William Pitt and the Great War
by John Holland Rose
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Transcriber's Notes:

Italics have been marked with underscores, like 'this'.

Greek passages have been transcribed, using '+', like '+ate+'.

OE ligature and oe ligature have been changed to 'OE' or 'oe'.

Corrections, as listed in the "ERRATA" paragraph, have been made.

Besides, Page 4, "disance" changed to "distance" (owing to the long distance,).

Page 16, "circulalation" changed to "circulation" (and many of them helped on the circulation).

Pages 83 and 167, "Barrere" equalized to "Barere" (according to Index).

Page 104, "imdiately" changed to "immediately" (which was immediately granted.).

Page 208, "Moellendorff" equalized to "Moellendorf" (according to Index).

Page 325, "brother in-law" changed to "brother-in-law" (Pitt, owing to news of the death of his brother-in-law,)

Page 399/400, "arewell" changed to "farewell" (just after saying farewell to Clare at Dublin,).

Page 419, "of couse" changed to "of course" (This proposal of course implied).

Page 422, "futher" changed to "further" (to make further concessions to that body.).

Page 451, "symptons" changed to "symptoms" (From these extraordinary symptoms he augured).

Page 456, Footnote 609, "Soo" changed to "So" (So, too, Tomline said).

Page 496, "convicton" changed to "conviction" (But that he was drifting to this conviction).

Page 528, "counsellers" changed to "counsellors" (and he and his counsellors saw far more hope).






England and France have held in their hands the fate of the world, especially that of European civilization. How much harm we have done one another: how much good we might have done! —Napoleon to Colonel Wilks, 20th April 1816.






In the former volume, entitled "William Pitt and National Revival," I sought to trace the career of Pitt the Younger up to the year 1791. Until then he was occupied almost entirely with attempts to repair the evils arising out of the old order of things. Retrenchment and Reform were his first watchwords; and though in the year 1785 he failed in his efforts to renovate the life of Parliament and to improve the fiscal relations with Ireland, yet his domestic policy in the main achieved a surprising success. Scarcely less eminent, though far less known, were his services in the sphere of diplomacy. In the year 1783, when he became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, nearly half of the British Empire was torn away, and the remainder seemed to be at the mercy of the allied Houses of Bourbon. France, enjoying the alliance of Spain and Austria and the diplomatic wooings of Catharine II and Frederick the Great, gave the law to Europe.

By the year 1790 all had changed. In 1787 Pitt supported Frederick William II of Prussia in overthrowing French supremacy in the Dutch Netherlands; and a year later he framed with those two States an alliance which not only dictated terms to Austria at the Congress of Reichenbach but also compelled her to forego her far-reaching schemes on the lower Danube, and to restore the status quo in Central Europe and in her Belgian provinces. British policy triumphed over that of Spain in the Nootka Sound dispute of the year 1790, thereby securing for the Empire the coast of what is now British Columbia; it also saved Sweden from a position of acute danger; and Pitt cherished the hope of forming a league of the smaller States, including the Dutch Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and, if possible, Turkey, which, with support from Great Britain and Prussia, would withstand the almost revolutionary schemes of the Russian and Austrian Courts.

These larger aims were unattainable. The duplicity of the Court of Berlin, the triumphs of the Russian arms on the Danube, and changes in the general diplomatic situation, enabled Catharine II to foil the efforts of Pitt in 1791. She worked her will on the Turks and not long after on the Poles; Sweden came to an understanding with her; and Prussia, slighting the British alliance, drew near to the new Hapsburg Sovereign, Leopold II. In fact, the events of the French Revolution in the year 1791 served to focus attention more and more upon Paris; and monarchs who had thought of little but the conquest or partition of weaker States now talked of a crusade to restore order at Paris, with Gustavus III of Sweden as the new Coeur de Lion. This occidentation of diplomacy became pronounced at the time of the attempted escape of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the eastern frontier at Midsummer 1791. Their capture at Varennes and their ignominious return to Paris are in several respects the central event of the French Revolution. The incident aroused both democrats and royalists to a fury which foredoomed to failure all attempts at compromise between the old order and the new. The fierceness of the strife in France incited monarchists in all lands to importunate demands for the extirpation of "the French plague"; and hence were set in motion forces which Pitt vainly strove to curb. War soon broke out in Central Europe. His endeavours to localize it were fruitless; and thenceforth his chief task was to bring to an honourable close a conflict which he had not sought. It is therefore fitting that this study of the latter, less felicitous, but equally glorious part of his career should begin with a survey of the situation in Great Britain and on the Continent at the time of the incident at Varennes which opened a new chapter in the history of Europe.

In the present volume I have sought to narrate faithfully and as fully as is possible the story of the dispute with France, the chief episodes of the war, and the varied influences which it exerted upon political developments in these islands, including the early Radical movement, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and other events which brought about the Union of the British and Irish Parliaments, the break up of the great national party at Westminster in 1801, and the collapse of the strength of Pitt early in the course of the struggle with the concentrated might of Napoleon.

That mighty drama dwarfs the actors. Even the French Emperor could not sustain the role which he aspired to play, and, failing to discern the signs of the times, was whirled aside by the forces which he claimed to control. Is it surprising that Pitt, more slightly endowed by nature, and beset by the many limitations which hampered the advisers of George III, should have sunk beneath burdens such as no other English statesman has been called upon to bear? The success or failure of such a career is, however, to be measured by the final success or failure of his policy; and in this respect, as I have shown, the victor in the Great War was not Napoleon but Pitt.

To that high enterprise he consecrated all the powers of his being. His public life is everything; his private life, unfortunately, counts for little. The materials for reconstructing it are meagre. I have been able here and there to throw new light on his friendships, difficulties, trials, and, in particular, on the love episode of the year 1797. But in the main the story of the life of Pitt must soar high above the club and the salon to

... the toppling heights of Duty scaled.

Again I must express my hearty thanks to those who have generously placed at my disposal new materials of great value, especially to His Grace the Duke of Portland, the Earl of Harrowby, Earl Stanhope, E. G. Pretyman, Esq., M.P., and A. M. Broadley, Esq.; also to the Rev. William Hunt, D.Litt., and Colonel E. M. Lloyd, late R.E., for valuable advice tendered during the correction of the proofs, and to Mr. Hubert Hall of H.M. Public Record Office for assistance during my researches there. I am also indebted to Lord Auckland and to Messrs. Longmans for permission to reproduce the miniature of the Hon. Miss Eden which appeared in Lord Ashbourne's "Pitt, Some Chapters of his Life and Times," and to Mr. and Mrs. Doulton for permission to my daughter to make the sketch of Bowling Green House, the last residence of Pitt, which is reproduced near the end of this volume. In the preface to the former volume I expressed my acknowledgements to recent works bearing on this subject; and I need only add that numerous new letters of George III, Pitt, Grenville, Burke, Canning, etc., which could only be referred to here, will be published in a work entitled "Pitt and Napoleon Miscellanies," including also essays and notes.

J. H. R. MARCH 1911.






WILLIAM PITT, IN LATER LIFE. (From a painting by Hoppner in the National Portrait Gallery) Frontispiece


THE SIEGE OF TOULON. (By Emmanuel Toulougeon, Paris) 163

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS IN 1793. (From a painting in the National Portrait Gallery by K. A. Hickel) 164

THE HON. ELEANOR EDEN. (From a miniature) 300

HENRY DUNDAS, FIRST VISCOUNT MELVILLE. (From a painting by Sir T. Lawrence) 484

BOWLING GREEN HOUSE, PUTNEY HEATH. (From a pencil sketch by Elsie H. Rose) 554


Page 180, ad fin., for "Hamilton, Rowan" read "Hamilton Rowan." " 311, line 1, for "formerly" read "brother of." " 311, line 2, for "Lord Hood" read "Sir Alexander Hood." " 551, line 11 from end, for "6th" read "4th."


ANN. REG. = "Annual Register."

ASHBOURNE = "Pitt: some Chapters of his Life and Times," by the Rt. Hon. Lord Ashbourne. 1898.

AUCKLAND JOURNALS = "The Journal and Corresp. of William, Lord Auckland." 4 vols. 1861.

BEAUFORT P. = "MSS. of the Duke of Beaufort," etc. (Hist. MSS. Comm.). 1891.

B.M. ADD. MSS. = Additional Manuscripts of the British Museum.

BUCKINGHAM P. = "Mems. of the Court and Cabinets of George III," by the Duke of Buckingham. 2 vols. 1853.

CAMPBELL = "Lives of the Lord Chancellors," by Lord Campbell. 8 vols. 1845-69.

CASTLEREAGH CORRESP. = "Mems. and Corresp. of Viscount Castlereagh." 8 vols. 1848-53.

CHEVENING MSS. = Manuscripts of Earl Stanhope, preserved at Chevening.

CUNNINGHAM = "Growth of Eng. Industry and Commerce (Modern Times)," by Dr. W. Cunningham. 1892.

DROPMORE P. = "The Manuscripts of J. B. Fortescue, Esq., preserved at Dropmore" (Hist. MSS. Comm.). 7 vols. 1892-1910.

FORTESCUE = "The History of the British Army," by the Hon. J. W. Fortescue. vol. iv.

