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The redeeming part of the treaty was free trade with
France ; but this commercial prejudice, combined with
jealousy of French connection, was strong enough in
the British parliament to reject. Commerce was in bond-
age to monopoly, though politically it was on the Liberal
side. The Tories were for free trade with France, not
because they were economically more enlightened, but
because they wanted French connection and French
wines. All parties rejoiced in the hideous acquisition of
the Assiento, that is, the privilege of carrying on the
slave trade with the American colonies of Spain.

In the House of Lords the Wliigs, aided by the Liberal



IT ANNE 161

bishops, were still strong, and to carry the treaty the
Tory leaders found it necessary to resort to a swamping 1711
creation of twelve peers. This was deemed at the time,
and in fact was, an act of unscrupulous violence. Yet
there is no other way, apart from physical force, of com-
pelling the Lords to bow to the national will as declared
by the representative House. One man had the spirit to
decline the ignominious honour.

The Tory squires and the high church parsons now had
their carnival of reaction. The Act against Occasional
Conformity, which had been more than once thrown out
by the Lords, passed both Houses, helped in the Lords by 1711
an unhqly compact of some of the Whigs with Tories,
who were willing on that condition to vote against the
Treaty of Utrecht. To the Occasional Conformity Act
was added the Schism Act, prohibiting dissenters from 1714
educating their children. Bishop Butler, the one great
theologian whom the Church of England produced in
the eighteenth century, was educated at a non-conformist
school ; so was Burke, the great lay champion of the
Establishment; so had been Harley himself. Striking,
yet not unnatural nor perhaps unique, is this picture
of persecuting priests headed in an attack on liberty
by an unbeliever and a debauchee. Church interests in
everything prevailed. A tax was put on coal to build 1710
fifty churches in London. The Regium Donum, the dole
hitherto given to the Irish Presbyterians, was stopped;
a blow was struck at the Presbyterian conscience in Scot- 1712
land by the restoration of the rights of patronage ; and
protection was extended to the persecuted Episcopalians,
not, assuredly, from love of toleration, but from enmity
to their Presbyterian foes.



152 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

To strengthen the landed and depress the commercial
element, the Bill vetoed by the king and rejected by the
1710 Lords in the last reign was now passed, requiring prop-
erty in land as a qualification for all members of parlia-
ment. The Tory theory was that land was the only true
basis of political power.

Nor did the huntsman fail to show his hounds more
personal game. Steele, for having written a telling Whig
pamphlet, was accused of seditious libel and expelled the
House. Robert Walpole, one of the managers of the
Sacheverell impeachment and a rising speaker and finan-
cier, was falsely accused of embezzlement and sent to the
Tower. Of Walpole the Tories had not heard the last.

A stamp duty was laid on newspapers and the cheap
1712 press, nominally for the purpose of raising revenue and
repressing libel ; really, it cannot be doubted, in the same
spirit of hostility to a cheap press which led the same
political party to oppose the repeal of the stamp duty at
an after day. Press persecutions also were rife. But
pamphleteering could not be suppressed. Both sides had
become too fond of literary war.

Bolingbroke has declared that there was no formal design
of bringing in the Pretender. Formal or not, there was a
design for bringing in the Pretender of which Bolingbroke
was the soul. Correspondence was going on with St.
Germains. A perilous crisis in the history of the nation
and of liberty had arrived. Harley's nerve failed him
when he approached the brink. He wavered, faltered,
and at last, after a fierce altercation in the presence of the
queen, was overthrown by his more daring partner and
1714 turned out of office. Bolingbroke was now sole master of
the ship ; but before he had time to lay his plans, fortune,



IV ANNE - 158

to use his own phrase, bantered him. Harley was turned
out on Tuesday; on Sunday the queen died. The Jaco- 1714
bites, dispersed all over the country, were not ready ; the
Whigs were gathered in the cities. A bold stroke made
in the council by Whig Lords favourable to the Hano-
verian succession, when the queen was dying, put the
headship of the government with the staff of Treasurer,
into the hands of Shrewsbury, thus setting Bolingbroke
aside. Bolingbroke was taken by surprise; he was not
ready, and his plot collapsed. Atterbury, the clerical
leader of the Jacobites, a turbulent and designing priest,
offered, as was believed, desperate counsels, but in vain.
In a nonconformist chapel in the city, a handkerchief
dropped from the gallery, which was the preconcerted
signal, told the preacher that the queen was dead. He 1714
and his congregation at once broke forth into a jubilant
hymn. Fortune had bantered Bolingbroke.



