Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

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ters. The ministers looked at each other, and knew
not what to say. In the midst of the confusion, Lord
Chatham proclaimed himself gouty, and retired to
Bath. It was announced, after some time, that he
was better, that he would shortly return, that he would
soon put every thing in order. A day was fixed for
his arrival in London. But when he reached the Cas-
tle inn at Marlborough, he stopped, shut liimself up in
his room, and remained there some weeks. Every
body who travelled that road was amazed by tlie num-
ber of his attendants. Footmen and grooms, dressed
in his family livery, filled the whole inn, though one of
the largest in England, and swarmed in the streets of
the little town. The truth was, that the invalid had
insisted that, during his stay, all the waiters and stable-
boys of tlie Castle should wear his liver}'.

His colleagues were in despair. The Duke of Graf-
ton proposed to go down to Marlborough in order to
consult the oracle. But he was informed that Lord
Chatham must decline all conversation on business.



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 97

III the mean time, all the parties which were out of
oflBce, Bedfords, Grenvilles, and Rockinghams, joined
to oppose the distracted government on the vote for
the land tax. They were reinforced by almost all the
county members, and had a considerable majority.
This was the first time that a ministry had been
beaten on an important division in the House of
Commons since the fall of Sir Robert Walpole. The
administration, thus furiously assailed from without,
was torn by internal dissensions. It had been formed
on no principle whatever. From the very first, noth-
ing but Chatham's authority had prevented the hos-
tile contingents which made up his ranks from going
to blows with each other. That authority was now
withdrawn, and every thing was in commotion. Con-
way, a brave soldier, but in civil afiairs the most
timid and irresolute of men, afraid of disobliging the
King, afraid of being abused in the newspapers, afraid
of being thought &ctious if he went out, afraid of
behig thought interested if he stayed in, afraid of
eveiy thing, and afi*aid of being known to be afraid
of any thing, was beaten backwards and forwards like
a shuttlecock between Horace Walpole who wished to
make him prime minister, and Lord John Cavendish
who wished to draw him into opposition. Charles
Townshend, a man of splendid eloquence, of lax prin-
ciples, and of boundless vanity and presumption, would
submit to no control. The full extent of his parts, of
his ambition, and of his arrogance, had not yet been
made manifest ; for he had always quailed before the
genius and the lofty character of Pitt. But now that
Pitt had quitted the House of Commons, and seemed
to have abdicated the part of chief minister, Towna-
hend broke loose from all re^straint.



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98 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

Willie things were in this state, Chatnam at lengih
returned to London* He might as well have remained
at Marlborough. He would see nobody. He would
fi^ive no opinicm on any public matter. The Duke of
Grafton begged piteously for an interview, for an hour,
for half an hour, for five minutes. The answer was,
that it was impossible. The King himself repeatedly
condescended to expostulate and implore. ^^ Youi*
duty," he wrote, "your own honour, require you to
make an eflTort." The answers to these appeals were
commonly written in Lady Chatham's hand, from her
lord's dictation ; for he had not energy even to use a
pen. Ho flings himself at the King's feet. He is pen-
etrated by the royal goodness so signally shown to the
most unhappy of men. He implores a little more in-
dulgence. He cannot as yet tmhsact business. He
cannot see his colleagues. Least of all can he bear the
excitement of an interview with majesty.

Some were half inclined to suspect that he was, to
use a military phrase, malingering. He had made,
they said, a great blunder, and had found it out. His
immense popularity, his high reputation for statesman-
ship, were gone for ever. Intoxicated by pride, he
had undertaken a task beyond his abilities. He now
saw nothing before him but distresses and humilia-
tions ; and he had therefore simulated illness, in order
to escape from vexations which he had not fortitude to
meet. This suspicion, though it derived some colour
from that weakness which was the most sti'iking blcm-
uh of his character, was certainly unfounded. His
mind, before he became first minister, had been, as we
have said, in an unsound state ; and physical and moral
eauses now concurred to make the derangement of his
faculties complete. The gout, which had been the tor-



