Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome online

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not only against the lower agents in the juggle, but against the Hanoverian
favourites, against the English ministers, against the King himself, — when Par-
liament met, eager for confiscation and blood, — when members of the House
of Commons proposed that the directors should be treated like parricides in
ancient Rome, tied up in sacks, and throwTi into the Thames, Walpole was
the man on whom all parties turned their eyes. Four years before he had
been driven from power by the intrigues of Sunderland and Stanhope, ami
the lead in the House of Commons had been intrusted to Craggs and Aislabie,
Stanhope was no more. Aislabie was expelled from Parliament on account of
his disgraceful conduct regarding the South-Sea scheme. Craggs was saved
by a timely death from a similar mark of infamy. A large minority in the
House of Commons voted for a severe censure on Sunderland, who, finding it
impossible to withstand the force of the prevailing sentiment, retired from
office, and outlived his retirement but a very short time. The schism which
had divided the Whig party was now completely healed. Walpole had no
opposition to encounter except that of the Tories ; and the Tories were
naturally regarded by the King with the strongest suspicion and dislike.

For a time business went on with a smoothness and despatch such as had
not been known since the days of the Tudors. During the session of 1724,
for example, there was hardly a single division. It is not impossible that, by
taking the course which Pelham afterwards took, — by admitting into the
■. Government all the rising talents and ambition of the Whig party, and by
I making r« om here and there for a Tory not unfriendly to the House of Bruns-
wick, — \1 alpole might have averted the tremendous conflict in which he passed
the later jears of his administration, and in which he was at length van-
quished. The Opposition which overthrew him was an Opposition created by
his own policy, — by his own insatiable love of power.

In the very act of forming his ministry he turned one of the ablest and
most attached of his supporters into a deadly enemy. Pulteney had strong
public and private claims to a high situation in the new arrangement. His
fortune was immense. His private character was respectable. He was
already a distinguished speaker. He had acquired official experience in an
important post. He had been, through all changes of fortune, a consistent
Whig. When the Whig party was split into two sections, Pulteney had re-
signed a valuable place, and had followed the fortunes of Walpole. Yet,


wb«i Walpole returned to power, Pulteney was not invited to take office. An
angry discussion took place between the friends. The minister offered a
peerage. It was impossible for Pulteney not to discern the motive of such an
offer. He indignantly refused to accept it. For some time he continued to
brood over his wrongs, and to watch for an opportunity of revenge. As soon
as a favourable conjuncture arrived he joined the minority, and became the
greatest leader of Opposition that the House of Commoni had ever seen.

Of all the members of the Cabinet, Carteret was the most eloquent and
accomplished. His talents for debate were of the first order ; his knowledge
of foreign affairs superior to tliat of any living statesman ; his attachment to
the Protestant succession was undoubted. But there was not room in one
Government for him and Walpole. Carteret retired, and was, from that time
forward, one of the most persevering and formidable enemies of his old

If there was any man with whom Walpole could have consented to make a
partition of power, that man was Lord Townshend. They were distant kins-
men by birth, near kinsmen by marriage. They had been friends from child-
hood. They had been school-fellows at Eton. They were country neighbours
in Norfolk. They had been in office together under Godolphin. They had
gone into Opposition together when Ilarley rose to power. They had been
persecuted by the same House of Commons. They had, after the death of
Anne, been recalled together to office. They had again been driven out
together by Sunderland, and had again come back together when the influence
of Sunderland had declined. Their opinions on public affairs almost always
coincided. They were both men of frank, generous, and compassionate
natures ; their intercourse had been for many years affectionate and cordial.
But the ties of blood, of marriage, and of friendship, the memory of mutual
services, the memory of common persecutions, were insufficient to restrain that
ambition which domineered over all the virtues and vices of Walpole. He
was resolved, to use his own metaphor, that the firm of the house should be,
not Townshend and Walpole, but Walpole and Townshend. At length the
rivals proceeded to personal abuse before witnesses, seized each other by the
collar, and grasped their swords. The women squalled. The men parted the
combatants.* By friendly intervention the scandal of a duel between cousins,
brothers-in-law, old friends, nnd old colleagues, was prevented. But the dis-
putants could not long continue to act together. Townshend retired, and,
with rare moderation and public spirit, refused to take any part in politics.
He could not, he said, trust his temper. He feared that the recollection of
his private wrongs might impel him to follow the example of Pulteney, and
to oppose measures which he thought generally beneficial to the country. He
therefore never visited London after his resignation, but passed the closing
years of his life in dignity and repose among his trees and pictures at Rainham.

