Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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of Commons, ought to be Mayor of the Palace. The
King was a mere Childeric or Chilperic, who might
well think himself lucky in being permitted to enjoy
such handsome apartments at St. James's, and so fine
a park at Windsor.

Thus the opinions of Bute and those of Grenville
were diametrically opposed. Nor was there any private
friendship between the two statesmen. Grenville's
nature was not forgiving; and he well remembered
how, a few months before, he had been compelled to
yield the lead of the House of Conunons to Fox.

We are inclined to think, on the whole, that the
worst administration which has governed England
since the Revolution was that of George Grenville.
His public acts may be classed under two heads, out-
rages on the liberty of the people, and outrages on the
dignity of the crown.

He began by making war on the press. John Wilkes,
member of Parliament for Aylesbury, was singletl



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56 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

out for persecution. Wilkes had, till very lately,
been known chiefly as one of the most profane, licen-
tious, and agreeable rakes about town. He was a man
of taste, reading, and engaging manners. His sprightly
conversation was the delight of green rooms and tav-
erns, and pleased even grave hearers when he was suf*
fidently under restraint to abstain from detailing the
particulars of his amours, and from bi^eaking jests
on the New Testament. His expensive debaucheries
forced him to have recourse to the Jews. He was
soon a ruined man, and determined to try his chance
as a political adventurer. In parhament he ^ did not
succeed. His speaking, though pert, was feeble, and
by no means interested his hearers so much as to make
them forget his face, which was so hideous that the
caricaturists were forced, in their own despite, to flatter
him. As a writer, he made a better figure. He set
up a weekly paper, called the North Briton. This jour-
nal, written with some pleasantry, and great audacity
and impudence, had a considerable number of readers.
Forty-four numbers had been published when Bute
resigned ; and, though almost every number had con-
tained matter grossly libellous, no prosecution had been
instituted. The forty-fifth number was innocent when
compared with the majority of those which had pre-
ceded it, and indeed contained nothing so strong as
may in our time be found daily in the leading articles
of the Times and Morning Chronicle. But Grenville
was now at the head of ai&irs. A new spirit had been
iniused into the administration. Authority was to be
upheld. The government was no longer to be braved
with impunity. Wilkes was arrested under a general
warrant, conveyed to the Tower, and confined there
^th circumstances of unusual severity. His papers



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 57

were seized, and carried to the Secretary of State.
These harsh and illegal measures produced a violent
outbreak of popular rage, which was soon changed to
delight and exultation. The arrest was pronounced
unlawiul by the Court of Common Pleas, in which
Chief Justice Pratt presided, and the prisoner was dis-
charged. This victory over the government was cel-
ebi-ated with enthusiasm both in London and in tho
cider counties.

While the ministers were daily becoming more odi-
ous to the nation, they were doing their best to make
themselves also odious to the court. They gave the
King plainly to understand that they were determined
not to be Lord Bute's creatures, and exacted a promise
that no secret adviser should have access to the royal
ear. They soon found reason to suspect that this
promise had not been observed. They remonstrated
in terms less respectful than their master had been ac-
customed to hear, and gave him a fortnight to make his
choice between his favourite and his cabinet.

George the Third was greatly disturbed. He had
but a few weeks before exulted in his deliverance from
the yoke of the great Whig connection. He had even
declared that his honour would not permit him ever
again to admit the members of that connection into his
service. He now foimd that he had only exchanged
one set of masters for another set still harsher and more
imperious. In his distress he thought on Pitt. From
Pitt it was possible that better terms might be obtained
than either from Grenville, or from the party of which
Newcastle was the head.

Grenville, on his return from an excursion into the
country, repaired to Buckingham House. He was
astonished to find at the entrance a chair, the shape of



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58 THE EARI. OF CHATHAM.

which was well known to him, and indeed to all Lon«
don. It was distinguished by a large boot, made for
the purpose of accommodating the great Commoner's
gouty leg, Grenville guessed the whole. His brother-
in-law was closeted with the King. Bute, provoked by
what he considered as the unfriendly and ungrateful
conduct of his successors, had himself proposed that
Pitt should be summoned to the palace.

