Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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with the King. His Majesty confessed that there was
ground for complaint, but hoped that gentle means
would bring the mutineers to a better mind. If th^
persisted in their misconduct, he would dismiss them.

At length the decisive day arrived. The gallery,
the lobby, the Court of Requests, the staircases, were



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TU£ EARL OF CHATHAM. 88

crowded with merchants from all the great ports of the
island. The debate lasted till long after midnight. On
the division the ministers had a great majority. The
dread of civil war, and the outcry of all the trading
towns of the kingdom, had been too strong for the
combined strength of the court and the opposition.

It was in the first dim twilight of a February morn-
ing that the doors were thrown open, and that the
chiefs of the hostile parties showed themselves to the
multitude. Conway was received with loud applause.
But, when Pitt appeared^ all eyes were fixed on him
alone. All hats were in the air. Loud and long
huzzas accompanied him to his chair, and a train of
admirers escorted him all the way to his home. Then
came forth Grenville. As soon as he was recognised,
a storm of hisses and curses broke forth. He turned
fiercely on the crowd, and caught one man by the
throat. The bystanders were in great alarm* If a
scuffle began, none could say how it might end. For-
tunately the person who had been collared only said,
^^ If I may not hiss, sir, I hope I may laugh," and
laughed in Grenville's fiuie.

The majority had been so decisive, that all the oppo-
nents of the ministry, save one, were disposed to let the
bill pass without any further contention. But solicita-
tion and expostulation were thrown away on Grenville.
I lis indomitable spirit rose up stronger and stronger
onder the load of public hatred. He fought out th<!
battle obstinately to the end. On the last reading he
had a sharp altercation with his brotheivin-law, the last
of their many sharp altercations. Pitt thund^:^d in
his loftiest tones against the man who had wished to
dip the ermine of a British King in the blood of the
British people. Grenville repUed with his wonted in-



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84 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

Irepidity and asperity. " If the tax," he said, " wew
still to be laid on, I would lay it on. For the evils
which it may produce my accuser is answerable. His
profusion made it necessary. His declarations against
the constitutional powers of Kings, Lords, and Com-
mons, have made it doubly necessary. I do not envy
him the huzza. I glory in the hiss. If it were to be
done again, I would do it."

The repeal of the Stamp Act was the chief measure
of Lord Rockingham's government. But that govern-
ment is entitled to the praise of having put a stop to
two oppressive practices, which, in Wilkes's case, had
attracted the notice and excited the just indignation of
the public. The House of Commons was induced by
the ministers to pass a resolution condemning the use
of general warrants, and another resolution condem-
ning the seizure of papers in cases of libel.

It must be added, to the lasting honour of Lord
Rockingham, that his administration was the first
which, during a long course of years, had the courage
and the virtue to refrain from bribing members of Par-
liament. His enemies accused him and his friends of
weakness, of haughtiness, of party spirit ; but cal-
umny itself never dared to couple his name with cor-
ruption.

Unhappily his government, though one of the best
that has ever existed in our country, was also one of the
weakest. The Bang's friends assailed and obstructed
the ministers at every turn. To appeal to the King
was only to draw forth new promises and new evasions.
His Majesty was sure that there must be some mis-
understanding. Lord Rockingham had better speak to
the gentlemen. They should be dismissed on the next
fiiult. The next fault was soon committed, and his



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 85

Majesty still continned to shuffle. It was too bad. It
was quite abominable ; but it mattered less as the pro-
rogation was at hand. He would give the delinquents
one more chance. If they did not alter their conduct
next session, he should not have one word to say for
them. He had already resolved that, long before the
commencement of the next session, Lord Rockingham
should cease to be minister.

We have now come to a part of our story which,
admiring as we do the genius and the many noble qual-
ities of Pitt, we cannot relate without much pain. We
believe that, at this conjuncture, he had it in his power
to give the victory either to the Whigs or to the King's
friends. If he had allied himself closely with Lord
Rockingham, what could the court have done ? There
would have been only one alternative, the Whigs or
Grenville ; and there could be no doubt what the
King's choice would be. He still remembered, as well
he might, with the uttermost bitterness, the thraldom
from which his uncle had freed him, and said about
this time, with great vehemence, that he would sooner
see the Devil come into his closet than Grenville.