HAeUSSER = "Deutsche Geschichte (1786-1804)," by L. Haeusser. 4 vols. 1861-3.

HOLLAND = "Memoirs of the Whig Party," by Lord Holland. 2 vols. 1852.

JESSE = "Mems. of the Life and Reign of George III," by J. H. Jesse. 3 vols. 1867.

LECKY = "Hist. of England in the Eighteenth Century," by W. E. H. Lecky. 8 vols. Fifth edit. 1891-1904.

MALMESBURY DIARIES = "Diaries and Corresp. of the First Earl of Malmesbury." 4 vols. 1844.

PARL. HIST. = "History of the Parliamentary Debates" (after 1804 continued in Hansard).

PELLEW = "Life and Corresp. of the first Viscount Sidmouth," by Rev. C. Pellew. 3 vols. 1847.

PITT MSS. = Pitt MSS., preserved at H.M. Public Record Office.

PORRITT = "The Unreformed House of Commons," by E. Porritt, 2 vols. 1909.

PRETYMAN MSS. = MSS. of E. G. Pretyman, Esq., M.P., preserved at Orwell Park.

ROSE G., "DIARIES" = "Diaries and Corresp. of Rt. Hon. G. Rose." 2 vols. 1860.

ROSE, "NAPOLEON" = "Life of Napoleon," by J. H. Rose. 2 vols. 1909.

ROSE, "THIRD COALITION" = "Select Despatches ... relating to the Formation of the Third Coalition (1804-5)," ed. by J. H. Rose (Royal Historical Soc., 1904).

RUTLAND P. = "MSS. of the Duke of Rutland" (Hist. MSS. Comm.). 3 vols. 1894.

RUVILLE = "William Pitt, Earl of Chatham," by A. von Ruville (Eng. transl.). 3 vols. 1907.

SOREL = "L'Europe et la Revolution francaise," par A. Sorel. Pts. II, III. 1889, 1897.

STANHOPE = "Life of ... William Pitt," by Earl Stanhope. 4 vols. 3rd edition. 1867.

SYBEL = "Geschichte der Revolutionzeit (1789-1800)," von H. von Sybel. Eng. translation. 4 vols. 1867-9.

VIVENOT = "Quellen zur Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserpolitik OEsterreichs ..." von A. von Vivenot. 1873.

WRAXALL = "Memoirs of Sir N. W. Wraxall" (1772-84), edited by H. B. Wheatley. 5 vols. 1884.




Detruire l'anarchie francaise, c'est se preparer une gloire immortelle.—CATHARINE II, 1791.

The pretended Rights of Man, which have made this havoc, cannot be the rights of the people. For to be a people and to have these rights are incompatible. The one supposes the presence, the other the absence, of a state of civil society.—BURKE, Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs.

A constitution is the property of a nation and not of those who exercise the Government.—T. PAINE, Rights of Man, part ii.

In the midst of a maze of events there may sometimes be found one which serves as a clue, revealing hidden paths, connecting ways which seem far apart, and leading to a clear issue. Such was the attempted flight of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the eastern frontier of France at midsummer 1791, which may be termed the central event of the French Revolution, at least in its first phases. The aim of joining the armed bands of emigres and the forces held in readiness by Austria was so obvious as to dispel the myth of "a patriot King" misled for a time by evil counsellors. True, the moderates, from sheer alarm, still sought to save the monarchy, and for a time with surprising success. But bolder men, possessed both of insight and humour, perceived the futility of all such efforts to hold down on the throne the father of his people lest he should again run away. In this perception the young Republican party found its genesis and its inspiration. In truth, the attempted flight of the King was a death-blow to the moderate party, into which the lamented leader, Mirabeau, had sought to infuse some of his masterful energy. Thenceforth, the future belonged either to the Jacobins or to the out and out royalists.

These last saw the horizon brighten in the East. Louis XVI being under constraint in Paris, their leaders were the French Princes, the Comte de Provence (afterwards Louis XVIII) and the Comte d'Artois (Charles X). Around them at Coblentz there clustered angry swarms of French nobles, gentlemen, and orthodox priests, whose zeal was reckoned by the earliness of the date at which they had "emigrated." For many months the agents of these emigres had vainly urged the Chanceries of the Continent to a royalist crusade against the French rebels; and it seemed appropriate that Gustavus III of Sweden should be their only convert. Now of a sudden their demands appeared, instinct with statecraft; and courtiers everywhere exclaimed that "the French pest" must be stamped out. In that thought lay in germ a quarter of a century of war.

Already the Prussian and Austrian Governments had vaguely discussed the need of a joint intervention in France. In fact this subject formed one of the pretexts for the missions of the Prussian envoy, Bischoffswerder, to the Emperor Leopold in February and June 1791.[2] As was shown at the close of the former volume, "William Pitt and National Revival," neither Court took the matter seriously, the Eastern Question being then their chief concern. But the flight to Varennes, which Leopold had helped to arrange, imposed on him the duty of avenging the ensuing insults to his sister. He prepared to do so with a degree of caution highly characteristic of him. He refused to move until he knew the disposition of the Powers, especially of England. From Padua, where the news of the capture of Louis at Varennes reached him, he wrote an autograph letter to George III, dated 6th July, urging him to join in a general demand for the liberation of the King and Queen of France. He also invited the monarchs of Europe to launch a Declaration, that they regarded the cause of Louis as their own, and in the last resort to put down a usurpation of power which it behoved all Governments to repress.[3]

The reply of George, dated St. James's, 23rd July, bears the imprint of the cool and cautious personality of Pitt and Grenville, who in this matter may be counted as one. The King avowed his sympathy with the French Royal Family and his interest in the present proposals, but declared that his attitude must depend on his relations to other Powers. He therefore cherished the hope that the Emperor would consult the welfare of the whole of Europe by aiding in the work of pacification between Austria and Turkey now proceeding at Sistova. So soon as those negotiations were completed, he would instruct his Ministers to consider the best means of cementing a union between the Allies and the Emperor.[4]

Leopold must have gnashed his teeth on reading this reply, which beat him at his own game of finesse. He had used the difficulties of England as a means of escaping from the pledges plighted at the Conference of Reichenbach in July 1790. Pitt and Grenville retorted by ironically refusing all help until he fulfilled those pledges. As we have seen, they succeeded; and the pacification in the East, as also in Belgium, was the result.

Equally chilling was the conduct of Pitt towards the emigres. The French Princes at Coblentz had sent over the former French Minister, Calonne, "to solicit from His Majesty an assurance of his neutrality in the event ... of an attempt being made by the Emperor and other Powers in support of the royal party in France." Pitt and Grenville refused to receive Calonne, and sent to the Comte d'Artois a letter expressing sympathy with the situation of the King and Queen of France, but declining to give any promise as to the line of conduct which the British Government might pursue.[5]

No less vague were the terms in which George III replied to a letter of the King of Sweden. Gustavus had for some little time been at Aix-la-Chapelle in the hope of leading a royalist crusade into France as a sequel to the expected escape of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As readers of Carlyle will remember, the Swedish noble, Count Fersen, chivalrously helped their flight towards Metz; and deep was the chagrin of Gustavus and his squire on hearing the news from Varennes. They longed to strike at once. But how could they strike while Leopold, Catharine, and Frederick William declared that everything must depend on the action of England? The following significant sentence in Fersen's diary shows the feeling prevalent at Brussels, as elsewhere, respecting England: "We must know if that Power regards the continuation of anarchy in France as more advantageous than order."[6] Fersen had imbibed this notion at Brussels from Count Mercy d'Argenteau, the Austrian Minister, whose letters often harp on this string. Thus on 7th March 1791 he writes: "The worst obstacles for the King of France will always come from England, which wishes to prolong the horrors in France and ruin her." A little later he avers that the only way to save the French monarchy is by a civil war, "and England (unless won over) will support the popular party."[7]

In order to win Pitt over to the cause of neutrality from which he never intended to swerve, Gustavus and Fersen persuaded an Englishman named Crawford to proceed to London with letters for George III and Pitt, dated 22nd July.[8] To the King he described the danger to all Governments which must ensue if the French revolted with impunity. He therefore begged to know speedily whether His Majesty would accord full liberty "to the Princes of Germany and to those, who, owing to the long distance, can only arrive by sea."[9] Evidently, then, Gustavus feared lest England might stop the fleet in which he intended to convey Swedish and Russian troops to the coast of Normandy for a dash at Paris. The answer of George soothed these fears, and that of Pitt, dated August 1791, was a model of courtly complaisance.

Compared with the shrewd balancings of the Emperor Leopold and the cold neutrality of Pitt, the policy of Frederick William II of Prussia seemed for a time to be instinct with generosity. Despite the fears of his counsellors that a rapprochement to Austria would involve Prussia in the ruin which the friendship of the Hapsburgs had brought on France, the King turned eagerly towards Vienna; and on 25th July Kaunitz and Bischoffswerder signed a preliminary treaty of alliance mutually guaranteeing their territories, and agreeing to further the aims of the Emperor respecting France. Frederick William was on fire for the royalist crusade. He even assured Baron Rolle, the agent of the French princes, that something would be done in that season.[10] Pitt and Grenville disapproved the action of Prussia in signing this compact, impairing as it did the validity of the Anglo-Prussian alliance of the year 1788; but Frederick William peevishly asserted his right to make what treaties he thought good, and remarked that he was now quits with England for the bad turns she had played him.[11] On their side, the British Ministers, by way of marking their disapproval of the warlike counsels of Berlin and Vienna, decided not to send an envoy to Pilnitz, the summer abode of the Elector of Saxony, where a conference was arranged between Leopold and Frederick William.

