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William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. V [1878]

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William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. V.

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About this Title:

Vol. 5 of a 8 volume work which took Lecky 19 years to complete and which made his reputation as a scholar. This volume covers the French Revolution.

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The text is in the public domain.

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This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

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    • Characteristics of modern Statesmen 1
    • William Pitt
    • His unique position in 1784 4
    • Nature of his eloquence 5
    • His self-control 10
    • Premature development, and purity of character 11
    • Addicted to excessive drinking 11
    • Indifference to money 12
    • Stateliness of manner 13
    • Political courage 14
    • Amiability in private life 15
    • Sanguine temperament 15
    • Love of boys 16
    • His public manner overstrained 18
    • Position of First Lord of the Treasury 18
    • Pitt's relations to the King 19
    • Contraction of royal power—attempts to reassert it 20
    • Great increase of ministerial authority 21
    • Revolts against Pitt's ascendency 22
    • His favourite colleagues 24
    • Termination of parliamentary corruption 24
    • Excessive creation of peerages 26
    • Pitt's authority as war minister 27
    • Financial skill 27
    • Condition of English finances in 1784 28
    • Pitt's measures against smuggling 31
    • Rearrangement of duties 31
    • Restriction of the right of franking letters 32
    • Additional taxation. Precautions against fraud 32
    • Pitt's readiness to accept suggestions and criticism 33
    • Edition: orig; Page: [vi]Business character of his ministry 34
    • Consolidation of duties 35
    • Free-trade policy. The Irish propositions 36
    • French commercial treaty 37
    • Sinking fund 47
    • Continued during the French War 52
    • Enormous increase of the debt 53
    • Largely due to financial maladministration 53
    • General character of Pitt's financial administration 55
    • Smallness of Pitt's legislative achievements 56
    • The Westminster scrutiny 57
    • Measures reforming the system of elections 60
    • Parliamentary Reform Bill of 1785 60
    • Defeated. Declining interest in the question 62
    • Pitt abandons the cause. Taken up by Flood and Grey 63
    • Pitt's conduct about Reform 64
    • And about the Slave Trade 64
    • The trade abolished without difficulty after his death 68
    • Pitt's Irish policy 68
    • His misconception of the French Revolution. Incapacity as war minister 70
    • Neglect of social problems. And of literature 71
    • Pitt pre-eminently a parliamentary minister 72
    • Special brilliancy of the first period of Pitt's Ministry 73
    • Occasional defeats 73
    • Progress of Scotland. Restoration of the forfeited estates 74
    • Indian Government 74
    • Foreign Affairs
    • Joseph II. breaks the Barrier Treaty 76
    • Claims Maestricht and free navigation on the Scheldt 76
    • Fears of a Dutch war. Treaty of Fontamebleau (Nov. 1785) 77
    • French pay the Dutch indemnity 77
    • The Franco-Dutch alliance 78
    • Conflict between the party of the Stadholder and the Dutch ‘Patriots’ 78
    • Prussian invasion of Holland. Supported by England 80
    • Triumph of the Stadholder (October 1787). Act of Mutual Guarantee 81
    • Triple alliance of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia, 1788 82
    • Joseph II.'s policy in Flanders 83
    • His wish to exchange Flanders for Bavaria 83
    • Tumults in Flanders in 1786 and 1787 84
    • War between Russia and Turkey, 1787 84
    • The Prince of Wales
    • Connection of the Whigs with the Prince of Wales 84
    • Debts of the Prince 85
    • His relations with Mrs. Fitzherbert 86
    • His marriage 88
    • Edition: orig; Page: [vii]Complete alienation from the King 89
    • The Fitzherbert marriage brought before Parliament 90
    • Fox authorised to deny it 91
    • Explanation of Sheridan 100
    • Subsequent history of Mrs. Fitzherbert 93
    • Fox's conduct 95
    • The Regency
    • The King's madness, Oct. 1788 96
    • Relations of Pitt to the Prince. Fox returns from Italy 97
    • Conduct of Thurlow 98
    • Inquiry of the Privy Council into the state of the King 100
    • Parliamentary inquiry. Dr. Willis 101
    • Fox's Claim of Right for the Prince of Wales 103
    • Repudiated by Pitt 104
    • Position of the two leaders defined 105
    • The Duke of York and North try to prevent a formal decision 108
    • Pitt insists on it 108
    • The rival arguments 110
    • Popular favour on the side of the Government 114
    • Letters of Grenville 115
    • Speech of Sheridan 119
    • Answer of Pitt. His popular doctrine 119
    • ‘The Phantom King’ 123
    • Revolutionary character of the precedent established 124
    • Thurlow's declaration for the King 125
    • The Government resolutions 127
    • Death of Cornwall, the Speaker. Grenville elected 128
    • Skill with which Pitt managed the debates 128
    • Violence and indiscretions of Burke 130
    • His opinion of the course that should have been adopted 134
    • Opposition insist on another examination of physicians 135
    • The restrictions on the Regent 136
    • Letter of the Prince of Wales 143
    • The Fitzherbert marriage again alluded to and denied 144
    • Regency Bill passed the Commons. The King better. Strong party feeling 145
    • King's recovery. Conduct of the Princes 147
    • Divisions in the royal family. Duel of the Duke of York 150
    • Mistakes of Fox 151
    • Popularity of Pitt 152
    • And of the King 153
    • Religious Liberty
    • Beaufoy's motion for repealing the Test and Corporation Acts (1787 and 1789) 155
    • Speeches of North and Fox 157
    • Pitt defeats the motion 158
    • Edition: orig; Page: [viii]Revived by Fox in 1790. Speech of Burke 169
    • Influence of the French Revolution. Sir G. Elliot's motion (1791) 160
    • Stanhope's Toleration Bill 160
    • Observance of Sunday 162
    • History of the decline of theological influence in Government 164
    • Eighteenth century conception of an Established Church. And of toleration 168
    • Locke 169
    • Warburton 170
    • Paley 171
    • Burke 171
    • Fox's motion in favour of the Unitarians 176
    • Supported by North. Opposed by Burke 177
    • Comparison of Burke's views with those of Montesquieu and Voltaire 181
    • Bernardin de St. Pierre 182
    • Mably. Rousseau 183
    • Catholic Relief Bill of 1791. Legislation about Catholics 184
    • The Scotch Catholics relieved in 1793 191
    • Repeal (1795) of the Acts against Scotch Episcopalians 191
    • Constitutional History
    • The claim to arrest impeachments by prorogation or dissolution 191
    • Finally surrendered in 1790 192
    • Libel Act of 1791 193
    • Flood's proposal (1790) for parliamentary reform 193
    • The Quebec Government Act (1791) 195
    • Fox on aristocracies 197
    • Colonial defence 200
    • Budget of 1790 202
    • Budgets of 1791 and 1792 203
    • Military and naval defence 206
    • Dispute with Spain about Nootka Sound 206
    • War with Tippoo Sahib 208
    • The Eastern Question.
    • Catherine II 210
    • Russian aggression on Turkey 212
    • Voltaire's Tocsin des Rois 212
    • France the steady ally of Turkey 213
    • English alliance with Russia 214
    • The annexation of the Crimea 215
    • Foresight of Vergennes 216
    • Schemes of partition 217
    • Joseph II 218
    • Accompanies Catherine to the Crimea 219
    • The Turks prepare for the struggle. Their isolation 220
    • Outbreak of the war in 1788. Russian successes 222
    • Disasters of Austria in the eighteenth century 222
    • Joseph compelled to retreat. Difficulties of his position 224
    • Edition: orig; Page: [ix]The Swedish War
    • Retrospect of Swedish history. Revolution of 1772 225
    • Gustavus III. besieges Frederickshamn, 1788 226
    • Naval battle. Mutiny of Swedish officers 227
    • Denmark declares war against Sweden 228
    • Intervention of England. The Triple Alliance undertake to pacify Europe 229
    • Force the Danes into an armistice and peace 231
    • Resentment of Russia 231
    • She refuses the mediation of the allies 232
    • Prussian and Austrian Policy
    • Ambitious designs of the King of Prussia 232
    • Hopes to restore Galicia to Poland and obtain Dantzig and Thorn 234
    • Proposes to assist the Turks 235
    • Desires the separation of Flanders from the Empire 236
    • Divergence of English from Prussian policy 238
    • English despatches June and September 1789 239
    • Military events in 1789 242
    • Exchange of notes between England and Prussia (Oct. 1789-Feb 1790) 242
    • Death of Joseph II. (Feb. 20, 1790) 250
    • Accession of Leopold. Signature of alliance between Prussia and Turkey 251
    • Its ratification withheld. Alliance of Prussia and Poland 252
    • Pacific policy of Leopold 253
    • Demands of the King of Prussia 254
    • King of Great Britain proposes an armistice. Censures the Prussian policy 255
    • Alienation of Great Britain and Prussia 257
    • Negotiations between Prussia and Austria 258
    • Military events. Prussian treaty with Turkey ratified 260
    • Efforts of England and Holland to produce peace 261
    • Convention of Reichenbach 262
    • Peace of Sistova (Aug. 4, 1791) 263
    • Pacification of the Netherlands 264
    • Swedish Affairs
    • Character of Gustavus III 265
    • His deplorable position at the end of 1788 265
    • Reaction in his favour. Diet of 1789 266
    • Opposition of the nobles 267
    • King overthrows by violence the Constitution 265
    • His success and popularity 269
    • Campaigns of 1789 and 1790 270
    • Peace of Warela closes the Swedish War (Aug. 15, 1790) 271
    • Summary of the achievements of the Triple Alliance 273
    • The allies demand the surrender of Oczakow 274
    • Reasons for this demand 276
    • Refusal of Russia 280
    • Edition: orig; Page: [x]Representations of Prussia 281
    • England resolves to support her by arms 283
    • Capture of Ismail 284
    • Designs upon India 285
    • Discussion in Parliament. Strong opposition 286
    • Foreign Powers refuse to support England 291
    • An ultimatum to Russia sent and recalled 292
    • Pitt acknowledges his defeat 293
    • Fawkener sent to Russia 294
    • Fresh successes of the Russians. Adair's journey 295
    • Peace of Jassy. Death of Potemkin 297
    • The failure of Pitt and its consequences 297
  • CHAPTER XX. Causes of the French Revolution.
    • Great influence of the French Revolution on English thought and politics 300
    • Its Literary Antecedents
    • Change in the literary spirit after Lewis XIV 301
    • Voltaire and Montesquieu visit England 301
    • First writings not revolutionary. Voltaire's early career 302
    • His ill-treatment by the Government 303
    • His exile and antichristian writings 304
    • The literature of the Encyclopaedists 304
    • Total alienation of the French intellect from Christianity 305
    • Persecution of opinion 307
    • How far freethinking prepared the Revolution 308
    • Freethinkers not naturally revolutionists. Politics of Voltaire 309
    • General character of his mind 315
    • Extent of his influence. Spread of toleration through Europe 316
    • Expectation of a bloodless revolution 318
    • The Parliaments
    • First opposition to the Crown originated with them 319
    • Their character and powers 319
    • Opposition to the Bull Unigenitus. Claim of the Parliaments to represent the nation 321
    • Conflict with the Crown and Episcopacy in the Ministry of Fleury 322
    • Magistrates recalled from exile in 1733 323
    • The Parliament naturally conservative 323
    • Renewed conflict in 1747. Parliament attempts to check new taxation 324
    • The tickets of confession 325
    • Exile of the Parliaments, 1753 325
    • Popular excitement in Paris. Predictions of revolution 326
    • The journals of D'Argenson 327
    • Chesterfield foresees the Revolution 328
    • Edition: orig; Page: [xi]Parliament recalled, 1754. Its violence against priests 329
    • Brief of Benedict XIV. Suppressed by the Parliament 330
    • New prominence of the provincial Parliaments. Growth of scepticism 331
    • Court turns against the Parliament. Renewed conflict 332
    • Parliament condemns letters of cachet, beds of justice, and the financial administration 332
    • Persecution of freethinkers Suppression of the Jesuits 333
    • Decline of royal authority 333
    • Taxes forced through Parliament in 1763. Arrest of magistrates 334
    • No edicts obligatory which had not been registered by all the Parliaments 334
    • Predictions of a revolution 335
    • Disputes with the clergy, 1765, 1766. Declining interest in theology 336
    • Execution of La Barre. Intolerance, impiety, and superstition 336
    • Seizure of Avignon 337
    • Important political questions relating to the Parliaments 337
    • King asserts his absolute power 338
    • Trial of the Duke of Aiguillon 339
    • Suppression of the Parliaments by Maupeou, 1771 340
    • Popular disturbances 341
    • Success of the coup d'état. Judgment of Burke 342
    • Voltaire's approval of the suppression of Parliaments 343
    • Opposition to the Court passes chiefly to Men of Letters
    • Decline of the influence of Voltaire 344
    • Rising influence of Rousseau. The ‘Contrat Social’ 345
    • Its relation to English speculation 345
    • Its chief doctrines 348
    • Their adaptation to French ideas. English and French ideals 352
    • Rousseau qualifies his theories 355
    • Dangers of the absolutism of majorities 358
    • English and American theory of the suffrage 360
    • Rousseau's dislike of violence 361
    • His advocacy of small states and local patriotism 362
    • General estimate of Rousseau 364
    • His political influence 365
    • The Economists 369
    • Character of the Government
    • Its despotism 370
    • Destruction of provincial government 372
    • And of the independence of tribunals. Division of classes 373
    • The gentry attracted to the towns 374
    • Growth of a peasant proprietary 375
    • The feudal burdens 376
    • Unjust and oppressive taxation 379
    • Comparison of French and English taxation 382
    • Other abuses and oppressions. Low state of agriculture 384
    • Frequency of famines during the eighteenth century 385
    • Contrasts of great poverty and luxury 386
    • Edition: orig; Page: [xii]Lewis XVI. restores the Parliaments 386
    • Ministry of Turgot 387
    • Effects of his dismissal 389
    • First ministry of Necker. The provincial Assemblies 390
    • Effects of the American War in accelerating the Revolution 392
    • French society in the early years of the reign 392
    • Increase of prosperity 394
    • Intellectual activity 395
    • Moral aspects of the time 396
    • Its rare charm 397
    • Character of the King 398
    • All fear of Revolution had passed 399
    • Disillusion of the nation under Calonne. Deficit declared 400
    • Assembly of the Notables, Feb. 1787 400
    • Ministry of Brienne. Notables refuse to vote a land tax 401
    • Provincial States Free trade in corn. Abolition of the corvée 402
    • Effect of the meeting of the Notables 403
    • Insubordination in the army and its causes 404
    • The Parliament, on the dissolution of the Notables, becomes the centre of opposition 405
    • Declares that the States-General alone have the right to impose new taxes 406
    • Exiled to Troyes 406
    • Recalled, Sept. 1787 407
    • Loan raised 408
    • Destruction of French influence in the Netherlands. Civil rights granted to Protestants 408
    • Forecast of Arthur Young 409
    • Character and danger of the parliamentary opposition 410
    • Attitude and policy of the King. States-General promised 412
    • Coup d'état, May 1788 414
    • Revolts in the provinces 416
    • Declaration of bankruptcy Resignation of Brienne. Recall of Necker 417
    • Question of the form in which the States-General should meet 418
    • King grants a double representation to the Commons 419
    • Mode of election Faults of Necker 420
    • The Sovereign still retained much authority 423
    • Agitation produced by the election. Multiplication of pamphlets and newspapers 425
    • Famine, 1788–1789 426
    • The cahiers-of the three orders 428
    • Constitutional monarchy easily attainable 430
    • Meeting of the States-General. The leading men 431
    • Opinions of Arthur Young and Morris 433
    • Should the three orders vote separately or together? 433
    • Bicameral arrangement rejected 435
    • The third estate proclaim themselves the National Assembly. Scene in the tennis court 436
    • Large body of the clergy joins them 437
    • Edition: orig; Page: [xiii]Royal Session, June 23. The King's offers 438
    • Rejected by the commons. Nobles join them 439
    • Rise of the anarchists. Capture of the Bastille 440
    • The Revolution not inevitable. Summary of its causes 441
    • First Effects of the Revolution on English Politics
    • General belief that the Revolution would promote European peace 443
    • Long antagonism of France and England 443
    • Advantages derived by England from the eclipse of French influence 444
    • Whig antipathy to France 445
    • Refusal of permission to export flour to France 446
    • French influence revives English democratic societies 447
    • Price's sermon 449
    • How far French examples were likely to be dangerous to England 451
    • Enthusiasm caused by the destruction of the Bastille 453
    • First impressions of Fox and Burke 453
    • Fox praises the Revolution in Parliament, Feb 5, 1790 455
    • Burke's speech, Feb 9 456
    • Close of the debate 459
    • Motives attributed to the speakers 459
    • Their sincerity 460
    • Burke's ‘Reflections on the French Revolution 462
    • His predictions of the course of the movement 472
    • His estimate of the effects of the spoliation of Church property 475
    • Incompatibility of pure democracy with the security of property 479
    • Examination of the connection of the Revolution with socialism 480
    • Constituent Assembly not socialistic 482
    • Causes that checked socialistic tendencies in France 485
    • Burke insists on the proselytising character of the Revolution 487
    • Reception and influence of the ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’ 487
    • Dissolution of Parliament, autumn 1790 489
    • Progress of the Revolution
    • National Assembly transferred to Paris 489
    • Complete Change in the laws and administration of France 490
    • Genuine reforms effected 494
    • General anarchy 494
    • Judgment of Morris 495
    • English enthusiasts for the Revolution. Mackintosh and Paine 496
    • Democratic societies and addresses 498
    • Burke looks forward to European intervention against the Revolution 499
    • Edition: orig; Page: [xiv]All nations not fit for political liberty 501
    • Conflict between Burke and Fox on the Quebec Bill 501
    • Isolation of Burke from his party 507
    • ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’ 508
    • Lord Stormont's interview with Burke 510
    • True character of the Whig party 511
    • The Prince of Wales follows Fox 512
    • Camden sanctions Burke's Whiggism 513
    • Burke's intense sympathy with the French emigrants 511
    • His belief that the Revolution, if triumphant, must be cosmopolitan 516
    • Government separated from property 519
    • Righteousness of an anti-revolutionary war. Imminence of the danger 520
    • General estimate of Burke's policy on the Revolution 521
    • His three conditions of intervention 522
    • Effects of the question on Burke's health 524
    • His diffidence about political prophecy 525
    • Public opinion turns towards him 526
    • The Birmingham riots 528
    • Lients on the Continent
    • Death of Mirabeau 529
    • Flight of Varennes 530
    • Conduct of the Assembly Its character 531
    • Lewis XVI. accepts the Constitution 533
    • Dissolution of the National Assembly. Constitution of its successor 534
    • Menacing aspect of surrounding Powers 535
    • Pacific spirit in France 536
    • Guiding principles of Russia and the Emperor 537
    • Of Prussia 538
    • The Polish Question
    • State of Poland since the death of Sobieski 539
    • Its first partition in 1772. The three Powers guarantee its remaining territory 541
    • Prussian alliance with Poland 542
    • Revolution in the Polish Constitution, May 1791. Its dangers and merits 543
    • Poland refuses to cede Dantzig and Thorn to Prussia 543
    • Judgment of Hailes 544
    • King of Prussia approves of the new Constitution 545
    • Attitude of England 546
    • The French emigrants Their negotiations with foreign Powers 547
    • The Emperor and the King of Prussia negotiate for an alliance 548
    • Hesitation of Leopold about French affairs 549
    • Refuses to assist Lewis XVI. unless he was supported by other Powers 550
    • His policy before and after the flight of Varennes 551
    • Letters of Marie Antoinette to Leopold 552
    • Edition: orig; Page: [xv]Alliance between Prussia and the Emperor consummated. Secret ambitions of the Powers 554
    • Designs on Alsace and Lorraine 555
    • The King of Prussia more anxious than the Emperor for intervention with France 556
    • Interview and Declaration of Pilnitz 557
    • Absolute neutrality of England in French affairs 558
    • The Emperor and Marie Antoinette consider her hostile 561
    • Evidence from confidential diplomatic correspondence of the sincerity of English neutrality 562
    • Indifference of English public opinion to foreign affairs 565
    • Objects of Pitt's foreign policy. Estimates of French affairs 566
    • Conduct of Lord Effingham during the insurrection at St. Domingo 567
    • Pitt regretted the outbreak of the war on the Continent 567
    • Catherine urges the Emperor and King of Prussia to engage in the war 568
    • Her motives. Weakness of Poland 569
    • Gradual rise of the conspiracy against Poland 570
    • Increasing reluctance of Leopold to intervene in France 573
    • Enthusiasm when Lewis XVI. accepted the Constitution 573
    • Growth of anarchy 574
    • Increase of the emigration. Growing hostility of foreign Powers 575
    • French suspicions of England 576
    • Distrust of the King and Queen. Their relations to foreign Powers 577
    • Leopold refuses to assist them 580
    • The Legislative Assembly
    • Its composition 580
    • Its measures against the emigrants 581
    • Indisposition of the continental Powers to act without the Emperor 582
    • Growing belief in peace. In France a war spirit arising 583
    • Prevailing belief that France was completely paralysed 583
    • Influences that impelled her towards war 584
    • Division in the republican party. Triumphs and demands of the Girondins 587
    • Narbonne organises the war. Secret appeal of the King to foreign Powers 588
    • Letter of Marie Antoinette to Mercy 589
    • Difficulties of the position of Leopold 590
    • His hesitating policy 591
    • French ultimatum to the Emperor 593
    • Alliance between the Emperor and Prussia ratified. German army approaches the frontier 593
    • The Emperor still anxious to avoid a war 594
    • His fears for Poland 595
    • Change in the Spanish Ministry. Death of Leopold. Assassination of Gustavus III 595
    • The Polish Question
    • Signs of the conspiracy forming against Poland 596
    • Whitworth discovers the intentions of Catherine 597
    • Edition: orig; Page: [xvi]The King of Prussia agrees to a partition 598
    • Keith describes the position of the Court of Vienna 599
    • Approach of the French War, Attitude of the Powers 599
    • Austrian reply to the French ultimatum 599
    • The war party triumph in France. Anarchy of the country 601
    • France declares war against the Emperor 601


Edition: orig; Page: [[1]]


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 Edition: orig; Page: [2] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [4] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [5] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [7] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [8] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [9] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [10] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [12] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [13] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [14] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [16] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [17] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [18] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [19] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [20] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [21] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [22] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [23] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [24] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [25] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [26] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [27] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [28] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [29] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [30] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [31] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [32] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [33] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [34] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [35] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [36] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [37] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [38] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [39] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [40] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [41] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [42] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [43] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [44] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [45] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [46] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [47] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [48] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [49] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [50] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [51] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [52] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [53] 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

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [55] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [56] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [57] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [58] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [59] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [61] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [62] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [63] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [64] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [65] 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

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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, Edition: orig; Page: [67] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [68] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [70] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [71] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [72] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [73] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [74] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [75] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [76] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [77] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [79] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [80] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [81] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [82] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [83] 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

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [85] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [86] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [87] 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.

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [89] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [90] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [91] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [92] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [93] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [94] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [95] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [96] 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. Edition: orig; Page: [97] 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

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [99] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [100] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [101] 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

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [103] 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

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [105] 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. Edition: orig; Page: [106] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [107] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [108] 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. Edition: orig; Page: [109] 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.’

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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 Edition: orig; Page: [111] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [112] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [113] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [114] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [115] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [116] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [117] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [118] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [119] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [120] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [121] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [122] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [123] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [124] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [125] 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!’

Edition: orig; Page: [126]

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 Edition: orig; Page: [127] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [128] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [129] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [130] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [131] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [132] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [133] ‘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 Edition: orig; Page: [134] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [135] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [136] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [137] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [138] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [139] 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;’ Edition: orig; Page: [140] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [141] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [142] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [143] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [144] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [145] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [146] 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, Edition: orig; Page: [147] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [148] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [149] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [150] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [151] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [152] 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 Edition: orig; Page: [153] 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.

Edition: orig; Page: [154]


The period of the King's recovery has been described, probably with truth, as that in which the fortunes of Pitt attained their acme. There was indeed a later period when his opponents became much fewer than in 1789, but the horizon was then thickly overcast with foreign dangers; the extreme hopefulness which characterised the early years of the Administration had passed away, and admitted failures and popular discontent threw dark shadows over the prospect. Less than four years had to run their course before the great French War broke upon England, and for some time before that event the proceedings in France had produced a general indisposition to reform. Yet in these years something of importance was done, and some great questions were at least raised which it shall be the object of this chapter to examine.

Several years had elapsed, during which no questions relating to religious liberty had been brought before Parliament. I have shown, in former volumes of this work, the slow but steady progress which had been made towards the abolition of the chief grievances of the Protestant Dissenters and of the Catholics; and the spirit of the time, and especially the prevailing tone of the law courts, did much to discourage any attempts to enforce such remnants of intolerance as remained. But the grievance of the Test and Corporation Acts, though much mitigated by the Annual Indemnity Acts, was still felt by the Protestant Dissenters, and at a meeting held in London, in the beginning of 1787, the deputies of the three great denominations—the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists—agreed to bring it again before Parliament. Their claim had been considerably strengthened by the repeal of the Test Act in Ireland in 1779, and also by the warm support which they had given to Edition: orig; Page: [155] Pitt in the critical election of 1784, and they wisely entrusted their cause to Mr. Beaufoy, a member of the Church of England and a steady supporter of the ministry. He brought it before Parliament in speeches of remarkable ability in 1787 and 1789. Having recounted the well-known history of the Acts that were complained of, having dilated upon the acknowledged, unvarying and zealous attachment which from the time of the Revolution the Dissenters had shown to the dynasty and the Constitution, he proceeded to give a startling account of the disabilities and penalties to which, by the strict letter of the law, they were still liable. They could hold no commission in the army or navy, no civil office, no seat in a corporation, no corporate office; they could not take part in the direction of the Bank of England, of the Indian, or Russian, or South Sea, or Turkish companies though their whole fortune might be invested in these stocks. Any Dissenter convicted of having accepted any of these offices, who still refused to qualify by taking the Anglican sacrament, was not only liable to a heavy fine, with the alternative of imprisonment, but was also, like the worst of criminals, placed almost beyond the protection of the law. He was disabled for the rest of his life from bringing any action in law, from prosecuting any suit in any court of equity, from being guardian to any child, from being an executor, from receiving a legacy. In 1745, when the enemy was marching into the heart of England, and when the Government was in the utmost danger, a great body of Protestant Dissenters took arms for its defence. Their reward was a special Act of Grace pardoning them for the offence they had committed.

It was true that these laws were in some respects constantly violated, and that Annual Acts of Indemnity were passed to shelter those who violated them; but Beaufoy was able to show that these Acts were far from being a complete and effectual protection to men who had accepted office, and who were determined at no time to take the Anglican sacrament. It was pretended that these penalties were necessary for the protection of the Established Church. But no such protection for the Established Church existed either in Scotland or Ireland. The Roman Catholic, whose hostility to all Protestant Churches, and Edition: orig; Page: [156] the Quaker, whose hostility to all religious establishments, might be justly feared, were already excluded from power and office by the oaths of supremacy and allegiance. The other Dissenters were few, diminishing, and, for the most part, singularly unfanatical; and by a strange fatuity the Legislature, which pronounced it dangerous to allow them to be tide-waiters, or directors of the Turkish company, allowed them to sit in Parliament and to exercise the franchise.

Turning to another aspect of the subject, Beaufoy expatiated with great force and eloquence on the extreme profanity of these laws. They did not, it is true, stand alone. The Legislature, by its reckless and lavish multiplication of oaths, ‘by compelling every petty officer of the revenue and every collector of turnpike tolls to swear deeply on his admission into office, has made the crime of perjury more frequent than it ever before was in any age or country.’ In the Sacramental Test, however, there was a profanity which was almost worse than perjury. ‘The Saviour of the world instituted the Eucharist in commemoration of His death—an event so tremendous that afflicted Nature hid herself in darkness; but the British Legislature has made it a qualification for gauging beer-barrels and soapboilers’ tubs, for writing Custom House dockets and debentures, and for seizing smuggled tea.’ History furnishes no other example of the Legislature of a country deliberately, and by express enactment, prostituting the most sacred ordinance of their own faith, converting the temple into an antechamber to the excise office, degrading the altar into a qualification desk for tax-gatherers and public extortioners, and pleading as a reason for this impious defilement the interests of the Church. How could a clergyman be expected to fulfil his duty of rejecting from the sacred table open ill-livers, if they came only to fulfil a legal obligation, to qualify for offices which they had received from the Crown? As a matter of fact such men were never rejected; were it otherwise an action for damages would ensue. Nor is it surprising that the most conscientious clergyman should shrink from the responsibility that was imposed on him. ‘Our fleet is preparing to sail; the enemy is already in the Channel; the officer appointed as our admiral is a man of the highest professional merit, and is called to the command by the general voice of Edition: orig; Page: [157] the people. Debauched, however, in private life, living in avowed fornication, and notoriously profane, he approaches the holy table. If the sacrament be administered to him, in what situation is the clergyman? If it be refused, in what situation is the kingdom?’

The motion for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts at once divided the chiefs of the Opposition. North, who was now nearly blind, and very infirm, came down to oppose it, and on both occasions he spoke against it with a strong accent of sincerity. The principle he maintained, that all offices of power should be entrusted to men who either belonged to or were, at least, not actively hostile to the Established Church, is essential to its security, and an Established Church is an essential part of the British Constitution. When James II. conspired against the religion and liberty of the English people, he did so chiefly by introducing into office men who were hostile to both; and the Test Act contributed largely to his defeat. In absolute monarchies, like France or Prussia, where the sovereign may at any moment remove officials, it may perhaps be safe to promote men who are not in harmony with the dominant religion; but in a limited monarchy such promotions will always be dangerous to the Church. Fox, on the other hand, while reproaching the Dissenters with having, in the election of 1784, abandoned the principles of liberty, strongly and eloquently supported their claim. He had no difficulty in showing that the existing legislation amounted to a penalty, and a very serious penalty, imposed on a particular class for their conscientious adherence to their religion, and that this class was in morals one of the most respectable, in political antecedents one of the most meritorious in England.

Speaking of the alleged dangers to the Church, he said that, in his opinion, every country should have an Established Church, and that Church ought to be the Church of the bulk of the people. The establishment of the Kirk in Scotland and of Episcopalianism in England rested on this firm foundation. It was very unlikely that anything but a great change of opinions could shake them, and ‘if the majority of the people of England should ever be for the abolition of the Established Church, in such a case the abolition ought immediately to follow.’

The issue of the contest depended mainly on the attitude Edition: orig; Page: [158] of Pitt. Personally he had not the Smallest antipathy to Dissenters, or the faintest leaning towards intolerance; but he was not prepared to enter into a serious conflict with the Church for the purpose of removing disqualifications that were of little practical importance. He requested the Archbishop of Canterbury to collect the opinions of the bishops, and at a meeting held at the house of the archbishop the maintenance of the Acts was voted by ten to two.1 Pitt determined therefore to throw out the motion of Beaufoy, but he did not attempt to answer all his arguments, and his speeches were of a kind that left it fully open to him, on another occasion, to change his course. He entirely agreed, he said, that religious opinions should never be restrained or limited by law, unless they were likely to prove a source of civil inconvenience. He warmly eulogised the Dissenters, but denied that the Acts that were complained of were of the nature of a stigma or a penalty. In all societies and constitutions there must be some restriction of right, some mode of qualification; and it is not unreasonable that governments should retain a discretionary power of excluding from offices of trust and influence men who, though personally in the highest degree respectable, are on principle opposed to the ecclesiastical side of the Constitution. The object of the Sacramental Test was not to make the offices to which it applied exclusively tenable by Churchmen, nor had it that effect. It was only to make it possible to exclude the comparatively small section of Nonconformists, who thought so ill of the Church, and were so disaffected to it, that they refused to communicate with it.2 ‘The alliance of the Church and State is founded on expediency; this restriction is the price which the State pays the Church for it,’ and its removal would certainly alarm a large and respectable section of the community. All over Europe the animosities and passions that spring from religious differences are subsiding, and in England there is now a happy quiet. But no policy is so likely to interrupt it as one which would revive the competition of sects, and thus rekindle the smouldering embers of their ancient virulence.

There was little in these speeches to discourage the Dissenters; and while Beaufoy was defeated in 1787 by 178 to Edition: orig; Page: [159] 100, in 1789 he was only defeated by 122 to 102. If events had gone on in their accustomed course, it is probable that the Test Act would have been speedily abolished; but the French Revolution, and the wholesale confiscation of Church property, which was one of its first incidents, produced an immediate and a most powerful reaction. In 1790 the question was again introduced, and this time the Dissenters, not very judiciously, entrusted their motion to Fox, and thus gave it a more distinctly party complexion. Fox spoke with his accustomed eloquence and force, and was powerfully supported by Beaufoy; but it was evident that the conditions of the debate had changed. The language of Pitt was now that of decided and uncompromising hostility. There were constant allusions to what was passing in France, and the spirit of the House was manifestly hostile to the Dissenters.

The debate was especially remarkable for a speech of Burke, which discloses very clearly the manner in which events in France were influencing his mind. The profanation of the sacrament by employing it as a political test, which appears to have been viewed with perfect equanimity by the bishops and clergy, struck Burke as forcibly as Beaufoy, and he proposed another form of test as a substitute. Of the Dissenters, as a body, he spoke temperately and generously. On the abstract question of religious tests he refused to argue. Abstract principles he said he had always detested, and, above all, abstract principles of natural right seemed to him among the most idle and useless topics that could be introduced into political discussion. They had long since been given up, when men for their mutual benefit formed themselves into societies and consented to accept the restrictions and limitations of the law. The real and sole question was, whether the test was expedient or the reverse. Ten years ago he would have readily voted for its repeal. In 1787 and 1789 he had left the House when the question was agitated, being unable to take any settled decision; now he was reluctantly convinced that the circumstances were such that a test must be maintained. He showed how Priestley, who was perhaps the chief writer of the Dissenters, had lately expressed his detestation of the Establishment and his determination to do all in his Edition: orig; Page: [160] power to subvert it; how Price, who was the most popular preacher of the Dissenters, had in a well-known sermon warmly eulogised the recent events in France; how catechisms had been published and circulated by authority through the Dissenting bodies, breathing the strongest hostility to the Established Church, and he inferred that this was at present the acknowledged sentiment of their leading preachers. No proposition appeared to him more clear than that an Established Church was of vital importance to England, and he believed that at the present time there were strong and warrantable grounds for serious apprehension for its safety. Only two years ago, what hierarchy in Europe seemed safer or more powerful than that of France, and where was it now?

The weight that was attached to these considerations was clearly shown by the division. Fox was defeated by no less than 294 to 105, and the current now flowed so strongly against the Dissenters that nearly forty years elapsed before the broad question of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was again agitated, though Sir Gilbert Elliot, supporting a petition of the Scotch General Assembly, made an unsuccessful attempt in 1791 to exempt members of the Scotch Established Church from the provisions of the former Act.