And what was there to prevent Pitt from allying
himself with Lord Rockingham ? On all the most
important questions their views were the same. They
had agreed in condemning the peace, the Stamp Act,
the general warrant, tlie seizure of papers. The points
on which they differed were few and unimportant. In
integrity, in disintei*estedness, in hatred of corruption,
they resembled each other. Their personal interests
could not clash. They sat in different Houses, and
Pitt had always declared that nothing should induce
him to be first lord of the treasury.

If the opportunity of forming a coalition beneficial



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8() THE EARL OF CHATHAM. ^

to the state, and honourable to all concerned, was saf^
fered to escape, the fault was not with the Whig min-
isters. They behaved towards Pitt with an obsequi-
ousness which, had it not been the ^fect of sincere
admiration and of anxiety for the public interests,
might have been justly called servile. They refeafr-
edly gave him to understand that, if he chose to join
their ranks, they were ready to receive him, not as an
associate, but as a leader. They had proved their
respect for him by bestowing a peerage on the p^'son
who, at that time, enjoyed the largest share of his con-
fidence, Chief Justice Pratt. What then was there
to divide Pitt from the Whigs ? What, on the other
hand, was there in common between him and the
King's friends, that he should lend himself to their
purposes, he who had never owed any thing to flattery
or intrigue, he whose eloquence and independent spirit
had overawed two generations of slaves and jobbers,
he who had twice been forced by the enthusiasm of
an admiring nation on a reluctant Prince?

Unhappily the court had gained Pitt, not, it is true,
by those ignoble means which were employed when
such men as Rigby and Wedderburn were to be won,
but by allurements suited to a nature noble even in its
aberrations. The King set himself to seduce the one
man who could turn the Whigs out without letting
Grenville in. Praise, caresses, promises, were lavished
on the idol of the nation. He, and he alone, could
put an end to faction, could bid defiance to all the
powerful connections in the land united, Whigs and
Tones, Rockinghams, Bedfords, and Grenvilles. These
blandishments produced a great effect. For though
Pitt's spirit was high and manly, though his eloquence
was oflen exerted with formidable effect a^rainst the



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 87

court, and though his theory of government had been
learned in the school of Locke and Sjdney, he had
always regarded the person of the sovweign with pro-
found veneration. As soon as lie was brought face to
face with royalty, his imagination and sensibility were
too strong for his principles. His Whiggism thawed
and disappeared ; and he became, for the time, a Tory
of the old Ormond pattern. Nor was he by any meane
unwilling to assist in the work of dissolving all polii*
ical connections. His own weight in the state was
wholly independent of such connections. He was
therefore inclined to look on them with dislike, and
made fiir too little distinction between gangs of knaves
associated for the mere purpose of robbing the public,
and cimfederacies of honourable men for the promotion
of great public objects. Nor had he the sagacity to
perceive that the strenuous efforts which he made to
annihilate all parties tended only to estabUsh the ascen-
dency of one party, and that the basest and most hate-
ful of all.

It may be doubted whether he would have been
thus misled, if his mind had been in full health and
vigour. But the truth is that he had for some time
been in an unnatural state of excitement. No suspi-
cion of this sort had yet got abroad. His eloquence
had never shone with more splendour than during the
recent debates. But people afterwards called to mind
many things which ought to have roused their appre-
hensions. His habits were gradually becoming more
and more eccentric. A horror of all loud sounds,
such as is said to have been one of the many oddities
of Wallenstein, grew upon him. Though the most
affectionate of fathers, he could not at this time bear
to hear the voices of his own children, and laid out



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88 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

great sums at Hayes in buying up houses contiguous
to his own, merely that he might have no neighbours
to disturb him with their noise. He then sold Hayes,
and took possession of a villa at Hampstead, where he
again began to purchase houses to right and left. In
expense, indeed, he vied, during this part of his life,
with the wealthiest of the conquerors of Bengal and
Tanjore. At Burton Pynsent, he ordered a great ex-
tent of ground to be planted with cedars. Cedars
enough for the purpose were not to be found in Somer-
setshire. They were therefore collected in London,
and sent down by land carriage. Relays of labourers
were hired ; and the work went on all night by torch-
light. No man could be more abstemious than Pitt ;
yet the profusion of his kitchen was a wonder even to
epicures. Several dinners were always dressing ; for
his appetite was capricious and fanciftd ; and at what-
ever moment he felt inclined to eat, he expected a meal
to be instantly on the table. Other circumstances
might be mentioned, such as separately are of little
moment, but such as, when taken together, and when
viewed in connection with the strange events which
followed, justify us in believing that his mind was al-
ready in a morbid state.

