Isaac Disraeli.

Curiosities of literature online

. (page 7 of 43)
Online LibraryIsaac DisraeliCuriosities of literature → online text (page 7 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


what "folly of the wise" must account for the conduct of the
profound Clarendon, and the sensible Sir Robert Walpole,
who, like the other two ministers, equally became the vic-
tims of this imprudent passion for the ostentatious pomp of a
palace. This magnificence looked like the vaunt of insolence
in the eyes of the people, and covered the ministers with a
popular odium.

Clarendon-House is now only to be viewed in a print ; but
its story remains to be told. It was built on the site of Graf-
ton-street; and when afterwards purchased by Monk, the
Duke of Albemarle, he left his title to that well-known street
It was an edifice of considerable extent and grandeur. Clar-
endon reproaches himself in his life for " his weakness and
vanity " in the vast expense incurred in this building, which
he acknowledges had " more contributed to that gust of envy
that had so violently shaken him, than any misdemeanour that
he was thought to have been guilty of." It ruined his estate ;
but he had been encouraged to it by the royal grant of the
land, by that passion for building to which he owns " he was
naturally too much inclined," and perhaps by other circum-
stances, among which was the opportunity of purchasing the
stones which had been designed for the rebuilding of St
PauFs ; but the envy it drew on him, and the excess of the >



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



OF PALACES BUILT BY MINISTERS. 75

architect's proposed expense, had made his life " very uneasy,
and near insupportable." The truth is, that when this palace
was finished, it was imputed to him as a state-crime ; all the
evils in the nation, which were then numerous, pestilence,
conflagration, war, and defeats, were discovered to be in some
way connected with Clarendon-House, or, as it was popularly
called, either Dunkirk-House, or Tangier-Hall, from a notion
that it had been erected with the golden bribery which the
chancellor had received for the sale of Dunkirk and Tangiers.
He was reproached with having profaned the sacred stones
dedicated to the use of the church. The great but unfortu-
nate master of this palace, who, from a private lawyer, had
raised himself by alliance even to royalty, the father-in-law
of the Duke of York, it was maliciously suggested, had per-
suaded Charles the Second to marry the Infanta of Portugal,
knowing (but how Clarendon obtained the knowledge his
enemies have not revealed) that the Portuguese Princess
was not likely to raise any obstacle to the inheritance of his
own daughter to the throne. At the Restoration, among
other enemies, Clarendon found that the royalists were none
of the least active ; he was reproached by them for preferring
those who had been the cause of their late troubles. The
same reproach was incurred on the restoration of the Bour-
bons. It is perhaps more political to maintain active men,
who have obtained power, than to reinstate inferior talents,
who at least have not their popularity. This is one of the
parallel cases which so frequently strike us in exploring po-
litical history ; and the ultras of Louis the Eighteenth were
only the royalists of Charles the Second. There was a strong
popular delusion carried on by the wits and the Misses^ who
formed the court of Charles the Second, that the government
was as much shared by the Hydes as the Stuarts. We have
in the state-poems, an unsparing lampoon, entitled, " Claren-
don's House-warming ; " but a satire yielding nothing to it in
severity I have discovered in manuscript ; and it is also
remarkable for turning chiefly on a pun of the family name



Digitized by VjOOQIC



76 OF PALACES BUILT BY MINISTERS.

of the Earl of Clarendon. The witty and malicious rhymer,
after making Charles the Second demand the Great Seal, and
resolve to be his own chancellor, proceeds, reflecting on the
great political victim.

" Lo ! his whole ambition already divides
The sceptre between the Stuarts and the Hydes.
Behold in the depth of our plague and wars,
He built him a palace out-braves the stars ;
Which house (we Dunkirk, he Clarendon, names)
Looks down with shame upon St. James ;
But 'tis not his golden globe that will save him,
Being less than the custom-house farmers gave him;
His chapel for consecration calls,
Whose sacrilege plundered the stones from Paul's.
When Queen Dido landed she bought as much ground
As the Hyde of a lusty fat bull would surround;
But when the said Hyde was cut into thongs,
A city and kingdom to Hyde belongs ;
So here in court, church, and country, far and wide,
Here's nought to be seen but Hyde! Hyde! Hyde!
Of old, and where law the kingdom divides,
'Twas our Hydes of land, 'tis now land of Hydes ! "

