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expected to be free. Public credit was sustained ; com-
merce flourished under his rule ; and wealth was made for
his successors to spend in war.

Walpole was prompted to tax the colonies. He said he


would leave that for bolder men than he was, little think-
ing, perhaps, that such men would come. He discerned
that the real value of the colonies to England depended
on their commercial prosperity ; and in an age of monopoly
dared to give them a modicum of free trade. In 1704 the
whole colonial trade, Burke says, was little more than it
was with the single island of Jamaica in his own time.

The Excise Bill was a good financial measure in the
opinion of Adam Smith, who ascribes the clamour against
it to the interest of smuggling merchants combined with
faction. It would have enabled the minister to abolish
or reduce the land-tax, and had such been its declared ob-
ject it would probably have passed with ease. But the
name of excise, odious from its use in the Commonwealth
times, enabled the opposition to raise a storm. Walpole's 1733
men were ready to stand by him; but he declined, not
from lack of courage, but from prudence and good feeling,
to levy a tax by force. His decision showed that in spite
of all the defects of the representation and the force of
government influence in parliament, the minister felt the
pressure of public opinion.

Hero-worshippers will not worship Walpole. But if
he did not give the nation glory, he helped to give it
the material elements of happiness. After all, military
glory is not the only sentiment. There is a sentiment
attached to prosperous industry and the home. If the
people are prosperous, they will be happy ; if they are
happy, as a rule they will be good ; and there are those
whose sentiment is satisfied by goodness.

The worst part of Walpole's administration, as of that
of other British statesmen of the age, was neglect of Ire-
land, where, while misery and oppression reigned, danger


of disunion was gathering, though rather from the quar-
ter of the dominant than from that of the conquered and
down-trodden race. Walpole's attention had been called

1724 to that weak point by the storm which ensued upon the
circulation of Wood's Half-pence. No wrong was in-
tended nor was much really done by the British govern-
ment. The dark spot in the transaction was the extortion
of blackmail from the patentee by the king's mistress.
The storm was raised by Swift, who was eating his heart
in Irish exile and despaired of promotion under a Whig
government. Yet it was formidable and ominous. Wal-
pole, as was his wont, quietly backed out of the quarrel.
Allowance must be made for the risks to which he would
have had to expose his government in dealing with Irish
questions, political, religious, or commercial ; for the anti-
popery sentiment which would have been aroused by any
approach to toleration; the protectionist jealousy which
would have been aroused by any measure of free trade.
In this quarter, however, his statesmanship failed.

Scotland was still a difficulty. Scotch feeling against
the union and English feeling against the Scotch were still
strong A tax on beer, putting an end to the exemption

1724 of Scotland from the malt tax, was met by a combined
refusal of Scotch brewers to brew. This collapsed. More

1736 serious was the lynching, by the Edinburgh mob, of Porte-
ous, an officer who had hastily fired on rioters. There was
indignation in England, but when penal measures were pro-
posed, the Scottish members were all on the side of the
Edinburgh mob and the opposition played its regular part.
Walpole was cool, and got out of the dilemma with a fair
show of vindicating the law. But his hold on the Scotch
contingent in parliament appears to have been shaken.


Walpole was near losing power at the death of George I. 1727
George II., as heir apparent, had, according to the custom
of the family, quarrelled with his father. On his accession
he dismissed his father's prime minister, and was putting 1727
his favourite, Sir Spencer Compton, a lay figure, into his
place. For the reinstatement of Walpole and the steady
support of him afterwards, the country was beholden to
the queen, Caroline of Anspach, who did excellent ser-
vice in a quiet way. Caroline had much to bear and bore
it well. She had to wink at mistresses, which that age
scarcely regarded as disgrace, and daily to undergo the
intolerable tedium of her husband's company. His not
very valuable heart she left to a mistress, kept her hold on
what he had of a mind, and guided him well. She was
lettered, interested herself in philosophy, and helped to
promote men of merit, among them Bishop Butler.
Above all, she kept the king true to Walpole, though the
king himself was a soldier and disposed to stand honour-
ably by his servant. On her deathbed, to which, by a 1737
concealment of her disease, strange in one not generally
delicate, she was prematurely brought, she conjured her
husband to marry again that he might have a guide. He,
really affected, as it seems, blubbered that he would not
marry again, but keep a mistress. " Good gracious ! " she
replied, "you may do both." England owes much to
Caroline of Anspach.

