Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

. (page 42 of 84)
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er may be popular, if his genius has saved or aggran-
dised the nation which he governs. Perhaps no rulers
have in our time had a stronger hold on the affection
of subjects than the Emi)eror Francis, and his son-in-
law the Emperor Napoleon. But imagine a ruler with
no better title than Napoleon, and no better under-



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THE EA^L OF CllATii.^M. 15

standing than Francis. Richard Cromwell was such
a ruler ; and, as soon as an arm was lifted up against
him, he fell without a struggle, amidst universal deri-
sion, George the First and George the Second were in
a situation which bore some resemblance to that of
Richard Cromwell. They were saved from the fate
of Richard Cromwell by the strenuous and able exer-
tions of the Whig party, and by the general conviction
that the nation had no choice but between the House
of Brunswick and popery. But by no class were the
Guelphs regarded with that devoted affection, of which
Charles the First, Charles the Second, and James the
Second, in spite of the greatest feults, and in the
midst of the greatest misfortunes, received innumerable
proofe. Those Whigs who stood by the new dynasty
so manfully with purse and sword did so on principles
independent of, and indeed almost incompatible with,
the sentiment of devoted loyalty. The moderate To-
ries regarded the foreign dynasty as a great evil, which
must be endured for fear of a greater evil. In the eyes
of the high Tories, the Elector was the most hateful
of robbers and tyrants. The crown of another was
on his head ; the blood of the brave and loyal was on
his hands. Thus, during many years, the Kings of
England were objects of strong personal aversion to
many of their subjects, and of strong personal attach-
m^t to none. They found, indeed, firm and cordial
support against the pretender to their throne ; but this
support was given, not at all for their sake, but for the
sake of a religious and political system which would
have been endangered by their fall. This support,
too, they were compelled to purchase by perpetually
sacrificing their private inclinations to the party which
had set them on the throne, and which maintained
them there.



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16 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

At the close of the rdgn of George the Second, tlic
feeling of avei'sion with which the House of Brunswick
had long been regarded by half the nation had died
away ; but no feeling of affection to that house had yet
sprung up. There was little, indeed, in the old King's
character to inspire esteem or tenderness. He was
not our countryman. He never set foot on our soil
till he was more than thirty years old. His speech be-
wrayed his foreign origin and breeding. His love for
his native land, though tlie most amiable part of his
character, was not likely to endear him to his British
subjects. He was never so happy as when he could
exchange St. James's for Hernhausen. Year after
year, our fleets were employed to convoy him to the
Continent, and the interests of his kingdom were as
nothing to him when compared with the interests of
his Electorate. As to the rest, he had neither the
qualities which make dulness respectable, nor the qual-
ities which make libertinism attractive. He had been
a bad son and a worse father, an unfaithful husband
and an ungrac^l lover. Not one magnanimous or hu-
mane action is recorded of him ; but many instances of
meanness, and of a harshness which, but for the strong
constitutional i*estraints under which he was placed,
might have made the misery of his people.

He died ; and at once a new world opened. The
young King was a bom Englishman. All his tastes
and habits, good or bad, were English. No portion
of his subjects had anything to reproach him with.
Even the i^emaining adherents of the House of Stuart
could scarcely impute to him the guilt of usurpation.
He was not responsible for the Revolution, for the Act
of Settlement, for the suppression of the risings of
1715 and of 1745, He was innocent of the blood



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 17

of Derwentwater and Kilmarnock, of Balmerino and
Cameron. Born fifty years after the old line had been
expelled, fourth in descent and third in succession of
the Hanoverian dynasty, he might plead some show of
bereditaiy right. His age, his appearance, and all that
^^s known of his character, conciliated public favour.
He was in the bloom of youth ; his person and address
were pleasing. Scandal imputed to him no vice ; and
(lattery might, without any glaring absurdity, ascribe
to him many princely virtues.