Clarendon-House was a palace, which had been raised with
at least as much fondness as pride ; and Evelyn tells us, that
the garden was planned by himself and his lordship ; but the
cost, as usual, trebled the calculation, and the noble master
grieved in silence amidst this splendid pile of architecture.*
Even when in his exile the sale was proposed to pay his
debts, and secure some provision for his younger children, ke
honestly tells us, that " he remained so infatuated with the
delight he had enjoyed, that though he was deprived of it, he
hearkened very unwillingly to the advice." In 1683, Clar-
endon-House met its fate, and was abandoned to the brokers,
who had purchased it for its materials. An affecting circum-
stance is recorded by Evelyn on this occasion. In returning
to town with the Earl of Clarendon, the son of the great

* At the gateway of the Three Kings Inn, near Dover-street in Picca-
dilly, are two pilasters with Corinthian capitals, which belonged to Cla-
rendon-House, and are perhaps the only remains of that edifice.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



OF PALACES BUILT BY MINISTERS. 77

earl, " in passing by the glorious palace his father built but
few years before, which they were now demolishing, being
sold to certain undertakers, I turned ray head the contrary
way till the coach was gone past by, lest I might minister
occasion of speaking of it, which must needs have grieved
him, that in so short a time this pomp was fallen." A feeling
of infinite delicacy, so perfectly characteristic of Evelyn !

And now to bring down this subject to times still nearer.
We find that Sir Robert Walpole had placed himself ex-
actly in the situation of the great minister we have noticed ;
we have his confession to his brother Lord Walpole, and to
his friend Sir John Hynde Cotton. The historian of this
minister observes, that his magnificent building at Houghton
drew on him great obloquy. On seeing his brother's house
at Wolterton, Sir Robert expressed his wishes that he had
contented himself with a similar structure. In the reign of
Anne, Sir Robert, sitting by Sir John Hynde Cotton, alluding
to a sumptuous house which was then building by Harley,
observed, that to construct a great house was a high act of
imprudence in any minister ! It was a long time after,
when he had become prime minister, that he forgot the whole
result of the present article, and pulled down his family
mansion at Houghton to build its magnificent edifice ; it was
then Sir John Hynde Cotton reminded him of the reflection
which he had made some years ago : the reply of Sir Robert
is remarkable — " Your recollection is too late ; I wish you
had reminded me of it before I began building, for then it
might have been of service to me ! "

The statesman and politician then are susceptible of all
the seduction of ostentation and the pride of pomp ! Who
would have credited it ? But bewildered with power, in the
magnificence and magnitude of the edifices which their
colossal greatness inhabits, they seem to contemplate on its
image !

Sir Francis Walsingham died and left nothing to pay his
debts, as appears by a curious fact noticed in the anonymous



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



78 "TAXATION NO TYRANNY!"

life of Sir Philip Sidney prefixed to the Arcadia, and
evidently written by one acquainted with the family history
of his friend and hero. The chivalric Sidney, though sought
after by court beauties, solicited the hand of the daughter of
Walsingham, although, as it appears, she could have had no
other portion than her own virtues and her father's name.
" And herein," observes our anonymous biographer, " he was
exemplary to all gentlemen not to carry their love in their
purses." On this he notices this secret history of Walsing-
ham:

" This is that Sir Francis who impoverished himself to
enrich the state, and indeed made England his heir ; and was
so far from building up of fortune by the benefit of his place,
that he demolished that fine estate left him by his ancestors
to purchase dear intelligence from all parts of Christendom.
He had a key to unlock the pope's cabinet ; and, as if master
of some invisible whispering-place, all the secrets of Christian
princes met at his closet. Wonder not then if he bequeathed
no great wealth to his daughter, being privately interred in
the quire of Paul's, as mtich indebted to his creditors, though
not so much as our nation is indebted to his memory."

Some curious inquirer may afford us a catalogue of great
ministers of state who have voluntarily declined the augmen-
tation of their private fortune, while they devoted their days
to the noble pursuits of patriotic glory ! The labour of this
research will be great, and the volume small I



"TAXATION NO TYRANNY!"