Next went Chesterfield. He too was a Whig and a friend of the Protes-
tant succession. He was an orator, a courtier, a wit, and a man of letters.
He was at the head of ton in days when, in order to be at the head of ton, it
was not sufficient to be dull and supercilious. It was evident that he sub-
mitted impatiently to the ascendency of Walpole. He murmured against the
Excise Bill. His brothers voted against it in the House of Commons. The
Minister acted with characteristic caution and characteristic energy ; — caution
in the conduct of public affairs ; energy where his own administration was

• The scene of this extraordinary quarrel was, we believe, a house ui Cleveland Square,
now occupiod by Mr. Ellice, the Secretary at War. It was then the residence of Colons)


concerned. He withdrew his Bill, and turned out all his hostile or wavering
colleagues. Chesterfield was stopped on the great staircase of St, James's,
and summoned to deliver up the stafif which he bore as Lord Steward of the
Household. A crowd of noble and powerful functionaries, — the Dukes of.
Montrose and Bolton, Lord Burlington, Lord Stair, Lord Cobham, Lord
Marchmont, Lord Clifton, — were at the same time dismissed from the service
of the Crown.

Not long after these events the Opposition was reinforced by the Duke
of Argyle, a man vainglorious indeed and fickle, but brave, eloquent and
popular. It was in a great measure owing to his exertions that the Act of
Settlement had been peaceably carried into effect in England immediately
after the death of Anne, and that the Jacobite rebellion which, during the
following year, broke out in Scotland, was suppressed. He too carried
over to the minority the aid of his great name, his talents, and his paramount
influence in his native country.

In each of these cases taken separately, a skilful defender of Walpole
might perhaps make out a case for him. But when we see that during a long
(ourse of years all the footsteps are turned the same way, — that all the most
eminent of those public men who agreed with the Minister in their general
\ lews of policy left him, one after another, with sore and irritated minds, we
find it impossible not to believe that the real explanation of the pHenomenon
ii to be found in the words of his son, ** Sir Robert Walpole loved power so
m ich that he would not endure a rivaL " * Hume has described this famous
minister with great felicity in one short sentence — "moderate in exercising
power, not equitable in engrossing it." Kind-hearted, jovial, and placable
as Walpole was, he was yet a man with whom no persons of high pretensions
and high spirit could long continue to act. He had, therefore, to stand
against an Opposition containing all the most accomplished statesmen of the
age, with no better support than that which he received from persons like his
brother Horace or Henry Pelham, whose industrious mediocrity gave him no
cause for jealousy, or from clever adventurers, whose situation and character
diminished the dread which their talents might have inspired. To this last
class belonged Fox, who was too poor to live without office ; Sir William
Yonge, of whom Walpole himself said, that nothing but such parts could
buoy up such a character, and that nothing but such a character could drag
down such parts ; and Winnington, whose private morals lay, justly or un-
justly, under imputations of the worst kind.

The discontented Whigs were, not perhaps in number, but certainly in
ability, experience, and weight, by far the most important part of the Oppo-
sition. The Tories furnished little more than rows of ponderous foxhunters,
fat with Staffordshire or Devonshire ale, — men who drank to the King over
the water, and believed that all the fundholders were Jews, — men whose reli-
gion consisted in hating the Dissenters, and whose political researches had
led them to fear, like Squire Western, that their land might be sent over to
Hanover to be put in the sinking-fund. The eloquence of these patriotic
squires, the remnant of the once formidable October Club, seldom went
beyond a hearty Ay or No. Very few members of this party had distin-
guished themselves much in Parliament, or could, under any circumstances,
have been called to fill any high office ; and those few had generally, like Sir
William Wyndham, learned in the company of their new associates the doc-
trines of toleration and political liberty, and might indeed with strict propriety
be called Whigs.