A similar fate attended a very comprehensive Toleration Bill, which was introduced into the House of Lords in 1789 by Lord Stanhope. It was not intended to affect the Test and Corporation Acts, and Roman Catholics were expressly excluded from its operation; but it proposed to repeal a number of ancient and, for the most part, obsolete laws, which were plainly inconsistent with religious liberty, and to establish the principle that all persons except papists, who were excepted on account of their persecuting and dangerous principles, should have full liberty to teach and exercise their religion, and by speaking, writing, printing, and publishing to investigate religious subjects. In introducing it, Lord Stanhope gave an extremely curious account of the persecuting laws, that still remained on the Statute-book. The laws which he especially desired to repeal were those making attendance at Divine service compulsory. By the Act of Uniformity, every person who, without reasonable and lawful cause, did not attend church, both on Edition: orig; Page: [161] Sundays and holy days, might be fined one shilling for each occasion on which he was absent. By another law of Elizabeth the fine was raised to 20l. a month. By a third law, any person who obstinately refused to go to church was to be committed to gaol till he conformed; but if after three months he persisted in his refusal he was to be banished from the realm, his property was to be confiscated, and he was liable to death if he returned. Under James I. it was provided that the fine of 20l. might be refused; that two-thirds of the lands of the offender might be taken instead; that every householder was liable to a fine of 10l. a month for every servant, visitor, or visitor's servant who abstained from church, and that informations, suits, or actions against those who did not attend church might be laid in any county and at the pleasure of any informer. The Toleration Act had indeed relieved Protestant Dissenters who believed in the Trinity from these penalties, by authorising their places of worship, but it did not include those who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and it left those who from conscientious reasons, or from taste, abstained from attending any form of public worship liable to all the ancient penalties.

In addition to these laws, there were several others which Stanhope desired to repeal. The laws of Elizabeth rendering it compulsory to eat fish on fast days had expired, but to eat meat on fast days was still an ecclesiastical offence, punishable in ecclesiastical courts. The power of excommunication, with all the penalties I have enumerated in a former chapter, still remained. An Act of Charles II. still made any peer who went to Court, or remained in the King's presence, without having taken the Oath of Supremacy and Declaration against popery, a popish recusant, though it had become so perfectly obsolete that, as Stanhope observed, the whole bench of Protestant bishops had violated it. The Canons of 1603, breathing a spirit of implacable intolerance, were still believed to be binding on the clergy, and any writing which impugned the supernatural character of the Christian creed was a criminal offence.

The measure of Stanhope never reached the House of Commons, for it was thrown out in the Upper House on the second reading, chiefly through the opposition of the bishops. They could not, indeed, defend all the Acts that it was proposed Edition: orig; Page: [162] to repeal, but they protested against the sudden removal of so many ancient laws from the Statute-book, and inveighed in the strongest terms against the proposal to authorise men to abstain from any form of public worship, or to publish writings impugning the Trinity or the Christian faith. ‘Such a measure,’ said Bishop Horsley, ‘would leave our mutilated Constitution a novelty in the annals of mankind, a prodigy in politics, a civil polity without any public religion for its basis.’ It is indeed a singular and characteristic fact that the laws of Elizabeth making it a criminal offence not to attend public worship in England were not repealed until 1844 and 1846.1

The greater part of this legislation had no doubt become completely inoperative, and one of the most common complaints of the religious writers of the eighteenth century was the general and systematic neglect of public worship by a large section both of the upper and of the lower class.2 It is impossible to write the history of English religious liberty with any accuracy from the Statute-book, for its different stages had often been attained in manners or practice long before they received the sanction of the law. On the other hand, several of these laws might be employed by individual fanaticism or private malevolence, and Stanhope was able to cite more than thirty cases in which persecuting laws about religion had been put in force during the twenty-six years before he spoke, sometimes against Roman Catholics, sometimes against Protestant Dissenters, sometimes against persons who simply abstained from going to church.3 Nor can it be said that the evil was altogether a diminishing one. A great outburst of religious passion had accompanied the Methodist and Evangelical revival, and on the subject of Sunday observance a stricter code was coming into fashion. Sunday card parties now began to fall into disfavour.4 There were already signs among the upper classes of a more regular attendance on public worship, which increased greatly a few years later owing to the panic which was produced by the French Revolution.5 A declaration was largely signed binding Edition: orig; Page: [163] the subscribers to observe Sunday strictly; to give and accept no entertainment on that day, to abstain from travelling on it except in cases of urgent necessity.1 Bishop Porteus tried, though unsuccessfully, to induce George III. to suppress the Sunday bands at Windsor, Kensington, and Weymouth; and Wilberforce made an equally unsuccessful attempt to induce the Speaker to give up his custom of receiving members of the House of Commons on Sunday evenings.2 There were bitter complaints that ‘Sunday was selected by the fashionable for travelling to their country seats or to the watering-places;’ that ‘on no other day do so many coaches with coronets pass through the country towns and villages;’ that multitudes of the middle or poorer classes persisted in availing themselves of the facilities which improved roads and vehicles gave them for Sunday excursions,3 and there was in some quarters an evident disposition to enforce strictly the laws relating to Sunday, and even to extend their scope. In the winter of 1780 houses were opened in London for Sunday promenades, and for debating societies, in which religious questions were freely discussed, but the new entertainment was at once brought before Parliament by Bishop Porteus, and an Act was passed to suppress it.4 Bishop Horsley, in opposing Stanhope's Bill, urged against it, as a decisive argument, that, if it passed, ‘stage coaches and waggons will travel the road, watermen will ply upon the Edition: orig; Page: [164] Thames, and hackney-coachmen in the streets upon the Lord's Day as upon any other, under the express sanction of the law.’1 In 1784 Sir R. Hill suggested, among other taxes, Sunday tolls and a special tax on Sunday newspapers.2 A society, imitated from the ‘Societies for the Reformation of Manners,’ which had been so active under Anne, was founded by Wilberforce and some other leading Evangelicals about 1787, and spread widely over England, and one of its special objects was to enforce by prosecutions the existing laws against ‘the profanation of the Sabbath,’ and against ‘licentious publications,’ and to induce the magistrates in these matters to act with greater strictness and activity.3 The Evangelical theology, which was now acquiring an ascendency in the most religious classes, was widely separated both in doctrine and in temperature from the school of Tillotson, and from the school of Hoadley. Salvation by belief, and the sinfulness of religious error, were held with a definiteness and an emphasis which had long been unknown in England, while the French Revolution produced among the upper classes an enormously increased estimate of the practical and political dangers that may result from speculative opinions.

In spite, however, of these influences, the spirit of English government in the eighteenth century was but slightly affected by theological considerations, and the great change which had in this respect been for some centuries in operation was almost completed. The old Catholic theory of the duties of government in matters of religion had been, in my opinion, perfectly logical and consistent. It rested on the doctrines of the infallibility of the Church and of the damnable criminality both of religious error and doubt. When governors believed themselves to be, beyond all possibility of mistake, in possession of absolute religious truth, and when they were equally certain that heresy in the sight of the Divinity was a crime entailing eternal damnation, they had no difficulty in believing that all the Edition: orig; Page: [165] resources of government should be exerted in maintaining religious orthodoxy. If these resources can be efficaciously employed without the possibility of error in the promotion of the highest of human interests, such an employment must be a duty, nor is there anything strange or startling in punishing with the heaviest known punishment a crime of the deepest possible dye and entailing the greatest possible calamities. To minds in this condition the butcheries of De Montfort, of Torquemada, or of Mary Tudor could give no greater shock than the execution of ordinary murderers. It was, indeed, early seen that the power of governments over opinion was not unlimited. A convinced heretic could not be really converted, though he might be turned into a hypocrite by penal laws. Persecution kindles a heroism of resistance. The martyr's death inspires many to follow in his steps; and when opinions have found a lodgment in the minds of a large section of a nation, it is not in the power of the civil authority to destroy them. But when all this is admitted, both reason and experience show that the power of government, when uncompromisingly employed in maintaining particular opinions, is enormously great. It may extirpate the most active centres of adverse propagandism. It may immensely restrict, if it cannot absolutely prevent, the circulation of opposing arguments or opinions. It may direct the whole gigantic force of education exclusively in one direction, and if it cannot prevent a change of doctrine, it may at least postpone it for generations. As a consequence of these principles, the maintenance of religious orthodoxy at home, and the support of religious orthodoxy abroad, were considered the most incontestable duties of government; and all tolerance of heresy, and all alliances with non-Catholic powers, were deemed criminal.

With the Reformation, however, a new set of principles came into action; but it was only very slowly, and with innumerable logical inconsistencies, that they triumphed. If private judgment is the basis on which all religious opinions must be founded, its free and honest exercise cannot, it was said, be a crime, but must be a duty and a right of the most sacred kind. Every influence of power which deflects or restricts it must be an evil. The unrestrained comparison of arguments and opinions Edition: orig; Page: [166] is necessary to the discovery of truth, and as governments have no special means of knowing what is true they have no right to proscribe opinions. There grew up, too, among many a belief that great portions of very widely received opinions were doubtful, or untrue; that religious unity is not only impossible, but not even desirable, as different sets of opinion are specially adapted to different types of mind and stages of civilisation; that opinions may be theologically or historically untrue, and yet very conducive to human happiness and goodness. On the other hand, the more zealous adherents of the Protestant Churches neither admitted that there was any material uncertainty in their opinions, nor abandoned the doctrines of salvation by belief and of the criminality of religious error, and they endeavoured to reconcile them with their principle of private judgment by drawing a distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental doctrines. The first were certain and essential to salvation, and they ought therefore to be enforced by law. The second were uncertain, comparatively unimportant, and the proper subject for toleration.

A number of political influences at the same time came into play, some of them acting in the direction of intolerance and some in the direction of religious liberty. Kings and parliaments inherited a great part of the spiritual power which had passed away from the Pope, and they naturally endeavoured to promote the more subservient Churches, to crush forms of belief which had revolutionary or anarchical tendencies, to impose some check upon the disintegrating influences of Protestantism. The fierce antagonism between the Catholic Church and the Protestant communities was carried on not merely or mainly by argument or preaching, but by open war, rebellions, persecutions, conspiracies, and assassinations, and it made a great mass of coercive legislation a political necessity. Many of what were termed persecuting laws were intended in reality not to enforce or propagate opinions, but to guard against sedition or hostile political influences. On the other hand, one of the effects of the Eeformation was to throw great masses of men of different creeds into juxtaposition, and it was necessary to arrive at some system under which they could live together in peace. Political necessities compelled nations of different religions to enter into Edition: orig; Page: [167] close bonds of friendship and alliance; and as the religion which was in a minority in one country was in a majority in another, persecution had an obvious tendency to produce retaliation. Multitudes of refugees, also, drawn for the most part from the very flower of the industrial classes, were scattered by persecution over Europe, and it became a great object to attract them, which could only be done by giving them full liberty of practising their religion. As time rolled on, classes that were essentially secular in their spirit rose to power; material interests and political habits of thought began to dominate, and the theological temperature in Europe gradually cooled.

Under all these various and conflicting influences a large extension of toleration was slowly attained, and governments, by the force of circumstances, were compelled, or induced, to restrict their action to the temporal interests of mankind. Francis I. by allying himself with the Turks, Richelieu by allying himself with Protestants, Elizabeth by supporting Dutch Calvinists, terminated the system of exclusively orthodox alliances. Grotius, while admitting that alliances with non-Christian powers may be permitted in cases of extreme necessity, deplored bitterly the facility with which the governments of his day contracted them, to the great detriment of Christianity, and he recalled the history of an old Duke of Savoy, who is said to have lost Cyprus rather than accept the alliance of the Turks.1 The Peace of Westphalia put an end to active political war between Protestants and Catholics, as such. In England an attempt had been made with much skill to maintain a religious uniformity in a national Church, partly by drawing up the formularies of that Church in such a way as to include men of widely different tendencies and opinions, and partly by coercive legislation directed against Nonconformists. This system, however, after many vicissitudes, completely broke down under the Stuarts, and was finally abandoned at the Revolution, when Presbyterianism was established in Scotland, and when most English Dissenters obtained a legal position through the Toleration Act. From this time it became a settled maxim of English politics that government is intended solely to promote the civil or temporal interests of the community, that the salvation Edition: orig; Page: [168] souls is not within its legitimate functions, and that in promoting or restricting religious tenets it should be governed altogether by a consideration of the effect of those tenets on the temporal happiness of mankind.

It is obvious that this is an essentially different theory from that which formerly prevailed; but it is also obvious that it is a theory which admits of many shades of actual policy. The points of contact between religion and the temporal interests of society are very numerous, and each can act upon the other in many obscure, complicated, and indirect ways. It was generally admitted by the most accredited exponents of the principles of the Revolution that the establishment and endowment of one form of religion was fully within the proper functions of Government. Religion, considered as the supreme regulator of human conduct, passions, and motives, is of the very highest importance to the well-being of society. It gives law its moral sanction. It reinforces it by the prospect of infinite rewards and punishments administered by an Omniscient Judge. It extends the empire of duty over wide tracts of conduct and feeling which positive law can never touch. It is therefore a matter of the highest political and social importance that there should be in every parish an instructed clergyman, set apart for the purpose of carrying the teaching and the moralising influence of religion to all classes, especially to those who would never provide it for themselves. Nor was it forgotten that the alliance of Church and State enabled the governors in some measure to regulate and moderate a force which, though of inestimable value, is peculiarly liable to dangerous excesses and aberrations, and that it established a close union between the Government of the country and the strongest moral influence in society. In selecting, however, from among contending sects, the clergy who were to be entrusted with this function, the ruler is to consider not his own opinion, but that of the nation. The end to be attained is utility, and both Warburton and Paley strongly maintained that the Established Church should be that of the bulk of the nation.

The next question is whether, or to what extent, the power of governments may be legitimately employed in repressing Edition: orig; Page: [169] religious opinions. Locke, who more than any other man framed the theory of the English Government of the Revolution, devoted his ‘Letters on Toleration’ chiefly to an examination of this question, and he maintained with great force of reasoning that the suppression of opinion as being theologically erroneous, can never be within the legitimate sphere of Government, and that the free exercise of private judgment in matters of religion is a sacred and an inalienable right. At the same time, he contends that no opinions should be tolerated by the magistrate which make men necessarily hostile to the State, or which subvert those moral rules that are essential to the preservation of civil society. Under these denominations he would include both the papist and the atheist. No sect, he says, will openly maintain that men are not obliged to keep their promises, or that princes may be dethroned by those who differ from them in religion; but if a Church teaches that all who are not in communion with her are heretics, and that ‘faith is not to be kept with heretics;’ if it asserts that ‘kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms;’ if ‘all those who enter into it do ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince … who has not only power to persuade the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely religious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire,’ the members of that Church have no right to claim toleration from a Government of another creed. Locke does not specifically state that these opinions are held by Roman Catholics, and he would have probably subscribed to the distinction which it was afterwards customary to make between Roman Catholics and papists; but the general application of his words cannot be mistaken. In speaking of atheists his language is still more decisive: ‘Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, commands, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.’1

This letter was published in 1689. A substantially similar doctrine was maintained just fifty years later by Bishop Warburton, Edition: orig; Page: [170] in that treatise on the ‘Alliance of Church and State’ which is perhaps the most really valuable of his works. Warburton lays down in the strongest terms the natural right of every man to worship God according to his conscience, and the criminality of every attempt on the part of the State to interfere with his religion. ‘With religious errors, as such, the State has no concern,’ and it may never restrain a religion, except when it produces grave ‘civil mischiefs.’ In asserting, however, that ‘religion, or the care of the soul, is not within the province of the magistrate, and that consequently matters of doctrine and opinion are without his jurisdiction, this must always be understood with the exception to the three fundamental principles of natural religion—the being of a God; His providence over human affairs; and the natural essential difference of moral good and evil. These doctrines it is directly his office to cherish, protect, and propagate, and all oppugners of them it is as much his right and duty to restrain as any the most flagrant offenders against public peace.’ And the reason of this exception is obvious. ‘The magistrate concerns himself with the maintenance of these three fundamental articles, not as they promote our future happiness, but our present.’ ‘They are the very foundation and bond of civil policy.’ Without them oaths and covenants, and all the ties of moral obligation, upon which society is founded, are dissolved.

The laws against popery are likewise justifiable ‘not as being directed against the religious errors of the Church, but against the political usurpations of the Court of Rome, which, when these laws were made, exhorted men by papal edicts to parricide and rebellion.’ ‘The papist who owns a foreign ecclesiastical power superior to all temporal dominion’ may at any time become a political danger, and therefore, though such men have at present a liberty of connivance under suspended penal Acts, those Acts are justly left on the Statute-book. Tests and disqualifications for the benefit of the Established Church are not penalties, but securities wisely intended to strengthen an institution which is of great utility to the nation.

The next very important work which appeared in England on this subject was the ‘Moral and Political Philosophy’ of Paley. It was published in 1785, and therefore followed the Edition: orig; Page: [171] work of Warburton by almost the same interval as that which separated the works of Warburton and Locke.

It has been, I think, the fortune of this work to be of late years very unduly depreciated, partly because, in consequence of the singular charm and lucidity of its style, it has been so widely read, studied, and criticised that all its weak points have been fully disclosed, and partly also because the particular type of the utilitarian theory of ethics which it teaches has been generally abandoned. It is, however, both in form and substance, one of the masterpieces of the eighteenth century, and the author was much too shrewd a man not to know that the doctrines which he taught were not likely under George III. to lead a clergyman to the bench. In this work Paley rejects as a fiction or unproved hypothesis the theory of a social contract, on which Locke and Warburton based much of their reasoning; but, like them, he reduces the questions of an establishment and of toleration to simple utility. He shows the extreme importance of stationing in each district of the country an educated man, exclusively employed in teaching religion; of setting a class of men apart by public authority for the study as well as for the teaching of an historical religion, and of making the clergy in some degree independent of their flocks. The Church, however, thus selected should always be that of the bulk of the people, and it should be made as comprehensive as possible, consistently with the maintenance of order in the celebration of Divine worship. If subscriptions are not altogether abolished—if a mere promise to conform to the rites, liturgy, and offices of the Church is not found to be sufficient—the articles which are admitted should at least be made as simple and easy as possible. They ‘should be adapted from time to time to the varying sentiments and circumstances of the Church in which they were received.’ They should be articles of peace, only binding men not to preach against certain doctrines. Creeds and confessions may sometimes be necessary, but they are always an evil. ‘They violate liberty. They ensnare the consciences of the clergy, by holding out temptations to prevarication;’ by' reason of the changes which are wont to take place in the judgment of mankind upon religious subjects, they come at length to contradict the actual opinions of the Church whose doctrines they profess to Edition: orig; Page: [172] contain, and they often perpetuate the proscription of sects and tenets from which any danger has long ceased to be apprehended.’

Passing, then, to the question of toleration, the views of Paley show a great advance on those of his predecessors. Laws like the Test and Corporation Acts, excluding Dissenters in the interests of the Established Church from certain offices of trust and emolument in the State, rest, he admits, on a different ground from laws forbidding the profession or exercise of some form of religion; but they are inconsistent with perfect toleration, obstacles to the unbiassed pursuit of truth, and only to be justified on the ground of a clear preponderance of utility. No such utility, in the opinion of Paley, exists. If the Established Church contains an overwhelming majority of the English people, it will be strong enough to maintain itself. If the Dissenters ever become a majority, the Establishment itself ought to be altered, or qualified. If there exists among the different sects such a parity of numbers or power as to make the choice of one sect a matter ‘of hazardous success and of doubtful election,’ some form of concurrent endowment should be adopted.

The only example of such an endowment, with which Paley was acquainted, was in the newly formed States in North America, and the experiment was evidently one which excited great interest in his mind. Judging it from a distance, it seemed to him very difficult on such a scheme to arrange the parochial system, which he considered the chief advantage of an establishment, and he feared that it would lead to excessive Government expenditure, and a feverish and unhealthy competition of sects. The principle, however, he says, is a just one, and when sects are nearly balanced, it ought, if possible, to be adopted. Religious disqualifications in politics appear to him altogether unsound. It is no doubt true that enthusiasts who believe that Christianity has abolished all distinctions of property should not be made judges or magistrates, and that Quakers should not be trusted with military administration or command; but on the whole, among existing sects of Christians, ‘with the single exception of refusing to bear arms,’ there is no tenet which incapacitates men from serving the State. ‘I perceive,’ he writes, ‘no reason why men of different religious persuasions Edition: orig; Page: [173] may not sit upon the same bench, deliberate in the same council, or fight in the same ranks, as well as men of various or opposite opinions upon any controverted topic of natural philosophy, history, or ethics.’

The case of atheists, or other unbelievers, he does not deal with directly, but only by implication. He fully adopts the modern doctrine, that the law is concerned only with the actual conduct of men, and not with the course of conduct which may seem logically deducible from their principles. He makes no exception to his claim for toleration, and says, ‘Under the idea of religious toleration, I include the toleration of all books of serious argumentation.’ He adds, however—and surely with good reason—‘I deem it no infringement of religious liberty to restrain the circulation of ridicule, invective, and mockery upon religious subjects.’

Nor does he find anything in Catholicism to exclude it from toleration. The only ground upon which the Legislature at the time of the Revolution can have been justified in proscribing this Church was the belief that its members were altogether, or for the most part, hostile to the present settlement of the Crown. If this be the case, and if the legislator can find no other test of men's inclination to the State equally certain and notorious, he is justified in enacting restrictive laws against popery. It should be remembered, however, that in this case it is not popery to which the laws object, but popery as the mark of Jacobitism; that the connection of popery and Jacobitism is their sole justification; that as this connection was accidental in its origin, so it will probably be temporary in its duration;’ and that these restrictions ought not to continue one day longer than some visible danger renders them necessary to the preservation of public tranquillity.’1

It is greatly to the credit of the liberal spirit of England that, in spite of the reaction produced by the French Revolution, a book containing these opinions should have passed through fifteen editions in the life of the author, and that it should have been made, almost immediately after its publication, a textbook at Cambridge.2 Paley was, indeed, one of the ablest Edition: orig; Page: [174] representatives of a school of divines which is the pre-eminent glory of the English Church in the eighteenth century—a school distinguished throughout Europe for its unflinching love of truth, its masculine and sober reasoning, its wide and generous tolerance. In some respects he stood greatly in advance of the leading politicians, and among others of Burke. Seventeen years before the outbreak of the French Revolution—at a time when the free-thinking spirit in Europe, and especially in England, seemed as far as possible from allying itself with any form of sedition or political turbulence—Burke, in a letter to Lady Huntingdon, expressing his hostility to the movement which had been set on foot for relieving the clergy of the Established Church from subscription to the Articles, added these very remarkable words: ‘I am happy in coinciding with your ladyship in attachment to the Established Church. I wish to see her walls raised on the foundations laid in the volume of Divine truth, that she may crush the conspiracy of atheism and those principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration.’1

In the following year, Burke strongly supported the measure for relieving the Protestant Nonconformist ministers from the obligation, which had been imposed on them by the Toleration Act, of subscribing to the greater part of the Anglican Articles; but, while defending the Dissenters, he turned aside to make a most violent attack upon the atheists. He was replying to those who, arguing for connivance rather than legal toleration, contended that, if the Nonconformists were formally freed from the obligation of subscription, attacks on Theism and on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity might easily be made under the shelter of Nonconformity. ‘If this danger is to be apprehended,’ replied Burke, ‘if you are really fearful that Christianity will indirectly suffer by this liberty, you have my free consent: go directly and by the straight way, and not by a circuit; … point Edition: orig; Page: [175] your arms against these men who do the mischief you fear promoting; point your arms against men … who, by attacking even the possibility of all revelation, arraign all the dispensations of Providence to man. These are the wicked Dissenters you ought to fear; these are the people against whom you ought to aim the shaft of the law; these are the men to whom, arrayed in all the terrors of Government, I would say, You shall not degrade us into brutes. These men—these factious men, as the honourable gentleman properly called them—are the just objects of vengeance, not the conscientious Dissenter. … Against these I would have the laws rise in all their majesty of terrors to fulminate such vain and impious wretches, and to awe them into impotence by the only dread they can fear or believe. … The most horrid and cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through atheism. Do not promote diversity: when you have it bear it; have as many sorts of religion as you find in your country: there is a reasonable worship in them all. The others—the infidels or outlaws of the Constitution, not of this country, but of the human race—they are never, never to be supported, never to be tolerated. Under the systematic attacks of these people I see some of the props of good government already begin to fail—I see propagated principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration. … Those who hold revelation give double assurance to their country. Even the man who does not hold revelation, yet who wishes that it were proved to him, who observes a pious silence with regard to it, such a man, though not a Christian, is governed by religious principle. Let him be tolerated in this country. Let it be but a serious religion, natural or revealed—take what you can get—cherish, blow up the slightest spark. … By this proceeding you form an alliance, offensive and defensive, against those great ministers of darkness in the world who are endeavouring to shake all the works of God established in order and beauty. Perhaps I am carried too far, but it is in the road into which the honourable gentleman has led me. The honourable gentleman would have us fight this confederacy of the powers of darkness with the single arm of the Church of England. … Strong as we are, we are not equal to this. The cause of the Edition: orig; Page: [176] Church of England is included in that of religion, not that of religion in the Church of England.’1

This passage is in more than one way remarkable. It shows how far Burke was from acknowledging that unlimited right of serious religious discussion which has become the received doctrine of the latter part of the nineteenth century. It shows that, as early as 1773, he looked forward to some such convulsion, as that which was at its height in France twenty years later; and it is one of the many proofs that his attitude during the French Revolution was in reality only what might have been expected from the principles he had laid down in the earlier portion of his career.

In 1792 an attempt was made by Fox to repeal the Act of William III. under which the Unitarians were still liable to punishment, and to secure for them the legal position which other Protestant Dissenters had obtained by the Toleration Act. Their exclusion from the benefits of this Act seemed especially anomalous at a time when anti-Trinitarian opinions were notoriously rife, both among the Nonconformists and in the Established Church; and in 1774 Theophilus Lindsey, a very estimable clergyman who had lately seceded for conscience' sake from the Church, set up the first avowedly Unitarian place of worship in London.2 He officiated there alone, and without molestation, for about twelve years, and afterwards in conjunction with Dr. Disney. Priestley's work on the ‘Corruptions of Christianity,’ which appeared in 1782, gave a considerable impulse to the movement. Some of the Unitarians adopted Arian opinions, and admitted the pre-existence of Christ, though not His equality with the Father; but the greater number, following in the steps of Socinus, believed with Priestley that Christ was a mere man, though they fully admitted His Divine mission, His miracles, and His resurrection. It was very unfortunate for their claims to toleration that Priestley, who more than any other man had given them importance, was a warm admirer of the French Revolution and a vehement opponent of Church establishments.

It is remarkable, that in the debate which was raised on the Edition: orig; Page: [177] Unitarian petition Lord North had himself brought down to the House to support Fox. On the subject of the Test and Corporation Acts, the old Tory chief said his opinions were unchanged. These laws were laws of security, intended to protect the established Church, and they were both necessary and just. But the laws making it penal to reject the doctrine of the Trinity were laws of persecution, and as such directly opposed to the spirit of Christianity. The Unitarians, he said, were not turbulent or seditious; and if they ever became so, it was for the ordinary law to punish them. Pitt, on the other hand, opposed the relief, chiefly on the ground of the ferment which the French Revolution had produced. No practical evil had resulted or was likely to result from these laws to any description of men. It was always wise to touch old laws relating to religion with extreme caution, and it would be especially foolish at this time to give encouragement to avowed enemies of the established Church and of the Constitution. The great body of the English people, he was convinced, were firmly attached to the Constitution under which they lived; but an active section were animated by different principles, and if the measure of Fox were carried, these men would most certainly represent it as a first step to the gradual abolition of all the establishments and fundamental principles of the Constitution.

The principal speaker, however, against the motion was Burke; and his speech was evidently most carefully prepared. His own very copious notes for it are preserved, and they are well worthy of careful study, though in a work like the present I must confine myself to a brief summary and a few extracts. He began by his favourite doctrine that no rational politician will ever govern himself by abstractions and universals, by general rules or inflexible principles. ‘Circumstances are infinite, and infinitely combined, variable, and transient;’ and a statesman who refuses to be guided by them and to attend to the exigencies of the moment may ruin his country for ever. To a great part of the current speculation about the relations of Church and State he expressed himself decidedly opposed. The doctrine of Warburton, that Church and State are two distinct bodies, which have entered into an alliance for their Edition: orig; Page: [178] mutual advantage, he wholly rejected. Like Hooker he maintained that ‘in a Christian commonwealth the Church and the State are one and the same thing, being different integral parts of the same whole,’ and the laity are as much an essential part of the Church as the clergy. Nor had he any sympathy with the doctrine of the school of Hoadley, that the State has no right to interfere with religious opinions. ‘Government representing the society, has a general, superintending control over all the actions, and over all the publicly propagated doctrines of men, without which it could never provide adequately for all the wants of society.’ ‘Religion is so far from being out of the province and duty of a Christian magistrate, that it is, and it ought to be, not only his care, but the principal thing in his care; because it is one of the great bonds of human society, and its object the supreme good, the ultimate end and object of man himself. … It is his right and duty to watch over it with an unceasing vigilance; to protect, to promote, to forward it, by every rational, just, and prudent means. It is principally his duty to prevent the abuses which grow out of every strong and efficient principle that actuates the human mind. … It is the interest, the duty, and the right of Government to attend much to opinions, because, as opinions soon combine with passions, even when they do not produce them, they have much influence on actions. Factions are formed upon opinions, which factions become in effect bodies corporate in the State.’ ‘A reasonable, prudent, provident, and moderate coercion may be a means of preventing acts of extreme ferocity and rigour; for by propagating excessive, and extravagant doctrines, such extravagant disorders take place as require the most perilous and fierce corrections to oppose them.’

What, then, is the nature and amount of coercion that may be justly employed? In order to answer this question at any time it is necessary for the legislator to know ‘the peculiar and characteristic situation of a people, their opinions, prejudices, habits, and all the circumstances that diversify and colour life.’ ‘I am not,’ said Burke, ‘fond of defining with precision what the ultimate rights of the sovereign supreme power in providing for the safety of the commonwealth may be, or may not extend to.’ ‘If religion related only to the individual, and was a question between God Edition: orig; Page: [179] and the conscience,’ human authority would certainly have no right to intervene. If men ‘limited their principles to their own congregations, and were satisfied themselves to abstain from what they thought unlawful, it would be cruel to molest them.’ ‘It would not be just even to trace consequences from principles, which, though evident to me, were denied by them.’ But on the other hand, the legislator ‘ought to look strictly to it when men begin to form new combinations, to be distinguished by new names, and especially when they mingle a political system with their religious opinions.’ ‘When religion is embodied into faction, and factions have objects to pursue, it must, more or less, become a question of power,’ and governors have no right to permit religion, which ought to be one of the bonds of society, ‘to be made the pretext of destroying its peace, order, liberty, and security.’

These principles, Burke argued, had been hitherto adopted in English religious legislation. Parliament had never laid down any general maxim that religion was not its concern, but directly the contrary. It had always examined particular grievances, and, with a due regard to times and circumstances, had remedied them by carefully limited laws. The Catholic had not been freed from the obligation of an oath; the Quaker had not been empowered to say mass, but an amount of liberty had been given to each which was strictly measured by his requirements. Catholics, Presbyterians, Anabaptists, Independents, Quakers, were all in possession of defined liberties, and possession is a great title in human affairs. Nor were any serious dangers to be apprehended from them. ‘Old religious factions are volcanos burnt out; on the lava and ashes and squalid scoriae of old eruptions, the olive and the vine are now growing. Such was the first, such the second condition of Vesuvius. But when a new fire bursts out, a face of desolation comes on, not to be rectified in ages.’ When, therefore, any new religious body rises up, claiming to be recognised by law, its character and designs should be carefully scrutinised.

It was on these principles that he opposed the petition of the Unitarians to be relieved from the laws directed against those who denied any Person of the Trinity, and to be suffered to constitute themselves into a distinct sect. The records of Edition: orig; Page: [180] Parliament, he said, know nothing of any religious congregation or association, bearing the name which these petitioners had assumed. It was a new society which was to be called into legal existence; a society formed for the express purpose of proselytism; a society, whose leading members openly avowed their sympathy with French principles, and especially their implacable hostility to an established Church. The writings of Priestley and Dr. Kippis abundantly proved this, and Burke quoted from an apparently authorised report of a recent dinner of ‘the Unitarian Society’ which had been held at the King's Head Tavern, under the presidency of Priestley. It had been arranged on that occasion to celebrate July 14, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille. The speeches were filled with eulogies of the proceedings in France; and among the toasts drunk were ‘The National Assembly of France; and may every tyrannical Government undergo a similar revolution!’ ‘Thomas Paine, and the Rights of Man;’ ‘May no society, civil or religious, claim rights for themselves, that they are not ready to concede to others.’1 It is evident, Burke argued, that this sect is political, and not merely theological. ‘The principle of your petitioners is no passive, conscientious dissent on account of an over-scrupulous habit of mind. It is fundamental, goes to the very root, and is at issue not upon this rite, or that ceremony, but upon this one question of an Establishment as unchristian, unlawful, contrary to Gospel, and to natural right, popish and idolatrous. These are the principles viclently and fanatically held and pursued.’

