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stood by Scotch iniquity. Romilly, who was present at
the trial, was greatly shocked and brands as detestable
the Scotch administration of justice.



VI GEORGE m 276

In the trial, ostensibly for sedition, of an advocate of
universal suffrage, a judge said in summing up, "Gentle-
men, the right of universal suffrage the subjects of this
country never enjoyed, and were they to enjoy it, they
would not any longer enjoy either liberty or a free con-
stitution. You will therefore consider whether telling
the people that they have a just right to what would
unquestionably be tantamount to a total subversion of
the kingdom is such a writing as any person is entitled
to compose, to print, and to publish." The sentence in
this case was transportation for seven years.

Was Pitt responsible for all? With pain it must be
said that he was responsible for all, notably for the trans-
portation of Muir. Once, in a case in which an in-
dictment for constructive treason was brought against
a parliamentary reformer, he was put in the witness-box
to own that he had himself advocated reform of parlia-
ment. The son of the morning, Chatham's heir, had
fallen indeed. He could say that circumstances were
changed and that policy must change with them. He
might have said that even if circumstances had not
changed, a statesman had a right to change his mind,
and that the public good required that his avowal of
change should be free. But no one has a right, in deal-
ing with others, to repudiate his own past.

Against these invasions of liberty Fox eloquently de- 1797
claimed. No more could he do. Repelled by his revo-
lutionary attitude, conservative Whigs, with Portland,
Grenville, and Windham at their head, had gone over to
the government, and the leader of the opposition was left
with a feeble troop. Political parties formed themselves
anew on the burning question of the Revolution. Of the



276 THE UNITED KINGDOM char

forty or fifty members whom Fox could still muster
not a few were members for nomination boroughs in
the gift of great Whig nobles who adhered to their
family traditions. The minister therefore was all-power-
ful, and a fresh election only increased his majority.
Fox, with Sheridan, Grey, and Burke, kept up a war
of indiscriminate invective, by which they could only
forfeit whatever influence they might otherwise have
had and confirm the minister, as Fox by the same con-
duct had confirmed North, in the policy from which
they desired to restrain him. It seems not impossible
that Pitt might have been restrained, had he been ap-
proached in a better way. That the Liberal was not
dead iii him, his subsequent conduct on the subject of
Catholic Emancipation proved. In 1792 he had said
that it was his wish to unite cordially and heartily, not in
the way of bargain, but to form a strong united ministry,
and that to Fox he had no personal objection, though
he feared he had gone too far. At a later period than
this he was willing to coalesce with Fox. But by this
time to the spirit of party had been added personal
hatred, and the counsels of Fox and the Liberals were
thus lost to the nation.

A stand more successful and ever memorable was made
by Erskine in courts of law. The government, ill-ad-
vised by its law officers, brought charges of constructive
treason, which could not be sustained, against Home
Tooke, Hardy, Thelwall, and others. Home Tooke's
opinions might be extreme, but he could not be suspected
of treason, while his bold and ready wit made him danger-
ous game, and his trial was little more than a farce. The
1794 accused were defended by Erskine, whose speeches were



VI GEORGE III 277

masterpieces of the advocate's art. To him was opposed
Sir John Scott, afterwards Lord Eldon, the genius of irra-
tional law, who vainly strove by prolix and elaborate
construction to involve the prisoners in a technical net
which at a stroke Erskine rent and flung aside. " How,"
said a juror, " could I find a man guilty of a crime when
it took the attorney-general nine hours to tell us what it
was ? " Scott, whose love of money earned him afterwards
the name of Old Bags, opened a speech with a picture of
his own disinterestedness, over which he shed tears. He
would have nothing, he said, to leave to his children but
his good name. " What," asked a bystander, " is Scott
weeping about ? " " He is weeping," was the reply, '' to
think how little he will have to leave to his children." In
these trials the government was defeated. It excused an
error which brought upon it odium and contempt by plead-
ing the wholesome effect of the political revelations. But
to put a man on trial for his life without adequate proof
of crime for the purpose of creating a political effect is an
abuse of a court of justice. One good fruit, however, the
trials bore ; they confirmed the confidence of the people in
the jury as a suflicient safeguard of personal liberty. The
credit of the jurymen was not on this occasion shared by
the bench. The chief justice, Kenyon, showed his Tory
bias. As a rule English judges, though appointed, till
recently, by party, have doffed the partisan in donning the
ermine. Regard for professional reputation and the criti-
cism of a strong bar have generally proved a sufficient
guard for judicial virtue.