* Memoirs, Vol. i, p. aoi.


It was to the Whigs in Opposition, the patriots as they were called, that
the most distinguished of the English youth who at this season entered into
public life, attached themselves. These inexperienced politicians felt all the
enthusiasm which the name of liberty naturally excites in young and ardent
minds. They conceived that the theory of the Tory Opf«osition and the
practice of Walpole's Government were alike inconsistent with the principles
of liberty. They accordingly repaired to the standard which Puiteney had
set up. While opposing the Whig minister, they professed a firm adherence to
the purest doctrines of Whiggism. He was the schismatic ; they were the
true Catholics, the peculiar people, the depositaries of the orthodox faith of
Hampden and Russell, the one sect which, amidst the corruptions g\;nerated
by time and by the long possession of power, had preserved inviolate the
principles of the Revolution . Of the young men who attached themselves to
'Jiis portion of the Opposition the most distinguished were Lyttelton and Pitt.

When Pitt entered Parliament, the whole political world was attentively
watching the progress of an event which soon added great strength to the
Opposition, and particularly to that section of the Opposition in which the
young statesman enrolled himself. The Fiince of Wales was gradually be-
coming more and more estranged from his father and ti is father's ministers,
and more and more friendly to the patriots.

Nothing is more natural than that, in a monarchy where a constitutional
Opposition exists, the heir-apparent of the throne should put himself at the
head of that Opposition. He is impelled to such a course by every feeling
of ambition and of vanity. He cannot be more than second in the estima-
tion of the party which is in. He is sure to be the first member of the party
which is out. The highest favour which the existing administration can ex-
pect from him is that he will not discard them. But, if he joins the Oppo-
sition, all his associates expect that he will promote them ; and the feelings
which men entertain towards one from whom they hope to obtain great ad-
vantages which they have not are far warmer than the feelings with which
they regard one who, at the very utmost, can only leave them in possession
of what they already bad. An heir-apparent, therefore, who wishes to enjoy,
in the highest perfection, all the pleasure that can be derived from eloquent
flattery and profound respect will always join those who are struggling to
force themselves into power. This is, we believe, the true explanation of a
fact which Lord Granville attributed to some natural peculiarity in the illus-
trious House of Brunswick. " This family," said he at Council, we suppose
after his daily half-gallon of Burgundy, " always has quarrelled, and always
will quarrel, from generation to generation." He should have known some-
thing of the matter ; for he had been a favourite with three successive genera-
tions of the royal house. We cannot quite admit his explanation ; but the
fact is indisputable. Since the accession of George the First, there have
been four Princes of Wales, and they have all been almost constantly in

Whatever might have been the motives which induced Prince Frederick to
join the party opposed to Sir Robert Walpole, his support infused into many
members of that party a courage and an energy of which they stood greatly
in need. Hitherto it had been impossible for the discontented Whigs not
to feel some misgivings when they found themselves dividing, night after
night, with uncompromising Jacobites who were known to be in constant
communication with the exiled family, or with Tories who had impeached
Somers, who had murmured against Harley and St. John as too remiss in the
cause of the Church and the landed interest, and who, if they were not in«
ciiaed to attack the reigning family, yet considered the introductioa of that


