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CHAPTER X. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. III 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. III.
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When we last encountered Wilkes in this narrative he had retired to Paris after his duel with Martin, and had a few months later been outlawed on account of his refusal to appear to take his trial in England. He soon recovered his old health and spirits; but his political enthusiasm seems for a time to have died away in his admiration for ‘the matchless charms’ of an Italian courtesan named Corradini, with whom he was now violently enamoured. He projected a journey to Italy with her and with Churchill, and in the autumn of 1764 he met Churchill at Boulogne; but a great catastrophe interfered with their plan. Churchill was seized with a malignant fever, and died in a few days, at the early age of thirty-three, leaving a sadly stained and shameful memory, and a few volumes, which were once supposed to rival the poetry of Pope, but which have now almost wholly dropped out of the notice of the world. Wilkes soon after went on with his mistress to Italy. He spent several months between Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Naples; saw much of Winckelmann; was present at Naples at the miracle of St. Januarius, and kissed the phial on his knees; projected a history of England, a biography and annotated edition of the poems of Churchill, but soon found that extended literary undertakings were wholly unsuited to his tastes; and at length, having quarrelled with Corradini, he returned alone to France.1 He visited Voltaire at Ferney, and the old patriarch was much struck with his liveliness and wit. The Rockinghams had now come to power, and as they had been strongly opposed to the measures which had driven him from England, he expected much from their assistance. He paid a secret visit to London in 1766 in hopes of obtaining a pardon and a pension, and perhaps the embassy of Constantinople;2 but he soon found that the ministers, though they raised among themselves a large private subscription for him, could not, or would not, do anything more.3 On the change of Government he renewed his overtures, trusting to his former friendship with Grafton; but he was told that without Chatham nothing could be done. After the language of Chatham, a personal application would have been a humiliation too great for Wilkes to endure; and he returned, full of indignation, to the Continent, and published an angry account of the transaction. In March 1768, however, on the eve of the general election, he again appeared—this time without any concealment—in London, forwarded a petition for pardon to the King, but at the same time announced himself as a candidate for the representation of the City of London. The spectacle of a penniless adventurer of notoriously infamous character, and lying at this very time under a sentence of outlawry, and under a condemnation for blasphemy and libel, standing against a popular alderman in the metropolis of England, was a very strange one; and although Wilkes was at the bottom of the poll, he obtained more than 1,200 votes, and in the opinion of Franklin, who was then living in England, he would probably have succeeded had he appeared earlier in the field. He at once stood for Middlesex. He had powerful supporters. Temple contributed the freehold qualification which was necessary; the Duke of Portland was on his side; Horne, the rector of Brentford, who was already known as a man of great energy, ability, and local influence, threw all his power into the scale. The election took place at Brentford on March 28, and its result was that Wilkes was at the head of the poll.
The triumph of Wilkes was wholly unexpected by the Government.1 and they had great doubts about the course they should pursue. As a Member of Parliament he was already known, and he was as far as possible from being formidable; nothing, indeed, was more likely to terminate his popularity than a parliamentary career. ‘I do not fear firebrands in this House,’ Canning once said, with great good sense; ‘as soon as they touch its floor they hiss and are extinguished;’ and with the single exception of O'Connell, who possessed to a very high degree the talents both of a debater and of a party leader, the truth of this saying has been always verified in England. In the weak, divided, and headless ministry of Grafton there were not wanting voices to urge that in the face of the fierce storm of popular excitement that was rising, and after the many mistakes that had been made in the earlier encounters between Wilkes and the Government, the wisest course was to grant the new member a free pardon, and to allow him to take his seat in the House and sink gradually to his natural level. But the King took a warm and personal interest in the matter, and his firm will dictated the policy of his Government. He complained bitterly that the Duke of Grafton had proposed to him to pardon Wilkes, and he wrote to Lord North a peremptory injunction that the whole power of the Government must be exerted to expel the demagogue from Parliament.1
In the meantime two important events had occurred. In order to avoid arrest in the course of the election, Wilkes had written to the solicitor of the Treasury pledging himself to surrender on his outlawry at the Court of King's Bench on the first day of the succeeding term. He accordingly appeared before Lord Mansfield on April 20, and again, after the rectification of some legal informalities, on the 27th. The question of the legality of the outlawry was argued at great length, and Lord Mansfield postponed the decision to the following term, but in the meantime refused to admit Wilkes to bail. He accordingly remained in prison till June 8, when Mansfield, on a purely technical point of law, pronounced the outlawry to be illegal. Wilkes was thus restored to his full rights as a British subject; but the condemnation which had been pronounced against him during his absence, for seditious libel and for blasphemy, still remained. On June 18 he appeared to receive his sentence. There were the strongest reasons both of justice and policy why the Court should deal leniently with him, for he had already suffered much, and he had suffered in defiance of the law. It had been decided that the general warrant by which he had been originally arrested was illegal; that the search warrant by which his papers were seized was illegal; that the outlawry pronounced against him was illegal. It was as certain as any proposition in history could be that the King's speech had, at least since the accession of the House of Brunswick, been uniformly discussed as the speech of the ministers; and regarding it in that light there was nothing exceptionally violent in the incriminated number of the ‘North Briton.’ However culpable might be the ‘Essay on Woman,’ it was an outrage upon common-sense to condemn Wilkes for ‘publishing’ a pamphlet of which he had only struck off twelve or thirteen copies, with the most profound secrecy, for distribution among his intimate friends; and no human being could believe that the prosecution of the essay had been really undertaken in the interests of public morals. Wilkes, however, was sentenced to be imprisoned for twenty-two months, to be fined 1,000l., and to obtain security for good behaviour for seven years after his imprisonment had terminated. One usual element in sentences for libels was omitted. The judges knew too well the feelings of the populace to confer upon Wilkes the popular triumph which would have inevitably ensued had he been sentenced to stand in the pillory.
While these events were taking place, the riotous spirit which had for some years been growing stronger and stronger in England increased almost to the point of revolution. At the opening of the Middlesex election, the mob at break of day took possession of every avenue and turnpike leading to the place of voting, and would suffer no one to pass who did not wear a blue cockade with the name of Wilkes and No. 45; and during the two days of the election the whole town was almost at their mercy. The windows of the Mansion House were demolished. The houses of Lord Bute, Lord Egmont, the Duke of Northumberland, and the Duchess of Hamilton were attacked. The City Marshal and many of the principal opponents of Wilkes were assaulted as they drove through Hyde Park. The coach-glasses of all who refused to huzza for ‘Wilkes and Liberty’ were broken, and even ladies were taken out of their chairs and compelled to join in the popular cry. The Austrian Ambassador, one of the most stately and ceremonious of men, was dragged from his coach and ‘45’ chalked on the soles of his shoes. The same popular number was inscribed on every carriage that drove through the streets, and on every door along the roads far beyond the precincts of the City. Franklin noticed that there was hardly a house within fifteen miles of London unmarked, and the inscription might be seen from time to time the whole way from London to Winchester.
‘For two nights,’ wrote the same accurate observer, ‘London was illuminated at the command of the mob. … The second night exceeded anything of the kind ever seen here on the greatest occasions of rejoicing, as even the small cross streets, lanes, courts, and other out-of-the-way places, were all in a blaze with lights, and the principal streets all night long, as the mobs went round again after two o'clock and obliged people who had extinguished their candles to light them again. Those who refused had all their windows destroyed.’1 When Wilkes appeared at the King's Bench to receive judgment as an outlaw, the whole neighbourhood of the Court was thronged by his partisans; and when, the Court, refusing to accept bail, committed him to prison, he was rescued on Westminster Bridge; the horses were taken off the carriage in which he was conveyed; he was dragged in triumph by the crowd through the Strand and through Fleet Street, and it was with much difficulty that he at last succeeded in escaping from his admirers and surrendering to the authorities.2 The sentence that was passed on him exasperated the people to the highest degree, but they assumed that when Parliament met he would be released and allowed to take his seat. It assembled at length on May 10 in the midst of a fierce tumult, great crowds shouting ‘Wilkes and Liberty!’ about the House. But the chief excitement was in St. George's Fields, around the King's Bench prison, where Wilkes was confined. The Government anticipated a dangerous riot, and either because they feared lest the contagion should gain the English troops, or in a spirit of mere bravado, they selected a detachment from a Scotch regiment to keep the peace, and Lord Weymouth, the Secretary of State, wrote to the magistrate of the district urging him not to scruple to employ the soldiers in case of riot. The mob, finding that their hero was not released, began to threaten the prison, and to assail the soldiers with stones and brickbats, and in the course of a confused scuffle which ensued, some soldiers, pursuing into a private house a man who had assaulted them, encountered and killed a young man of very respectable position, named Allen, who is said to have been entirely unconnected with the riot. Soon after, the Riot Act was read. The troops fired; five or six persons were killed and fifteen wounded, and among the latter there were two women, one of whom died soon after. The coroner's inquest held upon Allen found a Scotch soldier, named Donald Mac-lean, guilty of his murder, and another soldier, as well as the commanding officer, guilty of aiding and abetting it. The Grand Jury, a few months later, threw out the bills against the two latter; but the former was put on his trial and acquitted. It was with difficulty that the mob were restrained from tearing him to pieces; and the indignation became still greater when the colonel of the regiment publicly presented him, after his acquittal, with thirty guineas on the part of the Government; and when Lord Barrington, the Secretary of War, issued a general order conveying special thanks to the soldiers for their behaviour, and promising that ‘if any disagreeable circumstances should happen in the execution of their duty,’ they should have ‘every protection that the law can authorise and their officers can give.’ The only sister of Allen survived but a few months the shock she had received in her brother's death, and they were laid together in the churchyard at Newington, in Surrey. The inscription on their tombstone described William Allen as ‘an Englishman of unspotted life and amiable disposition, who was inhumanly murdered by Scottish detachments from the army,’ and two significant texts adjured the earth to refuse to cover his blood, and the Almighty ‘to take away the wicked from before the King.’1
The exceeding weakness of the civil power was very evident, and there were great fears that all the bulwarks of order would yield to the strain. The neglect of the ministers to arrest Wilkes as an outlaw when he first appeared in England, and the complete impunity of those who in broad daylight had rescued him from the officers of justice, and conducted him in triumph through London and Westminster, emboldened the mob as much as the tragedy of St. George's Fields exasperated them. The City constables were so few that in the course of the election London was almost unprotected, nearly the whole available force being collected at Brentford. It was doubtful whether even the soldiers could be fully trusted. Some regimental drummers were said to have beaten their drums for Wilkes. A soldier was heard exclaiming in the very Court of King's Bench that he at least would never fire upon his fellow-countrymen: and it was rumoured that if Wilkes were suffered to take his seat in Parliament, his first measure would be to move that, on account of the increased price of provisions, the pay of the soldiers should be raised. Lord Mansfield may have listened too much to his constitutional timidity when he said that unless some vigorous measures were promptly taken, there would be a rebellion in ten days; and Franklin no doubt exaggerated when he said that if Wilkes had possessed a good character and the King a bad one, Wilkes would have driven George III. from the throne; but it is at least certain that the state of England was very alarming.
From the beginning of the reign the growing violence of the mobs and the growing weakness of the law had been ominously displayed. Thus in 1763, when an attempt was made to abolish the system of admitting to the theatres at half-price after the third act, the great theatres of Drury Lane and Covent Garden were completely wrecked; every seat and ornament within them was destroyed; the rioters even tried to cut down the pillars on which the gallery of Covent Garden Theatre rested, and they did all this with complete impunity.1 In two successive years we find a man who was exposed on the pillory killed by the ill-treatment of the mob.2 An attempt to rescue a criminal who, in 1763, was condemned for rape, was so formidable that, in spite of the intervention of the military, it was not till near eight in the evening that the authorities could carry out the sentence;3 and it was rarely thought safe to execute a criminal at Tyburn without the protection of a military force.4 The number of disbanded soldiers and sailors without any means of subsistence after the peace, greatly added to the evil, and the watchmen were so utterly helpless that Parliament in despair offered a reward of 40l. for the apprehension of every robber. The result was a revival of a practice which had appeared in England in the last reign. A confederation of five men employed themselves partly in inducing impoverished wretches to commit robberies, in order to obtain the reward for their conviction, and partly in falsely accusing innocent persons. In a few months they in this manner obtained more than 960l., and most of their victims were in the grave when the hideous crime was discovered.1
The Middlesex election took place at a time of great distress and commercial depression. I have already noticed the bad harvest of 1767, the disturbances it produced, and the embargo which was imposed on the export of corn. The following winter was extremely rigorous, and the distress among the workmen in London was so great that the King, at the petition of the City of London, agreed to shorten the Court mourning for the Duke of York.2 Strikes were very numerous, and London was full of poor, idle, reckless men prepared for the most desperate enterprise. Six thousand weavers were the most active agents in the Wilkes riots. Four thousand sailors on board the merchant ships in the Thames mutinied for higher wages, and stopped by force all outward-bound ships which were preparing to sail.3 The watermen of the Thames, the journeymen hatters, the journeymen tailors, the glass-grinders, were soon on strike, and during two or three years London witnessed scenes of riot that could hardly have been surpassed in Connaught or the Highlands. At Wapping and Stepney the coalheavers, who were chiefly Irish, were for more than a year at war with the masters of the coal ships. They boarded the ships and compelled the sailors to cease from work. They kept guard at every landing-place to prevent them from receiving supplies of provisions; they obliged them to keep watches as if they were in an enemy's country, and fought bloody battles with the sailors in the streets. A man named Green, who was agent of one of the London aldermen, was especially obnoxious to them, and one evening at eight o'clock his house was besieged by a party provided with fire-arms. Green having barricaded his door, defended himself, with the assistance of a sailor and of a maid-servant, for no less than nine hours. Eighteen of the assailants were shot; two hundred bullets were lodged in one of the rooms of the house. At last, when his ammunition was expended, Green succeeded in escaping, but it was not until five in the morning that the Guards appeared upon the scene. A few days later the sister of Green was attacked in her house, dragged into the street, and murdered.1 Riots not less serious and still more persistent were caused by the Spitalfields weavers, who were accustomed during 1767 and the three following years to range through the streets disguised and armed, breaking into the shops of weavers who refused to strike, destroying their looms, and cutting their work in pieces. Many were killed or wounded in conflicts with the soldiers. A law was passed making the offence capital; but soon after, more than a hundred and fifty looms were destroyed in two nights. Two ‘cutters’ were hanged under the new law, but a man named Clarke, who had been a chief witness against them, afterwards fell into the hands of a mob of more than two thousand persons, and in the full daylight, in one of the fields near Bethnal Green, he was deliberately stoned to death. The tragedy lasted for two hours, during which the wretched man vainly implored his murderers to shoot him and put him out of his agonies.1
These were but the more conspicuous instances of a spirit of insubordination and of violence which was shown in many forms and in many parts of the country, and was everywhere encouraged by the manifest impotence of authority. Ordinary crime had greatly increased. ‘Housebreaking in London,’ it was said, ‘was never known to be so frequent; seldom a night passing but some house or other was entered and robbed.’2 The tone of manners was very savage, and several crimes occurred about this time which, though they can only be regarded as instances of extreme individual depravity, and had no real connection with the general disturbance of society, heightened the impression, and sent a thrill of horror through the country. Thus, in 1767, a journeyman shoemaker named Williamson, who had married a half-witted girl for her money, was proved to have bound her daily to a post in her room, handcuffed her, hung her at times so tightly that only her toes could touch the ground, and thus slowly starved her to death. Eighty thousand persons are said to have been present at his execution, and it was with great difficulty that he could be kept out of the hands of the crowd, who desired to tear him limb from limb.1 In Fetter Lane—one of the most crowded thoroughfares in London—Mrs. Brownrigg and her son, for the space of two years, subjected their apprentices to ill-usage so horrible that after the lapse of a century it is still well remembered. The wretched girls were stripped naked, scourged for the slightest offence till the blood streamed from their wounds, tied to a staple in the wall, beaten on the head till every feature was disfigured, flung into a coal-hole to sleep, famished till they could scarcely stand. One of them after two months of suffering succeeded in escaping; another, covered with wounds and attenuated by hunger, at last gave evidence against her tormentors; the third died in agonies from ill-treatment. The chief culprit was executed amid the wild delight of the mob, who, as she was driven to the gallows, ran by the side of the coach shouting to the chaplain to pray for her damnation.2 In 1771, an informer fell into the hands of a gang of criminals, who tied a red-hot pair of tongs around his neck, put burning coals into his clothes, and then thrust his head into a fire. In the same year a woman was scourged through the most crowded part of London as far as Temple Bar for having decoyed young children from their parents, blinded them, and then employed them as beggars.3
The general election of 1768 made very little change in the strength and disposition of parties, and the interest of the nation was almost wholly concentrated on the contest in Middlesex. To later generations, however, this interest is less exclusive, for it was at this election that Charles Fox first entered the House of Commons, and that Horace Walpole, to whom we have hitherto been indebted for our fullest accounts of parliamentary proceedings, to the great loss of subsequent historians, gave up his seat.
Several months elapsed, during which Wilkes lay in prison, and it was hoped that the popular excitement would die away. The Government had become more and more disorganised. The removal of Sir Jeffrey Amherst from the Governorship of Virginia was intended to replace, in a time of great colonial difficulty, a non-resident by a resident governor, but it excited much notice because Amherst had been appointed by Chatham, and was one of his favourite officers, and because he was succeeded by Lord Bottetort, one of the avowed followers of Bute. The resignation—it might almost be called the expulsion—of Shelburne in October 1768 was still more significant, and a few days later Chatham himself resigned. His health and nerves seemed hopelessly disordered. Though incapable of giving any continuous attention to public affairs, he was able to perceive that the ministry were diverging greatly from his policy, and he resented the removal of Amherst and Shelburne. He accordingly wrote to the King in a strain that admitted of no refusal, and he was succeeded as Lord Privy Seal by Lord Bristol. The King's friends were continually becoming more powerful. Grafton, sick of his position, careless of politics, and panting only for freedom, was chiefly occupied in obtaining a divorce from his wife. The King was resolved upon the expulsion of Wilkes, and Lord North, as his representative, urged it upon the ministry; but although he soon induced Grafton to consent, the opposition of Conway, Granby, Hawke, and Camden, during the first session, delayed the decision.1
In December, Cooke, who was the other member for Middlesex, died; Serjeant Glynn, who had recently distinguished himself as the defender of Wilkes, was set up as the popular candidate, and in spite of all the efforts of the Court and of the ministry, he won the seat. The election, like the preceding one, was very riotous; a man named Clarke, who was on the popular side, lost his life, and two men who belonged to the Court faction were tried for murder and found guilty. The verdict was received by the assembled crowd with an explosion of brutal joy, but it was afterwards shown conclusively that Clarke had been suffering from a disease which might have caused his death, and to the great indignation of the populace, the condemned men were pardoned. Wilkes did everything in his power to fan the flame. He accused Mansfield, in a petition to the House of Commons, of a gross irregularity in his trial in 1763. He accused Webb, the preceding Secretary of the Treasury, of having bribed a printer to give evidence against him; and having obtained a copy of the official letter of Lord Weymouth to the magistrates before the riot in St. George's Fields, he at once sent it to the ‘St. James's Chronicle,’ with a brief but violent note charging the ministry with having deliberately ‘planned and determined upon’ ‘the horrid massacre of St. George's Fields,’ and shown ‘how long a hellish project can be brooded over by some infernal spirits without one moment's remorse.’ The Government resolved to take notice of this letter. The natural course would have been to bring it before the law courts, and if this was not done it was then for the House of Lords alone to resent an insult directed against one of its members. Lord Barrington, however, brought the letter before the House of Commons, which, assuming the functions of a law court, at once voted it a libel. Wilkes, upon being summoned, immediately acknowledged the authorship, claimed the thanks of the country for having exposed ‘that bloody scroll,’ and calmly remarked that ‘he was only sorry he had not expressed himself upon that subject in stronger terms, and that he would certainly do so whenever a similar occasion should present itself.’1 The Government then resolved to take the step about which they had so long hesitated, and on February 3, 1769, on the motion of Lord Barrington, Wilkes was expelled from Parliament on the ground of his three offences: the forty-fifth number of the ‘North Briton,’ the volume of obscene poetry, and the preface to the letter of Lord Weymouth.
George Grenville, who had taken so prominent a part in the early measures against Wilkes, but whose profound knowledge of constitutional law was seldom at fault, opposed this expulsion in a speech which was afterwards published at length, and which is the most favourable remaining specimen of his talents. He had no difficulty in showing that the resolution of the House was equally unconstitutional and impolitic. Three distinct charges were combined in one resolution, and it was quite possible that if the House had voted upon them separately, it would have pronounced each of them insufficient to justify the expulsion. For the forty-fifth number of the ‘North Briton’ Wilkes had been expelled by a previous Parliament, and there was nothing more certain in parliamentary law than that expulsion by one Parliament did not exclude a politician from the next. When Walpole was expelled from Parliament for alleged corruption, though he was not allowed again to sit in that Parliament, his election after the next dissolution was not only unopposed but unquestioned. The obscene poems had been written five years before. Wilkes was already expiating the offence in prison. They were in no respect an offence against the House, and a former House of Commons, violently hostile to Wilkes, had not thought fit to make them a ground of expulsion. The preface to Lord Weymouth's letter had been voted a libel, but it was not an offence against a member of the Lower House; it had not been brought before the law courts, and Blackstone, who was the chief legal defender of the ministerial policy, acknowledged that by itself it was no adequate reason for expulsion. The imprisonment of Wilkes would, it is true, incapacitate him for many months from discharging his duties in Parliament, but this imprisonment could not be regarded as a fresh crime, and it was quite certain that a mere inability to discharge parliamentary duties did not justify expulsion. Windham, while still a Member of Parliament, had been for more than two years in the Tower when the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, and other members had been sent for long periods from London in the army or navy. It was added, too, that it was tolerably clear that the contest would not end with the expulsion of Wilkes. He would at once be re-elected, and the House would be thus confronted with a constitutional question of the gravest kind.
The warning was disregarded. The expulsion was carried by 219 to 137. On February 16 Wilkes was unanimously re-elected, and on the 17th the House, on the motion of Lord Strange, voted that having been expelled he was incapable of sitting in that Parliament.
It is now generally acknowledged that this step was a distinct breach of the law. Whatever might be the injustice, whatever might be the impolicy of the first expulsion, the legal right of the House of Commons to expel an offending member was indisputable. But it was one thing to expel. It was quite another thing to disqualify. The first lay within the province of the House of Commons alone. The second could only be done by Act of Parliament. It was indeed true that the power of expulsion might be reduced to insignificance if the expelled person were immediately sent back by his constituents to the House. It was true that the incapacity the House pretended to create extended only to the existing House of Commons and would be terminated by a dissolution. It was true that it might be very reasonably argued that it was a great evil if the House of Commons should have no means of excluding from its walls a man who had outraged decency or systematically obstructed business, if his constituents approved of his conduct or if he happened to be the proprietor of a nomination borough. In the quiet days of George II. the constituencies would probably have acquiesced in the Wilkes decision as placidly as they acquiesced in the far graver usurpation of a House of Commons which systematically decided disputed elections by party votes, and thus after every dissolution brought into Parliament many men who were certainly not the real choice of the constituencies. But the days of this tolerance were now over, and a spirit had arisen in the country which watched the proceedings of the House with a jealous scrutiny unknown in the previous reign. Immediately on the declaration of incapacity a large body of the Middlesex gentlemen formed themselves into a society for defending the cause of the constituencies.
On March 16 there was a new election at Brentford, and Wilkes was again put forward and again unanimously elected. A merchant named Dingley desired to oppose him, but he could find no freeholder to second him, and was driven by violence from the hustings. Next day the House again pronounced the election void. Colonel Luttrell, the son of Lord Irnham, was then induced to vacate his seat in Parliament and to stand in opposition to the popular favourite. He was a young officer of the Guards, in no way connected with Middlesex, and his chief recommendation was his courage. The interference was indeed deemed so dangerous that his life was insured at Lloyd's Coffee House, and the chances of his surviving the contest became a favourite subject of bets. The election, however, contrary to expectation, was a very orderly one, the popular party being resolved to show that without any violence they could command an immense majority. Wilkes obtained 1,143 votes, Luttrell 296, and a lawyer named Whitaker, who had thrust himself into the contest, 5. After the poll a number of horsemen with colours flying and music playing, attended by several thousand people, went through St. James's Street and the Strand and over London Bridge to congratulate Wilkes, and that night London was illuminated. On the 14th the election of Wilkes was again pronounced void. On the 16th, after a long debate and by a majority of only 197 to 143, Luttrell was declared duly elected. A petition against the return was speedily signed, and it was argued in the House on May 8. After a debate of great power the election was confirmed by 221 to 152. Next day, amid a storm of popular insult, the King drove to Westminster to close the session.1
Wilkes had lost his seat, but he had no reason to regret the issue of the struggle. Few of the most illustrious English statesmen have enjoyed a greater or a more enduring popularity or have exercised a more commanding power. When in April 1770 he was released from prison London was illuminated for joy, and the word ‘liberty’ in letters three feet high, blazed on the front of the Mansion House. In spite of all the efforts of the Court he was elected successively alderman and sheriff, and after a fierce struggle which lasted for three years, Lord Mayor, and then once more member of Parliament, and he governed with an almost absolute sway that City influence which was still one of the great forces in English politics. His old action against Lord Halifax, which had been suspended by his outlawry, was resumed. He obtained 4,000l. damages, and would probably have obtained more had it not been discovered during the trial that Grenville had in the earlier stages of the action promised Lord Halifax that in case of defeat his expenses should be paid by the Treasury. In addition to the cost of the election, a sum of about 20,000l. was raised by subscription to pay his debts, and provide him with a competence; and gifts, legacies, and testimonials poured in upon him from many quarters. He had also done more than any other single man to unite a divided and powerless Opposition; and to mark out the lines of political parties. The doctrine that a resolution of the House of Commons can neither ‘make, alter, suspend, abrogate, nor annihilate the law of the land,’ became the rallying cry of the party. Grenville on this question cordially concurred with Rockingham. Temple and Chatham were reconciled in 1769, and in the May of that year Temple wrote to Lady Chatham, ‘Things tend apace to coalition among us.’1 A violent attack of gout at last restored the troubled nerves of Chatham. In September 1769 he appeared unexpectedly at the King's levee; and when Parliament met in the following January, he took his place among the peers, and with an eloquence as powerful as that of his early days he denounced the unconstitutional measure that had taken place, and endeavoured to lead the House of Lords to the rescue of the constitution.
The debates that took place during several years on the Middlesex election brought into clear relief the conflicting doctrines about the relations between members and their constituencies, and, notwithstanding the great length to which they were protracted, the really essential arguments may be condensed in a small space. Blackstone, who was a member of the House, was put forward to defend the Government. He maintained that while a general incapacity to sit in the House of Commons can only be created by Act of Parliament, an incapacity limited to a single Parliament may be created by the House of Commons alone. This, it was said, is involved in the power of expulsion which it was admitted that the House possessed, and which without this addition would be absolutely nugatory, and it was established by the case of Walpole, who was expelled for alleged corruption, re-elected, and then declared incapable of sitting in that Parliament. It is remarkable that while Walpole and his friends complained bitterly that this expulsion was due to a purely factious combination, there is not the smallest reason to believe that they ever questioned the doctrine that it incapacitated the expelled member from sitting till after the dissolution. If indeed that doctrine were discarded, the right of expulsion would only expose the House to perpetual degradation and insult, for a large number of the members were as completely masters of their boroughs as of their estates, and they might, therefore, safely set the House at defiance. Several precedents, more or less applicable, might be discovered in the stormy period between 1642 and 1660, but the case of Walpole was the one undoubted instance since the Revolution of an expelled member being at once re-elected, and Walpole was pronounced, on account of his expulsion, incapable of sitting in that Parliament.1
The Opposition, on the other hand, maintained that to be eligible as member of Parliament was the common right of all British subjects; that incapacities annulling, suspending, or abridging this common right can only be created by Act of Parliament; that, as a matter of fact, they had been so created, for the law enumerated and defined the several kinds of incapacity, and that it was completely beyond the competence of one branch of the Legislature by its sole action to change the law. Sir Edward Coke and other authorities had, it is true, laid down that as every court of justice has laws and customs for its direction, so there is a lex et consuetudo parliamenti which must be gathered out of the records and precedents of the two Houses and which forms part of the unwritten law of the land. But this ‘law and custom of Parliament’ can only exist when, in the absence of any provision of the statute law, it is possible to point to a long, uniform, and unchallenged series of parliamentary precedents. Were it otherwise the consequences would be of the most dangerous description, for it is certain that in the course of its long and turbulent history each House had often and in many directions transgressed its just limits. It was surely absurd to go to the anarchy of the Great Rebellion for legal precedents, and the case of Walpole could be of little real service to the ministry. The resolution incapacitating him alleged ‘that having been expelled this House for a high breach of trust in the execution of his office and notorious corruption when Secretary of War, he was incapable of being re-elected a member to serve in the present Parliament.’ The cause of the expulsion was thus cited, and it was a cause which might possibly justify the exclusion. The resolution incapacitating Wilkes assigned no reason except his expulsion by the House. The resolution incapacitating Walpole was passed at the petition of the rival candidate, but the House refused to give that candidate the seat, and no member sat for the borough of Lynn till after the dissolution. The House of Commons of George III. pronounced the candidate who had the smaller number of votes to be member for Middlesex. It was added that the Whig doctrine that the resolution of one House cannot create a disability, was maintained by no one more clearly than by Blackstone himself, who in his own ‘Commentaries’ had declared that to be capable of election to Parliament was the common right of all British subjects, and who had given a full enumeration of the legal incapacities which alone could bar this right.1
When the subject passed into the House of Lords, however, it was argued on somewhat different grounds, and the Government rallied chiefly upon a doctrine which was propounded by Lord Mansfield in a speech of extraordinary subtlety and power. He began by positively refusing to express any opinion about the legality of the decision which had been arrived at by the House of Commons. ‘My sentiments about it,’ he said, ‘are locked in my own breast and shall die with me.’ He would only say that ‘whenever the statute law is silent he knew not where to look for the law of Parliament except in the proceedings and decisions of each House respectively.’ He added that declarations of law made by either House of Parliament had always bad effects, for they had the semblance of legislative acts whereas they had no real legal force or validity. If either House as a legislative body thought fit to declare a particular doctrine to be law, he as a judge would pay no attention whatever to its declaration. But though the House of Commons had no power of laying down authoritatively general principles of law, it had a legal right of trying and deciding particular cases without appeal. Each House was not only a legislative assembly, it was also a judicial body, supreme in its own province, and all questions touching the seats of the lower House could be decided by that House alone. Its decision was final, for there was no other court in which they could be tried. The judges might be corrupt, the sentences might be erroneous, but the determination must be received and submitted to as the law of the land, for no existing body was competent to question or reverse it. The law might no doubt be changed by an Act of Parliament, in which of course the Lower House must concur, but as long as it was not changed, the judicial decision of the Commons on a question touching elections to their House was absolute and final. ‘If they determined wilfully wrong it was iniquitous indeed, and in the highest degree detestable; but it was a crime of which no human tribunal could take cognisance, and it lay between God and their conscience.’ By the constitution of the country the House of Lords had no right to offer any advice to the Sovereign on the subject, or in any way to discuss, question, or impugn the judgment of the House of Commons on a matter which lay within the proper judicial province of that body.