As is well known, the Comte d'Artois and Calonne now cherished lofty hopes of decisive action by all the monarchs against the French rebels. But Leopold, with his usual caution, repelled alike the solicitations of Artois and the warlike counsels of Frederick William, the result of their deliberations being the famous Declaration of Pilnitz (27th August). In it they expressed the hope that all the sovereigns of Europe

will not refuse to employ, in conjunction with their said Majesties, the most efficient means in proportion to their resources, to place the King of France in a position to establish with the most absolute freedom, the foundations of a monarchical form of government, which shall at once be in harmony with the rights of sovereigns and promote the welfare of the French nation. In that case [alors et dans ce cas] their said Majesties, the Emperor and the King of Prussia, are resolved to act promptly and in common accord with the forces necessary to attain the desired common end.

Obviously, the gist of the whole Declaration lay in the words alors et dans ce cas. If they be emphasized, they destroy the force of the document; for a union of all the monarchs was an impossibility, it being well known that England would not, and Sardinia, and Naples (probably also Spain) could not, take up arms. In fact, on that very evening Leopold wrote to Kaunitz that he had not in the least committed himself.—"Alors et dans ce cas is with me the law and the prophets. If England fails us, the case is non-existent." Further, when the Comte d'Artois, two days later, urged the Emperor to give effect to the Declaration by ordering his troops to march westwards, he sent a sharp retort, asserted that he would not go beyond the Declaration, and forbade the French Princes to do so.[12]

To the good sense and insight of Grenville and Pitt, the Pilnitz Declaration was one of the comedies augustes of history, as Mallet du Pan termed it. Grenville saw that Leopold would stay his hand until England chose to act, meanwhile alleging her neutrality as an excuse for doing nothing.[13] Thus, the resolve of Catharine to give nothing but fair words being already surmised, the emigres found to their annoyance that Pitt's passivity clogged their efforts—the chief reason why they shrilly upbraided him for his insular egotism. Certainly his attitude was far from romantic; but surely, after the sharp lesson which he had received from the House of Commons in the spring of 1791 during the dispute with Russia, caution was needful; and he probably discerned a truth hidden from the emigres, that an invasion of France for the rescue of the King and Queen would seal their doom and increase the welter in that unhappy land.

Pitt and Grenville spent the middle of September at Weymouth in attendance on George III; and we can imagine their satisfaction at the prospect of universal peace and prosperity. Pitt consoled himself for the not very creditable end to the Russian negotiation by reflecting that our revenue was steadily rising. "We are already L178,000 gainers in this quarter," he wrote to George Rose on 10th August.[14] In fact, the cyclonic disturbances of the past few years now gave place to a lull. The Russo-Turkish War had virtually ended; Catharine and Gustavus were on friendly terms; the ferment in the Hapsburg dominions had died down, except in Brabant; the Poles were working their new constitution well; and, but for Jacobin propaganda in Italy and the Rhineland, the outlook was serene.

At this time, too, there seemed a chance of a reconciliation between Louis XVI and his people. On 14th September he accepted the new democratic constitution, a step which filled France with rejoicing and furnished the desired excuse for Leopold to remain passive. Kaunitz, who had consistently opposed intervention in France, now asserted that Louis had voluntarily accepted the constitution. The action of Louis and Marie Antoinette was in reality forced. Amidst the Queen's expressions of contempt for the French Princes at Coblentz, the suppressed fire of her fury against her captors flashes forth in this sentence written to Mercy d'Argenteau (28th August)—"The only question for us is to lull them to sleep and inspire them with confidence so as to trick them the better afterwards."—And again (12th September)—"My God! Must I, with this blood in my veins, pass my days among such beings as these, and in such an age as this?" Leopold must have known her real feelings; but he chose to abide by the official language of Louis, and to advise the Powers to accept the new situation.[15]

This peaceful turn of affairs sorely troubled the French Princes and Burke. In August and September 1791 his son Richard was at Coblentz, and informed his father of the consternation of the emigres on hearing that the Emperor declined to draw the sword. Burke himself was equally agitated, and on or about 24th September had a long interview with Pitt and Grenville, at the house of the latter. We gather from Burke's "Letters on the Conduct of our Domestic Parties," that it was the first time he had met Pitt in private; and the meeting must have been somewhat awkward. After dining, with Grenville as host, the three men conferred together till eleven o'clock, discussing the whole situation "very calmly" (says Burke); but we can fancy the tumult of feelings in the breast of the old man when he found both Ministers firm as adamant against intervention in France. "They are certainly right as to their general inclinations," he wrote to his son, "perfectly so, I have not a shadow of doubt; but at the same time they are cold and dead as to any attempt whatsoever to give them effect." The heat of the Irish royalist failed to kindle a spark of feeling in the two cousins. He found that their "deadness" proceeded from a rooted distrust of the Emperor Leopold, and from a conviction that Britain had nothing to fear from Jacobinical propaganda. Above all they believed that the present was not the time for action, especially as the imminence of bankruptcy in France would discredit the new Legislative Assembly, and render an invasion easier in the near future.

Are we to infer from this that Pitt and his cousin looked forward to a time when the monarchs could invade France with safety? Such an inference would be rash. It is more probable that they here found an excuse for postponing their decision and a means of calming an insistent visitor. Certainly they impressed Burke with a belief in their sincere but secret sympathy with the royalist cause. The three men also agreed in suspecting Leopold, though Burke tried to prove that his treachery was not premeditated, but sprang from "some complexional inconstancy." Pitt and Grenville, knowing the doggedness with which the Emperor pushed towards his goal, amidst many a shift and turn, evidently were not convinced.

At this time they had special reasons for distrusting Leopold and his advisers. The Austrian Government had received a letter, dated Dresden, 27th August (the day of the Declaration of Pilnitz), stating that England promised to remain neutral only on condition that the Emperor would not withdraw any troops from his Belgic lands, as they were needed to uphold the arrangements of which she was a guarantee. This extraordinary statement grew out of a remark of Grenville to the Austrian Ambassador in London, that, in view of the unrest in the Netherlands, it might be well not to leave them without troops.[16] The mis-statement was not only accepted at Vienna, but was forwarded to various Courts, the final version being that England might attack Austria if she withdrew her troops from Flanders, and that therefore Leopold could not draw the sword against France until his army on the Turkish borders arrived in Swabia. Some were found who believed this odd farrago; but those who watched the calculating balance of Hapsburg policy saw in it one more excuse for a masterly inactivity.

Still less were our Ministers inclined to unite with Catharine in the universal royalist league then under discussion at St. Petersburg. The Czarina having charged her ambassador, Vorontzoff, to find out the sentiments of Pitt and Grenville on this subject, he replied that England would persevere in the strict neutrality which she had all along observed, "and that, with respect to the measures of active intervention which other Powers might have in contemplation, it was His Majesty's determination not to take any part either in supporting or in opposing them." Now Russia, like Austria and Spain, had decided not to act unless England joined the concert;[17] and this waiting on the action of a Power which had already declared its resolve to do nothing enables us to test the sincerity of the continental monarchs. As for the Czarina, her royalist fervour expended itself in deposing the busts of democrats, in ordering the French Minister to remain away from Court, and in condemning any Russian who had dealings with him to be publicly flogged. Moreover, while thus drilling her own subjects, the quondam friend of Diderot kept her eyes fixed upon Warsaw. The shrewdest diplomatist of the age had already divined her aims, which he thus trenchantly summed up: "The Empress only waits to see Austria and Prussia committed in France, to overturn everything in Poland."[18] Kaunitz lived on to see his cynical prophecy fulfilled to the letter.

* * * * *

The reader will have noticed with some surprise the statement of Burke that Pitt and Grenville had not the slightest fear of the spread of French principles in England. As we know, Burke vehemently maintained the contrary, averring that the French plague, unless crushed at Paris, would infect the world. In his survey of the European States he admitted that we were less liable to infection than Germany, Holland, and Italy, owing to the excellence of our constitution; but he feared that our nearness to France, and our zeal for liberty, would expose us to some danger. Why he should have cherished these fears is hard to say; for to him the French Revolution was "a wild attempt to methodize anarchy," "a foul, impious, monstrous thing, wholly out of the course of moral nature."[19] Surely if British and French principles were so utterly different, we were in no more danger of infection from the Jacobins than of catching swine fever.

This was virtually the view of Pitt and Grenville; for there were no premonitory symptoms of infection, but much the reverse. Londoners showed the utmost joy at the first news of the escape of the King and Queen from Paris, and were equally depressed by the news from Varennes. As we shall presently see, it was with shouts of "Long live the King," "Church and State," "Down with the Dissenters," "No Olivers," "Down with the Rump," "No false Rights of Man," that the rabble of Birmingham wrecked and burnt the houses of Dr. Priestley and other prominent Nonconformists of that town. Only by slow degrees did this loyal enthusiasm give place to opinions which in course of time came to be called Radical. It may be well to trace briefly the fluctuations of public opinion, to which the career of Pitt stands in vital relation.