Soon after the close of the session of Parliament,
Lord Rockingham received his dismissal. He retired,
accompanied by a firm body of friends, whose consis-
tency and uprightness enmity itself was forced to ad-
mit. None of them had asked or obtained any pension
or any sinecure, either in possession or in reversion.
Such disinterestedness was then rare among poUticians.
Their chief, though not a man of brilliant talents, had
won for himself an honourable fame, which he kept
pure to the last. He had, in spite of difHculties whicJ)



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THE EAKL OF CHATHAM. 89

seemed almost insuruiomitable, removed great abuses
and averted a civil war. Sixteen years later, in a dark
and terrible day, he was again called upon to save the
state, brought to the very brink of iniin by the same
perfidy and obstinacy which had embarrassed, and at
length overthrown, his first administration.

Pitt was planting in Somersetshire when he was
summoned to court by a letter written by the royal
hand. He instantly hastened to London. The irrita-
bility of his mind and body were increased by the
rapidity with which he travelled ; and when he reached
his journey's end he was suffering from fever. Ill as
he was, he saw the King at Richmond, and undertook
to form an administration.

Pitt was scarcely in the state in which a man should
be who has to conduct delicate and arduous negotia-
tions. In his letters to his wife, he complained that
the conferences in which it was necessary for him to
bear a part heated his blood and accelerated his pulse.
From other sources of information we learn, that his
language, even to those whose co-oi)i'ration he wished
to engage, was strangely peremptory and despotic.
Some of his notes written at this time have been pre-
served, and are in a style which Lewis the Fourteenth
would have been too well bred to employ in address^
ing any French gentleman.

In the attempt to dissolve all parties, Pitt met with
some difficulties. Some Whigs, whom the court would
gladly have detached from Lord Rockingham, rejected
all offers. The Bedfords were perfectly willing to
break with Gren^ille ; but Pitt would not come up to
their terms. Temple, whom Pitt at first meant to
place at the head of the treasury, proved intractable.
A coldness indeed had, during some months, been fast



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90 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

growing between the brothers-in-law, so long and so
closely allied in politics. Pitt was angry with Tem|)le
for opposing the repeal of the Stamp Act. Temple
was angry with Pitt for refusing to accede to that fam-
ily league which was now the favourite plan at Stowe,
At length the Earl proposed an equal partition of
power and patronage, and offered, on this condition, to
give up his brother George, Pitt thought the demand
exorbitant, and positively refused compliance. A bit-
ter quarrel followed. Each of the kinsmen was true
to his character. Temple's soul festered with spite,
and Pitt's swelled into contempt* Temple represented
Pitt as the most odious of hypocrites and traitors.
Pitt held a different and perhaps a more provoking
tone. Temple was a good sort of man enough, whose
single title to distinction was, that he had a large gar-
den, with a lar^e piece of water, and a great many
pavilions and summer-houses. To his fortunate con-
nection with a gi'esit orator and statesman he was in-
debted for an importance in the state which his own
talents could nevor hnve gained for him. That impor-
tance had turned his head. He had begim to fancy
that he could form administrations, and govern em-
pires. It was piteous to see a well meaning man under
such a delusion.