The speech of Chatham in reply to these arguments was one of his greatest efforts, and considering the subtlety and delicacy of the distinctions discussed it gives a very high idea of his power, not only as an orator, but also as a political thinker and as a debater. The danger, indeed, of the doctrine of Mansfield was of the gravest kind. What limit could be put to the usurpations of a body which was itself the sole judge of its own privileges, which, by asserting in a judicial proceeding a power beyond the law, could establish that power without appeal, and was thus able under pretence of declaring the law to make the law? Every judicial body must indeed be vested with the powers and privileges necessary for performing the office for which it is appointed, but no Court of Justice can have a power inconsistent with or paramount to the known laws of the land. The representatives of the people were the trustees of the people, receiving from the people certain defined powers, and they could not abuse those powers more grossly than when they extended them beyond the limits of the law for the purpose of invading the rights of those from whom they were derived. That which distinguishes constitutional government from blank despotism is that no individual or corporation within it is above the law. This was the meaning of the great conflict of the Revolution, when the doctrine of passive obedience was exploded, when our kings were obliged to confess that their title to the throne and the rule of their government had no other foundation than the known law of the land. But now this doctrine of passive obedience and of a power beyond the law was revived in favour of what was called the popular branch of the Legislature. ‘What is this mysterious power undefined by law, unknown to the subject, which we must not approach without awe or speak of without reverence, which no man may question, but which all men must obey?’ It is evident that it contained a germ of tyranny fatal to the very idea of constitutional government, and that it would make the House of Commons much less the representative than the ruler of the people. It was said that the Lords had no right to interfere even by the expression of an opinion. On the contrary, to do so was their bounden duty. As mediators between the King and the people it was for them to submit to the King the causes of the discontents of his people. As one of the three powers whose concurrence was necessary to every change of law, it was for them to protest when the law had been virtually changed without their assent. As hereditary guardians of the British Constitution, descendants of the barons who had extorted the Great Charter, it was for them to sound the warning when the Constitution was invaded. ‘Where law ends, tyranny begins.’ The attempt of one branch of the Legislature to pass beyond the limits that were assigned to it, and to place itself in the discharge of any of its functions above the law of the land, is an act of revolution, an act of treason against the Constitution. The House of Commons, by confusing the province of jurisdiction with that of legislation, by asserting what was virtually a sole power of altering or making the law, by invading the chartered rights which lay at the very heart of British liberty, had been guilty of such an act. The particular instance might appear to some of little moment, but the claim which was advanced extended to a complete subversion of the Constitution. If no other power might even protest against the decision of the House of Commons on any matter relating to elections, that House might by an arbitrary declaration transfer or extinguish the franchises of great bodies of their constituents, change the whole law of election, and annul Acts of Parliament that had been carried for the express purpose of securing the rights of electors. Rather than that such a claim should be acquiesced in, extreme remedies should be resorted to; but it was one of the great advantages of a mixed Government that it did much to make such remedies unnecessary, for each part had a great power of restraining the aberrations of the others. The balance of the Constitution was now disturbed, and it was the duty of the House of Lords to aid in restoring it. They were asked to affirm by a solemn resolution the true doctrine of electoral rights, to petition for the dissolution of a House of Commons which had violated the Constitution, and to lead the way in a struggle for such a measure of parliamentary reform as would place the representative body in harmony with its constituents.
In addition to these arguments, another doctrine of a very extreme and indeed revolutionary kind was propounded by the popular party. They contended that the introduction of a single illegitimate element into the representative body was sufficient to invalidate all its proceedings, even in cases where the withdrawal or transfer of one vote would make no difference in the decision. In the words of Junius, ‘If any part of the representative body be not chosen by the people, that part vitiates and corrupts the whole.’ ‘The arbitrary appointment of Mr. Luttrell invades the foundations of the laws themselves, as it manifestly transfers the right of legislation from those whom the people have chosen to those whom they have rejected.’ The authority of Locke, who was generally regarded as the almost classical exponent of the principles of parliamentary government as established at the Revolution, was cited in favour of this doctrine. ‘Governments,’ he wrote, ‘are dissolved from within when the Legislative is altered. The constitution of the Legislative is the first and fundamental act of society. … When any one or more shall take upon them to make laws whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey.’1 Neither Chatham nor Burke appears to have asserted this doctrine, but it was strongly maintained in one House by Shelburne, who was usually in alliance with Chatham, and in the other by Sir George Savile, who was one of the most respected members of the Rockingham party, and it formed the burden of numerous addresses and petitions.2 To a practical politician it may perhaps be sufficient to say that ifit were rigidly applied it would have invalidated every Act of Parliament upon the statute-book.
Independently of the question immediately at issue, the Middlesex election was extremely important from the impulse it gave to political agitation outside the House of Commons. There was at first some slight hesitation as to the form which the pressure of public opinion on the members should assume, and in a few cases instructions were sent by constituencies to their members, but it was soon agreed, in accordance with the urgent representations of Burke,3 that petitions to the King were likely to be most efficacious. About seventeen counties,4 and many cities and boroughs, sent up addresses to the Throne, complaining that the rights of freeholders had been violated, and in most cases petitioning for a dissolution. Great efforts were made to procure counter addresses, but only the universities, four counties, and three or four cities responded, and the preponderance of opinion against the Government appeared enormous. A meeting summoned in the City to support the Government was attended by not more than thirty persons, and was soon broken up in confusion by the mob. Some of the merchants signed an address of confidence to the King, and went in a cavalcade to present it, but they were attacked on their way, and it was only after a struggle of some hours that a small remnant succeeded in reaching the palace. In the meantime a hearse with four horses, followed by a long tumultuous procession, and bearing escutcheons representing the murder of Allen and the murder of Clarke, was drawn through the Strand to St. James's Palace, to Carlton House, to Cumberland House, and to the residence of Lord Weymouth. The railings of the palace were defended with difficulty; many conspicuous persons were insulted, and the white staff of Lord Talbot was broken in his hand. Five rioters taken in the act were reserved for prosecution, but the grand jury refused to find a true bill against them.1 The manifest partiality of juries was one of the most alarming symptoms of the time, and one of the chief encouragements to the prevailing violence.2 For months Luttrell was unable to appear in the streets.1 A man was arrested in the act of posting up a supposed speech of Oliver Cromwell when he drove the members of the Long Parliament out of their House.2 In July 1769 the Duke of Bedford having imprudently gone to Exeter to receive some local honours, was attacked in the cathedral, and obliged to escape by a private way into the bishop's palace. At Honiton he was assailed with stones, bull-dogs were let loose at him, and his life was in serious danger.3 Language breathing all the violence of revolution had become habitual. Barré said in Parliament that disregard to petitions ‘might teach the people to think of assassination.’4 A silver goblet was presented to Wilkes by the Court of Common Council when he was elected sheriff, and he chose as the subject of ornamentation the death of Cæsar, with an inscription from Churchill,
Alderman Townsend, one of the most active of the City politicians, refused to pay the land-tax on the ground that the Parliament which imposed it was an illegal one, and he actually brought the case before the Court of King's Bench.
In July 1769 the Lord Mayor and Livery of London presented an address to the King arraigning the whole conduct of his ministers as subversive of the constitution, on which alone the relation between the House of Brunswick and its subjects depends; and in the following March they presented a new remonstrance, couched in language such as had perhaps never before been used by a public body to its sovereign, except in the course or upon the eve of a revolution. ‘Under the same secret and malign influence,’ they said, ‘which through each successive administration has defeated every good and suggested every bad intention, the majority of the House of Commons have deprived your people of their dearest rights. They have done a deed more ruinous in its consequences than the levying of ship-money by Charles I., or the dispensing power assumed by James II., a deed which must vitiate all the future proceedings of this Parliament, for the acts of the Legislature itself can no more be valid without a legal House of Commons than without a legal prince upon the throne. … Parliament,’ they continued, ‘is corruptly subservient to the designs of your Majesty's ministers. Had the Parliament of James II. been as submissive to his commands as the Parliament is at this day to the dictates of a minister, instead of clamours for its meeting, the nation would have rung as now with outcries for its dissolution.’1 It is a remarkable fact that Chatham himself was suspected of having drawn up this document, and that he regarded it with unqualified approbation. The King in his answer described it—surely with great justice—as disrespectful to himself and injurious to his Parliament; but this answer was treated by Chatham and others as a violation of the article of the Bill of Rights which secured to subjects the liberty of petition. The London Livery, undeterred by the rebuff, presented another and scarcely less insolent address, and when the King received it with a few words of disapprobation, the Lord Mayor Beckford, contrary to all precedent, delivered a long rejoinder, which was composed for him by Horne, and which was afterwards engraven on his statue in the Guildhall, declaring that whoever had alienated his Majesty's affections from his loyal subjects in general and from London in particular was an enemy to his Majesty's person and family, and a betrayer of the Constitution ‘as it was established at the glorious and necessary Revolution.’ On the other hand, both Houses of Parliament supported by large majorities the most violent proceedings and doctrines of the ministers. Lord North was accused of having declared that petitions for a dissolution of Parliament were unconstitutional if not illegal,1 and the King, laying his hand on his sword, exclaimed, ‘Sooner than yield to a dissolution I will have recourse to this.’2
There was little or nothing to counterbalance the unpopularity of the Government. In America discontent and disaffection were becoming continually more formidable, and in Europe the authority of England had visibly declined. The heroic struggle which the Corsicans under Paoli had for many years waged against their Genoese oppressors had excited only a languid interest, and in December 1763 a proclamation was issued, forbidding English subjects to assist the ‘Corsican rebels;’ but when the French purchased the island from Genoa in 1768, disregarded the strong protest of the English ambassador, and crushed all resistance by overwhelming forces, the national jealousy of England became actively sensitive. The well-known book of Boswell greatly added to the interest, and the Duke of Devonshire and some other leading persons subscribed large sums to assist the insurgents. The value of the new acquisition of France was enormously exaggerated by Burke1 and by many other politicians, and it was absurdly represented as sufficient to turn the balance of power in the Mediterranean. By a strange chance which no human sagacity could have predicted, it proved in truth even more important than was feared, for it made Napoleon Buonaparte a French subject.
Nearly at the same time the question of the Falkland Islands brought England to the verge of a war with Spain. These islands appear to have been first seen by Davis in 1592, and by Hawkins in 1594, but their present name was only given to them in the reign of William, and no attempt was made to colonise them till Anson described them in his ‘Voyage’ as valuable in themselves, and especially valuable on account of their nearness to Chili in the event of a Spanish war. In 1748 an English expedition to the Falkland Islands was planned, but Wall, the Spanish ambassador, represented in such strong terms that the Spaniards possessed the exclusive dominion of the South Sea, and would treat any intrusion as an act of war, that the design was relinquished. In 1765, however, it was resumed. Lord Egmont instructed Captain Byron to take formal possession of the Islands in the name of his Britannic Majesty, and in the following year a garrison was established and a small wooden fort erected. The transaction appears to have been at first almost unnoticed, but in 1769 the Spaniards demanded the immediate abandonment of the island which had been occupied, and, their demand being disregarded, they next year sent out a powerful expedition, which captured the entire garrison, detained a British frigate for twenty days, and summarily expelled the British from the South. Sea. Such an act of violence and insult, following as it did the obstinate refusal of Spain to pay the Manilla ransom, seemed to make war inevitable. At last, however, after much not very dignified negotiation, the Spanish king agreed to disavow the act of his servant and to restore the garrison, maintaining, however, his old claim of right, and receiving, it is said, a verbal assurance that the English would speedily evacuate the island.
These events were not fitted to strengthen an unpopular Government, and a few months after the general election the ministers were compelled to ask for the sum of 513,000l. in payment of the debts of the King. In the last reign, certain funds, which were intended to produce 800,000l. a year, were appropriated to the Civil List, with the understanding that if they fell below that amount Parliament would supply the deficiency. In the present reign, it was determined to abolish the element of uncertainty, and a fixed annual sum of 800,000l. was voted for the Civil List. Besides this, the King possessed considerable revenues which were not within the cognisance of Parliament. He had inherited a large sum from his economical predecessor, he had the hereditary revenues derived from the Principality of Wales and the Duchy of Cornwall, and he derived something from duties which had been recently imposed by royal prerogative in the new West Indian Islands. It was believed—probably with much truth—that these revenues were amply sufficient for the purposes for which they were intended, and that the debt was due to an expenditure which could not be openly avowed. It was the first of a long series which extended over the whole reign. All parties were prepared to pay it, but the Opposition contended that Parliament should at least receive a detailed account of the manner in which it was incurred, and attempts were unsuccessfully made in both Houses to obtain an inquiry into the state and expenditure of the Civil List.1
The personal unpopularity of the Government was also very great, and the weakness of the Prime Minister was especially conspicuous. Grafton, though he is now chiefly remembered as the object of the most savage of all the invectives of Junius, was certainly not destitute of the qualities of a statesman, and he was judged very favourably by some of the ablest of his contemporaries. Chatham, for a time, gave him an unreserved confidence. Conway, in 1770, refused to serve under any other leader. Camden assured him that he would ‘rather see him at the head of the Government then than any other man in the kingdom;’ and a letter of Charles Fox has been preserved in which that great statesman declared that there was no other chief he would more willingly follow. But his better qualities were all marred and clouded by faults very natural to a young man of great position, strong passions, weak character, and moderate ambition, who, without any of the long apprenticeship of office, and contrary to his own wishes, found himself at the age of thirty-two Prime Minister of England. Had Chatham been able to remain at the helm, Grafton, under his guidance, would probably have won an honourable place in English history; but at the head of a divided Cabinet, surrounded by uncongenial colleagues, outvoted in his Cabinet on important questions, and exposed in turn to the outrages of the populace and to the blandishments of the Court, his character and his convictions utterly failed. His notorious indolence, vacillation, and indifference, the contrast between his old friendship with Wilkes and his recent policy, and the careless and undisguised profligacy which led him, on one occasion, when still Prime Minister, to appear publicly at the opera with, a well-known courtesan, were all sources of scandal or of weakness. In private life he was esteemed an honourable man, and he had but little of the ambition which is the chief cause of political treachery, but he had abandoned Rockingham, he had abandoned Wilkes, and he was now rapidly abandoning Chatham.
The conduct of two of the most important of his colleagues was scarcely more respectable. One of the most remarkable characteristics of the ministry of Chatham was that it exactly reproduced the old type of divided administrations which prevailed in England immediately after the Revolution. The very idea of a consistent Government policy to which all its members were pledged had almost disappeared, and each minister restricted himself mainly to his own department. This was the inevitable consequence of the manner in which the administration had been formed, and of the withdrawal of the great statesman who alone could have given it a steady and consistent direction. General Conway had been persuaded by Horace Walpole to abandon the Rockingham connection, and to retain under Chatham the position not only of Secretary of War, but even of leader of the House of Commons, in order to exclude Grenville from that post;1 but already, at a time when Chatham was not yet incapacitated by illness, Horace Walpole assures us that Conway, being offended at the dismissal of Lord Mount Edgecumbe, ‘dropped all intercourse with Lord Chatham, and though he continued to conduct the King's business in the House of Commons, he would neither receive nor pay any deference to the minister's orders, acting for or against as he approved or disliked his measures.’2 It was quite consistent with this beginning that he should still have remained in office when Townshend, by reviving the scheme of American taxation, reversed the policy which, in the Rockingham administration, Conway had done so much to carry into effect. In January 1768, however, four months after the death of Townshend, Conway, partly in consequence of his disapproval of the conduct of the Government towards the Duke of Portland, and partly in consequence of the growing influence of the Bedford faction, resigned the seals of office, but, notwithstanding this, he was persuaded by the King to continue ‘Minister of the House of Commons,’ and member of the Cabinet in the ministry with which, on most points, he was both personally and politically at variance.1 It was soon made a matter of complaint by the Bedford section of the Government that ‘there was no acting with Conway, who always in the House adhered to his own opinion, and would not acquiesce in what was determined in council.’2 Yet, in spite of all this, he remained Cabinet minister and apparent leader of the House of Commons, and he still retained this position when Chatham returned to active politics, although he entirely agreed with Chatham on the main questions that were in dispute. He appears to have supposed that his personal friendship for Grafton, and the fact that he was drawing no salary, justified his position.
The failure of the Chancellor was equally conspicuous. As a lawyer, Camden was surpassed by no contemporary except Mansfield. In Parliament, some good judges preferred the simple, colloquial, and unstrained lucidity of his style to the subtle and elaborate rhetoric of his great rival,3 and the strong passion for popularity which sometimes showed itself, if not in the substance at least in the expression of his judgments, gave him a bias in favour of liberty at a time when it was gravely endangered. But Camden, like Grafton, was unfit to stand alone, and on the eclipse of Chatham he sank into insignificance. He saw the whole character of the ministry changed by the growing predominance of that Bedford faction which was most hostile to the policy of Chatham. He saw the Government of which he was a member pursuing, on the two great questions of American taxation and of the Middlesex election, a course which was directly opposed to his opinions, yet he still remained at his post. He was full of difficulties and irresolution. He did not wish by resigning to throw the Government of the country into confusion, or into hands still more hostile to Chatham and to his policy. He expected the return of Chatham, and till his recovery everything seemed provisional and unsettled. He was attached to Grafton, and a strong personal interest bound him to office. He had risen to the first rank in his profession, and had held the great office of Chief Justice of Common Pleas before he accepted his Chancellorship; but if he now resigned, he sank at once into comparative poverty. There was then no regular retiring pension for an ex-Chancellor, and Camden had nothing to fall back upon but a pension of 1,500l. a year, which had been procured for him by Chatham.
At one time he appears to have disbelieved in the reality of the illness of Chatham, and he spoke of his former leader with much bitterness.1 He abandoned London during the Middlesex riots. He withdrew more and more from ministerial business. He was thrown into an agony of distress by the libels which described him as ungrateful to Chatham. He was silent in debate, and often absent from the Cabinet Councils. He wished to resign on the resignation of Chatham, but suffered himself to be dissuaded by Grafton. Yet he never protested or even distinctly intimated his opinion. In confidential letters to Grafton he urged the grave political danger of the course which was being pursued about the Middlesex election; but when the question was debated in the Cabinet he withdrew, and Gratton afterwards asserted that the Chancellor had never informed him that the vote of incapacity was contrary to law. Their difference about the policy of the measure had produced a coldness between them, and in the summer of 1769 they appear to have had little intercourse. Finding himself in a minority in the ministry, incapable of influencing its decisions, and unwilling at this time to destroy it by resigning, Camden abstained from giving any opinion to his colleagues, and confined himself to his judicial business. Yet it is certain that he communicated his opinion to Chatham when Chatham had resigned office and was preparing for opposition,1 and at last, when his old leader reappeared in the House, and denounced the ministerial policy as a violation of the Constitution, the Chancellor, who should naturally have been its foremost defender, arose to express his full concurrence with the attack. ‘For some time,’ he said, ‘I have beheld with silent indignation the arbitrary measures of the ministers. I have drooped and hung down my head in council, and disapproved by my looks those steps which I knew my avowed opposition could not prevent. … I now proclaim to the world that I entirely coincide in the opinion expressed by my noble friend, whose presence again reanimates us, respecting the unconstitutional and illegal vote of the House of Commons. … By their violent and tyrannical conduct ministers have alienated the minds of the people from his Majesty's Government. … A spirit of discontent has spread into every corner of the kingdom, and is every day increasing. If some methods are not devised to appease the clamours so universally prevalent, I know not whether the people, in despair, may not become their own avengers, and take the redress of grievances into their own hands.’
It was impossible that any ministry could permit a Chancellor to continue in office who denounced in such terms the main line of policy of the Cabinet of which he was a member, and nothing could be more uncandid than the language of the Opposition, who described the dismissal of Camden as an unwarrantable interference with judicial liberty, the dismissal of an upright and independent judge, because he had given an opinion in accordance with the law. The conduct of Camden was extremely discreditable, and it ought to have been followed by an immediate resignation. It was probably thought, however, that a dismissal would have more effect upon public opinion than a resignation, and Chatham strongly supported the Chancellor in remaining at his post.1 He was dismissed on January 17, 1770, about a week after his speech.1 Lord Granby, the popular Commander-in-Chief, took the first opportunity in the House of Commons of declaring that he would always lament the vote he had given in favour of the incapacity of Wilkes as the greatest misfortune of his life, and a few days after he resigned his office. In the minor or ornamental departments of the Administration there were several resignations, which implied a considerable loss of Parliamentary influence. The Dukes of Beaufort and Manchester, the Earls of Coventry and of Huntingdon, gave up their places at the Court. James Greenville, ever faithful to Chatham, resigned his office of Vice-Treasurer of Ireland, and Dunning that of Solicitor-General. On January 28 another and much more important resignation was very unexpectedly announced. Grafton had recanted nothing and modified nothing, and he defended the policy of his Government boldly and ably in the House of Lords,2 but he was disgusted with his position and with the storm of obloquy around him; he disdainfully threw up his post, refusing to give any specific reason,3 and retired for a time into private life. Lord North, who was already Chancellor of the Exchequer, was his successor.
The post which was most difficult to fill was that of Chancellor. Mansfield positively refused to exchange his Chief Justiceship for a dignity which was so perilous and so precarious, and Sir Eardley Wilmot, the Chief Justice of Common Pleas, who detested and despised party politics, was equally peremptory in his refusal. The Court had at this moment very little legal ability at its disposal, and the candidate who appeared most suitable was Charles Yorke, a younger son of the great Lord Hardwicke, and brother of one of the most intimate friends of Rockingham. When a very young man, he had gained a considerable literary reputation by a once popular, though now forgotten, book called ‘Athenian Letters,’ and he had become Solicitor-General before the death of George II., and Attorney-General in the troubled Ministry that succeeded. He resigned at last, but only after the proceedings against Wilkes. He then separated himself completely from the party of Bute, but still maintained a somewhat independent line. In the debates that grew out of the Wilkes prosecutions he condemned the principle of general warrants, though contending that they had been frequently employed; but he maintained in opposition to Pitt, and in a speech which extorted the highest eulogy from Walpole, that parliamentary privilege does not extend to cases of libel. In the Rockingham Ministry he was again Attorney-General, and he appeared now completely identified with that party, and resigned his post on the accession of Pitt. With something more than the usual keenness of professional ambition, he combined a very unprofessional sensitiveness of character; though still in the prime of life, and on the whole an exceedingly prosperous man, he was restless, discontented, morbid, nervous, and vacillating, and the natural infirmities of his temperament were at this time aggravated by ill health.
He had been thought of as Chancellor by Charles Townshend, when that statesman contemplated a secession from Chatham, but he had remained attached to the Rockingham connection, and had pledged himself to Rockingham and to his brother to decline the post which the Duke of Grafton had offered him. He at first honourably fulfilled his promise; but the King, who was passionately interested in maintaining his Ministry, resolved to interpose, and he exerted all his personal influence to gain his point. His efforts in a private interview were in vain; Yorke, though restless and agitated through disappointed ambition, adhered to his pledge and refused to desert his party, and the negotiation appeared to have terminated. On the next day, however, when he was attending a levee, he was again called into the closet of the King, who renewed with intense earnestness his entreaties. Of the particulars of the interview, we only know that the King appealed to his loyalty as a subject not to abandon him in his distress, that he appealed to his self-interest as a lawyer, intimating to him that if he now refused them, the Seals, which were the highest object of his ambition, would under no possible circumstances be again offered to him, and that he at length succeeded by long persistence in over-bearing his opposition, and, in the words of Lord Hardwicke, ‘compelling him’ to accept the post. The unhappy man went from the royal cabinet to his brother's house, where he met the leaders of the Opposition. He felt at once the full enormity of what he had done, and fled broken-hearted to his own house. In three days he was a dead man. According to the version circulated by his family, his death was due to natural disease, accelerated by excitement and mental anguish. According to another and more probable account, he died by his own hand. The patent which raised him to the peerage had been made out, and awaited only the impression of the Great Seal. When he was dying, he was asked to authorise that impression, but he refused, and added, with a shudder, that he hoped the Seal was no longer in his custody.1
It might have been supposed that by this time, at least, Conway, who still shared most of the sentiments of the Rockingham Whigs, would have perceived that it was his duty to sever himself from the Ministry, but he still for some time continued in the Cabinet. In January 1770, shortly after the death of Yorke, the King offered him the Mastership of the Ordnance, which was vacant by the resignation of Granby. The office was a military, not a political one, but to accept it at this critical moment was evidently to involve himself still further in his connection with the Court. After infinite hesitation he at last arrived at a characteristic compromise, and agreed to discharge the duties of the office without accepting the salary. As long as Grafton remained he determined to remain in the Cabinet, and he did his utmost to induce Grafton to remain. The resignation of Grafton at last brought this strange and discreditable scene to an end, and Conway then detached himself from the Administration.2
The opposition of Chatham to the Government was at this time of the most violent description, and his language recalls that which he was accustomed to employ in his early contests with Walpole and Carteret. He repeatedly, in different forms, endeavoured to obtain from the Lords a resolution affirming the unconstitutional character of the decision of the Commons about Wilkes. He brought forward a resolution asking for the dissolution of Parliament, and even a Bill for reversing the decision of the Lower House. He denounced the conduct of the Commons in language little less vehement than that of the City remonstrance, and intimated not obscurely that if persisted in it would justify rebellion. Of the conduct of the King, of the King's ministers, and especially of the King's friends, he spoke with scarcely an affectation of reserve. ‘These measures,’ he said in one of his speeches, ‘made a part of that unhappy system which had been formed in the present reign with a view to new model the Constitution as well as the Government. … The Commons had slavishly obeyed the commands of his Majesty's servants, and had proved to the conviction of every man, what might have been only matter of suspicion before, that ministers held a corrupt influence in Parliament. It was demonstrable, it was indisputable.’1 Speaking of his own experience as a minister, he said, in words which read like an echo of those of Grenville and Rockingham: ‘I was duped, I was deceived. I soon found that there was no original administration to be suffered in this country. The same secret influence still prevailed which had put an end to all the successive administrations as soon as they opposed or declined to act under it. … The obstacles and difficulties which attended every great and public measure did not arise from those out of government. They were suggested, nourished, and supported by that secret influence I have mentioned, and by the industry of those very dependents; first by secret treachery, then by official influence, afterwards in public councils. A long train of these practices has at length unwillingly convinced me that there is something behind the throne greater than the King himself.’2 In Grafton he expressed himself completely deceived. ‘There was in his conduct from the time of my being taken ill, a gradual deviation from everything that had been settled and solemnly agreed to by his Grace both as to measures and men, till at last there were not left two planks together of the ship which had been originally launched.’1 He strenuously supported an inquiry into the expenditure which had caused the King's debts, intimating very clearly that in his judgment the debts had been incurred in corrupting the representatives, and he asked whether the Sovereign ‘means, by drawing the purse-strings of his subjects, to spread corruption through the people, to procure a Parliament like a packed jury, ready to acquit his ministers at all adventures?’2 When the King made his famous answer rebuking the Corporation of London for the disrespectful language of their petition, Chatham moved a resolution censuring those who had advised the King to give such an answer, on the ground that the legal right of the subject to petition for redress of grievances had been indiscriminately checked and reprimanded.3 Quoting from Robertson, he reminded the House of Lords how Charles V. had once ‘cajoled and seduced’ the peers of Castile to join him in overturning that part of the Cortes which represented the people; how ‘they were weak enough to adopt, and base enough to be flattered with an expectation that by assisting their master in this iniquitous purpose they would increase their own strength and importance,’ and how, as a just and natural consequence, they soon ‘exchanged the constitutional authority of peers for the titular vanity of grandees.’4 He reprobated with the utmost vehemence the patient attitude of the Ministry towards Spain; spoke of that Power in language which could only have been used on the supposition that war with her was inevitable and desirable, blamed the ministers severely for the neglect into which they had suffered the naval and military services to fall, enumerated in a speech of great power and knowledge the different measures that were required to restore them to efficiency, and at the same time, with his usual independence, denounced the conduct of Wilkes and of the popular party, who by raising an outcry against the system of press-gangs were crippling the strength of the nation.1
Chatham at this time took great pains to effect an union with the other Whigs, and especially with Rockingham, and he appears to have become at last sensible of the error he had made in so often discarding or repudiating their assistance. His old distinctive doctrine of the necessity of breaking up parties now disappears. ‘There are men who, if their own services were forgotten, ought to have an hereditary merit with the House of Hanover. … I would not wish the favours of the Crown to flow invariably in one channel. But there are some distinctions which are inherent in the nature of things. There is a distinction between right and wrong—between Whig and Tory. … An administration must be popular that it may begin with reputation. It must be strong within itself that it may proceed with vigour and decision.’2 No sound ministry could be maintained by fraud or even by exclusive systems of family connections or powerful friendships, but at the same time he was careful to add that no one valued more ‘that honourable connection which arises from a disinterested concurrence in opinion upon public measures, or from the sacred bond of private friendship and esteem.’ Of Rockingham himself, both in public and private, he spoke with deep respect. ‘As for Lord Rockingham,’ he wrote to Calcraft, ‘I have a firm reliance on his zeal for liberty, and will not separate from him.’1 ‘His whole language,’ he wrote, in another letter, after an interview with Rockingham, ‘was as I expected, honourable, just, and sensible. My esteem and confidence in his lordship's upright intentions grow from every conversation with him.’2 In seconding a motion of Rockingham he took occasion to say that he wished this to be considered as a public demonstration of his cordial union with that statesman. ‘There has been a time, my lords,’ he added, ‘when those who wished well to neither of us, who wished to see us separated for ever, found a sufficient gratification for their malignity against us both. But that time is happily at an end. The friends of this country will, I doubt not, hear with pleasure that the noble lord and his friends are now united with me and mine, upon a principle which, I trust, will make our union indissoluble. … No ministerial artifices, no private offers, no secret seduction, can divide us.’3
The picture was somewhat overcoloured. The correspondence of Chatham himself, and the correspondence of Burke, who was the most confidential as he was by far the ablest friend of Rockingham, suffice to show that the jealousy that once divided the two parties was by no means extinct. On the Rockingham side there was some very natural personal resentment, and also a constant fear lest Chatham should resume his old policy of breaking up that strong party organisation which in the opinion of Burke was the sole method of putting an end to the impotence of successive administrations and restraining the influence of the Crown. On the side of Chatham, there was a stronger sympathy with the democratic element in the country, and a proneness to employ stronger language and to resort to more energetic measures than the Rockinghams desired. ‘The Marquis,’ he wrote in one of his letters, ‘is an honest and honourable man, but “moderation, moderation,” is the burden of the song among the body. For myself I am resolved to be in earnest for the public, and shall be a scarecrow of violence to the gentle warblers of the grove, the moderate Whigs and temperate statesmen.’1 Still in public the two parties were agreed, and a coalition was formed against the Government which once would have been invincible. As Philip Francis afterwards wrote, ‘North succeeded to what I believe he himself and every man in the kingdom at that time thought a forlorn hope.’2 Chatham, Rockingham, Grenville, and Temple were united under the same banner, while a fever of public opinion had been excited in the country by the Middlesex election which had never been paralleled since the fall of Walpole.
The result was the complete triumph of the Government. The influence of the Court was now so great, and its attractive power so irresistible, that in both Houses it commanded a steady and unflinching majority. The House of Lords, which in the case of the Aylesbury electors under Queen Anne, had obtained a most legitimate popularity by its defence of the rights of electors against the usurpations of the Commons, now carried every resolution of the Ministers by a large majority. It abdicated one of its most important functions by formally declining to take any step in the Middlesex election, on the ground that its interference would be unconstitutional; and for some time, in order to diminish as much as possible the effects of the eloquence of Chatham, it carefully excluded all strangers from its debates. In spite of the coalition of the scattered fragments of the Whig party; in spite of the petitions which poured in from every part of the country against the Government; in spite of America, of Corsica, and of the Falkland Islands; in spite of the manifest decline of the reputation of England, which had recently been so great, and of the naval and military services, which had recently been so efficient, the majority of the Government was unbroken. In Lord North the King had found a servant of admirable tact, ability, and knowledge, and new recruits were speedily obtained. The Great Seal having been placed for about a year in Commission, was bestowed on Bathurst, who, though an undistinguished lawyer and insignificant politician, held it for more than seven years. Lord Granby, who was the most popular of the recent seceders from the Ministry, died in October 1770. George Grenville died in the following month, and three months later, Lord Suffolk, who pretended to lead the Grenville party, abandoned all his former principles, and joined the Ministry as Privy Seal. Whately, the most confidential friend of Grenville, took the same course. The chief members of the Bedford faction had already gone over, and the Duke, who had for some time been excluded from public life by blindness and ill-health, died in the beginning of 1771. Sir Edward Hawke was replaced at the Admiralty by Lord Sandwich. Grafton, who had once professed to be the most devoted follower of Chatham, solemnly pledged himself, in a speech in May 1770, never again to act with him in public business,1 and a year later, when Lord Suffolk, on the death of Halifax, exchanged the office of Privy Seal for that of Secretary of State, he accepted the vacant post, though with the characteristic condition that he should not be required to attend the Cabinet.2 Thurlow, who was advanced to the position of Attorney-General, showed an amount of legal and debating power which restored the strength of the Ministry in the department where it was most weak, and, to the astonishment and scandal even of the corrupt assembly at St. Stephen's, he was soon joined by Wedderburn.