Ought Parliament to suffer a society animated with these principles to acquire the augmented influence which would result from a legalised existence? The question, he says, resolves itself into a question of facts. Is there a real danger? Is it true that there is a design against the Constitution of this country, carried on by a restless faction with increasing vigour and activity? If this be so, Parliament is justified in being on its guard, and ‘early and provident fear is the mother of safety.’ The bulk of the people were still sound, but, in the opinion of Burke, about a fifth part were infected with the new doctrines. Edition: orig; Page: [181] Considering what had happened, what was happening, in France, could it be said that under these circumstances there was not a grave danger? It was idle to assert that the Establishment must be in security, because the majority were in favour of it. Majorities are always composed chiefly of men of sluggish tempers, and with little promptness or decision of action, and nearly all revolutions are the work of resolute and active minorities. For these reasons, and with a sole view to political expediency, he refused to give the Unitarians an organic existence. ‘Let them disband as a faction, and let them act as individuals; and when I see them with no other views than to enjoy their own conscience in peace, I for one shall most cheerfully vote for their relief.’1

The arguments of Burke and the authority of Pitt prevailed. The motion of Fox was defeated by 142 to 63, and it was not till 1812 and 1813 that the Unitarians obtained in England a legal toleration for their opinions and their worship.2 Like most of the more important speeches of Burke, his speech on this occasion contained principles of a much wider interest and application than the immediate subject of debate, and the extracts I have given will sufficiently show his theory of the relations of Church and State, and the extent, the nature, and the grounds of his intolerance. It will, however, perhaps, mitigate the surprise with which some portions of his speeches in 1773 and in 1792 may be read, to compare them with the views of some of the most advanced and most popular leaders of thought upon the Continent. Thus Montesquieu, who has written with admirable force on the iniquity of penal laws in matters of religion, while he maintains that it is the duty of a governor to tolerate all the religions which he finds established in his nation, to prevent them from injuring one another, and to secure every citizen from molestation on account of his creed, adds nevertheless that the introduction of a new religion into a country is an evil which he is perfectly justified, if possible, in preventing.3 Voltaire wrote against persecution with greater persistence and success than any other writer of the eighteenth Edition: orig; Page: [182] century, but he had no sympathy with the doctrine that the regulation of religion lies outside the sphere of Government. Actuated chiefly by his hatred of the papacy, but partly also by his strong leaning to authority, he maintained in one of his works that the prince ought in every country to be absolute master of the whole ecclesiastical system; that his relation to ecclesiastics is the same as that of the head of a family to the tutor who is employed to teach his children, and that he has a right to direct them authoritatively, in everything in any degree relating to public order. ‘Religion which teaches a pure and useful morality the philosophical prince will encourage, but he will prevent his subjects from disputing on dogmas, as such disputes have never produced anything but evil.’1 ‘The functions of the ministers of religion,’ he elsewhere says, ‘their persons, their possessions, their pretensions, their manner of teaching morals, preaching dogma, and performing ceremonies, their spiritual punishments, everything in a word which affects the civil order, should be submitted to the authority of the prince and to the inspection of the magistrate.’ The sovereign has, indeed, no right to employ force to bring men to any religion, nor is he a competent judge of the truth of dogma, but he has a full right to take cognisance of dogma if there is anything contrary to the public good either in its essence or in the manner in which it is taught. Dissenters from the established religion should always be obliged to apply to him for an authorisation to hold their religious assemblies. When they are so authorised, no one should be suffered to molest them, but the sovereign has a right at all times to know what passes in their assemblies, to reform abuses that may arise and to dissolve their congregations if they lead to disorder, and the whole of their worship, their formularies, and their public instruction should be submitted to constant Government inspection.2

Views at least equally removed from the modern ideal of religious liberty were held by other conspicuous leaders of French thought. Thus Bernardin de St. Pierre, while strongly asserting in general terms the right of religious tolerance, proceeds to argue that no legislator should tolerate a superstitious Edition: orig; Page: [183] religion which makes men subject to men rather than to God; or an intolerant religion, which teaches them to avoid, hate, or oppress one another.1

Mably, in some respects, pushed the spirit of speculative innovation further than any of the other great precursors of the Revolution, and some of the most important and most valuable chapters in his works are devoted to an examination of the relations of religion to politics and morals He had himself shown the sincerity of his tolerance by sacrificing a political career and the patronage of the Cardinal de Tencin rather than acquiesce by his silence in the determination of that prelate to dissolve a Protestant marriage, and he strenuously maintained that all religions which have acquired a footing in the nation should be tolerated, and that legislation on religious matters should be inspired solely by the interests of society. He at the same time contended that all atheists, materialists, and epicureans, who persisted in maintaining their views, should be imprisoned for life; that all deists who attacked the religion of the country should be punished by shorter periods of imprisonment, and that it is the duty of the legislator to prevent the introduction into the State of any new religions or any alterations of existing ones.2

Rousseau held substantially the same opinions. He professed and believed himself to be a warm advocate of toleration, but he states that every Government has a right to impose certain articles of belief as essential qualifications of a good citizen and a faithful subject. The articles of this civil religion are the existence of a powerful, intelligent, and benevolent Divinity; a providential government; a future life; the happiness of the good; the punishment of the bad; the obligation of the social contract and of the laws. Whoever refuses to declare his belief in these doctrines should be banished from the realm. Whoever, having publicly accepted them, acts as if he did not believe them, should be punished with death. One doctrine only should be proscribed by law, but it is a doctrine that is professedly held by a vast section of the Christian world: ‘Whoever dares to say, Outside the Church there is no salvation, Edition: orig; Page: [184] should be banished from the State,’ unless the State is a theocracy governed by a pontiff. It is impossible that any man who holds such a belief can live in harmony with those who are not his co-religionists.1

Although the efforts of the English Unitarians and other Protestant Nonconformists were at this time unsuccessful, an important step was taken in the direction of religious liberty by the Catholic Relief Bill of 1791, which removed some of the extraordinary hardships and anomalies of the position of Catholics in England. The Act of 1778 had repealed, for the benefit of those who took an oath prescribed by the statute, the legislation of William III., which subjected to perpetual imprisonment every priest found guilty of celebrating mass, and every papist who kept a school; which offered a large reward for the apprehension and conviction of popish priests, and which disabled papists from either purchasing or inheriting land. It did not, however, as might have been supposed, give the Catholics a legal toleration, for it left untouched a number of laws of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts, which made any priest found in England guilty of high treason, and punished with fine or imprisonment any person who heard mass, absented himself without lawful reason from the Anglican service, kept or attended a Catholic school, or sent his children to be educated as Catholics on the Continent. It is true that these laws had been virtually, though not legally, abolished by the laws of William, under which all the eighteenth-century prosecutions before 1778 appear to have taken place, but while they remained on the Statute-book the position of the Catholics could hardly be otherwise than precarious, and there were many existing grievances of a most practical kind. Catholics were still obliged to pay a double land tax, and to enroll by an expensive and inquisitorial process the deeds of their estates, and they were subject to an almost universal disqualification. They were excluded from the army and navy; from the whole legal Edition: orig; Page: [185] profession;1 from all civil and military posts; from the right of sitting in either House of Parliament; from the right of voting for representative peers or for members of the House of Commons.

As early as February 1788, a committee of English Catholics had presented a memorial to Pitt, enumerating their grievances and asking his assistance. Pitt answered them favourably, but urged great pressure of business as a reason for delay, and recommended them, as a preliminary step, to collect authentic evidence of the opinions of the Catholic clergy and universities with respect to the existence and extent of the Pope's dispensing power. Opinions were accordingly obtained from the Universities of the Sorbonne, Douay, Louvain, Alcala, and Salamanca, asserting that neither the Pope, cardinals, nor any individual or body of men in the Church of Rome had any civil authority, jurisdiction, or pre-eminence whatsoever within the realm of England, or any power of releasing on any pretext the King's subjects from their oath of allegiance, and denying that there was anything in the belief of Catholics which could justify them in not keeping faith with heretics. At the suggestion of Lord Stanhope, the great body of the English Catholics, ‘including the four Vicars-Apostolic who then governed the Catholic Church in England and almost all the Catholic clergy, signed a protestation which was laid before Parliament with their petition for relief. It was intended to disabuse the Protestant mind of the belief that there was something in Catholicism necessarily hostile to the civil power in a Protestant country. The protesting Catholics denounced in the strongest terms the doctrines that either the Pope, or the Pope and General Council combined, had any power of deposing kings; of causing excommunicated kings to be murdered; of absolving subjects from the oath of allegiance; of commanding subjects, under pain of damnation, to take up arms against their sovereign; of making any act justifiable which is in itself immoral or dishosent Edition: orig; Page: [186] of releasing Catholics from the obligation of any oath or compact whatsoever. With equal energy they repudiated as contrary alike to religion, morality, and common honesty, the doctrine that faith is not to be kept with heretics or infidels, and they very boldly asserted that, except when there is ‘a sincere sorrow for past sin, a firm resolution to avoid future guilt, and every possible atonement to God and the injured neighbour,’ neither Pope nor priest had, according to their belief, any power whatever to forgive sins.1 ‘We acknowledge,’ they said, ‘no infallibility in the Pope.’ The Catholic Church has no power over Protestants except that of excluding them from its sacraments and other religious privileges; ‘no jurisdiction or authority whatsoever within this realm, that can directly or indirectly affect or interfere with the independence, sovereignty, laws, constitution or government thereof, or the rights, liberties, persons, or properties of the people.’

This protestation was afterwards thrown into the form of an oath, and embodied in the Relief Bill as it was first introduced into Parliament; but a dispute, into the details of which it would be too long to enter here,2 arose between the bishops and the great body of the Catholics, chiefly about the exact terms in which the Pope's jurisdiction should be disclaimed. The Bill was introduced by Mr. Mitford, and it had the full assent of the Government. The only part of the existing disqualifications which it touched was that relating to the legal Edition: orig; Page: [187] profession, which, from the rank of barrister downwards, was now thrown open to Catholics; but the Bill abolished for the benefit of the protesting Catholics the statutes against Popish recusants. It granted a legal toleration to the Catholic worship and schools, and it freed Catholics from the necessity of enrolling their deeds and wills, and from some obsolete but insulting liabilities to which they were still exposed. They could no longer be summoned by magistrates to take the oath of supremacy and declaration against transubstantiation. Peers who had not taken this oath and declaration were no longer forbidden to enter the King's presence, and it was no longer to be in the power of the Government to order the removal of papists from London and Westminster. It was provided, however, that not only Catholic chapels and schools, but also the names of all schoolmasters and officiating priests, must be registered; that no Catholic assembly might be held with locked doors; that no Catholic chapel should have a steeple or a bell; that no priest should wear the habits or perform the rites of his religion in the open air, or anywhere except in authorised buildings or in private houses where not more than five persons, in addition to the household, were present; that no child of a Protestant parent should be admitted into a Catholic school; that no monastic order should be established in England; that no Catholic school or college should be endowed. Subject to these numerous restrictions and limitations, the position of Catholics who took the prescribed oath was now a secure one.1

The double land tax, being imposed by the annual Land-tax Act, could not be included in the Relief Bill; but fróm this time the clause imposing it was regularly omitted.

The Bill passed the Commons without a division, and in the House of Lords the only alteration made was one which was desired by the Vicars-A postolic. The oath, formed with very little change out of the Protestation, had been condemned by the bishops, and another and somewhat simpler form of oath was in consequence substituted, which was taken almost without alteration from the oath in the Irish Relief Act of 1774. With this change the Bill passed unanimously through both Houses.

Edition: orig; Page: [188]

The Catholics were indeed singularly fortunate in the time at which they urged their claims. The Relief Bill was warmly supported as a measure of religious liberty by the whole body of the Protestant Nonconformists,1 and by all those classes who welcomed the French Revolution. Under the Stuarts, and for a long period after the Revolution of 1688, the Whig party had been intensely anti-Catholic, and clear traces of this spirit may be seen even in the speeches of Chatham; but under the leadership of Fox it completely passed away. From this time religious liberty, without exception or restriction, became the watchword of the party; and during many years of unpopularity and adversity they defended the Catholic cause with a consistency and self-sacrifice which have been rarely equalled in the history of parties, and for which they have often been repaid by the basest ingratitude. As might have been expected, the Bill was not all that Fox could have desired. He entirely objected to religious tests; he wished an unlimited toleration, irrespective of any oath, except the oath of allegiance; but he wisely abstained from dividing the House. ‘His sentiment,’ he said, ‘was that the State had no right to inquire into the opinions of people, either political or religious; they had a right only to take cognisance of their actions.’ ‘The public might prescribe what qualifications and restrictions they pleased for any person, before the King could employ them in their service, but … toleration in religion is one of the great rights of man, and a man ought never to be deprived of what was his natural right.’ ‘He rejoiced that in a few years they must come to a general toleration, for the times were too much enlightened to suffer men's minds to remain shackled. There was one plain road to pursue; keep in. if they pleased, all their statutes for the Establishment … but let the Statute-book be examined, and strike out all the others which relate merely to opinions.’2

While these were the views of the chief of the Opposition, the other side of the House on other grounds almost equally Edition: orig; Page: [189] shared them. The no-Popery panic had been superseded by a new danger. The French Revolution, which had startled and alarmed all the supporters of monarchical and ecclesiastical establishments, had been directed at first mainly against a branch of the Catholic Church, and that Church was now regarded as the most powerful bulwark of the Conservative party throughout Europe. The Anglican bishops fully supported the Relief Bill, and it was Bishop Horsley who induced the House of Lords to change the form of oath in order to meet the objections of the Vicars-Apostolic.1 Burke very strongly supported the measure. Without the smallest disposition to believe Roman Catholic theology, he had always a strong sympathy with the Catholic Church, which is easily explained by the circumstances of his family and his nationality, and by his marked natural leaning towards antiquity and authority. The French Revolution greatly strengthened it, and, as we shall hereafter see, the advocacy of the claims of the Irish Catholics was one of the last works of his great and admirable career. It was his firm conviction that the political dangers that had sprung from the papacy in the sixteenth, and in some measure in the seventeenth, century, were now completely extinct, and that Catholicism must for the future be regarded as one of the chief conservative elements in Europe. ‘It is a great truth,’ he wrote to an Irish member of Parliament, ‘that if the Catholic religion is destroyed by the infidels, it is a most contemptible and absurd idea that this, or any Protestant Church, can survive the event;’ and speaking of the Irish, he added, ‘Let them grow lax, sceptical, and careless, and indifferent with regard to religion, and, so sure as we have an existence, it is not a zealous Anglican or Scottish Church principle, but direct Jacobinism which will enter into that breach.’2

Pitt had himself no anti-Catholic feeling, and the Relief Bill of 1791 would probably have been much more extensive but for one unfavourable influence. It could hardly be argued with any approach to plausibility that there was serious political danger to be apprehended from the English Catholics—a small, harmless, insignificant, and most pacific class, who in political Edition: orig; Page: [190] matters were generally guided by the representatives of a few old and highly respected aristocratic families. In Ireland, however, where property, political power, and the established Church were in the hands of a Protestant minority, the situation was very different, and the Irish Government at this time was exceedingly anti-Catholic. They continually represented to Pitt that an extended Relief Act in England would immensely strengthen the demand for a similar measure in Ireland, and that dangers of a most serious kind might thus be created. This consideration appears to have chiefly decided him to restrict the English measure to the provisions that have been described.

The English Act produced no popular ferment, and in less than two years a measure was carried for the relief of the Catholics in Scotland. In that country, as in England, a practical toleration appears to have been at last attained,1 though no Relief Bill had as yet been passed, as Scotland was not included in the English Acts of 1778 or 1791. At the beginning of the French Revolution, the Scotch Catholics were reduced to great distress by the confiscation of the Scotch establishments in France, from which the payment of their priests was largely derived. It is a curious illustration of the changed spirit of the time that a Catholic bishop brought this fact before the English Government, and that the Government for two or three years gave secretly small salaries to all the Catholic priests in Scotland, besides contributing to two Catholic seminaries.2 The toleration, however, which the Scotch Catholics enjoyed was still of a very precarious kind. Among the laws that were unrepealed was one enabling the nearest Protestant relation to tender an oath which was inconsistent with Catholicism to any Catholic landowner, and if he refused to take it, to appropriate the estate. The law was so odious, that it was very rarely put in force, and the law courts appear to have done everything in their power, by technical difficulties, to make it inoperative; but a case of Edition: orig; Page: [191] this kind was actually before the courts when the Relief Bill of 1793 was carried, which placed the Scotch Catholics in a position substantially similar to that of the Catholics of England.1

One other measure remains to be noticed in this review of religious legislation. The entire extinction of Jacobitism rendered the severe laws that had long been in force against the Protestant Episcopalian Church in Scotland wholly unnecessary. The death of Charles Edward in 1788 took away the last pretext for Jacobitism, and the Scotch bishops, assembled in synod at Aberdeen, agreed to submit, and to pray for the King by name. A measure was accordingly. framed in 1795, repealing the stringent and persecuting Acts of the first two Georges, and giving the Scotch Episcopalians a perfect toleration, provided their ministers took the usual Scotch oaths and prayed for the King. No clergyman, however, in Scotch orders, could hold a benefice, or even fill a curacy, in England.2

We may now pass to other classes of questions which were agitated in Parliament between the King's recovery and the beginning of the great French War. In the constitutional history of England this period is comparatively barren; but two important questions were settled by the concurrence of the leaders on both sides. Among the extreme remedies provided by the Constitution for extreme abuses, one of the most serious is parliamentary impeachment; and it is obviously essential to its efficacy that Parliament should have the power of carrying it through to its end. The right claimed by the Crown of arresting impeachment by a pardon was condemned by a vote of the House of Commons immediately after the Revolution, and the Act of Settlement finally enacted ‘that no pardon under the Great Seal of England be pleadable to an impeachment by the Commons in Parliament.’ It was still, however, undecided whether the Crown might not put an end to impeachments by proroguing or by dissolving the House of Commons. The first of these questions was raised in 1717, on the occasion Edition: orig; Page: [192] of the impeachment of the Earl of Oxford, and it was then formally resolved that a prorogation of Parliament does not determine an impeachment. The second question was decided in connection with the impeachment of Warren Hastings. There was a dissolution in the summer of 1790, and when the new Parliament met it was contended that the proceedings of the former House of Commons against Hastings were null and void, that the impeachment was at an end, and that it must be either abandoned or begun again from the beginning. It is remarkable that Pitt, on this occasion, held a conference with Fox and Burke, the only occasion, it is said, since the Coalition Ministry, on which the two great rivals were brought together in private life.1

Erskine maintained, in a long and elaborate speech, that the impeachment was at an end, and the great preponderance of lawyers, including the Chancellor, the Chief Justice of the King's Bench, the Master of the Rolls, the Attorney-General, and the Solicitor-General, were on the same side.2 They argued partly from precedents, which, however, they were obliged to admit to be conflicting, and partly from analogies drawn from the proceedings of the Common Law Courts. Pitt, Fox, and Burke, however, concurred in the opposite view. The speech of Pitt on this occasion is an extraordinary instance of the superiority with which, on an essentially legal question, he could contend with the foremost lawyers of his time; and in accordance with his opinion, it was resolved by a great majority that a dissolution does not terminate an impeachment, and that a new House of Commons has a right to take up the proceedings at the point at which they had been left by its predecessor.

The second question, which was now finally settled, was the long dispute about the rights of juries in cases of libel. We have seen in a former part of this work how Hardwicke, Mansfield, and many less distinguished judges had uniformly contended that in cases of libel the province of the jury was merely to determine the fact of the publication, and the meaning of the allusions; and that when these points were established, Edition: orig; Page: [193] it was for the judge alone to pronounce whether the incriminated document was libellous. A Bill, drawn up by Burke and introduced by Dowdeswell, had been brought before Parliament in the beginning of 1771, with the object of giving juries the right of deciding on the whole question; but it was defeated, and Fox was one of the majority that threw it out. After the lapse of twenty years, however, his opinion was changed, and he now introduced a declaratory Bill, to the same effect as the measure which he had opposed in 1771, and he carried it with the full assent of Pitt. The Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, vehemently opposed it, and signed a protest describing its doctrine as ‘contrary to the determination of the judges and the unvarying practice of ages.’ It is curious to observe, that this great triumph of the liberty of the press only preceded by a very short time a series of press prosecutions, that were certainly the harshest since the accession of the House of Hanover.

The question of parliamentary reform continued almost dormant, and the outbreak of the French Revolution had strongly indisposed the nation to reopen it. In 1790, however, Flood brought forward a scheme for adding to the House a hundred members elected by the resident householders of the counties, and he suggested, though he did not formally propose, that if this addition to the numbers of the House were deemed too large, the balance might be redressed by taking half the members from a hundred minute boroughs which returned two members each. The motion, though it had the usual fate of great constitutional changes proposed by private members, at least led to an interesting debate. Quoting the saying of Machiavelli that ‘no free government can last that is not often brought back to its first principles,’ Flood stated that the English Constitution had so far receded from the ideal of popular representation, that from six to eight thousand electors actually returned a majority of the members of the House of Commons. He cited the opinion of Blackstone, that the Crown, since the Revolution, had gained more in influence than it had lost in prerogative; the prediction of Hume that arbitrary government was likely to be the euthanasia of the British Constitution; the argument of Bishop Sherlock, who Edition: orig; Page: [194] had defended the Test and Corporation Acts on the ground that the petty boroughs were so numerous that, if the Dissenters ever obtained an ascendency in them, they might, though only a twentieth part of the English people, command a majority in the House of Commons. He contended that the middle class, which was so feebly represented in English politics, and which it was his special object to strengthen, was more likely than any other class to exercise political power soberly, honestly, and independently, and that the great increase of taxation was a strong reason for enlarging the area of representation. About eight millions of Englishmen, he said, were now burdened with a debt of 240 millions, and paid annually in taxation fifteen and a half millions, or about fifty shillings a head. The evil that might result from the present system was shown by the conflict between the House of Commons and the public opinion of the nation during the Middlesex election and by the calamitous American War which, Flood maintained, would have been impossible if the House had adequately represented the popular will. He denied that the disturbances in France furnished any just argument against reform. Very moderate reforms under the Tudors might have prevented the civil war under Charles I. Very moderate reforms under Charles II. might have made the Revolution unnecessary; and ‘those who oppose reform may be enemies to revolution in their hearts, but they are friends to it by their folly.’

The keynote of the opposition was struck by Windham, when he asked whether any wise man would ‘select the hurricane season to repair his house.’ Pitt said he must oppose the motion as inopportune, though he was still a friend of reform; and Fox, while supporting Flood, frankly confessed that he did not believe that the majority, either within or without the House, were at this time in favour of reform. He still held his old opinion that the unpopular side of the Middlesex election question was the true one, and he acknowledged his belief that public opinion in England was in favour of the commencement of the American War, though a popular Parliament might have shortened its duration. Even the latter proposition was denied by Burke. ‘The American War,’ he said, ‘was originally the war of the people, and was put a stop to, not by them, but by Edition: orig; Page: [195] the virtue of a British House of Commons, who, without any petitions from the people, without their interference, and almost without their consent, had the magnanimity to take upon themselves to put an end to it.’1

Flood's motion was superseded by an adjournment, and from this time, for nearly forty years, the stream flowed steadily against the reformers. Grey, indeed, as the representative of the ‘Society of the Friends of the People,’ brought the subject before Parliament in 1792, 1793, and 1797, but only to encounter complete and ignominious defeat, and there is little doubt that Pitt, in opposing every attempt at this time to touch the framework of the Constitution, represented the genuine sentiment of the greater part of the nation.

An important constitutional measure, however, was carried in 1791, in the Quebec Government Act, which established representative government in Canada. Since 1774, the administration of affairs in this colony had been in the hands of a council nominated by the Crown,2 but the time, it was thought, had now come to create free institutions and to place the Government on a permanent basis. The presence of a great French majority in the colony, and the fact that the French colonists were attached to French laws, while the English preferred those of their own country, complicated the problem, and it was met by the division of Canada into two distinct provinces—upper and lower, corresponding roughly, but substantially, with the nationalities.

The new Constitution was framed partly on the model of the old Crown colonies in America, and partly on that of the British Constitution. There was to be a governor and a lieutenant governor, and in each province a council and an assembly. The assemblies were to be elected chiefly by freeholders, or 10l. leaseholders, and to be renewed by septennial elections. The members of the councils were nominated by the governor for life, and a power was at the same time reserved to the Crown of annexing to certain honours an hereditary right of sitting in the council. The Catholic majority had already obtained a full title to their old Church lands, but it was provided in the Bill that, instead of tithes, a Edition: orig; Page: [196] seventh portion of all the newly allotted lands should be assigned to the Protestant clergy, as an endowment. In cases of judicial appeal, the judgment of the Privy Council was no longer to be final. There was to be a still further appeal to the House of Lords. The possibility of disputes like those which had produced the severance of the other American colonies from England was carefully guarded against. It was distinctly provided that the British Parliament could impose no taxes on Canada, except those that were necessary for the regulation of trade and commerce, and that even those must be levied and disposed of exclusively by the Canadian Legislature.

A great part of the debate on the Quebec Bill was exceedingly discursive and disorderly. The French Revolution now coloured every discussion, and a passing sarcasm of Fox turned it for a time almost wholly in that direction. Fox accused the Government of endeavouring to call into existence in the New World the blue and red ribands which had so lost their lustre in the Old World, the titles of honour and the spirit of chivalry, whose extinction in the neighbouring country had been so greatly deplored. Burke retorted by accusing Fox of endeavouring to introduce French principles into Canadian government, and he entered into an elaborate disquisition on the enormities of the French Revolution. A stranger who listened to the debate might easily, during many hours, have imagined that it was the affairs, not of Canada, but of France that were under discussion. Member after member vainly tried to turn it back to the Quebec Bill. The Speaker seems to have remained perfectly passive, and Pitt, while maintaining that a discussion of the French Constitution was very inexpedient, denied that it was disorderly, as the question before the House was the creation of a new form of government and the principles on which it should be based. It was in the course of this debate that the famous breach between Fox and Burke took place, and the interest attaching to this episode has diverted the attention of most historians from the merits of the Bill.

The Quebec Government Bill, however, was quite important enough to be considered on its own merits, and it raised questions of the most far-reaching interest. Nearly every part of the Government scheme was objected to by Fox. He objected Edition: orig; Page: [197] to the division of the provinces, to the septennial elections, to the small number of members in the Legislature, to the regulation of appeals, to the amount of land which was allotted to the clergy; but the part against which his most serious arguments were urged was the composition of the councils, or upper chambers. He argued, with great force, that it was an act of folly to attempt to create hereditary aristocracy in a new country, and he recommended the example of the United States, in which the councils were elective. At the same time he strenuously disclaimed the levelling principles that were ascribed to him. The modern democratic creed that no special weight should be given in the elective system either to property or to intelligence; that property can be permanently secure where the poor have an unchecked and unlimited power of taxing the rich; that a great, highly complex, and heterogeneous empire can be maintained, and safely and wisely administered, where vast majorities of the most ignorant classes of the community are the ultimate source of all political power and control, finds no countenance in the speeches of Fox. His language on this subject is clear and decisive, and it marks out the true principles of the Whig party.

‘It was always,’ he said, ‘his wish rather to give the Crown less power and the people more, where it could be done with safety;’ and ‘he was decidedly of opinion that the Constitution of this country was more liable to be ruined by an increase of the power of the Crown than by an increase of the power of the people.’ But, on the other hand, he laid it down ‘as a principle never to be departed from, that every part of the British dominion ought to possess a government, in the constitution of which, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy were mutually blended and united; nor could any government be a fit one for British subjects to live under which did not contain its due weight of aristocracy, as this is the proper poise of the Constitution—the balance that equalised and meliorated the powers of the two other extreme branches, and gave stability and firmness to the whole.’ ‘Aristocracy,’ he continued, ‘in its true sense, is an indispensably necessary part of a mixed government under a free Constitution, and it ought to be made as essential a part of the Canadian Constitution as either the monarchical or Edition: orig; Page: [198] the popular branch. But aristocracy, in its true meaning, does not rest solely, or even mainly, upon birth. In England the House of Lords formed the aristocracy, and it consisted partly of ancient families, and partly of peers newly created on account of their extended landed property. That prejudice for ancient families, and that sort of pride which belonged to a nobility, were right to be encouraged in a country like this; otherwise one great incentive to virtue would be abolished, and the national dignity as well as its domestic interests would be diminished and weakened.’ ‘The British House of Lords stands on the hereditary, known, and acknowledged respect of the country for particular institutions.’ It would be folly to abolish it, and exceedingly unwise to mingle the hereditary peers with life peers, as such a measure would enable the Crown ‘to overwhelm the hereditary peerage, and thus destroy the constitutional control of the aristocracy, in case they attempted to resist it.’ ‘It was impossible, however, to put an infant Constitution on the same footing’ as the House of Lords. Hereditary dignities which in an old country would command universal respect, in the colonies would be ridiculous; and the French ‘seigneurs,’ who were the nearest approach to a nobility, ‘were utterly unfit, and were not respected enough, to be made hereditary nobles.’

Under these circumstances, the true method of creating in the Canadian Constitution a strong and permanent aristocratic balance was to seek it, not in birth, but in the other great element of aristocracy. ‘Property,’ he said, ‘was, and had ever been held to be, the true foundation of aristocracy.’ In order ‘to put the freedom and stability of the Constitution of Canada on the strongest basis, he proposed that the council should be elective. But how elective? Not as the members of the House of Assembly were intended to be, but upon another footing. He proposed that the members of the council should not be eligible unless they possessed qualifications infinitely higher than those who were eligible to be chosen members of the House of Assembly. And in like manner the electors of the members of council must possess qualifications also proportionately higher than those of the electors of representatives in the House of Assembly. By this means they would have a Edition: orig; Page: [199] real aristocracy, chosen by persons of property from among persons of the highest property, and who would thence necessarily possess that weight, influence, and independence from which alone could be derived a power of guarding against any innovation that might be made, either by the people on the one part, or the Crown on the other.’ ‘A true aristocracy,’ he concluded with great emphasis, ‘gave a country that sort of energy, that sort of spirit, and that sort of enterprise which always made a country great and happy.’1

This very remarkable speech was intended by Fox as an answer to those who accused him of being a mere demagogue, or republican, and if it had represented the general tenor of his speeches it would be difficult to understand how such an impression could have prevailed. The truth seems to be, that his vehemence and indiscretion often betrayed him into expressions in advance of his real and deliberate opinions, and he had strangely little of that tact in observing times and seasons which is essential to a successful statesman. As Burke happily said, a very moderate speech on the merits of Protestantism and the demerits of popery might be dangerous and incendiary if it had been delivered when the Gordon riots were at their height. Fox was perpetually expressing his gratification at the French Revolution at a time when English public opinion was not only horrified by its atrocities, but also panic-stricken by the dangers to Church and State which might ensue from its example; and he was perpetually dilating on the necessity of reform, and on the danger of the excessive power of the Crown, when, in the opinion of the great mass of the English people, all the pressing dangers were from the opposite quarter. His private letters show that he was far from insensible to the horrors that were being perpetrated in France, but, through his indignation at what he deemed opposite exaggerations, he gave no adequate expression to his feeling. The founding of the ‘Friends of the People,’ and Grey's most unfortunate campaign in favour of reform, were contrary to the judgment of Fox, though he confessed that he had not the resolution to discourage them. In his own real opinions on constitutional questions there was little that was exaggerated, and they often showed a Edition: orig; Page: [200] singularly sound political judgment. Few persons will now dispute the justice of his opinion that it was inexpedient to introduce hereditary aristocracy into a country which had none of the materials, traditions, or sentiments out of which true aristocracies are formed; and although the power of creating hereditary honours in Canada was reserved to the Crown, it was never exercised. The division of French and English Canada may have been the best expedient under the circumstances, but it ultimately led to grave disaffection and dissension; and the union of 1840, which put an end to it, proved perhaps the most successful measure in Canadian history. In deference to the wish of Fox, Pitt consented to increase the number of members in the Assembly of Lower Canada, and to abolish the appeal from Canadian law courts to the Privy Council, but with these exceptions the original scheme of the Quebec Government Bill was carried without alteration,1 and it governed Canada till the rebellion of 1837 and 1838 led to the revised Constitution of 1840.

There is one characteristic of the Quebec Government Act which does not appear to have been adverted to in debate, but which is peculiarly worthy of the attention of historians. It is the complete abandonment of all attempt to induce or compel Canada to contribute to the military or naval forces of the Empire. It cannot be too clearly understood that the essential object of George Grenville in his colonial policy was not to establish the right of the English to tax America, but to establish the principle that America should contribute something to her own military defence. The example of Ireland, where 15,000 men were maintained by the local Parliament, 12,000 of whom could not be moved from Ireland without the consent of the Irish Parliament, while the remainder were at the full disposal of the English Executive, was continually before his eyes; and if he endeavoured to establish some such system in America, by means of the Imperial Parliament, it was merely because there was no single legislature for the American colonies. If, however, by any kind of negotiation or arrangement he could have induced the colonies to undertake a part of their own military defence, and of the defence of the neighbouring islands, he would have Edition: orig; Page: [201] been fully satisfied. It is difficult to exaggerate the degree in which the British Empire would have been strengthened if each of its more important parts could have been persuaded to maintain a permanent force sufficient to secure it from the danger of a sudden attack, and perhaps, in times of extreme need and difficulty, to give some small help to the parent State. Manifold and inestimable as are the advantages which England derives from her scattered possessions in time of peace, no serious statesman can fail to perceive how many vulnerable points those possessions present in time of war; how grave may be the dangers resulting from the dispersion of the national forces which is necessary for their defence; how greatly they increase the temptations, pretexts, and probabilities of war; how easily an attack upon them, without any attempt at annexation or occupation, might lead to the disruption of the empire. The attachment of the most loyal colonists to the mother country could hardly fail to be dangerously strained if they found their coasts invaded and their towns bombarded on account of an Imperial policy in which they had no voice or interest; while the cost, difficulties, and dangers of colonial defence form the most plausible argument of those who have sought to alienate England from the Greater Britain beyond the seas. Before the American Revolution, it seemed by no means impossible that by tact and patience a system of colonial defence might have been established which, without imposing a serious burden on the English colonies, would have rendered them practically secure against attack. But the unfortunate conduct and issue of the American dispute made such an attempt impossible, and the policy of Grenville was abandoned. At last, however, towards the middle of the nineteenth century an attempt has been made in another form to realise it in part. England still undertakes the full naval defence of her colonies, but she has withdrawn from them all, or nearly all, their Imperial garrisons, and they in their turn have established large militia and volunteer forces which are intended at once to secure them from the possibility of successful attack, and to relieve the mother country from the burden of their military defence. Still later unequivocal signs appeared that those intelligent, patriotic, and vigorous communities which have Edition: orig; Page: [202] grown up under the shadow of the British rule were not indifferent to their position as members of a great historic empire and were fully prepared to take their part in its defence. Dispositions of this kind have of late years shown themselves in some of the Colonial Legislatures which form, in an age of much political discouragement and scepticism, the most auspicious omen for the future of the empire.

I have now enumerated the principal measures of internal policy which were carried during the years we are considering; but perhaps the most valuable part of the work of Pitt was that complete restoration and reorganisation of English finance which we have already in part considered. The fears of bankruptcy which had pressed so heavily upon English statesmen in the closing years of the American War had been completely dispelled, and at a time when France was plunged in hopeless financial embarrassments the English finances were steadily flourishing and improving. In his Budget speech of 1790, Pitt was able to state that since 1786 only 1,000,000l. had been raised in the form of loan, and that, in spite of very considerable extraordinary expenses beyond those of a peace establishment, 5,184,000l. of the 3 per cent, loan had been discharged since 1785, and annuities amounting to 200,000l. had fallen in. ‘The country,’ he said, ‘at this moment is in a situation of prosperity far greater than in the most flourishing period before the last war.’

England was so far from ruined by the loss of America that the export of British manufactured goods in the last year exceeded by more than 3,000,000l. the average of the six prosperous years which immediately preceded the American War, while the imports into British harbours were larger than in any previous year, and the number of ships and sailors had proportionately increased.1 The taxation was no doubt very heavy. Nearly 16,000,000l. had been raised during each of the last three years,2 but the wealth of the country was fully able to bear it, and in nearly all its branches the revenue showed a tendency to increase. In the preceding year the shop tax, which had proved exceeding unpopular, was repealed, and some other taxes were imposed to replace it, among others a tax on Edition: orig; Page: [203] newspapers and advertisements. Tobacco, which had become the great article for smuggling, had been transferred from the Customs to the Excise. It was computed that the revenue would gain no less than 300,000l. a year by this change, and several other measures had been taken to annihilate smuggling.