In spite of all these difficulties, a ministry was made
such as the King wished to see, a ministry in which
all his Majesty's friends were comfortably accommo-
dated, and which, with the exception of his Majesty's
fiiends, contained no four persons who had ever in
tlieir lives been in the habit of acting together. Men
who had never concurred in a single vote found them-
selves seated at the same board. The office of pay-
master was divided between two persons who had



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 91

never exchanged a word. Most of the chief posts were
filled either by personal adherents of Pitt, or by mem-
bers of the late ministry, who had been induced to
remain in place after the dismissal of Lord Rocking-
ham. To the former class belonged Pratt, now Lord
Camden, who accepted the great seal, and Lord Shel-
bume, who was made one of the Secretaries of State.
To the latter class belonged the Duke of Grafton, who
became First Lord of the Treasury, and Conway,
who kept his old position both in the government and
in the House of Commons. Charles Townshend, who
had belonged to every party, and cared for none, was
Chancellor of the Exchequer. Pitt himself was de-
clared prime minister, but refused to take any labori-
ous office. He was created Earl of Chatham, and the
privy seal was delivered to him.

It is scarcely necessary to say, that the failure, the
complete and disgraceful failure, of this arrangement,
is not to be ascribed to any want of capacity in the
persons whom we have named. None of them was
deficient in abilities ; and four of them, Pitt himself,
Shelburne, Camden, and Townshend, were men of
high intellectual eminence. The fault was not in the
materials, but in the principle on which the materials
were put together. Pitt had mixed up these confKct-
ing elements, in the full confidence that he should
be able to keep them all in perfect subordination to
himself, and in perfect harmony with each other. We
sha!! soon see how the experiment succeeded.

On the very day on which the new prime minister
kissed hands, three fourths of that popularity which
he had long enjoyed without a rival, and to which he
owed the greater part of his authority, departed from
him A violent outcry was raised, not against thai



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92 TH£ EAKL OF CHATHAM.

part of his conduct which really deserved severe con-
demnation, but against a step in which we can see
nothing to censure. His acceptance of a peerage pro-
duced a general burst of indignation. Yet surely no
peerage had ever been better earned; nor was there
ever a statesman who more needed the repose of the
Upper House. Pitt was now gix)wing old. He was
much older in constitution than in years. It was with
imminent risk to his life that he had, on some impor-
tant occasions, attended his duty in Parliament. Dur-
uig the session of 1764, he had not been able to take
part in a sii^le debate. It was impossible that he
should go through the nightly labour of conducting
the business of the government in the House of Com-
mons. His wish to be transferred, under such circum-
stances, to a less busy and a less turbulent assembly,
was natural and reasonable. The nation, however,
overlooked all these considerations. Those who had
most loved and honoured the great Commoner were
loudest in invective against the new made Lord. Lon-
don had hitherto been true to him through every vicis-
situde. When the citizens learned tliat he had been
sent for from Somersetshire, that he had been closeted
with the King at Richmond, and that he was to be first
minister, they had been in transports of joy. Prepara-
tions were made for a grand entertainment and for a
general illumination. The lamps had actually been
placed round the monument, when the Gazette an-
nounced that the object of all this enthusiasm was an
£arl. Instantly the feast was countermanded. The
lamps were taken down. The newspapers raised the
roar of obloquy. Pamphlets, noade up of calunmy and
dcun*ility, filled the shops of all the booksellers ; and
of those pamphlets, the most galling w^*e written



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 9b

under the direction of the mah'gnant Temple. It was
now the fashion to compare the two Williams, William
Palteney and William Pitt. Both, it was said, had, by
eloquence and simulated patriotism, acquired a <xreat
ascendency in the House of Commons and in the coun-
try. Both had been intrusted with the office of reform-
ing the government. Both had, when at the height
of power and popularity, been seduced by the splendour
of the coronet. Both had been made earls, and both
had at once become objects of aversion and scorn to
the nation which a few hours before had regarded them
with affection and veneration.

The clamour against Pitt appears to have had a seri-
ous effect on the foreign relations of the country. His
name had till now acted like a spell at Versailles and
Saint Ildefonso. English travellers on the Continent
had remarked that nothing more was necessary to
silence a whole room full of boasting Frenchmen than
to drop a hint of the probability that Mr. Pitt would
return to power. In an instant there was deep silence :
all shoulders rose, and all faces were lengthened. Now,
unhappily, every foreign court, in learning that he was
recalled to office, learned also that he no longer pos-
sessed the hearts of his countrymen. Ceasing to bo
loved at home, he ceased to be feared abroad. The
name of Pitt had been a charmed name. Our envoys
tried in vain to conjure with the name of Chatham.