This very able Scotchman—one of the ablest and most corrupt of the many able and corrupt lawyers who in the eighteenth century were conspicuous in English politics—though he first entered Parliament under the patronage of Bute, had for some time been conspicuous among the opponents of the Court. His repeated and eloquent denunciations of the American policy of the Government, his magnificent defence of the rights of electors in the case of the Middlesex election, and his resignation of his borough seat because its patron was opposed to the popular cause, had made him one of the idols of the people. Clive, who was at this time in opposition, at once provided him with a new seat. His name was a favourite toast at the popular banquets. The City of London voted him its freedom; Chatham spoke of him with warm admiration, and the Whig party imagined that another Camden had arisen in their ranks. Wedderburn, however, was only working with great shrewdness and more than common effrontery to raise his price, and in January 1771 he concluded a secret negotiation with North by becoming Solicitor-General, justifying himself on the ground that he belonged to the Grenville connection. The Tory party, who in the earlier stages of the Government had given it only a partial and hesitating support,1 rallied in all their strength around Lord North, while the furious quarrels of the City demagogues divided, weakened, and discredited the popular cause. Though the grievance of the Middlesex election was unredressed, the excitement which had blazed so high in 1768, 1769, and 1770, gradually subsided, and it was followed by a long period of ignoble apathy.
The confidential letters of the leaders of the Opposition are full of complaints of the change that had taken place. ‘England at this day,’ wrote Chatham in January 1771, ‘is no more like Old England or England forty years ago, than the Monsignori of modern Rome are like the Decii, the Gracchi, or the Catos.’2 ‘I do not see,’ he afterwards wrote, ‘that the smallest good can result to the public from my coming up to the meeting of Parliament. A headlong, self-willed spirit has sunk the City into nothing. … The narrow genius of old-corps connection has weakened the Whigs, and rendered national union on revolution principles impossible.’1 ‘The public has slept quietly upon the violation of electors’ rights and the tyranny of the House of Commons.’2‘Fuit Ilium! the whole constitution is a shadow.’3 ‘After a violent ferment in the nation,’ wrote Burke, ‘as remarkable a deadness and vapidity has succeeded.’ ‘The people have fallen into a total indifference to any matters of public concern. I do not suppose that there was ever anything like this stupor in any period of our history.’4 ‘In the present state of things,’ wrote Junius in the last letter he addressed to Woodfall, ‘if I were to write again, I must be as silly as any of the horned cattle that run mad through the City, or as any of your wise aldermen. I meant the cause and the public. Both are given up. I feel for the honour of this country when I see that there are not ten men in it who will unite and stand together upon any one, question. But it is all alike, vile and contemptible.’5
Yet the consequences of the struggle that has been recounted were by no means so transient as might be supposed. New questions, new lines of party division, new political forces were called into being, and the condition of the representative body assumed a prominence in English politics which had never before been equalled. At the time of the Revolution the question at issue lay mainly between the Crown and the Parliament, and it was the great effort of Whig statesmen and of the Whig party to check the encroachments of prerogative and to strengthen the popular branch of the Legislature. It was not yet foreseen that Parliament could itself become the oppressor of the people, and that in and through the representative body the Crown could regain a great part of the power which it had lost. ‘The power of the Crown,’ wrote the great Whig statesman in 1770, ‘almost dead and rotten as prerogative, has grown up anew, with much more strength and far less odium, under the name of influence. An influence which operated without noise and without violence, an influence which converted the very antagonist into the instrument of power; which contained in itself a perpetual principle of growth and renovation, and which the distresses and the prosperity of the country equally tended to augment, was an admirable substitute for a prerogative that, being only the offspring of antiquated prejudice, had moulded in its original stamina irresistible principles of decay and dissolution.’1 We have seen the alarming extent to which parliamentary corruption rose under the first two Georges, but the Whig Government usually succeeded so well in avoiding collisions with public opinion that the outbursts against it were rare, transient, and feeble. The most formidable was at the close of the ministry of Walpole; but the evil, though for a time seriously diminished by the legislation of 1743, soon displayed a renewed vigour. It was aggravated by the growing wealth of the country, which made the struggle for seats more keen; by the disorganised and fluctuating condition of parties, which in many constituencies disturbed and unsettled the balance of political power; by the appearance of the Court in the field as a new and active competitor for parliamentary interest. The enormous corruption employed to carry the Peace of Paris, the new system of issuing Government loans at extravagant terms and distributing the shares among partisans of the Government, the profligate multiplication of Court places, all stimulated the evil. It appeared by the list in the ‘Court Calendar,’ that in 1770, 192 members of the House of Commons held places under the Government, and it was stated that the number of places had doubled since 1740.1 Another very important source of corruption arose from the great increase of the National Debt resulting from the war. The excise and customs revenue had risen to about six millions sterling, and the numerous officials who were employed to collect it were, for the most part, docile servants of the Government. In 1782 Lord Rockingham declared that as many as 11,500 revenue officers were employed, and that no less than 70 elections were controlled by their votes.2
In the first decade of George III. also, the nabobs, or Indian adventurers, who had returned in great numbers laden with the spoils of Hindostan, began to appear prominently in English political life. At the end of 1767, Chesterfield being desirous of bringing his son into Parliament at the approaching election, offered a borough-jobber 2,500l. for a secure seat, but was told ‘that there was no such thing as a borough to be had now, for that the rich East and West Indians had secured them all at the rate of 3,000l. at least, but many at 4,000l., and two or three that he knew at 5,000l.’3 ‘For some years past,’ said Chatham, in one of his speeches in 1770, ‘there has been an influx of wealth into this country which has been attended with many fatal consequences, because it has not been the regular, natural produce of labour and industry. The riches of Asia have been poured in upon us, and have brought with them not only Asiatic luxury, but, I fear, Asiatic principles of government. Without connections, without any natural interest in the soil, the importers of foreign gold have forced their way into Parliament by such a torrent of private corruption as no private hereditary fortune could resist.’1 It was very natural that a class of men who were for the most part utterly ignorant of English politics and indifferent to English liberty, whose habits of thought had been formed in scenes of unbridled violence and despotism, and who had obtained their seats for purely personal ends and by the most lavish corruption, should have been ready to support every attempt to encroach upon the Constitution. They usually attached themselves to the King's friends. Clive himself at one time brought no less than five members into Parliament, and we find him, in 1767, bargaining for an English peerage as the reward of his services against Wilkes.2 The sums that were lavished in parliamentary contests at this time had probably never before been equalled. In spite of the scandalous spoliation of the Duke of Portland by Sir James Lowther, Portland succeeded in wresting Westmoreland and Cumberland from Lowther in the elections of 1768, but each party is said to have expended 40,000l. in the contests.3 The contest for the town of Northampton at the same election cost each party at least 30,000l.4 ‘The immense wealth,’ said Walpole, ‘that had flowed into the country from the war and the East Indies bore down all barriers of economy, and introduced a luxury of expense unknown to empires of vaster extent.’5
There were some cases of corruption so flagrant that Parliament was obliged to take notice of them. In 1761, the borough of Sudbury openly advertised itself for sale.1 At the next election the magistrates of the city of Oxford wrote a formal letter to their late representatives offering to secure their re-election on condition of their paying the Corporation debt. The offending magistrates were summoned before the House, reprimanded for their conduct, and confined for five days in Newgate, but the House refused to authorise their prosecution, and they are said to have completed their bargain with their members during the short period of their detention.2 A few borough-brokers whose too open proceedings had been brought under the unwilling notice of Parliament after the election of 1768, were thrown for a short time into Newgate;3 and Judge Willes, in trying an aggravated case of bribery by the mayor of a Cornish borough, took occasion to say that ‘the crime had got to such a pitch that it threatened the utter ruin of the nation.’4 At Shoreham it was discovered that the majority of the freemen had formed themselves into a permanent society called the ‘Christian Club,’ for the purpose of selling the seat to the highest bidder, and of monopolising the purchase-money to the prejudice of the other electors. After long discussions eighty-one of the offending freemen were disfranchised, and an important precedent was created by a measure extending the right of voting for members of that borough to all 40s. freeholders in the adjoining rape of Bramber.5
The constitution of the House of Commons was, indeed, such that even if there had not been systematic corruption in the constituencies and among the members, it would have had but little claim to be regarded as a true representative of the nation. In a book published in 1774 it was shown by very careful computations that out of the 513 members who sat for England and Wales, as many as 254 represented less than 11,500 voters, and as many as 56 about 700 voters. Of these 56 members no one had a constituency of 38 electors, and 6 had constituencies of not more than 3. The county of Middlesex, including London and Westminster, returned only 8 members, while Cornwall returned 44.1 And yet, taken as a whole, the representation of England and Wales was far more real and more independent than that of Scotland.2 As long as the House of Commons abstained from violently opposing the popular wishes these anomalies were acquiesced in; but the Middlesex election for the first time brought it into open opposition to public opinion.
The year 1769 is very memorable in political history, for it witnessed the birth of English Radicalism, and the first serious attempts to reform and control Parliament by a pressure from without, making its members habitually subservient to their constituents. Small extra-parliamentary meetings of active politicians, usually members of Parliament, for the purpose of supporting or opposing particular measures or statesmen, were already well known in English public life. The famous meeting at the ‘Fountain,’ where Pulteney harangued against the policy of Walpole, and the meeting of the followers of Walpole to discuss the propriety of persevering with the Excise Bill, are well-known examples. In the great agitations of 1641 and 1642 there had been many instances of great assemblies for the purpose of subscribing or presenting petitions to the King or to the Parliament,1 and a movement of the same kind was created in opposition to the Excise Bill of Walpole.2 But it was only in the agitation of 1769 and 1770 that open, popular meetings, for the purpose of giving expression to public opinion on great political questions became a normal and important element in English public life.3 The innovation rapidly spread. At one meeting which was held in Westminster Hall in the August of 1769, 7,000 persons are said to have been present;4 and there were soon few counties in which large bodies of freeholders did not assemble to protest against the conduct of the Parliament, to draw up instructions for their members, or to petition the King for redress of grievances. A multitude of small political societies, under the guidance of local politicians, were accustomed to meet at different taverns in the City; but they were soon absorbed or eclipsed by a great democratic association called the Society of the Supporters of the Bill of Rights, which was founded in 1769 for the purpose of assisting Wilkes in his struggle with the Court, and of advocating political changes of the most drastic character.
The man who appears to have contributed most largely to its formation was Horne, the Vicar of Brentford, afterwards better known as Horne Tooke, who had now thrown aside the clerical profession, for which he was utterly unsuited, and flung himself unreservedly into political agitation. The great contributions to grammar and the science of language which have given him a permanent place in English literature belong to a later period of his life, and at this time he was known chiefly as one of the most violent agitators among the City politicians. He possessed some literary and still greater forensic ability, and was a man of undoubted energy, courage, honesty, and independence, but at the same time turbulent, vain, and quarrelsome, and very unscrupulous about the means he employed. In the cause which was raised by the Middlesex election, he once said that he was prepared to dye his black coat red; and he was very active in canvassing, organising public meetings, writing libels, and endeavouring to hunt to death those unfortunate men who were accused of having committed murder in the riots that grew out of the election. Wilkes himself, and also Glynn, Saw-bridge, Oliver, and Townshend, who represented the City party in Parliament, were among the original members of the society, and a long series of tests were prepared to be offered to candidates at elections. Every candidate was required to aim at a full and equal representation of the people in Parliament, annual Parliaments, the exclusion from the House of Commons of every member who accepted any place, pension, contract, lottery ticket, or other form of emolument from the Crown; the exaction of an oath against bribery; the impeachment of the Ministers who had violated the rights of the Middlesex freeholders, and instigated the ‘massacre’ of St. George's Fields; the redress of the grievances of Ireland, and the restoration of the sole right of self-taxation to America. Horne, and a large section of the more respectable members, soon after retired from the society in consequence of the quarrel between Wilkes and Horne; but the seceders formed a new and very similar club, called the ‘Constitutional Society,’ which was the parent of many later societies, such as the ‘Whig Club,’ the ‘Friends of the People,’ and the ‘London Corresponding Society.’1
It was a leading doctrine of the new party that a member of Parliament should be simply a delegate, who must regulate his political career entirely according to the wishes of his constituents. In a great meeting which was held in February 1769, Beckford declared that if he received instructions from his constituents directing him to take a course opposed to his convictions, he would consider himself bound to do so, and ‘would not oppose his judgment to that of 6,000 of his fellow-citizens.’ The habit of sending instructions from constituencies to members was warmly encouraged, and in the course of 1769 it had become common. The Radical party, however, was very weak in Parliament and not strong in the country. It included a few speculative republicans, the most prominent of whom were Mrs. Macaulay, the historian, who was sister to Alderman Sawbridge, and a wealthy and very excellent private gentleman named Hollis, whose passion for printing and collecting magnificent editions of English seventeenth-century works in defence of liberty made him well known to students, and whose donations may be traced in several foreign libraries.2
One of the results of this movement was, that the Whigs were compelled, though slowly and timidly, to identify themselves with the question of parliamentary reform. Hitherto the question had not been fully appropriated by either party, and it was by no means clear to which party its advocacy would ultimately fall. The Whigs represented especially the mobile and progressive classes in the community; and as they owed their origin to a great struggle for political liberty, they were the natural guardians of the popular element in the Constitution. But, on the other hand, for half a century after the accession of the House of Brunswick, they kept the Revolution Settlement intact mainly by a parliamentary majority derived from Whig nomination boroughs at a time when the popular sentiment was usually sullen, hostile, or indifferent. During all that time they were the party of the Government, and had therefore the conservative instincts which power naturally produces, and they included the commercial classes, who were much more disposed and tempted to bribe than the country gentry. The Tories, as we have seen, were long the habitual advocates of short parliaments, place Bills, and pension Bills; and one of the strongest sentiments of the country gentry was dislike to that corruption by which merchants, and at a later period Indian nabobs, so often succeeded in defeating them among their tenants. This appears very clearly in the writings of Bolingbroke. ‘As to Parliaments,’ wrote Swift to Pope in 1721, ‘I adored the wisdom of that Gothic institution which made them annual; and I was confident our liberty could never be placed upon a firm foundation until that ancient law were restored among us. For who sees not that while such assemblies are permitted to have a longer duration, there groweth up a commerce of corruption between the ministry and the deputies … which traffic would neither answer the design nor expense if Parliaments met once a year.’ Among the posthumous works of Swift, there is a short but very remarkable ‘Essay on Public Absurdities,’ in which that great Tory writer enumerated what he deemed the chief political evils of his time. It is imbued with the strongest prejudices of his party. He speaks of the folly of giving votes to any who did not belong to the established religion of the country. He condemns absolutely standing armies. He deplores that persons without landed property could by means of the boroughs obtain an entrance into Parliament. But side by side with these views we find him blaming the custom of throwing the expense of an election upon a candidate, the custom of making forty-shilling freeholders in order to give votes to landlords, and the immunity of members and their servants from civil suits. ‘It is likewise,’ he adds, ‘absurd that boroughs decayed are not absolutely extinguished because the returned members do in reality represent nobody at all; and that several large towns are not represented though full of industrious townsmen.’1
But the hopes of reform which had been raised on the accession of George III, soon proved vain; corruption under a Tory Ministry advanced in new forms and with an accelerated rapidity, and it was no longer the Court but the people who looked with jealousy on the House of Commons, and desired to limit its authority. The changed attitude of parties was remarkably shown when Chatham, in 1770, brought the Middlesex election before the House of Lords. A motion was introduced by Lord Marchmont, and warmly supported by Lord Mansfield, and by the whole party which was the especial exponent of the views of the Court, deprecating any interference of the House of Lords with that great constitutional question, on the ground that a resolution ‘directly or indirectly impeaching a judgment of the House of Commons in a matter wherein their jurisdiction is competent, final, and conclusive, would be a violation of the constitutional rights of the Commons, tends to make a breach between the two Houses of Parliament, and leads to a general confusion.’ It was left for the Whigs to maintain the limitations which the Constitution imposed upon the Commons, and above all, to vindicate the rights of the people to a fuller representation within it.
The attitude of the Whigs towards the question of parliamentary reform differed widely from that of the new Radical party. In order to understand it, we must discriminate carefully between the policy of Chatham and that of the followers of Rockingham. The great service of Chatham to the cause is that he was the first statesman who openly maintained the necessity of an extended system of reform, and who brought in a definite plan for accomplishing this end. He never proposed any lowering of the parliamentary suffrage, and he had no sympathy with the doctrine of personal representation which was implied in the resolutions of the Society of the Supporters of the Bill of Rights, and which, a few years later, was clearly formulated by Stanhope, Cartwright, and Jebb. ‘The share of the national burdens,’ he once said, ‘which any part of the kingdom bears, is the only rule by which we can judge of the weight that it ought to have in the political balance.’1 In a very remarkable speech, delivered in January 1770, he stated clearly the principles that governed him. ‘The Constitution,’ he said, ‘intended that there should be a permanent relation between the constituent and representative body of the people. Will any man affirm that, as the House of Commons is now formed, that relation is in any degree preserved? It is not preserved, but destroyed. Let us be cautious, however, how we have recourse to violent expedients.’ The representation of the counties and of the great cities and trading towns, he maintained, was still real and independent, but the small boroughs were ‘the rotten parts of the Constitution.’ These rotten parts, however, he deemed it not possible or not prudent to destroy. ‘The limb is mortified, but the amputation might be death.’1 ‘Let us try then,’ he continued, ‘whether some gentler remedies may not be discovered. Since we cannot cure the disorder, let us endeavour to infuse such a portion of new health into the Constitution as may enable it to support its more inveterate diseases.’ This might be done by giving one more member to every county. In this way, the amount of honesty and public spirit in the House would be largely increased; the influence of the mercenary boroughs would be diminished, and the change would be effected in complete accordance with the true spirit of the Constitution for ‘the knights of the shire approach nearest to the constitutional representation of the country, because they represent the soil.’2
On the subject of shortening the duration of parliaments, Chatham had much hesitation. The cry for annual parliaments in a great degree disappeared among the more moderate members of the Radical party, and triennial parliaments, which had existed for some time after the Revolution, became their object. In 1770, however, when the City of London addressed Chatham on the subject, he distinctly repudiated the notion that triennial parliaments would prove an efficient remedy for the evils of the State.1 As late as April 1771, he wrote to Shelburne that he had been endeavouring to collect opinions on the question, and found that there was a very real dislike to any proposal for shortening the duration of Parliament. ‘The dread of the more frequent returns of corruption, together with every dissoluteness, which elections spread through the country, strongly indisposes families of all descriptions to such an alteration. As I am persuaded that this opinion is genuine, and very widely extended, I should think it totally unadvisable for me to stir it.’ ‘As to additional knights of the shire,’ he added, ‘I collect little encouragement. At best, the thing in theory is not quite disapproved, but the execution not much desired by any; probably arising from the present conduct of representatives of counties, not the most enlightened or spirited part of the House.’2 Very soon, however, the manifest impossibility of inducing the existing Parliament to yield to the wishes of the nation on the question of the Middlesex election changed the opinion of Chatham, and on May 1, 1771, he announced his conversion to short parliaments. ‘The influence of the Crown is become so enormous that some stronger bulwark must be erected for the defence of the Constitution. The Act for constituting septennial parliaments must be repealed. Formerly the inconveniences attaching to short parliaments had great weight with me, but now we are not debating upon a question of convenience. Our all is at stake. Our whole Constitution is giving way, and therefore, with the most deliberate and solemn conviction, I declare myself a convert to triennial parliaments.’3 The necessity for some serious change in the constitution of Parliament he strongly felt. He urged Lord Rockingham in 1770 to aim at the strengthening of the democratic part of the Constitution,1 and he once predicted to Lord Buchan that before the end of the century either the Parliament would reform itself from within or be reformed with a vengeance from without.
These views cannot be regarded as exaggerated, but they were less timid than those of the Rockingham section of the Whigs. The views of this party were chiefly defended by, and may, I believe, be very largely attributed to, a great man who had now appeared among them, and whose writings, even to the present day, have coloured all that is best in English political thinking.
There is no political figure of the eighteenth century which retains so enduring an interest, or which repays so amply a careful study, as Edmund Burke. All other statesmen seem to belong wholly to the past; for though many of their achievements remain, the profound changes that have taken place in the conditions of English political life have destroyed the significance of their policy and their example. A few fine flashes of rhetoric, a few happy epigrams, a few laboured speeches which now seem cold, lifeless, and commonplace, are all that remain of the eloquence of the Pitts, of Fox, of Sheridan, or of Plunket. But of Burke it may be truly said, that there is scarcely any serious political thinker in England who has not learnt much from his writings, and whom he has not profoundly influenced either in the way of attraction or in the way of repulsion. As an orator, he has been surpassed by some, as a practical politician he has been surpassed by many, and his judgments of men and things were often deflected by violent passions, by strong antipathies, by party spirit, by exaggerated sensibility, by a strength of imagination and of affection, which continually invested particular objects with a halo of superstitious reverence. But no other politician or writer has thrown the light of so penetrating a genius on the nature and working of the British Constitution, has impressed his principles so deeply on both of the great parties in the State, and has left behind him a richer treasure of political wisdom applicable to all countries and to all times. He had a peculiar gift of introducing into transient party conflicts observations drawn from the most profound knowledge of human nature, of the first principles of government and legislation, and of the more subtle and remote consequences of political institutions, and there is perhaps no English prose writer since Bacon whose works are so thickly starred with thought. The time may come when they will be no longer read. The time will never come in which men would not grow the wiser by reading them.
He is one of the very few instances of a conspicuous statesman who took no part in English politics till he had attained the mature age of thirty-six. The second son of an Irish attorney, who was for some time at the head of his profession in Dublin, and of a Catholic lady of good family, he had received an excellent education in a Quaker school at Ballitore, in the county of Kildare, and passed from thence to Dublin University, where he soon after obtained a scholarship, and where he appears to have found an amount of intellectual activity considerably greater than that which Gibbon a few years later found at Oxford.1 Burke had, however, little or no college ambition. His favourite studies lay outside the regular course; and although he brought from the University a singularly wide, accurate, and intelligent knowledge of the ideas and sentiments of the classical writers, and of the laws and conditions of ancient societies, he never attained, or perhaps aspired to, that fastidious delicacy and polish of scholarship which is the pride of the great English schools. He spoke and wrote much for a college debating society. He assiduously attended the great college library, and he there laid the foundation of that vast and multifarious knowledge which distinguished him from all the statesmen of his time. Had his intellect been less powerful and comprehensive, had his capacity for assimilating knowledge been less extraordinary, the immense variety of his tastes and pursuits would have infallibly dissipated his energies and destroyed that power of concentration without which no great thing can be done, and it is curious to observe how long his mind vibrated doubtfully between different careers. He was called to the Bar, but he disliked the profession and never practised, though he acquired a knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence which has obtained the admiration of great lawyers. He was probably an unsuccessful candidate for the Chair of Logic at Glasgow University.1 He thought, at one time, under the pressure of straitened circumstances, of emigrating to the American colonies. In 1756 he emerged into notice by his admirable imitation of Bolingbroke, and in the same year he published his well-known treatise on the ‘Sublime and Beautiful,’ which appeared in a greatly enlarged form in the following year. This class of studies, which Hutcheson had recently made very popular, had always a great fascination to his mind, and it was united in Burke with a delicacy of taste in his judgment of art which was warmly recognised by both Reynolds and Barry. History, at the same time, occupied a large share of his attention. He began, but never finished, a work on early English history. He wrote wholly or in part an anonymous ‘Account of the European Settlements in America,’ and the historical sketches of the ‘Annual Register,’ which was founded in 1758, were, for many years, from his pen. His writings are full of admirable examples of that highest kind of historical insight which illuminates the present by the experience of the past, and detects and discriminates amid the great multitude of indifferent facts the true causes and principles of national greatness or decay. In 1759 we find him applying for a consulship at Madrid,1 and he was afterwards, for a short time, private secretary to Gerard Hamilton, by whose favour he obtained an Irish pension of 300l. He soon, however, disagreed with Hamilton, threw up his pension at the end of a year, and resumed his old life, writing much for the booksellers, haunting the gallery of the House of Commons, and mixing largely with the best literary and artistic society of his time.
There are few men whose depth and versatility have been both so fully recognised by their contemporaries, and whose pre-eminence in many widely different spheres is so amply attested. Adam Smith declared that he had found no other man who, without communication, had thought out the same conclusions on political economy as himself. Winstanley, the Camden Professor of Ancient History, bore witness to his great knowledge of the ‘philosophy, history, and filiation of languages, and of the principles of etymological deduction.” Arthur Young, the first living authority on agriculture, acknowledged his obligations to him for much information about his special pursuits, and it was in a great degree his passion for agriculture which induced Burke, when the death of his elder brother had improved his circumstances, to encumber himself with a heavy debt by purchasing that Beaconsfield estate where some of his happiest days were spent.1 His conversational powers were only equalled, and probably not surpassed, by those of Johnson. Goldsmith described him as ‘winding into his subject, like a serpent.’ ‘Like the fabled object of the fairy's favours,’ said Wilberforce, ‘whenever he opened his mouth pearls and diamonds dropped from him.’ Grattan pronounced him the best talker he had ever known. Johnson, in spite of their violent political differences, always spoke of him with generous admiration. ‘Burke is an extraordinary man. His stream of mind is perpetual.’ ‘His talk is the ebullition of his mind. He does not talk for a desire of distinction, but because his mind is full.’ ‘He is the only man whose common conversation corresponds with the general fame which he has in the world. Take up what topic you please, he is ready to meet you.’ ‘No man of sense could meet Mr. Burke by accident under a gateway to avoid a shower without being convinced that he was the first man in England.’ It is not surprising that ‘he is the first man in the House of Commons, for he is the first man everywhere.’ He once declared that ‘he knew but two men who had risen considerably above the common standard—Lord Chatham and Edmund Burke.’1
The admirable proportion which subsisted between his different powers, both moral and intellectual, is especially remarkable. Genius is often, like the pearl, the offspring or the accompaniment of disease, and an extraordinary development of one class of faculties is too frequently balanced by an extraordinary deficiency of others. But nothing of this kind can be found in Burke. His intellectual energy was fully commensurate with his knowledge, and he had rare powers of bringing illustrations and methods of reasoning derived from many spheres to bear on any subject he touched, and of combining an extraordinary natural facility with the most untiring and fastidious labour. In debate, images, illustrations, and arguments rose to his lips with a spontaneous redundance that astonished his hearers;2 but no writer elaborated his compositions more carefully, and his printers were often aghast at the multitude of his corrections and alterations. Nor did his intellectual powers in any degree dry up or did his moral nature. There is no public man whose character is more clearly reflected in his life and in his intimate correspondence; and it may be confidently said that there is no other public man whose character was in all essential respects more transparently pure. Weak health, deep and fervent religious principles, and studious habits, saved him from the temptations of youth; and amid all the vicissitudes and corruption of politics his heart never lost its warmth, or his conscience its sensitiveness. There were faults indeed which were only too apparent in his character as in his intellect—an excessive violence and irritability of temper; personal antipathies, which were sometimes carried beyond all the bounds of reason; party spirit, which was too often suffered to obscure his judgment, and to hurry him into great intemperance and exaggeration of language. But he was emphatically a good man; and in the higher moral qualities of public as of private life, he has not often been surpassed. That loyal affection with which he clung through his whole life to the friends of his early youth; that genuine kindness which made him, when still a poor man, the munificent patron of Barry and Crabbe, and which showed itself in innumerable acts of unobtrusive benevolence; that stainless purity and retiring modesty of nature which made his domestic life so different from that of some of the greatest of his contemporaries; that depth of feeling which made the loss of his only son the death-knell of the whole happiness of his life, may be traced in every stage of his public career. ‘I know the map of England,’ he once said, ‘as well as the noble lord, or as any other person, and I know that the way I take is not the road to preferment.’ Fidelity to his engagements, a disinterested pursuit of what he believed to be right, in spite of all the allurements of interest and of popularity; a deep and ardent hatred of oppression and cruelty in every form; a readiness at all times to sacrifice personal pretensions to party interests; a capacity of devoting long years of thankless labour to the service of those whom he had never seen, and who could never reward him, were the great characteristics of his life, and they may well make us pardon many faults of temper, judgment, and taste.