Such was the title of a famous political tract, which was
issued at a moment when a people, in a state of insurrection,
put forth a declaration that taxation was tyranny ! It was
not against an insignificant tax they protested, but against
taxation itself! and in the temper of the moment this abstract



Digitized by VjOOQIC



"TAXATION NO TYRANNY!" 79

proposition appeared an insolent paradox. It was instantly
run down bj that everlasting party which, so far back as in
the laws of our Henry the First, are designated by the odd
descriptive term of acephali, a people without heads / * the
strange equality of levellers !

These political monsters in all times have had an associa-
tion of ideas of taxation and tyrannt/, and with them one
name instantly suggests the other ! This happened to one
Gigli of Sienna, who published the first part of a dictionary
of the Tuscan language,t of which only 312 leaves amused
the Florentines ; these having had the honour of being con-
signed to the flames by the hands of the hangman for certain
popular errors ; such as, for instance, under the word Gran
Duca we find Vedi Gahelli ! (see Taxes !) and the word
GdbeUa was explained by a reference to Gran Duca!
Chrand-duhe and taxes were synonymes, according to this
mordacious lexicographer ! Such grievances, and the modes
of expressing them, are equally ancient. A Roman consul,
by levying a tax on salt during the Punic war, was nick-
named Salinator, and condemned by " the majesty " of the
people ! He had formerly done his duty to the country, but
the Salter was now his reward ! He retired from Rome, let

* Cowel's Interpreter, art. Acephali. This by-name we unexpectedly
find in a grave antiquarian law-dictionary ! probably derived from Pliny's
description of a people whom some travellers had reported to have found
in this predicament, in their fright and haste in attempting to land on a
hostile shore among savages. To account for this fabulous people, it has
been conjectured they wore such high coverings, that their heads did not
appear above their shoulders, while their eyes seemed to be placed in their
breasts. How this name came to be introduced into the laws of Henry the
First remains to be told by some profound antiquary; but the allusion was
common in the middle ages. Cowel says, " Those are called acephali who
were the leveUers of that age, and acknowledged no head or superior.

t VocabtUario di Santa Caterina e deUa lAngua Sanese, 1717. This pun-
gent lexicon was prohibited at Rome by desire of the court of Florence.
The history of this suppressed work may be found in 11 Giornale de* Let-
teraU d* Italia, tomo xxix. 1410. In the last edition of Haym's " Biblioteca
Italiana," 1803, it is said to be reprinted at Manilla, neW laole FiUijppine I-^
For the book-licensers it is a great way to go for it I



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



80 "TAXATION NO TYRANNY!*'

his beard grow, and by his sordid dress and melancholy air
evinced his acute sensibility. The Romans at length wanted
the Salter to command the army — as an injured man, he re-
fused — but he was told that he should bear the caprice of the
Roman people with the tenderness of a son for the humours
of a parent ! He had lost his reputation by a productive tax
on salt, though this tax had provided an army and obtained
a victory !

Certain it is that Gigli and his numerous adherents are
wrong : for were they freed from all restraints as much as if
they slept in forests and not in houses ; were they inhabitants
of wilds and not of cities, so that every man should be his
own law-giver, with a perpetual immunity from all taxation,
we could not necessarily infer their political happiness.
There are nations where taxation is hardly known, for the
people exist in such utter wretchedness, that they are too poor
to be taxed ; of which the Chinese, among others, exhibit
remarkable instances. When Nero would have abolished all
taxes, in his excessive passion for popularity, the senate
thanked him for his good will to the people, but assured him
that this was a certain means not of repairing, but of ruining
the commonwealth. Bodin, in his curious work " the Repub-
lic," has noticed a class of politicians who are in too great
favour with the people. " Many seditious citizens, and de-
sirous of innovations, did of late years promise immunity of
taxes and subsidies to our people ; but neither could they do
it, or if they could have done it, they would not ; or if it
were done, should we have any common-weal, being the
ground and foundation of one." *

The undisguised and naked term of " taxation " is, how-
. ever, so odious to the people, that it may be curious to observe

* Bodin' s six Books of a Commonwealth, translated by Richard Knolles,
1606. A work replete with the practical knowledge of politics ; and of
which Mr. Dugald Stewart has delivered a high opinion. Yet this great
politician wrote a volume to anathematize those who doubted the existence
of sorcerers and witches, &c. whom he condemns to the flames ! See his
'* Demonomanie des Sorciers," 1593.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



"TAXATION NO TYBANFS'!" 81

the arts practised by governments, and even by the people
themselves, to veil it under some mitigating term. In the first
breaking out of the American troubles, they probably would
have yielded to the mother-country the right of taxation,
modified by the term regulation (of their trade) ; this I infer
from a letter of Dr. Robertson, who observes, that " the dis-
tinction between taxation and regulation is mere folly ! '*
Even despotic governments have condescended to disguise
the contributions forcibly levied, by some appellative which
should partly conceal its real nature. Terms have often in-
fluenced circumstances, as names do things ; and conquest or
oppression, which we may allow to be synonymes, apes be-
nevolence whenever it claims as a gift what it exacts as a
tribute.

