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CHAPTER III. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. I 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. I.
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While the changes described in the last chapter were taking place, the history of parties in England continued to present a singular monotony. The stigma of Jacobitism still rested on the Tories, though Bolingbroke did everything in his power to efface it. This great Tory statesman had soon discovered that the confidence of the Pretender was never given to any but the most bigoted Catholics, and that his narrow and superstitious mind was wholly unsuited for the delicate task of reconciling the political principles of the Tory party with their religious interests and sympathies. Slighted and neglected by the master for whom he had sacrificed so much, finding his political judgment habitually treated as of less value than that of ignorant and inexperienced fanatics, he soon openly quarrelled with the Pretender, received his dismissal in 1716, and with a heart burning with resentment abjured all further connection with Jacobitism. The importance of such a secession from the Jacobite ranks was self-evident. Bolingbroke was the greatest orator and the most brilliant party leader of his time. He had been, and, in spite of recent errors, he would probably, if restored to English political life, again be, the leader of the Church and of the country party, and he could do more than any other living man to reconcile the Tory party to the new dynasty. His first object was to be restored to his country, fortune, and titles; he offered his services unreservedly to the Government, and his violent quarrel with the Jacobites was a pledge of his sincerity.
The Whig ministry were, however, in general far from desiring to accept the offer. On public grounds they probably doubted the sincerity, or at least the permanence of his conversion. ‘Parties,’ as Pulteney once said, ‘like snakes, are moved by their tails.’ It was certain that the Tory party in 1716 was almost wholly Jacobite. There was nothing in the principles or antecedents of Bolingbroke to make it improbable that if it again suited his interests he would place himself in sympathy with his followers, and it was evident that his presence would give them an importance they would not otherwise possess. Besides this, it was the obvious party interest of the Whigs to exclude from the arena the most formidable of all their opponents, and there was no other statesman whom they regarded with such animosity. Much as they desired the maintenance of the dynasty, they had little desire to see the Tory party reconciled to it. They well knew that their monopoly of place and power depended upon the success with which they represented their opponents, both to the King and to the country, as necessarily Jacobite. As Bolingbroke himself very happily said, in the disposition of parties in England, ‘the accidental passions’ of the people were on one side, ‘their settled habits of thinking’ on the other. The natural preponderance of classes and sentiment was with the Tories, but the temporary association of Toryism with Popery and with rebellion had thrown all power into the hands of the Whigs. A Tory party thoroughly reconciled to the dynasty and guided by a statesman of great genius and experience would probably in no long time become the ruler of the State.
Such were probably the motives of the Whig leaders in rejecting the overtures of Bolingbroke. Walpole, who, no doubt, clearly saw in him the most dangerous of competitors, was especially vehement and especially resolute in maintaining his ostracism, and it was not until 1723 that Bolingbroke obtained, by the influence of the King's mistress, a pardon which enabled him to return to England. With the assent of Sir William Windham, Lord Bathurst, and Lord Gower, three of the most considerable men in the Tory party, he in that year made a formal offer of co-operation to Walpole, but that offer was absolutely declined.1 The Act of Attainder, which was still in force, and which could only be annulled by Parliament, deprived him of his estates and of his seat in the House of Lords, and although he succeeded in 1725 in regaining the former by Act of Parliament, he was still steadily excluded from the latter. The adroitness and splendid eloquence with which in his last speech in the House of Lords he had met the ministerial charges against the Peace of Utrecht were not soon forgotten, and the Whig leaders and the Whig Parliaments were fully resolved to paralyse so formidable an adversary. The career of Bolingbroke is in some respects one of the most unfortunate in English history. Gifted, by the confession of all who knew him, with abilities of the very highest order, some fatal obstacle seemed always in his path. The inveterate dilatoriness of Oxford, the death of the Queen in the most critical moment of his life, the incapacity and incurable bigotry of the Pretender, frustrated all his efforts, and he found himself in the very zenith of his transcendent powers condemned to political impotence. The first of living orators, he was shut out for ever from Parliament, which at a time when public meetings were unknown, was the only theatre for political eloquence. A devoted Tory, and at the same time a bitter enemy to the Pretender, he found his party, which was naturally the strongest in England, reduced to insignificance through the imputation of Jacobitism. His political writings continued for many years to agitate the country, and he was indefatigable in his efforts to unite the scattered fragments of opposition into a new party, taking for its principle the suppression of corruption in Parliament; but his efforts met with little success, and a politician excluded from the Legislature could never take a foremost place in English politics. Once, indeed, after many years of weary waiting, the favour of the Prince of Wales seemed likely to break the spell of misfortune, but the sudden death of his patron again clouded his prospects and drove him in despair from public life.
The Whig party, under these circumstances was almost uncontrolled, and its strength was not seriously impaired by the great schism which broke out in 1717, when Lord Townshend was dismissed from office, when Walpole, with several less noted Whigs, resigned, and went into violent opposition, and when the chief power passed into the hands of Sunderland and Stanhope.
It is the plan of this book to avoid as much as possible discussing the personalities of history, except so far as they illustrate the political character and tendencies of the time, and I shall therefore content myself with the most cursory reference to this schism. It was almost inevitable that divisions should have taken place. The party was in an overwhelming majority. Its leaders were very much upon a level; for Walpole, though far abler than his colleagues, was somewhat inferior to several of them in the weight of his political connections, and he had not yet attained the Parliamentary ascendency he afterwards enjoyed. The Hanoverian ministers, and a crowd of rapacious Hanoverian favourites of the King, were perpetually endeavouring to make English politics subservient to Hanoverian interests, and to obtain places, pensions, or titles for themselves; and another serious element of complication and intrigue was introduced by the strong dislike subsisting between the King and the Prince of Wales, and the extreme jealousy which the former entertained of all statesmen who were supposed to have confidential intercourse with the latter or with his partisans. The bitter hatred, both personal and political, that subsisted between the first three Hanoverian sovereigns and their eldest sons, though it threw great scandal and discredit on the royal family and added largely to the difficulties of parliamentary government, was probably on the whole rather beneficial to the dynasty than otherwise, as it led the most prominent opponents of the existing Governments to place their chief hopes in the heir-apparent to the Crown. The Hanoverian tendencies of the sovereign were, however, an unmixed source of weakness. The whole Whig party, though they had gratified the King by supporting the acquisition of Bremen and Verden, offended him by refusing to follow the advice of his favourite Hanoverian minister, Bernsdorf, to commence immediate hostilities against the Czar when he invaded the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg in 1716. Walpole and Townshend soon became peculiarly distasteful to the German party around the King, and they were accustomed to express, in no measured terms, their indignation at the venality and the intrigues of the Hanoverian favourites. On the other hand, Sunderland was intriguing eagerly against his colleagues. The son of the able and corrupt statesman who played so great a part in the reigns of James II. and of William, and the son-in-law of Marlborough, he had for some time shared the suspicion with which his father-in-law was regarded by George I. Though his introduction into the Cabinet during the last reign had been looked upon as one of the most important and most decisive victories of the Whig party, and though he had long been one of the most conspicuous debaters in the House of Lords, he found himself excluded, together with Marlborough, from the list of Lords Justices to whom the Government of the country was in part entrusted on the death of the Queen. He was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, which removed him from active political life; and although he afterwards succeeded Wharton as Privy Seal, he still found the influence and favour of Lord Townshend greatly superior to his own, and he showed his discontent by very rarely taking any part in the defence of the Government. At last, however, he succeeded, in the summer of 1716, during a brief residence in Hanover, in obtaining the complete favour and confidence of the King. Stanhope, who was Secretary of State, and who had been appointed to that office by Townshend, threw himself into the measures of Sunderland. Some alleged delays of Townshend in negotiating the treaty with France, some alleged relations between him and the party of the Prince of Wales, furnished pretexts, and, after passing through more than one phase which it is not here necessary to chronicle, the disagreement deepened into an open breach. In the new Government Sunderland and Addison were joint Secretaries of State, while Stanhope was First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. The conduct of Stanhope in this transaction is extremely questionable, but he appears to have been in general a high-minded as well as brave and liberal man, well skilled in military matters and in foreign policy, and of that frank and straightforward character which often succeeds better in public life, and especially in English public life, than the most refined cunning,1 but without much administrative or parliamentary ability, and wholly unfit to manage the finances of the country. In the following year, as foreign affairs became more entangled, the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer was given to Aislabie. Sunderland became First Lord of the Treasury, and Stanhope, together with an earldom, assumed the office of Secretary of State, which gave him the direction of foreign policy. In home policy the ministry was chiefly distinguished by the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, by the unsuccessful attempt to carry the mischievous peerage Bill, which I have already described, and by the privileges granted to the South Sea Company, which speedily led to the most terrible disasters. Its foreign policy was more brilliant, for it was during its term of office, and in a great degree in consequence of its measures, that the ambitious projects of Alberoni were defeated. In 1720 the schism was partly healed by the return of Walpole and Townshend to office, though not to a position in the Government at all equivalent to that of which they had been deprived. Townshend became President of the Council, and Walpole Paymaster of the Forces; and about the same time, and chiefly through the influence of Walpole, there was an outward reconciliation between the King and the Prince of Wales.
The divergence of feelings and interests between the two sections of the Cabinet was, however, by no means at an end when the disasters following the South Sea Bubble gave a complete ascendency to the party of Walpole. The South Sea Company had, as we have seen, been established by Harley, in 1711, for the purpose of restoring the national credit, which had been shaken by the downfall of the Whigs; and although its trade in the Spanish waters was greatly limited by the provisions of the Peace of Utrecht, and greatly interrupted by the subsequent hostilities with Spain, the company possessed such important commercial privileges that it continued to be one of the most considerable and esteemed mercantile corporations in the country. The policy of gradually paying off the debt by incorporating it with the stock of flourishing companies was in high favour, and in 1717 an Act was passed permitting the proprietors of certain short annuities amounting to about 135,000l., which had still twenty-three years to run, to subscribe the residue of the term into South Sea stock, at the rate of eleven and a half years’ purchase, receiving five per cent, on the principal. By this transaction, and by an additional advance of about 544,000l., the capital of the company was increased to 11,746,844l. In 1719, however, the project was conceived of enormously enlarging its scope. The national debt consisted partly of redeemable funds, which might be paid off whenever money could be found for that purpose, and partly of irredeemable ones, usually for about ninety-nine years, which could not be paid without the consent of the proprietors. The directors of the company proposed, by purchase or subscription, to absorb both kinds of debt, and they anticipated that the advantages they could offer were such that they could make arrangements with the proprietors of the irredeemable annuities for the conversion of these latter into redeemable funds, that they could consolidate the different funds into a single stock, that at the end of seven years they could reduce the interest on the national debt from five to four per cent., and that by the profits of a company so greatly enlarged and so closely connected with the Government they could establish a large sinking fund for paying off the national debt. The prospect in the outset rested upon very erroneous notions of the value of the South Sea trade; but the competition between the company and the Bank, which looked upon the scheme with great jealousy, soon made it wholly chimerical. The South Sea directors resolved, at all costs, to obtain their ends, and they accordingly offered no less than 7,567,000l., if all the debts were subscribed, and a proportionate sum for any part of them; and they also proposed to pay, for the use of the public, one year's purchase of such of the long irredeemable annuities as should not be brought into their capital. These terms were accepted by the Government, and the Bill was passed in April 1720. It was wholly impossible that it should have issued in anything but disaster; but all the devices of the Stock Exchange were employed artificially to raise the price of stock. For several years—and, indeed, ever since the Revolution—a spirit of reckless speculation had been spreading through England. Stock-jobbing had become a favourite profession. Lottery after lottery had been launched with success, and projects hardly less insane than those of the South Sea year found numerous supporters. The scheme of Law had produced a wild enthusiasm of speculation in France, and the contagion was felt in England. The South Sea project was too complicated to be generally understood. There was no efficient organ of financial criticism. The Government warmly supported the scheme. The large sum offered by the company, which made success impossible, stimulated the imaginations of the people, who fancied that a privilege so dearly purchased must be of inestimable value, and the complication of credulity and dishonesty, of ignorance and avarice, threw England into what it is scarcely an exaggeration to term a positive frenzy. The mischief affected all classes. Landlords sold their ancestral estates; clergymen, philosophers, professors, dissenting ministers, men of fashion, poor widows, as well as the usual speculators on ‘Change, flung all their possessions into the new stock. Many foreigners followed the example, and the Canton of Berne, in its corporate capacity, is said to have speculated largely in it. Among those to whom large amounts of stock had been improperly assigned were the Duchess of Kendal and the Countess of Platen the two mistresses of the King, Sunderland the prime minister, Aislabie the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Stanhope the Secretary of State, and the two Craggs. Among the great crowd of honest speculators were Pope and Walpole and Gay, Bingham, the learned historian of Christian antiquities, Chandler, one of the most conspicuous of the Dissenters. Rumours of intended cessions of gold mines of Peru, in exchange for Gibraltar and Port Mahon, were industriously circulated and readily believed. Dividends were officially promised, which could never be paid. The stock rose to 1,000. Then came the inevitable reaction. The bubble burst. Bankers and goldsmiths who had lent money on it were everywhere failing. The stock fell faster than it had risen, and in a few weeks the Eldorado dreams were dispelled, and disaster and ruin were carried through all classes of the nation.1
It is a striking instance of the good fortune which at this time attended the Whig party, that the schism of 1717 had withdrawn a certain proportion of its leaders from the Government, and consequently from all responsibility for the disaster. Had it been otherwise, the whole party might have fallen beneath the outburst of popular indignation, and a party which was now purely Jacobite might have been summoned to the helm. Walpole, however, who since his resignation had systematically opposed every measure of the ministry, had both in Parliament and by his pen severely criticised the South Sea scheme, and although he had been partially reconciled to the Government and had accepted office about three months before the final crash, public opinion very justly held him wholly innocent of the disaster, while his well-known financial ability made men turn to him in the hour of distress, as of all statesmen the most fitted to palliate it. Lord Stanhope, who, whatever his errors may have been, showed at least a perfect integrity during these transactions, died in the February of 1720–21, and was replaced as Secretary of State by Lord Townshend. Aislabie was driven ignominiously from his position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sunderland, the Prime Minister, though acquitted on the charge of corruption, was obliged, by the stress of public feeling, to resign his office. Walpole became both First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the death of Sunderland, in April 1722, which closed the schism of the Whig party, removed the last serious obstacle from his path. In his career, more than in that of any other statesman, the character of Whig policy during the eighteenth century was reflected; and his influence, in a very great degree, determined the tone and character of parliamentary government in England.
Born in 1676, of a Norfolk family of great antiquity, moderate wealth, and considerable political influence, Robert Walpole was at first, as a second son, intended for the Church, was educated with this object at Eton, where he was the contemporary and rival of St. John, and had already begun, with some distinction, his career at Cambridge when the death of his elder brother induced his father to withdraw him from the University, and soon after plunged him into politics. His family possessed the control of no less than three seats, and he entered Parliament for one of them upon the death of his father, in 1700, and at once attached himself to the Whigs. He appeared from the beginning a shrewd, cautious, laborious and ambitious man, of indomitable courage and unflagging spirits, surpassed by many in the grace and dignity of eloquence, but by no one in readiness of reply, fertility of resource, and aptitude for business. He became a member of the Council of Admiralty in 1705, Secretary of War in 1708, Treasurer of the Navy in 1709. In 1710 he was one of the managers of the Sacheverell impeachment, a measure of which he privately disapproved. On the downfall of the ministry, he took a conspicuous and brilliant part in defending the financial policy of Godolphin, who had been accused by the Tory House of Commons of gross extravagance and corruption, and he from this period obtained the reputation of ‘the best master of figures of any man of his time.’ In 1712, the Tories, being in power, marked their animosity against him by expelling him from Parliament, on the charge of corruption, and consigning him for a few months to the Tower; but the condemnation, which was a mere party vote, left no stigma on his name, while the species of political martyrdom he underwent only served to enhance his reputation. He soon returned to Parliament, was recognised as the most powerful supporter of the Protestant succession, rose again to office upon the accession of George I., was Chairman of the Secret Committee for investigating the circumstances of the Peace of Utrecht, became Paymaster of the Forces in 1714 and First Lord of the Treasury, and at the same time Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1715. We have just seen how the division of the party in 1717 for a time interrupted his career; how, by a singular good fortune, he was in opposition when the South Sea scheme was devised; and how the ruin of his most formidable competitors and his own financial talents brought him to the foremost place. In the midst of the panic, and exasperation both of Parliament and of the nation, he acted with great coolness, courage, and good sense. He moderated the proceedings that were taken against the guilty directors, and he gradually restored public credit by measures which met with some opposition at the time, and which, many years after, became the objects of virulent attacks,1 but which had undoubtedly the effect of calming public opinion, and greatly mitigating the inevitable suffering. His first scheme—which was originally suggested by Jacombe, the Under-Secretary of War—was a division of the stock between the South Sea Company, the Bank, and the East India Company; but another plan was afterwards devised. It is not necessary to enter at length into its somewhat complicated details. It is sufficient to say that the whole sum of rather more than 7,000,000l., which the company had engaged to pay the public, was ultimately remitted, that the confiscated estates of the directors were employed in the partial discharge of the incumbrances of the society, and that a division of stock being made among all the proprietors, it produced a dividend of 33l. 6s. 8d. per cent. From this time, for more than twenty years, the ascendency of Walpole was complete. Carteret, who made some slight efforts to rally the party, which had been left leaderless by the deaths of Stanhope and Sunderland, or at least to maintain some real authority in the ministry, succumbed in the beginning of 1724, and went into a kind of honourable exile as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The death of the King had long been looked upon as the event which must necessarily terminate the administration of his favourite minister, for the enmity between George I. and his eldest son had never in reality ceased, and the quarrel between them broke out with renewed violence on the occasion of the birth of the Prince's second son, in 1721. The Prince desired the Duke of York to be godfather to the child. The King insisted on giving that post to the Duke of Newcastle. A strange, undignified, but most characteristic scene ensued. On the occasion of the christening, in the Princess's bedroom, and in presence of the King, the Prince, trembling with passion, strode up to the Duke of Newcastle, shaking his hand at him in menace, and shouting, in his broken English, ‘You are a rascal; but I shall find you!’ The King ordered his son to be put under arrest, and that night he and his wife were driven from the palace. From this time there was open and complete hostility, not only between the King and the Prince of Wales, but also between their adherents. No communication was suffered to pass between them, and Walpole especially was made the subject of violent abuse by the heir to the throne. But the expectations of his enemies were soon disappointed. For a few days, indeed, Walpole was out of office, the King having placed the management of affairs in the hands of Sir Spencer Compton; who had been his treasurer, and who was at this time Speaker of the House of Commons, and also Paymaster of the Forces. Sir Spencer, however, was entirely incapable of occupying a foremost place. He found himself unable even to draw up a King's Speech, and in his difficulty he resorted to Walpole himself. The influence of Cardinal Fleury, who urged the danger to the French alliance of a change of Government, and the warm support of Queen Caroline, brought Walpole back to office, where he became more absolute than before. Sir Spencer Compton readily acquiesced in his own deposition, was created Earl of Wilmington in 1728, and two years later became Privy Seal, and then President of the Council in the ministry of his former rival. Townshend, who alone could in any degree maintain a balance of power, was compelled to resign in 1730, and the ascendency of Walpole continued unbroken till 1742.
It is the fault of many historians and the misfortune of many statesmen that the latter are often judged almost exclusively by the measures they have passed, and not at all by the evils they have averted. In the case of Walpole this mode of judgment is peculiarly misleading, and it is remarkable that great practical politicians have usually estimated him far more highly than men of letters.1 The long period of his rule was signalised by very few measures of brilliancy or enduring value. His faults both as a man and a statesman were glaring and repulsive, and he never exercised either the intellectual fascination that belongs to a great orator, or the moral fascination that belongs to a great character. He was not a reformer, or a successful war minister, or a profound and original thinker, or even a tactician of great enterprise, and yet he possessed qualities which have justly placed him in the foremost rank of politicians. Finding England with a disputed succession and an unpopular sovereign, with a corrupt and factious Parliament, and an intolerant, ignorant, and warlike people, he succeeded in giving it twenty years of unbroken peace and uniform prosperity, in establishing on an impregnable basis a dynasty which seemed tottering to its fall, in rendering, chiefly by the force of his personal ascendency, the House of Commons the most powerful body in the State, in moderating permanently the ferocity of political factions and the intolerance of ecclesiastical legislation. A simple country squire, with neither large fortune nor great connections, he won the highest post in politics from rivals of brilliant talent, and he maintained himself in it for a longer period than any of his predecessors. No English minister had a sounder judgment in emergencies or a greater skill in reading and in managing men. He obtained a complete ascendency over George I., although, the King speaking no English, and his minister no French or German, their only communications were in bad Latin, and although the favourite mistress of the King was his enemy. On the death of George I., when the other leading politicians turned at once to Mrs. Howard, the mistress of the new sovereign, as the future source of political power, Walpole at once recognised the ability and unobtrusive influence of the Queen, and by her friendship he was soon absolute at Court. Though George II. came to the throne with an intense prepossession against him, and though the King was as fond of war as his minister of peace, he soon acquired the same influence over the new sovereign as he had exercised over his father. His chancellor, Lord Macclesfield, excited a storm of indignation, and at last an impeachment, by corruptly selling masterships of Chancery; but Walpole, without unfairly abandoning his colleague, met the charges against him with such consummate tact and such judicious candour that the affair rather strengthened than weakened his administration. He managed the House of Commons with an admirable mixture of shrewdness and frankness, and his facility of access, his unfailing good humour, the ease with which he threw aside the cares of office, his loud, ringing laugh, and the keen zest with which he rode to the hounds, contributed perhaps as much as his higher qualities to win the affections of the country squires, who were still so powerful in politics. Parliamentary government, under his auspices, acquired a definite form and a regular action, and he was a great Parliamentary leader at the time when the art of Parliamentary leadership was altogether new.
As a statesman the chief object of his policy was to avoid all violent concussions of opinion. He belonged to that class of legislators who recognise fully that government is an organic thing, that all transitions to be safe should be the gradual product of public opinion, that the great end of statesmanship is to secure the nation's practical well-being, and allow its social and industrial forces to develop unimpeded, and that a wise minister will carefully avoid exciting violent passions, provoking reactions, offending large classes, and generating enduring discontents. In many periods the policy of evading or postponing dangerous questions has proved revolutionary, or has, at least, increased the elements of agitation. In the time of Walpole, and in the degree in which he practised it, it was eminently wise. England was at this time menaced by one of the greatest calamities that can befall a nation—the evil of a disputed succession. Large classes were alienated from the Government. Strong religious and political passions had been aroused against it, and there were evident signs in many quarters of a disposition to subordinate national to dynastic considerations. In an earlier period of English history causes of this nature had deluged England with blood for more than sixty years. Since the time of Walpole very similar influences have corroded the patriotism and divided the energies of the leading nation on the Continent, and have led to the most crushing catastrophe in its history. To the systematic moderation of Walpole it is in a great degree due that the revolutionary spirit took no root in England, that the many elements of disaffection gradually subsided, and that the landed gentry were firmly attached to the new dynasty. To conciliate this class was a main branch of his policy, and if this course was dictated by his own party interests, it is equally true that it was eminently in accordance with the interests of the country. The Revolution was in a great measure a movement of the town populations in opposition to the country gentry, and had it not been for the mediatorial influence of the aristocracy, who were connected politically with the first, and socially with the second, it might have led to a most dangerous antagonism of classes. It is, however, a remarkable fact that in the very first year of the Revolution, the Legislature, while gratifying the whole people by abolishing the unpopular hearth tax, conferred a special favour upon the landlords by a law granting bounties for the export of corn when the home price had sunk to a certain level.1 That this measure was economically erroneous will now hardly be disputed, but it probably had a real political value, and its enactment immediately after the great Whig triumph is a striking illustration of the conciliatory spirit that has usually presided over English legislation. Still the country gentry were, on the whole, hostile to the change, and the chief burden of the additional taxation was thrown upon them. The land tax of four shillings in the pound, which was carried in 1692, was extremely unequal in its operation, for it was based on a valuation furnished chiefly by the landlords themselves, but in principle the equity of the tax was generally acknowledged. By no other form of taxation could a sufficient sum be raised to meet the expenses of the war. For many generations extraordinary emergencies had been met by temporary taxes upon land. The prevailing economical notion that of all forms of industry agriculture alone is really productive helped to justify the tax, and it also contributed to redress a serious injustice which had been done to other classes under Charles II. In that reign, as is well known, the feudal obligations which still rested upon land were abolished, and, as a compensation, excise duties were imposed on beer, ale, and other liquors, and on licences, and were assigned in perpetuity to the Crown; and thus the burden which had from time immemorial been attached to one particular species of property was shifted to the whole community.2
Under these circumstances the land tax required no justification, and at first met with no serious opposition. It is not surprising, however, that its unprecedented magnitude, and also the necessity of continuing it in time of peace, should have aggravated the irritation with which, on other grounds, the country gentry regarded the Revolution. Their political alienation was, perhaps, the most serious danger of the new Government. It was entirely impossible that the reigning family should be firmly established, and that constitutional Parliamentary government should continue if the landed gentry were estranged from the existing order of things; and their natural sympathies were strongly Tory, while Government, in the first two Hanoverian reigns, was exclusively Whig. The hatred the ordinary country gentlemen felt towards foreigners, towards traders, and towards Dissenters was hardly less strong than that dread of Popery which had induced them reluctantly to acquiesce in the Revolution. It was impossible, however, that they should long look upon Walpole as an enemy to their order or their interests. By birth and position he belonged to their class. He was so imbued with their tastes that, as Lord Hardwicke assures us, he always opened the letters of his gamekeeper before any others, even before the letters from the King.1 The Saturday holiday of Parliament still remains as a memorial of his country habits, for, as the Speaker Onslow informs us, it was originally instituted in order that Walpole might once a week gratify his passion for hunting. In the contest upon the Peerage Bill, which beyond most questions touched the interests of the country gentry, Walpole was their special champion. He carefully humoured their prejudices, and he steadily laboured, sometimes by means that were censurable or unpopular, to reduce the land tax, which was their greatest burden. In 1731 and 1732 it sank for the first time since the Revolution to one shilling in the pound. To abolish it was the main object of his excise scheme. To keep it down he reimposed, in 1732, the salt tax, which had been abolished two years before, and in the following year withdrew 500,000l. from the Sinking Fund, which had been provided for the payment of the National Debt.
I have already shown how a similar spirit of caution and conciliation pervaded his religious policy, how he abstained from adopting any course which could arouse the dormant intolerance of the people, and contented himself by a mild administration of existing laws, by Latitudinarian Church appointments, and, by passing Acts of indemnity, with securing a large amount of practical liberty. He did nothing to relieve the Catholics at home, but his Protestantism, like all his other sentiments, was devoid of fanaticism, and it did not prevent him from co-operating cordially with Cardinal Fleury, who directed affairs in France, from holding frequent unofficial communications with Rome, and from acting with his usual good-nature towards individuals of the creed. The kind alacrity with which he assisted the promotion of an English Catholic priest at Avignon, who was recommended to him by Pope, is said to have given rise to those beautiful lines in which the great Catholic poet has traced his portrait.1
A policy such as I have described is not much fitted to strike the imagination, but it was well suited to a period of disputed succession, and to the genius of a nation which has usually preferred cautious to brilliant statesmen, and which owes to this preference no small part of its political well-being. It may be added that there have been very few ministers whose more important judgments have been so uniformly ratified by posterity. The highest English interest of his time was probably the maintenance of the Hanoverian dynasty, and of the constitutional maxims of government it represented; and to Walpole more than to any other single man that maintenance was due. The greatest party blunder made during his time was unquestionably the impeachment of Sacheverell, and the most dangerous constitutional innovation was the Peerage Bill of Stanhope, but Walpole endeavoured privately to prevent the first, and was the chief cause of the rejection of the second. One of the happiest instances of the policy of Chatham was the manner in which he allayed the disloyalty of the Scotch, by appealing to their national and military pride, and forming out of their clans national regiments; but a precisely similar policy had been proposed by Duncan Forbes, in 1738, and warmly supported by Walpole, though the opposition of his colleagues, and the outcry that was raised about standing armies, prevented its realisation.1 The calamities of the next period of English history were mainly due to the disastrous attempt to raise a revenue by the taxation of America; but this plan had, in 1739, been suggested to Walpole, who emphatically rejected it, adding, with admirable wisdom, that it had always been the object of his administration to encourage to the highest point the commercial prosperity of the colonies, that the more that prosperity was augmented, the greater would be the demand for English products, and that it was in this manner that the colonies should be a source of wealth to the mother country.2 The first slight relaxation of the commercial restraints which excluded the colonies from intercourse with all foreign countries was due to Walpole, who carried, in 1730, an Act enabling Carolina and Georgia to send their rice direct in British vessels, manned by British sailors, to any part of Europe south of Cape Finisterre; and this measure, restricted as it was, had the effect of greatly developing the colonial plantations, and making their produce a successful rival to Egyptian rice, in the chief markets of Europe?3
On three occasions Walpole may be said to have been condemned by the almost unanimous voice of the people. He had warned Parliament of some at least of the dangers of the South Sea scheme. His warning was disregarded. The whole nation rushed with a frantic excitement into speculation, and, in the fearful calamities that ensued, Walpole was called in as the one man who could in some degree remedy the evil. His scheme of excise was made the object of absurd and factious misrepresentation. The name of excise was still associated in the popular mind with the hated memory of the Long Parliament, which had borrowed the impost from the Dutch, and had first introduced it into England. The increase in the number of revenue officers that would be required—which was shown to be utterly insignificant—was represented as likely to give the Crown an overwhelming influence at elections. The scheme, which was limited to two or three articles in which gross frauds in the revenue had been detected, was described as a precursor to a general system of excise—a system, it was added, which could only be maintained by the employment of innumerable spies, who would penetrate into every household, and disturb the peace of every family. Walpole yielded to the clamour, but Pitt, who was one of the bitterest and one of the most honest of his opponents, long afterwards confessed his belief that the scheme was an eminently wise one,1 and there is now scarcely an historian who does not share the opinion. The chief proximate cause of the downfall of Walpole was his reluctance to enter into that war with Spain which was advocated by all the leaders of the Opposition, and which at last became necessary, from the popular clamour they aroused. Burke, in one of his latest works, took the occasion of expressing his deep sense both of the injustice and the impolicy of this war, and he added that it had been his lot some years after to converse with many of the principal politicians who had raised the clamour that produced it, and that ‘none of them, no not one, did in the least defend the measure, or attempt to justify their conduct, which they as freely condemned as they would have done in commenting upon any proceeding in history in which they were wholly unconcerned.’2
The special field in which the ability of Walpole was most fitted to shine, was undoubtedly finance, and there was probably no exaggeration in the eulogy of a very able contemporary writer,3 who pronounced him to be ‘the best commercial minister this country ever produced.’ I have already adverted to the singularly enlightened views he had expressed about the colonial trade, to the prescience with which he warned his countrymen of the calamities that would ensue from the South Sea scheme, and to the almost unanimous verdict of posterity in favour of his excise scheme. I may add that he succeeded in a singularly short time, and at the expense of comparatively slight loss to the country, in restoring public credit after the collapse of the South Sea Company; that he was one of the first English statesmen who took efficient measures for the reduction of the National Debt; that he laid the foundation of the free-trade policy of the present century, by abolishing in a single year the duties on 106 articles of export, and on 38 articles of import; that the system of warehousing, or admitting as a temporary deposit, foreign goods, free of duty, to await exportation, which had been largely practised by the Dutch in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and which was one of the happiest measures of Huskisson in the nineteenth century, had been part of the excise scheme of Walpole; that by an alteration in the manner of borrowing by means of Exchequer Bills he saved the country the payment of a large amount of annual interest, and that no single feature of his speeches appeared to his contemporaries so admirable as the unfailing lucidity with which he treated the most intricate questions of finance. In all matters that were not connected with the maintenance of his Parliamentary position he was conspicuously parsimonious of public money, and his fertility of financial resource extorted from George I. the emphatic declaration that ‘Walpole could make gold from nothing,’ that ‘he never had his equal in business.’ The establishments were kept low. Credit was fully restored, and under the influence of a sound and pacific policy, and in the absence of meddling commercial laws, the wealth of the country rapidly increased. The abundance of money was so great that even the three-per-cents. were in 1737 at a premium. The average price of land rose in a few years from 20 or 21 to 25, 26 or even 27 years’ purchase. The tonnage of British shipping was augmented in the six years that preceded 1729 by no less than 238,000 tons. Particular taxes were appropriated to the payment of the interest of the debt, and it was provided that when they were more than sufficient for the purpose, the surplus was to be paid into a sinking fund for the liquidation of the principal. Partly by the increase of the produce of these taxes, and partly by reductions of the interest of the debt, the sum annually paid into this sinking fund for some years rapidly increased. In 1717 it amounted to 323,427l., in 1724 to 653,000l., in 1738 to 1,231,127l. The value of the imports rose between 1708 and 1730 from 4,698,663l. to 7,780,019l., that of the exports from 6,969,089l, to 11,974,135l. A corresponding progress was shown in the growth of the manufacturing towns, in the extension of almost every prominent form of industry, in the improved condition of the poorer classes of the community. The price of wheat in the first half of the eighteenth century steadily fell. During the fifty years that preceded 1700 the average price per quarter was 3l. 11s. During the forty years that preceded 1750 it had sunk to 1l. 16s., but at the same time the price of labour underwent no corresponding diminution, and during the latter part of that time it had considerably risen.1
The merits of Walpole in this respect were very great, for in the eyes of most impartial observers there was much in the financial condition of the country since the Revolution that was extremely serious. The expenses of the administration had increased, and the National Debt, which at the time of the Revolution was only 648,000l., amounted on the death of William to more than sixteen millions, and on the accession of George I. to more than fifty-four millions. Accustomed as we are to the far more gigantic burden of our present debt, it is perhaps difficult for us to estimate the consternation with which this phenomenon was regarded, and the National Debt is historically so closely connected with the Revolution that Whig historians have shown a strong tendency to depreciate its importance. They have urged with truth that the existence of some debt was inevitable, that Italy, Holland, France, and Spain had already taken considerable steps in the same direction, that the increased perfection of military organisation, by adding largely to the cost of war, had made it eminently advisable to spread the expense of a great struggle over several years of peace, that in 1692, when the funded system began, it would have been impossible to have raised the war taxes within the year without seriously crippling industry and shaking the Government, and that, on the other hand, the abundance of money seeking investment made a loan peculiarly advisable. They have added, too, that the evils of a national debt have been greatly exaggerated, and that its advantages are by no means inconsiderable. It is certain, notwithstanding the prognostications of innumerable economists, that the material prosperity of England has steadily advanced in spite of its debt. It is certain that although a debt which a nation owes to itself is economically an evil, it is an evil of a very different magnitude from a debt owed to a foreign nation. There is also a real and a considerable advantage in the possession of a secure and easy mode of investing money accessible to all classes, universally known, and furnishing the utmost facilities for transfer. Nor should it be forgotten that a financial system which gives a large proportion of the people a direct pecuniary interest in the stability of the Government is a great pledge of order and a firm bond of national cohesion.
But, admitting these arguments, the evils of national debts, both moral and economical, are very serious. Economically they almost invariably imply an enormous waste of capital with a proportionate injury to the working classes. The principal of the debt is usually spent unproductively by the Government as revenue, and it is drawn in a large part from capital which would have been otherwise productively employed and which forms part of the wage fund of the nation. It is a transparent though common fallacy to suppose that it reproduces itself in interest. A moment's reflection is sufficient to show that, except in the rare cases in which the borrowed money is employed in some reproductive work, no such interest accrues, and that the annual sum which the Government engages to pay to its creditors is derived from other sources, from a general taxation levied on funds part of which, at least, would otherwise have been productively employed. And the economical evil of this dissipation of capital is greatly aggravated by moral causes. Many forms of lavish unproductive expenditure, and especially the splendours and the excitements of war, are naturally so popular that any minister or sovereign whose position is insecure or whose character is ambitious is almost irresistibly tempted to resort to them if there is no strong counteracting influence. The natural restraint upon these extravagances is the necessity of raising by taxation the whole sum that is required. The sacrifice and disturbance caused by such an increase of taxation arouse a feeling which at once checks the progress of the evil. But by the funding system this invaluable restraint is almost wholly removed. The money that is required is borrowed. The increase of taxation that is necessary to pay the mere interest appears trifling and almost imperceptible. The process which should be resorted to, only in extreme emergencies of the State, is found so easy and popular that it is constantly repeated. The nation, losing all habit of financial sacrifice, borrows in every moment of difficulty, contents itself in time of prosperity with simply paying the interest of the debt, and makes no serious effort to reduce the principal. Thus by stealthy and insidious steps the evil creeps on till the national prosperity and industry are heavily mortgaged, and the consequences of the crimes and blunders of one generation are entailed upon the remotest posterity. In ancient times, the traces of the most horrible war were soon effaced. In a few years the misery and desolation that followed it were forgotten. The waste of national wealth which might appear a more permanent calamity was so immediately and acutely felt that it at once produced an increase of energy and self-sacrifice to replace it, and thus the effects of political errors usually disappeared almost with those who perpetrated them. In modern times the chief expenditure of a war is raised by a loan, which is often drawn from the capital that would otherwise have given employment to the poor, which rarely or never produces in the community any considerable increase of economy, and which always perpetuates the calamity of war by throwing its accumulated burdens upon a distant posterity. Every English household is now suffering from the American policy of North and the French policy of Pitt, and the political errors of the Second Empire will be felt by Frenchmen as a present evil long after the children and grandchildren of those who perpetrated them are in their graves.
Nor is it true that the sinister predictions of such economists as Hume and Adam Smith, though they have been falsified by the result, rested upon any fundamental error of principle. If the National Debt before the American War did not arrest, though it undoubtedly retarded, the material progress of England, this was merely because the resources of the country were so large and its circumstances and situation so favourable that the normal increase of wealth was considerably greater than the increase of the burden. If the debts that were contracted during the great American and French Wars did not ruin the country it was owing to a series of events which no human sagacity could have predicted. The great mechanical inventions of Hargreaves, Arkwright, Crompton, Watt, and Stephenson, followed by a peace of almost unexampled duration, and by a policy of free trade, have produced an increase of wealth that is wholly unparalleled in the history of mankind; while Californian and Australian gold, by depreciating the value of money, have considerably lightened the burden of the debt, at the cost of great loss and injury to the fundholder. It remains, however, as true as ever that European nations have never in time of peace paid off their debts with a rapidity at all corresponding to that with which they accumulated them in time of war; that the increased taxation necessitated by national debts has led, and may easily lead, to national bankruptcy; and that long before it reaches this point, it produces distress, difficulty, and privation, and seriously endangers the security of the State. It is one of the worst features of national debts that they deprive nations of the power of regulating their expenditure by their resources. A permanent taxation, which may be easily borne in time of great commercial prosperity, may become crushing if the course of commerce takes another channel, and if the income of the nation is proportionately reduced. History shows how easily this may happen. A war, a new invention, the exhaustion of some essential element of national industry, the progress of a rival, or a change in the value or conditions of labour, may speedily turn the stream of wealth, while the burden of debt remains. And, indeed, this burden itself is one of the most likely causes of such a change. When other things are equal, the least indebted nation will always have the advantage in industrial competition; for the heavy taxation necessitated by debts at once raises prices and reduces profits, and thus causes the emigration both of capital and labour.
These considerations may serve in some degree to justify the great dread with which the National Debt was regarded by the wisest political observers in the eighteenth century. Their judgments were not formed merely by theory. France actually proclaimed herself bankrupt in 1715 and 1769. Holland had already entered into a period of commercial decadence, which was largely due to the emigration of capital resulting from the excessive taxation rendered necessary by her debt. The whole sum raised by taxation in England at the time of the Revolution but slightly exceeded two millions, and it was raised with difficulty, and in the hard years that followed that event the produce of the taxes considerably diminished.1 It is not surprising, therefore, that the growth of the debt should have appeared bewildering in its rapidity, and that very erroneous estimates should have been formed of the capabilities of the nation. Thus Davenant, the chief commercial writer under William and Anne, predicted in 1699 that England could never flourish in trade and manufactures till the greater part of the National Debt was liquidated, and the annual taxation of the country reduced to about 2,300,000l. ‘Unless this can be compassed,’ he added, ‘we shall languish and decay every year. Our gold and silver will be carried off by degrees; rents will fall, the purchase of land will decrease; wool will sink in its price; our stock of shipping will be diminished; farmhouses will go to ruin; industry will decay, and we shall have upon us all the visible marks of a declining people.’2 These figures, however, were speedily passed. Carteret complained bitterly in 1738 that the estimates had now risen to no less than six millions.3 Smollett considered the sum of ten millions which was raised in 1743 ‘enormous.’4 Bolingbroke noted that the Parliamentary aids from the year 1740 exclusively, to the year 1748 inclusively, amounted to about 55 1/2 millions, ‘a sum,’ he added, ‘that will appear incredible to future generations.’5 The most acute observers imagined that the nation had now all but touched the extreme limits of her resources. As early as 1735 Lord Hervey wrote, ‘I do not see how it would be possible on any exigence, or for the support of the most necessary war, for England to raise above one million a year more than it now raises.’6 ‘The Craftsman,’ the great organ of Bolingbroke and Pulteney, describing the condition of the country in 1736, says, ‘The vast load of debt under which the nation still groans is the true source of all these calamities and gloomy prospects of which we have so much reason to complain. To this has been owing that multiplicity of burthensome taxes which have more than doubled the price of the common necessaries of life within a few years past, and thereby distressed the poor labourer and manufacturer, disabled the farmer to pay his rent, and put even gentlemen of plentiful estates under the greatest difficulties to make a tolerable provision for their families.’1 Walpole himself declared that the country could not stand under a debt exceeding a hundred millions.2 Hume maintained that the ruinous effect of the debt already threatened the very existence of the nation,3 and Chesterfield, only a few months before the great ministry of Pitt, predicted that in the next year the army must be unpaid or reduced, as it would be impossible for the country a second time to raise twelve millions.4
By far the larger part of the existing National Debt was created by Tory Governments, and in pursuance of a Tory policy. In the time of Walpole, however, the debt was looked upon as distinctively Whig, the special creation of the Revolution. And this view, though not rigidly accurate, contained a very large measure of truth. The events of the Revolution drew England into a series of great land wars upon the Continent, which made an unprecedented military expenditure inevitable, while the position of the new Government was so insecure that it did not venture largely to increase taxation. The land tax, which was by far the most important addition made to the revenue under William III., was in a great degree merely a compensation for the abolition of the hearth tax. Besides this, the insecurity of the new establishment raised enormously the rate of interest on Government loans.5 It rendered necessary a considerable standing army in time of peace, and it was a temptation to Whig Governments to strengthen their position by multiplying a class of persons who were bound to the new dynasty by pecuniary ties. In the reigns of William and of Anne, money was chiefly raised by anticipating the produce of certain taxes for a limited number of years, by annuities granted on very extravagant conditions for a term of years or for lives, and also, from the great mercantile corporations in return for commercial privileges. After the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty most loans took the form of perpetual annuities. The attempts which were made to diminish the burden of the debt consisted chiefly in the reduction of its interest. This policy appears to have been first pursued in Holland. The Dutch debt bore interest of five per cent., and when in 1655 it was found possible for the State to obtain money at four per cent. the creditors were offered the alternative of the reduction of the interest or the payment of the principal. The former was readily accepted. An annual saving of 1,400,000 guilders was thus made, and it was applied to the gradual payment of the principal of the debt.1 In 1685 Pope Innocent XI., in a similar manner, reduced the interest on the Roman debt from four to three per cent.2 I have already noticed the arrangement which Godolphin made with the East India Company in 1708 for the reduction of the interest upon a large sum which the Government had borrowed from that company; but no general scheme for the reduction of the interest of the debt was devised before that which was originated by Walpole in 1716, and carried out by Stanhope in the following year. For sometime the increase of prosperity had greatly lowered the normal rate of interest. Under William the Government had borrowed money at seven and eight per cent. Under Anne it usually borrowed at five or six, and in 1714 the legal rate of interest was reduced to five per cent., though the Government funds still paid a much higher rate. Under these circumstances it was found practicable to reduce the interest of the debt to five per cent., the Bank and the South Sea Company, which were the chief creditors, not only consenting to the reduction, but also lending money to pay off the creditors who refused to acquiesce. Particular taxes had been appropriated for the payment of the interest, and as they now yielded more than was sufficient, the surplus was formed into a sinking fund accumulating for the payment of the principal of the debt.1
In this manner a very considerable saving was made, and a step taken which was more than once repeated. The payment of the debt, however, was not pursued with any energy by Walpole. A second reduction of interest took place in 1727, and it greatly increased the sinking fund, but that sinking fund was at the disposal of the Government, and the temptation of drawing from it in every season of emergency was irresistible. It is not necessary to attribute any very high motives to Walpole in this matter, but he would probably have maintained that in the condition in which England then was, it was more important to make the people contented, and to reconcile the country gentry to the new dynasty, than to pay off the debt. Certain it is that he made the reduction of the land tax rather than the payment of the debt the end of his policy. For a few years the sinking fund was applied to the purpose for which it was intended, but in 1733 500,000l. were taken from it for the services of the year; in 1734 1,200,000l. were taken for similar purposes, and in 1735 it was all anticipated. But though no great credit can in this respect be given to Walpole, his Government was at least an economical one, and the care with which he husbanded the resources of the country, and the skill with which he developed its commerce, broke the chain of associations which connected the Whig party with a policy of debt and of extravagance.