The budget of 1791 was in one respect less favourable, for the danger of a war with Spain had rendered necessary large and rapid armaments, and an additional and exceptional expenditure of more than 2,800,000l. had been incurred. But in spite of this expense Pitt was able to assert that the credit of the country had never stood higher, and, unlike most of his predecessors, he determined to discharge the new debt by taxation, spread over four years.1 The anticipations respecting the produce of these new taxes were amply verified, and the long and splendid speech with which he introduced his budget in February 1792 glowed with the richest colours of hope and exultation. It was indeed a magnificent picture of the growing prosperity of England; a noble monument of his own skill, both in financial statement and financial legislation; and, at the same time, a mournful illustration of the fallacy and imperfection that mingle with all human predictions. The total revenue of the country, he said, from January 5, 1791, to January 5, 1792, was 16,730,000l., irrespectively of the newly imposed temporary taxes; that of the preceding year had been 16,418,000l., and the average of the last four years had been 16,212,000l. Looking back to a longer period and comparing the condition of the country with that of 1783, the first year of peace after the American War, the revenue had increased to the extent of little less than 4,000,000l. Of this, rather more than 1,000,000l. was due to the additional taxes which he had imposed; 1,000,000l. had been gained in those articles in which special and separate regulations had been made for the prevention of smuggling and other fraud; the remainder was diffused Edition: orig; Page: [204] over articles of general consumption, and was the consequence and the proof of the rapidly increasing prosperity of the country. He showed that the imports which in 1782, the last year of the war, amounted to 9,714,000l., had increased in every succeeding year, and amounted in 1790 to 19,130,000l. The total of the exports in 1782 was 12,239,000l. After the Peace, it rose, in 1783, to 14,741,000l, and in the year 1790 it was 20,120,000l. The last additional duty, included in the Post Office Revenue, had been imposed in 1784. In 1785, the Post Office yielded 238,000l. Last year it produced 338,000l. In the mean time, a progress unprecedented in any former period had been made in diminishing the National Debt, and he calculated that in fifteen years the period contemplated in the Act of 1786 would have arrived, when the Sinking Fund would amount to 4,000,000l. a year, and when its further disposition would have to be determined by fresh legislation. He announced that he had now a surplus of rather more than 400,000l. to dispose of; and he proposed to apply it in equal proportions to the diminution of taxes and the reduction of debt, selecting for special diminution those taxes which weighed upon the poorer classes. The reduction of the debt, he still maintained, should be the cardinal object of financial policy; and not content with the very considerable steps which had been already taken, he now announced his intention to introduce a prospective law intended to provide a permanent remedy against the danger of future accumulations of debt, by enacting that every additional loan should be accompanied by a separate sinking fund, sufficient to pay it off in a defined number of years, and appropriated exclusively to that purpose.

He concluded his speech in a strain of justifiable exultation. ‘The present prosperity of England,’ he said, ‘was unexampled.’ ‘The season of our severe trial is at an end, and we are at length relieved not only from the dejection and gloom which a few years since hung over the country, but from the doubt and uncertainty which, even for a considerable time after our prospects had begun to brighten, still mingled with the hopes and expectations of the public. … As far as there can be any reliance on human speculations, we have the best ground from the experience of the past to look with satisfaction to the Edition: orig; Page: [205] present and with confidence to the future.’ Much of this prosperity, he said, was due to causes which lay beyond the sphere of political acts; to the spontaneous enterprise and industry of the country, and to the normal increase of capital; but much also must be ascribed to the commercial treaty with France, and to the wise adjustment of the whole system of customs and taxation on principles which had never before been so well understood or so skilfully elucidated. ‘The great work of Adam Smith,’ said Pitt, ‘will, I believe, furnish the best solution to every question connected with the history of commerce and with the systems of political economy.’ But above these immediate causes of industrial prosperity lay others which were still more important. Sound politics are the essential condition of permanent material prosperity. The security and prosperity of England; the solidity of credit; the rapid increase of capital; the rapid expansion of industry, are all ‘necessarily connected with the duration of peace, the continuation of which on a secure and permanent footing must ever be the first object of the foreign policy of this country,’ and with the maintenance of a constitution in which liberty and law are indissolubly united; which ‘practically secures the tranquillity and welfare both of individuals and of the public, and provides, beyond any other frame of government which has ever existed, for the real and useful ends which form at once the only true foundation and only rational object of all political societies.’1

No one can read this speech without perceiving that it was the speech of a man who was pre-eminently marked out, both by his wishes and by his talents, to be a great peace minister. Pitt had, however, learnt too much from his father to suffer an exclusive attention to financial considerations to make him indifferent either to the security or to the dignity of England. One of the most serious dangers of modern popular politics is that gambling spirit which, in order to lower estimates and reduce taxation, leaves the country unprotected, trusting that the chapter of accidents will save it from attack. The reduction of taxes is at once felt and produces an immediate reputation, while expenditure which is intended to guard against remote, contingent, and unseen dangers seldom brings any credit to a Edition: orig; Page: [206] statesman. It is very possible for an English minister to go on year by year so starving the military and naval estimates as to leave the country permanently exposed to invasion, without exciting any general popular apprehension. The warnings of a few competent specialists are easily drowned; each successive reduction of taxation produces increased popularity, and if, owing to the course of politics, an invasion does not take place, writers are sure to arise who will maintain that the event has justified the wisdom of the statesman. It would be as reasonable to argue that, because a house does not happen to have been burnt, the owner had shown wisdom and prudence in refusing to insure it. Among the many noble characteristics of the ministry of Lord Palmerston, none is more deserving of admiration than the consistency and resolution with which he maintained the principle that it is the first duty of an English minister to provide at all costs that his country shall be practically secure from the possibility of a successful invasion, and shall not be found in a condition of impotence if unforeseen danger should suddenly arise. Pitt was of the same school, and he never allowed the armaments of the country to sink into neglect. He was much impressed with the fact that, in 1761 and 1762, Martinique, with a garrison of only 800 men, had held out by means of its fortifications for a whole year against a large English army, and that in the last war Dominica had been taken by the French merely because the English soldiers had no fort to retire to till the fleet could afford them relief. He accordingly carried in 1789 an important scheme for extending the fortifications of the West Indies; he at the same time strengthened the naval forces both in the East Indies and in the Mediterranean; and when, two years later, serious complications had arisen with Spain, it was the promptness and efficiency of the British naval force that chiefly averted the danger.

The dispute was of the same kind as that which had led to the Spanish War under Walpole. Some English merchants had begun to seek for the Chinese market furs and ginseng, a vegetable largely employed for medicinal purposes in China, along the north-west coast of America, and had planted an English trading settlement at Nootka Sound, on Vancouver's Edition: orig; Page: [207] Island, near the coast of California. It was a country which had been discovered by Magellan, and first seriously explored by Captain Cook, and it had hitherto been entirely unoccupied by Europeans. The Spaniards had never penetrated to it, but by virtue of a bull of Alexander VI. they claimed a sovereignty over all lands comprised between Cape Horn and the 60th degree of north latitude—in other words, the entire western coast both of South and North America, and when after a considerable interval they discovered the existence of a British settlement in these distant parts, they determined to suppress it. Two Spanish ships of war accordingly hastened to Nootka Sound, took possession of the British settlement, hauled down the British flag, replaced it by the flag of Spain, captured four English vessels, and treated their crews with extreme harshness and indignity.

These events took place in the April of 1789. A few months later, accounts, at first dim and confused, but afterwards more complete, arrived in Europe, and it soon appeared likely that the affair would assume a most formidable character. Complaints were made on both sides. The Spanish ambassador in London was instructed to desire that the subjects of Great Britain should no longer be allowed to trade, settle, or fish on the western coast of America, while the English denied the rights of Spain to this unoccupied coast, and demanded a restitution of the captured vessels, with their properties and crews, an indemnification for the losses they had suffered, and a reparation to his Majesty for the insult that had been offered to the British flag. The money value of the Nootka Sound trade and settlement was very small, and certainly not sufficient to compensate for a week of war; but a question of honour and a question of future right of settlement had been raised, which could not be suffered to drop. The Spaniards answered the remonstrances of England by stating that the English vessels had been already released and their offence condoned on the ground of their ignorance of the rights of Spain, but they would give no satisfaction or indemnification; they asserted in the strongest terms their exclusive sovereignty over the whole of the western coast of America, and they rapidly collected and equipped a great fleet. Pitt promptly replied by a general Edition: orig; Page: [208] impressment of sailors, and by a message to Parliament asking for assistance to defend the honour and interests of the country. A vote of credit for a million was at once passed; the fleet was put upon a war footing; each party began to seek for alliances; and it seemed possible that this petty dispute would lead to a general conflagration. Holland and Prussia were appealed to by England, in conformity with the late treaty of alliance. Spain, on the other hand, negotiated with Russia, which was now on bad terms with England; but she especially relied on the assistance of France, which was bound to her by the treaty of 1762. The Revolution was now running its course in that country, and the direction of its policy was very doubtful. Montmorin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, appears to have inclined to war, and a considerable party hoped that it would give a new turn to the popular passions which had become so formidable at home. Montmorin, in obedience to the treaty of alliance, prepared a French fleet, but he held an ambiguous and undecided language, and offered or suggested a French mediation. Lafayette, whose influence was at this time very great, and who detested England, was a strong partisan of war, but the Jacobin opposition vehemently repudiated it. Nothing, they maintained, could be now more dangerous to the Revolution, nothing would be more likely to save the monarchy, than a foreign war. D'Aiguillon, Robespierre, Lamotte, and above all Barnave, denounced the policy which, in order to stifle the Revolution, was about to plunge France into bankruptcy, and invoke the spirit of conquest in opposition to the spirit of liberty, and they desired to take the power of declaring war from the King. Mirabeau on other grounds was opposed to war, and it was finally agreed that peace and war should for the future be voted by the Chamber, though only on the proposal and with the sanction of the King.1

This decision made it certain that France would not assist Spain in the war, and the latter country therefore found it absolutely necessary to recede. A skilful negotiator, named Fitzherbert, had been sent to Madrid, and, after some hesitation, a convention was drawn up and signed in October 1790, which substantially satisfied the English demands. It was Edition: orig; Page: [209] agreed that Spain should restore the buildings and tract of land taken from British subjects on Nootka Sound and make reparation for all subsequent acts of violence; and the right of navigating and fishing in the Pacific Ocean, and making commercial settlements on its coasts, was secured to both nations under the following restrictions. British vessels were forbidden to approach within ten sea leagues of any part of the coast actually occupied by the Spaniards. The Spaniards and British subjects were to have equal and unrestricted liberty to trade in all parts of the north-west of America and of the adjacent islands situated to the north of the settlements already occupied by Spain; but neither were to form any settlement on the east or west coasts of South America southward of the Spanish settlements. The success of this negotiation added greatly to the reputation of Pitt and to the prestige of England in Europe, though the cost of the episode, amounting, as we have seen, to nearly three millions, remained to be provided for in the Budget of 1791.

In other quarters the aspect of affairs outside England was menacing and disquieting. In September 1786 Lord Cornwallis had taken possession of power as Governor-General of India. His administration is memorable in Indian history for many important internal reforms, and especially for a settlement of land ownership and land taxation, which has been a fertile source of controversy to our own day. It is also memorable for one of the most formidable native wars in which England has ever been engaged. We have seen, in a former volume, the long, desperate, and doubtful conflict which Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore, had waged against the power of England, and we have seen also that after his death it was continued for a year by his son Tippoo Sahib, with such indecisive results that the Peace of Mangalore, which terminated it in 1784, left both of the contending parties the whole territory they had possessed before the war began. In 1790, an attack which Tippoo Sahib had made some mouths before, upon the Rajah of Travancore, who was allied with the English, again brought the old antagonists into the field. The English were assisted by powerful native alliances, but the war was conducted by Tippoo with extraordinary courage and ability, and it was marked by several vicissitudes. At first the English carried everything before Edition: orig; Page: [210] them, but they encountered a serious reverse at a place called Sattimungul, and several well-fought conflicts in the latter part of 1790 left the fortunes of the war still divided and ambiguous. Tippoo Sahib brought armies of more than forty thousand men into the field, and he showed no inconsiderable skill in strategy. Cornwallis commanded the English in person during the greater part of the war, and after several bloody and obstinate battles, which it is not necessary here to describe, he succeeded, in March 1792, in bringing it to a complete and glorious termination. Seringapatam, the capital of Mysore, was invested and reduced to extremities, and Tippoo Sahib was obliged to sign a peace, surrendering half his dominions to the allies, paying a sum of more than four millions sterling in compensation for the war, releasing all his prisoners of war, and giving up two of his three sons as hostages to the English.

In Europe, foreign politics had long been obscured and troubled by the ambition of Catherine II. This extraordinary woman, the daughter of a poor Prussian prince, had obtained, by the deposition and murder of her husband in 1762, a wider and more perfect range of absolute authority than any other European sovereign, and, in spite of a levity and a caprice which were the despair of foreign statesmen and diplomatists, and which often induced them greatly to underrate her capacities,1 her reign was one of the greatest and most successful in the eighteenth century. Assimilating with extraordinary rapidity the noblest political ideas of the most advanced thinkers of her time, thoroughly conversant with their writings in a country where serious study was almost unknown,2 enlightened, tolerant and generous, good-natured and forgiving almost to a fault, a warm and steady friend, delighting in the happiness of those who were immediately about her,3 perfectly free from all kinds of superstition, and perfectly undazzled by the unrealities and Edition: orig; Page: [211] conventionalities of her position,—she retained, amid all the excesses of an abandoned and shameless life, a strange power of wisely measuring and employing the capacities of men, and of pursuing, with rare political judgment and indomitable resolution, certain great lines of policy. In a few years she made the dreams of Peter the Great all but a reality. The internal administration of Russia in nearly all its branches was reformed. A new code of legislation was established; torture was abolished; religious toleration was extended; hospitals and other institutions of benevolence were extensively founded; measures were taken to encourage the arts and sciences, and improve agriculture; the army and navy were reorganised; an attempt was even made to form a third estate, and at the same time a skilful, ambitious, and perfectly unscrupulous foreign policy gave the Empress a complete ascendency in Northern and Eastern Europe. ‘I came to Russia,’ she once said, ‘a poor girl; Russia has dowered me richly, but I have paid her back with Azof, the Crimea, and the Ukraine.’ In 1772, by the first iniquitous partition of Poland, she acquired a territory comprising an area of 2,500 geographical square miles, and a population of about one and a half millions; and by steadily maintaining anarchy in the remainder of the kingdom she prepared the way for its future downfall. In 1774 she terminated her first Turkish War by the Treaty of Kainardji, which severed the Crimea from Turkey, constituted it into a separate khanate, and, beside some accession of territory, gave Russia a protectorate over Greek Christians at Constantinople and admitted Russian commerce to the Black Sea.

In the beginning of 1784 she took another gigantic stride, and without a war she succeeded in incorporating the whole of Edition: orig; Page: [212] the Crimea in the Russian Empire. Her position in the war which grew out of the American Revolution was beyond comparison the proudest in Europe, for her help was equally and almost abjectly courted by both sides; while, as the originator of the armed neutrality, she placed herself at the head of the neutral Powers. Her commercial treaty with England in 1766, with Denmark in 1782, with Austria in 1785, and with France in 1787 increased her influence and power; and now her great object was the total destruction of the Turkish Empire, the partition of its territory, and the construction of a Greek empire, which would be subservient to her influence.

The policy was not altogether a new one. Turkey, Catherine once said, is the natural enemy of Russia, as France is of England; and the gradual extension of Russian dominion along the shores of the Black Sea toward the Mediterranean had been, from the days of Peter the Great, a favourite object of Russian policy. By the conquest, in 1696, of the strong fortress and port of Azof, by the fortification of the port of Taganrog on the Black Sea, and by the commencement of a Black Sea fleet, Peter himself had done much for its accomplishment; but a few years later a great Russian defeat in Moldavia undid the work, and in 1711 the Peace of the Pruth deprived him of all that in this quarter he had won. The campaigns of Munich between 1735 and 1739 gave the Russians for a time Azof and Oczakow, and complete dominion over Moldavia, and a Russian army penetrated into the Crimea; but at the Peace of Belgrade in 1739 the tide was again rolled back. With the exception of Azof, which was deprived of its fortifications, Russia retained scarcely a vestige of her Turkish conquests; and an article of the peace specially forbade the formation of a Russian fleet in the Black Sea. The struggle between the two rivals was not renewed till the war of Catherine, and it was at this time that the project of making serious use of Greek discontent seems first to have arisen.1 The Orloffs, whose star was then in the ascendant, warmly supported it; and a Russian fleet from the Baltic, commanded by Alexis Orloff, the murderer of Peter III., Edition: orig; Page: [213] entered the Mediterranean in 1770, defeated a Turkish fleet at Scio, burned it at Tchesme near the Bay of Smyrna, and provoked in the Morea some abortive but bloody risings, which were savagely repressed. The expulsion of the Mohammedans from Europe, which had long been the favourite dream of Christian fanaticism, now somewhat strangely found its warmest advocate in Voltaire, who, in letters both to Catherine and to Frederick, set forth the independence of Greece and the partition of the other Ottoman dominions in Europe as the noblest objects for their ambition. In a little work, called ‘Le Tocsin des Rois,’ which was written in 1771, he endeavoured to overcome the opposition of Maria Theresa, and to enlist her services in the cause. If the Continental Christian Powers would only, he said, lay aside for a short time their jealousies and join against the Turkish barbarians, a single campaign would undoubtedly give Bosnia and Bulgaria to Austria, while the victorious armies of Catherine would march upon Constantinople. The project of establishing a Greek empire which would be practically dependent on Russia was passionately adopted by Potemkin, who for many years had the greatest influence over Russian foreign policy, and in the latter years of his life it was almost the only object at which he aimed.

The attitude of other nations on the Eastern question presents some singular contrasts. From the time when Francis I. defied the theological passions and prejudices of Europe by allying himself with the Turks, France had usually openly or secretly favoured them, and she had gradually obtained the greater part of the Levant trade, which was one of the chief elements of the prosperity of Marseilles. To Russia she was almost always hostile. As the leading Continental Power she was keenly sensible to the dangers of Russian ambition and aggression. She usually inspired the anti-Russian party at Constantinople, at Stockholm, and in Poland; and the complete temporary eclipse of French influence that followed the fall of Choiseul was one of the chief causes of that great crime and calamity, the first partition of Poland. As the leading Mediterranean Power, France was especially interested in protecting Turkey, and she was quite Edition: orig; Page: [214] resolved that Russia should obtain no footing in the southern seas.

England, on the other hand, during the greater part of the eighteenth century was closely allied to Russia, both commercially and politically. Her commerce with Russia was extremely profitable. She brought to her the goods of the Indies and of Western Europe, and received in return the maritime stores that were essential to her fleet. Politically, English statesmen, who were mainly governed by jealousy of France, looked upon Russia as a great counterpoise to that State, and saw with pleasure the very considerable part which in the eighteenth century she had begun to take in Western politics. In 1766 Chatham made an earnest, though unsuccessful, attempt to form a Northern Alliance of Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain to counteract the family compact of the House of Bourbon.1 In 1770, when a Russian fleet for the first time appeared with hostile intentions in the Mediterranean, Choiseul proposed to despatch a French fleet to destroy it, and Spain would probably have supported him; but England interposed in this very critical moment of the Eastern question, and informed the cabinets of Versailles and Madrid that she would regard any attempt to arrest the progress of the Russian fleet as an act of hostility to herself.2 Three years later, when the war against the Turks was at its height, Chatham wrote to Shelburne: ‘Your lordship well knows I am quite a Russ. I trust the Ottoman will pull down the House of Bourbon in his fall;3 and he always maintained that it ought to be an essential part of English foreign policy to enter into no kind of connection with the Turks.4 In 1781, when England was reduced to almost the lowest state of depression by the American War and by the hostility of France, Spain, and Holland, she endeavoured to purchase the mediation and assistance of Russia by offering a perpetual defensive alliance and the island of Minorca, which would have given her a secure position in the Mediterranean; but after much hesitation, and contrary to the advice of Potemkin, Edition: orig; Page: [215] Catherine rejected an offer which would have probably involved her in an immediate war.1 The resentment produced in England by this refusal, and by the unfriendly conduct of Russia in the matter of the armed neutrality, was still further increased by the crushing duties which Russia imposed, in 1783, on most articles of British produce, and by a navigation law which, in the same year, cut off the profitable carrying trade between Russia and Southern Europe, which had hitherto been enjoyed by British vessels.2 Still the permanent policy of England and France remained unchanged. In 1783 and 1784, when Russia took complete possession of the Crimea, France strongly and earnestly remonstrated; England used her political influence steadily in favour of Russian aggrandisement; and it was probably in a large degree owing to that influence that Russia was able without a war with France to establish at Sebastopol her ascendency on the Black Sea.3

The annexation of the Crimea was chiefly accomplished during the brief period of the Coalition Ministry, and Fox, who then directed English foreign affairs, showed himself as Russian Edition: orig; Page: [216] as Chatham had been. ‘My system of foreign politics,’ he wrote to Harris, ‘is deeply rooted. Alliances with the Northern Powers ever have been, and ever will be, the system of every enlightened Englishman.’1 His favourite policy, he said, was an alliance of England with Prussia, Denmark, and Russia; but if the dissension between Russia and Prussia rendered this impossible, he was prepared to enter into an alliance with Denmark, Russia, and the Emperor.2 One of the reproaches which Fox brought against Shelburne was that he appeared at this time to prefer a French to a Northern alliance, and that he was believed to share the views of Vergennes about the Eastern question.3

What those views were may be gathered from a very remarkable confidential paper on the dangers impending in Eastern Europe, which was drawn up by Vergennes in October 1782, shortly before the termination of the American War, for the instruction of Montmorin, who was then French ambassador at Madrid. The Emperor and the King of Prussia, he said, were competing for the favour of Catherine, and although Russia was at this time occupied with troubles in the Crimea, it was probable that those very troubles might lead in the near future to most serious dangers. If the three Powers should ever agree to give a mortal blow to the Turks, France would soon bitterly regret that she had been unable to prevent it. If an active and enlightened Power obtained possession of the Eastern provinces which touched the Adriatic, she would soon become the mistress of Italy, and there would be a total change in the Continental system and in the balance of power. France alone was not strong enough to oppose it, but France and England united might do so, and it was plainly for the interest of England also, that the balance of power in Europe should not be overturned. For these reasons Vergennes considered that it was of great importance to France that the war with England should be speedily terminated, and that the latter Power should not be so weakened or so hopelessly alienated as to be unable or Edition: orig; Page: [217] unwilling to co-operate with France in maintaining the European Continental system.1

A triple alliance of Russia, Prussia, and the Emperor for the partition of Turkey, which Vergennes so greatly feared, and which Voltaire had done his best to effect, seemed at one time very probable. In 1769 such an alliance had actually been proposed by Russia, and in 1772, when the partition of Poland was impending, Austria had suggested the partial dismemberment of Turkey. It was a suggestion of aggravated treachery, for scarcely a year had passed since Austria had allied herself with Turkey, had promised to obtain the restoration of the territory which Russia had invaded, and had received a considerable Turkish subsidy.2 Frederick the Great, however, entirely rejected this policy. He calculated that Turkish assistance might be very useful to Prussia in a war either with Russia or with Austria, and that another field of spoliation might be more easily and more profitably secured. In the beginning of the reign of Catherine he had been her close ally, and he spared no flattery to win her favour and no expense to secure her counsellors. Count Panin was especially at the head of the Prussian party at St. Petersburg, and the alliance had two consequences of great importance. The first partition of Poland was mainly due to Frederick and Catherine, for although, when it had become inevitable, Maria Theresa reluctantly acquiesced in it and consented to accept a portion of the territory, the whole initiative lay with the other two conspirators. It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which it shook the political system, lowered the public morals, and weakened the public law of Europe, for it was an example of strong Powers conspiring to plunder a feeble Power, with no more regard for honour, or honesty, or the mere decency of appearances than is shown by Edition: orig; Page: [218] a burglar or a footpad. The Prussian alliance had also a very serious and persistent influence in alienating Russia from England during the very critical years of the American struggle, for Frederick, from the time when he was deserted by Lord Bute, looked upon England with a more than political malevolence. On the other hand, the alliance gave Russia no assistance in her projects upon Turkey, while Maria Theresa, as sovereign of Austria and Hungary, was vitally interested in preventing a Russian ascendency in Eastern Europe. In Catherines first Turkish War the Russians occupied Moldavia and Wallachia, but the Austrians at once prepared to ally themselves with the Turks, and these provinces were in consequence relinquished.

The death of Maria Theresa in 1780 and the accession of Joseph II. to his full power gave a complete change to Eastern politics. The character of Joseph is a curious study. He was undoubtedly superior in intelligence to the average of European monarchs; he was as exemplary as his mother in the industry with which he devoted himself to the duties of his office, and he had a most real desire to leave the world better than he found it; but a deplorable want of sound judgment, of moral scruple, and of firmness and persistency of will, made him at once one of the most dangerous and most unfortunate sovereigns of his time. Ambitious, fond of power, and at the same time feverishly restless and impatient, his mind was in the highest degree susceptible to the political ideas that were floating through the intellectual atmosphere of Europe, and he was an inveterate dreamer of dreams. Large, comprehensive, and startling schemes of policy—radical changes in institutions, manners, tendencies, habits, and traditions—had for him an irresistible fascination; and when he saw, or thought he saw, the bourne to which political forces were tending, it was his natural impulse to endeavour to attain it at once. Sometimes skilful in designing, but never skilful in executing, the sarcasm of Frederick, that Joseph always took the second step before he had taken the first, was well justified. What obstacles traditions, prejudices, manners, settled beliefs and tones of thought place in the path of the most powerful reformer—how necessary it is even for a despotic sovereign to consult times and seasons, and to seek in Edition: orig; Page: [219] his reforms for the line of least resistance—Joseph never understood, and the result was that his policy in nearly all its parts was a deplorable failure. In foreign affairs it consisted chiefly of daring and adventurous enterprises, rashly undertaken and fitfully and irresolutely conducted. In domestic affairs it consisted partly of great reforms in perfect accordance with the most enlightened political speculation of his time, but forced into a precipitate maturity, with no regard for the habits, wishes, and prejudices of his subjects, and partly of a series of unjustifiable attempts to destroy the restraints which, in some parts of his dominions, custom and law had imposed upon his authority.

In 1780 he first met Catherine in Poland, and he afterwards accompanied her to St. Petersburg. His object was to weaken the Prussian influence, and in this he succeeded; but he soon fell under the spell of the great Empress, and his romantic nature caught up with eagerness Voltaire's idea of a Greek empire and a partition of Turkey. In 1783, in direct opposition to the settled policy of Austria, and especially to the policy of his mother during the last Turkish War, he assisted with all his influence the Russians in acquiring the Crimea, and even sent an army to the frontier to intimidate the Turks.1 The death of Panin in 1783, and the death of Frederick the Great in August 1786, strengthened the alliance, and in 1787 Joseph accompanied Catherine in her triumphant journey to Kherson and the Crimea. The determination to revive a Greek empire at Constantinople was no longer concealed. Catherine had already named her second grandson Constantine, clothed him in Greek dress, procured Greek nurses to instruct him in the language of his future subjects, ordered a medal to be struck representing on one side the head of the young Prince and on the other a cross in the clouds, from which a flash of lightning descended upon the mosque of St. Sophia.2 The Turkish names of the newly acquired territory on the Black Sea were abolished, and their Greek names revived. A great body of troops was collected to welcome the Empress. At Kherson she made her public entry through a magnificent arch, which bore the inscription, ‘The way to Byzantium,’ and at Edition: orig; Page: [220] Sebastopol she reviewed the considerable Russian fleet which now rode triumphantly upon the waters of the Euxine.

Throughout the Turkish Empire, Russian agents were incessantly employed in preparing the way for the intended enterprise. They excited, or assisted, an insurrection which had broken out in Egypt. They steadily sowed dissension in Greece. The Hospodar of Moldavia had long been in the pay of the Courts of St. Petersburg and Vienna, and when his treachery was discovered, he fled to Russian territory and the Empress refused to surrender him. Russian consuls were the special centres of intrigue, and the Government insisted on establishing one at Varna, within 120 miles of Constantinople. There were constant complaints of injustices done to Turkish commerce, of violences done to Turkish sailors, and no redress could be obtained. Demands were now put forward by Russia for a total renunciation of Turkish sovereignty over Georgia; for the surrender of Bessarabia, on the ground that it had once belonged to the Tartar khans; for the establishment of hereditary governors in Moldavia and Wallachia, which would have made these provinces virtually independent of the Porte.1

As early as 1786 the Porte had issued an address to the Mohammedan world describing in touching and eloquent terms the seizure of the Crimea in time of peace; the steady encroachments of Russia on the Black Sea coast; the attempts of Russian agents to withdraw Turkish vassals from Turkish rule and to produce insurrection among the beys of Egypt; and he had warned true believers that a struggle was at hand, when their religion and all that was dear to them would be at stake.2 The condition of Europe seemed in the highest degree unfavourable to them. Poland was now perfectly tranquil, and was likely to afford no assistance and no diversion, and France could no longer be counted on as a friend, and might possibly even be feared as an enemy. There was, indeed, a party in the French ministry who contended, in accordance with the ideas of Vergennes, that it was an essential French interest to join with England for the preservation of the Turkish Empire,3 but Edition: orig; Page: [221] other counsels seemed likely to prevail. In October 1787, Pitt wrote confidentially to Eden, who was then envoy in France, asking whether there was any foundation for the idea prevalent at Paris, that France, instead of supporting Turkey, was meditating a junction with Austria and Russia, and he intimated that such a policy might drag England into the Eastern question, in which she desired to take no part.1 Soon after, alarming intelligence was received from St. Petersburg of French negotiations in that city with the object of forming a triple alliance of France, Austria, and Russia against Turkey, and there were rumours that France might possibly be bribed by the possession of Egypt.2 She appears in truth to have been undecided and divided on the Eastern question, but on other grounds very desirous of the friendship of Russia. The close union of England, Prussia, and Holland naturally inclined her in that direction, and it was a significant fact that Russia refused to renew her commercial treaty with England, which expired in 1786, and a few months later negotiated one with France.3 The policy of the Emperor was not doubtful, and it was certain to be hostile to Turkey. For a long period there had been formal and perfect peace between the two Empires, and the Turks had fulfilled their treaty obligations with the most scrupulous and honourable fidelity. During the whole of the long and often most disastrous war of Maria Theresa, when the House of Austria had been reduced to the most desperate straits, when Hungary had been again and again left open and unprotected, the Turks had never suffered either cupidity, or fanaticism, or a desire to regain their ancient power, or the example of Christian princes, to persuade them to break their plighted word or to attack their defenceless neighbour. Their reward was that, without a shadow of provocation and through mere greed of territory, the son of Maria Theresa was now preparing to invade them.

It was evident that the cloud which was gathering must soon burst. Thousands of Tartars, driven homeless and ruined from the depopulated plains of the Crimea, spread the flame of indignation through the Mussulman population, and the manifest Edition: orig; Page: [222] provocation of the proceedings of the Empress in the Crimea, and the new Russian demands that were sent to Constantinople, still further increased it. The Turks met the danger like a military and semi-barbarous people. They rejected absolutely and haughtily the Russian demands; they made a counter-demand for the restoration of the Crimea; they imprisoned the Russian ambassador; and in August 1787 they declared war against Russia.

It was a bold step, and it soon involved half Europe in war. France, indeed, declared her determination to be neutral; she announced that she would throw no obstacles in the way of a Russian fleet in the Mediterranean; she made an unsuccessful attempt at mediation, and for a few months the struggle was confined to the two original combatants. It consisted chiefly of wholly unsuccessful attacks by the Turks on Kinburn, which guards the mouth of the Dnieper, and which was defended with great skill by Suwarrow. But in February 1788, Joseph, having completed his preparations, declared war against the Porte, and immense forces, both of Austrians and Russians, streamed across the frontier. In the war between the Russians and Turks in 1788 the former were almost uniformly successful. The chief events were the total defeat by the Russians of a Turkish fleet in the Liman, and especially the capture of Oczakow by Potemkin. The siege lasted from July to December. Both the attack and the defence were carried on with extraordinary resolution; but the Russians had almost relinquished their enterprise in despair, when a stray shell blowing up a magazine made the fortifications untenable, and the town was taken, after a scene of appalling carnage.

On the Austrian side, however, the course of events was very chequered. Up to this period, the eighteenth century had proved exceedingly disastrous to the position and influence of Austria in Europe. In the beginning of the century, Prussia was a small German duchy, and Russia scarcely counted in Western politics; but both of these nations had now grown into military Powers of the first rank. France had experienced many vicissitudes, but she had at least consolidated her territory by acquiring the important Duchy of Lorraine; she had Edition: orig; Page: [223] put an end to the chief peril that menaced her by severing Spain from the Austrian dominions and establishing a branch of the House of Bourbon on the Spanish throne; she had still further strengthened her connection with Spain by the family compact of 1761; she was a great homogeneous kingdom situated amid weak and dependent States, and if signs of decadence and danger might now be traced, they were at least half concealed by the brilliant empire which French literature and ideas exercised over the world. But the House of Austria during this long period had gained nothing of importance, except a section of Poland; it had lost Spain and Naples and Sicily, Belgrade and Silesia, Parma, Placentia, Guastalla and a part of Lombardy; and a great part of the vast hereditary dominions which it retained were so scattered, isolated, and defenceless that they were rather a source of weakness than of strength. On the side of Turkey the vicissitudes of Austrian power had been peculiarly galling to statesmen at Vienna. The great victories of Eugene and the Peace of Passarowitz in 1718 had given Austria, Belgrade, Temeswar, Bannat and a part of Servia and Wallachia as far as the Aluta. But the war of 1736 had been disastrous to Austria, and at the Peace of Belgrade in 1739 she lost everything except the Bannat which the Peace of Passarowitz had given her.

To the Turkish War the Emperor looked for compensation for the losses of his House, and he had hopes of acquiring not only Bosnia and Servia, but also Moldavia and Wallachia, and thus extending his borders to the Dmester. The army he brought into the field was estimated at not less than 200,000 men, with 2,000 pieces of artillery; but partly through great dilatoriness and indecision, and partly through the excessive prolongation of his line of operations, he effected nothing this year at all commensurate with the magnitude of his preparations. London and the Prince of Coburg succeeded indeed, at great cost of life, in capturing several important fortresses, and at the close of the year a large part of Moldavia was in the hands of the Austrians; but, on the other hand, two wholly unsuccessful attempts—one of them before the declaration of war—were made to capture Belgrade. A victorious Turkish army devastated a great part of the country near the Bannat. More Edition: orig; Page: [224] than one Turkish governor who had seemed to waver in his allegiance turned finally against the Austrians, and in September a successful attack was made on the camp of Joseph near Slatina. The Emperor fled precipitately by night, leaving 4,000 men on the field, and a great part of his baggage and artillery in the hands of the enemy; his hopes of making a military reputation were blasted, and he returned to Vienna disenchanted and profoundly discouraged, carrying with him the seeds of a mortal illness.