A sort of philosophical history of taxation appears in the
narrative of Wood, in his Inquiry on Homer. He tells us
that " the presents (a term of extensive signification in the
East) which are distributed annually by the bashaw of Da-
mascus to the several Arab princes through whose territory
he conducts the caravan of pilgrims to Mecca, are, at Con-
stantinople, called a free gift, and considered as an act of the
sultan's generosity towards his indigent subjects ; while, on
the other hand, the Arab sheikhs deny even a right of pas-
sage through the districts of their command, and exact those
sums as a tax due for the permission of going through their
country. In the frequent bloody contests which the adjust-
ment of these fees produce, the Turks complain of robbery,
and the Arabs of invasion." *

Here we trace taxation through all its shifting forms, ac-
commodating itself to the feelings of the different people ;
the same principle regulated the alternate terms proposed by
the buccaneers, when they ashed what the weaker party was
sure to give, or when they levied what the others paid only as
a common toll.



* Wood*8 Inquiry on Homer, p. 168.

VOL. IV. 6



Digitized by VjOOQIC



82 "TAXATION NO TYRANNY!"

When Louis the Eleventh, of France beheld his country
exhausted by the predatory wars of England, he bought a
peace of our Edward the Fourth by an annual sum of fifty
thousand crowns, to be paid at London, and likewise granted
pensions to the English ministers. Holingshed and all our
historians call this a yearly tribute ; but Comines, the French
memoir-writer, with a national spirit, denies that these gifts
were either pensions or tributes, " Yet,*' says Bodin, a
Frenchman also, but affecting a more philosophical indiffer-
ence, " it must be either the one or the other ; though I confess,
that those who receive a pension to obtain peace, commonly
boast of it as if it were a tribute ! " * Such are the shades
of our feelings in this history of taxation and tribute. But
there is another artifice of applying soft names to hard things,
by veiling a tyrannical act by a term which presents no dis-
agreeable idea to the imagination. When it was formerly
thought desirable, in the relaxation of morals which pre-
vailed in Venice, to institute the office o^ censor, three magis-
trates were elected bearing this title ; but it seemed so harsh
and austere in • that dissipated city, that these reformers of
manners were compelled to change their title; when they
were no longer called censors, but I signori sopra il bon ^?^-
vere deUa cittct, aU agreed on the propriety of the office under
the softened term. Father Joseph, the secret agent of Car-
dinal Richelieu, was the inventor of lettres de cachet, disguis-
ing that instrument of despotism by the amusing term of a
sealed letter. Expatriation would have been merciful com-
pared with the result of that billet-doux, a sealed letter from
his majesty !

Burke reflects with profound truth — "Abstract liberty, like
other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in
some sensible object ; and every nation has formed to itself
some favourite point, which, by way of eminence, becomes
the criterion of their happiness. It happened that the great

* Bodin's Common-weaJ, translated by R. Knolles, p. 148. 1606.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



" TAXATION NO TYRANNY ! ♦♦ 83

contests for freedom in this ceuntry were from the earliest
times chiefly upon the question of taxing. Most of the con-
tests in the ancient commonwealths turned primarily on the
right of election of magistrates, or on the balance among the
several orders of the state. The question of money was not
with them so immediate. But in England it was otherwise.
On this point of taxes the ablest pens and most eloquent
tongues have been exercised ; the greatest spirits have acted
and suffered.'* *

One party clamorously asserts that taxation is their griev-
ance, while another demonstrates that the annihilation of
taxes would be their ruin ! The interests of a great nation,
among themselves, are often contrary to each other, and each
seems alternately to predominate and to decline. "The
sting of taxation," observes Mr. Hallam, " is wastefulness ;
but it is difficult to name a limit beyond which taxes will not
be borne without impatience when faiihfvUy applied,^* In
plainer words, this only signifies, we presume, that Mr. Hal-
lam's party would tax us without " wastefulness ! " Minis-
terial or opposition, whatever be the administo^tion, it follows
that " taxation is no tyranny ; " Dr. Johnson then was terribly
abused in his day for a vox et prcBterea nihil!

