account. Their very narrowness gave intensity and concentration to their work, and their victory, though deferred, was complete. It has been truly said that when the English nation had been thoroughly convinced that slavery was a curse which must be got rid of at any cost, we cheerfully paid down as the price of its abolition twenty millions in cash, and threw the prosperity of our West Indian colonies into the bargain. Yet we only spent on it one-tenth of what it cost us to lose America, and one-fiftieth of what we spent in avenging the execution of Louis XVI.

In spite of all these conspicuous and beneficent advances in the direction of humanity, a great deal of severity, and what appears to us brutality, remained embedded in our social system. I have spoken in previous chapters of the methods of discipline enforced in the services, in jails, in poorhouses, and in schools.[10] A very similar spirit prevailed even in the home. Children were shut up in dark closets, starved, and flogged. Lord Shaftesbury's father used to knock him down, and recommended his tutor at Harrow to do the same. Archdeacon Denison describes in his autobiography how he and his brothers were thrashed by their tutor when they were youths of sixteen and had left Eton. The Fairchild Family—that quaint picture of Evangelical life and manners—depicts a religious father as punishing his quarrelsome children by taking them to see a murderer hanging in chains, and as chastising every peccadillo of infancy with a severity which makes one long to flog Mr. Fairchild.

But still, in spite of all these checks and drawbacks and evil survivals, the tide of humanitarianism flowed on, and gradually altered the aspect of English life. The bloody Penal Code was mitigated. Prisons and poorhouses were reformed. The discipline of school and of home was tempered by the infusion of mercy and reason into the iron regimen of terror. And this general diminution of brutality was not the only form of social amelioration. It was accompanied by a gradual but perceptible increase in decency, refinement, and material prosperity. Splendour diminished, and luxury remained the monopoly of the rich; but comfort—that peculiarly English treasure—was more generally diffused. In that diffusion the Evangelicals had their full share. Thackeray's admirable description of Mrs. Newcome's villa is drawn from the life: "In Egypt itself there were not more savoury fleshpots than those at Clapham. Her mansion was long the resort of the most favoured among the religious world. The most eloquent expounders, the most gifted missionaries, the most interesting converts from foreign islands were to be found at her sumptuous table, spread with the produce of her magnificent gardens ... a great, shining, mahogany table, covered with grapes, pineapples, plum-cake, port wine, and Madeira, and surrounded by stout men in black, with baggy white neckcloths, who took little Tommy on their knees and questioned him as to his right understanding of the place whither naughty boys were bound."

Again, in his paper on Dinners the same great master of a fascinating subject speaks the words of truth and soberness when he says: "I don't know when I have been better entertained, as far as creature comforts go, than by men of very Low Church principles; and one of the very best repasts that ever I saw in my life was at Darlington, given by a Quaker." This admirable tradition of material comfort allied with Evangelical opinion extended into my own time. The characteristic weakness of Mr. Stiggins has no place in my recollection; but Mr. Chadband I have frequently met in Evangelical circles, both inside and outside the Establishment. Debarred by the strictness of their principles from such amusements as dancing, cards, and theatres, the Evangelicals took their pleasure in eating and drinking. They abounded in hospitality; and when they were not entertaining or being entertained, occupied their evenings with systematic reading, which gave their religious compositions a sound basis of general culture. Austerity, gloom, and Pharisaism had no place among the better class of Evangelicals. Wilberforce, pronounced by Madame de Stael to be the most agreeable man in England, was of "a most gay and genial disposition;" "lived in perpetual sunshine, and shed its radiance all around him." Legh Richmond was "exceedingly good company." Robinson of Leicester was "a capital conversationalist, very lively and bright." Alexander Knox found that Mrs. Hannah More "far exceeded his expectations in pleasant manners and interesting conversation."