Pitt had two audiences on two successive days.
What passed at the first interview led him to expect
that the negotiation would be brought to a satisfactory
close ; but on the morrow he found the King less com-
plying. The best account, indeed the only trustworthy
account of the conference, is that which was taken
from Pitt's own mouth by Lord Hardwicke. It ap-
pears that Pitt strongly represented the importance of
conciliating those chiefs of the Whig party who had
been so unhappy as to incur the royal displeasiure.
They had, he said, been the most constant friends of
the House of Hanover. Their power was great ; they
had been long versed in public business. If they were
to be under sentence of exclusion, a solid administra-
tion could not be formed. His Majesty could not bear
to think of putting himself into the hands of those
whom he had recently chased fix)m his court with the
strongest marks of anger. "I am sorry, Mr. Pitt,'*
he said, " but I see this will not do. My honour is
concerned. I must support my honour." How his
Majesty succeeded in supporting his honour, we shall
soon see.

Pitt retired, and the King was I'educed to request
the ministers, whom he had been on the point of dis-
carding, to remain in office. During the two years
which followed, Grenville, now closely leagued with



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 69

the Bedfords, was the master of the court ; and a hard
master he proved. He knew that he was kept in place
only because there was no choice except between him-
self and the Whigs. That under any circumstances
the Whigs would be forgiven, he thought impossible.
The late attempt to get rid of him had roused his
resentment ; the failure of that attempt had liberated
him fi*om all fear. He had never been very courtly.
He now begun to hold a language, to which, since tbo
days of Comet Joyce and President Bradshaw, no
English King had been compelled to listen.

In one matter, indeed, Grenville, at the expense of
justice and liberty, gratified the passions of the court
while gratifying his own. The persecution of Wilkes
was eagerly pressed. He had written a parody on
Pope's Essay on Man, entitled the Essay on Woman,
and had appended to it notes, in ridicule of Wabur-
ton's famous Commentary. This composition was ex-
ceedingly profligate, but not more so, we think, than
some of Pope's own works, the imitation of the second
satire of the first book of Horace, for example ; and,
to do Wilkes justice, he had not, like Pope, given his
ribaldry to the world. He had merely printed at a
private press a very small number of copies, which he
meant to present to some of his boon companions,
whose morals were in no more danger of being cor-
rupted by a loose book than a negro of being tanned
by a warm sun. A tool of the government, by giving
a bribe to the printer, procured a copy of this trash,
and placed it in the hands of the ministers. The min-
isters resolved to visit Wilkes's offence against decorum
with the utmost rigour of the law. What share piety
and respect for morals had in dictating this resolution,
our readers may judge from the fact that no person was



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60 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

more eager for bringing the libertine poet to punisli-
ment than Lord March, afterwards Duke of Queens-
berry. On the first day of the session of Parliament,
the book, thus disgracefully obtained, was laid on the
table of the Lords by the Earl of Sandwich, whom the
Duke of Bedford's interest had made Secretary of
State. The unfortunate author had not the slightest
suspicion that his licentious poem had ever been seen,
except by his printer and by a few of his dissipated
companions, till it was produced in full Parliament.
Though he was a man of easy temper, averse from
danger, and not very susceptible of shame, the surprise,
the disgrace, the prospect of utter ruin, put him beside
himself. He picked a quarrel with one of Lord Bate's
dependents, fought a duel, was seriously wounded, and
when half recovered, fled to France. His enemies had
now their own way both in the Parliament and in the
King's Bench. He was censured, expelled from the
House of Commons, outlawed. His works were or-
dered to be burned by the common hangman. Yet
was the multitude still true to him. In the minds even
of many moral and religious men, his crime seeme<l
light when compared with the crime of his accusers.
The conduct of Sandwich, in particular, excited uni-
versal disgust. His own vices were notorious ; and,
only a fortnight before he laid the Essay on Woman
before the House of Lords, he had been drinking and
singing loose catches with Wilkes at one of the most
dissolute clubs in London. Shortly after the meeting
<if Parliament, the Beggar's Opera was acted at Coven t
Oarden theatre. When Macheath uttered the woixls —
" That Jemmy Twitcher should peach me I own sur-
prised me," — pit, boxes, and galleries, burst into a
roar which seemed likely to bring the roof down.



