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CHAPTER XVIII. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. V 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. V.
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The qualities of mind and character which in modern societies have proved most successful in political life are for the most part of a wholly different order from those which lead to eminence in the spheres of pure intellect or pure moral effort. Originality and profundity of thought, the power of tracing principles to their obscure and distant consequences, the intellectual and imaginative insight which penetrates to the heart of things and expresses in a perennial form the deeper emotions or finer shades of human character, can be of little or no service in practical politics. Nor are the moral qualities that are required in the higher spheres of statesmanship those of a hero or a saint. Passionate earnestness and self-devotion, complete concentration of every faculty on an unselfish aim, uncalculating daring, a delicacy of conscience and a loftiness of aim far exceeding those of the average of men, are here likely to prove rather a hindrance than an assistance. The politician deals very largely with the superficial and the commonplace; his art is in a great measure that of skilful compromise, and in the conditions of modern life the statesman is likely to succeed the best who possesses secondary qualities to an unusual degree, who is in the closest intellectual and moral sympathy with the average of the intelligent men of his time, and who pursues common ideals with more than common ability. ‘The first quality of a prime minister in a free country,’ said Horace Walpole, ‘is to have more common sense than any man.’ Tact, business talent, knowledge of men, resolution, promptitude and sagacity in dealing with immediate emergencies, a character which lends itself easily to conciliation, diminishes friction and inspires confidence, are especially needed, and they are more likely to be found among shrewd and enlightened men of the world than among men of great original genius or of an heroic type of character.
In a free country and under a parliamentary government the qualities required for a great statesman differ widely from those which are needed under a despotism, and they are so various and dissimilar that no one has ever possessed them all in an extraordinary degree. The talent of an orator or debater who can carry his measures triumphantly through parliamentary controversies; the talent of a tactician skilful in the difficult art of party management; the talent of an administrator who can conduct the ordinary business of the country with vigour and sagacity; the constructive talent which, when a great change has to be accomplished, can carry it out by wise and well-conceived legislation; the political prescience which foresees the effect of measures, understands the tendencies of the time and directs and modifies a policy in accordance with them, must all meet in an ideal statesman. He must preserve the happy medium between arrogance and irresolution, between rashness and timidity, under circumstances that are peculiarly fitted to bring either failing into relief. Widely different talents are required for a minister in time of peace and in time of war, and the qualities of mind and character that exercise the most powerful magnetic influence over great masses of men are not always those that win the confidence of parliaments or statesmen. It is possible for a man to be immeasurably superior to his fellows in eloquence, in knowledge, in dexterity of argument, in moral energy and in popular sympathy, and at the same time plainly inferior to the average of educated men in soundness and sobriety of judgment. The best man of business is not always the most enlightened statesman, and a great power of foreseeing and understanding the tendencies of his time may be combined with a great incapacity for managing men or for dealing with daily difficulties as they arise.
By the natural limitations of human nature some of these gifts of statesmanship are sure to be wanting in the greatest minister, and experience shows that the extraordinary possession of one of them is often balanced by a more than common deficiency in another. No English statesman conducted the affairs of the nation at home and abroad, for a considerable period, more skilfully or more prosperously than Walpole. His administration probably saved England from a prolonged period of disputed succession and gave her the strength that carried her through subsequent wars, but he undoubtedly lowered the moral tone of public life, and he scarcely left a trace of constructive statesmanship on the Statute Book. Chatham possessed to the highest degree the power of command and the qualities that appeal to the enthusiasm of a nation. He was one of the greatest of orators, one of the greatest of war ministers, and his general views of policy often exhibited a singular genius and sagacity; but he had scarcely any talent for internal administration, and he was utterly incapable of party management. Peel far surpassed all his contemporaries in the masterly skill and comprehensiveness with which he could frame his legislative measures and in the commanding knowledge and ability with which he could carry them through Parliament; his speeches are full of wide and sagacious surveys of the whole field of politics, and in the department of finance Huskisson was the only statesman of his generation who could be looked upon as his rival; but he showed so little of the prescience of a statesman that on the three most important questions of his day—the questions of Catholic Emancipation, parliamentary reform, and free trade—his mistakes were disastrous to his country and almost ruinous to his party; and, although he appeared for a time one of the greatest of parliamentary leaders, he left his party dislocated, impotent, and discredited. His rival, Lord John Russell, took a foremost part in that Reform Bill which is perhaps the most important legislative measure of the nineteenth century, and a considerable part in many other measures of almost the highest value. His political judgment on the chief events of his time was so sound, moderate, and sagacious that there was scarcely an opinion of his youth which he was obliged to abandon in old age, and scarcely a line of policy which he suggested that has not been justified by the event. Though not an orator, he succeeded both as leader of the House of Commons and as leader of the Opposition. He was courageous, earnest, transparently straightforward and honourable, but yet he can scarcely be called either a brilliant, a powerful, or a very popular statesman. A want of tact and management, an imperfect knowledge of men, a curious strain of party pedantry which showed itself in his speeches and judgments, an undue restlessness and independence when co-operating with other statesmen, impaired his influence both with his colleagues and with the country.
The most remarkable of all instances of the combination of the more dazzling attributes of a parliamentary statesman is to be found in the young minister whose triumph at the election of 1784 has been described in the last volume. His position at this moment was one of the most enviable and most extraordinary in history. He was but just twenty-five, an age when talents, knowledge, and character are with most men completely immature and when a politician who entered Parliament with great advantages is considered very fortunate if he has attained the rank of Under-Secretary and has on a few occasions caught the ear of the House. At this age Pitt had attained a parliamentary ascendency which his father had scarcely rivalled. He had fought, with an eloquence, courage, and sagacity which excited the admiration of the whole nation, one of the most desperate parliamentary battles in English history, and he had totally defeated an Opposition consisting of the majority of the House of Commons, and directed by a group of statesmen and orators of the very highest eminence. The victory at the hustings had been decisive. Nearly 160 of the Opposition had lost their seats. Pitt found himself at the head of a majority which represented the undoubted sentiments of the country. He had no colleagues who could for a moment rival his influence, and by a strange combination of circumstances he came to power unpledged as to his policy, and supported by a great section of each party in the State.
It was an extraordinary position, and it soon appeared that Pitt had both the talents and the character to maintain it. With one brief interval he continued to be prime minister of England till his death. For nearly nineteen years he was as absolute as Walpole in the Cabinet and the Parliament, far more powerful than Walpole from his hold upon the affections and admiration of the people.
Such a statesman may have had great defects, but he must have had extraordinary merits, and before proceeding with the course of our narrative it may be well to attempt in one comprehensive picture to form a general estimate of both.
His first and most conspicuous talent was that of an orator or debater. The son of the greatest of English orators, he was destined almost from the cradle for a parliamentary career, and the whole force and bent of his intellect was ceaselessly employed in this one direction. His father was accustomed to make him practise declamation when still a child, and to give him facility and flexibility of language by making him translate at sight from classical and modern foreign writers, attending rather to the force, flow, and elegance of the language than to exact fidelity of translation. At Cambridge it was noticed how minutely he applied himself to the study of language, how carefully in reading the classical writers he analysed their style, noted down every forcible or happy expression, and especially compared the opposite speeches on the same subject, observing how each speaker managed his own case, and how he answered or evaded the case of his opponents. In mathematics and in Locke's philosophy he found an admirable discipline for his reasoning powers, and it was remembered that Barrow's sermons were recommended by Chatham as specially fitted to purify and invigorate his style. He was a hard student, but there was nothing in his studies that was desultory or aimless. Though he entered Parliament at twenty-one he had already been long accustomed to haunt the galleries of both Houses during important debates, and it was his practice while each speech was proceeding to consider how it could be answered and how it could be improved. By such methods he acquired what Coleridge has truly called ‘a premature and unnatural dexterity in the combination of words,’ a power of pouring forth with endless facility perfectly modulated sentences of perfectly chosen language, which as far surpassed the reach of a normal intellect as the feats of an acrobat exceed the capacities of a normal body.
He had, indeed, every requisite of a great debater: perfect self-possession; an unbroken flow of sonorous and dignified language; great quickness and cogency of reasoning and especially of reply; an admirable gift of lucid and methodical statement; an extraordinary skill in arranging the course and symmetry of an unpremeditated speech; a memory singularly strong and singularly accurate. No one knew better how to turn and retort arguments, to seize in a moment on a weak point or an unguarded phrase, to evade issues which it was not convenient to press too closely, to conceal if necessary his sentiments and his intentions under a cloud of vague, brilliant, and imposing verbiage. Without either the fire, passion, imagination, or histrionic power of his father, he could entrance the House by his sustained and lofty declamation or invective, and he employed with terrible effect the weapon of cutting sarcasm and the tone of freezing contempt. Good judges complained of a ‘great monotony in his intonations, an absence of variety in his gesture, an ungraceful habit of sawing the air with his body,’ but he had a noble voice, clear, powerful and melodious, and there was about him an unvarying dignity and even majesty of manner which always reminded men that he was speaking with the authority of a great minister.
Those who read his speeches will derive little from them but disappointment. What especially strikes the reader is their extreme poverty of original thought. They are admirably adapted for their immediate purpose, but beyond this they are almost worthless. It has been said with truth that not one philosophical remark, not one image, not even one pointed aphorism out of them has been remembered.1 There is not a trace in them of the wide or subtle political views, the exquisite delineations of character, the deep insight into the springs of human feeling and action which make the speeches of Burke so invaluable. Burke once described Pitt with much bitterness as ‘the sublime of mediocrity,’2 and it is true that with all his great powers his mind seemed always to move in the region of the commonplace. It was said by his admirers that his thoughts clothed themselves almost spontaneously in the most appropriate and felicitous language, but we look in vain for those far-reaching, vivid, and imaginative epithets and phrases which in the speeches of his father, of Burke, and sometimes of Grattan, at once arrest the attention, and open, as with a sudden flash, new vistas to the mind. Hardly any other great speaker was so little remembered, and the few phrases which are not forgotten are only instances of the happy expression of perfectly commonplace ideas. Thus, when Erskine in a feeble speech repeated arguments which had been more powerfully stated by Fox, Pitt began his reply, ‘The honourable and learned gentleman who succeeded the right honourable gentleman, attenuating the thread of his discourse.’ When his health was drunk as the saviour of Europe, Pitt loftily disclaimed the compliment: ‘Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.’
To a good writer who knows that the supreme end of his art is to give language the utmost meaning of which it is susceptible, to make it reveal and distinguish with accuracy and with clearness the finest fibres of thought, few styles can be more repulsive than the style of Pitt. Redundant and copious beyond measure, a commonplace thought is beaten out into period after period, piled one on another with a monotonous and architectural symmetry, and with a manifest desire to produce the greatest possible pomp and parade of language. Though an admirable reasoner, Pitt was, in this respect, scarcely equal to Fox. We miss the firm grasp, the extreme fairness which stated in the strongest form the strongest argument of an opponent, the close contact with the reality of things. High-sounding generalities, a kind of vague grandiloquence which seemed to indicate a mind less occupied with facts than with the presentation of facts, bore a large part in his speeches, and, never stooping to the familiar, he often failed to touch the definite and the concrete. Francis, who was a very acute though a very prejudiced and malevolent critic, maintained that Pitt's eloquence was more fit for declamation than for debate, and he would allow him no merit except a perfect elocution, a sonorous voice, and an astonishing choice and fluency of language, which, however, wholly failed to fix itself on the memory.1 Windham, who was an equally competent and a less prejudiced judge, spoke of Pitt's ‘State Paper style,’ and expressed his belief that ‘he could speak a King's Speech off-hand.’ It was generally acknowledged that he was superior to Fox in method and arrangement, in skill of statement, in the more uniform and equable elevation of his language. It was remarked by the excellent critics in the reporters' gallery, that it was often difficult to follow the train or sequence of Fox's speeches, but that there was no difficulty in remembering what he said. Pitt's speeches, on the other hand, were perfect in their method, and it was easy and delightful to follow them; but when the musical voice had ceased, it was not always so easy to remember what had charmed.2
The canons of writing and of speaking are, however, essentially different, and the best justification of Pitt's rhetoric is the enormous impression which, during so many years, and on so many subjects, it scarcely ever failed to make on a highly educated audience. Reporting in his day was far from perfect,3 and even the most perfect reporting can never adequately convey the power and charm of a great orator. Lord Holland has said that those who had heard the debates of Pitt and Fox in the House of Commons had ‘heard the art of public and unpremeditated speaking, in as great perfection as human faculties exercised in our language can attain;’4 and we have some measure of their greatness in the comparisons that were made between them and the most illustrious of their successors. Chateaubriand, having attended the debates of the House of Commons when an exile during the French Revolution, returned to London as ambassador at a time when Canning and Grey were in the zenith of their powers, and he has left a most emphatic testimony to the great decadence that had taken place,1 and Wilberforce only pronounced what appears to have been the almost universal judgment when he asserted that, as an orator or debater, Canning, in his most brilliant days, belonged to an altogether lower plane than the two great rivals who had preceded him.2 Pitt is said to have himself defended the extreme redundance of his speeches, on the ground that he preferred it to the repetitions of Fox, and that one or other is absolutely necessary for any speaker who would thoroughly and adequately impress his views on a popular audience.3 The difference between the reasoning of the two orators was, no doubt, partly due to difference of intellectual character, but partly also to the fact that Fox was nearly always in opposition, while Pitt was nearly always in office. In a parliamentary government a minister is constantly obliged to speak when it would be better to keep silence, and it must be one of his most frequent objects to avoid disclosing his opinions and intentions, to evade questions which cannot be safely brought to an immediate issue, to keep open to himself more than one course of action, to secure the concurrence of men of more than one shade of opinion. When a great master of language finds himself in such a position, he will naturally learn to cultivate a style of eloquence adapted to its exigencies. He will often very deliberately substitute words for things, avoid rather than aim at precision, and employ language for the purpose of obscuring rather than defining thought. Such a mode of speaking seldom fails to exercise a pernicious influence both on intellect and character, but it must be judged, like other things, by its adaptation to its end, and not by mere literary tests.
Pitt had an unlimited command of this kind of rhetoric. He had, also, to a very remarkable degree, the inestimable gift of reticence, a gift which is rarely united with so great a wealth of words. No speaker was more difficult to provoke to a reply when an obstinate or a dignified silence was most conducive to his interest.1 His self-control was almost unfailing, and he had a most rapid and intuitive sagacity in reading the temper both of the House and of the public. He had a good political judgment, but, beyond all things, a most excellent House of Commons judgment. The House seemed perpetually before his mind, and Windham complained with truth that in preparing his measures he thought less of their operation than of their reception, and especially of the manner in which they would look in a parliamentary statement.2 There have been wiser statesmen, and there have been greater orators, but no other English minister was so skilled in the management alike of a party and of a debate, in the art of knowing how far questions might be pressed without danger or compromised without discredit. Amid the passion and provocation of debate, in sittings that were prolonged till the streaks of morning had begun to illuminate the horizon, at times when a thousand cares unconnected with the immediate subject of discussion were weighing on his mind, at times when great public dangers were impending, and when the interests of the nation were shamefully subordinated to party passions, he scarcely ever lost his self-command or his dignity, his supreme good sense, or his authority over the House. Burke, who was in some respects an immeasurably greater man, often emptied the House by his discursiveness, and excited ridicule or disgust by extravagances of passion, taste, and metaphor, which seemed scarcely compatible with sanity. Fox, in intellectual powers, was probably fully equal to Pitt, but through his whole political life the indiscretion and violence of some of his own speeches were the chief obstacles to his career. But the young minister, in the moments of his most vehement declamation, was always essentially calm and collected, and his complete mastery over himself was one of the great secrets of his influence over others.
Like William III., to whom in character he bore some resemblance, he was more wonderful as a very young man than as a man of mature life. Intellect and character with him had both developed prematurely, and acquired their full force at an age when with other men they are in the bud. As was inevitable, however, such a development was somewhat onesided. It was truly said of him that he never was a boy, and, owing to the strange circumstances of his life, he knew very little of men or manners except as they were exhibited in political life, and seen through the unnatural medium of a great ministerial position. His knowledge of public opinion, and especially of parliamentary opinion, was rarely at fault, but he had not much skill in discriminating individual character, and little knowledge of common life.1
In the noble portraits of him which Gainsborough has left, it is not, I think, difficult to detect an expression of purity and almost of unworldliness as of one who had never succumbed to the chief temptations of youth. Natural shyness, weak health, and a home education strengthened this purity of nature, but contributed also to the stiffness and awkwardness of his manner. His indifference to female charms was the constant subject of coarse taunts which exhibit only too clearly the fashionable morals of the time. Neither play, nor the turf, nor the theatre could allure him, and no pleasure was ever suffered to divert him from the paths of ambition and of public duty.2
In one point alone could his private character be justly assailed. It is said that when a boy, being very weak, his physician ordered him large quantities of port wine, and he was accustomed to employ the same means to sustain his strength and spirits during political conflict. Grenville related how he had seen him swallow a whole bottle of port in tumblerfuls before going down to the House, and, although his power of bearing wine was very great, yet towards the end of his life his shaking hand and his bloated features indicated plainly the excess which was undermining his constitution. This vice was shared by probably the majority of the statesmen who were his contemporaries. His friend Dundas was especially addicted to it, and it is related that on one occasion neither statesman was in a condition to answer an attack in the House of Commons. But with this single exception there is, I believe, no evidence that Pitt's excessive drinking was ever suffered, in public life, to obscure the clearness of his intellect or to impair the cold and commanding dignity of his manner.1
His integrity was not only unquestionable but unquestioned. We have already seen how, when his political position was most precarious, and when he had scarcely any private means, he gave the rich sinecure of Clerk of the Pells to Colonel Barré instead of retaining it for himself. In 1788, during the debates on the Regency, when it appeared likely that he would be at once obliged to retire from office and to seek a livelihood at the bar, some bankers and other rich men of London agreed to offer him a free gift of 100,000l., but he peremptorily refused to accept it.2 His indifference to money matters amounted indeed to a fault. He held the two offices of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in 1792 the King insisted on conferring on him the Wardenship of the Cinque Ports, thus raising his official income to at least 10,000l. a year; yet, though he had no expensive tastes, through simple negligence of his private affairs and the unchecked dishonesty and extravagance of his servants he was soon overwhelmed with debt. In 1801 his friends raised 12,000l. to relieve him from his most pressing debts.
For mere honorary distinctions he cared as little as for money. Though he distributed peerages with a lavish and culpable profusion he never desired one for himself, and he declined the blue ribbon when it was offered him. To lead the House of Commons, to wield the energies of England, was his one passion, and the whole force of his mind and character was devoted to it. His tall, slender figure, habitually drawn up to its utmost height, his head thrown back, his fixed and abstracted gaze, the repelling stiffness of his bow, his pale face, which seemed nearly always when in repose to wear an expression of forbidding sternness or of supercilious disdain, and which could darken at times with a peculiar and domineering fierceness, all indicated a man who was more fitted to command than to attract. The unbending stateliness of his public manner and diction would have been indeed intolerable to a popular assembly of English gentlemen had it not been united with a singular soundness and moderation of judgment, with great calmness of temper and with transcendent powers of eloquence and command. He was popular in the House, but it was the kind of popularity which a great general always enjoys among his soldiers when they have an unbounded confidence in his skill. The House of Commons, as Bolingbroke once said, ‘like a pack of hounds, grows fond of the man who shows them game and by whose halloo they are used to be encouraged.’ No statesman was, however, more destitute of some of the qualities that generally lead to popularity, and it is evident from the correspondence of his contemporaries how often he galled the self-respect or the vanity of those with whom he came in contact. ‘I know the coldness of the climate you go into,’ wrote Shelburne to one who was about to have an interview with Pitt, ‘and that it requires all your animation to produce a momentary thaw.’1 ‘This personage,’ wrote Sir James Harris, who then knew Pitt only in his public capacity, ‘is, I take it, composed of very hard materials, and there enters a good deal of marble into his composition.’ Lord Carmarthen, when Secretary of State, was almost driven to resignation by the haughtiness with which Pitt compelled him, when unwell, to be present at a Court ceremony; and the ‘hauteur’ of his manner, the inattention, often amounting to discourtesy, with which he treated both his colleagues and his followers, was a frequent subject of complaint.2 On the opposite side of the House this aspect of his character was naturally still more strongly felt, and Burke, in one of his confidential letters, speaks bitterly of ‘this age when boys of twenty have got to the head of affairs and bear themselves with all the sour and severe insolence of sixty, and which even from sixty would be intolerable.’1 In his speeches there was a total absence of the familiarity, the variety of tone, the happy illustrations, the flexibility and simplicity of Fox, and Pitt scarcely ever in public condescended to anything more nearly approaching a jest than an icy sarcasm. His relation to his party was quite unlike that of Fox and North. He stood cold, solitary, lofty, and inaccessible. Even the roll and splendour of his declamation, though it never failed to fascinate the House, had little genuine warmth and little power of moving the passions. It was a glow of language rather than of feeling, the glitter of the sunlight upon the snow.
Exaggerated pride and extreme avarice of power were the chief defects of such a character. Indomitable resolution was its great merit. It was said of him that, ‘though his consummate judgment enabled him with singular felicity to avoid expressions necessarily productive of personal collision, he scarcely ever receded, apologised, or betrayed any apprehension of consequences.’2 No statesman ever exhibited political courage in a higher degree than William Pitt. He showed it when as a young man of twenty-four he confronted the united powers of Fox, Burke, and Sheridan, supported by a large majority of the House of Commons. He showed it during the Regency Debates when it seemed, for a time, as if the whole fabric of his power was giving way, and he showed it not less conspicuously amid the accumulating misfortunes that clouded his last days. Whatever faults of strategy or administration he displayed in the conduct of the great French war, he at least never flinched or faltered; and he inspired with his own proud self-confidence both the Parliament and the country. The haughty spirit, however, which was never known to bend, was at last broken by the disasters of Ulm and Austerlitz, and the light which had so long guided the fortunes of England sank in a darkness which was not of the sunset but of the eclipse.
Such was Pitt as he appeared in public to the gaze of men. There was, however, another and a very different Pitt known to a few intimate friends. Baxter, in a remarkable page of his autobiography, has noticed that Cromwell, whose figure dominates so sternly and so grandly over the England of the Commonwealth, was ‘naturally of such vivacity, hilarity, and alacrity, as another man hath when he has drunken a cup too much.’ The same contrast between public and private life may be detected in the case of Pitt. When he was among the few whom he thoroughly trusted; when the reserve and the shyness he nearly always exhibited in the presence of strangers had passed away, he could cast aside both the cares and the dignity of office, and become one of the most charming and even one of the gayest companions. The wonderful quickness and the wonderful self-control which he exhibited in public life then took the form of the readiest but most inoffensive wit, and of a temper which was as amiable as it was imperturbable. ‘He was,’ said Wilberforce, ‘the wittiest man I ever knew, and, what was quite peculiar to himself, had at all times his wit under entire control.’1 ‘His temper,’ wrote George Rose, ‘was, I think, the sweetest I ever knew.’ ‘The powerful energies of his character softened into the most perfect complacency and sweetness of disposition in the circles of private life, the pleasures of which no man ever more cheerfully enjoyed.’2 ‘He was endowed,’ said Lord Wellesley, ‘beyond any man of his time whom I knew, with a gay heart and a social spirit. … He was a most affectionate, indulgent, and benevolent friend, and so easy of access, that all his acquaintances in any embarrassment would rather resort to him for advice than to any person who might be supposed to have more leisure.’3 ‘He was,’ said Lord Malmesbury, ‘the most forgiving and easy-tempered of men.’4
Two kindred qualities which contribute greatly to lighten the burdens of public life he possessed to a remarkable degree. The courage with which he was so pre-eminently endowed was always sustained and coloured by a strong hopefulness. ‘He was,’ Addington was accustomed to say, ‘the most sanguine man I ever knew,’5 and those who will study his letters during some of the most critical periods of his life will hardly fail to be struck with the truth of the saying. He had also to a rare degree the inestimable gift of turning the current of his thoughts, and casting aside the pressure of care. It is one of the powers in which men differ the most, and one of those which contribute most largely to the happiness and usefulness of life. It is essentially physical, and with Pitt it was, no doubt, closely connected with that singular capacity for long, deep, and unbroken sleep, which he retained in the most anxious periods of his life. On one occasion, after an unusual strain of labour and anxiety, he is said to have slept continuously for more than sixteen hours.1
Amid the accumulating calamities of his last years his temper, which had once been so gay and delightful, is said to have clouded,2 but even till near the end there were times when he was more like a boisterous boy than a careworn statesman.
In 1804 Sir William Napier, the future historian of the Peninsular War, being then a boy of between eighteen and nineteen, stayed for some time with him at Putney, and he has left a most curious and graphic account of his host. Pitt usually returned to dinner somewhat exhausted, and drank the greater part of a bottle of port in a rapid succession of glasses, but when he had recovered his strength from this stimulant he ceased to drink. His conversation was then always gay, good-natured, humorous, and sparkling with amusing anecdotes. He liked boys, and could put them at once and completely at their ease, and he joined in their games not merely with condescension but with every appearance of genuine hilarity and delight. On one occasion, Lady Hester Stanhope, two boys of the Stanhope family, and Napier himself, determined to blacken Pitt's face with burnt cork, which he strenuously resisted, belabouring his assailants with a cushion. In the midst of the boisterous scene a servant announced that Lord Castlereagh and Lord Liverpool desired to see the Prime Minister on business. They were ushered into another room and the game still for some time continued, when Pitt said he must not keep the grandees any longer waiting; water and a towel were brought; the face of the minister was washed; the basin was hid under a sofa, and his two colleagues were admitted. Napier was surprised at their deferential and almost obsequious manner, but much more at the sudden transformation that passed over Pitt. ‘His tall, ungainly, bony figure seemed to grow to the ceiling, his head was thrown back, his eyes were fixed immovably,’ and apparently completely regardless of those who were before him. He listened to what they had to say, answered them in curt cold sentences, ‘and finally, with an abrupt, stiff inclination of the body, but without casting his eyes down, dismissed them. Then, turning to us with a laugh, caught up his cushions and renewed our fight.’1
It is impossible to read this account without remembering the theatrical attitude of superiority and excessive dignity which the elder Pitt was accustomed to assume in his intercourse with his colleagues and his subordinates. The son was not indeed, like the father, by nature a consummate actor. He was stiff and awkward in person and manner; his countenance had but little variety of expression, and his voice but little variety of tone, and he had no taste for ceremony and display. In private he was perfectly simple and unaffected, and in the life of country houses, which speedily discloses the superficial foibles of manner and temper, he appears always to have made a favourable impression.1 But the repelling and frigid dignity of his public manner was exaggerated and overstrained, and if it grew in the first instance naturally out of his character and his position, it appears to have been sedulously maintained for the purpose of authority and command. Once and once only in his long career did his majestic self-control wholly fail. It was when the vote was carried which pronounced his old friend and colleague, Lord Melville, guilty of peculation. It was noticed that Pitt then drew the cocked hat which he was accustomed to wear, more deeply over his forehead; and some of his faithful friends gathered round him, to conceal from the triumphant Opposition the tears that were trickling down his cheek.2
We must now pass to the more difficult task of attempting to form an estimate of his character as a minister, remembering that for nearly nineteen years he exercised an almost absolute authority over both Houses of Parliament, and that for nearly nine of these years the country was at perfect peace.
There were, in the first place, some consequences arising from his ascendency which were in a great degree independent of the measures he introduced. We have seen that the nature of the Cabinet, and the relation of the First Lord of the Treasury to his colleagues, had long been unsettled questions in the British Constitution. According to one theory each minister is a servant of the Crown, responsible for his own department, and with little or no dependence on his colleagues. According to the other theory, the Cabinet is a strictly homogeneous body, and there is one minister whose special charge is to direct and give unity to its policy. It had been the manifest wish of the King to revive the former system, under which he could be the true director of the national policy, and in the first weak ministries of the reign the greatest divisions of opinion and of authority subsisted. Lord North, though personally extremely subservient to the King, had a greater ascendency in his own Cabinet than most of his predecessors, but he always disclaimed the title of Prime Minister as unknown to the Constitution.1 But whatever name might be employed, there could be at least no question of the absolute authority which Pitt maintained over his colleagues. It was not that he did not permit, even to a culpable extent, open questions among men in office. It was not that the King did not exercise, during the whole course of his ministry, a constant advising influence over the policy of the Cabinet. On the questions, indeed, of parliamentary reform and of the impeachment of Hastings, Pitt adopted a line of policy very repugnant to the King, but in general he showed an evident desire to abstain from any course which might be in conflict with the royal wish. At the same time he was too strong a minister either to pursue a dictated policy or to tolerate cabals against his power, and the old system of a divided Cabinet, of ‘King's friends’ maintained in office for the purpose of controlling, and, if commanded, overthrowing their chief, now came finally and decisively to an end. Justly confident in his name and in his talents, in the support of parliament and of the country, and in the impossibility of replacing him, Pitt occupied a position wholly different from that of the early ministers of the reign. His tone towards the King was uniformly respectful but formal and distant, equally removed from the domineering arrogance of Grenville and Bedford, from the subservience of Bute and North, and from the spasmodic and emotional loyalty of Chatham. The King never appears to have bestowed on him the full favour which he once bestowed on Bute and North, but he concurred in the general lines of his policy; he was bound to him by a strong obligation of gratitude; he saw in him the only barrier against a Whig ascendency, and he was not insensible to the immense increase of his own popularity, which was a consequence of the popularity of his minister. The conduct of Pitt on the Regency question touched him more sensibly, and by a strange felicity it was at the same time in the highest degree conducive to ministerial authority, for it established the doctrine that during the incapacity of the King the practical government of the country must devolve upon the minister.
In this manner the conflict of 1784, like many others in English history, ended in a compromise. The King had completely triumphed over the Coalition which he hated, and his popularity in the country was enormously increased, but the result of the conflict was to establish finally that system of ministerial authority which it had been the first great effort of his reign to overthrow. The gradual contraction of the governing powers of the English sovereign is one of the most striking political facts of the eighteenth century, and I have accordingly devoted much space to it in the present work. The founders of the Revolution, though they intended to provide securities against a despotic monarchy, certainly never contemplated a cipher king, and as a matter of fact in all things relating to foreign policy William III. was the most powerful political influence in the country. The formation of a homogeneous Cabinet, which more than any other single cause diminished the royal power, was, as we have seen, not the result of any law or settled design, but was gradually and almost fortuitously effected through the exigencies of Parliamentary Government, and there had always been a school of politicians who believed that the King should exercise a more active directing influence in the affairs of the State. This had been the theory of Boling-broke. It had been adopted by Pulteney and Carteret; it had for a time some attraction for Shelburne, and it was a leading article of the Toryism of Dr. Johnson. Whiggism, that vigorous thinker was accustomed to say, rested at the time of the Revolution on definite principles, but had degenerated in the early Hanoverian reigns into a mere system of stockjobbing, corruption, and monopoly. A few great families who had accumulated a vast amount of borough patronage, and a rich and corrupt mercantile class which had acquired by bribery an ascendency in the chief towns, had got possession of the government of the country. They had gradually appropriated the patronage of the Crown, and they employed it systematically in maintaining a corrupt majority in Parliament. They kept up the distinction between Whig and Tory as a pretext for excluding from power the great body of the landed interest, and they had reduced the King to a mere puppet in their hands. Dr. Johnson strenuously asserted that government by parliamentary corruption was the master political evil of the time, and that the true remedy was to be found in strengthening the royal power. A prince of ability, he said, steadily and conspicuously pursuing the interests of his people could not fail of parliamentary concurrence. He might and should be the directing soul and spirit of his administration; in short his own minister and not the mere head of a party; and then, and not till then, would the royal dignity be sincerely respected. In our mixed government a certain amount of Crown influence over the Houses of Parliament is not only salutary but necessary.1
We have seen the efforts of George III. in the earlier years of his reign to regain the royal authority, and we have seen also how little those efforts tended in the direction of political purity. The election of 1781 was a decisive event in the struggle, but its significance was at first very dubious. Ostensibly the King had completely triumphed, and the most gloomy prognostications were common in the Whig party. ‘The elevation of Mr. Pitt,’ wrote one of the ablest of the young writers of that party, ‘established a precedent which extirpated the last shadow of popular control from the government of England.’ Till this event the House of Commons ‘had exercised a negative on the choice of the Minister of the Crown.’2
But in truth the victory of Pitt was more a victory of the people than of the King; and his character, his talents, and his position all conspired to give him an independent authority. For many years he was the only possible minister, and if the King had desired to overthrow him he could only have done so by falling back upon Fox, whom beyond all other men he detested. Under such circumstances the ministerial power was naturally consolidated. The minister, and not the King, became the true and habitual centre of authority, and the faction of the ‘King's friends’ completely disappeared. Jenkinson, who had chiefly led and organised it, took a part in opposition to Pitt on the question of the impeachment of Hastings; but his opposition, which might once have been fatal to a ministry, proved wholly immaterial. Pitt had no fear of him, and he attached him fully to himself. Though he had little debating power, Jenkinson had a remarkable knowledge of commercial questions, and he obtained a high reputation in 1786 by the ability which he displayed in regulating the Newfoundland and Greenland fisheries and in the revisal of the trade and navigation laws. Pitt soon after raised him to the peerage as Lord Hawkesbury, placed him at the head of the reconstituted Board of Trade, made him Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and ten years later he became Earl of Liverpool, but his influence in the ministry of Pitt was wholly legitimate and was no greater than naturally belonged to a Minister of the Crown.1
One serious attempt, however, was made to maintain the old system of an independent influence in the Ministry. Lord Thurlow never acquiesced in the ascendency of a statesman whom he personally disliked, who was much younger than himself and who sat in the other House of Parliament, and he hoped to retain in the ministry of Pitt the position of the King's special and confidential minister which he had previously held. A very mischievous tradition had of late years been forming that the Chancellor, though a member of the Cabinet and entrusted with the Cabinet secrets, had a right to pursue in politics an independent and even a hostile course. Such had been the course of Northington in the first ministry of Rockingham, of Camden in the ministry of Grafton, of Thurlow himself in the second ministry of Rockingham. At first the dislike of Thurlow to Pitt was rarely shown. He opposed a measure for restoring the estates forfeited after the rebellion of 1745, and complained, not unreasonably, that he had not been consulted in its preparation. He made himself the unqualified defender of Warren Hastings, and is said to have proposed to ask the King to raise Hastings to the peerage without consulting Pitt. He opposed a measure supported by Pitt for mitigating the horrors of the slave trade. During the illness of the King he intrigued with the Prince of Wales in order to secure his continuance of office, and although on the recovery of the King he retained the Seals, it was impossible any longer to trust him, and his relation to Pitt was one of sullen neutrality occasionally passing into open hostility. But Pitt met his intrigues and his hostility with firmness and with tact. In 1790 he raised William Grenville, who had been Speaker of the House of Commons, to the Lords and conferred upon him the leadership of the Ministerial party in that House, and in the summer of 1792, when Thurlow had renewed his hostilities by violently attacking Pitt's scheme for the reduction of the debt, Pitt informed the King that either the Chancellor or the Prime Minister must retire from office. To the astonishment and indignation of Thurlow, the King at once consented to his dismissal. He sank speedily into political insignificance, and the ascendency of Pitt was undisputed.