The platform, in spite of the rod held over it, was not
mute. ,A great public dinner in celebration of Fox's
birthday was attended by two thousand persons. At this 1798



278 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

the Duke of Norfolk, a sort of English counterpart of
D' Orleans Egalit^ in opinion, though not in polish, for
he was unwashed as well as drunken, gave as a toast,
"Our sovereign's health, the majority of the people."
Fox, at a meeting of the Whig Club, repeated that toast,
1798 and was struck off the privy council.

The expense of the war, including the subsidies to
allies, was immense and taxed to the utmost Pitt's skill
as a financier as well as his hold on public confidence.
He began by trying to raise supplies within the year.
But his expenditure soon exceeded the measure of endur-
able taxation, and he was fain to cast upon posterity the
enormous burden of which the greater part is still borne.
At his death the public debt had mounted from two
hundred and forty-seven to six hundred and twenty-one
millions, and at the end of his war to eight hundred and
sixty-one millions, bearing thirty-one millions and a half
of interest. His mode of borrowing has been impugned,
but he probably got the full value of his consols. The
sinking fund to which he clung as the means of ultimate
redemption only served by its operation to make matters
a little worse. His three per cents fell at one time to
forty-seven. He was driven to a suspension of cash pay-
ments, followed by the invariable results to commerce and
industry, with the inevitable expense of ultimate redemp-
tion, so that in fact suspension was an addition at a high
rate of liability to the national debt. Did the thought
ever present itself to him that the nation might have
an advantage in its immortality, and th^t between an
annuity of a hundred years and a perpetuity, while there
would be little difference to the mortal purchaser, there
would be great difference to the immortal state? To



VI GEORGE III 279

meet the drain, the new manufactures were producing
wealth, while trade derived a factitious prosperity from
war expenditure and destruction of the enemy's mer-
cantile marine. Commercial men zealously supported the
minister. By a unanimous agreement to take bank
notes at par they in great measure averted the deprecia-
tion of his paper currency. They crowded to subscribe
for a Loyalty Loan on terms involving a sacrifice to
subscribers. They were ready with free gifts, and one
of a firm having put down ten thousand pounds for his
firm, without the knowledge of his partner, was told when
he apprehended the partner's anger that he might as well
have made it twenty thousand.

Foreign grain being excluded by the war, the price of
the home product was raised. Land not otherwise worth
tillage was brought under the plough. Rents rose, and
tithes along with them. In war power there is usually
a political element, and British aristocracy showed its
constancy in the struggle with France and Napoleon,
as Roman aristocracj^ had shown its constancy in the
struggle with Carthage and Hannibal. But its con-
stancy was made easy by high rents. In general it
behaved patriotically about taxation, but it resisted the
extension of the succession duty from personal property
to land. On the common people, small tradei^s, labourers,
and mechanics, the burden of endurance chiefly fell ; and
great their suffering was. In bad years grain rose to
almost famine price, and all such palliatives as restric-
tions on the use of wheat-flour for pastry, or of wheat
in the distilleries, were ineffectual, while worse than in-
effectual was the attempt to revive obsolete laws against
forestallers and regraters, which the chief justice. Lord



280 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

Kenyon, in his wisdom, chose to applaud. There were
bread riots ; Pitt was hooted ; the king was mobbed ; and
when at last a French envoy brought a peace, the people
took the horses out of his carriage and drew it through
the streets.

Still Pitt's ascendancy in parliament and the country
remained the same. A fresh election went in his favour.
After each reverse in war, he rose in the House of Com-
mons undaunted, lofty as ever, and with his sonorous
eloquence revived the spirits of his friends and restored
their confidence in their chief. As the horrors of the
Revolution and the indiscretions of Fox and others of its
English friends increased, the more moderate Whigs, led
by Portland, the former head of the Coalition, went over
to the government. Among them was Windham, the
model of an English gentleman, in whom high academical
culture was combined with a love of prize-fighting and
bull-baiting, an indomitable advocate of war.