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 99

meiit of his whole life, had been suppressed by strong
remedies. For the first time since he was a boy at Ox-
ford, he had passed several months without a twinge.
But his hand and foot had been relieved at the expense
of his nerves. He became melancholy, fanciful, irri-
table. The embarrassing state of public affairs, the
grave responsibility which lay on him, the conscious^
nesa of his errors, the disputes of his colleagues, the
savage clamours raised by his detractors, bewildered
his enfeebled mind. One thing alone, he said, could
save him. He must repurchase Hayes. The unwill-
ing consent of the new occupant wa& extorted by Lady
Chatham's entreaties and tears ; and her lord was some-
what easier. But if business were mentioned to him,
he, once the proudest and boldest of mankind, behaved
like a hysterical girl, trembled from head to foot, and
burst into a fiood of tears.

His colleagues for a time continued to entertain the
expectation that his health would soon be restored, and
that he would emerge from his retirement. But month
followed month, and still he remained liidden in myste-
rious seclusion, and sunk, as &r as they could learn, in
the deepest dejection of spirits. They at length ceased
to hope or to fear any thing from him ; and though he
was still nominally Prime Minister, took without scru-
ple steps which they knew to be diametrically opposed
to all his opinions and feelings, allied themselves with
those whom he had proscribed, disgraced those whom
lie most esteemed, and laid taxes on the colonies, in the
face of the strong declarations which he had recently
made.

When he had passed about a year and three quarters
in gloomy privacy, the King received a few lines in
Lady Chatham's hand. They contained a request, die-



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100 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

taied by lier lord, that he might be permitted to resign
the Privy Seal, After some civil show of reluctance,
the resignation was accepted. Indeed Chatham was,
by this time, almost as mucli forgotten as if he had al-
ready been lying in Westminster Abbey.

At length the clouds which had gathered o\er his
mind broke and passed away. His gout returned, and
freed him from a more cruel malady. His nerves were
newly braced. His spirits became buoyant. He woke
as from a sickly dream. It was a strange recovery.
Men had been in the habit of talking of him as of one
dead, and, when he first showed himself at the King's
levee, started as if they had seen a ghost It was
more than two years and a half since he had appeared
in public.

He, too, had cause for wonder. The world which
he now entered was not the world which he had quit-
ted. The administration which he had formed had
never been, at any one moment, entirely changed.
But there had been so many losses and so many ac-
cessions, that he could scarcely recognise his own work.
Charles Townshend was dead. Lord Shelbume had
been dismissed. Conway had sunk into utter insignif-
icance. The Duke of Grafton had fallen into the
hands of the Bedfords. The Bedfords had deserted
Grenville, had made their peace with the King and
the King's friends, and had been admitted to ofKce.
Lord North was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and
was rising fast in importance. Corsica had been given
up to France without a struggle. The disputes with
the American colonies had been revived. A general
election had taken place. Wilkes had returned from
exile, and, outlaw as he was, had been chosen knight
v>f the si ire for Middlesex. The multitude was on his



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. lOl

side. The Court was obstinately bent on ruining him,
and was prepared to shake the very foundations of the
constitution for tH^ sake of a paltry revenge. The
House of Comirfons, assuming to itself an authority
which of right belongs only to the whole legislature,
had declared Wilkes incapable of sitting in Parlia-
ment. Nor had it been thought sufHcient to keep him
out. Another must be brought in. Since the free-
holders of Middlesex had obstinately refused to choose
a member acceptable to the Court, the House had
chosen a member for them. This was not the only
instance, perhaps not tho most disgraceful instance, of
the inveterate malignity of the Court. Exasperated
by the steady opposition of the Rockingham party, the
King's friends had tried to rob a distinguished Whig
nobleman of his private estate, and had persisted in
their mean wickedness till their own servile majority
had revolted from mere disgust and shame. Discon-
tent had spread throughout the nation, and was kept
up by stimulants such as had rarely been applied to
the public mind. Junius had taken the field, had
trampled Sir William Draper in the dust, had well nigh
broken the heart of Blackstone, and had so mangled
the reputation of the Duke of Grafton, that his grace
had become sick of office, and was beginning to look
wistfully towards the shades of Euston. Every prin-
ciple of foreign, domestic, and colonial policy which
was dear to the heart of Chatham, had, during the
eclipse of his genius, been violated by the government
which he had formed.