Still more remarkable, when we consider the period in which he lived, was his deference to public opinion. Parliament was at this time no faithful representative of the public feeling, and in Parliament he was supreme. But no Court favour, no confidence in an obsequious majority, ever induced him, except in a single case to which I shall hereafter advert, to fall into that neglect of unrepresented public opinion which has been the fatal error of so many politicians and the parent of so many revolutions. In few periods of English history have libels against the Government been more virulent or more able; but, from policy or temperament, or both, Walpole treated them, for the most part, with perfect indifference. ‘No Government,’ he boasted in one of his speeches, ‘ever punished so few libels, and no Government ever had provocation to punish so many.’ In the last reign Parliament and the tribunals had vied with each other in their persecution of the press. Defoe, Steele, Drake, Binckes, Tutchin, Sacheverell, Asgill, and a crowd of obscure printers had been fined, imprisoned, pilloried, censured, or expelled from Parliament. But under Walpole the system of repression almost ceased, and if the extreme violence and scurrility of the stage, and the success with which Gay and Fielding employed it against his administration, induced him, in 1737, to carry a law providing that no play could be publicly acted without the licence of the Chamberlain, this measure can hardly be regarded as one of excessive severity, as it remains in force to the present day. As a minister, Walpole combined an extreme and exaggerated severity of party discipline within Parliament, with the utmost deference for the public opinion beyond its walls. In his party he aspired to and attained the position of sole minister. He gradually displaced every man of eminence and character who could become his rival, avoided as much as possible calling cabinet councils, lest they should furnish the elements of an opposition, and usually matured his measures around a dinner-table with two or three colleagues who were specially conversant with the matter in question; sometimes, when the project was one of law reform, with lawyers of the Opposition.1 Important despatches were received and answered without being communicated to his colleagues, and if they ventured to resist his decisions he treated them with the utmost despotism. ‘Sir Robert,’ said the old Duchess of Marlborough, with her usual shrewdness, ‘never likes any but fools and such as have lost all credit.’ Lord Hardwicke and Mr. Pelham were constantly employed in composing the quarrels which arose from the slights he continually inflicted on the Duke of Newcastle; and the strength of the Opposition that overwhelmed him was mainly due to the number of men of talent whom he had discarded. When the excise scheme was abandoned he peremptorily dismissed Lord Chesterfield, the Duke of Montrose, Lord Marchmont, and Lord Clinton, who had revolted against his standard, and, by an extreme and unjustifiable stretch of authority, even deprived the Duke of Bolton and Lord Cobham of their military rank. But the minister who was so imperious in his dealings with his colleagues or subordinates rarely failed to mark and obey the first indication of a public opinion that was hostile to his projects. His withdrawal of Wood's halfpence, when they had excited the opposition of the Irish people, the uniform moderation of his religious policy, his abandonment of his project of excise, are all examples of his constant respect for the wishes of the people. Few ministers have had greater facilities for carrying out a favourite line of policy in defiance of their wishes. No minister more steadily resisted the temptation. His conduct on the excise question, as it is related by an old Member of Parliament who enjoyed his intimate friendship, is typical of his whole career. He possessed in a full degree the pride and parental affection of a statesman for the great measure of his creation, and he was keenly sensible of the humiliation of abandoning it at the dictation of an Opposition. No one knew better how irrational was the popular clamour, or how factious were the motives of those who instigated it. The Bill passed by large majorities through its earlier stages, but the minister saw that the country was deeply moved; and the evening before the final stage was reached he summoned his adherents, who had so far borne him in triumph, and he consulted with them on the course he should pursue. Without a single dissentient voice they urged him to persevere, and pledged themselves to carry the Bill. Walpole remained silent till they had all spoken, when he rose, and having stated how conscious he was of having meant well, he proceeded to say that ‘in the present inflamed temper of the people the Act could not be carried into execution without an armed force; that there would be an end to the liberty of England if supplies were to be raised by the sword. If, therefore, the resolution was to go on with the Bill, he would immediately wait upon the King, and desire His Majesty's permission to resign his office, for he would not be the minister to enforce taxes at the expense of blood.’1
English political history contains many more dazzling episodes than this. It contains very few which a constitutional statesman will regard as more worthy of his admiration.
A kindred spirit of moderation, in the later years of his life, marked his dealings with his opponents, though in this respect his merits have, I think, been much exaggerated. Among the benefits achieved by the Revolution, one of the greatest was that reform of the law of treason which placed the political opponents of the Government under efficient legal guarantees, put an end to the intolerable scandal of the Stuart State trials, and introduced a new spirit of clemency and amenity into English politics. The change was, however, only very gradually effected. The Treason Act of 1696 did not extend to the case of those who were impeached by the House of Commons, and the unhappy noblemen who suffered for the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 were compelled to defend their lives almost without legal assistance. The counsel assigned to them were not allowed to cross-examine any witness, to give the prisoner any assistance, public or private, while matter of fact only was in question, or to hold any communication with him; though if a disputed question of law arose in the course of the trial, they might speak to it. A miserable scene took place, after the former rebellion, at the trial of Lord Wintoun. He is said to have been, at best, a man of very weak intellect, and he was evidently utterly bewildered by the scene and situation in which he found himself, and utterly incapable of conducting his defence. Again and again he implored the Lord High Steward to allow counsel to examine the witnesses, and to speak in his behalf. He professed himself, with truth, entirely incapable of conducting a cross-examination, or of presenting his defence; but he was again and again told that the law refused him the legal assistance he so imperatively required.1 Hardly less scandalous was the scene exhibited thirty years later, when Lord Lovat, an old man of eighty, almost ignorant of the very rudiments of the law, and with the grotesque manners of a half-savage Highlander, was compelled, without assistance, to defend his life against an array of the most skilful lawyers in England. The injustice was so glaring that it at last shocked the public conscience, and a measure was moved and carried, without opposition, in 1747, for allowing the same privileges of counsel to prisoners in cases of impeachment as in cases of indictment.1 For many years after the Revolution, parliamentary impeachment was looked upon as an ordinary weapon of political warfare, and the Whig party, though far less guilty than their opponents, are responsible for a few scandalous instances of tyrannical severity. The execution of Sir John Fenwick, by a Bill of Attainder, at a time when there was no sufficient legal evidence to procure his condemnation, has left a deep stain upon the Government of William. The imprisonment without trial of Bernardi and four other conspirators, who were concerned in the plot against the life of William in 1696, was continued by special Acts of Parliament to the end of the reign of William and through the whole of the reign of Anne. In the first year of George I. a petition for their release was presented to the House of Lords; but the Whig Government persuaded the House to refuse even to take it into consideration. It was rejected without a division, Lord Townshend expressing his astonishment that any member of that august assembly should speak in favour of such execrable wretches;2 and Bernardi at last died, in 1736, at the age of eighty, having been imprisoned, without condemnation, for no less than forty years, by the Acts of six successive Parliaments.3 Walpole himself was a leading agent in the impeachment of the Tory ministers of Anne for the negotiation of a peace which had received the assent of two Parliaments; and Oxford remained for two years in the Tower before his trial and acquittal. The severities of the Government against the prisoners who were implicated in the rebellion of 1715 are susceptible of more defence, but it is at least certain that the ministers by no means erred on the side of clemency; and it is worthy of notice that Walpole on this occasion uniformly advocated severity, and even induced Parliament to adjourn between the condemnation and execution of the rebel lords, in order to render useless, petitions for their reprieve.1 But whatever may have been his conduct at this time, in the later part of his career he displayed a uniform generosity to opponents, even when he knew them to be implicated in Jacobite conspiracies, and when they were therefore in a great degree in his power. He made it a great aim to banish violence from English politics, and an illustrious modern critic, who was far from favourable to him, has said that ‘he was the minister who gave to our Government the character of lenity, which it has generally preserved.’2
To these merits we must add his ardent love of peace, and the skill with which, during many years and under circumstances of great difficulty, he succeeded in preserving it. He served two sovereigns, the first of whom cared nothing, and the second very little, for any but Continental politics; and George II. was passionately warlike, and anxious beyond all things to distinguish himself in the field. He was at the head of a party which by tradition and principle was extremely warlike, which originally represented the reaction against the arrogant ambition of Lewis XIV. and the abject servility of Charles II., and which under William and Anne had aspired to make England the arbiter of Europe. He was embarrassed also during a great part of his career by an Opposition which never scrupled for party purposes to aggravate the difficulties of foreign policy; and the whole Continent was troubled by the restless plotting of ambitious and perfectly unscrupulous rulers. In the last years of George I. Europe was again on the verge of a general conflagration. When peace had been established between France and Spain in 1720 the Infanta, who was then only four years old, was betrothed to Lewis XV., and she was brought to France to be educated as a Frenchwoman. By thus postponing for many years the marriage of the young king, the Regent greatly strengthened the probability of his own succession to the throne; but on the death of the Regent in December 1723, the Duke of Bourbon, who succeeded to power, determined to hasten the royal marriage. He accordingly broke off the Spanish alliance, sent the Infanta back to Spain, and negotiated an almost immediate marriage between the French king and the daughter of Stanislaus, the deposed King of Poland. The affront thus offered to the Spanish court, together with the influence of Ripperda, the Dutch adventurer, who now directed Spanish policy, produced or at least accelerated, a great change in the aspect of European politics. The Emperor and the King of Spain, whose rivalry had so long distracted Europe, now gravitated to one another, and a close alliance was concluded between them in April 1725.1 The Spanish Government agreed to recognise the Pragmatic Sanction, which provided that the Austrian succession should descend to the daughter of Charles VI., and it ceded almost every point that was at issue between the Courts. Each Power agreed to recognise the right of succession of the other, and to defend the other in case of attack; and Spain gratified the maritime ambition which was one of the strongest passions of the Emperor, by recognising the Ostend Company, by placing Austrian sailors in her seaports on the footing of the most favoured nation, and by promising them special protection in all her dominions.
Of all mercantile bodies the Ostend Company was the most offensive to England and Holland. Founded soon after the cession of the Spanish Netherlands to Austria, it was intended among other objects to establish a trade by the subjects of the Emperor with India, and thus to break down the monopoly which the India companies of England and Holland had established.2 Two ships had sailed from Ostend, in 1717, under the passports of the Emperor, and several others soon followed their example. The Dutch seized some of the Ostend ships as violating their monopoly. The Emperor retaliated by granting commissions of reprisal. Laws were passed in England in 1721 and 1723 strengthening the English monopoly, and authorising the English to fine any foreigners who were found infringing it, triple the sum that was embarked; but the Emperor, in 1723, gave a regular charter to the Ostend Company, and in defiance of the Dutch and English Governments it rose rapidly into prominence. Its recognition by Spain was therefore a matter of very considerable political moment. It soon, however, became known among statesmen that other objects were designed— that Austria engaged to assist Spain in wresting Gibraltar and Minorca from England; that there was a project, by a marriage between Maria Theresa and Don Carlos, the eldest son of Philip's second wife, of placing the Imperial sceptre in the hands of a Spanish prince, and making Austria supreme in Italy by joining Parma, Piacenza, and Tuscany, which were assured to Don Carlos, to Naples and Sicily, which already belonged to Austria; that Charles VI., partly from religious fanaticism, and partly from personal resentment, was boasting of his intention to drive the Protestant line from the English throne. Russia, after the death of Peter, was governed by Catherine, who, being still irritated with England on account of the policy of Hanover, and especially anxious to obtain Sleswig for her son-in-law, the Duke of Holstein, favoured, and soon joined, the new alliance. The King and Townshend, contrary to the first wishes of Walpole, concluded a rival confederation of England, France, and Prussia,1 at Hanover, in September 1725; but in the following year Prussia, which had acceded to the alliance only on the condition of England recognising her claims to Juliers and Berg, changed sides. Holland, Sweden, and Denmark were afterwards ranged with England, and as the probabilities of war became more imminent, an army of about 44,000 Swedes, Danes, and Hessians was subsidised. England and France both contributed to the expense, but 12,000 Hessians were taken into the exclusive pay of England. Nearly all Europe was preparing for war. George I., as Elector of Hanover, increased his troops from 16,000 to 22,000 men, and as King of England from 18,000 to 26,000. The Spaniards, relying on the conditional promise which George I. had vainly made as an inducement to Spain to abstain from hostilities in 1715, and on the letter which he had written to the King of Spain in 1721, expressing his willingness to restore Gibraltar with the consent of Parliament, demanded the restitution of that fortress. Lord Townshend valued it little more than Stanhope2 had done, but public opinion in England would make any attempt at concession wholly impossible, and in February 1726–27 the Spaniards began hostilities by besieging Gibraltar. The Emperor prepared to invade Holland. The Russian forces, by sea and land, were rapidly organised. France massed her troops on the frontiers of Germany. An English squadron had already sailed to the Baltic. Another threatened the Spanish coast, while a third prevented the departure of the Spanish galleons from the Indies.
The Treaty of Hanover was for more than a generation bitterly assailed in England. Its justification rests upon the reality of the secret articles of the Treaty of Vienna, and although the evidence in the possession of the Government appears to have been very sufficient,1 it was not of a kind that could be publicly produced. The existence of these articles was announced in the King's speech in January 1726–27,2 but it was officially, and in very angry terms, denied by the Austrian minister. In England the Treaty of Hanover was denounced as intended only to protect the German dominions of the King, as strengthening, by our alliance, the Power on the Continent we had most reason to fear, as placing us unnecessarily in hostility to the Emperor, who was the main obstacle to French ambition. It was, however, a defensive measure elicited by a grave danger, and it was inevitable that a war with the Emperor should centre chiefly in Germany. Walpole disapproved of some of its provisions, and especially of the extravagance of the subsidy to Sweden, and he made it a main object of his policy to moderate the demands of his colleagues and of the King, and to delay, restrict, and if possible avert, the war. His conduct, however, during the tangled events that followed was not, I think, marked by much sagacity, and in his dealings with Spain, at least, he showed a want of resolution that verged upon pusillanimity. He refused with much wisdom to listen to a plan of Townshend for the conquest and partition of the Austrian Netherlands, or to allow himself to be hurried into hostilities by the very arrogant terms of a memorial in which the Austrian ambassador contradicted the assertions of the King's speech relating to the secret articles of the treaty of 1725. He sent Admiral Hosier to the West Indies to blockade the Spanish galleons in Porto Bello, though peace was still subsisting between the two countries, but he bound him by strict instructions not to attack the Spaniards unless they came out. The history of this expedition was a very tragic one. A prize of inestimable value lay within the grasp of the English sailors, who were forbidden to seize it, while the deadly fever of the country swept them away by hundreds. The fleet rotted in inaction, and the admiral is said to have died of a broken heart. His fate, commemorated in a noble ballad by Glover, afterwards moved the English people to the highest point of pity and indignation, and the subsequent conduct of Walpole in refraining from declaring war against the Spaniards when they attacked Gibraltar was very reasonably censured. His object was to prevent, if possible, a European war, and that object was accomplished. Ripperda, who had contributed so largely to the complication, had been disgraced as early as May 1726. A month later the Duke of Bourbon was replaced by Cardinal Fleury, and that eminently wise, virtuous, and pacific minister, during many years, co-operated cordially with the peace policy of Walpole. In the May of the following year the death of the Czarina withdrew Russia from the hostile league. The Emperor, finding perplexities and difficulties multiplying about him, receded from his engagements, left the Spanish forces to waste away in a hopeless enterprise against Gibraltar, and on the last day of May 1727 he signed the preliminaries of a peace with England, France, and Holland. An armistice was concluded, and the Ostend Company suspended for seven years, with the secret understanding that it was not to be revived; the chief questions at issue were referred to a future congress, and a war which threatened to be general shrank into the smallest dimensions. The Spanish position seemed hopeless, and the Spanish ambassador at Vienna accepted the preliminaries of peace, and engaged that the siege of Gibraltar should at once be raised, and that a ship belonging to the South Sea Company which the Spaniards had captured should be restored.
Philip, however, for a time refused to ratify these preliminaries. George I. died suddenly in Germany on June 11, 1727, and some expectations appear to have been entertained at the Spanish Court of a Jacobite restoration, of a period of disturbance and impotence, or at least of a great change in English policy, arising from the violent hostility of the new King to the ministers of his father. But these expectations were disappointed. After a few days of suspense, Walpole was fully confirmed in his previous power, and the substitution of a king who at least knew the language of his country, for one who never ceased to be a complete foreigner, somewhat strengthened the new establishment without perceptibly altering its policy. The refusal of Philip, however, to ratify the preliminaries threatened a renewal of danger; the Emperor showed some signs of fresh activity, and, as a measure of precaution, a new German treaty was made in November, securing the assistance of the Duke of Brunswick Wolfenbuttel, in the event of an attack upon Hanover. At last, in March 1728, the long negotiation was brought a stage further by the signature of a convention at the Pardo; a congress was held at Soissons, which led to no definite results; but, by the combined influence of Fleury and Walpole, a treaty was concluded at Seville in March 1729, by which the Spanish Queen succeeded in avenging herself for the desertion of the Emperor and taking a new step towards the attainment of one of the favourite objects of her life. To secure the succession of her son in Tuscany and Parma, it was agreed that those provinces should be at once garrisoned, not, as the Quadruple Alliance had promised, by neutral troops, but by 6,000 Spanish soldiers. Gibraltar was not mentioned in the treaty, and this silence was regarded as a renunciation of the claims of Spain. The commercial privileges conceded to the Emperor by the Treaty of Vienna, which had been so obnoxious to England, were revoked. The commerce of the English and French with the Spanish dominions was re-established on the same footing as before 1725, injuries done to English ships or interests were to be compensated, and a close defensive alliance was established between France, Spain, and England.
The Treaty of Seville has been justly regarded as one of the great triumphs of French diplomacy. It closed the breach which had long divided the courts of France and of Spain, and at the same time it detached both England and Spain from the Emperor, and left him isolated in Europe. He resented it bitterly, protested against the introduction of Spanish troops into Italy as a violation of the Quadruple Alliance, threatened to resist it by force, and delayed the execution of this part of the treaty during the whole of 1730. In the meantime the condition of Europe had become very dangerous. Spain was much exasperated at the delay, and there was much danger that England would find herself forced, in conjunction with France and Spain, into a war which would most probably ultimately extend to the Austrian Netherlands, and might result in acquisitions by France very dangerous to England. The resignation of Townshend had by this time made Walpole more prominent in foreign affairs, and he opened a secret negotiation with the Emperor in order to avert war. England undertook to guarantee the Pragmatic Sanction, by which the Emperor was endeavouring to secure for his daughter the inheritance of his hereditary dominions, and on this condition he consented to the admission of the Spanish troops. The new Treaty of Vienna was signed without the participation or assent of France, in March 1731; the danger of a European war was again for a time averted, and on October 17, a fleet of sixteen British men-of-war escorted the Spanish troops to Italy.
The policy of England during all these tortuous negotiations was not always wise, consistent, or even strictly honourable, but its first object was the maintenance of European peace, and it shows how widely the Whig party under Walpole had in this respect departed from the traditions of William III. and of Godolphin. In the next war his firm will alone prevented England from being involved. In February 1732–33 Augustus II., King of Poland, died, and the succession was at once contested between Stanislaus and Augustus, the Elector of Saxony. The first, who had previously been placed on the Polish throne by Charles XII., but dethroned by the Russians, was now elected by the Poles; and, as he was the father of the young Queen of France, Fleury was compelled very reluctantly, by the military party at Court, to support his claims by the sword. His competitor, who was the son of the former king, was supported by Russia, which regarded Stanislaus as a natural enemy, and he succeeded in inducing the Emperor Charles VI. to enter very gratuitously into the conflict, partly through a desire to prevent what was supposed to be an extension of French influence, and partly because Augustus offered to guarantee the Pragmatic Sanction. The war lasted till 1735,1 but it speedily changed its character and its objects. The Polish episode sank into comparative insignificance, and the French carried their arms with brilliant success into Germany and into the Austrian territories of Italy. Spain and Sardinia joined against the Emperor. The 6,000 Spanish soldiers whom England had so recently escorted into Italy, marched in conjunction with Sardinian troops and with a body of French auxiliaries, upon the Milanese, and the result of the war was a very considerable modification of the balance of power. With the exception of the Duchies of Parma and Placentia, which were now ceded, and of a portion of the Milanese which was restored, to Austria, the Emperor lost all territory in Italy. Naples and Sicily passed to Don Carlos, and the greater part of the Milanese to the King of Sardinia. The Poles, finding themselves almost deserted by France and incapable of resisting Russia, elected Augustus, while Stanislaus was compensated in a way which greatly surprised Europe, and had a very important influence upon future policy. For several generations one of the great ends of French ambition had been the acquisition of Lorraine, which commanded one of the chief roads from Germany to France. Twice already—in the Thirty Years’ War and in the War of the League of Augsburg—it had passed under French dominion, but in each case France had been compelled to restore it at the peace, though she retained a moral control over its Duke which almost amounted to sovereignty. In Italy the last of the Medici was now hastening to the tomb, and Fleury proposed that the Duke of Lorraine, who was affianced to Maria Theresa, and thus closely connected with the Austrian interest, should succeed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; that Stanislaus, retaining the title of king, should obtain possession of the Duchies of Lorraine and Bar; and that on his death those Duchies should be for ever united to France. In consideration of this arrangement, France agreed to restore her conquests in Germany, and to guarantee the Pragmatic Sanction. The terms were accepted, and thus France, under the guidance of one of the most pacific of her ministers, obtained a more real and considerable accession of power than any which had been gained by the ambition of Lewis XIV.
It was only with extreme difficulty that Walpole could induce England to remain passive during the struggle. The King was vehemently hostile to the French. As a German prince and a member of the Empire, he saw with the utmost indignation the diminution of the Imperial power, and he was full of a boyish eagerness to distinguish himself in the field. It was no slight trial for the Power which was indisputably the mistress of the sea to see a French fleet sailing unmolested to the Baltic to support the cause of Stanislaus in the north, and a Spanish fleet in the following year transporting 20,000 men to Italy to add Sicily and Spain to the dominions of the House of Bourbon. The Cabinet was divided in opinion. Statesmen had learnt that the advocacy of war was the easiest way to the royal favour, and the Opposition Members were busy inflaming the passions of the people. In spite of the French alliance, which had been begun by Dubois and continued by Fleury, the sentiment of England was strongly anti-Gallican, and there were plausible arguments for intervention. The greatest danger to England lay in the power of France, and that power for several generations had been rapidly increasing. The sagacious administration of Richelieu and Mazarin, the decadence of Spain, the policy of Cromwell, who supported the growing power of France against the declining power of Spain, and the subservience of Charles II. and his successor to Lewis XIV., had together produced a French ascendancy which seemed likely to overshadow all the liberties of Europe. The Revolution had done much to restore the balance of power, but still French influence in many quarters continued steadily to advance, though two great wars had been undertaken for the purpose of abridging it. France had obtained Alsace by the Peace of Westphalia, with the exception of ten Imperial towns, the liberty of which was solemnly guaranteed, but she soon began to treat those towns exactly like the rest of the province. Strasburg, which was by far the most important of them, she had surprised and seized in 1681, by an act of high-handed violence in a time of perfect peace, and without a shadow of justification or excuse. The Emperor, embarrassed by a Turkish war and by Hungarian insurrection, was unable to resent the aggression, and the Peace of Ryswick, which terminated the great war of the Revolution, confirmed and sanctioned it. The wars of Marlborough for a time brought France apparently to the lowest depths of exhaustion, but the Peace of Utrecht restored to her much of what she had lost. A French prince remained upon the Spanish throne, and her military power was still so formidable that as soon as the peace had dissolved the coalition against her, she completely routed the forces of the Empire, though Eugene was at their head. On sea, it is true, she never recovered the ascendancy she lost at La Hogue, but on land no one Power could compete with her. She had brought the art of war to such perfection that in the course of a single reign no less than five generals—Condé, Turenne, Luxemburg, Vendome, and Villars—of brilliant and extraordinary ability, appeared in her armies; and it is remarkable that Marlborough, who alone eclipsed them, had passed through the same school. He had served as a young man under Turenne, and he ascribed to the lessons he then learnt, much of his later success.1 The alienation between France and Spain which followed the death of Lewis XIV. had for a time interrupted the course of French ambition, but it had been appeased by the conciliatory policy of Fleury, and the firstfruits of the reconciliation had been the decline of Austrian influence in Italy, the elevation of a Bourbon prince to the Neapolitan throne, and the consolidation of the French territory by the reversion of Lorraine.
It is not surprising that this increase of French power should have excited deep alarm. In the interval between the first decadence of Spain and the rise of Prussia and Russia, Austria was the only serious competitor of France upon the Continent, and Austria was certainly inferior in strength to her old rival, and, except on the side of Turkey, she seemed steadily declining. The House of Austria, which had once, in the person of Charles V., almost given law to Europe, and had led a French king captive to Madrid, was now so weakened that it was defeated in almost every war, and nearly every generation seemed to mark a stage in its decline. France had succeeded in her old object of dissevering from the Empire the vast dominions of Spain. She had pushed her frontiers into Germany. She had acquired such an ascendency over some of the Electors of the Empire that it was even likely that the House of Austria would soon be deprived of the Imperial crown. She had shaken and almost destroyed that Austrian supremacy in Italy which the Peace of Utrecht and the Quadruple Alliance had established. In modern times her power in Europe has been to a great degree paralysed by the intensity of her internal divisions, while her progress in more distant quarters has been restricted by an incurable incapacity for successful colonisation, due principally to the French passion for centralisation and over-administration. But these sources of weakness were as yet unperceived. No nation in its dealings with surrounding countries exhibited a greater unity or concentration of resources, and there appeared as yet no clear reason why, in the race of colonial enterprise, she should not become the successful rival of England. On the other hand, France already exhibited to the highest perfection that rare capacity of assimilating to herself the provinces she annexed, which has been one of the chief sources of her greatness, one of the most remarkable proofs of the high qualities of her national character. No modern nation which has annexed so much has been so little distracted by the struggles of suppressed nationalities, or has succeeded so perfectly in times of danger, difficulty, and disaster in commanding the enthusiastic devotion of the most distant and the most recently acquired of her provinces. Her military system has, no doubt, done much to give a unity of sympathy and enthusiasm to the nation. Paris, owing to causes some of which have been very mischievous, early exercised a fascination over the imaginations of great masses of men such as no other modern capital has possessed, but all this would have been insufficient had there not been an unrivalled power of attraction, sympathy, and assimilation in the French character, a power in which Englishmen are signally deficient, and which has made French ambition peculiarly formidable.
On such grounds as these the Opposition were never tired of urging that France was rapidly advancing towards universal empire, and that unless she were speedily checked, the liberties of England must ultimately succumb. On sea England was, they admitted, still supreme, but of all forms of power this, they said, was the most precarious. An accident, a blunder, an unfavourable wind, might expose her coast to invasion, even in the zenith of her maritime greatness. The naval supremacy of Carthage had not saved her from destruction when Rome became dominant in the neighbouring continent. The naval supremacy of Spain had been irretrievably ruined by the failure of a single expedition, and the destruction of the Armada was much more due to the fury of the elements than to the fleet that was opposed to it. The naval supremacy of England had trembled very doubtfully in the balance after the battle of Beachy Head; and the battle of La Hogue, which re-established it, might have had a different issue had not the French Admiral been unexpectedly confronted with the fleet of Holland as well as the fleet of England. Besides this, it was added, if France could once place herself beyond rivalry on the Continent she might diminish her armies and devote the main energies of the State to securing the empire of the sea.
Fears of this kind have in many periods haunted speculative politicians, who have usually not fully realised the magnitude of the difficulties which any attempt to obtain universal empire must encounter, the extreme complexity of the forces on which in modern society political power depends, and also the very narrow limits within which all sound political prediction is confined. Walpole, however, was steadily in favour of peace. He felt all the antipathy of a great practical statesman to a policy which would expose the country to the imminent dangers, to the inevitable exhaustion of an European war, in order to avert dangers that were far distant, uncertain, and perhaps visionary. He maintained that a war for the succession of Poland was one in which England had no reasonable concern; that if she engaged in it the burden could not fail to produce the most dangerous discontent among the English people; that the diminution of the Imperial influence in Italy in no degree affected English interests, especially as France obtained no territory in that country; that the system, which was becoming chronic, of involving England in every Continental, and especially in every German, complication was fatal to her security and utterly incompatible with her true interests. The French alliance had already produced the greatest benefits to England. The point upon the Continent where French ambition was most dangerous was the Dutch barrier, but Fleury had very judiciously abstained from all hostilities against the Austrian Netherlands, though they were left almost undefended, and Holland was quite resolved to persist in her neutrality. Under the influence of a long peace the country was steadily advancing in prosperity and wealth, and in all the elements of real power, and the new dynasty and the parliamentary system were beginning to take root. A foreign war would at once arrest the progress, and Walpole predicted1 —and the event fully justified his prescience—that it would inevitably lead to a new Jacobite rebellion. Besides this, a strong detestation of war was one of his most honourable characteristics. ‘It requires no great art,’ he once said, ‘in a minister to pursue such measures as might make war inevitable. I have lived long enough in the world to see how destructive the effects even of a successful war have been, and shall I, who see this, when I am admitted to the honour to bear a share in His Majesty's councils, advise him to enter into a war when peace may be had? No, I am proud to own it, I always have been, and I always shall be the advocate of peace.’ The statesman who was continually accused by his contemporaries of sacrificing all English interests to the German policy of the Court, and who is now often described as incapable of risking for a moment his position in the interests of his country, was for a considerable time engaged in saving England from a German war in opposition to the strongest wishes both of the King and of the Queen. It is remarkable that his arguments in favour of a peace policy were chiefly conveyed to the King through the medium of the Queen, who was herself an advocate of war, and it is still more remarkable that she discharged her office with such fidelity and force that the arguments she transmitted actually convinced the King while her own judgment remained unchanged.1 It is true, indeed, that in the latter part of his career Walpole was driven into war with Spain; but not until public excitement, aggravated by an unscrupulous Opposition, had risen to such a frenzy that no Government could resist it, not until the convention he had negotiated between England and Spain had been generally scouted. For many years, however, he succeeded, in spite of constant opposition, in keeping the country in undisturbed peace, and by doing so he conferred both upon his nation and upon his party an inestimable benefit. To the long peace of Walpole was mainly due the immense material development which contributed so largely to the success of later wars, and also most probably the firm establishment of parliamentary government and of the Hanoverian dynasty. The greatest danger to the Whig party, and the greatest danger to the country from its supremacy, lay in the traditions of its foreign policy, and those traditions Walpole resolutely cut. He has been much blamed for having taken no steps during his long ministry to break the power of the Highland chiefs, by whom the rebellion of 1745 was mainly effected. In a country where the clan feeling was still extremely strong, such steps would, it appears to me, have been the most natural means of producing an immediate revolt, and thus stirring up all the elements of discontent that were smouldering throughout the nation. On the other hand, it is scarcely doubtful that if the pacific policy which Walpole desired, had continued, the rebellion would never have broken out; and it was the direct result of the conciliatory measures of his administration that when it did break out it found no sympathy in England, and was in consequence easily suppressed.
It is worthy of notice that the long ascendency of Walpole was in no degree owing to any extraordinary brilliancy of eloquence. He was a clear and forcible reasoner, ready in reply, and peculiarly successful in financial exposition, but he had little or nothing of the temperament or the talent of an orator. It is the custom of some writers to decry parliamentary institutions as being simply government by talking, and to assert that when they exist mere rhetorical skill will always be more valued than judgment, knowledge, or character. The enormous exaggeration of such charges may be easily established. It is, no doubt, inevitable that where business is transacted chiefly by debate, the talent of a debater should be highly prized; but it is perfectly untrue that British legislatures have shown less skill than ordinary sovereigns in distinguishing solid talent from mere showy accomplishments, or that parliamentary weight has in England been usually proportioned to oratorical power. St. John was a far greater orator than Harley; Pulteney was probably a greater orator than Walpole; Stanley in mere rhetorical skill was undoubtedly the superior of Peel. Godolphin, Pelham, Castlereagh, Liverpool, Melbourne, Althorp, Wellington, Lord J. Russell, and Lord Palmerston are all examples of men who, either as statesmen or as successful leaders of the House of Commons, have taken a foremost place in English politics without any oratorical brilliancy. Sheridan, Plunket, and Brougham, though orators of almost the highest class, left no deep impression on English public life; the ascendency of Grey and Canning was very transient, and no Opposition since the early Hanoverian period sank so low as that which was guided by Fox. The two Pitts and Mr. Gladstone are the three examples of speakers of transcendent power exercising for a considerable time a commanding influence over English politics. The younger Pitt is, I believe, a real instance of a man whose solid ability bore no kind of proportion to his oratorical skill, and who, by an almost preternatural dexterity in debate, accompanied by great decision of character, and assisted by the favour of the King, by the magic of an illustrious name, and by a great national panic, maintained an authority immensely greater than his deserts. But in this respect he stands alone. The pinnacle of glory to which the elder Pitt raised his country is a sufficient proof of the almost unequalled administrative genius which he displayed in the conduct of a war; and in the sphere of domestic policy it may be questioned whether any other English minister since the accession of the House of Brunswick has carried so many measures of magnitude and difficulty, or exhibited so perfect a mastery over the financial system of the country as the great living statesman.
The qualities of Walpole were very different, but it is impossible, I think, to consider his career with adequate attention without recognising in him a great minister, although the merits of his administration were often rather negative than positive, and although it exhibits few of those dramatic incidents, and is but little susceptible of that rhetorical colouring, on which the reputation of statesmen largely depends. Without any remarkable originality of thought or creative genius, he possessed in a high degree one quality of a great statesman—the power of judging new and startling events in the moments of excitement or of panic as they would be judged by ordinary men when the excitement, the novelty, and the panic had passed. He was eminently true to the character of his countrymen. He discerned with a rare sagacity the lines of policy most suited to their genius and to their needs, and he had a sufficient ascendency in English politics to form its traditions, to give a character and a bias to its institutions. The Whig party, under his guidance, retained, though with diminished energy, its old love of civil and of religious liberty, but it lost its foreign sympathies, its tendency to extravagance, its military restlessness. The landed gentry, and in a great degree the Church, were reconciled to the new dynasty. The dangerous fissures which divided the English nation were filled up. Parliamentary government lost its old violence, it entered into a period of normal and pacific action, and the habits of compromise, of moderation, and of practical good sense, which are most essential to its success, were greatly strengthened.
These were the great merits of Walpole. His faults were very manifest, and are to be attributed in part to his own character, but in a great degree to the moral atmosphere of his time. He was an honest man in the sense of desiring sincerely the welfare of his country and serving his sovereign with fidelity; but he was intensely wedded to power, exceedingly unscrupulous about the means of grasping or retaining it, and entirely destitute of that delicacy of honour which marks a high-minded man. In the opinion of most of his contemporaries, Townshend and Walpole had good reason to complain of the intrigues by which Sunderland and Stanhope obtained the supreme power in 1717; but this does not justify the factious manner in which Walpole opposed every measure the new ministry brought forward—even the Mutiny Act, which was plainly necessary to keep the army in discipline; even the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, though he had himself denounced those Acts as more like laws of Julian the Apostate than of a Christian Legislature. He was sincerely tolerant in his disposition, and probably did as much for the benefit of the Dissenters as could have been done without producing a violent and dangerous reaction of opinion; but he took no measure to lighten the burden of the Irish penal code, and he had no scruple in availing himself of the strong feeling against the English Catholics and Non-jurors to raise 100,000l. by a special tax upon their estates, or in promising the Dissenters that he would obtain the repeal of the Test Act, when he had no serious intention of doing so. He warned the country faithfully against the South Sea Scheme, but when his warning was disregarded he proceeded to speculate skilfully and successfully in it himself. He laboured long and earnestly to prevent the Spanish war, which he knew to be eminently impolitic; but when the clamours of his opponents had made it inevitable he determined that he would still remain at the helm, and he accordingly declared it himself. He governed the country mildly and wisely, but he was resolved at all hazards to secure for himself a complete monopoly of power; he steadily opposed the reconciliation of the Tories with the Hanoverian dynasty,1 lest it should impair his ascendancy, surrounded himself with colleagues whose faculties rarely rose above the tamest mediocrity, drove from power every man of real talent who might possibly become his rival, and especially repelled young men of promise, character, and ambition, whom a provident statesman, desirous of perpetuating his policy beyond his lifetime, would especially seek to attract.
The scandal and also the evil effects of his political vices were greatly increased by that total want of decorum which Burke has justly noted as the weakest point of his character. In this respect his public and private life resembled one another. That he lived for many years in open adultery, and indulged to excess in the pleasures of the table, were facts which in the early part of the eighteenth century were in themselves not likely to excite much attention; but his boisterous revelries at Houghton exceeded even the ordinary licence of the country squires of his time, and the gross sensuality of his conversation was conspicuous in one of the coarsest periods of English history. When he did not talk of business, it was said, he talked of women; politics and obscenity were his tastes. There seldom was a Court less addicted to prudery than that of George II., but even its tolerance was somewhat strained by a minister who jested with the Queen upon the infidelity of her husband, who advised her on one occasion to bring to Court a beautiful but silly woman as a ‘safe fool’ for the King to fall in love with, who, on the death of the Queen, urged her daughters to summon without delay the two mistresses of the King in order to distract the mind of their father; who at the same time avowed, with a brutal frankness, as the scheme of his future policy, that though he had been for the wife against the mistress, he would be henceforth for the mistress against the daughters.1 In society he had the weakness of wishing to be thought a man of gallantry and fashion, and his awkward addresses, rendered the more ludicrous by a singularly corpulent and ungraceful person, as well as the extreme coarseness into which he usually glided when speaking to and of women, drew down upon him much ridicule and some contempt. His estimate of political integrity was very similar to his estimate of female virtue. He governed by means of an assembly which was saturated with corruption, and he fully acquiesced in its conditions and resisted every attempt to improve it. He appears to have cordially accepted the maxim that government must be carried on by corruption or by force, and he deliberately made the former the basis of his rule. He bribed George II. by obtaining for him a civil list exceeding by more than 100,000l. a year that of his father. He bribed the Queen by securing for her a jointure of 100,000l. a year, when his rival, Sir Spencer Compton, could only venture to promise 60,000l. He bribed the Dissenting ministers to silence by the Regium Donum for the benefit of their widows. He employed the vast patronage of the Crown uniformly and steadily with the single view of sustaining his political position, and there can be no doubt that a large proportion of the immense expenditure of secret service money during his administration was devoted to the direct purchase of Members of Parliament.
It is necessary to speak with much caution on this matter, remembering that no statesman can emancipate himself from the conditions of his time, and that a great injustice is done when the politician of one age is measured by the standard of another. Bribery, whether at elections or in Parliament, was no new thing. The systematic corruption of Members of Parliament is said to have begun under Charles II., in whose reign it was practised to the largest extent. It was continued under his successor, and the number of scandals rather increased than diminished after the Revolution. Sir J. Trevor—a Speaker of the House of Commons—had been voted guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour for receiving a bribe of 1,000 guineas from the City of London. A Secretary of the Treasury—Mr. Guy—had been sent to the Tower for taking a bribe to induce him to pay the arrears due to a regiment. Lord Ranelagh, a Paymaster of the Forces, had been expelled for defalcations in his office. In order to facilitate the passing of the South Sea Bill, it was proved that large amounts of fictitious stock had been created, distributed among, and accepted by, ministers of the Crown. Aislabie, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was expelled, sent to the Tower, and fined. The younger Craggs, who was Secretary of State, probably only escaped by a timely death. His father, the Postmaster-General, avoided inquiry by suicide, and grave suspicion rested upon Charles Stanhope, the Secretary of the Treasury, and upon Sunderland, the Prime Minister. When such instances could be cited from among the leaders of politics, it is not surprising that among the undistinguished Members corruption was notorious. In 1698, a system of fraudulent endorsement of Exchequer bills with a view to defraud the revenue was discovered, and two Members of Parliament were sent to the Tower and expelled for being guilty of it. The expulsion of Hungerford for receiving a small sum for expediting a private Bill through Parliament, of the two Shepherds for bribery at elections, of Sir B. Sutton for having through carelessness become director of a swindling company, of Ridge for the non-observance of a contract, of Colonel Cardonell for accepting an illegal though customary gratuity, of Walpole himself for alleged dishonesty about a contract, were probably inspired chiefly or solely by factious motives,1 but there can at least be no reasonable doubt that parliamentary corruption does not date from the ministry of Walpole. Nor was he the first to practise largely corruption at elections. Burnet assures us that at the elections of 1701, when William was still on the throne, ‘a most scandalous practice was brought in of buying votes with so little decency that the electors engaged themselves by subscription to choose a blank person before they were trusted with the name of their candidate.’2 I have cited in the last chapter the explicit testimony of Davenant to the magnitude of the evil in his day, and the writings of Defoe contain ample proof of its inveteracy and of its progress. In a pamphlet published in 1701, he tells us that there was a regular set of stock-jobbers in the City who made it their business to buy and sell seats in Parliament, that the market price was 1,000 guineas, and that Parliament was thus in a fair way of coming under the management of a few individuals.3 In 1705, after adverting to some Acts which had been passed against bribery, he adds emphatically, ‘Never was treating, bribery, buying of voices, freedoms and freeholds, and all the corrupt practices in the world so open and barefaced as since these severe laws were enacted.’4 In 1708 he declared that, having been present at many elections, he had arrived at the conclusion that’ it is not an impossible thing to debauch this nation into a choice of thieves, knaves, devils, anything, comparatively speaking, by the power of various intoxications.’5 The evil showed no sign of diminution. In 1716 we find bitter complaints in Parliament itself of the rapidly increasing expense of elections,6 and the Earl of Dorset spoke of it as a notorious fact ‘that a great number of persons have no other livelihood than by being employed in bribing corporations.’7
And if corruption did not begin with Walpole, it is equally certain that it did not end with him. His expenditure of secret service money, large as it was, never equalled in an equal space of time the expenditure of Bute; and it is to Bute, and not to Walpole, that we owe the most gigantic and most wasteful of all the forms of bribery, the custom of issuing loans on terms extravagantly advantageous to the lender, and distributing the shares among the supporters of the administration. The downfall of Walpole can scarcely be said to have produced even a temporary cessation of corruption. In 1754, Sir J. Barnard, with a view to the approaching elections, actually moved the repeal of the oath against bribery, in the interest of public morals, on the ground that it was merely the occasion of general perjury.1 In the same year Fox declined to accept from Newcastle the lead of the House of Commons, unless he received information about the disposition of the secret service money, because, as he said, ‘if he was kept in ignorance of that, he should not know how to talk to Members of Parliament, when some might have received gratifications, others not.’2 Very few statesmen of the eighteenth century had less natural tendency to corruption than George Grenville. His private character was unimpeachable. His alteration of the mode of trying contested elections was a great step towards the purification of Parliament, and the expenditure of secret service money during his administration was unusually low;3 yet such was the condition of the Legislature by which he governed, that he appears to have found it necessary to offer direct money bribes even to Members of the House of Lords.4 If Walpole was guilty of corruption, it may be fairly urged that it was scarcely possible to manage Parliament without it, and also that skilful writers, under the guidance of Bolingbroke, were studiously aggravating his faults. He was, no doubt, often misrepresented. His saying of a group of Members, ‘All these men have their price,’ was turned into a general assertion that ‘all men have their price;’ and there was probably some truth in another saying ascribed to him,— ‘that he was obliged to bribe Members not to vote against, but for their conscience.’ Although in the case of a minister who had very few scruples, and who disposed, absolutely for many years, of immense sums of secret service money, it is impossible to speak with confidence, we may at least affirm that there is no real evidence that Walpole dishonestly appropriated public money to his own purposes, and he retired from office deeply in debt.
The real charge against him is that in a period of profound peace, when he exercised an almost unexampled ascendancy in politics, and when public opinion was strongly in favour of the diminution of corrupt influence in Parliament, he steadily and successfully resisted every attempt at reform. Other ministers may have bribed on a larger scale to gain some special object, or in moments of transition, crisis, or difficulty. It was left to Walpole to organise corruption as a system, and to make it the normal process of Parliamentary government. It was his settled policy to maintain his Parliamentary majority, not by attracting to his ministry great orators, great writers, great financiers, or great statesmen, not by effecting any combination or coalition of parties, by identifying himself with any great object of popular desire, or by winning to his side young men in whose character and ability he could trace the promise of future eminence, but simply by engrossing borough influence and extending the patronage of the Crown. Material motives were the only ones he recognised. During several successive Parliaments the majority of the counties were usually in opposition.1 It was by the purchase of a multitude of small and perfectly venal boroughs, especially in Cornwall and Scotland, that the Government majority was maintained. Whenever there was a choice between, a man of ability and a man possessing large borough influence, the latter was invariably preferred. Thus it was that in 1724 Carteret was displaced from the Secretaryship of War, and the claims of Pulteney were neglected in order that Walpole might attach to his fortunes the Duke of Newcastle, who was the greatest borough-owner in the kingdom, but whose weak and timid character he was the first to ridicule. Thus it was that he met and defeated every effort to reduce the pension lists, and to enquire into the corruption of Parliament. He made it, said one who knew him well, a main object at all times, and on all occasions, to prevent Parliamentary enquiries.1 Pension Bill after Pension Bill was brought in with the strong support of public opinion. Sometimes he openly opposed them. More frequently he suffered them to pass the Commons, and employed his influence to stifle them in the Lords. Always he made it his object to discourage and defeat them. He constructed a system under which a despotic sovereign or minister might make a Parliamentary majority one of the most subservient and efficient instruments for destroying the liberties of England; and although he himself used it with signal moderation, he bequeathed it intact to his successors, and it became, under George III., the great instrument of misgovernment.
His influence upon young men appears to have been peculiarly pernicious. If we may believe Chesterfield, he was accustomed to ask them in a tone of irony upon their entrance into Parliament whether they too were going to be saints or Romans, and he employed all the weight of his position to make them regard purity and patriotism as ridiculous or unmanly.2 Of the next generation of statesmen, Fox, the first Lord Holland, was the only man of remarkable ability who can be said to have been his disciple, and he was, perhaps, the most corrupt and unscrupulous of the statesmen of his age.