The growth of discontent in Great Britain may be ascribed to definite evils in the body politic, and it seems to have arisen only secondarily from French propaganda. The first question which kindled the fire of resentment was that of the civic and political disabilities still imposed on Nonconformists by the Corporation and Test Acts of the reign of Charles II. Pitt's decision in the session of 1787 to uphold those Acts ensured the rejection of Beaufoy's motion for their repeal of 176 votes to 98; but undeterred by his defeat, Beaufoy brought the matter before the House on 8th May 1789, and, despite the opposition of Pitt, secured 102 votes against 122. The Prime Minister's chief argument was that if Dissenters were admitted to civic rights they might use their power to overthrow the Church Establishment.[20] Clearly the opinion of the House was drifting away from him on that question; and it is a proof of his growing indifference to questions of Reform that now, four days after the assembly of the States-General of France at Versailles, he should have held to views so repugnant to the spirit of the age.

Thenceforth that question could not be debated solely on its own merits. The attacks made by the French National Assembly on the Church of France, particularly the confiscation of its tithes and landed property, soon aroused heated feelings in this country, though on a subject of a wholly different kind. The result was that, while Dissenters peacefully agitated for permission to act as citizens, they were represented as endeavouring to despoil the Church, after the fashion of Talleyrand and Mirabeau. A work by a Manchester merchant, Thomas Walker, reveals the influence of this question on the political activities of the time. The Nonconformists of that town and county hoped to gain a majority in next session or in the following Parliament, while the High Churchmen, to the cry of "The Church in Danger," declared the two Acts of Charles II to be the bulwarks of the constitution.[21] This cry was everywhere taken up, with the result that in the Parliament elected in 1790 the Tories gained ground. Consequently, even the able advocacy of Fox on behalf of religious liberty failed to save Beaufoy's motion from a crushing defeat. Pitt spoke against the proposal and carried the House with him by 294 votes to 105. This vote illustrates the baleful influence exerted by the French Revolution on the cause of Reform in these islands.

A second example soon occurred. Only three days later Flood brought forward a motion for Parliamentary Reform which the wildest of alarmists could not call revolutionary. He proposed to add to the House of Commons one hundred members, elected by the resident householders of the counties, those areas being far less corrupt than the towns; and he suggested that, if the total number of members were deemed excessive, fifty seats in the smallest boroughs might be declared vacant. This proposal differed but little from that of Pitt in the session of 1785, which aimed at disfranchising thirty-six decayed boroughs and apportioning their seventy-two members to the larger counties, as also to London and Westminster. In a speech which might have been made by Pitt in pre-Revolution times Flood declared that the events in France showed the need of a timely repair of outworn institutions.

This was as a red rag to Windham, a prominent recruit from the Whigs, who now used all the artifices of rhetoric to terrify his hearers. He besought them in turn not to repair their house in the hurricane season, not to imitate the valetudinarian of the "Spectator," who read medical books until he discovered he had every symptom of the gout except the pain. These fallacious similes captivated the squires; and Pitt himself complimented the orator on his ingenious arguments. For himself, he declared his desire of Reform to be as zealous as ever; but he "could see no utility in any gentleman's bringing forward such a motion as the present at that moment," and feared that the cause might thereby suffer disgrace and lose ground. Fox, on the other hand, ridiculed all thought of panic on account of the French Revolution, but he admitted that the majority both in Parliament and the nation did not want Reform. Grenville, Wilberforce, and Burke opposed the motion, while even Duncombe declined to vote for it at present. It was accordingly adjourned sine die.[22]

Disappointment at the course of these debates served to band Nonconformists and reformers in a close alliance. Hitherto they had alike supported Pitt and the royal prerogative, especially at the time of the Regency struggle. In May 1789, when Pitt opposed the Nonconformist claims, Dr. Priestley wrote that Fox would regain his popularity with Dissenters, while Pitt would lose ground.[23] Now, when the doors of the franchise and of civic privilege were fast barred, resentment and indignation began to arouse the groups of the unprivileged left outside. The news that Frenchmen had framed a Departmental System, in which all privileges had vanished, and all men were citizens, with equal rights in the making of laws and local regulations, worked potently in England, furthering the growth of an institution little known in this country, the political club. As the Jacobins had adapted the English idea of a club to political uses, so now the early Radicals re-adapted it to English needs. "The Manchester Constitutional Society"[24] was founded by Walker and others in October 1790, in order to oppose a "Church and King Club," which High Churchmen had started in March, after the news of the triumph of their principles in Parliament. The Manchester reformers struck the key-note of the coming age by asserting in their programme that in every community the authority of the governors must be derived from the consent of the governed, and that the welfare of the people was the true aim of Government. They further declared that honours and rewards were due only for services rendered to the State; that all officials, without exception, were responsible to the people; that "actions only, not opinions, are the proper objects of civil jurisdictions"; that no law is fairly made except by a majority of the people; and that the people of Great Britain were not fully and fairly represented in Parliament.[25]

The Church and King Club, on the contrary, reprobated all change in "one of the most beautiful systems of government that the combined efforts of human wisdom has [sic] ever yet been able to accomplish." The issue between the two parties was thus sharply outlined. The Tories of Manchester gloried in a state of things which shut out about half of their fellow-citizens from civic rights and their whole community from any direct share in the making of laws. In their eyes the Church and the monarchy were in danger if Nonconformists became citizens, and if a score of Cornish villages yielded up their legislative powers to Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and other hives of industry.

Scotland also began to awake. The torpor of that keen and intellectual people, under a system of misrepresentation which assigned to them forty-five members and forty-four to Cornwall, is incomprehensible, unless we may ascribe it to the waning of all enthusiasm after the "forty-five" and to the supremacy of material interests so characteristic of the age. In any case, this political apathy was now to end; and here, too, as in the case of England, Government applied the spur.

On 10th May 1791 Sir Gilbert Elliot (afterwards Earl of Minto) brought forward a motion in Parliament for the repeal of the Test Act, so far as it concerned Scotland. He voiced a petition of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and declared that the Presbyterians felt the grievance of being excluded from civic offices unless they perverted. On wider grounds also he appealed against this petty form of persecution, which might make men hypocrites but never sincere converts. Henry Dundas and his nephew, Robert Dundas (Lord Advocate for Scotland), opposed the motion, mainly because it would infringe the terms of the Act of Union; but Henry added the curious argument that, if Scottish Presbyterians were relieved from the Test Act, then the English Dissenters would have been "unjustly, harshly, and cruelly used." Pitt avowed himself "not a violent friend, but a firm and steady friend" of the Test Act, as being essential to the security of the Church and therefore of the civil establishment of the country. Accordingly, Elliot's motion was defeated by 149 votes to 62.[26] It is curious that, a month earlier, the House had agreed to a Bill granting slightly wider toleration to "Catholic Dissenters."[27]

While Pitt was thus strengthening the old buttresses of Church and State, the son of a Quaker had subjected the whole fabric to a battery of violent rhetoric. It is scarcely too much to call Thomas Paine the Rousseau of English democracy. For, if his arguments lacked the novelty of those of the Genevese thinker (and even they were far from original), they equalled them in effectiveness, and excelled them in practicability. "The Rights of Man" (Part I) may be termed an insular version of the "Contrat Social," with this difference, that the English writer pointed the way to changes which were far from visionary, while the Genevese seer outlined a polity fit only for a Swiss canton peopled by philosophers. Paine had had the advantage of close contact with men and affairs in both hemispheres. Not even Cobbett, his literary successor, passed through more varied experiences. Born in 1737 at Thetford in Norfolk, Paine divided his early life between stay-making, excise work, the vending of tobacco, and a seafaring life. His keen eyes, lofty brow, prominent nose, proclaimed him a thinker and fighter, and therefore, in that age, a rebel. What more natural than that he, a foe to authority and hater of oppression, should go to America to help on the cause of Washington? There at last he discovered his true vocation. His broadsides struck home. "Rebellious staymaker, unkempt," says Carlyle, "who feels that he, a single needleman, did by his 'Common Sense' pamphlet, free America; that he can, and will free all this world; perhaps even the other." Tom Paine, indeed, had the rare gift of voicing tersely and stridently the dumb desires of the masses. Further, a sojourn in France before and during the early part of the Revolution enabled him to frame a crushing retort to Burke's "Reflections." The result was Part I of the "Rights of Man," which he flung off at the "Angel" in Islington in February 1791.[28]

The general aims of the pamphlet are now as little open to question as the famous Declaration which he sought to vindicate. Paine trenchantly attacked Burke's claim that no people, not even our own, had an inherent right to choose its own ruler, and that the Revolution Settlement of 1688 was binding for ever. Paine, on the contrary, asserted that "every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the ages and generations that preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies." Further, on the general question at issue, Paine remarked: "That men should take up arms, and spend their lives and fortunes, not to maintain their rights, but to maintain they have not rights, is an entirely new species of discovery and suited to the paradoxical genius of Mr. Burke." In reply to the noble passage: "The age of chivalry is gone ...," Paine shrewdly says: "In the rhapsody of his imagination he has discovered a world of windmills, and his sorrows are that there are no Quixotes to attack them."