There were, it is true, some later periods in which it was menaced. In 1794, when the great Whig secession had brought a new and powerful element into the Government, veteran politicians believed that the ascendency of Pitt in his Cabinet would wane and that the royal influence was likely to grow. ‘The King,’ wrote a very experienced official, who had peculiar means of knowing the undercurrents of political life, ‘seems to be the greatest gainer from this arrangement. For many years his hands have been completely tied up. He has had no other option than that between Pitt and Fox, who have divided the country and the House of Commons between them. As he was determined not to employ the latter, he, of course, fell under subjection to the former. At present a third party is formed. If he quarrels with Pitt he has Windham to resort to. I really think that till now the King never was his own master, and from my personal knowledge of his Majesty I am satisfied he will be very well inclined to avail himself of the freedom he has thus acquired.’1 At a much later period the formation of the Ministry of Addington and the defeat of Pitt's policy in favour of the Irish Catholics, showed the power the King could still exercise, but it was Pitt who, more than any previous minister under George III., made the responsible minister the true source of political power and, formed a system and tradition of government which could never be destroyed.
Great avarice of power and extreme self-reliance were marked features- of his character, and he showed very little disposition to ally himself with any of those shining talents that might imperil his ascendency. He sought rather to surround himself with men of sound judgment and great business capacity who could never rise into competition with him. With excellent judgment, he selected Eden, at a time when that politician was in opposition, to negotiate the commercial treaty with France, and his warm and close friendship with Dundas and Grenville contributed largely to the success of his ministry. When he gave confidence he gave it without reserve; and in discussing political questions with those whom he trusted, no one was more frank and open, more patient of contradiction, more candid in weighing opposing arguments.1 Like Walpole, he was fond of framing his measures with one or two colleagues round a dinner-table. His mind was very receptive to the ideas of others, and he was accused of not always acknowledging his obligations.2 He had a high sense of the duty of a Prime Minister to superintend all the departments of government, and in critical periods of foreign policy he frequently wrote the despatches which the Foreign Minister signed.3 No minister since Walpole had exercised such unquestioned and absolute authority in the Government.
Another consequence of the ascendency of Pitt was the complete termination of direct parliamentary corruption. The credit of the great and salutary change which had, in this respect, passed almost insensibly over English parliamentary life does not, indeed, rest solely or even mainly with him. The system of corruption appears to have continued with little or no abatement through the administration of Lord North, but the Rockingham Ministry had almost extinguished it. The exclusion of contractors from Parliament, and especially Burke's great measure of economical reform, which swept away a vast number of superfluous places and strictly limited the pension list and the Secret Service Fund, mark a new epoch in parliamentary history. The long ministry of Pitt, however, confirmed what had been done. He was carried to power at the election of 1784 by a wave of the most genuine popular enthusiasm, and Wraxall was probably correct in his assertion that no House of Commons since the accession of the House of Hanover had been elected with so little corruption.1 A minister of perfect integrity, who enjoyed great popular support, as well as the confidence of the King, and of an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, was not tempted to stoop to methods of government which had been habitual in former Parliaments, and during his long ministry the traditions of the old system of corruption were finally cut. The financial reforms which were his special glory, contributed greatly to the purification of political life. Between 1784 and 1799 the numerous sinecure offices in the Custom House were abolished, and it was stated that the expense of collecting a revenue of 22,000,000l. in 1799 only exceeded by 3,000l. the expense of collecting a revenue of little more than 14,000,000l. in 1784. One of the worst and most wasteful forms of bribery that had grown up during the reign had been the custom of contracting loans and issuing lottery tickets on terms which were below the market value, and then distributing shares or tickets among the supporters of the Government. The minister usually settled with a few select friends in the City the terms on which a proposed loan should be made, and gave them lists of the friends who were to be favoured, with the specific sums to be assigned to each. In one instance, towards the end of the administration of Lord North, the scrip was at a premium of 10l. per cent, two days before the names of the subscribers were sent to the Bank from the Treasury. This abuse Pitt finally terminated. When he desired to contract a loan, he gave public notice in the City through the Bank of England that he would receive sealed proposals from all who wished to send them, and in order to guard against all partiality they were opened in the presence of the Governor and Deputy-Governor of the Bank. The lowest tender given by persons of known credit was accepted, and Pitt was able with truth to assure the House of Commons that not a shilling had been reserved for distribution among his friends.1
The merit of Pitt in this respect is very great, but there is one serious deduction to be made. No previous minister created peerages so lavishly for the purpose of supporting his political influence, or affected so permanently and so injuriously the character of the House of Lords. At the time of the Revolution the House of Lords consisted of 150 temporal peers and 26 bishops. The simultaneous creation of twelve peers under Anne for the purpose of carrying the peace of Utrecht, and the numerous creations that immediately followed the accession of George I., had given a great shock to public opinion, and formed one of the chief arguments for Stanhope's Peerage Bill in 1719, which provided that the King should not have the power of adding more than six to the then existing number of 178 peers. The measure was rejected, but from this time till the death of George II. the prerogative of creating peers was exercised with great moderation, and on the accession of George III. there were only 174 British Peers, twelve of whom were Roman Catholics, and therefore incapacitated from sitting in Parliament. There had been a Whig majority in the House of Lords ever since the Revolution, but it was one of the fixed objects of George III. to destroy it, and at the same time to make the grant of peerages a means of maintaining his influence in the House of Commons. Forty-two British peers were created or promoted in the first ten years of his reign, and about thirty more during the administration of Lord North. Even these creations, however, were far surpassed by Pitt. Burke's Economical Reform Bill had swept away most of the sinecure offices by which political services had been hitherto rewarded, and peerages became in consequence much more habitually the prizes of public life. In the first five years of the administration of Pitt forty-eight peers were created, and when he resigned office in 1801 he had created or promoted upwards of 140.1 They were nearly all men of strong Tory opinions promoted for political services, the vast majority of them were men of no real distinction, and they at once changed the political tendencies and greatly lowered the intellectual level of the assembly to which they were raised.
A third consequence arising from the ascendency of Pitt relates chiefly to the period when England was at war. It has been constantly, and I believe truly, said that Pitt was not successful as a War Minister, that his subsidies were lavishly but often unproductively squandered, that his plans were ill conceived and ill executed, and that he had no real eye for military combinations. It must, however, be added that it was a matter of supreme importance to England, when entering on her deadly struggle with the Revolution and with Napoleon, that she should have been directed by a strong and popular ministry even though it may have been in some respects inefficient. A weak minister could never have raised the spirit of the people to an heroic height, and it is extremely doubtful whether the coalition against Napoleon would have been formed or maintained were it not for the unbounded confidence of foreign potentates in the strength of the English Ministry, in its complete command of the resources of the nation, and in the resolution and stability of its chief.
Passing from this class of services we may next proceed to examine his character as a legislator. His first and probably his greatest title to regard was his financial administration. No characteristic of his intellect appears to have more strongly impressed those who knew him than his extraordinary aptitude for all questions relating to figures, and having taken the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer he gave financial measures the most prominent place in the early years of his ministry. This was in itself a matter of no small importance, for these questions, resolving themselves for the most part into dry and intricate details, make little show in history and rarely excite an enthusiasm or an interest at all commensurate with their importance. Nations seldom realise till too late how prominent a place a sound system of finance holds among the vital elements of national stability and well-being; how few political changes are worth purchasing by its sacrifice; how widely and seriously human happiness is affected by the downfall or the perturbation of national credit, or by excessive, injudicious, and unjust taxation. The condition of English finances on the accession of Pitt was very serious. The accounts of the war were still to a large degree unsettled. The enormous increase of debt during the war had been accompanied by a great diminution of commerce resulting from the colonial losses of England, while the finances had been allowed to fall into almost inextricable confusion. In the year ending January 1784, the permanent taxes, and the land and malt taxes, which were voted every year, produced together only about twelve and a half millions, which was nearly two millions less than was required for the annual services and for the interest of the funded debt. But in addition to this debt there was a large unfunded debt, the exact amount of which could not yet be ascertained, but which was certainly not less than fourteen millions, and these outstanding bills were circulated at a discount of fifteen or twenty per cent. The deficiency in the year was not less than three millions, and the public credit was so low that the three per cents more than twelve months after the peace were between 56 and 57, scarcely higher than in the most unfavourable period of the war, more than ten per cent. lower than immediately after the signature of the preliminary treaties.1
Most of the taxes fell greatly below the estimate, chiefly on account of the recent enormous increase of smuggling. A Committee of the House of Commons estimated the defalcation of the revenue produced by this cause alone at not less than two millions. Whole fleets—including vessels of three hundred tons burden—were employed in this trade; 40,000 persons on sea and land are said to have been engaged in it. It was pursued in many districts with scarcely a semblance of concealment, almost the whole population conniving or concurring in it, and there were complaints that agriculture was in some places seriously impeded by the constant employment of farmers' horses in carrying smuggled goods to a distance from the shore. Pitt computed that at least 13,000,000 pounds of tea were annually consumed in the kingdom, but duty was only paid on 5,500,000. Assuming, what was notoriously untrue, that the consumption of foreign wines was only equal to what it had been thirty-six years before, the revenue had in this single article been defrauded of 280,000l. a year.1
The abuses in the postal revenue were of another kind but equally glaring. In the beginning of the reign every member of both Houses had the right of franking as many letters as he pleased, by writing his name and the word ‘free’ on the covers, and he had also the right of receiving free, letters addressed to himself. These privileges were soon enormously abused. Covers of letters bearing the signature of members of Parliament were sent by hundreds in boxes over the kingdom, for distribution or for sale; the forgery of franks became the commonest of crimes; one member of Parliament is said to have received no less than 300l. a year from a great mercantile house for franking their correspondence, and as letters might be addressed without payment to members in places where they were not residing, numerous other persons were accustomed, by an easily concerted fraud, to receive their letters free under the name of a member. It was computed that the Government loss through the franking of letters was not less than 170,000l. a year. An Act had been passed in 1783 slightly restricting the privilege of franking, obliging the members to write the whole superscription of the letters they franked and making the forgery of franks highly penal, but it proved quite insufficient to suppress the frauds connected with the system.2
The reports of a recent commission to inquire into the public accounts had shown that this department was honeycombed with abuses. Treasurers of the Navy had usually large sums in their hands which they were suffered to retain even when out of office, in some cases for no less than forty years. At the end of 1783, more than forty millions of public money which had been issued for the public services were as yet unaccounted for. In 1785 there were four treasurers of the Navy and three paymasters of the Army besides those actually in office, whose accounts were still unsettled. The whole system of auditing accounts was little better than a farce. There were two officers, entitled ‘Auditors of Imprest,’ who were ostensibly charged with this function, and each had in some years of the war received as much as 16,000l., but their office had become a sinecure; its duties were wholly performed by clerks, who confined themselves to ascertaining that the accounts were rightly added, but without any attempt at a real investigation. Every kind of fraud and collusion could grow up under such a system, and there appears to have been also little or no check upon the fees, perquisites, and gratuities given to persons in official situations.1
The extreme multiplicity and complexity of duties opened an endless field of confusion and fraud. Created at different times and without any attempt at unity or consistency, they formed a maze in which only the most experienced officials could move. There were sixty-eight distinct branches of Customs duties. There were articles which were subject to no less than fourteen separate duties. Different sets of duties imposed on the same article had been appropriated by Parliament to payment of the interest on different branches of the National Debt. It was noticed by one of Pitt's best officials that so trifling an article as a pound of nutmegs paid, or ought to have paid, nine different duties.2 The amazing intricacy of this branch of the revenue made all preceding Chancellors of the Exchequer shrink from any attempt to revise or consolidate it, and it also formed a great field of patronage. When Pitt became Minister there were said to have been no less than 196 absolute sinecures connected with the Customs. They were offices granted by patent and in the gift of the First Lord of the Treasury, and their united income amounted to 42,000l.3
It is the supreme merit of the early years of the administration of Pitt that he carried order and light into this chaos, and placed the finances of the country once more on a sound basis. It is impossible within the scope of a work like the present to give more than a general sketch of his financial reforms, and such a sketch can only do very partial justice to the industry, knowledge, and skill with which he manipulated a vast multitude of obscure and intricate details. His first object was to fund the unfunded debt and to put down the smuggling trade. The former object was gradually accomplished in 1784 and 1785. To attain the latter many measures were adopted. Some of them were entirely restrictive. An Act known as the ‘Hovering Act’ authorised the confiscation of a kind of vessel that was specially built for the smuggling trade, and of all vessels carrying tea, coffee, spirits, and any goods liable to forfeiture on importation, that were found at anchor or ‘hovering’ within four leagues of the coast, and an immense variety of regulations were made for preventing frauds in the process of distillation and for increasing the difficulties and dangers of the vast smuggling business which was carried on by vessels in the regular trade.1 At the same time, in the true spirit of Adam Smith, Pitt clearly recognised the fact that the extraordinary development of smuggling in any article is a proof that the duty on it is excessive, and he adopted on a large scale the policy of reducing and equalising duties, and diffusing the burden over a wide area. It was found by experience that the duty on tea gave rise to the most numerous frauds, and it had hitherto proved impossible to detect them. Pitt, reviving a policy which had been pursued by Pelham,2 reduced this duty from 119 to 12 1/2 per cent., and provided for the loss which the exchequer might possibly incur by largely increasing the duty on the windows of houses, which it was not possible to evade.3 The duty on British West India rum, which was another important article of the smuggling trade, was also greatly diminished,4 while the duties on wine were transferred from the Custom House to the excise, which was found the least expensive and the most effectual method of collecting them.5 This was the method which Walpole had endeavoured to introduce in 1733 and which he had been compelled by popular clamour to abandon, but Pitt carried it in 1786 with little difficulty. The abuses in franking letters were remedied by a measure which had been recommended in a report on the Post Office during Shelburne's administration, reducing the privilege to very moderate limits. It was provided that no member of Parliament could frank a letter unless he wrote, together with his name, the post town from which it was to be sent, the day of the month, and the year, and no member could receive freely letters addressed to him except at his actual place of residence.1
These measures were carried out with great caution. Though it was probable that the reduction of duties would soon be compensated by increased consumption and more regular payments, Pitt did not trust to this. It was his first principle in finance that a clear and considerable surplus must be created, and he courageously imposed a great mass of additional taxation in the form of duties on different articles. In the budget of 1784 new taxes were imposed which were estimated to produce 930,000l. In the budget of 1785 he imposed taxes to the amount of rather more than 400,000l.2 In the first years of his administration he imposed or increased, among other taxes, those on carriages and horses, on sport, plate, bricks, hats, and perfumery; he extended the system of trade licences; he increased the postage of letters and the taxes on newspapers and advertisements, and he introduced the probate and legacy duties. Frauds in the revenue were, at the same time, combated and greatly diminished by a complete reorganisation of the machinery of auditing accounts. One measure ‘for better regulating the office of the Treasurer of his Majesty's Navy’ provided that all sums issued by the exchequer for the service of the navy should be placed in the Bank to be withdrawn only as required, and that the treasurer should close his accounts every year. By another measure the ‘Auditors of Imprest’ were abolished, and a board of five commissioners was appointed with the largest and most stringent powers of auditing the public accounts of every department. By a third measure a similar body was appointed to inquire into ‘the fees, gratuities, perquisites, and emoluments’ received in public offices, and into all abuses connected with them.1
The importance of these measures in purifying English administration can hardly be exaggerated, and it is a shameful instance of the perverting influence of party spirit that Sheridan, and even Burke, who was himself the author of the first great measure of economical reform, should have ridiculed the minute economies of Pitt, taunting him with ‘hunting in holes and corners’ for abuses, and describing his measure for inquiring into fees and perquisites as a ‘ratcatching bill instituted for the purpose of prying into vermin abuses.’ There was a far truer and nobler ring in the language of Pitt, who declared that he could not conceive how any English minister could consider himself justified in omitting ‘any exertion that might tend, even in the most minute particular, to promote that economy on which the recovery of the State from its present depressed situation so much depended.’2
It was in this class of legislation that the true greatness of Pitt was most clearly shown. In measures of a more splendid and imposing character he was rarely really successful, but no minister displayed more industry and skill in remedying detailed abuses, discovering the causes that rendered particular branches of the revenue unproductive, introducing order, simplicity and economy into great departments of national finance. The greater part of this kind of work, it is true, is always accomplished by permanent officials, and a very large proportion of the financial measures of Pitt were revivals of measures or projects of Walpole and Pelham, or results of suggestions made by Adam Smith or other political writers.3 But Pitt had at least the merit of perceiving their value, and it was his eloquence and influence that carried them through Parliament. In this class of questions he displayed a remarkable degree of candour and moderation in accepting criticism and modifying or withdrawing unpopular schemes. Thus in 1784 he withdrew a proposed duty on coal, a proposed licence for hop planting, and a proposed tax on ribbons and gauze, when he found them to be unpopular, and substituted other taxes in their place.1 In 1785 he abolished the duties on bleached and dyed cotton goods, which had been imposed in the preceding year, on the ground that they had been found by experience to be injurious or unproductive, and at a later period, and on similar grounds, he repealed the taxes he had imposed on shops, on maid-servants, and on foreign gloves.2
The essentially business character of his ministry was due to himself, and especially to his habit of seeking advice and support chiefly outside his Cabinet. He was still the only member of the Cabinet in the House of Commons, and the peers who were his colleagues seem to have contributed nothing to his popularity and very little to his strength. Thurlow and the Duke of Richmond were both men of great ability, but the first was usually at least as much an embarrassment as a support, and the latter was extremely unpopular. Camden, who was now the President of the Council, had lost a great deal of his old energy and ambition, and, except on the Regency question, he rarely took a prominent part in debate. Gower, who held the Privy Seal, scarcely opened his mouth in Parliament. Carmarthen appears to have conducted foreign affairs with dignity and knowledge, but neither he nor Sydney, the other Secretary of State, had any unusual talent, or was capable of adding anything to the strength of the Ministry. It was from ministers who were not yet in the Cabinet that Pitt derived most assistance,3 and above all from Dundas, the treasurer of the navy, with whom from the time of the downfall of the Shelburne Ministry he had been on terms of warm personal friendship and who enjoyed more of his political confidence than any other man. This able Scotch lawyer had nothing of the moral grandeur, the disinterestedness, the consistency or the superb eloquence of Pitt, but he had a far greater experience of business and of men, far more popular and conciliatory manners, and one of the very best political judgments of his time. He was an unpolished but most useful debater, shrewd, practical, ready, and courageous, and he had a specially wide knowledge of all matters relating to trade. The reconstruction of the Board of Trade in 1786 appears to have been fully justified by the prominence which trade questions were assuming in English politics. With Jenkinson, now Lord Hawkesbury, as its president, and William Grenville, afterwards Lord Grenville, as its vice-president, it became one of the most efficient departments of the administration, and the apostasy of Eden in 1786 transferred another man who was eminently distinguished for his knowledge of commercial questions from the Opposition to the Government. Pitt appears to have also had extensive communications with leading authorities on trade outside the sphere of politics, and he gained the full confidence and support of the trading classes, who were every year rising to greater influence. It was believed that he alone of Prime Ministers had thoroughly mastered the commercial system of the country and had made its development the first object of his policy.
His financial statements were masterpieces of comprehensive and luminous exposition;1 and his great measure in 1787, consolidating the different branches of Customs and Excise, was one of the most important in English commercial history. The intricacy and multiplicity of duties had indeed become intolerable, and the ministry of North had already undertaken to deal with it, and had taken some steps in the direction of consolidation, but it was reserved for Pitt to carry out the work in all its details. He abolished the existing multifarious duties and drawbacks, and substituted for them a single duty on each article, amounting as nearly as possible to the aggregate of the duties it had previously paid; and all duties and other taxes, instead of being divided as heretofore into a number of distinct funds, were now brought into one general fund, called the Consolidated Fund, out of which all the different classes of public creditors were to be paid. In settling the new duties, fractions were usually changed into the next highest integer, and by this means a gain of about 20,000l. a year was attained. Burke and Fox warmly eulogised this measure, which was carried with general assent. It principle was simple and by no means original, but the magnitude and complexity of the task is sufficiently shown by the fact that nearly 3,000 resolutions were necessary to carry it into effect.1 Pitt, at the same time, while reorganising and simplifying this vast department, abstained from filling up the numerous sinecures connected with the Custom House when they became vacant, and at last, when fifty of them had in this way fallen in, he abolished them altogether in 1798.2
It must be added that Pitt, though not the first, was the second leading minister who had thoroughly mastered and adopted Adam Smith's views about free trade. Shelburne, it is true, in this respect anticipated him, but Pitt had a much greater power and opportunity of embodying his principles in legislation. His two great measures of this kind were the commercial propositions relating to Ireland, which he brought forward in 1785, and the commercial treaty with France, which he carried in 1786. The history of the former will be related at length in another part of this work. It will here be sufficient to say that the original propositions of Pitt, which were accepted by the Irish Parliament, would have established complete free trade, commercial equality and reciprocity between England and Ireland; the latter country purchasing the advantage by an annual contribution to the support of the British navy. The scheme was eminently wise and liberal, and if carried into effect it would have probably added greatly to the prosperity of both countries, and would have united them in a bond of the closest intimacy. Unfortunately the jealousy with which English manufacturers had long regarded the progress of Irish industry was by no means extinct; Pitt was compelled by the pressure of the trading interest to modify the original propositions, and among the clauses introduced in the new version was one binding the Irish Parliament on a large class of questions to enact all such laws as might be hereafter enacted in England. Such a proposal might have been wise or the reverse, but it was plainly inconsistent with the complete independence of the Irish Parliament which had been established in 1782, and of which Irish politicians were extremely jealous, and on this ground the amended propositions were rejected in Ireland. It was afterwards one of the most ardent wishes of Grattan and other leading Irish politicians to renew the negotiation and establish a permanent commercial union between England and Ireland on the lines of the original scheme, and without infringing on the constitutional independence of the Irish Parliament. Lord Lansdowne strongly advocated this course,1 but Pitt, either from the pressure of other cares, from resentment at the rejection of his former schemes, from fear of arousing commercial jealousy in England, or perhaps from a desire to keep the question open for the purpose of negotiating a legislative union, declined all overtures, and the commercial relations of the two countries remained as they had been established in 1782.
The treaty with France was more successful, and it seems to me to constitute Pitt's chief title to legislative fame. The policy of commercial treaties was at this time a favourite one. In 1766 such a treaty had been negotiated between England and Russia for twenty years, and it was chiefly English commerce that had raised Archangel from a small fishing village into the great centre of northern trade. Much political alienation, however, had lately grown up between the two countries, and the treaty was suffered to expire, though Russia had in 1785 concluded a commercial treaty with the Emperor, and was in process of negotiating one with France.2 The project of a commercial treaty between England and france was an idea of Shelburne. As early as 1769 that very able man had protested against the notion that France was the natural and inevitable enemy of England, and he had taken the first steps to negotiate, at the close of the American War, a commercial treaty between the two countries.1 The French ministers appear to have strongly favoured a policy of free trade,2 and in one of the articles of the Peace of Versailles it was agreed that commissioners should be appointed to make new commercial arrangements between the two countries on the basis of reciprocity and mutual convenience.3 The English, however, for some time, showed no desire to carry out the project of the treaty; the French prohibited several English manufactures which had been formerly admitted into France, and a great contraband trade had grown up. Under these circumstances, Pitt revived the idea of a close commercial treaty with France. Eden was selected as the English negotiator in Paris, and the treaty was signed in September 1786.
It was to continue in force for twelve years. It established between the two countries complete liberty of navigation and of commerce in all articles that were not specifically excepted, admitted the wines of France into England at the same duties hitherto paid by those of Portugal, reduced the duties on a long list of the principal articles of both countries, and provided that all goods not specified were to pay only such duties as were paid by the most favoured nation, without prejudice, however, to the ‘Family Compact’ of 1761 on the one side, or to the Methuen Treaty with Portugal on the other. Privateers belonging to any prince at war with one of the contracting parties might no longer equip themselves or sell their prizes in the ports of the other, and the religious worship, property, and personal freedom of the inhabitants of each country when residing in the other were carefully guaranteed.
This policy required some courage. The memory of the explosion of indignation caused by the commercial clauses of the Treaty of Utrecht had not died away. The popular antipathy to France had naturally acquired a fresh strength during the American War, and it was not forgotten that Pitt's own father had been beyond all things anti-Gallican. In addition to Fox, Burke and Sheridan, the treaty was assailed in the House of Commons with great eloquence by Philip Francis; by Flood, whose speech on this occasion extorted warm eulogies from his opponents; and by Grey, in a maiden speech which at once convinced the House that a new debater of almost the first rank had appeared among them. Pitt himself made one of his greatest speeches in defence of the measure, and he was somewhat feebly supported in the Commons by Wilberforce, Grenville, and Dundas. In the House of Lords, Lord Lansdowne defended the principle of the treaty with masterly ability, though he criticised in a very hostile spirit some of its details.
The question was argued on several entirely distinct grounds. Looking at it from its purely commercial aspects it was contended that no treaty could be more advantageous than one with France. It opened to English manufacturers an immediate market of more than 20,000,000 of persons, a market which was close at hand, which must produce expeditious and certain returns, and which would probably eventually spread English goods over the greater part of Europe. What was there to counterbalance this benefit? The English manufactures were well established. With the English superiority in capital and coal they were never likely to be shaken. They were increasing with an extraordinary rapidity, and their great want was a more extended market. This market the treaty would give them, and it would more than compensate them for the loss of the monopoly in America. France, on the other hand, was pre-eminently a country of wines and brandies, of oil and vinegar, articles which England did not produce, and which it was a great object to her to obtain at a cheap rate. The two countries were thus peculiarly fitted to carry on a mutually advantageous trade, for each had its own distinct staple; each produced in great abundance what the other wanted, and the great and leading lines of their respective riches did not clash. It was true that duties on a number of articles of import were to be lowered on an average fifty per cent., but it was a well-established and often a wise policy to surrender revenue for great commercial purposes. Nor was such a surrender likely to be serious, for increased consumption would rapidly recuperate the Treasury, and the chief loss would certainly fall upon the smuggling trade, which it was a main object of recent commercial legislation to suppress. French cambrics were absolutely lutely prohibited in England except for exportation, but yet they were notoriously in general use. French laces were absolutely prohibited, yet it was said that more than two-thirds of what was called Buckinghamshire lace was made in France.1 Not more than 600,000 gallons of brandy were legally imported into England, and according to the best estimates between 300,000 and 400,000 more were smuggled.
It was said that the trade with Portugal would be ruined by the French Treaty, but the assertion was at least an exaggeration. We had bound ourselves by the Methuen Treaty to admit Portuguese wines at duties a third below those on French wines, and Pitt was prepared, if the duty on French wines was reduced, to make a corresponding reduction on those of Portugal. If in other respects the trade with Portugal diminished, this was but a slight counterpoise to the great benefit of the opening of the French market. The Portuguese trade was small, distant, and declining, and there had been of late great complaints of the obstacles which the Portuguese Government had thrown in its way.
The political objection was that which was deemed most formidable, and on this point both Pitt and Lord Lansdowne protested in the strongest and most eloquent terms against the popular notion that England and France were natural enemies. ‘To suppose that any nation could be unalterably the enemy of another was weak and childish. It had no foundation in the experience of nations nor in the history of man. It was a libel on the constitution of political societies and supposed the existence of diabolical malice in the original frame of man.’ It was not true that all the best English traditions were traditions of hostility to France. Close friendship with that country was the policy of Elizabeth, of Cromwell, and of Walpole. The most deadly blow that had been recently directed against the political system of Europe was the partition of Poland—an act in which France had no part, and which would have been impossible if England and France had been cordially united. It was an act, said Lord Lansdowne, which, ‘if kingdoms are to be judged hereafter like men, must one day meet with condign punishment,’ and he added, that if he had not ceased to be Secretary of State in 1769 it had been his ‘full intention to have proposed to the King of France a confidential as well as an open connection with Great Britain in order to have prevented that reproach to Europe.’
The truth is, as Pitt urged with admirable force, that France and England, instead of being doomed by nature to constant enmity, are from their circumstances peculiarly fitted for friendly connection, and each nation has been sacrificing its most real interests through political jealousy. ‘By promoting habits of friendly intercourse and mutual benefit,’ the treaty would have at least ‘the happy tendency of making the two nations enter into more intimate connection with each other,’ and as their tastes, manners, and interests were blended or assimilated, the chances of future war would steadily and certainly diminish. If, however, the old hostility were unhappily renewed there was nothing in the new arrangement to weaken the military resources of England, for a commerce which made her richer could only make her stronger.
It was idle to argue from the Peace of Utrecht against the present treaty. The commercial treaty under Queen Anne was rejected mainly through party motives, and it was rejected at a time when England possessed very few of the manufactures in which she is now without a rival. That the conduct of France to England during the American War was extremely unfriendly, Pitt fully acknowledged. But the policy of nations should not be determined by mere motives of resentment, and it was a matter of legitimate pride that, after so many efforts to crush England, France now acknowledged herself to have failed, and was looking forward with eagerness to the benefit of an amicable connection.
Such were the chief arguments urged on behalf of the treaty. The arguments on the other side, if less sound, are certainly not less worthy of the attention of historians. The old belief that all wealth consists of money, and that therefore trade can only be beneficial to the country which obtains the largest return in gold, was steadily waning, but it still found one very able advocate in Parliament. The speech of Henry Flood illustrates with singular fidelity the economical ideas of a generation which was now passing speedily away. ‘England and France,’ he said, ‘are naturally and invariably rivals.’ ‘It was impossible but one must have the advantage of the other in all treaties of this nature;’ the nation which is at once the poorest and the most abstemious ‘will always drain from the richest in all commercial intercourse,’ and for this reason ‘France must ultimately diminish our specie and increase her own.’ Since Colbert, the French had been steadily advancing in manufactures. ‘Had they not a hundred towns now employed in the woollen manufacture? Have they not considerable ironworks? Were they not establishing with all possible expedition and encouragement the manufacture of cottons?’ France had, in a word, manufactures of the same kind as those of England, amply sufficient to supply her own market, sufficient perhaps to invade the English market, and England will therefore be obliged to pay not in manufactures but in specie for the wines, brandies, and olives, which she will receive. Monopoly, according to Flood, is the first condition of profitable commerce. It is the main advantage of colonies that they supply such monopolies, and ‘in all commercial treaties with foreign powers the true policy is to acquire as many of them in your favour as you possibly can, and to diminish if possible those of the nation with which you are in treaty.’ But France from her soil and climate already possesses a physical monopoly of the products she would chiefly send to England—and those products were objects not of necessity but of luxury—while England has no monopoly of the manufactured goods she desires to sell.
‘The great objects of such a country as this are those countries which are destitute of manufactures, but rich in bullion or in necessary or highly useful commodities. Spain, from defect of industry and from abundance of bullion, is such an object. Holland, from defect of territory and from commercial opulence, is another. The Northern kingdoms are objects from the plenty of commodities of the first and second necessity.’ But a trade with a country which will supply us mainly with luxuries, will drain away our specie, and will destroy the monopoly of our own manufactures in the home market, is not a benefit but an evil. It is never wise to risk the certainty of the home market for the chance of any other. ‘The market of the world is a great thing in sound; but in reality the home market is in every country greater than that of all the rest of the world.’ It is greater in extent. It is invaluable from its steadiness and its security. ‘Foreign consumption is only worth to British industry that sum by which the exports of Great Britain exceed all that she imports for home consumption.’
The commercial ideas expressed in this speech differ, however, widely from those which were advanced by the leaders of the Opposition. Fox expressly disclaimed ‘that mode of arguing which deemed exports a gain and imports a loss,’ and Burke declared that he felt no jealousy of the manufactures of France and believed that for a long period our ascendency in this department was overwhelming, though he contended that a close commercial alliance must ultimately ‘blend the property of the two kingdoms’ to the great advantage of the poorer one. They argued, however, that even commercially we should lose more through the treaty than we gained. The loss to the revenue from the reduction of duties would be greater; the diminution of smuggling would be smaller than was predicted; and England in gaining the French market would sacrifice others which were more secure if not more lucrative. The Portuguese trade was sure to fall off, the Methuen Treaty would probably not be renewed, and thus England would lose one of her oldest and steadiest commercial connections. Already the Emperor, irritated by the manifest preference of the English Government for France, had retaliated by imposing crushing duties on English goods in Flanders,1 and it was probable that other foreign powers would follow his example. France had of late entered most seriously into rivalry with English commerce in the Levant, and one of her great objects was to obtain the carrying trade of the Mediterranean. ‘Through her rivers and canals she intended to pour the commodities of England into other countries. She had already by her politics contrived to wrest our share of the Levant trade from us, and it was a part of her present design to divert the remainder from its former channel, and, by supplying all the ports in the Mediterranean Sea through the Seine, the Garonne, the Canal of Languedoc, and the Rhone, to engross the carrying trade of the Levant and to ruin our factory at Leghorn and our other establishments in those seas.’1 It was a matter of great consideration to England that France was now evidently paying a special attention to her navy, and it should not be forgotten that if a near trade brings immediate returns, it is the distant trade of England which chiefly fosters and maintains her naval superiority.