Difficulties and discouragements were indeed multiplying rapidly round his path—the refusal of Poland to suffer Imperial troops to march through her territory; the refusal of the Republic of Venice to join in the league against Turkey or to depart from the strictest neutrality; the refusal of the King of Piedmont to allow any recruiting in his dominions; the failure of an attempt to negotiate an Imperial loan in the Low Countries; the formidable discontents that had shown themselves in Hungary, where Joseph had subverted the ancient Constitution; the spreading insurrection in Austrian Flanders, which threatened dangers of the gravest kind. Potemkin was hostile to the Austrian alliance, and lost no occasion of ridiculing the defensive system of his ally, and the Emperor was soon made aware that Russia was resolved under no possible circumstances to suffer him to retain Moldavia and Wallachia.1 It had become evident, from the powers of resistance displayed by the Turks, that a Greek empire at Constantinople was a distant dream, but a less ambitious project might probably be attained. Catherine now determined to unite Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia in a single kingdom, governed by a prince of the Greek rite, who would certainly be the vassal of Russia. It was not openly avowed, but it was well known, that the crown was reserved for Potemkin.2 Bulgaria, therefore, and some moderate acquisitions in Bosnia, seemed all that Joseph could reasonably expect.

In the meantime the circle of the war was rapidly widening. A century before the time of which I am now writing, Sweden Edition: orig; Page: [225] had been indisputably the foremost Power of the North; but the disastrous day of Pultawa had shattered her sceptre, and the Peace of Nystadt, which, terminated her long contest with Peter the Great, stripped her of her most valuable provinces and made Russia, supreme in the Baltic. From that day Sweden was never the successful rival of Russia. She was sometimes little more than her obsequious vassal. In 1743 another disastrous war was terminated by another humiliating peace, and Russia had gradually overcome the influence of France and acquired a dominating authority over the poor and numerous nobles who chiefly directed the government of the country. The royal authority, after the death of Charles XII., had fallen into extreme debility; but at last, in Gustavus III., the young nephew of Frederick the Great, the Swedes obtained a sovereign boundless in his ambition and his courage, and with extraordinary powers both of popular eloquence and of intrigue. Relying largely on the support and subsidies of France, but constituting himself at the same time the special representative and champion of the democracy of Sweden, he accomplished, in 1772, one of the most daring and successful revolutions of the eighteenth century. The army, with the exception of a few officers, readily followed him; the populace, who detested the corrupt aristocracy, and who were electrified by the eloquence of the King, welcomed the change with enthusiasm. The senators were arrested in their chamber. Stockholm was placed under martial law. The Diet, meeting in a hall surrounded by soldiers and commanded by cannon, gave its sanction to a new Constitution produced by the King, which swept away the old oligarchical ascendency and greatly strengthened the royal authority, and the whole change was effected within three days, without the effusion of a drop of blood, and with the manifest approval of the great body of the nation.1

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It at once broke the influence of Russia in the internal affairs of Sweden, and in the Russo-Turkish War Gustavus saw a chance of regaining some of her lost provinces. He armed rapidly by land and sea; he made a secret treaty with the Turks, by which he agreed to draw the sword in consideration of a Turkish subsidy, and in the summer of 1788, after short and angry preliminaries, Russia and Sweden were at war. In June a large but very ill-equipped Swedish army, under the command of the King, passed the frontier of Swedish Finland, captured Nyslot and besieged Frederickshamn, while on sea two Russian ships of war were taken, and a formidable fleet threatened St. Petersburg.

The attack furnished a powerful diversion in favour of the Turks, and it appears to have been strangely unexpected. Though rumours of Swedish armaments had occasionally arrived at St. Petersburg,1 no serious apprehension seems to have been felt till the Swedish army was on the eve of marching. Russia was making preparations for a great naval expedition to the Mediterranean; she had officially informed Sweden of her intention, and Finland was so slightly defended that at the outbreak of the war there was a serious question of detaching 15,000 men from the army of Potemkin, and sending them through the whole length of the empire to defend it. To those, indeed, who did not fully understand the character of the Swedish King, an attack seemed very improbable. Russia was by far the stronger Power; she had given no kind of provocation; Sweden had no ally except the Turks; she was still torn by the dissensions produced by the revolution of 1772; her exchequer was almost empty and, through the expense of a Court out of all proportion to the wealth of the nation, and the King's extreme passion for operas and plays, a great debt had been contracted. The army consisted chiefly of militia, with little discipline and few efficient officers;2 and an article of the Constitution which had been so recently adopted expressly forbade the King, except in case of invasion, from engaging in war without the formal sanction of the Diet.

For a time, however, the uneasiness was very great, and Edition: orig; Page: [227] there was some panic in the Russian capital. The Russian navy had of late years been greatly strengthened, and it contained several able foreign officers. Elphinstone, Greig, and Dugdale, who were all English or Scotch, had borne a very prominent part in the defeat of the Turkish fleet in the Mediterranean in 1770. The famous corsair, Paul Jones, had been introduced into the Russian service by Ségur, and he was employed on the Black Sea in the summer of 1788, but in the following year he committed a disgraceful offence and was obliged to fly from Russia.1 Greig, who had now become an admiral, and who was an officer of great ability, commanded the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Finland, and he prepared promptly to encounter the Swedes. The intended expedition to the Mediterranean was at once abandoned; a most obstinately contested naval battle was fought for several hours with no decisive result; but the Russians, who had the advantage of being nearer to their naval arsenals, quickly re-equipped, augmented their shattered fleet, and succeeded in shutting up the Swedes in the harbour of Sweaborg.

Nearly at the same time, the operations in Finland were totally paralysed by the mutiny of the Swedish officers, who belonged to the noble class. They had been brought to Finland, they said, on the pretence that the Russians were preparing to attack the Swedish territory, and they were quite ready to sacrifice their lives to defend that territory from invasion. They saw, however, with their own eyes that the representations of the King were absolutely false—that no Russian troops had been collected; that there were no signs of Russian hostility to Sweden; that they were expected to engage in an offensive war, contrary to the plain letter of the Constitution to which they had sworn. The mutiny began with a few men, but it soon spread through almost the whole body of the officers, and it was evident that without their assistance nothing could be done. They compelled the King to withdraw his army within his own frontiers, and they actually sent a deputation to St. Petersburg to make a truce, preparatory to a peace. The Empress, who had probably promoted the mutiny, received Edition: orig; Page: [228] them very favourably, and an armistice was actually signed.

The ambitious scheme of Gustavus was thus suddenly blighted. The shock was so great that when he first heard of the mutiny he fell into a fit and lay for some time unconscious.1 He soon, however, recovered and formed his resolutions. Abandoning his Finland army to the care of his brother, he returned hastily by a circuitous route to Sweden, where another and a most formidable danger had arisen.

This danger sprang from Denmark. There had been for generations a bitter national animosity between the Danes and the Swedes, which more than sixty years of peace had not allayed, and the disaffection of Norway, which then belonged to Denmark, and which was believed to be coveted by Sweden, kept the wound open. Russia and Denmark, on the other hand, were close allies. By the politic generosity of Russia, Denmark had obtained on very easy terms the important provinces of Schleswig and Holstein; and she had in her turn bound herself to furnish an auxiliary force whenever Russia was attacked in the North. Gustavus III. had, however, laboured, as he hoped with success, to sever the alliance, and to acquire a complete influence over his nephew the young Prince Royal, who governed Denmark, as the King was out of his mind. He had represented to him the dangers arising from the growing power and the equally growing ambition of Russia, and the identity of interests that should bind the two Scandinavian nations, and he imagined that he had at least secured the neutrality of Denmark. He soon found that he was mistaken. The Danish Prince determined to fulfil his treaty obligations, and in September 1788 a large Danish army, under the command of Prince Charles of Hesse Cassel, invaded Sweden from Norway. The King appealed to his people to rise against the invaders, and the appeal was at once responded to, but nearly the whole Swedish army was in Finland. It was utterly impossible to organise in time any force that could cope with any chance of success with the Danes; and the position was so desperate that it seemed as if the last vestige of Swedish independence must have perished.

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It was at this point that England appeared upon the scene, and an obscure and difficult, but very important, period of English foreign policy begins. In order to understand it clearly it will be necessary to revert for a moment to events which have been described in the last chapter.

We have seen that the policy of Joseph II., in abolishing the divided sovereignty which the Barrier Treaty had established in the Belgic provinces, in beginning a course of open hostilities against Holland, and in endeavouring to exchange his Flemish dominions for Bavaria, which would have given Austria an overwhelming power in Germany and would have been accompanied by the cession of Luxembourg and Namur to France, had excited the gravest alarm in both England, Holland, and Prussia, and had drawn those three Powers closely together. The troubles, almost amounting to civil war, which distracted Holland in 1785 and the two following years, and the successful interposition of Prussia and England in favour of the House of Orange, strengthened the connection, and led to the Triple Alliance which was signed in the summer of 1788. This treaty bound the three contracting Powers to an unalterable defensive alliance for ‘preserving the public tranquillity and security, for maintaining their common interests, and for their mutual defence and guaranty against every hostile attack;’ and it stipulated in great detail the assistance which each was to furnish to the other. The first great task which the allies undertook was the pacification of Europe in such a manner as to leave substantially unchanged the existing balance of power.

The phrase ‘the balance of power’ is one which has now fallen into great disfavour, and it is certain that in many periods of history it has been grossly abused. The belief that no State should be suffered to add anything to its territory without a corresponding adjustment of the frontier of its neighbours, or even of distant States, has done much more to subvert than to promote the security of Europe, and it has produced far more warfare than it has prevented. Political prescience is at best so limited and imperfect a thing, that it is rarely wise to encounter the certain evils of a European war in order to avert dangers that are distant, doubtful, and obscure; and Edition: orig; Page: [230] unforeseen influences of dissolution or of adjustment continually neutralise the effects of the most formidable political combinations. At the same time, within certain limits the wisdom of maintaining a balance of power is self-evident. Europe is a comity of nations, in which no one can completely isolate itself from the others. It is possible that one European State may (as in the period of Roman greatness) attain such an inordinate supremacy that all others may be at its mercy; and if the ascendencies of Charles V., Lewis XIV., and Napoleon had been consolidated when at their height, this would most probably have occurred. It is possible for a similar power to be attained by an alliance or coalition of two or more States, and it is also possible that there may be a local disturbance of the balance, which places certain quarters of Europe entirely under a single influence, to the great injury of other nations. In addition to the evils which inevitably follow from the existence of a European war, there was, at the time I am writing of, much probability of a partition of territory, which, in both the East and the North, would profoundly alter the relative position of European nations. The Emperor and the Russian Empress were conspiring to partition the dominions of the Porte, while the Swedish provinces were in great danger of falling into the possession of Russia and Denmark.

The latter danger was the most pressing. Denmark was completely under Russian influence, and if the independence and power of Sweden were destroyed the Baltic would become little more than a Russian lake. To England and Holland this was a very serious commercial question. To Prussia it was a question of security, for she had a long line of unprotected coast. With the Swedish army inactive in Finland; with the Swedish fleet beleaguered in Sweaborg; with a Danish army marching rapidly into Sweden, the position seemed nearly hopeless; and the capture of Gothenburg, which appeared certain and imminent, would have probably made it irremediable by placing the chief commercial town of Sweden in the hands of the Danes. But the intervention of the allies was prompt and decisive. Their mediation was offered to and accepted by the King of Sweden, and the Danes were informed that unless they at once desisted from their operations, and withdrew from the Swedish territory, Edition: orig; Page: [231] a Prussian army would enter Holstein and an English fleet would appear in the Sound. The force which lay behind these threats was irresistible, and to the great disappointment of the Swedish King, who would have gladly continued the war with the assistance of such powerful allies, and whose conduct at this critical moment was evidently designed to rekindle the contest,1 an armistice was signed between Sweden and Denmark in October 1788. It was prolonged by successive extensions till the definite peace, and the Danish army retired beyond the frontier.

The conduct of Hugh Elliot, the English minister at Copenhagen, who was chiefly employed in conducting this difficult business, received and deserved much praise, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the very existence of Sweden as an independent Power was probably due to the rapid and decisive intervention of the allies. The supposition that Gustavus in first declaring war had been prompted by them2 is, I believe, entirely untrue. Their intervention was mainly due to an anxiety to maintain the political balance in the Baltic, and partly, perhaps, to the fact that France, which had always tried to maintain a kind of protectorate over Sweden, had already offered her mediation.3 Russia, not unnaturally, bitterly resented it. There had already been many complaints at St. Petersburg of an order which had been issued in England forbidding the hire of English transports to carry Russian troops from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and of English pilots to guide the Russian fleet, and it was acknowledged that military stores had been occasionally sent by English merchants to Constantinople. The English Government replied that the former measure was essential to their neutrality, and that it was impossible to prevent private merchants sending their stores to an advantageous market. Russia had in fact profited largely by this Edition: orig; Page: [232] very trade, and more than one English ship laden with military stores had discharged its cargo at Cronstadt.1 It was added, as a proof that England did not lean unduly to the Turks, that the Emperor of Morocco had actually declared war against her on the pretence that she was assisting the Russians.2 The proceedings relating to Sweden caused a much more serious alienation. Count Ostermann, the Russian Vice-Chancellor, complained in strong terms, both through the Russian minister in London and through the English minister at St. Petersburg, of the unfriendly conduct of England and Prussia. He dwelt upon the unprovoked aggression of the King of Sweden; upon the palpable falseness of the pretexts he had advanced; upon the necessity of at least taking measures to prevent a recurrence of such attacks. The proposed mediation was courteously but firmly declined.3 The Empress would not make peace on the terms of the status quo, or on any terms that were dictated by other Powers. For the present, however, her energies were mainly directed to the Turkish War, and for some months an unquiet peace reigned in the Baltic.

As Russia refused to accept the mediation of the allies, their next attempt was to negotiate a separate peace between the Emperor and the Turks. It was the ambition of the Emperor which had first drawn England and Prussia into connection, and it was soon found that the task of effecting a peace was greatly aggravated by the at least equal ambition of the King of Prussia. It was only gradually that the full extent and significance of the Prussian designs were disclosed, and they threatened to change the whole aspect of the war.

At the end of January 1789, Ewart, the English representative at Berlin, wrote to Lord Carmarthen an account of instructions which had been sent to Alvensleben, the Prussian minister at the Hague, and which had been communicated to him by order of the King of Prussia. The Prussian minister was instructed to act in close harmony with the ministers of Great Britain and Holland, and at the same time he received a sketch of the wishes Edition: orig; Page: [233] and plans of his Court. The first task of the allies had been to save Sweden from being overpowered by the Danish invasion, and thus to preserve the balance of the Baltic. So far this task had been achieved. The Danes had retired from Swedish territory and had signed an armistice, and the conduct of the Court of St. Petersburg in dispensing with Danish assistance by land seemed to indicate more moderate views. The neutrality of Denmark, however, must be clearly and definitely established, and if there was any refusal to admit it, on the part either of Russia or of Denmark, it might be necessary for Great Britain and Holland to threaten to send a fleet to the Baltic. With regard to Sweden, the object should be to restore peace on the same footing as before the war began. The King of Sweden is much to be blamed for his instability, and England and Prussia must endeavour to establish a permanent interest at Stockholm. In dealing with Russia, they must also very closely co-operate, and the King of Prussia earnestly hoped that Poland, where Prussian influence now preponderated, might be included in the negotiations. It was not, however, his desire that the war between Russia and Turkey should be at once terminated. On the contrary, it ought to be made a main object to prevent the Turks from making ‘a precipitate peace without the concurrent intervention of the two Courts.’ The Russians and Turks ought to be left to themselves, unless the Turks should be overpowered; but the Russians ought if possible to be prevented from sending a fleet to the Mediterranean. Once, however, the mediation of the two Courts was accepted by the Porte, ‘our influence so established might afterwards be employed in the manner best suited to the circumstances and to our common interests. The guarantees of the remaining possessions of the Turks after the conclusion of the peace, and their subsequent accession to our defensive alliance, continue likewise to be considered as probable consequences, and at least the Porte may be encouraged to expect those advantages, provided it relies solely on the mediation of England and Prussia.’ The King of Prussia will be obliged to resist all attempts of the Emperor to make acquisitions of territory; but this significant qualifying clause is added—‘He trusts England will concur in approving this resolution, or in contributing to make such an arrangement as may procure a Edition: orig; Page: [234] compensation.’ ‘In all probability,’ it is added, ‘Great Britain and the King of Prussia will have it in their power to settle both the succession of Poland and the election of the King of the Romans, in the manner best suited to promote their common interests.’

It was already evident that the Prussian views extended much beyond a simple and speedy re-establishment of peace, and it was added that a military demonstration of Prussia and a naval demonstration of England and Holland would probably be needed. It was not likely, the Prussian ministers thought, that the actual employment of force would become necessary, for the two Imperial Courts were much exhausted, but the appearance of force might be very useful. ‘The line of conduct,’ continued Ewart, ‘pursued towards France, in the affairs of Holland, is adduced as a recent and striking proof in support of this conclusion and of the great probability of such an attempt being completely successful, since the risks would be much smaller than in the case alluded to.’1

In the course of the spring and summer of 1789 the Prussian designs took a more definite shape. The King of Prussia believed himself to be in possession of overwhelming military power; he was extremely desirous to renew the long contest with Austria which had been carried on by Frederick the Great, and he was determined to avail himself of the present war to obtain special advantages for Prussia. He had two great objects in view. One was to compel Austria to relinquish, in favour of Poland, Galicia and its other possessions in that country which, the Prussian ministers said, ‘from their situation are so extremely embarrassing to Prussia.’2 The other was to obtain from Poland, as a compensation for this cession, the important towns of Dantzig and Thorn, both of which, but especially the former, seemed from their position to belong naturally to Eastern Prussia.3 In order that these objects should be attained, it was the strong wish of the King ‘to see the two Imperial Courts, and particularly the Emperor, embarked in a second campaign Edition: orig; Page: [235] with the Porte,’1 and he himself resolved to make a demonstration on the frontiers of Galicia and Bohemia. ‘It is not possible,’ wrote Ewart, ‘for his Imperial Majesty to assemble an army of 50,000 men at present in these provinces, whereas the King of Prussia has actually 200,000 men, in the very best order and discipline, ready to take the field.’2 Galicia was ripe for revolt. Hitherto, the King of Prussia said, he had discouraged insurrectionary movements, but they would probably break out without his concurrence as a consequence of the revolt in the Austrian Netherlands, and they would also probably be directed and assisted by the Polish States. In this case the Emperor would hardly be able to subjugate this detached portion of his dominions. Poland would become a party to the war, and Prussia would be bound to support her.3

But this was not all. The very grave resolution was now taken at Berlin of offering under certain circumstances direct assistance to the Turks. The Sultan had died in the spring of this year; his successor-was determined to carry on the war with energy, and the Prussian minister at Constantinople was now directed to negotiate an alliance with him on the following terms. If victorious, the Turks were to consider the interests of Poland, Sweden, and especially Prussia; but if fortune declared against them, and they were driven beyond the Danube, the King of Prussia engaged to assist the Porte with his whole force until the Porte regained ‘all his ancient provinces, situated beyond the Danube and the Cuban, as well as the greatest possible security for Constantinople on the side of the Black Sea.’ If, however, the Ottoman Court was ultimately obliged to make cessions to that of Vienna, the Prussian minister was enjoined to stipulate that this should only be on the express condition ‘that the Court of Austria should be obliged to restore to the Republic of Poland, in exchange, Galicia and all the provinces which, by the treaty of partition, she had secured from Poland; and that the Courts of Vienna, of St. Petersburg, and of Poland should arrange at the same time with the King of Prussia about their respective differences and interests in a Edition: orig; Page: [236] manner conforming to the interests of the King of Prussia, as the principal friend and ally of the Porte.’1

This very serious step was taken by Prussia without any concert with her allies. It was, however, at once frankly communicated to the English minister, and the Prussians distinctly stated that they did not consider that it in any way bound or implicated England and Holland under the terms of the Triple Alliance. They added, at the same time, that one result of the Prussian policy would probably be that Turkey would become a party to the defensive alliance under a guarantee of her dominions.

Even this, however, was not the full extent of the Prussian designs. For some time affairs in the Austrian Netherlands had been becoming rapidly worse. The disturbances which had been originally produced by the rash, and for the most part wholly unjustifiable, encroachments of Joseph upon the ancient privileges and customs of his Flemish subjects had been composed at the close of 1787; but after a short interval they revived with redoubled violence. An obscure quarrel, which has long since lost its interest, about the constitution of the University of Louvain, was the immediate cause, and after many acts of violence, disorder, and military repression, a serious insurrection broke out. The revolutionary ideas that were seething in France were in full vigour in Austrian Flanders; an insurrection in the neighbouring bishopric of Liége still further strengthened them, and the Flemish insurgents were so successful, that by the end of 1789 the Austrian garrison was completely driven out of Flanders, the dominion of the Emperor was thrown off, and in January 1790 an Act of Union of the Belgian United Provinces was drawn up and signed at Brussels.

For some time before this triumph had been achieved the separation of these provinces from the Empire seemed a probable contingency, and it soon appeared that, provided they did not fall into the hands of France, Prussia was prepared both to welcome and to accelerate it. If Austria could be deprived on one side of her Polish, and on the other side of her Flemish, Edition: orig; Page: [237] dominions, while Prussia obtained Dantzig and Thorn, it was plain that the relative position of the two great German Powers would be materially changed; and it was insinuated to the English minister that a Prussia so aggrandised would give a much greater weight and importance to the Triple Alliance.1

It was reported in the April of 1789 that France was endeavouring to negotiate an alliance with Russia, and that the Emperor strongly supported her; and there were rumours and suspicions at Berlin that the cession of the Austrian Netherlands to France might form part of the arrangement.2 Under these circumstances the Prussian Government represented confidentially to England that the three Powers should form some plan of concert about the affairs of the Netherlands. It was generally admitted that the acquisition of these provinces by France must be resisted at the cost of war; and the Prussians urged that, in the not improbable contingency of the French entering Flanders as the allies of the Emperor, the three allied Powers should actively support the insurgents in resisting them. But there was another contingency to be feared. Was it not probable that if the allies now refused to support them, the insurgents might throw themselves into the arms of France, and that a French alliance, or protectorate, or annexation might be the result? On the whole, the Prussians suggested that the best settlement of the question might be the union of Austrian Flanders and Holland into a single republic. This must, however, be left to the determination of the people and to discussion with Holland. All that was at present urged was that the existing system seemed likely to be overthrown, and that the common interests of the allies would suffer extremely if Austrian Flanders were ‘annexed to France, of which there seems to be so much danger, as a considerable party in the country is already inclined to adopt this measure, and their French neighbours use every means to encourage it.’ England and Holland, in the opinion of the Prussian King, ought at once to consult together about the possibility of carrying out such a union of the Low Countries as was suggested. By the Peace of Utrecht and the Barrier Treaty they were expressly Edition: orig; Page: [238] authorised to prevent Austrian Flanders from falling into the hands of France, and Prussia had also a right to interfere as a party to the Peace of Utrecht, and as a member of the German Empire ‘to which the Austrian Netherlands belonged from their origin.’1

These considerations opened to the English Government a long vista of dangerous and embarrassing complications. The two objects of England in interfering with the existing war had been to bring about as speedily as possible a European peace on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war, and to induce as many Powers as possible to join in a defensive alliance which might for the future secure the peace of Europe from aggressive enterprises. The Prussian alliance was the very keystone to this defensive system, and the King of Prussia had signally displayed his good-will to England by consenting that a war in the East Indies in which any European Power attacked the English possessions should be esteemed a casus foederis.2 In conjunction with Prussia, England had already in some degree committed herself to the task of restricting, with a view to ultimately extinguishing, the present war. But the policy which the Prussian ministers had announced was almost certain both to prolong and to extend it, by suggesting new objects of contention which could hardly be settled except by arms, and which might very easily draw every important country in Europe into the contest. It was in the highest degree improbable that Austria could be induced to abandon her Polish dominions, unless she were conquered by a Prussian army; and it was very probable that a war with France would be the consequence of any attempt to alter the political position of the Austrian Netherlands. The original object of the Triple Alliance had been to maintain and consolidate the peace of Europe, and it was with this object that England and Holland had joined in it. There was now, however, an obvious desire on the part of Prussia to employ it with the object of remodelling the map of Europe at the great risk of an extended war, and in the interests of Prussian ambition. At the Edition: orig; Page: [239] same time, it was difficult to draw back without seriously endangering or weakening the alliance.

Sir Robert Keith, who was English minister at Vienna when the war between the Emperor and Turkey began, has furnished us with an extraordinary illustration of the laxity and negligence with which English foreign politics were at this time sometimes directed. He mentions that the first intelligence he received of the impending alliance between England and Prussia, which so profoundly changed the attitude of England towards the Emperor, was derived not from his own Government, but from the Prussian minister; that at the time when this alliance and the entry of the Emperor into the Turkish War had made the relations of England to the Court of Vienna peculiarly delicate, critical, and difficult, he was left for five whole months without a single line of instruction on public affairs, and that no less than fifty-two successive despatches which he had written remained unanswered. On an average, he said, he obtained one answer to about forty despatches.1 On very grave occasions, however, Pitt appears to have himself intervened in foreign politics,2 and his hand may, I think, be traced in the admirably reasoned, courteous, but at the same time somewhat sarcastic despatches in which the English Government now dissected the Prussian proposals and indicated their own policy.

The first of these despatches relates exclusively to the Polish and Turkish questions It expresses warm appreciation of the courtesy of the King of Prussia in communicating the instructions to the Prussian minister at Constantinople to the English minister, and also of his care in avoiding implicating England and Holland in his policy. The chief object, the writer continues, of Prussian policy appears now to be, first of all, to deprive the Empire of those provinces which Austria acquired by her share in the partition of Poland; and, secondly, ‘the acquisition of some considerable place, such as Dantzig and Thorn, with their adjacent territory, in the more northern parts of Poland. Other arrangements beneficial to Prussia may be in contemplation, but I state these as the most essential objects in the present system of acquisition of that Power.’

Edition: orig; Page: [240]

It seemed to the English Government highly improbable that the Porte could secure these ends, or that she would secure them if it were in her power. It can hardly be reasonably supposed that the Ottoman arms could be so successful ‘as to render the Porte equal to the task of not only making terms for herself and Sweden, but likewise of settling the affairs of the four remaining Powers to the satisfaction of Prussia and Poland;’ and it is almost equally improbable that, in case of a serious defeat, she would be able to carry out the Prussian design of making any cession of territory she was obliged to make to Austria conditional on that power restoring Galicia and the other Polish provinces to Poland. The King of England would be delighted at any advantages that could be attained by Prussia ‘without danger of extending those hostilities it is so much the interest of all Europe to put an end to.’ It is, however, very plain, that the intentions now disclosed go ‘much beyond the spirit of our treaty of alliance, which is purely of a defensive nature, and by which we of course cannot be considered as in any degree bound to support a system of an offensive nature, the great end of which appears to be aggrandisement rather than security, and which from its very nature is liable to provoke fresh hostilities, instead of contributing to the restoration of general tranquillity.’ The future guarantee of the Turkish dominions is a point which can only be practically and beneficially discussed at the peace. England has no wish to act in such a manner as to make a future connection with Russia impossible. She is persuaded that the Prussian policy would greatly diminish the chance of detaching Russia from Austria. ‘In discussing these points,’ the minister continues, ‘and indeed upon every other occasion, I must beg you, sir, to remember that it is by no means the idea of his Majesty and of his confidential servants to risk the engaging this country in a war on account of Turkey, either directly or indirectly. I am to desire you would be particularly careful in your language to prevent any intention of that nature being imputed to us.’1

The same pacific counsels were reiterated in a despatch which was sent about three months later. England, Leeds said, Edition: orig; Page: [241] fully admitted the pernicious consequences that would ensue if the Austrian Netherlands became absolutely dependent on France, and she was quite prepared to co-operate with Prussia and Holland in preventing it. But it was necessary that this danger should be clear and imminent. ‘As yet,’ said the English minister, ‘nothing in these provinces appears to call for such a degree of interference on the part of the allied powers as to threaten the interruption of that tranquillity which it is so much their interest, and I trust their intention, to preserve.’ The Emperor is very dangerously ill, and his death would probably produce a change of system which might alter materially the problem in the Netherlands. ‘The idea of separating Galicia from the Emperor is certainly one which is in all respects tempting to the Court of Berlin, and in proportion as it would add to the security and strength of that Court, it would certainly be considered here as beneficial to our general system. But the advantage might be purchased at too dear a rate. It would be so if the attempt led to involve the allies, or any of them, in a war. For the station they hold at present, and the benefits to be derived from a continuance of peace, seem likely to contribute more to the real prosperity of their dominions than the most brilliant successes which could be expected to attend their arms. These considerations make it appear wiser that the King of Prussia should avoid taking any such part in the events which may arise in Galicia as may lead to a rupture with the Emperor. … On the whole, therefore, it is his Majesty's earnest wish to prevail on the Court of Berlin to desist altogether from any enterprise in the Netherlands or in Galicia, and at all events it is impossible to pledge this country beforehand to the consequences of measures which go beyond the line of a defensive alliance, and which might incur, without any sufficient justification, the risk of a general war.’ ‘When the independence of Sweden seemed in danger of being immediately and totally subverted, there appeared to be an evident and urgent interest which called for the effectual interposition of the allies. But it does not in the present situation of things appear likely that any event should arise in the war between the two Imperial Courts and Turkey which can be considered as calling upon the allies in the same manner, Edition: orig; Page: [242] or which can properly induce them to become parties in the war.’1

The campaign of 1789 was on the whole very disastrous to the Turks. In addition to several less important fortresses, Belgrade was at last taken, after a long siege, by the Austrians, and Bender by the Russians, and some very considerable battles were fought and won. The Russian forces moved triumphantly through Moldavia; while the Austrians took possession of Bucharest, the capital of Wallachia; overran the greater part of Servia, and captured most of its fortresses, though they at length received a check at Orsova. These successes, combined with the rapidly extending insurrection in Austrian Flanders, were watched very keenly at Berlin, and a few extracts from the letters of Ewart to the English Government will show how near Europe was to a great and general war at the close of 1789 and in the first months of 1790.

In October he reminded the Duke of Leeds that in the event of the Turks being in danger of being pushed beyond the Danube, the Prussian minister at Constantinople was authorised to offer them effectual support, and that this would become almost inevitable if Belgrade and Bender fell. ‘On the other hand,’ he continued, ‘positive advices have been received by this Court that the Emperor has again represented strongly to the Empress of Russia the necessity of making peace, proposing, at all events, that Oczakow, Belgrade, and Bender should be restored to the Porte, on condition of the fortifications of the two former being raised; that he would keep Chotzim, a district in Wallachia, and another in Bosnia, and that the Turks should reimburse to both the Imperial Courts all the expenses of the war. But, however moderate these terms may appear to the Emperor, this Court is persuaded they will not be accepted by the Porte.’2

The English advice, which had been already given, was received very courteously by the King of Prussia. For the present, he fully agreed, nothing short of a French interference in the affairs of the Austrian Netherlands would require the interposition of the allies; he promised not to make any enterprise Edition: orig; Page: [243] either in Galicia or the Netherlands without English advice, but he represented that it was already extremely difficult to prevent the inhabitants of Galicia from revolting, although the leading patriots in Poland had been exhorted to use their influence in the cause of peace. If, however, Poland were committed with Austria, if the Emperor made acquisitions dangerous to Prussia, especially if he took possession of Moldavia and Wallachia, Prussia would be obliged to intervene. For the present the King said he had no such intention. Russia was strongly opposed to the Emperor obtaining Moldavia and Wallachia, and the two Courts, but especially Austria, were so impoverished that if the war continued in the following year a favourable crisis would probably arise. If the King engaged in the war he would only ask of his allies to maintain the neutrality of France and Spain.1

In November and December the prospect darkened. Count Horn had arrived at Berlin on a mission from the States of Brabant, and the Prussian minister now maintained that if the insurgents prevailed so completely as to have a decisive majority, the allies ought to recognise their independence, in order to prevent their possible union with the French provinces of Flanders. The King was exceedingly elated with the success of the insurgents, and Ewart was now convinced beyond all doubt that he hoped to deprive Austria both of the Netherlands and Galicia, and that an insurrection in Galicia would speedily break out, stimulated by the success of the revolt in Brabant. In Bohemia and Hungary discontent was spreading. Prussia would obtain Dantzig and Thorn when Poland got back Galicia; the King contemplated an immediate alliance with Poland and Turkey, and he was much alienated from England, on the supposition that she was opposed to the severance of Galicia and the Netherlands from the empire. ‘His Prussian Majesty continues much occupied with the idea of taking advantage of the present favourable conjuncture to diminish the power of his rival as much as possible, but his ministers hope they have succeeded in convincing his Majesty that he can do nothing with regard to the Netherlands without the concurrence of Edition: orig; Page: [244] his allies.’ He is, however, strongly in favour of the independence of the Austrian Netherlands; he thinks it unavoidable, and is delighted to hear that the Dutch Pensionary is not against it. The allies in his opinion ought at once authoritatively to interpose to prevent either France from interfering, or the Emperor himself from sending troops into the Netherlands.1

This policy evidently meant an immediate war. Leeds wrote briefly in reply, urging delay. The British Government agreed with Prussia, that the insurrection in the Austrian Netherlands seemed likely to produce ‘their total separation from their present sovereign, and, of course, establishing a new, separate, and independent power amongst the States of Europe.’ As, however, an armistice had been established between the contending Powers in the Netherlands, there seemed for the present nothing to be done. Leeds earnestly hoped that England, Prussia, and Holland might remain closely united on the question; he expressed without disguise his own opinion, that the best solution would be a reconciliation of the Netherlands with the Emperor, coupled with a full acknowledgment of their ancient privileges; and he strongly represented that the questions relating to the Netherlands and the questions relating to Galicia were completely distinct, and that it would be very unwise to connect them.2

Prussia at this time took a decisive lead, and in January 1790 the Prussian minister proposed that the two Imperial Courts should be summoned to make an immediate peace at the mediation and under the guarantee of England, Holland, and Prussia, on the condition that all the conquests from the Porte should be restored. While making these propositions the King was determined to assemble two armies, one on the frontiers of Galicia, the other in Livonia, and to make a diversion on the side of Galicia, while the Turks directed their principal efforts towards Croatia and Styria on the one side and the Crimea on the other. As the price of this active assistance the Porte was to be asked to agree not to make peace without including Prussia, and without Prussia obtaining such advantages as the Edition: orig; Page: [245] circumstances admitted, particularly the restoration of Galicia to Poland.1

The answer of Leeds disclaimed emphatically on the part of England and Holland any responsibility for such a policy. ‘The measures which his Prussian Majesty seems determined to adopt, with a view to force the two Imperial Courts to make peace with the Porte upon moderate terms, not having been adopted in consequence of any concert between the allies, cannot with justice be ascribed to the councils either of Great Britain or Holland; and whatever the consequences of so very active an interference may be, our system of defensive alliance cannot fairly be responsible for it.’ At the same time Ewart was instructed to make no useless complaints: The flourishing condition of the finances and of the army of Prussia makes her success very probable, and England will hope for it, but it is very possible that the war may be extended rather than terminated by her policy. The immediate recognition of the independence of the Belgic provinces seemed to the English ministers very unwise. They may become independent, but it is important not to precipitate matters; and there is much reason to fear that when severed from the Austrian rule they may become wholly subservient to France.2

For a few weeks there appears to have been a pause in active diplomacy. Ewart wrote that the King was now almost certain to acknowledge the independence of the Belgic states and to intervene in favour of Turkey; that the proposed alliance with Turkey was actually drawn up, and that the relations with Poland were becoming closer.3 Some time before Prussia had proposed that each of the allies should lend a small sum to the King of Sweden in order that he should be enabled to continue his struggle.4

The Prussian ministers determined to make one more effort to obtain the co-operation of the two allies, and if this object could be attained, they professed themselves ready to sacrifice some part of their scheme of aggrandisement. Their proposal, however, was one which was hardly likely to be peacefully effected, and if it failed, England and Holland could not have Edition: orig; Page: [246] refused, after accepting it, to draw the sword. It was sent by Ewart to England on February 25. The Prussian Government, he stated, had arrived definitively at the following conclusions:

1. It was indispensably necessary for the allies to assemble an army in the neighbourhood of the Netherlands in order to secure the direction of events, and especially the two great objects of preventing France from interfering with the Austrian Netherlands, and of preventing the Emperor from subduing them by force and abolishing their ancient privileges.