Specific instances of Parliamentary corruption are a class of facts little likely to pass into the domain of history. The secret nature of the act, the interests both of the giver and the recipient, and the general tone and feelings of the politicians of the time, conspire to conceal them, and although public opinion forced on an enquiry into the acts of Walpole, and although the great majority of the commissioners were his personal enemies, no considerable results were arrived at. Nor was this surprising. The whole influence of the Crown and of the House of Lords was exerted to shield the fallen minister, and there was on the part of most leading politicians, and, indeed, of most Members of Parliament, a marked indisposition to enquire too curiously into such matters. Edgecumbe, who chiefly managed the Cornish boroughs, was made a peer expressly for the purpose of preventing the Committee from requiring his evidence.1 The officials who distributed the secret service money positively refused to give any evidence as to the manner of its distribution, on the ground that they might otherwise criminate themselves. The Secretary of the Treasury, who could probably have thrown most light upon the subject, as the whole secret service money passed through his hands, declined to take the oath of discovery, and informed the Committee ‘that he had laid his case before the King, and was authorised to say that the disposal of money issued for secret service, by the nature of it, requires the utmost secrecy, and is accountable to his Majesty alone; and therefore his Majesty could not permit him to disclose anything on the subject.’2 The Committee were completely baffled. Those who distributed the secret service money refused to give any evidence, and it was hardly to be expected that those who received it would criminate themselves by confession. A Bill was brought forward to indemnify the recipients of bribes if they gave evidence against Walpole, but though it passed the Commons, it was rejected by the Lords. Under these circumstances we can hardly lay much stress upon the fact that the discoveries of the Committee were chiefly of the most trivial description. The bestowal of places on the Mayor of Weymouth and on Ms brother-in-law, in order to secure the nomination of a favourable returning officer at an election, the removal of a few revenue officers who failed to vote for a ministerial candidate, the distribution of some small sums for borough. prosecutions and suits, the somewhat suspiciously liberal terms of a contract for the payment of British troops at Jamaica, were all matters which appeared of little moment when they were regarded as the result of a solemn enquiry into ministerial proceedings for ten years. Much more important was the discovery that in this space of time no less than 1,453,400l. had been expended in secret service money, and that of that sum above 50,000l. had been paid to writers in defence of the ministry. It has been shown, indeed, by the apologists for Walpole that the secret service money included the whole pension list, as well as the large sums necessarily expended in obtaining information at foreign Courts, and also that the comparisons instituted between the expenditure of secret service money in the last ten years of Walpole, and that in an equal portion of the reign of Anne, were in several respects fallacious;1 but there cannot, I think, be much reasonable doubt, though the Committee were unable to obtain evidence on the subject, that much of it was expended in Parliamentary corruption. It is said that supporters of the Government frequently received at the close of the session from 500l. to 1,000l. for their services;2 that Walpole himself boasted that one important division rejecting the demand of the Prince of Wales for an increased allowance cost the Government only 900l.,3 that more than half the members of Parliament were in the receipt of public money in the form of pensions or Government offices.4 It is certain that the consentient opinion of contemporaries accused the ministers of gross and wholesale corruption, and that they uniformly opposed every enquiry that could vindicate their honour, and every Bill that could tend to purify the Parliament.
The complaints of the Opposition were met by Walpole in a strain of coarse and cynical banter. Patriots, saints, Spartans, and boys were the terms he continually employed. Something, no doubt, was due to the strong hatred of cant which was a prominent feature of his character, and which sometimes led him, like his great contemporary Swift, into the opposite extreme of cynicism. He knew that he was speaking the secret sentiments of the great majority of his hearers, that among the declaimers against corruption were some of the most treacherous and unprincipled politicians of the time, and that personal disappointment and baffled ambition had their full share in swelling the ranks of his opponents; but when every allowance is made for this, his language must appear grossly culpable. He profoundly lowered the moral tone of public life, and thus, as an acute observer has said, ‘While he seemed to strengthen the superstructure, he weakened the foundations of our constitution.’1 Nor is it true that the politicians of the time were universally corrupt. Grodolphin and Bolingbroke had both retired from their ministerial careers poor men. Oxford was in this respect beyond all reproach. Neither Pulteney, nor Windham, nor Onslow, nor Carteret, nor Shippen, nor Barnard, nor Pitt, whatever their other faults, could be suspected of personal corruption. Above all, there was the public opinion of England which was deeply scandalised by the extent to which parliamentary corruption had arisen, and by the cynicism with which it was avowed, and on this point, though on this alone, Walpole never respected it. Like many men of low morals and of coarse and prosaic natures, he was altogether incapable of appreciating as an element of political calculation the force which moral sentiments exercise upon mankind, and this incapacity was one of the great causes of his fall. His own son has made the memorable admission that Walpole ‘never was thought honest till he was out of power.’2
Through these faults, as well as through the discontent which always follows the great prolongation of a single administration, a powerful though heterogeneous Opposition was gradually formed, and the small band of Tories were reinforced by a considerable section of discontented Whigs, who seceded under the guidance of Pulteney, Carteret, and Chesterfield, and by several young men of promise or genius. Pulteney, who usually led the phalanx, had been for many years the friend and colleague of Walpole. He had co-operated with him during the depression of the party under Queen Anne, defended him when he was expelled from the House in 1712, assumed the office of Secretary of War in the Whig ministry of 1714, taken the same side with Walpole in the Whig schism of 1717, and he appeared at one time likely to rise at least as high in the State. He was a country gentleman of good character, old family, and large property, a scholar, a writer, and a wit, and probably the most graceful and brilliant speaker in the House of Commons in the interval between the withdrawal of St. John and the appearance of Pitt. His separation from Walpole appears to have been wholly due to personal motives. Possessing abilities and parliamentary standing which entitled him, in his own opinion and in the opinion of many others, to rank as the equal of Walpole, he found that Walpole allowed his colleagues little more influence than if they were his clerks, and was always seeking, by direct or indirect means, to displace them when they became prominent. He is said to have been bitterly offended when Carteret, having in 1724 resigned the position of Secretary of State, the claims of Newcastle were preferred to his own, and the offer of a peerage, which was intended only to remove him from the centre of power, and afterwards of a very unimportant place, completed his alienation. He went into violent opposition, rejected scornfully the overtures of the minister, who when too late perceived his error, dedicated all his powers to the subversion of the administration, and became the most skilful exponent of the popular feeling about the corruption of Parliament, the subservience of Walpole to France and to Spain, and the dangers of a standing army in time of peace. He was bitterly opposed to the Gallican sympathies of Walpole, and especially to the Treaty of Hanover, and was for some time in very close and confidential communication with the ministers of the Emperor.1 Of all the opponents of Walpole he was probably the most formidable, for he seems to have been at least his equal as a debater; his great social talents made him popular among politicians, and he at the same time exercised a powerful influence beyond the walls of Parliament. ‘The Craftsman,’ which for many years contained the bitterest and ablest attacks on Walpole, was founded, inspired, and perhaps in part written2 by Pulteney in conjunction with Bolingbroke. He was also the author of two or three pamphlets of more than ordinary merit, of several happy witticisms which are still remembered, and of a political song which was once among the most popular in the language.3 When accused of being actuated in his opposition by sordid motives, he incautiously pledged himself never again to accept office, and in the hour of his triumph he remembered his pledge; but he cannot be acquitted of having shaped his career through a feeling of personal rancour, he never exhibited either the business talents or the tact and prescience of statesmanship so conspicuous in his rival, and he probably contributed more than any other single man to plunge the country into the Spanish war.
A more remarkable man, but a less formidable politician, was Carteret, afterwards Lord Granville, who at the time of the downfall of Walpole led the Whig Opposition in the House of Lords. He had entered the Upper House in 1711, had joined the Sunderland section of the Whigs in 1717, had been appointed ambassador to Sweden in the following year, and had afterwards accepted several brief diplomatic missions in Germany and France. On the death of Sunderland he made some unsuccessful efforts to perpetuate the division of the party, but his opposition to Walpole was at first rather latent than avowed. He became Secretary of State in 1721, but, disagreeing with his colleague Lord Townshend, he was compelled to relinquish the post in 1724, when he became Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. After several differences with the ministry in England he resigned this appointment in 1730, and from that time became a leader of Opposition and a close ally of Pulteney. Of all the leading English statesmen of the eighteenth century he is, perhaps, the one of whose real merits it is most difficult to speak with confidence. Like Charles Townshend in the next generation, he was a man who had the very highest reputation for ability among his contemporaries, but whose ability we are obliged to take altogether upon trust, for, except some unpublished despatches, often full of fire and force, and a few detached sayings, he has left no monument behind him. His career was, on the whole, unsuccessful. His speeches have perished. His policy has come down to us chiefly through the representations of his opponents, and he himself appears to have taken no part in political literature. Yet Horace Walpole and Chesterfield, who disliked him, have both spoken of him as the ablest man of his time.1 Swift and Smollett have expressed warm admiration for his genius, and Chatham, who was at one time his bitter opponent, has left on record his opinion that in the upper departments of Government he had no equal.2 In the range and variety of his knowledge he was unrivalled among the politicians of his time, and the singular versatility of his intellect made him almost equally conspicuous as an orator, a linguist, a statesman, a scholar, and a wit. Having travelled much in Germany, he was probably the only English statesman intimately acquainted with its laws, manners, and internal politics; and his thorough knowledge of the language, then a very rare accomplishment in England, gave him a special influence with the Hanoverian kings. In Parliament he was placed, by the confession of all parties, in the foremost rank of debaters, but good judges complained that his eloquence was somewhat turgid and declamatory in its style, that he was more to be dreaded as an opponent than to be desired as a colleague, and that he was almost equally unfitted, by his defects and by his merits, for the position of a parliamentary leader. He was of a careless, sanguine, impulsive, and desultory nature, easily and extravagantly elated and never depressed, delighting in intrigue and in strokes of sudden and brilliant daring, but apt to treat politics as a game, and almost wholly destitute of settled principles, fixity of purpose, and earnestness of character. His mind teemed with large schemes, and he could carry them out with courage and with skill, but he was not equally expert in dealing with details, and he looked with a contempt which had at least an affinity to virtue upon the arts of management, conciliation, and corruption, by which Walpole and Pelham secured their Parliamentary influence. ‘What is it to me,’ he once said, ‘who is a judge or who a bishop? It is my business to make kings and emperors, and to maintain the balance of Europe.’ His temper was naturally imperious. He was entirely indifferent to money. He drank hard. He overflowed with riotous animal spirits, scoffed and ranted at his colleagues or treated them with the most supercilious contempt; and though he could be at times the most generous and engaging of men, though no other statesman bore defeat with such unforced good humour, or showed himself so free from rancour against his opponents, he was not popular in the Cabinet and not trusted in Parliament. To the King, on the other hand, he was eminently acceptable. He succeeded in very skilfully flattering and almost winning the Queen at the very time when he was a leading counsellor in the rival party of her son. He had a strong natural leaning, intensified by education, to high monarchical views. He would gladly have based his power altogether on royal favour; he delighted in framing his measures with the King alone, and was the only English statesman who fully shared and perhaps fully understood the King's German policy. It was natural that his rare knowledge of Continental affairs should have invested them in his eyes with an interest and an attraction they did not possess in the eyes of ordinary politicians, and that he should have found in them a field peculiarly congenial to his daring and adventurous nature. ‘I want to instil a nobler ambition into you,’ he said to Fox in later years, ‘to make you knock the heads of the kings of Europe together, and jumble something out of it which may be of service to this country.’ As minister of a despotic sovereign he might have risen to great eminence, but he was not suited for the conditions of Parliamentary government, and he usually inclined towards unpopular opinions. Thus he was one of the most powerful opponents of the Militia Bill at a time when the creation of a great militia had almost become a national craze. He was accustomed to assert strongly the dignity of the House of Lords in opposition to the House of Commons. He ruined his political prospects by his bold advocacy of Hanoverian measures. The last public words he is recorded to have uttered were a stern rebuke to Pitt for having spoken of himself rather as the minister of the people than of the Crown, and for having thus introduced the language of the House of Commons into the discussions of the Cabinet; and his last recorded political judgment was an approbation of the unpopular Peace of Paris. His ambition, like his other qualities, was very spasmodic. He could cast aside its prizes with a frank and laughing carelessness that few could rival, but when heated with the contest he was accused of being equally capable of a policy of the most reckless daring and of the most paltry intrigue. Queen Caroline, reviewing the leaders of the Opposition, said that Bolingbroke would tell great lies, Chesterfield small ones, Carteret both kinds.1
Of Chesterfield it is not necessary to say much, for his part in the overthrow of Walpole was much less prominent. He was naturally most fitted to shine in a drawing-room, and though a graceful and accomplished, if somewhat laboured, speaker, his political talents, like those of Sir W. Temple in the preceding generation, were more adapted for diplomacy than for parliamentary life. He was twice ambassador to Holland and discharged his duties with great ability and success. During his short viceroyalty in Ireland he showed very remarkable administrative talents, and his letters to his illegitimate son, which were published contrary to his desire, furnish ample evidence of his delicate but fastidious taste, of his low moral principle, and of his hard, keen, and worldly wisdom. His life was darkened by much private sorrow, which he bore with great courage; and his political prospects were blasted by the hostility of the Queen, who never forgave him for having made his court to the mistress of her husband. Lord Hervey, comparing him to Carteret, says that Carteret had the better public and Court understanding, Chesterfield the better private and social one. His hostility to Walpole dates from his dismissal from office after the Excise scheme. On the fall of that minister he pressed on the measures against him much more violently than either Pulteney or Carteret.
In addition to these older politicians, the ranks of the opponents of Walpole contained a small group of young men who did not altogether coalesce with either party, and who were much ridiculed under the name of Boy Patriots, but who reckoned in their number several men of credit and ability, and one man of the most splendid and majestic genius. The principal members of this party were Lord Cobham, Lyttleton, George Grenville, and, above all, William Pitt. This last politician had entered Parliament for Old Sarum in 1735. He was still a very young and very poor man, holding the post of cornet in a regiment of dragoons, entirely destitute of the influence which springs from rank, experience, or Parliamentary connection, but already distinguished for the lofty purity of his character and for an eloquence which, in its full maturity, has, probably, never been equalled in England and never been surpassed among mankind.
The Tory wing of the Opposition appears to have been numerically about equal to the Whig one. It consisted of about 110 members, but it was far from unanimous. One section was distinctly Jacobite, and it was the policy of Government to attribute Jacobitism to the whole; but with many, Toryism was, probably, mainly a matter of family tradition, and consisted chiefly of attachment to the Established Church, and dislike to Hanoverian politics, to the moneyed interests, and to septennial parliaments. The party had for many years a skilful and eloquent leader in Sir W. Windham—the son-in-law of the Duke of Somerset—who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer under Queen Anne, and who in that capacity had brought forward and carried the Schism Act. His death in 1740 was a great blow to the Opposition, and his successor, Lord Grower, afterwards abandoned the party. Among the Members who usually acted with the Tories was Sir John Barnard, a retired merchant, who had acquired great influence in the House as the only man capable of coping with Walpole on questions of finance, and the party included Shippen, the able and honest leader of the Jacobites. It consisted, for the most part, of country squires of little education and strong prejudices, but in general superior to their allies in rectitude of purpose and sincerity of conviction.
In addition to the parliamentary combatants there is another influence to be mentioned. Bolingbroke, though excluded from the parliamentary arena, had, as I have said, devoted his great experience and his brilliant pen to the service of the Opposition, and in one respect at least his policy was now the exact opposite to that which he had pursued under Anne. He had then, in opposition to Oxford, endeavoured to make the lines of party division as clear and strong as possible, to put an end to the system of divided administrations, and to expel all Whigs from the Government. Now, however, when his party was apparently hopelessly shattered, he employed all his talents in the task of effecting a union between the Tories and a large section of the Whigs. In his ‘Dissertation on Parties’ and in his private letters, he maintained strongly that the old demarcation of parties had lost all meaning; that the question of dynasty was virtually settled; that the Whig enthusiasm for the House of Hanover was chiefly a party pretext for monopolising all the offices of the State and excluding the Tories as enemies to the establishment; and that this monopoly and this exclusion had necessarily led to an aggrandisement of corrupt influence on the side of those in power, which was fatal to the purity and might easily prove incompatible with the existence of the constitution.1 Corruption, he was accustomed to maintain, is much more dangerous to English liberty than prerogative, because it is slow and insensible in its operation, because it arouses no feeling of opposition in the country like that which follows an unconstitutional act, and because its influence is especially felt in the very House which is the appointed guardian of the interests of the people. A warm and affectionate friendship with Windham gave Bolingbroke for a considerable time an ascendancy over those Tories who had abandoned Jacobitism, while his position as coeditor with Pulteney of the ‘Craftsman,’ and his confidential relations with many of the discontented Whigs gave him influence with the other section of the Opposition. Bolingbroke, however, was unpopular in the country; he was wearied of the secondary place he was compelled to occupy in party warfare, and owing to this and perhaps to other causes which we are not able to unravel, he retired to France in 1735, and did not again visit England till after the downfall of Walpole. Before his departure, however, he had obtained a great ascendancy over the mind of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who soon became the leading opponent of the Government. It is natural in a government like that of England, that a party in opposition should turn their hopes to the successor of the throne, and it is equally natural that an ambitious Prince should lean towards a course of policy which alone during his father's lifetime enables him to take an independent and a foremost place. Many private causes conspired to inflame the jealousy. The Prince desired to marry a Prussian Princess, and the King refused his request. After the marriage of the Prince with the Princess of Saxe Grotha, the King only granted him an allowance of 50,000l. a year, though the King himself when Prince of Wales had received an allowance of 100,000l. Besides this, the Prince's affable manners rendered him more popular in the country than, the King, and his tastes inclined him to the brilliant literary and social circle which was in opposition to the ministry. From 1734 there was an open breach, and in 1737 the Prince took the extraordinary step of inducing the Opposition to bring forward a motion in Parliament urging the King to allow his son out of the Civil list 100,000l. a year. The Court was naturally furious, and Walpole succeeded with some difficulty in defeating the motion. Lord Hervey has left us a curious picture of the feelings of the royal family at this time—the Queen a hundred times a day saying she wished her son would fall dead with apoplexy, cursing the hour of his birth, and describing him as ‘a nauseous beast,’ ‘the greatest liar that ever spoke,’ while his sister declared that she grudged him every hour he continued to breathe, and the King regarded him with a steady though somewhat calmer hatred. The Prince, on the other hand, seems to have lost no opportunity of irritating his father and his mother; and when his wife was in labour he hurried her, in the midst of her pains and at the imminent danger of her life, from Hampton Court to St. James's, for the sole purpose of insulting the King, who had given orders that the lying-in should take place at the former palace. With the same motive he made his Court the special centre of opposition to the Government, and he exerted all his influence for the ruin of Walpole.1
While all these elements of strength were combining against the minister, the death of the Queen2 deprived him of his firmest friend. She died solemnly commending her husband to his care, and her loss was never replaced. He now stood alone, confronting all the ablest debaters in Parliament, whom his jealousy had driven into opposition, while intrigues and dissensions were undermining his position at the Court and in the Cabinet, and while a fierce storm of popular indignation was raging without. He had somewhat ostentatiously displayed his contempt for literature, and most of the ablest political writers were arrayed against him. He had ridiculed the cry of parliamentary purity and the aspirations of young politicians, and all the hope and promise of England was with his opponents. He had laboured through good report and through evil report to maintain the peace of Europe, and the Opposition leaders succeeded in arousing in the country a martial frenzy which it was impossible to resist.
The pretext was the severities of the Spaniards to English sailors. Spain, in attempting to monopolise the commerce of the most important part of the New World, and in forbidding all other European countries from holding intercourse with it, had advanced a claim which sooner or later must inevitably have led to war. Her right, however, to regulate the traffic with her trans-Atlantic dominions had been fully recognised by England; the principle of trade monopoly was strenuously maintained by England in her own dominions, and by an article in the Treaty of Utrecht, in addition to the trade in negroes, English commerce with Spanish America had been expressly restricted to a single ship of the burden of 600 tons. This treaty was soon systematically violated. An immense illicit trade sprang up, which was for a time unmolested, but was afterwards met by a rigid exercise of the right of search on the high seas, and by the constant seizure of English ships, and it was accompanied on both sides by many acts of violence, insolence, and barbarity. A dispute had at the same time arisen between the two nations about the right of the English traders to cut logwood in the Bay of Campeachy, and to gather salt on the Island of Tortuga, and there were chronic difficulties about the frontiers of Georgia and Carolina on the one side, and of Florida on the other. For many years the ill-feeling smouldered on, and it gradually assumed very formidable proportions. The maintenance of the balance of power had been the chief cause of the wars of the century, and it was observed with truth that there was a balance by sea as well as by land. The growing preponderance of the English navy and of English commerce had long been seen with a jealous eye both in Spain and in France, and strong mutual interests drew the two countries together. The recovery of Gibraltar had since the Peace of Utrecht been a great object of Spanish policy, and Spain had lost, with her dominions in the Netherlands, her chief reason for desiring an English alliance and her chief cause of quarrel with France. In the counsels of the latter country a strong military party had appeared who protested against the pacific policy of Fleury, who maintained that French continental interests had been unduly sacrificed to England, and who desired to revive, in part at least, the policy of Lewis XIV. and to seek new combinations of power. This party was strengthened by the English treaty with the Emperor in 1731, which was regarded with some reason as the abandonment of a French for an Austrian alliance, and also by the great danger of an English declaration of war during the struggle of 1733. At the close of that year a secret treaty, called the Family Compact, was signed by the Kings of France and Spain, with the object of guarding against the naval supremacy of England. By this treaty the French agreed, if necessary, to assist Spain in her efforts to extirpate the abuses which crept into her trade with England, and also to endeavour to procure for Spain the cession of Gibraltar; while Spain agreed, on a fitting occasion, to revoke the trade privileges of England and to admit France to a large share of her trans-Atlantic commerce.
This treaty was a profound secret, and was unknown both to Walpole and the Opposition, but there were several signs of a growing coldness between England and France. Chauvelin, who was Secretary of State for foreign affairs from 1727 to 1737, gradually acquired almost a complete empire over the mind of Fleury, and his influence was usually very hostile to the English alliance. In 1735 the English minister carried on a very secret negotiation with him, and endeavoured by the offer of a large bribe to win him to his interest; but the attempt does not appear to have been successful, and the disgrace and exile of Chauvelin, in the beginning of 1737, was regarded as a great triumph of English policy.1 On sea France displayed a new activity, while Spain, secure in her secret alliance, grew more severe in enforcing the right of search against British sailors. The latter, who despised and hated the Spaniards as foreigners, as Papists, and as ancient enemies, appear to have continually acted with great insolence. The Spaniards in their turn retaliated by many acts of violence, which were studiously collected, aggravated, and circulated in England. One story especially produced a deep impression. An English captain named Jenkins was brought before Parliament and alleged that when sailing for Jamaica, so far back as 1731, he had been seized by Spanish sailors, tortured and deprived of his ears; and when he was asked what he thought when he found himself in the hands of such barbarians, he answered, in words which had doubtless been suggested to him, and which were soon repeated through the length and breadth of England, that ‘he had recommended his soul to God and his cause to his country.’ The truth of the story is extremely doubtful, but the end that was aimed at was attained.1 The indignation of the people, fanned as it was by the press and by the untiring efforts of all sections of the Opposition, became uncontrollable. Every device was employed to sustain it. English sailors returned from captivity in Spain were planted at the Exchange, exhibiting to the crowds who passed by, specimens of the loathsome food they were obliged to eat in the dungeons of Spain. Literature caught up the excitement, and it was reflected in the poetry of Pope, of Glover, and of Johnson. Walpole tried bravely and ably to moderate it, but his conduct was branded as the grossest pusillanimity. The King fully shared the popular sentiment. Petitions poured into Parliament from every part of the kingdom demanding redress; while Spain, relying on the letter of the treaty and on the support of France, met every overture with suspicion or arrogance. Strong resolutions were carried through both the Commons and Lords. Letters of marque and reprisal were offered to the merchants. Admiral Haddock was despatched with a fleet of ten ships to the Mediterranean, and troops were sent to the infant colony of Georgia to protect it from an apprehended invasion.
These events took place in 1738. It is a remarkable proof of the tact and influence of Walpole that, notwithstanding the fierce and warlike spirit in the country, in the Parliament and in the palace, notwithstanding the fact that in his own Cabinet both Newcastle and Hardwicke were advocates of war, the catastrophe did not take place till the November of the following year. It is clear that in the essential points of difference England was in the wrong. A plain treaty had been grossly and continually violated by English sailors. The right of search by which Spain attempted to enforce it, though often harshly and improperly exercised, was perfectly legal, and before the war was ended some of the noisiest of those who now denounced it were compelled to acknowledge the fact. Walpole himself had no doubt on the subject, but he tried in vain to convince the country. The House of Lords passed a resolution strongly condemning the right of search, and the people, prompted by the leaders of the Opposition and now fully excited, insisted upon its unqualified relinquishment. All that could be done was to negotiate about the many instances of gross and unwarrantable violence of which Spanish captains had been guilty. The country was full of accounts of English sailors who had been seized by the Spaniards, plundered of all they possessed, laden with chains in a tropical climate, imprisoned for long periods in unhealthy dungeons, tortured or consigned to the tender mercies of the Inquisition. In these accounts there was much exaggeration and not a little deliberate falsehood, but there was also a real basis of fact. After great difficulties, and by a combination of intimidation and address, Spain was induced to sign a convention regulating the outstanding accounts between the two nations and awarding to England as compensation a balance which was ultimately settled at 95,000l. No mention was made in this convention of the right of search, or of the punishment of the offending captains, and Spain was only induced to sign it, by England consenting to acknowledge a doubtful claim of compensation for Spanish ships that had been captured by Byng in 1718. It was soon, however, plain that this convention could not finally settle the differences between the two countries. Walpole succeeded, though with great difficulty, in carrying it through both Houses, and the Opposition, exasperated by his success, for a time seceded. In the country, however, the outery was fierce and loud, and the Prince of Wales put himself at the head of the malcontents. The divisions of the Cabinet became more and more serious. The attitude of France towards England grew steadily hostile, and the language of Spain proportionately haughty. She threatened immediate reprisals upon the South Sea Company on account of an old debt which was alleged to be unpaid. She remonstrated, with an arrogance an English minister could hardly brook, against the presence of a British fleet in the Mediterranean. She reasserted in the strongest language that right of search which, the English nation was resolved at all hazards to resist.
The Opposition had now succeeded in their design. War had become inevitable; and Walpole, instead of retiring, as he should have done, declared it himself. ‘They are ringing their bells now,’ he exclaimed, as the joy bells pealed at the announcement, ‘they will be wringing their hands soon.’ It was in vain, however, that he had yielded to the clamour, for the long agony of his ministry had already begun. Supporter after supporter dropped away. The Duke of Argyle, the most powerful and eloquent of the Scottish chiefs, had gone into open opposition1 ; and his influence, combined with the irritation due to the repressive measures that followed the Porteous riots, produced at the next election, for the first time, a Scotch majority hostile to the minister. The Duke of Newcastle was moody, discontented, and uncertain. The authority of the minister in his Cabinet, and his majority in Parliament, steadily declined. The military organisation having fallen into decay during the long peace, the war was feebly and unsuccessfully conducted, and the commanders by land and sea were jealous and disunited. Anson plundered and burnt Paita, and captured a few Spanish prizes. Admiral Vernon took Porto Bello, but the capture was speedily relinquished; and Vernon, being a personal enemy of Walpole, his triumph rather weakened than strengthened the Government. With these exceptions, the first period of the war presented little more than a monotony of disaster. The repulse of an expedition against Carthagena, the abandonment of an expedition against Cuba, the destruction of many thousands of English soldiers and sailors by tropical fever, the inactivity of the British fleet in the Mediterranean, the rapid decline of British commerce, accompanied by severe distress at home—all contributed to the discontent. In the midst of these calamities, a new series of events began, which soon plunged the greater part of Europe into war. In October 1740 the Emperor Charles VI. died, after a very short illness, at the early age of fifty-five, leaving no son. For many years the great objects of his policy had been to bequeath his whole Austrian dominions to his daughter Maria Theresa, and to obtain for her husband the Duke of Tuscany, and former ruler of Lorraine, the Imperial crown. The latter object could, of course, only be attained when the vacancy occurred, and by the ordinary process of election; but in order to secure the former, Charles VI. had promulgated the law called the Pragmatic Sanction, regulating the succession, and had obtained a solemn assent to that law from the Germanic body, and from the great hereditary States of Europe. With so distinct and so recent a recognition of her title by all the great Powers of Europe, the young Archduchess, it was hoped, would have no difficulty in assuming the throne as Queen of Hungary and of the other hereditary dominions of her father, and she did so with the warm assent of her subjects. She was, however, a young and inexperienced woman, wholly unversed in public business, and at this time far advanced in pregnancy. Her dominions were threatened by the Turks from without, and corroded by serious dissensions within. Her army, exclusive of the troops in Italy and the Netherlands, amounted to only 30,000 men, and her whole treasure consisted of 100,000 florins, which were claimed by the Empress dowager.1 All these circumstances might have moved generous natures in her favour, but they served only to stimulate the rapacity of her neighbours. The Elector of Bavaria had never signed the Pragmatic Sanction, and he laid claim to the Austrian throne on grounds which were demonstrably worthless. France had not only assented to, but even guaranteed, the Pragmatic Sanction; and Cardinal Fleury, who was at the head of affairs, would probably have kept his faith, but he was now a very old and vacillating man, and his hand was forced by Marshal Belleisle, who, at the head of a powerful body of French nobles, saw in the weakness of the young queen an opportunity of aggrandising France, and dismembering an ancient rival. Prussia also was a party to the Pragmatic Sanction; but Frederick II., who had just ascended the throne, was burdened with no scruples; he found himself at the head of an admirable army of 76,000 men, and was impatient to employ it in the plunder of his enfeebled neighbour.
The Elector of Bavaria refused to acknowledge the title of the Empress, but the first blow was struck by Frederick. That he was moved to this course simply by the consciousness of his own great military strength, and of the weakness and disorganisation of the Empire; that he sought his own aggrandisement with circumstances of peculiar treachery, and with a clear knowledge that he was about to apply the spark to a powder magazine, and to involve the greater part of Europe in the horrors of war, are facts which remain intact after all the elaborate apologies that have been written in his favour. He was a man of singularly clear, vivid, and rapid judgment, admirably courageous in seizing perilous opportunities, and in encountering adversity; admirably energetic and indefatigable in raising to the highest point of efficiency all the details both of civil and military administration. Perfectly free from every tinge of religious bigotry, he was one of the most tolerant rulers of his age, and he was one of the first who, by abolishing torture in his dominions, introduced the principles of Beccaria into practical legislation. Though intensely avaricious of real power, and disposed to exercise a petty, meddling, and spiteful despotism in the smallest spheres,1 he had nothing of the royal love for the pomp and trappings of majesty, nothing of the blind reverence for old forms and for old traditions, nothing of the childish cowardice which so often makes those who are born to the purple unable to hear unwelcome truths or to face unwelcome facts. Like Richelieu, the element of weakness in his character took the form of literary vanity, and of a feeble vein of literary sentimentality, but it never affected his active career. Unlike Napoleon, to whom in many respects he bore a striking resemblance, his faculties were always completely under his control; he was never intoxicated, either by the magnitude of his schemes or by the violence of his passions, and his shrewd, calculating intellect remained unclouded through all the vicissitudes of fortune. He was at the same time hard and selfish to the core, and without a spark of generosity or of honour. His one object was the aggrandisement of the territory over which he ruled. Of patriotism, in the higher and more disinterested sense of the word, he had little or nothing. All his natural leanings of mind and disposition were French, and few men appear to have had less appreciation of the nobler aspects of the German character, or of the dawning splendour of the German intellect. His own words, describing the motives of his first war, have been often cited: ‘Ambition, interest, the desire of making men talk about me, carried the day, and I decided for war.’
It was not difficult, in the confused and intricate field of German politics, to find pretexts for aggression, and Prussia had one real reason to complain of the conduct of the Empire. One of her most ardent desires was to obtain for herself the succession to the little Duchies of Juliers and Berg. They had passed in 1675 under the sceptre of the Neuberg branch of the Palatine Electoral family, but the reigning Elector Palatine was the last sovereign of that branch, and the succession was claimed by the Prussian sovereigns, and also by the Sulzbach branch of the Palatine family. After much secret negotiation, a compromise was arrived at. Frederick William, who was then King of Prussia, restricted his demand to the possession of Berg; and he made it a condition of the recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction that the Emperor should assist him in obtaining the succession. The treaty was made, but it was speedily broken. The Elector Palatine ardently desired the succession for the Sulzbach branch of his family; and all Catholic Germany looked upon Dusseldorf as an essential frontier fortress against Protestant aggression. It was probable that the Prussian claims could only be enforced by arms, and that France would resent any considerable aggrandisement of Prussia on the Rhine. These and other considerations of German polities threw the Emperor Charles VI. decidedly on the side of the Palatine Succession, and in conjunction with the other great European Powers, he even urged that the Duchy should be provisionally garrisoned by troops belonging to the Sulzbach branch until a European arbitration had decided the disputed succession, Whatever might be the rights of the question of succession, Frederick William considered with reason that the Emperor had broken faith with him, and he speedily opened secret negotiations with France. French statesmen seldom lost an opportunity of obtaining an ally or an influence in Germany, and a secret alliance was ultimately concluded by which they undertook to support the claims of Prussia to a portion of the Duchy, excluding, however, Dusseldorf, the capital.1
This was a real ground of difference. The claims of Prussia to the greater part of the Austrian province of Silesia were of a much more flimsy description. The Duchy of Jägerndorf had once been in the possession of a collateral branch of the House of Brandenburg, which had been deprived of it, it was alleged unjustly, in 1623, and Frederick claimed the territory as lineal descendant, though it had remained undisturbed in Austrian hands for more than a century. It is plain that by the application of such a principle the security of Europe might be at any moment destroyed, for there is no State which has not at some distant period gained or lost territory by acts of at least disputable justice. The Duchies of Liegnitz, Brieg, and Wohlan were claimed on somewhat more complicated grounds. About 1635 a family compact had been made between Frederick, who then governed them as Duke, and the Elector Joachim II., Duke of Brandenburg, providing that in the event of the failure of the male issue of either sovereign, his territory was to pass to the descendants of the other. Ferdinand I., King of Bohemia, who was the feudal lord, refused to recognise this compact, and its validity was in consequence very doubtful; and when in 1675 the ducal house of Liegnitz became extinct, Austria took possession of the territory, and the Elector of Brandenburg was soon after induced to renounce for himself and his descendants all claim to its possession. Frederick maintained this renunciation to be invalid, and he claimed by virtue of the original compact.2
These, however, were mere pretexts for a course of conduct which was decided on very different grounds. With consummate address, and with consummate baseness, Frederick lulled the suspicions of the young Queen to rest by professions of the warmest friendship till his army was on the eve of marching. He made no alliance, but just before starting for the war he said significantly to the French ambassador, ‘I am going, I believe, to play your game, and if I should throw doublets, we will share the stake.’1 Without making any demands, or stating any conditions, without any previous notice, or any declaration of war, he suddenly poured 30,000 soldiers into Silesia, which was plunged in the security of profound peace, and left almost wholly destitute of troops. Then, and not till then, he apprised Maria Theresa of his designs, and offered, if she would cede to him the whole Lower Duchy which he had invaded, to defend her title to the Austrian throne.2 The offer was rejected as an insult, and the whole province was overrun by Prussian soldiers. Breslau and several minor towns were captured, and an army which marched from Moravia, under Marshal Neipperg, to the rescue of Silesia was defeated at the great battle of Molwitz. The signal was given, and from every side the wolves rushed upon their prey. France had at first duped the Queen of Hungary by false and treacherous assurances, but she now flung off the mask, espoused the cause of the Elector of Bavaria, and with that Power entered into the war. The Kings of Spain and of Sardinia and the Elector of Saxony laid claims to portions of the Austrian dominions, and proposed openly or secretly to dismember them. In June 1741 a treaty was signed between France and Prussia, and by the end of October the fortunes of Austria appeared desperate. Silesia was irrecoverably gone. Moravia was invaded by the Prussians. Bohemia was overrun by a united army of French and Bavarians; Vienna was seriously menaced; Linz and Passau were taken; the capture of Prague soon followed, and, before the close of the year, the Elector of Bavaria was crowned King of Bohemia.
The Queen of Hungary, however, presented an inflexible front to her enemies. Driven from Vienna she threw herself on the loyalty of her Hungarian subjects, who received her with an enthusiasm that dispelled every hesitation from her mind, and she urgently called on those Powers which had accepted the Pragmatic Sanction, guaranteeing her succession to the whole Austrian dominions, to assist her in her struggle. Of these Powers, France, Prussia, Spain, and Poland, whose sovereign was the Elector of Saxony, had combined to plunder her. Russia, chiefly by French intrigues, was embroiled in war with Sweden. The Dutch desired above all things to avoid the conflict. In England the feeling of the King, of the people, and of Newcastle and Hardwicke, was in favour of war; but Walpole strained every nerve to maintain peace. In addition to his constitutional and very honourable hatred of war he had many special reasons. He clearly foresaw from the first, what Maria Theresa refused till the last moment to believe, that the French were secretly meditating the dismemberment of Austria, and he was therefore anxious at all costs to put an end to the war between Austria and Prussia. Besides this, England was already at war with Spain, and a French war would probably lead to a Jacobite insurrection. Walpole urgently, but vainly, laboured to induce the Queen of Hungary to propitiate Frederick by the cession of the whole or part of Silesia, to induce Frederick, through fear of the ascendancy of France, to secede from the confederation, and, having failed in both objects, he was dragged reluctantly into the war. In April 1741 the King's speech called upon Parliament to aid him in maintaining the Pragmatic Sanction, and a subsidy of 300,000l. to the Queen of Hungary was voted. In the following month the King, in spite of the remonstrances of Walpole, went over to Hanover to organise a mixed army of English and German troops, but a French army passed the Meuse, and marched rapidly upon Hanover, and the King, scared by the threatened invasion of his Principality, concluded, in his capacity of Elector, without consulting or even informing his English ministers, a treaty pledging Hanover to neutrality for a year. Ever since the accession of the House of Brunswick, Hanover had been a perpetual source of embarrassment and danger to England, but a German war was one of the very few contingencies in which its alliance was of some real value. The indignation excited in England by the treaty of neutrality was in consequence very violent, and nearly at the same time the news arrived that 15,000 Spanish troops, under the protection of a French squadron, had sailed from Barcelona, in spite of the neighbourhood of a British fleet, to attack the Austrian dominions in Italy.
Many of these faults and misfortunes can in no degree be ascribed to Walpole. Many of them were, in fact, the direct consequence of the abandonment of his policy; but in the mood in which the nation then was, they all contributed to his unpopularity. He was, in fact, emphatically a peace minister, and even had it been otherwise, no minister can command the requisite national enthusiasm if he is conducting a war of which he notoriously disapproves. There are few pictures more painful or humiliating than are presented by the last few months of his power. He had lived so long in office, and he had so few other tastes, that he clung to it with a desperate tenacity. His private fortune was disordered. He knew that his fall would be followed by an impeachment, and he had none of the magnanimity of virtue that has supported some statesmen under the ingratitude of nations, and has enabled them to look forward with confidence to the verdict of posterity. Once, it is true, he placed his resignation in the hands of the King, who desired him to continue in office, and he consented too readily for his fame. He encountered the opposition within Parliament, and the obloquy without, with a courage that never flinched, but he felt that the end was drawing near, and his old buoyancy of spirits was gone. ‘He who in former years,’ wrote his son, ‘was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow … now never sleeps above an hour without waking; and he who at dinner always forgot he was minister, and was more gay and thoughtless than all his company, now sits without speaking, and with his eyes fixed, for an hour together.’1 He met a motion for his removal, which was brought forward by Sandys, with a speech of consummate power, and the secession of Shippen and his followers gave him on this occasion the victory. He tried in vain to detach the Prince of Wales from the Opposition by inducing the King to offer him the increase of his allowance which he had long desired. He tried to crush Pitt by depriving him of his commission in the army. He even tried at one time to win a few Jacobite votes by an insincere and futile overture to the Pretender.2 The great frost at the close of 1739 added seriously to his difficulties by the distress and the discontent it produced. The harvest that followed was miserably bad. Bread rose almost to famine price. Bakers’ shops were broken open, and fierce riots took place in many parts of England. The people were angry, sullen, and wretched, and quite disposed to make the minister responsible for their sufferings. At the moment when his unpopularity was at its height the period for a dissolution of Parliament arrived. The feelings of the people could not be doubted, but party connections, borough influence, and a lavish expenditure of secret-service money might still protract his rule, and all three were strained to the uttermost. An unforeseen circumstance appears to have turned the scale. An injudicious and hasty interference of some soldiers in a riot that took place at the Westminster election, though Walpole was certainly wholly unconcerned in it, was made the basis of an absurd and malignant report that the ministers were attempting to coerce the voters by military force, and the indignation thus aroused affected several elections. When Parliament met, in the beginning of December 1741, Walpole had only a bare majority, and after eight weeks of fierce and factious wrangling, being defeated on January 28 on a question relating to an election petition, he resigned.1
He had already provided, with his usual caution, for his fall. In the course of his ministry he had bestowed upon his sons permanent offices, chiefly sinecures, amounting in all to about 15,000l. a-year,2 and had obtained the title of Baron for his eldest son, and the Orders of the Bath and of the Garter for himself. He now procured for himself the title of Earl of Oxford, and a pension of 4,000l. a-year, and for his illegitimate daughter the rank and precedence of an Earl's daughter. He is said, many years before, to have disarmed the animosity of Shippen by saving from punishment a Jacobite friend of that statesman; and he endeavoured in vain to avert an impeachment by inducing the King to offer Pulteney the chief place in the Government on the condition that he would save his predecessor from prosecution. The King, though he had always disliked the peace policy of his minister, acted towards him with a fidelity that has not been sufficiently appreciated; strained all his influence for his protection, and even burst into tears when parting with him. To the mass of the nation, however, the fall of Walpole was the signal of the wildest rejoicing. It was believed that the reign of corruption had at last ended; that triennial parliaments would be restored; that standing armies would be abolished in time of peace; that a new energy would be infused into the conduct of the war; that all pensioners would be excluded from Parliament; that the number of placemen would be strictly limited. Statesmen observed with concern the great force which the democratic element in the country had almost silently acquired during the long and pacific ministry of Walpole. The increasing numbers and wealth of the trading classes, the growth of the great towns, the steady progress of the press, and the discredit which corruption had brought upon the Parliament, had all contributed to produce a spirit beyond the walls of the Legislature such as had never before been shown, except when ecclesiastical interests were concerned. Political agitation assumed new dimensions, and doctrines about the duty of representatives subordinating their judgments to those of their electors, which had scarcely been heard in England since the Commonwealth, were freely expressed. A very able political writer, who had been an ardent opponent of Walpole, but who was much terrified at the aspect the country had assumed upon his fall, has left us a lively picture of what he termed ‘the republican spirit that had so strangely arisen.’ He notices as a new and curious fact the ‘instructions’ drawn up by some of the electors of London, of Westminster, and several other cities to their representatives, prescribing the measures that were required, and asserting or implying ‘that it was the duty of every Member of Parliament to vote in every instance as his constituents should direct him in the House of Commons,’ contrary to ‘the constant and allowed principle of our Constitution that no man, after he is chosen, is to consider himself as a member for any particular place, but as a representative for the whole nation.’ He complains that ‘the views of the popular interest, inflamed, distracted, and misguided as it has been of late, are such as they were never imagined to have been;’ that ‘a party of malcontents, assuming to themselves, though very falsely, the title of the People, claim with it a pretension which no people could have a right to claim, of creating themselves into a new order in the State, affecting a superiority to the whole Legislature, insolently taking upon them to dictate to all the three estates, in which the absolute power of the Government, by all the laws of this country, has indisputably resided ever since it was a Government, and endeavouring in effect to animate the people to resume into their own hands that vague and loose authority which exists (unless in theory) in the people of no country upon earth, and the inconvenience of which is so obvious that it is the first step of mankind, when formed into society, to divest themselves of it, and to delegate it for ever from themselves.’1
In these movements opublic opinion we may clearly trace the conditions that rendered possible the career of Pitt. On the present occasion, however, they were doomed to a speedy disappointment. Petitions poured into Westminster, and for a time Pulteney was the object of a popularity such as few English politicians have ever enjoyed. But in a few days the prospect was overclouded. Statesmen of the most opposite parties had concurred for the purpose of hurling Walpole from power; but when they succeeded, their disunion was at once apparent, and the hollowness of their pretensions to purity was exposed. Pulteney fulfilled his rash pledge of not taking office, but, by a fatal error of judgment, he accepted the earldom of Bath, as well as a seat in the Cabinet, and his influence was irrevocably destroyed.2 He lost all credit with the nation for disinterestedness. He was removed from the House of Commons, which he might have led, and his attempts to exercise a controlling direction over affairs without accepting the responsibility of office utterly failed. The King, it is said, indignant at his conduct, at first shrank from giving him the peerage which in the course of his career he had already three times refused, but the old minister, perceiving clearly the error of his rival, persuaded his master to yield. ‘I have turned the key of the Cabinet on him,’ he exclaimed, with a significant gesture, and he soon afterwards greeted him with mock gravity in the House of Lords, ‘Here we are, my Lord, the two most insignificant men in the kingdom.’ Pulteney, indeed, was utterly overwhelmed by the reproaches of the Tories, by the poignant satires of Sir Hanbury Williams, and by the execration of the people. For years ne had discharged the easy task of criticising abuses which he was not called upon to remedy. He had made himself the great adversary of all corrupt influence, the idol of all who aspired to reform, but no sooner had the hour for action arrived than he shrank ignobly from the helm. Henceforth his political life was a wretched tissue of disappointed hopes. He tried in vain to grasp the reins of power on the death of Lord Wilmington. He ‘tried to assist Carteret in forming an administration in 1746. He declared himself in the next reign a supporter of the Tory Bute, but he never again enjoyed either popular or royal favour. In a few years he was powerless and almost forgotten. He had always loved money too much, and under the influence of age and disappointment this failing is said to have deepened into an avarice not less sordid than that which had clouded the noble faculties of Marlborough.