The main arguments, however, of the Opposition were of a political kind, and they show clearly the intense dislike and distrust of France which characterised the Whig party till the French Revolution altered their views. Fox and Burke both complained bitterly of the ‘narrow and confined ground’ on which Pitt argued a question that in reality affected vitally the whole disposition of power in Europe. ‘France,’ said Fox, ‘is the natural political enemy of Great Britain.’ In spite of the apparent levity of her national character, for much more than a century and through all changes of administration and circumstances, she had been governed on a regular and constant idea, ‘that of overweening pride and national aggrandisement.’ Sometimes by force of arms, sometimes by negotiations, sometimes by small and isolated but well-calculated encroachments on the rights of weaker powers, sometimes by commercial connections, she had been steadily pursuing her one object, the acquisition of a dominant influence in Europe. England was her hereditary and her most formidable opponent. She had been less consistent than France, and under the Stuarts she had abandoned the task which belonged to her, but since the Revolution her policy had been almost invariable. ‘Her true situation was that of a great maritime power, looked up to by the other powers of Europe as that to which the distressed should fly for assistance, whenever France unjustly attacked them.’ But it was impossible that England could maintain this independent and suspicious attitude which was so essential to the balance of power, if her material interests were inextricably blended with those of France. The object of France in making this treaty was very obvious. ‘She meant to draw this country into her scale of the balance of power, which could not but make it preponderate; to tie our hands and prevent us from engaging in any alliance with other powers.’ The policy of the Government was a direct reversal of the settled English policy since the Revolution, and especially of the policy of Chatham, who had declared in the strongest terms his rooted distrust and jealousy of France. How well founded was his judgment events had but too clearly shown. No two sovereigns could be more unlike than Lewis XIV. and Lewis XVI., but the traditions of French policy were so persistent that the mild and respectable sovereign who now occupied the French throne had fully rivalled the ambition, while he had attained much more than the success, of his predecessor.
Was it necessary to recall to Englishmen the perfidy with which. France had fostered the American revolt while duping England by the most pacific assurances, or the resolution and skill with which, when she had cast aside the mask, she had organised and sustained the coalition which deprived England of the most precious of her colonies? Since that date she had been pursuing the same ends by other means. The fortifications of Cherbourg were rising with a menacing rapidity. The French navy was eagerly pressed on. In Holland the party opposed to the House of Orange and the English alliance was openly assisted. By extending her commercial connections France was chiefly seeking to prepare for herself new political alliances, to sow dissension among her opponents, to fetter their action by entangling engagements. This was the true meaning of the special commercial privileges which had lately been given to America; of the treaty of alliance and commerce which had in 1785 been concluded with the Netherlands; of the commercial treaty which was being negotiated with Russia; of the eagerness of France to negotiate a treaty with England. In 1761 the father of the present minister had abandoned office because, on receiving secret intelligence of the ‘Family Compact’ between France and Spain, his colleagues were not prepared at once to resent it by a declaration of war against Spain. By one of the clauses of the commercial treaty, England was asked, for the first time, formally to recognise that Compact. The discouragement thrown by the treaty on Portugal would probably deprive England of her most important ally in the Mediterranean, and would possibly turn that ally into an enemy. Portuguese statesmen would argue that if a close commercial connection between neighbouring nations was so peculiarly valuable, Spain and Portugal were nearer to each other than France and England, and English policy might thus induce Portugal to throw herself into the arms of Spain and to add her weight to the already preponderating power of the House of Bourbon.
In spite of the arguments which were thus powerfully urged, the commercial treaty was carried through all its principal stages by majorities of more than two to one, and it excited no serious panic or opposition among the commercial classes. The favour, or at least acquiescence with which they accepted it contrasts remarkably with their violent opposition to the Irish propositions, and the contrast is the more remarkable as Ireland was certainly far less capable than France of rivalling the manufactures of England. The difference, however, is not inexplicable. English commerce, as we shall see, had already great and special legislative advantages in its dealings with Ireland, and Ireland could offer no market comparable to that which free trade with France would almost certainly open.
The War of the French Revolution, a few years later, tore to shreds the commercial treaty of Pitt, and by a strangely unfortunate fate the minister who had laboured so assiduously to lay the foundations of a lasting friendship between two great nations which had been for centuries divided was afterwards regarded by France as the most inveterate of her enemies. The merit of the conception of the French treaty belongs chiefly to Shelburne, but Pitt deserves much credit for the skill and courage with which he carried it into effect. If it did not during the few years of its existence produce all the advantages, it certainly produced little or nothing of the evils that were predicted, and it was an important element in the great increase of national prosperity. One of its most remarkable consequences was an immediate revival of the taste for French wines which had prevailed in England before the wars of the Revolution, and the importation of these wines, which in the year before the treaty was less than 100,000 gallons, rose in six years to 683,000 gallons.1
The Commercial Treaty was probably the most valuable result of the legislation of Pitt. That, however, to which his contemporaries appear to have attached the greatest importance was his legislation for the purpose of reducing the National Debt He found that debt on his accession to office increased to about 250,000,0001., which was two and a half times as large as the amount which Walpole thought it possible for England to support. He clearly saw that its magnitude was the chief permanent element of weakness in the nation, and that if it is pardonable or necessary for a nation in the struggle of a great war to throw a large portion of the cost upon posterity, it is at least unpardonable for a nation in time of peace to bequeath that burden undiminished to its children. In bringing forward a new loan in 1784, for the purpose of funding a great part of the unfunded debt, he said that ‘it had always been his idea that a fund at a high rate of interest was better for the country than those at low rates; that a 4 per cent, was preferable to a 3 per cent., and a 5 per cent, better than a 4 per cent.’ ‘The reason of this,’ he continued, ‘was that in all operations of finance we should have in our view a plan of redemption. Gradually to redeem and to extinguish our debt ought ever to be the wise pursuit of Government, and every scheme and operation of finance should be directed to that end.’1 In accordance with these maxims it was one of his first objects, as soon as the finances of the country would allow of it, to provide a new sinking fund for the redemption of the debt.
In 1786 he already found it possible to take considerable steps in this direction. Partly through the new taxation he had imposed, partly through the normal increase of wealth in a period of peace and great manufacturing prosperity, but partly also through the improved management of the revenue, and the great diminution of smuggling resulting from recent legislation, the alarming deficit which had existed two years before was removed, and there was already a surplus of revenue exceeding 900,0001. Pitt determined by slight additional taxation to raise the surplus to 1,000,0001, and to apply this sum annually to the redemption of the debt.
The earliest considerable measure for the reduction of the National Debt had been the Sinking Fund, which was first proposed by Lord Stanhope, and was established by Walpole in 1716. Previous to this date a number of particular taxes and duties, limited in their duration, had been charged with the payment of the interest of particular loans; these taxes were then made perpetual and brought into three funds, called the Aggregate, the South Sea, and the General Funds; and as they amounted annually to a larger sum than the annual interest of the debt, it was provided that the surplus should be collected into a fourth fund called the Sinking Fund, and applied inviolably to the payment of the National Debt. This fund was much augmented by the reduction of the interest from five to four per cent, which was effected in 1727, and by a further reduction to three per cent, which was gradually effected by two measures that were carried in 1749 and 1750.
It is now well understood that the maintenance of a special and separate fund for the payment of the National Debt is a mere matter of arrangement or political convenience, and that the capacity of a nation for reducing in any year its national debt depends exclusively on the existence and the amount of surplus revenue over its charges. Every scheme of liquidation must be a delusion if it does not presuppose an annual revenue greater than the annual expenditure. To allot year by year a definite sum to the reduction of the debt is a wise policy as long as that sum consists of surplus revenue, but if the revenue is below the necessary charges or is only equal to them it is absolutely senseless. In that case it is necessary to contract a new debt in order to pay off a portion of the old one. If the new debt is raised on the same terms as the old one the country will lose the necessary expenses incurred in launching the new loan, but in other respects the financial situation will remain unchanged. If the country borrows at higher interest than the old debt it will become to that extent poorer by the transaction. The only circumstance under which it can be advantageous to borrow in order to pay off an old debt is when it is possible to raise the new loan on better terms than the old one.
These propositions, however, which now appear very elementary, were not recognised in England in the eighteenth century. There was a strange belief, even in the time of Walpole, that by maintaining the Sinking Fund inviolate it would accumulate at compound interest while the new debts that might be incurred would accumulate only at simple interest, and that it might therefore be a wise policy to borrow even at high interest rather than divert the Sinking Fund from its purpose.1 How far Walpole himself held these notions is very doubtful. The finances under his management were in a thoroughly healthy condition, and the formation of the Sinking Fund and the exaggerated belief in its efficacy at least strengthened public credit and enabled him to carry into effect his really valuable measure of reducing the interest on the debt. For some years, however, the policy of applying the surplus resulting from the three funds that have been mentioned, after the payment of the interest of the National Debt, to the diminution of its principal was steadily pursued even in years when the other taxes were not sufficient to cover the expenditure of the country. Between 1716 and 1728, 6,168,7321. was actually borrowed, while the sum paid off through the operation of the Sinking Fund was only 6,648,000l. As we have seen, however, in a former part of this work, Walpole soon discarded this useless and cumbrous system. First of all the interest of the new loans was thrown upon the Sinking Fund. In 1733, 500,000l. was taken from the Sinking Fund for the supplies of the year. In 1734, 1,200,000l. was taken from it. In 1735 it was anticipated and mortgaged.2
In 1771 and 1772 Dr. Price, an eminent Nonconformist minister, who during many succeeding years held a prominent place among the political writers of England, published his ‘Treatise on Reversionary Annuities’ and his more elaborate ‘Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the National Debt,’ which were destined to exercise a profound and most singular influence on English financial policy. He urged that a certain sum should be annually set aside for the redemption of the National Debt; that it should be employed in purchasing stock in the market at the current prices; that the interest and dividends of the stock so purchased should, in addition to the original annual sum, be invariably applied to the purchase of new stock, and that in this manner a fund should be formed which would increase by compound interest at a continually accelerating speed and would enable the nation at a very small expense to discharge the whole of its debt.
The essential characteristic, he maintained, of this scheme, was that it should be pursued without interruption, in times of war as well as in times of peace, in times of deficit as well as in times of surplus, and in that case, by the virtues of compound interest, it would produce effects which seemed absolutely magical. ‘A State,’ he said, ‘may without difficulty redeem all its debts by borrowing money for that purpose at an equal or even any higher interest than the debts bear; and without providing any other funds than such small ones as shall from year to year become necessary to pay the interest of the sums borrowed.’ ‘Let a State be supposed to run in debt two millions annually, for which it pays four per cent. interest; in seventy years a debt of 140 millions would be incurred. But an appropriation of 400,000l. per annum, if employed in the manner of the Sinking Fund, would at the end of this term leave the nation beforehand six millions.’ ‘Let us suppose a nation to be capable of setting apart the annual sum of 200,000l. as a fund for keeping the debts it is continually incurring in a course of redemption. … A debt of 200,000l. discharged the first year will disengage for the public an annuity of 10,000l. If this annuity, instead of being spent on current services, is added to the fund, and both employed in paying debts, an annuity of 10,500l. will be disengaged the second year, or of 20,500l. in both years. And this again added to the fund the third year, will increase it to 220,500l. with which an annuity will be then disengaged of 11,025l., and the sum of the discharged annuities will be 31,525l., which added to the fund the fourth year will increase it to 231,525l., and enable it then to disengage an annuity of 11,576l. 5s. and render the sum of the disengaged annuities in four years 43,101l. 5s. Let any one proceed in this way and he may satisfy himself that the original fund, together with the sum of the annuities disengaged, will increase faster and faster every year till in eighty-six years the fund becomes 13,283,414l. and the sum of the disengaged annuities 13,083,414l. The full value, therefore, at five per cent, of an annuity of 13,083,414l. will have been paid in eighty-six years, that is, very nearly 262,000,000l. of debt. And consequently it appears that, though the State had been all along adding every year to its debts three millions, that is, though in the time supposed it had contracted a debt of 258,000,000l., it would have been more than discharged at no greater expense than an annual saving of 200,000l.‘1
It would lead us too far to enter into an elaborate examination of the now universally acknowledged fallacies that underlie these reasonings. It will be sufficient here to say that the interest of the capitalised stock devoted to the payment of the debt is not a spontaneous product, but is exclusively derived from taxation appropriated to the purpose, and that therefore it is by taxation, and taxation alone, that the debt is paid. The theories of Price, however, though clearly refuted at the time by a few obscure and almost forgotten writers,2 were widely accepted, and when Pitt resolved upon the reduction of the National Debt he entered into correspondence with Price, received from Price three separate plans for accomplishing his object, and adopted one of them with scarcely any change, though without any public recognition of the true author.3 His Bill for reducing the debt was introduced in 1786. It appropriated an annual surplus of a million to the purchase of stock. The interest of the stock so purchased was to be applied in a similar manner, and to this fund were to be added the taxes appropriated for the payment of annuities as soon as the terms of those annuities had expired. This Sinking Fund was to be vested in six Commissioners of high rank, and every legislative precaution was taken to prevent it from being diverted to any other purpose. When the annual income received by the Commissioners amounted to four millions, it was no longer to be necessarily applied to the Sinking Fund, but remained at the disposal of Parliament.4
The scheme passed with very little criticism. No member of the Opposition appears to have clearly seen the fallacy of its calculations, and public opinion long looked upon the Sinking Fund as the central pillar of English finance. In time of peace, when it was possible to reduce the debt out of a surplus, the financial policy of Pitt seemed very successful, and the process of reduction did undoubtedly proceed with a slightly accelerated rapidity. 7,231,508l. of the funded debt had been discharged in the twenty-six years that followed the Peace of Utrecht; 6,013,640l. in the eight years from 1748 to 1756, which followed the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle; 10,996,016l. in the twelve years that followed the Peace of Paris. In the ten years of peace from 1783 to 1793 which followed the American War the debt was reduced by 10,242,100l.1 In 1792 a new step was taken in the same direction by a measure providing that there should be a sinking fund of 1 per cent. attached to every fresh loan. But soon the great French War began, and it became necessary to borrow largely every year at a time when the funds were greatly depressed, and the credit of the country was strained to the utmost. Yet still the system of the Sinking Fund was maintained. The nation annually borrowed vast sums at high interest, and applied a part of them to pay off a debt which bore a low interest, and the absolutely useless and unrequited loss resulting from this process in the course of the war can have been little less than 20,000,000l.2
There is something very singular and very melancholy in this part of the administration of Pitt. By his contemporaries he was generally regarded as the greatest of financial ministers. Godolphin and Walpole had never reached, Peel and Gladstone have certainly not surpassed, the authority and popularity he enjoyed; and the supreme end which he set before himself in his financial policy was the redemption of the National Debt. In the great speech in which he introduced his plan for its reduction, he predicted that the Sinking Fund would so reduce it that the exigencies of war would never again raise it to its former enormous height, and he looked upon this as his chief title to fame. ‘This plan,’ he said, ‘which I have now the honour to bring forward, has long been the wish and hope of all men, and I am proud to flatter myself that my name may be inscribed on that firm column now about to be raised to national faith and national prosperity.’1 In the same spirit, in his picture at Windsor, he is represented holding in his hand a scroll with the inscription, ‘Redemption of the National Debt.’2 Yet the minister who made these promises is the minister in all English history who has thrown the heaviest burden upon posterity. The National Debt at the end of the American War was about 250,000,000l.; at the Peace of Amiens, in 1802, it was 574,000,000l.; at the end of the French War of Pitt, it considerably exceeded 800,000,000l.
An immense proportion of this overwhelming debt was due to financial maladministration. I do not now inquire how far it would have been possible by a different course of policy to have avoided the French War, and thus saved the enormous burden which it entailed. I do not inquire whether the vast subsidies which were so lavishly scattered might not have been more skilfully and at the same time more sparingly bestowed. Putting these questions wholly aside, the case against the financial administration of Pitt is overwhelming. During the first four or five years of the war he committed the fatal blunder of leaving the taxation of the country almost unchanged, and raising almost the whole sum required for the war in the form of loans. In this manner, in the very beginning of the contest, at a time when the resources of the country were still untouched, he hampered the nation with an enormous debt, which made it impossible for it by any efforts to balance its expenditure.3 On the other hand, in the first six years of the war, he raised by loans no less than 108,500,000l., and he raised them on terms so unfavourable that they added nearly 200,000,000l. to the capital of the National Debt.4
The effect of this measure on the permanent prosperity of the country can hardly be better expressed than in the words of Dr. Hamilton. Writing in 1813, that economist noticed that at that time the amount of taxes was about four times what it had been at the commencement of the war, and he adds, ‘The whole amount of taxes upon the average of the last three years, after deductions, is about 65,000,000l.—a sum more than sufficient to defray the expense of the war, enormous as it is, but not sufficient to provide at the same time for the interest of the debt formerly contracted. Our present national revenue would, therefore, have been sufficient to support without limitation of time the expense of the present war, on the scale it is conducted, if the taxation during former wars and the early period of the present one had been equal to the expenditure.’1
The finance of Pitt has not been without its defenders, but their arguments seem to me to amount to little more than a palliation. Montague and Godolphin had raised the sums which they required on the principle of paying a rate of interest for each loan equal to the market value of money at the time. They raised money at par, paying 5, 6, 7, and even 8 per cent., and the result was that in time of peace Walpole and Pelham were able gradually to reduce the interest to 3 per cent., diminishing at each reduction the national burden. Pitt, as we have seen, had once expressed in strong terms his approval of this policy, but his own course was wholly different. He raised his loans mainly in the 3 per cents., obtaining sums which were proportionately below the nominal value, and the result was that with returning peace and rising funds the burden of interest remained unchanged. It has been argued, however, with much knowledge and ability, that the condition of the money market was such that Pitt would have failed in attempting to negotiate such large loans as he desired at a higher nominal rate of interest, or at least that the terms on which he could have done so would have been very burdensome. The fatal error of raising so small a sum by taxation during the first years of the war has been extenuated, on the ground of the unpopularity of the war and the distress occasioned by defective harvests, and by a commercial crisis of unusual severity. But the ablest defender of Pitt has candidly acknowledged that two great miscalculations profoundly influenced his financial policy. One of them was the belief, which he expressed both in public and in private, that the resources of France had been ruined by the first shock of the Revolution, and that the war which had begun was likely to be a very short one. The other was his firm conviction that in the Sinking Fund he had found a rapid and infallible instrument for reducing the National Debt.1 After a few years, it is true, the magnitude of the problem became evident, and the financial ability of Pitt was displayed in the new taxes he devised. But the error of the early years of the war was not and could not be retrieved, and its consequences are felt to the present hour.
Such, then, appear to me to have been the true outlines of the financial administration of Pitt. He displayed an extraordinary aptitude in mastering and explaining the intricate details of national finance; he adopted and assimilated at a very early date some of the best economical teaching of his time; he rendered great service to the country in simplifying and reforming the tariff, readjusting the whole system of taxation, abolishing much wasteful and corrupt expenditure, and extending commercial liberty. He found the finances of England in a state of the most deplorable and disastrous depression, and in a few years he made them the admiration of the world. But history, which judges statesmen mainly by the broad lines of their policy, and the nett result of their lives, must also pronounce that his financial administration was marked by grave errors, and that those errors, if measured by the magnitude of their consequences, have greatly outweighed its merits.
Passing from this field to a more general review of the policy of Pitt, there are two things with which we shall be especially struck, the singularly wise and enlightened views which he took of the chief home questions of his time, and the extreme paucity of his actual achievements. In 1787, it is true, he joined with North in opposing and rejecting a motion of Beaufoy for repealing the Test and Corporation Acts; but on the questions of parliamentary reform, of slavery, and of Catholic emancipation, his views were of the most liberal type. Yet although he exercised for many years an unrivalled authority in Parliament, and although on these questions he was in substantial agreement with Fox, he did little or nothing, and left the accomplishment of these tasks to his successors. We have already seen how his father had urged that a serious parliamentary reform could not be much longer safely postponed, and had suggested that it should consist of a large addition to the number of county members, and the establishment of triennial parliaments. We have seen, too, that Pitt himself had taken up the question in 1782 under the second Rockingham Ministry, and in 1783 under the Ministry of the Coalition. On the first occasion he contented himself with moving for a committee to inquire into the state of parliamentary representation, but on the second he introduced a definite plan of which the chief features were the disfranchisement of any borough in which the majority of voters were proved to be corrupt, and an addition to the representation of the counties and of the metropolis. The eloquence with which he advocated these measures made a deep impression upon the House and the country, and created strong and general hopes that on his advent to power he would speedily carry them into effect.
Almost the first measure of his administration, however, was very inauspicious. His conduct about the Westminster scrutiny showed that he was capable of employing and even straining against an adversary one of the worst abuses of the existing constitution, and it is by far the most conspicuous of his very few tactical mistakes.
Amid the general and splendid triumphs of the election of 1784 there had been one partial reverse. The Westminster election excited an interest which attached to no other single contest, for Westminster was regarded as holding among boroughs the same sort of precedence as Yorkshire among counties, and Fox himself was one of the candidates. All the influence of the Court and of the Government was employed against him, but his supporters were many and very powerful. The Duke of Portland, the nominal head of the Rockingham party, and his brother-in-law, the Duke of Devonshire, occupied great palaces within the borough. Georgiana, the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire, and her sister Viscountess Duncannon, were among the most active and most successful canvassers for the Whigs. The Prince of Wales himself threw his influence without restriction and almost without disguise into the same scale, and Carlton House became one of the chief centres of Fox's friends.
There were three candidates, Lord Hood and Sir Cecil Wray on the side of the Government, and Fox on the side of the Opposition. It soon appeared that Hood, who carried with him the reputation of his great naval services, was the indisputable favourite with the constituency, which had in the last Parliament been represented by Rodney; but the contest between Fox and Wray was obstinate, and for a long time doubtful. The poll was kept open for the full legal period of forty days. At the end of the second day Fox passed Wray by 139 votes, but Wray soon recovered what he had lost, and continued in a majority till the twenty-third day, when he was again passed. On the fortieth day Lord Hood was at the head of the poll, but Fox had defeated Wray by 236 votes.
The triumph was not a very brilliant one, but it was doubly valued on account of the general disaster of the party. There was a great procession to Devonshire House, in which the ostrich feathers of the Prince of Wales were borne before the newly elected member. The streets were illuminated. There were splendid festivals at Carlton House, and the Prince of Wales appeared at a dinner given by Mrs. Crewe, in the buff and blue uniform of the Whigs, and gave the toast, ‘True Blue and Mrs. Crewe.’ But in the meantime Fox was not returned, for on the last day of the poll Sir Cecil Wray and thirteen electors presented a paper to the High Bailiff who was the returning officer, complaining of irregularities in the election, and demanding a scrutiny, and the High Bailiff, who was strongly opposed to Fox, consented to grant it.
It is now generally admitted that he was wrong, though it is doubtful whether his conduct was contrary to the strict letter of the law. Scrutinies, indeed, had often been granted by returning officers, but they had been granted before the full legal period of the election had terminated, and they had invariably been closed before the day on which the law made the writ returnable. On that day it surely ought to have been returned, and the jurisdiction of the returning officer should have been at an end. If there was any doubt about the validity of the election, a committee of the House of Commons, constituted under Grenville's Act, and empowered to examine witnesses on oath, was the proper tribunal to try it. Could it be tolerated that a mere returning officer—perhaps, as in the present case, a notorious partisan—who had no power to compel the attendance of witnesses or to examine them upon oath, should take upon himself the functions of a committee of the House of Commons, and by a protracted inquiry deprive elected members of their seats, and constituencies of their representatives, for months or even years after the meeting of Parliament? If the mere suspicion of bad votes was sufficient to justify such a scrutiny, it would be easy to disfranchise for whole sessions all the most populous cities in the kingdom. The conduct of the High Bailiff was contrary to the uniform practice of elections in England. When returning officers granted scrutinies, they had always made it a condition that they should terminate on the day on which the writs ought to be returned. When scrutinies were demanded which would have extended beyond the specified date they had always been refused, and the House had never censured the refusal. If the law had not in express terms limited the discretion of the returning officers, there could at least be very little dispute about what course precedent and the analogies of the constitution prescribed.
Fox was not excluded from Parliament, for he was returned for the small Scotch borough of Kirkwall, and he conducted his own case with extraordinary eloquence and with a great superiority of argument, while Pitt, to the astonishment of many of his friends, fully justified the returning officer. A petition demanding an immediate return of the writ was supported by Fox in one of the greatest speeches ever made before Parliament. In the course of his argument he mentioned that, according to the lowest estimate, the scrutiny was likely to cost him 18,000l. Pitt answered in a strain of most supercilious and arrogant invective; described his adversary as a ‘political apostate,’ who, by pretending to be the butt of ministerial persecution, was striving to excite public compassion in order to regain the popularity he had lost, and defeated the motion for taking the petition into consideration by 195 to 117. The Higb Bailiff was then directed to proceed with the scrutiny ‘with all practicable despatch,’ but in the beginning of the next session, though eight months had elapsed since the election, the scrutiny was only complete in two out of the seven parishes into which Westminster was divided, and it had scarcely affected the relative positions of the competitors. A motion was then introduced calling upon the High Bailiff to make an immediate return, but Pitt again opposed it and insisted on the continuation of the scrutiny, which was likely, however it ended, to ruin his opponent. But it soon became evident that on this question he could not command the House. His majority dwindled to 39; on the second division it sank to 9, and at last, on March 3, 1785, he was defeated by a majority of 38. An immediate return was ordered. Fox took his seat for Westminster without further molestation, and he afterwards obtained 2,000l. damages in an action at law against the High Bailiff. The Government succeeded, indeed, in defeating by a large majority a motion for expunging the proceedings of Parliament in the preceding session on the subject, but on the whole question there could be no doubt that Pitt had suffered a damaging and humiliating defeat.
It left a serious stain upon his character. His conduct and his language appeared to show that he was more capable than might have been expected of acting under the influence of vindictive and ungenerous feelings, though much allowance must be made for the anxiety of a minister to support his subordinate, and for the difficulty of receding from a false path to which, in a period of intense party excitement, he had rashly committed himself. The contest greatly increased the personal animosity which divided the two great rivals, and it shook the confidence of parliamentary reformers in the sincerity of Pitt. It had, however, one valuable constitutional result. Though Pitt maintained to the last that the conduct of the High Bailiff had been perfectly legal, he agreed to introduce an enacting measure preventing such an incident from recurring, and at the same time diminishing the great evil of too protracted elections. By this law the poll was closed at the end of the fifteenth day. If a scrutiny were demanded it might be granted, but all writs must be returned after a general election on or before the day on which they were returnable, after a by-election within thirty days at furthest after the closing of the poll.1
The question of parliamentary representation was raised by Alderman Sawbridge soon after the meeting of the new Parliament in 1784, and Pitt, while asking for a postponement, declared in the strongest terms that his opinions and his intentions were completely unchanged by his accession to office. He reiterated his belief that the faults which had lost America to England were due mainly to the condition of the representative body, which did not reflect the true sentiments of the people, and he promised at a very early date to introduce a Reform Bill. On April 18, 1785, he redeemed his pledge, and at the same time very fully explained his views on the subject. The scheme which he proposed was a very singular one, and it differed in some important respects from any which had hitherto been before the public. It was only to come gradually into operation, and two essential parts of it were that the number of members in the House should be unchanged, and that no constituency should be disfranchised except by its own consent. Pitt proposed that thirty-six decayed boroughs returning seventy-two members should be disfranchised by their own voluntary application, receiving a compensation in money, and that the seventy-two members should be added to the representation of the counties and the metropolis. A sum of a million pounds was to be set apart as a compensation fund; it was to be divided into thirty-six parts, and each borough, on the application of two-thirds of its electors, was to be entitled to one share, which was to be distributed by a special committee of the House of Commons, in due proportion, among the several persons interested in the borough. If the sum was not at first sufficiently large to induce the decayed boroughs to apply for disfranchisement, it was to be suffered to accumulate till the temptation became irresistible.
When this process had been accomplished and seventy-two seats had been transferred to the county and metropolitan representation, Pitt proposed that a second sum should be set apart which should be devoted to purchasing on similar terms the franchise of any other boroughs which either were or might hereafter be decayed, and that the seats so acquired should be transferred to populous unrepresented towns which petitioned Parliament for representation. This part of the system was intended to be permanent, adapting itself to all future local fluctuations of population, working spontaneously, preventing the possibility of the aggregation of political power in decayed places, and securing a steady but gradual transfer of power to the chief centres of population. In addition to the enlargement of the electoral body which would result from the enfranchisement of the great towns, Pitt proposed an increase of the county constituencies by the enfranchisement of copyholders.
This curious plan appears to have been elaborated in conjunction with the Yorkshire reformers, and it was introduced in a long and brilliant speech. It met, however, with very little favour. The King was strongly opposed to the whole project of parliamentary reform, although he promised Pitt that he would not use his influence against it.1 The Cabinet was by no means unanimous in its favour, and Pitt did not take the only step that would have given the measure a real chance of success. He introduced it as the head of the Ministry, but he never gave the smallest intimation that if defeated he would resign his post. The Opposition were exceedingly divided on the subject. North, and probably most of the members of his wing of the Coalition, were opposed to all parliamentary reform, and among the Whigs the same view was adopted by Burke, Portland, and Fitzwilliam. Fox, Sheridan, and most of the Whigs were decided reformers, and they fully approved of the disfranchisement of decayed boroughs and of a large increase of county representation. But although Fox voted for the introduction of the Bill he was implacably hostile to the purchase of borough seats, which was its leading feature. The franchise, he maintained, was not a property but a trust, and he declared that he never would consent to purchase from a majority of the electors what belonged equally to all. The measure was defeated in its very first stage. Leave to introduce it was refused by 248 votes to 174.
The principle of purchasing disfranchisement with money was afterwards applied by Pitt on a large scale when carrying the Irish Union. Pitt acknowledged that it was the ‘tender part’ of the Bill of 1785, but he pleaded that it was absolutely necessary if any reform was to be carried. It was a notorious fact that the small boroughs were generally and openly treated as saleable property, and, except under the strongest stress of public opinion, a parliament which was full of representatives or owners of boroughs was never likely to consent to their uncompensated extinction. It is certain that no violent public opinion on the subject existed, and that the reform spirit had greatly gone down. Like all nations among whom the political sentiment is highly developed, the English have always cared greatly for practical grievances but very little for theoretical anomalies. During the latter stages of the American war, when an unpopular ministry commanded a great parliamentary majority, and when disaster after disaster was falling upon the country, the demand for a change in the representative system had grown very formidable. But the election of 1784 had placed in power a statesman who was extremely popular. It had been carried with very little corruption. The country was governed in substantial accordance with its wishes, and it was rapidly regaining its former prosperity. Not more than eight petitions were presented in favour of reform when Pitt moved the introduction of his Bill, and when the measure was defeated there was no serious expression of resentment or regret.
Pitt acted on the question very characteristically. A distinguishing feature of his character was his extreme love of power without any corresponding enthusiasm for particular measures. When it was a question of maintaining his position no man showed himself more determined and inflexible. When it was a question of carrying out a particular line of policy no one was more sensitive to opposition and more ready to modify his course. He had made the question of parliamentary reform peculiarly his own. He had described in the strongest and most eloquent terms the dangers arising from the existing defects in the representative system. He had pledged himself as minister to introduce a scheme for reform, and he had now fulfilled his promise. With all the pomp and splendour of his eloquence he proposed a plan which he believed would be final and satisfactory, but it had been defeated in its very first stage. He found that the question was in a high degree difficult and dangerous, and that it was one on which public opinion was very languid, and he at once decided upon his course. From this time he completely cast it aside, and to the day of his death no parliamentary reformer could ever obtain from him the smallest assistance. The great and sudden increase of manufacturing industry, producing new agglomerations of population, rapidly aggravated the anomalies of the representative system, but for some years neither party in Parliament again stirred the question of reform. At length, in 1790, Henry Flood introduced a plan for increasing the county representation; but Pitt, while declaring that his own sentiments were unchanged, pronounced the time to be inopportune, and moved and carried an adjournment. After the great French war had broken out, the question was taken up by Grey with the support of the small remnant of the Whigs, and was introduced in 1792, 1793, and 1797; but Pitt, now supported by an overwhelming weight of public opinion, opposed all constitutional changes during the war. It was not until forty-six years after the motion of Pitt that parliamentary reform was again introduced by a minister, and when it triumphed in 1832 it was through an explosion of popular feeling which brought the country to the very verge of revolution.
Pitt cannot, I think, under the circumstances, be very seriously blamed for having abandoned the question, though a man of stronger feelings and convictions, exercising for so many years so great an authority over English politics, would have certainly renewed his efforts and have risked something in the cause. Pitt, however, did much more than simply abandon it. Rightly or wrongly, he was so alarmed at the danger of anarchy springing from the French Revolution, that for some years he maintained what was little less than a reign of terror in England directed against all who ventured to advocate any form of democratic reform or to maintain any independent political organisations in the country. And in Ireland his policy was still more questionable. Great as were the abuses of the English parliamentary system they were exceeded by those which existed in Ireland, and in that country the question of parliamentary reform was one of vital and pressing importance. At one moment the idea of supporting a reform of the Irish Parliament seems to have met with favour in his eyes, but it was speedily abandoned. He made it his object to maintain that body in a condition of complete subordination, and accordingly the Government of this great reformer steadily resisted all attempts at parliamentary reform, and finally destroyed the Irish Parliament by the most lavish corruption in the parliamentary history of the empire.
His conduct about the slave trade was very similar. The horrors of that trade had at last begun to touch the conscience of the English people, and Pitt vehemently and eloquently urged as a moral duty its abolition. For some years, at least, he was undoubtedly sincere in doing so. Wilberforce was one of his most intimate friends, and it was Pitt who recommended him to undertake the cause of abolition. When Wilberforce was struck down by serious illness in 1788, Pitt promised that if the illness ended fatally he would himself undertake the cause. He supported with all his influence the inquiry into the abuses of the trade and the Act of 1788 for mitigating the hardships of the Middle Passage. He himself introduced a motion for abolition; advocated immediate, as distinguished from gradual abolition, and spoke repeatedly in a strain of the highest eloquence on the subject. Nothing could be more liberal, more enlightened, more philanthropic, than the sentiments he expressed, and his speech in 1792 was perhaps the greatest he ever delivered. But Thurlow, Dundas, and Lord Liverpool in his Cabinet were advocates of the slave trade, and they were supported by the King. The French Revolution and the insurrection in St. Domingo cooled the public feeling on the subject, and Pitt's zeal manifestly declined. He never, it is true, abandoned the cause; he spoke uniformly and eloquently in its favour, but he never would make it one on which his ministry depended. He suffered Dundas to take a leading part against the abolition. He suffered the cause to be defeated year after year by men who would have never dared to risk his serious displeasure, and he at the same time exerted all his influence with the abolitionists to induce them to abstain from pressing the question.