The increasing taste for solid comfort and easy living which accompanied the development of humanitarianism, and in which, as we have just seen, the Evangelicals had their full share, was evidenced to the eye by the changes in domestic architecture. There was less pretension in exteriors and elevations, but more regard to convenience and propriety within. The space was not all sacrificed to reception-rooms. Bedrooms were multiplied and enlarged; and fireplaces were introduced into every room, transforming the arctic "powdering-closet" into a habitable dressing-room. The diminution of the Window-Tax made light and ventilation possible. Personal cleanliness became fashionable, and the means of attaining it were cultivated. The whole art or science of domestic sanitation—rudimentary enough in its beginnings—belongs to the nineteenth century. The system which went before it was too primitively abominable to bear description. Sir Robert Rawlinson, the sanitary expert, who was called in to inspect Windsor Castle after the Prince Consort's death, reported that, within the Queen's reign, "cesspools full of putrid refuse and drains of the worst description existed beneath the basements.... Twenty of these cesspools were removed from the upper ward, and twenty-eight from the middle and lower wards.... Means of ventilation by windows in Windsor Castle were very defective. Even in the royal apartments the upper portions of the windows were fixed. Lower casements alone could be opened, so that by far the largest amount of air-spaces in the rooms contained vitiated air, comparatively stagnant." When this was the condition of royal abodes, no wonder that the typhoid-germ, like Solomon's spider, "took hold with her hands, and was in kings' palaces." And well might Sir George Trevelyan, in his ardent youth, exclaim:—

"We much revere our sires; they were a famous race of men. For every glass of port we drink, they nothing thought of ten. They lived above the foulest drains, they breathed the closest air, They had their yearly twinge of gout, but little seemed to care. But, though they burned their coals at home, nor fetched their ice from Wenham, They played the man before Quebec and stormed the lines at Blenheim. When sailors lived on mouldy bread and lumps of rusty pork, No Frenchman dared to show his nose between the Downs and Cork. But now that Jack gets beef and greens and next his skin wears flannel, The Standard says we've not a ship in plight to hold the Channel."

So much for Social Amelioration.


[10] For a lively description of Andover School in the eighteenth century, see the Memoirs of "Orator Hunt.'"



I now approach the political condition at the turn of the century, and that was to a great extent the product of the French Revolution. Some historians, indeed, when dealing with that inexhaustible theme, have wrought cause and effect into a circular chain, and have reckoned among the circumstances which prepared the way for the French Revolution the fact that Voltaire in his youth spent three years in England, and mastered the philosophy of Bacon, Newton, and Locke, the Deism of the English Freethinkers, and the English theory of political liberty. That these doctrines, recommended by Voltaire's mordant genius and matchless style, and circulating in a community prepared by tyranny to receive them, acted as a powerful solvent on the intellectual basis of French society, is indeed likely enough. But to pursue the theme would carry us too far back into the eighteenth century. In dealing with the recollections of persons whom one's self has known we must dismiss from view the causes of the French Revolution. Our business is with its effect on political thought and action in England.

About half way through the nineteenth century it became the fashion to make out that the effect of the Revolution on England had been exaggerated. Satirists made fun of our traditional Gallophobia. In that admirable skit on philosophical history, the introduction to the Book of Snobs, Thackeray first illustrates his theme by a reference to the French Revolution, and then adds (in sarcastic brackets)—"Which the reader will be pleased to have introduced so early." Lord Beaconsfield, quizzing John Wilson Croker in Coningsby, says: "He bored his audience with too much history, especially the French Revolution, which he fancied was his forte, so that the people at last, whenever he made any allusion to the subject, were almost as much terrified as if they had seen the guillotine." In spite of these gibes, historians have of late years returned to the earlier and truer view, and have deliberately reaffirmed the tremendous effect of the Revolution on English politics. The philosophical Mr. Lecky says that it influenced English history in the later years of the eighteenth century more powerfully than any other event; that it gave a completely new direction to the statesmanship of Pitt; that it instantaneously shattered, and rendered ineffectual for a whole generation, one of the two great parties in the State; and that it determined for a like period the character and complexion of our foreign policy.