It is not strange, therefore, that the sentiment of
loyalty, a sentiment which had lately seemed to be as
much out of date as the belief in witches or the prac-
tice of pilgrimage, should, jfrom the day of his acces-
sion, have begun to revive. The Tories in paiticular,
who Imd always been inclined to Kingworship, and
who had long felt with pain the want of an idol before
whom they could bow themselves down, were as joy-
fiil as the priests of Apis, when, after a long interval,
they had found a new calf to adore. It was soon clear
that George the Third was regarded by a portion of
the nation with a very different feeling from that which
liis two predecessors had inspired. They had been
merely First Magistrates, Doges, Stadtholders ; he was
emphatically a King, the anointed of heaven, the
breath of his people's nostrils. The years of the wid-
owhood and mourning of the Tory party were over.
Dido had kept faith long enough to the cold ashes of a
former lord ; she had at last found a comforter, and
recognised the vestiges of the old flame. The golden
days of Harley would return. The Somersets, the
Lees, and the Wyndhams would again surround the
throne. The latitudinarian Prelates, who had not
been ashamed to correspond with Doddridge and to



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18 THK KAKL OF CHATHAM.

shake hands with Whiston, would be succeeded by di-
vines of the temper of South and Atterbury. The
devotion which had been so signally shown to the
House of Stuart, which had been proof against defeats,
confiscations, and proscriptions, which perfidy, oppres-
sion, ingratitude, could not weary out, was now trans-
ferred entire to the House of Brunswick. If George
ihe Third would but accept the homage of the Cava-
liers and High Churchmen, he should be to them all
that Charles the First and Charles the Second had been.
The Prince, whose accession was thus hailed by a
great party long estranged from his house, had received
fi*om nature a strong will, a firmness of temper to
which a harsher name might perhaps be given, and an
understanding not, indeed, acute or enlarged, but such
as qualified him to be a good man of business. But
his character had not yet ftilly developed itself. He
had been brought up in strict seclusion. The detract-
ors of the Princess Dowager of Wales affiimed that
she had kept her cliildren from commerce with society,
in order that she initrht hold an undivided empire over
their minds. She ga\ e a very different explanation of
her conduct. She would gladly, she said, see her sons
and daughters mix in the world, if they could do so
without risk to their morals. But the profligacy of
the people of quality alarmed her. The young men
were all rakes ; the young women made love, instead of
waiting till it was made to them. She could not bear
to expose those whom she loved best to the contaminat-
ing influence of such society. The moral advantages
of the system of education which formed the Duke
of York, the Duke of Cumberland, and the Queen of
Denmark, may perhaps be questioned. George the
Third was indeed no libertine ; but he brought td the



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 19

throne a mind only half opened, and was for some
rime entirely mider the inflaence of his mother and
of Ids Groom of the Stole, John Stuart, Earl of Bute.
The Earl of Bute was scarcely known even by
name, to the country which he was soon to govern.
He had indeed, a short time after he came of age, been
chosen to fill a vacancy, which, in the middle of a par-
liament, had taken place among the Scotch representa-
tive peers. He had disobliged the Whig ministers by
giving some silent votes with the Tories, had conse-
quently lost his seat at the next dissolution, and had
never been reelected. Near twenty years had elapsed
since he had borne any part in politics. He had passed
some of those years at his seat in one of the Hebrides,
and from that retirement he had emerged as one of the
household of Prince Frederick. Lord Bute, excluded
from public life, had found out many ways of amusing
his leisure. He was a tolerable actor in private theat-
ricals, and was particularly successful in the part of
Lothario. A handsome leg, to which both painters
and satirists took care to give prominence, was among
his chief qualifications for the stage. He devised
quaint dresses for masquerades. He dabbled in geom
etry, mechanics, and botany. He paid some attention
to antiquities and works of art, and was considered in
his own circle as a judge of painting, architecture, and
poetry. It is said that his spelling was incorrect. But
though, in our time, incorrect spelling is justly con-
sidered as a proof of sordid ignorance, it would be un-
just to apply the same rule to people who lived a
century ago. The novel of Sir Charles Grandison
was published about the time at which Lord Bute
made his appearance at Leicester House. Our read-
ers may perhaps remember the account which Char-



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20 THE EAllL OF CHATHAM.

lotte Grandison gives of hijr two lovers. One of them,
a fashionable baronet who talks French and Italian
fluently, cannot write a line in his own language with-
out some sin against orthography ; the other, who is
represented as a most respectable specimen of the
-young aristocracy, and something of a virtuoso, is de-
scribed as spelhng pretty well for a lord. On the
whole, the Earl of Bute might fairly be called a man
of cultivated mind. He was also a man of undoubted
honour. But his understanding was nan*ow, and his
manners cold and haughty. His qualifications for the
part of a statesman were best described by Frederic,
who often indulged in the unprincely luxury of sneer-
ing at his dependents. ^^ Bute,'^ said his Royal High-
ness, " you are the very man to be envoy at some small
proud German court where there is nothing to do."