This, however, was not all. From the beginning of the war, the complete naval ascendency of England almost annihilated the slave trade to the French and Dutch colonies, and when those colonies passed into the possession of England the momentous question arose whether the trade which had so long been suspended should be suffered to revive. It was in the power of Pitt by an Order of Council to prevent it, but he refused to take this course. It was a political and commercial object to strengthen these new acquisitions, and as they had so long been prevented from supplying themselves with negroes they were ready to take more than usual. The result was that, in consequence of the British conquests and under the shelter of the British flag, the slave trade became more active than ever. Wilberforce declared, in January 1802, that it had been ‘carried, especially of late years, to a greater extent than at any former period of our history.’ English capital flowed largely into it. It was computed that under the administration of Pitt the English slave trade more than doubled, and that the number of negroes imported annually in English ships rose from 25,000 to 57,000.1
This continued without abatement for about seven years. The cause of abolition had lost much of its popularity, and in 1800, 1801, 1802, and in 1803, Wilberforce thought it wise to abstain from bringing it forward in Parliament. In 1804, however, it was determined to renew the struggle, and circumstances had become in some respects more favourable. The Irish members, introduced into Parliament by the Union, were strongly in favour of the suppression of the slave trade, and a few of the West Indian planters, fearing the competition of the newly acquired colonies, began to desire its suspension. In July 1804, Wilberforce, encouraged by some favourable divisions in the House of Commons, desired to bring in a resolution forbidding any further importation of slaves into the conquered colonies, but Pitt prevented him from doing so by engaging to issue a royal proclamation for that purpose. For more than a year, however, and without any real reason being assigned, the fulfilment of this promise was delayed, and during that delay thousands, if not tens of thousands, of negroes were imported. It was not until September 1805 that the promised Order of Council was issued which first seriously checked the trade, by forbidding English ships to bring slaves into the Dutch colonies.1
It is but justice to Pitt to remember that the two most illustrious advocates of abolition continued to the last to believe in him. Wilberforce was sometimes dubious and shaken; he confessed that the indifference shown to the cause in the Ministerial ranks had ‘sickened him of public life and of public men;’ he mentions the ‘significant winks and shrugs’ with which it was intimated to him that he was too easily deceived; but his friendship with Pitt, though it was sometimes clouded, was never destroyed, and after the death of Pitt he expressed in the strongest and most solemn terms his full belief in his truthfulness and integrity. Clarkson also, while acknowledging that the sincerity of Pitt ‘had been generally questioned,’ entirely refused to believe that the minister who had been the most powerful and useful supporter of the anti-slavery cause in its earlier stages ever in his heart abandoned it. Clarkson was not, like Wilberforce, an intimate friend of Pitt, but he too had passed under the spell of his personal influence, and he ascribed the failure of the cause during the later days of Pitt solely to the obstacles which the minister had to encounter in his Cabinet, in Parliament, and at Court.1
Much weight must be given to these testimonies. It is probable that the real explanation of the conduct of Pitt is to be found in his desire to subordinate the whole question to commercial and military considerations during a dangerous and exhausting war, and also in his uniform and characteristic desire to avoid all questions which might bring him into collision with the King, outrun public opinion, or embarrass or imperil his political position. The fact, however, remains that for seventeen years after the most powerful minister England had ever known had branded the slave trade as immoral and detestable, and had advocated its immediate abolition, it not only continued without restraint, but also enormously developed. There is probably little or no exaggeration in the statement of a most competent authority on the question, who has declared that ‘an impartial judgment must now regard the death of Mr. Pitt as the necessary precursor of the liberation of Africa,’ and has added that, ‘had he perilled his political existence on the issue, no rational man can doubt that an amount of guilt, of misery, of disgrace, and of loss would have been spared to England and to the civilised world such as no other man ever had it in his power to arrest.’12
At length Pitt died and Fox arrived at power, and he at once made the abolition of the slave trade a main object of his policy. The war was still raging. The King and royal family were still hostile, and, like Pitt, Fox had opponents of abolition in his Cabinet; but, unlike Pitt, he was so earnest in the cause that his followers well knew that he would risk and sacrifice power rather than not carry it. The change produced by this persuasion was immediate. A measure, introduced by the Attorney-General in his official capacity, was speedily carried, forbidding British subjects from taking any part in supplying foreign powers, whether hostile or neutral, with slaves. The employment of British vessels, seamen, and capital in the foreign slave trade was absolutely prohibited. No foreign slave ship was allowed to be fitted out in British ports, and the Order of Council which had been issued preventing the importation of negroes into the Dutch settlements was ratified and extended. Another Act, designed to prevent any sudden temporary increase of the British slave trade that might arise either from the restriction of the foreign trade or from the prospect of the speedy suppression of the British trade, forbade the employment in the traffic of any British shipping not already engaged in it. A Resolution, moved by Fox, was then carried through both Houses, pledging Parliament to proceed with all practicable expedition to the total abolition of the British slave trade, and an address was presented to the King requesting him to negotiate with foreign powers for the purpose of obtaining the total abolition of the slave trade. Fox died almost immediately after, but Lord Grenville, who succeeded him, lost no time in fulfilling the pledge, and the measure which Pitt during so many years had refrained from carrying, was carried in 1807, with little or no difficulty, by one of the weakest ministries of the nineteenth century.
The Irish policy of Pitt will be fully examined in another portion of this work, and we shall find, I think, that it exhibits in an aggravated form the worst features of his English policy. It is a history of eminently wise and enlightened ideas abandoned at the first sign of difficulty or unpopularity, deliberately sacrificed whenever they appeared likely to weaken or embarrass the Ministry. This was the character of his policy about commercial liberty. This was the character of his policy about Catholic emancipation, which has had consequences of evil that it is scarcely possible to over-estimate. It is not too much to say that the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam at a time when the hopes of the Catholics were raised to the highest point, and when the Irish Parliament was perfectly ready to carry Catholic emancipation, was the chief cause of the rebellion of 1798, and that the weakness, if not treachery, with which Pitt, after the Union, abandoned the Catholic cause, created resentments which are felt to the present hour.
It must not, however, be forgotten that the legislative union with Ireland is the one great domestic measure of Pitt's ministry that remains, and Lord Macaulay, whose estimate of Pitt's Irish policy is widely different from mine, has pronounced its original conception to be Pitt's chief title to fame. ‘It is only just to his memory,’ writes Macaulay, ‘to say that Pitt formed a scheme of policy so grand and so simple, so righteous and so humane, that it would alone entitle him to a high place among statesmen. He determined to make Ireland one kingdom with England, and at the same time to relieve the Catholic laity from civil disabilities, and to grant a public maintenance to the Roman Catholic clergy. Had he been able to carry these noble designs into effect the Union would have been a union indeed.’
It appears to me scarcely possible to form a more erroneous judgment. A legislative union had long been a familiar subject of political discussion, and Pitt, like Fox and almost all the more conspicuous Irish politicians, had long seen the necessity of carrying Catholic emancipation. That measure had year after year been debated in the Irish Parliament, and the favourite argument against it had been the danger of Catholic preponderance in a separate Parliament. The payment of the priests had been also more than once discussed in the Irish Parliament. The three measures were in fact among the commonplaces of Irish political speculation, and the idea of combining them was so far from being a sign of extraordinary original genius, that it could hardly have been missed by the most incapable statesman. The Union was a measure which gave great scope for statesmanship, but this was not in its conception but in its execution. Had the extinction of the Irish Legislature been effected without exciting sentiments of resentment and humiliation in the country; had the difficult task of bringing the Catholics within the circle of the Constitution been promptly, prudently, and successfully accomplished, the measure would indeed have been a feat of the highest statesmanship. But judged by such tests as these the legislative union of 1800 was the most miserable of failures. Carried by gross corruption, at a time when the country was under martial law, without a dissolution, and in opposition to evident manifestations of popular opinion, it arrayed against itself almost all the genius, patriotism, and virtue of Ireland, and it left enduring animosities behind it. One class was, however, in some degree in its favour. Hopes amounting to a pledge had been held out to the Catholic priests that the Union would be immediately followed by emancipation. At the time when Pitt authorised these communications to be made he was perfectly aware of the sentiments of the King on the subject, and he communicated with the Catholics without the knowledge of the King, and without having taken any measure to secure the accomplishment of his pledge. There is no doubt that he sincerely desired to fulfil it, but when the Union was carried he found the obstacles to emancipation greater than he supposed. The King's mind especially was so set against it that the mere agitation of it produced a temporary return of his insanity. Very reluctantly, and probably chiefly under the influence of Lord Grenville, Pitt recognised the plain and stringent obligation of honour, and resigned his office, but a month had not passed before he promised the King that he would abandon the cause of the Catholics, and when he returned to power it was as a determined adversary of their emancipation. From that day their alienation from England was complete.
The evil effects of Pitt's Irish policy it seems to me difficult to exaggerate. In Ireland he had to deal with social and political conditions wholly different from those to which he was accustomed, and he conspicuously failed to master them. In the French Revolution he had to deal with a new and unexampled phenomenon, and it will now be scarcely disputed that he totally misunderstood its character and its importance. In the conduct of the war, the strength of his character and the confidence he inspired proved of great value; but he had nothing of his father's skill, nothing of that intuitive perception of character by which his father brought so many men of daring and ability to the forefront, and until his death English operations on the Continent present few features except those of extreme costliness and almost uniform failure. Few English campaigns have been more deplorable than those of the Duke of York in 1794 and 1799, and it was not until Pitt was in his grave that the English army recovered its ancient vigour. The navy, it is true, more than sustained its former reputation, but no part of the merit belongs to Pitt. During two most critical years, when the whole safety of the country depended on the navy, he maintained at the head of the Admiralty his perfectly inefficient brother, Lord Chatham; and Lord St. Vincent, who was the one really great naval minister during the war, owed his position not to Pitt, but to Addington.
Pitt was, in truth, beyond all things a parliamentary minister, and in provinces that lay outside the parliamentary arena he showed very little real superiority. The great social problems arising from the sudden development of the factory system, which began in his time, never appear to have for a moment occupied his thoughts. To the terrible and growing evils of the English Poor Law system he was so blind that he urged that parish relief should be given as ‘a matter of right or honour,’ in proportion to the number of children of the recipient. In this way, he said, a large family will become a blessing and not a curse, and ‘a proper line of distinction’ will be drawn ‘between those who are able to provide for themselves by their labour, and those who, after having enriched their country with a number of children, have a claim upon its assistance for their support.’1
In the disposal of his vast and various patronage, no minister showed himself more perfectly and uniformly indifferent to the interests of science and literature. The touching and discriminating kindness with which Sir Robert Peel so often turned aside in the most anxious moments of his career to smoothe, by judicious patronage, or out of the small funds at his disposal, the path of struggling or neglected genius, was wholly alien to the character of Pitt. In his relations with those with whom he came in immediate contact, he was an amiable and kindly man, but he never showed the slightest wish to recognise any form of struggling talent, or to employ his patronage for any other object than the support of his political interests, or the gratification of his political friends. He had himself some literary tastes, but they appear to have only touched the surface of his nature. No man knew better the art of embellishing a peroration or pointing a repartee with a Latin quotation, and in the parliamentary circles of the eighteenth century this art was prized as the very highest result of education, but he was quite without Fox's power of casting off the ambitions of politics and finding in books a sufficient aliment for his nature. He was a politician and nothing more. Office was to him the all in all of life; not its sordid fruits, for to these he was wholly indifferent; not the opportunity which it gives of advocating and advancing great causes; for this he cared much too little; but the excitement and exultation which the possession and skilful exercise of power can give was to him the highest of pleasures. It was, as he truly said, ‘the pride of his heart and the pleasure of his life.’
Parliamentary talents under a parliamentary government are often extravagantly overrated, and the type which I have endeavoured to describe, though combining great qualities both of intellect and character, is not, I think, of the very highest order. Under such a government Pitt was indeed pre-eminently formed to be a leader of men, capable alike of directing, controlling and inspiring, of impressing the imagination of nations, of steering the bark of the State in times of great difficulty and danger. He was probably the greatest of English parliamentary leaders; he was one of the greatest of parliamentary debaters; he was a very considerable Finance Minister, and he had a sane, sound judgment of ordinary events. But his eye seemed always fixed on the immediate present or on the near future. His mind, though quick, clear, and strong, was narrow in its range, and neither original nor profound, and though his nature was pure, lofty, and magnanimous, there were moral as well as mental defects in his statesmanship.1 Of his sincere and single-minded patriotism there can, indeed, I believe, be no doubt. ‘For personal purity, disinterestedness, integrity, and love of his country,’ wrote Wilberforce, ‘I have never known his equal.’1 He was not a statesman who would ever have raised dangerous questions, or embarrassed foreign negotiations, or trammelled his country in times of war, or appealed to subversive passions or class hatreds in order to climb into power, or to win personal or party advantages. But the love of power, which was so dominant a feature in his character, though it never led him to take a course directly injurious to his country, did, I think, undoubtedly more than once lead him to cast aside too lightly great causes which might have benefited her. A certain want of heart, a deficiency of earnestness and self-sacrifice, is very apparent in his career. Perhaps with a warmer nature he would not have so generally preserved that balance of intellect which was pre-eminent among his merits.
His ministry between the defeat of the Coalition and the outbreak of the war of the Revolution may be divided into two parts—that which preceded and that which followed the question of the regency. The first period was by far the more prosperous. It was adorned by the great financial measures I have enumerated and by the commercial treaty with France; and the nation which imagined itself ruined by the loss of America and by the magnitude of its debt, naturally exaggerated the part which political measures bore in its returning prosperity. With the single exception of the Westminster scrutiny, Pitt's parliamentary management was at this time almost perfect. He was at once firm and conciliatory, and he showed in the highest measure all the gifts of tact, temper, presence of mind, knowledge of the dispositions and feelings of Parliament. In addition to his defeats about the Westminster scrutiny and about the Irish commercial propositions, a proposal of the Duke of Richmond, the Master-General of the Ordnance, to fortify Plymouth and Portsmouth was rejected in the beginning of 1786 by the casting vote of the Speaker. It was a project which was suggested by the humiliating panic which the French and Spanish fleets had during the last war spread along the coast, but the old English dread of barracks and fortified places was not extinct; the Whig Opposition did not disdain to appeal to it, and the proposed fortifications were absurdly described as dangerous to the liberties of England, strongholds for separating soldiers from their fellow-countrymen, seminaries for Prætorian bands. The defeat does not, however, appear to have at all weakened the ministry, or the advocacy of one unpopular proposal to have diminished the popularity of Pitt. English opinion strongly and warmly supported him, and Scotland, which was advancing steadily and rapidly in prosperity, was gratified by the ascendency of Dundas. A measure proposed by that statesman in 1784 and carried without difficulty, restoring the estates that had been forfeited in the rebellion of 1745, contributed to efface the last lines of division that the disputed succession had left in Scotch life. It was a measure which had previously been contemplated by North and would probably have been carried into effect by him if his ministry had lasted;1 but there was a peculiar felicity in its falling to the ministry of Pitt, whose father, by arming the Highlanders and leading them to glory under the British flag, had done so much to dispel their lingering Jacobitism. It was arranged that the heirs to the forfeited estates should compensate the Government for the sums employed by it in improvements and in the liquidation of encumbrances, and the sums derived from this source were to be devoted chiefly to the completion of a work of great national importance—a canal to join the Firth of Forth with the Firth of Clyde.
The question of Indian government, which had been the ostensible cause of the downfall of the preceding Administration, was settled for the present, by the enactment in a slightly modified form of the Bill which Pitt had unsuccessfully introduced into the last Parliament. It was a measure which differed more in form than in substance from that of Fox, and, while it avoided the mistake of placing Indian patronage avowedly in the hands of the English minister, it in reality gave him perhaps even greater power than the previous Bill. The Company's home government, consisting of the Court of Directors and the Court of Proprietors, remained, but over them was placed a Board of Control appointed by the King, holding office during pleasure, and consisting of one of the Secretaries of State, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and four other members of the Privy Council. This body was unpaid and it had no patronage; but it was empowered to superintend, control, and amend the whole civil and military government of the Company; to examine all accounts, instructions, and despatches, and even in some cases to transmit orders to India without the inspection of the Directors. A Committee of Secrecy, consisting of not more than three members, was to be formed out of the Directors, and when the Board of Control issued orders requiring secrecy, the Committee of Secrecy was to transmit those orders to India without informing the other Directors. The Court of Proprietors at the same time lost its chief governing faculty, for it could no longer annul or modify any proceeding of the Court of Directors which had received the approbation of the Board of Control. A tribunal was established for trying in England abuses that took place in India, and there was an extraordinary provision making it obligatory upon the servants of the Company to declare truly upon oath and under severe penalties the amount of property they had brought from India. The authority of the Governor-General and Council over the Subordinate Presidencies of Madras and Bombay was greatly enlarged. Numerous internal regulations were made relating to the affairs of India, and several of them were adopted substantially from Fox's Bill, and the measure also contained clauses restricting the patronage of the Directors and making retrenchments in the Company's establishments. The patronage of India was in general left to the Directors, but the Governor-General, the Presidents and Members of all the Councils, were to be chosen subject to the King's approbation, and it was at any time to be in the power of the King to remove them.1
The Bill was hotly opposed, chiefly on the two somewhat conflicting grounds of the immense accession of power which the establishment of the Board of Control must give to the Crown, and of the inefficiency of a system which gave the power of direction and command to one body and the nomination of the officials who were entrusted with the task of carrying out those commands to another. Several amendments suggested by the Opposition were accepted by Pitt, and the measure was finally carried by a great majority. In 1786 the section obliging servants of the Company to deliver inventories of their property was repealed; a few new regulations were made in the conduct of trials for offences committed in India,1 and by later Acts some other slight changes were made; but on the whole the system of double government established by the Act of 1784 continued to direct Indian affairs till the abolition of the Company in 1858. For the next few years discussions relating to India were chiefly of a retrospective character relating to the proceedings of Warren Hastings—a great and intricate question, which only arrived at its final stages after the period I have selected for the termination of this history, and into which it is, therefore, not my intention to enter.
Though the period we are considering, if compared with that which preceded it and with that which immediately followed it, was a period of European calm, there were several questions raised which might easily have produced a general conflagration. The mixed dominion which had so long existed in the Austrian Netherlands had proved a fertile source of confusion and dispute, and in 1781 the Emperor Joseph II., availing himself of the war between England and Holland, had taken the bold step of declaring the Barrier Treaty no longer binding, dismantling several of the barrier fortresses and obliging the Dutch garrisons to withdraw from all of them. Encouraged by his success, the Emperor in 1784 made a new aggression upon Holland by reviving an old imperial claim upon the town of Maestricht and by insisting on the free navigation of the river Scheldt. The Dutch right of exclusive sovereignty over that river had been acknowledged for nearly 140 years. It was established by the Treaty of Münister, confirmed and guaranteed by the Barrier Treaty of 1715, and by a convention in 1718, and it was believed by Dutch statesmen to be absolutely essential to the security of their country. The Austrians now seized two Dutch forts which commanded the river, and a great Austrian army, accompanied by large trains of artillery, was ordered to march to the Netherlands. On the other hand, the Dutch broke down the dykes round the fort of Lillo, which the Austrians had seized, an imperial vessel in the Scheldt was fired at, and the Dutch strained all their resources to raise a powerful army. A number of minor claims against Holland were at the same time raised, and the Empress of Russia, who was now in close alliance with Joseph, notified to the States her intention of supporting the Emperor. For a time a European war seemed inevitable, but France warmly supported the Republic, and, her mediation being at last accepted, the dispute was settled by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which was signed on November 8, 1785. The States acknowledged the Emperor's absolute and independent sovereignty over that portion of the Scheldt which flowed through the Austrian Netherlands from Antwerp to the limits of Saftingen, but on the rest of the river the exclusive sovereignty of the States was fully recognised according to the Treaty of Münster, and the Emperor agreed to abandon all claim to Maestricht and the surrounding country, on receiving an indemnity of ten millions of guilders. A few slight rectifications of territory were at the same time made, a few small fortresses were dismantled, and the contracting parties formally renounced all further pretentious that either might have against the other.1
The dismantling of fortresses which took place through the policy of Joseph II. had some years later a considerable effect in rendering the French conquest of the Netherlands rapid and easy. One of the most remarkable parts of the arrangement that was concluded at Fontainebleau was that as the Dutch positively refused to pay the full sum of ten millions of guilders which was demanded by the Emperor, the French undertook themselves to pay nearly half of it. It is hardly surprising that such a proceeding should have been unpopular in France, and that Parisian opinion should have attributed it to the Queen, who was thus, it was said, without the smallest claim of justice or policy, pouring French gold into the coffers of her brother.
The payment, however, perhaps saved France the greater expenditure of another war, and it certainly tended to strengthen that close connection between France and Holland which had been recently established, and which it had become one of the chief ends of French diplomacy to maintain. The Treaty of Fontainebleau was at once followed by a close military and commercial alliance between France and Holland. Each State guaranteed the other the possession of all its territories, and engaged to assist the other when attacked, by specified contingents on land and sea. Each State bound itself to place the subjects of the other on the footing of the most favoured nation, to give the other on all occasions assistance both in counsel and succour, to agree to no treaties or negotiations that could be detrimental to the other, to give notice to the other of any such negotiations as soon as they were proposed.
This treaty of alliance was concluded on November 10, 1785, and ratified on the following Christmas Day. It showed clearly that the star of England had for the present paled, and it was a very serious blow to her influence in Europe. One of her oldest and closest allies, one of the chief maritime powers of the world, had thus detached herself from the English connection, thrown her influence into the scale of France, and virtually become a party to the Bourbon Family Compact. In the eloquent and ominous words of a contemporary observer: ‘All the systems of policy which had been pursued for two centuries by the maritime powers in the support of a balance of power, all the conventions, treaties, and ties of union between them founded on the seemingly unfailing principles of a common interest, common views, common religion, foreign danger, and common defence, were now at once done away with and dissolved.’1
The Franco-Dutch alliance was one of the results of the enmity which had broken out between England and Holland during the American War, but like that enmity it may be ultimately traced to the rivalry between the two great factions into which Dutch politics were divided. The party attached to the Prince of Orange, the hereditary Stadholder, was steadily friendly to the English alliance, but the more republican, or, as it called itself, ‘the patriotic party,’ was actively supported by France, and to the growing influence of that party both the war against England and the Treaty of Fontainebleau must be mainly ascribed. The dissension had grown up in the long minority that preceded the accession to power in 1766 of the reigning Stadholder, William V., and it had been much deepened by the feebleness of that Prince. No part, indeed, of the great governing qualities of mind and character which made the elder branch of the House of Orange the most illustrious ruling family of its age had descended to the younger branch which followed the death of King William III. of England. It is probable that a large portion of the ‘patriotic party’ would have gladly abolished the hereditary Stadholdership, but the leaders usually professed themselves ready to support the existing constitution, with modifications which would have deprived the Prince of Orange of almost all real weight in the State. They wished him to have no seat in any college of the Republic. They desired to separate his office from that of Captain-General which gave him command of the army, and also to abolish the ‘Règlements’ which gave him in the three provinces of Utrecht, Overyssel, and Guelderland, the direct appointment of the magistrates of towns. The two parties were nearly balanced. In the summer and autumn of 1785 numerous ‘free companies’ supporting the ‘patriotic’ party appeared in arms, and in several of the chief towns there were disturbances almost amounting to revolution. In the September of this year the Stadholder was obliged to abandon the Hague, but Guelderland and some other portions of the Netherlands still warmly supported him. A year later the Stadholder, with the full assent of the States of Guelderland, subdued the towns of Elburg and Hattem, in that province, which had revolted against them; and the States of Holland, with only two dissentient voices, assuming a right which they did not possess over a neighbouring province, suspended the Stadholder from the office of Captain-General.
These events produced an extreme and general agitation. Sir James Harris, the English minister, was indefatigable in supporting by his counsel and influence the party of the Stadholder, and he organised the resistance to the French party with great skill and success. In September 1786, however, when the States of Holland deprived the Prince of Orange of his military authority, the prospect seemed extremely dark. Groningen and Overyssel, Harris wrote, were irreconcilably lost to the House of Orange. Utrecht might at any moment abandon her allegiance. In Friesland the contest ran very high, but the majority in the States seemed unfavourably disposed. Even Zealand, which had been warmly attached to the Stadholder, seemed swerving from the cause. French money was abundantly distributed; the leaders of the patriotic faction held meetings at the house of the French ambassador, and it was generally believed that they intended, by the advice and with the support of France, to deprive the Stadholder of his office and to declare that it should no longer be hereditary in the House of Orange. French diplomatists openly said that an hereditary Stadholder was of too new a creation to have acquired a constitutional sanction; that it never had the approbation of the whole Republic, and that, as it was brought about by a revolution, it might be destroyed in the same manner.
The Prince of Orange had already appealed for help to Frederick the Great of Prussia, but the old sovereign showed little or no disposition to take any serious part in the dispute. He died, however, on August 17, 1786, and the accession to the throne of his nephew Frederick William II., who was brother of the Princess of Orange, greatly changed the situation. Immediately after the events in Guelderland, Goertz was sent from Prussia and Rayneval from France in hopes of composing or influencing affairs in the Netherlands, but they met with no success, and in January 1787 they were both recalled. In February, Vergennes, who had long been a leading influence in French politics, died. For a few months the dissensions in the Netherlands seemed to smoulder, but towards the end of June the Princess of Orange, having determined to visit the Hague, from which her husband was excluded, was arrested on her way, turned back and treated like a prisoner. She at once appealed to her brother, but the States-General, relying on French support, refused to give any satisfaction. In September a Prussian army of more than 20,000 men, under the Duke of Brunswick, invaded Holland.
The Prussian intervention was largely due to English influence, and it was rendered possible by a secret convention which was signed between the two countries. The chief measures necessary for the restoration of the Stadholder to his full powers were agreed upon, and England bound herself to prepare forty ships of the line to support Prussia, and to declare war against any power which attempted to interfere with her enterprise. In Holland, Sir James Harris took an extremely active part, and large sums of English money were expended in arming the supporters of the Stadholder.1 It soon appeared that the attitude of Prussia had a decisive effect, and that a great proportion of the people were on the side of the House of Orange and rather favoured than resented the invasion. Utrecht, which had been prominent in its resistance to the Prince, surrendered without a blow. The Stadholder, after an absence of two years, returned to the Hague. The horses were taken from his carriage when he was still a mile from the town, and he was drawn in by the corps of Orange burghers amid demonstrations of the most enthusiastic welcome. Great crowds wearing orange flowers and ribbons thronged the streets, and the colour which had long been proscribed streamed from every window. On October 10 the work was completed by the surrender of Amsterdam. England now declared that she would defend the Stadholder if he were attacked, and her fleets were at once prepared for action, while France, which was rapidly approaching her Revolution, shrank from open intervention. The victory was used with much moderation. A few magistrates were deposed; a few officers were cashiered; a few conspicuous members of the ‘patriotic’ party were exiled, but a general amnesty calmed the minds of men, and an ‘Act of Mutual Guarantee of the Seven United Provinces,’ signed by the various States, declared it to be an essential part of the Dutch Constitution that the hereditary dignities of Stadholder, Captain-General, and Admiral-General, should be vested in the House of Orange.
Changes in constitutions effected by foreign intervention are rarely lasting, for they commonly turn the national feeling against the ascendant party. In a few years, however, the storm of the French Revolution swept over the Dutch Republic, and it not only effaced the old lines of party division, but also almost destroyed the animosities and passions of former conflicts. Sir James Harris was created Lord Malmesbury as a reward for his services during the events that have been described, and English statesmen had every reason to congratulate themselves on the issue of the conflict. The menacing alliance between France and Holland was dissolved. The party which most valued the English connection regained its ascendency. By a treaty of mutual defence between Great Britain and the States-General, which was signed in April 1788, England guaranteed the hereditary Stadholdership to the House of Orange, and in the same year the triple alliance of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia was signed, which during the following years exercised a great influence on European affairs. The policy of France was for the present completely defeated, and in Holland as well as in America her efforts to stimulate democratic revolution reacted powerfully and fatally upon herself.1
The position of the Austrian Netherlands continued, however, to be a matter of much disquietude to the small number of English statesmen who watched with real care and knowledge the affairs of the Continent.2 The arrangement of the Peace of Utrecht, by which that country was placed under the dominion of the House of Austria on the condition that a long line of its most powerful fortresses should be jointly garrisoned by Imperial and Dutch troops, appeared to the statesmen of that day eminently fitted to guard against French aggression in a quarter where it was peculiarly dangerous and would otherwise have been peculiarly easy. It was intended to secure the concurrence of the two powers in resisting any French encroachments; to make it impossible, or at least very unlikely, that a country of extreme strategical importance should be governed by a sovereign devoted to French interests, and at the same time to bring the Emperor, whose chief dominions lay in a distant part of the Continent, into close union and connection with the maritime powers. As might, however, have been expected, Austria finding herself the stronger power in a divided and restricted dominion, soon made it her main object to emancipate herself from her restraints, and the repudiation of the Barrier Treaty by Joseph II. completely destroyed this part of the system established by the Peace of Utrecht. The Emperor now treated the Austrian Netherlands as if they were in exactly the same relation to him as his hereditary states, and he entered into a course of hostilities with the very power which the Austrian dominion in Flanders was intended chiefly to protect.
Another project speedily followed. Joseph endeavoured to obtain by negotiation the object at which his mother had long aimed by war, the annexation of Bavaria to his dominions. In 1785 he entered into negotiations with the Elector Palatine for an exchange of territory of the most extensive kind. The Elector was to cede to Austria, Bavaria and the Upper Palatinate with the Principalities of Neuburg, Sulzbach, and the Landgravate of Leuchtenberg, receiving in return the Austrian Netherlands with the title of King. The Empress of Russia favoured the exchange, and France was to be pacified by the cession of Namur and of Luxemburg. But Frederick the Great, who saw clearly that the acquisition of Bavaria and the Palatinate would give Austria an overwhelming preponderance in Germany, and that the acquisition of Luxemburg by the French might greatly imperil his own dominions, succeeded in defeating the project, and under his influence the German Confederation for the common defence of the German Constitution was formed in 1785. This was the last and by no means the least considerable of his many triumphs.1
All these things had naturally unsettled and alienated the Flemish subjects of Joseph. They had caught no small measure of the democratic and unquiet spirit which was spreading rapidly through Europe, and the suppression of some convents and ecclesiastical schools, the removal of a university from Louvain to Brussels, an edict of toleration which offended the ecclesiastical powers, and a number of hasty and ill-considered innovations which trenched upon or annulled some of the ancient privileges of the Netherlands, increased the discontent. In 1786 and 1787 there were serious tumults at Louvain and Brussels, and secret societies began to ramify through the provinces. The actual outbreak did not take place till about two years later, but there were already abundant signs of danger in the country which had so often proved the centre and the source of great European conflagrations.
As yet, however, these things scarcely disturbed the calm sea of English politics. Nor was English opinion at first at all moved by the revival of the Eastern question and the declaration of war by Turkey against Russia in August 1787. Foreign politics, which a few years later became so prominent, were now scarcely mentioned in Parliament, and the ascendency of Pitt was entirely unshaken, till the illness of the King raised the great and difficult question of the regency.
This question, which for a time threatened to produce a complete change in the Government, owed its importance almost exclusively to its relation to party politics, and, in order to understand it, it will be necessary to review from a somewhat earlier period the connection between the Whig leaders and the heir to the crown. That connection had already existed for several years. When little more than a boy, the Prince of Wales had plunged into a career of extravagance and vice, and he found in Charles Fox one of the most seductive and most dangerous of friends. He was so intimate with him that he habitually called him by his Christian name, and a close political as well as social intercourse subsisted between them. At eighteen the Prince was already the accepted lover of Mrs. Robinson, the well-known Perdita. Before he was twenty his influence was employed at a Windsor election in opposition to the Court. As we have already seen, when the Coalition Ministry rose to power one of the first questions on which it came into collision with the King was the allowance to the Prince of Wales on the attainment of his majority, and Fox desired to make that allowance much larger and more independent than the King would allow. The political sympathies of the Prince weret shown without the smallest disguise. He was a member of Brooks's Club. He lived habitually in a circle of young and dissipated Whigs, among whom, as was well known, the King and Court were continually spoken of with the greatest disrespect. He voted for Fox's India Bill, though he abstained, in deference to the King's express wish, from the final division. In the election of 1784 he ostentatiously espoused the cause of Fox, and Lord Cornwallis mentions that the friends of the Ministry rarely saw him, as ‘there was not a more violent Foxite in the kingdom.’1
He was now completely alienated from his father, who appears to have regarded him with absolute hatred, and he was overwhelmed with debt. Of the 60,000l which Parliament had voted to him in 1783, half was intended to pay the debts which he had incurred, but in 1785 he admitted to Sir James Harris that his debts then amounted to no less than 160,000l.3 In the autumn of the preceding year he had written to the King stating his embarrassments and expressing his desire to travel and to economise, but the King received his overture with great coldness, refused to give him permission to leave England, and gave little or no hope that the Ministers would be authorised to apply to Parliament for his relief. He insisted on an exact account of the debts of his son, but there was one debt of 25,000l which the Prince said he was bound in honour not to explain.
In the spring of 1785 Sir James Harris had two long conferences with the Prince on the state of his affairs. He was peculiarly fitted for the task; for, while he was one of the ablest and most discreet diplomatists in the service of the Government, he was at the same time a warm personal friend of the leaders of the Opposition. He was able to give the Prince, not indeed a positive assurance, but at least some hope that the Ministry would move an increase of his income provided he would appropriate a fixed portion to the payment of his debts, renounce his intention of leaving England, reconcile himself with the King, and abstain from mixing in party politics. ‘A Prince of Wales,’ Harris truly said, ‘ought to be of no party,’ and he was enabled to assure the Prince that both Fox and the Duke of Portland fully acquiesced in this opinion, and had no wish to see him a Whig partisan. He at the same time strenuously recommended a speedy marriage as a duty to the nation and as the simplest and most natural way of rectifying his position. The Prince vehemently declared that he would never marry; he repeated again and again that the King hated him, and would never consent to any proposal in his favour. He still spoke of his intention of leaving England, and he produced a number of letters from the King which appeared to Harris ‘so harsh and severe,’ so ‘void of every expression of parental kindness or affection,’ that they fully justified the Prince's judgment of the sentiments of his father.1
Nothing resulted from these interviews. The Prince was now completely under the influence of an ungovernable passion for Mrs. Fitzherbert, a young and beautiful Catholic lady of good family and reputation, who at the early age of twenty-five had been left for the second time a widow. The acquaintance began at Richmond in the summer of 1784, when the Prince was twenty-three and Mrs. Fitzherbert twenty-eight. She appears to have been much alarmed at his advances and to have strongly discouraged them, and their intercourse is said for a time to have ended with a very strange scene, which is thus related, on the authority of Mrs. Fitzherbert, by her relative and intimate friend Lord Stourton: ‘Keith the surgeon, Lord Onslow, Lord Southampton, and Mr. Edward Bouverie, arrived at Mrs. Fitzherbert's house in the utmost consternation, informing her that the life of the Prince was in imminent danger—that he had stabbed himself—and that only her immediate presence could save him. She resisted in the most peremptory manner all their importunities, saying that nothing should induce her to enter Carlton House. She was afterwards brought to share in the alarm, but, still fearful of some stratagem derogatory to her reputation, insisted on some lady of high character accompanying her, as an indispensable condition. The Duchess of Devonshire was selected. They four drove from Park Street to Devonshire House and took her along with them. She found the Prince pale and covered with blood. The sight so overpowered her faculties that she was deprived almost of all consciousness. The Prince told her that nothing would induce him to live unless she promised to become his wife and permitted him to put a ring round her finger—I believe a ring from the hand of the Duchess of Devonshire was used upon the occasion and not one of his own. … They returned to Devonshire House. A deposition was drawn up of what had occurred, and signed and sealed by each one of the party, and for all she knew to the contrary might still be there. On the next day she left the country, sending a letter to Lord Southampton protesting against what had taken place as not being then a free agent. She retired to Aix-la-Chapelle and afterwards to Holland. The Prince went down into the country to Lord Southampton's for change of air.’1
Mrs. Fitzherbert remained on the Continent for more than a year, but the passion of the Prince was unabated. Mrs. Armistead, the mistress, and afterwards wife, of Fox, assured Lord Holland that the Prince frequently spoke to herself and Fox upon the subject with paroxysms of despair, ‘that he cried by the hour, that he testified the sincerity and violence of his passion and his despair by the most extravagant expressions and actions, rolling on the floor, striking his forehead, tearing his hair, falling into hysterics, and swearing that he would abandon the country, forego the crown, sell his jewels and plate, and scrape together a competence to fly with the object of his affections to America.’ He constantly corresponded with Mrs. Fitzherbert, and one of his letters entreating her to marry him is said to have extended to no less than thirty-seven pages.2 At last Mrs. Fitzherbert consented, and in December 1785 she returned to England for the purpose of marrying the Prince.