Walpole also, or, to give him his new title, Orford, soon disappeared from the scene, but his influence endured to the last. For a time his life seemed in imminent danger. The cry of the people for his blood was fierce and general, and politicians of most parties had pledged themselves to impeach him. It soon, however, appeared that, with the exception of Pitt, Chesterfield, and the Duke of Argyle, no man of importance was anxious to push matters to extremity, while many and various influences favoured him. Those who had come in immediate contact with him could hardly be wholly insensible to his many great qualities and to the eminent services he had rendered to the country and the dynasty. The King and House of Lords were warmly in his favour. The Prince of Wales was reconciled to him. Newcastle, though he had often quarrelled with him, was anxious for many reasons to shield him, and negotiated with great tact to prevent the complete triumph of his enemies. 1 Pulteney was alarmed at the sudden impulse given to the Jacobite party, and at the loud cry for the suppression of the standing army, which might, if it succeeded, be fatal to the dynasty, and it was impossible to form an administration without including a considerable section of the former Government. Besides this, corrupt influence had pervaded all parties. So party sincerely wished to change the system, and therefore all parties shrank from exposing it. Walpole was compelled, indeed, to relinquish his pension, which two years after he resumed, and Pulteney was reluctantly obliged to urge on his impeachment, but, as might have been expected, it was without result. Carteret himself took a leading part in the House of Lords in opposing the Bill granting indemnity to those who gave evidence against Walpole, and the blunders of the new ministers, if they did not restore the popularity of the fallen statesman, at least speedily diverted into new channels the indignation of the people.
He retained his influence with the King to the last, and he used it successfully to divide his adversaries, to perpetuate the exclusion of the Tory party, and to bring the Pelhams into the forefront. He died in 1745, after great suffering, which he bore with great courage. ‘A few days before he died,’ writes his biographer, ‘the Duke of Cumberland, who bad ineffectually remonstrated with the King against a marriage with the Princess of Denmark, who was deformed, sent his governor, Mr. Poyntz, to consult the Earl of Orford on the best methods which he could adopt to avoid the match. After a moment's reflection, Orford (who was well aware of the penurious character of the King) advised him to give his consent to the marriage on condition of receiving an ample and immediate establishment, ‘and believe me,’ he added, ‘when I say the match will be no longer pressed.’ The Duke followed the advice, and the event happened as the dying statesman had foretold.’2
The political changes which immediately followed the retirement of Walpole may be speedily dismissed. For several years they consisted chiefly of the antagonism of Carteret and Puteney with the Pelhams. Pulteney, as I have said, though accepting a seat in the Cabinet, at first declined office, but at his desire the Earl of Wilmington, the old colleague of Walpole and a man of the most moderate intelligence, became the nominal head of the Government. He had broken away from Walpole on the question of the Spanish war, but was otherwise thoroughly identified with the former Government. Carteret obtained the Secretaryship of State for the Northern Department, which involved the direction of foreign affairs. Newcastle occupied the corresponding post in home affairs; his brother, Henry Pelham, was Paymaster of the Forces, and Lord Hardwicke continued to be Chancellor. With two or three exceptions the Tories were still excluded from office, as were also Chesterfield and Pitt, who were personally displeasing to the King, and the offices of the Government were divided in tolerably fair proportions between the followers of the great Whig leaders and the personal adherents of the Prince of Wales. In spite of all the clamour that had been raised about the abuses under Walpole, the system of home government continued essentially the same. The Septennial Act was maintained against every attack; and if there was a little more decorum in the government, there was probably quite as much corruption.
The foreign policy of the Government, however, gained considerably in energy, and the change was but one of many circumstances that favoured Maria Theresa. We have already seen that by October 1741 her fortunes had sunk to the lowest ebb, but a great revulsion speedily set in. The martial enthusiasm of the Hungarians, the subsidy from England, and the brilliant military talents of General Khevenhuller, restored her armies. Vienna was put in a state of defence, and at the same time jealousies and suspicion made their way among the confederates. The Electors of Bavaria and Saxony were already in some degree divided; and the Germans, and especially Frederick, were alarmed by the growing ascendancy, and irritated by the haughty demeanour of the French. In the moment of her extreme depression, the Queen consented to a concession which England had vainly urged upon her before, and which laid the foundation of her future success. In October 1741 she entered into a secret convention with Frederick, by which that astute sovereign agreed to desert his allies, and desist from hostilities, on condition of ultimately obtaining Lower Silesia, with Breslau and Neisse. Every precaution was taken to ensure secrecy. It was arranged that Frederick should continue to besiege Neisse, that the town should ultimately be surrendered to him, and that his troops should then retire into winter quarters, and take no further part in the war. As the sacrifice of a few more lives was perfectly indifferent to the contracting parties, and in order that no one should suspect the treachery that was contemplated, Neisse, after the arrangement had been made for its surrender, was subjected for four days and four nights to the horrors of bombardment. Frederick at the same time talked, with his usual cynical frankness, to the English ambassador about the best way of attacking his allies the French; and observed, that if the Queen of Hungary prospered, he would perhaps support her, if not—everyone must look for himself.1 He only assented verbally to this convention, and, no doubt, resolved to await the course of events, in order to decide which Power it was his interest finally to betray; but in the meantime the Austrians obtained a respite, which enabled them to throw their whole forces upon their other enemies. Two brilliant campaigns followed. The greater part of Bohemia was recovered by an army under the Duke of Lorraine, and the French were hemmed in at Prague; while another army, under General Khevenhuller, invaded Upper Austria, drove 10,000 French soldiers within the walls of Linz, blockaded them, defeated a body of Bohemians who were sent to the rescue, compelled the whole French army to surrender, and then, crossing the frontier, poured in a resistless torrent over Bavaria. The fairest plains of that beautiful land were desolated by hosts of irregular troops from Hungary, Croatia, and the Tyrol; and on the 12th of February the Austrians marched in triumph into Munich. On that very day the Elector of Bavaria was crowned Emperor of Germany, at Frankfort, under the title of Charles VII., and the imperial crown was thus, for the first time, for many generations, separated from the House of Austria.
The wheel again turned. Frederick witnessed with great alarm the rapid success of the Austrians; he concluded, probably with some reason, that if they advanced further he would never obtain the cession for which he had stipulated, and he complained also that the secret of his truce had not been strictly kept. He accordingly broke the convention, united himself again with the new Emperor, and entered Moravia. The town of Crlatz was besieged and taken, and after several indecisive skirmishes and several abortive negotiations, the fortune of the war was decided by a great battle at Czaslau, or Chotusitz, in Bohemia. The Austrians were commanded by Prince Charles of Lorraine; the Prussians by Frederick in person. The result was a great Prussian victory. The Austrians were driven back, with the loss of 18 cannon and about 7,000 men.
Both parties now sincerely desired peace. Frederick foresaw the dangers of a complete French ascendancy in Grermany, and his army was seriously weakened. The Austrians had retired in good order at Czaslau. The Prussian losses were but little inferior to those of the enemy, and their cavalry had been almost annihilated. On the other hand, it appeared evident that the intervention or non-intervention of Prussia decided the fortunes of the war, and it was probable that the French, unless speedily checked, would regain their ascendancy in Bohemia. These considerations, aided by the active good offices of England, led to the Peace of Breslau, by which Austria ceded to Prussia all Lower and the greater part of Upper Silesia as well as the country about Grlatz, while Frederick on his part ceased from all hostility, withdrew his troops from the French army, and acknowledged the Pragmatic Sanction. The preliminaries of this peace were signed on June 11, and the definitive peace was accepted on July 28, 1742. The Elector of Saxony also acceded to it, and availed himself of the opportunity of withdrawing from the war.
The conditions of the contest were thus profoundly altered. The first consequence was the almost complete expulsion of the French from Bohemia. Suddenly deserted by their allies, outnumbered by their enemies, and wasted by sickness and by famine, they were driven from place to place, and the whole army was at last blockaded in Prague. An army sent to its relief under the command of Maillebois, was repulsed and compelled to fall back on Bavaria, and the surrender of the French appeared inevitable. This fate was averted by the masterly strategy of Belleisle, who succeeded, in the midst of a dark December night, in evading the Austrians, and who conducted the bulk of his army unbroken for a twelve days’ march over a waste of ice and snow and through the midst of a hostile country. They had no covering by night and no subsistence except frozen bread, and they were harassed at every step by the enemy. Hundreds died through cold and hardship. The roads were strewn with human bodies stiffening in the frost, but every cannon and banner was brought in safety to Eger, a frontier town of Bohemia, which was still in the hands of the French. Prague held out a little longer, but it soon succumbed. The French commander declared that unless he obtained honourable terms he would burn the city, and in order to save the capital of Bohemia, the French garrison of 6,000 men were suffered to march out with the honours of war, and to join their comrades at Eger. On Jan. 2, Belleisle began his homeward march, and the campaign had been so deadly that of 40,000 men who had invaded Germany only 8,000 recrossed the Rhine. Fleury, who had been dragged into a war which he had never desired and which he was unfit to conduct, had already vainly sued for peace. His overtures were spurned; and the Austrian Government, in order to sow dissension among its enemies, published the letter he had written. His long life had been for the most part upright, honourable, and useful; and if he assented in his last years to acts which were grossly criminal, history will readily forgive faults which were due to the weakness of extreme old age. He died in January in his ninetieth year. In May, 1743, Maria Theresa was crowned in Prague.
The effects of the change of government in England were felt in almost every quarter. Carteret at once sent Maria Theresa the assurance of his full support, and a new energy was infused into the war. The struggle between England and Spain had altogether merged in the great European war, and the chief efforts of the Spaniards were directed against the Austrian dominions in Italy. The kingdom of Naples, which had passed under Austrian rule during the war of the Succession, had, as we have seen, been restored to the Spanish line in the war which ended in 1740, and Don Carlos, who ruled it was altogether subservient to Spanish policy. The Duke of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa, was sovereign of Tuscany; and the Austrian possessions consisted of the Duchy of Milan, and the provinces of Mantua and Placentia. They were garrisoned at the opening of the war by only 15,000 men, and their most dangerous enemy was the King of Sardinia, who had gradually extended his dominions into Lombardy, and whose army was, probably, the largest and most efficient in Italy. ‘The Milanese,’ his father is reported to have said, ‘is like an artichoke, to be eaten leaf by leaf,’ and the skill and perseverance with which for many generations the House of Savoy pursued that policy, have in our own day had their reward. Spanish troops had landed at Naples as early as November 1741. The King of Sardinia, the Prince of Modena, and the Republic of Genoa were on the same side. Venice was completely neutral, Tuscany was compelled to declare herself so, and a French army was soon to cross the Alps. The King of Sardinia, however, at this critical moment, was alarmed by the ambitious projects openly avowed by the Spaniards, and he was induced by English influence to change sides. He obtained the promise of certain territorial concessions from Austria, and of an annual subsidy of 200,000l. from England; and on these conditions he suddenly marched with an army of 30,000 men to the support of the Austrians. All the plans of the confederates were disconcerted by this defection. The Spaniards went into winter quarters near Bologna in October, fought an unsuccessful battle at Campo Santo in the following February, and then retired to Rimini, leaving Lombardy in complete tranquillity. The British fleet in the Mediterranean had been largely strengthened by Carteret, and it did good service to the cause. It burnt a Spanish squadron in the French port of St. Tropez, compelled the King of Naples, by the threat of bombardment, to withdraw his troops from the Spanish army, and sign an engagement of neutrality, destroyed large provisions of corn collected by the Genoese for the Spanish army, and cut off that army from all communications by sea.
The same good fortune attended the Austrians in every field. In the north, Russia was completely victorious over the Swedes, and the war was terminated by the Peace of Abo in August 1743.
A defensive alliance, concluded between Elizabeth of Russia and George II. of England, materially diminished the influence of France in the north of Europe, and a considerable sum was sent from Russia to the Queen of Hungary as a pledge of her active support. In May 1743 Bavaria, which had been reoccupied by its sovereign the Emperor in the October of the preceding year, was again invaded, and it was soon completely subjugated. Six thousand Bavarians, with their baggage, standards, and cannons, were captured at Erblach. A French army under Broglio was driven beyond the Rhine. Another French army was expelled from the Upper Palatinate. Eger, the last Bohemian post occupied by the French, was blockaded, and in September it fell. The unhappy Emperor fled hastily from Munich, and being defeated on all sides, and having no hope of assistance, he signed a treaty of neutrality by which he renounced all pretensions to the Austrian succession, and yielded his hereditary dominions to the Queen of Hungary, till the conclusion of a general peace. His army was withdrawn to Franconia, and he himself retired to Frankfort.
The Peace of Breslau had been chiefly the work of Carteret,1 and he displayed equal zeal in urging the Dutch into the war. This object was at last so far accomplished that they very reluctantly consented to send a contingent to a great confederate army which was being formed in Flanders, under the direction of England and the command of the Earl of Stair, for the purpose of acting against the French, and, if possible, of invading France. It ultimately consisted of some 44,000 men, and was composed of about an equal number of British and Hanoverian soldiers, of 6,000 Hessians, in English pay, and of a contingent of Austrians and of Dutch. It started from Flanders in February 1742–43, marched slowly through the bishopric of Liége, where it was joined by the Austrians, under the Duke of Ahremberg, and by 16,000 Hanoverians in British pay, crossed the Rhine on May 14, and encamped on the 23rd in the neighbourhood of Frankfort. It was, however, soon after hemmed in by a superior French force under Noailles. The defiles above Aschaffenburg and the posts of the Upper Maine were occupied by the French. The allies were out-manœuvred and cut off from succours, and their difficulty in obtaining provisions was so great that a capitulation seemed not improbable. Under these disastrous circumstances, George II., accompanied by the Duke of Cumberland and Carteret, joined the army. A great battle was fought at Dettingen, on June 27, and the bravery of the allied forces and the rashness of the Duke of Grammont, which disconcerted the plans of Noailles, gave the victory to the confederates, extricated the army from its embarrassments, and compelled the French to recross the Maine. No other important consequences followed. Innumerable divisions paralysed the army. The King of Prussia showed hostile intentions. The other German princes were divided in their views. The Dutch discouraged all prosecution of the war, and the allied forces after successively occupying Hanau, Worms, and Spire, at last retired to winter quarters in Flanders. A deadly hostility had sprung up between the British and the Hanoverian troops, and public opinion at home was now violently opposed to Carteret and to the war.
This great revulsion of feeling is to be ascribed to many causes. The war I am describing was one of the most tangled and complicated upon record, but amidst all its confused episodes and various objects, one great change was apparent. It had been a war for the maintenance of the Pragmatic Sanction and of the integrity of Austria. It had become a war for the conquest and dismemberment of France. Few sovereigns have been more deeply injured than Maria Theresa, and her haughty, ambitious, and somewhat vindictive nature, now flushed with a succession of conquests, was burning to retaliate upon her enemies. She desired to deprive the Emperor of the imperial crown, and to place it on the head of her husband, to annex Bavaria permanently to the Austrian dominions, to wrest Alsace and Lorraine from France, and Naples from the Spanish line; and if it was in her power she would undoubtedly have attempted to recover Silesia. Her impracticable temper and her ambitious views had become the chief obstacle to the pacification of Europe. She had scornfully rejected the overtures of Fleury for peace. She refused, in spite of the remonstrances of England, to grant the Emperor a definite peace, although he asked only the recognition of his perfectly legal title as Emperor of Germany, and the security of his old hereditary dominions. She long refused to grant the King of Sardinia the concessions that had been promised, and it was not until a whole summer had been wasted, and until the King had threatened to go over to her enemies, that she consented, in September 1743, to sign the Treaty of Worms. By this treaty she at last relinquished in his favour her pretensions to the Marquisate of Finale, which was then in the possession of the Genoese, ceded Placentia and some small districts in Austrian Italy, and made an offensive alliance with the King for the prosecution of the war. Her present object was the invasion of France by two great armies, that of Prince Charles, which was massed upon the frontiers of Alsace, and that of the confederates, who had taken up their quarters at Hanau and Worms. England had gone far in supporting her in this policy, but it was open to the very gravest objections. It was one thing to fulfil the obligations of a distinct treaty and to prevent the dismemberment of an Empire, which was essential to the balance of power. It was quite another thing to support Austria in projects of aggrandisement which alarmed all the conservative instincts of Europe, and could only be realised by a long, bloody, and expensive war. England had entered into the struggle as a mere auxiliary and for a definite purpose, and her mission might reasonably be looked upon as fulfilled. Silesia had, it is true, been ceded to Prussia, but both the Emperor and France would have been perfectly willing to accept a peace leaving the Queen of Hungary in undisturbed possession of all the remainder of the Austrian dominions. It was maintained, and surely with reason, that England should have insisted on the acceptance of such a peace, and that if she could not induce Maria Theresa to acquiesce, she should at least herself have withdrawn from the war.1 She had not done so. She had, on the contrary, plunged more and more deeply into Continental affairs. By the Treaty of Worms she bound herself to continue the subsidy of the King of Sardinia. She was still paying Austrian troops, and a secret convention binding her to continue the subsidy to the Queen of Hungary, ‘as long as the war should continue, or the necessity of her affairs should require,’ as well as a project for bestowing a subsidy on the Emperor, on condition of his joining the Austrians against his allies the French, had both been recently proposed by Carteret and the King, and had only been defeated by the Pelham influence at home. The army of Flanders was an English creation, and most of its soldiers were either English or in English pay. By forming it, England had completely abandoned the wise policy of confining herself as much as possible to maritime warfare, and she had also, in direct opposition to the wishes of the Dutch, added very seriously to the dangers of the war by gratuitously attracting it towards the Dutch barrier.
But that which made the war most unpopular was the alleged subordination of English to Hanoverian interests. On no other subject was English public opinion so sensitive, and the orators of the Opposition exerted all their powers to inflame the feeling. The invective of Pitt, who declared that ‘it was now too apparent that this great, this powerful, this formidable kingdom is considered only as a province to a despicable Electorate;’ the sarcasm of Chesterfield, who suggested that the one effectual method of destroying Jacobitism would be to bestow Hanover on the Pretender, as the English people would never again tolerate a ruler from that country; the bitter witticism of a popular pamphleteer,1 who, alluding to the white horse in the arms of Hanover, selected for his motto the text in the Revelation, ‘I looked, and behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed,’ only represented in an emphatic form the common sentiment both of the army and of the people. The English and Hanoverians who fought side by side at Dettingen, probably hated each other more intensely than they hated the French, and the alleged partiality of the King to the Hanoverians even led to the angry resignation of Lord Stair.
It is impossible to doubt that amid much misrepresentation and exaggeration there was some real ground of complaint, and that England, as was said, was too often ‘steered by a Hanoverian rudder.’ As the sovereign of a small Continental state constantly exposed to French ambition, as a German prince keenly interested in German politics, and especially anxious to have no superior in Germany except the Emperor, George II. had a far stronger interest in desiring, at one time the invasion and dismemberment of France, and at another the repression of the growing power of Prussia, than he could have had as a mere sovereign of England. The Electorate lay nearest his heart. Hanoverian interests undoubtedly coloured his foreign policy, and he had a strong disposition to employ the resources of his kingdom in the interests of his Electorate. The manner in which in the former reign England had been embroiled with both Sweden and Russia on account of Bremen and Verden, the Treaty of Hanover, the exaggerated German subsidies which had followed it, and the undoubted fact that many of those subsidies were rendered necessary only by the position of Hanover, had already produced a jealousy which the events of the new war greatly increased. The treaty of neutrality was regarded as a disgraceful abandonment, and the prolongation of the war, the attempted multiplication of German subsidies, and the too frequent custom of taking important resolutions, affecting England, on the Continent with little or no consultation with the English ministers, were all cited as examples of the partiality of the King. The most flagrant case, however, was his determination to throw the chief expense of the Hanoverian army, in time of war, upon England. After the Treaty of Breslau he declared his intention of reducing the Hanoverian army to its peace footing, as his German dominions were then unmolested, and the expense was too great for their resources, and his ministers in England then proceeded to prevent this measure by taking 16,000 Hanoverian troops into British pay. No measure of the time excited such violent hostility, and the intervention of Lord Orford was required to carry it. Pitt openly declared that the interest of England imperatively required complete separation from Hanover. In the House of Lords twenty-four peers signed a protest against it, in language so bitterly offensive to the sovereign that it almost savoured of revolution. They stated that some of the Hanoverian troops had refused to form the first line at Dettingen, that others disobeyed the English general after the battle, that the greater number, ‘not contented to avoid being of any use either in front or in the rear, determined to be of use nowhere, and halted as soon as they came within sight and reach of the battle, though pressed by the British officers, and invited by the British soldiers, to share the glory, and complete, as they might have done, the victory of the day.’ They contended that ‘the future co-operation of our national troops with these mercenaries has been rendered impracticable, and even their meeting dangerous;’ they complained of ‘the many instances of partiality by which the Hanoverians were unhappily distinguished, and our brave fellow subjects, the British forces, undeservedly discouraged’; of ‘the constant preference’ given to the former ‘in quarters, forage, &c.’; of the fact that ‘the Hanoverian Guards had for some days done duty upon his Majesty at Aschaffenburg,’ which, they added, ‘we look upon as the highest dishonour to his Majesty and this nation’; of ‘the abject flattery and criminal misrepresentation which this partiality, blameless in itself, has unhappily given occasion to, and by which in its turn it has been fomented’; of the many instances ‘wherein the blood and treasure of this nation have been lavishly employed when no British interest, and, as we conceive, some foreign interest alone, was concerned.’ That ‘the interests of one country are carried on in subordination to those of another, constitutes,’ they said, ‘the true and mortifying definition of a province,’ and they insinuated, in no obscure terms, that England was actually in this position, that ‘an inferior German principality was really, and Great Britain only nominally, the director’ of the policy of the empire.1
Pamphlets, the most remarkable of which were ascribed to the pen of Chesterfield, containing similar accusations in even stronger language, were widely circulated,1 and no agitation was necessary to strengthen the indignation at the German policy of the Court. Of that policy Carteret was the special representative. He was usually abroad with the King. He based his power chiefly on his influence upon the King's mind, he cordially threw himself into the King's views about the German war, and he aimed at a German coalition, for the purpose of wresting Alsace and Lorraine from France, and thus compensating Maria Theresa for the loss of Silesia. His arrogance or recklessness offended all with whom he came in contact. Newcastle, especially, he treated with habitual insolence, and he contemptuously neglected that traffic in places which was then so essential to political power. He speedily became the most unpopular man in the country, and his unpopularity was not atoned for by any very splendid success. There was undoubtedly abundance of vigour, and considerable ability displayed in the measures I have enumerated, but Carteret did not, like Pitt, possess the art of inspiring the nation or the army with a high military enthusiasm, of selecting the ablest men for the most important commands, or of directing his blows against the most vulnerable points of the enemy. The formation of the army of Flanders was probably a mistake. The issue of the campaign was miserably abortive, and there can be but little doubt that Newcastle judged wisely in refusing to associate England with a project for the invasion and the dismemberment of France.
Under these circumstances a conflict between the two sections of the Government was inevitable. Lord Wilmington died in July 1743, having held the chief power for little more than sixteen months. Lord Bath, who clearly perceived the mistake he had made in declining office, now eagerly aspired to the vacant place, and he was warmly supported by Carteret, who designed to retain for himself the direction of the war, and to strengthen his position by bringing into office a considerable number of Tories. Bath was personally almost equally obnoxious to the King and to the people, but the influence of Carteret over the royal mind was so great that he would probably have gained his point had not the popular clamour been supported by the still powerful voice of Oxford, who represented to the King the danger of admitting Tories to office, and the extreme and growing unpopularity of his Government. By the influence of the old statesman, the Pelham interest became supreme, Henry Pelham obtaining the position of Prime Minister. Being the younger brother of the Duke of Newcastle, he was supported by a vast amount of family and borough influence, and without any great or shining talents he succeeded in playing a very considerable part in English history. He had been first brought into office chiefly by the recommendation of Walpole, had supported his patron faithfully in the contest about the excise, and in the disastrous struggle of 1740 and 1741, and was looked upon as the natural heir of his policy. Like Walpole, he had none of the talents that are necessary for the successful conduct of war, and was, perhaps for that very reason, warmly in favour of peace. Like Walpole, too, he was thoroughly conversant with questions of finance, and almost uniformly successful in dealing with them. A timid, desponding, and somewhat fretful man, with little energy either of character or intellect, he possessed at least, to a high degree, good sense, industry, knowledge of business, and parliamentary experience; his manners were conciliatory and decorous, and he was content to hold the reins of power very loosely, freely admitting competitors to office, and allowing much divergence of opinion. Lord Hardwicke, the greatest lawyer of his day, and one of the greatest who ever took part in English politics, was his warm friend, and he attached to his cause both Chesterfield and Pitt. After a protracted struggle in the Cabinet, Carteret, who, by the death of his mother, had become Lord Granville, was compelled to yield, and resigned office in November 1744.
The ascendancy of the Pelhams in England, however, was far from leading to peace. On the contrary, in no other stage of the war did the martial energies of Europe blaze so fiercely or extend so widely as in 1744 or 1745. The death of Fleury removed the chief pacific influence from the councils of France; and Cardinal Tencin, who succeeded him, and who is said to have obtained his hat by the friendship of the Pretender, resolved to signalise his government by the invasion of England. 15,000 men, under the command of Marshal Saxe, were assembled for that purpose at Dunkirk. A powerful fleet sailed from Brest and Rochefort for their protection, and the young Pretender arrived from Rome to accompany the expedition. In England every preparation was made for a deadly struggle. The forts on the Thames and Medway were strengthened. Several regiments were marched to the southern coast; the Kentish Militia were put under arms; troops were recalled from the Netherlands, and application was made to the States-General for the 6,000 men which in case of invasion Holland was bound by treaty to furnish. For a few weeks party warfare almost ceased, but in order to guard against every attempt at rebellion, the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, and a proclamation issued for enforcing the laws against Papists and Nonjurors. Towards the end of February, the French fleet appeared in the Channel; and, perceiving no enemy, the commander sent off a rapid message to Dunkirk, to hasten the embarkation, and soon after anchored off Dungeness Point. At this critical moment the English fleet, which was greatly superior in numbers, doubled the South Foreland. An action seemed imminent, but wind and tide were both unfavourable, and Sir John Norris, who commanded the English, resolved to postpone it till the morrow. That night a great tempest arose, before which the French fleet fled in safety, but which scattered far and wide the transports, and put an end for the present to all projects of invasion.
It is a somewhat curious coincidence, that, almost at the same time when a French fleet escaped from the English in the Channel, another fleet had a similar fortune in the Mediterranean. The combined fleet of the French and Spaniards was blockaded in Toulon by the British, under Admiral Matthews. On the 9th of February it sailed from the harbour, and a general engagement ensued. The battle on the part of the English officers appears to have been grossly mismanaged; and the mismanagement was in a great degree due to a deadly feud, which prevented all cordial co-operation between the commander and the Vice-Admiral Lestock. Night closed on the action without any decisive result, but next morning the fleet of the enemy was in flight. A pursuit was ordered, and the Vice-Admiral had gained considerably upon the fugitives, when the English ships were somewhat unaccountably ordered to retrace their steps, and the enemy made their way in safety to Carthagena and Alicante. The escape of these two fleets threw much discredit upon the naval enterprise of England, and the Admiral and Vice-Admiral of the Mediterranean fleet mutually accused each other. There appear to have been grave faults on both sides; but the decision of the court martial was given against Admiral Matthews, who was removed from the service, and several commanders of ships were cashiered.
England and France, though taking a leading part in the war, had hitherto been engaged only as auxiliaries, and, though they had met in so many fields, they were still nominally at peace. This unnatural state of things now terminated. In March France declared war against England, and in April against Austria, and she at the same time prepared to throw her full energies upon the Austrian Netherlands. A French army of about 80,000 men, under the able leadership of Marshal Saxe, animated by the presence of Lewis XV., and accompanied by a train of artillery that was said to have been superior to any hitherto known, poured over the frontier, and was everywhere victorious. It is a curious fact, that among its officers, one of the most conspicuous and successful was by profession a Churchman. The Prince of Clermont, the great-grandson of the illustrious Condé, was the Abbé of St. Germain des Prés, but the Pope, Clement XII., gave him a dispensation to take part in the war, and he directed the principal attacks upon the fortress of Ypres. The allies were weak, divided, and incapable. In two months Ypres, Courtrai, Menin, and Fumes were taken, and the whole of the Low Countries would probably have been conquered, had not the invaders been arrested by sinister news from Alsace.
That province bad been left under the protection of Marshal Coigny, and of the Bavarian General Seckendorf, whose combined armies were believed to be sufficient to guard the passes of the Rhine. General Khevenhuller had died in the previous winter; but Prince Charles of Lorraine, who commanded the Austrians, and who was accompanied by Marshal Traun, one of the ablest soldiers in the Austrian service, succeeded in deceiving his enemies, and his army in three bodies crossed the Rhine. The war raged fiercely around Spire, Weissenburg, and Saverne, in that unhappy country which has been fated in so many contests to be the battlefield of Europe. The Austrians, with an army of 60,000 men, effected a secure lodgment in Alsace, and advanced to the frontiers of Lorraine; and the French King, leaving Marshal Saxe with 30,000 men, to maintain his conquests in the Netherlands, hastened with the remainder of the army to its relief. The King fell ill at Metz, and appeared for a time at the point of death, but after a somewhat dangerous delay, his troops arrived by forced marches in Alsace, which seemed destined to be the scene of the decisive struggle of the year, when a new enemy suddenly appeared in the field, and again diverted the course of the war.
This enemy was Frederick of Prussia. No prince of his time perceived his interests more clearly, or acted on them with such combined secrecy, energy, and skill; and as he was at the head of one of the best armies in Europe, and as it cost him nothing to break a treaty or to abandon an ally, he succeeded in a very great degree in making himself the arbiter of the war. By the Peace of Breslau he had once already suddenly changed its fortunes, and brought about the almost complete destruction of one of the armies of the ally whom he had deserted, and he had hitherto resisted all overtures to break the peace. He calculated, as he himself informs us, that ‘the longer the war should continue the more would the resources of the House of Austria be exhausted, while the longer Prussia remained at peace the more strength she would acquire.’ But, on the other hand, it was one of his maxims that ‘it is a capital error in politics to trust a reconciled enemy;’ and there was much in the present aspect of affairs to excite both his cupidity and his fears. He was alarmed by the ascendancy the Austrians had obtained in Alsace, and by the prospect of the annexation of Lorraine; by the growing ambition of the Queen of Hungary, which made it peculiarly unlikely that she would permanently acquiesce in the alienation of Silesia, and by intelligence that Saxony had agreed to join in the league against France. It was a suspicious circumstance that the Treaty of Worms, while enumerating and guaranteeing many other treaties, had made no mention of the Peace of Breslau, by which he held Silesia; and George II. was reported to have used some language implying that he, at least, would not be reluctant to see that province restored. Even before the close of 1743 Frederick had been in secret negotiation with France, and the events in Alsace strengthened his determination. Maria Theresa had not committed the smallest act since the peace of Breslau that could be construed into hostility to Prussia, but Frederick concluded, with reason, that she had never forgiven his past treachery, and he feared that if she became too strong, she would endeavour to drive him from Silesia. This might be the result if she were victorious in Alsace. It might be equally the result if France, alarmed at her progress, made peace, and retired from the war. On the other hand, the wars of Alsace, the Netherlands, and Italy had left the Austrian provinces almost undefended, and the King saw the possibility of effecting a new spoliation by annexing a portion of Bohemia to his dominions. After some unsuccessful negotiation with Russia, he signed secret conventions with the Emperor, France, the Elector Palatine, and the Landgrave of Hesse; and engaged to invade Bohemia, stipulating that a considerable portion of that country which adjoined Silesia should be annexed to his dominions. In August 1744 he issued a manifesto, declaring that he had taken arms to support the rights of the Emperor, to defend the liberty and restore the peace of the Germanic empire. He marched through Saxony, in defiance of the wishes of the Elector, invaded Bohemia, captured Prague, with its entire garrison, on September 16, and speedily reduced all Bohemia to the east of the Moldan. At the same time a united army of Bavarians and Hessians expelled the Austrians from the greater part of Bavaria, and on October 22 reinstated the Emperor in Munich. At this point, however, his usual good fortune abandoned Frederick. Maria Theresa again fled to Hungary, and was again received with an enthusiasm that completely disconcerted her enemies. An army of 44,000 men was speedily equipped in Hungary, while on the other side Prince Charles of Lorraine and Marshal Traun hastened to abandon Alsace, effected, with scarcely any loss, a masterly retreat over the Rhine, in the presence of the united French army, and marched rapidly upon Bohemia. The irregular troops, which played so prominent a part in Austrian warfare, assisted as they were by the good wishes of the whole population, and by the nature of the country, soon reduced the Prussians to extreme distress. The villages were deserted. No peasant came to the camp to sell provisions. The defiles of the mountains that surround Bohemia swarmed with hussars and Croats, who intercepted convoys and cut off intelligence; and their success was so great that on one occasion the King and army remained for four weeks absolutely without news. To add to their disasters, 20,000 Saxon troops marched to the assistance of Prince Charles, while a severe winter greatly aggravated the sufferings of the invaders. A rapid retreat became necessary, and the Prussians were compelled to abandon all their conquests, and to retire broken, baffled, and dispirited into Silesia. The French and the Emperor were the only gainers. Marshal Saxe maintained his position in the Netherlands. Alsace was freed from its invaders, and the French, crossing the Rhine, laid siege to the important town of Friburg. The Austrian General Damnitz defended it for thirty-five days, till it was little more than a mass of ruins, and till half the garrison and 15,000 of the besiegers had been killed; and its capture concluded the campaign.
While these events were happening in Germany, Italy also was the theatre of a bloody, desolating, but utterly indecisive war. Maria Theresa and the King of Sardinia were now professedly united, but they insisted on pursuing separate ends. The interests of the King were in the north, and his immediate object was the conquest of Finale. The Austrians, on the other hand, drove the Spaniards southwards from near Rimini to the Neapolitan frontier, when the King of Naples, breaking the neutrality he had signed, marched to the war with an army of 15,000 men. The Austrians, outnumbered and baffled, made one daring effort to retrieve their fortunes, and succeeded, in the night of August 10, in surprising the head-quarters of the King of Naples at Velletri. The King and the Duke of Modena were all but killed, and a long and most bloody fight ensued. At last the Austrians, who had been disorganised by the opportunities of plunder, gave way, and the victory remained with the allies. The malaria arising from the Pontine marshes soon did its work among the German soldiers, and in November the army retired, in a greatly reduced condition, to the neighbourhood of Rimini, while their enemies were quartered between Viterbo and Civita Vecchia. The King of Sardinia, in the meantime, was engaged in a desperate contest with an invading army of French and Spaniards, which forced its way through Nice, fighting almost at every step, invested Coni, and defeated a large force that was sent t⊚ its relief. Genoa would have assisted the invaders, but was intimidated by the English fleet; and, in spite of many successes, the French were unable to take Coni, and on the approach of winter they recrossed the Alps, having lost, it is said, not less than 10,000 men in the campaign.
So ended the year 1744, during which a fearful sum of human misery had been inflicted on the world. Bohemia, Bavaria, the Austrian Netherlands and Italy had been desolated by hostile forces. Tens of thousands of lives had been sacrificed, millions of pounds had been uselessly squandered, all the interests of civilisation and industry had been injured or neglected, but it can scarcely be said that a single important result had been achieved. The relative forces of the belligerents at the end of the year were almost the same as they had been at the beginning, and there was as yet no sign of the approach of peace.
In 1745, however, the clouds began in some degree to break. On January 8, an offensive alliance was concluded between England, Holland, Austria, and Saxony, by which the King of Poland agreed, as Elector of Saxony, to furnish 30,000 troops for the defence of Bohemia on condition of receiving a subsidy of 100,000l. from England, and of 50,000l. from Holland. On January 20 the Emperor Charles VII. died, broken alike by sorrow and by sickness; and the young Elector, refusing to become a candidate for the Imperial dignity, made earnest overtures for peace. The Duke of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa, was candidate for the Empire, and the Elector agreed to support him, to withdraw his troops from the war, and to recognise the Pragmatic Sanction, provided his Bavarian dominions were secured, and the validity of his father's election was recognised. On April 22 a peace between Austria and Bavaria was signed on these conditions at Fuessen, and in September, to the great disappointment of French politicians, the Imperial dignity reverted to the House of Austria by the almost unanimous election of the Duke of Lorraine as Emperor of Germany. Still more important was the peace between Austria and Prussia, which was negotiated at the end of the year. As may very easily be understood, Maria Theresa felt towards Frederick more bitterly than towards any other enemy. The recovery of Silesia was the object now nearest her heart. Upon the failure of Frederick's last campaign the war had been carried into that province, and, as all the forces that had been employed in Alsace were directed to its conquest, success appeared very probable. The reputation of Frederick was lowered by defeat. The French were concentrating all their efforts upon the Netherlands. Bavaria had seceded from the war, and the King of Poland, having at last extorted from Maria Theresa the promise of some territorial cessions in Silesia in the event of success, now threw himself heartily into the struggle. The extraordinary military abilities of the Prussian King, and the strenuous exertions of the Pelham ministry in favour of peace, overcame this combination. After several inconsiderable skirmishes, Frederick, on June 3, defeated the Austrians under Prince Charles in the great battle of Hohen-friedberg, and soon after followed them in their retreat into Bohemia. England then urgently interposed in favour of peace. Her ambassador urged that the Austrian Netherlands would inevitably succumb before the French if the German war continued, and he represented how impossible it was for England to continue the payment of subsidies to the allies, which in this year amounted to not less than 1,178,753l. The Queen refusing to yield, England for her own part signed on August 26 a preliminary convention with Prussia for the purpose of re-establishing peace, by which she guaranteed to Prussia the possession of Silesia according to the Treaty of Breslau, and promised to use every effort to obtain for it a general guarantee by all the Powers of Europe. The Queen of Hungary was indignant but still unshaken, and she resolved to continue the war. On September 30, however, the Austrians were again completely defeated at Sohr. On December 15 the Saxons were routed at Kesseldorf, and the Prussians soon after marched in triumph into Dresden. Maria Theresa at last yielded, and on December 25 she signed the Peace of Dresden, guaranteeing Frederick the possession of Silesia and Glatz, while Frederick for his part evacuated Saxony, recognised the validity of the Imperial election, and acknowledged the disputed suffrage of Bohemia.
But before this peace was signed events had occurred very disastrous to the interests both of Austria and of England. In Italy Genoa now openly declared herself on the side of the French, and the accession of 10,000 Genoese soldiers, combined with the great military talents of General Gages, who commanded the Spaniards, determined for the present the fortunes of the war. The French, Spaniards, and Neapolitans were everywhere triumphant. Tortona, Placentia, Parma, Pavia, Cazale, and Asti were taken, Don Philip entered Milan in triumph and blockaded the citadel, and the King of Sardinia was driven to take refuge under the walls of his capital.
In Flanders Marshal Saxe, at the head of an army of 80,000 men was equally successful. The Austrians, in their zeal for the conquest of Silesia, spared little more than 8,000 men for the defence of this province, and the task of opposing the French rested chiefly upon the English and the Dutch. In April Marshal Saxe invested Tournay, and on May 11 he fought a great battle with the allies at Fontenoy. The Dutch gave way at an early period of the struggle, but the English and Hanoverians remained firm, and, gradually forming into a solid column of about 16,000 men, they advanced, through a narrow passage that was left between the fortified village of Fontenoy and the neighbouring woods, full against the centre of the French. Regiment after regiment assailed them in vain. Their sustained and deadly fire, their steady intrepidity and the massive power of their charge carried all before it, and the day was almost lost to the French, when Marshal Saxe resolved to make one last and almost despairing effort. Four cannon were brought to play upon the English, and at the same time the order to advance was given to the household troops of the French King, who had hitherto been kept in reserve, and to the Irish brigade, consisting of several regiments of Irish Catholics who had been driven from their country by the events of the Revolution and by the Penal Code, and who were burning to avenge themselves on their oppressors. Their fiery charge was successful. The British column was arrested, shattered, and dissolved, and a great French victory was the result. In a few days Tournay surrendered, and its fall was followed by that of Ghent, Bruges, Oudenarde, Dendermonde, Ostend, Nieuport, and Ath.
An immediate consequence of the defeat of Fontenoy was the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. On July 25, the young Pretender landed, without the support or knowledge of the French, relying only on the popularity of his manners and of his name, and on the assistance of a few Highland chiefs, to recover the throne of his ancestors. A wilder or more hopeless enterprise never convulsed a great empire. The Highlands, where alone he could count upon warm support, contained at this time about one-twelfth of the population of Scotland.1 Even there many powerful chiefs were bound to the reigning dynasty by the strongest ties of interest. The clans, though they were ever ready to take up arms, and would follow their chiefs in any cause, were utterly destitute of the discipline and subordination of a regular army. Their great object was plunder, and after their first victory more than half the army disbanded to secure the spoil. In the Lowlands the balance of opinion was probably hostile to Jacobitism. The Episcopalians, it is true, were generally disaffected, the Union had left much discontent behind it, and the Scotch origin of the Stuarts was not forgotten, but on the other hand the Highlanders were detested as a race of marauders, the commercial and industrial classes dreaded change, and the great city of Glasgow was decidedly Hanoverian. In England, as the event showed, not a single real step had been taken to prepare an insurrection. The King was in Hanover when the movement began, and the greater part of the English army was endeavouring to protect the Netherlands, yet nothing but the grossest incapacity on the part of the military authorities at home, and an extraordinary want of public spirit in the nation, could have enabled the rebellion, unaided as it was from abroad, to acquire the dimensions which it did. On August 19 the standard of the Stuarts was raised, and before the end of September Prince Charles was installed in Holyrood Palace, the army of Sir John Cope was completely defeated in the battle of Preston Pans, and almost the whole of Scotland acknowledged the Pretender. At the end of October he prepared, at the head of an army of less than 6,000 men, to invade England. He crossed the frontier on November 8, took Carlisle, after a short resistance on the 15th, marched without opposition through most of the great towns of Lancashire, penetrated as far as Derby, and had produced in London a disgraceful panic and a violent run upon the Bank of England,1 when the chiefs insisted, in defiance of his wishes, in commencing a retreat. Three considerable armies were formed to oppose him. One of these, commanded by Marshal Wade, was assembled in Yorkshire, and might easily, with common skill, have cut off his retreat. Another, under the Duke of Cumberland, was prepared to intercept him if he marched upon Wales, while a third was assembled on Finchley Common for the protection of London. Dutch soldiers were brought over to support the Government.2 There was no prospect of serious assistance from France, and in England, if the Pretender met with little active opposition among the people, he met with still less support. In Preston, where the Catholics were very numerous, there was some cheering. In Manchester several of the clergy, and a great part of the populace received him with enthusiasm, and a regiment of about 500 men was enlisted for his service, the first person enrolled being Captain James Dawson, whose mournful fate has been celebrated in the most touching ballad of Shenstone. But the recruits were scarcely equal to half the number of the Highlanders who had deserted in the march from Edinburgh to Carlisle. Liverpool was strongly Hanoverian, and its citizens subscribed 6,000l. for equipping a regiment in the service of the Government. In general, however, the prevailing disposition of the people was fear or sullen apathy, and few were disposed to risk anything on either side. The retreat began on December 6. It was skilfully conducted, and in several skirmishes the Scotch were victorious, but their cause was manifestly lost. They regained their country, were joined by a few French and a few Irish in the French service, and succeeded on January 17 in defeating a considerable body of English at Falkirk. This was their last gleam of success. Divisions and desertion speedily thinned their ranks. Enemies overwhelming from their numbers and their discipline were pressing upon them, and on April 16, 1746, the battle of Culloden for ever crushed the prospects of the Stuarts. The Hanoverian army, and the Duke of Cumberland who commanded it, displayed in their triumph a barbarity which recalled the memory of Sedgemoor and of the Bloody Assize, while the courage, the loyalty, and the touching fidelity of the Highlanders to their fallen chief cast a halo of romantic interest around his cause.
The extraordinary incapacity of English commanders, both by land and sea, is one of the most striking facts in the war we are considering. Frederick in Prussia, Prince Charles of Lorraine, General Khevenhuller, and Marshal Traun in Austria, General Gages in the service of Spain, and Marshal Saxe in the service of France, had all exhibited conspicuous talent, and both Noailles and Belleisle, though inferior generals, associated their names with brilliant military episodes; but in the English service mismanagement and languor were general. The battle of Dettingen was truly described as a happy escape rather than a great victory; the army in Flanders can hardly be said to have exhibited any military quality except courage, and the British navy, though it gained some successes, added little to its reputation. The one brilliant exception was the expedition of Anson round Cape Horn, for the purpose of plundering the Spanish merchandise and settlements in the Pacific. It lasted for nearly four years, and though it had little effect except that of inflicting a great amount of private misery, it was conducted with a skill and a courage equal to the most splendid achievements of Hawkins or of Blake. The overwhelming superiority of England upon the sea began, however, gradually to influence the war. The island of Cape Breton, which commanded the mouth of Gulf St. Lawrence, and protected the Newfoundland fisheries, was captured in the June of 1745. In 1747 a French squadron was destroyed by a very superior English fleet off Cape Finisterre. Another was defeated near Belleisle, and in the same year as many as 644 prizes were taken.1 The war on the part of the English, however, was most efficiently conducted by means of subsidies, which were enormously multiplied. The direct payment of the Hanoverian troops, against which so fierce a clamour had been raised, was, indeed, for a time suspended, but the Queen of Hungary was induced to take those troops into her pay. In order that she should do so her subsidy was increased, and next year the Government, without producing any considerable disturbance, reverted quietly to the former policy. The war, however, was now evidently drawing to a close, and the treaties of 1745 had greatly restricted its theatre. Austria, freed from apprehension on the side of Prussia and Bavaria, was enabled in 1746 to send 30,000 additional soldiers into Italy, where she speedily recovered almost everything she had lost in the preceding year, and defeated the united French and Spaniards in the battle of Placentia. The death of Philip V., which took place in July, made the Spaniards desirous of peace. The command of their army was taken from General Gages, and their troops were soon after ordered to evacuate Italy. Finale was occupied by the Sardinians. Genoa itself was captured by the Austrians, but rescued by a sudden insurrection of the populace. The project of the invasion of Naples was abandoned, in consequence of the opposition of the King of Sardinia, who had grown jealous of Austria, and feared to see her omnipotent in Italy. Provence, however, was invaded and devastated in the November of 1746, and Antibes besieged; but soon after the revolt of Genoa the Austrians were recalled. A second siege of Genoa was raised by a French army, under Belleisle, which burst through Nice, took town after town in that province, and compelled the Austrians and Sardinians to retire. An attempt was then made to capture Turin by a French corps, commanded by the brother of Belleisle, which endeavoured to force its way through the valley of Susa, but it was defeated with great loss at an entrenchment called the Assietta, the commander was killed, and Marshal Belleisle, who had counselled the expedition, and who intended to co-operate with it, fell back upon Nice.