Still shall the innocent word be hateful, and the people
will turn even on their best friend, who in administration
inflicts a new impost ; as we have shown by the fate of the
Roman SalincUor! Among ourselves, our government, in its
constitution, if not always in its practice, long had a considera-
tion towards the feelings of the people, and often contrived
to hide the nature of its exactions by a name of blandish-
ment* An enormous grievance was long the office of pur-
veyance. A purveyor was an officer who was to furnish
every sort of provision for the royal house, and sometimes
for great lords, during their progresses or journeys. His
oppressive office, by arbitrarily fixing the market-prices, and
compelling the countrymen to bring their articles to market.

* Burke's Works, vol. i. 288.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



84 "TAXATION NO TYRANNY!"

would enter into the history of the arts of grinding the labor-
ing class of society ; a remnant of feudal tyranny ! The very
title of this officer became odious ; and by a statute of Ed-
ward III. the hateful name of purveyor was ordered to be
changed into acheteur or buyer ! A change of name, it was
imagined, would conceal its nature ! The term often devised,
strangely contrasted with the thing itself. Levies of money
were long raised under the pathetic appeal of benevolences.
When Edward IV. was passing over to France, he obtained,
under this gentle demand, money towards " the great jour-
ney," and afterwards having " rode about the more part of
the lands, and used the people in such fair manner, that they
were liberal in their gift^, '* old Fabian adds, "the which
way of the levying of this money was after-named a benevo-
lence." Edward IV. was courteous in this newly invented
style, and was besides the handsomest tax-gatherer in his
kingdom ! His royal presence was very dangerous to the
purses of his loyal subjects, particularly to those of liie
females. In his progress, having kissed a widow for having
contributed a larger sum than was expected from her estate,
she was so overjoyed at the singular honour and delight, that
she doubled her benevolence, and a second kiss had ruined
her ! In the succeeding reign of Richard III. the term had
already lost the freshness of its innocence. In the speech
which the Duke of Buckingham delivered from the hustings
in Guildhall, be explained the term to the satisfaction of his
auditors, who even then were as cross-humoured as the livery
of this day, in their notions of what now we gently call " sup-
plies." " Under the plausible name of benevolence, as it was
held in the time of Edward IV., your goods were taken from
you much against your will, as if by that name was under-
stood that every man should pay, not what he pleased, but
ivhat the king would have him ; " or, as a marginal note in
Buck's Life of Richard III. more pointedly has it, that " the
name of benevolence signified that every man should pay, nojt
what he of his own good will list, but what the king of his



Digitized by VjOOQIC



"TAXATION NO TYRANNY!" 35

good will list to take." * RichariJ III., whose business, like
that of all usurpers, was to be popular, in a statute even con-
demns this " benevolence " as " a new imposition," and enacts
that '^ none shall be charged with it in future ; many families
having been ruined under these pretended gifts." His suc-
cessor, however, found means to levy " a benevolence ; " but
when Henry VHI. demanded one, the citizens of London
appealed to the act of Richard HI. Cardinal Wolsey in-
sisted that the law of a murderous usurper should not be
enforced. One of the common-council courageously replied,
that " King Richard, conjointly with parliament, had enacted
many good statutes." Even then the citizen seems to have
comprehended the spirit of our constitution — that taxes should
not be raised without consent of parliament !

Charles the First, amidst his urgent wants, at first had
hoped, by the pathetic appeal to benevolences, that he should
have touched the hearts of his unfriendly commoners ; but
the term of benevolence proved unlucky. The resisters of
taxation took full advantage of a significant meaning, which
had long been lost in the custom : asserting by this very
term, that all levies of money were not compulsory, but the
voluntary gifts of the people. In that political crisis, when
in the fulness of time all the national grievances which had
hitherto been kept down, started up with one voice, the cour-
teous term strangely contrasted with the rough demand.
Loi*d Digby said " the granting of subsidies, under so pre-



Online LibraryIsaac DisraeliCuriosities of literature → online text (page 7 of 43)