CHAPTER V

GEOKGE I. AND GEORGE II. — THE MINISTRIES OF WAL-
POLE AND CHATHAM

George I. — Born 1660 ; Succeeded 1714 ; Died 1727
George II. — Born 1683; Succeeded 1727; Died 1760

TN whose hands after these political vicissitudes was the
countrj'- left ? Mainly in those of the landed aristo-
cracy and gentry. Those yeomen freeholders who had
once been numerous and of whom Cromwell had formed
his Ironsides, were going out of existence ; rising, if they
were opulent, into the class of squires, falling, if they
were needy, into the class of tenant farmers. Land,
with the social rank and political influence attached to
it, became the object of a competition in which wealth
prevailed. A rise in the scale of living would draw the
yeoman into expenses which led to embarrassment and
enforced sale, while the great landowner of the neigh-
bourhood, the rich East Indian or the successful trader,
was always ready to buy. Great estates became the rule.
Their lords designated the memb.ers of parliament for the
county, nominated members for pocket or petty boroughs,
exercised political influence everywhere, and as Lords-
Lieutenant, Sheriffs, or Justices of the Peace, had the local
administration in their hands. At the head of the landed
interest were the peers, hereditary owners collectively of
a vast amount of land. The order of baronets with

154



CHAP. V GEORGE I. AND GEORGE II 155

hereditary titles, but without seats in parliament, formed
a link between the peers and the squires. The estates
were entailed. The eldest son took the family mansion
and the acres. The younger sons were quartered on the
family livings, on the array, or on the public services,
appointments to which were patronage, to be obtained
through the political interest possessed by the head of
the house.

The landed gentry formed a social as well as a political
aristocracy, distinct though not close. To propitiate the
Duke of Wellington, who had been affronted, the Count
d'Artois complimented him on the great things which he
had done and the confidence reposed in him by the crowned
heads. " More than that," replied the Duke, " I am an
English gentleman, and no one shall insult me with im-
punity." "You would degrade a gentleman to the level
of a king or a grocer," says a character in a novel to one
who proposes to him an act of vulgar publicity. Only
a gentleman could assume armorial bearings, be called
" esquire," or fight a duel. Trade was against caste, and
those who had made fortunes by it were with difficulty
admitted into county society, though the squire, or even
the peer, might not disdain to repair a dilapidated estate
by marriage with the trader's daughter. All professions
were derogatory except the church, the upper grade of
the law, and the army. Even the navy was for. some time
barely within the pale ; Smollett's Commodore Trunnion
is its representative in fiction. There was .a commercial
as well as a landed interest ; but the man who had made
his fortune by trade laid it out in land as his passport to
high society, and connected his family by marriage, if he
could, with the landed gentry. Even East Indian and



156 THE UNITED KINGDOM ohat.

West Indian wealth found its way through the same gate
after a social quarantine, during which it was apt to be
in political opposition. Manufactures were still in their
infancy, and their influence in politics, destined in time to
be so powerful, was as yet hardly felt. Thus the ascen-
dancy of the landed gentry was paramount. The tenant
farmers who held under them were, of course, their
dependents ; the labourers were almost their serfs. So-
cial caste seems to have grown with the century.

That government should be parliamentary, not by pre-
rogative, the Revolution had decided. But parliament,
though it might roughly represent great interests, was
far from representing the people. In the counties free-
holders alone, the number of whom was decreasing, had
votes ; leaseholders, copyholders, tenants-at-will, and cot-
tagers had none. In earlier days the crown had assigned
representation to boroughs at its discretion, choosing
originally those which were most taxable ; afterwards, as
political influence became an object, places where it could
best control the representation, including a number of
villages in Cornwall. But in the reign of Charles II. an
attempt to exercise this power had been checked, and the
borough representation was stereotyped thenceforth. The
borough franchise was a medley of accidents. In a few
towns household or even manhood suffrage was the rule ;
but most of them had fallen into the hands of local
oligarchies, which themselves fell into the hands of the
great proprietors or of purchasers of their venal votes.
In sum, only London, Westminster, Bristol, and a few
other great boroughs retained electoral freedom. A mis-
erable village in Cornwall had as many members as a great
county. Members were returned from an old mound or