The difficulties which beset Chatham were daily
increased by the despotic manner in which he treated
all around him. Lord Rockingham had, at the time
of the change of ministry, acted with great moderation,
had expressed a hope that the new government would
act on the principles of the late government, and had
even interfered to prevent many of his friends from



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94. THE EABL OF CHATHAM.

quitting o£Sce. Thus Saunders and Keppel, two iiayal
commanders of great eminence, had been induced to
remain at the Admiraltj'-, where their services were
much needed. The Duke of Portland was still Lord
Chamberlain, and Lord Besborough Postmaster. But
within a quarter of a year, Lord Chatham had so
deeply aflronted these men, that they all retired in dis-
gust. In truth, his tone, submissive in the closet, was
at this time insupportably tyrannical in the cabinet.
His colleagues were merely his clerks for naval, finan-
cial, and diplomatic business. Conway, meek as he
was, was on one occasion provoked into declaring that
such language as Lord Chatham^s had never been heard
west of Constantinople, and was with difficulty pre-
vented by Horace Walpole fi-om resigning, and rejoin-
ing the standard of Lord Rockingham.

The breach which had been made in the govern-
ment by the defection of so many of the Rockinghams,
Chatham hoped to supply by the help of the Bedfords.
But with the Bedfords he could not deal as he had
dealt with other parties. It yr^s to no purpose that lie
bade high for one or two members of the faction, in the
hope of detaching them from the rest. They were to
be had ; but they were to be had only in the lot. There
was indeed for a moment some wavering and some dis-
puting among them. But at length tlie counsels of
the shrewd and resolute Rigby prevailed. They deter-
mined to stand firmly together, and plainly intimated
to Chatham that he must take them all, or tJiat he
;»hould get none of them. The event proved that they
were wisei in their generation than any other connec-
tion in the state. In a few months th^ were able to
dictate their own terms.

The most important public measurc of Lord Chat



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. .96

ham's administration was his celebrated interference
with the com trade. The harvest had been bad ; the
price of food was high ; and he thought it necessary
to take on himself the responsibility of laying an em-
bargo on the exportation of grain. When Parliamont
met, this proceeding was attacked by the opposition
as unconstitutional, and defended by the ministers as
indispensably necessary. At last an act was passed
to indemnify all who had been concerned in the em-
bargo.

The first words uttered by Chatham, in the House
of Lords, were in defence of his conduct on this occa-
sion. He spoke with a calmness, sobriety, and dignity,
well suited to the audience which he was addressing. A
subsequent speech which he made on the same subject
was less successful. He bade defiance to aristocratical
connections, with a -superciliousness to which the Peers
were not accustomed, and with tones and gestures bet-
ter suited to a large and stormy assembly than to the
body of which he was now a member. A short alter-
cation followed, and he was told very plainly that he
should not be suffered to browbeat the old nobility of
England.

It gradually became clearer and clearer that he was
in a distempered state of mind. His attention had
been drawn to the territorial acquisitions of the East
India Company, and he determined to bring the whole
of that great subject before Parliament. He would
not, however, confer on the subject with any of his
colleagues. It was in vain that Conway, who was
charged with the conduct of business in the House of
Commons, and Charles Townshend, who was resjwn-
sible for the direction of the finances, begged for sonu*
glimpse of light as to what was in contemplation.



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06 THE EARL OF CHATHA3I.

Chatham's answers were sullen and mysterioiis. He
must decline any discussion with them ; he did not
want their assistance ; he had fixed on a person to take
charge of his measure in the House of Commons.
This person was a member who was not connected
with the government, and who neither had, nor de-
served to have, the ear of the House, a noisy, purse-
proud, illiterate demagogue, whose Cockney English
and scraps of mispronounced Latin were the jest of
the newspapers. Alderman Beckford. It may well be
supposed that these strange proceedings. produced a fei^
ment through the whole political world. The city was
in commotion. The East India Company invoked the
&ith of charters. Burke thundered against the minis-



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 47 of 84)