2. If this step were taken, the King of Prussia will then consent to Great Britain and Holland entering into a negotiation with the Court of Vienna for restoring the Netherlands, on the condition of that part of Galicia which lies at this side of the Krapack or Carpathian mountains being given back to Poland, and in that case Austria may likewise have the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz restored on the side of Turkey. By this last provision Austria would obtain Belgrade, and a portion of Servia and Wallachia which had been ceded by the peace of 1739. They were already by conquest in her hands, but Turkey was to be asked or compelled to surrender them formally at the peace, in order to facilitate the acquisition by Poland of the chief part of Galicia.

3. If the Emperor should refuse these conditions the Netherlands ought not to be restored. Prussia in this case will support England and Holland against any bad consequences that may arise from this refusal, while, on the other hand, if Prussia should be engaged in war with the two allied Imperial Courts, Great Britain was expected to enforce the neutrality of France and Denmark, and to prevent any Russian fleet from attacking the Prussian coast.

4. If the Emperor refuses to negotiate on the above-mentioned conditions, the independence of the Belgic provinces must at once be acknowledged. The King of Prussia declared that he would even prefer to allow them to be dependent on France, rather than permit ‘such an opportunity as the present to pass without taking advantage of it in diminishing the power of his dangerous rival.’1

Edition: orig; Page: [247]

The extreme seriousness of the situation disclosed in these despatches is very plain. Prussia evidently desired and was determined on war; and England, which had originally entered into the Triple Alliance for the purpose of maintaining the peace of Europe, was now almost driven to the alternative of breaking it up at a time of great European complication and danger, or of embarking in a very serious and extended struggle, of which the real object would be the aggrandisement of Prussia and Poland. The difficulty was especially great, because the fate of the Belgic provinces, which was now hanging in suspense, had always been esteemed a matter of capital importance in English foreign policy; while the question of the frontier of Turkey on the side of Austria, and of the frontier of Poland on the side of Prussia, lay almost wholly beyond the range of English interests. Before, however, the despatch which has just been quoted arrived in England, the English Government sent a long and very able despatch to Berlin, defining and defending the policy they had adopted. The draft of this despatch, if I mistake not, is in the writing of Pitt, and I have little doubt that it was his composition.

It began with a full discussion of the Prussian proposal for the immediate recognition of the independence of the Belgic provinces. Having reminded the Prussian minister that ‘the object of the convention concluded by the allies on this subject was that no step should be taken in a point of so great importance but by common consent,’ the writer proceeded to state that the leading men in Holland were strongly opposed to the Prussian proposal, and that the English ministers fully shared their view. They opposed immediate recognition because there was still such confusion and dissension in these provinces, that it was impossible to predict any permanence of government, constitution, or alliance, and because the whole state of affairs might be changed by the death of the Emperor, which appeared imminent. There were two dangers which the allies unanimously agreed must be guarded against. Europe, for great purposes of public order and security, had placed these provinces under the Austrian sceptre, but she had given the House of Austria only a limited, divided, and conditional authority over them; and that Edition: orig; Page: [248] House must not be suffered to establish despotic authority in them, and to make an unrestrained use of their wealth and population. Under the present circumstances, however, this danger was exceedingly remote. It was also agreed that ‘neither under the dominion of the House of Austria nor under any other circumstances should these provinces be allowed to become an accession to the power of France.’ ‘On this subject,’ the despatch continued, ‘it is to be observed that whatever may have been the intrigues or the promises of individuals, no public encouragement has been held out by France to the independence of the Netherlands; that the recent example of what has passed in that country must necessarily inspire the noblesse and clergy of the provinces with an apprehension of the danger to them from the introduction of a French system, and that the present apparent and increasing weakness and distraction of that country must prevent any body of men from looking to that quarter for any present and effectual support. It is also a material circumstance that while the provinces feel their independence in danger from the possible attacks of the Emperor, they will be fearful of taking any measures which might be offensive to those powers, by whom alone they can, under the present circumstances, be effectually protected against him; and it may even be doubted whether, if this fear were once removed, by the allies having decisively committed themselves on that important point, the intrigues of France would not have a better field to work in, by the French being enabled to avail themselves of those points of jealousy and difference which must be expected to arise.’ All that seems necessary is to maintain a party attached to the allies, just as there is a party attached to France, and the allies have in this respect quite as good chances and means as the French. It is true that the Belgic provinces are for the present de facto independent; but there has as yet been no public declaration that the Emperor will not in the next season endeavour to regain his dominion in them.

It is said that, as guaranteeing Powers, we have a right to interpose. We undoubtedly have for the support of the ancient constitution, but not for the establishment of independence ‘without having in some regular mode expressed our sense of Edition: orig; Page: [249] the invasions of that constitution, and without having sufficient proof that no measures short of independence can prevent its subversion.’ If we now recognise Belgic independence, we should act like France when she declared the independence of America. England treated that declaration as ‘a direct and open avowal of hostilities,’ and she could therefore not blame the Emperor if he regarded the recognition of Belgic independence as equivalent to a declaration of war. The English ministers earnestly hope that Prussia will not take this step, for England cannot concur in it.

Turning then to the other aspects of the question, the English Government fully agreed with Prussia that the object of the allies should be ‘the establishment of a pacification on the grounds of the status quo,’ and they were prepared to concur with Prussia and Holland in drawing up a memorial to that eifect for the Courts of Sweden and Constantinople. ‘If this representation should be unsuccessful, we would willingly comply with the King of Prussia's request by engaging to take measures to prevent his being attacked either by France or Denmark … considering such attack on these grounds as a casus fœderis. … If no such attack should take place, it is conceived that such demonstrations might be made by this country and by Holland as would materially assist the King of Prussia by the uncertainty and uneasiness which they would occasion to his enemies.’ It must, however, be distinctly understood that ‘the circumstances and interests of this country do not permit us to join in offensive operations to which we are not bound by treaty. This has already been clearly explained in several of the communications which have passed between the two Courts. But the circumstances of the present moment and the good faith which is due from this country require that, at a time when the King of Prussia appears to be on the eve of embarking on so extensive a plan of operations, he should again distinctly understand the degree of assistance which he may expect from this country.’ Prussia then may expect the approbation of England in all efforts to make peace on the basis of the status quo. She may expect when pursuing this enterprise to be defended from attacks by France and Denmark; ‘the necessity for enabling Sweden to defend herself by another campaign against Edition: orig; Page: [250] Russia would also induce this country to take her share in such reasonable pecuniary aid as might be requisite for this purpose, and to exert herself for securing the neutrality of Denmark.’ But hostilities against the Imperial Courts, either indirectly by recognising Belgic independence, or directly ‘by our joining in the measures of offensive operations which Prussia may feel it her interest to adopt, would go beyond the line which this country has uniformly laid down.’ If a peace on the basis of the status quo is made, England will be ready ‘to include Turkey, Poland, and Sweden in the alliance, and to guarantee to them the terms of that pacification.’1

This despatch laid down the principles of English policy with a distinctness that left little to be desired. But almost immediately after it was written the whole aspect of affairs was changed by the news of the death of Joseph II. He had not yet completed his forty-ninth year, but the deadly illness which he had brought back from the Turkish frontier had never passed away, and those who were about him saw clearly how greatly disappointment and sorrow and anxiety had aggravated and accelerated its effects. A Turkish war raging; a war with Prussia and Poland manifestly impending; the Netherlands for the time completely lost; Hungary on the verge of revolt; bitter discontents and animosities revealing themselves in every part of his dominions—the dying Emperor saw but too plainly that his life had been one long failure, and that almost all his schemes had been abortive. The words that fell from him in his last days painted vividly his profound dejection. ‘Your country,’ he said to the Prince de Ligne, speaking of the Flemish revolt, ‘has killed me.’ ‘God, who knows the heart, knows that in all I have done I have sought only the good of my people. May His will be done!’ ‘Here lies a sovereign who, with the best intentions, failed in everything he undertook.’ He had a strong craving for the affection of his subjects, and he had made it his aim to relieve the poor from serfdom and feudal burdens, to break the power of ecclesiastical tyranny and establish universal toleration throughout his dominions. Something of what he had done remained, and Edition: orig; Page: [251] with a longer and more quiet reign much more might have been permanently accomplished, but as yet he had reaped little but hatred and insurrection. He spent his last days partly in rewarding his soldiers and his old servants, and partly in endeavouring to undo some of the measures which had proved most unsuccessful. The ancient constitution of Hungary was reestablished. The Holy Crown of St. Stephen was sent back from Vienna and carried in triumph to Buda. Orders were issued to restore privileges which had been taken away in the Tyrol and in Galicia,1 and proposals for a peace with Turkey were sent to England. His favourite generals, Lacy and London, with a few other attached friends, gathered round the deathbed of the childless Emperor, but his brother and successor was absent, and his favourite niece, the Archduchess Elizabeth, to whom he was passionately attached, was now rapidly approaching her confinement. The anxiety with which she followed his sufferings produced a premature delivery, and on February 18 she died in childbirth. The blow was more than the Emperor could support. He bowed his head in an agony of grief, and two days later he was numbered with the dead.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that his death saved Europe from a great extension of the war; for the animosities that had attached to him were such that a policy of conciliation in his hands would at this time have almost certainly failed. His brother Leopold, who succeeded to the title of King of Hungary, had already shown, as Grand Duke of Tuscany, great administrative ability, and he made it his first object to arrive at a peace. For several months, however, the prospect was exceedingly doubtful and menacing, and just before the death of Joseph, Prussia had fulfilled her threat and taken a step which made a general war almost inevitable. At the end of January the Prussian minister at Constantinople had signed an offensive alliance between Prussia and Turkey. It declared that the enemies of the Turks in crossing the Danube had disturbedthe bala nce of power; that the King of Prussia had determined to declare war in the following spring against Russia Edition: orig; Page: [252] and Austria; and that he would not desist till the Porte had obtained a desirable peace and been placed in perfect security by sea and land; while the Turks, on their side, engaged to do all in their power to compel Austria to restore at the peace Galicia and her other Polish territory to Poland. If the Ottoman Court was successful, its intention was not to make peace till it had regained all its lost fortresses and territory, and especially the Crimea. The Prussian Court, recognising this intention, now bound itself not to make peace until Turkey did, and under any circumstances to guarantee to Turkey all the territory which was in her hands at the conclusion of the war; to endeavour to induce England, Holland, Sweden, Poland, and other Powers to join in the guarantee, and to enter into a close defensive alliance with Turkey. The Turks, on their side, promised to make no peace with the Austrians and Russians without including Prussia, Poland, and Sweden, and under certain circumstances to support those Powers in the field.1

Such were the principal articles of this very important document—a document which was in the highest degree displeasing to the English ministers, and which greatly aggravated the seriousness of the situation. It was pretended, however, at Berlin that the Prussian minister at Constantinople had exceeded his instructions in making the treaty offensive, and for the present its ratification was withheld.

The Prussians at the same time strengthened their connection with Poland. Their first object was the acquisition of Dantzig and Thorn, and they accordingly proposed a treaty of commerce, by which these towns were to be given to them, as an equivalent for a considerable reduction of commercial duties. But it soon appeared that the proposal was exceedingly unpopular in Poland, and the treaty was rejected by the Diet.2 A close treaty of alliance, however, between the two countries was concluded at Warsaw on March 29. Each State guaranteed the territories of the other, but it was agreed that this guarantee was not to prevent an amicable arrangement of some controversies relating to questions of frontier which had Edition: orig; Page: [253] existed before the conclusion of the treaty. The contingents to be furnished by each State in case of attack were carefully regulated.1

The strong feeling which the proposed cession of Dantzig and Thorn excited in Poland threatened to throw considerable difficulties in the way of the Prussian projects of aggrandisement, while at the same time some very formidable dissensions which broke out between the aristocratic and the democratic parties in the newly emancipated Belgic provinces, and the evident desire of the latter party to imitate and ally themselves with the French, alarmed the allies, and shook their confidence in the permanence of the new independence.2 England and Holland, in opposition to Prussia, strongly favoured the reconciliation of these provinces with the Emperor, accompanied by an amnesty and a guarantee of their ancient constitution, and the more conciliatory dispositions of Leopold made this policy seem less hopeless. Leopold at the same time desired earnestly to terminate the Turkish war. He had never favoured it. He was sensible of the great dangers rising on the side of Prussia, and he desired the vote of the King of Prussia at the ensuing election for the position of King of the Romans, to which the dignity of Emperor was attached. Almost immediately after his accession he wrote to the King of Prussia in very amicable terms, asking his good offices, regretting the dissensions which had arisen between Austria and Prussia, disclaiming all views of aggrandisement, and stating that he would be content if, as a compensation for the expenses of the war, the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz were restored.3

He was at the same time quite aware of the dangers of a sudden attack from Prussia, and, carrying out a design of his brother, he withdrew a portion of his army from the Danube, and concentrated a powerful force under Loudon in Bohemia and Moravia.4 As Russia was at this time expressing wishes for peace, as Sweden was ready to place her interests in the hands of the allies, and as the Turks were exhausted by successive Edition: orig; Page: [254] defeats, there seemed much hope that if Prussia could be induced to pursue an unselfish policy, peace might be soon restored.

Such was at least the opinion of Ewart, who wrote that a negotiation might now soon be brought to a successful issue. Russia's ‘increasing embarrassments would make her satisfied with Oczakow and its district.’ The Porte might be induced to accept the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz, and there would be still less difficulty with Sweden.1

The King of Prussia accepted on the whole favourably the English despatch of February 26. He expressed his satisfaction at learning the exact limits of the assistance that might be expected from England, approved of the English proposal of a joint memorial in favour of the status quo, and agreed to postpone the recognition of Belgic independence, and to join with England in furnishing some pecuniary aid to Sweden; but he still thought that an allied army should be assembled on the frontiers of the Low Country. Ewart adds, however, somewhat ominously, ‘Should the King of Prussia be engaged in a war, by the refusal of the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg to make peace on the principle of the status quo, and should Galicia then be recovered by force of arms, some equivalent would be expected from Poland beyond the cession of Dantzig and Thorn. But even this would consist in an amicable arrangement of frontier of no great extent, and all idea of obtaining the Palatinates of Posen and Kalish has been abandoned, since it was decidedly preferred to have a preponderant influence in Poland, rather than entertain views of acquisition.’2 The King had no objection to Great Britain taking the lead in endeavouring to effect a reconciliation in the Netherlands ‘by re-establishing the ancient constitution and guarantee,’ but he endeavoured to sow dissension between Russia and Austria by communicating to the Russians the plan of peace which Joseph a few days before his death had sent to London without consulting with St. Petersburg. He also endeavoured to ascertain whether the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg would negotiate jointly or separately, either on the basis of the status quo or on the basis of the cession of Galicia. For his own part he earnestly Edition: orig; Page: [255] hoped that Galicia might be ceded in the manner that had been so often stated, and suggested that ‘such an arrangement might be rendered more acceptable to the King of Hungary than the humiliating alternative of the status quo towards the Porte, especially as the fate of the Netherlands still remained uncertain.’ At the urgent request of the English minister he still delayed the ratification to his treaty with Turkey.1

The English ministers saw clearly that Prussia had no real wish for peace, and that in this very critical moment a more decided policy must be pursued. Their first step was to send a confidential despatch to Berlin, representing that the King of Hungary ‘appears sincerely desirous to conclude peace upon fair terms, having no object of ambition or aggrandisement in view;’ that he had none of the leaning towards Russia, jealousy of Prussia, or dislike to English mediation that characterised his predecessor; and that in the opinion of the English Government ‘a general pacification, or at least a separate one between Austria and the Porte (in case Russia still persists in her exorbitant pretensions),’ may soon be concluded on the terms of ‘the status quo, or nearly such.’2 They soon after informed the Prussian ministers of the King's determination to bring matters to an issue by proposing, on his own authority, an armistice to each of the belligerent Powers in order to give time for negotiation. ‘The basis of a negotiation,’ writes the minister, ‘ought of course to be the status quo, or as near that state as the circumstances of the several Powers will admit. At the same time his Majesty is ready to mediate a separate peace on this basis, and to press its immediate conclusion between any two of the belligerent Powers who may be ready to accede to it without waiting for the rest.’ Keith was authorised to make this proposal at Vienna, and to state that if the King of Hungary accepted it; if he agreed in no case to attempt anything in the Netherlands contrary to the ancient constitution; and if he also admitted the renewal of the guarantees of the allied Powers in those provinces, England would enforce this proposal to the utmost at Constantinople. This step appeared Edition: orig; Page: [256] to the King especially urgent on account of the use which the Prussian Government had thought fit to make of the secret proposal for peace made by the late Emperor a few days before his death. If it became known at Vienna that this most confidential Austrian communication to the allies had been betrayed to Russia, in order to sow dissension, a distrust and a resentment would be aroused which might easily be fatal to peace.

The English minister expressed his great gratification that the King had withheld his ratification from the treaty which had been signed at Constantinople, but he commented in a strain of grave and measured severity on the schemes of aggrandisement which Prussia had put forward. Ewart was directed to repeat to the Prussian ministers ‘that the status quo appears to be the only fair and natural idea which can be proposed as the general basis of pacification. Such an idea, however, does not necessarily preclude any reasonable modifications of it, should any such come in question in the course of the negotiations. It will, however, be proper to state explicitly that at all events the idea of proposing sacrifices on the part of the Porte by re-establishing with Austria the Peace of Passa-rowitz, and by making cessions of some sort or other to Russia, on condition that Austria shall agree to relinquish Galicia, &c., seems totally inconsistent with the essential object (which every day renders more pressing) of re-establishing the general tranquillity. Nothing but the most extreme necessity could bring Austria to agree to such a proposal, and that Court would certainly first try the event of a contest. There appears, indeed, to be so little justice in insisting upon such an arrangement between Powers not engaged in the war as a condition of peace between those who are parties in it, and it is so evidently contrary to our defensive system, that on the principles already repeatedly stated it would be impossible for this country to give any expectation of supporting Prussia in a contest on such grounds.’ How could the Prussian King, it was asked, defend himself from the gravest reproach if, having just made an offensive alliance with Turkey, he proceeded to sacrifice Turkish interests ‘for the purpose of gaining an acquisition for Poland and an additional security for his own frontier?’

Edition: orig; Page: [257]

Most amicably, but at the same time most explicitly, Ewart was directed to press these considerations on the King of Prussia, to beg that instructions conformable to them should be sent to Vienna, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Constantinople, and to urge that measures should be at once taken in the latter capital ‘for setting aside by mutual consent the late alliance, and for procuring an immediate armistice, at all events between that Court and Austria.’1

This despatch very nearly broke up the Triple Alliance. The King of Prussia angrily blamed England for proposing an armistice to the belligerent Powers without any previous concert or communication with his allies; and several long and acrimonious discussions ensued.2 He now saw clearly that if Prussia provoked a war she would be isolated, and would obtain neither moral nor material support from England; and he resolved reluctantly to follow the English line of policy, but to insist upon applying it with such a degree of severity that a rupture was likely to take place in which England would be involved. He agreed to support the proposal for an armistice, but insisted, in opposition to the English ministry, that it should be limited to two months, and also that the Emperor should send no troops to the Netherlands during the negotiation. He consented at last that the treaty with Turkey should be set aside if the Court either of Vienna or of St. Petersburg agreed to make peace on the basis of the status quo. He consented that this should be put forward as the basis of pacification; but he would not hear of the qualifications suggested in the English despatch, and insisted ‘on the strict acceptance of the status quo without any modification.’3 If this was not adopted, the alternative must be either war, or a negotiation founded on the Prussian plan of an extended exchange of territory. The chief object of the war party was now to provoke a refusal from the King of Hungary.4

The feeling between the ministers of the two countries was at this time extremely hostile, and in the opinion of the English Government the tortuous and ambitious policy of Prussia formed the main danger to European peace. ‘His Prussian Majesty,’ Lord Auckland wrote confidentially to Edition: orig; Page: [258] Keith, ‘has brought himself to acquiesce in our objections to declaring the Independence; but I have the fullest evidence that nothing less than an absolute and inevitable necessity will induce him to contribute by word or deed to replacing the Netherlands under their old government. But, besides, his treaty with the Porte commits him almost irrevocably to everything that can tend to increase the confusion of the world; and without any other provocation than the Count de Hertzberg's desire to deprive Austria of Galicia and the Netherlands, and to give to Prussia Thorn and Dantzig, as an equivalent for Galicia from the Poles.’ Auckland spoke bitterly of the extreme danger of a new and wanton war, the indecency of the grounds that were put forward, ‘the utter unreasonableness of expecting England and the United Provinces to support these projects, to which they are not called by any sense, either of interest, or of policy, or of justice.’1

It was necessary for the King of Prussia to answer the Austrian invitation to exercise his good offices, and he did so by a full exposition of his views. The Russian proposal to establish, under a prince of the Russian rite, a new kingdom, including Wallachia, Moldavia, and Bessarabia, was pronounced perfectly inadmissible; and the only feasible plan for making peace was the status quo, advocated by England, or ‘an arrangement.’ The meaning of the latter term was fully developed in a confidential communication made to the Austrian minister. The King of Prussia, it was said, has negotiated, but not yet ratified, a treaty with Turkey, which involved the recovery of Galicia. This would probably bring Poland into the field, and would lead to a Prussian recognition of the independence of the Belgic provinces. Galicia must always, while in the hands of Austria, be a danger to Prussia, and if it is not amicably ceded, sooner or later Russia and Prussia would combine to drive her out. It was suggested, under these circumstances, that Austria, Russia, and Prussia should make an arrangement on these lines. The two Imperial Courts should restore Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia to the Porte. Austria should restore Galicia to Poland, with the exception of a tract contiguous to Hungary, on condition that Poland should cede Dantzig and Edition: orig; Page: [259] Thorn to Prussia; and, in that case, Prussia would oblige the Turks to restore the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz, would abstain from recognising the independence of the Flemish provinces, and would even induce them to submit to Austrian rule on the guarantee of their Constitution. The Porte, on receiving back Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia, was formally to abandon all his claims to the Crimea, and was to cede to Russia the district and town of Oczakow to the Dniester, on condition of Russia re-establishing in favour of Sweden the limits of Finland, on the footing of the Peace of Nyslot. If the King of Hungary agrees to support this arrangement, the King of Prussia will vote for his election as Emperor. He must consent, however, with little delay; otherwise Prussia will ratify her treaty with Turkey, and will acknowledge the Belgic independence.1

These negotiations were not favourably received. The cession of Galicia was entirely rejected by Leopold, and he declared that it was impossible for him, without the consent of Russia, to accept the armistice which England demanded. Prince Kaunitz, who was now past eighty, and whose judgment and temper were said to have been somewhat impaired by age, still retained great respect and influence at Vienna as the most illustrious of the ministers of Maria Theresa, and he threw serious obstacles in the way of peace; but his policy in this respect was counteracted with skill, and at the same time with singular delicacy, by the Vice-Chancellor, Count Cobenzel, who enjoyed the special confidence of Leopold.2

For some weeks, however, Europe was on the verge of a new war, and Ewart, in reporting the doubts entertained at Berlin of the possibility of a peaceful solution, added ‘that this circumstance is by no means disagreeable here, as his Prussian Majesty, Edition: orig; Page: [260] his generals, and his confidants are daily more convinced of the actual superiority of the forces and resources of this country over both Austria and Russia, which of course increases the inclination for war.’ ‘The ill-humour and complaints of Great Britain continue very violent amongst the officers about his Prussian Majesty's person.’1 The Russian troops were at this time very inactive; but the Austrians, in spite of the diminution of their forces in Turkish territory, continued to press on the war. In consequence, it is said, of the panic produced by an earthquake, Orsova, which had been blockaded during the whole winter, was suddenly abandoned by the Turks. The Austrians prepared to besiege Widdin and Giurgevo, two strongly fortified places on the Danube; but they encountered near the latter fortress a severe defeat. It was feared at Berlin that they would protract the negotiation till a decisive blow had been struck, and the Prussian King accordingly insisted on receiving an answer from Vienna within three weeks, placed himself at the head of a great army which he had concentrated in Silesia, negotiated actively for co-operation with Sweden,2 and secretly despatched a messenger to Constantinople to ratify his treaty with the Turks. The ratification omitted all mention of the Crimea; but it bound the King of Prussia to do the utmost in his power to restore to Turkey all the provinces that had been lost in the present war. As Ewart observed, this promise was made at the very time when Prussia was endeavouring to make an arrangement with Austria for her own benefit at the expense of Turkish territory.3 ‘I observed to the Prussian Minister,’ he continued, ‘that this measure, however modified, was expressly contrary to the former assurances I had so often received in official papers, and verbally. He said he had received positive orders from the King, his master, to take this step, though he concealed it from me.’4 Shortly afterwards, in consequence of the renewed representations of the English minister on the impropriety of ratifying this treaty, the Prussian minister agreed to write to M. de Knobelsdorff to represent to the Porte the expediency of setting it aside for the present, with a view to concluding Edition: orig; Page: [261] a defensive alliance after the peace;1 but the treaty, notwithstanding, subsisted, not only signed, but duly ratified, and it pledged Prussia to a speedy declaration of war.

It was evident to the English minister at Berlin that the King desired war and detested the policy of the status quo, though, having once accepted it, he found it difficult to recede.2 On the Austrian side, too, there seemed some slight prospect of ‘an arrangement’ being preferred to the status quo, for the King of Hungary, though he would not hear of the abandonment of Galicia, wished to keep Belgrade and two or three other frontier places, and appears to have at one time thought that this might be attained by giving a part of Moldavia to Poland.3 At another time he made overtures to the Turks for a separate negotiation, and the King of Prussia learned with great indignation that he had informed the Turks of the Prussian proposals to make peace at their expense.4

Amid this maze of conflicting interests and intrigues, England, supported loyally by Holland, laboured steadily for the pacification of Europe. A speedy peace on the basis of the status quo was her object, and she hoped that it might be effected through the intervention of the allies, and followed by the inclusion of Turkey, and perhaps Sweden, in the defensive system. If, however, the belligerents chose to make a suitable peace without mediation, England would gladly acquiesce; nor did she wish to insist upon the status quo with an extreme or pedantic severity. ‘Such moderate alteration as may be substituted by common consent,’ without altering the relative strength of the belligerent Powers, she was ready, with the consent of Prussia, to accept, and she trusted that small and unimportant deviations from the status quo would not be made a cause of war. She had accepted, however, the status quo as the basis of negotiation, and, as Prussia interpreted it strictly, England would so far support her as to prevent France and Denmark from attacking her while pursuing this end. On the other hand, the Prussian Government was again distinctly warned that it must expect no assistance from England in an aggressive war undertaken to deprive Austria of Galicia and the Netherlands; Edition: orig; Page: [262] that the treaty between Prussia and Turkey was wholly opposed to the original policy of the allies; and that an attempt to deprive Turkey of what she had gained since the Peace of Passarowitz would very naturally make the Turks believe themselves sacrificed and betrayed. Dantzig and Thorn were the chief objects of Prussian policy. If they could be obtained by an amicable negotiation, and not by a forced cession or exchange, England would rejoice; and Leeds threw out the suggestion, that the cession might be coupled with, and effected by, a treaty of commerce connecting Poland with England and Holland by lowering transit duties in Prussia. Such a treaty would be a great advantage to both Poland and England, and would make English commerce independent of Russia.1

The idea, however, was not pressed, and the main object of English foreign policy was simply to put an end to the war between Turkey and the King of Hungary, and to prevent the struggle from extending to Prussia and Poland. These ends were at last accomplished. Leopold, perceiving the dangers that surrounded him, resolved at last to consent to peace without obtaining any increase of territory; and in the August of 1790 a convention was signed at Reichenbach, by which the Emperor agreed to enter into an armistice with the Turks, to open a negotiation for peace under the mediation of the maritime Powers on the basis of the strict status quo, as before the war, and to secure the ancient constitution and privileges of the Belgic provinces under the guaranty of the allied Powers. Prussia abandoned for the present her designs on Dantzig and Thorn, though Hertzberg succeeded in obtaining a clause that, if Austria extended her frontiers on the side of Turkey, Prussia should obtain some equivalent advantage.

By this convention, and the armistice that followed it, the great evils and dangers that grew out of the war between Austria and Turkey were terminated. A considerable period, however, still elapsed before the formal peace was signed. It was negotiated by a congress which sat for about eight months at the little village of Sistova in Bulgaria. The letters of Keith, who very ably represented England at this congress, give a Edition: orig; Page: [263] vivid picture of the innumerable delays and difficulties that were encountered in accomplishing a task which the convention of Reichenbach seemed to have rendered most simple. Many of them arose from causes that were childishly futile. Minute questions of form and precedence were elaborately disputed, and more than once the proceedings of the congress were postponed because the Turks desired important steps to be taken only on days which their astrologers deemed propitious. There were objections, however, of a more serious character, raised chiefly by Austria, and this Power showed a manifest desire to protract or obstruct the negotiations, in hopes of obtaining more favourable terms. The last and most formidable difficulty arose from a subtlety which could hardly have been surpassed by the Jesuit casuists. The Austrians had accepted the ‘strict status quo as it existed before the war’ as the basis of pacification, but they now raised a distinction between the status quo de facto and the status quo de jure, and demanded not a simple re-establishment of the frontiers as they actually existed before the war, but the establishment of a line of frontier which they maintained ought to have existed according to a disputed or violated article of the Peace of Belgrade. On this ground they claimed old Orsova and a little band of Croatia which, long before the war, had been in Turkish hands. The dispute rose so high that the congress was for a time broken up, and a renewal of hostilities appeared inevitable; but the Austrians at last receded, and the Treaty of Sistova was signed on August 4, 1791, restoring peace on the basis of an exact reestablishment of the frontier before the war. By a separate convention, however, with Turkey, Austria obtained what she desired, though with the restriction that old Orsova must not be fortified.1

The troubles in the Austrian Netherlands were also appeased, but very slowly and with great difficulty. There was a long dispute about the Constitution which was to be restored; Leopold contending that it was the Constitution as it existed under Maria Theresa, Prussia and the maritime Powers insisting upon the more perfect Constitution of Charles VI. The Edition: orig; Page: [264] population in the Flemish provinces were violently divided; and the question was ultimately settled by force. The insurgents elected the Archduke Charles, third son of the Emperor, hereditary Grand Duke of Belgium, on condition that their provinces should no longer belong to the dominions of the Emperor; but they were soon subdued by an overpowering Austrian army. A convention, signed by the Austrian minister with the ministers of the three mediating Powers, in December 1790, granting the Constitution of Charles VI., was not ratified by the Emperor, who consented only to restore the Constitution as it existed at the close of the reign of Maria Theresa, and on this basis peace was at last established. The three mediating Powers, however, finding their counsels rejected, refused their ratifications, though Prussia at a later period gave her adhesion to the policy of the Emperor.1

The arrangement was not all that the allies desired; but it at least established a peace when a most dangerous war had appeared inevitable, and it was the more acceptable on account of the manifest desire of the Flemish democrats to unite their cause with that of the French. It also reacted speedily upon affairs in the North, where a peace between Russia and Sweden had been one of the first results of the convention of Reichenbach.

In order to understand the circumstances that produced it, we must retrace our steps and take up the threads of Swedish history where we dropped them in October 1788. At that period the intervention of the three allied Powers had arrested the Danish invasion of Sweden at a time when it would otherwise almost certainly have succeeded, and by securing the neutrality of Denmark had saved Sweden from imminent ruin. The position, however, of Gustavus III. continued to be very critical. His chief fleet was confined in Sweaborg. His army in Finland was paralysed by the mutiny of its officers. His exchequer was nearly empty, and Russia and Sweden were still at war, though Russia as yet abstained from aggressive measures. The King, however, was in no mood for peace. A policy of adventure, no matter how wild, had always an irresistible Edition: orig; Page: [265] charm to his mind; and he had two great objects in view. He hoped to draw the three allied Powers into the war, to restore by their assistance the ascendency of Sweden in the Baltic, and recover all or nearly all that had been lost in 1721 and in 1743; and he also hoped to make a second revolution in the Constitution, which would break the power of the nobility and make his own power almost absolute.

Gustavus III. had none of the solidity and seriousness of a really great politician; he had neither the patience, the industry, the judgment, nor the economy that are necessary for ordinary government, but in that peculiar turn of mind and character that fits men for a revolutionary career, he has seldom been surpassed, and he was in fact the most successful revolutionist of the eighteenth century. He was a most skilful, daring, and unscrupulous political gambler; wonderfully quick and adroit in seizing opportunities, availing himself of the ebb and flow of popular passion, disguising personal ambition under popular pretexts. He had already, in 1772, directed and carried through with complete success one great revolution, and he now saw the possibility of winning a new victory in the same field.

At the time when the Danes invaded Sweden, his fortunes had sunk to the lowest point. In the wild province of Dalecarlia, it is true, the people had risen with enthusiasm at his summons to oppose the Danish invasion, and among the lower classes he still enjoyed a great popularity; but Stockholm was full of his enemies. The equestrian order was violently hostile to him. The burghers distrusted him and were haunted with constant fear lest he should seize the bank. Edicts of toleration and frequent invasions of ecclesiastical privileges had offended the clergy, while the financial embarrassments, which were largely due to his excessive extravagance, and still more the unpopular monopoly by the Government of the distilleries, had excited a wide-spread discontent. The last two Diets had been stormy and hostile, and immediately after the mutiny in Finland the Senate strongly urged the necessity of convoking the States. The King hesitated, without absolutely refusing. It was impossible with any colour of reason to deny that, in beginning without the authority of the States an offensive war against Russia, he had broken the plain letter of the Constitution. It Edition: orig; Page: [266] was equally certain that by this unconstitutional act he had brought his country into a position of the gravest peril.