V GEORGE I. AND GEOKGE II 157

an old wall from which population had fled. Seats in
parliament came to be regarded as property which was
bought and sold without disguise, the price having refer-
ence to the political market of the day and the period for
which parliament had still to run ; though when the city
of Oxford openly advertised its seats for sale, the House
of Commons thought it decent to feign a transport of
indignation. There were shameless bribery and treating
at elections, and when the pride of rival county families
was excited, enormous sums were spent in these contests.
East Indian nabobs and West Indian planters when they
came upon the scene were great buyers of seats in parlia-
ment and propagators of political corruption. Election
petitions were decided at Westminster, as they still are
at Washington, by a party vote, a minister telling his
supporters, when the struggle was close, that no quarter
must be given in elections; so that men held seats to
which they had no elective right. Parliament sat in
secrecy ; to report the debates was forbidden, though
meagre and inaccurate, sometimes imaginary, summaries
of the speeches were published under fictitious names.

Still, the British constitution was free by comparison
with all other countries except Holland and Switzerland.
There was a public opinion, which, though not directly
represented in parliament, at a crisis had its influence.
It found organs in the great borough constituencies, es-
pecially that of London, the effect of whose free verdicts
was enhanced by the general want of freedom. It found
organs in the press, now liberated from the censorship,
though subject to an illiberal libel law, and liable to
censorial onslaughts by the dominant party in parlia-
ment. It found an organ sometimes in the mob of



158 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

London and other great cities, which was political, and in
the absence of a strong police or army could make itself
feared by the government. Quarrels and struggles for
place among the aristocracy would give leaders to the
outside public at the expense of the ruling class. The
politician, however aristocratic, stands in awe of the voter,
and there is an amusing picture drawn by a French visitor
of a nobleman cringing to an innkeeper who had influence
in the local elections. The spirit of the Revolution of
1688, and even of that in the reign of Charles I., still lin-
gered; that of the revolution in the time of Charles I., of
course, very faintly. Nor was fear for the church lands in
the event of a Jacobite or papal restoration even yet quite
extinct in the Whig houses. The classics, which were
the staple of education, kept up the ideas of Greek and
Roman liberty. Brutus and Cassius were names where-
with to conjure. Examples of Greek and Roman history
were cited against standing armies. A statesman of an-
tique mould called the age of the Scipios the apostolic age
of patriotism. Party, while it degenerated into faction,
sustained a political life and an interest in public charac-
ters and affairs. Paley thought he could not spend his
money as a taxpayer better than in buying for himself the
amusement of the political arena ; and this was an amuse-
ment higher, to say the least, than any which he could
have enjoyed under the shadow of the Bastille.

In matter of taxation parliament does not seem to have
been immoderately partial to its own class. Nothing in
England resembled the fiscal exemptions of the aristocracy
in France. Yet legislation by a class could not fail to be
class legislation. The landed interest was first considered ;
after it commerce, which drew its share of the political



V GEORGE I. AND GEORGE II 159

fund in a protective tariff and commercial wars. For the
mass of the people nothing in the way of legislation was
done. The farm labourers especially were left under a
Poor Law which was a code of degradation and a Law of
Settlement which bound them like serfs to the soil. The
farm labourer was as destitute of the power of making
himself heard through any organ of opinion as he was of
the power of the vote. That the squire was an autocrat,
cruel game laws proved. Local institutions, the shire
and the borough, organs of progress and liberty in early
days, had lost their importance. The counties were now
in the hands of the great landowners who, as Justices of
the Peace, legislated for them at Quarter Sessions. The
boroughs had, for the most part, lost their liberties to
close corporations, sometimes self-elected and corrupt as
well as close, which engrossed the offices, often abused the
fund, and sold the parliamentary representation.