It was in July 1765 that Lord Rockingham, having just become Prime Minister, made Burke his private secretary, and almost immediately afterwards by the influence of Lord Verney he was returned to Parliament for the small borough of Wendover. From this time he became one of the warmest friends and most intimate counsellors of Rockingham, and the chief defender of his policy, both in Parliament and in the press. In Parliament he had great obstacles to contend with. An Irishman unconnected with any of the great governing families, and without any of the influence derived from property and rank, he entered Parliament late in life and with habits fully formed, and during the greater part of his career he spoke as a member of a small minority in opposition to the strong feeling of the House. He was too old and too rigid to catch its tone, and he never acquired that subtle instinct or tact which enables some speakers to follow its fleeting moods and to strike with unfailing accuracy the precise key which is most in harmony with its prevailing temper. ‘Of all politicians of talent I ever knew,’ wrote Horace Walpole, ‘Burke has least political art,’ and his defects so increased with age that the time came when he was often listened to with undisguised impatience. He spoke too often, too vehemently, and much too long; and his eloquence, though in the highest degree intellectual, powerful, various, and original, was not well adapted to a popular audience.1 He had little or nothing of that fire and majesty of declamation with which Chatham thrilled his hearers, and often almost overawed opposition, and as a parliamentary debater he was far inferior to Charles Fox. That great master of persuasive reasoning never failed to make every sentence tell upon his hearers, to employ precisely and invariably the kind of arguments that were most level with their understandings, to subordinate every other consideration to the single end of convincing and impressing those who were before him. Burke was not inferior to Fox in readiness and in the power of clear and cogent reasoning. His wit, though not of the highest order, was only equalled by that of Townshend, Sheridan, and perhaps North, and it rarely failed in its effect upon the House. He far surpassed every other speaker in the copiousness and correctness of his diction, in the range of knowledge he brought to bear on every subject of debate, in the richness and variety of his imagination, in the gorgeous beauty of his descriptive passages, in the depth of the philosophical reflections and the felicity of the personal sketches which he delighted in scattering over his speeches. But these gifts were frequently marred by a strange want of judgment, measure, and self-control. His speeches were full of episodes and digressions, of excessive ornamentation and illustration, of dissertations on general principles of politics, which were invaluable in themselves, but very unpalatable to a tired or excited House waiting eagerly for a division. As Grattan once said, ‘they were far better suited to a patient reader than an impatient hearer.’ Passionately in earnest in the midst of a careless or half-hearted assembly, seeking in all measures their essential and permanent tendencies, while his hearers thought chiefly of their transient and personal aspects, discussing first principles and remote consequences, among men whose minds were concentrated on the struggle of the hour, constantly led away by the endless stream of ideas and images which were for ever surging from his brain, he was often interrupted by his impatient hearers. There is scarcely a perceptible difference between the style of his essays and the style of his published speeches; and if the reader selects from his works the few passages which possess to an eminent degree the flash and movement of spoken rhetoric, he will be quite as likely to find them in the former as in the latter.1
Like most men of great imaginative power, he possessed a highly strung and over-sensitive nervous organisation, and the incessant conflicts of parliamentary life brought it at last into a condition of irritability that was wholly morbid and abnormal. Though eminently courteous and amenable to reason in private life, in public he was often petulant, intractable, and ungovernably violent. His friends sometimes held him down by the skirts of his coat to restrain the outbursts of his anger. He spoke with a burning brain and with quivering nerves. The rapid, vehement, impetuous torrent of his eloquence, kindling as it flowed, and the nervous motions of his countenance reflected the ungovernable excitement under which he laboured; and while Fox could cast off without an effort the cares of public life and pass at once from Parliament to a night of dissipation at Brooks's, Burke returned from debate jaded, irritated, and soured. With an intellect capable of the very highest efforts of judicial wisdom he combined the passions of the most violent partisan, and in the excitement of debate these too often obtained the ascendency. Few things are more curious than the contrast between the feverish and passionate excitement with which he threw himself into party debates, and the admirably calm, exhaustive, and impartial summaries of the rival arguments which he afterwards drew up for the ‘Annual Register.’ Though a most skilful and penetrating critic, and though his English style is one of the very finest in the language, his taste was not pure. Even his best writings are sometimes disfigured by strangely coarse and repulsive images, and gross violations of taste appear to have been frequent in his speeches. It is probable that in his case the hasty reports in the ‘Parliamentary History’ and in the ‘Cavendish Debates’ are more than commonly defective, for Burke was a very rapid speaker, and his language had the strongly marked individuality which reporters rarely succeed in conveying;1 but no one who judged by these reports would place his speeches in the first rank, and some of them are wild and tawdry almost to insanity. Nor does he appear to have possessed any histrionic power. His voice had little charm. He had a strong Irish accent, and Erskine described his delivery as ‘execrable,’ and declared that in some of his finest speeches he emptied the House.2
Gerard Hamilton once said that while everywhere else Burke seemed the first man, in the House of Commons he appeared only the second. At the same time there is ample evidence that with all his defects he was from the first a great power in the House, and that in the early part of his career, and almost always on occasions of great importance, his eloquence had a wonderful power upon his hearers. Pitt passed into the House of Lords almost immediately after Burke had entered the Commons. Fox was then a boy. Sheridan had not yet become a member; and his fellow-countryman, Barré, though a rhetorician of great if somewhat coarse power, was completely eclipsed by the splendour and the variety of the talents of Burke. Charles Townshend alone, who shone for a few years with a meteoric brilliancy in English politics, was regarded as his worthy rival. Johnson wrote to Langton with great delight that Burke by his first speeches in the House had ‘gained more reputation than perhaps any man at his first appearance ever gained before.’1 ‘An Irishman, Mr. Burke, is sprung up,’ wrote the American General Lee, who was then watching London politics with great care, ‘who has astonished everybody with the power of his eloquence and his comprehensive knowledge in all our exterior and internal politics and commercial interests. He wants nothing but that sort of dignity annexed to rank and property in England to make him the most considerable man in the Lower House.’2 Grattan, who on a question of oratory was one of the most competent of judges, wrote in 1769, ‘Burke is unquestionably the first orator among the Commons of England, boundless in knowledge, instantaneous in his apprehensions, and abundant in his language. He speaks with profound attention and acknowledged superiority, notwithstanding the want of energy, the want of grace, and the want of elegance in his manner.’3 Horace Walpole, who hated Burke, acknowledged that he was ‘versed in every branch of eloquence,’ that he possessed ‘the quickest conception, amazing facility of elocution, great strength of argumentation, all the power of imagination and memory,’ that even his unpremeditated speeches displayed ‘a choice and variety of language, a profusion of metaphors, and a correctness of diction that was surprising,’ and that in public though not in private life his wit was of the highest order, ‘luminous, striking, and abundant.’ He complained, however, with good reason that Burke ‘often lost himself in a torrent of images and copiousness,’ that ‘he dealt abundantly too much in establishing general positions,’ that he had ‘no address or insinuation;’ that his speeches often showed a great want of sobriety and judgment, and ‘the still greater want of art to touch the passions.’1
But though their length, their excursiveness, and their didactic character did undoubtedly on many occasions weary and even empty the House, there were others in which Burke showed a power both of fascinating and of moving such as very few speakers have attained. Gibbon, whose sinecure place was swept away by the Economical Reform Bill of 1782, bears testimony to the ‘delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator, Mr. Burke, was heard by all sides of the House, and even by those whose existence he proscribed.’2 Walpole has himself repeatedly noticed the effect which the speeches of Burke produced upon the hearers. Describing one of those against the American war, he says that the wit of one part ‘excited the warmest and most continued bursts of laughter even from Lord North, Rigby, and the Ministers themselves,’ while the pathos of another part ‘drew iron tears down Barré's cheek,’ and Governor Johnston exclaimed that ‘he was now glad that strangers were excluded, as if they had been admitted Burke's speech would have excited them to tear ministers to pieces as they went out of the House.’3 Sir Gilbert Elliot, describing one of Burke's speeches on the Warren Hastings impeachment, says: ‘He did not, I believe, leave a dry eye in the whole assembly.’1 Making every allowance for the enthusiasm of a French Royalist for the author of the ‘Reflections on the French Revolution,’ the graphic description by the Duke de Levis of one of Burke's latest speeches on that subject is sufficient to show the magnetism of his eloquence even at the end of his career. ‘He made the whole House pass in an instant from the tenderest emotions of feeling to bursts of laughter; never was the electric power of eloquence more imperiously felt. This extraordinary man seemed to raise and quell the passions of his auditors with as much ease and as rapidly as a skilful musician passes into the various modulations of his harpsichord. I have witnessed many, too many, political assemblages and striking scenes where eloquence performed a noble part, but the whole of them appear insipid when compared with this amazing effort.’2
There are few things, I think, more melancholy in English history than that Chatham and Burke should never have been cordially united. They were incomparably the ablest men then living in English politics. Both of them were men of high honour, of stainless morals, of pure and disinterested patriotism, but though often approaching there was always something that kept them asunder. The conduct of Pitt towards the first Rockingham Ministry, and the opposition of the Rockingham party to the Ministry of Grafton, sowed dissensions between them, and they were profoundly different in their characters and their intellects. Burke, whose leaning was always to the side of caution, and usually to the side of authority, was very deficient in that power of popular sympathy which Chatham so eminently possessed; and his nature, at once proud, simple, retiring, and sensitive, shrank from the imperious and impracticable arrogance, and from the elaborate and theatrical ostentation of Chatham. In public he sometimes spoke of him with warm eulogy. Even when he censured his policy, as, for example, in his famous and most admirable description of the ill-assorted and heterogeneous character of his second Ministry, his language was studiously deferential and moderate; and on the death of Chatham, Burke was one of the first to pay a generous tribute to his memory, but it is quite evident from his private correspondence, extending over many years, that his admiration for him was largely mixed with dislike.
On almost every important question we find some serious divergence of opinion. On the great question of America, they were agreed in reprobating the Stamp Act and in desiring its repeal; but they differed in principle about the Declaratory Act, and they differed in policy about the commercial restrictions. In October 1766 Grafton, in his own name and in that of Conway, urged upon Chatham the necessity of securing the services of Burke, ‘the readiest man upon all points, perhaps, in the whole House.’ ‘The gentleman you have pointed out as a necessary recruit,’ replied Chatham, ‘I think a man of parts and an ingenious speaker. As to his notions and maxims of trade they never can be mine.’1
On the constitutional questions arising from the Middlesex election both sections of the party were agreed, but the Rockinghams would have been content without a dissolution, and they looked with much more reserve and hesitation than Chatham on the democratic agitation which was raised against the Parliament.
On the question of the East India Company they were violently opposed. Chatham desired that the territorial possessions of the Company should be gradually taken under the direct dominion of the Crown; that the immense revenues derived from the treaties of Clive in Bengal should accrue to the national exchequer; and that the Crown should interfere to put an end to the scandalous oppression of the natives. ‘India,’ he wrote, ‘teems with iniquities so rank as to smell to earth and heaven. The reformation of them, if pursued in a pure spirit of justice, might exalt the nation and endear the English name through the world. … The putting under circumscription and control the high and dangerous prerogative of war and alliances, so abused in India, I cannot but approve, as it shuts the door against such insatiable rapine and detestable enormities as have on some occasions stained the English name and disgraced human nature.’1 The subject gave rise to long and intricate discussions in 1766 and the three following years, and considerable restrictions were imposed on the powers of the Company. In 1767 an Act was passed which, among other provisions, restrained it from making a dividend of more than ten per cent., and two years later an Act guaranteed the Company the territorial revenues of India for five years longer on several conditions, the most important being an annual payment of 400,000l. to the Imperial exchequer.2 In 1773 Burgoyne carried resolutions embodying the views of Chatham, that all acquisitions made under the influence of a military force, or by treaty with foreign Powers, do of right belong to the State, and that to appropriate such acquisitions to private use is illegal; while Lord North carried a Bill restricting and modifying the constitution of the East India Company. It is a remarkable fact, when viewed in the light of his later Indian policy, that Burke was strenuously and even passionately opposed to these proceedings as a violation of the charter of the Company and a spoliation of private individuals. He denied that the Government had any right to territorial revenues acquired by the efforts of a private corporation. He denied that the direct power of the Crown was likely in any way to ameliorate the condition of the natives, and he predicted that if Indian patronage passed into the hands of the Crown it would be ‘a beginning of such a scene of frauds, impositions, and Treasury jobbing of all sorts, both here and in India, as would soon destroy all the little honesty and public spirit we have left.’1
The next great constitutional question was raised by the doctrine of Mansfield, that in prosecutions for libel the jury must only pronounce on the fact of the publication and the meaning of the innuendos, leaving it to the judge to say whether the document is legally a libel. Both Chatham and Burke agreed in denouncing this doctrine as fatal to the liberty of the press and in desiring its overthrow, but they differed wholly as to the means. The Rockingham party attempted without success to carry an enacting Bill stating in its preamble that doubts had arisen on the subject, and establishing that henceforth the jury should have a right to decide whether the paper submitted to it was a libel. Chatham and his followers, on the other hand, vehemently maintained that Mansfield had been guilty of an infringement of the law which would justify impeachment, that there was no real doubt upon the question, and that the proper way of dealing with it was by a declaratory law. On both sides the irritation was very great. ‘If you yield now,’ wrote Burke to Dowdeswell, ‘the horseman [Chatham] will stick to you while you live. … Not an iota should be yielded of the principle of the Bill, or the principle of the preamble.’1
Another grave question which threatened to divide the two sections of the Opposition was the tax upon absentees, which was proposed by the Irish Parliament in 1774, and which caused much agitation among the great Whig nobles who possessed estates in Ireland. Chatham, as we shall hereafter see, contended that if the Irish Parliament voted this tax, no other body should interfere with it, for on a question of Irish taxation it was supreme. Burke and the Rockingham party were prepared to resort to all measures in England to overthrow the decision.2
The main differences, however, between Burke and Chatham lay in their methods of remedying the abuses of Parliament and the disorganised condition of parties. We have already seen the measures of Chatham, and the views of Burke on the subject are well deserving of careful study. The magnitude of the evil he fully recognised. ‘The distempers of monarchy,’ he wrote, ‘were the great subjects of apprehension and redress in the last century; in this, the distempers of Parliament.’ But according to him, the first condition of improvement was that ‘the whole scheme of weak, divided, and dependent administrations’ should be changed, and especially that ‘the King's men should be utterly destroyed as a corps.’1 His great objects were to build up a party interest independent of Court influence, and sufficiently powerful to decide the course of English politics, to put an end to the system of mere casual and temporary unions of discordant politicians, and to revive a high sense of party discipline. ‘Party,’ he said in a very striking passage, ‘is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. For my part I find it impossible to conceive that any one believes in his own politics, or thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced into practice. … Every honourable connection will avow it is their first purpose to pursue every just method to put the men who hold their opinions into such a condition as may enable them to carry their common plans into execution with all the power and authority of the State. As this power is attached to certain situations, it is their duty to contend for these situations. Without a proscription of others, they are bound to give to their own party the preference in all things, and by no means for private considerations to accept any offers of power in which the whole body is not included. … Men thinking freely will in particular instances think differently. But still as the greater part of the measures which arise in the course of public business are related to, or dependent on, some great leading general principles in government, a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political company if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten. … When the question is in its nature doubtful or not very material, the modesty which becomes an individual, and (in spite of our Court moralists) that partiality which becomes a well-chosen friendship, will frequently bring on an acquiescence in the general sentiment. Thus the disageeement will naturally be rare; it will be only enough to indulge freedom without violating concord or disturbing arrangements. And this is all that ever was required for a character of the greatest uniformity and steadiness in connection. How men can proceed without any connection at all is to me utterly incomprehensible.’1
In consolidating this party organisation few things are more important than the services of great historical families who have from generation to generation attached themselves to the same political party; who supply that party with conspicuous and universally recognised leaders, and with a great weight of connection and borough influence, and who devote their leading members from early life to a political career. Much was said about ‘the growth of au aristocratic power prejudicial to the rights of the Crown and the balance of the Constitution.’ An oligarchical despotism like that of Venice might indeed be easily conceived, and in the opinion of Burke it was beyond all other despotisms to be detested. ‘But,’ he added, ‘whatever my dislikes may be, my fears are not upon that quarter. The question on the influence of a Court and of a peerage is not which of the two dangers is the most eligible, but which is the most imminent. He is but a poor observer who has not seen that the generality of the peers, far from supporting themselves in a state of independent greatness, are but too apt to fall into an oblivion of their dignity and to run headlong into an abject servitude. … These gentlemen, so jealous of aristocracy, make no complaints of those peers (neither few nor inconsiderable), who are always in the train of a court, and whose whole weight must be considered as a portion of the settled influence of the Crown.’ It is only when some peers forming a political interest, separate from the Court and set themselves ‘against a backstairs influence and clandestine government,’ that the alarm is sounded and the Constitution pronounced in danger of being forced into an aristocracy. All this was but part of the system that was being steadily pursued ‘of sowing jealousies amongst the different orders of the State, and of disjointing the natural strength of the kingdom, that it may be rendered incapable of resisting the sinister designs of wicked men who have engrossed the royal power.’1 The influence of the great families if rightly used is a strong barrier against the undue influence of the Court, and it gives a healthy permanence, unity, and consistency to party organisations. In one of his letters to the Duke of Richmond, Burke noticed as a fact very applicable to English history that ‘there were two eminent families at Rome that for several ages were distinguished uniformly by opposite characters and principles, the Claudian and Valerian,’ and that ‘any one who looks attentively to their history will see that the balance of that famous constitution was kept up for some ages by the politics of certain families as much as by anything in the laws and orders of the State.’ ‘I do not look upon your time or lives as lost,’ he added, ‘if in this sliding away from the genuine spirit of the country, certain parties if possible, if not the heads of certain families, should make it their business by the whole course of their lives, principally by their example, to mould into the very vital stamina of their descendants those principles which ought to be transmitted pure and unmixed to posterity.’1
To a statesman of these views it is obvious that the career of Chatham must have been extremely obnoxious. His avowed design of breaking up parties, his incapacity of acting steadily with any connection, his preference for ministries formed out of isolated politicians detached from different connections, the extreme and obsequious reverence he repeatedly showed for the Sovereign, his manifest wish in at least one period of his life to employ the political influence of the Court to destroy the cohesion of aristocratic factions, were all in the highest degree offensive to Burke. The maxim ‘not men but measures,’ which was current among the followers of Chatham, he described as a kind of charm by which many politicians were enabled ‘to get loose from every honourable engagement,’2 and in more than one passage of splendid eloquence he painted the anarchy into which the ministry of Chatham had fallen on account of the political method employed by its creator.1 But it is only in his private correspondence that the extent of his dislike becomes fully apparent. ‘The Court,’ he wrote to Lord Rockingham in 1769, ‘alone can profit by any movements of Lord Chatham, and he is always their resource when they are run hard.’ ‘By sending for Lord Chatham,’ the King's friends can ‘mean nothing else than to patch a shred or two of one or more of the other parties upon the old Bute garment, since their last piecing is worn out. If they had been dissatisfied with the last botching of Lord Chatham, they would not have thought again of the same workman.’ ‘The style of Lord Chatham's politics is to keep hovering in air over all parties and to souse down where the prey may prove best.’ ‘The character of their party [that of Chatham] is to be very ready to plunge into difficult business—ours is to go through with it.’ The Tory Ministry of North, he wrote in 1774, ‘has three great securities—the actual possession of power, chapter of accidents, and the Earl of Chatham. This last is the sacra anchora.’ ‘Lord Chatham,’ he wrote to Rockingham in the same year, ‘shows a disposition to come near you, but with those reserves which he never fails to have as long as he thinks that the closet-door stands ajar to receive him. The least peep into that closet intoxicates him, and will to the end of his life.’ ‘Lord Chatham is, in a manner, out of the question, and the Court have lost in him a sure instrument of division in every public contest.’ ‘Acquainted as I am with the astonishing changes of Lord Chatham's constitution (whether natural or political), I am surprised to find that he is again perfectly recovered. But so it is. He will probably play more tricks.’ ‘Lord Chatham's coming out is always a critical thing to your lordship.’1
In a letter written after the death of Chatham by Burke to his old schoolmaster, Shackleton, with whom he was accustomed to keep up an exceedingly intimate, affectionate, and unreserved correspondence, there is a character of Chatham which probably reflects the views of the writer much more faithfully than anything which was intended for the public. Shackleton had apparently written something about the moral dangers of party warfare. Burke answered that parties in politics were absolutely inevitable, and that he had only known three classes of men who kept free from them. There were a few country gentlemen who took no considerable part in public business; there were place-hunters, whose sole object was the pursuit of their private interest; and there were ‘ambitious men of light or no principles, who in their turns make use of all parties, and therefore avoid entering into what may be construed into an engagement with any.’ ‘Such,’ he added, ‘was in a great measure the late Earl of Chatham, who expected a very blind submission of men to him without considering himself as having any reciprocal obligation to them. It is true that he very often rewarded such submission in a very splendid manner, but with very little marks of respect or regard to the objects of his favour; and as he put confidence in no man, he had very few feelings of resentment against those who the most bitterly opposed or most basely betrayed him.’1
These passages will be sufficient to show the nature and extent of the dislike which Burke felt towards Chatham, and the chief reasons on which it was based. ‘The Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents,’ which was written by Burke in answer to a pamphlet by a follower of Grenville, exhibited in the most masterly manner the whole system of Rockingham's politics. In its original draught it contained a direct attack upon Chatham, which it was deemed politic to suppress,2 and it is impossible to read it with attention without perceiving that it implied a severe censure upon his whole past policy. Though one of the most valuable permanent contributions ever made to English political philosophy, its appearance at a time when Grenville, Chatham, and Rockingham were united on the questions growing out of the Middlesex election, was regarded with much reason as of very doubtful expediency.3 Chatham, in a letter to Rockingham, complained that it had done much hurt to the cause, and had dangerously narrowed the basis of opposition. ‘In the wide and extensive public, the whole alone can save the whole against the desperate designs of the Court. Let us for God's sake employ our efforts to remove all just obstacles to a true public-spirited union of all who will not be slaves.’4
On the subject of parliamentary reform also, Burke differed widely from Chatham, and he manifested a far greater distrust of popular politics. In many respects, indeed, he may be justly regarded as a reformer. No one asserted more strongly that ‘to give a direction, a form, a technical dress and a specific sanction to the general sense of the community is the true end of the Legislature;’ that the Sovereign and the House of Lords, as well as the Commons, must be regarded as only trustees for the people; that the Lower House was not intended to be a control upon the people, but a control for them. He quoted with full approval the saying of Sully that popular revolts never spring from a desire to attack, but always from an impatience of suffering, a saying which has lost much of its truth since the democratic agencies of modern times have begun to act powerfully, systematically, and habitually upon classes which were once wholly untouched by political agitations. In all disputes between the people and their rulers, he contended, the presumption is at least on a par in favour of the people, for they have no interest in disorder, while the governing classes have many sinister influences to determine their policy.1 No statesman defended more ably the rights of electors in the case of the Middlesex election. He supported Grenville's Bill for terminating the scandalously partial decisions of disputed elections. He was perhaps the first statesman who urged that lists of the voters in every important division should be published, in order that the people might be able to judge the conduct of their representatives. He advocated parliamentary reporting. He strenuously defended the right of free criticism in the debates upon the Libel Bill. He supported the disfranchisement of revenue officers. He was the author of one of the most comprehensive measures ever carried through Parliament for diminishing the number of those superfluous places which were a chief source of the corruption of Parliament, and when in opposition he advocated a much larger reduction than he was able in his short period of official life to effect.
All these were great measures of reform, but beyond these he refused to move. To the demand for short Parliaments he offered a strenuous opposition. He urged with great weight and truth the horrible disorder and corruption which constantly recurring elections would produce, as well as the inevitable deterioration of the character, influence, and competence of Parliaments that would arise from frequent breaches in the continuity of public business, and frequent changes in the men who conducted it; and he maintained that the remedy would rather aggravate than diminish the great evil of Court influence. Triennial Parliaments meant triennial contests of independent gentlemen with only their private fortunes to support them, with Court candidates supported by the money and influence of the Treasury; and members who felt their seats tottering beneath them, were at least as likely to lean for support upon the ministry as upon the people. It was noticed by every experienced politician that the influence of the ministry was much greater in the first and last sessions of a Parliament than in the intermediate sessions when members sat a little more firmly on their seats.1
A Place Bill, which was another favourite remedy, he almost equally disliked. It was quite right to prune the scandalous redundancy of sinecures and Court places which supplied the minister with such inordinate means of influencing votes. But to remove the responsible heads of the great civil departments and of the army and navy from Parliament, and to disconnect the greater part of those who held civil employments from all parliamentary interest, could not fail to lower the position of the Legislature, and to endanger the safety of the Constitution.2
He was not less hostile to the doctrine, which was rapidly spreading over England, that representatives are simply delegates, and must accept, even against their own judgments, imperative instructions from their constituents. On his election for Bristol in 1774 his colleague spoke in favour of the coercive force of instructions, while Burke at once denounced them as resting upon an essential misconception of the nature of representative government. ‘Your representative owes you’ he said, ‘not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion. … Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests. … It is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole; where not local purposes nor local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good. … You choose a member indeed, but when you have chosen him he is not member of Bristol, but a member of Parliament.’ Electors are competent to select a man of judgment and knowledge to send into the great council of the nation; but they are not competent to determine the details of legislation, and an attempt to usurp this function would inevitably lower the character of Parliament. ‘Government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment.’ Every member is bound to decide upon the arguments that are placed before him what course is best for the whole community, and ‘what sort of reason is that in which one set of men deliberate and another decide, and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps 300 miles distant from those who hear the arguments?’ These views were generally adopted by the Whig party, and it appears to have been mainly due to the influence of Burke that the fashion of authoritative instructions, which after the Middlesex election threatened to become universal in popular constituencies, in a few years almost passed away.
But Burke went much further than this. He protested against any change in the essential constitution of Parliament, and he looked with a disgust and an indignation, which he was at no pains to conceal, upon the levelling doctrines and the sweeping changes that were advocated by the Society of the Supporters of the Bill of Rights. ‘The bane of the Whigs,’ he once wrote, ‘has been the admission among them of the corps of schemers who in reality and at bottom mean little more than to indulge themselves with speculations, but who do us infinite mischief by persuading many sober and well-meaning people that we have designs inconsistent with the Constitution left us by our forefathers. … Would to God it were in our power to keep things as they are in point of form, provided we were able to improve them in point of substance. The machine itself is well enough to answer any good purpose, provided the materials were sound.’1 In accordance with these views he opposed all attempts to lower the suffrage, to abolish the rotten boroughs, to add to the county representation, or in any way to modify the framework of Parliament. In the face of the glaring and monstrous abuses of the representative system he deprecated all change, and even all discussion of the Constitution. ‘However much,’ he said, ‘a change might improve the platform, it could add nothing to the authority of the Legislature.’ ‘Authority depending on opinion at least as much as on duty, an idea circulated among the people that our Constitution is not so perfect as it ought to be, before you are sure of mending it, is a certain method of lessening it in the public opinion.’ ‘There is a difference between a moral and political exposure of a public evil relative to the administration of government, whether of men or systems, and a declaration of defects real or supposed in the fundamental constitution of your country.’ ‘When the frame and constitution of the State is disgraced, patriotism is destroyed in its very source. … Our first, our dearest, most comprehensive relation, our country is gone.’ He deplored as a great evil ‘the irreverent opinion of Parliament which had grown up.’ He complained ‘that we are grown out of humour with the English Constitution itself,’ ‘that it is never to have a quietus, but is continually vilified and attacked,’ and he quoted with evident sympathy the opinion of those who believed ‘that neither now nor at any time is it prudent or safe to be meddling with the fundamental principles and ancient tried usages of our Constitution, that our representation is as nearly perfect as the necessary imperfection of human affairs and of human creatures will suffer it to be, and that it is a subject of prudent and honest use and thankful enjoyment, and not of captious criticism or rash experiment.’1
These views he held with consistent earnestness through every portion of his life. They appeared in the ‘Observations on the State of the Nation,’ and in the ‘Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents,’ which were written amid the agitation that followed the Middlesex election. In 1780 he seriously thought of retiring from politics on account of the secession of a portion of his party to the Radical views.1 In 1782 when the younger Pitt introduced the question of parliamentary reform, Burke was his most vehement and most formidable opponent, and he never varied on the question till the sympathy of his party with the democratic aspects of the French Revolution finally severed him from the Whigs. His imagination, which seldom failed to intensify the conclusions of his reason, transfigured the British Constitution into a work of almost superhuman wisdom, and he made it the object of an almost adoring reverence. To unfold its matchless beauties, to trace its far-reaching consequences, to describe the evils that would flow from any attempt to tamper with it, to guard it from captious and irreverent criticism, became a constant object of his life. He possessed to an extraordinary degree that ‘retrospective imagination’ which Moore has, I think, truly described as a characteristic of his countrymen, and he clung with an instinctive affection to every institution which represented the labours and the experiences, which was interwoven with the habits, associations, and sympathies of many generations, and was supported not only by deliberate judgments but by prescription, custom, unconscious and unreasoning prejudice. It cost him much to eradicate anything that was deeply planted in the habits of a nation, to sap or relax any organism which derived its strength from the long traditions of the past. His writings after the outburst of the French Revolution contain the most powerful apology in all literature for these modes of thinking and feeling, but it is a complete misconception to suppose that his conduct after the Revolution was an apostasy, was anything but the natural and indeed inevitable development of his career. The evil of those levelling, speculative, and metaphysical theories of politics which triumphed at the Revolution was one of his earliest and deepest convictions. It may be traced in every important political work which proceeded from his pen, and it was clearly visible to his contemporaries. Mrs. Macaulay, who was the ablest writer of the New Radical School, at once recognised in Burke the most formidable antagonist of her ways of thinking, and she wrote a reply to his ‘Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents,’ in which she described that pamphlet as containing ‘a poison sufficient to destroy all the little virtue and understanding of sound policy which is left in the nation,’ and as peculiarly fitted to divert the nation from ‘organic and truly useful reforms,’ to a revival of ‘aristocratic faction.’ Walpole in 1772 wrote, ‘Burke was certainly in his principles no moderate man, and when his party did not interfere generally leaned towards the arbitrary side, as appeared in the debates on the Church.’1 Bishop Watson declared that long before the French Revolution he had come to regard Burke as ‘a High Churchman in religion,’ and ‘a Tory, perhaps indeed an aristocratic Tory, in the State.’2 During the Warren Hastings trial his colleagues noticed as a curious characteristic of his mind, the special vehemence with which he dilated on any outrage done to an ancient dynasty, to the worship and the sanctity even of a pagan creed.3
It will probably now appear to most persons that on the subject of parliamentary reform Chatham exhibited a far greater wisdom than Burke, and that the reverence with which Burke looked upon the Constitution as it existed in his day was exaggerated even to extravagance. The corruption and indeed absurdity of the representative system could hardly be overstated; and experience, which is the one sure test in politics, has decisively shown that it was possible to reform the abuses of Parliament and to allay the deep discontent of the nation without impairing, for any good purpose, the efficiency of government. With Burke an extreme dread of organic change co-existed with a great disposition to administrative reform. The Tory party, which prevailed after the French Revolution, adopted one side of his teaching, but wholly discarded the other, and they made the indiscriminate defence of every abuse, and the repression or restriction of every kind of political liberty, the great end of government. At last in Canning and his followers a school of statesmen arose on whom Burke might have looked with favour, who were bitterly opposed to any considerable change in the constitution of the House of Commons, but who were at the same time ardent advocates of religious and commercial freedom, of a liberal foreign policy, and of administrative reform. But the abuses of the representative system, which had long been increasing, soon became intolerable, and in 1832 an irresistible wave of public opinion swept away the more corrupt portions of the borough system, and with it the deep English prejudice against parliamentary reform.
It is well worth trying, at a time when very different modes of political thought are prevailing, to realise the reasons which underlie the opinions of Burke. Even the errors of so great a thinker are often more instructive than the wisdom of lesser men, for they spring not from poverty of thought, or want of insight or sagacity, but merely from imperfections of mental balance. No politician ever saw more clearly than Burke the remote, subtle, and indirect, as well as the more immediate consequences of institutions and measures. It was in comparing the good and evil, the advantages and the dangers, that his judgment was often refracted by his passions or his imagination.
It must be observed, in the first place, that he never adopted some of the favourite arguments of the opponents of reform. The opinion that nomination boroughs were a legitimate form of private property, which cannot be touched without confiscation, was expressed by no less a writer than Junius, and was countenanced by the younger Pitt; but no traces of it will, I believe, be found in the writings of Burke. Nor did he ever hold the favourite Tory doctrine that all right of representation rests ultimately in the owners of the soil. Divine right, whether of kings, or nobles, or freeholders, had no place in his political philosophy. On one occasion when a county member maintained this doctrine, Burke took great pains to refute it, showing, by the antiquity of the boroughs, and by the early presence of lawyers in the House, that in the theory of the Constitution, the commercial interest and the professions had as much right to representation as the landed interest.1 ‘The virtue, spirit, and essence,’ he once said, ‘of a House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation.’2
His first and most important objection to the Radical school of politicians was the method of their reasoning. Nine-tenths of the reformers of his time, as he truly said, argued on the ground of natural right, and treated representation not as a question of expediency, but as a question of morals.1 Inequalities in their view were equivalent to injustices. All men are naturally equal, all had an equal right to self-government, and therefore to an equal share in the representation. It is evident that if this principle were admitted, it would lead to a complete subversion of that whole system of complex, balanced, prescriptive, and heterogeneous government which is known under the name of the British Constitution. It would lead by a logical necessity to universal suffrage, to equal electoral districts, to the destruction of a monarchy and a political aristocracy which did not emanate directly from the people. Nor were these the only dangers to be apprehended. A mode of reasoning which described the House of Commons as neither actually nor virtually representative, and persuaded the people that their natural rights were violated by each branch of the Legislature, could not fail to destroy all feeling of affection for the country and for its Government.
In opposition to these views it was the first principle of Burke and of the school of Whig politicians who took their politics from his writings, that Government rests wholly on expediency, that its end is the good of the community, and that it must be judged exclusively by the degree in which it fulfils this end. The Whig in this respect stood equally apart from the Tory and from the Radical of the eighteenth century. The Tory maintained a theological doctrine of the divine right of kings as the corner-stone of his politics. The Radical rested upon metaphysical doctrines about natural rights and the natural equality of men, and anomalies, inequalities, inequitable dispositions of political power were the chief subjects of his complaints. In the judgment of Burke this mode of reasoning is essentially and fundamentally false. Government is a matter of experience, and not a matter of theory. The sole question to be asked about an institution is, how it works. That it is an anomaly, that it is formed on other principles from other parts of the Government, that it is what is falsely called ‘illogical,’ or, in other words, in dissonance with the general tendency of the institutions of the country, is no valid argument against it. The term ‘logic’ is rightly applied to trains of reasoning, but not to political institutions; for the object of these is neither truth nor consistency nor symmetry but utility.