After thus exposing the weak points of the royalist case, Paine proceeded to defend the mob, firstly, because the aristocratic plots against the French Revolution were really formidable (a very disputable thesis), and secondly, because the mob in all old countries is the outcome of their unfair and brutal system of government. "It is by distortedly exalting some men," he says, "that others are distortedly debased, till the whole is out of nature. A vast mass of mankind are degradedly thrown into the background of the human picture, to bring forward with greater glare the puppet show of State and aristocracy." Here was obviously the Junius of democracy, for whom the only effective answer was the gag and gyve. Indeed, Burke in his "Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs" suggested that the proper refutation was by means of "criminal justice."[29]

Pitt's opinions at this time on French and English democracy tend towards a moderate and reforming royalism—witness his comment on Burke's "Reflections," that the writer would have done well to extol the English constitution rather than to attack the French.[30] In this remark we may detect his preference for construction over destruction, for the allaying, rather than the exciting, of passion. Nevertheless the one-sidedness of the English constitution made for unrest. So soon as one bold voice clearly contrasted those defects with the inspiring precepts of the French Rights of Man, there was an end to political apathy. A proof of this was furnished by the number of replies called forth by Burke's "Reflections." They numbered thirty-eight.[31] Apart from that of Paine, the "Vindiciae Gallicae" of Sir James Mackintosh made the most impression, especially the last chapter, wherein he declared that the conspiracy of the monarchs to crush the liberties of France would recoil on their own heads.

Fear of the alleged royalist league quickened the sympathy of Britons with the French reformers; while the sympathy of friends of order with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette after the Varennes incident deepened their apprehension of all change. Thus were called into play all the feelings which most deeply move mankind—love of our richly storied past and its embodiment, the English constitution; while on the other hand no small part of our people harboured resentment against the narrow franchise and class legislation at home, and felt a growing fear that the nascent freedom of Frenchmen might expire under the heel of the military Powers of Central Europe. Accordingly clubs and societies grew apace, and many of them helped on the circulation of cheap editions of Paine's pamphlet.

The result of this clash of opinion was seen in the added keenness of party strife and in the disturbances of 14th July 1791. The occasion of these last was the celebration by a subscription dinner of the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Both at Manchester and Birmingham the announcement of this insular and inoffensive function aroused strong feelings either of envy or of opposition. The Tories of Manchester resolved that, if the local Constitutional Club chose to dine on that day it should be at their peril. The populace was urged to pull down the hotel on their heads, "as the brains of every man who dined there would be much improved by being mingled with bricks and mortar." Thomas Walker's control of the local constables sufficed to thwart this pleasantry.

But on that day the forces of reaction broke loose at Birmingham. In the Midland capital political feeling ran as high as at Manchester. The best known of the reformers was Dr. Priestley, a Unitarian minister, whose researches in physical science had gained him a world-wide reputation and a fellowship in the Royal Society. He and many other reformers proposed to feast in public in honour of the French national festival. Unfortunately, the annoyance of the loyalists at this proposal was inflamed by a recent sermon of Priestley on the death of Dr. Price and by the circulation of a seditious handbill. Dr. Keir, a Churchman who was to preside at the dinner, did not prove to the satisfaction of all that this was a trick of the enemy. Public opinion was also excited by the discovery of the words "This barn to let" chalked on some of the churches of the town; and charges were bandied to and fro that this was the work of the Dissenters, or of the most virulent of their opponents.

What is certain is that these hors d'oeuvres endangered the rest of the menu. The dinner-committee, however, struggled manfully with their difficulties. They had a Churchman in the chair, and Priestley was not present. The loyalty of the diners also received due scenic warrant in the work of a local artist. The dining-hall of the hotel was "decorated with three emblematical pieces of sculpture, mixed with painting in a new style of composition. The central was a finely executed medallion of His Majesty, surrounded with a Glory, on each side of which was an alabaster obelisk, one exhibiting Gallic Liberty breaking the bonds of Despotism, and the other representing British Liberty in its present enjoyment." The terms in which the fourteen toasts were proposed breathed of the same flamboyant loyalty, the only one open to criticism being the following: "The Prince of Wales! May he have the wisdom to prefer the glory of being the chief of an entire [sic] free people to that of being only the splendid fountain of corruption."[32]

The dinner passed with only occasional rounds of hissing from the loyalists outside. But, as the evening wore on and the speeches inside still continued, the crowd became restive. Stone-throwing began and was not discouraged by the two magistrates, the Rev. Dr. Spencer and John Carles, who had now arrived. In fact, the clergyman with an oath praised a lad who said that Priestley ought to be ducked; Carles also promised the rabble drink; and when a local humourist asked for permission to knock the dust out of Priestley's wig, the champions of order burst out laughing. A witness at the trial averred that he saw an attorney, John Brook, go among the mob and point towards Priestley's chapel. However that may be, the rabble moved off thither and speedily wrecked it. His residence at Fair Hill was next demolished, his library and scientific instruments being burnt or smashed. This was but the prelude to organized attacks on the houses of the leading Nonconformists, whether they had been at the dinner or not. The resulting riots soon involved in ruin a large part of the town. Prominent Churchmen who sought to end these disgraceful scenes suffered both in person and property. A word of remonstrance sufficed to turn into new channels the tide of hatred and greed; for, as happened in the Gordon riots of 1780, rascality speedily rushed in to seize the spoils.

The usually dull archives of the Home Office yield proof of the terror that reigned in the Midland capital. A Mr. Garbett wrote to Dundas on 17th July that the wrecking still went on, that the Nonconformists were in the utmost dread and misery, and all people looked for help from outside to stay the pillage. As for himself, though he was not a "marked man," his hand trembled at the scenes he had witnessed. There can be little doubt that the magistrates from the first acted with culpable weakness, as Whitbread proved in the House of Commons, for they did not enrol special constables until the rioters had got the upper hand. Dundas, as Home Secretary, seems to have done his duty. The news of the riot of the 14th reached him at 10 a.m. on the 15th (Friday); and he at once sent post haste to Nottingham, ordering the immediate despatch of the 15th Dragoons. By dint of a forced march of fifty-six miles the horsemen reached Birmingham on the evening of that same day (Sunday); but two days more elapsed before drunken blackmailers ceased to molest Hagley, Halesowen, and other villages. Few persons lost their lives, except about a dozen of the pillagers who lay helpless with drink in the cellars of houses which their more zealous comrades had given over to the flames.[33]

The verdict of Grenville was as follows: "I do not admire riots in favour of Government much more than riots against it." That of his less cautious brother, the Marquis of Buckingham, is as follows: "I am not sorry for this excess, excessive as it has been." That of Pitt is not recorded. He did not speak during the debate on this subject on 21st May 1792; but the rejection of Whitbread's motion for an inquiry by 189 votes to 46 implies unanimity on the Ministerial side.[34]

In the winter of 1791-2 various incidents occurred which further excited public opinion. On 17th February 1792 appeared the second part of Paine's "Rights of Man." He started from the assumption that the birth of a democratic State in America would herald the advent of Revolutions not only in France, but in all lands; and that British and Hessians would live to bless the day when they were defeated by the soldiers of Washington. He then proceeded to arraign all Governments of the old type, and asserted that constitutions ought to be the natural outcome of the collective activities of the whole people. There was nothing mysterious about Government, if Courts had not hidden away the patent fact that it dealt primarily with the making and administering of laws. We are apt to be impressed by these remarks until we contrast them with the majestic period wherein Burke depicts human society as a venerable and mysterious whole bequeathed by the wisdom of our forefathers. An admirer of Burke cannot but quote the passage in full: "Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world, and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle-aged, or young, but in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenour of perpetual decay, fall, renovation and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the State, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete."[35]

This is a majestic conception. But, after all, the practical question at issue is—how much of the old shall we retain and how much must be discarded? Unfortunately for himself and his cause, Burke was now urging his countrymen to support two military Powers in their effort to compel the French people to revert to institutions which were alike obsolete and detested. Is it surprising that Paine, utterly lacking all sense of reverence for the past, should brand this conduct as treasonable to the imperious needs of the present? Viewing monarchy as represented by Versailles or Carlton House, and aristocracy by the intrigues of Coblentz and the orgies of Brooks's Club, he gave short shrift to both forms of Government. Monarchy he pronounced more or less despotic; and under aristocracy (he says) the interests of the whole body necessarily suffer; democracy alone secures the rule of the general will; and this can be thoroughly secured only in a democratic republic. He then attacks the English constitution as unjust and extravagant, claiming that the formation of a close alliance between England, France, and America would enable the expenses of government (Army, Navy, and Civil List inclusive) to be reduced to a million and a half a year.

With regard to the means of raising revenue, Paine sketched a plan of progressive taxation on incomes, ranging from 3d. in the pound on incomes less than L500 to punitive proportions after L10,000 was reached; while in his Spartan arithmetic great wealth appeared so dire a misfortune that he rid the possessors of the whole of incomes of L23,000 and upwards. As for Pitt's financial reforms, he laughed them to scorn. He also accused him of throwing over the fair promises that marked his early career, of advertising for enemies abroad, while at home he toadied to the Court. "The defect lies in the system.... Prop it as you please, it continually sinks into Court government, and ever will." Finally he urged a limitation of armaments, and prophesied that wars would cease when nations had their freely elected Conventions. The cynic will remember with satisfaction that, two months later, began the war between France and Austria, which developed into the most tremendous series of wars recorded in history.