Guarantees of personal liberty, in Habeas Corpus and
jury trial the British • citizen still had, and jury trial ex-
tended to political cases. But an aristocratic legislature
was prodigal of the blood of the poor. Blackstone counts
one hundred and sixty capital offences ; and in spite of
the humane perjury of the juries and the merciful subter-
fuge of judges, the butchery was immense, while the exe-
cutions were revolting, and Tyburn was at once a shambles
and a brutalizing show. The death-warrant of a man who
had altered the date of a small bill to postpone payment
was signed by a king who had himself made away with
his father's will. A woman whose husband had been
pressed as a seaman, having stolen a trifle from a shop to
feed her starving children, was borne to the gallows with
an infant at her breast. Liberty could hardly be truly



160 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

sacred in a nation which was carrying on the slave trade,
in spite of the judgment, which perhaps has been glorified
as much as it deserves, that on touching British soil the
slave became free. Thousands languished through life in
prison for petty debts. The prisons were found, on par-
liamentary investigation, to be most horrible and heart-
rending scenes of cruelty and extortion. The judiciary
was incorrupt as well as independent, for though Lord
Chancellor Macclesfield was impeached and deprived, it
was for the sale of appointments, not of justice. But
justice, though not sold, was delayed and defeated by
antiquated technicalities and barbarous chicane, the leav-
ings of the Middle Ages, which Mansfield, as Chief Jus-
tice, though he did something, could not do much to
reform. This, however, was better than lettres de cachet^
judicial torture, and the Bastille.

Squires of course varied in character. There was a
Roger de Coverley or an Allworthy, the benign patriarch
of the parish, as well as a Squire Western who spent his
mornings in fox-hunting and his afternoons in getting
drunk. When the squire was good, the manorial system
might not be bad, and the parish might not be unhappy.
But idleness and autocracy are bad trainers, and duties
which are not binding are seldom performed. The annals
of the rural poor were sad as well as short and simple.
The squire had little education. The universities, Oxford
especially, buried in richly endowed torpor, barely re-
tained the form of teaching, and the young man was
lucky if he left them no worse in character than he came.
The deep and dull potations of Heads and Fellows, as
Gibbon said, excused the brisk intemperance of youth.
The great public schools, Winchester, Westminster, and



v' GEORGE I. AND GEORGE II 161

Eton, were in a better state ; their teaching was only a
modicum of classics, but the character which they formed
was manly and free. Little democracies in themselves,
they did much to keep the character of the gentry in
touch with that of the people. When squires began
to frequent watering-places, they probably gained more
varnish than culture. '^ My Lord " made the grand tour
and acquired the polish of the court and of London
society. Sometimes he became Parisian, as did Chester-
field ; more to the advantage of his manners than of his
morals. The English aristocracy, however, was rural,
not a court aristocracy like that of Versailles. It was
not, like the French nobility, utterly estranged from the
people. Its pleasures were healthy and did something to
preserve its virtue. Some of the great landowners
became agricultural improvers, and by their experiments
did a service which peasant proprietors or freehold yeo-
men could not have done. One of them, the Duke of
Bridge water, as the patron of Brindley, gave the country
its canals.

The church, safely established, slept and rotted in
peace. Many of the livings, being in the gift of the
landowners, were used as pensions for younger sons.
Pluralism and sinecurism prevailed to a scandalous ex-
tent, and the bishops, who deplored the abuse in the
clergy, were samples of it themselves. Rectors drew the
tithes, sometimes of more than one parish, while starve-
ling curates did the work. Of spiritual life, of pastoral
visitation, there was little. The reading of the ser-
vice and the delivery of a sermon, of which the chief
object was to shun enthusiasm as the badge of the noncon-
forming fanatic, satisfied a parson's sense of duty. The