While the fortune of the war was thus rapidly fluctuating in Italy, in the Netherlands it was uniformly in favour of the French. The Scotch rebellion, which compelled England for a time to withdraw her troops, confirmed the military ascendancy which Marshal Saxe had already acquired. In 1746 Brussels with its whole garrison was captured, and soon after Mechlin, Louvain, Antwerp, Mons, Charleroi, and Namur succumbed. This last town, on whose fortifications the rival genius of Cohorn and Vauban had been in turn employed, now yielded after a siege of six days. The superiority of the French in numbers and especially in artillery, the genius of Marshal Saxe and the paralysing effect of a great domestic sorrow upon Prince Charles of Lorraine, who commanded the Austrians, made the campaign an uninterrupted triumph for the French, who, soon after the arrival of a British force, defeated the allies in the battle of Roucoux, and became masters of all the Austrian Netherlands, except Limburg and Luxemburg. Next year they invaded the Dutch Republic. Zealand was overrun by troops, 5,000 prisoners were taken in less than a month, and several towns and fortresses were occupied. The Dutch, who found their republican institutions much more adapted for securing their liberty in time of peace than for giving energy and concentration to their forces in time of war, adopted a policy which they had before pursued. During their long conflicts with the Spaniards they had confided the executive power to the House of Orange, but soon after the Peace of Westphalia had given Holland a recognised place among European States, the hereditary Stadtholdership was abolished and purely republican institutions were created. When the country, in 1672, was reduced to the verge of ruin by the invasion of Lewis XIV. it reverted to the former system and retained it for thirty years. It now again recurred to it, and a popular insurrection made the House of Orange hereditary rulers. The war, however, continued to be disastrous. The allies were defeated in a great battle at Lauffeld, near Maestricht, on July 2; Sir John Ligonier, who commanded the English cavalry, and who displayed extraordinary courage in the struggle, was taken prisoner, and the campaign ended with the surprise and capture of the almost impregnable fortress of Bergen-op-Zoom, by Count Lowendahl. It is a curious feature of this campaign that Ligonier, who distinguished himself most highly in the English ranks, was a French refugee, while of the French commanders Marshal Saxe was by birth a German, and Lowendahl a Dane.
In the meantime the Pelham Government, though unsuccessful abroad, had acquired a complete ascendancy at home. The martial enthusiasm of the country had gone down, and public opinion being gratified by the successive deposition of Walpole and of Carteret, and being no longer stimulated by a powerful Opposition, acquiesced languidly in the course of events. The King for a time chafed bitterly against the yoke. He had been thwarted in his favourite German policy, deprived of the minister who was beyond comparison the most pleasing to him, and compelled to accept others in whom he had no confidence. He despised and disliked Newcastle. He hated Chesterfield, whom he was compelled to admit to office, and he was especially indignant with Pitt, who had described Hanover as ‘a beggarly Electorate’ and accused its soldiers of cowardice, and whose claims to office Pelham was continually urging. At length, in February 1745-46, while the rebellion was still raging, the perplexed monarch tried to extricate himself from his embarrassments by holding private communications with Bath and Granville. The ministers were apprised of it and at once resigned. The impotence of their rivals was speedily shown, and in forty-eight hours they were obliged to acknowledge themselves incapable of forming a Government. The Pelhams returned to power, but their position was immeasurably strengthened. The few remaining adherents of Bath were driven from office. The King acknowledged with great irritation that it was impossible for him to resist. He refused, indeed, to make Pitt Secretary of War, but sanctioned his appointment to the lucrative office of Joint Vice-Treasurer of Ireland, and soon after to the still more important position of Paymaster of the Forces.
The great work of the Government was the pacification of Europe by the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Another campaign had actually begun. when the preliminaries were signed. Russia had at last been brought into the war, and 30,000 Russian soldiers subsidised by the maritime Powers were on the march to rescue the Netherlands. It was not impossible that this powerful reinforcement might have given a new course to the war. In Italy the balance of success was on the whole in favour of the Austrians. The commerce of France had been almost annihilated by the English; her resources were nearly exhausted by the extraordinary exertions she had made, and the returning prosperity produced by the long pacific government of Fleury had been completely overcast. On the other hand, Nice and Savoy were still occupied by the French and Spaniards. The French were almost absolute masters of the Austrian Netherlands; the capture of Bergen-op-Zoom and the subsequent investment of Maestricht had rendered the condition of the Dutch Republic almost desperate, and it would probably have been crushed before any succour could arrive. Maria Theresa, it is true, ardently desired the continuance of the war, hoping to obtain in Italy some compensation for the loss of Silesia, and the Duke of Newcastle was inclined, in opposition to his brother, to support her; but she waged war chiefly by the assistance of the subsidies of England, and her ambition was clearly contrary to the general interests of Europe. Like many absolute sovereigns she appears to have been completely indifferent to the misery and desolation she caused, provided only she could leave her empire as extended as she had received it. She was resolved also to throw the defence of the Austrian Netherlands almost exclusively on the maritime Powers, employing the subsidies, which she received on the express condition of keeping a large army in those provinces, mainly in a war of aggression in Italy; and she was bitterly aggrieved because the English, under these circumstances, diminished her remittances. With the exception of the King of Sardinia, however, who saw prospects of pushing his fortunes in Italy, and who was determined, if possible, to avoid restoring the Duchy of Finale, she found little support in her hostility to peace. Spain was now governed by a perfectly unambitious sovereign, who wished for nothing but repose. Holland was reduced to such a condition that peace was her first necessity. England was ruled by an eminently pacific minister; and there was hardly any Opposition, to impede his policy. The enormous subsidies which England had been for years scattering through Europe were rapidly adding to her debt and impairing her prosperity, and it was not clear what object she had to gain. The quarter in which the French arms were most successful was precisely that most dangerous to England; and except the capture of Cape Breton, and of a number of prizes, she had obtained little or nothing as a compensation for her sacrifices. Even in India, where the small settlements of France appeared almost at the mercy of England, she had encountered reverses. Two Frenchmen of great abilities and enterprise, but separated from each other by a bitter jealousy, then presided over French interests in India. Dupleix, after a brilliant industrial career upon the Ganges, had been made Governor of the French settlement of Pondicherry, while La Bourdonnais, one of the bravest and most skilful seamen France has ever produced, directed affairs in the islands of Bourbon and Mauritius. La Bourdonnais succeeded, in the course of 1746, in repelling an English squadron under Admiral Barnet, and in besieging and taking Madras. As express orders from the ministry at home prohibited him from occupying permanently any conquests that might be made in India, a capitulation was signed by which the town was to be restored on the payment of a specified ransom. It passed, however, under the dominion of Dupleix, who shamefully broke the capitulation and subjected the English to scandalous outrages, while La Bourdonnais returned to France and was soon after, on false charges, flung into the Bastille, where he remained for nearly three years. In 1748 the English made a formidable attempt to retaliate upon the French, and a large force of English and Sepoy troops, under the command of Admiral Boscawen and of Major Lawrence, besieged Pondicherry. It was defended, however, by Dupleix with great energy and genius. The rainy season came on, sickness decimated the besiegers, and the enterprise was at last abandoned.
It was plain that the time for peace had arrived. France had already made overtures, and she showed much moderation, and at this period much disinterestedness in her demands, and the influence of England and Holland at length forced the peace upon Austria and Sardinia, though both were bitterly aggrieved by its conditions. France agreed to restore every conquest she had made during the war, to abandon the cause of the Stuarts, and expel the Pretender from her soil, to demolish, in accordance with earlier treaties, the fortifications of Dunkirk on the side of the sea, while retaining those on the side of the land, and to retire from the contest without acquiring any fresh territory or any pecuniary compensation. England in like manner restored the few conquests she had made, and submitted to the somewhat humiliating condition of sending hostages to Paris as a security for the restoration of Cape Breton. The right of search, in opposition to which she had originally drawn the sword against Spain, and the debt of 95,000l., which the Convention of 1739 acknowledged to be owing to her by Spain, were not even mentioned in the peace. The disputed boundary between Canada and Nova Scotia, which had been a source of constant difficulty with France, was left altogether undefined. The Assiento treaty for trade with the Spanish colonies was confirmed for the four years it had still to run, but no real compensation was obtained for a war expenditure which is said to have exceeded sixty-four millions,1 and which had raised the funded and unfunded debt to more than seventy-eight millions.2 Of the other Powers, Holland, Genoa, and the little State of Modena retained their territory as before the war, and Genoa remained mistress of the Duchy of Finale, which had been ceded to the King of Sardinia by the Treaty of Worms, and which it had been a main object of his later policy to secure. Austria obtained a recognition of the election of the Emperor, a general guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction, and the restoration of everything she had lost in the Netherlands, but she gained no additional territory. She was compelled to confirm the cession of Silesia and Grlatz to Prussia, to abandon her Italian conquests, and even to cede a considerable part of her former Italian dominions. To the bitter indignation of Maria Theresa, the Duchies of Parma, Placentia, and Oruastalla passed to Don Philip of Spain, to revert, however, to their former possessors if Don Philip mounted the Spanish throne, or died without male issue. The King of Sardinia also obtained from Austria the territorial cessions enumerated in the Treaty of Worms, with the important exceptions of Placentia, which passed to Don Philip, and of Finale, which remained with the Genoese. For the loss of these he obtained no compensation. Frederick obtained a general guarantee for the possession of his newly-acquired territory, and a long list of old treaties was formally confirmed.3
Thus small were the changes effected in Europe by so much bloodshed and treachery, by nearly nine years of wasteful and desolating war. The design of the dismemberment of Austria had failed, but no vexed question had been set at rest. International antipathies and jealousies had been immeasurably increased, and the fearful sufferings and injuries that had been inflicted on the most civilised nations had not even purchased the blessing of an assured peace. Of all the ambitious projects that had been conceived during the war, that of Frederick alone was substantially realised, and France, while endeavouring to weaken one rival, had contributed largely to lay the foundation of the greatness of another.
The definitive peace between England and Holland, and France was signed on October 18, 1748, and the other Powers acceded to it before the close of the year. From this time till the death of Pelham in March 1754, political rivalry in England almost ceased. The Tories were gratified by a few places, and almost every politician of talent and influence was connected with the Government. The Prince of Wales, who kept up some faint semblance of opposition, died in March 1750. Even Lord Granville, sated with ambition and broken by excessive drinking, joined the ministry in 1751, accepting the dignified but uninfluential post of President of the Council. During this period the leading ideas of the policy of Walpole were steadily pursued. Europe being at peace, and the dynasty firmly established by the suppression of the rebellion, the army and navy were both rigorously reduced; 20,000 soldiers and 34,000 sailors and marines were discharged, and some serious distress having in consequence arisen, it was met by the bold and novel expedient of a system of emigration, organised and directed by the Government. As early as 1735 Captain Coram, in a memorial to the Privy Council, had called attention to the deserted and unprotected state of Nova Scotia, to the ease with which the French carried their encroachments into that province, and to the insufficiency of the small British garrison which was collected at Annapolis for its protection. Nova Scotia was justly regarded as the key to North America, equally important in time of war for attacking Canada and for defending New England. The adjacent sea teemed with fish, and its magnificent forests supplied admirable timber for the royal navy. It was accordingly determined to strengthen the colony by encouraging the officers and men lately dismissed from the land and sea service, to settle there with or without their families. To every private was offered a free passage, a free maintenance for twelve months, the fee simple of fifty acres of land, an additional grant of ten acres for every member of his family, and an immunity from taxation for ten years. The officers received still larger grants, varying according to their rank. The scheme was eminently successful. About 4,000 men, many of them with their families, embraced the Government offers. The expedition sailed in May under the command of Colonel Cornwallis, and with the protection of two regiments. It was joined on its arrival by an additional force, which had lately been withdrawn from Cape Breton, and soon after the new colonists founded the important town of Halifax, which derived its name from Lord Halifax, who, as President of the Board of Trade, was a principal person in organising the expedition, and which soon became the capital of a flourishing colony.1
Not less successful was the financial policy of Pelham. The measures which were carried in 1717 and 1727 for reducing the interest of the debt have been already recounted, and another effort in the same direction had been made by Sir John Barnard in 1737. He had proposed to reduce gradually that portion of the debt which bore four per cent. interest to three per cent., enabling the Government to borrow money at the lower rate in order to pay off those creditors, who refused to accept the reduction. As the three per cents. were at this time at a premium, and as it was part of the scheme of Sir John Barnard that the contributors to the new loan should be guaranteed from payment of any part of the principal for fourteen years, there is not much doubt that the plan in its essential features could have been carried out, nor yet that it would have been very beneficial to the nation. It was, however, exceedingly unpopular. The great companies who contributed so powerfully to support the ministry of Walpole were opposed to it. A deep impression was made throughout the country by a statement that a very large proportion of the 4 per cent. funds were in the possession of widows and orphans and trustees, who would suffer greatly by the reduction. The growing complications with Spain made it probable that the Government would soon be compelled to have recourse to new loans, and especially important that it should take no step that could alienate the moneyed classes, or injure, however unjustly, the credit of the country. Besides this, the Government was now too weak to bear the strain of additional unpopularity, and Sir John Barnard, who originated the measure, was a prominent member of the Opposition Under these circumstances Walpole, after some hesitation, placed himself in opposition to the Bill. He showed even more than his usual financial knowledge in pointing out the weak points in its details, and he succeeded without difficulty in defeating it.1 The question of how far he was justified in this course by the special political circumstances of the time is one which can hardly be answered without a more minute knowledge of the dispositions of Members of Parliament and of the currents of feeling in the country than it is now possible to attain. The strong ministry of the Pelhams, however, was able to carry out a somewhat similar measure, in spite of the strenuous opposition both of the Bank and of the East India Company, in 1749. By far the larger part of the national debt was at 4 per cent., a part was at 3 1/2 per cent., and another part at 3 per cent. As the 3 per cents, were selling at par, and the 3 1/2 per cents above par,2 the time had evidently come when a reduction was feasible. Availing himself largely of the assistance, without absolutely adopting the plan, of Sir J. Barnard, Pelham introduced and carried a scheme by which such holders of 4 per cent, stock as consented by February 28, 1749–50, to accept the arrangement were to receive 3 1/2 per cent, interest from December 1750 to December 1757, with a security that no part of their stock should be redeemed before the latter date except what was due to the East India Company. After December 1757 the interest was to sink to 3 per cent. till reduced by the Government, while those who refused the arrangement were to be paid off by a loan raised at 3 per cent. The offer does not appear very tempting, but the normal rate of interest was then so low, commercial investments were so few, and the attraction of the Government security was so great, that the majority of holders accepted it, and when February arrived only eighteen or nineteen millions had not been brought under the arrangement. The success, of course, increased its popularity, and Pelham accordingly renewed the offer, though on less favourable conditions, for in the case of these second subscribers the 3 1/2 per cent. interest was to be exchanged for 3 per cent. interest in December 1755. The result of this prolongation was, that not much more than 3 millions remained excluded, and the holders of this stock were paid off in 1751. For seven years after 1750 an annual saving was thus made of 288,517l., and after 1757 it amounted in the whole to 577,034l., which was to be applied to the reduction of the national debt. The success of this measure reflected great credit on the Government, and it furnished an extremely remarkable proof of how prosperous and wealthy the country remained at the close of a long and exhausting war. In 1752 Pelham completed his financial reforms by a measure simplifying and consolidating the different branches of the national debt, and thus removing a cause of much perplexity and some expense both to the public and to individuals.1
It was in this department of legislation that the Governments of the Walpole and Pelham period were most successful. In very few periods in English political history was the commercial element more conspicuous in administration. The prevailing spirit of the debates was of a kind we should rather have expected in a middle-class Parliament than in a Parliament consisting in a very large measure of the nominees of great families. A competition of economy reigned in all parties. The questions which excited most interest were chiefly financial and commercial ones. The increase of the national debt, the possibility and propriety of reducing its interest, the advantages of a sinking fund, the policy of encouraging trade by bounties and protective duties, the evils of excise, the reduction of the land-tax, the burden of Continental subsidies, were among the topics which produced the most vehement and the most powerful debates. Burke, in a letter which he wrote in 1752 describing the House of Commons during the Pelham administration, summed up the requirements of a Member of Parliament in one pregnant sentence, which would hardly have been true of the next generation: ‘A man, after all, would do more by figures of arithmetic than by figures of rhetoric.’1 Even the religious questions which produced most excitement throughout the country, the naturalisation of Jews and the naturalisation of foreign Protestants, were argued chiefly in Parliament upon commercial grounds. The question in home politics, however, which excited most interest in the nation was of a different kind, and it was one which, for very obvious reasons, Parliament desired as much as possible to avoid. It was the extreme corruption of Parliament itself, its subserviency to the influence of the Executive, and the danger of its becoming in time rather the oppressor than the representative of the people.
This danger had been steadily growing since the Revolution, and it had reached such a point that there were many who imagined that the country had gained little by exchanging an arbitrary King for a corrupt and often a tyrannical Parliament. The extraordinary inequalities of the constituencies had long attracted attention. Cromwell had for a time remedied the evil by a bold measure, sweeping away the rotten boroughs, granting members to the greatest unrepresented towns, strengthening the county representation, and at the same time summoning Irish and Scotch Members to the Parliament in London; but although Clarendon described this as ‘a warrantable alteration, and fit to be made in better times,’ the old state of things returned with the Restoration. The Revolution had been mainly a conflict between the Crown and the Parliament, and its effect had been greatly to increase the authority of the latter; but, with the exception of the Triennial Bill, nothing of much real value had been done to make it a more faithful representation of the people. Locke, in a memorable passage, complained that ‘the bare name of a town, of which there remains not so much as the ruins, where scarce so much housing as a sheepcot or more inhabitants than a shepherd is to be found, sends as many representatives to the grand Assembly of lawmakers, as a whole county, numerous in people and powerful in riches’; but he could discover no safe remedy for the evil.1 Defoe2 and the Speaker Onslow3 both desired an excision of the rotten boroughs, but there was no general movement in this direction, and the party which was naturally most inclined to change shrank from a reform which might have been fatal to the Government of the Revolution. The Scotch union aggravated the evil by increasing the number of sham boroughs and of subservient Members. If the anomalies were not quite so great as they became after the sudden growth of the manufacturing towns in the closing years of the eighteenth century, and in the early years of the nineteenth century, the Parliament was at least much more arbitrary and corrupt. Only a fraction of its Members were elected by considerable and independent constituencies. The enormous expense of the county elections, where the poll might be kept open for forty days, kept these seats almost exclusively in the hands of a few families, while many small boroughs were in the possession of rich noblemen, or were notoriously offered for sale. The Government, by the proprietary rights of the Crown over the Cornish boroughs, by the votes of its numerous excise or revenue officers, by direct purchase, or by bestowing places or peerages on the proprietors, exercised an absolute authority over many seats,4 and its means of influencing the assembled Parliament were so great that it is difficult to understand how, in the corrupt moral atmosphere that was prevalent, it was possible to resist it. The legal and ecclesiastical patronage of the Crown was mainly employed in supporting a parliamentary influence. Great sums of secret service money were usually expended in direct bribery, and places and pensions were multiplied to such an extent that it is on record that out of 550 Members there were in the first Parliament of George I. no less than 271, in the first Parliament of George II. no less than 257, holding offices, pensions, or sinecures.1 And the body which was thus constituted was rapidly becoming supreme in the State. The control of the purse was a prerogative which naturally would make it so; but during the triennial period the frequency of elections made the Members to a great extent subservient to the people who elected, or to the noblemen who nominated them, and gave each Parliament scarcely time to acquire much self-confidence, fixity of purpose, or consistency of organisation. The Septennial Act and the presence of Walpole in the House of Commons during the whole of his long ministry, gradually made that body the undoubted centre of authority.2 In the reign of Anne it was thought quite natural that Harley and St. John should accept peerages in the very zenith of their careers. In the reign of George II., Walpole only accepted a title in the hour of defeat, and Pulteney, by taking a similar step, gave a death-blow to his political influence.
It is obvious that a body such as this might become in the highest degree dangerous to the liberties it was supposed to protect, and it showed itself in many respects eminently arbitrary and encroaching. The cases of Fenwick and Bernardi were sufficiently alarming instances of the assumption by the Legislature of judicial functions, but in these cases at least all the three branches had concurred. In other cases, however, the lower House acted alone. One of the rights of the subject specially guaranteed by the Bill of Rights was that of petition, but it was not then foreseen that the House of Commons might prove as hostile to it as the King. The case of the Kentish petitioners, however, clearly showed the reality of this danger. In 1701, when a Tory House of Commons, in bitter opposition to the King and to the House of Lords, had impeached Somers, delayed the supplies, and thwarted every attempt to put the country in a state of security, a firm, but perfectly temperate and respectful petition to the House was signed by the grand jury and other freeholders of Kent recalling the great services of William, and imploring the House to turn its loyal addresses into Bills of supply, and to enable the King to assist his allies before it was too late. A more strictly constitutional proceeding could hardly be imagined, but because this petition reflected on the policy of the majority, the House voted it scandalous, insolent, and seditious, ordered the five gentlemen who presented it into custody, and kept them imprisoned for two months, till they were released by the prorogation. Nor was this all. At the ensuing dissolution Mr. Thomas Colepepper, who had been one of the five, stood for Maidstone, but was defeated by two votes. He petitioned the new House of Commons for the seat, but it at once condemned him as guilty of corruption, and proceeded to show the spirit in which it had tried the case by reviving the question of the Kentish petition, passing a new resolution to the effect that the petitioner had been guilty of ‘scandalous, villanous, and groundless reflections upon the late House of Commons,’ directing the Attorney-General to prosecute him for that offence, and commiting him to Newgate, where he remained until he had made a formal apology.1
No less scandalous, in a different way, was the case of the Aylesbury election. In 1703 an elector at Aylesbury, being denied his right to vote at an election, carried his case before the law courts. At the assizes his right to vote was affirmed and damages were given against those who had denied it; but the Queen's Bench quashed the proceedings, the majority of the Judges maintaining, in opposition to Chief Justice Holt, the very dangerous doctrine that the House of Commons alone had jurisdiction in all cases relating to elections. The case was then carried before the House of Lords as the highest judicial tribunal in the realm. By a large majority, it reversed the judgment of the Queen's Bench, and decided that the franchise being a right conferred by law, upon certain specified conditions, the law courts had the power of determining how far those conditions were fulfilled. But far from acquiescing in this judicial sentence, the House of Commons at once passed resolutions defying it, threatened severe punishment against all who carried questions of disputed votes into the law courts, and against all lawyers who assisted them, and actually threw four persons into Newgate for taking measures in accordance with the formal judgment of the supreme law court of the nation. The dispute-between the two Houses ran so high that it was found necessary to end it by a prorogation.1
In many other ways the same spirit was shown. For a considerable time, and especially during the reign of Anne, the House of Commons assumed a regular censorship over the press. I have already referred to the number of acts of severity against public writers in that reign, and it is one of the worst features connected with them that in numerous cases they were simply party measures effected by the mere motion of the House of Commons. Thus Steele was expelled for political libels, and Asgill on the pretext of an absurd book ‘On the Possibility of Avoiding Death.’ Defoe was prosecuted by the House of Commons for his ‘Shortest Way with Dissenters.’ Tutchin, by order of the House, was whipped by the hangman. Wellwood, the editor of the ‘Mercurius Rusticus,’ Dyer, the editor of the well-known ‘News Letter,’ and Fogg, the proprietor of ‘Mist's Journal,’ were compelled to express on their knees their contrition to the House. Whitehead's poem called ‘Manners’ was voted a libel. The sermon of Binckes, comparing the sufferings of Charles I. to those of Christ, a treatise by a physician named Coward, asserting the material nature of the soul, the sermons of Fleetwood, the bishop of St. Asaph's, were all, by order of the House, burnt by the hangman. Occasionally, as in the case of Hoadly, the House passed resolutions of approval.2 Of the value of its approbation and of its censure we have a curious illustration in an incident which took place long after the period I am now describing. In 1772 Dean Nowell was appointed to preach the customary sermon before the House on the anniversary of the Restoration. Only three or four Members were present, and they are said to have been asleep during the sermon, but the House, as usual, passed, unanimously, a vote of thanks to the preacher, and in terms of high eulogy ordered the sermon to be printed. When it appeared it was found that the preacher, being an extreme Tory, had availed himself of the occasion to denounce in the strongest language the Puritans and their principles, to extol the royal martyr in terms of which it can be only said that they were a faithful echo of the Church service for the day, and to urge that the qualities of Charles I. were very accurately reproduced in the reigning sovereign. The House of Commons, which was at this time strongly Whig, was both exasperated and perplexed. It was felt that it would be scarcely becoming to condemn to the flames a sermon which had been printed by its express order and honoured by its thanks, and it accordingly contented itself with ordering, without a division, that its vote of thanks should be expunged.1
There were many other prerogatives claimed by the House of Commons which savoured largely of despotism. The term privilege comprised an extended and ill-defined domain of power external to the law. The House claimed the right of imprisoning men to the end of the current session by its sole authority, and its victims could be neither bailed nor released by the law courts.2 It even claimed for itself collectively, and for each of its Members in his parliamentary capacity, a complete freedom from hostile criticism.3 Its Members, though they were presumed by the property qualification to be men of means, enjoyed an immunity from all actions of law and suits of equity, and were thus able to set their creditors at defiance, and the same privilege, till the reign of George III., was extended to their servants.1 An immense amount of fraud, violence, and oppression was thus sheltered from punishment, and the privilege appeared peculiarly odious at a time when the ascendancy of law was in other departments becoming more complete. Almost every injury in word or act done to a Member of Parliament was, during the reign of George II., voted a breach of privilege, and thus brought under the immediate and often vindictive jurisdiction of the House. Among the offences thus characterised were shooting the rabbits of one Member, poaching on the fishponds of another, injuring the trees of a third, and stealing the coal of a fourth.2
The abuse of the judicial functions that were properly and reasonably assumed by the House was scandalous and notorious. Even the occasional expulsions of Members for corruption were often themselves the corrupt acts of a corrupt majority, perfectly indifferent to the evidence before them, and intent only on driving out an opponent. The decisions on disputed elections were something more than a scandal. They threatened to subvert the whole theory of representation. The trial of disputed elections had been originally committed to select committees specially nominated, and afterwards to a single body called the Committee of Privileges and Elections, chosen by the House, and composed, for the most part, of Privy Councillors and eminent lawyers. In 1672, however, it was delegated to an open committee, in which all who came were allowed to have voices, and afterwards elections were tried at the bar of the House, and decided by a general vote.3 This vote was soon openly and almost invariably given through party motives. It is impossible to conceive a more grotesque travesty of a judicial proceeding than was habitually exhibited on these occasions, when private friends of each candidate and the members of the rival parties mustered their forces to vote entirely irrespectively of the merits of the case, when, the farce of hearing evidence having been gone through in an empty House, the Members, who had been waiting without, streamed in, often half intoxicated, to the division, and when the plainest and most incontestable testimony was set aside without scruple if it clashed with the party interests of the majority.1 The evil had already become apparent in the latter days of William,2 but some regard for appearances seems then to have been observed, and the partiality was shown chiefly in the very different degrees of stringency with which corruption was judged in the case of friend and foe. Soon, however, all shame was cast aside. In the Tory parliament of 1702, the controverted elections, in the words of Burnet, ‘were judged in favour of Tories with such a barefaced partiality, that it showed the party was resolved on everything that might serve their ends.’3 When the Whigs triumphed in 1705 they exhibited the same spirit, and in the few cases in which they did not decide in favour of the Whig candidate the result was ascribed exclusively to some private animosity.4 Speaker Onslow, who for thirty-three years presided over the House with great dignity and integrity, declared that it had ‘really come to be deemed by many a piece of virtue and honour to do injustice in these cases. “The right is in the friend and not in the cause” is almost avowed, and he is laughed at by the leaders of parties who has scruples upon it,’ ‘and yet,’ he adds, ‘we should not bear this a month in any other judicature in the kingdom, in any other object of jurisdiction, or—in this; but we do it ourselves and that sanctifies it, and the guilt is lost in the number of the guilty and the support of the party without doors.’5 In the Parliament which met in 1728 there were nearly seventy election petitions to be tried, and Lord Hervey has left us an account of how the House discharged its functions. ‘I believe,’ he says, ‘the manifest injustice and glaring violation of all truth in the decisions of this Parliament surpass even the most flagrant and infamous instances of any of their predecessors. They voted in one case forty more than ninety; in another they cut off the votes of about seven towns, and some thousand voters, who had not only been determined to have voices by former Committees of Elections, but had had their right of voting confirmed to them by the express words of an Act of Parliament and the authority of the whole Legislature. There was a string of these equitable determinations in about half a dozen instances, so unwarrantable and indefensible that people grew ashamed of pretending to talk of right and wrong, laughed at that for which they ought to have blushed, and declared that in elections they never considered the cause but the men, nor ever voted according to justice and right, but from solicitation and favour.’1 The true character of these professedly judicial proceedings was so clearly recognised that a defeat in a division about the Chippenham election was the immediate cause of the resignation of Walpole, and the votes of the ‘King's friends’ against the Government in election cases formed, in the beginning of the next reign, one of the great complaints of Rockingham. A small majority, consisting mainly of the representatives of rotten boroughs, could thus easily convert itself into a large one, and override the plainest wishes of constituencies; and it is no exaggeration to say that a considerable proportion of the Members of the House of Commons owed their seats, not to the electors, but to the House itself.
Next to the existence of open constituencies, and a fair mode of election, the best security a nation can possess for the fidelity of its representatives is to be found in the system of parliamentary reporting. But this also was wanting. The theory of the statesmen of the first half of the eighteenth century was that the electors had no right to know the proceedings of their representatives, and it was only after a long and dangerous struggle, which was not terminated till the reign of George III., that the right of printing debates was virtually conceded. A few fragmentary reports, as early as the reign of Elizabeth, have come down to us; but the first systematic reporting dates from the Long Parliament, which in 1641 permitted it in a certain specified form. The reports appeared under the title of ‘Diurnal Occurrences of Parliament,’ and continued until the Restoration; but all unlicensed reporting was stringently forbidden, and the House even expelled and imprisoned in the Tower one of its Members, Sir E. Dering, for printing, without permission, a collection of his own speeches. The secrecy of debate was originally intended as a protection from the King, but it was soon valued as a shelter from the supervision of the constituencies. At the Restoration all reporting was forbidden, though the votes and proceedings of the House were printed by direction of the Speaker, and from this time till the Revolution only a few relics of parliamentary debates were preserved. Andrew Marvell, the friend of Milton, and his assistant, as Secretary to Cromwell, sent regular reports to his constituents, from 1660 to 1678. Locke, at the suggestion of Shaftesbury, wrote a report of a debate which took place in the House of Lords in 1675, and he printed it under the title of ‘A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend,’ but, by order of the Privy Council, it was burnt by the hangman. Shaftesbury himself wrote some reports. Anchitell Grey, a Member for Derby, was accustomed for many years to take notes of the debates, which were published in 1769, and which form one of our most important sources of information about the period immediately following the Revolution. Occasionally a newsletter published an outline of what had occurred, but this was done in direct defiance of the resolutions of the House, and was often followed by a speedy punishment. In the latter years of Anne, however, the circle of political interests had very widely extended, and, to meet the demand, short summaries of parliamentary debates, compiled from recollections, began to appear every month in Boyer's ‘Political State of Great Britain,’ and in the following reign in the ‘Historical Register.’ Cave, who was one of the most enterprising booksellers of the eighteenth century, perceived the great popularity likely to be derived from such reports, and he showed great resolution in procuring them. In 1728 he was brought before the House of Commons, confined for several days, and obliged to apologise for having furnished his friend Robert Raikes with minutes of its proceedings for the use of the ‘Gloucester Journal,’ and at the same time the House passed a strong resolution, declaring such reports a breach of privilege. They were too popular, however, to be put down, and in the next year Raikes again incurred the censure of the House for the same offence. In 1731 Cave started the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ which was soon followed by its rival the ‘London Magazine,’ and in 1736 Cave began to make parliamentary reports a prominent feature of his periodical. He was accustomed to obtain entrance to the gallery of the House with a friend or two, to take down secretly the names of the speakers and the drift of their arguments, and then to repair at once to a neighbouring coffee-house, where, from the united recollections of the party, a rude report was compiled, which was afterwards elaborated and adorned by a more skilful writer. This latter function was at first fulfilled by a now forgotten historian named Guthrie. From November 1740 to February 1742–43 it was discharged by Dr. Johnson, and afterwards by Hawkesworth, the well-known editor of ‘Travels’ and biographer of Swift. Reports compiled in a somewhat similar manner, by a Scotch Presbyterian minister, named Gordon, appeared in the London Magazine,’ and they speedily spread into different newspapers. To elude, if possible, the severity of the House, they only appeared during the recess, and only the first and last letters of the names of the speakers were given.1
The subject was brought before the House of Commons by the Speaker Onslow, in April 1738, and a debate ensued, of which a full report has been preserved. It is remarkable that the only speaker who adopted what we should now regard as the constitutional view of the subject was the Tory leader, Sir W Windham. He concurred, indeed, in the condemnation of the reports that were appearing, but only on the ground of their frequent inaccuracy, and took occasion to say that ‘he had indeed seen many speeches that were fairly and accurately taken; that no gentleman, where that is the case, ought to be ashamed that the world should know every word he speaks in this House,’ ‘that the public might have a right to know somewhat more of the proceedings of the House than what appears from the votes,’ and that if he were sure that the sentiments of gentlemen were not misrepresented, he ‘would be against coming to any resolution that would deprive them of a knowledge that is so necessary for their being able to judge of the merits of their representatives.’ The language, however, of the other speakers was much more unqualified. ‘If we do not put a speedy stop to this practice,’ said Winnington, ‘it will be looked upon without doors that we have no power to do it.… You will have every word that is spoken here misrepresented by fellows who thrust themselves into our gallery. You will have the speeches of this House every day printed, even during your Session, and we shall be looked upon as the most contemptible assembly on the face of the earth.’ ‘It is absolutely necessary,’ said Pulteney, ‘a stop should be put to the practice which has been so justly complained of. I think no appeals should be made to the public with regard to what is said in this assembly, and to print or publish the speeches of gentlemen in this House, even though they were not misrepresented, looks very like making them accountable without doors for what they say within.’ Walpole was equally unqualified in his condemnation, but he dwelt exclusively on the inaccuracy and dishonesty of the reports, which were, no doubt, very great, and were a natural consequence of the way in which they were taken. ‘I have read debates,’ he said, ‘in which I have been made to speak the very reverse of what I meant. I have read others of them wherein all the wit, the learning, and the argument has been thrown into one side, and on the other nothing but what was low, mean, and ridiculous, and yet when it comes to the question, the division has gone against the side which upon the face of the debate had reason and justice to support it.’ ‘You have punished some persons for forging the names of gentlemen on the backs of letters; but this is a forgery of a worse kind, for it misrepresents the sense of Parliament, and imposes on the understanding of the whole nation.’ The result of the debate was a unanimous resolution ‘that it is a high indignity to, and a notorious breach of the privileges of this House’ to print the debates or other proceedings of the House ‘as well during the recess as the sitting of Parliament, and that this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offenders.’1
The threat was only partially effectual. Cave continued the publication in a new form, as ‘Debates in the Senate of Great Lilliput,’ and substituted extravagant fancy names for the initials of the speakers. In the ‘London Magazine,’ debates ‘of the Political Club’ appeared, and the affairs of the nation were discussed under a transparent disguise by personages in Roman history. Meagre, inaccurate, and often obscure, as these reports necessarily were, they were still very popular; but there was no small risk in producing them. Careful disguise was necessary, and Cave thought it henceforth advisable to print under the name of his nephew. In 1747 the editors of both magazines were summoned before the House of Lords for having given an account of Lord Lovat's trial, and they only escaped imprisonment by an abject apology. In 1752 Cave returned to the former plan of inserting initials of the speakers, and he does not appear to have been again molested during the short remainder of his life.1 Many other printers, however, were summoned before the battle was finally won. So jealous was the House of everything that could enable the constituencies to keep a watchful eye upon their representatives, that it was only in the eighteenth century that the votes of the House were printed without formal permission,2 while the names of the Members who had voted were wholly concealed. In 1696 the publication of the names of a minority was voted a breach of privilege ‘destructive to the freedom and liberties of Parliament.’ During almost the whole of the eighteenth century the publication of division lists was a rare and exceptional thing, due to the exertions of individual Members, and it was not until 1836 that it was undertaken by the House itself.3
The system of Parliamentary reporting contributed, perhaps, more than any other influence to mitigate the glaring corruption of Parliament, for although several laws dealing directly with the evil were enacted in obedience to the clamour out-of-doors, they were allowed to a very large extent to remain inoperative. It was useless to arraign offenders before a tribunal of accomplices, and as long as the Executive and the majority in Parliament conspired to practise and to shelter corruption, laws against it were a dead letter. Bribery at elections had been condemned by a law of William III.,1 and another measure of great stringency was carried against it in 1729. By this law any elector might be compelled on demand to take an oath swearing that he had received no bribe to influence his vote, and any person who was convicted of either giving or receiving a bribe at elections was deprived for ever of the franchise and fined 500l. unless he purchased indemnity by discovering another offender of the same kind.2 Some measures had also been taken to limit the number of placemen and pensioners in Parliament. In 1692 a Bill for expelling all who accepted places after a certain date from the House of Commons passed that House, but was rejected in the Lords. In 1693, after undergoing material alterations it was carried through both Houses, but vetoed by the Crown. In 1694 a new Place Bill was introduced, but this time it was defeated in the Commons. A clause of the Act of Settlement, however, carried out the principle in the most rigid form, providing that after the accession of the House of Hanover no person who held any office, place of profit, or pension from the King should have a seat in the House of Commons, but this clause, which would have banished the ministers from the popular branch of the Legislature, never came into operation. It was repealed in 1706, while Anne was still on the throne, and replaced by a law providing that every Member of the House of Commons who accepted office under the Crown should be compelled to vacate his seat and could only sit after re-election. Occasionally, when a new class of offices was created, its members were incapacitated by law from sitting in the House of Commons. Thus in 1694, when certain duties on salt, beer, and other liquors were granted for the purpose of carrying on the war with France, it was enacted that no Member of the House of Commons might be concerned in farming, collecting, or managing any of the sums granted to his Majesty by this Act ‘except the Commissioners of the Treasury, Customs, and Excise, not exceeding the present number in each office, and the Commissioners of the land tax.’ In 1700 all Commissioners and other officers of the Customs were disqualified from sitting in the House, and the Act of 1706 extended the disability to all offices created after that date, limited the number of Commissioners appointed to execute any office, and excluded all who held pensions from the Crown during pleasure. Under George I. this exclusion was extended to those who held pensions during a term of years. Had these laws been enforced, they would have done very much to purify Parliament, but the pension bills at least, were treated with complete contempt. The pensions were secret. The Government refused all information concerning them. A Bill was three times brought forward compelling every Member to swear that he was not in receipt of such a pension, and that if he accepted one he would within fourteen days disclose it to the House, but by the influence of Walpole it was three times defeated. A similar fate during the Walpole administration befell Bills for restricting the number of placemen in the House, but in the great outburst of popular indignation that followed his downfall one measure of this kind was carried. The Place Bill of 1743 excluded a certain number of inferior placeholders from Parliament, and in some degree mitigated the evil.1 It was, however, the only step that was taken. Pelham would, probably, never have corrupted Parliament had he found it pure,2 but he inherited a system of corruption, and he bequeathed it almost intact to his successors.
The efforts that were made to shorten the duration of Parliament were still less successful. We have already seen the chief reasons that induced the Whig party to pass the Septennial Act, and some of the results which it produced. Its beneficial effect in repressing disorder and immorality, in giving a new stability to English policy, a new strength to the dynasty, and a new authority to the House of Commons, can never be forgotten. It was accompanied, however, by no measure of parliamentary reform, and it had the inevitable effect of greatly increasing corruption both at elections and in the House. The price of seats at once rose when their tenure was prolonged, and the change in the class of candidates which had been in progress since the Revolution was greatly accelerated. In most rural constituencies it was impossible, when elections were very frequent, for any stranger to compete with the steady influence of the resident landlord. When, however, elections became comparatively rare, money became in many districts more powerful than influence. The value of the prize being enhanced, men were prepared to give more to obtain it; and rich merchants, coming down to constituencies where they were perfect strangers, were able, by the expenditure of large sums at long intervals, to wrest the representation from the resident gentry. At the same time, the means of corruption at the disposal of the Government were enormously increased. It was a common thing for a minister to endeavour to buy the vote of a new Member by the offer of a pension. Under the old system the Member knew that in three years he would be called to account by his constituents, and might lose both his pension and his seat. By the Septennial Act the value of the bribe was more than doubled, for its enjoyment was virtually secured for seven years.
To these arguments it was added that the Septennial Act had a social influence which was far from beneficial. Then as now Parliament contributed largely to set the tone of manners. Under the former system a landlord who aspired to a political position found an almost constant residence on his estate indispensable. When Parliaments became less frequent the necessity grew less stringent, and it was noticed as a consequence of the Septennial Act that country gentlemen were accustomed to spend much more of their time and fortune than formerly in the metropolis.
There can, however, I think, be little doubt that the Government were right in maintaining the Septennial Act, and that a return to the system which had rendered English politics so anarchical in the closing years of the seventeenth and the opening years of the eighteenth century would have produced more evils than it could have cured. It is a remarkable illustration of the changes that may pass over party warfare, that the Republican Milton at one time advocated the appointment of Members for life;1 that the Tory party under Walpole and Pelham advocated triennial and even annual Parliaments, which afterwards became the watchwords of the most extreme radicals; that the Whigs, taking their stand upon the Septennial Act, contended against the Tories for the greater duration of Parliament, and that a reform which was demanded as of capital importance by the Tories under George I. and George II., and by the Radicals in the succeeding reigns, has at present scarcely a champion in England. It must, however, be added that recent reforms have considerably diminished the average duration of Parliaments, and that since the Septennial Act there had been only one instance of a premature dissolution2 before 1784. In the early part of the eighteenth century the proposed reduction of the duration of Parliaments was very popular throughout the country. It was supported with great power by Sir W. Windham in 1734, and in 1745 a motion for annual Parliaments was only defeated by 145 to 113.
It is not easy to understand how a Parliament so thoroughly vicious in its constitution, so narrow, corrupt, and often despotic in its tendencies as that which I have described, should have proved itself, in any degree, a faithful guardian of English liberty, or should have produced so large an amount of wise, temperate, and tolerant legislation as it unquestionably did. Reasoning from its constitution and from some of its acts, we might have supposed that it would be wholly inaccessible to public opinion, and would have established a system of the most absolute and most ignoble tyranny; yet no one who candidly considers the general tenour of English administration during the long period of Whig ascendancy in the eighteenth century can question that Voltaire and Montesquieu were correct in describing it as greatly superior to the chief governments of the Continent. In truth the merits of a government depend much more upon the character of men than upon the framework of institutions. There have been legislative bodies, constructed on the largest, freest, and most symmetrical plan, which have been the passive instruments of despotism; and there have been others which, though saturated with corruption and disfigured by every description of anomaly, have never wholly lost their popular character. The parliamentary system at the time we are considering was a government by the upper classes of the nation; those classes possessed in an eminent degree political capacity, and although public spirit had sunk very low among them, it was by no means extinguished. Men who on ordinary occasions voted through party or personal motives rose on great emergencies to real patriotism. The enthusiasm and the genius of the country aspired in a great degree to political life; and large boroughowners, who disposed of some seats for money and of others for the aggrandisement of their families, were accustomed also, through mingled motives of patriotism and vanity, to bring forward young men of character and promise. Even if they restricted their patronage to their sons they at least provided that many young men should be in the House, and they thus secured the materials of efficient legislators. Statesmanship is not like poetry, or some of the other forms of higher literature, which can only be brought to perfection by men endowed with extraordinary natural genius. The art of management, whether applied to public business or to assemblies, lies strictly within the limits of education, and what is required is much less transcendent abilities than early practice, tact, courage, good temper, courtesy, and industry. In the immense majority of cases the function of statesmen is not creative, and its excellence lies much more in execution than in conception. In politics possible combinations are usually few, and the course that should be pursued is sufficiently obvious. It is the management of details, the necessity of surmounting difficulties, that chiefly taxes the abilities of statesmen, and these things can to a very large degree be acquired by practice. The natural capacities, even of a Walpole, a Palmerston, or a Peel, were far short of prodigy or genius. Imperfect and vicious as was the system of parliamentary government, it at least secured a school of statesmen quite competent for the management of affairs, and the reign of corruption among them, though very threatening, was by no means absolute. Among the rich who purchased their seats there were always some few who were actuated by an earnest desire to benefit their country, and who, like Romilly and Flood, chose this way of entering Parliament as that which made them most independent. The county representation continued tolerably pure;1 of the other constituencies a proportion, though a small proportion, were really free, and some of these, through the operation of the scot and lot franchise, which was equivalent to household suffrage, were eminently popular. All placemen did not always vote with the Government, and all the forms of corruption did not act in the same direction. There was not much public spirit exhibited, but there was always some, and there was much of that spirit of moderation and compromise, that aversion to raising dangerous questions or disturbing old customs, that anxiety not to strain allegiance or abuse strength, or carry political conflicts to extremities, which has almost always characterised English politics, and which Walpole had done more than any other single man to sustain. Besides this, the influence of the House of Lords and a network of old customs, associations, and traditions opposed formidable barriers to precipitate or violent action. As Burke once said with profound truth, ‘it is of the nature of a constitution so formed as ours, however clumsy the constituent parts, if set together in action, ultimately to act well.’