Scandal represented the Groom of the Stole as the
favoured lover of the Princess Dowager, He was un-
doubtedly her confidential fi*iend. The influence which
the two united exercised over the mind of the King
was for a time unbounded. The Princess, a woman
and a foreigner, was not likely to be a judicious ad-
viser about affairs of state. The Earl could scarcely
be said to have served even a noviciate in politics.
His notions of government had been acquired in the
society which had been in the habit of assembling
round Frederic at Kew and Leicester House. That
society consisted principally of Tories, who had been
reconciled to the House of Hanover by the civility
with which the Prince had treated them, and by the
hope of obtaining high preferment when he should
come to the throne. Their political creed was a pecu-
liar modification of Toryism, It was the creed neither
of the Tories of the seventeenth nor of the Tories of



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 21

the nineteenth century. It was the creed, not of Filmer
and Sacheverell, not of Perceval and Eldon, but of the
sect of which Bolingbroke may be considered as the
chief doctor. This sect deserves commendation for
having pointed out and- justly reprobated some great
abuses which sprang up during the long domination of
tlie Whigs. But it is lar easier to point out and repro-
bate abuses than to propose beneficial reforms : and the
reforms which Bolingbroke proposed would either have
been utterly inefficient, or would have produced much
more mischief than they would have removed.

The Revolution had saved the nation from one class
of evils, but had at the same time — such is the imper-
fection of all things human — engendered or aggra-
vated another class of evils which required new reme-
dies. Liberty and property were seciwe from the
attacks of prerogative. Conscience was respected.
No government ventured to infringe any of the rights
solemnly recognised by the instrument which had called
William and Mary to the throne. But it cannot be
denied tliat, under the new system, the public interests
and the public morals were seriously endangered by
corruption and faction. During the long struggle
against the Stuarts, the chief object of the most en-
lightened statesmen had been to strengthen the House
of Commons. The struggle was over; the victory
was won ; the House of Commons was supreme in the
state; and all the vices which had till then been latent
in tlie representative system were rapidly developed by
prosperity and power. Scarcely had the executive gov-
ernment become really responsible to the House of Com-
mons, when it began to appear that the House of Com-
mons was not really responsible to the nation. Many
of the constituent bodies were under^the absolute con-



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22 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

trol of individuals ; many were notoriously at the com-
mand of the highest bidder. The debates were not
published. It was very seldom known out of doors
how a gentleman had voted. Thus, while the min-
istry was accountable to the Parliament, the majority
of the Parliament was accountable to nobody. In
such circumstances, nothing could be more natui*al
than that the members should insist on bein^ paid fur
their votes, should form themselves into combinations
for the purpose of raising the price of their votes, and
should at critical conjunctures extort large wages by
threatening a .\trike. Thus the Whig ministers of
George the First and George the Second were com-
pelled to reduce corruption to a system, and to practise
it on a gigantic scale.

If we are right as to the cause of these abases, we
can scai'cely be wrong as to the remedy. The remedy
was surely not to deprive the House of Commons of its
weight in the state. Such a course would iradoubtcdly
have put an end to parliamentary corruption and to
parliamentary factions : for, when votes cease to be of
importance, they will cease to be bought ; and, when
knaves can get nothing by combining, they will cease
to combine. But to destroy corruption and Action by
introducing despotism would have been to cure bad by
woi-se. The proper remedy evidently was, to make
the House of Commons responsible to the nation ; and
tliis was to be effected in two ways ; first, by giving
publicity to parliamentary proceedings, and thus plac-
ing every member on his trial before the tribunal of
public opinion ; and secondly, by so reforming the con-
stitution of the House that no man should be able to
sit in it who had not been returned by a respectable
and independent body of constituents.