The intervention of Prussia and England, however, produced an immediate and most powerful reaction of opinion, and was popularly regarded as fully justifying the foresight of the King. ‘The offer of our mediation,’ wrote the English consul at Stockholm, ‘has made a very great impression, and visibly damped the spirits of the anti-royalists.’ ‘An opinion prevails that we are only come forward to support the King and encourage him to continue the war with Russia. All those who oppose it, as being begun in an unjust and unconstitutional manner, seem now so much dejected that, if his Majesty should seize this opportunity of calling a Diet, he might, I am confident, make what change he pleased in the Constitution.’1

The King, like a skilful strategist, availed himself of every method of intensifying the feeling. The national animosity against the Danes was stimulated to fever-point by highly wrought descriptions of their treachery and of their violence during the late invasion; while, at the same time, the tide of popular feeling was turned with a tremendous force against the nobles. The mutiny of the officers in the face of the enemy was represented as an act of the basest treason, which had almost accomplished the ruin of the country, and which was due to the hostility of the nobles to the King. Texts from Scripture, denouncing vengeance against traitors who had sold themselves to the stranger, were posted up in the village churches. In the theatres every allusion hostile to the nobles was received with rapturous applause. Innumerable pamphlets of a similar tendency were circulated through all classes, and the King declared that the reign of monopoly must terminate, and that he would now throw the command of the army largely into the hands of the burghers, whom he could trust. On December 20, 1788, he entered Stockholm amid the acclamations of the people, and when the effervescence was still at its height the Diet was convoked. It was opened on February 2, 1789. In a speech, which was so eloquent and so admirably delivered that it Edition: orig; Page: [267] excited the applause and admiration of all parties, the King urged the necessity of continuing the war till an honourable peace had been attained, deplored the conduct of ‘a few traitors in Finland’ who had yielded to the machinations of the enemy, and exhorted all classes to rally in defence of their country. He at the same time had the chief officers engaged in the mutiny seized and thrown into prison.

It soon appeared that he could count upon the unanimous adhesion of the order of the peasants, and upon commanding majorities in the orders of the burghers and of the clergy, while the nobles were irreconcilably hostile. A vote, thanking him for having secured the safety of the nation by declaring war, justified his recent conduct, and outside the Diet the populace and the common soldiers were strongly in his favour. By the order of the nobles, the conduct of the King was vehemently arraigned. They dwelt on his extravagance and his debts; on his alleged attempt to intimidate Stockholm by introducing a body of Dalecarlians as a garrison; on the persistent and virulent attacks which had recently been directed against themselves. Count Löwenhaupt, an old general who was a strong partisan of the King, was appointed by him Marshal of the Diet, and therefore president of the nobles; and he endeavoured by the King's orders, but without success, to check the attacks. A fierce wrangle ensued, and at length the old marshal, declaring himself insulted, withdrew from the Diet and laid his complaints before the King.

On February 17, at eight o'clock in the morning, the four orders of the Diet were suddenly summoned to assemble in the same hall, to meet the King. He received them in great state, and he delivered a brilliant but most singular speech. Fifteen days before, he said, he had addressed the Diet, representing the urgent and imperative necessity of taking immediate measures to defend the coast of Sweden from Russian invasion, and to wipe away the stain which the late treachery in Finland had left on the Swedish name. The clergy, the burghers, and the peasants had responded to his appeal, and, forgetting all other considerations, had shown themselves faithful representatives of the patriotism of Sweden. But the nobles had acted differently. And then, in a strain of the fiercest invective, he accused them Edition: orig; Page: [268] of favouring the intrigues and interests of the enemy; of wasting in frivolous recriminations a time which was vital to the defence of the country; of grossly insulting the sovereign in the person of the old marshal who presided over their debates; of attempting to revive the hateful and hated aristocratic domination which had been shattered in 1772. He declared that if Finland was lost, if the coasts were devastated, and if the capital was menaced, the responsibility must rest upon those men who, rather than renounce their ambitions and their resentments, were ready to see the Russians enter Stockholm and dictate their terms; and he concluded by commanding the nobles, in an imperious voice and with a haughty gesture, at once to leave the hall and prepare a deputation to carry their apologies to the insulted marshal.

A few fierce words were bandied to and fro, but at length the nobles retired to draw up a protest in justification of their acts, and left the King with the other three orders. He again ardently eulogised their loyalty, directed them to prepare a deputation to receive the new privileges he intended to confer on them, and declared the necessity of changing the Constitution so as to make political power centre in those who were truly loyal to their country.

Two agitated days followed, during which the popular feeling ran strongly and evidently on the side of the King; and on the 20th the decisive blow was struck. More than twenty nobles of the first rank and fortune were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned by order of the King; and the next day, the Diet having been summoned, the King read to it a revised form of the Constitution, which gave him little less than absolute power. The exclusive power of declaring peace and war was to reside with him. The estates were not to be permitted to discuss any subject which he had not laid before them, and most of the privileges of the nobles were taken away. The power of voting taxes almost alone remained of the ancient Constitution, yet even this was seriously impaired, for the King was enabled to make an agreement with any town or province when the Diet was not sitting. The new Constitution was accepted with acclamation by the three orders, and in spite of some feeble protests from the nobility the Marshal Edition: orig; Page: [269] of the Diet signed it in their name, and it was received as law throughout the country.

It remained to extort from the Diet supplies for the war. The three orders readily voted the subsidies for an unlimited time, but the order of the nobles, though broken and greatly intimidated, attempted to limit the vote to two years. The night before the decisive vote, a thousand of the rabble were entertained at the King's expense, and they marched half drunk upon the house of the nobles. The military and the burghers were put under arms, and sixteen rounds of shot were distributed to each man. Under these circumstances, the King, accompanied by a clamorous crowd, entered the chamber of the nobles, demanded an immediate vote of credit, and declared that anyone who opposed it was a traitor to the country. After some vain protests, and amid a scene of wild confusion and irregularity, the nobles yielded, or were alleged to have yielded; and next day the Diet was dissolved. Three weeks later, the few senators who had not already resigned were dismissed. The Senate, which, though crippled and enfeebled by the revolution of 1772, still retained some shadow of its old independence, was abolished, and a new council, composed partly of nobles and partly of commoners, appointed by the Crown.1

In this manner Gustavus III. had the almost unexampled fortune of accomplishing for the second time and with perfect success a violent revolution in the Constitution of his country. The nobles who had been imprisoned without any colour of law on February 20 were soon released, but many of the more important officers who had revolted in Finland were brought to trial; several were condemned to death, and a few were actually executed. The King hastened to his army in Finland, where the armistice signed in the previous year had expired, and he took part in a victorious battle which was fought on June 28. The campaign of 1789, however, produced no results. There were Edition: orig; Page: [270] many skirmishes, with various fortunes, and the King exposed himself with great courage and temerity, but he acquired no hold upon Russian Finland; while on sea, the Prince of Nassau, who had hastened from the Black Sea, inflicted a severe defeat upon the Swedes on August 24. This was the last naval battle of the year.1

In spite of the taxes that had been extracted, the King was now in desperate financial difficulties. The promised subsidy from the Turks had not arrived. Attempts to raise a loan in Holland failed; and in May 1789 the King of Prussia resolved to lend him a million of dollars, hoping that this would induce him to adhere to the system of the allied Powers.2

From this time till the close of the war the King of Prussia continued secretly at short intervals to supply the Swedish King with small sums to carry on the war, and he induced England to join in the subsidy. It was alleged that without this assistance Sweden must be completely crushed, and the balance of power in the Baltic annihilated, or that the King would negotiate a separate peace with Russia, which would retard a general pacification, or that he would throw himself, as he sometimes threatened, into the arms of France.3 Whatever Power, the English consul at Stockholm said, gave him the largest subsidies and most favoured his ambitious designs would secure his alliance, but the allies agreed that his schemes of aggrandisement should not be encouraged, and that their object should be to secure the independence of Sweden by a peace on the terms of the status quo as it existed before the war.4

The war between Sweden and Russia in 1790 consisted chiefly of naval battles desperately and skilfully contested. On May 13 the Russians repelled with severe loss an attempt to destroy the fleet which lay in shelter under the guns of Revel, but two days later Gustavus almost annihilated a great division of the Russian galley fleet at Frederikshamn. On June 3 and 4 there was another battle, indecisive in its results, but on the Edition: orig; Page: [271] whole unfavourable to the Swedes; and the unexpected arrival of a second Russian fleet for a time made the total destruction of the Swedish fleet appear inevitable. It was extricated at last by a sudden change of wind and by the skilful manœuvres of its commander, the Duke of Sudermania; but a month later the Russians gained a decisive victory at Wyborg, and the losses of the Swedes were then so crushing, that their navy seemed irretrievably ruined. Yet, by an extraordinary display of skill and energy, the King of Sweden was able in less than a week to bring the remnant of his fleet again into battle; and, availing himself of a favourable opportunity, he closed the war by a brilliant victory.1 A few weeks later Europe was startled by the announcement that he had made a peace with Russia on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war.

The motives of both parties were very evident. The convention of Reichenbach had just deprived the Empress of the cooperation of Austria, and it seemed probable that Prussia, England, and perhaps Holland would soon be in arms against her, and that an English fleet would be in the Baltic. Under these circumstances, Catherine saw that it was necessary to yield something. Her main object was to acquire territory on the side of Turkey. She had never sought or eagerly pursued the Swedish war, which had proved most detrimental to her navy; and as early as the May of 1790 she had declared that she was quite ready to make peace with Sweden, ‘on condition of the former treaties being renewed, and a mutual amnesty being agreed upon.’2 She was most anxious to avoid what she deemed the humiliation of making peace through the intervention of foreign Powers, and a separate peace would probably baffle one of the chief designs of the three allies. They had hoped to include Sweden in their alliance, to isolate Russia and to secure one of the Baltic provinces in their system; but if a separate peace could be negotiated, Sweden would be at perfect liberty to ally herself with Russia and with Denmark for the protection of the Baltic. No sooner, therefore, had intelligence arrived at St. Petersburg that the agreement with Austria was about to be concluded, than the Empress despatched a courier to Finland Edition: orig; Page: [272] with offers of peace to the King of Sweden. It is said that he had not yet heard of what had happened at Reichenbach; a Prussian subsidy had just been sent to him, and a squadron of seventeen English ships was lying in the Downs ready to sail for the Baltic.1

The Russian Empress in taking this step showed remarkable political sagacity, and Gustavus readily accepted her proposal. As she offered him peace on the exact terms which the allies had agreed to secure, he had very little prospect of gaining anything by continuing the war, and it was much more flattering to his vanity to obtain peace for himself than to obtain it through the intervention of the allies. To a man of his type of character there was indeed something exceedingly gratifying in the whole transaction. He had made war, without a shadow of provocation, against a Power much stronger than himself. He had conducted it without an avowed ally in the North of Europe, and in spite of the most formidable domestic dissensions. The last battle had been a Swedish victory, and he had now the satisfaction of making peace without any loss of territory, and at the invitation of his great opponent. On the other hand, Sweden had already lost 50,000 men, fifteen ships of the line, and a great many smaller vessels.2 Her finances were utterly exhausted, and she had everything to fear from a continuation of the war.

There was also another consideration which weighed upon his mind. For some time he had been watching with the keenest interest the great revolutionary drama which was unfolding itself in France. He had himself swept away almost every constitutional limit to his power amid the general applause of his subjects, and he had done so chiefly by carrying out, of his own free will one of the great objects of the French revolutionists, by destroying feudal and aristocratic privileges, and throwing open the highest positions in the Government to all ranks.3 He always maintained, and probably with justice, that if he had been at the helm instead of Lewis XVI., he would have weathered the storm. The interest of events in France had Edition: orig; Page: [273] eclipsed that of his war; he was impatient at finding himself far from news in a distant province of his dominions, and he was now eagerly looking forward to the possibility of allying himself with Russia in a great counter-revolution in the interests of monarchy in Europe.1

The Peace of Warela was signed on August 15, 1790, and although some questions of detail remained to be settled between Sweden and Russia, it restored tranquillity to the North, and closed another chapter of the great work of the pacification of Europe. Gustavus, however, did not long survive his success. The implacable animosities which he had aroused among his nobles pursued him to the end; a conspiracy was formed against his life, and on March 16, 1792, he was shot by Anckarstrom at a masked ball in the theatre of Stockholm.

Up to the time of the Peace of Warela, the Triple Alliance between England, Prussia, and Holland, in spite of the many difficulties and differences that have been recounted, had proved on the whole eminently successful. Holland had been pacified, and the danger of French ascendency in her councils had been averted. Denmark had been compelled to withdraw from her attack on Sweden and to declare her neutrality during the war. The war between Austria and Turkey had been terminated, leaving the frontiers of the two empires almost unchanged. Austrian Flanders was rapidly regaining its tranquillity; its old customs and privileges had been substantially secured, and now peace had been established between Russia and Sweden, not indeed through the mediation of the allies, but at least through fear of their intervention and on the terms which they desired. In the beginning of 1789 there had been serious question of a quadruple alliance of France and Spain with Russia and the Emperor,2 and when the quarrel with England about Nootka Sound arose, Spain at once made overtures to Catherine;3 but these dangers seemed now to have faded away. The Emperor had made peace. France was too occupied with internal troubles to pay much attention to anything beyond her border. The dispute with Edition: orig; Page: [274] Spain had been settled, and the Empress and the Turks remained alone at war. But the success of the allies, and the foreign policy of Pitt, now met with a great check. The attempt to induce or compel Russia to make peace through the mediation of the allies, on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war, surrendering to the Turks Oczakow and its adjoining territory to the Dniester, proved a complete and somewhat ignominious failure.

From the very beginning of the war, the acquisition of this fortress and territory by the Russians seemed probable. As early as November 1787 Eden had discussed with Montmorin at Paris the probable course of the Eastern war, and the French minister had expressed his opinion that it would leave Constantinople secure and untouched, but would give Moldavia and Wallachia to the Emperor, Oczakow and one or two other places to Russia.1 The capture of Oczakow had been the first great success of Potemkin. It had been the result of a siege of extraordinary length, conducted with extraordinary resolution, and accompanied by extraordinary bloodshed; and from this time the contingency of its retention by Russia had been continually referred to. In February 1789, when the Russians had made comparatively few sacrifices, Whitworth, the English minister at St. Petersburg, wrote that Potemkin, who appeared of all Russian politicians the most favourable to the English alliance, would, he believed, gladly make peace at once through the intervention of the allies; that he hoped to keep Oczakow and the adjoining territory, but that, if necessary, he was prepared to ‘consent to the town and fortifications being razed, reserving the country between the Dniester and the Dnieper, which he justly considers the key to the Crimea.’2 In the last days of 1789 and in the beginning of 1790, Catherine had requested the interference of England, and expressed her willingness to make peace on the condition of including in her empire Oczakow and its territory to the Dniester, and of creating an independent kingdom consisting of Bessarabia, Wallachia, and Moldavia. The latter condition was emphatically and unequivocally Edition: orig; Page: [275] rejected, and in the course of a few months it was dropped; but though the English Government suggested the status quo as the basis of peace, and described the article relating to Oczakow as ‘most doubtful’ and likely to induce the Turks to continue the war, their language was by no means that of unqualified hostility.1

On certain conditions, which were not in the least intended for the protection of Turkey, Prussia, as we have already seen, was at one time perfectly ready to acquiesce in the Russian demand. In March 1790 Ewart, in describing the negotiations for giving Prussia Dantzig and Thorn, and depriving Austria of Galicia, mentions the opinion of the King of Prussia that an armed interference of the allies would bring about a speedy peace. Russia's ‘increasing embarrassments would make her satisfied with Oczakow and its district, and … the Porte might be prevailed on to accept reasonable conditions, such as the cessions above mentioned, and the re-establishment of the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz.’2 If a peace could be negotiated on the basis of the cession of Galicia by Austria, the King of Prussia expressly stated that he ‘would have no objection to the Empress obtaining Oczakow.’3 I have mentioned also the Prussian project which was suggested about this time, that Russia should restore to Sweden the portion of Finland which she had lost by the Peace of Abo in 1743, and that Russia should be allowed in compensation to retain Oczakow and its territory. This proposal was actually sent by the Prussians to St. Petersburg, where it was peremptorily rejected.4

From the uniform language of the Russian Government, there could be little doubt that, unless the course of the war was completely reversed, it would insist on retaining Oczakow and its territory at the peace; nor was there anything unreasonable Edition: orig; Page: [276] in this demand. Whatever provocations Russia may have given, Turkey had at least begun the war, and she had been almost invariably defeated. The Empress showed her moderation by receding from her first demand for the constitution of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia into a separate kingdom, and by consenting to give up all her conquests between the Dniester and the Danube; and she could hardly, as a victorious Power, with any credit to herself or any regard to her people, surrender Oczakow, which had been most honourably won and which was of extreme importance to the security of her dominions. More than once Turks and Tartars had availed themselves of its shelter to devastate unprotected parts of the Russian territory; it enabled the Turks to cut off Kherson and the interior Russian dominions along the Dnieper from all communication with the Black Sea; and it placed the commerce of the Crimea almost at their mercy. These were sufficient reasons for the Empress insisting on retaining it, and it was not clear why England should object. Whatever might be the importance of Oczakow, it was certainly far less dangerous to Turkey than the Crimea, which Russia had seized with the full approval of England. Although the Russian arms had been steadily successful in 1788, 1789, and 1790, the speeches of the King to Parliament expressed no anxiety. On the contrary, while lamenting the continuance of the war, he ‘rejoiced that it did not endanger the power and interests of his kingdom.’ Under these circumstances, it was with great surprise that the English public learned that Pitt was determined to demand the restitution of Oczakow and its territory to Turkey, and to support his demand by force.

The explanation of this proceeding, which appeared very perplexing to contemporaries, will, I think, be found chiefly in the Prussian connection. In this, as in most of the plans of recent foreign policy, the two allies showed themselves widely different in their position and interests. England was a constitutional monarchy, directed by a minister who was prepared to go to war if necessary, who was always ready to act in difficult emergencies with promptitude and decision, but who deprecated war as a great evil, and who had attached his reputation mainly to certain schemes of financial and political reform which could Edition: orig; Page: [277] only be realised by a continuance of peace. Prussia was a despotic monarchy, and its sovereign, believing himself to be in possession of the best army in Europe, was extremely anxious to distinguish himself in the field, and full of plans for enlarging his territory. On the other hand, Pitt regarded the defensive alliance which had been formed as the cardinal fact of his foreign policy. He believed it to be of the highest importance to the security and stability of the present system of Europe; and he hoped that if Turkey, Sweden, and perhaps the Emperor were included in it, he would have established an irresistible barrier against the ambition both of Russia and of the House of Bourbon, and would have guaranteed a long period of European peace. The alliance, however, had been already greatly strained. Prussia had with much difficulty been induced to abandon or defer schemes of ambition which she had most unexpectedly raised; and England, in her turn, had been obliged to agree with Prussia in demanding not merely an approximate, but a strict status quo as the basis of pacification.

This had actually been attained in the peace between Turkey and the Emperor, and in the peace between Russia and Sweden, and it was somewhat difficult not to ask the same terms in favour of the Turks. It was especially difficult, as the Turks were so elated by the prospect of a Prussian alliance that they now declared that they would not make peace till they had recovered the Crimea.1 England had resisted the Prussian project of making Turkey compensate the Emperor for the sacrifices he was asked to make in the interests of Prussia, and she had undertaken, in conjunction with Prussia, to negotiate with Russia in the interests of Turkey. Could she under these circumstances, and in opposition to the wishes of her ally, require Turkey alone of the belligerent Powers to make a cession of territory?

It is manifest that all the recent proceedings of the English Government had gone far beyond the strict terms of a defensive alliance; but so many steps had been already taken that it was difficult to recede. England and Prussia had practically undertaken in common the pacification of Europe, and it was scarcely possible for England at this stage, and after having Edition: orig; Page: [278] herself repeatedly insisted on the status quo, to refuse her continued co-operation without sacrificing the Prussian alliance and all the benefits to be expected from it. How great those benefits might be had just been signally shown. When the quarrel about Nootka Sound had brought England to the verge of a war with Spain, the Prussian Government was reminded of the obligation of the defensive alliance. It would be impossible to conceive a question more unconnected with Prussian interests, and no free nation whose policy was controlled by national opinion would have permitted its rulers to go to war in such a cause. But the King of Prussia at once recognised his obligation, and Count Hertzberg was directed to assure the English envoy that ‘the King, his master, was determined scrupulously to fulfil his engagements with the Court of London; and that he (Count Hertzberg) had been expressly authorised to say that, if his Majesty should think proper to undertake a war against Spain, in case that Power should not comply with the terms his Majesty's ambassador at Madrid was instructed to propose, his Prussian Majesty would consider a commencement of hostilities under such circumstances a casus fœderis of his defensive alliance with his Majesty, and would not fail to furnish him the succours stipulated in the said alliance.’1

Such was the loyalty with which the Prussian King was prepared to fulfil his obligations, and it rendered it specially difficult for England to refuse to assist Prussia in procuring a restitution of Oczakow, which Prussian statesmen regarded as both a European and a Prussian interest.

It must be added that the importance of the Eastern question, the danger of Constantinople falling into the hands or under the influence of Russia, and the increasing probability of such an event, had of late been much more felt than formerly by English statesmen, and had given a direction to their foreign policy widely different from that of Chatham and of the Coalition Ministry.2 It must be added, too, that the design of sending Edition: orig; Page: [279] a British fleet to the Baltic in order to enforce a peace had been formed at a time when Sweden and Russia were still at war,1 and English ministers believed that Russia was now so exhausted that a simple demonstration of force would be sufficient to attain their ends. Twice already within a very few years such a policy had been pursued, and on each occasion with eminent success. In 1787, when Prussia restored the House of Orange and crushed the French party in Holland, a French interference had been prevented by the decided attitude of England, and the still more recent difficulty with Spain had been settled triumphantly without a war, chiefly through the promptitude with which the English Government had prepared itself for the worst.

These considerations appear to me to supply the real motives that governed Pitt in a step which the event showed to be one of the great miscalculations of his ministry. The offer to Russia of the mediation of the allies to effect a peace with Turkey on the basis of the status quo, had been made by Prussia in September 1790.2 The answer, insisting on the retention of Oczakow and its district to the Dniester, had been given to Prussia alone. That to England was for some time delayed, and in the meantime the English Secretary of State, being evidently anxious if possible to avert violent measures, directed Whitworth to employ the most conciliatory language. The proposal of England, he was instructed to say, was a friendly proposal for the purpose of putting an end to a bloody and exhausting war. If, however, as there was some reason to believe, the Empress thought it beneath her dignity to accept peace through the mediation of other Powers, the allies had no wish to insist upon a formal mediation. They would gladly use their good offices informally, and if Russia thought fit to open direct negotiations with Turkey on the basis of the status quo they would do all in their power to assist her. They would go somewhat further. The Turks had never abandoned their claims to Edition: orig; Page: [280] the Crimea, and they had made its recovery one of their chief reasons for declaring war. If Russia would accept a peace on the basis of the status quo England would use her influence to obtain from the Turks a formal renunciation of the Crimea under the guarantee of the allies. ‘A concession of this important object,’ wrote Leeds, ‘as it was the origin and an avowed purpose of the war, cannot be unacceptable to her Imperial Majesty, and should, I should hope, be sufficient to answer her wishes.’1

There are few things less beautiful than these eighteenth-century wars, begun in so many instances through the idle vanity and ambition of sovereigns who desired to round off their dominions; entailing in their course, over vast areas of population and territory, the most multifarious forms of suffering and ruin, and terminated at last amid a profusion of congratulations and compliments and decorations by treaties which left the relative position of the belligerent Powers unchanged. Catherine was fully resolved that her present war should not be of this description. Her Vice-Chancellor was directed to inform the English minister of the indignation that was felt by the Empress at the ‘unparalleled conduct’ of the allies in attempting to ‘dictate in so arbitrary a manner to a sovereign perfectly independent and in want of no assistance to procure the conditions which seemed to her best suited to satisfy her honour.’ Rather than tarnish the glory of a long and illustrious reign by accepting the terms of the allies, the Empress was ready to encounter any risk, and she would only accept the good offices of the King of England ‘inasmuch as they may tend to procure for her the indemnification she requires of Oczakow and its district.’2

It was soon seen that these were no idle words. The fortifications of Riga and Revel were at once strengthened, and orders were given to prepare thirty-six ships of the line for sea. Already, at the close of 1789, Whitworth had noticed how a ukase of the Empress was received as a voice from heaven, and how by five successive levies about every thirty-seventh man in the Empire had been drafted into the army.3 But although there Edition: orig; Page: [281] were many signs of weariness and discontent, and many libels against the Empress, there could be no doubt that in the struggle she contemplated she could count upon all the forces of the nation. Nothing, Whitworth said, except absolute necessity would oblige her to yield; and he proceeded to describe the steps which were necessary to success. A British fleet must be in the Baltic early in spring. The King of Prussia must ratify his treaty with the Turks, and send an army into the field. Every effort must be made to draw the King of Sweden into the confederation. His harbours would be most important for the British fleet, and he might make an invaluable diversion in Finland. An expedition might be made against Archangel, and a British fleet should enter the Black Sea, where there were now lying, in the harbour of Sebastopol, eleven or twelve Russian ships of the line and as many frigates, all, it was said, in very bad condition. Something might also be done to stop the supplies of money, which Russian statesmen found it much more difficult to obtain than supplies of men. Russian loans were raised at Amsterdam by means of the great banker, Hope. If this source were stopped, she would soon, through want of funds, be obliged to make peace.1

While these communications were passing under cipher from the English minister at St. Petersburg to the Government at home, the English envoy at Berlin was in confidential communication with the Prussian ministers, and especially with General Mollendorf, whose opinions both on political and military questions weighed greatly with the King of Prussia. Their decided opinion was that the allies were bound on every ground to insist upon the surrender of Oczakow and its district, and upon a peace based on the status quo as it existed before the war. The Emperor and Sweden having made such a peace, the allies could not with honour demand less for the Turks. Turkey would probably refuse peace on any other terms: if she yielded to necessity she would consider herself betrayed, and would be so alienated from the three allies that there would be little or no prospect of including her in their alliance, while Russia would be more and more confirmed in the haughty dispositions Edition: orig; Page: [282] she had of late displayed. The prompt and decisive intervention of the allies was imperatively needed. The Turkish army was now so broken and demoralised that, in the opinion of Prussian military men, it would not be able to resist for another campaign; and every day showed more clearly the danger of too great a share of the balance of power falling into the hands of Russia. The possession of Oczakow by Russia was a matter of some direct interest both to Prussia and England, for it would give her the command of the mouth of the Dniester, and enable her to combine the commerce of all the southern provinces of Poland with her other resources on the Black Sea; and its military importance, the most competent judges in Berlin were agreed, was very great. It was now evident that the total destruction of the Turkish Empire and the expulsion of the Turks from Europe was the ultimate object of Russia. The extension of her empire along the Black Sea was a great step towards its accomplishment; and Oczakow would materially assist the Russians in any future expedition against Constantinople. For these reasons, the allies ought promptly to intervene, and there could be no question that their intervention would be successful. A large Prussian force was already concentrated in Silesia, and when co-operating with the Turks it would prove irresistible. It must be the task of England to send a fleet to the Baltic, where she could easily crush all resistance. None of the Prussian ministers, the English envoy said, in urging these points, made use of the promise of Prussia to support England in her quarrel with Spain, as an argument, but he added that he knew ‘that the King of Prussia considered it as furnishing an additional claim to the assistance of Great Britain in the support of a system which he pledged himself to maintain.’1

The reply of the English Government to these representations was very cordial. Having lately been attempting to establish commercial relations with Poland, they admitted that they had some commercial interest in the restoration of Oczakow, and they fully concurred with the military authorities of Prussia in their high estimate of its military importance. The fact that Edition: orig; Page: [283] in two successive Turkish wars the Russians had to undertake a long, tedious, and wasting siege of Oczakow clearly proved that it was a real barrier to Turkey. It would probably prove equally formidable on the other side, if it became a stronghold for Russian aggression, and it would certainly enable Russia to make a much more effectual military use of the Crimea. The English ministers were therefore prepared to co-operate with Prussia in insisting upon its surrender. They hoped at the end of April 1791 to send to the Baltic thirty-five ships of the line and a proportionate number of frigates, while a Prussian army marched into Livonia, and they would also send, if necessary, a squadron of ten or twelve ships of the line to the Black Sea. They desired, however, that in the first place a joint representation should be made to the Empress, that the opinions of the neutral Powers should be gathered, and especially that a secret treaty should be negotiated with the King of Sweden, stipulating his neutrality and the use of his ports in return for a secret subsidy of two or three hundred thousand pounds to be raised by England and Prussia. They added, too, their hope that both England and Prussia would agree to take nothing for themselves. If, as the result of the war, it was deemed necessary to insist on terms beyond the status quo, the allies should in these ‘look to no acquisition for themselves, but to procuring a still greater degree of security for the Porte on the Black Sea.’1

In this manner a plan of co-operation was laid for a new war. There were, however, still some misgivings and hesitations at Berlin. Count Hertzberg desired a war with Austria much more than a war with Russia. He rejected the commercial propositions of England relating to Poland. He declared that England would ruin Prussia by dragging her into a wholly unprofitable war, and he still contended that the acquisition of Dantzig and Thorn must be made the leading object of Prussian policy. As the Court of Berlin was in negotiation with Poland for the purpose of obtaining permission for Prussian troops to pass through that country to Russia, the English envoy thought that in some way the desired cession might be still attained.2

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In Russia, military preparations were pushed on with desperate ardour. The finances of the country were so exhausted that paper money was at twenty-five per cent. discount; but the supply of men was inexhaustible, and in the hands of an imperious despot it was likely to be employed to the utmost. The philanthropist Howard had made his last journey through Russia in the autumn of 1789, and he has left an appalling picture of the reckless waste of life which he witnessed. In no other country, he said, had he found so little attention paid to the military. In the hospitals, the soldiers who had fought so bravely at Oczakow were dying by thousands on beds of hard coarse reeds, without linen or bedclothes or proper medicines or any but the coarsest food. Others, but half-recovered from wounds or sickness, were compelled to attempt long marches, till they sank dying along the roads. Upwards of 70,000 soldiers and sailors had died in the Russian hospitals in a single year.1 But the stream of recruits still poured in, and the Turkish war was pushed on with great vigour, and, of late, with brilliant success. On December 22, 1790, after a siege of about a month, Suwarrow succeeded in taking by assault the great fortified town of Ismail. More than 38,000 Turks perished in the terrible and indiscriminate butchery that ensued when the Russians poured over the battlements; but this, like many other hideous pages of Eastern warfare, would have been long since forgotten had not an old history describing the siege and massacre of Ismail chanced to fall into the hands of a great English poet, who has immortalised them in two admirable cantos of his ‘Don Juan.’ On the Cuban and in the Caucasus, the Russian arms were likewise successful, and Potemkin was busily employed in strengthening the Black Sea fleet and inducing skilful foreign officers to serve in it. Whitworth believed that he was resolved if possible to make peace at Constantinople, and that, if not speedily opposed, he might succeed in his design. The Empress delayed her final arrangements of territory with Sweden in order to draw that Power more closely to Russia, and she proposed a Baltic alliance of Russia, Denmark, and Sweden.

Among the many schemes that were about this time devised Edition: orig; Page: [285] was one which, though hopelessly wild and impracticable, is curious as showing that an idea was already in the air which was destined at a later period to have great influence on international politics. In the ‘Secret History of the Court of Berlin,’ which was written by Mirabeau in 1786, there is a very remarkable letter on the possibility of Russian armies some day penetrating through Central Asia into India. He says that at the time when the advance of Hyder Ali beyond Orixa had deranged the course of commerce in Bengal, some Bengal merchants, seeking new markets, succeeded in penetrating to the frontiers of Siberia, and that this fact suggested to the Russian Government an enterprise which was unsuccessfully undertaken in 1783. Availing themselves of the long line of water communication by the Volga to the Caspian Sea, they had sent an expedition from Astrakan for the purpose of seizing and occupying Astrabad at the southern point of the Caspian, with the object of ultimately penetrating from that point into India. Though the expedition had not succeeded, the design was not abandoned, and Mirabeau predicted that it might one day be accomplished, and that by gravely menacing English power in India, Russia might produce a complete change in the European system of politics; and among other consequences a close alliance of England and France to repress her growing power.1 In 1791 the English minister mentions that a French adventurer named St. Ginier had lately arrived from France with particular recommendations from the Prince of Nassau. He proposed, in the event of a war between England and Russia, to go with a corps of 4,000 men from the northern extremity of the Caspian Sea, through Cashmere to Delhi, and from thence to attack the English settlements in Bengal. ‘This fine project,’ wrote Whitworth, ‘has been presented to the Empress by Monsieur Nassau, who, I must in justice to this country acknowledge, is the only man in it mad enough to think it practicable.’2

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On March 28, 1791, a message was delivered to the English Parliament, stating that his Majesty's endeavours, in conjunction with his allies, to bring about a pacification between Russia and the Porte having failed, his Majesty deemed it necessary, for the purpose of adding weight to his representations, to make some further augmentation to his naval force, and on the following day Pitt moved an address, which was an echo of the message, and which pledged Parliament to give his Majesty the assistance he required. Pitt, in introducing it, dwelt much in generalities. A negotiation was in progress, and it could not yet be brought in detail before the House; but there were certain evident considerations which justified the necessity of the step which was to be taken. With perhaps something less than his usual felicity he based his defence mainly on the interests of Prussia and on our obligation of defending her. Prussia, of all European Powers, was the one who could be the most useful ally to England. She had already done us a good service by breaking the French ascendency in Holland, and we were bound to her, by a close defensive alliance, which was the best guarantee of the future security of Europe. The events that were taking place were very dangerous to her. The Turkish Empire is of great weight in the general scale of European Powers, and if that Empire is diminished or destroyed, or even rendered unstable and precarious, the situation of Prussia would be seriously affected, and so far from concurring with England in protecting the Dutch frontier, and in general the existing European system, she would be obliged to concentrate all her efforts on the defence of her own frontiers. Nor would the danger and diminution of Prussia be the sole consequence. ‘Would any man imagine that the aggrandisement of Russia would not materially affect the disposition of other Powers—that it might not produce an alteration in Poland, highly dangerous to Prussia? … If a powerful and ambitious neighbour were suffered to establish herself upon the very frontiers of Prussia, what safety was there for Poland; what safety for Denmark, or what for Sweden, when Prussia shall be no longer in a condition to assist them? The safety of all Europe might afterwards be endangered.’ ‘Many articles, the materials of manufacture, we received from Russia, but of these articles Edition: orig; Page: [287] many could be obtained from other countries, from Poland for instance, and therefore we had a commercial interest in cultivating a trade with Poland, and preventing Russia from obtaining such a decided command of the articles we wanted as to give or withhold them at her pleasure.’1

These allusions to the danger of Poland, coupled with the fact that a few years later the final dismemberment of that unhappy kingdom was actually accomplished, have been sometimes cited as proofs of the prescience of Pitt, but there is not, I think, any sufficient reason for believing that the political security of Poland entered into the motives of his policy, though he did undoubtedly consider the importance of her obtaining a vent for her commerce through the Black Sea. Nor is there the smallest ground for believing that if Oczakow had remained a Turkish fortress, Turkey would have had either the power or the disposition to prevent the final partition. A conflict between Russia and Prussia might no doubt have retarded it, but even then it would probably have been carried out at the peace, to furnish an indemnity for the expenses of the war.2

It soon, however, appeared that the Opposition were prepared to resist with all their energies the anti-Russian policy of Pitt, and that they were likely to find a large amount of support in the country. The interest in Oczakow and in the barren strip of land that lies between the Bog and the Dniester, has long since passed away; but these debates have even now a real importance, for they bring us to the source of that Eastern question which is still one of the gravest cares of Western statesmen. Fox and his followers objected in the first place to an armament based on the scanty knowledge which was furnished to the House. The King had the undoubted prerogative of declaring war; but Parliament had an equally undoubted check upon that prerogative in its right of withholding supplies. If, then, Parliament was asked to raise the navy to a war footing, it had surely a right to demand some fuller account than had been vouchsafed, of the proposals of Russia; some real means of judging how far a war which was manifestly contemplated Edition: orig; Page: [288] was becoming necessary. All that was known was that England was insisting on the surrender by Russia of Oczakow and its district, and this demand appeared to Fox in the highest degree unjust and impolitic. It was unjust, because Russia had not been the aggressor in the war, and because in spite of her great successes she was understood to have consented to concessions which displayed her signal moderation. It was impolitic; for the only result of an expensive and dangerous war would be to alienate, perhaps for ever, a most valuable ally without obtaining any object in which England had a real interest. Russia was the natural ally of England. She was the one considerable maritime Power who was likely to help her. She was in a great part of Europe the most serious counterpoise to the ascendency of France. She was one of the nations with which England had the closest and most profitable connection. Though the commercial treaty had not been renewed, our annual exports to Russia were still about 400,000l., and our annual imports from Russia about 2,500,000l. These imports consisted chiefly of implements of war, naval stores, and raw materials of manufacture, and above three-fourths of the Russian trade with England was carried on in English bottoms. It was impossible, therefore, for England to distress the trade of Russia without distressing herself in a much higher degree; and ‘so far from wishing to go to war with her, we ought rather to wish her success in those quarters from which the Turks have always excluded us, at least for the last fifty years, and where the French enjoyed an almost complete monopoly.’