But perhaps the most important guarantee of tolerable government in England was the fear of the Pretender. During all the early years of the Hanoverian dynasty, it was more probable than otherwise that the Stuarts would be restored, and it was only by carefully and constantly abstaining from every course that could arouse violent hostility that the tottering dynasty could be kept upon the throne. This was the ever present check upon the despotism of majorities, the great secret of the deference of Parliament to the wishes of the people. The conciliatory ministry of Walpole turned the balance of probabilities in favour of the reigning family, but the danger was not really averted till after Culloden, and the Jacobite party did not cease to be a political force till the great ministry of Pitt. There were persons of high position—the most noted being the Duke of Beaufort—who were believed every year to send large sums to the Pretender. Jacobite cries were loud and frequent during the riots that followed the Bill for naturalising Jews in 1753. The University of Oxford was still profoundly disaffected. Complaints were made in Parliament in 1754 of treasonable songs sung by the students in the streets, of treasonable prints sold in its shops.1 Dr. King, whose sentiments were not doubtful, in his speech on opening the Ratcliffe Library in 1754, introduced three times the word ‘redeat,’ pausing each time for a considerable space while the crowded theatre rang with applause.2 As late as 1756, when Lord Fitzmaurice travelled through Scotland, he observed that the people of that country were still generally Jacobite.3
Such a state of affairs was well fitted to moderate the violence of parties. The people had little power of controlling or directly influencing Parliament, but whenever their sentiments were strongly expressed on any particular question, either by the votes of the free constituencies or by more irregular or tumultuous means, they were usually listened to, and on the whole obeyed. The explosions of public indignation about the Sacheverell case, the Peace of Utrecht, the commercial treaty with France, the South Sea Bubble, the Spanish outrages, the Bill for naturalising the Jews, the Hanoverian policy of Carteret, foolish as in most instances they were, had all of them, at least, a great and immediate effect upon the policy of the country. It should be added that the duties of Government were in some respects much easier than at present. The vast development of the British Empire and of manufacturing industry, the extension of publicity, and the growth of an inquiring and philanthropic spirit that discerns abuses in every quarter, have together immeasurably increased both the range and the complexity of legislation. In the early Hanoverian period the number of questions treated was very small, and few subjects were much attended to which did not directly affect party interests.
The general level of political life was, however, deplorably low-Politics under Queen Anne centred chiefly round the favourites of the sovereign, and in the first Hanoverian reigns the most important influences were Court intrigues or parliamentary corruption. Bolingbroke secured his return from exile by the assistance of the Duchess of Kendal, one of the mistresses of George I., whom he is said to have bribed with 10,000l. Carteret at first based his hopes upon the same support, but imagining that he had met with coldness or infidelity on the part of the Duchess, he transferred his allegiance to her rival, the Countess of Platen.1 On the death of George I a crowd of statesmen and writers—Chesterfield, Pulteney, Swift, Bolingbroke, and Gay—were at the feet of Mrs. Howard, the mistress of the new king. A curious letter has been preserved, in which Mrs. Pitt, the mother of the great Lord Chatham, endeavoured by a bribe of 1,000 guineas to obtain from her, for her brother, the position of Lord of the Bedchamber.2 Chesterfield, towards the end of his career, intrigued against Newcastle with the Duchess of Yarmouth; and Pitt himself is stated, on very good authority, to have secured his position in the Cabinet in a great degree by his attentions to the same lady.3 The power of Walpole and Newcastle rested upon a different but hardly upon a nobler basis—upon the uniform employment of all the patronage of the Crown, and of a large proportion of the public money at their disposal, for the purpose of maintaining a parliamentary majority. Weapons we should now regard as in the highest degree dishonourable were freely employed. The secrecy of the Post Office was habitually violated. The letters of Swift, Bolingbroke, Marlborough, and Pope are full of complaints of its insecurity, and we know from Walpole himself that he had no scruple in opening the letters of a political rival.4
Of these facts that which is most really important is the manner in which the Crown patronage and secret service money were disposed of. The system of habitually neglecting the moral and intellectual interests of the country, and of employing the resources of the Government solely with a view to strengthening political influence, was chiefly due to Walpole and Newcastle, and it was one which had very wide and very important consequences. The best argument that has ever been urged in favour of leaving at the disposal of the Government large sums of money in the form of pensions, sinecures, and secret service money, is that the Government is the trustee of the nation, and that it should employ at least a portion of these funds in encouraging those higher forms of literature, science, or art, which are of the greatest value to mankind, which can only be attained by the union of extraordinary abilities with extraordinary labour, and which are at the same time of such a nature that they produce no adequate remuneration for those who practise them. It has been contended, with reason, that it is neither just nor politic that great philosophers, or poets, or men of science should be driven by the pressure of want from the fields of labour to which their genius naturally called them, or should be tempted to degrade the rarest and most inestimable talents, in order by winning popularity to obtain a livelihood, or should be deprived, when pursuing investigations of the highest moment to mankind, of the means of research which easy circumstances can furnish. That each man should obtain the due and proportionate reward of his services to the community is an ideal which no society can ever attain, but towards which every society in a healthy condition must endeavour to approximate; and although in matters of material production, of which common men are good judges, the law of supply and demand may at least be trusted to produce the requisite article in sufficient quantity and of tolerable quality, it is quite otherwise with the things of mind. In these fields reward is often in inverse proportion to merit, and many of the qualities that are of the most incontestable value have a direct tendency to diminish popularity. As a great writer has truly said ‘the writings by which one can live are not the writings which themselves live.’ To infuse into a book deep thought that will strain the attention of the reader, to defend unpopular opinions, or open new veins of thought, to condense into a small space the reflections and researches of a lifetime, to grapple with subjects that involve subtle distinctions or close and complicated reasoning, is a course plainly contrary to the pecuniary interest of an author. The discoveries and the books which have proved of the most enduring value, have usually at first been only appreciated by a very few, and have only emerged into general notoriety after many years of eclipse. A skilful writer who looks only to the market, will speedily perceive that the taste of the great majority of readers is an uncultivated one, and that if he desires to be popular he must labour deliberately to gratify it. If his talent take the form of books he will expand his thoughts into many brilliant, gaudy, and superficial volumes, rapidly written and easily read, and, remembering that most men read only for amusement, he will avoid every subject that can fatigue attention or shock prejudices, and especially every form of profound, minute, and laborious investigation. There are demagogues in literature as well as in politics. There is a degradation of style springing from a thirst for popularity, which is at least as bad as the pedantry of scholars, and a desire to conform to middle-class prejudices may produce quite as real a servility as the patronage of aristocracies or of courts. The inevitable result of the law of supply and demand, if left without restriction, is either to degrade or destroy both literature and science, or else to throw them exclusively into the hands of those who possess private means of subsistence. This is not a matter of speculation or of controversy, but of fact, and anyone who is even moderately acquainted with literary or scientific biography may abundantly verify it. It is certain that the higher forms of literature and science are as a rule unsupporting, that men of extraordinary abilities have spent the most useful and laborious lives in these pursuits without earning the barest competence, that many of the most splendid works of genius and many of the most fruitful and conscientious researches are due to men whose lives were passed between the garret and the spunging house, and who were reduced to a penury sometimes verging upon starvation. Neither Bacon, nor Newton, nor Locke, nor Descartes, nor Gibbon, nor Hume, nor Adam Smith, nor Montesquieu, nor Berkeley, nor Butler, nor Coleridge, nor Bentham, nor Milton, nor Wordsworth, could have made a livelihood by their works, and the same may be said of all, or nearly all, writers on mathematics, metaphysics, political economy, archæology, and physical science in all its branches, as well as of the great majority of the greatest writers in other fields. Very few of those men whose genius has irradiated nations, and whose writings have become the eternal heritage of mankind, obtained from their works the income of a successful village doctor or provincial attorney.
In truth, the fact that for many years a main object of English politicians has been to abolish the foolish restrictions by which commerce was hampered, has produced among large classes, by a process of hasty generalisation which is very familiar to all who have studied the history of opinions, a belief in the all-sufficiency of the law of supply and demand, and in the uselessness of government interference, which in speculation is one of the most superficial of fallacies, and in practice one of the most deadly of errors. Even in the sphere of material things this optimist notion egregiously fails. No portions of modern legislation have been more useful or indeed more indispensable than the Factory Acts and the many restrictive laws about the sale of poisons, vaccination, drainage, railways, or adulteration, and few men who observe the signs of the times will question that this description of legislation must one day be greatly extended. But in other spheres of the utmost importance, the law of supply and demand is far more conspicuously impotent. Thus education in its simplest form, which is one of the first and highest of all human interests, is a matter in which Government initiation and direction are imperatively required, for uninstructed people will never demand it, and to appreciate education is itself a consequence of education. Thus the higher forms of literature and science cannot be left to the unrestricted law of supply and demand, for the simple reason that, while they are of the utmost importance to mankind, most of their professors under such a system would starve. No reasonable man will question either that a civilisation is mutilated and imperfect in which a considerable number of men of genius do not devote their lives to these subjects, or that the world owes quite as much to its writers and men of science as it does to its statesmen, its generals, or its lawyers. No reasonable man who remembers on the one hand how small a proportion of mankind possess the strong natural aptitude which produces the highest achievements in science or literature, and on the other hand how inestimable and enduring are the benefits they may confer, will desire that the cultivation of these fields should become the monopoly of the rich. To evoke the latent genius of the nation, and to direct it to the spheres in which it is most fitted to excel, is one of the highest ends of enlightened statesmanship. In every community there exists a vast mass of noble capacity hopelessly crushed by adverse circumstances, or enabled only to develop in a tardy, distorted, and imperfect manner. Every institution or system that enables a poor man who possesses a strong natural genius for science or literature, to acquire the requisite instruction, and to develop his distinctive capabilities instead of seeking a livelihood as a second-rate lawyer or tradesman, is conferring a benefit on the human race. The benefit is so great that an institution is justified if it occasionally accomplishes it, even though in the great majority of cases it proves a failure. It is, no doubt, true that these unremunerative pursuits may often be combined with more lucrative employments, but only where such employments are congenial, and allow an unusual leisure for thought and study, and even then a divided allegiance is seldom compatible with the highest results. It is also true that men of great natural powers will sometimes follow their guiding light in spite of every obstacle. The martyrs of literature who pursued their path through hopeless poverty to ends of the highest value to mankind, have been scarcely less memorable than those of religion. But apart from all nobler and more generous considerations, it is not for the benefit of society that these fields of labour should be cultivated only by those who possess a far higher amount of self-sacrifice than is demanded in other spheres, or that men whose influence may mould the characters of succeeding generations should exercise that influence, with hearts acidulated and perhaps depraved by the pains of poverty or the sense of wrong. It is difficult to over-estimate the amount of evil in the world which has sprung from vices in literature that may be distinctly traced to the circumstances of the author. Had Rousseau been a happy and a prosperous man, the whole history of modern Europe might have been changed.
A curious and valuable book might be written describing the provisions which have been made in different nations and ages for the support of these unremunerative forms of talent. In Germany at the present day the immense multiplication of professorships provides a natural sphere for their exertions; but the results of this system would have been less satisfactory had not the general simplicity of habits, the cheapness of living, and the low standard of professional remuneration made such a life hitherto attractive to able men. In England several agencies combine directly or indirectly to the same end. The vast emoluments of the Universities enable them to do something. In the eyes of a superficial economist no institution will appear more indefensible than an English fellowship to which no definite duties whatever are attached. A real statesman will probably think that something, at least, may be said for emoluments which, won by severe competition, give a young man a subsistence during the first unproductive years of a profession, render possible for him lines of study or employment from which he would otherwise be absolutely excluded, and enable him, if he desires it, during some of the best years of his life to devote his undivided energies to intellectual labours. The endowments, whether derived from public or private sources, which are attached to scientific careers, at least furnish the means of subsistence to some men who are engaged in studies of the most transcendent importance. They are, however, miserably inadequate, and this inadequacy diverts from scientific pursuits many who are admirably fitted to follow them, compels many others to turn away from original investigation, and depresses the whole subject in the eyes of those large classes who estimate the relative importance of different branches of knowledge by the magnitude of the emoluments attached to them. Hardly any other of the great branches of human knowledge is at present so backward, tentative, and empirical as medicine, and there is not much doubt that the law of supply and demand is a main cause of the defect. Almost all the finer intellects which are devoted to this subject are turned away from independent investigations to the lucrative paths of professional practice; their time is engrossed with cases most of which could be treated quite as well by men of inferior capacity, and they do little or nothing to enlarge the bounds of our knowledge. For literature of the graver kinds the Church provides important, though indirect assistance. In many country parishes the faithful discharge of clerical duties is quite compatible with the life of a scholar; and the valuable, dignified, and almost sinecure appointments connected with the Cathedrals are peculiarly suited for literary rewards. Solid literary attainments usually lead to them, and to the tranquil leisure which they secure we owe, perhaps, the greater number of those noble monuments of learning which are the truest glory of the Anglican Church.
The disadvantages attaching to this system of providing for literature by ecclesiastical appointments are sufficiently obvious. Such rewards are restricted to men of only one class of opinions, are offered for proficiency only in special forms of literature, and have a direct tendency to discourage independence of thought. They are open to the grave objection of constituting a gigantic system of bribery in favour of a certain class of opinions, and of inducing many who are not conscious hypocrites to stifle their doubts and act falsely with their intellects. To the poor, ambitious, and unbelieving scholar, the Church holds out prospects of the most seductive nature, and he must often hear the voice of the tempter murmuring in his ear, ‘All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ But, grave as are these disadvantages, the literary benefits resulting from Church sinecures, in my judgment, outweigh them, and they will continue to do so as long as the Church maintains her present latitude of belief, and as long as a considerable proportion of able men can conscientiously join her communion. These appointments have, as a matter of fact, produced many works of great and sterling value, which would never have been written without them, and which are of great benefit to men of all classes and opinions. They discharge a function of the utmost importance in English life, for they form the principal counterpoise to the great prizes attached to the law and to commerce, which would otherwise divert a very disproportionate amount of the talent of the community into these channels. They are especially valuable as encouraging deep research and considerable literary enterprise at a period when, under the influence of the law of supply and demand, literary talent is passing, to a most excessive and deplorable degree, into ephemeral or purely critical writing. Apart from all its other effects, valuable Church patronage, if judiciously employed, may be of inestimable intellectual advantage to the nation. An ingenious man may easily imagine institutions that would confer the same advantages without the attending evils; but ecclesiastical appointments exist; they actually discharge these functions, and it would be practically much more easy to destroy than to replace them. Strong popular enthusiasm may be speedily aroused for the defence or the destruction of an establishment, but considerations such as I am now urging are of too refined a nature ever to become popular. They are never likely to furnish election cries or party watchwords, and the creation of lucrative appointments, without adequate and engrossing duties being definitely attached to them, is too much opposed to all democratic notions to be in our day a possibility.
Among the means of encouraging the higher intellectual influences, direct Government patronage was in the early part of the eighteenth century conspicuous, and it was bestowed, on the whole, with much disregard of party considerations. Whigs and Tories were in this respect about equally liberal, the Whigs Somers and Montague, and the Tories Harley and St. John being, perhaps, the ministers to whom literature owed most. It was the received opinion of the time that it was part of the duty of an English minister to encourage the development of promising talent, and that a certain proportion of the places and pensions at his disposal should be applied to this purpose. No doubt, this system was sometimes abused, and sometimes had a bad effect upon the character of the recipient; but in itself it implied no degradation. Many of the kinds of labour assisted were of such a nature as to leave no room for sycophancy, and could not otherwise have been carried on, and the practical results were in general eminently beneficial. The splendid efflorescence of genius under Queen Anne was in a very great degree due to ministerial encouragement, which smoothed the path of many whose names and writings are familiar in countless households, where the statesmen of that day are almost forgotten. Among those who obtained assistance from the Government, either in the form of pensions, appointments, or professional promotion, were Newton and Locke, Addison, Swift, Steele, Prior, Gay, Rowe, Congreve, Tickell, Parnell, and Phillips, while a secret pension was offered to Pope, who was legally disqualified by his religion from receiving Government favours. Upon the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty, however, Governmental encouragement of literature almost absolutely ceased. It is somewhat singular that the son of the Electress Sophia, who had been the devoted friend of Leibnitz, and the nephew of Elizabeth of Bavaria, who had been the most ardent disciple of Descartes, should have proved himself, beyond all other English sovereigns, indifferent to intellectual interests; but George I. never exhibited any trace of the qualities that had made his mother one of the most brilliant, and his aunt one of the most learned, women in Europe. The influence of Walpole was in this respect still more fatal. Himself wholly destitute of literary tastes, he was altogether indifferent to this portion of the national development, and he looked upon the vast patronage at his disposal merely as a means of Parliamentary corruption, of aggrandising his own family, or of providing for the younger sons of the aristocracy. It has been said that one of the great distinctions between ancient and modern political theories is, that in the one the ends proposed were chiefly moral, and in the other almost exclusively material; and this last description, though it does not apply to every portion of English history, was eminently true of the reigns of George I. and of his successor.
It can never be a matter of indifference to a country what qualities lead naturally to social eminence, and it was a necessary consequence of this neglect of literature that a great change passed over the social position of its possessors. Formerly high intellectual attainments counted in society for almost as much as rank or wealth. Addison had been made a Secretary of State. Prior had been despatched on important embassies. Swift had powerfully influenced the policy of a ministry. Steele was a conspicuous Member of Parliament. Gay was made Secretary to the English ambassador at the Court of Hanover. In the reign of the first two Georges all this changed. The Government, if it helped any authors, helped only those who would employ their talents in the lowest forms of party libel, and even then on the most penurious scale. The public was still too small to make literature remunerative. The great nobles, who took their tone from the Court and Government, no longer patronised it, and the men of the highest genius or of the greatest learning were the slaves of mercenary booksellers, wasted the greater part of their lives in the most miserable literary drudgery, lived in abject poverty, and rarely came in contact with the great, except in the character of suppliants. It was in the reign of George I. that Steele, struck down by the ingratitude of the party he had so faithfully served, closed a career, which had been pre-eminently useful to his country, in poverty and neglect; that Ockley concluded his ‘History of the Saracens’ in a debtor's prison; that Bingham composed the greater part of his invaluable work on the ‘Antiquities of the Christian Church’ in such necessity that it was with the utmost difficulty he could obtain the books that were indispensable to his task. It was in the reign of George II. that Savage used to wander by night through the streets of London for want of a lodging, that Johnson spent more than thirty years in penury, drudgery, or debt, that Thomson was deprived by Lord Hardwicke of the small place in the Court of Chancery which was his sole means of subsistence, that Smollett was compelled to degrade his noble genius to unworthy political libels, and at last, after a life which was one long struggle for bread, died in utter poverty in a foreign land. And at this very time literature in the neighbouring country had acquired a greater social influence than in any other period of recorded history. No contrast, indeed, can be more complete than that which was in this respect presented by England and France. That brilliant French society which Rousseau1 and so many others have painted, was, no doubt, in many respects corrupt, frivolous, and chimerical, but it had at least carried the art of intellectual conversation to an almost unexampled perfection, and it was pervaded and dignified by a genuine passion and enthusiasm for knowledge, by a noble, if delusive confidence in the power of intellect to regenerate mankind. This intellectual tone was wholly wanting in society in England. Horace Walpole, who reflected very faithfully the fashionable spirit of his time, always speaks of literary pursuits as something hardly becoming in a gentleman, and of such men as Johnson and Smollett as if they were utterly contemptible. The change in the position of writers was at least as injurious to society as to literature. It gave it a frivolous, unintellectual, and material tone it has never wholly lost.2
We must, however, make an exception to this censure. The influence of Queen Caroline in patronage was for many years most judiciously exercised. This very remarkable woman, who governed her husband with an absolute sway in spite of his infidelities, and who often exhibited an insight into character, a force of expression, and a political judgment worthy of a great statesman, was the firmest of all the friends of Walpole, and deserves a large share of the credit which is given to his administration. She first fully reconciled her husband to him. She supported him through innumerable intrigues, and every act of policy was determined together by the minister and the Queen before it was submitted to the King. Unlike Walpole, however, and unlike her husband, who despised every form of literature and art, she had strong intellectual sympathies, which she sometimes displayed with a little pedantry, but which on the whole she exercised to the great advantage of the community. She was the friend and correspondent of Leibnitz,1 and, in spite of the ridicule of many of the English nobles, the warm and steady patron of Handel. By her influence the poet Savage, when under sentence of death, received his pardon, the Nonjuror historian Carte was recalled from exile, the Arian Whiston was assisted by a pension. Her generosity was at once wide and discriminating and singularly unfettered by the prejudices of her time. She secured for the Scotch Jacobites at Edinburgh permission to worship in peace, and although her own views were as far as possible removed from their theology2 she was a special benefactress of the persecuted Catholics. She contributed largely from her private means to encourage needy talent, and she exercised a great and most useful influence upon Church patronage. There has seldom been a time in which the religious tone was lower than in the age of the first two Georges, but it is a remarkable fact that this age can boast of the two greatest intellects that have ever adorned the Protestant Episcopate. Butler was drawn from his retirement by Caroline, was appointed chaplain and recommended by her on her death-bed, and to that recommendation he himself attributed his subsequent promotion. Berkeley was first offered a bishopric by the Queen, but being at this time absorbed by his famous missionary scheme he declined it. She tried also earnestly and repeatedly to induce Clarke to accept a seat on the bench, but he resolutely refused, declaring that nothing would induce him again to subscribe the Articles. She secured the promotion of Sherlock, contrary to the wish of Walpole. She favoured the promotion of Hoadly and of Secker, and she endeavoured to draw the saintly Wilson from his obscure diocese in the Isle of Man to a more prominent and lucrative position, but he answered that’ he would not in his old age desert his wife because she was poor.’ On the death of the Queen, however, Church patronage, like all other patronage, degenerated into a mere matter of party or personal interest. It was distributed for the most part among the members or adherents of the great families, subject to the conditions that the candidates were moderate in their views and were not inclined to any description of reform.1
It is not surprising that under such circumstances the spirit of the nation should have sunk very low. In the period between the Reformation and the Revolution England had been convulsed by some of the strongest passions of which large bodies of men are susceptible. The religious enthusiasm that accompanies great changes and conflicts of dogmatic belief, the enthusiasm of patriotism elicited by a deadly contest with a foreign enemy, the enthusiasm of liberty struggling with despotism, and the enthusiasm of loyalty struggling with innovation, had been the animating principles of large bodies of Englishmen. Different as are these enthusiasms in their nature and their objects, various as are the minds on which they operate, and great as are in some cases the evils that accompany their excess, they have all the common property of kindling in large bodies of men an heroic self-sacrifice, of teaching them to subordinate material to moral ends, and of thus raising the tone of political life. All these enthusiasms had now gradually subsided, while the philanthropic and reforming spirit, which in the nineteenth century has in a great degree taken their place, was almost absolutely unfelt. With a Church teaching a cold and colourless morality and habitually discouraging every exhibition of zeal, with a dynasty accepted as necessary to the country, but essentially foreign in its origin, its character, and its sympathies, with a Government mild and tolerant, indeed, but selfish, corrupt, and hostile to reform, the nation gradually sank into a condition of selfish apathy. In very few periods was there so little religious zeal, or active loyalty, or public spirit. A kindred tone pervaded the higher branches of intellect. The philosophy of Locke, deriving our ideas mainly if not exclusively from external sources, was supreme among the stronger minds. In literature, in art, in speculation the imagination was repressed; strong passions, elevated motives, and sublime aspirations were replaced by critical accuracy of thought and observation, by a measured and fastidious beauty of form, by clearness, symmetry, sobriety, and good sense. We find this alike in the prose of Addison, in the poetry of Pope, and in the philosophy of Hume. The greatest wit and the most original genius of the age was also the most intensely and the most coarsely realistic. The greatest English painter of the time devoted himself mainly to caricature. The architects could see nothing but barbarous deformity in the Gothic cathedral, and their own works had touched the very nadir of taste. The long war of the Spanish Succession failed signally to arouse the energies of the nation. It involved no great principle that could touch the deeper chords of national feeling. It was carried on chiefly by means of subsidies. It was one of the most ill directed, ill executed, and unsuccessful that England had ever waged, and the people, who saw Hanoverian influence in every campaign, looked with an ominous supineness upon its vicissitudes. Good judges spoke with great despondency of the decline of public spirit as if the energy of the people had been fatally impaired. Their attitude during the rebellion of 1745 was justly regarded as extremely alarming. It appeared as if all interest in those great questions which had convulsed England in the time of the Commonwealth and of the Revolution, had died away—as if even the old courage of the nation was extinct. Nothing can be more significant than the language of contemporary statesmen on the subject. ‘I apprehend,’ wrote old Horace Walpole when the news of the arrival of the Pretender was issued, ‘that the people may perhaps look on and cry “Fight dog! fight bear!” if they do no worse.’ ‘England,’ wrote Henry Fox, ‘Wade says, and I believe, is for-the first comer, and if you can tell whether the 6,000 Dutch and ten battalions of English, or 5,000 French and Spaniards will be here first, you know our fate.’ ‘The French are not come—God be thanked!1 But had 5,000 landed in any part of this island a week ago, I verily believe the entire conquest of it would not have cost them a battle.’ Alderman Heathcote, writing to the Earl of Marchmont in September 1745, and describing the condition of the country, no doubt indicated very truly the causes of the decline. ‘Your Lordship will do me the justice,’ he writes, ‘to believe that it is with the utmost concern I have observed a remarkable change in the dispositions of the people within these two years; for numbers of them, who, during the apprehensions of the last invasion, appeared most zealous for the Government, are now grown absolutely cold and indifferent, so that except in the persons in the pay of the Government and a few Dissenters, there is not the least appearance of apprehension or concern to be met with. As an evidence of this truth, your Lordship may observe the little influence an actual insurrection has had on the public funds; and unless some speedy stop be put to this universal coldness by satisfying the demands of the nation and suppressing by proper laws that parliamentary prostitution which has destroyed our armies, our fleets, and our constitution, I greatly fear the event.’2 The Government looked upon the attitude of the people simply as furnishing an argument for increasing the standing army, but the fact itself they admitted as freely as their opponents. ‘When the late rebellion broke out,’ says Lord Hardwicke in 1749, ‘I believe most men were convinced that if the rebels had succeeded, Popery as well as slavery would have been the certain consequence, and yet what a faint resistance did the people make in any part of the kingdom!—so faint that had we not been so lucky as to procure a number of regular troops from abroad time enough to oppose their approach, they might have got possession of our capital without any opposition except from the few soldiers we had in London.’1
These statements are very remarkable, and they are especially so because the apathy that was shown was not due to any sympathy with the Pretender. The disgraceful terror which seized London when the news of the Jacobite march upon Derby arrived was a sufficient evidence of the fact. ‘In every place we passed through,’ wrote the Jacobite historian of the rebellion, ‘we found the English very ill-disposed towards us, except at Manchester.… The English peasants were hostile towards us in the highest degree.’2 When a prisoner who was for a time believed to be the Young Pretender was brought to London, it was with the utmost difficulty that his escort could conduct him to the Tower through a savage mob, who desired to tear him limb from limb.3 Even in Manchester, the day of thanksgiving for the suppression of the rebellion was celebrated by the populace, who insulted the nearest relatives of those who had perished on the gallows, and compelled them to subscribe to the illuminations. In Liverpool a Roman Catholic chapel was burnt, and all who were supposed to be guilty of Jacobite tendencies were in serious danger.4 Nor did the executions which followed the suppression of the movement excite any general compassion. ‘Popularity,’ wrote Horace Walpole at this time, ‘has changed sides since the year ‘15, for now the city and the generality are very angry that so many rebels have been pardoned.’5
The impression which this indifference to public interests produced in the minds of many observers was well expressed in a work which appeared in 1757 and 1758. Browne's ‘Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times’ is now hardly remembered except by brief and disparaging notices in one of the later writings of Burke and in one of the ‘Essays’ of Macaulay; but it had once a wide popularity and a considerable influence on public opinion. Its author was a clergyman well known in the history of ethics by his answer to Shaftesbury, which contains one of the ablest defences in English literature of the utilitarian theory of morals. His object was to warn the country of the utter ruin that must ensue from a decadence of the national spirit, which he maintained was only too manifest, and which he attributed mainly to an excessive development of the commercial spirit. He fully admits that constitutional liberty had been considerably enlarged, that a spirit of growing humanity was exhibited both in manners and in laws; that the administration of justice was generally pure, and that the age was not characterised by gross or profligate vice. Its leading quality was ‘a vain, luxurious, and selfish effeminacy,’ which was rapidly corroding all the elements of the national strength. ‘Love of our country,’ he complained, ‘is no longer felt, and except in a few minds of uncommon greatness, the principle of public spirit exists not.’ He appealed to the disuse of manly occupations among the higher classes, to their general indifference to religious doctrines and neglect of religious practices, to the ever-widening circle of corruption which had now passed from the Parliament to the constituencies, and tainted all the approaches of public life; to the prevailing system of filling the most important offices in the most critical times by family interest, and without any regard to merit or to knowledge. The extent of this evil, he maintained, was but too plainly shown in the contrast between the splendid victories of Marlborough and the almost uniform failure of the British arms in the late war, in the want of fire, energy, and heroism manifested in all public affairs, and, above all, in the conduct of the nation during the rebellion, ‘when those of every rank above a constable, instead of arming themselves and encouraging the people, generally fled before the rebels; while a mob of ragged Highlanders marched unmolested to the heart of a populous kingdom.’ He argued with much acuteness that the essential qualities of national greatness are moral, and that no increase of material resources could compensate for the deterioration which had in this respect passed over the English people.
It is, perhaps, difficult for us, who judge these predictions in the light which is furnished by the Methodist revival, and by the splendours of the administration of Chatham, to do full justice to their author. He appears to have been constitutionally a very desponding man, and he ended his life by suicide. The shadows of his picture are undoubtedly overcharged, and the marked revival of public spirit in the succeeding reign, when commerce was far more extended than under George II., proves conclusively that he had formed a very erroneous estimate of the influence of the commercial spirit. Yet it is certain that the disease, though it might still be arrested, was a real one, and its causes, as we have seen, are not difficult to trace. There was, undoubtedly, less of gross and open profligacy than in the evil days of the Restoration, and less of deliberate and organised treachery among statesmen than in the years that immediately followed the Revolution. The fault of the time was not so much the amount of vice as the defect of virtue, the general depression of motives, the unusual absence of unselfish and disinterested action. At the same time, though there had been a certain suspension of the moral influences that had formerly acted upon English society, the conditions of that society were at bottom sound, and contrasted in most respects favourably with those of the greatest nations on the Continent. In the middle of the eighteenth century the peasants of Germanv were uniformly serfs, and the peasantry of France, though freed from the most oppressive, were still subject to some of the most irritating of feudal burdens, while in both countries political liberty was unknown, and in France, at least, religious and intellectual freedom were perpetually violated. In France, too, that fatal division of classes which has been the parent of most subsequent disasters, was already accomplished. The selfish infatuation of the Court which desired to attract to itself all that was splendid in the community, the growing centralisation of government, the want in the upper classes of all taste for country sports and duties, and the increasing attraction of town life, had led the richer classes almost invariably to abandon their estates for the pleasures of the capital, where, in the absence of healthy political life, they lost all sympathy with their fellow-countrymen, and speedily degenerated into hypocrites or profligates. Their tenants, on the other hand, deprived of the softening influence of contact with their superiors, reduced to penury by grinding and unequal taxation, and finding in the village priest their only type of civilisation, sank into that precise condition which transforms some men into the most implacable revolutionists, and others into the most superstitious of bigots. But in England nothing of this kind took place. The mixture of classes, on which English liberty and the perfection of the English type so largely depends, still continued. The country gentlemen were actively employed upon their estates, administering a rude justice, coming into constant and intimate connection with their tenants, and acquiring in the duties, associations, and even sports of a country life, elements of a practical political knowledge more valuable than any that can be acquired in books. Habits of hard and honest industry, a respect for domestic life, unflinching personal courage, were still general through the middle classes and among the poor, and if the last was suspected during the rebellion, it was at least abundantly displayed by the British infantry at Dettingen and Fontenoy. While all these subsisted, there remained elements of greatness which might easily, under favourable circumstances, be fanned into a flame.
It must be added, too, that the qualities most needed for the success of constitutional government, are not the highest, but what may be called the middle virtues of character and intellect. Heroic self-sacrifice, brilliant genius, a lofty level of generosity, intelligence, or morality, a clear perception of the connection and logical tendency of principles, have all, no doubt, their places under this as under other forms of government; but it is upon the wide diffusion of quite a different category of qualities or attainments that the permanence of constitutional government mainly depends. Patience, moderation, persevering energy, the spirit of compromise, a tolerance of difference of opinions, a general interest in public affairs, sound sense, love of order, a disposition to judge measures by actual working and not by any ideal theory, a love of practical improvement, and a great distrust of speculative politics, a dislike to change as change, combined with a readiness to recognise necessities when they arise, are the qualities which must be generally diffused through a community before free institutions can take firm root among them. Judged by these tests the period we are considering exhibited, no doubt, in several respects a great decadence and deficiency, but not so great as if we measured it by a more ideal standard, and it may be safely asserted that in no other great nation were these qualities at this time so commonly exhibited.
A very similar judgment may be passed upon the system of government. It was corrupt, inefficient, and unheroic, but it was free from the gross vices of Continental administrations; it was moderate, tolerant, and economical; it was, with all its faults, a free government, and it contained in itself the elements of reformation.
I have examined in a former chapter the theory according to which the rival English parties have exchanged their principles since the early years of the eighteenth century, and I have endeavoured to show that it is substantially erroneous, that the historic identity of each party may be clearly established, whether we consider the classes of interests it represented, or the leading principles of its policy. We are now, however, in a position to see more clearly the facts which have given that theory its plausibility. The ministries of Walpole and Pelham represented especially the commercial classes and the Dissenters, aimed beyond all things at the maintenance of the type of monarchy established by the Revolution, and leaned almost uniformly towards those principles of religious liberty which the Tory party detested; but undisputed power had made them corrupt, selfish, and apathetic, and they sought, both in their own interest and in that of the dynasty, to check every reform that could either abridge their power or arouse strong passions in the nation. They also made it a great end of their policy to humour and conciliate to the utmost the country gentry, who were the natural opponents of their party. Though not Tory, they were in the true sense of the word Conservative, Governments; that is to say, Governments of which the supreme object and preoccupation was not the realisation of any unattained political ideal, or the redressing of any political grievances, but merely the maintenance of existing institutions against all assailants. The lines of party division were blurred and confused, and while only those who called themselves Whigs were in general admitted to power, many were ranked in that category who, in a time of keener party struggles, would have been enrolled among the Tories. The characteristics of the two great parties have varied much with different circumstances. The idiosyncrasies of leaders whose attachment to their respective parties was often in the first instance due to the mere accident of birth or of position, the calm or louring aspect of foreign affairs, the dominant passion of the nation, the question whether a party is in office or in opposition, whether if in power its position is precarious or secure, and if in opposition it is likely soon to incur the responsibilities of office, have all their great influence on party politics. Still there is a real natural history of parties, and the division corresponds roughly to certain broad distinctions of mind and character that never can be effaced. The distinctions between content and hope, between caution and confidence, between the imagination that throws a halo of reverent association around the past and that which opens out brilliant vistas of improvement in the future, between the mind that perceives most clearly the advantages of existing institutions and the possible dangers of change and that which sees most keenly the defects of existing institutions and the vast additions that may be made to human well-being, form in all large classes of men opposite biases which find their expression in party divisions. The one side rests chiefly on the great truth that one of the first conditions of good government is essential stability, and on the extreme danger of a nation cutting itself off from the traditions of its past, denuding its government of all moral support, and perpetually tampering with the main pillars of the State. The other side rests chiefly upon the no less certain truths that Government is an organic thing, that it must be capable of growing, expanding, and adapting itself to new conditions of thought or of society; that it is subject to grave diseases, which can only be arrested by a constant vigilance, and that its attributes and functions are susceptible of almost infinite variety and extension with the new and various developments of national life. The one side represents the statical, the other the dynamical element in politics. Each can claim for itself a natural affinity to some of the highest qualities of mind and character, and each, perhaps, owes quite as much of its strength to mental and moral disease. Stupidity is naturally Tory. The large classes who are blindly wedded to routine, and are simply incapable of understanding or appreciating new ideas, or the axigencies of changed circumstances, or the conditions of a reformed society, find their natural place in the Tory ranks. Folly, on the other hand, is naturally liberal. To this side belongs the cast of mind which, having no sense of the infinite complexity and interdependence of political problems, of the part which habit, association, and tradition play in every healthy political organism, and of the multifarious remote and indirect consequences of every institution, is prepared with a light heart and a reckless hand to recast the whole framework of the constitution in the interest of speculation or experiment. The colossal weight of national selfishness gravitates naturally to Toryism. That party rallies round its banner the great multitude who, having made their position, desire merely to keep things as they are, who are prepared to subordinate their whole policy to the maintenance of class privileges, who look with cold hearts and apathetic minds on the vast mass of remediable misery and injustice around them, who have never made a serious effort, or perhaps conceived a serious desire, to leave the world in any respect a better place than they found it. Even in the case of reforms which have no natural connection with party politics, and which, by diverting attention from other changes, would be eminently beneficial to the Tories, that party is usually less efficient than its rival, because its leaders are paralysed by the atmosphere of selfishness pervading their ranks, and because most of the reforming and energetic intellects are ranged among their opponents. On the other hand, the acrid humours and more turbulent passions of society flow strongly in the liberal direction. Envy, which hates every privilege or dignity it does not share, is intensely democratic, and disordered ambitions and dishonest adventurers find their natural place in the party of progress and of change.
The Whig Governments, from the accession of George I. to the death of Henry Pelham, only exhibited in a very subdued and diluted form both the virtues and the vices of liberalism; and though this period is very important in the history of English politics, its importance lies much more in the silent and almost insensible growth of Parliamentary government than in distinct remedial measures. The measures of reform that were actually passed were usually such as were almost imperatively demanded by critical circumstances, or by the growth of some great evil in the nation. Some of them were of great importance. The rebellion of 1745 made it absolutely necessary to put an end to the anarchy of the Highlands, and to the almost complete independence which enabled the Highland chief to defy the law, and to rally around him in a few days, and in any cause, a considerable body of armed men. The Acts for the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions, for disarming the Highlanders, and for depriving them of their national dress, were carried with this object, and the first, which made the English law supreme throughout the island, has, as we shall see in another chapter, proved one of the most important measures in Scotch history, the chief cause of the rapid progress of Scotland in wealth and civilisation.
Another measure of the Pelham ministry was intended to check a still graver evil than Highland anarchy. The habit of gin-drinking—the master curse of English life, to which most of the crime and an immense proportion of the misery of the nation may be ascribed—if it did not absolutely originate, at least became for the first time a national vice, in the early Hanoverian period. Drunkenness, it is true, had long been common, though Camden maintained that in his day it was still a recent vice, that there had been a time when the English were ‘of all the Northern nations the most commended for their sobriety,’ and that ‘they first learnt in their wars in the Netherlands to drown themselves with immoderate drinking.’1 The Dutch and German origin of many drinking terms lends some colour to this assertion, and it is corroborated by other evidence. Superfluity of drink,’ wrote Tom Nash in the reign of Elizabeth, ‘is a sin that ever since we have mixed ourselves with the Low Countries is counted honourable; but, before we knew their lingering wars, was held in the highest degree of hatred that might be.’ ‘As the English,’ said Chamberlayne, ‘returning from the wars in the Holy Land brought home the foul disease of leprosy.… so in our fathers’ days the English returning from the service in the Netherlands brought with them the foul vice of drunkenness.’ But the evil, if it was not indigenous in England,1 at least spread very rapidly and very widely. ‘In England,’ said Iago, ‘they are most potent in potting. Your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander are nothing to your English.’2 ‘We seem,’ wrote a somewhat rhetorical writer in 1657, ‘to be steeped in liquors, or to be the dizzy island. We drink as if we were nothing but sponges … or had tunnels in our mouths.… We are the grape-suckers of the earth.’3 The dissipated habits of the Restoration, and especially the growing custom of drinking toasts, greatly increased the evil, but it was noticed that the introduction of coffee, which spread widely through England in the last years of the seventeenth century, had a perceptible influence in diminishing it,4 and among the upper classes drunkenness was, perhaps, never quite so general as between the time of Elizabeth and the Revolution. French wines were the favourite drink, but the war of the Revolution for a time almost excluded them, and the Methuen Treaty of 1703, which admitted the wines of Portugal at a duty of one-third less than those of France, gradually produced a complete change in the national taste. This change was, however, not fully accomplished for nearly a century, and it was remarked that in the reign of Anne the desire to obtain French wines at a reasonable rate greatly strengthened the opposition to Marlborough and the war.5 The amount of hard drinking among the upper classes was still very great, and it is remarkable how many of the most conspicuous characters were addicted to it. Addison, the foremost moralist of his time, was not free from it.6 Oxford, whose private character was in most respects singularly high, is said to have come, not unfrequently, drunk into the very presence of the Queen.7 Bolingbroke, when in office, sat up whole nights drinking, and in the morning, having bound a wet napkin round his forehead and his eyes, to drive away the effects of his intemperance, he hastened, without sleep, to his official business.1 When Walpole was a young man his father was accustomed to pour into his glass a double portion of wine, saying, ‘Come, Robert, you shall drink twice while I drink once; for I will not permit the son in his sober senses to be witness of the intoxication of his father.’ This education produced its natural fruits, and the entertainments of the minister at Houghton were the scandal of his county, and often drove Lord Townshend from his neighbouring seat of Rainham.2 The brilliant intellect of Carteret was clouded by drink,3 and even Pulteney, who appears in his later years to have had stronger religious convictions than any other politician of his time, is said to have shortened his life by the same means.4
Among the poor, however, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, the popular beverage was still beer or ale, the use of which—especially before the art of noxious adulteration was brought to its present perfection—has always been more common than the abuse. The consumption appears to have been amazing. It was computed in 1688 that no less than 12,400,000 barrels were brewed in England in a single year, though the entire population probably little exceeded 5,000,000. In 1695, with a somewhat heavier excise it sank to 11,350,000 barrels, but even then almost a third part of the arable land of the kingdom was devoted to barley.5 Under Charles I. a company was formed with the sole right of making spirits and vinegar in the cities of London and Westminster and within twenty-one miles of the same, but this measure had little fruit; the British distilleries up to the time of the Revolution were quite inconsiderable and the brandies which were imported in large quantities from France, were much too expensive to become popular. Partly, however, through hostility to France, and partly in order to encourage the home distilleries, the Government of the Revolution, in 1689, absolutely prohibited the importation of spirits from all foreign countries,1 and threw open the trade of distillery, on the payment of certain duties, to all its subjects.2 These measures laid the foundation of the great extension of the English manufacture of spirits, but it was not till about 1724 that the passion for gin-drinking appears to have infected the masses of the population, and it spread with the rapidity and the violence of an epidemic. Small as is the place which this fact occupies in English history, it was probably, if we consider all the consequences that have flowed from it, the most momentous in that of the eighteenth century—incomparably more so than any event in the purely political or military annals of the country. The fatal passion for drink was at once, and irrevocably, planted in the nation. The average of British spirits distilled, which is said to have been only 527,000 gallons in 1684, and 2,000,000 in 1714, had risen in 1727 to 3,601,000, and in 1735 to 5,394,000 gallons. Physicians declared that in excessive gindrinking a new and terrible source of mortality had been opened for the poor. The grand jury of Middlesex, in a powerful presentment declared that much the greater part of the poverty, the murders, the robberies of London, might be traced to this single cause. Retailers of gin were accustomed to hang out painted boards announcing that their customers could be made drunk for a penny, and dead drunk for twopence, and should have straw for nothing; and cellars strewn with straw were accordingly provided, into which those who had become insensible were dragged, and where they remained till they had sufficiently recovered to renew their orgies. The evil acquired such frightful dimensions that even the unreforming Parliament of Walpole perceived the necessity of taking strong measures to arrest it, and in 1736 Sir J. Jekyll brought in and carried a measure, to which Walpole reluctantly assented, imposing a duty of 20s. a gallon on all spirituous liquors, and prohibiting any person from selling them in less quantities than two gallons without paying a tax of 50l. a year.1 Such a scale, if it could have been maintained, would have almost amounted to prohibition, but the passion for these liquors was now too widely spread to be arrested by law. Violent riots ensued. In 1737, it is true, the consumption sank to about 3,600,000 gallons, but, as Walpole had predicted, a clandestine retail trade soon sprang up, which being at once very lucrative and very popular, increased to such an extent that it was found impossible to restrain it. In 1742, more than 7,000,000 gallons were distilled, and the consumption was steadily augmenting. The measure of 1736 being plainly inoperative, an attempt was made in 1743 to suppress the clandestine trade, and at the same time to increase the public revenue by a Bill lowering the duty on most kinds of spirits to 1d. in the gallon, levied at the still-head, and at the same time reducing the price of retail licences from 50l. to 20s.2 The Bill was carried in spite of the strenuous opposition of Chesterfield, Lord Hervey, and the whole bench of Bishops; and, while it did nothing to discourage drunkenness, it appears to have had little or no effect upon smuggling. In 1749 more than 4,000 persons were convicted of selling spirituous liquors without a licence, and the number of the private gin-shops, within the Bills of Mortality, was estimated at more than 17,000. At the same time crime and immorality of every description were rapidly increasing. The City of London urgently petitioned for new measures of restriction. The London physicians stated in 1750 that there were, in or about the metropolis, no less than 14,000 cases of illness, most of them beyond the reach of medicine, directly attributable to gin. Fielding, in his well-known pamphlet ‘On the late Increase of Robbers,’ which was published in 1751, ascribed that evil, in a great degree ‘to a new kind of drunkenness, unknown to our ancestors;’ he declared that gin was ‘the principal sustenance (if it may so be called) of more than 100,000 people in the metropolis,’ and he predicted that, ‘should the drinking of this poison be continued at its present height during the next twenty years, there will, by that time, be very few of the common people left to drink it.’ It was computed that, in 1750 and 1751, more than 11 millions of gallons of spirits were annually consumed, and the increase of population, especially in London, appears to have been perceptibly checked. Bishop Benson, in a letter written from London a little later, said ‘there is not only no safety of living in this town, but scarcely any in the country now, robbery and murther are grown so frequent. Our people are now become what they never before were, cruel and inhuman. Those accursed spirituous liquors, which, to the shame of our Government, are so easily to be had, and in such quantities drunk, have changed the very nature of our people; and they will, if continued to be drunk, destroy the very race of people themselves.’1
In 1751, however, some new and stringent measures were carried under the Pelham ministry, which had a real and very considerable effect. Distillers were prohibited under a penalty of 10l. from either retailing spirituous liquors themselves, or selling them to unlicensed retailers. Debts contracted for liquors not amounting to twenty shillings at a time were made irrecoverable by law. Retail licenses were conceded only to 10l. householders within the Bills of Mortality, and to traders who were subject to certain parochial rates without them, and the penalties for unlicensed retailing were greatly increased. For the second offence, the clandestine dealer was liable to three months’ imprisonment and to whipping; for the third offence he incurred the penalty of transportation.2 Two years later another useful law was carried restricting the liberty of magistrates in issuing licenses, and subjecting public-houses to severe regulations.3 Though much less ambitious than the Act of 1736 these measures were far more efficacious, and they form a striking instance of the manner in which legislation, if not over-strained or ill-timed, can improve the morals of a people. Among other consequences of the Acts it may be observed that dropsy, which had risen in London to a wholly unprecedented point between 1718 and 1751, immediately diminished, and the diminution was ascribed by physicians to the marked decrease of drunkenness in the community.4 Still these measures formed a palliation and not a cure, and from the early years of the eighteenth century gin-drinking has never ceased to be the main counteracting influence to the moral, intellectual, and physical benefits that might be expected from increased commercial prosperity. Of all the pictures of Hogarth none are more impressive than those in which he represents the different conditions of a people whose national beverage is beer and of a people who are addicted to gin, and the contrast exhibits in its most unfavourable aspect the difference between the Hanoverian period and that which preceded it.1
Something also was done to secure the maintenance of order, but there was still very much to be desired. The impunity with which outrages were committed in the ill-lit and illguarded streets of London during the first half of the eighteenth century can now hardly be realised. In 1712 a club of young men of the higher classes, who assumed the name of Mohocks, were accustomed nightly to sally out drunk into the streets to hunt the passers-by and to subject them in mere wantonness to the most atrocious outrages. One of their favourite amusements, called ‘tipping the lion,’ was to squeeze the nose of their victim flat upon his face and to bore out his eyes with their fingers. Among them were the ‘sweaters,’ who formed a circle round their prisoner and pricked him with their swords till he sank exhausted to the ground, the ‘dancing masters,’ so called from their skill in making men caper by thrusting swords into their legs, the ‘tumblers,’ whose favourite amusement was to set women on their heads and commit various indecencies and barbarities on the limbs that were exposed. Maid servants as they opened their masters’ doors were waylaid, beaten, and their faces cut. Matrons inclosed in barrels were rolled down the steep and stony incline of Snow Hill. Watchmen were unmercifully beaten and their noses slit. Country gentlemen went to the theatre as if in time of war, accompanied by their armed retainers. A bishop's son was said to be one of the gang, and a baronet was among those who were arrested.2 This atrocious fashion passed away, but other, though comparatively harmless, rioters were long accustomed to beat the watch, to break the citizens’ windows, and to insult the passers-by, while robberies multiplied to a fearful extent. Long after the Revolution, the policy of the Government was to rely mainly upon informers for the repression of crime, but the large rewards that were offered were in a great degree neutralised by the popular feeling against the class. The watchmen or constables were as a rule utterly inefficient, were to be found much more frequently in beer-shops than in the streets, and were often themselves a serious danger to the community. Fielding, who knew them well, has left a graphic description of one class. ‘They were chosen out of those poor decrepit people who are, from their want of bodily strength, rendered incapable of getting a livelihood by work. These men, armed only with a pole, which some of them are scarcely able to lift, are to secure the persons and houses of his Majesty's subjects from the attacks of gangs of young, bold, desperate, and well-armed villains. If the poor old fellows should run away, no one, I think, can wonder, unless it be that they were able to make their escape.’1 Of others an opinion may be formed from an incident related by Horace Walpole in 1742. ‘A parcel of drunken constables took it into their heads to put the laws in execution against disorderly persons, and so took up every woman they met, till they had collected five or six and twenty, all of whom they thrust into St. Martin's roundhouse, where they kept them all night, with doors and windows closed. The poor creatures, who could not stir or breathe, screamed as long as they had any breath left, begging at least for water … but in vain.… In the morning four were found stifled to death, two died soon after, and a dozen more are in a shocking way.… Several of them were beggars, who from having no lodging were necessarily found in the street, and others honest labouring women. One of the dead was a poor washerwoman, big with child, who was retiring home late from washing. One of the constables is taken, and others absconded; but I question if any of them will suffer death, though the greatest criminals in this town are the officers of justice; there is no tyranny they do not exercise, no villany of which they do not partake.’1 The magistrates were in many cases not only notoriously ignorant and inefficient, but also what was termed ‘trading justices,’ men of whom Fielding said that ‘they were never indifferent in a cause but when they could get nothing on either side.’2 The daring and the number of robbers increased till London hardly resembled a civilised town. ‘Thieves and robbers,’ said Smollett, speaking of 1730, ‘were now become more desperate and savage than they had ever appeared since mankind were civilised.’3 The Mayor and Aldermen of London in 1744 drew up an address to the King, in which they stated that ‘divers confederacies of great numbers of evil-disposed persons, armed with bludgeons, pistols, cutlasses, and other dangerous weapons, infest not only the private lanes and passages, but likewise the public streets and places of usual concourse, and commit most daring outrages upon the persons of your Majesty's good subjects whose affairs oblige them to pass through the streets, by robbing and wounding them, and these acts are frequently perpetrated at such times as were heretofore deemed hours of security.’4 The same complaints were echoed in the same year in the ‘Proposals of the Justices of the Peace for Suppressing Street Robberies,’ and the magistrates who drew them up specially noticed, and ascribed to the use of spirituous liquors, ‘the cruelties which are now exercised on the persons robbed, which before the excessive use of these liquors were unknown in this nation.’5 They recommended an extension of the system of rewards, the suppression or restriction of gaminghouses, public gardens, fairs, and gin-shops, and also measures for systematically drafting into the army and navy suspected and dangerous persons against whom no positive crime could be proved.