All contemporary Europe—all subsequent time—quivered with the shock and sickened at the carnage; but I have gathered that it was not till the capture of the Bastille that the events which were taking place in France attracted any general or lively interest in England. The strifes of rival politicians, the illness of George III., and the consequent questions as to the Regency, engrossed the public mind, and what little interest was felt in foreign affairs was directed much more to the possible designs of Russia than to the actual condition of France. The capture of the Bastille, however, was an event so startling and so dramatic that it instantly arrested the public attention of England, and the events which immediately followed in rapid and striking succession raised interest into excitement, and excitement into passion. Men who had been accustomed from their childhood to regard the Monarchy of France as the type of a splendid, powerful, and enduring polity now saw a National Army constituted in complete independence of the Crown; a Representative Body assuming absolute power and denying the King's right to dissolve; the summary abrogation of the whole feudal system, which a year before had seemed endowed with perpetual vigour; an insurrection of the peasantry against their territorial tyrants, accompanied by every horror of pillage, arson, and bloodshed; the beautiful and stately Queen flying, half naked, for her life, amid the slaughter of her sentinels and courtiers; and the King himself virtually a prisoner in the very Court which, up to that moment, had seemed the ark and sanctuary of absolute government. All over England these events produced their immediate and natural effect. Enemies of religious establishments took courage from the downfall of ecclesiastical institutions. Enemies of monarchy rejoiced in the formal and public degradation of a monarch. Those who had long been conscientiously working for Parliamentary reform saw with glee their principles expressed in the most uncompromising terms in the French Declaration of Rights, and practically applied in the constitution of the Sovereign Body of France.

These convinced and constitutional reformers found new and strange allies. Serious advocates of Republican institutions, mere lovers of change and excitement, secret sympathizers with lawlessness and violence, sedentary theorists, reckless adventurers, and local busybodies associated themselves in the endeavour to popularize the French Revolution in England and to imbue the English mind with congenial sentiments. The movement had leaders of greater mark. The Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Richmond, Lord Lansdowne and Lord Stanhope, held language about the Sovereignty of the People such as filled the reverent and orderly mind of Burke with indignant astonishment. In Dr. Priestley the revolutionary party had an eminent man of science and a polemical writer of rare power. Dr. Price was a rhetorician whom any cause would have gladly enlisted as its champion. The Revolution Society, founded to commemorate the capture of the Bastille, corresponded with the leaders of the Revolution, and promised its alliance in a revolutionary compact. And, to add a touch of comedy to these more serious demonstrations, the young Duke of Bedford and other leaders of fashion discarded hair-powder, and wore their hair cut short in what was understood to be the Republican mode of Paris.

Amidst all this hurly-burly Pitt maintained a stately and cautious reserve. Probably he foresaw his opportunity in the inevitable disruption of his opponents; and if so, his foresight was soon realized by events. On the capture of the Bastille, Fox exclaimed: "How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world! and how much the best!" At the same time Burke was writing to an intimate friend: "The old Parisian ferocity has broken out in a shocking manner. It is true that this may be no more than a sudden explosion. If so, no indication can be taken from it; but if it should be character rather than accident, then that people are not fit for liberty, and must have a strong hand like that of their former masters to coerce them." This contrast between the judgments of the 10 great Whigs was continuously and rapidly heightened. Fox threw himself into the revolutionary cause with all the ardour which he had displayed on behalf of American independence. Burke opposed with characteristic vehemence the French attempt to build up a theoretical Constitution on the ruins of religion, history, and authority; and any fresh act of cruelty or oppression which accompanied the process stirred in him that tremendous indignation against violence and injustice of which Warren Hastings had learned by stern experience the intensity and the volume. The Reflections on the French Revolution and the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs expressed in the most splendid English which was ever written the dire apprehensions that darkened their author's receptive and impassioned mind. "A voice like the Apocalypse sounded over England, and even echoed in all the Courts of Europe. Burke poured the vials of his hoarded vengeance into the agitated heart of Christendom, and stimulated the panic of a world by the wild pictures of his inspired imagination."

Meanwhile the Whig party was rent in twain. The Duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord John Cavendish, and Sir George Elliot adhered to Burke. Fox as stoutly opposed him, and was reinforced by Sheridan, Francis, Erskine, and Grey. The pathetic issue of the dispute, in Burke's formal repudiation of Fox's friendship, has taken its place among those historic Partings of Friends which have modified the course of human society. As far as can now be judged, the bulk of the country was with Burke, and the execution of Louis XVI. was followed by an astonishing outbreak of popular feeling. The theatres were closed. The whole population wore mourning. The streets rang with the cry "War with France!" The very pulpits re-echoed the summons. Fox himself was constrained to declare to the electors of Westminster that there was no one outside France who did not consider this sad catastrophe "as a most revolting act of cruelty and injustice."