The remaining years of his life were spent in vainly
struggling against that fatal policy which, at the mo-
ment when he might have given it a death blow, lie
had been induced to take under his protection. His



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102 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

exei*tions redeemed his own £Eune, but they effected
little for his country.

He found two parties arrayed against the govern-
ment, the party of his own brothera-in-law, the Gren*
viiles, and the party of Lord Rockingham. On the
question of the Middlesex election these parties were
agreed. But on many other important questions they
difiered widely ; and they were, in truth, not less hos-
tile to each other than to the Court. The Grenvilles
had, during several years, annoyed the Rockinghams
with a succession of acrimonious pamphlets. It was
long before the Rockinghams could be induced to re-
taliate. But an ill natured tract, written under Gren-
ville's direction, and entitled a State of the Nation,
was too much for their patience. Burke undertook to
defend and avenge his friends, and executed the task
with admirable skill and vigour. On every point he
was victorious, and nowhere more completely victori-
ous thian when he joined issue on those dry and mi-
nute questions of statistical and financial detail m
which the main strength of Greoville lay. The of-
ficial drudge, even on his own chosen ground, was
utterly unable to maintain the fight against the great
orator and pliilosopher. When Chatham reappeared,
Grenville was still writhing with the recent shame and
smart of this well merited chastisement. Cordial co-
operation between the two sections of the Opposition
was impossible. Nor could Chatham easily coiinect
himself with eitlier. His feelings, in spite of many
affronts given and received, drew him towards the
Grenvilles. For he had strong domestic affections;
and his nature, which, though haughty, was by no
means obdurate, had been softened by affliction. But
bom his kinsmen he was sei)arated by a wide diffiar*



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THE EAUL OF CHATHAM. lOU

cnce o( opinion on the question of colonial taxation.
A reconciliation, however, took place. He visited
Stowe : he shook hands with George Gren ville ; and
the Whig freeholders of Buckinghamshire, at their
public dinners, drank many bumpers to the union of
the three brothers.

In opinions, Chatham was much nearer to the Rock*
inghams than to his own relatives. But between him
and the Rockinghams there was a gulf not easily to
be passed. He had deeply injured them, and in injur*
ing them, had deeply injured his country. When the
balance was trembling between them and the Court,
he had thrown the whole weight of his genius, of his
renown, of his popularity, into the scale of misgovem-
ment. It must be added, that many eminent members
of the party still retained a bitter recollection of the
asperity and disdain with which they liad been treated
by him at the time when he assumed the direction
of affidrs. It is clear from Burke's pamphlets and
q)eeche8, and still more clear from his private letters,
and from the language which he held in conversation,
that he regarded Chatham with a feeling not for re-
moved from dislike. Chatham was undoubtedly con-
scious of his error, and desirous to atone for it. But
his overtures of fri^idship, though made with earnest-
ness, and even with unwonted humility, were at first
received by Lord Rockingham with cold and austere
reserve. Gradually the intercourse of the two states-
men became courteous and even amicable. But the
past was never wholly forgotten.

Chatham did not, however, stand alone. Round
him gathered a }*arty, small in number, but strong in
great and various talents. Lord Camden, Lord Shel-
bume, Colonel Barr^, and Dunni jg, afterwards Loixl



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104 THE EABL OF CHATHAM.

Ashburton, were the principal membei's of thb con-
nection.

There is no reason to believe that, from this time
till within a few weeks of Chatham's death, his intel-
lect suflered any decay. His eloquence was almost to
tho last heard with delight. But it was not exactly
the eloquence of the House of Lords. That lofty and
passionate, but somewhat desultory declamation, id
which he excelled all men, and which was set off by
looks, tones, and gestures, worthy of Grarrick or Talma,
was out of place in a small apartment where the audi-
ence often consisted of three or four drowsy prelates,
three or four old judges, accustomed during many
years to disregard rhetorick, and to look only at facts
and arguments, and three or four listless and supercil-
ious men of fashion, whom any thing like enthusiasm
moved to a sneer. In the House of Commons, a flash
of his eye, a wave of liis arm, had sometimes cowed
Murray. But, in the House of Peers, his utmost ve-
hemence and pathos produced less effect than the mod-
eration, the reasonableness, the luminous order and the
serene dignity, which characterized the speeches of
Lord Mansfield.