The republican and levelling doctrines frankly advocated in Paine's second pamphlet made a greater sensation than the first part had done; and Fox, who approved the former production, sternly reprobated the latter. It is possible that Government sought to stop its publication; for Chapman, the publisher, to whom Paine first applied, offered him L1,000 for the manuscript, and yet very soon afterwards declared it to be too dangerous for him to print.[36] Certainly the work soon quickened the tone of political thought. Already the London Society for promoting Constitutional Information, which had died of inanition in 1784, had come to life again before the close of the year 1791. And at the end of that year a determined man, Thomas Hardy, a poor shoemaker of Westminster, set to work to interest his comrades in politics. He assembled four men at an ale-house, and they agreed to take action. At their second meeting, on 25th January 1792, they mustered eight strong, and resolved to start "The London Corresponding Society for the Reform of Parliamentary Representation." Its finances were scarcely on a par with its title: they consisted of eightpence, the first weekly subscription. But the idea proved infectious; and amidst the heat engendered by Paine's second pamphlet, the number of members rose to forty-one.[37] The first manifesto of the Society, dated 2nd April, claimed political liberty as the birthright of man, declared the British nation to be misrepresented by its Parliament, and, while repudiating all disorderly methods, demanded a thorough reform of that body.

So far as I have been able to discover, this was the first political club started by English working-men at that time. But now the men of Sheffield also organized themselves. Their "Association" began in an assembly of five or six mechanics, who discussed "the enormous high price of provisions" and "the waste and lavish [sic] of the public property by placemen, pensioners, luxury and debauchery,—sources of the grievous burthens under which the nation groans." The practical character of their lamentations attracted many working men, with the result that they resolved to reprint and circulate 1,600 copies of Paine's "Rights of Man" (Part I), at sixpence a copy. On 15th January 1792 they wrote up to the "London Society for Constitutional Information" to plan co-operation with them.

At first the ideas of the Sheffield Association were somewhat parochial. But the need of common action all over the Kingdom was taking shape in several minds, and when Scotland awoke to political activity (as will appear in Chapter VII) the idea of a General Convention took firm root and led to remarkable developments. For the present, the chief work of these clubs was the circulation of Paine's volumes (even in Welsh, Gaelic, and Erse) at the price of sixpence or even less. They also distributed "The Catechism of the French Constitution" (of 1791), drawn up by Christie, a Scot domiciled at Paris, which set forth the beauties of that child of many hopes. Less objectionable was a pamphlet—"The Rights of Men and the Duties of Men." For the most part, however, their literature was acridly republican in tone and of a levelling tendency. Thus, for the first time since the brief attempt of the Cromwellian Levellers, the rich and the poor began to group themselves in hostile camps, at the strident tones of Paine's cry for a graduated Income Tax. Is it surprising that the sight of the free institutions of France and of the forced economy of the Court of the Tuileries should lead our workers to question the utility of the State-paid debaucheries of Carlton House, and of the whole system of patronage and pensions? Burke and Pitt had pruned away a few of the worst excrescences; but now they saw with dismay the whole of the body politic subjected to remorseless criticism by those whose duty was to toil and not to think or question.

This was a new departure in eighteenth-century England. Hitherto working men had taken only a fleeting and fitful interest in politics. How should they do so in days when newspapers were very dear, and their contents had only the remotest bearing on the life of the masses? The London mob had bawled and rioted for "Wilkes and Liberty," but mainly from personal motives and love of horse-play. Now, however, all was changed; and artisans were willing to sacrifice their time and their pence to learn and teach a political catechism, and spread the writings of Paine. Consequently the new Radical Clubs differed widely from the short-lived County Associations of 1780 which charged a substantial fee for membership. Moreover, these Associations expired in the years 1783-4, owing to the disgust at Fox's Coalition with Lord North. We are therefore justified in declaring that English democracy entered on a new lease of life, and did not, as has been asserted,[38] merely continue the movement of 1780. The earlier efforts had been wholly insular in character; they aimed at staying the tide of corruption; their methods were in the main academic, and certainly never affected the great mass of the people. Now reformers were moved by a wider enthusiasm for the rights of humanity, and sought not merely to abolish pocket boroughs and sinecures, but to level up the poor and level down the wealthy. It was this aspect of Paine's teaching that excited men to a frenzy of reprobation or of hope.

A certain continuity of tradition and method is observable in a club, called The Friends of the People, which was founded at Freemasons' Tavern in April 1792, with a subscription of five guineas a year. The members included Cartwright, Erskine, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Philip Francis, Charles Grey, Lambton, the Earl of Lauderdale, Mackintosh, Sheridan, Whitbread, and some sixty others; but Fox refused to join. Their profession of faith was more moderate than that of Hardy's Club; it emphasized the need of avoiding innovation and of restoring the constitution to its original purity.[39] This was in the spirit of the Associations of 1780; but the new club was far less characteristic of the times than the clubs of working men described above.

The appearance of Paine's "Rights of Man" (Part II), the founding of these societies, and the outbreak of war between France and Austria in April 1792 made a deep impression on Pitt. He opposed a notice of a motion of Reform for the following session, brought forward by Grey on 30th April. While affirming his continued interest in that subject, Pitt deprecated its introduction at that time as involving the risk of anarchy.

My object [he continued] always has been, and is now more particularly so, to give permanence to that which we actually enjoy rather than remove subsisting grievances.... I once thought, and still think, upon the point of the representation of the Commons, that, if some mode could be adopted by which the people could have any additional security for a continuance of the blessings which they now enjoy, it would be an improvement in the constitution of this country. That was the extent of my object. Further I never wished to go; and if this can be obtained without the risk of losing what we have, I should think it wise to make the experiment. When I say this, it is not because I believe there is any existing grievance in this country that is felt at this hour.

At the end of the American War (he continued) when bankruptcy seemed imminent, he believed Reform to be necessary in order to restore public confidence and remedy certain notorious grievances. Even then very many moderate men opposed his efforts as involving danger to the State. How much more would they deprecate sweeping proposals which rightly aroused general apprehension? He then censured the action of certain members of the House in joining an Association (the "Friends of the People") which was supported by those who aimed at the overthrowing of hereditary monarchy, titles of nobility, and all ideas of subordination. He would oppose all proposals for Reform rather than run the risk of changes so sweeping.—"All, all may be lost by an indiscreet attempt upon the subject." Clearly, Pitt was about to join the ranks of the alarmists. But members generally were of his opinion. In vain did Fox, Erskine, Grey, and Sheridan deprecate the attempt to confuse moderate Reform with reckless innovation. Burke illogically but effectively dragged in the French spectre, and Windham declared that the public mind here, as in other lands, was in such a state that the slightest scratch might produce a mortal wound.

The gulf between Pitt and the reformers now became impassable. His speech of 10th May against any relaxation of the penal laws against Unitarians is a curious blend of bigotry and panic. Eleven days later a stringent proclamation was issued against all who wrote, printed, and dispersed "divers wicked and seditious writings." It ordered all magistrates to search out the authors and abettors of them, and to take steps for preventing disorder. It also inculcated "a due submission to the laws, and a just confidence in the integrity and wisdom of Parliament." Anything less calculated to beget such a confidence than this proclamation, threatening alike to reformers and levellers, can scarcely be conceived. On 25th May Grey opposed it in an acrid speech; he inveighed against Pitt as an apostate, who never kept his word, and always intended to delude Parliament and people. The sting of the speech lay, not in these reckless charges, but in the citing of Pitt's opinions as expressed in a resolution passed at the Thatched House Tavern in May 1782, which declared that without Parliamentary Reform neither the liberty of the nation nor the permanence of a virtuous administration was secure. Pitt's reply, however, convinced all those whose minds were open to conviction. He proved to demonstration that he had never approved of universal suffrage; yet that was now the goal aimed at by Paine and the Societies founded on the basis of the Rights of Man. The speech of Dundas also showed that the writings of Paine, and the founding of clubs with those ends in view, had led to the present action of the Cabinet.