But it was too late. The horror and indignation of England were not to be allayed by soothing words of decorous sympathy from men who had applauded the earlier stages of the tragedy, though they wept at its culmination. The warlike spirit of the race was aroused, and it spoke in the cry, "No peace with the regicides!" Pitt clearly discerned the feeling of the country, and promptly gave effect to it. He dismissed Chauvelin, who informally represented the Revolutionary Government in London, and he demanded from Parliament an immediate augmentation of the forces.

On the 20th of January, 1793, France declared war against England. The great struggle had begun, and that declaration was a new starting-point in the political history of England. English parties entered into new combinations. English politics assumed a new complexion. Pitt's imperial mind maintained its ascendency, but the drift of his policy was entirely changed. All the schemes of Parliamentary, financial, and commercial reform in which he had been immersed yielded place to the stern expedients of a Minister fighting for his life against revolution abroad and sedition at home. For though, as I said just now, popular sentiment was stirred by the King's execution into vehement hostility to France, still the progress of the war was attended by domestic consequences which considerably modified this sentiment. Hostility gave way to passive acquiescence, and acquiescence to active sympathy.

Among the causes which produced this change were the immense increase of national burdens; the sudden agglomeration of a lawless population in the manufacturing towns which the war called into being; the growing difficulties in Ireland, where revolutionary theories found ready learners; the absolute abandonment of all attempts at social and political improvement; the dogged determination of those in authority to remedy no grievance however patent, and to correct no abuse however indefensible.

The wise and temperate reforms for which the times were ripe, and which the civil genius of Pitt pre-eminently qualified him to effect, were not only suspended but finally abandoned under the influence of an insane reaction. The besotted resistance to all change stimulated the desire for it. Physical distress co-operated with political discontent to produce a state of popular disaffection such as the whole preceding century had never seen. The severest measures of coercion and repression only, and scarcely, restrained the populace from open and desperate insurrection, and thirty years of this experience brought England to the verge of a civil catastrophe.

Patriotism was lost in partisanship. Political faction ran to an incredible excess. The whole community was divided into two hostile camps. Broadly speaking, the cause of France was espoused, with different degrees of fervour, by all lovers of civil and religious freedom. To the Whigs the humiliation of Pitt was a more cherished object than the defeat of Napoleon. Fox wrote to a friend: "The triumph of the French Government over the English does, in fact, afford me a degree of pleasure which it is very difficult to disguise;" and I have gathered that this was the prevalent temper of Whiggery during the long and desperate struggle with Republican and Imperial France. What Byron called "The crowning carnage, Waterloo," brought no abatement of political rancour. The question of France, indeed, was eliminated from the contest, but its elimination enabled English Liberals to concentrate their hostility on the Tory Government without incurring the reproach of unpatriotic sympathy with the enemies of England.

In the great fight between Tory and Whig, Government and Opposition, Authority and Freedom, there was no quarter. Neither age nor sex was spared. No department of national life was untouched by the fury of the contest. The Royal Family was divided. The Duke of Cumberland was one of the most dogged and unscrupulous leaders of the Tory party; the Duke of Sussex toasted the memory of Charles James Fox, and at a public dinner joined in singing "The Trumpet of Liberty," of which the chorus ran—

"Fall, tyrants, fall! These are the days of liberty; Fall, tyrants, fall!"