family as, at best, only the less of two great evils, — as a necessary but painful
and humiliating preservative against Popery. The Minister might plausibly
say that Pulteney and Carteret, in the hope of gratifying their own appetite
for office and for revenge, did not scruple to serve the purposes ol a faction
hostile to the Protestaut succession. The appearance of Frederick at the
head of the patriots silenced this reproach. The leaders of the Opposition
might now boast that their proceedings were sanctioned by a person as deeply
interested as the King himself in maintaining the Act of Settlement, and that,
instead of serving the purposes of the Tory party, they had brought that party
over to the side of Whiggism. It must indeed be admitted that, though both
the King and the Prince behaved in a manner little to their honour, — though
the father acted harshly, the son disrespectfully, and both childishly, — the
royal family was rather strengthened than weakened by the disagreement of
its two most distinguished members. A large class of politicians, who had
considered themselves as placed under sentence of perpetual exclusion from
office, and who, in their despair, had been almost ready to join in a counter-
revolution as the only mode of removing the proscription under which they
lay, now saw with pleasure an easier and s.afer road to power opening before
them, and thought it far better to wait till, m the natural course of things, the
Crown should descend to the heir of the House of Brunswick, than to risk
their lands and their necks in a rising for the House of Stewart. The situation
of the royal family resembled the situation of those Scotch families in which
father and son took opposite sides during the rebellion, in order that, come
what might, the estate might not be forfeited.

In April, 1 736, Frederick was married to the Princess of Saxe Gotha, with
whom he afterwards lived on terms very similar to those on which his father
had lived vnth Queen Caroline. The Prince adored his wife, and thought
her in mind and person the most attractive of her sex. But he thought that
conjugal fidelity was an unprincely virtue ; and, in order to be like Henry the
Fourth and the Regent Orleans, he affected a libertinism for which he had
no taste, and frequently quitted the only woman whom he loved for ugly and
disagreeable mistresses.

The address which the House of Commons presented to the King on the
occasion of the Prince's marriage was moved, not by the Minister, but by
Pulteney, the leader of the Whigs in Opposition. It was on this motion that
Pitt, who had not broken silence during the session in which he took his seat,
addressed the House for the first time. " A contemporary historian," says
Mr. Thackeray, " describes Mr. Pitt's first speech as superior even to the
models of ancient eloquence. According to Tindal, it was more ornamented
than the speeches of Demosthenes and less diffuse than those of Cicero."
This unmeaning phrase Jia.s been a hundred times quoted. That it should
ever have been quoted, oKcept to be laughed at, is strange. The vogue which
it has obtained may serve to show in how slovenly a way most people are cot •
tent to think. Did Tindal, who first used it, or Archdeacon Coxe and Mr.
Thackeray, who have borrowed it, ever in their lives hear any speaking which
did not deserve the same compliment ? Did they ever hear speaking less
ornamented than that of Demosthenes, or more diffuse than that of Cicero ?
We know no living orator, from Lord Brougham down to Mr. Hunt, who is
not entitled to the same magnificent eulogy. It would be no very flattering
compliment to a man's figure to say, — that he was taller than the Polish Count,
and shorter than G-ant O'Brien, — fatter than the Anaiomie Vivante, and more
slender than Danidi Lambert.

Pitt's speech, as it is reported in the Gentleman's Magazine, certainly de*
serves Tindai's compliment, and deserves no other. It is just as empty and


wordy as a maiden speech on such an occasion might be expected to be. But
the fluency and the personal advantages of the young orator instantly caught
the ear and eye of his audience. He was, from the day of hif 5'st appearance,
al-.vays heard with attention ; and exercise soon developed the great powers
which he possessed.