It may indeed be truly said that no Government which is simple and symmetrical can be a good one, and that the anomalies which are often regarded as the chief blemishes are in truth among the chief excellences of the Constitution. For Government is obliged to discharge the most various functions, to aim at many distinct and sometimes inconsistent ends. It is the trustee and the guardian of the multifarious, complicated, fluctuating, and often conflicting interests of a highly composite and artificial society. The principle that tends towards one set of advantages impairs another. The remedies which apply to one set of dangers would, if not partially counteracted, produce another. The institutions which are admirably adapted to protect one class of interests, may be detrimental to another. It is only by constant adjustments, by checks and counterchecks, by various contrivances adapted to various needs, by compromises between competing interests, by continual modifications applied to changing circumstances, that a system is slowly formed which corresponds to the requirements and conditions of the country, discharges the greatest number of useful functions, and favours in their due proportion and degree the greatest number of distinct and often diverging interests. The comparative prominence of different interests, tendencies, and dangers, must continually occupy the legislator, and he will often have to provide limitations and obstacles to the very tendency which he wishes to make the strongest in his legislation. In the words of Burke, ‘There is not, there never was, a principle of government under heaven that does not, in the very pursuit of the good it proposes, naturally and inevitably lead into some inconvenience which makes it absolutely necessary to counterwork and weaken the application of that first principle itself, and to abandon something of the extent of the advantage you proposed by it, in order to prevent also the inconveniences which have arisen from the instrument of all the good you had in view.’1 The legitimate place of abstract reasoning in politics is therefore a very small one. In political theories, ‘the major makes a pompous figure in the battle, but the victory of truth depends upon the little minor of circumstances.’ ‘Circumstances give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or obnoxious to mankind.’
To make these views more clear, let us consider for a short time what are the objects which a representative system in England in our own century is expected to attain. It must, in the first place, bring together a Parliament so distinguished for its ability, its political knowledge, and its integrity, that it may be safely entrusted with the chief voice in the Government of the Empire. No task can be conceived more serious or more responsible than that which is imposed on it. The welfare of at least a fifth part of the human race, the relations of this great multitude to the remainder of their kind, the future of millions who are yet unborn, is largely dependent on its decisions. Races, religions, interests, social conditions the most various and the most hostile, pass under its control, and a single false step may be traced in blood over the history of centuries. It is not expected or required that every member of Parliament should be competent to discharge the high and difficult functions of a statesman, but Parliament must at least include many such men; it must discover, support, and restrain them; and it must exercise a general supervision over the vast and complex field of imperial interests. This is necessary for the welfare and even for the existence of the Empire. It is equally necessary to the popular character of the Government; for if the House of Commons is manifestly inefficient and corrupt, it will inevitably decay. It becomes, then, a matter of the most vital importance to consider by what classes a body which is entrusted with these momentous functions is to be elected. Politics would be unlike any other product of the human mind if it were not true that a high average of intelligence among the electors was necessary for a high average of intelligence among the representatives. If the predominating power of election be placed in the hands of the poorest and the most ignorant classes of the community; if it be entrusted mainly to those who have no political knowledge, no real political opinions, no sense of political responsibility; if this great mass of elective incompetence be carefully sheltered from the influence of the more instructed classes, what can possibly be expected except the degradation of Parliament and the decay of the Empire? Nothing in the whole history of superstition is more grotesque than the doctrine that the panacea for parliamentary evils is to be found in lowering the suffrage, as though by some amazing process of political alchemy the ability and intelligence of the representative body were likely to increase in direct proportion to the ignorance and incapacity of the elective body. And the difficulty of the problem is greatly aggravated by the fact that it is necessary to the efficiency of Parliament that it should not only maintain a high average of ability, but also that it should include many young men capable of devoting their lives to the work of statesmanship.
These are among the results which a good elective system is required to accomplish; but it is not true that the sole object of parliamentary government is to secure the best men for the management of the State. It is also required to secure a representation of the people, and under this term many distinct considerations are comprised. Parliament is in the first place a representative of the property of the country. After the maintenance of personal security, the very first object for which all government is created is to secure to every member of the community the possession and enjoyment of that which he has honestly earned or honestly received from others. In practical as in theoretical politics, taxation and representation are very closely connected, and one of the first signs of the undue preponderance or depression of a class is usually to be found in partial and unfair adjustments of taxation. In an ideal system every taxpayer should have some political weight; but it should be a weight proportioned to the amount of his contributions. A bad representative system may easily become an instrument of legal confiscation, one class voting the taxes which another class is obliged to pay, one class plunging the Government into a career of extravagance under the conviction that the burden of the expense will be thrown upon another. Besides this, the possession of property, but especially of property which is moderate in its amount and somewhat precarious in its character, is the chief steadying and restraining influence in politics. Experience shows that the diffusion through the bulk of a community of a fair measure of education and enlightenment is no real guarantee against the pursuit of Utopias, against the contagion of wild, dangerous, or malignant enthusiasms, against the introduction into political life of that spirit of speculation and experiment, of gambling and of adventure, which always leads nations to disaster if not to ruin. It is of capital importance to all nations, but especially to free nations, that they should attain a large measure of stability in their affairs, and that the spirit of caution should predominate in their councils. In no other way can these ends be so adequately reached as by placing the chief political power in the hands of the classes whose material interests are most immediately and most obviously affected by anarchy or by war.
Parliament is, again, a representative of the opinions of the nation. The various ideas, aspirations, and discontents which are circulating in the community should find an expression within its walls, and an expression in some degree proportionate to their weight in the country. To effect this is very difficult, and no simple and symmetrical system of election can attain it; for the divisions of opinion do not correspond with any accuracy to the divisions of classes. Great multitudes can hardly be said to contribute anything to public opinion; and there is much danger of only two or three broad lines being represented, while the intermediate, minor, and rising schools of political thought are suppressed. There are also grave and opposite evils connected with the representation of opinions to be guarded against. It is right that the different forms of political opinion which exist in the nation should be represented; but it is also right that they should hold a due sub-ordination to the great leading principles of party divisions. When Parliament is disintegrated into numerous small fractions acting independently of party organisations, the Executive, being unable to count upon steady majorities, loses all power, and the policy of the country all firmness, consistency, and continuity. On the other hand, it is a great evil when party discipline is too perfect, and when party outlines are too sharply defined. A minister commanding a majority is then able to defy any preponderance of argument against his measures in Parliament, and to neglect great outbursts of discontent in the country; and all those intermediate shades of opinion which produce compromises, soften transitions, and prepare coalitions, disappear. Parliament at different times has been subject to each of these diseases, and their remedy is to be found much more in public opinion than in mere political machinery. It is of the utmost importance, both to the efficiency of a representative body and to its moral influence in the country, that it should reflect as far as possible the various modes of political thought subsisting among the people. Most great truths which have arisen among mankind have been long peculiar to small minorities, and it is a grave calamity if the voice of those minorities should be long unheard in the councils of the nation. Even if an opinion be wholly or partially erroneous, it is well that Parliament should come into direct contact with its representatives. One of the greatest dangers to parliamentary government, one of the surest causes of the decay of loyalty and patriotism, is the growth of great masses of unrepresented opinion. The pacifying influence of Parliament arises chiefly from the fact that it is the safety-valve of the nation; that it gives a voice to its wants, discontents, suspicions, and aspirations; brings them under the direct cognisance of the Government, and submits them to a full and serious examination.
Parliament, again, is the representative of classes and of interests. Every class has its own interests, which should be protected; its own habits of thought, which should be represented; its own special knowledge to contribute to the government of the country. It is necessary that the views of all should be represented. It is also necessary that no one should swamp or overwhelm the others. All government must be carried on by tradition, in regular grooves, according to a formed system; and it is practically impossible that such a system can continue through several generations under the control of a single section of the community without being unduly directed towards the promotion of its special interests. When one class possesses a monopoly or an overwhelming preponderance of power, it is almost certain to abuse it; and even apart from the temptation to a consciously selfish policy, a mixture of classes is very essential to soundness of political judgment.
Experience shows how little this is attained by placing political power exclusively in the hands of a small and restricted class, even when as a whole it is incontestably the most enlightened. Class bias often does more to distort than education to expand the intellect, and rectitude of moral judgment is by no means proportioned to intellectual development. It is those who from their position are brought into closest personal contact with the chief actors in the fray, who are most liable to treat politics as a game and to care more for the party bearing of measures than for their real or intrinsic merit. A small wealthy class is much less quickly and seriously injured by the consequences of misgovernment than the great industrial community. It may even be benefited by a policy which is very injurious to the country at large, and it is liable to many special distorting influences. The close social connection which binds the English upper classes to the Established Church, to the army, to the Indian and diplomatic services, has often had a very perceptible influence upon their policy, and they have always been prone to the spirit of ‘clique and of coterie,’ to a certain over-refinement of reasoning which is peculiarly misleading in practical politics, to the habit of judging great questions on personal grounds or on side issues. No other constituencies represent so exclusively the highly educated classes as the Universities, and the political influence of the Universities has on the whole been unfavourable to political progress. It is very necessary that opinions which have been formed in the drawing-room or the study should be brought in contact with that shrewd middle-class intellect which judges questions on broader issues and sometimes with larger sympathies.1 There are, it is true, great sections of the community who are quite incapable of forming any reasonable or competent judgment on political questions; but they, too, have their interests, which may be injured, and it is right that their sufferings and their real or fancied grievances should find a voice in the Legislature. In politics, the evils that spring from monopoly are sometimes even graver than the evils which spring from incompetence. To maintain a proper balance of class representation is a task of no small delicacy; and as the most ignorant and most incompetent portion of the community is necessarily the most numerous, it is evident that an elective system which was at once perfectly simple and perfectly democratic would establish an overwhelming preponderance in favour of the classes least fitted to exercise it.
It must be remembered, too, that the ostensible effects of changes in class representation are often very different from the real effects. The pursuit of equality sometimes leads to the creation of a new aristocracy, to new concentrations of political power. When votes were given in the eighteenth century to the 40s. freeholders in Ireland, the measure was apparently a very democratic one, and it was the more remarkable because the new electors were chiefly Catholic. In reality its effect was to increase greatly the landlord power. For many years the landlord could count upon the votes of the 40s. freeholders on his estate with the most absolute certainty. At last, on one memorable occasion of vital interest to their religion, they presumed to act for themselves. At the Clare election they opposed and defeated their landlords, returned O'Connell to Parliament, and compelled a reluctant Government to concede Catholic Emancipation. It was their first act of independence, and Parliament at once interposed to disfranchise them. When a large class of voters are perfectly ignorant and dependent, they must necessarily either sell their votes or bestow them according to the directions of a leader. The landlord, the manufacturer, the Catholic priest, the Anglican clergyman, the Dissenting minister, the public-house keeper, the secretary of the trades-union, acquire under such circumstances an extraordinary importance. In purely democratic countries, where the natural social influences are comparatively weak, adventurers frequently arise, who make it their aim, by obtaining the direction of the most ignorant voters, to organise and accumulate great masses of political power, and thus to acquire a preponderating power in the State.
We have here, then, a number of distinct advantages and dangers which must be considered in every good system of representative government. No one of the ends I have enumerated can be neglected without impairing the efficiency of the machine. Yet no one of them can be fully and perfectly attained without a sacrifice of one or more of the others. The question is one of proportion and of degree, of balance and of adjustment. The evils of government lie sometimes in defects of representation and sometimes in vices of administration; and that is on the whole the best which produces fewest evils and discharges the greatest variety of useful functions. Organic legislative changes are scarcely ever unqualified benefits. The statesman has usually to ask himself whether a proposed change removes greater evils than it produces; whether the evils which are now greater do not tend naturally to diminish, and those which are now less, to increase; whether, even if the immediate change be an incontestable good, it may not lead to other changes, or produce remote consequences which alter the balance. It is a dangerous thing to arrest the growth of a living organism; it is a fatal thing to disturb the foundations of an ancient building; and there are lines of policy to which each of these metaphors may be justly applied. The problem of legislation is a practical problem of great difficulty, to be solved by a simultaneous attention to many distinct and often conflicting considerations, and not by any short method of logic or equalisation. A representative system may, no doubt, be framed by this latter method, but it would be essentially different from the English Constitution, destitute of its distinctive merits, and at variance with the whole course of its traditions. This was the lesson which Burke was never tired of inculcating, and his dislike to the methods and reasoning of the reformers lay at the root of his dislike to the measures they advocated. ‘That man,’ he said, ‘thinks much too highly, and therefore he thinks weakly and delusively, of any contrivance of human wisdom, who believes that it can make any sort of approach to perfection.’ Taking this maxim as a guide, he entirely denied that Parliament exhibited any evils which could not be sufficiently met by secondary remedies, leaving its organic framework untouched. The Constitution as it existed was ‘made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil, and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time. It was a vestment which accommodates itself to the body.’ What evil or grievance, he asked, can be distinctly referred ‘to the representative not following the opinion of his constituents?’ Was it not a fact that under the Constitution which it had become the fashion to decry, the country had enjoyed ‘a growing liberty and a growing prosperity for 500 years?’ Is it true that the local interests of Cornwall and Wiltshire, where the representation is enormously exaggerated, are less attended to than those of Yorkshire or Warwickshire? Warwick has members—is it more opulent, happy, and free than Birmingham, which is unrepresented?1
It is quite possible to recognise the full justice of the general principles laid down by Burke without accepting the consequences he drew from them. It is true that representation is not a matter of speculation but a matter of expediency, but it is also true that the English representative system had become so corrupt and so imperfect, that as a matter of the merest expediency its reform was imperatively demanded. The extreme venality of the representative body, the fact that Crown influence and aristocratic influence were much more powerful within it than the influence of the people whom it was supposed to represent, its opposition during the whole of the Wilkes case to the sentiments of the people, and its constant tendency to infringe upon the province of the law, could not reasonably be denied. It may be true that the local interests of the unrepresented portions of the country were not neglected, but it is very certain that the monopoly of power which a small class possessed was reflected very clearly in the strong class bias of the law, and that the education, the sanitary condition, and the material well-being of the great unrepresented masses of the nation were shamefully neglected. No one who contrasts English legislation since it has acquired a more popular character with that of the eighteenth century can be insensible to this fact.
Nor is it true that a modification of the representative system was equivalent to a subversion of the Constitution. It was never intended that this system should remain stereotyped and unaltered while great centres of population rose and decayed, and while the relative importance of different classes and of different portions of the country was entirely altered. The Crown had long exercised a power of calling constituencies into existence as the condition of the country required. As might, however, have been expected, this prerogative was shamefully abused: under the Stuarts it was employed solely or mainly for corrupt purposes, and the feeling against it was so strong that the enfranchisement of Newark-on-Trent by Charles II. was the last instance of its exercise. This branch of the prerogative having fallen into desuetude, it was for the whole Legislature to replace it; but the peculiar condition of public opinion at the Revolution, and the long period of disputed succession and aristocratical predominance which followed, adjourned the question. Had the task of parliamentary reform been begun in the eighteenth century, had the seats of small boroughs, which were proved to be corrupt, been systematically transferred to the great towns, or to those portions of the country which were most inadequately represented, it is probable that far larger portions of the old inequalities that existed would have even now continued.
In judging, however, the opinions of Burke, there are some considerations to be remembered which are too often forgotten. Public opinion on the subject was very immature, and Burke continually affirmed that there was no strong or real demand for parliamentary reform, and that if such a demand were general, he would be ready to concede it.1 Almost the only very active advocates of Reform were the City politicians, who were certainly not generally supported throughout the nation. The abolition of the rotten boroughs, which alone would have been a serious remedy, was demanded by no responsible politician, and in the existing state of parties and of public opinion it was manifestly impracticable. Triennial parliaments would probably have aggravated more evils than they palliated; and a large addition to the county representation, which was the favourite remedy of Chatham, found, as he himself acknowledged, but few and doubtful supporters. The lowering of the suffrage had scarcely any advocates of weight, and in the face of the utter ignorance and extreme lawlessness of the lower sections of society, and of the scenes of riot that had so lately been enacted, it would have required no small courage to attempt it.
It must be added, too, that the future of parliamentary government seemed much more doubtful than at present. The difficulties of maintaining this form of government continually appear in the writings of Burke. ‘Our Constitution,’ he writes, ‘stands on a nice equipoise with steep precipices and deep waters upon all sides of it. In removing it from a dangerous leaning towards one side, there may be risk of oversetting it on the other.’ He speaks of ‘the extreme difficulty of reconciling liberty under a monarchical government with external strength and with internal tranquillity,’1 and, like most of the leading Liberal statesmen of the time, he appears to have been continually haunted by a fear of the destruction of British liberty. In modern times such fears would hardly be seriously expressed by the gloomiest of prophets. The dangers hanging over parliamentary government are indeed grave and manifest; but they are of another kind. It is but too probable that Parliament may decline in ability and efficiency, that it may cease to attract the highest intellect and the highest social eminence of the country, that it may cease to include any considerable number of young men capable of devoting their lives to political duties, that the variety of opinions and interests existing within the country may no longer be represented within its walls. The increasingly democratic character and the increasing strength of the House of Commons may make it impossible for it to cooperate with the other branches of the Legislature; and the constant intervention of the House in the proceedings of the Executive, and of the constituencies in the proceedings of the House, may profoundly alter its character as a legislative body. Governments living from day to day, looking only for immediate popularity, and depending on the fluctuating and capricious favour of great multitudes who have no settled political opinions, may gradually lose all firmness and tenacity, and all power of muscular contraction, all power of restraining, controlling, or resisting, may thus pass out of the body politic. The habit of sacrificing present advantages for the attainment of a distant object, or for the benefit of generations who are yet unborn, which is the essence of true national greatness, may decline. When every question is submitted directly to the popular verdict, it becomes more and more difficult to pursue any long-continued course of prescient policy, to guard against remote dangers, to preserve that amount of secrecy which in foreign policy is often indispensably necessary, to carry any measure which is not level with the average intelligence of the most un-instructed classes of the community,
The dangers resulting from this state of things are very real and serious. There are a few countries, among which the great American republic is the most conspicuous, which are so happily situated that it is scarcely possible for political follies seriously to injure them. There are others which are so situated that any considerable relaxation of their vigour, caution, and sagacity exposes them to absolute ruin. The insular situation of England makes many political follies, which might ruin a continental country, comparatively harmless; but, on the other hand, England is the centre of a vast, complex, and highly artificial empire, which can only be maintained by the constant exertion of a very large amount of political wisdom and virtue. The remote and indirect consequences of a political measure are often more important than its immediate effects, but they have seldom much weight in popular judgments. It is even possible that so great a preponderance of votes may be placed in the hands of men who have no political opinions whatever, that statesmen may come to look upon the opinion and intelligence of the country as little more than one of the minor subdivisions of power, and may almost neglect it in their calculations if they can appeal successfully to the passions, the prejudices, or the fancied interests of the most ignorant masses of the population.
But serious as are the dangers that may threaten the efficiency of parliamentary government, this form of liberty has taken such deep root in European manners that its total destruction seems almost impossible. The degrees of power possessed by representative bodies differ widely, but there are very few countries in Europe, however backward, in which, in some form, they do not subsist. The public opinion which maintains them is no longer merely national. It is European, and it is supported by the great power of the European Press. But in the early years of George III. representative institutions were the rare exception, and the influence of foreign example and opinion was almost wholly on the side of despotism. Europe was strewn with the wrecks of the liberties of the past. The Cortes of Spain, the States-General of France, the republics of Central Italy, the greater part of the free institutions of the towns of Flanders, of Germany, and along the Baltic, had passed away. All the greatest States, all the most rising and vigorous Powers on the Continent, were despotic, and the few remaining sparks of liberty seemed flickering in the socket. In 1766 the French king issued an edict declaring that he held his crown from God alone, and that he was the sole fountain of legislative power; and in 1771 the local parliaments, which formed the last feeble barrier to regal power, were abolished. In Sweden the royal authority was greatly aggrandised by the Revolution of 1772. In Switzerland, if Geneva had made some steps in the direction of democracy, in Berne, Fribourg, Soleure, Zurich, and Lucerne the government had degenerated into the narrowest oligarchy. In Holland, where the House of Orange had recovered a quasi-royal position in 1747, the growing corruption of the States-General and of the administration, the scandalous delays of the law, and the rapid decadence of the nation in Europe, were manifest to all.1 Poland was already struggling in the throes of anarchy, and in 1772 she underwent her first partition. The freedom of Corsica was crushed by a foreign invader; Genoa had sunk into a corrupt oligarchy; Venice, though she still retained her republican government, and though she had enjoyed an unbroken calm since the peace of Passerowitz in 1718 had deprived her of the Morea and Cerigo, had fallen into complete insignificance, and her ancient liberties were ready to fall at the first touch of an invader's hand.
The prospects of liberty, and especially of monarchical liberty, were very gloomy; and during the American war it was the strong belief of the chief Whig politicians that the defeat of the Americans would be probably followed by a subversion of the Constitution of England. This fear acted in different ways upon different minds. With Burke it showed itself most clearly in an extreme caution in touching that Constitution which alone in Europe still maintained the union of political liberty with political greatness. He felt, as most profound thinkers have felt, that an appetite for organic change is one of the worst diseases that can affect a nation; that essential stability and the formation of settled political habits are the conditions of all good government; that amid the infinite variety and fluctuation of human circumstances, fashions, and opinions, institutions can never obtain a real strength or produce their full benefits till they have taken root in the habits of a nation, and have gathered around them a large amount of unreasoning and traditional support. He was keenly sensible how rapidly fabrics which have taken centuries to build may be destroyed, how easily the poise and balance of a mixed constitution may be irrevocably disturbed, how strong are the temptations drawing active and ambitious minds from the slow, laborious, and obscure process of administrative reform to the more stirring fields of revolutionary change. To oppose this tendency was one of the great objects of his life; and the dislike to fundamental changes, the attachment to traditional forms, and the indifference to theoretical anomalies, which had always been conspicuous in English political life, found their best expression and defence in his writings.
But if no great organic changes were attempted, a number of secondary reforms were accomplished which greatly improved the representative system. Perhaps the most important was George Grenville's measure for reforming the method of deciding disputed elections. I have described in a former chapter1 the scandalous manner in which election petitions were adjudicated upon by a party vote of the whole House, how the proceedings had lost almost all semblance of a judicial act, how through the systematic disregard of evidence a large number of members owed their seats not to their constituents but to the House. Grenville predicted that ‘the abominable prostitution of the House of Commons in elections by voting for whoever has the support of the ministers, must end in the ruin of public liberty if it be not checked,’ and he asked the members whether they would not rather entrust their property to a jury drawn from the very dregs of the population than to such a tribunal. The scandal had long been wide and general, but the proceedings of the Middlesex election made it intolerable. It was generally felt that at a time when the outside public had begun to watch with a severe and jealous scrutiny the proceedings of the Commons, it was impossible that so glaring an abuse should be suffered to continue. It was too palpably absurd that the whole country should be convulsed with agitation, that the Constitution should be represented as outraged, and all the proceedings of Parliament as invalidated, because Luttrell had been substituted for Wilkes as member for Middlesex, while every Parliament probably contained twenty or thirty members who in reality owed their seats to a party vote in the House of Commons.
The measure of George Grenville remedying this evil was the last public service of that statesman. It transferred the decision of disputed elections from the whole House to a committee of fifteen members, thirteen of whom were elected by ballot, and the remaining two by the rival candidates. They were bound to examine all witnesses on oath, and they were themselves sworn to decide according to evidence. Lord North, who had just become Prime Minister, disliked the Bill, and endeavoured to postpone it, but it was supported by all the sections of the Whig party; it was advocated by Burke in one House and by Chatham in the other, and it found some support even in the Tory ranks. The more honourable members of the party could not be insensible to the enormity of the scandal.1 Sir W. Bagott, who was conspicuous among the county members, warmly supported the measure, and Mansfield prevented all serious opposition in the Lords by declaring himself in its favour. The Attorney-General, De Grey, vainly adjured the House to bear the present evils rather than ‘fly to others which we know not of;’stanza2 and the measure, which was introduced in February 1770, received the royal assent in the following April. It was at first limited to seven years, but it proved so popular and so successful that in 1774 it was made perpetual.3
The Opposition were less successful in an attempt to disfranchise the revenue officers, whose numerous votes formed one of the great sources of the illegitimate power of the Crown. A motion to this effect was brought forward by Dowdeswell in February 1770, and it gave rise to a long and animated debate. It was contended, probably with some truth, that if Charles I. had possessed as extensive means as the reigning sovereign, of influencing and managing the constituencies, he might have succeeded in his design of enslaving the country, and the rapidly increasing importance of this evil was abundantly displayed. The Tory party had formerly complained of it, but they were now cordially united with the Ministry and with the King's friends, and Dowdeswell was defeated by 263 to 188.1
The pretensions of each House of Parliament to place itself outside the law were next dealt with. One of the most obnoxious of parliamentary privileges was the immunity from arrest for debt and for misdemeanour, and from civil suits, which was enjoyed not only by the members of both Houses, but also by their servants, during the Session of Parliament, and for forty days before and after. An enormous amount of fraud was thus sheltered, and tradesmen complained bitterly that, in the case of a large class of their customers, they had no legal method of enforcing their debts. At one time members of Parliament are said to have issued protections to persons who were not in their service, enabling them to secure the privilege of Parliament; but this practice was condemned by a Standing Order, and in 1677 a member named Wanklyn was expelled for granting a protection to a person, who was not his servant, in order to hinder the execution of a writ.2 Two statutes, passed under William and Anne, very slightly abridged parliamentary privileges;3 but, though several attempts had been made to abolish those of the servants of members, they always miscarried in the Commons till the Middlesex election brought the whole question into the foreground. In 1770 a very important measure was carried, which enacted that any suit might at any time be brought against persons entitled to the privilege of Parliament; and though the immunity of members of the House of Commons from arrest was expressly reserved, no such privilege was any longer granted to their servants. By this measure the worst forms of parliamentary privilege were abolished, and a great step was taken towards the universal ascendency of law.1
At the same time the claim of the House of Commons to constitute itself a tribunal for the trial and punishment of private injuries done to its members was suffered totally to fall into desuetude. This power was altogether unknown to the law of England, and it was as inequitable as it was anomalous. During the two preceding reigns it had very frequently been exercised, but the last case appears to have been in 1767, when Mr. Luttrell complained to the House of a breach of privilege because some individuals had entered his fishery and taken fish.2 The House referred the case to the Committee of Privileges, who examined witnesses without oaths, and who acquitted the prisoners. Proceedings of this kind had never been recognised by the law courts; but the victims were usually poor men, and the public were so indifferent to the matter that the House was enabled, without opposition, continually to try and imprison offenders by a process which was perfectly illegal. The Middlesex election, for the first time, aroused a strong public opinion on the subject; and, though no formal step was taken, the illegal power ceased from this time to be exercised.1
Another change, which, though much less important than the foregoing, was also significant of the altered relations of the Commons to the public, was the abolition of the rule which compelled all who were censured by the House for breach of privilege, to receive the censure upon their knees. The ceremony is said to have been brought into some ridicule in 1751 by a culprit who, on rising from the floor, exclaimed in a tone that was audible to all, while ostentatiously dusting his dress, that this was in truth ‘the dirtiest house he had ever been in;’ and in the same year a Scotch Jacobite named Alexander Murray, on being ordered to kneel, informed the indignant House that he never knelt except to God alone. It was found impossible to make him yield, and he was imprisoned in Newgate for four months, and was then released by a prorogation.2 A few printers appear to have been subsequently censured in the usual form;3 but in 1772, when the question of privilege was at its height, the Commons very judiciously resolved to prevent a repetition of the scandal, and the practice of kneeling was abolished by a standing order.
These measures are sufficient to show that, although both Houses of Parliament obstinately supported the Ministry in their contests with Wilkes, they were not insensible to the great change that had passed over the spirit of the country, and were prepared to allay the discontent by very considerable concessions. The immense progress the democratic spirit had made outside the walls was, indeed, too manifest to be overlooked. The institution of public meetings, the creation of great political organisations, the marked change in the attitude of constituents to their members, and the severe scrutiny with which the legal proceedings of Parliament were watched, were all signs of the growing ascendency of opinion. Writing at the end of 1769, Horace Walpole noticed that in the last reign the House of Lords had obtained an ascendency in the State, in the beginning of the present reign the Crown, at this time the people.1 The victory was, it is true, very far from attained, and the dangers before the Constitution were of the gravest kind; but still the arena of the contest was changed and was enlarged. A new force had begun to enter powerfully into political calculations; and with the growth of public opinion, its organ, the Press, naturally acquired an increased importance.
We have already traced the early stages of its progress. We have seen how, in spite of the stamp and of the advertisement duty which had been imposed under Anne and increased under George II., and in spite of the numerous prosecutions instituted under the Grenville Ministry, its importance had been steadily growing. The increase of the number of papers was, indeed, not very rapid, but it appears to have been continuous. According to some statistics which were published, the number of stamps issued in the United Kingdom in 1753 was 7, 411, 757; in 1760, 9, 464, 790; in 1774, 12, 300,000.2 Seven new magazines were published in England between 1769 and 1771.3
The legal position of newspapers was one of considerable danger and perplexity. The conduct of the House of Commons in excepting libels from the offences that were covered by parliamentary privilege, shows the spirit of the legislators, and there was a great desire to withdraw Press cases, as far as possible, from the cognisance of juries. By the old method of ex-officio informations, which was now very frequently employed, the Attorney-General was able to send them to trial without the previous assent of a grand jury, and when the trials took place the judges laid down a doctrine on the subject of libels which almost transferred the decision from the juries to themselves.1
I have already referred to this doctrine. Lord Mansfield and those who agreed with him contended that, in all libel cases, there was a question of fact, which was altogether for the jury, and a question of law, which was altogether for the judge. The question of fact was, whether the incriminated person had written or published the alleged libel, and what was the meaning of its several clauses and expressions. The question of law was, whether the document bearing this meaning had or had not the character of a libel, and on this question the jury were bound to follow absolutely the direction of the judge. As the latter question, in the great majority of cases, was the sole real subject of dispute, the decision was virtually removed from the jury-box to the Bench.
To a mind unversed in the subtleties of law, such a position was not a little extraordinary. It was a strange thing to call upon twelve men to determine upon oath whether a man was guilty of the publication of a libel, and at the same time to forbid them to consider whether the document was a libel, and whether its publication involved guilt. It was a strange thing to introduce the words ‘false and malicious’ into the information laid before the jury, and then to say that ‘these being mere formal words,’2 the jury had no right to consider them, or to enter into any examination of the intentions of the writer. As Junius truly said, ‘In other criminal prosecutions, the malice of the design is confessedly as much a subject of consideration to a jury as the certainty of the fact.’ In a trial for homicide, the jury had not to consider only whether the dead man met his death by the hand of the prisoner; they had also to estimate the intentions, motives, and provocations, and to decide whether the act was murder or manslaughter, or neither. It is not easy to see why a different rule should be applied to libels.