The resolution was a serious one. In the first place, as the Prince of Wales was still under twenty-five, the marriage, according to the Royal Marriage Act, could have no legal validity without the consent of the King, which would most certainly not be given. In the next place, by the Act of Settlement, marriage with a Roman Catholic throws the Prince contracting it out of the succession to the throne, and makes the other parties concerned in it liable to the penalties of prœmunire, and it was very doubtful whether the invalidity of the ceremony would save the Prince from the legal penalty. The second marriage of a bigamist is worthless in the eyes of the law, but this does not exempt him from the penal consequences of his act, and it was at least a question whether on the same principle even an invalid marriage of the Prince of Wales with a Roman Catholic would not be sufficient to deprive him of his right to the succession to the crown. Rumours of the intended marriage got abroad, and Fox, in a long, able, and very respectful letter, urged in the strongest terms its extreme danger. It would be dangerous, he said, to the Prince, dangerous to Mrs. Fitzherbert, dangerous to the nation itself, which might very possibly be cursed with a new disputed succession. ‘Such a marriage,’ in fact, ‘would be the most desperate measure for all parties concerned that their worst enemies could have suggested.’ The Prince answered in a few lines, expressing his gratitude for the friendship of Fox. ‘Make yourself easy, my dear friend,’ he continued. ‘Believe me, the world will now soon be convinced that there not only is, but never was any grounds for these reports which of late have been so malevolently circulated.’ He then turned abruptly from the subject. ‘I have not seen you since the apostasy of Eden. I think it ought to have the same effect upon all our friends that it has upon me, I mean the linking us closer to each other.’1
This letter was written on December 11, 1785. Just ten days later, without the knowledge of Fox, the Prince was married to Mrs. Fitzherbert by a Protestant clergyman. Her uncle and brother were the witnesses, and Lord Onslow, Lord Southampton, Mr. Edward Bouverie, and Mr. Keith were also present. Although there was no Roman Catholic priest, the religious ceremony, from a Catholic as well as from an Anglican point of view, was perfectly valid. The sacrament of marriage, according to the Roman Catholic theory, depends merely on the expressed consent of the two contracting persons to take each other as husband and wife, and before the Council of Trent a purely civil marriage effected by mere consent without the intervention of any priest, though it would have been irregular, would have been fully valid, and have had all the character of a sacrament. The Council of Trent for the first time, and in order to prevent the abuses which arose from clandestine marriages, made the presence of a priest indispensable, but the discipline of the Council had not yet been promulgated in England, and was therefore not binding on English Catholics.1
The secret of the marriage was not perfectly kept. In society Mrs. Fitzherbert seems to have been received as the wife of the Prince, and a pamphlet appeared, written by Horne Tooke, in which she was denominated the Princess of Wales. In the meantime the embarrassments of the Prince increased. In 1786 there was an execution for 600l. at Carlton House, and the Sheriff's officers remained in possession for two days before a responsible surety for this small sum could be found. The Prince now formally applied to the King for assistance, and was formally and harshly refused.2 In the spring of this year the King himself came to Parliament for the payment of a new debt of 30,000l. which had been incurred contrary to the express promise made in the royal speech as late as 1782, and in the course of the debate both Sheridan and Fox took occasion to mention the inadequacy of the allowance of the Prince of Wales, and to express their hope that the minister would bring in some proposition to extricate him from his difficulties. If he did not, Fox intimated that he would himself bring the subject before Parliament. The Prince appears to have had in this respect some real ground for complaint, but Pitt shortly answered that he had no instructions on the subject.3 Despairing of assistance, the Prince then stopped all the works at Carlton House, closed the greater part of the palace, dismissed his court officers, sold all his horses, and announced his intention of assigning 40,000l. a year of his income to the payment of his debts. The extreme animosity with which he was regarded at Court was conspicuously evinced in the August of this year, when Margaret Nicholson attempted to stab the King. No tidings of the attempt were sent to the Prince of Wales, and when, on hearing of it, he hastened to the palace to congratulate his father on the escape, his father refused to see him.
As the ministers declined to come to the assistance of the Prince, it was at last determined to introduce the question without their countenance. There was, however, great division and hesitation on the subject among the Opposition. The Duke of Portland was totally opposed to an application to Parliament. Burke stated that, as he had formerly taken a leading part in opposing the payment of the King's debts, and as he was the author of the Establishment Bill for restricting the King's expenditure, it was impossible for him to advocate the payment of the Prince of Wales's debts by Parliament, and he therefore resolved to go into the country during the discussion, and informed the Prince of Wales of his intention. Many other leading men of the party, and especially the country gentlemen connected with it, took a similar view. Fox appears at first to have agreed with them, but he determined to support the application when it became evident that the Prince was determined that it should be made. It was foreseen clearly that the difficult and delicate question of the marriage of Mrs. Fitzherbert would inevitably come into discussion if the demand were pressed, and the event showed that the prediction was correct.1
On April 20, 1787, Alderman Newnham rose and asked Pitt whether the Government intended to bring forward any proposition for the payment of the Prince's debts. Pitt answered that it was not his duty to do so except by the command of the King, and that he had received no such command. Newnham then gave notice that he would himself introduce a motion. Several short conversations subsequently took place, and in the course of one of them Mr. Rolle—a county member who is now chiefly remembered as the hero of the ‘Rolliad’— made a short speech in which he warned the Opposition that an inquiry into the affairs of the Prince of Wales might involve matters by which ‘the constitution both in Church and State might be essentially affected.’
The words flew swiftly to their mark. It was at once understood that they referred to the alleged marriage of the Prince of Wales, and three days later, when there had been ample time to communicate with the Prince, Fox made a remarkable statement on the subject. Speaking, as he said, with the ‘immediate authority’ of the Prince of Wales, he declared the perfect willingness of the Prince to submit his pecuniary affairs and his correspondence with the King to the fullest investigation, and he then proceeded to refer to the observations of Rolle. The allusion to something full of danger to Church and State, referred, he supposed, to ‘that miserable calumny, that low malicious falsehood which had been propagated without doors … an invention so monstrous, a report of a fact which had not the smallest degree of foundation,’ and which he should have hoped would not have obtained the smallest credit. The Prince was perfectly prepared to afford his Majesty and his Majesty's ministers ‘the fullest assurances of the utter falsehood of the fact in question, which never had and which common sense must see never could have happened.’
The denial seemed sufficiently emphatic, but Rolle was not satisfied. The matter referred to, he said, had been discussed in newspapers all over the kingdom and had made an impression on men of all ranks who valued the Constitution. ‘The right honourable gentleman had said it was impossible to have happened. They all knew that there were certain laws and Acts of Parliament which forbade it, but though it could not be done under the formal sanction of law there were ways in which it might have taken place … and it ought therefore to be cleared up.’ Fox at once replied that ‘he did not deny the calumny in question merely with regard to the effect of certain existing laws alluded to by the honourable gentleman; but he denied it in toto, in point of fact as well as law. The fact not only never could have happened legally, but never did happen in any way whatsoever, and had from the beginning been a base and malicious falsehood.’ On being asked whether he said this from direct authority, Fox answered that he ‘had spoken from direct authority.’1
Whatever may have been his faults in other respects, Fox was at least a man of unquestionable honour, candour, and veracity, while it is unfortunately perfectly consistent with the known character of the Prince of Wales that he should have endeavoured to extricate himself from difficulty and to obtain an increased allowance by denying a marriage which had actually taken place, though it was invalid in the eyes of the law. The immediate impression was very favourable to him.2 It was believed that he had been grossly calumniated. Pitt, whatever may have been his private sentiments,3 decorously expressed the ‘complete satisfaction’ which so explicit a declaration must have given to the whole House; the opposition to an increased allowance was suddenly allayed, and after some negotiations the King was induced to add 10,000l. a year from the Civil List to the income of the Prince of Wales,4 and the House to vote 161,000l. for the payment of his debts, besides 20,000l. for completing the works at Carlton House. But for the explicit denial of the marriage with Mrs. Fitzherbert which the Prince of Wales had authorised Fox to make, it is tolerably certain that these sums would not have been granted.
It remained to break the transaction to Mrs. Fitzherbert. The story is told by her relative, Lord Stourton, doubtless from information derived from herself. The morning after the denial the Prince ‘went up to her, and, taking hold of both her hands and caressing her, said, “Only conceive, Maria, what Fox did yesterday. He went down to the House and denied that you and I were man and wife. Did you ever hear of such a thing?”’ Mrs. Fitzherbert, it is added, made no immediate reply. She never forgave Fox,1 and appears to have urged the Prince to take some step to procure a disavowal of a declaration which he knew to be false. The Prince naturally avoided an explanation with Fox, but on the morning after Fox's statement he sent for Grey, with whom he was then on intimate terms, told him that Fox had gone too far, and at last with great agitation frankly confessed that a ceremony had taken place.2 Grey, however, would give him no help. ‘Mr. Fox,’ he said, ‘must unquestionably suppose that he had authority for all he said, and if there had been any mistake it could only be rectified by his Royal Highness speaking to Mr. Fox himself and setting him right on such matters as had been misunderstood between them. No other person can be employed without questioning Mr. Fox's veracity, which nobody, I presume, is prepared to do.’ ‘This answer,’ continued Lord Stourton, ‘chagrined, disappointed, and agitated the Prince exceedingly, and after some exclamations of annoyance he threw himself on a sofa muttering, ‘Well, then, Sheridan must say something.’3 Sheridan accordingly, in a subsequent discussion, without naming Mrs. Fitzherbert, paid a few vapid and unmeaning compliments to her. His Royal Highness's feelings, he said, had been sufficiently considered, but ‘there was another person entitled in every delicate and honourable mind to the same attention,’ a person ‘whom malice or ignorance alone could attempt to injure, and whose character and conduct claimed and was entitled to the truest respect.’
The subsequent history of this lady was chequered and somewhat singular. More than once in later life George IV. declared that there was not a word of truth in the story of the marriage, though he had himself confessed it to Grey, and though it is established beyond all dispute. There were fortunately no children, and shortly after the denial in Parliament the Prince deserted Mrs. Fitzherbert for a new attachment. Then followed his marriage with Princess Caroline of Brunswick, and then again a new connection with Mrs. Fitzherbert, who is stated to have obtained from Rome an express sanction for consenting to it. It lasted with comparative smoothness for about eight years, and was unbroken during all the time of ‘the delicate investigation’ into the alleged misdeeds of Queen Caroline. At last the star of Lady Hertford became ascendant and the Prince finally abandoned Mrs. Fitzherbert—characteristically closing his long connection with brutal and unfeeling insult.1 She survived her husband nearly seven years, dying only in 1837. It is remarkable that both George III. and his Queen treated her with marked kindness and intimacy, clearly showing that they knew of her marriage, and the same feelings were displayed by other members of the royal family, especially by the Duke of York and by William IV. Her modest and amiable character, the decorum of her manners, the sense of her wrongs, the great discretion with which she abstained from urging claims that might have been dangerous to the dynasty, and the influence for good which she seems to have always tried to exercise over her husband, secured for her a degree of respect which might perhaps hardly have been anticipated.2
It is stated that the day after Fox had made his declaration in Parliament a gentleman of his acquaintance went up to him at Brooks's and said, ‘I see by the papers, Mr. Fox, you have denied the fact of the marriage of the Prince with Mrs. Fitzherbert. You have been misinformed. I was present at that marriage.’3 Fox perceived that he had been duped, and his situation was as painful and perplexing as could well be conceived. Ought he to leave the House of Commons under the impression of the perfectly false statement which he had unwittingly made? It was a question which affected not only his own honour but also the honour of Mrs. Fitzherbert, who had been cruelly injured by his words. On the other hand, if he stated the facts as they occurred, the revelation of so much baseness might prevent the Prince from ever ascending the throne, and, if it did not do so, it would, at least, overshadow his reign with an enduring cloud of obloquy. It might be contended by strong and plausible reasoning that the Prince had by law forfeited his title to the crown, and it was not impossible that this forfeiture might be enforced. The well-known detestation with which the King regarded his eldest son, his equally well-known preference for his second son, the anti-Catholic feeling of the country, the overwhelming power of a Government to which the Prince of Wales was openly opposed, made a change in the succession very possible, and such a change might have led to a new era of disputed succession. Under these circumstances Fox kept silence, but it is stated that he did not speak to the Prince of Wales for more than a year, and that though he afterwards acted with him he never again believed in him.1
The question how far considerations of State necessity or of overwhelming political expediency may legitimately deflect or modify our moral judgments is one of the most difficult in practical ethics. I shall not venture to condemn the silence of Fox, but his subsequent conduct was surely such as no high-minded man would have pursued. In truth, in matters in which women were concerned he was very far from high-minded. He had fully adopted that capricious and fantastic code of fashionable honour which, while condemning some forms of vice with an almost excessive severity, finds little or nothing to censure in the conduct of the man who makes the honour and affections of a woman the sport of his passions and his caprice. The conduct of the Prince could not, indeed, be justified by any code of honour, but Fox never appears to have regarded it with the degree of reprobation which it deserved. He continued to receive letters from the Prince written in a strain of the warmest and most intimate friendship.1 Any coldness which had arisen between them was in about a year to all appearance completely dispelled, and when the question of the regency arose, the Whig party placed their hopes mainly on the close personal intimacy that subsisted between their leader and the heir to the crown.
During the whole of the summer of 1788 the usually robust health of the King had been visibly impaired, but it was not until October that unmistakable signs appeared of the recurrence of that mental malady with which he had been for a short time afflicted in 1765. The immediate cause appears to have been the injudicious treatment of a severe bilious attack, excessive exercise, and imprudence in keeping on wet stockings during an entire day. During October, however, the King was able to transact public business, though imperfectly and at intervals. On one occasion he had an interview with Pitt at Kew which lasted for three hours and forty minutes, and, according to their invariable custom, both the King and Pitt remained standing the whole time.2 On the 25th, disquieting rumours having gone abroad, the King endeavoured to check them by holding a levee at St. James's, but the effort was manifestly beyond his strength, and he became rapidly worse. There was a period of abnormal nervous excitement, accompanied by incessant talking, occasional incoherence, a changed voice, and much physical weakness, and at last, on November 5, he burst into such open and violent delirium that it became necessary to place him under strict restraint. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York at once took up their abode at Windsor. The first belief was that the King was suffering from brain fever, and for several days his death was supposed to be imminent. A speedy death, a speedy recovery, and a prolonged or permanent insanity were, however, all possible, and the doubt added enormously to the difficulties of the situation. Parliament must soon meet, but it could not regularly proceed to business without the session being opened by the King or by some commission authorised by him, nor could any Act of Parliament be complete and valid without the royal sanction. Pitt found himself with no precedent to guide him; the King completely incapable of discharging the royal functions; the prospects of his recovery entirely uncertain; the Prince of Wales on the worst terms with his father, his mother, and the ministers.
Cabinet Councils were held at Windsor, and Pitt as well as the Chancellor had more than one interview with the Prince about the measures to be taken for the care of the King. Pitt found the Prince perfectly civil, but the intercourse on both sides was distant and formal, and gave no promise of reconciliation. There were, however, many rumours of a junction of parties, but neither side appears to have greatly desired it. The Prince of Wales regarded Pitt with an intense personal animosity, while Pitt on his side, though he was perfectly prepared for the contingency of his dismissal, was firmly resolved that he would make no overtures to his opponents; that he would not resign his post, and that he would not be the instrument of bringing into office politicians to whom the King was violently hostile. He determined to postpone the Regency as long as it could be done with propriety, and, if the continuance of the King's illness made it necessary, to propose the Prince of Wales as Regent, subject to limitations which were to be determined by Parliament.
Fox was at this time travelling in Italy with Mrs. Armistead. It is curiously characteristic of his tastes and habits that, although there were then two weekly posts from England to Italy, he had not received a single line from England, from September to November. He had given no address to his friends, and is said to have only once looked into a newspaper, for the purpose of ascertaining whether he had lost or won his wagers at Newmarket.1 A messenger despatched by the Duke of Portland found him at Bologna, perfectly ignorant of the King's illness. He at once set out on his return, and, after nine days' incessant travelling, arrived in London on November 24. Sheridan, however, had remained in London during the recess, and as he was very intimate with the Prince of Wales he obtained an ascendency in the councils of Carlton House.2
One of the first and most characteristic results of the illness of the King was the treachery of Thurlow, who began to fear that the Ministry of Pitt would fall, and who accordingly hastened to secure his own position by a secret negotiation with the Prince and Sheridan. His offer was to declare in favour of an unrestricted regency. His condition was that he should retain the woolsack in the event of a change of Government. The post had been promised or half promised to Lord Loughborough, who had for some years been co-operating with Fox, and attempts were vainly made to satisfy Thurlow with the promise of the Presidency of the Council, but he was inexorable in his demand, and his assistance seemed so important that Sheridan urged that he should be bought at his own price. The Prince consented, and the negotiation was proceeding, when Fox returned to England. Fox, who detested Thurlow, and had a well-merited contempt for his character, acquiesced with great reluctance. ‘I have swallowed the pill,’ he wrote to Sheridan, and a most bitter one it was, and have written to Lord Lough-borough, whose answer of course must be consent. … I am convinced after all, that the negotiation will not succeed, and am not sure that I am sorry for it. I do not remember ever feeling so uneasy about any political thing I ever did in my life.’ Thurlow as yet refused to commit himself decisively—the course of the King's illness was still much too uncertain—but he had secret interviews with the Prince of Wales, with Sheridan, and with Fox.1 He at least secured his position in the event of the King's recovery being pronounced hopeless, and in the meantime it was probably through his communications that the Prince obtained his information of the proceedings in the Cabinet relating to the proposed Regency Bill.
Thurlow concealed from his colleagues his interviews with the Whig leaders, and his more confidential interviews with the Prince; but complete secrecy was very difficult to attain. On November 28, before the King was removed from Windsor to Kew, he visited him in company with Pitt, and Miss Burney has given a curious account of the interview.1 Pitt was, as always, composed, and expressed his attachment and respect with simplicity and good feeling, but Thurlow presented the most edifying spectacle of passionate and uncontrollable loyalty. ‘He went into the presence of the King with a tremor such as before he had been only accustomed to inspire; and when he came out he was so extremely affected by the state in which he saw his royal master and patron that the tears ran down his cheeks and his feet had difficulty to support him.’ He perhaps a little overacted his part, for his colleagues were quite aware of his character, and they already knew or suspected his treachery.2 A slight accident, which has been often related, soon after disclosed to them the relations of Thurlow with the Prince. A council was one day held at Windsor, and Thurlow had been there for some time before his colleagues arrived. When the time for their departure came, the hat of the Chancellor was missing. After a long search a page brought it into the hall where the ministers were still standing, saying with great simplicity, ‘My Lords, I found it in the closet of the Prince of Wales.’ The confusion of the Chancellor was evident, and his colleagues quite understood the situation. Pitt appears to have said nothing, but he confided the conduct of the regency measures in the House of Lords to Lord Camden.1
At the time when the King was struck down by illness Parliament stood prorogued to November 20, but Pitt on that day procured a further adjournment till December 4. On the 3rd a meeting of the Privy Council was held at Whitehall to inquire into the state of the King. Members of all parties were summoned, and among those who were present were twenty-four who sat on the side of the Opposition.2 The five physicians who were in attendance were examined upon oath, and they testified that the King was totally incapacitated for transacting public business, that his illness was not incurable, but that it was at present wholly impossible to predict its duration. Next day Parliament met, and, the report of the Privy Council having been laid before it, Pitt moved a new adjournment till the 8th, giving notice at the same time that he would on that day propose the appointment of a committee to search for precedents that were in any degree applicable to the present state of affairs.
A sufficient period of deliberation and reflection had thus been secured, and on December 8 the leaders of the two parties had considered, or ought to have considered, fully all the aspects of the question. Pitt opened the proceedings in a tone of the greatest conciliation and candour. A doubt, he said, had been thrown out on the former occasion whether it was a regular and proper thing for Parliament to act in so grave a case merely on the report of the Privy Council, and Fox had expressed his concurrence with the doubt. For his own part, Pitt said, he thought the evidence laid before the House sufficient, but he had no wish to press the point if any member thought differently, and he therefore proposed that the House itself should examine the physicians. Such a course might indeed appear the more expedient as two new physicians—Dr. Willis and Dr. Gisborne—had been called in since the examination by the Privy Council. The readiness with which Pitt accepted the suggestion of the Opposition gave great satisfaction, and on the proposal of Pitt a committee was at once formed for the purpose of examining the physicians, consisting of twenty-one members, nine of whom were taken from the Opposition.
The step was an exceedingly judicious one. It was so managed as to give the strongest impression of candour and of respect for the House of Commons, while it was at the same time of great advantage to the Government. It had already become evident that the issue of the impending contest depended to a great extent on the prevailing belief about the probability of the King's recovery, and the situation had in this respect been much changed by the appearance of Dr. Willis on the scene. This gentleman was a clergyman as well as a physician, and he had for the last twenty-eight years kept an asylum for insane persons in Lincolnshire and had treated them with extraordinary success. Like most specialists he had his enemies, and he was considered by some as little better than a mountebank;1 but though the other doctors about the King may have ranked higher in their profession, none of them could speak on a question of insanity with so great a weight of experience. Dr. Willis, on seeing the King, at once declared that his recovery was almost certain, and that it was likely to take place in a short time. The management of the case was placed mainly in his hands, and he resided permanently at Kew, while the other doctors only visited the King at intervals. A new treatment was adopted; it was noticed that Willis at once obtained a complete ascendency over his patient, and some slight improvement was already visible. It was very desirable in the interests of the Government that the exceedingly confident opinion of Dr. Willis should be brought fully before Parliament and the country.2
The committee met on the 9th. The evidence of Dr. Willis was almost decisive as to the certainty of the King's speedy recovery. If it were the case of a common man, he said, he would have no doubt whatever, but it was possible that the painful reflections of the King on his own situation, and on the many interests depending on him, might, when he began to recover his reason, retard his cure. Signs of convalescence had not yet appeared, but there was everything leading to it, and especially a marked decrease of irritation. When asked about his own experience, Willis answered that of ten patients, brought to him within three months of their being attacked, nine had on an average recovered; that the smallest time of recovery he remembered was six weeks or two months from the patient being brought to him; the longest a year and a half; the average about five months.1 The other physicians, and especially Dr. Warren, were less sanguine, but they all of them admitted that the King's ultimate recovery was not only possible but probable.
On the 10th the report of the committee was presented to the House, and Pitt observed that it was now fully proved that the King was wholly incapable of transacting the necessary business of his office, and that the time of his recovery was extremely uncertain. Under these grave circumstances it was the duty of Parliament to provide for the government of the country. The point to be agitated was dear to the interests of the people and affected the fundamental principles of our free constitution, and it was most important that nothing should be done rashly or inconsiderately. He proposed, therefore, that a committee should be appointed to examine and report what precedents there were of measures taken to carry on the government, when the personal exercise of the royal authority had been prevented or interrupted by infancy, sickness, infirmity, or otherwise.
Up to this point the proceedings had been perfectly harmonious, but now the first note of discord was struck. Fox rose, and said that, while it was undoubtedly the duty of Parliament to lose no time in providing for the exigency of the situation, the motion for a committee appeared to him wholly unnecessary. It was perfectly known that there was no precedent which could throw light upon the present case. ‘The circumstance to be provided for did not depend upon their deliberations as a House of Parliament. It rested elsewhere. There was a person in the kingdom different from any other person that any existing precedents could refer to—an heir apparent of full age and capacity to exercise the royal power. … In his firm opinion, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had as clear, as express a right to assume the reins of government and exercise the power of sovereignty during the continuance of the illness and incapacity with which it had pleased God to afflict his Majesty, as in the case of his Majesty's having undergone a natural and perfect demise; and as to this right which he conceived the Prince of Wales had, he was not himself to judge when he was entitled to exercise it; but the two Houses of Parliament as the organs of the nation were alone qualified to pronounce when the Prince ought to take possession of and exercise his right. … His Royal Highness chose rather to wait the decision of Parliament with a patient and due deference to the Constitution, than to urge a claim which he was persuaded could not reasonably be disputed. But ought he to wait unnecessarily? … He should not oppose the motion [for a committee], but he thought it his duty to say it was incumbent on the House to lose no time in restoring the third Estate.1 His Royal Highness, he was convinced, must exercise the royal prerogative during, and only during, his Majesty's illness.’2
It is said that while Fox was delivering this memorable speech Pitt smiled triumphantly, and, slapping his thigh, exclaimed to a colleague sitting near him, ‘I'll unwhig the gentleman for the rest of his life.’1 Nothing, indeed, in the history of parliamentary debate is more striking than the skill with which he availed himself of the opportunity which was given him of turning the feeling of Parliament and country with overwhelming force against his opponents. If any additional reason, he said, was required for the appointment of the committee, the strongest and most unanswerable would be found in the speech of Fox.
‘If a claim of right was intimated (even though not formally) on the part of the Prince of Wales to assume the government, it became of the utmost consequence to ascertain from precedent and history whether this claim was founded. If it was, it precluded the House from the possibility of all deliberation on the subject. In the meantime he maintained that it would appear from every precedent and from every page of our history that to assert such a right in the Prince of Wales or anyone else was little less than treason to the Constitution of the country. … He pledged himself to this assertion, that in the case of the interruption of the personal exercise of the royal authority without any lawful provision having been made for carrying on the government, it belonged to the other branches of the Legislature, on the part of the nation at large—the body they represented—to provide according to their discretion for the temporary exercise of the royal authority in the name and on behalf of the sovereign in such manner as they should think requisite; and that, unless by their decision, the Prince of Wales had no more right (speaking of strict right) to assume the government than any other individual subject of the country. … Neither the whole nor any part of the royal authority could belong to him in the present circumstances unless conferred by the Houses of Parliament.’ ‘On the interruption of the personal exercise of the royal authority,’ he repeated, ‘it devolved on the remaining branches of the Legislature, on the part of the people of England, to exercise their discretion in providing a substitute. From the mode in which the right honourable gentleman had treated the subject a new question presented itself, and that of greater magnitude even than the question which was originally before them. … The question now was of their own rights, and it was become a doubt, according to the right honourable gentleman's opinion, whether that House had on this important occasion a deliberative power. … Let them proceed, therefore, to ascertain their rights. … On their proceeding depended their own interests and the interests and honour of a sovereign deservedly the idol of the people.’1
These two speeches indicate clearly the grounds of the controversy, and each speaker in the course of the same debate added a few arguments or explanations. In reply to Pitt's assertion that to deny the right and the sole competence of Parliament to appoint a regent was a kind of treason to the Constitution, Fox retorted that the two Houses acting without the concurrence and assent of the third estate were constitutionally incompetent not only to limit and set bounds to the executive power, but even to perform the most ordinary legislative act. It may be doubted, indeed, whether under such circumstances they ought not to be called a convention rather than a parliament. As all the world knew, he was no advocate for the exploded doctrine of indefeasible right. He admitted, and asserted, that political power in all its grades was of the nature of a trust, but by the law of England the crown was hereditary, and he inferred by analogy that the exercise of the sovereign power was hereditary also. ‘He had said before that the Prince's right to the regency was indisputable. He would now go farther and assert that it so belonged of right during what he would call the civil death of the King, that it could not be more completely or legally his by the ordinary and natural demise of the Crown. The Prince, therefore, who maintained that right and yet forebore to assume it, was entitled to the thanks of his country. Actuated by a respectful regard to the principles that had placed his illustrious family upon the throne, he waited to be informed of the sense of the people, before he would assume what no man had a right to take from him, what the law and the Constitution had given him a right to take without waiting for a declaration of either House of Parliament. It was not decent, therefore, to trifle with a Prince whose conduct was marked with such meritorious forbearance, by instituting an inquiry into precedents that had nothing to do with the case. It was the duty of the two Houses to restore the royal authority, and that immediately. … If they took advantage of the present calamitous state of the country to arrogate to themselves a power to which they had no right, they acted contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and would be guilty of treason.’
Pitt also added a few words, but it was only for the purpose of reiterating and defining as clearly as possible the question at issue. According to his own doctrine, ‘to make a provision for the executive power of the Government during an interruption of the personal exercise of the royal authority, by sickness, infirmity, or otherwise, rested with the remaining existing branches of the Legislature, and was a matter entirely in their discretion.’ According to Fox ‘the two Houses had no such discretion, but his Royal Highness had a claim to the exercise of the sovereign power which superseded the right of either House to deliberate on the subject.’1
Fox was evidently startled at the opinion which showed itself both in Parliament and the country, and without abandoning the substance of his contention he endeavoured to attenuate the difference of principle, while Pitt showed an evident desire to aggravate it. It had never, Fox said, been his intention to assert or to imply that the Prince of Wales had the right to assume and exercise the power of the regency without the adjudication of the two Houses of Parliament. ‘If, indeed, there was no Parliament either sitting or existing, it would have been the duty of the Prince of Wales to have called a convention of the Lords and Commons, to whom the cause of their being called might have been explained, and by whom his right, and the circumstances in which it originated, might be recognised, and the two Houses being met by him as exercising the delegated functions of the royal power would then become a legal parliament.’ But under all other circumstances it was for the two Houses to take the first step. Their vote must precede the exercise of the powers of the regency, and it was therefore wholly untrue that his doctrine superseded or annulled their authority. At the same time Fox contended that the right to exercise the royal authority with all its functions attached to the Prince of Wales from the moment of his father's incapacity, by virtue of the law which made the sovereign power in England hereditary and not elective, and that the function of Parliament in the matter was a function not of election but of adjudication. The two Houses did not give the Prince his right, but they were the appointed tribunal which could alone pronounce with authority that the occasion had arisen for its exercise. He acknowledged, however, that he found more difference of opinion than he had expected about the right of the Prince, and he found that much of it arose from very subtle distinctions that were drawn between the terms right and claim—distinctions which were to his mind more equivocal than solid or substantial, and which rested upon arguments which he confessed himself too dull to comprehend. He found it admitted on the other side that the Prince must be made Regent—that his claim was irresistible. The difference between an ‘inherent right’ and an ‘irresistible claim’ to the regency seemed to him imperceptible, or at least ‘extremely minute.’ Both parties, in fact, agreed that the Prince of Wales must be Regent, and that a parliamentary vote must precede his installation. The Prince had put forward no claim of right, and although Fox believed in that right and had stated it as an argument in debate, he had spoken only as a private member and in no sense as a representative of the Prince. ‘What signified differences about abstract points when the substance was indisputable?’ It was extremely desirable that the proceedings of Parliament in this grave crisis should be unanimous, extremely undesirable that Parliament should be invited to vote without any necessity on a dangerous and disputable question of inherent right. ‘His opinion was that the Prince of Wales ought to be declared Regent and capable of exercising all the royal authority in the same manner and to the same extent as it would have been exercised by his Majesty had he been able to discharge the functions of the sovereign authority.’
The assertion of Fox that he had not raised the question of right on the authority of the Prince of Wales was strengthened a few days later by a remarkable speech of the Duke of York in the House of Lords. He expressed his great desire to avoid any discussion of so fruitless and unnecessary a question as the abstract right of the Prince of Wales to the regency. In point of fact no claim to such a right had been asserted by the Prince or even been hinted at by him, and he felt a full and most assured confidence that ‘his Royal Highness understood too well the sacred principles which seated the House of Brunswick on the throne of Great Britain, ever to assume or exercise any power, be his claim what it might, that was not derived from the will of the people expressed by their representatives and their Lordships in Parliament assembled.’ These, he stated, he knew to be also the sentiments of his royal brother.
The inexpediency of pronouncing on the question of abstract right was also maintained by Lord North in a very admirable speech. ‘What good,’ he said, ‘can arise from deciding the present question?’ After the express declaration made elsewhere on the part of the Prince of Wales, there could be no possible danger to the rights of Parliament, and the House would do well to follow the example of the statesmen of the Revolution, who proceeded without delay to take practical measures to place the Government on a regular footing without discussing speculative and abstract questions. Without the third branch of the Legislature they had no power, and they ought, therefore, immediately and in the shortest way to fill up the vacancy. ‘Sitting in a maimed and imperfect Legislature they ought to confine themselves strictly to the necessity of the case, since every step they proceeded beyond that necessity was a step in error.’ ‘They ought to go straight to their object.’ ‘Nominate a Regent, and then when the third branch of the Legislature was complete they would become a Parliament, perfect in all its constitutional forms, and might legally pass any laws either of limitation, restriction, or of any other kind.’