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TAB EABL OF CHATHAM. 61

From that day Sandwich was universally known by
the nickname of Jemmy Twitcher. The ceremony of
burning the North Briton was interrupted by a riot.
The constables were beaten ; the paper was rescued ;
and, instead of it, a jack boot and a petticoat were
committed to the flames. Wilkes had instituted an
action for the seizure of his papers against the Under-
secretary of State. The jury gave a thousand pounds
damages. But neither these nor any other indications
of public feeling had power to move Gxenville. He
had the Parliament with him: and, according to his
political creed, the sense of tlie nation was to be col-
lected from the Parliament alone.

Soon, however, he found reason to fear that even
the Parliament might Gn\ him. On the question of the
legality of general warrants, the Opposition, having
on its side all sound principles, all constitutional au-
thorities, and the voice of the whole nation, mustered
in great force, and was joined by many who did not
ordinarily vote against the government. On one occa-
sion the ministry, in a very full House, had a majority
<rf only fourteen votes. The storm, however, blew
over. The spirit of the Opposition, fix)m whatever
cause, began to flag at the moment when success
seemed almost certain. The session ended without
any change. Pitt, whose eloquence had shone with its
usual lustre in all the principal debates, and whose
popularity was greater than ever, was still a private
man. Grenville, detested alike by the court and by
tlie people, was still minister.

As soon as the Houses had risen, Grenville took a
step which proved, even more signally than any of his
past acts, how despotic, how acrimonious, and how
fearless his nature was. Among the gentlemen not



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62 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

ordinarily opposed to the government, wlio, on the
great constitutional question of general wan-ants, had
voted with the minoritv, was Henry Conway, brother
of the Earl of Hertford, a brave soldier, a tolerable
speaker, and a well-meaning, though not a wise or
vigorous politician. He was now deprived of his regi-
ment, the merited reward of faithful and gallant service
in two wars. It was confidently asserted that in this
violent measure the King heartily concurred.

But whatever pleasure the persecution of Wilkes, or
the dismissal of Conway, may have given to the royal
mind, it is certain that his Majesty's aversion to his
ministers increased day by day. Grenville Was as
frugal of the public money as of his own, and morose-
ly refused to accede to the King's request, tliat a few
thousand pounds might be expended in buying some
open fields to the west of the gardens of Buckingham
House. In consequence of this refusal, the fields were
soon covered with buildings, and the King and Queen
were overlooked in their most private walks by the up-
per windows of a hundred houses. Nor was this the
worst. Grenville was as liberal of words as he was
sparing of guineas. Instead of explaining himself in
that clear, concise, and lively manner, which alone
could win the attention of a young mind new to busi-
ness, he spoke in the closet just as he spoke in the
House of Commons. When he had harangued two
hours, he looked at his watch, as he had been in the
habit of looking at the clock opposite the Speaker's
chair, apologised for the length of his discourse, and
then went on for an hour more. The members of the
House of Commons can cough an orator down, or can
walk away to dinner; and they were by no means
sparing in the use of these privileges when Grenville



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 63

was on his legs. But the poor young King had to
endure all this eloquence with mournful civility. To
the end of his life he continued to talk with horror of
Grenville's orations.

About this time took place one of the most singulnr
events in Pitt's life. There was a certain Sir William
Pynsent, a Somersetshire baronet of Wliig politics,
who had been a Member of the House of Commons in
the days of Queen Anne, and had retired to rural
privacy when the Tory party, towards the end of her
reign, obtained the ascendency in her councils. His
manners were eccentric. His morals lay under very
odious imputations. But his fidelity to hb political
opinions was unalterable. During fifty years of seclu-
sion he continued to brood over the circumstances
which had driven him from public life, the dismissal
of the Whigs, the i>eace of Utrecht, the desertion of
our allies. He now thought that he perceived a close
analogy between the well remembered events of his
youth and the events which he had witnessed in ex-
treme old age; between the disgrace of Marlborough
and the disgrace of Pitt; between the elevation of
Harley and the elevation of Bute ; between the treaty
negotiated by St. John and the treaty negotiated by
Bedford ; between the wrongs of the House of Austria
in 1712 and the wrongs of the House of Branden-
burgh in 1762. This fiincy took such possession of the
old man's mind that he determined to leave his whole
property to Pitt. In this way Pitt unexpectedly came
into possession of near three thousand pounds a year.
Nor could all the maUce of his enemies find any
ground for reproach in the transaction. Nobody could
call him a legacy hunter. Nobody could accuse him
of seizing that to which others had a better claim.