It is, however, quite certain that the doctrine as laid down by Mansfield was that of a long succession of the most eminent English lawyers. It was confessedly that of Holt, one of the greatest and most constitutional of judges.1 Under George II. the question had been raised in the prosecutions which were directed against the ‘Craftsman.’ Sir Philip Yorke. afterwards the great Lord Hardwicke, while conducting the prosecution, asserted this doctrine in the strongest terms, and though the jury on one occasion refused to give him a verdict, the Chief Justice Raymond fully sanctioned his description of the law.2 Mansfield himself declared that for fourteen years he had uniformly laid down this doctrine from the Bench without question, and he was supported by the unanimous opinion of the judges who sat with him.1 The one great authority on the other side, as yet, was Lord Camden, who strenuously, and at every period of his life, maintained that the decision of the whole question belonged legally to the jury. In the last reign, when prosecuting a libel as Attorney-General, he attended so little to the authority of the judges, that in arguing the character of the libel, he turned his back upon them, directing his words exclusively to the jury; and in the House of Lords he made this question especially his own. He had the rare triumph of living to see his doctrine finally established in 1792, and that not by an enacting, but by a declaratory law, which asserted that his version of the law had always been the true one.2
To amend or determine the law of libel so as to bring the question of motive and of intention under the jurisdiction of the jury, became one of the great objects of the Whig party, although, as we have seen, they unfortunately differed upon the question whether the law should be made declaratory or enacting. The enacting Bill of Dowdeswell appears to have been chiefly due to Burke, and it was first introduced and defeated in 1771. It may be questioned, however, whether the judicial doctrine about libel was not on the whole rather favourable to libellers than the reverse. When the opinion is widely diffused that men in high political or judicial authority are acting partially, oppressively, or illegally, to some particular class of culprits, it will almost always be found that juries take a strong bias in the opposite direction. The Wilkes case and the excessive multiplication of Press trials under Grenville had already done very much to produce such a bias, and the violent discussions on the legal doctrine of libel greatly increased it. In political cases it was scarcely possible to obtain a verdict from a London jury against libellers, and the knowledge of this fact greatly encouraged them.1
There was also at this time a great change passing over the Press. In the beginning of the eighteenth century the newspaper was intended for little more than to collect and circulate current news, and to make known the wants of the community by advertisements. Political discussions were conducted in other quarters, by pamphlets, by broadsides, or by periodical papers which were wholly devoted to that purpose. The political papers to which Swift, Addison, Steele, Defoe, and many other writers under Queen Anne contributed, were entirely occupied with party warfare, and made no pretensions to fulfil the functions of regular newspapers. ‘Cato's Letters,’ which appeared under George I. at the time of the South Sea Bubble, and which were written by Trenchard and Gordon; the ‘Craftsman,’ in which Bolingbroke, Pulteney, and Amhurst assailed during many years the Government of Walpole; the ‘North Briton,’ which was the chief organ of opposition in the beginning of the reign of George III., were all of the same nature. It was, however, inevitable that these two classes of periodicals should be eventually amalgamated, and that the amalgamation should greatly add to the importance of each. An editor who combined in a single paper the interest derived from the circulation of news and the interest derived from political discussions, and who selected and recorded in his columns the facts upon which he based his political disquisitions, had a manifest advantage over his neighbours. The political element may, it is true, be sometimes, though rarely, found in the newspapers of the Revolution; it became more prominent in the reign of Anne,1 but until the reign of George III. most of the political writing which exercised a powerful influence upon opinion had no connection with the newspaper press.
In the first decade of George III., however, the character of newspapers was gradually changing. Horace Walpole has noticed that before this time political abuse was generally confined to Saturday essays, but that about 1768 the daily and evening newspapers, stimulated by the example of Wilkes, had begun to print every outrageous libel that was sent to them.2 The great development of magazines and newspapers put an end to or absorbed that literature of detached, periodical essays, which during three reigns had been so considerable. It was a significant thing that while the ‘Rambler’ and the ‘Adventurer’ were published in a separate form like the ‘Spectator’ and the ‘Tatler,’ Dr. Johnson published the ‘Idler’ every Saturday in a newspaper called the ‘Universal Chronicle,’ and he complained bitterly that his essays were immediately reproduced by rival papers. Goldsmith's ‘Citizen of the World’ first appeared in the columns of the ‘Public Ledger.’ In the same way the best political writing began gradually to find its way into the newspapers.1
Newspaper political controversy was then entirely different from what it now is. The leading article in which a modern newspaper asserts its own views with a prominence of type and of position that adds not a little to their authority, had not yet appeared. As a regular feature of newspapers it cannot, I believe, be traced farther back than the French Revolution.2 The political bias was shown in scattered comments, in a partial and significant selection of news, and especially in letters, written, for the most part, under assumed names. The importance and amount of this correspondence had of late years greatly increased, and in the beginning of 1769 a writer appeared who soon riveted the attention of England, and whose letters have become a classic in English literature.
Under many other signatures Junius had for some time been before the public. He himself asserted that nearly everything that had attracted attention for more than two years before the appearance of the first letters under that name was from his pen, and two of the signatures he has specifically recognised as his own.3 Whether all the miscellaneous letters which were published by Woodfall are rightly attributed to him may, however, be doubted.4 Though containing occasional passages of weighty invective and of brilliant epigram, these early letters are, I think, of very little value, and it was only by slow degrees that the writer learnt the secret of true dignity of style, and exchanged the tone of simple scurrility for that measured malignity of slander in which he afterwards excelled. The first letter under the signature of Junius appeared on November 21, 1768, but it was of no considerable importance, and was not republished in the collection of letters that was authorised by the writer. On January 21, 1769, a much abler and more elaborate letter appeared under the same signature, reviewing the whole political condition of the country, and attacking with great virulence the Duke of Grafton, Lord North, Lord Hillsborough, Lord Weymouth, Lord Granby, and Lord Mansfield. In an evil hour Sir William Draper, the distinguished officer who had commanded the expedition which captured the Manilla Islands, entered the lists on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief. The appearance in the field of an officer of such high position and well-known reputation, and the great literary superiority of his opponent, attracted attention to the controversy, while the extraordinary fierceness and ability with which the unknown writer in the succeeding letters assailed the Sovereign and the foremost ministers of the Crown, soon moved public curiosity to the highest point. The interest in them is not to be fairly measured by the increase of the circulation of the ‘Public Advertiser,’ in which they appeared, for they were copied into many other papers. They were imitated by almost every public writer, and even by a large number of the most eminent speakers. The excitement culminated in the letter to the King which was published on December 19, 1769, but the letters under the signature of Junius continued, with occasional intermissions, till January 21, 1772.
They appeared at a time which was pre-eminently favourable to their success. The Chatham Ministry, on which so many hopes had been built, had been paralysed by the illness of its chief, and a period of administrative anarchy had ensued such as England had rarely witnessed. Chatham at last resigned, and soon after returned full of indignation to public life, to find every principle of his policy abandoned by his former colleagues. Wherever the eye was turned, the political horizon was darkly clouded. In the American colonies the flood of discontent rose higher and higher. Abroad, England was humiliated by the refusal of Spain to pay the Manilla ransom, by the acquisition of Corsica by the French, and soon after by the expulsion of the English from the Falkland Islands. At home, the encroachments on the rights of electors had raised popular indignation almost to the point of revolution. Blood had been shed; Parliament and the law courts were alike discredited, and the popularity of the Sovereign was gone. The ministers were strong in their purchased majorities, but they were divided among themselves, without credit or popularity in the country, and for the most part notoriously destitute of administrative capacity. A misgovernment relieved by no gleam of success at home or abroad, and equally fatal to constitutional liberty and to imperial greatness, had reduced the nation which had lately been the arbiter of Europe to a condition of the most humiliating, the most disgraceful impotence. The Press and the jury-box alone remained for opposition. The former, which was looked upon as the one still unfettered organ of opinion, was becoming more and more powerful, and Burke noticed as a special characteristic of the time the favour with which the public looked upon the most ferocious libels.1 The classes from which the London juries were drawn fully shared the feeling, and the belief that the judges were illegally endeavouring in Press cases to abridge the authority of juries had irritated them to the highest point.
In order to understand fully the success of Junius, in order to judge fairly the intense virulence which he imported into political controversy, these things must be duly weighed. He had abilities that would command admiration at any time, but at this period everything seemed conspiring in his favour. The mystery that surrounded him added to the effect. As he wrote to Wilkes: ‘At present there is something oracular in the delivery of my opinions. I speak from a recess which no human curiosity can penetrate; and darkness, we are told, is one source of the sublime. The mystery of Junius increases his importance.’
The merit of Junius is almost exclusively literary. His letters contain no original views, no large generalisations, no proofs of political prescience, no great depth or power of thought. He was in no respect before his age, and, unlike Burke, who delighted in arguing questions upon the highest grounds, Junius usually dealt with them mainly in their personal aspects. On the great question of American taxation he avowed himself the partisan of Grenville, and bitterly lamented the repeal of the Stamp Act. On the question of parliamentary reform he maintained the wholly untenable positions that a nomination borough is of the nature of a freehold, that the whole Legislature is incompetent to abolish it, and that the question of parliamentary reform should be decided by the Commons alone. Considering the letters merely in their literary aspect, it must be acknowledged that they are very unequal in their merits. They are sometimes stilted, always too manifestly artifical, and not unfrequently overcharged with epigram and antithesis. They have, however, literary merits of the highest order, and their style is entirely different from that of any of the great models of the time. It bears no resemblance to the style of Swift, of Addison, of Bolingbroke, of Johnson, or of Burke, yet in some respects it is not inferior to any of these. No writer ever excelled Junius in condensed and virulent invective, rendered all the more malignant by the studied and controlled deliberation of the language, in envenomed and highly elaborated sarcasm, in clear and vivid statement; in the art of assuming, though an unknown individual, an attitude of great moral and political superiority; in the art of evading difficulties, insinuating unproved charges, imputing unworthy motives. His letters are perfectly adapted to the purposes for which they were intended. There is nothing in them superfluous or obscure, and nothing that fails to tell. He had to the highest degree the gift of saying things that are remembered, and his epigrams are often barbed with the keenest wit. Like most writing which is at once very good and very laboured, Junius appears to most advantage in quotation. Read continuously, there is a certain monotony of glitter and of rhythm, but passages embedded in the style of another writer seldom fail to shine with the brilliancy of a diamond. Very happy metaphors and phrases of high imaginative beauty may be found in his pages. His rare eulogies are usually intended for the injury of some third person, but the few lines which, in his letter against Horne, he devotes to the praise of Chatham, though their central image is by no means irreproachable,1 have all that peculiar charm, beyond analysis or definition, which belongs only to the very best writing. As a popular political reasoner he was truly admirable. Though he introduced little or nothing new or original into controversy, he possessed to supreme perfection the art of giving the arguments on his side their simplest, clearest, and strongest expression; disengaging them from all extraneous matter, making them transparently evident to the most cursory reader. In this, as in most other respects, he is a curious contrast to Burke, who is always redundant, and who delights in episodes, illustrations, ramifications, general reflections, various lights, remote and indirect consequences. Junius never for a moment loses sight of the immediate issue, and he flies swift and direct as an arrow to its heart. The rapid march of the eighteenth century is apparent in his style, and it is admirably suited for a class of literature which, if it impresses at all, must impress at a glance.
He possessed the easy air of good society, and his letters, if not those of a great statesman, are at least unquestionably those of a man who had a real and experimental knowledge of public business, who had mixed with active politicians, who knew the anecdotes which circulated in political society. In the present century the great development of parliamentary reporting, and of a Press which is largely written by men who are closely connected with political life, has brought the public into very intimate contact with their rulers, and has diffused the habits of political thought over a wide area. Yet, even now, a few nights spent in the gallery of the House of Commons, and some free social intercourse with political leaders of different parties, will teach much to the most careful student of written politics. But in the eighteenth century the chasm between the mere literary politician and the practical statesman was much wider, and even so great a man as Dr. Johnson altogether failed to bridge it. The letters of Junius are eminently the writings of a man who understood the conditions of public life and the characters of public men—who wrote not simply for public applause or for the gratification of private spite, but for the attainment of definite political ends. He showed an intimate acquaintance with the business and with the staff of the War Office, and much knowledge of the characters and positions of the City politicians. He had a clear view of the distinction between what is practically attainable and what is simply desirable, and of the frequent necessity of waiving general principles for the attainment of definite ends. No one can read his letters to Wilkes without being struck with the eminently practical cast of his judgment—with the rare political sagacity with which he could judge an immediate issue. On broad political questions his judgments, as I have said, are very worthless, but they are at least not those of a mere demagogue. I have already referred to his opinions about American taxation and about nomination boroughs. It may be added that he objected strongly to giving members to the great trading towns; that, while advocating triennial, he opposed annual Parliaments; that he supported against the City politicians the legality of Press warrants; that, in spite of his furious hatred of the King, he argued strongly for the superiority of monarchical over republican government. He received no money for his writings, and could have no selfish object to gain, while he had grave dangers to fear. There is little doubt that he had some real public spirit, and a very sincere desire to drag down men whose public lives were scandalously bad. He was evidently one of those men to whose nature hatred is an imperious necessity, and who, without any personal provocation or private interest, are only too glad to gratify it.
It is true that this is not always the character of his writing. No plausible explanation based on mere public grounds has been given of the ungovernable, the almost frantic fury with which, in the spring of 1772, chiefly under the signature of Veteran, and with earnest injunctions to Woodfall to conceal the identity of that signature with Junius,1 he inveighed against an obscure change at the War Office, which led to the removal of D'Oyly, to the resignation of his brother clerk, Philip Francis, and to the appointment by Lord Barrington of Chamier to the higher post of Deputy Secretary at War. Barrington, though he was one of the most conspicuous of the King's friends, had hitherto been barely mentioned in the attacks of Junius. He is now ‘the bloody Barrington, that silken, fawning courtier at St. James's,’ whose ‘very name’ ‘implies everything that is mean, cruel, false, and contemptible,’ ‘a wretch,’ ‘who wants nothing in his office but ignorance, impudence, pertness, and servility,’ next to the Duke of Grafton, ‘the blackest heart in the kingdom.’ Chamier is assailed in letter after letter in a strain of the coarsest and most vulgar insolence. This gentleman, who was descended from a distinguished refugee French minister, was already, at the time of his appointment, one of the ten original members of Dr. Johnson's famous club, and he appears to have been a man of much more than ordinary acquirements, and of a perfectly stainless character and reputation. The sole definite charge indeed which Veteran could bring against him was that in his youth he had been on the Stock Exchange, and this very innocent fact is the chief theme of the witticisms of his assailant. He describes him with wearisome iteration as ‘Tony Shammy,’ ‘a little gambling broker,’ ‘a little Three per Cent. Reduced,’ ‘a mere scrip of a Secretary,’ ‘with the activity of a broker and the politeness of a hairdresser,’ ‘a little Frenchified broker from Change Alley.’ It is probable that all this was due to the meanest personal motives, and if Philip Francis was indeed the writer it is very explicable.
Even apart from its moral aspects, the outrageous violence of his language was a grave literary fault. We find in Junius nothing of that relief and variety of colouring, that delicacy of touch, that measured and discriminating severity which has made the immortal letters of Pascal permanent models in controversy. Junius probably never drew a portrait which even approximated to truth. His enemies are all villains of the deepest dye, and his chief task is to diversify and intensify the epithets of hatred. Thus, to give but a few examples, the Sovereign is called by implication ‘the basest and meanest fellow in the kingdom.’ His mother is ‘the demon of discord,’ ‘the original creating cause of the shameful and deplorable condition of this country,’ a being ‘who watches with a kind of providential malignity over the work of her hands.’1 The Duke of Grafton is ‘a black and cowardly tyrant,’ ‘degraded below the condition of a man,’ ‘who had passed through every possible change and contradiction of conduct, without the momentary imputation or colour of a virtue,’ ‘the friend of every villain in the kingdom,’ though at the same time ‘there is not a man in either House, whose character, however flagitious, would not be ruined by mixing with his reputation.’ The Duke of Bedford is described as destitute of all natural affection, as having sold his country for money to France, as hated with equal intensity though on different grounds by every honest Englishman and by every honest Scotchman, as having hitherto escaped by a special providence from the detestation of the populace in order that he might be reserved for the public justice of his country. Lord Mansfield is declared, ‘with the most solemn appeal to God,’ to be ‘the very worst and most dangerous man in the kingdom.’ ‘The whole race of the Conways’ are ‘the meanest of the human species.’ Colonel Luttrell ‘had discovered a new line in the human character. He has degraded even the name of Luttrell.’ Horne is actuated by ‘the solitary vindictive malice of a monk brooding over the infirmities of his friend … and feasting with a rancorous rapture upon the sordid catalogue of his distresses.’ Garrick, who was suspected of the unpardonable crime of having taken some pains to discover the authorship of these letters, was ‘a rascal’ and a ‘vagabond.’
The malignity of Junius was indeed truly fiendish, and it was utterly uncurbed by any restraints of truth, or decency, or honour. In few writers is a delight in the contemplation and infliction of pain more keen and more evident, and he has a peculiar pleasure in directing his sarcasms to those circumstances or moments of private sorrow which are sacred to every honourable disputant. When the Princess Dowager was dying of cancer we find him gloating over her condition, and upon the loathsome remedy that was employed to alleviate her suffering.1 He taunted the King with the imputed frailty of his mother and with the undutiful conduct of his child. He jested with the Duke of Grafton on the infidelity of his wife. In his correspondence with the Duke of Bedford he points with savage pleasure to the death of his only son, and because the Duke had shortly after that event voted on an important public question he falsely and basely charged him with the want of all natural affection.1 Even his own gallery of monsters scarcely contains a more unlovely picture than that which Junius has unconsciously drawn of himself. We see him full of the most nervous alarm at the prospect of detection, and at the dangers that menaced him,2 but at the same time thrilling with a keen and undisguised enjoyment at the thought of the pain, he was inflicting. At one time he advises Wilkes about the course of conduct ‘which will in the end break the heart of Mr. Horne.’ At another he announces his intention, ‘having nothing better to do,’ to entertain himself and the public with ‘torturing Lord Barrington.’ The Duke of Grafton he describes by an expressive image of satisfaction as, ‘the pillow upon which I am determined to rest all my resentments.’ ‘Our language,’ he writes to Lord Mansfield, ‘has no term of reproach, the mind has no idea of detestation, which has not already been happily applied to you and exhausted. Ample justice has been done by abler pens than mine to the separate merits of your life and character. Let it be my humble office to collect the scattered sweets till their united virtue tortures the sense.’ He has a manifest pleasure in dragging women into his letters, and he is perfectly regardless of truth if he can only wound an opponent. Thus without a shadow of evidence he accused the Duke of Bedford of having been bribed by the French to sign the Peace of Paris. A certain Dr. Musgrave had, it is true, brought a similar accusation against the Princess Dowager, Lord Bute, and Lord Holland, but Bedford was not included in the charge, which rested only on the gossip of a coffee house, and which was afterwards unanimously voted by the House of Commons to be frivolous and untrue. Sir W. Draper challenged Junius to produce the evidence of his charge. But the effrontery of the slanderer was quite unshaken. He answered that a bribe had under similar circumstances been offered to Marlborough, and ‘only not accepted,’ that he judged the proceedings of Bedford by internal evidence, and that ‘a religious man might have remembered upon what foundation some truths most interesting to mankind have been received and established. If it were not for the internal evidence which the purest of religions carries with it, what would become of the Decalogue and of Christianity?’ In a letter under the signature of Vindex, which Woodfall refused to print as a whole, he accused the King of cowardice. The charge was without truth and without plausibility, for both in moral and in physical courage George III. considerably exceeded the high average of English gentlemen. But a private letter to Woodfall abundantly explains the motives of the attack. ‘I must tell you (and with positive certainty) that our gracious * * * * is as callous as a stockfish to everything but the reproach of cowardice. That alone is able to set the humours afloat. After a paper of that kind he won't eat meat for a week.’1
The hatred with which Junius regarded the ministers of the King, violent as it was, paled before that with which he regarded their master. ‘It lowers me to myself,’ he wrote to Wilkes, ‘to draw another into a hazardous situation which I cannot partake of with him. This consideration will account for my abstaining from the King so long. … I know my ground thoroughly when I affirm that he alone is the mark. It is not Bute nor even the Princess Dowager. It is the odious hypocrite himself whom every honest man should detest and every brave man should attack.’2 He watched with keen delight the domestic sorrows that wrung his heart, and was always ready to pour fresh poison into the wound. ‘Since my note of this morning,’ he wrote privately to Wilkes, ‘I know for certain that the Duke of Cumberland land is married to Luttrell's sister. The Princess Dowager and the Duke of Gloucester cannot live, and the odious hypocrite is in profundis. Now is your time to torment him with some demonstration from the City. Suppose an address from some proper number of Liverymen to the Mayor for a common hall to consider of an address of congratulation—then have it debated in Common Council—think of something—you see you need not appear yourself.’1
The great success of Junius is a striking proof of the low condition of the political writing of the time, of the partiality of juries, and of the exasperated state of public opinion. Among its minor causes was a well-known passage in one of the speeches of Burke, in which for party purposes that great orator not a little exaggerated his merits. It must be remembered too that contemporary writers did not possess the knowledge of Junius derived from his private letters, which both furnish many clues to his character and enable us to trace to him many most discreditable letters published under other signatures. A reader who knows Junius as we know him now, must indeed have an extraordinary estimate of the value of a brilliant style if he can regard him with the smallest respect. He wisely attacked for the most part men whose rank and position prevented them from descending into the arena, and who were at the same time intensely and often deservedly unpopular. His encounter with Horne was the one instance in which he met a really able and practised writer; and Horne, though his own character was a very vulnerable one, appears to me to have had in this controversy a great advantage over his opponent. There was indeed something strangely imprudent, as well as strangely impudent, in an anonymous newspaper libeller assuring a skillful controversialist that ‘he could not descend with him to an altercation in the newspapers,’ and that for his part ‘he measured the integrity of men by their conduct and not by their professions.’ The great literary superiority of Junius to Sir W. Draper is incontestable, but the most important charge which he urged against that officer has no real weight. Draper, who had commanded the expedition against the Manilla Islands, and who would have been entitled to no less than 25,000l. out of the ransom money which the Spaniards refused to pay, had repeatedly urged upon the Government the duty of prosecuting the claim. At last, when it was plainly useless, he desisted, and he soon after obtained some professional advancement to which his past services amply entitled him. A skilful writer might represent this as the conduct of a man who had betrayed and sold his ‘companions at arms for a riband and a regiment,’ but there was nothing in it which was not compatible with the most scrupulous honour. The elaborate legal arguments of Junius against Lord Mansfield for admitting a felon named Eyre to bail, and on account of his directions to the jury in an obscure trespass case, are pronounced, by lawyers to be so grossly wrong that they are sufficient to prove that the writer cannot have been of their profession.1 The detailed charge of peculation against the Duke of Grafton about the oaks in Whittle-bury forest appears to have been equally false.2 On the great constitutional questions of the day Junius did little more than reproduce common arguments with much more than common ability, and with the exception of the abandonment of the Falkland Islands,3 no foreign question is treated by him with any prominence. He is far more at home in dilating upon such subjects as the Scotch birth of Mansfield, the connection of his family with the Pretender, the matrimonial infelicities and amatory vagaries of Grafton, the descent of that nobleman from an illegitimate son of Charles II., the parsimony of Bedford, his conduct on the death of his son, and an assault which was made upon him on a country racecourse.1
For nearly a year under the signature of Junius he continued his libels entirely without restraint; but when the letter to the King appeared, the Attorney-General very properly prosecuted Woodfall who had published it, and Almon and Miller who had reprinted it. The trial of Almon took place first, and he was ultimately found guilty of publishing, and sentenced to pay a fine of ten marks and to find sureties for his good behaviour for two years. Woodfall, who was the chief offender, was next arraigned, and Mansfield, who tried the case, laid down very clearly his doctrine that the libellous character of the document was for the judge and not the jury. The jury responded by a special and irregular verdict of ‘guilty of printing and publishing only.’ After long discussion it was ordered that this verdict should be set aside, and that there should be a new trial. But before this decision was carried into effect, Miller had been tried at Guildhall, and in spite of the clearest evidence of the republication he was acquitted amid the enthusiastic applause of a great multitude. The temper of the London juries was sufficiently evident, and no attempt was made to renew the prosecution of Woodfall.1 Mansfield refused to permit the prosecution of the scandalous libels against himself, and Grafton and Bedford took the same course. The torrent of libel flowed on unchecked and unrestrained, and the writings of Junius became for some time the favourite model of political writers, who, though they could not rival him in ability, often equalled and sometimes even exceeded him in scurrility and falsehood.
The writings of Junius have a great importance in the history of the growing influence of newspapers, and they perhaps contributed something to the resignation of Grafton. They have, however, very little permanent value, and would probably have been almost forgotten, had it not been for the problem of their authorship, which appears to possess to some minds an inexhaustible attraction. Burke, Gerard Hamilton, Boyd, and Dunning seem to have been most suspected at the time, and answers were even published addressed to ‘Junius, alias Edmund, the Jesuit of St. Omer's.’2 The publication, however, by Woodfall of the private and miscellaneous letters of Junius, greatly changed the conditions of the inquiry; and the very elaborate work of Taylor, identifying Junius with Philip Francis,1 gave a renewed impulse to the discussion. Probably no English book, except the plays of Shakespeare, has been submitted to such a minute and exhaustive criticism as the ‘Letters of Junius;’ and although the sufficiency of the evidence tracing them to Francis is still much disputed, it may, I think, be truly said that rival candidates have almost disappeared from the field. I do not propose to examine in detail a question on which I have nothing new to offer, and which appears to me to have already occupied much more attention than it deserves; but a brief abstract of the arguments in favour of the claim of Francis can in a work like the present hardly be avoided.
The great and evident knowledge shown by the anonymous writer, of the business and of the officials of the War Office; his furious resentment at the appointment of Chamier, which was in no respect either improper or important, but which was followed by the resignation of Francis; his adoption, while expressing that resentment, of other signatures; and his anxiety to disconnect his letters on this subject from the letters of Junius, as if he feared that they might furnish a clue to the authorship of the latter, first directed suspicion to the former chief clerk of the War Office; and a great number of independent lines of evidence converge to the same conclusion. The handwriting of Junius has been submitted to the most minute, patient, and elaborate examination by one of the first professional authorities on the subject, and has been confidently pronounced by him to be the disguised handwriting of Francis, and the argument is greatly strengthened by the fact that Francis had once sent a copy of verses, with an anonymous note in a disguised hand, to a young lady at Bath, and this disguised writing appears identical with that of Junius.1 The movements of Francis during the Junian period have been minutely traced, and the periods of his absence from London and of his illness have been found to correspond with striking accuracy to the periods in which the letters of Junius were suspended.2 Junius mentions some speeches of Chatham which he had himself heard, and adopts or imitates several of their phrases. The same speeches were actually published from notes that were taken by Francis.3 Among the miscellaneous letters is one under the signature of ‘Bifrons,’ in which the author mentions casually that he had seen the works of the Jesuit Casuists burned at Paris. This event took place in August 1761; and as the war was raging, the only British subjects who could have seen the transaction were either prisoners of war or those who were attached to the suite of Hans Stanley, who was then in Paris negotiating for peace. Francis was at this time Assistant Treasury Clerk to Pitt at the Foreign Office. He had shortly before been sent to Portugal on the mission of Lord Kinnoul. He was especially recommended for the Foreign Office on account of his perfect knowledge of French; and if it could be proved that he was one of the few persons despatched with, or to, Hans Stanley, this fact would go far towards settling the controversy. Unfortunately, no evidence which is at all decisive has been produced. Lady Francis, who was extremely inaccurate and untrustworthy in her recollections, stated indeed that ‘her husband was at the Court of France when Madame de Pompadour drove out the Jesuits;’ and that he ‘allowed to his family that he had seen the Jesuit books burnt by the hangman.’ A letter from a lady with whom Francis was in love proves that when the mission of Hans Stanley was organised, Francis had asked to accompany it as secretary, but had not obtained the post; and it has been noticed that no despatches in the handwriting of Francis exist between July 24 and August 20, 1761. This interval would give ample time for a journey to Paris and back, and it was during this time that the Jesuit books were burnt. But although it has never been proved that Francis was at this time in Paris, it is certain that the letters of Hans Stanley to Pitt passed through his hands, and it is a remarkable fact that one of those letters gives a detailed account of the burning of the Jesuit books.1
Evidence of another kind tends not less clearly to identify Francis with Junius. Junius maintains the somewhat unusual combination of Court opinions on the subject of American taxation with popular opinions about the Middlesex election. Francis on both points agreed with him.1 The character of Francis and the apparent character of Junius were strikingly similar. Mixed with some real public spirit, we find in both the same disposition to carry into political warfare the most rancorous, inveterate, and ungovernable personal hatred, the same vein of profaneness and coarseness,2 the same passion for concealment and disguise. Francis from very early years was an anonymous writer in the press, and it is certain that in the period immediately preceding the Junius Letters he made Woodfall's ‘Public Advertiser’ one of the receptacles of his productions.3 As he had been in both the Foreign Office and the War Office, and was on intimate terms with Calcraft, who was one of the closest advisers of Pitt, he had access to means of information denied to the outer world. His intellectual qualities, like his moral qualities, bore a manifest resemblance to those of Junius. He was one of the most fastidious and accurate masters of English in his time,1 and was even called by Burke ‘the prince of pamphleteers.’2 His style, like that of Junius, was terse, vivid, and incisive, abounding in sarcasm and in invective, full of energy and brilliancy. He had the peculiar gift of directness, which was so conspicuous in Junius. ‘Few men,’ said Fox of him, ‘say so much in so few words.’ ‘Ay, sir,’ rejoined Burke; ‘his style has no gummy flesh about it.’3 A great part of his undoubted writing appears to me fully equal to the bulk of Junius, and much superior to the miscellaneous letters, though it perhaps never rises to the excellence of the best passages in the former. If Francis was not Junius, few critics will deny that he was one of the best of his imitators. He was still alive when the volume of Taylor was published, and his conduct with reference to it was very remarkable. A few words of direct denial would have gone a long way towards silencing inquiry; but if Francis ever appeared to deny the authorship, it was always in terms that were carefully equivocal. His first gift to his wife after his second marriage was an edition of Junius; and he left her as a posthumous present, a copy of ‘Junius Identified,’ which was found sealed up and directed to her in his bureau. It can hardly be doubted from his whole conduct, that he desired, without committing himself to any positive assertion, to convey to her mind that he was the author of ‘Junius.’ Many men might have amused themselves with giving their wives falsely such an impression during their lifetime; few would have taken measures to prolong the comedy after their death.1
No one of these considerations can, I think, be regarded as absolutely conclusive; but their combined force is very great. Some others of minor importance have been adduced. Such are, the numerous peculiarities of phrase or spelling that have been found in both Francis and Junius; the apparent regard and even tenderness of Junius for Woodfall, who had been a schoolfellow of Francis, and his anxious inquiry whether he did not suspect the authorship; the very curious excisions in the fragmentary autobiography of Francis, which seem as though the author were anxiously endeavouring to erase every clue to some great secret. It has been noticed that Junius never attacked Lord Holland, who had been so closely connected with Bute, and who was one of the most unpopular men in England. In one of his private letters he said, ‘I wish Lord Holland may acquit himself with honour.’ In another letter he speaks of himself as having ‘designedly spared Lord Holland and his family;’ and this forbearance has been explained by the fact that the father of Francis was domestic chaplain to Lord Holland, and that Philip Francis obtained his first appointment by his influence. Too much stress, however, appears to me to have been laid on this argument, for Holland had retired from active politics before Junius began to write. Francis, if he was indeed Junius, had certainly no hesitation in attacking his benefactors; and the autobiography of Francis shows that before the appearance of the Letters of Junius both father and son resented bitterly what they considered the inadequacy of the rewards they had received from Lord Holland.1 Another common argument, which is, I think, absolutely worthless, is derived from the fact that Francis was by birth and parentage an Irishman. The interest and sympathy which Junius showed in Irish affairs, and also a few expressions which are of Irish origin, have been assumed to point to an Irish writer.2 Francis may have derived these expressions from his father, who had lived long in Ireland; but he himself left his native country when he was not ten years old, and did not revisit it till long after the period of the letters of Junius.