Pitt, however, emphatically refused to adopt this course, and he insisted upon bringing the constitutional question to a direct vote. His opponent, he said, ‘had asserted that the Prince of Wales had a right to exercise the royal authority under the present circumstances of the country, but that it was a right not in possession until the Prince could exercise it on what the right honourable gentleman called adjudication of Parliament. He on his part denied that the Prince of Wales had any right whatever, and upon that point the right honourable gentleman and he were still at issue, and this issue, in his opinion, must be decided before they proceeded one step farther.’ ‘It was impossible to let the question of right which had been started undergo admission without its being fully discussed and decided. It was a question that shook the foundation of the Constitution, and upon the decision of which all that was dear to us as Britons depended. It was their first duty to decide whether there was any right in the Prince of Wales to claim the exercise of the royal power under any circumstances of the country, independent of the actual demise of the Crown.’ ‘The danger of the question originated in its having been stirred, not in its being decided,’ and it was the Opposition and not the Government which had raised it. To leave unsettled such a claim affecting the fundamental rights of Parliament would be highly dangerous, and it was very far from being a merely abstract or speculative opinion. The whole question of the power of Parliament to limit the regency depended upon the decision on the question of right. ‘If a right existed to represent the King it must be perfect, admitting of no modification whatever.’ In that case the two Houses had no right to restrict the power of the Regent, without his own consent. Their function was to adjudge, and not to deliberate or impose conditions. If, on the other hand, it was the legal right of Parliament to constitute the regency, they could discuss the powers with which the Regent should be invested, and decide how much of the royal prerogative should be delegated, and how much it was prudent to reserve. After passing a resolution, therefore, asserting that the King was incapable of discharging his royal functions, Parliament was asked to pass a second resolution copied in parts from the Bill of Rights, and stating ‘that it was the right and duty of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons of Great Britain now assembled, and lawfully, fully and freely, representing all the estates of the people of this nation, to provide the means of supplying the defect of the personal exercise of the royal authority arising from his Majesty's indisposition in such a manner as the exigency of the case may appear to require.’
Although the debates on the question of right extended to great length, and had much constitutional importance, the arguments which were really relevant and valuable lie within a narrow compass, and several that were advanced with a great parade of learning may be very summarily dismissed. Little or no weight can be attached to the argument drawn by Lord Loughborough from the fact that the King and the Prince of Wales are in some cases considered by the law as one, that the Prince of Wales may proceed in an action and claim judgment as King, that it is high treason to attempt his life. Nor were the few precedents of regencies that were adduced from the earlier periods of English history deserving of more attention. They were derived from times of semi-barbarism and violence, when the Constitution was almost unformed, when the balance of its powers was completely undetermined, and in no one case had there been a Prince of Wales of full age at the time when his father was incapacitated. Constitutional precedents, indeed, are very rarely of any real value if they are taken from an earlier period than the Revolution of 1688. The precedent in the reign of Henry VI. was most relied on, for in that case there was a king who was incapacitated by imbecility, and a regency which was both ratified and limited by Act of Parliament. It was an ill-omened precedent, for it had been a chief cause of the Wars of the Roses, but the simple fact that the House of Lords alone selected the Regent is sufficient to show how inapplicable it was to the conditions of modern politics. The Duke of York on this occasion accepted the office of ‘Protector of the Realm’ in obedience to the wish of the peerage, in whom, by reason of the King's infirmity, ‘resteth the exercise of his authority,’ and he requested the advice and assistance of the Lords and a definition of his authority. It is true that the resolution of the Lords defining his position and power was subsequently embodied in a Bill which received the assent of the Commons and duly became law, but the whole proceeding shows a conception of the Constitution altogether different from that of modern times.1 ‘Were the rights of the House of Commons,’ asked Fox when speaking of this precedent, ‘and its proceedings in one of the most difficult moments that had ever occurred to be maintained and vindicated by the example of the House of Lords, at a time when that House of Lords had the complete dominion of the executive government, which they exercised with no unsparing hand; at a time when the rights of the Commons House of Parliament were so ill understood and so weakly sustained that the Speaker was actually imprisoned on commitment of the House of Lords?’ The more recent conduct of the Convention Parliament, in calling William and Mary to the throne by an address, might furnish a convenient model, but scarcely an argument or a precedent, for the interruption of the exercise of the royal power by the flight of James II. had no real analogy to that which had now taken place.
The question, in truth, was one on which both law and precedent were silent, and it could only be argued by deductions from a few well-known and simple maxims of the Constitution. The English monarchy is at once hereditary and parliamentary, and the Whigs maintained that these two characteristics were best recognised by their doctrine that when the King is incapacitated from discharging the functions of his office, the heir to the crown has a right, if of full age and capacity, to assume the sovereign authority as in the case of his father's death, but only during the period of his father's incapacity, and not until he had been called upon to do so by the two Houses of Parliament. The crown of England—and therefore, they maintained, the executive power and government of the country—is hereditary and not elective, and the maxim that the King never dies implies that there can be no break in the hereditary sovereign authority. In cases when the royal line has become extinct, or when the sovereign by infringing the original contract between the King and the people has abdicated the throne, it is no doubt true that the two Houses of Parliament have a right to supply the deficiency. In all other cases the law either expressly or by the clearest analogy pointed out the successor, and the principle of heredity must operate. Nor has this doctrine the smallest affinity to that of the Divine right of kings. Pitt said that the question was whether the regency was a right or a trust. Fox answered that according to the doctrine established at the Revolution all political power, including that of the sovereign himself, is a trust, and may be resumed if it is essentially abused. The regency like the monarchy is unquestionably a trust, and on that very ground he urged ‘the Prince's right to be hereditary, conceiving an hereditary succession the best security to the people for the due discharge and faithful execution of the important trust vested by them in their governors.’ Hereditary constitutional monarchy had been deliberately adopted in England as the form of government most fitted to secure the liberties and happiness of the people, and in such a government it is as unconstitutional to introduce the principle of election into the first branch of the Legislature as it would be to introduce the principle of heredity into the third. The assertion of Pitt that during the King's incapacity the undoubted heir to the throne, being of full age and capacity, ‘has no more right to exercise the powers of government than any other person in these realms,’ was an outrage on the constitution and on the feelings of the people. If Pitt doubted it, let him throw this assertion into the form of a motion and ask Parliament to vote it. He knew well that in spite of his great majorities he dared not venture on the experiment. An elective regency with the two Houses of Parliament as the electors, was essentially opposed to the theory of hereditary monarchy, and it would fundamentally change the Constitution of the country during periods when the King was incapacitated. It made the sovereign authority during these periods elective. It invested the two Houses with the power of a Polish Diet. Parliament might elect two regents. It might elect a new regent every year. It might create a purely aristocratic form of government, like that of the Mahrattas. It might pass over the royal family and invest with the sovereign power an ordinary subject, a foreigner or a Catholic, and a regent unconnected with the royal family would be competent in the name of the incapacitated sovereign, and during the lifetime of a Prince of Wales of full age and capacity, to give the royal sanction to a law changing the order of succession.
And what was the body for which Pitt claimed this power of transforming the government, suspending or transferring the succession of an hereditary monarchy, placing a person in the situation of king without the full royal power? It is undoubtedly within the power and option of Parliament, acting with the royal sanction, to alter the succession to the throne and to remodel the entire Constitution. But the two Houses acting without the royal sanction have no legislative power whatever. They cannot legally pass so much as a turnpike Bill. This is one of the clearest and most indisputable principles of the Constitution, and it is so jealously guarded by the law, that an Act of Charles II. has made any person who in writing or by word of mouth asserted that two branches of the Legislature had the power and efficacy of all three, liable to the penalties of prœmunire. With what reason then, with what plausibility, could it be contended that a Parliament thus maimed and imperfect was competent to elect or appoint a regent, and by elaborate restrictive legislation to divide, limit, and portion out the sovereign authority? The simplest, shortest, and most constitutional method of extricating the country from its present difficulty was an address of the two Houses calling on the Prince of Wales to exercise the royal functions which were at present eclipsed. The legislative machinery would then be restored, and if it were thought necessary to introduce limitations into the regency there would be a Legislature competent to enact them.
This reasoning appears to me extremely powerful, and the theory of Fox was, as is well known, actually adopted in Ireland. The Irish Parliament, having accepted on the authority of the English Parliament the fact of the King's incapacity, presented an address to the Prince of Wales requesting him to assume in Ireland the suspended functions of royalty in the name of his father and during the period of his father's incapacity. If the Prince of Wales had been popular and trusted, if he had been in harmony with the English ministry, or if he had even been prepared to leave matters unchanged till his father's illness had taken a decisive turn, it is probable that a similar course would have been adopted in England, and that no one would have found anything in it dangerous to the liberties of the nation. But personal and party interests of the most powerful nature were involved in the decision, and the regency question from the very beginning produced in England the keenest of party conflicts. The popularity of the King had since the defeat of the Coalition been steadily rising, and the calamity which had struck him down had very naturally produced an outburst of the deepest compassion and loyalty, while Pitt still maintained an undiminished ascendency. The commercial and business classes, who were in general little concerned with party conflicts, believed that his fall would be a serious blow to national credit and prosperity;1 and the great masses of the people regarded him with an enthusiasm which even his father had scarcely excited. ‘Pitt,’ wrote a very able member of the Opposition with great bitterness, ‘is the only object the nation can perceive and the only thing they think valuable in the world, and I rather think they would be content and pleased to set aside the whole royal family, with the Crown and both Houses of Parliament, if they could keep him by it.’2 On the other hand, the character of the Prince of Wales was already deeply stained, and he was known to be in open hostility to his father and his father's Ministry, and in constant communication with an unpopular Opposition. It was his obvious duty, and indeed interest, in assuming the regency to maintain the existing political situation unchanged during the very few months which were likely to elapse before the King's illness took a decisive turn. It was well known, however, that he was determined not to take this course, that his first act of power was likely to be to dismiss Pitt and summon Fox to his councils, and that Fox was perfectly prepared under these circumstances to accept office.3
The contrast between the two parties was manifestly capable of being employed, if judiciously managed, in a manner that would enlist an overwhelming stress of popular favour in the cause of the Government. On the one side, it was said, was a virtuous King struck down by a terrible, though, it was believed, only a temporary, calamity; and a young minister of unimpeachable character and splendid genius, who had enjoyed to the last the full confidence of his sovereign, who was the idol both of Parliament and of the nation, and who was now endeavouring to fulfil the wishes and to protect the interests of his incapacitated master. On the other side was a profligate and undutiful son, eager to climb to power and determined to bring into office men whom his sick father abhorred, and whom the nation had a few years before indignantly rejected. Nor was it so certain that their tenure of office would be a brief one, even in the event of the King's speedy recovery. It was still the popular belief that the India Bill of the Coalition Ministry of 1784 had been a bold and skilful attempt of the ascendant party to secure for itself such an amount of permanent patronage and power that it might almost balance the authority of the Crown. These very men were now again on the threshold of office. If through the illness of the King they obtained, though only for a few months, uncontrolled power, might they not, it was asked, in another form resume their enterprise, fill the House of Lords with their creatures, distribute among their followers so many great and permanent places of emolument, patronage and influence, that it would become very difficult for the sovereign on his recovery to displace them? Under such circumstances there was a wide and general feeling that while the claim of the Prince of Wales to exercise the regency could not be passed by, his power should be at least carefully defined and restricted, and every argument which supported the right of Parliament to impose such restrictions was accepted with delight.
As we have already seen, the difference of opinion did not openly break out in Parliament till December 10, but the letters of Grenville to his brother the Marquis of Buckingham, who was at this time Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, show clearly that for some weeks before that date the contest had been violently raging. These letters, being written by a minister, are strongly coloured with party feeling, but they are the letters of a very acute judge, who had more than common means of information and who was writing in strict confidence and with perfect sincerity. As early as November 15 he was convinced, from the Prince's general demeanour, that he was determined to dismiss Pitt without hesitation, and two days later he mentions that the accounts of the probable gravity of the King's illness were very opposite, being ‘strongly tinctured by the wishes of those who sent them;’ and that although on reflection the idea of refusing to the Regent the power of dissolving Parliament was probably impracticable, other limitations were likely to be imposed which would render all negotiations impossible. A few days later he says that the language of the Opposition seemed to point to a coalition, but that no offers had as yet been made, and that ‘the conduct of the Prince of Wales marked a desire of avoiding Pitt.’ ‘Since there had been an appearance of amendment, the Opposition have taken inconceivable pains to spread the idea that the King's disorder is incurable.’ ‘The indecency of any language held on your side of the water’ [in Ireland], he says in another letter, ‘cannot exceed that of the universal tone of opposition within the last four or five days. So long as they considered the case desperate, they were affecting a prodigious concern and reverence for the King's unhappy situation. Now that people entertain hopes of his recovery they are using the utmost industry to combat this idea, circulating all the particulars of everything which he does or says under his present circumstances and adding the most outrageous falsehoods.’1
The Prince of Wales was accused of the grossest misconduct —introducing Lord Lothian into the King's room when it was darkened in order that he might hear his ravings at a time when they were at the worst, drinking and singing with his companions when his father's illness was at its height, openly and on all occasions displaying his political bias.
‘The behaviour of the two Princes,’ Grenville writes on December 7, ‘is such as to shock every man's feelings. What do you think of the Duke of York's having a meeting of the Opposition at his house on Thursday, before the House of Lords met, and then going down there to hear the examinations read? After that they closed the day by both going in the evening to Brooks's. The truth is that the Duke is entirely in his brother's hands, and that the latter is taking inconceivable pains to keep him so.’ The Opposition were already strongly supporting the physicians who took the most unfavourable view of the King's disorder, and doing everything in their power to discredit the physicians who took the more sanguine view. ‘There seems great reason to believe that the Prince of Wales is inclined to go to all lengths to which that party are pushing him.’ ‘The prevailing idea seems to be that of a general dismission, and of an immediate dissolution of Parliament.’ It was confidently stated that the future Administration was already settled in almost all its details. Another report, which was assiduously spread by the Opposition, was that the Prince of Wales was determined to refuse the regency if it was clogged with restrictions. ‘By such a step,’ Grenville wrote, ‘the Prince will do himself a permanent mischief which he will never be able to repair, and which we shall probably, all of us, have much reason to regret. It is quite clear, that having once proposed these restrictions, as thinking them necessary for the interest of the King (and on that ground only could we propose them), no other motive whatever can be a justification for abandoning them.’ The alleged threat of the Prince, however, is probably ‘nothing more than a bully intended to influence votes in the House of Commons. If, however, he should be so desperate, I should hope there would be every reason to believe that the Queen would be induced to take the regency in order to prevent the King's hands from being fettered for the remainder of his life.’ It was probable, however, that the Prince would accept the regency on the terms proposed, that the measure would be carried through Parliament by about January 10 or 12, and that the ministers would then be immediately dismissed.1
Grenville, however, had little fear for the ultimate result of the conflict, and his letters show how day after day the tide of popular feeling was rising. On the 20th of November he wrote: ‘There seems to be just such a spirit and zeal gone forth among Pitt's friends as one would most desire, and whatever is now the event of this anxious moment, I am persuaded you will see him increase from it in point of character and lose little in point of strength.’ ‘My opinion,’ wrote another correspondent on the 25th, ‘is that the … present Administration will retire (if so necessitated) merely to return to power on the shoulders of the nation.’ ‘If I am not mistaken,’ wrote Grenville on the 30th, ‘a storm is rising that they [the Opposition] little expect, and the sense of the country instead of being nearly as strong as in 1784 will be much stronger. But the party in general are so hungry and impatient that I think they will act upon the better judgment of their leaders and prevent them from doing anything which may allow a moment's delay.’ ‘If they do dissolve Parliament,’ he wrote on December 4, ‘in such a moment as this, when the physicians concur in declaring the King's recovery probable, I am persuaded the cry will be as strong as it was in 1784.’ ‘We receive every day new professions of attachment,’ he wrote on the 9th. ‘There is every reason to believe that the country will continue entirely with us, and that addresses will be presented from all parts to the Regent to continue the government.’1
All these letters were written before the conflict in Parliament began. The declaration of the Prince of Wales's right by Fox on the 10th, immensely strengthened the Government, and, whatever may be thought of its constitutional character, there can be no question that it was an enormous tactical error. The letters of the Government partisans show clearly the delight with which on their side of the House it was received. ‘Of the momentous business opened last night,’ wrote Sir William Young the day after the debate, ‘I can only say that our astonishment is only to be equalled by the spirits we are in on viewing the grounds Mr. Fox has abandoned to us and left our own. … Talbot, who made one of my morning's levee, told me that at White's last night all was hurra! and triumph.’ It was said that Fox, ‘having on a former occasion sought to trespass on the royal just prerogative, had now completed his attack on the Constitution, in denying the rights of Lords and Commons.’ ‘Looking back to the history of this man of the people,’ continues Young, ‘and to his present conduct, in despite of his talents of logical discrimination, I begin almost to doubt whether his weakness or profligacy is transcendent.’ Grenville was almost equally emphatic: ‘You will be as much surprised as I was,’ he wrote, ‘to find that the motion of the Prince of Wales's right was brought forward yesterday by Fox in the House of Commons. It was a matter of no less astonishment to many of his own friends. … One should lose oneself in conjecture by attempting to find out what motive can have induced him to take exactly the most unpopular ground on which their side of the question can be rested. … Only think of Fox's want of judgment to bring himself and his friends into such a scrape as he has done, by maintaining a doctrine of higher Tory principle than could have been found anywhere since Sir Robert Sawyer's speeches.’1
The matter was made considerably worse by Sheridan, who a few days later, while asserting the right of the Prince of Wales to the unrestricted regency, reminded the House of ‘the danger of provoking that Prince to assert his right.’ It was such a blunder, said Grenville, in relating the scene, ‘as I never knew any man of the meanest talents guilty of before. During the whole time that I have sat in Parliament I never remember such an uproar as was raised by his threatening,’2 and Pitt carried the House with him when he designated such language as ‘an indecent menace thrown out to awe and influence their proceedings.’ ‘To assert the inherent right of the Prince of Wales to assume the government,’ he said in another speech, ‘is virtually to revive those exploded ideas of the Divine and indefeasible authority of princes which have so justly sunk into contempt and almost oblivion. Kings and princes derive their power from the people, and to the people alone through the organ of their representatives does it appertain to decide in cases for which the Constitution has made no specific or positive provision.’3
These were words well fitted to waken an echo in the country. Placards soon appeared in the streets containing passages from the rival speeches, headed: ‘Fox for the Prince's prerogative and Pitt for the privileges of Parliament and liberties of the nation.’4 By a strange and unexampled fortune Pitt was able for the second time to constitute himself on the most popular grounds the champion of the Tory King, to appeal both to the special advocates of the royal prerogative and to the special advocates of the democratic elements in the Constitution as the most faithful exponent of their respective principles. For the second time Fox, whose position depended wholly on the fidelity with which he advocated civil and religious liberty, was suspected by the nation of sacrificing the principles of the Constitution to the interests of his party. With a tact that never failed, with an eloquence that has seldom been surpassed, with a logical discrimination little if at all inferior to that of his adversary, Pitt defended the far more popular doctrine, that under existing circumstances the two Houses had full discretion to elect and limit the Regent. The temporary exercise of royal authority on behalf of the sovereign, he argued, is an essentially different thing from the possession of the throne. The throne is full. No one without treason can say that it can be vacant in the lifetime of a King who has not forfeited his right, and it is no less unconstitutional to say that any other person during the lifetime of the King has an inherent right to assume the royal authority. The hereditary right to exercise the royal functions, like every other hereditary right, can only come into force on the death of the person in possession. The doctrine that the Prince of Wales has a right when of full age to exercise the royal authority during his father's incapacity is perfectly new. There is not a trace of it in the Statute Book. No lawyer in any former age has mentioned it as part of the common law. No writer on the Constitution has asserted it, and there is not the smallest evidence that it had ever been advanced in any of the many earlier parliamentary proceedings relating to regencies. However imperfect might be the precedents that have been adduced, they at least all pointed to parliamentary limitations, and the precedent of Henry VI. was very closely applicable. The King being incapable, an Act of Parliament appointed the Duke of York Protector and Regent, but it at the same time recognised the future claim to the regency of the Prince of Wales, who was at this time only one year old, and by a reversionary patent it settled what should be his situation and the extent of the powers with which he should be invested when he came of age. If this transaction showed that the Prince of Wales in the opinion of that Parliament was the natural person to hold the regency, it showed also that he was not considered entitled to assume it as of inherent right. ‘To the person of the King who wears the crown is certainly confined all the royal authority of the Constitution, and in his name, even during the existence of the Regency, must all public business be transacted.’ ‘His political capacity remains as entire and as perfect as ever, though from a natural incapacity he cannot act.’
The task to be accomplished, therefore, is not to make a king, but to revive or give efficiency to the suspended action of the third estate. The case is unprovided for by law, and for that reason the duty and the right belong to the nation at large, which is the ultimate source of all political power, and which is represented by the two Houses of Parliament. ‘Though the third estate of the Legislature may be deficient, yet the organs of speech of the people remained entire in their representation by the Houses of Lords and Commons, through which the sense of the people may be taken. The Lords and Commons represent the whole estates of the people, and with them it rested as a right to provide for the deficiency of the third branch of the Legislature whenever a deficiency arose.’ The circumstances are not the same as those which followed the abdication of James II. Then the throne was vacant. Now the throne is full, and the King's political capacity is whole and entire, though in fact the functions of the Executive Government are for the time suspended. But in one respect there is an undoubted resemblance. It is as impossible to abide by the Act of Charles II. now as in the time of the Revolution. Then it was impossible on account of the absence of the King. Now it is impossible through the act of God. The King's actual consent cannot be obtained, and if Fox's claim for the Prince of Wales were admitted, it would not solve the difficulty. ‘Was the Regent so appointed to act in his own name or in that of the King? One or the other he must do. If in his own name he dethroned the King. If in the name of the King it must be without his consent.’
It remained, then, for the two Houses to provide a temporary substitute for the King's assent, and to do so deviating as little as possible from the forms of the Constitution. No legislative act can be done without the formal sanction of this assent, and no person can take upon him to give that assent except by the direction and authority of the two Houses, who have a right in the present emergency to act for the King. What, then, are the means by which the King exercised his parliamentary prerogative when he did not exercise it personally? The legal and constitutional mode was by issuing letters patent under the Great Seal. ‘The Great Seal,’ said Lord Camden, ‘was the high instrument by which the King's fiat was irrevocably given; it was the mouth of the royal authority, the organ by which the sovereign spoke his will.’ The impress of the Great Seal is the form and expression of the King's assent. It is the final act that gives every legislative measure its validity and makes it part of the statute law of the land. Pitt now proposed that the two Houses should put this Great Seal in commission, and should authorise that commission to affix it to the Bill which was to be passed, creating and defining the regency.
By this means, he contended, the third estate would be restored to action with as little violence as possible to the Constitution, and Parliament would again become a perfect legislative body. ‘The use of the King's name without his consent,’ he said, ‘had been asserted to be a gross and clumsy fiction, but by that fiction the courts of law were now upheld. That fiction was the support of hereditary monarchy so strenuously argued for. The grand principle and foundation on which hereditary monarchy had rested was the political capacity of the King ever remaining entire, and it could never be set aside while living and not having forfeited the crown. That was the grand principle that supported hereditary right. What else could have protected the infant monarch in a cradle, or the infirm, diseased old king on his bed of sickness?’
It followed from these arguments that it was the right and duty of the two Houses to determine what portion of the royal authority should be conferred upon the Regent, and the principles on which they should proceed were very simple. Nothing should be granted that was unnecessary for the efficiency and dignity of the temporary government which was to be created, or that could by any possibility restrict or endanger the power of the recovered King. On these lines the ministers were resolved to act. The question of right must first be determined. The ministers would then introduce a Regency Bill accompanied by such limitations as they deemed necessary or expedient in the interests of the sovereign, who, though for a time struck down by illness, was still unquestionably on the throne and still unquestionably their master.
Such is, I think, a complete summary of the arguments urged by Pitt and his colleagues on this great constitutional question, and such were the doctrines which they induced Parliament to affirm. It is evident that the weakest part of this reasoning is that relating to the employment of the Great Seal. The phantom king which was thus created was denounced as one of the most formidable innovations ever made upon the Constitution, and very eminent modern lawyers have adopted this view. Which doctrine, it was asked, is more in harmony with the spirit of the Constitution, that which supposes the undoubted heir to an hereditary throne to possess when of full age a natural right to act for his father during the period of his father's incapacity, or that which authorises the other two estates to create a fictitious king, the shadow and the expression of their own will? If a fiction of this nature might be tolerated in order to give a semblance of regularity to purely formal and undisputed proceedings, ought it to be made use of to determine a constitutional question of the gravest moment, and involving issues of the most disputable character? The essential idea of the third estate is that it is something independent of the other two, that it is invested with prerogatives of its own, that it has the power of dissent as well as assent. ‘When the plan of the Government was carried out,’ said Lord North, ‘there would not be three estates—there would be only two, the Lords and Commons and their deputy—in fact, therefore, the whole Legislature would consist of Lords and Commons only. The mode now proposed by the resolution before the House was to set up a person to represent the royal person without any deliberative power, with only a ministerial authority, a tool of their own, a creature of the two Houses, obliged to act in subservience to them, without discretion, without the power to dissolve or any of the other functions of the third estate.’ ‘The third estate to be set up on the present occasion,’ said Fox, ‘was something with no will of its own, no discretion, but acted merely as the two Houses thought proper. It was a mere creature of theirs, and if resorted to once, might be resorted to again and again.’ ‘In despite of the statute of Charles II.,’ said Burke, ‘which made such a declaration liable to the penalties of prœmunire, the two Houses had declared their right to legislate.’ ‘It was intended,’ he continued, caricaturing Lord Thurlow, ‘to set up a man with black eyebrows and a large wig, a kind of scarecrow to the two Houses, who was to give a fictitious assent in the royal name; and this to be binding on the people at large! … They declared their positive determination to elect a creature of their own, and to invest it with the insignia but without any of the intrinsic power of royalty.’ … He for his part disclaimed all allegiance to such a political monster. … This farce reminded him of a priest among savages who raised an idol and directed its worship, merely that he might secure to himself the meat that was offered as a sacrifice.’
The force of these considerations appears to me undeniable. The precedent established was a revolutionary one, and the two Houses, as Burke truly said, acted like an ‘aristocratic republic.’ It is probable that if England should ever again pass through a period of revolution, and if it should be thought desirable to throw over that revolution a colour of precedent and legality, this page of history will not be forgotten. The best that can be said of the device which was adopted is that it was employed only until the regency had been created and defined, and that without some such contrivance it would have been impossible to establish the limitations which both Parliament and the country thought necessary. It was said to have been devised and it was chiefly defended by Sir John Scott, afterwards Lord Eldon, the most typical and unbending of Tory lawyers. The retirement of Lord Mansfield in the June of this year from the office of Chief Justice of King's Bench had been followed by a series of promotions, in the course of which Scott became Solicitor-General, and in the debates on the regency he was a conspicuous defender of the Government.
Another and still more prominent lawyer had also begun to throw himself decisively into the same scale. The secret overtures of Thurlow to the Prince of Wales had been intended to secure his position at a time when it was the prevailing opinion among the best judges that the recovery of the King was improbable. The evidence, however, of Dr. Willis soon modified his course. On December 11 Lord Lough borough, who was throughout the chief legal adviser of the Whigs, maintained in an elaborate speech the inherent right of the Prince to the regency, and it was necessary for the Chancellor to answer him. He dissented from his view, but he did so in terms that were studiously moderate and temporising, dwelling mainly on the danger of disunion and the uselessness of prematurely raising questions of principle. The debate, wrote Lord Bulkeley to Buckingham, ‘had one good effect, that the Chancellor opened enough of his sentiments to show that he means to stand by his colleagues.’ ‘He seems very sour and crusty and certainly does not like Pitt, but I cannot believe he will do otherwise than right on this momentous occasion.’1 Thurlow, however, can hardly have failed to be conscious that while he would be inevitably distrusted and disliked by the Whigs, he had gone so far that his position would be in much danger if the King recovered. That no such recovery was likely to take place was still the prevailing belief among the Opposition, and Fox was convinced that he would be in office in about a fortnight,2 but on the ministerial side the chances were now very differently calculated. Dr. Willis was there trusted more than Dr. Warren, and his reports were becoming daily more encouraging. Thurlow determined, therefore, by one great display to clear his position. In a speech on December 15 he not only expressed his strong adhesion to the doctrine of the Government, but astonished his hearers by bursting into a flood of tears as he described the afflicted condition of the King, his own unalterable resolution to support him, and his boundless gratitude for the favours he had received. ‘When I forget my King,’ he exclaimed, ‘may my God forget me!’
The words made a great but various impression. To the outside world they seemed a touching and eloquent expression of devoted loyalty, but they were regarded very differently by those politicians who knew something of the recent proceedings of the Chancellor. ‘Forget you!’ exclaimed Wilkes, who was standing on the steps of the throne, ‘He will see you d—d first!’ ‘Forget you!’ said Burke, who was also among the listeners, ‘the best thing that could happen to you!’ Pitt, who was standing a few paces from Thurlow when the ejaculation was made, turning to General Manners exclaimed in a loud voice, ‘Oh, the rascal!’1 The speech, however, at least showed the opinion of a very acute judge on the probable issue of the conflict, and in a subsequent debate Thurlow again distinguished himself by the effusive loyalty and pathos with which he supported the Crown. He gained the full confidence of the Queen, yet he never wholly lost the favour of the Prince, who keenly appreciated his convivial qualities. Complete rupture between the Chancellor and the Opposition, however, could not long be delayed, and it was a source of real gratification to Fox and to his colleagues, some of whom appeared to have entertained a notion, which was, I think, certainly untrue, that Thurlow was betraying their counsels to Pitt.2 It is remarkable that even after the King's recovery there continued to be a friendly feeling and connection between Thurlow and the Prince of Wales, and it was regarded by the Whigs with great bitterness and with some fear. ‘The Chancellor,’ wrote Sir G. Elliot as late as February 23, ‘is again getting about the Prince of Wales, persuading him that he is attached to him and that he hates Pitt, which latter part is perfectly true; but he is the falsest and most treacherous character in the world, and much more likely to mislead the Prince than to serve him, or to do anything else that is consistent or honourable.’1
The main contention of the Opposition speakers was the extreme inexpediency of pronouncing a formal parliamentary judgment on the question of right, and they, therefore, met the second resolution, which asserted the right of Parliament, by the previous question, which was moved in a very able speech by Lord North. In addition to the popular feeling that ran strongly against him, Fox had to contend against the unfortunate fact that he was urging Parliament to abstain from passing a judgment on a question which he had himself introduced. His followers were obliged to argue that the right of the Prince of Wales had been very unnecessarily forced into debate, and that it was giving a most undue and unprecedented importance to a statement thrown out by an unofficial member in the course of his argument, to make it the basis of a parliamentary resolution. The Government, however, carried their second resolution by a large majority, the previous question being rejected by 268 to 204. The victory was a decisive one, for the best judges among the Opposition had anticipated that ministers, if not defeated, would at least win by only a very small majority, and that the course which the Opposition had adopted of deprecating a vote upon a right which had not been claimed, would draw to them all those neutral and moderate men who were chiefly anxious for public tranquillity.2 The third resolution was then introduced, asserting that it was necessary for the two Houses to ‘determine on the means whereby the royal assent may be given in Parliament to such a Bill as may be passed by the two Houses of Parliament respecting the exercise of the powers and authorities of the Crown, in the name and on the behalf of the King, during the continuance of his Majesty's present indisposition.’ It passed through the House of Commons in a single sitting on December 22 by 251 to 178. Next day the three resolutions were sent up to the House of Lords, where they were finally agreed to on the 29th. There appears to have been only one division on the resolutions in the Upper House, and the numbers were 99 to 66; but some powerful speeches were made against them, and a protest embodying the chief arguments of the Opposition was signed by the two royal Dukes of York and Gloucester and by forty-five other peers. With the exception of a protest against the impeachment of Sacheverell in 1709, it was the most numerously signed in the journals of the House.
At this stage of the proceedings, legislation was for a short time interrupted by the sudden illness of Cornwall, the Speaker, and by his death on January 2. He had occupied the Chair since 1780, and it is a curious coincidence that Lord Grantley, who, as Sir Fletcher Norton, had preceded him, died only twenty-four hours before him. On the 5th, William Grenville, who was Joint Paymaster of the Forces, was elected Speaker by 215 votes, while Sir Gilbert Elliot, the candidate of the Opposition, received only 144.
The Government having now obtained in the form of resolutions the sanction of Parliament for their policy, their path was comparatively smooth, though some serious fluctuations in the state of the King, the undisguised hostility of the Prince of Wales and of the royal dukes, and the manifest intention to change the Government when the regency was established, detached a few waverers and shook the confidence of many. With a weak minister the parliamentary majority might have crumbled away, but the discipline and tone of the House of Commons, like that of an army, depends mainly on the character of its leader, and Pitt on this occasion led the House with as admirable a skill as in the great struggle of 1784. It was in these periods that his real greatness was most fully seen, and there can be no better study in the art of parliamentary management than is furnished by his conduct. The frankness with which he dealt with the House; the courage, presence of mind, good sense, and moderation with which he met every question as it arose; the skill with which he brought into relief every popular point on his own side and every unpopular point on the side of his opponents could hardly be surpassed. Always firm but never obstinate, always conciliatory but never weak, he steadily maintained the semblance of disinterestedness and patriotism and that ascendency of character which was the true cause of his superiority over his opponents. In soundness of constitutional doctrine, in power of reasoning and power of language, the speeches of Fox and one or two of the speeches of North appear to me to be at least equal to those of Pitt, but Pitt possessed, and Fox wanted, the confidence of the House and of the nation, and Pitt scarcely ever made a mistake in management, while Fox and the most illustrious of his supporters were frequently guilty of the gravest imprudences. ‘There certainly never was in this country, at any period, such a situation as Mr. Pitt's,’ wrote Grenville to his brother on one of the last days of 1788. ‘It is no small addition to the satisfaction which we derive from all these events, to observe that every man of all parties seems to feel how well the game has been played on our side and how ridiculously it has been mismanaged by our opponents.’1 ‘The popular opinion,’ he wrote in another letter, ‘shows itself every day more and more. … Fox's declaration of the Prince of Wales's right has been of no small service to us. Is it not wonderful that such great talents should be conducted with so little judgment?’2
Nothing could be more admirable than the dignity and measure with which Pitt met the most violent attacks of his opponents. On one occasion Burke, commenting upon the declaration that it was treason to the Constitution to assert the Prince of Wales's inherent right to the regency, asked ‘where was the freedom of debate, where was the privilege of Parliament, if the rights of the Prince of Wales could not be spoken of in the House, without their being liable to be charged with treason by one of the Prince's competitors?’ ‘When he said the Prince of Wales had no more right to urge such a claim than any other individual subject,’ answered Pitt, ‘he appealed to the House upon the decency with which the right honourable gentleman had charged him with placing himself as a competitor to his Royal Highness. At the period when the Constitution was settled on its present foundation, when Mr. Somers and other great men declared that no person had a right to the crown independent of the consent of the two Houses, would it have been thought either fair or decent for any member of either House to have pronounced Mr. Somers a personal competitor of William III.?’ On another occasion Fox dilated with great bitterness on the conduct of Pitt in forcing to a formal parliamentary decision the right of the Prince of Wales to the regency, although that right was never claimed and although he himself admitted that it was practically impossible to choose any other Regent. Such conduct, Fox said, could only be due to an ignoble desire to win a party triumph, ‘and to insult a Prince whose favour he was conscious he had not deserved.’ Pitt at once answered that ‘he only knew one way in which he or any other man could deserve the confidence of the Prince—by doing his duty to the King his father and to the country at large, and if, in having thus endeavoured to deserve the confidence of the Prince, it should in fact appear that he had lost it, however mortifying and painful that circumstance might be to him, though he might regret it, he would boldly say that it was impossible he should repent it.’