VOL. II — 11



162 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

common people were left in a state of heathenism, as, when
missionary zeal turned on its light, plainly appeared.
Churches, in spite of high-church reverence for the edi-
fice, were sluttishly kept and allowed to fall into decay.
A bishop could hold a see in which he was never
seen. Bishoprics were treated by statesmen as political
patronage, for which ecclesiastics waited and intrigued
in the antechambers of power. Even moral reputation
was not strictly required. The author of Swift's poems
narrowly missed a mitre. Horace Walpole, speaking of
the establishment of the Prince of Wales, says, "The
other preceptor was Hayter, Bishop of Norwich, a sen-
sible, well-bred man, natural son of Blackburne, the jolly
old Archbishop of York, who had all the manners of a
man of quality though he had been a buccaneer and was a
clergyman ; but he retained nothing of his first profession
but his seraglio." This was scandal, but it was scandal
not incredible in those days. The same writer reproaches
Bishop Keene for having failed to fulfil his promise of
marrying a natural daughter of Sir Robert Walpole
after being paid beforehand by the gift of a crown living.
Bishops were grandees; one of them would not go
the quarter of a mile from his palace to the cathedral
except in a coach-and-four, with servants in full livery.
But of the parish clergy and the curates many were very
poor, so poor as almost to be compelled to dig and, like
Trulliber, to handle swine. There were probably two
Trullibers for one Parson Adams. Some of the order
became ecclesiastical vagabonds ; some of them lived by
performing the irregular marriages, called Fleet marriages,
1753 till their trade was stopped by Act of parliament. From
the vices of a celibate clergy the English parsons would



V GEORGE I. AND GEORGE II 163

be free, and they might, as a rule, set a fair domestic
example. But as a centre of rural civilization the par-
sonage could hardly have been worth much more than as
a centre of religious life. When later in the century
there came a religious revival led by a great evangelist
and organizer in the person of John Wesley, it found the
masses barbarous as well as without religion. Born and
cradled in the establishment, Methodism could there find
no abiding home. The new wine of the Gospel burst the
old bottle of state religion, and the evangelist in his own
despite was driven forth to found outside the church of
England the free church of the poor.

The Anglican establishment continued to be a politi-
cal idol and a watchword of political party, because it
was the bulwark against the hated papist on one side
and the hated puritan on the other ; but the clergy,
personally, seem at the same time to have been unpopu-
lar and despised. Marriage with them was disparage-
ment. Chaplains in great houses married waiting-maids,
and left the table when the sweets were served. Butler,
Clarke, Seeker, Fletcher of Madeley, and Law among
ecclesiastics, like Johnson among laymen, were stars in
a dark night. What there was of clerical intellect and
learning took largely the form of apologetics, of which
Butler was, and remains, the chief. Paley taught the
cold religion of common sense. The Deists were at
work; and cultivated society, as we see in the writings
of Chesterfield, was feeling the influence of Voltaire.
Among the nonconformists there was more religious life.
But even among them zeal was growing cold and their
numbers seem to have been reduced by the toleration
which left them to themselves.



164 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

The salt having lost its savour, moral rottenness pre-
vailed. Kings openly kept mistresses ; nobles did the
same ; and bishops connived. A set of rakes somewhat
later in the century formed a house of pleasure in Med-
\ menham Abbey, decorated it with lascivious emblems, and

made it the scene of unspeakable orgies with obscene
imitations of religious rites. Among them was the son
of an archbishop. This corruption of private character
could not fail to tell on public life. In the towns the
bodies and souls of the lowest class were ravaged by gin
in dens where they could get drunk and have clean straw
for a penny. Hogarth has painted society, high and low,
in the eighteenth century. In the middle class it seems
that moral principles retained their hold, that honest
dealing still prevailed, and that man and wife were true
to each other.

In England the resistance of the Jacobites to the acces-
sion of George I., the Hanoverian and protestant claim-
ant, was weak. A few fox -hunters rose in the North ;
but at Oxford and elsewhere Jacobitism confined itself
to "magnanimous compotations.'* Its chief. Sir William
Wyndham, Bolingbroke's principal confederate, was
promptl}^ arrested by the government. In Scotland
Highland clans embraced the excuse for a raid, and re-
1715 ceived some general support from the feeling against
1715 the union, which was still strong. At Sheriffmuir they
fought a drawn battle with the Whig clansmen and royal-
ist troops of Argyle. But on invading England, where
the fox-hunters joined them, they were easily defeated,
and James's son, the Pretender, coming- to Scotland to
rekindle the flame, turned out a chilling disappointment.



T GEORGE I. AND GEORGE II 166

Louis XIV., whom no treaty could have withheld from
aiding the rebellion, just at that time closed by his death 1715



Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 58 of 84)