Fox's following was reduced to fifty, of whom nearly
one-half were members for nomination boroughs. He
constantly showed his power in debate, but he and his
associates damaged themselves and their cause by indis-
criminate attacks on the government and unpatriotic
bearing. " I will not," said Wilberforce, " charge these
gentlemen with desiring an invasion ; but I cannot help
thinking that they would rejoice to see just so much mis-
chief befall their country as would bring themselves into
office." Fox could say, "The truth is I am gone some-
thing further in hate to the English government than
you and the rest of my friends are, and certainly further
than can with prudence be avowed ; the triumph of the
French government over the English does in fact afford



VI GEORGE III 281

me a degree of pleasure which it is very difficult to dis-
guise." When the news of Trafalgar arrived, his com-
ment was, " It is a great event, and by its solid as well
as brilliant advantages far more than compensates for
the temporary succour which it will certainly afford to
Pitt in his distress." Such is party. How was it pos-
sible that a public man, visibly actuated by such feel-
ings, should have influence with a nation engaged in
a struggle for its very existence? Fox's avowal that
he thought the submission of the people to a repressive
law was no longer a question of moral obligation and
duty but only of prudence, may pair off as an indiscretion
with Bishop Horsley's saying that he did not know what
the mass of the people in any country had to do with the
laws but to obey them.

Legislation other than repressive and reform of every
kind, whether in church or state, stood still. Even the
movement of humanity for the abolition of the slave-trade
was thrown back by the dread of revolution. The answer
to every proposal of reform was that this was not the time ;
though in truth it was the very time for such reforms as
catholic emancipation and the abolition of nonconformist
disabilities, which would have extinguished sources of dis-
affection and united the nation in its hour of peril.

This is deemed the golden age, though not of legislation,
of parliamentary eloquence. One who having heard Pitt
and Fox listened to the debates of the next generation,
though Grey, Plunket, and Canning were then among the
speakers, noted or fancied that he noted a marked decline.
Reporting being as yet very imperfect, members still spoke
more to the House than to the gallery, and as the politi-
cal press was weak, the editorials of the morning did



282 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

not take the wind out of the sails of evening eloquence.
The themes were in the highest degree momentous and
inspiring. Pitt in his oratory as in his statesmanship was
the opposite of his father. There was in his speeches
nothing of Chatham's lightning. He had a wonderful
command of rounded and stately periods, acquired under
his father's tuition hj the practice of translation at sight.
He was grand in argument and in exposition, in financial
exposition above all. His voice was musical and his
delivery was impressive. Fox had practised from boyhood
as a debater and attained the highest perfection. The
character of the speaker, the warmth and spontaneity of
his utterances, would lend the speech a charm. Each is
seen at his best in the debate of February 3rd, 1800, on
overtures of peace from France. Pitt's speech, if it was
not prepared by pen, is miraculous ; almost more miracu-
lous is Fox's reply, made as soon as Pitt sat down,
unless he had anticipated, as he well might, some of his
antagonist's points. Sheridan's speech upon the impeach-
ment of Hastings, the Begum speech as it was called,
received the extraordinary tribute of an adjournment of
the House to give the judgment of members time to
cool. But it is lost, and we have no means of assuring our-
selves that Sheridan could rise so high. Wilberforce was
silvery and homiletic. Windham was forcible in debate
though liable to escapade. Dundas was not eloquent but
practical and spoke for votes. Erskine, so great at the
bar, failed in the House. It is doubtful whether, setting
Burke aside as a grand essayist rather than an orator,
anything remains of the golden age much superior in
literary or political value to a great speech of John
Bright or Robert Lowe.