On the question of the Middlesex election, all the
three divisions of the Opposition acted in concert.
No orator in either House defended what is now uni-
versally admitted to have been the constitutional cause
with more ardour or eloquence than Chatham. Be-
fore this subject had ceased to ocaipy the public mind,
George Grenville died. His party rapidly melted
away ; and in a short time most of his adherents ap-
peared on the ministerial benches.

Had George Grenville lived many months longer,
the friendly ties which, after years of estrangement



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. lOi)

and hostility, had been renewed between him and his
brother-in-law, would, in all probability, have been a
second time violently dissolved. For now the quarrel
between England and the Nortli American colonies
took a gloomy and terrible aspect. Oppression pro-
voked resistance ; resistance was made the pretext for
fresh oppression. The warnings of all the greatest
statesmen of the age were lost on an imperious court
and a deluded nation. Soon a colonial senate con-
fronted the British Parliament. Then the colonial
OHlitia crossed bayonets with the British regiments.
At length the commonwealth was torn asunder. Two
millions of Englishmen, who, fifteen years before, had
been as loyal to their prince and as proud of their
countiy as the people of Kent or Yorkshire, separated
themselves by a sdemn act from the Empire. For a
time it seemed that the insurgents would struggle to
small purpose against the vast financial and military
means of the mother country. But disasters, follow-
ing one another in rapid succession, rapidly dispelled
the illusions of national vanity. At length a great
British force, exhausted, fiimished, harassed on every
side by a hostile peasantry, was compelled to deliver up
its arms. Those governments which England had, in
the late war, so signally humbled, and which had dur-
ing many years been sullenly bix)oding over the recol-
lections of Quebec, of Minden, and of the Moro, now
saw with exultation that the day of revenge was at
hand. France recognised the independence of the
United States; and there could be little doubt that
the example would soon be followed by Spain.

Chatliam and Rockingham had cordially concurred
ji opposing every part of the fetal policy which had
brought the state into this dangerous situation. But



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lOJ THE EAJU. OF CHATHAM

their })aths now diverged Lord Rockingham thought,
and, as the event proved, thought most justly, that tho
revolted colonies were separated from the Empire for
ever, and that the only effect of prolonging &e war
on the American continent would be to divide re-
sources which it was desirable to concentrate. If the
hopeless attempt to subjugate Pennsylvania and Vir-
ginia were abandoned, war against the House of Bour-
bon mi^t possibly be avoided, or, if inevitable, might
be carried on with success and glory. We might even
indemnify ourselves for part dP what we had lost, at
the expense of those foreign enemies who had hoped
to profit by our domestic dissensions. Lord Rocking-
ham, therefore, and those who acted with him, con-
ceived that the wisest course now open to England
was to acknowledge the independence of the United
States, and to turn her whole force against her Euro-
pean enemies.

Chatham, it should seem, ought to have taken the
same side. Before France had taken any part in
(mr quarrel with the colonies, he had repeatedly, and
witli great energy of language, declfu^ that it was
impossible to conquer America, and he could not with-
out absurdity maintain that it was easier to conquer
France and America together than Ammca alone.
But his passions overpowered his judgment, and made
him blind to his own inomsistency. The very cir-
cumstances which made the separation of the coknies
inevitable made it to him altogether insupportable.
The dismemberment of the Empire seemed to him less
ruinous and humiliating, when produced by domestic
dissensions, than when {»roduced by foreign interfer-
ence. His blood boiled at the d^p^dation of hia
country* Whatever lowered her among the nations



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THE KARL OF CHATHAM. 107

of the earth, he felt as a personal outrage to himself.
And the feeling was natural. He had made her so
great He had been so proud of her ; and she had
been so proud of him. He remembered how, more
than twentj years before, in a daj of gloom and dis-
may, when her possessions were torn from her, wh^n
her flag was dishonoured, she had called on him to
save her. He remembered the sudden and glorious
change whidb his energy had wrought, the long seriee
of triumphs, the days of thanksgiving, the nights of
illumination. Fired by such recollections, he deter-
mined to separate himself from those who advised that
the independence of the colonies should be acknowl-
edged. That he was in error will scarcely, we think,
be disputed by his warmest admirers. Indeed, the
treaty, by which, a few years later, the republic of the
United States was recognised, was the work of his
most attached adherents and of his favourite scm.