The evil, however, appears to have continued. ‘One is forced to travel,’ wrote Horace Walpole in 1751, ‘even at noon as if one were going to battle.’6 The punishments were atrocious and atrociously executed, but they fell chiefly on the more insignificant and inexperienced offenders. On a single morning no less than seventeen persons were executed in London.1 One gang of robbers in 1753 kept the whole city in alarm from the number and skill of their robberies and the savage wounds they inflicted on their victims. A recompense of 100l. was offered for the apprehension of each of them, but its chief effect was to encourage men who deliberately decoyed poor and unwary wretches into robbery in order that by informing against them they might obtain the reward.2 The more experienced robbers for a time completely overawed the authorities. ‘Officers of justice,’ wrote Fielding, ‘have owned to me that they have passed by such, with warrants in their pockets against them, without daring to apprehend them; and, indeed, they could not be blamed for not exposing themselves to sure destruction; for it is a melancholy truth that at this very day a rogue no sooner gives the alarm within certain purlieus than twenty or thirty armed villains are found ready to come to his assistance.’3 When the eighteenth century had far advanced, robbers for whose apprehension large rewards were offered, have been known to ride publicly and unmolested, before dusk, in the streets of London, surrounded by their armed adherents, through the midst of a half-terrified, half-curious crowd.4
This state of things was very alarming, and the evil was apparently growing, though some real measures had been taken to improve the security of London. One very important step in this direction was accomplished under George I. The districts of Whitefriars and the Savoy had for centuries the privilege of sheltering debtors against their creditors, and they had become the citadels of the worst characters in the community, who defied the officers of justice and were a perpetual danger to the surrounding districts. In 1697 a law had been passed annulling their franchises; but similar privileges, though not legally recognised, were claimed for the Mint in Southwark, and for many years were successfully maintained. Multitudes of debtors, and with them great numbers of more serious criminals, fled to this quarter. The attempts of the officers to arrest them were resisted by open violence. Every kind of crime was concocted with impunity, and every conspirator knew where to look for daring and perfectly unscrupulous agents. It was not until 1723 that the Government ventured to grapple firmly with this great evil. An Act making it felony to obstruct the execution of a writ, and enabling the Sheriff of Surrey to raise a posse comitatus for taking by force debtors from the Mint, finally removed this plague-spot from the metropolis, and put an end for ever in England to that right of sanctuary which had for many generations been one of the most serious obstructions to the empire of the law.1
Another and still more important step was the measure which was carried in 1736 for the proper lighting of the streets. Up to this date London was probably in this respect behind every other great city in Europe. The lighting was done by contract, and the contractors, by a singular arrangement, agreed to pay the City 600l. a year for their monopoly. In return for this they were empowered to levy a rate of 6s. a year from all housekeepers who paid poor rate, and from all who had houses of over 10l. per annum, unless they hung out a lantern or candle before their doors, in which case they were exempt from paying for the public lamps. The contractors were bound to place a light before every tenth house, but only from Michaelmas to Lady Day, and then only until midnight, and only on what were termed ‘dark nights.’ The ‘light nights’ were ten every month from the sixth after the new moon till the third after the full moon. The system was introduced at the end of the reign of Charles II., and was then a great improvement, but it left the streets of London absolutely unlighted for far more than half the hours of darkness. Under such conditions the suppression of crime was impossible, and few measures enacted during the eighteenth century contributed more to the safety of the metropolis than that which was passed in 1736 enabling the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to erect glass lamps in sufficient numbers throughout London, to keep them lighted from the setting to the rising of the sun, and to levy a considerable and general rate for their maintenance. More than 15,000 lamps are said in a few years to have been erected, and it was calculated that, while under the old system London was only lit by public lamps for about 750 hours in the year, under the new system it was lighted for about 5,000.1
Yet, in spite of this great change, street robberies continued for some years to increase, and the inefficiency of the watchmen, and the great multiplication of the criminal classes under the influence of gin, were constant subjects of complaint. The great novelist Fielding, when driven by narrowed circumstances to accept the office of Bow Street magistrate, did much both to call attention to and to remedy the evil. Under the direction of the Duke of Newcastle, he and his brother, who succeeded him in his post, instituted a new police, consisting of picked men who had been constables, and who were placed under the direct control of the Bow Street magistrates. A very remarkable success rewarded their labours. The gang which had so long terrified London was broken up; nearly all its members were executed, and the change effected was so great that Browne, writing in 1757, was able to say that ‘the reigning evil of street robberies has been almost wholly suppressed.’2 At the same time a serious attempt was made, at once to remove the seeds and sources of crime, and to provide a large reserve for the navy, by collecting many hundreds of the destitute boys who swarmed in the streets, clothing them by public subscription, and drafting them into ships of war, where they were educated as sailors.3 The policeforce soon became again very inefficient, but the condition of London does not appear to have been at any subsequent period quite as bad as in the first half of the eighteenth century, though the country highways were still infested with robbers. The early Hanoverian period has, indeed, probably contributed as much as any other portion of English history to the romance of crime. The famous burglar, John Sheppard, after two marvellous escapes from Newgate, which made him the idol of the populace, was at last hung in 1724. The famous thief-taker, Jonathan Wild, after a long career of crime, being at last convicted of returning stolen goods to the rightful owner without prosecuting the thieves, which had lately been made a capital offence,1 was executed in the following year, and was soon after made the subject of a romance by Fielding. The famous highwayman, Dick Turpin, was executed in 1739. Another well-known highwayman named M'Lean is said to have been the son of an Irish Dean and a brother of a Calvinist minister in great esteem at the Hague. He had a lodging in St. James's Street; his manners were those of a polished gentleman, and the interest he excited was so great that the day before his execution in 1750 no less than 3,000 persons visited his cell.2 The weakness of the law was also shown in the great number of serious riots which took place in every part of the kingdom. The Porteous riots and the riots against the malt-tax in Scotland, the Spitalfields riots directed against Irish weavers, and the numerous riots occasioned by the Gin Act, and at a later period by the system of turnpikes and by the preaching of the Methodists, were the most remarkable, while the characteristic English hatred of foreigners was shown by a furious disturbance in 1738 because French actors were employed at the Haymarket, and some years afterwards by the sacking of Drury Lane theatre because Garrick had employed in a spectacle some French dancers. Outrages connected with smuggling were in many parts of the kingdom singularly daring and ferocious, and they were often countenanced by a large amount of popular sympathy.3 In Hampshire a gang of deer-stealers, known as the Waltham Blacks, were in the reign of George I. so numerous and so audacious, that a special and most sanguinary law, known as the ‘Black Act,’ was found necessary for their suppression.4
Another crime, strikingly indicative of the imperfect civilisation of the country, was the plunder of shipwrecked sailors, who were often lured by false signals upon the rocks. In some of the northern countries of Europe, till a comparatively recent period, the law expressly permitted the inhabitants to seize, as a prize, any property that was wrecked upon their coast.5 In England, without any such permission, it became a prevalent custom. At the close of the seventeenth century Defoe mentions that many Englishmen had been sacrificed abroad in resentment for these barbarities, and he tells us how, when a ship of which he was himself a shareholder was sinking on the coast of Biscay, a Spanish ship refused to give any assistance, the captain declaring, ‘that, having been shipwrecked somewhere on the coast of England, the people, instead of saving him and his ship, came off and robbed him, tore the ship almost to pieces, and left him and his men to swim ashore for their lives while they plundered the cargo; upon which he and his whole crew had sworn never to help an Englishman in whatever distress he should find them, whether at sea or on shore.’1 About the middle of the eighteenth century the crime increased to an enormous degree on many parts of the British coast.2 In order to check it a law had been passed in the reign of Anne and made perpetual under George I., making it felony, without the benefit of clergy, to do any act by which a ship was destroyed, fining anyone who secreted shipwrecked goods treble their value, and enabling the authorities in every seaport town to take special measures for the relief of ships in distress, and in case of success to exact a certain sum from the owners as salvage.3 It was ordered that this act should be read four times yearly in all the parish churches and chapels of all seaport towns in the kingdom.4 It proved, however, utterly insufficient, and in the administration of Pelham the plunder of a shipwrecked or distressed vessel was made a capital offence.5 Notwithstanding this enactment, however, the crime was by no means suppressed. It was the especial scandal of Cornwall. In visiting that county in 1776, Wesley learnt that it was still as common there as ever; he severely censured the connivance or indifference of the gentry, who might have totally suppressed it,6 and he also found the custom very general on the western coast of Ireland.7
The long list of social reforms passed under the Pelham ministry may be fitly closed by the Marriage Act of Lord Hardwicke, which put a stop to those Fleet marriages which had become one of the strangest scandals of English life. Before this Act, the canon law was in force in England, and according to its provisions the mere consent of the parties, followed by cohabitation, constituted, for many purposes, a valid marriage, and a marriage valid for all purposes could be celebrated by a priest in orders at any time or place, without registration and without the consent of parents or guardians. Stamped licenses were indeed required by law, but not for the validity of the contract, and their omission was only punished as a fraud upon the revenue. In such a state of the law atrocious abuses had grown up. A multitude of clergymen, usually prisoners for debt and almost always men of notoriously infamous lives, made it their business to celebrate clandestine marriages in or near the Fleet. They performed the ceremony without license or question, sometimes without even knowing the names of the persons they united, in public-houses, brothels, or garrets. They acknowledged no ecclesiastical superior. Almost every tavern or brandy shop in the neighbourhood had a Fleet parson in its pay. Notices were placed in the windows, and agents went out in every direction to solicit the passers-by. A more pretentious, and perhaps more popular establishment was the Chapel in Curzon-street, where the Rev. Alexander Keith officiated. He was said to have made a ‘very bishopric of revenue’ by clandestine marriages, and the expression can hardly be exaggerated if it be true, as was asserted in Parliament, that he had married on an average 6,000 couples every year. He himself stated that he had married many thousands, the great majority of whom had not known each other more than a week, and many only a day or half a day. Young and inexperienced heirs fresh from college, or even from school, were thus continually entrapped. A passing frolic, the excitement of drink, an almost momentary passion, the deception or intimidation of a few unprincipled confederates, were often sufficient to drive or inveigle them into sudden marriages, which blasted all the prospects of their lives. In some cases, when men slept off a drunken fit, they heard to their astonishment that, during its continuance, they had gone through the ceremony. When a fleet came in and the sailors flocked on shore to spend their pay in drink and among prostitutes, they were speedily beleaguered, and 200 or 300 marriages constantly took place within a week. Among the more noted instances of clandestine marriages we find that of the Duke of Hamilton with Miss Gunning, that of the Duke of Kingston with Miss Chudleigh, that of Henry Fox with the daughter of the Duke of Richmond, that of the poet Churchill, who at the age of seventeen entered into a marriage which contributed largely to the unhappiness of his life. The state of the law seemed, indeed, ingeniously calculated to promote both the misery and the immorality of the people, for while there was every facility for contracting the most inconsiderate marriages, divorce, except by a special Act of Parliament, was absolutely unattainable. It is not surprising that contracts so lightly entered into should have been as lightly violated. Desertion, conjugal infidelity, bigamy, fictitious marriages, celebrated by sham priests, were the natural and frequent consequences of the system. In many cases in the Fleet registers names were suppressed or falsified, and marriages fraudulently antedated, and many households, after years of peace, were convulsed by some alleged pre-contract or clandestine tie. It was proved before Parliament that on one occasion there had been 2,954 Fleet marriages in four months, and it appeared from the memorandum-books of Fleet parsons that one of them made 57l. in marriage fees in a single month, that another had married 173 couples in a single day.
The evil was of considerable standing, and some attempts had been made to remedy it. By a law of William III. any clergyman celebrating a marriage without license was subject to a fine of 100l.,1 but this penalty was not renewed at each violation of the Act, and the offender was able by a writ of error to obtain a delay of about a year and a half, during which time he carried on his profession without molestation, made at least 400l. or 500l., and then frequently absconded. No penalty whatever attached to the public-house keeper, who hired the clergyman, and in whose house the ceremony was performed. Another Act, passed in 1712, after reciting the loss the revenue experienced from these practices, raised the penalty incurred by the priest to imprisonment, but this also it was found possible to evade. To meet the evil it was necessary to remodel the whole marriage law. The first step in this direction was taken by Lord Bath, who, when attending a Scotch trial, was struck by the hardship of a case in which a man, after a marriage of thirty years, was claimed by another woman on the ground of a pre-contract; but the preparation of a measure on the subject soon passed into the hands of the Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke, who succeeded, in 1753, in carrying it successfully through Parliament. His Act provided that, with the exception of Jewish and Quaker marriages, no marriage should be valid in England which was not celebrated by a priest in orders, and according to the Anglican liturgy, that the ceremony could not be performed unless the banns had been published for three successive Sundays in the parish church, or unless a license had been procured, and that these licenses in the cases of minors should be conditional upon the consent of the parents or guardians. The special license by which alone the marriage could be celebrated in any other place than the parish church, could only be issued by the Archbishop, and cost a considerable sum. All marriages which did not conform to these provisions were null, and all who celebrated them were liable to transportation.1
This measure is extremely important, as introducing into English legislation a principle which has even now by no means attained its full recognition, but which is evidently destined to become one day supreme. According to the theological theory which was adopted by the law of England, and was long absolute in Christendom, the Church alone has a right to determine what constitutes the validity of a marriage, and when that marriage is once consummated it is absolutely indissoluble, and possesses a mystical sanctity altogether irrespective of its influence upon society. In opposition to this view there has grown up in the last century a conviction that it is not the business of the State to enforce morals, and especially any particular theological conceptions of duty, that its sole end should be to increase the temporal happiness of the people, and that the restrictions it imposes on individual liberty can only be justified, and should be strictly limited, by this end. According to this view the ecclesiastical and the legal conceptions of marriage are entirely distinct. Marriage should be regarded by the legislator merely as a civil contract of extreme importance to the maintenance of the young, the disposition of property, and the stability of society; and it is the right and the duty of the State, with a sole view to the interests of society, to determine on what conditions it may be celebrated, annulled, or repeated.
In some respects these two views coincide, while in others they conflict. Every statesman will admit that the purity and stability of the marriage state are social ends of great importance, and that a religious sanction contributes to secure them. At the same time the legislator will, in some respects, be more severe, and in others more indulgent, than the divine. Considering marriage as a contract involving momentous civil consequences, he may insist that it should be entered into publicly, formally, and deliberately, may lay down in the interests of society certain restrictive conditions, and may absolutely refuse, when those conditions are not complied with, to recognise its existence, or to punish those who violate or repeat it. On the other hand, in all questions relating to marriages of consanguinity or to divorce, State interference with the liberty of individuals can only be justified on utilitarian grounds. If, for example, the question be that of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, a legislator imbued with this spirit will consider it wholly irrelevant to discuss whether such marriages were or were not forbidden in the Levitical code, whether the Levitical code is binding upon a Christian, whether ecclesiastical tradition favours or condemns them. The sole question for him to decide is whether they produce such a clear preponderance of social evils as would justify him in restricting in this respect the natural liberty of the subject. If they do not, they should be permitted, and those who regard them as theologically wrong should refrain from contracting them. A similar principle applies to the difficult question of divorce. At first sight nothing can appear more monstrous than that when two persons have voluntarily entered into a contract with the single purpose of promoting their mutual happiness, when they find by experience that the effect of that contract is not happiness but misery, and when they are both of them anxious to dissolve it, the law—whose sole legitimate object is the happiness of the people—should interpose to prevent it. The presumption against such an interference with individual liberty must always be very weighty, and there are many considerations which tend to strengthen it. Of all forms of wretchedness, that resulting from an unhappy marriage is perhaps the most difficult to anticipate, for it may result from a turn of disposition or an infirmity of temper which is only revealed by the most intimate knowledge. In all ages and countries a vast proportion of these life-long contracts have either been negotiated by the relations of the contracting parties, with only their nominal consent, or have been entered into at an age when there can be little knowledge of life or character, when the judgment is still unformed, or under the influence of a passion which is proverbially fitted to distort it. It is also a well-recognised fact that, as Swift says, the art of ‘making nets’ is very different from the art of ‘making cages,’ that many of the qualities peculiarly fitted to attract men into marriage are also peculiarly unfitted to secure the happiness of a home. It may be added that while the chances of unhappiness in this contract are so many, that unhappiness may easily rise to an amount of moral misery no other condition can produce, for it extends to and embitters the minutest details of daily life, pervades every sphere, and depresses every aim. In many cases marriage involves to the weaker party a tyranny so brutal, galling, incessant, and at the same time absolutely hopeless, that it forms the nearest earthly type of eternal damnation. In such cases it would be much more reasonable to speak of the sacrament of divorce than of the sacrament of marriage, and it were hard to say what benefit issues from the contract, unless it be that of relieving death of half its terror by depriving life of all its charm. Thousands of couples who, if freed from the effects of one great mistake, possess all the elements of usefulness and enjoyment, are thus condemned by law to the total sacrifice of the happiness of their lives. Nor are the moral effects less disastrous. No condition can be more fitted to break down and degrade the moral character than that I have described. No condition can present stronger temptations. A moralist may very reasonably doubt whether even open profligacy is more debasing than a legitimate union, in which hatred has taken the place of love, and the unspoken day-dream of each partner is to witness the burial of the other.
It is added that even if the law imposed no restrictions on divorce, perpetual monogamous attachments would always be the most common, for the simple reason that they are those which are most conducive to the happiness of men. They have in their support one of the strongest of all human sentiments—the cohesion of custom. In no other case is this cohesion so powerful, for in no other is the relation so close or so constant. Putting aside the idle cant of satirical writers, every candid observer will admit that the death of a husband or a wife is usually, without exception, the greatest calamity that can befall the survivor. With such a voluntary cohesion severance would be very rare unless there were some strong reason to overcome it, and when so strong a reason exists it would probably be advisable. The birth of children, which makes the stability of the family peculiarly necessary, contributes in itself to secure it, for every child joins its parents by a new bond. Nature has abundantly provided for the stability of the marriage state when it promotes happiness. Why should the law prevent its dissolution when it produces pain?
The answer is that these arguments underrate the violence of a passion which is, perhaps, the most dangerous and unruly in human nature, and at the same time neglect to make sufficient allowance for the inequality of the sexes. In the marriage contract the woman is the weaker; she is usually the poorer; her happiness is far more absolutely bound up with her domestic life than the happiness of a man. Her vigour passes before that of her husband. If cast out at a mature age from the domestic circle, her whole life is broken, and the very probability of such a fate is sufficient to embitter it. If divorce could always be effected without delay, difficulty, expense, or blame; if the law provided no protection for the weaker partner against those violent passions which may be conceived by one sex in mature age, and which are rarely inspired by the other except in youth, it is easy to predict what would be the result. The tie of custom would in innumerable cases be snapped by the impulse of passion. Very many would never pass that painful novitiate, when tastes and habits have not yet assimilated, which is now so often the preface to many years of uninterrupted happiness. In many cases the mere decline of physical charms would lead to a severance of the bond. The appetite for change would grow with the means of gratifying it, and thus affections would be weakened, habits would be unsettled, and insecurity and misery would be widely spread. Nor would the evil stop here. The stability of domestic life is of vital importance to the position, the education, and the moral culture of the young, and to the maintenance among all classes of those steady and settled habits that are most valuable to the community.
It is not necessary in this place to pursue this subject into detail, or to discuss the exact amount of restriction which in these cases can be judiciously imposed. It is plain that the marriage tie is not one of those which the legislator can deal with on the principle of unlimited freedom of contract. It is also, I think, plain that the complete ascendancy in law of the secular view of marriage must sooner or later lead to a greater extension of the liberty of divorce than in England, at least, is admitted. The condemnation of either partner for any of the graver or more degrading forms of criminal offence, and even habits of inveterate and systematic drunkenness, might very reasonably be made legal causes. The question whether the desire of the two contracting parties, who have discovered that the contract into which they had entered is prejudicial to their happiness, should be regarded as a sufficient ground, is a much more difficult one. It is clear, however, that a legislator who accorded such latitude would be perfectly justified in imposing upon both parties such a period of probation or delay as would meet the cases of fickleness or sudden passion, and on the stronger party such special burdens as would to some extent equalise the balance of interest. But his judgment on this matter should be formed solely by an estimate of consequences. He must strike the balance between opposing evils, and his point of view is thus wholly different from that of the theologian who starts with the belief that divorce is in itself necessarily sacrilegious. This is a matter for the conscience and judgment of individuals, but not for the cognisance of law. In the Marriage Act of Lord Hardwicke the question of divorce was not directly raised, but the modern legal doctrine of marriage was fully established by the clause which treated matrimonial contracts as absolute nullities, though they were celebrated with a regular religious ceremony, if certain legal requirements were wanting. The dissolution of religious marriages for temporal reasons was, indeed, not altogether new in British law. In the Regency Bill, which was passed on the death of the Prince of Wales in 1751, there was a clause annulling any marriage contracted by the young heir to the throne before the expiration of his minority without the consent of the Regent, or of the major part of the Council; and a similar principle was involved in the Irish law annulling marriages between Protestants and Catholics, celebrated by priests or degraded clergymen. The Marriage Act of 1753, however, gave this principle a much greater extension. It was justly noticed as a striking illustration of the decline of dogmatic theology in England that a bill involving so important a principle should have passed without serious difficulty through the House of Lords, and should have been assented to by the whole bench of bishops.1
In the House of Commons, however, the Marriage bill was fiercely assailed. Henry Fox, who had himself a very natural predilection for the old system, though a member of the Government, met it with the most determined and acrimonious opposition, and he found a considerable body of supporters. Their arguments will now appear to most men very inconclusive. Much was said on such topics as the natural right of all men to be married as they pleased, the immorality that would ensue from any measure which rendered marriages difficult, the tendency of the new Bill to increase the despotic power of parents, and the advantages of the old system in assisting younger sons in marrying heiresses, and thus dispersing fortunes which under the law of primogeniture had been unduly accumulated.2 Such arguments could have no real weight in the face of the glaring and scandalous evils of Fleet marriages, and the law as remodelled by Lord Hardwicke continued in force until the present century. It is evident, however, that the monopoly which the Anglican clergy possessed of celebrating legal marriages could not be accepted by other sects as a final settlement of the question, and as the principle of religious equality became more fully recognised in English politics, a serious and at last successful agitation arose against the Act. There were also some legal flaws in it which somewhat qualified the admiration with which it was regarded by lawyers.1 Such as it was, however, it was effectual in suppressing a great scandal and a great evil which had taken deep root in the habits of the nation. With large classes of the community the easy process of Fleet marriages was very popular. On the day before the new law came into force no less than 300 were celebrated, and a bold attempt was made by a clergyman named Wilkinson to perpetuate the system at the Savoy. He claimed, by virtue of some old privileges attaching to that quarter, to be extra-parochial, and to have the right of issuing licences himself, and he is said to have actually celebrated as many as 1,400 clandestine marriages after the Marriage Act had passed. By the instrumentality of Garrick, one of whose company had been married in this manner in 1756, a Savoy licence passed into the hands of the Government, and the trial and transportation of Wilkinson and his curate put an end to clandestine marriages in England. Those who desired them, however, found a refuge in Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Guernsey; and in 1760 there were always vessels ready at Southampton to carry fugitive lovers to the latter island.2
The measures I have enumerated, though very important, were for the most part remedies applied to some great and crying evils which had at last become intolerable to the community. Of the active reforming and philanthropic spirit which became so conspicuous in the reign of George III. we find scarcely any traces. Something of this spirit may be detected in the creation of the great religious societies, and in part of the legislation of William. Something of it appeared, though in a more exclusively ecclesiastical form, during the clerical reaction under Anne, but during the ascendency of Walpole and the Pelhams it almost wholly died away. The Methodist movement was as yet in its purely religious stage; the Court and Government initiated nothing, and the number of private reformers was very small. The scheme of Berkeley for founding a Christian university in Bermuda for the civilisation and conversion of America was one of the few examples. This most extraordinary man, who united the rarest and most various intellectual gifts with a grace and purity of character, and an enthusiasm of benevolence, that fascinated all about him, succeeded for a time in communicating something of his own spirit to some of the most selfish of politicians. The story is well known how his irresistible eloquence turned the ridicule of the Scriblerus Club into a brief but genuine outburst of enthusiasm; how he raised by subscription a considerable sum for carrying out his scheme, Walpole himself contributing 200l.; how his success in canvassing the Members of Parliament was so great that the Bill for endowing the university passed in 1726 with only two dissentient voices. Walpole was astonished at the success, having, as he said, ‘taken it for granted the very preamble of the Bill would have secured its rejection,’ but although he promised 20,000l. he never paid it, and in 1731 Berkeley, receiving a private intimation that it was hopeless expecting it, was obliged to abandon the enterprise, and returned from Rhode Island to Ireland.
A more successful reformer was James Oglethorpe, a very remarkable man, whose long life of 96 years was crowded with picturesque incidents and with the most various and active benevolence. Having served as a young man under Prince Eugene, he entered Parliament in 1722, and sat there for thirty-three years. Though a man of indomitable energy, and of some practical and organising talent, he had no forensic ability, and he was both too hot-tempered, too impulsive, and too magnanimous to take a high rank among the adroit and intriguing politicians of his time. He would probably have remained an undistinguished Member of Parliament if it had not happened, that among his acquaintances was a gentleman named Castell, who, having fallen from a considerable position into hopeless debt, had been imprisoned in the Fleet, and being unable to pay the accustomed fees to the warder, had been confined in a house where the small-pox was raging, and had perished by the disease. This incident directed the attention of Oglethorpe to the management of the prisons. For many years it had been known that debtors in England were subject to frightful privations, and a book had been published as early as 1691 enumerating their wrongs,1 but no steps had been taken to redress them. Oglethorpe, however, succeeded in 1729 in obtaining a Parliamentary inquiry into the condition of the Fleet and the Marshalsea, which was afterwards extended to that of the other jails, and the results were so horrible that they produced a universal cry of indignation. It appeared that the wardenship of the Fleet was regularly put up for sale, that it had been bought from the great Lord Clarendon by John Huggins for 5,000l., that it had been sold by Huggins to Bambridge for the same sum in 1728, and that these men were accustomed, in addition to the large regular emoluments of the office, to exact heavy fees from the prisoners, and to avenge themselves upon those who were unable or unwilling to pay them, by the utmost excesses of brutality. In the Fleet, when Bambridge was governor, such prisoners were continually left manacled for long periods in a dungeon, almost unendurable from its stench and its want of ventilation, situated above a common sewer, and in which the bodies of those who died in the prison were deposited to await the coroner's inquest. One brave soldier had been falsely accused of theft, acquitted by the jury, and then seized and imprisoned as a debtor by the jailer on account of the jail-fees that were incurred during his detention. Cases were proved of debtors who, being unable to pay their fees, were locked up, like Castell, with prisoners suffering from small-pox, and thus rapidly destroyed: of others who were reduced almost to skeletons by insufficient food, of sick women who were left without beds, without attendance, and without proper nourishment, till they died of neglect; of men who were tortured by the thumbscrew, or who lingered in slow agony under irons of intolerable weight. One poor Portuguese had been left for two months in this condition. Another prisoner had lost all memory and all use of his limbs from the sufferings he underwent. Great numbers perished through want of the most ordinary care. It appears, indeed, to have been the deliberate intention of the governor to put an end to some of his prisoners, either because they were unable to pay fees, or because they had for some reason incurred his resentment, or in order that he might obtain the small remnants of their property. In Newgate, and in some of the provincial prisons in England, almost equal atrocities were discovered. In Dublin—where inquiries were instituted with commendable promptitude by the Irish Parliament—it was found that a tax was systematically laid upon each prisoner to provide strong drink for the jail, that the worst criminals were mingled with the debtors, and that a tyranny not less brutal than that of the Fleet, was exercised by the jailer. One wretched man, crippled by a broken leg, was left for two months in a bed to which the water frequently rose, and which rotted away beneath him.1 In most large prisons the jail fever, produced by squalor, overcrowding, bad drainage, insufficient nourishment, and insufficient exercise, made fearful ravages, and sometimes, by a righteous retribution, it spread from these centres through the rest of the community. This evil was already noticed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ‘Black Assize’ at Oxford, in 1577, was long remembered, when the Chief Baron, the Sheriff, and about 300 men died within forty hours. Bacon described the jail fever as ‘the most pernicious infection next to the plague, … whereof we have had in our time experience twice or thrice, when both the judges that sat upon the jail, and numbers of those who attended the business, or were present, sickened and died.’ In 1730 Chief Baron Pengelly, Serjeant Shippen, and many others, were killed by jail fever when attending the Dorsetshire Assizes, and the High Sheriff of Somersetshire perished through the same cause. In the Scotch rebellion no less than 200 men in a single regiment were infected by some deserters. The army and navy, indeed, through the operation of the pressgang, which seized numbers just released from prison, was peculiarly exposed to the contagion, and it was said by a good judge, that the mortality produced by the jail fever was greater than that produced by all other causes combined. In 1750 the disease raged to such an extent in Newgate that at the Old Bailey Assizes two judges, the Lord Mayor, an alderman, and many of inferior rank were its victims. From that time sweet-smelling herbs were always placed in the prisoner's dock to counteract the contagion.1
Something was done by new prison regulations, and by the removal and prosecution of some of the worst offenders, to remedy the evil; but still the condition of the prisons continued till a much later period a disgrace to English civilisation. The miseries of the imprisoned debtor were commemorated in the poetry of Thomson, and by the pencil of Hogarth, and they furnished the subject of some of the most pathetic pages of Fielding and Smollett. As late as 1741 it was announced that two prisoners had died of extreme want in the Marshalsea in Dublin, and that several others were reduced to the verge of starvation.2 In 1759 Dr. Johnson computed the number of imprisoned debtors at not less than 20,000,3 and asserted that one of four died every year from the treatment they underwent.
The exposure of the abuses in the English prisons by no means exhausted the philanthropic energies of Oglethorpe. Like Berkeley, his imagination was directed towards the West, and he conceived the idea of founding a colony in which poor debtors on attaining their freedom might find a refuge. A charter was obtained in 1732. Private subscriptions flowed largely in, and with the consent of Berkeley the proceeds of the sale of some lands, which Parliament had voted for the Bermuda scheme, were appropriated to the new enterprise. Early in 1733 the colony of Georgia was founded, and Oglethorpe for many years was its governor. Besides giving a refuge to needy classes from England the colony was intended to exercise a civilising and missionary influence upon the surrounding Indians; and in its charter Oglethorpe inserted a most memorable clause, absolutely prohibiting the introduction of slaves. Georgia became a centre of the Moravian sect, the scene of the early labours of the Wesleys, and afterwards of Whitefield, and the asylum of many of the poor Protestants who had been driven, on account of their religion, from the bishopric of Salzburg. The administration of Oglethorpe was marred by some faults of temper and of tact, but it was on the whole able, energetic, and fortunate. When hostilities broke out with Spain he conducted the war with brilliant courage and success, and he succeeded in materially diminishing the atrocities which had hitherto accompanied Indian warfare. He became a general and served in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, but was repulsed with some loss at the village of Clifton; and though acquitted by a court of inquiry, his conduct during this campaign threw a certain shadow over his military reputation. He succeeded, in 1749, in carrying through Parliament a Bill exempting the Moravians in England from the necessity of violating their religious sentiments by taking oaths or bearing arms. He was one of the first men who recognised the rising genius of Johnson; and in his old age he was the intimate friend of Johnson, Goldsmith, and Burke. His singularly varied and useful life terminated in 1785.1
With these exceptions, probably the only considerable trace of warm and disinterested philanthropy in the sphere of politics during the period I am describing was the vote of 100,000l. in 1755 for the relief of the distressed Portuguese, after the great earthquake at Lisbon. In no respect does the legislation of this period present a more striking contrast to that of the nineteenth century than in the almost complete absence of attempts to alleviate the social condition of the poorer classes, or to soften the more repulsive features of English life. The public press had not yet undertaken that minute and searching investigation into abuses, which is the most useful of all its functions; and the general level of humanity in the community was little, if at all, higher than in the preceding generation. The graphic and terrible picture which is given in ‘Roderick Random’ of the hardships endured by the common sailors on board a man-of-war, was derived from the actual experience of the author, when serving in 1741 as surgeon's mate in the expedition against Carthagena1 ; and those who read it will hardly wonder that it was found impossible in time of war to man the royal navy without having constant recourse to the press-gang.2 The condition of the army was little better. It appears from a memorial drawn up in 1707 that the garrison of Portsmouth was reduced by death or desertion to half its former number in less than a year and a half, through sickness, want of firing, and bad barracks, and the few new barracks that were erected were built with the most scandalous parsimony, and crowded to the most frightful excess.3 The African slave-trade was still an important branch of British enterprise. A few isolated voices, as we shall hereafter see, had been raised against it, but they had as yet made no sensible impression on the public mind, and no less a statesman than the elder Pitt made its development a main object of his policy. The penal code was not only atrociously sanguinary and continually aggravated by the addition of new offences; it was also executed in a manner peculiarly fitted to brutalise the people. In some respects, it is true, it may be compared favourably with the criminal procedures of the Continent. English law knew nothing of torture or of arbitrary imprisonment, or of the barbarous punishment of the wheel, and no English executions were quite so horrible as those which took place in the Cevennes in the early years of the eighteenth century, or as the prolonged and hideous agonies which Damiens endured for several hours, in 1757. But this is about all that can be said. Executions in England till very lately have been a favourite public spectacle—it may almost be said a public amusement—and in the last century everything seemed done to make the people familiar with their most frightful aspects. A ghastly row of heads of the rebels of 1745 mouldered along the top of Temple Bar. Gallows were erected in every important quarter of the city, and on many of them corpses were left rotting in chains. When Blackstone wrote, there were no less than 160 offences in England punishable with death, and it was a very ordinary occurrence for ten or twelve culprits to be hung on a single occasion, for forty or fifty to be condemned at a single assize. In 1732 no less than seventy persons received sentence of death at the Old Bailey,1 and in the same year we find no less than eighteen persons hung in one day in the not very considerable town of Cork.2 Often the criminals staggered intoxicated to the gallows, and some of the most noted were exhibited for money by the turnkeys before their execution. No less than 200 l. are said to have been made in this manner in a few days when Sheppard was prisoner in Newgate.3 Dr. Dodd, the unhappy clergyman who was executed for forgery, was exhibited for two hours in the press-room at a shilling a-head before he was led to the gallows.4
‘The executions of criminals,’ wrote a Swiss traveller in the beginning of the eighteenth century, ‘return every six weeks regularly with the sessions. The criminals pass through the streets in carts, dressed in their best clothes, with white gloves and nosegays, if it be the season. Those that die merrily or that don't at least show any great fear of death, are said to die like gentlemen; and to merit this encomium most of them die like beasts, without any concern, or like fools, having no other view than to divert the crowd.… Though there is something very melancholy in this, yet a man cannot well forbear laughing to see these rogues set themselves off as heroes by an affectation of despising death. #x2026;. The frequent executions, the great numbers that suffer together, and the applauses of the crowd, may contribute something to it, and the brandy which they swallow before their setting out helps to stun them.’1 Women who were found guilty of murdering their husbands, or of the other offences comprised under the terms high or petit treason, were publicly burnt, by a law which was not abolished till 1790.2 A stake ten or eleven feet high was planted in the ground. An iron ring was fastened near the top, and from it the culprit was hung while the faggots were kindled under her feet. The law enjoined that she should be burnt alive, but in practice the sentence was usually mitigated, and she was strangled before the fire touched her body. A horrible case, however, occurred in 1726 at the execution of a murderess named Katherine Hayes. The fire scorching the hands of the executioner, he slackened the rope before he strangled her, and though fresh faggots were hastily piled up, a considerable time elapsed before her agonies were terminated.3 The law which condemned a man guilty of high treason to be cut down when half hung, to be disembowelled, and to have his bowels burnt before his face, was still executed in ghastly detail.4 The law which condemned a prisoner who refused to plead on a capital charge to be laid naked on his back in a dark room, while weights of stone or iron were placed on his breast till he was slowly pressed to death, was enforced in England in 1721 and in 1735, and in Ireland as late as 1740. A criminal was sentenced in England to the same fate in 1741, but he at last consented to plead; and the law was not repealed till 1771.1 The punishment of the pillory, which was very common, seemed specially adapted to encourage the brutality of the populace, and there are several instances of culprits who perished from the usage they underwent. Men, and even women, were still whipped publicly at the tail of a cart through the streets, and the flogging of women in England was only abolished in 1820.2
On the whole, however, the institutions and manners of the country were steadily assuming their modern aspect. From the ministry of Walpole the House of Commons had become indisputably the most powerful body in the State. Then it was that the post of First Lord of the Treasury came to be universally recognised as the head of the Government. Then it was that the forms of parliamentary procedure were in many respects definitely fixed. In 1730 the absurd practice of drawing up the written pleadings in the law courts in Latin was abolished, in spite of the strenuous opposition of the Chief Justice Lord Raymond.1 The last impeachment of a Prime Minister was that of Walpole; the last battle fought on British soil was in the rebellion of 1745. The last traces of the old exemptions from the dominion of the law were removed by the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions in Scotland, and of the right of sanctuary in London; and the most conspicuous sign of the insular spirit of the nation disappeared when England consented to adopt the same calendar as the most civilised nations on the Continent.