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64 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

For he had never in his life seen Sir WiUiam ; and
Sir Wilh'am had left no relation so near as to be entitled
to form any expectations respecting tlie estate.

The fortunes of Pitt seemed to flourish ; but his
health was worse than ever. We cannot find that,
during the session which began in January 1765, he
once appeared in parliament. He remained some
months in profound retirement at Hayes, his £Eivour-
ite villa, scarcely moving except from his annchair to
his bed, and from his bed to his armchair, and oft^
employing his wife as his amanuensis in his most con-
fidential correspondence. Some of his detractors whia-
pered that his invisibility was to be ascribed quite as
much to afiectation as to gout. In truth his character,
high and splendid as it was, wanted simplicity. With
genius which did not need the aid of stage tricks, and
with a spirit which should have been far above them,
he had yet been, through life, in the habit of practising
them. It was, therefore, now surmised that, liaving
acquired all the consideration which could be derived
from eloquence and from great services to the state, he
had determined not to make himself cheap by often
appearing in public, but, under the pretext of ill
health, to surround himself with mystery, to emerge
only at long intervals and on momentous occasions,
and at other times to deliver his oracles only to a few
favoured votaries, who were suffered to make pilgrim-
ages to his shrine. If such were his object, it was for
a time fully attained. Never was the magic of his
name so powerful, never was he regarded by his c(nui
try with such superstitious veneradon, as during thi
year of silence and seclusion.

While Pitt was thus absent from Parliament, Gren-
ville proposed a measure destined to produce a great



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 65

reToltttion, the effects of which will long be felt by the
whole haman race. We speak of the act for imposing
stamp duties on the North American colonies. The
plan was eminently characteristic of its author. Every
feature of the parent was found in the child. A timid
statesman would have shrunk from a step, of which
Walpole, at a time when the colonies were far less
powerfiil, had said — " He who shall propose it will bo
a much bolder man than I." But the nature of Gren-
\ille was insensible to fear. A statesman of large
views would have felt that to lay taxes at Westminster
on New England and New York, was a course op-
posed, not indeed to the letter of the Statute Book, or
to any decision contained in the Term Reports, but to
the principles of good government, and to the spirit of
the constitution. A statesman of large views would
also have felt that ten times the estimated produce of
the American stamps would have been dearly purchased
by even a transient quarrel between the mother coun-
try and the colonies. But Grenvllle knew of no
spirit of the constitution distinct from the letter of the
law, and of no national interests except those which
are expressed by pounds, shillings, and pence. That
his policy might give birth to deep discontents in all
the provinces, from the shore of the Great Lakes to the
Mexican sea ; that France and Spain might seize the
opportunity of revenge ; that the empire miglit be dis-
membered ; that the debt, that debt with the amount of
wliich he perpetually reproached Pitt, might, in conse-
quence of his own policy, be doubled ; these were possi-
Ulities which never occurred to that small, sharp mind.
The Stamp Act will be remembered as long as the
globe lasts. But, at the time, it attracted much less
notice in this country than another Act which is now