Walpole's weakness is said and seems really to have
been a too jealous love of power. He could act with no
one who had pretensions to a share of it. He had begun
by shaking off Townshend. He presently shook off 1716
Pulteney, a first-rate debater, though in no other way 1721
first-rate ; Carteret, a man of genius, a highly instructed 1724


politician, a first-rate scholar, daring, impetuous, and
erratic, with an ambitious foreign policy in his head ;
and Chesterfield, not to be measured by Johnson's over-
strained letter, or by his own advice to his son, since
beneath the airs and graces of a man of fashion he
had the mind of a statesman. The temper of these men
was not so well under the control of their patriotism as
that of Townshend. Whether Walpole could have acted
cordially with any of them may well be doubted; they
acted with intense virulence against him. He wanted the
sensibility to feel and the tact to affect sympathy with the
aspirations of youth, and he thus made deadly enemies of
the "boys," as he called them, one of whom was "that
terrible cornet of horse," William Pitt. Opposition had
its centre in the mansions of two successive heirs apparent,
each of whom had quarrelled with his father and gave him-
self a semblance of importance as figure-head of a cabal
against the court. It had a closet leader in Bolingbroke,
who, half pardoned through the venal intercession of the
king's mistress, had come back to England, pulled the
wires of his old party, and helped Pulteney in writing or
bringing out The Craftsman^ the opposition print. But
Bolingbroke had not been readmitted to the House of
Lords, and he found that wire-pulling without a seat in
parliament would not help him to the mark of his ambition.
When he tried to approach the king, Walpole foiled him
by boldly insisting that the king should give him an audi-
ence and hear all he had to say. At last he left the
country in disgust. The opposition declaimed against cor-
ruption ; against the standing army, which had not ceased
to be a fine theme for declamation; against the sacrifice of
English interests to Hanover. But the minister's obedi-


ent majority of partisans and placemen long enabled him
to smile at invective, the more so as the opposition was
made up of three distinct sections which did not always
vote together; the malcontent Whigs styling themselves
patriots, such as Pulteney and Chesterfield; the Jacobites,
led by "honest" Shippen, who formed a standing con-
spiracy for the restoration of the Stuarts, and the Tories
who, like the Tories of a later day, were the party of
the church, the king, and the landed interest. Still the
opposition gained strength. Walpole seems never to have
quite got over the unpopularity which had been brought
on him by the Excise Bill. The death of the queen 1737
deprived his government of a strong support.

At last a quarrel with Spain gave the opposition an op-
portunity of getting up an agitation which proved fatal to
Walpole's policy of peace and to Walpole. Spain had
been kept in a state of constant irritation by the retention
of Gibraltar, which it was the wish of Stanhope to resign.
England had by treaty a right to the trade of a single ship
with the Spanish dependencies in America. The restric-
tion was evaded by reloading the ship from tenders when
she had discharged her first cargo, and some of the smug-
glers, it seems, were roughly handled by the Spanish reve-
nue officers. There was no question which diplomacy
might not have settled, and leaders of the opposition
themselves afterwards, as we learn from Burke, coolly
washed their hands of the war. But faction grasped the
opportunity of overturning a peace government. One 1739
Jenkins was produced to swear that his ear, which he had
kept in cotton and which some believed had been cut off
in the pillory, had been cut off by the Spaniards ; and he
fired the national heart by saying, probably from dictation,