Undoubtedly those clubs had behaved in a provocative manner. Apart from their correspondence with the Jacobins Club (which will be described later), they advocated aims which then seemed utterly subversive of order. Thus, early in May 1792, the Sheffield Society declared their object to be "a radical Reform of the country, as soon as prudence and discretion would permit, and established on that system which is consistent with the Rights of Man." Further, the hope is expressed that not only the neighbouring towns and villages, most of which were forming similar societies, but also the whole country would be "united in the same cause, which cannot fail of being the case wherever the most excellent works of Thomas Paine find reception."[40]

Now, this banding together of societies and clubs pointed the way to the forming of a National Convention which would truly represent the whole nation. In judging the action of Pitt and his colleagues at this crisis, we must remember that they had before them the alarming example of the Jacobins Club of Paris, which had gained enormous power by its network of affiliated clubs. This body again was modelled on the various societies of the Illuminati in Germany, whose organizer, Weishaupt, summed up his contention in the words: "All their union shall be carried on by the correspondence and visits of the brethren. If we can gain but that point, we shall have succeeded in all we want."[41] This is why the name Corresponding Society stank in the nostrils of all rulers. It implied a parasitic organization which, if allowed to grow, would strangle the established Government. Signs were not wanting that this was the aim of the new Radical Clubs. Thus the delegates of the United Constitutional Societies who met at Norwich drew up on 24th March 1792 resolutions expressing satisfaction at the rapid growth of those bodies, already numbering some hundreds, "which by delegates preserve a mutual intercourse." ... "To Mr. Thomas Paine our thanks are specially due for his first and second parts of the 'Rights of Man'; and we sincerely wish that he may live to see his labours crowned with success in the general diffusion of liberty and happiness among mankind." ... "We ... earnestly entreat our brethren to increase in their Associations in order to form one grand and extensive Union of all the friends of liberty."[42] It is not surprising that this plan of a National Convention of levellers produced something like a panic among the well-to-do; and it is futile to assert that men who avowed their belief in the subversive teaching of Part II of Paine's book were concerned merely with the Reform of Parliament. They put that object in their public manifestoes; but, like many of the Chartists of a later date, their ultimate aim was the redistribution of wealth; and this it was which brought on them the unflinching opposition of Pitt.

Nevertheless even these considerations do not justify him in opposing the reformers root and branch. The greatest statesman is he who distinguishes between the real grievances of a suffering people and the visionary or dangerous schemes which they beget in ill-balanced brains. To oppose moderate reformers as well as extremists is both unjust and unwise. It confounds together the would-be healers and the enemies of the existing order. Furthermore, an indiscriminate attack tends to close the ranks in a solid phalanx, and it should be the aim of a tactician first to seek to loosen those ranks.

Finally, we cannot forget that Pitt had had it in his power to redress the most obvious of the grievances which kept large masses of his countrymen outside the pale of political rights and civic privilege. Those grievances were made known to him temperately in the years 1787, 1789, and 1790; but he refused to amend them, and gradually drifted to the side of the alarmists and reactionaries. Who is the wiser guide at such a time? He who sets to work betimes to cure certain ills which are producing irritation in the body politic? Or he who looks on the irritation as a sign that nothing should be done? The lessons of history and the experience of everyday life plead for timely cure and warn against a nervous postponement. Doubtless Pitt would have found it difficult to persuade some of his followers to apply the knife in the session of 1791 or 1792. But in the Parliament elected in 1790 his position was better assured, his temper more imperious, than in that of 1785, which needed much tactful management. The fact, then, must be faced that he declined to run the risk of the curative operation, even at a time when there were no serious symptoms in the patient and little or no risk for the surgeon.

The reason which he assigned for his refusal claims careful notice. It was that his earlier proposals (those of 1782-5) had aimed at national security; while those of the present would tend to insecurity. Possibly in the month of April 1792 this argument had some validity; though up to that time all the violence had been on the Tory side. But the plea does not excuse Pitt for not taking action in the year 1790. That was the period when the earlier apathy of the nation to Reform was giving way to interest, and interest had not yet grown into excitement. Still less had loyalty waned under the repressive measures whereby he now proposed to give it vigour.

Thus, Pitt missed a great opportunity, perhaps the greatest of his career. What it means is clear to us, who know that the cause of Reform passed under a cloud for the space of thirty-eight years. It is of course unfair to censure him and his friends for lacking a prophetic vision of the long woes that were to come. Most of the blame lavished upon him arises from forgetfulness of the fact that he was not a seer mounted on some political Pisgah, but a pioneer struggling through an unexplored jungle. Nevertheless, as the duty of a pioneer is not merely to hew a path, but also to note the lie of the land and the signs of the weather, we must admit that Pitt did not possess the highest instincts of his craft. He cannot be ranked with Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, Edward I, or Burleigh, still less with those giants of his own age, Napoleon and Stein; for these men boldly grappled with the elements of unrest or disloyalty, and by wise legislation wrought them into the fabric of the State. Probably the lack of response to his reforming efforts in the year 1785 ingrained in him the conviction that Britons would always be loyal if their burdens were lessened and their comforts increased; and now in 1792 he looked on the remissions of taxation (described in the following chapter) as a panacea against discontent. Under normal conditions that would have been the case. It was not so now, because new ideas were in the air, and these forbade a bovine acceptance of abundant fodder. In truth, Pitt had not that gift without which the highest abilities and the most strenuous endeavours will at novel crises be at fault—a sympathetic insight into the needs and aspirations of the people. His analytical powers enabled him to detect the follies of the royalist crusaders; but he lacked those higher powers of synthesis which alone could discern the nascent strength of Democracy.


[1] I am perfectly aware that the term "Radical" (in its first form, "Radical Reformer") does not appear until a few years later; but I use it here and in the following chapters because there is no other word which expresses the same meaning.

[2] See Vivenot, i, 176-81; Beer, "Leopold II, Franz II, und Catharina," 140 et seq.; Clapham, "Causes of the War of 1792," ch. iv.

[3] B.M. Add. MSS., 34438; Vivenot, i, 185, 186. "He [the Emperor] was extremely agitated when he gave me the letter for the King" (Elgin to Grenville, 7th July, in "Dropmore P.," ii, 126).

[4] B.M. Add. MSS., 34438.

[5] Ibid. Grenville to Ewart, 26th July. Calonne for some little time resided at Wimbledon House. His letters to Pitt show that he met with frequent rebuffs; but he had one interview with him early in June 1790. I have found no details of it.

[6] "Diary and Corresp. of Fersen," 121.

[7] Arneth, "Marie Antoinette, Joseph II, und Leopold II," 148, 152.

[8] Mr. Nisbet Bain (op. cit., ii, 129) accuses Pitt and his colleagues of waiving aside a proposed visit of Gustavus III to London, because "they had no desire to meet face to face a monarch they had already twice deceived." Mr. Bain must refer to the charges (invented at St Petersburg) that Pitt had egged Gustavus on to war against Russia, and then deserted him. In the former volume (chapters xxi-iii) I proved the falsity of those charges. It would be more correct to say that Gustavus deserted England.

[9] B.M. Add. MSS., 34438.

[10] Martens, v, 236-9; "F.O.," Prussia, 22. Ewart to Grenville, 4th August.

[11] On 15th August Prussia renounced her alliance with Turkey (Vivenot, i, 225).

[12] Sybel, bk. ii, ch. vi; Vivenot, i, 235, 243.

[13] "Dropmore P.," ii, 192.

[14] G. Rose, "Diaries," i, 111.

[15] Arneth, 206, 210; Vivenot, i, 270.

[16] Burke ("Corresp.," iii, 308, 342, 346) shows that Mercy d'Argenteau, after his brief mission to London, spread the slander. Pitt and Grenville said nothing decisive to him on this or any other topic. Kaunitz partly adopted the charge. (See Vivenot, i, 272.)

[17] "F.O.," Russia, 22. Grenville to Whitworth, 27th October, and W. to G., 14th October 1791.

[18] Lariviere, "Cath. II et la Rev. franc.," 88-90, 110-17.

[19] Burke's "Works," iii, 8, 369 (Bohn edit.).

[20] "Parl. Hist.," xxviii, 1-41.

[21] T. Walker, "Review of ... political events in Manchester (1789-1794)."

[22] T. Walker, "Review of ... political events in Manchester (1789-1794)," 452-79. I cannot agree with Mr. J. R. le B. Hammond ("Fox," 76) that Pitt now spoke as the avowed enemy of parliamentary reform. Indeed, he never spoke in that sense, but opposed it as inopportune.

[23] Rutt, "Mems. of Priestly," ii, 25. As is well known, Burke's "Reflections on the Fr. Rev.," was in part an answer to Dr. Price's sermon of 4th November 1789 in the Old Jewry chapel, to the Society for celebrating the Revolution of 1688.

[24] It was more of a club than the branches of the "Society for Constitutional Information," which did good work in 1780-4, but expired in 1784 owing to the disgust of reformers at the Fox-North Coalition—so Place asserts (B.M. Add. MSS., 27808).

[25] T. Walker, op. cit., 18, 19.

[26] "Parl. Hist.," xxix, 488-510.

[27] Ibid., 113-9.

[28] M. D. Conway, "Life of T. Paine," i, 284.

[29] Burke's Works, iii, 76 (Bohn edit.).

[30] Ibid., iii, 12. So, too, on 30th August 1791 Priestley wrote that Pitt had shown himself unfavourable to their cause (Rutt, "Life of Priestley," ii, 145).

[31] Prior, "Life of Burke," 322, who states very incorrectly that not one of them has survived.

[32] "H. O.," Geo. III (Domestic), 19.

[33] Ibid. As late as 9th August a proclamation was posted about Birmingham: "The friends of the good cause are requested to meet us at Revolution Place to-morrow night at 11 o'clock in order to fix upon those persons who are to be the future objects of our malice." Of course this was but an incitation to plunder. See Massey, iii, 462-6, on the Birmingham riots.

[34] "Dropmore P.," ii, 133, 136; "Parl. Hist.," xxix, 1464.

[35] Burke "Reflections on the Fr. Rev.," 39 (Mr. Payne's edit.).