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86 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

almost utterly forgotten. The King fell ill, and was
thought to be in a dangerous state. His complaint,
we believe, was the same which, at a later period, re-
peatedly incapacitated him for the performance of his
regal functions. The heir apparent was only two years
old. It was clearly proper to make provision for the
administration of the government, in case of a minority*
The discussions on this point brought the quarrel be*
tween the court and the ministry to a crisis. The
King wished to be intrusted with the power of naming
a regent by will. The ministers feared, or affected to
Gsar, that, if this power were conceded to him, he
would name the Princess Mother, nay, possibly the
Earl of Bute. They, therefore, insisted on introducing
into the bill words confining the King's choice to the
royal family. Having thus excluded Bute, they urged
the King to let them, in the most marked manner, ex-
clude the Princess Dowager also. They assured him
that the House of Commons would undoubtedly strike
her name out, and Uy this threat they wrung from him
a reluctant assetit. In a few days, it appeared that
the representations Ly which they had induced the
King to put this gross and public affront on his mother
were unfounded. The friends of the Princess in the
House of Commons moved that her name should be
inserted. The ministers could not decently attack the
parent of their master. They hoped that the Opposi-
tion would come to their help, and put on them a force
to which they would gladly have yielded. But tlie
majority of the Opposition, though hating the Princess,
hated Grenville more, beheld his embarrassment witli
delight, and would do nothing to extricate him from it.
The Princess's name was accordingly placed in the list
of j>ersons qualified to hold the regency.



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 67

The King's resentment was now at the height. The
present evil seemed to him more intolerable than any
other. Even the janta of Whig grandees could not
treat him worse than he had been treated by his present
ministers. In his distress, he poured out his whole
heart to his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. The
Duke was not a man to be loved ; but he was eminent-
ly a man to be trusted. He had an intrepid temper, a
strong understanding, and a high sense of honour and
duty. As a ^general, he belonged to a remarkable class
of captains, captains, we mean, whose ikte it has been
to lose almost all the battles which they have fought,
and yet to be reputed stout and skilful soldiers. Such
captains were Coligni and William the Third. We
might, perhaps, add Marshal Soult to the list. The
bravery of the Duke of Cumberland was such as distin-
guished him even among the princes of his brave house.
The indifference with which he rode about amidst mus-
ket balls and cannon balls was not the highest proof of
his fortitude. Hopeless maladies, horrible surgical op-
erations, far from unmanning him, did not even discom-
pose him. With courage, he had the virtues which
are akin to courage. He spoke the truth, was. open in
enmity and friendship, and upright in all his dealings.
But his nature was hard; and wliat seemed to him
justice was rarely tempered with mercy. He was,
therefore, during many years one of the most unpopu-
lar men in England. The severity with which he
bad treated the rebels afler the battle of Culloden, had
gained for him the name of the Butcher. His at-
tempts to introduce into the army of England, then in
a most disorderly state, the rigorous discipline of Pots-
dam, had excited still stronger disgust. Nothing was
too bad to be believed of him. Many honest people



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tf8 TH£ £A£L OF CHATHAM.

were so absurd as to fiuicj that, if he were . left Regent
during the minority of his nephews, there would be
another smothering in the Tower. These feelings,
however, had passed awav. llie Duke had been liv-
ing, during some years, in retirement. The English,
full of animosity against the Scots, now blamed his
Royal Highness only for having left so many Camerons
and Maephersons to be made gaugers and customhouse
officers. He was, therefore, at present, a fiivourite
with his countrymen, and especially with the inhabi-
tants of London.

He had little reason to love the King, and had
shown clearly, though not obtrusively, his dislike of
the system which had lately been pursued. But he
bad high and almost romantic notions of the duty
which, as a prince of the blood, he owed to the head
of his house. He determined to extricate his nephew
from bondage, and to efiect a reconciliation between
the Whig party and the throne, on terms honourable
to both.

In this mind he set off for Hayes, and was admitted
to Pitt's sick room ; for Pitt would not leave his cham-
ber, and. would not communicate with any messenger
of inferior dignity. And now began a long series of
errors on the part of the illustrious statesman, errors
which involved his country in difficulties and distresses
more serious even than tliose from which his genius
had formerly rescued her. His language was haughty,
unreasonable, almost unintelligible. The only thing
which could be discerned through a cloud of vague and
not very gracious phrases, was that ho would not at
that moment take office. The truth, we believe, was
this. Lord Temple, who was Pitt's evil genius, had
just formed a new scheme of politics. Hatred of Bute



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 45 of 84)