The Established Church was on the side of authority; the Dissenters stood for freedom. "Our opponents," said Lord John Russell, in one of his earliest speeches—"our opponents deafen us with their cry of 'Church and King.' Shall I tell you what they mean by it? They mean a Church without the Gospel and a King above the law." An old Radical electioneer, describing the activity of the country clergy on the Tory side, said: "In every village we had the Black Recruiting-Sergeant against us." Even within sacred walls the echoes of the fight were heard. The State Holy-days—Gunpowder Treason, Charles the Martyr, the Restoration and the Accession—gave suitable occasion for sermons of the most polemical vehemence. Even the two Collects for the King at the beginning of the Communion Service were regarded as respectively Tory and Whig. The first, with its bold assertion of the Divine Right of Sovereignty, was that which commended itself to every loyal clergyman on his promotion; and unfavourable conclusions were drawn with regard to the civil sentiments of the man who preferred the colourless alternative. As in the Church, so in our educational system. Oxford, with its Caroline and Jacobite traditions, was the Tory University; Cambridge, the nursing mother of Whigs; Eton was supposed to cherish a sentiment of romantic affection for the Stuarts; Harrow was profoundly Hanoverian. Even the drama was involved in political antipathies, and the most enthusiastic adherents of Kean and Kemble were found respectively among the leaders of Whig and Tory Society.

The vigour, heartiness, and sincerity of this political hatred put to shame the more tepid convictions of our degenerate days. The first Earl of Leicester, better known as "Coke of Norfolk," told my father that when he was a child his grandfather took him on his knee and said, "Now, remember, Tom, as long as you live, never trust a Tory;" and he used to say, "I never have, and, by George, I never will." A little girl of Whig descent, accustomed from her cradle to hear language of this sort, asked her mother, "Mamma, are Tories born wicked, or do they grow wicked afterwards?" and her mother judiciously replied, "They are born wicked, and grow worse." I well remember in my youth an eccentric maiden lady—Miss Harriet Fanny Cuyler—who had spent a long and interesting life in the innermost circles of aristocratic Whiggery; and she always refused to enter a four-wheel cab until she had extorted from the driver his personal assurance that he never had cases of infectious disease in his cab, that he was not a Puseyite, and was a Whig.

I am bound to say that this vehement prejudice was not unnatural in a generation that remembered, either personally or by immediate tradition, the iron coercion which Pitt exercised in his later days, and which his successors continued. The barbarous executions for high treason remain a blot on the fair fame of the nineteenth century. Scarcely less horrible were the trials for sedition, which sent an English clergyman to transportation for life because he had signed a petition in favour of Parliamentary reform.

"The good old Code, like Argus, had a hundred watchful eyes, And each old English peasant had his good old English spies, To tempt his starving discontent with good old English lies, Then call the British yeomanry to stop his peevish cries."

At Woburn, a market town forty miles from London, under the very shadow of a great Whig house, no political meeting could be held for fear of Pitt's spies, who dropped down from London by the night coach and returned to lay information against popular speakers; and when the politicians of the place desired to express their sentiments, they had to repair secretly to an adjacent village off the coach road, where they were harangued under cover of night by the young sons of the Duke of Bedford.

The ferocity, the venality, the profligate expenditure, the delirious excitement of contested elections have made an indelible mark on our political history. In 1780 King George III. personally canvassed the Borough of Windsor against the Whig candidate, Admiral Keppel, and propitiated a silk-mercer by calling at his shop and saying, "The Queen wants a gown—wants a gown. No Keppel. No Keppel." It is pleasant to reflect that the friends of freedom were not an inch behind the upholders of tyranny in the vigour and adroitness of their electioneering methods. The contest for the City of Westminster in 1788 is thus described in the manuscript diary of Lord Robert Seymour:—

"The Riotts of the Westr. Election are carried such lengths the Military obliged to be called into the assistance of Ld. Hood's party. Several Persons have been killed by Ld. J. Townsend's Butchers who cleave them to the Ground with their Cleavers—Mr. Fox very narrowly escaped being killed by a Bayonet wch. w'd certainly have been fatal had not a poor Black saved him fm. the blow. Mr. Macnamara's Life is despaired of—& several others have died in the difft. Hospitals. Next Thursday decides the business.

"July 25.—Lord John Townsend likely to get the Election—what has chiefly contributed to Ld. Hood's losing it is that Mr. Pulteney is his Friend—Mr. P. can command 1,500 Votes—& as he is universally disliked by his Tenants they are unanimous in voting against him—wch. for Ld. H. proves a very unfortunate circumstance. The Duke of Bedford sent L10,000 towards the Expenses of the Opposition.

"It is thought that Lord Hood will not attempt a Scrutiny. One of Ld. Hood's votes was discovered to be a carrot-scraper in St. James's Market who sleeps in a little Kennel about the Size of a Hen Coup.