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 23

Bolingbroke and Bolingbroke's disciples recommend-
ed a very different mode of treating the diseases of the
state. Their doctrine was that a vigorous use of the
prerogative by a patriot King would at once break all
factious combinations, and supersede the pretended
necessity of bribing members of Parliament. The
King had only to resolve that he would be master, that
hn would not be held in thraldom by any set of men,
tha: he would take for ministers any persons in whom
he had confidence, without distinction of party, and
that he would restrain his servants from influencing by
immoral means either the constituent bodies or the rep-
resentative body. This childish scheme proved that
those who proposed it knew nothing of the nature of
the evil with which they pretended to deal. The real
cause of the prevalence of corruption and faction was
that a House of Commons, not accountable to the
people, was more powerful than the King. SoHng-
broke's remedy could be applied only by a King more
powerful than the House of Commons. How was the
patriot Prince to govern in defiance of the body with-
out whose consent he could not equip a sloop, keep a
battalion under arms, send an embassy, or defray even
the charges of his own household? Was he to dis-
solve the Parliament? And what was he likely to
gain by appealing to Sudbury and Old Sarum against
the venality of their representatives ? Was he to send
out privy seals ? Was he to levy ship-money ? If so,
this boasted reform must commence in all probabiUty by
rivil war, and, if consummated, must be consummated
by the estabUshment of absolute monarchy. Or was
the patriot King to carry the House of Commons with
him in his upright designs ? By what means ? Inter-
dicting himself from the use of cornpt influence, what



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24 THE EARL OF CHAniAM.

Qiotive was he to address to the Dodingtons and Winn-
mgtons ? Was cupidity, strengthened by habit, to be
laid asleep by a few fine sentences about virtue and
union ?

Absurd as this theory was, it had many admirers,
particularly among men of letters. It was now to be
reduced to practice ; and the result was, as any man of
sagacity must have foreseen, the most piteous and ridic-
ulous of failures.

On the very day of the young King's accession,
appeared some signs which indicated the approach of a
great change. The speech which he made to his coun-
cil was not submitted to the cabinet. It was drawn up
by Bute, and contained some expressions which might
be construed into reflections on the conduct of affairs
during the late reign. Pitt remonstrated, and begged
that these expressions might be soltened down in the
printed copy ; but it was not till after some hours of
altercation that Bute yielded; and, even after Buto
had yielded, the King affected to hold out till the
following afternoon. On the same day on which this
singular contest took place, Bute was not only sworn of
the privy council, but introduced into the cabinet.

Soon after this. Lord Holdemesse, one of the Secre-
taries of State, in pursuance of a plan concerted with
the court, resigned the seals. Bute was instantly ap-
pointed to the vacant place. A general election speed-
ily followed, and the new Secretary entered parliament
in the only way in which he then could enter it, as one
of the sixteen representative peers of Scotland.^

Had the ministers been firmly united it can scarcely

1 In the retgn of Anne, the House of I/>rdtt bad resolved that, under the
23d article of Union, no Scotch peer could be created a peer of Great
Uritain. This resolution was not annulled till the vear 1782.



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 26

Ui doubted that they would have been able to with-
stand the court. The parliamentary influence of the
Whig aristocracy, combined with the genius, the vir-
tue, and the fame of Pitt, would have been irresistible.
But there had been in the cabinet of George the Se -
ond latent jealousies and enmities, which now began
to show themselves. Pitt had been estranged from
his old ally Legge, the Chancellor of the Exchet^uer.
Some of the ministers were envious of Pitt's popular^
ity. Others were, not altogether without cause, dis-
gusted by his imperious and haughty demeanour.
Others, again, were' honestly opposed to some parts of
his policy. They admitted that he had found the
country in the depths of humiliation, and had raised it
to the height of glory : they admitted that he had con-
ducted the war with energy, ability, and splendid suc-
cess ; but they began to hint that the drain on the
resources of the state was unexampled, and that the
pubHc debt was increasing with a speed at which Mon-
tague or Godolphin would have stood aghast. Some
of the acquisitions made by our fleets and armies were,
it was acknowledged, profitable as well as honourable ;
but, now that George the Second was dead, a courtier
might venture to ask why England was to become a
party in a dispute between two German powers. What
was it to her whether the House of Hapsburg or the
House of Brandenburg ruled in Silesia ? Why were
the best English regiments fighting on the Main ? Why
were the Prussian battalions paid with English gold?
The great minister seemed to think it beneath him to
calculate the price of victory. As long as the Towei'
guns were fired, as the streets were illuminated, as
French banners were earned in triumph through Lon-
don, it was to him matter of indifference to what extent