In our time, the audience of a member of Parliament is the nation. The
three or four hundred persons who may be present while a speech is delivered
may be pleased or disgusted by the voice and action of the orator ; bat, in
the reports which are read the next day by hundreds of thousands, the dififer-
ence between the noblest and the meanest figure, between the richest and
the shrillest tones, between the most graceful and the most uncouth gesture^
altogether vanishes. A hundred years ago, scarcely any report of what passtd
within the walls of the House of Commons was suffered to get abroad. In
those times, therefore, the impression which a speaker might make on the persons
who actually heard him was every thing. The impression out of doors was
hardly worth a thought. In the Parliaments of that time, therefore, as in the
ancient commonwealths, those qualifications which enhance the immediate
effect of a speech, were far more important ingredients in the composition of
an orator than they would appear to be in our time. All those qualifications
Pitt possessed in the highest degree. On the stage, he would have been the
finest Brutus or Coriolanus ever seen. Those who saw him in his decay,
when his health was broken, when his mind was jangled, when he had been
removed from that stormy assembly of which he thoroughly knew the temper,
and over which he possessed unbounded influence, to a small, a torpid, and
an unfriendly audience, say that his speaking was then, for the most part,
a low, monotonous muttering, audible only to those who sat lose to him, —
that when violently excited, he sometimes raised his voice for a few minutes,
but that it soon sank again into an unintelligible murmur. Such was the
Earl of Chatham ; but such was not William Pitt. His figure, when he first
appeared in Parliament, was strikingly graceful and commanding, his features
high and noble, his eye full of fire. His voice, even when it sank to a
whisper, was heard to the remotest benches ; and when he strained it to its
full extent, the sound rose like the swell of the organ of a great cathedral,
shook the house with its peal, and was heard through lobbies and down
staircases, to the Court of Requests and the precincts of Westminster Hall.
He cultivated all these eminent advantages with the most assiduous care.
His action is described by a very malignant observer as equal to that of
Garrick. His play of countenance was wonderful : he frequently dis-
concerted a hostile orator by a single glance of indignation or scorn. Every
tone, from the impassioned cry to the thrilling aside was perfectly at his
command. It is by no means improbable that the pains which he took to
improve his great personal advantages had, in some respects, a prejudicial
operation, and tended to nourish in him that passion for theatrical effect which,
as we have already remarked, was one of the most conspicuous blemishes in
his character.

But it was not solely or principally to outward accomplishments that Pitt
owed the vast influence which, during nearly thirty years, he exercised over
the House of Commons. He was undoubtedly a great orator ; and from the
descriptions of his contemporaries, and the fragments of his speeches which
stiU remain, it is not diihcult to discover the nature and extent of his oratorical

He was no speaker of set speeches. His few prepared discourses were
complete failures. The elaborate panegyric which he pronounced on General
WolJFe was considered as the very worst of aU his performances. " No man,"


says a critic who had often heard him, "ever knew so little what he was going
to say." Indeed his facility amounted to a vice. He was not the master, but
the slave of his own speech. So little self-command had he when once he
felt the impulse, that he did not like to take part in a debate when his mind
was full of an important secret of state. "I must sit still," he once said to
Lord Shelburne on such an occasion ; " for, when once I am up, every thing
that is in my mind comes out."

Yet he was not a great debater. That he should not have been so when
first he entered the Ilouse of Commons is not strange. Scarcely any person
has ever become so without long practice, and many failures. It was by
slow degrees, as Burke said, that the late Mr. P'ox became the most brilliant
and powerful debater that ever Parliament saw. Mr. Fox himself attributed
his own success to the resolution which he formed when very young, of
speaking, well or ill, at least once every night. " During five whole
sessions," he used to say, " I spoke every night but one; and I regret only
that I did not speak on that night too." Indeed, it would be difficult to
name any great debater, with the exception of Mr. Stanley, whose knowledge
of the science of parliamentary defence resembles an instinct, who has not
made himself a master of his art at the expense of his audience.

But as this art is one which even the ablest men have seldom acquired
without long practice, so it is one which men of respectable abilities, with
assiduous and intrepid practice, seldom fail to acquire. It is singular that
in such an art, Pitt, a man of splendid talents, of great fluency, of great
boldness, — a man whose whole life was passed in parliamentary conflict, — a
man who, during several years, was the leading minister of the Crown in
the House of Commons, — should never have attained to high excellence. He
spoke without premeditation ; but his speech followed the course of his own
thoughts and not the course of the previous discussion. He could, indeed,
treasure up in his memory some detached expression of a hostile orator, and
make it the text for sparkling ridicule or burning invective. Some of the
most celebrated bursts of his eloquence were called forth by an unguarded
word, a lacgh, or a cheer. But this was the only sort of reply in which he
appears to have excelled. He was perhaps the only great English orator

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome → online text (page 50 of 150)