Still the cumulative weight of the evidence pointing to Francis is extremely great, though it is, perhaps, too much to say that it places the case beyond all reasonable doubt. His life has been minutely investigated without discovering a single fact which is absolutely incompatible with his claim, while the most decisive evidence can be adduced against the chief rival claimants who have been named. All legal authorities seem agreed that Junius was not a lawyer; and if this be true, one large class of competitors is at once removed.1 The number of persons who possessed the kind of official knowledge which he exhibited was not large, and every rival claim has either been met by some insuperable objection, or has fallen from want of positive support. The evidence pointing to Francis has been continually growing, and it may be safely affirmed that no material or intellectual objection to the theory of his authorship can be sustained.
The moral objections, however, to the Franciscan theory are real and serious; and anyone who adopts that theory must be prepared to admit that Junius was a much less honourable man than some writers have supposed. He must be prepared to admit that Junius was capable, under the impulse of personal or political resentment, of attacking with savage ferocity men who had been his benefactors or the benefactors of his family, and with whom he had lived on terms of friendship. He must be prepared to admit that he was equally capable of accepting great favours from men whom as an anonymous writer he had been holding up to the execration of the nation, and of associating with them on terms of intimate friendship. The father of Philip Francis had been one of the writers in the service of Bute, and the King had given him a living, a chaplaincy, an English and an Irish pension. Sir William Draper was an intimate friend of the family, and was in close correspondence with the elder Francis at the time when Junius was pursuing him with his most cutting attacks. Garrick was also a friend of his father, who had dedicated to him a play. It may, indeed, be said in extenuation that Francis had adopted opposite politics from his father; that he was only drawn reluctantly and in self-defence into a controversy with Draper; that he suspected Garrick of making inquiries into a secret which it was of vital importance to him to preserve. But what can be said of his wanton attack upon Welbore Ellis, to whom Francis partly owed his situation in the War Office, with whom he was long after on terms of intimate friendship, and whom Junius described as ‘the most contemptible little piece of machinery in the whole kingdom’? What, above all, can be said of his attack upon Calcraft, of whom Junius writes that he ‘riots in the plunder of the army, and has only determined to be a patriot when he could not be a peer’? Nearly two years before this attack the elder Francis had described Calcraft to his son as ‘the man to whom I am indebted for all your happiness, and for almost all I myself enjoy.’ He was the warmest, the most intimate friend of Philip Francis, and he had laboured strenuously to secure his promotion at the War Office. Until the death of Calcraft in 1772, Francis continued in close friendship with him. By a codicil to his will Calcraft left him a legacy of 1,000l., with an annuity of 250l. for his wife, and charged his executors to bring Francis into Parliament.1 The case of Lord Barrington is little less striking. We have seen the unmeasured ferocity with which Junius, under other names, assailed that nobleman at the time of the appointment of Chamier; and it is certain, on the Franciscan theory, that Francis then considered himself bitterly aggrieved, though it appears from his letters that he parted from Barrington on terms of perfect civility, and that he professed to his friends that he left the War Office at his own wish. He appears, however, soon to have found that Barrington had no real ill-will towards him. A little more than two years after the letters of Veteran had appeared, Francis solicited an Indian appointment of 10,000l. a year from Lord North, the favourite minister of the King, and he obtained it at the special recommendation of Lord Barrington,1 with whom he ever after was on terms of warm friendship.2 It may be added that when, in 1787, he was accused of acting dishonourably in accepting the position of manager in the impeachment of his personal enemy Warren Hastings, he publicly defended himself by declaring that he had consulted and obtained the approval of Sir W. Draper, than whom ‘there could not be a stricter or more scrupulous judge of points of honour.’3
The picture is not an edifying, some have contended that it is not a possible, one. With this view I cannot concur. Of all the professions that have grown up under the conditions of modern society, anonymous writing is perhaps that in which it is most difficult to maintain a high standard of honour, for it is that in which dishonourable acts may be committed with the greatest impunity. The organ which throws the blaze of publicity on all around may be itself an asylum of impenetrable secrecy, and the power of writing without fear of detection attracts many who would once have found a congenial sphere for their talents in the baser forms of political conspiracy and intrigue. An anonymous Press enables such men to strike in the dark without fear and without shame, to gratify private malice under the mask of public duty, to spread abroad calumnious falsehoods and venomous insinuations without incurring the risk or the discredit of exposure, to follow the impulses, passions, 01 interests of the hour without regard either to the past or to the future. It does not appear to me that there was anything in the character either of Junius or of Francis to render it impossible that they should abuse this power to the utmost. If the letters of Poplicola and of Antisejanus have been rightly attributed to Junius, we must believe that in 1767, when he suspected Chatham of subservience to Bute, he denounced him as ‘a man purely and perfectly bad,’ ‘a traitor,’ and ‘a villain,’ worthy of the Tarpeian Rock or of a gibbet;1 that a few months later, for the purpose of attaining a political end, he wrote privately to him expressing the ‘sentiment of respect and veneration’ he had ‘always’ entertained for his character,2 and that he afterwards made him the subject of his warmest public eulogy. Even apart from this incident the facts which have been stated in the last few pages are surely sufficient to show how little Junius can be regarded as a man of scruples, truthfulness, or honour. And if we turn to the acknowledged writings of Francis the probability is greatly strengthened. No single fact is more conspicuous in the character of Francis than the manner in which he continually quarrelled with those from whom he had received benefits, and his writings are full of disparaging and injurious remarks about men with whom he had lived on terms of the closest intimacy, and to whom he should have been bound by strong ties of gratitude.1 The most powerful moral objection to the Franciscan authorship of Junius is the attack upon Calcraft. At the time it was penned Francis was in close intimacy with Calcraft, but he could not yet know that touching proof of the fidelity of his friendship which was furnished by his will. But long after Calcraft was in his grave Francis wrote the fragment of autobiography which has been discovered among his papers, and the following are the terms in which he speaks of the man who was his constant benefactor, and who was supposed to have been his warmest friend. ‘Calcraft undoubtedly owed his rapid fortune to Mr. Fox's patronage. He was the son of an attorney at Grantham, and went to London literally to seek his fortune. At the age of six-and-forty he had a landed estate, the rent-roll of which was above 10,000l. a year. In his quarrel with Lord Holland I think he had as much reason on his side as an interested man can have for deserting an old friend and benefactor. There was not virtue in either of them to justify their quarrelling. If either of them had had common honesty he could never have been the friend of the other.’2
The great progress of the Press, both in literary merit and in political importance, is one of the most remarkable characteristics of the period we are reviewing. Within ten years of the publication of the letters of Junius, three newspapers which played a considerable political part long after the Reform Bill of 1832, were called into existence. The ‘Morning Chronicle’ was established in 1770, the ‘Morning Post’ in 1772, and the ‘Morning Herald’ in 1780.1 The great interest excited by the judgments of Mansfield, and by the Press cases which he decided, is said to have first led to the publication in newspapers of full legal reports.2 Soon after, John Bell, the proprietor of the ‘World’ and of the ‘Morning Post,’ introduced newspaper dramatic criticism, and newspapers began to send their regular reporters to the pit.3 In 1776 Lord North raised the stamp from 1d. to 11/2d., but the measure does not appear to have seriously impeded the progress of the Press. In 1777 there were no less than seventeen papers published in London, seven of which were daily, and in the following year appeared Johnson's ‘Sunday Monitor,’ the first Sunday paper in England.4
But the most important fact in this period of newspaper history was the virtual conquest of the right of parliamentary reporting. William Woodfall, a relative of the printer of the ‘Public Advertiser,’ had paid great attention to the subject of reporting, and full reports of the more important speeches were becoming common in the newspapers. These reports were distinctly contrary to a standing order of the House. As might be expected from the manner in which they were composed they were very inaccurate and very partial, and they were in some respects much more audacious than those which had excited so much parliamentary indignation in the last reign. They were no longer confined to the recess of Parliament, but appeared when the members were still sitting. The names were sometimes given without disguise, and often indicated by grossly scurrilous nicknames. At the same time the irritation of the country against the House and the desire to make the proceedings of the representatives amenable to criticism were so great that it was dangerous to interfere with them. The City politicians resolved to make this the next subject of dispute, and for the last time Horne and Wilkes co-operated in the struggle.
It was in February 1771 that Colonel George Onslow brought before the House a complaint that two printers had misrepresented the speeches and reflected on several members of the House. The case was very flagrant, for Onslow himself had been designated as ‘little cocking George,’ ‘the little scoundrel,’ and ‘that paltry, insignificant insect,’ but the dangers of a new conflict at this time were so great that even the King, though violently opposed to all parliamentary reporting, recommended great caution,1 and the same language was held by several leaders of the Opposition. The House, however, ordered the offending printers to be taken into custody; and as the Sergeant proved unable to execute the order, the House addressed the King to issue a proclamation offering a reward of 50l. for the capture of either of the delinquents.
The offence, however, still continued, and on the 12th of March Onslow brought in a new motion for proceeding against six other printers who had been guilty of it. It was determined to put down absolutely the practice of parliamentary reporting, and to declare open. war with the Press. A few members, however, of the Rockingham and Chatham connections argued strenuously against this course, and although they were soon shown to be an inconsiderable minority they refused to desist. Probably for the first time in English parliamentary history the forms of the House were employed for the purpose of systematic obstruction. By repeated amendments and motions of adjournment the debate was protracted till past four in the morning, and the House was compelled to divide twenty-three times.1 At last the majority triumphed. The six printers were ordered to attend, and the House was committed to a struggle with the Press.
Of the eight printers who were now under the ban of the House, one was already in custody by order of the House of Lords. A property case in which Lord Pomfret was defendant had recently been carried on appeal before that House, and owing probably to the social position of the defendant, the lay lords, instead of leaving the matter to the legal members, had very scandalously taken part in the division. Lord Pomfret was in high favour at Court, and accordingly the Lords of the Bedchamber had voted in his favour. Woodfall and another printer had censured their conduct, and for this offence had been thrown into prison.2 Of the other printers four appeared when summoned by the Commons, but Thompson and Wheble, who were the two printers first incriminated, and Miller, who was one of the others, resolved to defy the jurisdiction of the House. Wilkes and Horne, though now at enmity, appeared to have independently instigated this resistance. On March 14 Wheble addressed a letter to the Speaker inclosing an opinion of counsel, and declaring that he was resolved to ‘yield no obedience but to the laws of the land,’ and next day both Wheble and Thompson were collusively arrested by fellow-printers and brought before two aldermen who were sitting separately to try cases. One of these aldermen was Wilkes himself; the other was his brother politician Oliver. Wilkes and Oliver at once discharged the prisoners as guilty of no legal offence, and Wilkes bound over Wheble to prosecute his captors for assault and false imprisonment, and he also wrote to the Secretary of State informing him that a man who was charged with no offence against the law of the land had been illegally arrested by virtue of a royal proclamation, in violation of the common rights of Englishmen as well as of the chartered privileges of the City of London. The two men who had made the arrest claimed the reward offered in the proclamation, but the Government being convinced that they had acted on an understanding with the culprits, refused to pay it.
Nearly at the same time a messenger of the House of Commons attempted to arrest Miller in his own house, but Miller at once sent for a constable and gave the messenger into custody. Both parties were taken to the Mansion House, where Crosby, the Lord Mayor, accompanied by Wilkes and Oliver, proceeded to try the case. The Deputy-Sergeant-at-Arms attended on the part of the Speaker, and in the name of the House of Commons peremptorily ordered that both messenger and printer should be delivered up to him. The Lord Mayor, in reply, asked whether the Speaker's warrant by which Miller had been arrested had been backed by a City magistrate. As the answer was in the negative he decided that it was illegal, for the charters of the City provided that no warrant, attachment, or process could be executed within it except by its own magistrates. The demand of the Deputy-Sergeant was refused. Miller was discharged from custody, and the messenger of the House of Commons was committed to prison, but admitted to bail on his own application.
It was quite evident that another conflict of the most embarrassing nature had arisen. The royal proclamation which was issued to support a standing order of the House of Commons, was of very doubtful legality, and a serious conflict had sprung up between the jurisdiction of the House and the jurisdiction of the City. The right of the House of Commons to enforce its own standing order against reporting by committing those who refused to obey it, cannot reasonably be disputed, but it had unexpectedly come into collision with another jurisdiction, which the Lord Mayor was bound by his oath of office to protect. The excitement produced by the Middlesex election had not yet subsided, and the House of Commons found itself again confronted by an agitator of whose singular audacity and address it had already ample experience. At the same time it was now impossible to recede. The printers whose arrest had been ordered were at large, and the ‘Society for the Support of the Bill of Rights’ voted each of them 100l. for having ‘appealed to the law of the land, and not betrayed by submission the rights of Englishmen.’ The messenger of the House of Commons was threatened with prosecution for having obeyed the orders of the House, and he would have been in prison had he not reluctantly consented to give bail. The King wrote indignantly to Lord North that the ‘authority of the House of Commons is totally annihilated if it is not in an exemplary manner supported to-morrow by instantly committing the Lord Mayor and Alderman Oliver to the Tower.’ ‘As to Wilkes,’ he added, ‘he is below the notice of the House,’ and he showed an amusingly significant and sagacious wish to separate him, if possible, from the proceedings against his coadjutors.1
The Lord Mayor and Oliver, who were members of the House, were successively ordered to attend in their places, and Wilkes at the Bar of the House. Wilkes at once wrote a reply, declaring that he was the legitimate member for Middlesex, that he was ready to attend in his place in Parliament, but that he absolutely refused to appear at the Bar. The Lord Mayor and Oliver duly attended, and the former defended himself with great dignity and simplicity, alleging his oath of office which obliged him to preserve inviolate the franchises of the City, the charters of the City which secured the citizens from any law process being served upon them except by their own officers, and the confirmation of those charters by Act of Parliament. The House, as usual, speedily put itself in the wrong. The arrest and bailing of the messenger was the grievance which was most sensibly felt, and the Lord Mayor's clerk was accordingly commanded to attend with the book of minutes, and by order of the House the recognizance of the messenger of the House was erased. The conduct of the House of Commons in thus expunging by its sole authority a judicial record for the purpose of arresting the ordinary course of the law, was justly designated by Chatham as ‘the act of a mob and not of a senate,’ and most of the members of the Opposition protested against it by leaving the House. The House at the same time ordered that the threatened prosecution of the messenger should not be proceeded with. It had no right or power to take such a course, and accordingly the messenger was duly indicted, and only saved by the nolle prosequi of the Attorney-General. The House granted, after long discussion and vacillation, the demand of the Lord Mayor to be heard by counsel, but added the condition that nothing must be said against the privileges of the House, which, as the sole question at issue was the extent of these privileges, rendered the concession a palpable mockery.
Junius lost no time in summing up the proceedings of the Commons with his usual felicitous terseness. ‘In their first resolutions [against the printers] it is possible that they might have been deceived by ill-considered precedents. For the rest there is no colour of palliation or excuse. They have advised the King to resume a power of dispensing with the laws by royal proclamation, and kings, we see, are ready enough to follow such advice. By mere violence, and without the shadow of right, they have expunged the record of a judicial proceeding. Nothing remained but to attribute to their own vote a power of stopping the whole distribution of criminal and and civil justice.’1 The illness of the Lord Mayor caused some delay in the proceedings of the House, and in the meantime the strong popular feeling was clearly shown. The Lord Mayor's carriage was again and again drawn through the streets by an enthusiastic populace, who accompanied him wherever he passed, invaded the lobbies of the House of Commons, and repeated all the scenes of riot which had so lately followed the Middlesex election. The carriages of several of the leading supporters of the Ministry were attacked and broken; Lord North very narrowly escaped with his life, and the King was hissed in the streets. The Lord Mayor and Oliver were at length committed to the Tower, but their residence there was one continued triumph. Addresses expressing admiration for their conduct poured in from every side. The leading members of the Opposition, in a procession of sixteen carriages, went to the Tower to visit them. A great mob, attended by a hearse, beheaded and burnt on Tower Hill figures representing the Princess Dowager, Lord Bute, and the leading opponents of the printers in both Houses; and when at length, after six weeks' detention, the Lord Mayor and Oliver were released by the prorogation, they were saluted by twenty-one cannon belonging to the Artillery Company, and escorted to the Mansion House by an immense crowd of enthusiastic admirers. That night London was illuminated, and the windows of the Speaker of the House of Commons were broken by the mob.
The most significant part, however, of the transaction was the manner in which the House of Commons cowered before Wilkes. He had lost no opportunity of defying it, and he was the soul of the whole movement of opposition. Three times the House summoned him to appear at the Bar, and three times he disobeyed. At last the House put an ignominious end to the contest by ordering him to attend on a day when it was itself adjourned.1 The printers meanwhile remained at liberty, and from this time reports of the proceedings of the House of Commons were tacitly permitted. In the Lords the prohibition was maintained a little longer, but the example of the Commons was soon silently followed. The nation was thus enabled systematically to study and to judge the proceedings of its representatives, and the Press made another gigantic stride in political importance.
The growth of the Press as a great power in English politics is perhaps the most momentous of all the events of the period we are considering. It is not too much to say that it has modified the political life as profoundly as steam in the present century has altered the economical condition of England. Side by side with the recognised Constitution another representative system has grown up, in which the various wants, aspirations, and opinions of the nation are reflected with at least equal accuracy; another debating organ in which political questions are so fully discussed that the debates of Parliament are frequently little more than its echo. On great occasions parliamentary discussion is usually more searching and complete than discussion, in the newspapers, but on most minor questions the palm of superiority must, I think, be conceded to the latter. Of all the instruments which human wisdom has devised, a free Press is the most efficacious in putting an end to jobs, abuses, political malversation and corruption. A public writer has strong motives to expose these things, and except in very rare cases he has no motive to conceal them. They wither beneath the blaze of publicity which is thrown on all the details of administration, on the discontents and grievances of every class of the community. The newspaper press not only reflects the many phases and modifications of public opinion, it also gives it an irresistible volume and momentum. Organising, directing, intensifying, and sometimes creating it, bringing the ablest leaders speedily to the surface, adding immensely to the facilities of co-operation, diffusing the popular arguments with unparalleled rapidity and over an enormous area, repeating them day by day till they have become familiar to all classes, and watching with an unceasing vigilance the smallest encroachment of power, it has strengthened immeasurably the spirit and resources of liberty, and has made dangers which once appeared very imminent wholly chimerical. It at the same time makes it impossible for any man of ordinary intelligence to live exclusively the life of a class or of a province. It brings before him with some degree of vividness the modes of life and thought and reasoning of all classes of his countrymen, and on great occasions it arouses the national passions with a strange velocity and power. It is the most efficacious of all means of political education. Thousands who would scarcely read anything else find in it a source of perpetual interest. The highest special knowledge is poured into its columns, and it raises enormously the average of political information, intelligence, and capacity.
It is difficult to over-estimate these services, and few persons will deny that, in England at least, they outweigh the evils which the abuses of the Press have produced. Whether they do so everywhere is less certain, and the magnitude of those evils is usually underrated by those who judge exclusively from English experience. Nowhere else in free governments do we find so large an amount of power divorced from responsibility. A very few men, who are altogether unconnected with the official business of the State, who are personally unknown to the nation, whose position is entirely self-constituted and peculiarly exposed to sinister influences, often succeed in acquiring by the Press a greater influence than most responsible statesmen. They constitute themselves the mouthpiece and the representatives of the nation, and they are often accepted as such throughout Europe. They make it their task to select, classify, and colour the information, and to supply the opinions of their readers; and as comparatively few men have the wish, or the time, or the power to compare evidence and weigh arguments, they dictate absolutely the conclusions of thousands. If they cannot altogether make opinion, they can at least exaggerate, bias, and inflame it. They can give its particular forms a wholly factitious importance; and while there are very few fields of labour in which the prolonged exercise of brilliant talent produces so little personal reputation, there are also very few in which exceedingly moderate abilities may exercise so wide an influence.
Few things to a reflecting mind are more curious than the extraordinary weight which is attached to the anonymous expression of political opinion. Partly by the illusion of the imagination, which magnifies the hidden representative of a great corporation—partly by the weight of emphatic assertion, a plural pronoun, conspicuous type, and continual repetition, unknown men, who would probably be unable to induce any constituency to return them to Parliament, are able, without exciting any surprise or sense of incongruity, to assume the language of the accredited representatives of the nation, and to rebuke, patronise, or insult its leading men with a tone of authority which would not be tolerated from the foremost statesmen of their time. It was the theory of the more sanguine among the early free-traders that under the system of unrestricted competition all things would rank according to their real merits. In that case the power and popularity of a newspaper would depend mainly upon the accuracy and amount of its information, the force of its arguments, the fidelity with which it represented the dominant opinion of the nation. But anyone who will impartially examine the newspapers that have acquired the greatest circulation and influence in Europe and in America, may easily convince himself of the falseness of this theory. A knack of clever writing, great enterprise in bringing together the kind of information which amuses or interests the public, tact in catching and following the first symptoms of change of opinions, a skilful pandering to popular prejudice; malevolent gossip, sensational falsehood, coarse descriptions, vindictive attacks on individuals, nations, or classes, are the elements of which many great newspaper ascendencies have been mainly built. Newspaper writing is one of the most open of all professions, but some of the qualities that are most successful in it do not give the smallest presumption either of moral worth or of political competence or integrity.
It is a strange thing, though custom has made it very familiar, that so large a part of the formation and representation of political opinion should be a commercial speculation. Many papers have no doubt been set up solely to advocate particular causes and interests, and have discharged their task with admirable disinterestedness and integrity. But these are not usually the papers which have acquired the widest popularity and success. A newspaper, as such, is and must be a commercial speculation, with interests in many respects coincident, in some respects directly clashing with the true interests of the nation. Considered commercially, its popularity is the condition and the measure of its success, and it is a matter of perfect indifference from what source that popularity is derived. It must write down to the level of its readers. Its business is not to improve them but to please them. If a vicious style, if coarse, vulgar, or immoral descriptions, if personal slander or class attacks are widely popular, it is the commercial interest of the newspaper to gratify the taste, and by gratifying, it immeasurably increases it. Day after day, week after week, the impression is deepened, the taste is strengthened. No such powerful instrument as a corrupt Press has ever been discovered for vulgarising the national mind, for lowering the moral sense, for deepening, stimulating, and perpetuating class hatreds or national animosities. Most modern wars may be ultimately traced to national antipathies which have been largely created by newspaper invectives and by the gross partiality of newspaper representations. As the writers have no part in the dangers, while, by the increased circulation of their papers, they reap a large harvest from the excitement of war, they have a direct interest in producing it. Wherever there is some vicious spot, some old class hatred, some lingering provincial antipathy, a newspaper will arise to represent and to inflame it. In countries where class animosities are deep and savage, or where the form of government is still unsettled and contested, it is extremely difficult to reconcile an unshackled Press with national stability and security. The most plausible argument of the opponents of national education is the fact that in many countries it is tolerably certain that one of the chief forms of reading of the poor will consist of newspapers written for the express purpose of playing upon their most odious passions.
It was one of the felicities of English history that the Press only rose to great political importance when the troubles of a disputed succession had completely subsided; and although it is impossible to feel much respect for those who conducted it in the days of Wilkes and of Junius, they undoubtedly rendered a most important service to their country. In the early years of George III., and especially about the year 1770, there was grave danger that under the system of parliamentary government the Crown would regain all, or nearly all, the power it had lost by the Revolution. The Opposition was broken, divided, defeated. The King and the King's friends had succeeded in disintegrating the old parties in the State, in sapping the aristocratical power which was once the most formidable barrier to their designs, in disposing for their own objects of the vast fields of Government patronage, in forming a great permanent interest and acquiring an overwhelming majority in both Houses of Parliament. The Scotch, the bishops, the numerous members of both Houses who held Court offices, steadily voted together, and the ranks of the King's friends were speedily recruited by place-hunters drawn from the different connections. The elective system was so corrupt, the influence of the Treasury on the boroughs was so great, the Government patronage was so vast and so redundant, that there seemed every prospect of the continuance of their power. The immediate causes of their defeat are to be found chiefly in the growth of a free Press, which gave a new strength and energy to the popular movement for reform, and in the overwhelming discredit which the disastrous termination of the American War threw upon the ministry which had conducted it. The earlier phases of the American movement I have already very cursorily indicated. I shall now proceed to examine that movement in some detail, and to estimate its vast and various influence upon the fortunes of England.
END OF THE THIRD VOLUME.
The details of his journey through Italy will be found in a curious manuscript fragment of autobiography in the British Museum.
Grenville Papers, iii. 95. Prior's Life of Burke, i. 153.
‘The ministers are embarrassed to the last degree how to act with regard to Wilkes. It seems they are afraid to press the King for his pardon, as that is a subject his Majesty will not easily hear the least mention of; and they are apprehensive if he has it not, that the mob of London will rise in his favour.’—The Bishop of Carlisle to Grenville (May 27, 1776), Grenville Papers, iii. 241.
See the letters of Lord Camden, Campbell's Chancellors, vi, 890-392.
Correspondence of George III. with Lord North, i. 2. Walpole's George III. iii, 200.
Franklin's Works (Spark's ed.), vii. 399, 400.
Annual Register, 1768, p. 100.
Annual Register, 1769, p. 116.
Annual Register, 1763, pp. 52–58. It is remarkable that the Drury Lane riots were instigated and in part defended by anonymous writings of Philip Francis—his first known compositions in print.—Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, i. 68, 69.
Annual Register, 1762, p. 75; 1763, p. 67; for another instance of a culprit being killed by ill-usage in the pillory, see Annual Register, 1780, p. 207.
Grenville Papers, ii. 193. Annual Register, 1763, p. 96.
Annual Register, 1765, p. 58.
This case is briefly noticed in the Annual Register of 1762, p. 75: for a further account see a remarkable essay on capital punishments in England in the Anthologia Hibernica, iv. 172. It is a curious illustration of the absurdity of British law that it was found that none of these criminals could be executed, as their offence only amounted to perjury. One of them was killed on the pillory by the mob.
Holt's George III. i. 149, 156.
Annual Register, 1768, p. 105.
Walpole's Memoirs of George III. iii. 219–221. Annual Register, 1768, pp. 99, 114, 119, 129.
Annual Register, 1767, pp. 139, 140, 152, 158; 1768, pp. 139, 157; 1769, pp. 111, 124, 132, 136, 138; 1771, p. 96.
Ibid. 1770, p. 78. Accurate statistics of the crime of housebreaking in London and Westminster may be found in Parl. Hist. xvi. 930. Between Michaelmas 1769 and March 14, 1770, no less than 104 houses were broken open and robbed. In 1772 a writer in the Annual Register (p. 80) emphatically said, ‘Villany is now arrived at such a height in London that no man is safe in his own house.’ And it was noticed that in 1759 and 1760, two years of war, the number of criminals condemned at the old Bailey was only 29; while during the two last years of peace, 1770 and 1771, the number had risen to 151. Annual Register, 1772, pp. 144, 145.
Annual Register, 1767, pp. 48, 49.
Ibid. 1767, pp. 117–121, 190–197.
Ibid. 1771, p. 65. Gentleman's Magazine, 1771, p. 232.
Walpole's Memoirs of George III. iii. 200, 277, 316.
The words—which are not in the abstract of Wilkes' speech in the Parliamentary debates—were quoted by G. Grenville in the very remarkable speech he afterwards made and corrected on the subject of the expulsion.—See Almon's Collection of Scarce and Interesting Tracts, iii. 31, 32.
Walpole's Memoirs of George III. iii. Annual Register, 1769. Parl. Hist. xvi.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 358.
In 1698 Mr. Wollaston, being a collector of duties, was ‘expelled’ from the House in obedience to a law which had recently disqualified those who held that office from sitting, and having given up the office he was re-elected and allowed to sit. The partisans of Wilkes maintained that this was a valid precedent, while his opponents thought the word ‘expelled’ was in this case improperly used by the Commons. The case was at least not one of penal expulsion. See a long discussion of it in ‘A Fair Trial of the Important Question,’ Almon's Scarce and Interesting Tracts, vol. iii. In 1715 Serjeant Comyns having refused to take the oath of qualification, the House determined that the votes given to him were lost, and gave the seat to the candidate who stood next on the poll; and in 1727 they adopted a similar course in a case where the elected person being a Commissioner of Customs was disqualified. In both of these cases, however, there was a statutory disqualification.—See Belsham's Hist. of George III. i. 242, 243.
The passage was altered in later editions.
Locke on Government, bk. ii. ch. six.
Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, ii. 205.
Burke's Correspondence, i. 169, 176, 177, 184, 189, 235.
Annual Register, 1770, pp. 56-58. Chatham says fifteen counties petitioned, and that ‘these fifteen petitioning counties contain more people than all the rest of the kingdom, as they pay infinitely more land tax.’—Chatham Correspondence, iv. 169.
Annual Register, 1769, pp. 84, 87. Walpole's Memoirs of George, III. iii. 350–353.
The King writing to Lord North complained bitterly of ‘the factious and partial conduct of the grand jury,’ and added, ‘if there be no means by law to quell riots, and if juries forget they are on their oath to be guided by facts not faction, this constitution must be overthrown, and anarchy (the most terrible of all evils) must ensue.’—Correspondence of George III. and Lord North, i. 8. The ministers described ‘the unhappy disposition of the people to be such that juries, under the influence of the general infatuation, could hardly be got to do justice to soldiers under prosecution.’—Annual Register, 1769, p. 62. According to Walpole, ‘in the hands of a Middlesex jury at that time no man's life was safe.’—Memoirs of George III. iii. 312.
Ibid. iii. 359.
See Cavendish, Debates, i. 101.
Walpole, p. 378. Annual Register, 1769, pp. 117, 118.
Walpole, iv. 57.
Part. Hist. xvi. 893, 894.
Parl. Hist. xvi. 578. He afterwards is said to have explained away his meaning, and it is very probable that he was not quite accurately reported. Lord Egmont in the House of Lords described the petitions as ‘treasonable.’—Chatham Correspondence, iii. 419.
Walpole's George III. iv. 60.
Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, ii. 119–124. Burke said, ‘Corsica, a French province, was terrible to him.’ Cavendish, Debates, i. 40
Annual Register, 1769, p. 63. Part. Hist. xvi. 843–852.
Walpole's George III. ii. 339–341.
Ibid. ii. 385.
Walpole's George III. iii. 148–150.
Ibid. p. 311.
Nicholls' Recollections of George III. ii. 128.
William Gerard Hamilton wrote to Temple (July 20, 1767), ‘The idea of continuing Lord Camden as a friend of Lord Chatham's is extremely entertaining if the accounts which I hear are true, and my authority is such that I have not a doubt of them; and they are that, in all places, the most violent man against Lord Chatham, and the harshest interpreter of his long sickness and of his late conduct in every particular, is Lord Camden.’—Grenville Papers, iv. 64. In his private letter to Chatham, written January 2, 1768, Junius said, ‘The Chancellor on whom you had particular reasons to rely has played a sort of fast and loose game, and spoken of your lordship with submission or indifference according to the reports he heard of your health, nor has he altered his language until he found you were really returning to town.—Chatham Correspondence, iii. 303. This coincidence has been justly pointed out as one of the many slight indications that Junius was well acquainted with the information then current in Lord Temple's circle.
See Grenville Papers, iv. 402, 405. Parl. Hist. xvi. 825. Adolphus, i. 410.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 389.
Lord Temple described this incident as ‘the dismissal of the virtuous and independent lord who sat on the woolsack, in order to supply his place by some obsequious lawyer who would do as he was commanded.’ Lord Shelburne ‘hoped there would not be found in the kingdom a wretch so base and mean-spirited as to accept the Seals on the conditions on which they were offered.’—Albemarle's Life of Rockingham, ii. 157.
Rigby wrote (May 14, 1770), ‘I think the very best speech I ever heard in my life was the Duke of Grafton's reply to Chatham, a very memorable part of which was the most solemn declaration that a man can make in public, never to act again in public business with Lord Chatham.’—Bedford Correspondence, iii. 412.
Walpole's George III. iv. 87.
Harris' Life of Hardwicke, iii. 465–479. Campbell's Chancellors, vii. 96–112.