VOL. VI. 2



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26 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

the public burdens were augmented. Nay, he seemed
to glory in the magnitude of those sacrifices which the
people, fascinated by his eloquence and success, had
too readily made, and would long and bitterly regret.
There was no check on waste or embezzlement. Our
conunissaries returned from the camp of Prince Ferdi-
nand to buy boroughs, to rear palaces, to rival the mag-
nificence of the old aristocracy of the realm. Already
had we borrowed, in four years of war, more than th«
most skilful and economical government would pay in
fiuty years of peace. But the prospect of peace was as
iemote as ever. It could not be doubted that France,
smarting and prostrate, would consent to fidr terms of
accommodation ; but this was not what Pitt wanted.
War had made him powerful and popular ; with war,
all that was brightest in his Gfe was associated : for war
his talents were peculiarly fitted. He had at length
begun to love war for its own sake, and was more dis-
posed to quarrel with neutrals than to make peace with
enemies.

Such were the views of the Duke of Bedford and
of the Earl of Hardwicke ; but no member of the gov-
ernment held these opinions so strongly as George
Grenville, the treasurer of the navy. George Gren-
^dlle was brother-in-law of Pitt, and had always been
reckoned one of Pitt's personal and political friends.
But it is difficult to conceive two men of talents and
integrity more utterly unlike each other. Pitt, as his
sister often said, knew nothing accurately except Spen-
ser's Faiiy Queen. He had never applied himself
steadily to any branch of knowledge. He was a
wretched financier. He never became ^miliar even
with the rules of that House of which he was the
biTghtest ornament. He had never studied public law



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 27

as a system ; and was, indeed, so ignorant of the whole
subject, that Greorge the Second, on one occasion, com-
plained bitterly that a man who had never read Vattel
should presume to undertake the direction of foreign
affiurs. But these defects were more than redeemed
by high and rare gifts, by a strange power of inspiring
great masses of men with confidence and affection, b;
an eloquence which not only delighted the ear, but
stirred the blood, and brought tears into tlie eyes, by
originality in devising plans, by vigour in executing
them. Grenville, on the other hand, was by nature
and habit a man of details. He had been bred a law-
yer; and he had brought the industry and acuteness
of the Temple into official and parliamentary life. He
was Supposed to be intimately acquainted with die
whole fiscal system of th6 country. He had paid espe-
cial attention to the law of Parliament, and was so
learned in all things relating to the privileges and ordei*s
of the House of Commons that those who loved him
least pronounced him the only person competent to
succeed Onslow in the Chair. His speeches were gen-
erally instructive, and sometimes, from the gravity and
earnestness with which he spoke, even impressive, but
never brilliant, and generally tedious. Indeed, even
when he was at the head of af&irs, he sometimes found
it difficult to obtain the ear of the House. In disposi-
tion as well as in intellect, he differed widely from his
brother-in-law. Pitt was utterly regardless of money.
He would scarcely stretch out his hand to take it ; and,
when it came, he threw it away with childish prof'a-
sion. Grenville, though strictly upright, was grasping
and parsimonious. Pitt was a man of excitable nerves,
sanguine in hope, easily elated by success and popular-
ity, keenly sensible of injury, but prompt to forgive.;



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^8 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

Grenville's character was stem, melancholy, and per-
tinacious. Nothing was more remarkable in him than
his inclination always to look on the dark side of things.
He was the raven of the House of Oommons, always
croaking defeat in the midst of triumphs, and bank-



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 42 of 84)