The Duke of Richmond had given notice of an ad-
dress to the throne, against the further prosecutioa
of hostilities with America. Chatham had, during
some time, absented himself from Parliament, in
consequence of his growing infirmities. He deter-
mined to appear in his place on this occasion, and to
declare that his opiniims were decidedly at variance
with those of the Rockingham party. He was in a
state of great excitement. His medical attendants
were uneasy, and strongly advised him to calm him-
self, and to remain at home. But he was not to be
controlled. His son William, and his son-in-law Lord
Mahon, accompanied him to Westminster. He rested
himself in the Chancellor's room till the debate com-
menced, and then, leaning on his two young relations^
limped to his seat. The slightest particulars of that



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108 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

day were remembered, and have been carefully re-
corded. He bowed, it was remarked, with gi*eat
courtliness to those peers who rose to make way for
him and his supporters. His crutch was in his hand.
He wore, as was his fashion, a rich velvet coat. His
1^ were swathed in flannel. His wig was so lai^e,
and his face so emaciated, that none of his features
could ba discerned, except the high curve of his nose,
and his eyes, which still retained a gleam of the old
fire.

When the Duke of Richmond had spoken, Chatham
rose. For some time his voice was inaudible. At
length his tones became distinct and his acti<»i ani-
mated. Here and there his hearers caught a thought
or an expression which reminded them of William
Pitt. But it was clear that he was not himself. He
lost the thread of his discourse, hesitated, repeated
the same words several times, and was so confused
that, in speaking of the Act of Settlement, he could
not recall the name of the Electress Sophia. The
House listened in solemn silence, and with the aspect
of profound respect and compassion. The stillness
was so deep that the dropping of a handkerchief would
have been heard. The Duke of Richmond replied
with great tenderness and courtesy ; but while he
spoke, the old man was observed to be restless and
irritable. The Duke sat down. Chatham stood up
again, pressed his hand on his breast, and sank down
in an apoplectic fit. Three or four lords who sat near
him caught him in his fall. The House broke up in
confusion. The dying man was carried to the resi-
dence of one of the officers of Parliament, and was so
far restored as to be able to bear a journey to Hayes.
At Hayes, after lingering a few weeks, he expired in



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THE EARL OF CHATHAM. 109

his seventieth year. His bed was watched to the last
with anxious tenderness, by his wife and children ;
and he well deserved their care. Too often haughty
and wayward to others, to them he had been almost
eifeminately kind. He had through life been dreaded
by his political opponents, and regarded with more
awe than love even by his political associates. But no
fear seems to have mingled with the affection whicli
his fondness, constantly ovei'flowing in a th&usanil
endearing forms, had inspired in the little circle at
Hayes.

Chatham, at the time of his decease, had not, in
both Houses of Parliament, ten personal adherents.
Half the public men of the age had been estranged
from him by his errors, and the other half by the ex^
ertions which he had made to repair his errors. His
last speech had been an attack at once on the policy
pursued by the government, and on the policy rec-
ommended by the opposition. But death restored
him to his old place in the affection of his country.
Who could hear unmoved of the fell of that which had
been so great, and which had stood so long ? The cir-
cumstances, too, seemed rather to belong to tlie tragic
stage than to real life. A great statesman, full of
years and honours, led forth to the Senate House by
a son of rare hopes, and stricken down in full council
while straining his feeble voice to rouse the drooping
spirit of his country, could not but be remembei;ed
with peculiar veneration and tenderness. The few
detractors who ventured to murmur were silenced by
the indignant clamours of a nation which remembered
only the lofty genius, the unsullied probity, the undis-
puted services, of him who was no more. For once,
the chiefs of all parties were agreed. A public funeral.



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110 THE EARL OF CHATHAM.

a public monument, were eagerly voted. The debts
of the deceased were paid. A provision was mude for
his family. The City of London requested tliat the



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 48 of 84)