"Augt. 5th—The Election decided in favour of Ld. J.T., who was chaired—and attend'd by a Procession of a mile in length. On his Head was a crown of Laurel. C. Fox follow'd him in a Landau & 6 Horses cover'd in Favors & Lawrels. The appearance this Procession made was equal in splendor to the public Entry of an Ambassador."

A by-election was impending in Yorkshire, and Pitt, paying a social visit to the famous Mrs. B.—one of the Whig Queens of the West Riding—said, banteringly, "Well, the election is all right for us. Ten thousand guineas for the use of our side go down to Yorkshire to-night by a sure hand." "The devil they do!" responded Mrs. B., and that night the bearer of the precious burden was stopped by a highwayman on the Great North Road, and the ten thousand guineas were used to procure the return of the Whig candidate. The electioneering methods, less adventurous but not more scrupulous, of a rather later day have been depicted in Pickwick, and Coningsby, and My Novel, and Middlemarch, with all the suggestive fun of a painting by Hogarth.

And so, with startling incidents and culpable expedients and varying fortunes, the great struggle for political freedom was conducted through the first thirty years of the nineteenth century, and it has been my interesting fortune to know some of the toughest of the combatants both among the leaders and in the rank-and-file. And from all of them alike—and not only from them, but from all who remembered the time—I have gathered the impression that all through their earlier life the hidden fires of revolution were smouldering under English society, and that again and again an actual outbreak was only averted by some happy stroke of fortune. At the Election of 1868 an old labourer in the agricultural Borough of Woodstock told a Liberal canvasser from Oxford that in his youth arms had been stored in his father's cottage so as to be in readiness for the outbreak which was to take place if Lord Grey's Reform Bill was finally defeated. A Whig nobleman, of great experience and calm judgment, told me that if Princess Victoria had died before William IV., and thereby Ernest Duke of Cumberland had succeeded to the Throne, no earthly power could have averted a revolution. "I have no hesitation in saying," I heard Mr. Gladstone say, "that if the repeal of the Corn Laws had been defeated, or even retarded, we should have had a revolution." Charles Kingsley and his fellow-workers for Social Reform expected a revolution in April 1848.

But, after all, these testimonies belong to the region of conjecture. Let me close this chapter by a narrative of fact, derived from the late Lord de Ros, who was an eye-witness of the events which he narrated. Arthur Thistlewood (whose execution for the "Cato Street Conspiracy" I have described in a previous chapter) was a young Englishman who had been in Paris in the time of Robespierre's ascendency, and had there imbibed revolutionary sentiments. He served for a short time as an officer in the English Army, and after quitting the service he made himself notorious by trying to organize a political riot in London, for which he was tried and acquitted. He subsequently collected round him a secret society of disaffected citizens, and proceeded to arrange a plan by which he hoped to paralyze Government and establish a Reign of Terror in London.

One evening, in the winter of 1819-20, a full-dress ball was given by the Spanish Ambassador in Portland Place, and was attended by the Prince Regent, the Royal Dukes, the Duke of Wellington, the Ministers of State, and the leaders of fashion and society. "About one o'clock, just before supper, a sort of order was circulated among the junior officers to draw towards the head of the stairs, though no one knew for what reason, except that an unusual crowd had assembled in the street. The appearance of Lavender and one or two well-known Bow Street officers in the entrance-hall also gave rise to surmises of some impending riot. While the officers were whispering to one another as to what was expected to happen, a great noise was heard in the street, the crowd dispersed with loud cries in all directions, and a squadron of the 2nd Life Guards arrived with drawn swords at a gallop from their barracks (then situate in King Street), and rapidly formed in front of the Ambassador's house. Lavender and the Bow Street officers now withdrew; the officers who had gathered about the stairhead were desired to return to the ballroom.