VI GEORGE III 283

One great measure of improvement for which Pitt in
his brighter hour had striven to pave the way he was
destined in his darker hour to carry, though through the
agency of events which left a terrible stain on its record
and are for ever to be deplored. That measure was the
legislative union with Ireland. 1800

How unworkable was the union of crowns with separate
parliaments was seen when on the question of the Regency
the Irish parliament flew apart from that of Great Britain
and resolved to recognize the Prince of Wales, who called
himself a Whig, as Regent in his own right and without
limitations, while Pitt and the Tory parliament of Great
Britain proposed to confer on him by Act of Parliament
a Regency with limited powers. The two monarchies had
been held together and the government of the smaller
country had been kept in uneasy and precarious unison
with that of its greater yoke-fellow only by Irish crown
boroughs and the power of an intrusive church establish-
ment, combined with systematic bribery and corruption.

Like the American Revolution, the French Revolution
extended its contagion, as well it might, to Ireland. In
Ireland there was the old- quarrel, still not quite extinct,
of race ; there was the old quarrel, still living in memory,
between the two races, about the land ; there was the
double religious quarrel, between catholics and protes-
tants, between the state church and Presbyterians ;
there was the payment of tithe in kind, its most vexa-
tious form, to the griping tithe-proctors of an alien
church ; there was a parliament of crown or pocket and
purchasable boroughs, bought and sold in market overt,
which was a mockery of representation; there was a
domination of jobbers ; there was absenteeism on a large



284 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

scale ; there was a miserable peasantry holding little
potato grounds under middle-men who sublet at exor-
bitant rents, and multiplying with the recklessness of
abject and hopeless poverty. The relations between the
gentry, at least the lower gentry, squireens as they were
called, middle-men as they often were, and the com-
mon people were very bad, the squireen being insolent as
well as dissolute and lording it over the peasant with the
lash. The state clergy, scandalously pluralist and sine-
curist, partly absentee, as well as alien and hated, could
have no influence over the people. The catholic church,
which had great influence, was the natural enemy of
protestant ascendancy.

It was not among the catholics, however, or in the
quarrel between catholics and protestants that rebellion
had its origin. It had its origin in Presbyterian Belfast
and in a circle of free-thinkers full of the doctrines of
Tom Paine, and fired by the French Revolution. By
the catholic clergy, the Revolution, being atheist, was
abhorred; the more so as most of them, denied by the
penal law places of education in Ireland, had been edu-
cated on the continent, and in. religious houses which
the Revolution had destroyed. The Belfast conspirators,
themselves indifferent as free-thinkers to the religious
quarrel, assumed the title of United Irishmen, and strove
to combine the catholics with the protestants in a political
1791 rebellion. They succeeded only so far as to set boiling
all the elements in the fatal caldron of Irish discord and
distraction. The catholic peasantry organized themselves
as Defenders for agrarian insurrection, with perhaps some
admixture of religious enmity. The protestants, seeing
their immemorial foes in motion, organized themselves on



VI GEORGE III 286

the other side as Orangemen and vied with the catholics 1795
in outrage. Over Ulster, and in a less degree over Mun-
ster and Leinster, the reign of a murderous anarchy-
set in. Belfast conspiracy, meanwhile, was stretching out •
its hands to revolution in Paris and inviting a Jacobin
invasion. It found a leader and envoy in Wolfe Tone, a
brave, light-hearted, and dashing adventurer, who, when 1793
set to more serious work, showed ability of a higher kind,
and who could boast that with him hatred of England
had become an instinct.

Fitzgibbon, afterwards Lord Clare, the leading spirit
of the ruling party, a man of boundless courage and
great ability, was for the strict maintenance of protestant
ascendancy and for unflinching repression. More liberal
was the young Castlereagh, now rising into power. Pitt,
who in his Irish policy was still Liberal, and Dundas
were inclined to go as far as the Tories and the king
would let them in the way of reform and conciliation.
They were partly in sympathy with Grattan, the great
Irish orator and patriot and the father of independence,
and his small group of constitutional reformers, who were
for complete emancipation and redress of abuses, but
thoroughly against revolution and in favour of British
connection. In 1793 the Irish parliament, with the 1793
approbation of the government, passed a large measure
of catholic emancipation, though against the opinion
of Clare. By this measure the elective franchise and
the right of sitting on juries were restored to the
catholics ; their ownership of property was set free from
the restraints of the penal laws ; the army up to the
grade of colonel was thrown open to them, and they were
released from ignominious restrictions on their possession



286 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

of arms and horses; while a subsequent Act partly re-
moved their disabilities in regard to education. Unhap-
pily they were still excluded from sitting in parliament.
■ Thus the brand of degradation was left, and the support
of the catholic gentry, who were well disposed towards
the government, and whom it ought to have been the
first object of the government to unite with itself in
the maintenance of order, was, perhaps, more than ever
repelled.