that in the hands of his cruel captors he had commended
his soul to God and his cause to his country. The nation
was worked up to fury, and the king, who was a soldier
with warlike propensities and had now no Caroline at his
side, shared the frenzy of his people. Spain was popish ;
she was weak, and her treasure fleets were rich prey.
Walpole was unable to stem the raging tide. His proper
course was to resign ; but he clung to power, probably
justifying its retention to himself by thinking that he
could moderate what he had been unable to prevent.
He went into what he knew was an unnecessary and,,
therefore, a wicked war, exclaiming that they who were
ringing the bells that day on its declaration, would be
wringing their hands on the morrow. As a peace minis-
ter, known to be opposed to the war, and therefore mis-
trusted as well as misplaced, he of course failed in its con-
duct. The war machinery was rusty and out of gear.
Patronage had corrupted the army and navy. The naval
administration was rotten, and the treatment of the sailor
was vile. The leaders of the opposition of course did
their utmost to weaken and embarrass the government
in the conflict into which they had driven it. Such is
always the conduct of faction, politely styled party.
Anson, in his attacks on the Spanish treasure ships,
1739 renewed the exploits of Drake and Raleigh. Portobello
1741 was taken, but the attack on Carthagena failed ; and in
the troop-ships, turned into hospitals, or rather charnel-
houses, there were appalling scenes. The shadow of
approaching defeat fell upon Walpole. Instead of throw-
ing off the minister at dinner and being the merriest of
the company, he sat by the hour silent and with fixed
eyes. His sleep was broken. But though his buoyancy


left him, his courage did not. He struggled gallantly
and spoke ably to the end. He went into his last election
weighted by the miscarriages of the war, by the accumu-
lated discontents of twenty years, by the lingering odium
of the Excise Bill, by all the calumnies which faction
could invent, and by angry passages with the Scotch.
Every engine was plied against him by the fury of an
opposition divided in principles, but united in hatred.
He came out of the fight with his majority greatly reduced 1741
in numbers, still more fatally in spirit. On the floor of
the House he fought with unabated energy and force
against Pulteney, Pitt, and all the host of enemies whom
his long monopoly of power hiid made ; and his last
speeches seem to have been his best. Party in these
battles showed its character. The maim, the halt, the
blind, were whipped down to vote. Some sick ministe-
rialists being about to be brought in through a private
door, the opposition stopped the keyhole with sand.
A ministerialist stepped up to a member of the opposition
and told him that his son had been lost at sea. The
bereaved father recognized the kindness of the inten-
tion, and stayed to vote. Cornish and Scottish members
left Walpole. His majority fell to three. At last he was
beaten on an election petition by one. Then, though his 1742
own heart was still high, he yielded to the pressing advice
of friends and retired. 1742

The old idea still lingered that a fallen minister was a
public criminal to be punished for his abuse of power,
and there was talk of impeachment and even of blood.
But all the fury simmered down into a committee of
inquiry, which sat long, did its worst, and produced
nothing. The king, who had shown on the battlefield


that he did not lack courage, and who rather shines as a
patriot among the vultures of faction, stood by his faith-
ful servant ; and Walpole's only punishment was trans-
lation, as Earl of Orford, from the scene of his power to

1742 the House of Lords. The sole fruit of this victory of

1743 patriotism was a Place Bill limiting the number of offices
tenable by members of the House of Commons. " The
principles of the opposition," said Chesterfield, "are the
principles of very few of the opposers." The principle
of the opposers had been the overthrow of the government.

Fortune called on Pulteney; but Pulteney's courage
failed him. He pleaded a patriotic vow which he had
registered against acceptance of place, declined to form a
government, and in the end allowed his fallen rival, who
still had the king's ear, to reduce him to impotence by

1742 making him Earl of Bath. "I have turned the key on
him," said Walpole, making the motion with his hand.
" Here we go, my lord," said he to Pulteney, " the two
most insignificant men in the kingdom." The House of
Commons, originally called to give the government sup-
plies, and perhaps advice, had itself become the government.

1742 The nominal head of the next administration was Lord
Wilmington, who, as Sir Spencer Compton, had been
minister-designate for the hour between the death of
George I. and the re-installation of Walpole ; but the
real head was Carteret, whose parts, according to contem-
poraries, were not less amazing than his rants. He once
read a love-letter in council, being probably full of claret,
which was his general state. A more dangerous pilot the
ship could not have, especially in foreign affairs, which
were his strong point, and of which he deemed himself
consummate master. It had been Walpole's policy to


avoid engagements. Carteret showed his genius and
proved Hanover to be a fatal adjunct to the island
realm by plunging the nation into continental war.
Wilmington died. The ball then rolled into the lap of 1743
Pelham, younger brother of the Duke of Newcastle, who
came in as secretary of state, and by whose vast parlia-
mentary interest the minister was supported. Pelham
was a worthy man and a fair administrator ; a very in-
ferior and far less courageous Walpole. He floated rather
than steered, but managed to keep clear of the rocks.
He was a good financier and effected a large conversion of
the debt. He sustained the government by Walpole's
means, but he could have sustained it in no other way.