[36] Conway, op. cit., ii, 330. The printer and publisher were prosecuted later on, as well as Paine, who fled to France.

[37] "Mem. of T. Hardy," by himself (Lond., 1832).

[38] Leslie Stephen, "The Eng. Utilitarians," i, 121. I fully admit that the Chartist leaders in 1838 went back to the Westminster programme of 1780. See "The Life and Struggles of William Lovett"; but the spirit and methods of the new agitation were wholly different. On this topic I feel compelled to differ from Mr. J. L. le B. Hammond ("Fox," ch. v, ad init.). Mr. C. B. R. Kent ("The English Radicals," 156) states the case correctly.

[39] "Parl. Hist.," xxix, 1303-9.

[40] "Application of Barruel's 'Memoirs of Jacobinism' to the Secret Societies of Ireland and Great Britain," 32-3.

[41] "Application of Barruel's 'Memoirs of Jacobinism' to the Secret Societies of Ireland and Great Britain," Introduction, p. x.

[42] "H. O.," Geo. III (Domestic), 20.



I find it to be a very general notion, at least in the Assembly, that if France can preserve a neutrality with England, she will be able to cope with all the rest of Europe united.—GOWER TO GRENVILLE, 22nd April 1792.

Indirect evidence as to the intentions of a statesman is often more convincing than his official assertions. The world always suspects the latter; and many politicians have found it expedient to adopt the ironical device practised frequently with success by Bismarck on his Austrian colleagues at Frankfurt, that of telling the truth. Fortunately the English party game has nearly always been kept up with sportsmanlike fair play; and Pitt himself was so scrupulously truthful that we are rarely in doubt as to his opinions, save when he veiled them by ministerial reserve. Nevertheless, on the all-important subject of his attitude towards Revolutionary France, it is satisfactory to have indirect proofs of his desire to maintain a strict, if not friendly, neutrality. This proof lies in his handling of the nation's armaments and finances.

The debate on the Army Estimates on 15th February 1792 is of interest in more respects than one. The news of the definitive signature of peace between Russia and Turkey by the Treaty of Jassy, put an end to the last fears of a resumption of war in the East; and, as the prospects were equally pacific in the West, the Ministry carried out slight reductions in the land forces. These were fixed in the year 1785 at seventy-three regiments of 410 men each, divided into eight companies, with two companies en second. In 1789 the number of companies per regiment was fixed at ten, without any companies en second. Now the Secretary at War, Sir Charles Yonge, proposed further reductions, which, with those of 1789, would lessen each regiment by seventy privates, and save the country the sum of L51,000. No diminution was proposed in the number of officers; and this gave Fox a handle for an attack. He said that the natural plan would be to reduce the number of regiments to sixty-four. Instead of that, the number of seventy regiments was retained, and new corps were now proposed for the East Indies, one for the West Indies, and one for Canada, chiefly to be used for pioneer work and clearance of woods. General Burgoyne and Fox protested against the keeping up of skeleton regiments, the latter adding the caustic comment that the plan was "the least in point of saving and the greatest in point of patronage."[43]

The practices prevalent in that age give colour to the charge. On the other hand, professional men have defended a system which kept up the cadres of regiments in time of peace, as providing a body of trained officers and privates, which in time of war could be filled out by recruits. Of course it is far inferior to the plan of a reserve of trained men; but that plan had not yet been hammered out by Scharnhorst, under the stress of the Napoleonic domination in Prussia. As to the reduction of seven men per company, now proposed, it may have been due partly to political reasons. Several reports in the Home Office and War Office archives prove that discontent was rife among the troops, especially in the northern districts, on account of insufficient pay and the progress of Radical propaganda among them. The reduction may have afforded the means of sifting out the ringleaders.

Retrenchment, if not Reform, was the order of the day. Pitt discerned the important fact that a recovery in the finance and trade of the country must be encouraged through a series of years to produce a marked effect. For then the application of capital to industry, and the increase in production and revenue can proceed at the rate of compound interest. Already his hopes, for which he was indebted to the "Wealth of Nations,"[44] had been largely realized. The Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons presented in May 1791 showed the following growth in the ordinary revenue (exclusive of the Land and Malt Taxes):

1786 L11,867,055 1787 12,923,134 1788 13,007,642 1789 13,433,068 1790 14,072,978

During those five years the sum of L4,750,000 had been allotted to the Sinking Fund for the payment of the National Debt; and a further sum of L674,592, accruing from the interest of stock and expired annuities, had gone towards the same object—a crushing retort to the taunts of Fox and Sheridan, that the Sinking Fund was a mere pretence. On the whole the sum of L5,424,592 had been paid off from the National Debt in five years. It is therefore not surprising that three per cent. Consols, which were down at fifty-four when Pitt took office at the end of 1783, touched ninety in the year 1791. The hopes and fears of the year 1792 find expression in the fact that in March they stood at ninety-seven, and in December dropped to seventy-four.

For the present Pitt entertained the highest hopes. In his Budget Speech of 17th February he declared the revenue to be in so flourishing a state that he could grant relief to the taxpayers. In the year 1791 the permanent taxes had yielded L14,132,000; and those on land and malt brought the total up to L16,690,000; but he proposed to take L16,212,000 as the probable revenue for the following year. The expenditure would be lessened by L104,000 on the navy (2,000 seamen being discharged), and about L50,000 on the army; L36,000 would also be saved by the non-renewal of the subsidy for Hessian troops. There were, however, additions, due to the establishment of the Government of Upper Canada, and the portions allotted to the Duke of York (on the occasion of his marriage with a Prussian princess) and the Duke of Clarence. The expenditure would, therefore, stand at L15,811,000; but, taking the average of four years, he reckoned the probable surplus at no more than L401,000. On the other hand, he anticipated no new expenses except for the fortification of posts in the West Indies and the completion of forts for the further protection of the home dockyards. On the whole, then, he reckoned that he had L600,000 to spare; and of this amount he proposed to allocate L400,000 to the reduction of the National Debt and the repeal of the extra duty on malt, an impost much disliked by farmers. He also announced a remission of permanent taxes to the extent of L200,000, namely, on female servants, carts, and waggons, and that of three shillings on each house having less than seven windows. These were burdens that had undoubtedly affected the poor. Further, he hoped to add the sum of L200,000 every year to the Sinking Fund, and he pointed out that, at this rate of payment, that fund would amount to L4,000,000 per annum in the space of fifteen years, after which time the interest might be applied to the relief of the nation's burdens.

Then, rising high above the level of facts and figures, he ventured on this remarkable prophecy:

I am not, indeed, presumptuous enough to suppose that, when I name fifteen years, I am not naming a period in which events may arise which human foresight cannot reach, and which may baffle all our conjectures. We must not count with certainty on a continuance of our present prosperity during such an interval; but unquestionably there never was a time in the history of this country, when, from the situation of Europe, we might more reasonably expect fifteen years of peace than at the present moment.

Imagination pictures what might possibly have been the outcome of events if Great Britain and France had continued to exert on one another the peaceful and mutually beneficent influence which Pitt had sought to bring about. In that case, we can imagine the reformed French monarchy, or a Republic of the type longed for by Mme. Roland, permeating the thought and action of neighbouring States, until the cause of Parliamentary Reform in England, and the cognate efforts for civic and religious liberty on the Continent achieved a lasting triumph. That Pitt cherished these hopes is seen not only in his eloquent words, but in the efforts which he put forth to open up the world to commerce. The year 1792 ought to be remembered, not only for the outbreak of war and the horrors of the September massacres at Paris, but also for the attempt to inaugurate friendly relations with China. Pitt set great store by the embassy which he at this time sent out to Pekin under the lead of Lord Macartney. In happier times this enterprise might have served to link East and West in friendly intercourse; and Europe, weary of barren strifes, would have known no other rivalries than those of peace.

Alas: this is but a mirage. As it fades away, we discern an arid waste. War broke out between France and Austria within two months of this sanguine utterance. It soon embroiled France and England in mortal strife. All hope of retrenchment and Reform was crushed. The National Debt rose by leaps and bounds, and the Sinking Fund proved to be a snare. Taxation became an ever-grinding evil, until the poor, whose lot Pitt hoped to lighten, looked on him as the harshest of taskmasters, the puppet of kings, and the paymaster of the Continental Coalition. The spring of the year 1807 found England burdened beyond endurance, the Third Coalition stricken to death by the blows of Napoleon, while Pitt had fourteen months previously succumbed to heart-breaking toils and woes.

Before adverting to the complications with France which were thenceforth to absorb his energies, I must refer to some incidents of the session and summer of the year 1792.

One of the most noteworthy enactments was Fox's Libel Bill. In May 1791 that statesman had proposed to the House of Commons to subject cases of libel to the award of juries, not of judges. Pitt warmly approved the measure, maintaining that, far from protecting libellers, it would have the contrary effect. The Bill passed the Commons on 31st May; but owing to dilatory and factious procedure in the Lords, it was held over until the year 1792. Thanks to the noble plea for liberty urged by the venerable Earl Camden, it passed on 21st May.[45] It is matter of congratulation that Great Britain gained this new safeguard for freedom of speech before she encountered the storms of the revolutionary era.

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