Walpole's George III. iv. 55, 56, 60, 61, 193.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 418.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. pp. 423, 425.
Ibid. pp. 424, 426.
Ibid. p. 453.
Ibid. p. 372.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 2–18.
Ibid. pp. 17, 18.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 439. In one of the last speeches Chatham made (Dec. 5, 1777), there is a remarkable passage which can be construed into little less than a confession that the line which he had adopted about party government in the first years of the reign was a mistake. ‘For fifteen years,’ he said, ‘there had been a system at St. James's of breaking all connections, of extinguishing all principle. A few men had got an ascendency where no man should have a personal ascendency; by the executive powers of the State being at their command they had been furnished with the means of creating divisions. This brought pliable men, not capable men, into the highest and most responsible situations, and to such men was the government of this once glorious empire now entrusted.’—Thackeray's Life of Chatham, ii. 343.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 481.
Ibid. p. 408. Lord Fitzwilliam reported to Rockingham, November 1769, a conversation in which Chatham said: ‘For my own part I am grown old, and find myself unable to fill any office of business; but this I am resolved upon, that I will not even sit at council but to meet the friends of Lord Rockingham; whatever differences may have been between us they must be forgotten. The state of the nation is such that all private animosities must subside. He, and he alone, has a knot of spotless friends such as ought to govern this kingdom.’ See, too, a similar conversation reported by the Duke of Portland.—Albemarle's Life of Rockingham, ii. 142, 143.
Chatham Correspondence iii. 468.
See the autobiographical sketch in Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, i. 362.
Bedford Correspondence, iii. 412.
Chatham Correspondence, 179.
See a remarkable passage in one of Dr. Johnson's pamphlets in favour of the Government. ‘Every honest man must lament that it [the Government] has been regarded with fixed neutrality by the Tories, who, being long accustomed to signalise their principles by opposition to the Court, do not yet consider that they have at last a king who knows not the name of party, and who wishes to be the common father of all his people.’—The False Alarm.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 83.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 187.
Ibid. p. 204.
Ibid. p. 259.
Burke's Correspondence, i. 256, 346.
Woodfall's Junius, i. 255.
Burke's Thoughts on the present Discontents.
Annual Register, 1770, p. 72.
Parl. Hist. xxiii. 101.
Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, December 19, 1767.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 405.
Grenville Papers, iv. 14. Walpole's George III. i. 330.
Walpole's George III. iii. 197.
Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, April 12, 1768.
Walpole's Memoirs of George III. iii. 198.
Walpole's Memoirs of George III. i. 42.
Parl. Hist. xiv. 397–402. Walpole's George III. iii. 153, 154.
Walpole's George III. iii. 157.
Annual Register, 1769, p. 93.
Annual Register, 1771, pp. 54, 56. Adolphus, i. 479.
De Burgh's Political Dissertations, i. 40–48.
On the extraordinary condition of the Scotch representation before the Reform Bill of 1832, see May's Constitutional History, i. 301–304.
See Clarendon's History, i. 403, 404, 412, 413; iii. 61.
Tindal's History, iv. 219.
Cooke's Hist. of Party, iii. 187. May's Constitutional History, ii. 121. Buckle's Hist. of Civilisation, i. 394, 395.
Annual Register, 1769, pp. 125, 126.
Stephen's Life of Horne Tooke, i. 163–175. See, too, a remarkable letter of Junius to Wilkes severely criticising the resolutions of the Society of ‘the Supporters of the Bill of Rights.’—Woodfall's Junius, i. 275–296.
Annual Register, 1769, p. 73, Walpole's George III, iii. 331.
Scott's Swift, x. 362–366.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 169. According to Lord Charlemont, Chatham, in one of his speeches on the Stamp Act in 1766, said, ‘If England were not properly represented, the representation ought to be amended. The safe advice of Machiavel must one day be pursued, and the Constitution brought back to its first principles. People, however, are apt to mistake the nature of representation, which is not of person but of property, and in this light there is scarcely a blade of grass which is not represented.’—Original Letters to Henry Flood, pp. 14, 15.
In another speech, if rightly reported, he spoke with more hesitation of ‘the corrupt and venal boroughs which perhaps could not be lopped off entirely without the hazard of a public convulsion.’—Chatham Corresp. iii. 457.
Ibid. pp. 406, 407.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 464.
Ibid. iv. 156, 157.
Ibid. iv. 174.
Walpole's George III. iv. 57, 58.
See Burke's correspondence with Richard Shackleton, the son of his schoolmaster, in that singularly charming boot, the Leadbeater Papers, written by the daughter of Richard Shackleton.
There is some controversy on this point. See Prior's Life of Burke, i. 44, 45.
Chatham Correspondence, i. 430-433.
No less than 14,000l. (out of 20,000l. required to buy the estate) was raised on a mortgage which was still outstanding when the estate was sold in 1812. Sir Joseph Napier has investigated with great care the circumstances relating to the Beaconsfield estate and to a small property at Clogher, which was also in the Burke family, in a lecture on Edmund Burke delivered in Dublin in 1862 (Napier's Lectures and Essays, pp. 109–211). This lecture contains several particulars about Burke's private life which will not be found elsewhere, and a very complete answer to some obscure slanders on the subject which had been exhumed and elaborated by the late Mr. Dilke, and which have since been reprinted. It was natural that in an age of unsparing calumny a high-minded and very sensitive public man should have endeavoured as much as possible to withdraw his private concerns and domestic relations from the public gaze. It was equally natural that a critic of the stamp of Mr. Dilke should regard such a reticence as profoundly suspicious, and should make it the endless theme of dishonourable insinuations.
See the different testimonies on the subject collected in Prior and Macknight's Lives of Burke, and also the masterly sketch in Buckle's Hist, of Civilisation, i. 414–423. Charles Butler says that ‘Burke's conversation was rambling, but splendid, rich and instructive beyond comparison.’—Butler's Reminiscences, i. 168. Some interesting fragments which were reported by Mrs. Crewe have been printed by Lord Houghton in the Philobiblion Society and in Rogers' Recollections.
Sir Gilbert Elliot, after a very interesting description of the eloquence of Sheridan, says, ‘Burke also abounds with these fine passages, and he soars also as much out of the lower regions of discourse and infinitely further into those of imagination and fancy; but no man could ever perceive in him the least trace of preparation, and he never appears more incontestably inspired by the moment and transported with the fury of the god within him than in those finished passages which it would cost Shakespeare long study and labour to produce.’—Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 215. Walpole, on the other hand, while speaking of the ‘inexhaustible fertility’ with which Burke ‘poured out new ideas, metaphors, and allusions which came forth ready dressed in the most ornamental and yet the most correct language,’ complained that even when he ‘replied extempore, his very answers, that sprang from what had been said by others, were so painted and artfully arranged, that they wore the appearance of study and preparation.’—Walpole's George III. ii. 273, 275. Gibbon bears witness to the correctness of those printed speeches which he had himself heard delivered.—Miscellaneous Works, i. 235.
There is an excellent criticism of the merits and defects of Burke as a speaker in a letter of Flood to Charlemont, describing one of Burke's great speeches on conciliation with America. ‘His performance was the best I have heard from him in the whole winter. He is always brilliant to an uncommon degree, and yet I believe it would be better he were less so. I don't mean to join with the cry which will always run against shining parts, when I say that I sincerely think it interrupts him so much in argument that the House are never sensible that he argues as well as he does. Fox gives a strong proof of this, for he makes use of Burke's speech as a repertory, and by stating crabbedly two or three of those ideas which Burke has buried under flowers, he is thought almost always to have had more argument,’—Charlemont MSS. Erskine used to say that the grand fault of Burke's speaking was that he was too episodical.—Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 473
See e.g. the magnificent declamatory passage on the justice of the French war in the first letter on the Regicidal Peace.
It is related of Coleridge that a very experienced shorthand writer was employed to take down his lectures on Shakespeare, and that his manuscript proved almost unintelligible. The reporter afterwards said that from long experience he had, with every other speaker he had ever heard, been almost always able to guess the form of the latter part of each sentence by the form of the beginning, but that the conclusion of every one of Coleridge's sentences was a surprise to him.
There are excellent descriptions of Burke's speaking in Wraxall's Memoirs, ii. 35–38; Walpole's Memoirs of George III. ii. 273, 274; Last Journals, i. 84, 85, 443; and in the letters in Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot. See, too, Butler's Reminiscences, pp. 166–168. Erskine's very unfavourable description of his manner is given in Campbell's Chancellors, ix. 68, 69. Lord Brougham, in his sketch of Burke (Statesmen of George III.), has collected several instances of his glaring bad taste. Another, too gross for quotation, will be found in Jesse's Life of Selwyn, iv. 130, 131. Wilkes said that the Venus of Burke ‘was sometimes the Venus of whisky.’ ‘What will they think,’ Sheridan once said, ‘of the public speaking of this age in after times when they rear Mr. Burke's speeches and are told that in his day he was not accounted either the first or second speaker?’—Rogers's Recollections, p. 89.
Boswell's Johnson (Croker's ed.), p. 177.
Chatham Correspondence, iii, 111.
Grattan's Life, i. 142.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 84-86, 438, 443, 513; ii. 26.
Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, i. 235.
Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 194. Walpole's Letters, vii. 29, 30.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir Gilbert Ellliot, i. 195.
Prior's Burke, ii. 472.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 110, 111. Lord Stanhope's Hist, of England, v. app. p. x.
See the Chatham Correspondence, especially iii. 61, 199, 200, 216, 269; iv. 276, 277.
7 George III. c. 57. 9 George III. c. 24.
See Chatham Correspondence, iv. 254, 255, 283. Burke's Correspondence, i. 210, 211, 389, 390. Walpole's Last Journals, i. 169, 207, 210, 242-246.
Burke's Correspondence, i. 251. See on the other side Chatham Correspondence, iv. 101-104, 109-114.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 296-307, 318-321. Albemarle's Life of Rockingham, ii. 226-234.
Burke's Correspondence, i. 170, 216.
Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents.
Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents. Fox in the same spirit, in two very remarkable letters written in 1794, defended the maintenance of party government as ‘the only mode or plan in this country by which a rational man can hope to stem the power and influence of the Crown;’ and he says, ‘I am convinced that this system, and this alone, has prevented Great Britain from falling into what Hume calls its euthanasia of absolute monarchy.’—Lord Russell's Life of Fox, iii. 68-72. I may add a few sentences describing the political condition of England in 1772, from a very able anonymous book published in that year. ‘No regular party existing, the breath of the day has formed, dissolved, and changed oppositions; no tie or connection being formed among any set of men, they have fallen into the most unnatural unions imaginable. … Every set of men, nay almost every man, has been in and out, with or without any other set of men, so that nothing like the principle of a party is left in the nation. This revolution must in the end have great consequences; the present miserable disconnection among all the great men and their dependants in the kingdom has thrown a greater power into the hands of the Crown, than an augmentation in the army of 10,000 men. … At present we have in the nation only one set of men that can pretend to the appearance of a party, which are those who adhere to the Court on every question. … These men, who are strictly united and under the ministerial banner, having a principle of union wanted by every other set, are an overmatch for all.’—Letters on the present State of England, pp. 202–204.
Burke's Correspondence, 382, 383.
Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents.
See e.g. that noble passage in his speech on American taxation. ‘If ever Lord Chatham fell into a fit of the gout, or if any other cause withdrew him from public cares, principles directly the contrary to his own were sure to predominate. … When his face was hid but for a moment, his whole system was on a wide sea without chart or compass. … Deprived of his guiding influence his colleagues were whirled about, the sport of every gust and easily driven into any port; and as those who joined with them in manning the vessel were the most directly opposite to his opinions, measures and character, and far the most artful and most powerful of the set, they easily prevailed so as to seize upon the vacant, unoccupied, and derelict minds of his friends, and instantly they turned the vessel wholly out of the course of his policy.’
Burke's Correspondence, i. 179, 204, 206, 252, 475, 506; ii. 55, 63, 78.
Burke's Correspondence, ii. 276, 277.
Ibid. i. 200.
See the remarks of Walpole, Memoirs of George III. iv. 129-135.
Rockingham's Memoirs, ii. 193-195. This letter bears the following strange and very melancholy endorsement written by Burke more than twenty years later amid the excitement of the French Revolution. ‘July 13, 1792. Looking over poor Lord Rockingham's papers, I find this letter from a man wholly unlike him. It concerns my pamphlet (The Cause of the Discontents). I remember to have seen this knavish letter at the time. The pamphlet is itself by anticipation an answer to that grand artificer of fraud. He would not like it. It is pleasant to hear him talk of the great extensive public who never conversed but with a parcel of low toad-eaters. Alas! alas! how different the real from the ostensible public man! Must all this theatrical stuffing and raised heels be necessary for the character of a great man? Edmund Burke. Oh! but this does not derogate from his great, splendid side, God forbid!—E. B.’ In Mrs. Crewe's Memoranda of Burke's Conversation there is the following more favourable character of Chatham. ‘Lord Chatham was a great minister and bold in his undertakings. He inspired the people with warlike ardour when it was necessary. He considered mobs in the light of a raw material which might be manufactured to a proper stuff for their own happiness in the end.’—Rogers's Recollections, p. 82.
Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents. Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol. Speech on the Duration of Parliaments.
Speech on the Duration of Parliaments. It is curious to contrast this with the statement of Junius that ‘the last session of a septennial Parliament is usually employed in courting the favour of the people.’—Dedication to the English People. Charles I. thought long Parliaments specially hostile to royal influence. He wrote to Went-worth (January 22, 1634-5), ‘Parliaments are of the nature of cats. They ever grow curst with age; so that if you will have good of them, put them off handsomely when they come to any age, for young ones are ever most tractable.’
Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents.
Burke's Correspondence, ii. 383. So again he speaks of ‘a rotten subdivision of a faction amongst ourselves who have done us infinite mischief by the violence, rashness, and often wickedness of their measures. I mean the Bill of Rights people;’ and he adds, ‘If no remedy can be found in the disposition of capital people, in the temper, spirit (and docility too) of the lower, and in the thorough union of both, nothing can be done by any alteration in form.’ Ibid. i. 229, 231. In a later letter he say, ‘If the nation at large has disposition enough to oppose all bad principles and bad men, its form of government is in my opinion fully sufficient for it; but if the general disposition be against a virtuous and manly line of public conduct, there is no form into which it can be thrown that will improve its nature or add to its energy.’ Ibid. ii. 384. Speaking of the assertion ‘that we are not happy enough to enjoy a sufficient number of voters in England,’ he says, ‘I believe that most sober thinkers on this subject are rather of opinion that our fault is on the other side, and that it would be more in the spirit of our Constitution and more agreeable to the pattern of our best laws, by lessening the number to add to the weight and independency of our voters. And truly, considering the immense and dangerous charge of elections, the prostitute and daring venality, the corruption of manners, the idleness and profligacy of the lower sort of voters, no prudent man would propose to increase such an evil.’—Observations on the State of the Nation.
See especially his speech on the Reform of Parliament. Burke's Works, x. 92-108.
Correspondence, ii. 385, 383.
Last Journals, i. 84.
Watson's Anecdotes of his Own Time, i. 132.
Lord Holland writes: ‘Mr. Fox has more than once assured me that in his [Burke's] invectives against Mr. Hastings's indignities to the Indian priesthood, he spoke of the piety of the Hindoos with admiration, and of their holy religion and sacred functions with an awe bordering on devotion.’—Lord Holland's Memoirs of the Whig Party, i. 5, 6. See, too, Moore's Life of Sheridan, ii. 94, 95.
Parl. Hist. xvi. 920, 921.
Thoughts on the present Discontents. So, again, ‘To govern according to the sense and agreeably to the interests of the people, is a great and glorious object of government’ (Speech on the Duration of Parliaments). Works, x. 73.
Speech on the Reform of Parliament (1782). Works, x. 95.
Speech on the Duration of Parliaments. Works, x. 73.
‘One may generally observe that the body of a people has juster views for the public good, and pursues them with greater uprightness, than the nobility and gentry, who have so many private expectations and particular interests, which hang like a false bias upon their judgments, and may possibly dispose them to sacrifice the good of their country to the advancement of their own fortunes, whereas the gross of the people can have no other prospect in changes and revolutions than of public blessings, that are to diffuse themselves through the whole State in general.’—Addison's Remarks on Italy.
Burke's Works, x. 97-102.
Thus in his speech against reform in 1782, he says: ‘I went through most of the northern parts—the Yorkshire election was then raging; the year before, through most of the western counties—Bath, Bristol, Gloucester—not one word either in the towns or country on the subject of representation.’—Burke's Works, x. 101. In a remarkable letter on the same subject to the chairman of a Buckinghamshire meeting in 1780, he says: ‘I most heartily wish that the deliberate sense of the kingdom on this great subject should be known. When it is known it must be prevalent. It would be dreadful indeed if there were any power in the nation capable of resisting its unanimous desire, or even the desire of any great and decided majority of the people. The people may be deceived in their choice of an object, but I can scarcely conceive any choice they can make to be so very mischievous as the existence of any human force capable of resisting it.’—Ibid. ix. 319, 320.
Thoughts on the present Discontents.
See a striking letter by Rousseau to a Dutch gentleman ‘On the present State of Liberty in Europe,’ in the American Remembrancer for 1776, part ii. pp. 292–295.
See vol. ii. pp. 52-55.
Thus Dr. Johnson in a pamphlet called The Patriot, describing the old mode of trying elections, says: ‘The claim of a candidate and the right of electors are said scarcely to have been, even in appearance, referred to conscience, but to have been decided by party, by passion, by prejudice, or by frolic. To have friends in the borough was of little use to him who wanted friends in the House; a pretence was easily found to evade a majority, and the seat was at last his that was chosen, not by his electors, but by his fellow-senators.’ Since Grenville's Bill, he says, ‘a disputed election is tried with the same scrupulousness and solemnity as any other title.’
These were the last words of his speech. Wedderburn began his reply by continuing the quotation:
Ibid. xvi. 902-923; xvii. 1062-1074. Annual Register, 1770, pp. 77, 78, 226, 227. Walpole's George III. iv. 111, 112. Grenville Papers, iv. 515, 516, Walpole's Last Journals, i. 314–325.
Parl. Hist. xvi. 834-841. Annual Register, 1770, pp. 69-71.
Commons Journals, vol. ix. 431. Burgh's Political Disguisitions, i. 212. See, too, 4 Geo. III. c. 33.
12 and 13 Wm. III. c. 3; 2 and 3 Anne, c. 18; see, too, 11 Geo. II. c. 24.
10 Geo. III. e. 50. See, too, Blackstone, bk. i. ch. ii. May's Law of Parliament, ch. v. Mansfield spoke powerfully in favour of this measure. Parl. Hist. xvi. 974-978.
Commons Journals, vol. xxxi. p. 540.
For a full history of parliamentary privilege, see Pemberton's Letter to Lord Langdale on Parliamentary Privilege.
Walpole's George II. i. 17, 21, 29, 31.
Andrews' Hist. of British Journalism, i. 208.
Walpole's George III. iv. 1.
Andrews' Hist. of Journalism, i. 211.
Wright's House of Hanover, ii. 373.
See May's Constitutional History, ii. 107–116.
See Lord Mansfield's statement of this view in Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chief Justices, ii. 478–480.
Parl. Hist. xvi. 1267.
Campbell's Lord Chancellors, vi. 176. It was on occasion of the acquittal of the Craftsman that Pulteney wrote his ballad called The Honest Jury, with the well-known stanza:
Lord Mansfield, in the case of the Dean of Asaph, is said, by a strange lapse of memory, to have stated that Pulteney had admitted that ‘libel or no libel’ was a question for the Court, by saying in his ballad:
Campbell's Chief Justices, ii. 481, 485.
Campbell's Chancellors, vii. 45–47. Thurlow, Bathurst, and Kenyon protested strongly against the measure. Considering the long chain of authorities who agreed with Lord Mansfield, and the scorn which was so abundantly poured on mere laymen who discussed the question on the grounds of common sense, justice, and analogy, it is amusing to read Lord Campbell's commentary upon the Act. ‘Now that the mist of prejudice has cleared away, I believe that English lawyers almost unanimously think that Lord Camden's view of the question was correct on strict legal principles; and that the Act was properly made to declare the right of the jury to determine upon the character of the alleged libel, instead of enacting it as an innovation’ (p. 47).
See some acute observations on this point in the Annual Register, 1771, p. 60.
Hallem's Hist. of England, ch. xvi.
Walpole's Memoirs of George III. iii. 164, 165.
This change is noticed in Miller's Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century, iii. 93. On the absorption of the old essay writing by newspapers, see Timperley's Encyclopedia of Literary Anccdote, p. 702.
Andrews' History of British Journals, i. 274. Grant's History of the Newspaper Press, i. 430, 431.
See his anonymous letter to G. Grenville, Grenville Papers, iv. 381, dated October 20, 1768. See, too, pp. 355, 356.
See the elaborate argument against the genuineness of these letters in Dilke's Papers of a Critic.
Cavendish Debates, ii. 106.
‘Recorded honours shall gather round his monument and thicken over him. It is a solid fabric, and will support the laurels that adorn it.’ It is no great eulogy of a monument that it is not crushed by lavrel wreaths.
See Woodfall, i. 247, 248.
The passages about the Princess Dowager are from the letters signed Domitian, but Junius in one of his private letters acknowledged that signature. The other passages I have quoted are from the letters signed Junius.
An atrocious note which Woodfall refused to print has been given for the first time by Mr. Twisleton in his great work on the handwriting of Junius, plate 103. In the text of a letter, Junius had written: ‘When all hopes of peace are lost, his Majesty tells his Parliament that he is preparing, not for barbarous war, but (with all his mother's softness) for a different situation;’ and he adds, as a note, ‘The lady herself is now preparing for a different situation. Nothing keeps her alive but the horrible suction of toads. Such an instance of divine justice would convert an atheist.’ On this remedy, which was supposed in the 18th century to be useful in cases of cancer, see Twisleton, p. xxv, and compare one of the private letters of Junius to Woodfall: ‘What do you mean by affirming that the Dowager is better? I tell you she suckles toads from morning to night.’—Wood-fall's Junius, i. 241. In a letter signed Domitian, Junius wrote: ‘Few nations are in the predicament that we are, to have nothing to complain of but the filial virtues of our Sovereign. Charles I. had the same implicit attachment to his spouse, but his worthy parent was in her grave. It were to be wished that the parallel held good in all the circumstances.’
The infamous falsehoods of Junius about the Duke of Bedford are fully exposed in Lord Brougham's Statesmen of George III. art, ‘Bedford,’ and in Lord J. Russell's Introduction to the third volume of the Bedford Correspondence. Among other charges the Duke and Duchess were accused of having sold the clothes and trinkets of their son. The truth was that ‘these effects were given, as was the practice, to the immediate servants of Lord and Lady Tavistock, and sold by them for their own benefit.’ Bedford's despair at the death of his son was such that, as Hume said, ‘nobody believed when it happened that he would have survived the loss.’
‘I must be more cautious than ever. I am sure I should not survive a discovery three days, or if I did they would attaint me by bill. Change to the Somerset Coffee House, and let no mortal know the alteration. I am persuaded you are too honest a man to contribute in any way to my destruction.’—Woodfall's Junius, i. 231, 232. ‘When you consider to what excessive enmities I may be exposed, you will not wonder at my cautions.’ Ibid. i. 208. ‘Though you would fight,’ he wrote to Draper, ‘there are others who would assassinate.’
Woodfall's Junius, i. 221. Compare George Grenville's Journal of May 1765, written at the time of the silk weaver riots. ‘Mr. Grenville went in next. The King spoke to him first upon the state of the rioters. He seemed in great disorder and agitation; hurt with people thinking he had kept out of the way from fear, said he would put himself at the head of his army or do anything to save his country.’—Grenville Papers, iii. 177.
Junius to Wilkes, Oct. 21, 1771. Wilkes' MSS. British Museum. Woodfall, in his published edition, suppressed part of this letter.
Junius to Wilkes. This letter was received Nov. 7, 1771.
See Campbell's Life of Mansfield. Brougham's Statesmen of George III. art. ‘Mansfield.’
See Almon's Biographical Anecdotes, i. 12–15.
In a letter to Mackrabie, Philip Francis writes: ‘The approach of a war loads me with business, as by-and-by I hope it will with money’ (Dec. 11, 1770); and in his autobiography he says: ‘We thought a Spanish war inevitable, and that Chatham must be employed. Lord Weymouth on that conviction resigned the Secretary of State's office, and I lost 500l. in the Stocks.’—Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, i. 251, 363.
In one of his private letters he begged Woodfall to find out the exact day on which this important event took place.—Woodfall, i. 227, 578.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 35, 36. Campbell's Chief Justices, ii. 476–480.
This, e.g., was the address of a very able letter signed Zeno in defence of Mansfield.—Public Advertiser, Oct. 15, 1771. Burke complained bitterly that Lord Mansfield ‘had not thought proper to discountenance the blending a vindication of his character with the most scurrilous attacks upon mine; and that he has permitted the first regular defence that I have ever seen made for him to be addressed to me, without the least proof, presumption, or ground for the slightest suspicion that I had any share whatsoever in that controversy.’—Burke's Correspondence, i. 270, 271. He again and again distinctly and upon his honour denied that he was the author of Junius.—Ibid. pp. 275, 282. Boswell's Johnson, p. 625.
Junius Identified with a Distinguished Living Character. (London, 1816.)
See Twisleton and Chabot's Handwriting of Junius—probably the most complete investigation ever made into the handwriting of an author. The facts relating to the copy of verses will be found, pp. 219–244. The verses seem to be in the handwriting of Tilghman, the cousin and intimate friend of Francis.
Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis.
This fact rests on the distinct assertion of Francis and of the Editor of the Parl. Hist, in which the reports appeared. See Stanhope's History of England, v. pp. xxxiv, xxxvi. Taylor's Junius Identified, pp. 257–313. It was once believed that the reports of those speeches did not appear till long after the letters of Junius. Dilke, however, who has examined the Junius question with great minuteness, has shown that reports may be found in the earlier newspapers. (Papers of a Critic, ii. 109–121.) This no doubt weakens the argument from the coincidence of expression, but it leaves the fact that Francis heard and took notes of speeches which Junius heard and imitated. Mr. Leslie Stephen has recently examined this subject with great care (Historical Review, April 1888, pp. 233–249), and he appears to me to have shown conclusively that Francis's report of one of Chatham's speeches had not been printed when Junius wrote, and that, notwithstanding this fact, it is almost certain that Junius must have seen it.
This argument was, I believe, first brought forward in an admirable essay in Herman Merivale's Historical Studies—a book of great interest and beauty. See, too, Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, i. 192–196.
Francis, in a speech made in 1796, said that on the American question he adopted ‘the principles and the language of Lord Chatham,’ and rejoiced that America had resisted. This has been urged as a strong argument against the Franciscan theory. (Greenville Papers, iii. p. xx), but it has been completely overthrown by the Life of Francis, which proves that at the time when the letters of Junius appeared, Francis, like Junius, adopted the views of Grenville, though he appears to have abandoned them as early as 1776. In a letter written from India in that year to his friend D'Oyly, he speaks strongly of the folly of carrying on the war against America, and adds, ‘There was a time when I could reason as logically and passionately as anybody against the Americans, but since I have been obliged to study the book of wisdom, I have dismissed logic out of my library.’—Parkes and Merivale, i. 104–108, 250.
The great coarseness with which Junius writes about women has been often noticed, and it gave rise to a very characteristic incident. A letter appeared in the Public Advertiser in September 1769, directed against Junius and signed Junia. Junius at once answered in a tone of coarse raillery, urging that ‘since Junia has adopted my name, she cannot in common matrimonial decency refuse to make me a tender of her person,’ &c. Two or three days later, it struck him that this letter was ‘idle and improper,’ so he wrote to Woodfall to insert a paragraph to the effect that he had ‘some reason to suspect that the last letter signed Junius in this paper was not written by the real Junius.’—Woodfall's Junius, i. 199; iii. 218, 219.
Parkes and Merivale, i. 211, 212.
See Lord Brougham's sketch of Francis in his Statesmen of George III.
Parkes and Merivale, ii. 206.
Ibid. ii. 257.
See the curious letter of Lady Francis to Lord Campbell, in Campbell's Chancellors, viii. 211–214; and a few additional reminiscences of Lady Francis in Parkes and Merivale.
Parkes and Merivale, i. 360, 361. Hayward's More about Junius.
The most remarkable is his employment of the term ‘collegian,’ which is used at Dublin University (where Dr. Francis received his education). A few other expressions have been collected in Prior's Life of Burke, and in Coventry's Junius, but they are not very decisive. Great stress has been laid upon the language in which Junius spoke of Luttrell. ‘He has degraded even the name of Luttrell.’ ‘A family on which nature seems to have entailed a hereditary baseness of disposition.’ Macaulay says that to the great majority of English readers such language must have been unintelligible, and he explains it by the fact that ‘Philip Francis was born and passed the first ten years of his life within a walk of Luttrellstown’ (Hist. of England, oh. xvii.). I quite agree with Mr. Hayward (More about Junius, pp. 57, 58) that this argument is worthless. Residence in a great town like Dublin is not likely to give much knowledge of families living seven miles away. Francis left Dublin when he was a child, and in a fiercely contested election every family scandal that could be raked up against the unpopular candidate was sure to become known.
Several writers on the subject are very confident that they can also prove (chiefly by Junius's great anxiety that the galleries of the House of Parliament should be opened to strangers on particular nights) that he was not a member of either House of Parliament, but I confess that to my own mind there appears no evidence of any real value on the matter. See, however, Junius Identified, pp. 130–133. Parkes and Merivale, ii. 532, 533.
See on the relations of Francis to Calcraft, Parkes and Merivale, i, 282–288.
In his fragment of autobiography he says, speaking of his Indian appointment, ‘Barrington was gone to Court. I saw him she next morning. As soon as I had explained everything to him, he wrote the handsomest and strongest letter imaginable in my favour to Lord North. Other interests contributed, but I owe my success to Lord Barrington.’—Parkes and Merivale, i. 324, 325.
Ibid. pp. 328–330.
Ibid. p. 227.
Woodfall's Junius, ii. 451–467. The following passage in a letter of Antisejanus is eminently in the style of Junius. ‘I will not censure him for the avarice of a pension, nor the melancholy ambition of a title. These were objects which he perhaps looked up to, though the rest of the world thought them far beneath his acceptance. But to become the stalking-horse of a stallion; to shake hands with a Scotchman at the hazard of catching all his infamy; to fight under his auspices against the Constitution, and to receive the word from him, prerogative, and a thistle (by the once respected name of Pitt); it is even below contempt.’—P. 467.
Chatham Correspondence, iii. 302–305.
The following is the testimony of Merivale on this subject. ‘One friend, supporter, patron, and colleague after another—Kinnoul, Chatham, Robert Wood, Calcraft, D'Oyly, Clavering, Fowke, Coote, Fox, the Prince of Wales—those who had wished well to him, defended him, showered benefits on him, appear at last in his written records branded with some unfriendly or contemptuous notice, some insinuated or pronounced aspersion, ungrateful at best, but treacherous also, if, as has been already conjectured, he meant those records to be known some day to the world.’—Parkes and Merivale, ii. 415, 416.
Parkes and Merivale, i. 359.
Wright s House of Hanover, ii. 373.
Campbell's Life of Mansfield.
Foote's Works, i. xlv, xlvi. See too Foote's Bankrupt; Andrews' Hist. of Journalism i. 193.
Andrews, i. 220.
Correspondence of George III. and Lord North, i. 57, 58.
Annual Register, 1771, pp. 62, 63. The minorities ranged from 55 to 10, and the majorities from 143 to 70.
Walpole's George III. iv. 284–286.
Letters of George III, to Lord North, i. 64–67. He said very shrewdly that Wilkes must soon get into prison for debt, if some measure was not speedily taken to revive his popularity.
Woodfall's Junius, ii. 219, 220.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 164.