Now, however, was seen the wisdom of Walpole's policy
of peace. Once more the house of Stuart found sup-
porters in continental powers at war with England. The
young Pretender, Charles Edward, who was more engag-
ing than his father, landed in Scotland, raised the Jacobite 1745
clans, or the clans which raided under that banner, de-
feated a royal force under Cope at Preston Pans by the 1745
Highland rush with the claymore, took Edinburgh, was
installed in the palace of Holyrood, marched into England
as far as Derby, and filled the metropolis with shameful 1745
consternation. England was denuded of troops for the
foreign war and was compelled to call upon Holland for
stipulated aid. Among the people a strange and sinister
apathy seems to have reigned. That they would look on
and cry "Fight, dog! Fight, bear! " was the opinion of
shrewd observers; so little root had the German dynasty
yet taken, and so needful had been the cautious policy of
Walpole. At length the government rallied and gathered
force. The Pretender retreated, and with a 'Highland


1745- host to retreat was to throw up the game. The Duke of
Cumberland came up with the rebel army at Culloden,
formed, as encounters with the Gallic rush had taught
the Romans to form, in the order necessary to repair a
broken front, and by his victory extinguished for ever the
pretensions of the house of Stuart. The duke, a German
soldier-prince, professionally ruthless, treated the van-
quished with cruelty. But the conduct of the government
in the punishment of the rebels on the whole showed the
progress of humanity. The heir of the Stuart cause, all
hope lost, sank into a drunkard, and the house of Stuart

1807 expired in a cardinal, whose characteristic memorial is
the convent, room for which was made by the demolition
of the temple of Jupiter on the Alban Mount.

" You may now go play, unless you like to fall out
among yourselves; " so said the old cavalier to the Round-
heads on the final overthrow of his party. The same
thing might have been said to the Whigs after the final
overthrow of the Jacobites; and the Whigs, like the
Roundheads, failed not to fall out among themselves.
The Whig party began to split into connections, formed
severally around great houses, which struggled against
each other for place, and with their selfish cabals and per-
plexed intrigues ignobly filled the scene. There were
shades of difference in the political character of the con-
nections, one being purely Whig, another inclining more
to Toryism ; but power, which gratified ambition and
brought with it an immense patronage, was the animating
motive of all.

1754 An early outcome of the struggle was the ascendancy of
the Duke of Newcastle, the arch borough-monger and arch
place-monger of the day, who by assiduous effort in both


those lines of corruption, and by the expenditure of a
princely fortune in politics, had laid up a vast stock of
parliamentary influence. As a head of the state his
Grace was grotesque. His royal master said of him that
he was hardly fit to be a chamberlain to a petty German
prince. His contemporaries vied with each other in de-
picting the absurdity of his figure, always fussy and splut-
tering, hurrying as though he were trying through the
day to catch an hour lost in the morning, hastening as if
he were the carrier instead of the writer of a despatch,
rushing from his dressing-room with his face half covered
with lather to embrace the man who brought him the
good news that Cape Breton was an island. Insanely
craving for power, or rather for the dispensation of patron-
age, he was yet timorous in the pursuit. He lacked even
common veracity, and Walpole said of him that his name
was perfidy. At a royal funeral we see him pretending
to be fainting with grief, while a bishop hovers over him
with a smelling-bottle; then, as his curiosity prevails over
his hypocrisy, running round with his spyglass to see who
was there. His practised cunning, however, enabled him
to outwit far abler men than himself. He was indus-
trious and always ready in debate. He was twice prime
minister of England, and held high office for thirty-
three years. It is due to him to say that while he spent
his life in corruption, and his mansion was its court, he
was not himself corrupt. It was the gaine, not the stakes,
that he loved, and in the game he squandered three-
quarters of his ducal fortune.