This tone of dignity was not sustained on the opposite side, and the speeches of Burke were especially characterised by the defects from which those of Pitt were most free. I have written much in a former volume on the character and intellect of Burke, but it is impossible to dismiss the debates on the regency without noticing what a painful and humiliating spectacle his speeches on this question present as they appear in the parliamentary history. They contain, it is true, some examples of admirable reasoning, illustration, or expression, and it is, I think, evident that the speeches of the leaders were reported with more care and fulness than the speeches even of the most eminent of their followers, and also that the eloquence of Burke was of a kind peculiarly unsuited to reporters. The great rapidity of his delivery, the marked individuality of his diction, the length and the discursiveness of his speaking were all obstacles, and the meagre reports we possess are often accompanied by remarks of reporters which intimate how much we have lost. ‘He went over the whole ground of objection to the Bill with wonderful fluency and ability, and in the course of his speech expressed many noble sentiments in most elegant and pointed language.’ ‘Mr. Burke enlarged upon this topic considerably and with his customary ardour of expression.’ ‘Mr. Burke urged this argument very strenuously and with great force of expression.’ Sir Gilbert Elliot noticed the wonderful beauty and power of one of these speeches and the great admiration it elicited.1 But it is unfortunately but too true that the speeches of Burke, on this as on many other occasions, if full of genius, were also full of the most extraordinary exhibitions of passion, indiscretion, exaggeration and ill taste.
In truth this great and good man, whose judgment in the retirement of his cabinet was so wise, so far-seeing and often so nobly impartial, was subject in the excitement of debate to paroxysms of passion which indicated a mind profoundly and radically diseased. He could instruct, dazzle and sometimes convince, but he had not the smallest power of winning and conciliating, and his luxuriantly prolific but strangely unchastened imagination often hurried him into images that were both revolting and grotesque. It was thus that he compared the fictitious King entrusted with the Great Seal to a Priapus set up by the Government for adoration; that he turned the expression ‘heaven-born minister,’ which a foolish follower had applied to Pitt, into a claim for the minister, of Divine right, one of ‘the idiot abominations of the Stuart race;’ that he accused Pitt, who had described the incapacitated King as still undoubtedly on the throne, of ‘making a mockery of the King, putting a crown of thorns on his head, and a reed in his hand, and dressing him in purple to cry, Hail, King of the British!’ The partition of the royal power in the regency scheme he described as ‘cutting and carving the Government as you would cut out morsels for hounds.’ He again and again charged Pitt with a design to degrade the royal family in order to serve the purposes of ambitious men. Alluding to the exclusion of the royal princes from the care of the royal person he exclaimed, in a strain of the wildest exaggeration, ‘The Bill meant not only to degrade the Prince of Wales but the whole House of Brunswick, who were to be outlawed, excommunicated, and attainted, as having forfeited all claim to the confidence of the country.’ ‘Some gentlemen,’ the reporter adds, ‘smiling at the extent of this doctrine and the vehemence of emphasis with which it was delivered, Mr. Burke burst out into a degree of warmth that was scarcely ever before witnessed, reprobated the conduct of the other side of the House, charging them with degrading the royal family, sowing the seeds of future distractions and disunion in that family, and with proceeding to act treasons for which the justice of their country would one day overtake them and bring them to trial.’ In a speech in which he deprecated the proposal of the minister to withhold from the Regent the power of making peers, he had the strange indiscretion to enumerate, amid the laughter of the House, a list of members of great Whig families on whom a peerage might be properly conferred. On other occasions he spoke of the King in language which shocked all the best feelings of his hearers. He denounced Dr. Willis, who took the most sanguine view of the King's recovery, and eulogised Dr. Warren, who took the opposite view, in a strain that gave but too much colour to the remark of Pitt, that Burke had ‘displayed a degree of warmth that seemed to have arisen from his entertaining wishes different from those of the rest of the House.’ He described the King as ‘a monarch smitten by the hand of Omnipotence,’ declared that ‘the Almighty had hurled him from his throne and plunged him into a condition that drew upon him the pity of the meanest peasant in the kingdom,’ and having with characteristic industry made a careful study of the literature of lunacy he horrified and revolted the House by predicting the probable relapse that would follow a temporary recovery. ‘The disorder with which the sovereign was afflicted,’ he said, ‘was like a vast sea which rolled in, and at low tide rolled back and left a bold and barren shore,’ and he proceeded to dilate upon the uncertainty of the symptoms of sanity and to read extracts from a medical work showing how ‘some unfortunate individuals after a supposed recovery had committed parricide, others had butchered their sons, others had done violence to themselves by hanging, shooting, drowning themselves, throwing themselves out of the window and by a variety of other ways,’ till the indignant House would hear no more and the voice of the orator was lost in the angry tumult.
The effect of such language was what might have been expected. Burke, even in some of his greatest speeches, was constantly interrupted by cries of ‘Order’ and derisive laughter, and often, when he rose to speak, a number of members left the House. Pitt in one of his replies was able to say that ‘he seldom thought it worth his while to interrupt the right honourable gentleman and call him to order, or indeed to make him any answer, because his speeches, from their extraordinary style and the peculiarly violent tone of warmth and passion with which they were generally delivered, seldom failed to give that impression which those against whom they were directed wished them to give.’ Sir Richard Hill, in a brutal speech, plainly hinted that Burke was himself insane and that he would probably soon be an inmate of a lunatic asylum.1 ‘Edmund Burke arose a little after four,’ wrote Sir W. Young to Lord Buckingham, ‘and is speaking yet. He has been wilder than ever, and laid himself and party open more than ever speaker did. He is Folly personified, but shaking his cap and bells under the laurel of genius. … He finished his wild speech in a manner next to madness.’2
It is necessary to bear these things in mind if we would form a just estimate of Burke, and they do much to explain and palliate the small amount of official rank which he obtained.3 I know few contrasts more extraordinary than that which is presented by his speeches on the regency, and the wonderful speech which in the very same year he delivered before the House of Lords in opening the impeachment of Warren Hastings—a speech which in some of the highest qualities of eloquence has never been surpassed, and which it is probable that no other man who ever appeared in English political life could have delivered.
Burke was not one of the friends of the Prince of Wales. His severely moral, decorous and laborious life was little suited for the atmosphere that surrounded the Prince, and he was able to say that he knew as little of Carlton as of Buckingham House, and that if he obtained any place by a change of ministry it was likely to be only a very subordinate one.1 His health was at this time much shaken: his circumstances were much embarrassed, and he was conscious that political anxieties acted too powerfully on his mind.2 On the regency question he was little consulted, and he was not satisfied with the manner in which it was conducted. His opinion on the question seems to have been substantially the same as that of the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of the King. He maintained that as soon as the King was incapacitated, it was for the Prince of Wales, and not for the ministers, to take the lead; that ‘he should have done what it has been said was his right to do,’ and that this ‘might have been as safely done as it was unsafely said.’ He ought to have at once gone down to the House of Lords, to have communicated the King's condition to that House in person and to the House of Commons by message, to have desired the advice and assistance of the two Houses, and to have himself originated the proceedings in Council. In this way, Burke contended, the Prince would have placed himself with advantage before the eyes of the people, would have taught them to look upon him with respect as a person possessed of the spirit of command, and would have given his friends the strong position of his proposers instead of the inferior position of a mere common opposition. This counsel, however, was rejected by Fox and by the other leaders of the Opposition, and Burke appears then to have expected very little from the campaign.1 He spoke, however, often, and probably not to the advantage of his cause.
It would have been difficult, indeed, with the utmost discretion and skill, to have advocated at this time the claims of the Prince of Wales without revolting the popular feelings, which were raised to the highest point of pity for the King and of admiration for his minister, and it was a peculiar infelicity of the Opposition that, as the propriety of imposing restrictions on the Regent depended mainly on the probability of the speedy recovery of the King, they were almost forced by their party position to attenuate that probability, and to make themselves especial supporters of those physicians who questioned it. On January 6, when Pitt had intended to introduce the limitations, the Opposition interposed, and, observing that a month had elapsed since the last examination of the physicians, and that there was great doubt and difference about their opinions, they urged that a new examination should take place, and that the prospects of recovery should be more clearly ascertained before any further steps were taken. Pitt at first resisted, but finally acquiesced in, an inquiry, which occupied five days, and produced a report of nearly four hundred pages. It appeared from it that the King's state and chance of recovery were substantially unchanged; that all the doctors admitted the possibility of recovery, but that there was a difference of opinion about the probability. Sir George Baker and Dr. Warren were the least confident, while Dr. Willis, who was specially conversant with insanity, considered the recovery almost certain, and predicted that it would probably take place at some date between three months and a year and a half after the first attack.
The restrictions on the regency were first introduced in the form of resolutions, which were afterwards to be embodied in a bill. Among the ancient precedents which had been adduced, there had been instances of a council being appointed with the Regent, to control his acts and his choice of servants, and there were some rumours that Pitt might endeavour in such a way to secure his position. Those who supposed so, however, knew him but little. To maintain, as far as was possible under the circumstances, the attitude of disinterested patriotism was his first object, and he accordingly made it one of the leading features of his scheme that the Regent should have a full and uncontrolled power of dismissing the ministers, choosing his own servants, and dissolving Parliament. He also stated in the plainest and most emphatic terms that he introduced his scheme of limitations only through a belief that the interruption of the King's personal exercise of authority was likely to be temporary and short. In the opinion of Dr. Willis, the malady with which the King was afflicted very rarely continued as long as two years, and its average duration was five or six months. If the hopes of the nation were unhappily disappointed, if the illness of the King seemed likely to be permanent or of great duration, it would be for Parliament to reconsider the restrictions. Assuming, however, that the King was likely in a short time to resume his authority, it was the duty of the ministers to provide that while the Regent obtained full powers for carrying on the government, nothing which was not required for this purpose should be granted; nothing which could restrict the power, impair the dignity, or hurt the feelings of the sovereign when he recovered.
The first proposed restriction was that the Regent should have no power of bestowing peerages, except on members of the royal family who had attained the age of twenty-one years. This portion of his subject Pitt introduced with a short constitutional dissertation, of a kind which is very seldom found in his speeches. The power of making peers, he said, was lodged with the sovereign, for three purposes. The first was to reward distinguished merit. ‘The second was that, as property and the influence which accompanied it were fluctuating, and as the dignity of the peerage would be lost if that power was supposed to exist elsewhere, it was necessary that it should be infused into the peerage gradually as it arose.’ The third was ‘that it placed a strong check in the hands of the Crown, and this was one of the checks against oligarchy, as others had been devised by the Constitution against a pure monarchy and an imperious democracy.’ From the first two points of view, a brief suspension of the right of making peers was of little consequence, and although it might be argued that the predominant opinion in the House of Lords might, if no longer liable to be counteracted by new creations, impede the Executive Government of the Regent, yet Parliament was bound to judge the question according to the balance of advantages and disadvantages. It would be a still greater evil if the sovereign should find upon his recovery that a large number of peers had been created, to whose opinions and characters he strongly objected, and that one branch of the Legislature had thus been permanently and materially modified in a manner that was contrary to his wishes. It was not likely, Pitt said, that the existing peers would risk their reputation ‘to bring in any set of ministers.’ ‘If they should obstruct the executive authority in the beginning, they certainly would not after an interval of experiment, and when the King's recovery might become less probable. At all events the remedy was in the hands of Parliament, and a House of Commons could at any time resolve that the cause of the restriction had lost its force, and the measure its necessity.’
The second restriction greatly limited the patronage of the Regent, providing that he should have no power to grant any reversion, or any office or pension, for any other term than during his Majesty's pleasure, except in a few unavoidable cases, like that of the judges, when the law required the office to be filled up, and to be granted for life or during good behaviour. The Regent was thus deprived of almost all power of permanently rewarding his supporters, and the whole patronage he had exercised would be annulled by the recovery of the King.
The third restriction provided that he might not grant any part of the King's real or personal estates, except as far as relates to the renewal of leases.
The fourth and last related to the King's person. It provided that the care of the King's person should be entrusted to the Queen, and that the whole of the King's household should be maintained and should be put under her sole authority, with full power to dismiss and to appoint. It was admitted that many of the Court officials could have no duties during the King's incapacity, but it was a matter of dignity to maintain them, and it would be manifestly most distressing to the sovereign if he should hereafter find that, during an illness of a few months, his household had been remodelled, and many of his faithful personal attendants dismissed. A council was to be appointed to assist the Queen by their advice, but without any power of control, and it was to have the right of examining upon oath the physicians and other persons attending the King, ‘touching the state of his Majesty's health, and all matters relating thereto.’ Pitt at the same time announced his intention of introducing at a future time propositions for providing the Regent with a retinue suitable to his new position, but the Prince, a few days after, intimated by the mouth of Fox that it would be highly irksome to him to add anything for such a purpose to the burdens of the country.
The scheme of restrictions thus defined was, in the course of its long passage through Parliament, fully and vehemently debated, and although during a portion of the discussions Fox was incapacitated by serious illness, his place was well filled by Sheridan, who was in the special confidence of the Prince, and by North, whose speeches appear to me singularly able and temperate. To some portions of the scheme there was little or no objection. It was generally admitted that the care of the King's person was properly confided to the Queen, though it was contended that this did not at all necessarily imply that she should have an absolute power over the household. The clause withholding from the Regent all power of disposing of the property of the King was objected to so far as it related to the real property, which was held in trust for the nation, and the Privy Purse, which came directly from taxation, but the personal property of the King rested on a different basis. It was as completely his own to give or to bequeath as the property of any private gentleman. If his son appropriated it during the lifetime of his father, he would be guilty of a criminal fraud, and the only objection, therefore, to this part of the Bill was that to make a special enactment on the subject was both unnecessary and grossly insulting to the Prince. Loughborough, in commenting upon it, reminded the House of Lords that it had been pronounced a libel for one person to send to another a paper with the words from Holy Writ, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ The appointment of a council to assist the Queen also excited no criticism until its nature and functions were more fully disclosed. It appeared that the Government intended it to consist of the chief officers of the household, the two archbishops, Lord Thurlow, and one or two other high officials, but no member of the royal family was to sit in it. As the King had three sons in addition to the Prince of Wales, and also two brothers, it was pronounced monstrous that no member of his family should be admitted to a council which was to assist the Queen in the care of the royal person. We have already seen the violence with which Burke dilated upon this exclusion; but Pitt successfully resisted the attempts of the Opposition to introduce the royal family into the council. The Queen, it was said, could at any time consult the members of her family. The Prince of Wales, as the heir to the throne, was by common consent excluded from the care of the King's person, and it was therefore more becoming that his younger brothers should not be admitted. It was also more respectful to the royal family not to place them in a responsible position, which made them liable to be called to the bar of the House to answer for their conduct. ‘It was a respect,’ Burke sarcastically observed, ‘which was a perpetual disqualification—much like the respect of the Epicureans for their gods.’
Among the functions bestowed upon the new council was that of pronouncing on the recovery of the King. The Queen and any five members of the council might notify to the President of the council and to one of the Secretaries of State that the King was again capable of exercising the royal authority. The communication was to be immediately sent to the Regent; to the Lord Mayor of London, who was to publish it in the ‘London Gazette;’ and to the Privy Council, and the King might then summon a council of not less than nine members named by himself, and might resume the government by a proclamation bearing his own signature and that of six Privy Councillors. The Opposition contended that by this machinery it was very possible that the King might be brought back into authority when his recovery was far from complete, and they vainly urged that as a parliamentary vote had established the fact of his incapacity, it was for Parliament also to ascertain and to authenticate the fact of his recovery. The members were significantly reminded of the calamities that fell upon France in the reign of Charles VI., when the sovereign was habitually insane but with occasional lucid intervals, and when the Queen and a faction who were about her employed his name and his authority as they pleased.
These, however, were minor objections to the scheme, and the great weight of the argument turned upon the restriction or partition of the royal prerogatives. This, it was contended, is essentially unconstitutional, and, although it was advocated in the interest of the King, it tended directly to lower the royal authority. The Constitution, it was said, has circumscribed the royal prerogative by many laws written and unwritten, and has thus provided a sufficient control, but this is the only description of control which it recognises. The portion of power which is confided to the sovereign is a trust for the people; it is essential to the balance of the Constitution and to the strength of the Executive, and it ought therefore to be maintained intact and undivided. Was it for the interests of the monarchy ‘to appoint a person to the royal office, and to separate from that office the royal authority;’ to endeavour in the person of the Regent ‘to ascertain with how small a portion of kingly power the Executive Government of this country may be carried on;’ to ‘exhibit the sovereign power of the nation in a state of degradation, of curtailed authority, and diminished energy?’ Under any circumstances, the Government of a regent is unavoidably weaker than that of a king, and yet the whole scheme of the regency was constructed with the object of tying the hands of the ministers of the Regent at a time when they would be most in need of authority, and of producing artificially and deliberately a state of administrative debility and instability. The Regency Bill, in all its parts, stamped a suspicion on the character of the Prince of Wales and was evidently founded on the supposition that he was not a person to be trusted. It was no less evident, it was said, that the conduct of Pitt was governed by party considerations and by personal ambition. Could any one suppose that if it had been thought probable that the present ministers would have been kept in office a Bill would have been introduced to involve them in such a maze of restrictions? It was idle for Pitt to profess himself ready to concede to the Regent the full power of choosing his servants, if he was at the same time so regulating the regency as to throw insuperable difficulties in the path of any ministry but his own. This, it was said, was his manifest policy. He had seen that it was impossible to pass over the claims of the Prince of Wales to the regency. He had not succeeded in inducing the Prince to decline an office which was surrounded with so many invidious restrictions, but he could at least take measures which would make his own political ascendency almost certain. He had himself created more than forty peers. He had a steady majority in the Upper House, and he withheld from his successors the only possible means of overthrowing it. The ministers of the Regent would be at the same time deprived of by far the largest and most valuable portion of that patronage which all preceding governments had possessed and had deemed absolutely essential to the conduct of affairs. The Regent was given all the responsibility of royalty and all its invidious duties, but scarcely any power of commanding or rewarding service.
But this was not all. The place assigned to the Queen tended directly to divide the royal family, to set mother against son, and to make the ministry of the Regent dependent on the wishes of the Queen. The whole vast patronage of the household was in her hands. It consisted of more than 200,000l. a year. No less than eighteen peers of Parliament belonged to the household, and it was chiefly by votes of this description that the early ministries of the reign had been overthrown. The Court was separated from the executive power. An independent, a rival, and a superior centre of influence was set up, against which it would be hopeless for an enfeebled and restricted ministry to contend. It was tolerably certain from the known sentiments of the Queen that her influence would be exerted against the Whigs, and it was most probable that the whole patronage of the household and the political influence connected with it would still, in the event of a change of ministry, continue to be directed by Pitt. A caricature of the time well illustrated the situation when it represented Pitt, Thurlow, and Dundas as three weird sisters standing on a heath gazing anxiously on the half-eclipsed orb of the moon. The darkened side represented the King's countenance, but on the other side was the Queen's face still bathed in light and graciously regarding the three gazers. So strongly did Fox feel the hopelessness of the position that he positively declared that he would not accept the administration of affairs unless it were accompanied by all the patronage and all the emoluments which are annexed to it by the Constitution, for he did not believe that the government of the country could on any other conditions be conducted with efficiency and dignity.
It is true that Pitt represented the restrictions as intended only for a short period, and had said that they ought certainly to terminate if the King's illness appeared unhappily likely to be permanent. But the period of their abolition was completely uncertain, and Pitt at first refused to introduce any limitation into the Bill. What was there, it was asked, to prevent such a form of government from continuing for ten, fifteen, or twenty years? And was it not possible that the difficulties of abolishing it might be much greater than was supposed? The power of adding to the Upper House corresponds to the power of dissolving the Lower House, and it is the only efficient constitutional check that exists upon the House of Lords. This check the Regency Bill would abolish, and unless the King recovered or died, it could not be restored without the assent of the Upper House. Was it so sure that this assent would be given? The majority of the Upper House would have the strongest party motives for refusal, and the importance of the existing peers of all parties would be greatly increased if it was impossible to add to their numbers. It was not forgotten how readily the peers had welcomed the Peerage Bill under George I. which by stopping new creations was likely to magnify their social dignity and their constitutional power. If the Regency Bill passed in the form in which it was introduced, combinations would certainly take place in the Upper House, against which it would be totally impossible for the Government of the Regent to contend.
These objections appear to me in a great part sound and serious, but they were arguments of unpopular men in an unpopular cause. They were put forward with much force in the debates in Parliament, in protests in the House of Lords, but especially in the admirable reply of the Prince of Wales to Pitt's letter announcing to him the intended scheme of the Regency. The composition of this reply was very wisely entrusted to Burke,1 and it would be impossible to state the chief objections to the Regency Bill with a greater cogency of argument, or a greater force, beauty, and dignity of language. The Prince consented, however, to accept the Government on the terms that were proposed, on the understanding that the limitations were for no long period, and Pitt consented before the Bill finally passed the Commons to introduce an important alteration, limiting the restriction on the creation of peers to three years. In agreeing to this alteration he stated that he had no idea that any of the restrictions should continue so long. There was every reason to hope for the King's speedy recovery, but if unfortunately this hope were disappointed, he thought that all the restrictions on the Regent should be abolished at an earlier period. It was impossible to assign a precise limit, but he would agree to three years, as a period the most extreme and distant that could be contemplated.
The double process of carrying the measure through the two Houses, first in the form of resolutions and then in the form of a bill, caused a considerable delay, and there were several cumbrous forms to be gone through. It was deemed necessary to give the King's formal sanction to the opening of Parliament, and a commission was accordingly appointed under the Great Seal to open it in the name of his Majesty. The sentiments with which the royal family regarded the proceedings of the ministers were evinced by the request of the Prince of Wales and of the Dukes of York, Cumberland, and Gloucester, that their names might all be omitted from the commission. Among the subjects that were discussed during the debates on the Bill, was the very embarrassing one of the reported marriage of the Prince with Mrs. Fitzherbert. Rolle declared that he only ‘gave his consent to appointing the Prince of Wales Regent upon the ground that he was not married to Mrs. Fitzherbert either in law or in equity,’ and when a clause in the Regency Bill was introduced, annulling the powers of the Regent if he either ceased to live in England or married a Catholic, Rolle moved an amendment excluding from the regency ‘any person proved to be married either in law or in fact to a Papist or one of Roman Catholic persuasion.’ The amendment was not pressed to a division, but it produced an animated and somewhat remarkable debate. Fox was absent through real and serious illness. Pitt declared the amendment to be wholly unnecessary, but he dilated in terms of marked eulogy on the character and motives of Rolle and made a violent attack on Lord North, who had ridiculed the pertinacity with which Rolle dwelt on ‘dangers to Church and State’ which could not possibly exist, as by the Royal Marriage Act there could be no marriage of the Prince of Wales without the consent of the King. Welbore Ellis caused the Royal Marriage Act to be read, asserting that this was a simple and sufficient answer to the rumours that had been spread. Dundas declared that the positive and explicit denial of the rumour which Fox had been authorised to make two sessions before had decided his opinion. He greatly regretted the absence of Fox on the present occasion, but he added that he had so high an opinion of his sincerity that he was confident that he would have come down to the House even at the risk of his life if anything had occurred to alter the opinion he had formerly expressed. But the most remarkable speeches appear to have been those of Grey, and it can only be said of them that it is to be hoped that his language was in fact somewhat less unqualified and emphatic than it appears in the meagre report of the parliamentary history. According to the reporter, he, in two distinct speeches, denounced the rumour which had been circulated about the Prince of Wales, and which had given rise to the amendment before the House, as ‘false, libellous, and calumnious.’ ‘He admitted the justice of Mr. Dundas's remark relative to Mr. Fox, and assured the committee that it was due to the character of his right honourable friend to declare that no consideration of health or any other circumstance would have prevented his attendance in his place, if he had not at that moment been fully satisfied that what he had asserted on a former occasion was strictly true. Had the case been otherwise, his right honourable friend would have been present, even at the risk of his life.’1
It was not till February 13 that the Bill had finally passed the House of Commons, and by this time a marked improvement had taken place in the condition of the King. After many fluctuations, the disease took a decisive turn about the end of the first week in February, but still it was for some time the prevailing belief that the regency would be established and the ministry changed. In the beginning of February medals to commemorate the regency were already struck and sold in the streets. Whig ladies appeared in society with caps that were known as ‘regency caps’ and with ribands indicating their politics. Pitt, who possessed no private fortune, thought seriously of resuming his practice at the bar, and it was well known that an Administration presided over by the Duke of Portland had been already settled in almost all its details.2 From the very beginning of the King's illness it was believed in political circles that his chance of recovery was much smaller than was represented to the public,3 and the accounts of his improved condition were scanned with great suspicion. The animosity that divided the two parties was singularly strong,4 and the worst inferences were drawn by the Whigs from the manner in which the King's sons were excluded from the presence of their father, and from the fact that when they were at last admitted, they were never allowed to be with him alone. It was acknowledged that there was a great improvement, and that on indifferent subjects he could talk rationally, but it was said that this was merely one of those lucid intervals which are so common in the illness, that he spoke rationally only in the presence and under the restraint of a physician, that he showed a constant tendency on particular subjects to relapse into folly, and that the smallest excitement would be sufficient to overturn the balance of his mind. On February 10 Sir George Baker, after visiting Kew, said that the King's state was encouraging, but that it was too soon to speak of convalescence or to assert anything about a final cure. Dr. Warren, whose judgment had greatly influenced the Whig party, had from the beginning openly expressed his opinion that the King was not likely to recover. He was now, it is true, somewhat shaken, but he still believed a perfect recovery to be improbable, and about February 10 he assured the Duke of Portland that it would be wrong not to accept office, for it was impossible that the King could resume the direction of affairs in less than a year.1 On the 12th the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to Eden that it was still the almost universal opinion that there would be a change of ministry the moment the regency was established.2 As late as the 17th, Fox, who was still ill at Bath, wrote to Fitzpatrick assuming that the regency was certain, and asking to be informed by return of post on what day it was likely to begin. ‘I hope,’ he added, ‘by this time all ideas of the Prince or any of us taking any measure in consequence of the good reports of the King are at an end; if they are not, pray do all you can to crush them.’3
The improvement, however, steadily continued. Dr. Willis came to town and informed the Chancellor that the King was too well for the Regency Bill to proceed, and Thurlow, after a long interview with the King, satisfied himself that the report was correct. On the 19th he announced in the House of Lords that the physicians had declared the King to be convalescent, and he proposed an adjournment. It would be impossible under these circumstances to press forward the Regency Bill, but a few days' interval was desirable in order to ascertain whether the recovery was fully established. On the 23rd the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York were at length permitted to visit the King, but only in the presence of the Queen, and no political conversation was allowed. On the 27th recovery was so complete that the bulletins were discontinued, and at last, on March 10, 1789, the session was formally opened by a speech from the throne, delivered by commission, announcing that the King had resumed his authority.
The conduct of the Prince of Wales and of the Duke of York during this crisis excited unbounded reprobation, and it appears to have been in some respects very scandalous, though I think that the accounts of it which are found in the letters on the ministerial side should be received with considerable scepticism. It was noticed that no other political contest of the generation had produced such fierce animosities or had so largely affected and divided social intercourse,1 and many of the charges against the Princes were of the nature of social gossip, which, under such circumstances, is tolerably sure to be either untrue or over-coloured. In the first stage of the King's illness there does not appear to have been any just ground for censuring their conduct. They went to Windsor; they did not leave the palace during the King's residence there for a single day, and there is no sufficient reason to believe that they in any respect neglected him.2 Their relations with the Queen were already far from cordial, and there was a dispute on a question relating to the King's private property; but the conduct of the Prince of Wales was sanctioned by the Chancellor, and it does not appear to have been at all indefensible. The removal of the King to Kew took place at the request of the physicians and by the authority of a Cabinet Council, and from this time the care of the King's person passed wholly into the hands of the Queen. On the question of the regency, the Prince of Wales cannot be truly said to have acted with impatience or to have prematurely put forward his claims. There were not wanting counsellors who urged him to do so, but for some time he remained perfectly passive. Fox's assertion of the Prince's right to the regency was entirely unprompted, and the Duke of York was speedily authorised to declare in the House of Lords that the Prince of Wales had no wish or intention to put forward any claim of right, and that the King's sons and the King's brother earnestly desired that no such question should be raised. The conduct of Pitt towards the Prince, on the other hand, was from the first as haughty and unconciliatory as possible. It was said—and surely with some reason—that under the circumstances of the case the Prince of Wales ought to have been consulted about the intended measure, but no kind of confidence was given to him. He first learnt by a summons from the ministers that the Privy Council had been convened to examine the physicians about the state of his father's health, and the outlines of the regency plan were announced to Parliament before any communication had been made about them to the Prince. In defiance of his expressed wish, Pitt insisted on bringing the question of the Prince's right to a formal issue, and obtaining a vote denying it. He declared before Parliament that the Prince of Wales had no more right to the regency during his father's incapacity than any other subject, and a number of restrictions were introduced which plainly indicated the distrust and hostility with which he was regarded.
Under these circumstances, it does not seem to me surprising that the Prince of Wales should have been drawn into a more distinctly political attitude, and if he had conducted himself with decorum and dignity I do not think that he would have been seriously blamed. But no sooner had he been released from the restraint of his attendance at Windsor than he relapsed into his old habits. Living among the most dissipated members of the Opposition, spending his nights in drinking, singing, and gambling, at a period which demanded the strictest retirement, openly attending meetings of the Opposition and exhibiting his partisanship without a shadow of disguise, he left, in the words of General Grenville, ‘an impression on all sober-minded men ‘that could never be effaced.1 It may not be true, as was stated in Government circles, that he exercised his talents of mimicry at Brooks's in imitating the frenzy of his father, but it is certain that a considerable section of Whig society dreaded nothing so much as the King's recovery, and that these men were the intimate associates of the King's son. The Duke of York, who was the favourite son of the King, was completely governed by the influence and example of his brother. Their conduct when the King was recovering seemed equally bad. ‘The truth is,’ wrote Lord Bulkeley, ‘that they are quite desperate, and drown their cares, disappointments, and internal chagrin in wine and dissipation.’2 Grenville, writing confidentially to his brother, mentions that the Princes kept the King waiting for a considerable time on the occasion of their very first interview with him after his recovery; that they drove direct from that interview to the house of Mrs. Armistead to communicate their impressions to Fox; and that they ‘amused themselves’ that very evening ‘with spreading about a report that the King was still out of his mind, and quoting phrases of his to which they gave that turn.’1
The King had received his sons on the 23rd with cordiality and apparent affection, but the animosity which divided the royal family was intense. The Princes were constantly refused private interviews with the King, though several other persons enjoyed the favour. The King wrote a letter to the Duke of Clarence censuring their conduct, and when a concert was given at Windsor after the recovery, the Queen sent a messenger to inform them that though they might come if they pleased, it was right that they should know that the entertainment was intended for those who had supported the King and Queen on the late occasion. In May, some insulting words used by the Duke of York to Colonel Lennox led to a duel, in which the Duke very narrowly escaped, the bullet of his adversary having actually carried away one of his curls. It was observed that the challenge to the Duke was carried by Lord Winchilsea, who was a lord of the bedchamber and who still retained his post; that the Queen, on hearing of the escape of her son, did not utter a single word of interest or affection; and that she immediately after singled out his opponent for her special attention. A long memorial, vindicating the conduct of the Prince of Wales, was drawn up by Sir Gilbert Elliot and laid in the Prince's name before the King, and it was intended to accompany it by a letter composed by Burke, which was a bitter indictment against the conduct of the Queen. By the advice of some of the Whig leaders this letter was suppressed.1
The Opposition, like the Prince of Wales, suffered greatly in the public estimation during the crisis that has been related. In the mere matter of party management their inferiority was very marked. Had it not been for the delays that were produced by the discussion on the claim of rights and by the additional and prolonged examination of the physicians on which the Opposition had insisted, the regency would certainly have been established before the recovery of the King. Without any necessity or any advantage, Fox had raised a question of abstract right which weakened him in every stage of the discussion and turned the whole stream of popular feeling against his party. The recovery of the King blasted his hopes of power, but it is not improbable that it saved his party from a still lower depth of degradation. It was universally acknowledged that the Prince of Wales had determined to dismiss an Administration which commanded great majorities in both Houses, which had of late suffered no single defeat, and which was almost certainly as popular in the country as in Parliament. After the reforms of the last few years, which had made Parliament a real representative of public feeling, such an attempt could have led to nothing but disaster and disgrace. The Whig leaders in accepting office would have shown themselves instigators and accomplices in a proceeding which was grossly unconstitutional, and they could have scarcely hoped to retain their power except by means that would have been ruinous to their characters. Their manifest readiness to accept office to the very last, and at a time when the King was rapidly recovering, was never forgiven. Irritation at the kind of proscription under which they had been suffering, and a strong disbelief in the reality of the King's recovery, entered largely into their motives, but the public attributed their conduct to the recklessness of desperate gamblers, to a desire to obtain the emoluments of office for themselves and their followers, to an unworthy animosity, and to a determination to deepen the chasm between Pitt and the Prince of Wales.
It is strange to think how easily at this time the attitudes of parties might have been not merely changed but inverted. If the Opposition had obtained office, and if the King had either died or become permanently insane, we might have found Fox attempting to maintain his power mainly by borough influence and by the influence and prerogative of the Crown, in opposition to the genuine course of public opinion, while Pitt might have stormed the Cabinet as the most brilliant and formidable champion of popular rights. Nor would Pitt in assuming such an attitude have been in any degree inconsistent with his past. To the end of his life he was accustomed among his friends to call himself a Whig, and up to the period of which I am now writing he had done nothing to forfeit his title to the name.