"The alarm, whatever it might have been, appeared to be over, and before the company broke up the Life Guards had been withdrawn to their barracks. Inside the Ambassador's house all had remained so quiet that very few of the ladies present were aware till next day that anything unusual had happened, but it became known after a short time that the Duke of Wellington had received information of an intended attack upon the house, which the precautions taken had probably prevented; and upon the trial of Thistlewood and his gang (for the Cato Street Conspiracy) it came out, among other evidence of the various wild schemes they had formed, that Thistlewood had certainly entertained the project, at the time of this ball, to attack the Spanish Ambassador's house, and destroy the Regent and other Royal personages, as well as the Ministers, who were sure to be, most of them, present on the occasion."

For details of the Cato Street Conspiracy the curious reader is referred to the Annual Register for 1820, and it is strange to reflect that these explosions of revolutionary rage occurred well within the recollection of people now[11] living, among whom I hope it is not invidious to mention Mr. Charles Villiers,[12] Lady Mary Saurin,[13] and Lady Glentworth.[14]


[11] 1897.

[12] The Right Hon. C.P. Villiers, M.P., 1802-98.

[13] (nee Ryder), 1801-1900.

[14] Eve Maria, Viscountess Glentworth, 1803-19.



Closely connected with the subject of Politics, of which we were speaking in the last chapter, is that of Parliamentary Oratory, and for a right estimate of oratory personal impressions (such as those on which I have relied) are peculiarly valuable. They serve both to correct and to confirm. It is impossible to form from the perusal of a printed speech anything but the vaguest and often the most erroneous notion of the effect which it produced upon its hearers. But from the testimony of contemporaries one can often gain the clue to what is otherwise unintelligible. One learns what were the special attributes of bearing, voice, or gesture, the circumstances of delivery, or even the antecedent conditions of character and reputation, which perhaps doomed some magnificent peroration to ludicrous failure, or, on the contrary, "ordained strength" out of stammering lips and disjointed sentences. Testimony of this kind the circumstances of my life have given me in great abundance. My chain of tradition links me to the days of the giants.

Almost all the old people whose opinions and experience I have recorded were connected, either personally or through their nearest relations, with one or other of the Houses of Parliament. Not a few of them were conspicuous actors on the stage of political life. Lord Robert Seymour, from whose diary I have quoted, died in 1831, after a long life spent in the House of Commons, which he entered in 1771, and of which for twenty-three years he was a fellow-member with Edmund Burke. Let me linger for a moment on that illustrious name.

In originality, erudition, and accomplishments Burke had no rival among Parliamentary speakers. His prose is, as we read it now, the most fascinating, the most musical, in the English language. It bears on every page the divine lineaments of genius. Yet an orator requires something more than mere force of words. He must feel, while he speaks, the pulse of his audience, and instinctively regulate every sentence by reference to their feelings. All contemporary evidence shows that in this kind of oratorical tact Burke was eminently deficient. His nickname, "The Dinner-bell of the House of Commons," speaks for his effect on the mind of the average M.P. "In vain," said: Moore, "did Burke's genius put forth its superb plumage, glittering all over with the hundred eyes of fancy. The gait of the bird was heavy and awkward, and its voice seemed rather to scare than attract."

Macaulay has done full justice to the extraordinary blaze of brilliancy which on supreme occasions threw these minor defects into the shade. Even now the old oak rafters of Westminster Hall seem to echo that superlative peroration which taught Mrs. Siddons a higher flight of tragedy than her own, and made the accused proconsul feel himself for the moment the guiltiest of men. Mr. Gladstone declared that Burke was directly responsible for the war with France, for "Pitt could not have resisted him." For the more refined, the more cultivated, the more speculative intellects he had—and has—an almost supernatural charm. His style is without any exception the richest, the most picturesque, the most inspired and inspiring in the language. In its glories and its terrors it resembles the Apocalypse. Mr. Morley, in the most striking of all his critical essays, has truly said that the natural ardour which impelled Burke to clothe his judgments in glowing and exaggerated phrases is one secret of his power over us, because it kindles in those who are capable of that generous infection a respondent interest and sympathy. "He has the sacred gift of inspiring men to care for high things, and to make their lives at once rich and austere. Such a gift is rare indeed. We feel no emotion of revolt when Mackintosh speaks of Shakespeare and Burke in the same breath as being, both of them, above mere talent. We do not dissent when Macaulay, after reading Burke's works over again, exclaims: 'How admirable! The greatest man since Milton!'"

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