1794 In 1794 the Conservative Whigs, Portland, Fitzwilliam,
and Windham, having joined Pitt's administration,
sought to apply the Liberal principles of the Whig party
to the government of Ireland, which was under the Home
Office, Portland's department. Fitzwilliam went to Dub-

1795 lin as Lord-Lieutenant, with the besom of administrative
reform in one hand and the olive branch of catholic
emancipation in the other. Great hopes were excited by
his coming. Unfortunately he was rash, and at Dublin
outran if he did not contravene his instructions. By pro-
claiming at once a complete change of system he stirred
to desperate opposition Clare and the whole party of
ascendancy and Castle rule. He at once dismissed
from office John Beresford, the representative of a great
jobbing house, which by assiduous accumulation of pat-
ronage had made itself a most formidable power. Pitt,
pressed no doubt by the Tory section of his ministry as
well as by the friends of ascendancy in Ireland, was

1795 obliged to recall the viceroy, while Portland, the head of
Fitzwilliam's party, acquiesced in the recall. Fitzwilliam
took his revenge, not very nobly, by publishing a con-
fidential paper and doing all the mischief that he could.
His mission had not only failed, but by dashing sanguine



VI GEORGE III 287

hopes had done incalculable harm. He departed amid
public mourning, while his successor, Camden, was re-
ceived with popular execration. 1795

The next scene in the drama was French invasion.
Hoche, a renowned general of the Revolution, with a
large fleet and army, sailed from Brest. No British fleet, 1796
to bar its way, appeared. In Ireland there was no force
capable of coping with the invasion. The country was
saved by a storm which separated the Freilch com-
manders from their armament and drove the French fleet
from the Irish coast, when it had ridden for some days
in Bantry Bay. That in Ireland itself rebellion was not
ripe, and that the movement among the peasantry was
rather agrarian than political, appeared from the conduct
of the peasants, who readily boiled their potatoes for the
soldiers. A small French force under Humbert after-
wards effected a landing, and once more proved the 1798
superiority of regulars over irregulars, by putting to
ignominious rout a large body of militia at Castlebar.
But in the end it was compelled to surrender. A great
expedition was fitted out by Holland, now the Batavian 1797
Republic, the nation to save which from French aggres-
sion England had been spending blood and money. It
was ready to sail when the British navy was paralyzed
by mutiny. But the winds were again faithful to the 1797
Queen of the Seas. They kept the Dutch armament in
port. When it was able to put out, the mutiny was over
and aU fear of Dutch invasion was ended by Duncan's
victory at Camperdown. Hoche, who was bent on the 1797
invasion of Ireland, died. Into his place mounted Bona-
parte who had no faith in Irish revolution and little
sympathy with revolution anywhere. " They have made



288 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

a diversion," he said of the Irish to the Directors ; " what
more do you want of them ? " In the negotiations for
peace, little thought was bestowed by the French govern-
ment upon its friends in Ireland.

Foreign aid having failed, nothing was left for the revo-
lutionists but domestic insurrection, however hopeless.
For this the United Irishmen had prepared by secret
organization, for which the Irish have a strong taste and
aptitude, by the administration of secret oaths, and by
the clandestine collection of arms. Society broke up.
The gentry lost all influence over their tenants and were
besieged in their houses, the mansion becoming an object
of war, like the chateau. Everything in the shape of a
pole was seized, and saplings were cut down, as handles
for the pikes, the heads of w^hich patriotic blacksmiths
were busily forging. Of the priests only the lowest joined
the movement. Those of the higher class and the hierar-
chy might have sympathized with agrarianism, still more
with the religious uprising against heretical domination,
but they could hardly sympathize with Jacobinical and
atheistic revolution. The government, finding itself
beset with perils great and magnified by rumour, pro-
1798 claimed martial law, and being ill provided with regular
troops let loose the yeomanry and Orangemen on the



Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 67 of 84)