Fortune had been very kind to him; but, at the same time, the extraordinary skill and courage with which he had conducted his party through this difficult crisis was universally admitted, and nothing seemed wanting to his triumph. Vast as had been the hopes, splendid as had been the popularity that had surrounded the dawn of his ministry, there were as yet no signs of failing or of eclipse, and after five years of office he was at least as strong as at the beginning. He was strong, with all the elements of political power—the confidence of the great trading classes, the enthusiastic devotion of the populace, the favour of the King, assured and compact majorities in both Houses, an Opposition more than ever broken and discredited. His parliamentary eloquence had taken a maturer tone. His experience had been enlarged, and there was as yet no evidence that power or popularity had affected the sobriety or the justice of his judgment. The King, at the first dawn of his recovery, had formed a prejudice against him, and he blamed the ministry for the introduction of a Regency Bill, but the impression soon wore off under the influence of Dr. Willis.1 He wrote to Pitt in a strain of genuine and dignified gratitude, and he expressed his hope in one of his earliest interviews with him, that ‘they were now united for the rest of his life, and that nothing but death should separate them.’2
The popularity of the King himself was unbounded. All the clouds that gathered round him during the period of the influence of Bute and during the disasters of the American War had passed away, and it was impossible to mistake the earnestness or the spontaneity of the manifestations with which he was welcomed on his recovery. On the evening of the day on which he resumed his government, illuminations, unprompted by the Government or by the authorities, extended from Hampstead and Highgate to Clapham, and even as far as Tooting, and over the whole distance between Greenwich and Kensington; and it was especially noticed that the poorest cottages, the humblest stalls, contributed their farthing candles to the blaze. Similar scenes were resumed six weeks later, when the King went in state to St. Paul's to return thanks for his recovery; and they extended to almost every town and village in the kingdom. It is probable that no English sovereign since the first days of the Restoration had enjoyed such a genuine, unforced popularity, and it is certain that no other sovereign of the House of Brunswick had ever approached it.
See the severe but admirably acute and powerful essay on Pitt by Coleridge. Essays on his Own Times, ii. 319–329.
Butler's Reminiscences, p. 172.
Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, ii. 469, 470.
Butler's Reminiscences, p. 160.
Lord Grenville mentioned to Rogers the great injustice which reporting did to the speeches of Pitt. He said that there were only two speeches—that on the Sinking Fund, and that on the answer to Bonaparte's letter to George III., corrected by Pitt himself. Rogers's Recollections, pp. 188–190. Perhaps his greatest speech was that on the renewal of the war in 1803, of which Fox finely said that ‘if Demosthenes had been present he must have admired and might have envied.’ Horner says of it: ‘Pitt's peroration was a complete half-hour of his most powerful declamation, not lowered in its tone for a moment; not a particle of all this is preserved in the report lately published, though said to be done by Canning.’—Horner's Life, i p 221. A writer in the Annual Register remarks: ‘It is unjust to lean too much on particular words and phrases attributed to the members of either House. Our public reports of proceedings in Parliament are not sufficiently accurate for such a purpose.’ —An. Reg. 1791, p. 112. This ought to be remembered when forming a judgment of the almost insane language that was often attributed to Burke, who was a very rapid speaker.
Holland's Memoirs of the Wlag Party, ii. 38.
See a remarkable passage in his Essay sur la Littérature Anglaise, ii. 239, 240.
Wilberforce's Life, v. 340.
I have noticed (vol. iv. pp. 301, 302) how eminently he displayed this gift in the great contest of 1783–1784. For a later example see Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs, iii. p. 354.
Horner's Life, i 315.
See Horner's Life, i. pp. 315, 316. Wilberforce's Life, ii. 92, 93. Bland, Burges Papers, p. 87.
Wilberforce noticed ‘the intense earnestness’ which Pitt on one occasion displayed when joining in some games of chance, but he adds, ‘He perceived their increasing fascination, and soon after suddenly abandoned them for ever.’—Life, i p. 18.
See Wraxall's Historical Memoirs, ii. pp 472–474; Rogers's Recollections; Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i p. 189. Several particulars on the subject collected from various quarters will be found in Timbs's Century of Anecdotes, i. pp. 50, 51. A number of epigrams were written about the one occasion on which he was unable to speak. The best is said to be the following:
Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ii. pp. 16, 17.
Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, iii 422
See Malmesbury Correspondence, ii. 257, 258 Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 154. Rose's Diary, i. p. 131.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. p. 114. This was written in 1786.
Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs, ii. 345, 346.
Wilberforce's Life, i. 18.
Rose's Diary, ii. 260, 289.
Ibid. ii. 294.
Diaries, iv. 185.
Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. p. 72.
Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs, ii. pp 317, 318. Stanhope's Life of Pitt, iii. p. 39.
See the remarks of Lord Grenville, Rogers's Recollections, pp. 188, 189.
Bruce's Life of Sir W. Napier, i, 28–32. Lord Holland also notices as one of the characteristics of Pitt ‘his eye in the air.’ He did not know Pitt in private life, but speaks of the conflicting accounts of his conversation. Some said it was ‘occasionally playful in the extreme and always good-humoured and brilliant,’ and some that it ‘was either excessively childish or very sarcastic’—Memoirs of the Whig Party, 11. pp. 33, 42 The journals of Wilberforce abundantly show the high, and sometimes boisterous, spirits of Pitt, when among his intimate friends. Speaking of one visit to Wimbledon he says, ‘We found one morning the fruits of Pitt's earlier rising, in the careful sowing of the garden beds with the fragments of a dress hat in which Ryder had overnight come down from the opera.’ —Wilberforce's Life, i. 28. There was a strange story in 1784 or 1785 that one night three drunken horsemen galloped through a turnpike without paying the toll, and were fired at by the turnpike keeper. They were Pitt, Thurlow, and Dundas. According to another version, however, they knocked at the door of a farmer to ask their way, and were fired at as housebreakers. Compare Wraxall Hist. Mem. ii. 473; Aucklond Correspondence, i. 360; The Rolliad, p. 37; Quarterly Review, xiii, p. 211. Chateaubriand gives a vivid picture of Pitt as he appeared to a stranger: ‘M. Pitt en habit noir, épée à poignée d'acier au côté, chapeau noir sous le bras, montait, enjainbant deux ou trois marches à la fois. II ne trouvait sur son passage que trois ou quatre émigrés désœuvrés; laissant tomber sur nous un regard dédaigneux, il passait, le nez au vent, la figure pâle. Ce grand financier n'avait aucun ordre chez lui; point d'heures réglées pour ses repas ou son sommeil, … mal vêtu, sans plaisir, sans passion, avide de pouvoir, il méprisait les honneurs et ne voulait étre que William Pitt.’—Essai sur la Littérature Anglaise.
George North, who met him at the country house of the Duke of Rutland at a time when party rancour was peculiarly strong, wrote that he was sorry to find that ‘so bad a politician was so very pleasant a man.’ —Lord Holland's Mem. of the Whig Party, i p 34. See, too, the Malmesbury Diarus, iv 157. Lord Malmesbury described his manners in a country house as ‘quite those of an accomplished idler.’—lb. p. 347.
Ib. p. 347.
See an interesting letter from the daughter of Lord North to Brougham in the appendix of Brougham's Statesmen of the Time of George III. In 1741 a number of peers drew up a protest against the government of Walpole on the ground that ‘a sole or even a first minister is an officer unknown to the law of Great Britain and inconsistent with the Constitution,’ and that Sir R. Walpole had ‘for many years acted as such by taking upon himself the chief, if not the sole, direction of affairs.’—Rogers's Protests of the Lords, ii. p. 10.
See especially Johnson's conversations collected by Dr. Maxwell.
Mackintosh, Vindiciœ Gallicœ, p. 342.
See Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs, ii. 107–109, 146, 147, 164–166, 349.
Bland Burges Papers, p. 261.
See Wilberforce's Life, ii. p. 435.
This was especially true of his sinking fund, the main idea of which was taken without acknowledgment from Dr. Price.
Rose's Diaries, i. p. 108. Political Memoranda of the Duke of Leeds (edited by Oscar Browning), p. v. 164; Auckland Correspondence, i. 225; Bland Burges Papers, p. 78.
Posthumous Memoirs, i. 237.
Rose's Observations respecting See too May's Const. History, i. the Public Expenditure, pp. 26–28. 327.
May's Const. Hist. i. 232–238.
Tomline's Life of Pitt, i. pp. 483, 484; Stanhope's Life of Pitt, p. 219; Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iv. 52. George Rose states that the floating debt at the end of the war was no less than 27,000,000l. exclusive of loyalists' debentures. Rose's Increase of the Revenue from 1792 to 1799, p. 9.
Macpherson, iv. 49, 50. Tomline, ii 170
Adolphus, iv. 123, 124; Wrax-all, Posthumous Memoirs, i 138–140; Ashton's Old Times, p. 122; Macpherson, iii. p. 400; 4 Geo. III. c. 24.
Tomline, ii. pp. 28–33; Parl. Hist. xxv. 298–311.
Tomline, ii. pp. 235, 236. This statement is given on the authority of George Rose.
Rose's Observations respecting the Public Expenditure and the Influence of the Crown, pp. 9, 10
24 Geo. III., sess. 2, c. 47. 26 Geo. III. c. 40.
See Dowell's Hist. of Taxation, ii. 183.
24 Geo. III., sess. 2, c. 38.
26 Geo. III. c 73.
26 Geo. III. c. 59.
24 Geo. III., sess. 2, c 37.
Parl. Hist. xxiv. 1030, xxv. 556; Tomline, i. 502, ii. 39.
Tomline, ii. 28–33.
Parl. Hist. xxv. 369–373.
For an interesting account of the sources from which Pitt derived the idea of many of his measures, see Dowell's History of Taxation, vol. ii. Sir Richard Hill drew up in 1784 a long list of suggested taxes. Parl Hist. xxiv. 1233, 1234.
Tomline, i. 506.
25 Geo. III. c. 24. Adolphus, iv. 176, 177.
See Bland Burges Papers, p 68.
Mr. Gladstone, in one of his financial speeches, has cited the following description of Pitt's Budget Speech of 1798 from Mallet du Pan. ‘From the time that deliberative assemblies have existed, I doubt whether any man ever heard a display of that nature equally astonishing from its extent, its precision, and the talents of its author. It is not a speech spoken by the minister, it is a complete course of public economy; a work, and one of the finest works upon practical and theoretical finance that ever distinguished the pen of a philosopher and statesman. We may add this statement to the learned researches of such men as Adam Smith, Arthur Young, and Stuart, whom the minister honoured with his quotations.’ —Gladstone's Financial Statements, p. 15.
27 Geo. III. c. 13, Dowell's Hist. of Taxation, ii. 190; Tomline, ii. pp. 233–249
38 Geo. III. c. 86; Rose's Observations respecting the Public Expenditure, and the Influence of the Crown, pp. 9, 10.
In his speech on the commercial treaty with France he said, ‘He trusted the old propositions [to Ireland] would be simplified and passed without delay and without being mixed with any point of politics, particularly with that to which the sense of Ireland proved so totally averse, namely, obliging her to adopt implicitly all our further acts of trade.’ Parl. Hist., xxvi. 565.
See Annual Register. 1786, p. 141.
Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, iii. 166, 167, 318, 323, 386.
See Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iv. 20.
Auckland Correspondence, i. pp. 86, 486, 487.
Parl. Hist. xxvi. 414, 145.
Purl. Hist. xxvi. 413.
Parl. Hist. xxvi. 488.
See an interesting account of the changes in the English taste for wine in Mr. Gladstone's Financial Statements, pp. 151–153.
Parl. Hist. xxiv. 1022.
See especially an Essay on the Public Debts of the Kingdom, published anonymously in 1726 and ascribed to Sir Nathaniel Gould, M.P. It has been reprinted in Lord Overstone's Select Tracts on the National Debt, and anticipates much of the reasoning of Dr. Price.
Hamilton On the National Debt, pp. 93–96. Price On the National Debt (Lord Overstone's Select Tracts on the National Debt), 329–337.
Price On the National Debt; Lord Overstone, Select Tracts on the National Debt, pp. 315, 316, 317, 323.
See two of the Tracts reprinted in Lord Overstone's Tracts on the National Debt.
See Morgan's Life of Price, pp. 45, 120, 125; Hamilton on The National Debt, 149–160; Lord Overstone's Select Tracts, pp. 389, 400.
26 Geo. III. ch. 31.
Hamilton On the National Debt, pp. 23, 24.
Compare Hamilton On the National Debt, pp. 152, 153; McCulloch On Taxation, pp. 458, 459. The work of Dr. Hamilton, which was published in 1813, seems to have chiefly dispelled the illusion about the Sinking Fund.
Parl. Hist. xxv. 1310, 1311.
Russell's Life of Fox, iii. 54.
Compare on the taxation in different periods of the war, Hamilton On the National Debt, pp. 157, 226; Porter's Progress of the Nation, p. 483.
The following passage from one of the speeches of Mr. Gladstone states the case with great clearness and on the best authority: ‘Here, Sir, is the War Budget of 1793. What did Mr. Pitt do with regard to the first operations of the war? Mr. Pitt proposed a plan involving an excess of charge over ways and means of 4,500,000l.… He met this charge not by attempting to fill his exchequer by the proceeds of taxes, but by sending into the City and asking for a loan of 6,000,000l at 75l. … Mr. Pitt thought he should get that loan at 4 per cent., but he had to pay 4l. 3s. 4d. per cent. even on the 4,500,000l. of the first year. What was the second step? In 1794 Mr. Pitt borrowed 11,000,000l., paying for it not 4l 3s 4d., but 4l. 10s. 9d. per cent. In 1795 he borrowed 18,000,000l. at 41. 15s. 8d. per cent. In 1796 he borrowed 25,000,000l., for which he paid 4l. 14s. 9d. and 4l. 12s. 2d. In 1797 he borrowed 32,500,000l., for which he paid 5l. 14s 3d and 6l. 6s 10d., per cent. Again, in 1798 he borrowed 17,000,000l. at 6l. 4s. 9d. per cent. Such were the fatal effects of the series of measures upon which he had entered, that in order to obtain those 17,000,000l. independently of annuities separately created he added 34,000,000l to the capital of the National Debt. In fact, the financial operations of these six years, unsuccessful and ineffective as they were in respect to the war, gave him a sum of no more than 108,500,000l., but they added nearly 200,000,000l. to the capital of the National Debt.’—Russell's Life of Fox, iii. 55, 56. See too the very severe judgment on Pitt's financial policy in Say, Economie Polituque, Sième partie, ch. xiv. xvi.
Hamilton, p. 158.
See Mr. William Newmarch's very able pamphlet in defence of Pitt, called The Loans raised by Mr. Pitt during the first French War (1855).
25 Geo. III. ch. 84.
See his letter to Pitt; Stanhope's Life of Pitt, i. p. xv.
See on this subject two very striking articles in the Edinburgh Review, July 1808, April 1814. The former article was written by Coleridge. See, too, Wilberforce's Life, iii. 29.
See the detailed account of these transactions in Wilberforce's Life, vol. iii., also the Annual Register 1806, p. 90.
Wilberforce's Life, vol. iii.; Clarkson's History of the Abolition of the Slare Trade, ii. 503–506.
Stephen's Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, pp. 494, 495.
Parl. Hist. xxxii. 710. See too Wade's Hist, of the Middle and Working Classes, pp. 90–95.
My old friend Mr. William Brooke (late Master of Chancery in Ireland) took down in 1816, from a Mr. Armitage who lived much in London political society in the first years of the century, the following anecdote, which has not, I think, appeared in print. In the debates which followed the Peace of Amiens, the Opposition had taunted Pitt with having failed in the avowed objects of the war—the restoration of the Bourbons and the destruction of the Revolution. Pitt in his reply began to quote the lines of Virgil (Æ n. iv. 340), Me si fata meis paterentur ducere vitam Auspicus, et sponte mea componere curas, Urbem Trojanam primum, dulcesque meorum Rehquias colerem, Priami tecta alta manerent, Et recidiva manu posuissem Pergama victis. In the middle of the quotation, however, his memory failed him. He hesitated and paused, when Fox, bending forward from the Opposition bench, prompted his rival to the end of the passage. The speech and the quotation will be found in Parl. Hist. xxxvi. 69.
Wilberforce's Life, iii. 249, 250. See too the touching lines written by George Rose on returning from Pitt's funeral, Rose's Duarce, p 258.
Adolphus, iv. 137–140.
24 Geo. III. c. 25; Mill's Hist. of British India, book v. ch. ix.
26 Geo. III. c. 57.
Annual Register, 1784–5, p. 242; De Flassan, La Diplomatie Franĉuise; Adolphus, iv. 180–185.
Annual Register, 1784–5, pp. 137–139.
Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 355, 367, 372. On the determination of Pitt to declare war against France if that power opposed the restoration of the power of the Stadholder, see the Auckland Correspondence, i. 195, 204.
The fullest accounts of these events (written from the two opposite sides) will be found in an anonymous sketch of The History of the Dutch Republic for the last ten years reckoning from the year 1777 (London, 1788) written by George Ellis, Secretary to the English Embassy at the Hague, and in a memoir by Caillard, French Chargé d'Aflaires at the Hague, which is published in the third volume of Ségur's Tableau Hutorique, See too the Malmesbury Diaries, the Annual Register, and Adolphus.
Sir James Harris, writing to Mr. Ewart, English Secretary at Berlin (Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 112), says: ‘Our principals at home are too much occupied with the House of Commons to attend to what passes on the Continent; and if any good is ever done there, it must be effected through the King's ministers abroad and not by those about his person. Long experience has taught me this, and I never yet received an instruction that was worth reading.’ It is curious to compare this with the judgment of Burke. Writing in 1791 he said: ‘I have long been persuaded that those in power here, instead of governing their ministers at foreign courts, are en'irely swayed by them. That corps has no one point of manly policy in their whole system; they are a corps of intriguers, who sooner or later will turn our offices into an academy of cabal and confusion’—Burke's Correspondence, iii. 268, 269.
See De Flassan, Diplomatie Political System of Europe, ii. 59–61; Franĉaise, vi. 376–378; Heeren's Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 102–106.
Cornwallis's Correspondence, i.
Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 122. 160, 161.
Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 121–130.
Langdale's Memoirs of Mrs. Fitzherbert, pp. 118, 119.
Lord Stourton says he saw this letter. Ibid. p. 121.
Holland's Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii. 127–137
See a discussion on this point in Langdale's Life of Mrs. Fitzherbert, pp. 31–36, and Migne's Encyclopédie Théologique, art. ‘Marriage.’
Adolphus, iv. 216
Parl. Hist. xxv. 1351–1356.
See some very interesting letters of Sir G. Elliot on the subject.—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 155–164.
Parl. Hist. xxvi. 1064–1070.
Sir G. Elliot writes: ‘I think yesterday was a very good day for the Prince, as the story of Mrs. Fitzherbert was what staggered great numbers, and he offers such unreserved satisfaction on every point which has been started agamst him, that the natural desire of every man to relieve him from so unbecoming a situation seems now to have nothing to contradict or restrain it.’—Life of Sir G. Ellivt, i. 157.
It is stated that when Fox made his declaration Pitt repeated to a neighbour on the Treasury Bench the line from Othello, ‘Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore.’
‘The ground,’ Elliot writes, ‘taken to reconcile this assent of the King's with his former and late positive and decided refusal, is the declaration made by Fox contradicting the story of the marriage.’—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 160.
Langdale's Life of Mrs. Fitzherbert, pp 29, 30, 123, 124.
Lord Holland's Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii 137–140. Lord Holland was informed of this fact by Grey himself. See also Lord Grey's note in Russell's Memorials and, Correspondence of Fox, ii. 289.
Langdale's Life of Mrs. Fitzherbert, pp. 28–30.
Langdale's Life of Mrs. Fitzherbert, pp. 132–135.
In the Diary of Mrs. Harcourt (the wife of General, afterwards Earl Hareourt, equerry to the King), a portion of which has been privately printed by Mr. Frederick Locker, there is an account of a conversation between the Duke of Gloucester and Mrs. Harcourt about the Prince's affairs. It gives a somewhat different notion of Mrs. Fitzherbert from that which generally prevailed. The Duke said: ‘The marriage between the Prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert was without much love on either side. He had his amusements elsewhere, but he had much consideration for her. She was sometimes jealous and discontented; her temper violent, though apparently so quiet. He hoped the Prince would remain in her hands, as she was no political intriguer, and probably if they parted he would fall into worse hands.’—Mrs. Harcourt's Diary, p. 41.
Russell's Life of Fox, ii. 186.
Russell's Life of Fox, ii. 187.
See Russell's Memoirs and Correspondence of Fox, ii. 287–289.
Rose's Diary, i 86.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 236–238.
See Rose's Diary, i. 88–90. Moore's Life of Sheridan The arguments which probably determined the Government are given very fully in a letter from W. Grenville to Lord Buckingham — Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III. i. 448–454. Sir Gilbert Elliot, who was well acquainted with the sentiments of Carlton House, wrote to his wife on November 25: ‘The Prince is, I believe, as much determined at present as possible never to have anything to do with Pitt, who was very absurdly arrogant in his good fortune, and insulted the Prince in his manner and conduct whenever he could, even in public and in his presence.’—Lady Minto's Life of Sir G Elliot, i 238
See Lord Loughborough's letter to Sheridan, in Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vii. 248, 249.
Madame D'Arblay's Diary, iv. 337, 338. In a letter from Admiral Payne to Sheridan written on November 24, he says: ‘The Prince is to see the Chancellor to-morrow Due deference is had to our former opinion upon the subject; no courtship will be practised, for the chief object in the visit is to show him the King, who has been worse the two last days than ever.’—Moore's Life of Sheridan, ii 29. Lord Lough-borough talks of ‘the tenderness he [Thurlow] showed’—‘for I am sure it is not his character to feel any’—as intended to win the confidence of the queen.—Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vii. 249.
On November 25 Lord Bulkeley wrote to Buckingham: ‘I heard for certain that the Chancellor, who was suspected of being rattically inclined, was firm as a rock, and that the whole Cabinet were determined to die together.’—Mems of the Courts and Cabinets of George III. ii. 15. On November 30, however, Grenville wrote: ‘You will have heard in all probability much on the subject of the Chancellor. His situation is a singular one. It is unquestionably true that he has seen Fox, and I believe he has also seen Sheridan repeatedly, and certainly the Prince of Wales. And of all these conversations he has never communicated one word to any other member of the Cabinet. Yet I am persuaded that he has as yet made no terms with them, and that whenever they come to that point they will differ. With this clue, however, you will be at no loss to guess where the Prince acquires his knowledge of the plans of regency which are to be proposed, because, even supposing the Chancellor not to have directly betrayed the individual opinions of his colleagues, yet still his conversation upon these points, in all of which he has explicitly agreed with the opinions of Pitt, must lead to the communication of the plans in agitation. … Pitt has been induced, from his regard to the King, to dissemble his knowledge of Thurlow's conduct and to suppress the resentment which it so naturally excites. There is no reason, but the contrary, for believing that any of those who have acted with him are disposed to follow his example. It is universally reprobated and explicitly by them.’—Ib. pp. 23, 24. See too, on the secret negotiations of Thurlow with the Prince, Rose's Diary, i. 89, 90.
Campbell's Chancellors, vii. 250, 251; Stanhope's Life of Pitt, i. 397, 398. There is a slightly different version of the anecdote given in Sir C. Lewis's Administrations of Great Britain, p. 122.
Tomline, ii. 365.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 257.
On Dec. 7 (two days after Dr. Willis had his first interview with the King) Grenville wrote to Buckingham: ‘It is quite ridiculous to see how angry the Opposition are at the report of the physicians, and particularly at what Warren said, which I understand was very different from what they had expected They go so far as to say that if Fox had been present he would not have dared to give such an evidence. They hope to mend it by a subseouent examination before a Committee of the House. The object of Willis being examined is so great that I think we shall consent to something of this sort. Not only his opinion will have great weight, but it will also make the others very cautious what they say in opposition to it.’—Courts and Cabinets of Geo III. ii. 36.
Ibid. ii. 47.
This phraseology is not historically accurate. The three estates of the realm are not the King, Lords, and Commons, but the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal, and the Commons (Blackstone, book i. ch. ii. § 2; Stubbs's Const. Hist. ii 182–184). As, however, the leading statesmen on both sides in the regency debates, followed the common usage, and spoke of the Crown as ‘the third Estate,’ I have thought it best to retain their language, not merely when quoting their words but also in giving summaries of their arguments.
Part. Hist. xxvii 706, 707.
Moore's Life of Sheridan, ii. 38.
Parl. Hist. xxvii. 709–711.
Part. Hist. xx vii. 711–713.
See Stubbs's Constitutional History, iii. 179, 180.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 17.
Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 248.
Fox's Correspondence, ii. 299, 300.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III. ii. 3–10.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III. ii. 12, 25, 32, 36, 37, 40, 41.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III. ii. 10, 17, 24, 32, 41.
Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III. ii. 49, 50, 53, 54.
Ibid. p. 56.
Ibid. p. 39.
Ibid. p. 58.
Courts and Cabinets of George III. ii 52.
On December 15 Fox wrote: ‘We shall have several hard fights in the House of Commons this week and next, in some of which I fear we shall be beat; but whether we are or not, I think it is certain that in about a fortnight we shall come in. It we carry our questions we shall come in in a more creditable and triumphant way, but at any rate the Prince must be Regent, and of consequence the ministry must be changed … The King himself (notwithstanding the reports which you may possibly hear) is certainly worse and perfectly mad. I believe the chance of his recovery is very small indeed, but I do not think there is any probability of his dying.’—Foxs Correspondence, ii. 299, 300.
Wraxall states that this was told him by General Manners himself, and acknowledged to him by Pitt.—Posthumous Memoirs, iii. 220, 221.
Sir G. Elliot writes to his wife, December 27: ‘The day before yesterday there was a final explanation with the Chancellor, which terminated in a decided separation between him and our party, to the great joy of Fox and of every one of us except the Prince himself. The Chancellor has been the whole of this time playing a shabby tiimming game, keeping himself open to both parties, till one should be completely victorious. The Prince, who has always had a partiality for the Chancellor, probably on account of his table qualities, has been negotiating and intriguing and canvassing him incessantly, with very little discretion or prudence, all the time; and in spite of many disappointments and breaches of engagements which the Chancellor had made about the part he should take in the House of Lords, he still persisted in sending for him and holding long conversations with him on the business. The Chancellor by this means learned the interior of the Prince's affairs and intentions, and was betraying him all the time to Pitt. Fox, at last, who has uniformly been against any connection with the Chancellor, of whom he thinks worse than of any man in the world, had an explicit conference with him, in which he drove the Chancellor to final and full declarations of his intentions; and he is now quite off. The reason of our satisfaction on this event, notwithstanding the strength of the Chancellor's interest in the House of Lords, is that he is considered as a treacherous and dangerous character to form any connection with and to admit into a Cabinet.’—Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, 1. 249, 250.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 275, 276.
Ibid. pp. 246, 247. On the eve of this division Sir John Eden wrote to his brother: ‘The bets at Brooks's this night are even against the minister, though the Chancellor has declared for him.’—Auckland Correspondence, ii. 259.
Courts and Cabinets, ii. 81.
Ibid p. 64.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 269. An excellent account of Burke's speeches on the regency and of their effects will be found in the Posthumous Memoirs of Wraxall, who was present, and who, though often inaccurate in details, was an admirable observer and describer of men and things.
Parl. Hist. xxvii. 1249.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 71, 73. So too Addington wrote of one of the debates on the regency: ‘Burke followed him [Pitt] and discredited himself. Indeed, he was violent almost to madness.’—Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. 60.
‘Burke was undoubtedly the oracle of the Marquis of Rockingham and of all the pure Rockingham party, but the House of Commons never did, nor ever could, have submitted to him as a leader of any party, and this his best friends knew. Why, it may be asked, being gifted with acquirements beyond all other men, perhaps, living or dead, and surpassing all his contemporaries in the highest flights of eloquence, was he not the leader of his party? First, because he wanted taste, and secondly because he was the most impracticable of men. He never knew when not to speak; he never knew when to speak short; he never consulted the feelings and prejudices of his audience. I remember hearing Lord Thurlow say of him and Fox, that the difference between them during the American controversy was that Fox always spoke to the House, and Burke spoke as if he was speaking to himself.’—Lord Liverpool to Croker, Croker Papers, i. 289, 290.
It appears, however, from a letter of Sir G. Elliot, that Portland (who had a profound admiration for Burke) had determined to bestow on him the pay office with a pension of 2,000l. a year on the Irish Establishment, which was to revert after his death to his wife and son. This arrangement was made entirely without the knowledge of Burke.—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 261–263.
In a long and striking letter to Windham (Jan. 24, 1789) he says, ‘I began to find that I was grown rather too anxious, and had begun to discover to myself and to others a solicitude relative to the present state of affairs, which, though their strange condition might well warrant it in others, is certainly less suitable to my time of life, in which all emotions are less allowed, and to which most certainly all human concerns ought in reason to become more indifferent, than to those who have work to do and a good deal of day and of inexhausted strength to do it in. I sincerely wish to withdraw myself from this scene for good and all; but unluckily the India business binds me in point of honour.’ —Burke's Correspondence, iii. 89.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 81–85, 88–101. See too Prior's Life of Burke (2nd ed.) ii. 6–24. On the Duke of Gloucester's opinion, see Fox's Correspondence, ii. 319.
The letter, Sir G. Elliot states, ‘was originally Burke's, altered a little, but not improved, by Sheridan and other critics.’—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 268.
Parl Hist. xxvii. 1191–1193.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, 1i. 11–33; Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 260–263
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 240–242, 245, 256.
Thus Sir G. Elliot writes: ‘The prevailing principle not only with ministers but with all the party, and quite to a degree of passion and fury, is to consider the Prince of Wales, and everything that is suspected of the least attachment to him, as a prey to be hunted down and destroyed without mercy. This I assure you is the private conversation of the ministers and the Queen's whole set.’—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 272, 273.
Life of Sir G. Elliot, i 271, 273, 274; Cornncallis Correspondence, i. 432.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 284.
Fox's Correspondence, i1. 302.
Lord Sidney wrote to Cornwallis: ‘We have seen no times when it has been so necessary to separate parties in private company. The acrimony is beyond anything you can conceive. The ladies are as usual at the head of all animosity, and are distinguished by caps, ribands, and other such ensigns of party.’—Cornnvallis Correspondence, i. 406. General Grant, describing the beginning of the King's illness, says: ‘Reports varied by the hour; party ran higher than was ever seen or heard of; it would hardly have been safe—certainly not pleasant—to bring men of different sides to meet at dinners at a third place, if such a neutral place could have been found in London.’—Ibid. 431.
See the masterly paper in vindication of the Prince drawn up by Sir Gilbert Elliot—Fox's Correspondence, ii. 308–338. In a private letter Elliot says: ‘The Prince is, I suspect, pretty sick of his long confinement at Windsor, and it is very natural he should be so, for, besides the scene before him, he has been under greater restraint in his behaviour and way of life than he has ever known since he was his own master. His residence, however, at Windsor has been useful in several ways. … It has given a favourable impression of the Prince's attention to his father, and has also prevented him from breaking out into any unseasonable indulgence of his spirits before the public, which might have happened if he had resided in London. The Duke of York has been constantly with him, and they have both conducted themselves in a most exemplary way.’—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 239, 240. Mr. Storer wrote to Eden, Nov. 14: ‘It is universally agreed that the Prince of Wales has conducted himself with great propriety.’—Auckland Corres. ii. 242; and Lord Sheffield wrote: ‘The Prince gains much credit by his conduct at Windsor.’—Ibid. ii. 244. There is nothing I think in Miss Burney's Diary inconsistent with this, and Miss Burney was at Windsor all the time of the Prince's residence. On the other hand, I have already quoted Grenville's story about the introduction of Lord Lothian into the King's chamber. In 1790 Walter, the founder of the Times, was imprisoned for sixteen months for libelling the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York—one of his statements being that the Duke of York had entered the King's chamber and purposely disturbed him during his illness; and Mrs. Harcourt asserts that this statement was perfectly true.’—Mrs. Harcourt's Diary, p. 47.
Cornwallis Correspondence, i. 404. Numerous allusions to the conduct of the Prince will be found in the letters in the Courts and Cabinets of Geo III.; in the Auckland and Cornwallis Correspondence; in the quotations from Mrs. Harcourt's ‘Diary’ in Massey's Hist. of Geo. III.; and in Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs.
Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III. ii. 122, 123.
Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III., ii. 126. Grenville adds: ‘It is certainly a decent and becoming thing that when all the King's physicians, all his attendants, and his two principal ministers agree in pronouncing him well, his two sons should deny it. … I bless God it is yet some time before their matured and ripened virtues will be visited upon us in the form of a government.’ Sir G. Elliot, on the other hand, after describing to his wife the interview of the 23rd, says: ‘The King's mind is totally subdued and in a state of the greatest weakness and subjection. It is given out even by the Prince's friends that they observed nothing wrong or irrational in their visit, and it is material that they should not be thought to publish the contrary. It is not entirely true, however, as the King made several slips, one of which was that he told them he was the Chancellor. This circumstance, however, is not to be mentioned for the reasons just given.’—Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 275. Elliot subsequently mentions the childish and unnatural manner of the King at two later interviews with the Duke of York.—Ibid 277, 278. Lord Rawdon, writing on February 28, says: ‘It is acknowledged that the King could not, without incurring great danger of relapse, for a considerable time apply himself to business, even supposing his present recovery to be as complete as is asserted, and, to speak truly, I am very doubtful of it. That his mind is at present tranquil and clear upon ordinary subjects is without dispute; but the suspicion is that there are certain strings which will, whenever they are touched, produce false music again.’—Cornwallis Correspondence, i. 408.
See Fox's Correspondence, ii. 307–355. Croker Papers, i. 289, 290. ‘One day last week,’ writes Mr. Croker, ‘talking with the Duke of Clarence about Mr. Burke's manifesto against the Queen after the regency, … H.R.H. said that so much violence was a little inconsistent with Mr. B.'s conduct in a particular that regarded himself (the D. of C.) about the same time. H.R H. was advised to apply for an increased allowance, and Mr. Burke was selected to pen the demand. When he was writing the letter in the Duke's presence he stopped, and looking up at H R.H. said, in his Irish accent and quick manner, “I vow to God, sir, I wish that instead of writing letters of this kind you would go every morning and breakfast with your father and mother. It is not decent for any family, but above all the royal family, to be at variance as you all unhappily are.”’—Cioher Papers, i. 405.
Mrs. Harcourt's Diary, pp. 6, 11, 12, 14, 24, 25.
Ibid. p. 17.