It was at this time, also, that the modern military system was firmly established. An aversion to a standing army in time of peace had long been one of the strongest of English sentiments, and it was one in which both the great parties of the State cordially concurred. The Tories were never weary of dilating upon the military despotism of Cromwell, which had left an indelible impression on the mind of the nation, while the army of 30,000 men which James had maintained without the consent of Parliament furnished one of the gravest Whig charges against that sovereign. Of all the measures that accompanied the Restoration, none had been more popular than the disbandment of the army of Cromwell; but soon after, a conflict began between the Crown and the Legislature, which continually recurred with aggravated severity up to the time of the Revolution. The last two Stuart sovereigns aimed at the maintenance, in time of peace, of a considerable military force altogether subject to their control. They governed it by articles of war. They assumed, or claimed as part of their prerogative, a power unknown to the law, of administering justice, and inflicting punishments on their soldiers by courts-martial; and James, in defiance of the Test Act, had bestowed numerous military commands upon Catholics. The steady policy of Parliament, on the other hand, was to develop the militia, which it was assumed could never become inimical to the liberties of England; to insist upon the disbandment, in time of peace, of the whole army, except, perhaps, a body-guard for the King and garrisons for the forts; and to maintain the exclusion of Catholics from commands, and the principle that punishments in time of peace could only be inflicted by order of the civil magistrate. The great part which this conflict had in preparing the Revolution is well known; and an article of the Bill of Rights expressly provided that, without the consent of Parliament, the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom was illegal. It soon, however, became evident to all sagacious observers that a considerable army was indispensable if England were ever to engage in a land war with Continental nations. The French army, which under Henry IV. consisted of 14,000 men, amounted, after the Peace of Nimegue, to no less than 140,000;1 and before the close of his reign Lewis XIV. is said to have had as many as 360,000 men at one time under arms. The Emperor Charles VI. employed 170,000 soldiers in the war of 1733. The Prussian army, on the accession of Frederick the Great, consisted of 76,000 men; and every petty German ruler was augmenting his forces. The genius of Parma, Turenne, Condé, and Vauban transformed the art of war, and every improvement made a hastily levied militia more helpless before a disciplined army. Vauban and Cohorn may almost be said to have created the art of attacking and defending fortresses. Mining acquired a prominence in warfare, and was conducted with a skill formerly utterly unknown. Transportable copper pontoons for crossing rivers were invented by the French in 1672. The invention of the fixed bayonet has been attributed both to Mackay and to Vauban; and the Prussian infantry attained a perfection in manœuvring and a rapidity in firing which made every battalion a walking battery, and was speedily copied in the rest of Europe.2
All these changes, by giving a new perfection to the art of war, made it evident that the time had arrived when a considerable permanent body of highly trained soldiers was necessary for the security of the State; and that necessity in England was still more felt on account of the perpetual fear of a Jacobite insurrection. But a permanent army could not exist unless adequate means were provided for preserving its discipline, especially at a time when the dispositions of the troops were doubtful or divided. The declaration of 800 soldiers at Ipswich in favour of James in 1689 produced the first Mutiny Act, which was enacted for six months, and which enabled courts-martial to punish mutiny and desertion by death.1 The press-gang soon came into use, and it was much employed in time of war as a kind of irregular police; suspected criminals, or notorious bad characters, against whom no definite charge could be proved, being in this manner draughted in great numbers into the army. An Act of Anne gave justices of the peace express power to levy as soldiers such able-bodied men in their districts as had ‘no lawful calling or employment, or visible means for their maintenance or livelihood.’2
There are few more curious pages in English history than the slow and gradual change of public opinion on the subject of standing armies. For more than half a century the battle continued with almost unabated violence, and a century had elapsed before it altogether subsided. The Mutiny Act was regarded as a purely temporary contrivance, but it was soon felt by most experienced men that it was impossible to govern the army if military insubordination or desertion were treated as mere breaches of contract, and were punishable only by the civil courts. The Mutiny Act was accordingly re-enacted, sometimes for six months, more frequently for a year, but it was long before it was recognised as permanently necessary. In the reigns of William and Anne there were several periods—one of them lasting for more than two years—in which it was not in force, and its invariable enactment dates only from George I. Its opponents dwelt upon the danger of severing by a special code of laws the members of the army from their fellow citizens, and of tampering with the great constitutional principle that the civil magistrate in time of peace should have sole jurisdiction for the suppression of crime; and they urged that to permit the sovereign, of his own authority, to establish articles of war, and erect courts-martial for enforcing them, was to vest a sole legislative power in the Crown. On these grounds Windham and Shippen, at the head of the Tory party, strenuously opposed the Mutiny Act. Walpole took the same course, when he was in opposition to Stanhope, and his saying that ‘he who gives the power of blood gives blood’ was continually quoted by its opponents. In 1717 the power of inflicting capital punishment by sentence of courtmartial on deserters and mutineers was only carried by 247 to 229,1 and most of the extensions which the Act underwent were fiercely contested. The Act of 1689 provided only for the punishment of mutiny and desertion, without exempting any officer or soldier from the ordinary processes of law, and its operation was restricted to the regular army and to England. The scope of the Act was gradually extended to Jersey and Guernsey, to Ireland, and at length to the whole dominion of the Crown. The Mutiny Act of 1713, which was the first passed in time of peace, gave courts-martial no power to award a capital sentence, and this incapacity continued till the rebellion of 1715. Under George I. the Crown for the first time obtained an express and formal authority to constitute, under royal sign manual, articles of war for the government of the army, and to enforce their penalties by courts-martial. The articles of war of 1717 made provision for the trial of ordinary civil offences by courts martial, and the Mutiny Act declared that acquittal or conviction should be a bar to all further indictment for the same offence. In 1728, however, a question arose whether the articles of war which emanated from the sovereign alone, could create capital offences unknown to the law, and the Attorney-General advised the Government that while the power of inflicting other penalties by those articles was unrestricted, no sentence extending to life or limb could be imposed by court-martial except for offences enumerated in, and made so punishable by, the Mutiny Act; and a clause to this effect has been inserted in every Mutiny Act since 1748. In 1748, too, an oath of secrecy was first imposed upon the members of courts-martial forbidding them to divulge the sentence till approved, or the votes of any member unless required by Parliament. The position of half-pay officers was long and vehemently discussed. It was contended by the Government that they were subject to the Mutiny Act, but the opinions of the judges were divided on the question. A special clause making them liable was inserted in the Act of 1747, but it was withdrawn in 1749, and in 1785 their exemption was decided. In 1754 the operation of the Mutiny Act was extended to the troops of the East India Company serving in India, and to the king's troops serving in North America, as well as to local troops serving with them. In 1756 the militia, when called out for active service, were brought under its provisions; and in 1788, in spite of the strong opposition of Fox and Sheridan, the corps of sappers and miners was included in the same category.1
The extreme distrust with which this department of legislation was regarded is shown by the strong opposition that was aroused over almost all the questions I have enumerated. The first volume of the Commentaries of Blackstone was published as late as 1765, and it is remarkable that even at this date that great lawyer spoke with the strongest apprehension of the dangers to liberty arising from the Mutiny Act. He maintained that the condition of the army was that of absolute servitude; and he argued that every free and prudent nation should endeavour to prevent the introduction of slavery into the midst of it; that if it has unhappily been introduced, arms should at least never be placed in the hands of the slaves, and that no policy could be more suicidal than to deprive of the liberties of the constitution the very men who are at the last resort entrusted with their defence.2 But whatever plausibility there may be in such reasoning, it will now hardly be disputed that a body of many thousands of armed men, whose prompt and unreasoning obedience is of the utmost moment to the State, cannot be permanently governed by the mild and tardy processes of law which are applicable to civilians. Military insubordination is so grave and, at the same time, so contagious a disease, that it requires the promptest and most decisive remedies to prevent it from leading to anarchy. By retaining a strict control over the pay and over the numbers of the soldiers, by limiting each Mutiny Act to a single year, and by entrusting its carriage through the House to a civil minister, who is responsible for its provisions, Parliament has very effectually guarded against abuses; and the army, since the days of the Commonwealth, has never been inimical to the liberties of England.
The jealousy that was felt about the Mutiny Act extended to other parts of military administration. After the Peace of Ryswick, Parliament insisted on reducing the forces to 10,000 men, or about a third part of what William considered necessary for the security of the State; and during the greater part of the first two Hanoverian reigns there was an annual conflict about the number of the forces. In 1717 Walpole himself, being at this time in Opposition, was prominent in urging their reduction from 16,000 to 12,000 men. During his own administration the army in time of peace was usually about 17,000 men. The terror which was produced by the Scotch invasion of 1745, the frequent alarms of a French invasion, the popularity of the wars of the elder Pitt, and the great extension of the empire resulting from his conquests, gradually led to increased armaments; nor was the growth of the regular army seriously checked by the organisation, between 1757 and 1763, of a national militia. In the early years of the eighteenth century the number of soldiers in Parliament was much complained of, and some unsuccessful efforts were made to diminish it.1 Walpole desired to avail himself of the military as of other forms of patronage for the purpose of gratifying his supporters and thus securing his parliamentary majority; but George II., to his great credit, steadily refused to allow the army to be dragged into the vortex of corruption,2 though he consented to deprive the Duke of Bolton and Lord Cobham of their regiments on account of their votes against the excise scheme. A Bill was at this time introduced to prevent any officer above the rank of colonel from being thus deprived, except by a court-martial or an address from one House of Parliament. Considering the great power of the ministry in both Houses, it is not surprising that this measure should have been defeated by large majorities, but it is a very remarkable fact that it should have been extremely unpopular. The manner in which Walpole exercised his power was very scandalous. The desire to restrict the corrupt influence of the Government was very strong, and the excise scheme was generally detested; but so deep and so lively after the lapse of more than seventy years was the hatred of military government which the despotism of Cromwell had planted in the nation that it was sufficient to overpower all other considerations. It was contended that the measure of the Opposition, by relaxing the authority of the civil power over the military system and by aggrandising that of the courts-martial, would increase the independence and the strength of standing armies, and in consequence the dangers of a stratocracy; and it is a curious and well-attested fact that it very seriously impaired the popularity of the party who proposed it.1
The last sign that may be noticed of the unpopularity of a standing army was the extreme reluctance of Parliament to provide barracks adequate for its accommodation. In Ireland, it is true, which was governed like a conquered country, a different policy was pursued, and a large grant for their erection was made as early as William III.,2 while in Scotland they chiefly date from the rebellion of 1715, but in England the barrack accommodation till a much later period was miserably insufficient.1 Even at the time when the army had acquired very considerable dimensions the majority of the troops were still billeted out in publichouses, kept under canvas during the most inclement portions of the year, or stowed away in barns that were purchased for the purpose. Pulteney contended that the very fact that a standing army in quarters is more burdensome than a standing army in barracks is a reason for opposing the erection of the latter, lest the people should grow accustomed to the yoke.2 ‘The people of this kingdom,’ said General Wade in 1740, ‘have been taught to associate the ideas of barracks and slavery, like darkness and the devil.’3 Blackstone, in 1765, strongly maintained that the soldiers should live ‘intermixed with the people,’ and that ‘no separate camp, no barracks, no inland fortress, should be allowed.’4 It was about this time, however, that the popular jealousy of the army began first perceptibly to decline. In 1760 Lord Bath published a pamphlet which is in more than one respect very remarkable, but which is especially interesting for the evidence it furnishes of this change. He complained bitterly that the country had become strangely tolerant of a far larger peace establishment than had once been regarded as compatible with the security of the Constitution; that the members of the great families were beginning to enlist in large numbers in the army, not only in time of war, but also as a permanent profession in time of peace; and that the erection of barracks, which twenty years before would have ruined any minister who proposed it, was now accepted without serious protest, or even with popular applause.5 Still the old feeling of distrust was not wholly extinct. The scheme of fortification proposed by the younger Pitt, in 1786, was rejected on the ground that it would render necessary and would provide accommodation for a larger standing army;1 and in 1792, when a barrack department was instituted for the purpose of erecting barracks throughout the country, a considerable opposition was shown to the scheme. Fox and Grey, as the representatives of the Whigs, vehemently denounced it in the beginning of 1793, maintaining, like Pelham, Pulteney, and Blackstone, that the erection of barracks was menacing and unconstitutional, and that the dangers of a standing army could only be averted if the soldiers were closely mixed with the populace.2
Walpole to Townshend, August 3, 1723. Coxe's Walpole, ii. 263–264.
Lady W. Montague writes: ‘Earl Stanhope used to say that during his ministry he always imposed on the foreign ministers by telling them the naked truth, which as they thought it impossible to come from the mouth of a statesman, they never failed to write information to their respective Courts directly contrary to the assurances he gave them.’ Letters (Lord Wharncliffe's ed.) iii. 54. Compare the following account of Lord Palmerston. ‘I have heard him [Lord Palmerston] say that he occasionally found that they [foreign ministers] had been deceived by the open manner in which he told them the truth. When he had laid before them the exact state of the case, and announced his own intentions, they went away convinced that so skilful and experienced a diplomatist could not possibly be so frank as he appeared, and, imagining some deep design in his words, acted on their own idea of what he really meant, and so misled their own selves.’—Ashley's Life of Palmerston, ii. 301.
Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, i. 488. Tindal. Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, vol. iii.
See the details of these measures in Coxe, Sinclair, and Macpherson. The attacks upon Walpole's honesty in this matter do not appear to have been made till fourteen years later, and were probably quite unfounded. They will be found drawn out at great length in Ralph's Critical Hist. of the Administration of Walpole.
In the present generation Walpole has been made the subject of elaborate pictures by three very eminent writers, who differ as widely as possible in their political views and in the character of their minds—by Macaulay in his Essay on Horace Walpole's Letters; Lord Stanhope in his Hist. of England; and Mr. Carlyle in his Life of Frederick the Great. It is curiously instructive to compare their estimates of him with that of Burke in his Appeal from the Nero to the Old Whigs, and that of Sir Robert Peel in a remarkable paper in the Stanhope Miscellanies (first series). Lord J. Russell has always estimated Walpole at least as highly as Sir R. Peel.
1 William and Mary, c. 12.
See McCulloch on Taxation, p. 58. Sinclair on the Revenue, i. 300.
The character will appear very favourable when we remember that Pope was the most intimate friend of Walpole's bitterest enemies. See Nichols's Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, v. p. 650. Chesterfield's Miscellaneous Works, appendix p. 41.
Culloden Papers, p. xxxi.
Annual Register, 1765, p. 25.
Coxe's Walpole, i. 326–327.
See Coxe's Walpole, i. 748.
Letter on a Regicide Peace.
Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iii. pp. 147, 148. Malthus, On Population, book iii. c. x. Chalmers’ Estimate (ed. 1794), pp. 107, 108. Craik's Hist. of Commerce, ii. 201–203 Hallam's Const. Hist. iii. p. 302. Coxe's Walpole, c. xivii. Mill's Hist. of British India, bk. iv. c. i. Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue.
See Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, i. 406–407.
Davenant's Works (1771), ii. 283.
Smollett's Hist. of England, iii.
Hist. of England, iii. 120.
Reflections on the Present State of the Nation.
Hervey's Memoirs, i. 487.
Horace Walpole's Memoirs of George III., vol. i. p. 103.
Hist. of England, c. xxi. See, too, his essay on Public Credit, and the curious note appended to it.
June 1756. Miscellaneous Works, iv. 185.
For the extravagant terms on which loans were raised under William, see Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, i, 417–421.
Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, ii. 463.
Ibid. p. 622.
See Macpherson, Chalmers, and Sinclair.
See Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vi. p. 110.
Almon's Anecdates of Chatham, ii. 106. Coxe's Walpole, i. 403–404. The authority for this anecdote is Mr. White, the Member for Retford, who was an intimate friend of Walpole; it is itself quite in harmony with what we know of the character of Walpole, and Archdeacon Coxe fully admits it. At the same time it must be acknowledged that it is not easy to find a place for the transaction in the history of the Excise Bill as narrated in Lord Hervey's Memoirs.
Townsend's Hist. of the House of Commons, ii. 286–293.
20 George ii. c. 30. Horace Walpole to Mason, May 1747.
Parl. Hist. vii. 61–62.
Bernardi's Autobiography. Townsend's Hist. of the House of Commons, ii. 205–206. Johnson has made a touching allusion to this case in his Life of Pope.
Coxe's Walpole, i. 72–73.
See, on this treaty, Ranke's Hist. of Prussia, i. 190–192.
Mill's Hist. of India, bk. iv. c. 1.
See, on Walpole's strong objection to the Treaty of Hanover, Lord Hervey's Memoirs, i. 110–111. This is said to have been the beginning of the difference between Walpole and Townshend, and the first occasion in which the former meddled very actively with foreign affairs.
In a letter to Stephen Poyntz (June 3, 1728) he said: ‘Wha’ you propose in relation to Gibraltar is certainly very reasonable, and is exactly conformable to the opinion which you know I have always entertained concerning that place. But you cannot but be sensible of the violent and almost superstitious zeal which has of late prevailed among all parties in this kingdom against any scheme for the restitution of Gibraltar upon any conditions whatsoever. And I am afraid that the bare mention of a proposal which carried the most distant appearance of laying England under any obligation of ever parting with that place would be sufficient to put the whole nation in a flame.’—Coxe's Walpole, ii. 631.
See the intercepted letters given in Coxe's Walpole, ii. p. 498–515, and the full account of the secret articles afterwards given by Ripperda himself. Benjamin Keene to the Duke of Newcastle. Coxe's Walpole, ii, 606–607.
Parl. Hist. viii. 524.
The preliminaries of peace were signed in 1735, but the definitive peace in 1738.
Mémoires de Torey, ii. 89.
Hervey's Memoirs, i. 375.
Hervey's Memoirs, i. 397.
See the striking remarks of Speaker Onslow on Walpole's settled ‘plan of having everybody to be deemed a Jacobite who was not a professed and known Whig.’—Coxe's Walpole, ii. 554–557.
Memoirs of Lord Hervey.
Townsend's Hist. of the House of Commons, ch. iv., v.
Burnet's Own Times, ii. 258–259.
From ‘The Freeholder's Plea against Stock-jobbing Elections of Parliament.’—Wilson's life of Defoe, i. 340–341. Mr. Hallam must have somewhat strangely overlooked this Passage, as well as some others which I have cited in the last chapter, when he speaks of the purchase of seats of Parliament as first observed in the elections of 1747 and 1754.—Const. Hist. iii. 302.
‘Review.’ See Wilson, ii. 362.
Ibid. Wilson, iii. 23–24.
Parl. Hist. vii. 335.
Walpole's Memoir of George II, i. 369.
Ibid. vol. i. p. 382.
Grenville Correspondence, iii. p. 143.
The following very curious note from Lord Saye and Sele to Grenville has been preserved. The tone of the writer makes it almost certain that the transaction referred to was not regarded as either unusual or insulting:—
See a remarkable statement of Horace Walpole. Memories of George II. i. 406.
Lord Hervey's Memories, i. 224.
Chesterfield's Miscellaneous Works (ed. 1779), iv. append, p. 36.
Walpole's Letters, i. p. 175.
Coxe's Walpole, i. p. 712.
See the elaborate chapter in Coxe, on the report of the Committee.
Almon's Anecdotes of Chatham, vol. i. p. 137. This was written of the Pelham ministry, but that ministry only continued in a somewhat more moderate form the system of Walpole. Wraxall positively asserts that Roberts, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Pelham, assured a friend, from whom Wraxall received the story, that he, Roberts, while he remained at the Treasury regularly paid secret stipends varying from 500l. to 800l. to a number of Members at the end of each session. Their names were entered in a book which was kept in the deepest secrecy and which on the death of Pelham was burnt by the King.’—See Wraxall's Memoirs (1815), ii. 498, 500.
‘Sir R. Walpole and the Queen both told me separately that it [the ministerial triumph] cost the King but 900l.—500l. to one man and 400l. to another; and that even these two sums were only advanced to two men who were to have received them at the end of the session had this question never been moved, and who only took this opportunity to solicit prompt payment.’—Lord Hervey's Memoirs, ii. 280.
Some interesting facts on the fluctuations of the number of placemen in Parliament will be found in Brougham's great speech on the increasing influence of the Crown. June 24, 1822.
Browne's Estimate, i. p. 115.
Walpole's Memoirs of George II. i. 236.
See the intercepted letters of Count Palm printed in Coxe's Life of Walpole.
Horace Walpole (to H. Mann, April 27, 1753) asserts that the printer of the ‘Craftsman’ assured him Pulteney ‘never wrote a “Craftsman” himself, only gave hints for them,’ though much of his reputation was founded upon them. As Pulteney was confessedly a skilful writer and pamphleteer, this story seems very improbable.
‘The Honest Jury; or, Caleb Triumphant,’ written on the occasion of the acquittal of the ‘Craftsman’ on a charge of libel.—Wilkins’ Collection of Pobitical Ballads, ii. 232–236.
‘Lord Granville, they say, is dying. When he dies the ablest head in England dies too, take him for all in all.’—Chesterfield to his son, Dec, 13, 1762. See, too, his admirable portrait of Granville in his ‘Characters.’ Walpole pronounced him to be a greater genius than Sir R. Walpole, Mansfield, or Chatham.’—Memoirs of George II. iii. 85.
Parl. Hist. xvi. 1097. He added, ‘I feel a pride in declaring that to his patronage, to his friendship and instruction, I owe whatever I am.’
The principal materials for describing Carteret are to be found in Horace Walpole's Letters and Histories, Lord Hervey's Memoirs, Chesterfield's Characters, Lady Hervey's Letters, Sir Hanbury Williams’ Songs, and the recently published Antobiography of Shelburne. Many volumes and papers belonging to him are in the British Museum. It appears from Lord Hervey's Memoirs that Carteret was at one time occupied with a history of his own time, but it has unfortunately never appeared.
See among other letters a very remarkable one to Lord Polwarth, Marchmont Papers, ii. 177–191.
Hervey's Memoirs. Walpole's Reminiscences.
Nov. 20, 1737.
See the secret correspondence of the English Government, in Coxe's Walpole, iii, 308–309, 316, 317, 451–457.
According to Horace Walpole, when Jenkins died it was found that his ear had never been cut off at all. According to Tindal, ‘Jenkins lost his ear or part of his ear on another occasion, and pretended it had been cut off by a guarda costa.’ See, for other details on this matter, Coxe's Walpole, i. 579–580. Burke called it ‘the fable of Jenkins’ ears.’—Letters on a Regicide Peace.
In a letter to Swift, 1734–5, Pulteney had noticed the steadiness with which the bishops and Scotch peers supported the ministry, and how formidable a body they were in the House of Lords.—Swift's Correspondence, iii. 120.
See Coxe's House of Austria.
See some very curious illustrations of this in the letters of Sir Hanbury Williams from Berlin. Walpole's Memoirs of George II. i. pp. 452–461.
See the details of this negotiation in Banke's Hist. of Prussia.
The original statements of the causes of the war both on the Prussian and Austrian side are given at length in the Histoirs de la Dernière Guerre de Boh≖me, par D. M. V. L. N. (Amsterdam, 1756).
Gotter, who was sent on this message, arrived at Vienna two days after the Prussians had entered Silesia.—Frederick, Mém. de Mon Temps.
Voltaire, Siècle de Louis XV, ch. 6.
To Sir H. Mann, Oct. 19, 1741.
See the account of this very curious overture (which was made in 1739 through the medium of Carte, the historian) in Lord Stanhope's Hist. of England, iii. pp. 23–24.
See the graphic account of this last struggle in H. Walpole's letters to Sir H. Mann. Glover asserts in his Memoirs that the Prince of Wales assured him that the last votes against Walpole cost the Opposition 12,000l.
See the list in Coxe's Walpole, i. 730–731, and Horace Walpole's Memoir of his own income in Walpole's Life and Letters (ed. Cunningham) vol. i.
Faction Detected by the Evidence of Facts. This very remarkable pamphlet (which went through many editions) has been ascribed to Lord Egmont.
His intentions appear to have been known before the fall of Walpole. Sir B. Wilmot, in a letter to the Duke of Devonshire, Jan. 12, 1741–2, said: ‘Pulteney's terms seem to be a peerage, and a place in the Cabinet Council, if he can get it.—Coxe's Walpole, iii. 587.
Coxe's Palham. Introd. sec. 3.
Coxe's Walpole, i. 743. See, too, Horace Walpole's Memoirs of George II. vol. i. p. 105.
See Carlyle's Frederick, book xiii. ch. 5.
Frederick, Hist, de mon Temps, ch. vii.
See these arguments powerfully stated in a speech by Pitt, Dec. 1, 1743 (Anecdotes of Chatham, vol. i.).
Rogers’ Protest of the Lords, ii. 37–42. Speaker Onslow relates the following remarkable dialogue with Walpole on the subject. ‘A little while before Sir R. Walpole's fall, and as a popular act to save himself (for he went very unwillingly out of his offices and power) he took me one day aside and said: “What will you say, Speaker, if this hand of mine shall bring a message from the King to the House of Commons declaring his consent to having any of his family after his own death to be made by Act of Parliament incapable of inheriting and enjoying the Crown and possessing the Electoral dominions at the same time?” My answer was: “Sir, it will be as a message from Heaven.” He replied, “It will be done,” but it was not done, and I have good reason to believe it would have been opposed and rejected at this time, because it came from him, and by the means of those who had always been most clamorous for it.’—Speaker Onslow's remarks, in Coxe's Walpole, vol. ii. pp. 571–572.
See The Case of the Hanover Troops, the Interest of Hanover, the Vindication of the Case of the Hanover Troops. A curious collection of passages from the principal pamphlets against these troops will be found in Faction Defeated by the Evidence of Facts, pp. 124–125 (7th ed.).
See Chambers’ Hist. of the Rebellion.
See the graphic description of this panic in Fielding's true Patriot. It was reported that the Bank saved itself by paying in sixpences.
They were afterwards replaced by Hessians. See Stanhope's Hist. of England, iii. 299.
Smollett, Hist. of England, ch. ix.
Chalmers’ Estimate, p. 105.
Coxe's Pelham, ii. 77.
See on this war Frederick, Mémoires de mon Temps, the Mémoiresde Valori, Voltaire, Louis XV., and the histories of Smollett, Coxe, Carlyle, Banke, Martin, and Lord Stanhope.
Smollett's Hist. of England. Coxe's Life of Pelham.
Compare Coxe's Life of Walpole, ch. xlvii.; Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, i. 500–502; and Lord Hervey's Memoirs, ii. 325–332. It is remarkable that this was almost the only question on which Henry Pelham ever voted against Walpole.
Coxe states that an individual was said at this time to have purchased 3 per cents. at 109 1/4. This, however, must have been quite an isolated transaction, and the ordinary price appears to have been from par to 101. Coxe's Pelham, ii. 77–85. Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, i. 504–507.
Coxe's Pelham, Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, Macpherson's Annals of Commerce.
Prior's Life of Burke, i. 38.
On Civil Government, bk. ii. ch. xiii.
Tour in England.
Note to Burnet's Own Times, ii. 458
Thus in a debate in 1743, Chesterfield said: ‘Many of our boroughs are now so much the creatures of the Crown that they are generally called Court boroughs, and very properly they are called so. For our ministers for the time being have always the nomination of their representatives, and make such an arbitrary use of it that they often order them to choose gentlemen whom they never saw, nor heard of, perhaps, till they saw their names on the minister's order for choosing them. This order they always punctually obey, and would, I believe, obey it, were the person named in it the minister's footman.’—Parl. Hist. xiii. 90.
Sir E. May's Const. Hist. i. 317.
Onslow has left on record his opinion that the Septennial Act formed ‘the era of the emancipation of the Commons from its former dependence on the Crown and on the House of Lords.’—Coxe's Life of Walpols, i. 75.
Parl. Hist. vol. v.; Somers, Tracts, xi. 242. Hallam's Const. Hist. vol. iii.
Parl. Hist. vi.; State Trials, xiv. Hallam's Const. Hist. vol. iii.
Hunt's Fourth Estate. Andrew's Hist. of British Journalism. Towns-end's Hist. of the House of Commons, ii. 194–196.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 311–318. Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, ii. p. 78.
Thus in 1699 the Commons resolved, ‘That to assert that the House of Commons have no power of commitment but of their own members tends to the subversion of the constitution of the House of Commons.’
‘That to print or publish any books or libels reflecting upon the proceedings of the House of Commons or of any Member thereof, for or relating to his service therein, is a high violation of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons.’ Burgh's Political Disquisitions, i. 208.
See much curious information about these abuses of privilege in Burgh's Political Disquisitions; or, an Inquiry into Public Errors and Abuses (Lond. 1774), i. pp. 205–235.
Lord Stanhope's Hist. of England, iv. 20–21. See, too, the chapters on Parliamentary Privilege in Hallam and Townsend.
Sir E. May's Const. Hist. i. 307–308.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 1064.
Burnet's Own Times, ii. 162, 259.
Ibid. p. 334.
Ibid. p. 429.
Onslow's note in Burnet, ii. 410.
Lord Hervey's Memoirs, i. 102, 103. See, too, Walpole's Memoirs of George II., ii. 14, Parl. Hist. vi. 49, 50.
See Dr. Johnson's Life of Cave; Nichols’ Literary Anscdotes, v. 1–18; May's Constitutional History, i. 421–422; and the History of Reporting, in Hunt's Fourth Estate, and Andrews’ Hist. of British Journalism.
Parl. Hist. x. pp. 800–811. Coxe's Life of Walpole, ch. 50.
He died Jan. 1754.
In the discussion on the publication of debates, to which I have just referred, Pulteney is reported to have said: ‘I remember the time when this House was so jealous, so cautious of doing anything that might look like an appeal to their constituents, that not even the votes were printed without leave. A gentleman every day rose in his place and desired the Chair to ask leave of the House that their votes for that day should be printed. How this custom came to be dropped I cannot so well account for, but I think it high time for us to prevent any further encroachment upon our privileges.’—Parl. Hist. x. 806–807. In 1703, during the discussions of the House of Commons with the Lords, the former passed a resolution ‘that the votes of the House should not be printed, and that this might be a standing order.’ Boyer's Queen Anne, p. 47.
May's Constitutional Hist. i. 439–441.
7 William III. c. 4.
2 George IL c. 24. See Parl. Hist. xii. 648. Ralph's Use and Abuse of Parliaments, ii. 382–384.
See Hallam's Const. Hist. ch. xv. and xvi. Fischel on the English Constitution, p. 433.
Horace Walpole, who hated Pelham, and always put the worst colouring on his acts, admitted this. He says: ‘I believe Mr. Pelham would never have wet his finger in corruption if Sir R. Walpole had not dipped up to the elbow; but as he did dip, and as Mr. Pelham was persuaded that it was as necessary for him to be minister as it was for Sir R. Walpole, he plunged as deep.’—Horace Walpole's Memoirs of George II. i. 235.
See his Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Commonwealth.
Chatham, in a speech which he made in 1770, while dwelling strongly on the corruption of the small boroughs, added: ‘The representation of the counties is, I think, still pure and uncorrupted, that of the great cities is upon a footing equally respectable, and there are many of the larger trading towns which still preserve their independence.’—Anecdotes of Chatham, ii. 35.
Walpole's Memoirs of George II. i. p. 413. See, too, Smollett's Hist. book iii. ch. 1.
Lord Shelburne's Life, i. p. 35. See too, on Oxford disaffection at an earlier period, the description of the Excise riots. Lord Hervey's Memoirs, i. 205.
Lord Shelburne's Life, i. p. 50.
Marchmont Papers, i. 3–5.
Suffolk Correspondence, i. 102.
See the very remarkable passages on this subject in Lord Shelburne's Autobiography, pp. 83–84. Mrs. Montagu's Letters, iv. 46.
Writing to Lord Townshend, Nov. 29, 1725, Walpole says: ‘It is fit you should likewise be acquainted that the Pulteneys build great hopes upon the difficulties they promise themselves will arise from the foreign affairs, and especially from the Hanover treaty. I had a curiosity to open some of their letters and found them full of this language. The last foreign mail brought a letter from Count Staremberg to William Pulteney, giving him great expectations of the materials he could furnish him with, when it might be done with safety, and very strong in general terms upon what is transacting with you. Wise Daniel fills all his inland correspondence with reflections of the same kind.’—Coxe's Walpole, ii. 492–493. See, too, Marchmont Papers, ii. 205. 245, 248. Coxe's Marlborough, ch. xcvii. c. Chatham Correspondence, i. 167–168. Swift's Correspondence.
Nouvelle Heloise, 2me partie. See, too, the admirable sketch of French society at this period in Taine's Ancien Régime.
Chesterfield has noticed the contrast in the usual conversation of the fashionable circles of the two capitals. ‘It must be owned that the polite conversation of the men and women of fashion in Paris, though not always very deep, is much less futile and frivolous than ours here. It turns at least upon some subject, something of taste, some point of history, criticism, and even philosophy; which, though probably not quite so solid as Mr. Locke's, is, however, better and more becoming rational beings than our frivolous dissertations upon the weather or upon whist.’—Letters to his Son, April 22, 1752.
It is curious how extremely badly she wrote French. Her letters are so misspelt and ungrammatical as to be sometimes nearly unintelligible, and she always chose that language for corresponding with Leibnitz. The following specimen from one of her letters to Leibnitz gives an idea of her attainments in two languages in 1715: ‘Vous aurais remarqué dans le raport contre le dernier minister que le feu Lord Bouhnbrouck dit que les francois sont ausy mechant poette que les anglois politicien. Je suis pourtant fort pour ceu de cornelle, Racine, beaulau, Rénié. Il se peut que ne possitan pas sy bien la langue anglois que la francoise j'admire plus se que j'antan. —Kemble's State Papers and Letters, p. 332.
She had refused to marry the Archduke Charles, afterwards Emperor, because he was a Catholic and she could not change her faith. Gay wrote of her—
She appears, however, to have had very little religious feeling, and her opinions on those subjects, as far as she had any, were of a latitudinarian cast.
I would no more employ a man to govern and influence the clergy,’ said Sir R. Walpole, ‘who did not flatter the parsons, or who either talked, wrote, or acted against their authority, their profits, or their privileges, than I would try to govern the soldiery by setting a general over them who was always harangung against the inconveniences of a standing army, or make a man Chancellor who was constantly complaining of the grievances of the Bar and threatening to rectify the abuses of Westminster Hall.’—Lord Hervey's Memoirs, i. pp. 453-454.
Campbell's Lives of the Chancellor, vi. 236-238. Walpole's Letters, ii. 65 (note).
Marchmont Papers, ii. 342-343.
Campbell's Laves of the Chancellors, vi. 256–257.
Johnstone's Memoirs of the Rebellion, pp. 70, 81.
Walpole's Letters to Mann, Dec. 9, 1745.
Picton's Memorials of Liverpool, i.
Walpole's Letters to Mann, August 12, 1746.
Camden's Hist. of Elizabeth, A.D. 1581.
See the early history of English drinking, in Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature; Drinking Customs in England; and Malcolm's Manners and Customs of London, i. pp. 285–289.
Othello, act li. scene 3.
Reeve's ‘Plea for Nineveh.’ quoted in Malcolm's Manners and Customs of London, i. p. 286.
Chamberlayne. See, too, a carious testimony on this subject quoted in Jesse's London, iii. 250.
Cunningham's Hist., ii. pp. 200–201. Dr. Radchffe is said to have ascribed much of the sickness of the time to the want of French wines. See, too, on the history of French wines, Craik's Hist. of Commerce, ii. 165, 166, 180, 181. Davenant's Report to the Commissioners for Stating the Public Accounts.
Spence. Swift's Correspondence.
E. Lewis to Swift.
Mrs. Delany's Correspondence, vi. 168.
Coxe's Walpole, i. 5, 758, 759.
‘Speaker Onslow's Remarks (Coxe's Walpole, vol. ii. p. 559).
Gregory King's State of England, pp. 55–56. In an edition of Chamberlayne's Magnæ Britanniæ Notitia, published in 1710, it is stated that in 1667, when the greater part of London was in ashes after the fire, and many of the inhabitants were forced to retire to the country, no less than 1,522,781 barrels of beer and ale were brewed in the city, each of them containing from 32 to 36 gallons, that the amount brewed annually in London had since risen to near two million of barrels, and that the excise for London was farmed out for 120,000l. a year (p. 219).
Parl. Hist., xii. 1212.
Ibid., xii. 1211–1214. Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, ii. 639.
9 Geo. II. c. 23.
16 Geo. II. c. 8.
Fraser's Life of Berkeley, pp. 332–333.
24 Geo. II. c. 40.
26 Geo. II. c. 13.
Heberden, Observations on the Increase and Decrease of Different Diseases (1801), p. 45.
See on this subject the Gentleman's Magazine, 1751, pp. 136, 282–283, 321, 322; 1760, pp. 18–22. Short's Hist. of the Increase and Decrease of Mankind in England, p. 21. Coxe's Life of Pelham, ii. 182. Maty's Life of Chesterfield, p. 209. Walpole's George II. i. 66–67. Smollett's Hist. Fielding's Increase of Robbers. Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, Remark G. Parl. Debates.
Swift's Journal to Stella. Gay's Trivia. The Spectator, 324, 335, 347.
Amelia, bk. i. ch. 2.
To Sir H. Mann, July, 1742.
See his picture of Justice Thrasher, in Amelia, and his sketch of Justice Squeezum, in The Coffeehouse Politician. See, too, Lawrence's Life of Fielding, pp. 236–239, and Harris's Life of Hardwicke, i. 390–391.
Hist. of England.
Andrews’ Eighteenth Century, p. 230.
Harris's Life of Hardwicke, ii. 97–99.
To Sir H. Mann. March 23, 1752.
To Sir H. Mann. March 23, 1752.
Sir John Fielding's Account of the Origin and Effects of a Police set on foot in 1753.
Causes of the Increase of Robbers.
See an extraordinary instance of this in Andrews’ Eighteenth Century, p. 235.
Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iii. 127–128.
Maitland's Hist. of London, i. 565–567.
Browne's Estimate, i. p. 219.
Sir John Fielding On the Police of 1753.
The goods were stolen, and as soon as a reward was offered restored by a confederate.
Horace Walpole to Mann. Aug. 1750. Walpole had himself been robbed by M'Lean. Some curious particulars of the crime of this period will be found in Harris's Life of Hardwicke.
See Pike's Hist. of Crime, ii. 399, 652.
9 George I. c. 22. See White's Selborne, pp. 29, 30.
Blackstone, bk. i. ch. viii. § 2.
Wilson's Life of Defoe, i. 209.
Coxe's Life of Pelham, ii. 272.
12 Anne II. c. 18; 4 George I. c. 12.
Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iii. pp. 39–41.
26 George II. c. 19.
Wesley's Journal, Aug. 1776.
‘A Swedish ship being leaky put into one of our harbours. The Irish, according to custom, ran to plunder her. A neighbouring gentleman hundered them; and for so doing demanded a fourth part of the cargo. And this, they said, the law allows.’ Wesley's Journal, June 1760.
6 & 7 William III. c. 6; 7 & 8 William III. c. xxxv.
26 George II. c. 33.
Walpole's Memoirs of George II. i. pp. 146, 342.
It is curious to observe what nonsense Horace Walpole talked about this Bill, not in a party speech, but in a grave history. He says that it ‘seemed to annex as sacred privileges to birth as could be devised in the proudest, poorest little Italian principality,’ that it was ‘the bane of society, the golden grate that separates the nobility from the plebeians,’ that ‘from beginning to end of the Bill one only view had predominated, that of pride and of aristocracy.’—If emotes of George II. i. 336–348, 358.
See Lord Campbell's severe judgment of it. Lives of the Chancellors, vi. 262.
See J. Southerden Burns’ very curious Hist. of Fleet Marriages; the copious extracts from the Fleet registers in Knight's Hist. of London; Pennant's London; Smollett's Hist.; Parl. Hist.; and Walpole's Memours of George II.
See on this subject Muralt's Letters on, the English (Eng. trans. 1726), p. 69. In 1711 the Irish Convocation ordered a special form of prayer ‘for imprisoned debtors’ to be inserted in the Irish Prayer-book. Mant's Hist, of the Inak Church, ii. p. 233.
Howell's State Trials, xvii. Parl. Hist. viii. 708–753. Nichol's Life of Hogarth, p. 19. Historical Register, 1729. Wright's Memoirs of Oglethorpe. Andrew's Eighteenth Century, pp. 294–298. Mr. Froude (English in Ireland, i. 591–592) has enumerated many of the atrocities in the Dublin prison. He has not mentioned that the inquiry which revealed them was a consequence of the discovery of similar atrocities in the principal prisons of England.
Howard on Prisons, Introduction. Lawrence's Life of Fielding, pp. 296–297.
Dublin Gazette, March 17–21, 1740–41.
Idler, No. 38. Johnson afterwards, in reprinting the Idler, admitted that he had found reasons to question the accuracy of this calculation.
Wright's Life of Oglethorpe. See, too, the many allusions to him in Boswell's Johnson. H. Walpole always depreciates Oglethorpe. Pope has devoted a well-known couplet to him. One driven by strong benevolence of soul Shall fly like Oglethorpe from pole to pole. Imitation of Horace, Ep. ii.
That it is not exaggerated is abundantly shown by Lind's Essay on the Health of Seamen, which was first published in 1757. This author says (ch. i.), ‘I have known 1,000 men confined together in a guardship, some hundreds of whom had neither a bed nor so much as a change of linen. I have seen many of them brought into hospital in the same clothes and shirts they had on when pressed several months before.’
Pelham, in 1749, endeavoured to abolish impressment by maintaining a reserve of 3,000 seamen, who were to receive a pension in time of peace, and to be called into active service in time of war; but the Bill was violently opposed and eventually dropped (Coxe's Life of Pelham, ii. 66–70). A somewhat similar measure, but on a larger scale, had actually passed under William, but it was repealed in the ninth year of Anne (Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, ii. 683).
Clode's Military Forces of the Crown, i. 222.
Andrews’ Eighteenth Century, p. 271.
Dublin Weekly Journal, April 22, 1732. See, too, Madden's Hist. of Periodical Literature in Ireland, i. 258; and for an almost equally striking instance in 1787 at Worcester, Robert's Social Hist. of the Southern Counties, p. 152.
Harris's Life of Hardwicke, i. p. 158.
Public Ledger, quoted by Andrews, p. 281.
Muralt's Letters on the English Nation (English trans. 1726), pp. 42–44.
‘In treasons of every kind the punishment of women is the same, and different from that of men. For as the natural modesty of the sex forbids the exposing and publicly mangling their bodies, their sentence (which is to the full as terrible to the sense as the other) is, to be drawn to the gallows and there to be burnt alive.’—Blackstone, iv. ch. 6.
Andrews, p. 279. See too, her life, in The Lives of Eminent Criminals executed between 1720 and 1735.
See Andrews’ Eighteenth Century, p. 281. Eight persons guilty of holding commissions in the army of the Pretender, were executed in 1746 on Kennington Common. The State Trials (xviii. 351) give the following description of the execution of Mr. Townley, who was one of them. ‘After he had hung six minutes he was cutdown, and, having life in him as he lay upon the block to be quartered, the executioner gave him several blows on his breast, which not having the effect required, he immediately cut his throat; after which he took his head off; then ripped him open and took out his bowels and heart and threw them into the fire, which consumed them; then he slashed his four quarters and put them with the head into a coffin.’
Andrews, pp. 285–286. The last case is from the Universal Spectator, Sept. 1741. ‘On Tuesday, was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey, Henry Cook, shoemaker, of Stratford, for robbing Mr. Zachary on the highway. On Cook's refusing to plead there was a new press made and fixed in the proper place in the press-yard, there having been no person pressed since the famous Spiggott, the highwayman, about twenty years ago. Bunworth, alias Frazier, was pressed at Kingston, in Surrey, about sixteen years ago.’ — The Irish case was at Kilkenny. Madden, Periodical Literature, i. p. 274.
See the very large collection of passages from old newspapers and magazines, illustrating the penal system in England, in Andrews’ Eighteenth Century, and in that great repository of curious information Notes and Queries. See, too, Knight's London, Cowper's Hist. of the Rod, and Madden's Hist. of Periodical Literature in Ireland. For cases of criminals being killed by the illusage they underwent in the pillory, see Prior's Life of Burke, i. 367; Nichol's Memovrs of Hogarth, pp. 190–191. Johnson wrote a very humane and sensible protest against the multiplication of capital offences, Rambler, No. 114, and Fielding in his Causes of the Increase of Robbers advocated private executions. The public whipping of women in England was abolished in 1817, the private whipping only in 1820.
Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vi. 119–120.
Frederick II., Mémoires de mon Temps. See, too, for other military statistics, Ranke's Hist. of Prussía, i. 420–421. Lord Hervey's Memoirs, i. 86.
3 & 4 Anne, ch. 11.
See the remarkable account of the debate in Tindal.
See, for the origin of the Mutiny Act, Macaulay's Hist. of England, ch. xi., and for its subsequent history, Clode's Military Forces of the Croven, vol. i.
Blackstone, book i. eh. 13.
In 1741 some members of the House of Lords drew up a very remarkable protest on this subject. After complaining of the increase of the army, and of the formation of new corps, they say: ‘We apprehend that this method of augmentation by new corps may be attended with consequences fatal in time to our Constitution, by increasing the number of commissions which may be disposed of with regard to parliamentary influence only … Our distrust of the motives of this augmentation which creates at once 370 officers … ought to be the greater so near the election of a new parliament … and we cannot forget that an augmentation of 8,040 men was likewise made the very year of the election of the present Parliament.… The number of officers in Parliament has gradually increased, and though we think the gentlemen of the army as little liable to undue influence as any other body of men, yet we think it would be very imprudent to trust the very fundamentals of our Constitution, the independency of Parliaments, to the uncertain effects of ministerial favour or resentment.’— Rogers's Protests of the Lords, ii. 1–6.
Walpole himself complained to Lord Hervey, ‘How many people there are I could bind to me by getting things done in the army you may imagine, and that I never can get any one thing done in it you perhaps will not believe; but it is as true as that there is an army, that I never ask for the smallest commission by which a Member of Parliament may be immediately or collaterally obliged, that the King's answer is not—” I won't do that; you want always to have me disoblige all my old soldiers, you understand nothing of troops. I will order my army as I think fit; for your scoundrels in the House of Commons you may do as you please; you know I never interfere nor pretend to know anything of them, but this province I will keep to myself.” —Lord Hervey's Memoirs, ii. 381, 382. This is not the least of the many unrecognised services of George II. to the country.
Lord Hervey's Memoirs, i. 282–284. Coxe's Walpole, i. 409. Pearl. Hist, ix, 291. William had positively refused to remove Sir G. Rooke from the Admiralty on account of his votes in the House of Commons. Wilson's Life of Defoe, i. 469.
Clode. Chesterfield appears to have contemplated a considerable mulphcation of barracks. As his biographer somewhat strangely says: ‘If his Lordship had returned to Ireland he would have ordered new barracks to be built in those parts of the kingdom which are not amenable to the laws of the country By this provision he ahead to make the inhabitants know that there is a God, a king, and a government.’—Maty's Life of Chester-field, p. 271.
Clode's Military Forces, i. 221–226. A writer who visited Scotland about 1722, speaking of Berwick-on-Tweed, says: ‘King George, since his accession to the throne, to ease the inhabitants of this town from quartering of soldiers, hath built a fine barrack here consisting of a square spacious court of freestone.… These are the first barracks erected in Great Britain, and it would be a vast ease to the inhabitants in most great towns if they had them every-where; but English liberty will never consent to what will seem a nest for a standing army.’—Macky's Journey through Scotland (1723), pp. 24–25.
Parl. Hist. xi. 1448.
Book i. ch. 13.
‘What I lament is to see the sentiments of the nation so amazingly reconciled to the prospect of having a far more numerous body of regular troops kept up after the peace than any true lover of his country in former times thought could be allowed without endangering the Constitution. Nay, so unaccountably fond are we become of the military plan, that the erection of barracks, which twenty years ago would have ruined any minister who should have ventured to propose it, may be proposed safely by our own ministers now-a-days, and upon trial be found to be a favourite measure with our patriots and with the public in general.… What I lament, as the greatest misfortune that can threaten the public liberty, is to see the eagerness with which our nobility, born to be the guardians of the Constitution against prerogative, solicit the badge of military subjection, not merely to serve their country in times of danger, which would be commendable, but in expectation of being continued soldiers when tranquillity shall be restored.’—Letter to Two Great Men (Newcastle and Pitt), p. 35.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 474–496.