Pelham dying, Newcastle became prime minister. He 1754
blundered and failed. He and his feeble leader in the
House of Commons, Sir Thomas Robinson, were treated


as butts by his own subordinates, Pitt and Henry Fox,
cabinet discipline having as yet been imperfectly estab-
lished, while Newcastle had no personal power of control.
The French Bourbon having come to the aid of the Span-
1766 ish Bourbon, there was war with both powers. It was

1766 misconducted; Minorca was lost, and Newcastle basely
sought to appease national indignation by the execution

1767 of Byng, the naval commander, for failing to relieve it;
shooting an admiral, as Voltaire said, to encourage the

1767 rest. The ministry broke down, Newcastle unsuccess-
fully attempting to sustain it by a union with Henry Fox,
a very able and daring adventurer, effective in debate,
master of the arts of corruption, a first-rate manager of
parliament, and without principle of any kind.

William Pitt was now striding to the front. To him
the eyes of the people were turning as the man to redeem
them from the oligarchical selfishness, incapacity, and
corruption which made a man of sense like Chesterfield
despair of the state. Pitt, though allied by marriage to
Earl Temple, did not belong to the great houses ; he was
qualified for the part of the great commoner and the man
of the people. He had shown no scruples in cutting his
way to power. He had been one of the bitterest oppo-
nents and most relentless persecutors of Walpole, and had
fully shared the crime of forcing him into the war with
Spain. As a subordinate in the Newcastfe ministry, he
had been wanting in loyalty to his chief. On the other
hand, he had nobly protested against the execution of
Byng, and he had won golden opinions as Paymaster, by
refusing the irregular profits of that office, which were
eagerly grasped by Fox. By the king he was hated as
an opponent of the payment of Hanoverian troops, and


as having spoken most contemptuously of Hanover and
of the subjection of British to Hanoverian interests. But
thfe king was forced to give way, ejaculating, with a flash
of insight, that ministers were king. Under the nominal
premiership of the Duke of Devonshire, Pitt became sec- 1756
retary of state and the real head of the government.
Fresh energy was at once infused into the war depart-
ment. Fresh hope was awakened in the national heart.
But the government could not command the majority
in parliament, which was in the hands of the great parlia-
mentary jobber, the Duke of Newcastle. Weighted at
the same time by the king's prejudice against Pitt, it fell ; 1757
and the country, in time of war, was for eleven weeks
without a government. Meantime the nation had marked
its man, and gold boxes, with the freedom of cities in
them, were showered upon Pitt.

At last, the mediation of Chesterfield effected a coalition
between Newcastle and Pitt; Newcastle furnishing the 1757
majority, Pitt the capacity ; Pitt taking the government
absolutely to himself and disdainfully leaving the patron-
age to the duke. Pitt had compared the union of New-
castle with Fox to that of the languid Saone to the
impetuous Rhone. He might now have found a fresh
use for his simile.' He had an independent source of
strength in the enthusiastic attachment of the civic
democracy of London, the head of which, Beckford, a
somewhat inflated city potentate, served as his political
tender, supplying him with the popularity which he
disdained to seek for himself.

For four years Pitt is dictator. The House of Com-
mons bows, almost cringes, to his personal ascendancy
sustained by the oratorio fire, of which only a few flakes


remain. His will is done, and all the money which his
vastly expensive policy demands is voted without a word.
He had boasted that he alone could save the country.
War was his panacea ; he avowed himself a lover of hon-
ourable war. His grand aim was to humble France, strip
her of her colonies, and destroy her commerce, thereby,
as he and the traders of that day believed, making British
commerce flourish. His policy was thus the very opposite
of that of Walpole. Of economy and finance he was alike
ignorant and regardless. For Scotland and for the union
he did much when he gave effect to the wise advice of
Duncan Forbes by raising Highland regiments. For
the general administration, for the reform of abuses, for
Ireland, he did nothing. But he was the greatest of war
ministers. He had the eye to discern merit in the ser-
vices, and to promote it over the head of seniority and in

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 60 of 84)