And what had England to gain by this policy? Of all the countries in Europe, Turkey was the one with which she had least connection. Of all the seas in the world the Black Sea was probably the only one to which English ships never penetrated. In what way could English interests, or English power, be affected by the acquisition by Russia of a fortress on the Dniester and a strip of barren land along the northern shore of the Black Sea? A Russian conquest of Constantinople was too distant and too doubtful to be seriously contemplated. If it ever became imminent, it would be resisted by the Mediterranean Powers, whose interests would be affected much more Edition: orig; Page: [289] directly than those of England. If it were ever accomplished, it would almost certainly be followed by a division of the Russian Empire, for all past history tended to prove the impossibility of a territory extending from Kamtchatka to the Mediterranean being held together under a single government.

And even if these predictions proved false, was it certain that Russian progress would be an evil to England? At present France and Spain were the two great maritime Powers of the Mediterranean. They had almost always been hostile to England, and in the last war they had effectually excluded her from that sea. Was, then, the intervention of a third naval Power, which was usually friendly to England and hostile to France, so great an evil? The assertion that we were bound by the spirit of our defensive alliance with Prussia to prevent Russia from obtaining Oczakow from the Turks, was denounced as in the highest degree dangerous and absurd. If defensive treaties were construed in such a manner, they would have all the evils of offensive ones, and they would involve us in every quarrel in Europe. We bound ourselves only, to furnish assisttance to Prussia if she were attacked. She had not been attacked. She was at perfect peace. She was absolutely unmenaced. It was doubtful whether the new acquisition of Russia could under any circumstances be injurious to her, and it was preposterous to maintain that it was the duty of England to prevent any other nation from acquiring any territory which might possibly, in some future war, be made use of against Prussia. That England, like other great nations, was bound to attend to the balance of power in Europe, was very true; but could any reasonable man maintain that, if this balance was not deranged when Prussia obtained the great province of Silesia lying in the very heart of Europe, it was likely to be disturbed because Russia obtained a fortress on the Dniester, and a tract of almost uninhabited territory along the remote shores of the Euxine?

The conduct of Fox during the American War, and still more his speeches during the great French War, make it impossible to acquit him of the most serious charge of employing foreign politics and great national disasters for purely party purposes He had, however, loyally supported the Government when they Edition: orig; Page: [290] were appeasing the dissensions in Holland and when they were seeking redress for the Spanish outrage in Nootka Sound; and in his opposition to the present Russian policy of Pitt he faithfully represented the public opinion of England. Burke, who was now rapidly diverging from him on the question of the French Revolution, and who had a corresponding leaning towards Pitt, spoke vehemently and eloquently against the Russian armament. ‘Considering the Turkish Empire as any part of the balance of power in Europe,’ he said, ‘was new.’ The Turks were an essentially Asiatic people, who completely isolated themselves from European affairs, and ‘the Minister and the policy which should give them any weight in Europe would deserve all the bans and curses of posterity.’ For his own part, he confessed that he had seen with horror the beautiful countries that bordered on the Danube given back by the Emperor to devastation and ruin. ‘Are we,’ he asked, ‘now going to vote the blood and treasure of our countrymen to enforce similar cruel and inhuman policy?’ The extension of the power and territory, and the direction of the energies of Russia towards the south was not a danger, but a safeguard to Prussia; and if she ever conquered the Chersonese, its settlement would abundantly occupy her for ten or twenty years. It was impossible to say where the new policy might end. It might lead to an expenditure as great as the American War. The King of Prussia having thought fit to consider the Turks as useful to maintain his power, we might be asked to introduce them into Poland and the heart of Europe. That so wise a man as Pitt should endeavour on such slight and frivolous grounds to commit the country to a policy of unlimited adventure, sacrificing the friendship of one of our most useful allies, and casting to the wind the foreign policy of his own father, appeared to Burke the most extraordinary event that had taken place in Parliament since he had sat within its walls.

The question was brought before the House of Commons, in different forms, no less than four times. The Government majorities varied from ninety-four to eighty; but, large as they were, they were much below the normal figures in party divisions, and it was impossible to mistake the preponderance of ability and of independent opinion on the side of the Opposition.

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In the confidential letters of the Ministers it was fully admitted that the armament and the prospect of a war with Russia were profoundly unpopular, and all the news that arrived from the Continent was discouraging. Prussia, alone of the three allies, was eager for a war, and it soon became plain that Holland would take no part in it.1 Like England, she was governed, not by a despotic sovereign, but by the will of a free, commercial, and pacific people, and the Dutch Ministers maintained that it could be of no possible consequence to Holland whether Oczakow belonged to the Russians or the Turks, and that it was absurd to contend that their defensive alliance with Prussia required them to join in an unprovoked attack upon Russia. Spain was now again on good terms with England, and Florida Blanca, who directed her policy, on being sounded by the English Envoy at Madrid, expressed a strong desire to see peace established between Russia and Turkey on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war, and he directed the Spanish Minister at St. Petersburg to co-operate with the English Minister.2 It soon appeared, however, that this cooperation did not extend beyond the expression of an opinion and a wish, and the Spanish Minister at St. Petersburg distinctly informed Whitworth that his master would take no part in any act of menace or hostility.3 The Emperor, to the great disappointment of England, leaned strongly towards Russia, and there was much reason to fear that he would actively support her if Prussia entered into the field.4 Sweden, whose co-operation was very important, leaned to the same side, and was determined not to reopen her quarrel with Russia;5 while Denmark offered to mediate on the basis of some middle course described as ‘a limited status quo.6 On the whole, with the exception of the Prussian Minister, Whitworth found no cordial co-operation among the Ministers at St. Petersburg.7 Lord Auckland, whose knowledge of the Continent was very great, wrote privately to Pitt, urging the dangers of a distant Edition: orig; Page: [292] war; and the Dutch admiral, Kinsbergen, who was well acquainted with Oczakow and its territory, made a strong representation of the inadequacy of the proposed motive for war. Sebastopol, he said, was a real and serious danger to Turkey, and an active admiral might easily burn Constantinople by a sudden attack from that port; but Oczakow had but little real importance. Pitt appears to have been much struck by this opinion, and it contributed to shake his confidence in his policy.1

The situation was very perplexing, for England was already deeply committed. On March 27, the day before the King's message to Parliament had been delivered, the Duke of Leeds wrote to Whitworth informing him officially that Great Britain and Prussia had resolved upon an immediate interference, and directing him to present an ultimatum to the Russian Government and to insist upon an answer within ten days. In this ultimatum, the two Courts state the gratification with which they had seen the principle of the status quo accepted as the basis of pacification in the peace between Austria and Turkey, and in the peace between Russia and Sweden, and they added that any accession of territory by Russia on the side of Turkey ‘must essentially diminish the future security of the Turkish Empire, and must be attended with consequences highly detrimental to the interests of the two Courts and the future permanence of tranquillity in Europe.’2

Pitt, however, saw quickly and clearly that the country was against him, and he resolved to recede. The Duke of Leeds, who was most closely identified with the recent policy, retired from office;3 Lord Grenville, the Secretary for the Home Department, who had been originally the only minister in the Cabinet opposed to sending a fleet to the Baltic, was transferred to the Foreign Office; and Dundas, though still retaining the Presidency of the Indian Board, became Home Secretary. A messenger, hastily despatched to St. Petersburg, was in time to prevent Whitworth from laying the Edition: orig; Page: [293] ultimatum before the Empress; and Grenville instructed Ewart to inform the Prussian ministers that although the strict status quo still seemed to the English Cabinet the most durable basis of pacification, the manner in which the recent Address had been received in Parliament and in the country, had convinced them that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to attain it. The King, desirous to meet the wishes of his people, wished to find a middle term, which might attain the great object of the Allies, ‘the future security of Turkey, and the maintenance of general and permanent tranquillity.’ The Danish proposition seemed to offer such an opening, and Spain had been making overtures in the same line, and appeared inclined, if peace could be established on some middle term, to join in guaranteeing the remaining dominions of the Porte.1

Pitt himself, in a letter to Ewart, which was intended to be brought before the Prussian Ministers, stated very forcibly and frankly the motives of his conduct. ‘No one,’ he wrote, ‘could be more eagerly bent than I was on a steady adherence to the line which we had at first proposed, of going all lengths to enforce the terms of the strict status quo; and I am still as much persuaded as ever that if we could have carried the support of the country with us, the risk and expense of the struggle, even if Russia had not submitted without a struggle, would not have been more than the object was worth. But, notwithstanding this was my own fixed opinion, I saw with certainty in a very few days after the subject was first discussed in Parliament, that the prospect of obtaining a support sufficient to carry it through with vigour and effect was absolutely desperate. … From what I know of the sentiments of the greatest part of the majority and of many of the warmest friends of Government, I am sure that if, persisting in the line of the status quo, we were to come to the point of actually calling for supplies to support the war, and were to state, as would then be indispensable, the precise ground on which it arose, we should either not carry such a question, or carry it only by so weak a division as would nearly amount to a defeat. … The obvious effect of our persisting would have been to risk the existence of the present Edition: orig; Page: [294] Government, and with it the whole of our system both at home and abroad. The personal part of this consideration it would have been our duty to overlook, but … the overthrow of our system here … must have shaken the whole of our system abroad. It is not difficult to foresee what must have been the consequence to Prussia of a change effected by an opposition to the very measures taken in concert with that Court, and resting on the avowed ground of our present system of alliance. … My great object is that you should be able to satisfy the King of Prussia of the strong necessity under which we have acted, and that we really had no other choice, with a view either to his interests or to those which we are most bound to consult at home.’1 The determination of the English Government was received at Berlin with regret, but more graciously than might perhaps have been expected. The King of Prussia declared himself to be much impressed with the attitude of English public opinion, but he was extremely desirous that if the Baltic expedition was postponed, England should at least send a squadron to the Black Sea.2 Whitworth was, perhaps, not a very skilful, certainly at this time not a conciliatory or a successful diplomatist; and his relations with the Court of St. Petersburg were very strained. The Government resolved, without removing or superseding him, to send out a new envoy. Fawkener was accordingly sent first to Berlin and then to St. Petersburg, to endeavour to negotiate a peace. He was instructed to abstain from all language of menace, but to attempt to induce the Empress to accept some one of several proposed modifications of the original demand. It was suggested that the Oczakow district should be made neutral and a barrier between Russia and Turkey; or that it should be added to Russia on the condition Edition: orig; Page: [295] that no towns or fortresses should be established, and that it should remain uninhabited; or that the cession should be confined to some boundary short of the Dniester, and accompanied with the condition that the fortress of Oczakow should be demolished and that no new fort should be raised; or, finally, that the cession should be unrestricted except by the condition that it should not extend to, or interfere with, the navigation of the Dniester.

It was soon found, however, that Catherine would listen to no such restriction, and everything contributed to encourage her. The definitive Peace of Sistova, between the Emperor and Turkey, had not yet been signed; and at this time the Emperor was strongly supporting Russia. He had just broken off the Congress by his unexpected demand for old Orsova and a Croatian frontier, and there was a strong probability that he would renew the war. On the other hand, the Turks were evidently completely broken, and in July 1791 the Russians won two more important victories. The attitude of Sweden, Denmark, and Holland was exceedingly encouraging to the Empress, and the news of the late proceedings in England and of the abrupt withdrawal of the intended ultimatum convinced her that there was little serious danger from that quarter.

For many years before the period with which we are now concerned, Catherine had professed a kind of romantic enthusiasm for Fox. She had placed his bust in her palace between the busts of Demosthenes and Cicero, and she was extremely desirous of seeing him again at the head of affairs.1 Fox appears to have to a considerable extent reciprocated the admiration, and a very grave charge relating to the negotiations about Oczakow was afterwards brought against him by Burke, in a letter to the Duke of Portland which was published without the consent of the writer. Burke has stated that Fox at this time, ‘without the knowledge and participation of any one person in the House of Commons with whom he was bound by every party principle, in matters of delicacy and importance, confidentially to communicate, thought proper to send Mr. Adair as his representative and with his cipher to St. Petersburg, there to frustrate the objects for which the minister from Edition: orig; Page: [296] the Crown was authorised to treat;’ and that ‘he succeeded in this, his design, and did actually frustrate the King's minister in some of the objects of his negotiation.’1

This charge was reiterated some years later by Bishop Tomline, who stated that he had found its accuracy ‘attested by authentic documents among Mr. Pitt's papers.’2 It was, however, never substantiated, and Adair, whose character was beyond all suspicion, has positively denied it, and has at the same time clearly explained how it may have arisen. It is quite true that in the May of 1791 he made a journey to St. Petersburg; that he received some letters of introduction from Fox; that Fox requested him to send back to England all the news that he could gather, and that he recommended him, as his letters were likely to be opened, to employ a cipher which had been used by Burgoyne in the American War. But it is also true that Adair's journey was undertaken entirely of his own free will and without any prompting from Fox; and that Fox charged him with no message whatever. Adair, not very judiciously, held conversations with Russian Ministers before the pending dispute had been settled, on the advantages of a future Anglo-Russian alliance, but he spoke to them altogether from himself, and without any instructions from Fox, and did not even mention these conversations to Fox upon his return.3 Nor had they any of the importance that has been ascribed to them. The Empress was, no doubt, glad to display her sympathies by showing marked favour to the friend of Fox,4 but before Fawkener had left England she had received from her ambassador in London full information about the attitude and sentiments of the Opposition, about the tendencies of English public opinion, and about the great difficulties the English Minister was likely to encounter in Parliament if he entered into war.5

The truth is that everything, as the British envoy mournfully said, seemed at this time to conspire against the plans Edition: orig; Page: [297] of the British Government. ‘The success with which the [Russian] campaign has opened; the vigorous measures which appear to be carrying on, on the other side of the Danube and of the river Cuban; the perfect concert with which this Court has acted with that of Vienna in a scene of the greatest duplicity; the nature of the demands made by the Emperor; the breaking up of the Congress and the consequent recommencement of hostilities, the blame of which will be thrown chiefly upon the Turks; the rancorous aversion of the Empress to the King of Prussia; her dislike and jealousy of England; … her hope of perhaps bringing about a change in his Majesty's administration,’ were all reasons for despondency.1 England, at last, reduced her terms to merely asking a promise from Russia that she would not molest the navigation of the Dniester, but in the meantime the Russians opened a direct negotiation with the Porte, and an agreement was made on the basis of the entire cession of Oczakow and its district to the Dniester, in full sovereignty, with a renewal of former treaties. No stipulation was made in the treaty about the navigation of the Dniester, but the Empress promised of her own free will that she would not interfere with it. The preliminaries of this peace were signed at Galatz on August 11. The definitive peace was concluded at Jassy on January 9, 1792.

The death of Potemkin, which took place near Jassy, rather more than two months before the definitive peace, threw a dark shadow over the mind of Catherine, but politically her triumph was very great. She had completely baffled both England and Prussia, had made peace on her own terms and had made it without the intervention of any foreign Power. This was the first great failure in the administration of Pitt, and it broke the spell of a long course of brilliant and uninterrupted triumphs. Russia was confirmed in her ascendency on the Euxine; neither Turkey, nor Sweden, nor the Emperor, were drawn into the defensive system; and the alliance between England and Prussia, on which Pitt had placed his chief hope for the security of Europe, came practically to an end. There was no open breach, but confidence and co-operation disappeared. The Prussian King and Ministers were extremely discontented at Edition: orig; Page: [298] the course which European politics had lately taken. Though the youngest of the Great Powers, Prussia, they said, had in the last few years three times interposed, at serious risk and by considerable military demonstrations, to maintain the equilibrium of Europe. She had put down the revolution in Holland at the risk of a war with France. She had enforced by threats the neutrality of Denmark at the risk of a war with Russia. She had produced a peace between the Emperor and Turkey by massing her troops on the Austrian frontier. On each of these occasions a great service had been rendered, and on each of them heavy expenses had been incurred, yet Prussia had gained absolutely nothing for herself. England was accused at Berlin of having defeated the Prussian projects for acquiring Dantzig and Thorn and for expelling Austria from Galicia and from Flanders, and the final triumph of Russia was mainly due to the attitude of English parties and of the English Government. For some months Prussia and Austria had been gravitating towards each other. English diplomacy, desiring to isolate Russia, had encouraged the tendency, and the result was a close alliance which produced new political combinations in which England had no part, and, among other consequences, led to the invasion of France.

It is difficult even now to say whether the Ministry of Pitt can be reasonably blamed on account of the somewhat humiliating rebuff which it had experienced. In the long and intricate course of foreign policy which I have described, and which extended far beyond the terms of a defensive alliance, more than one step was taken of which the expediency may be contested; but in the last stage, Pitt seems to me to have acted the part of a wise and courageous statesman in promptly recognising, and frankly acknowledging the facts of the case. The collapse of Turkish resistance, the hostile attitude of the Emperor, and the decisive condemnation by English public opinion of a war for the recovery of Oczakow, made such a policy extremely dangerous; and considering the dispositions and designs of Prussia, a war with Russia would have almost certainly extended to Austria and Poland. Subsequent events have not shown that Oczakow possessed such European importance as to justify these risks; and although the close alliance between England Edition: orig; Page: [299] and Prussia had been on the whole successful, it had already led to great dangers, and would probably have led to still greater in the following year. The French Revolution was now the main fact which began to colour and direct all the policy of Europe, and in little more than a year after the signature of the Peace of Jassy it involved England in a struggle which was the most desperate and dangerous in her whole history. It can scarcely be doubted that the conditions of that struggle would have been materially, perhaps fatally, modified if the events of 1793 had found England already trammelled and exhausted by a European war.

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There are no pages in history more instructive, and there are few which are more humiliating and depressing, than those which record the judgments of great thinkers and politicians on the verge of the changes that have most profoundly affected the destiny of mankind. The triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and the great religious reformation of the sixteenth century, had both been prepared by influences that had interacted and co-operated through many generations, yet each of them appears to have fallen upon the governing classes of Europe almost as a surprise. The French Revolution, at which we are now arrived, was only inferior to these in its magnitude and its significance, and I propose to devote the present chapter to a brief examination of the causes that produced it, the degree in which it was predicted, and the manner in which it was judged. Such an examination can hardly be regarded altogether as a digression, for the French Revolution influenced English history in the latter years of the eighteenth century more profoundly than any other single event. It gave a completely new direction and character to the Ministry of Pitt; it determined absolutely, for nearly a generation, the course of English foreign policy; and while it was itself largely influenced by political speculations of English origin, it in its turn reacted most powerfully on the internal policy, and on the modes of political thought prevailing in England.

Of its antecedents or causes the literary and philosophical were those which attracted most attention. There is no more striking picture in intellectual history than is furnished by that great literature which arose amid the profound political and moral decrepitude of the reign of Lewis XV., filling Europe with its splendour and its influence; and it was impossible for the most superficial observer to overlook the immense difference of Edition: orig; Page: [301] tendency and character that separated it from the French literature of the seventeenth century. A few writers of the earlier period were, no doubt, partial exceptions. The ‘Method’ of Descartes, the ‘Telemachus’ of Fénelon, above all the critical writings of Bayle, threw out ideas which appeared to belong to a later age, but in general there runs through the great French literature of the seventeenth century a profound content with the existing order in Church and State, an entire absence of the spirit of disquiet, scepticism, and innovation that leads to organic change. But from the death of Lewis XIV. a complete change of spirit may be detected. The mingled austerity and hypocrisy of the latter days of Lewis XIV. had produced a reaction very similar to that which followed the Commonwealth in England; but it was supported by men of far higher intellect and of far loftier aims. At this time Voltaire began that wonderful career, unparalleled in its brilliancy and versatility, almost unparalleled in the deep contrasts of its good and evil. The ‘Œdipus,’ which was his first tragedy, was represented in 1718, and it contained two famous lines which clearly foreshadowed the mission of his life.1 The ‘Epistle to Urania,’ which was written, though not published, before Voltaire visited England, already expressed in the clearest and fullest form both his total disbelief in the Christian faith and his firm and genuine theism. The ‘Persian Letters’ of Montesquieu, which were published in 1721, contained the germ of a great part of the characteristic speculation of the century, and the remarkable junction of the French and English intellect which took place in the next few years, and which was admirably represented by Voltaire's ‘Letters on the English,’ strengthened the new tendencies. Montesquieu spent two and Voltaire nearly three years in England, and the effects of these visits may be traced through the whole of their later lives. The philosophies of Bacon, Newton, and Locke; the writings of the English deists; English notions of liberty; English canons of criticism, were soon made familiar to the French public, and up to the very eve of the Revolution nearly all the best works of English literature were translated and studied.

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It was soon seen that men of letters were rising to a new influence and importance in France, but until the middle of the century had passed they cannot be said to have been openly and systematically hostile to the Church. Religious scepticism had indeed already spread widely through Paris society.1 A church in which Dubois was a cardinal, and was unanimously elected by the Bishops president of their general assembly,2 neither deserved nor obtained respect, and in all the many departments of knowledge that were now explored a new spirit of independence was displayed, but as yet literary activity in France was turned chiefly to imaginative literature or to departments of serious literature very remote from theological or political revolution. The two great works of Montesquieu—‘The Causes of the Decline of the Roman Republic,’ which appeared in 1734, and ‘The Spirit of the Laws,’ which appeared in 1748—were books to teach the teachers, but certainly not to inflame the passions of men; and most of the writings of Voltaire during the same period could have given little or no legitimate offence. In addition to his ‘Letters on the English’ it was during these years that he produced his ‘Henriade’ and several of his other poems, several of his noblest dramas, his popular exposition of the philosophy of Newton, and his ‘History of Charles XII.,’ and at this time also he composed, wholly or in part, though he did not yet publish, his ‘History of Lewis XIV.,’ his ‘History of Manners,’ and that shameful work of genius, his ‘Pucelle.’ During the fifteen fruitful and happy years from 1734 to 1749, which he spent chiefly at Cirey with Madame du Chatelet, he was largely occupied with pursuits that were exceedingly remote from revolution. One of his great objects was to introduce into France the English habit of burying the dead outside the limits of towns and away from centres of population. Another was to diffuse the practice of inoculation. He wrote a scientific memoir on the nature of fire, and another on the motive forces, and he occupied himself keenly with geometry, and with a comparison of the philosophies of Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, and Euler.3

He had already found how impossible it was for a man of letters to live unmolest ed in France. Immediately after the Edition: orig; Page: [303] death of Lewis XIV. he had been confined for nearly eleven months in the Bastille on a false charge of having written a satire on the memory of that prince. In 1725, having attempted to resent an outrageous insult by the Chevalier de Rohan Chabot, he was again arbitrarily imprisoned and then exiled from France. On his return he was refused permission to print his tragedy on ‘The Death of Cæsar,’ because he had treated Brutus with respect. He was exiled from Paris because in his ‘Elegy on the Death of Lecouvreur’ he had censured the bigotry which, on account of her profession, denied that great actress Christian burial. His ‘Letters on the English,’ though a most temperate and truthful description of the tendencies of English thought and character, were burnt by the public executioner. His ‘History of Charles XII.’ was printed by permission, but the permission was afterwards withdrawn, and he was obliged to go to Holland to print his ‘Elements of the Philosophy of Newton,’ as the French Government refused permission to print a work which was opposed to the system of Descartes. The only liberty for which he at this time really cared, was a very moderate amount of liberty of thought and writing, and he was extremely anxious to place himself under the protection and patronage of the Court. In consequence of the opera ballet of ‘The Princess of Navarre,’ which was played before the King, and through the favour of Madame de Pompadour, he for a time succeeded; he was made Gentleman of the Court and historiographer to the King, and was shortly after elected to a seat in the French Academy, purchasing his success by a shameful profession of his attachment to the Catholic faith and to the Jesuits. He was profuse in his flatteries to the King and the King's mistresses, and he dedicated his ‘Tragedy of Mahomet’ to Pope Benedict XIV. and received from the Pope a complimentary letter.

He soon, however, fell into disfavour with the French Court. Voltaire indeed could flatter grossly; he could lie shamelessly; he had no scruples in baffling tyrannical laws by disavowing or denying his works, and in professing opinions which he did not hold, with all the solemnities of a religion which he heartily despised; but a life of continued hypocrisy and reticence was impossible to his nature. To think and write freely; to utter Edition: orig; Page: [304] every thought that passed through the most fertile, brilliant, petulant, and capricious of human brains, was with him an imperative need, and he soon found that he could only attain it in a foreign land. After his journey to Berlin and his famous quarrel with Frederick, he had a long period of hesitation, but he at last resolved to retire to Switzerland. He was then past sixty, but his energies were as powerful and his intellect was as youthful and as buoyant as when he had visited England. He had now wealth and a real independence, and, casting aside nearly all other pleasures and ambitions, he threw himself into the task of his life with an industry and a fertility that have scarcely ever been equalled. To this period belong many of those works which are among the most enduring monuments of French literature. To this period belong the noble efforts in favour of the family of the murdered Calas and of many other victims of ecclesiastical or judicial persecution, which constitute the chief moral glory of his life;1 and to this period also belong his systematic and persistent attacks upon the Christian faith. He assailed it with the most fiery impetuosity for nearly twenty years; sometimes by serious argument and in works of considerable value, but chiefly by showers of anonymous pamphlets, lampoons, dialogues, parodies, or letters, which were printed for the most part under false names and in foreign printing presses, but were eagerly bought and read throughout France. At the same time he maintained a vast correspondence with the leading writers in Paris, and it was his main object to combine them in a great and systematic attempt to sap the creed, which he believed to be the root of the superstition and the intolerance of France.

French literature had never been so brilliant as in the second half of the eighteenth century. Buffon, Diderot, D'Alembert, Rousseau, Duclos, Condillac, Helvétius, Holbach, Raynal, Condorcet, Mably, and many others adorned it, and the ‘Encyclopædia,’ which was begun in 1751 under the direction of Diderot, became the focus of an intellectual influence which has rarely been equalled. The name and idea were taken from a work published by Ephraim Chambers in Dublin, in 1728. A noble preliminary discourse was written by D'Alembert; and all the Edition: orig; Page: [305] best pens in France were enlisted in the enterprise, which was constantly encouraged and largely assisted by Voltaire. Twice it was suppressed by authority, but the interdict was again raised. Popular favour now ran with an irresistible force in favour of the philosophers, and the work was brought to its conclusion in 1771.

This is not the place to estimate the immense service rendered by the French writers of this time to physical science, to jurisprudence, to political economy, to nearly every branch of human knowledge. It is sufficient here to mention that almost the whole of this literature was opposed to the recognised religion of the country, though the writers differed greatly both in the degree of their hostility and in their own positive opinions. Voltaire and Rousseau were firm believers in the truths of natural religion, and Voltaire, while incessantly attacking revealed religion with every weapon of argument, eloquence, invective, ridicule, and buffoonery, has left many admirable pages in defence of the existence of God, the freedom of the will, the eternal distinction between right and wrong, and the absolute necessity of religious belief to the well-being of society. But Holbach, Diderot, and their followers, were simple atheists, and atheism had never been advocated so boldly or unequivocally as in France between 1758 and 1776. The treatise of Helvétius on ‘Mind,’ which appeared in 1758, and which traced the whole superiority of man over the animals to the structure of the human hand, and the ‘System of Nature’ by Holbach, which appeared in 1770, and which was perhaps the most elaborate defence of atheism ever published, were welcomed with enthusiasm; a system of metaphysics which reduced all knowledge to the impressions of the senses, and a passion for physical science which directed attention mainly to the external world, strengthened the tendency, and there is overwhelming evidence that at the eve of the Revolution almost all the guiding intellects and the immense majority of the educated classes of France, however they might be divided on the question of atheism or deism, were total disbelievers in the Church which was alone recognised by law, and which was endowed with vast power, privileges, and wealth. There were still, indeed, men of splendid talents in its ranks, but they were Edition: orig; Page: [306] men who had embraced or been forced into the ecclesiastical profession as a mere lucrative calling, and were utterly indifferent to its doctrines. Such a man was Talleyrand, the Bishop of Autun, and such were the Abbé St. Pierre, the Abbé Raynal, the Abbé de Condillac, the Abbé Morellet, the Abbé Siéyès, the Abbé Deschamps. But since the destruction of Jansenism, all the independent characters, and all the honest intellect of France, seemed alienated from the Christian faith. Fashion, which in no other country was so powerful, was on the same side. The most brilliant salons of Paris, almost the whole body of the Court aristocracy,1 a great part even of the higher clergy,2 had caught the prevailing tone. Among the poorer aristocracy, who were still thinly scattered over the country districts, and especially among the legal or parliamentary nobility, there might still be found a strong attachment to the old decorous manners, and to the forms of old belief, and there was still much real and sober religious life among the country curés; but the utter absence of any considerable literary effort, either serious or satirical, to stem the tide, showed how completely the philosophical party had conquered or absorbed the intellect of France. The Desfontaines, the Frérons, the Palisots, the Linguets, the La Beaumelles, and the Bergiers, the ‘Année littéraire’ and the ‘Journal de Trévoux’ had scarcely any real influence upon opinion, and all the efforts of the enemies of the philosophers have been unable to galvanise them into any semblance of reputation.

The significance of these facts is very great, but it is much increased when we remember that the Church which was so discredited, so corrupt, and at the same time so intellectually despicable, was a persecuting Church connected with a persecuting government. I have elsewhere described the atrocious provisions of the law that was made in 1724 against the French Protestants, and four years later Fleury issued a declaration condemning to prison or to the galleys anyone who printed anything in France contrary to papal bulls.3 In the full blaze of the civilisation of the eighteenth century, hundreds of French Edition: orig; Page: [307] Protestants were condemned to the galleys or to long periods of imprisonment for the crime of attending their religious worship; women were flogged; children were torn from their parents, and more than one Protestant pastor was executed.1 In 1757 a new edict was issued threatening with death anyone who wrote, printed, or sold any work attacking religion or the royal authority.2 Up to the period of the Revolution nothing could be legally printed in France, and no book could be imported into France without Government authorisation, and in 1789 there were no less than 169 persons employed in the censorship of books.3 The severities of the Government were exercised not only against books on religion, or government, or finance, but even against books relating to the most abstruse branches of physics and metaphysics.4 One of Voltaire's printers was condemned to nine years in the galleys, and eight printers and binders employed in the same printing office were condemned to the pillory and three years of banishment.5 During the whole of the reign of Lewis XV. there was scarcely a work of importance which was not burnt or suppressed, while the greater number of the writers who were at this time the special and almost the only glory of France, were imprisoned, banished, or fined. Their works, however, circulated far and wide, and in the early years of Lewis XVI. a more liberal administration and the overwhelming pressure of public opinion broke down the persecution. Still the toleration was precarious, intermittent, and unsanctioned by law, and the Church was openly hostile to it. In 1770 the whole body of the French bishops drew up a memoir to the King ‘on the dangerous consequences of liberty of thinking and printing.’6 In 1780 they presented a new memoir protesting against the admission of Protestants to public employments, and against any relaxation of the laws against heresy, and at the same time strenuously demanding an increased severity against anti-Christian writings.7 Up to the very eve of the French Revolution the marriages of French Protestants were Edition: orig; Page: [308] invalid, and unrecognised by law; and when this scandalous abuse was at last abolished in 1788 by Brienne, his measure giving non-Catholics the rights of citizenship in France was carried with difficulty through the Parliament, in the face of a furious opposition raised by an important section of the French clergy.1

The spirit of reform had twice appeared in France associated with strong positive Christian beliefs, and with a code of severe and even austere morality, and twice by the assistance of the State the French Church had succeeded in crushing it. She had driven from the land the Huguenots, who represented the very flower of the industrial population. She had humbled and suppressed the Jansenists, who included the finest intellects and purest characters within her pale. A new enemy was now at her doors. The very foundations of Christian and even Theistic belief were giving way, and the code of morals was by no means untouched. The hostility between the intellectual classes and the clergy, the collision between legal authorities and public opinion, and the almost total destruction of Catholic belief among educated Frenchmen, had a real and a considerable part in preparing the Revolution. All respect and reverence had ebbed away from one of the great institutions of the country. The empire of authority, prescription, and tradition over the minds of men was broken, and it became easy, when the storm of Revolution began, to turn the movement against Church property.

At the same time, if the religious movement had stood alone, it is exceedingly improbable that it would have led to any sanguinary convulsion. History furnishes us with several examples of periods of great religious decadence, and it abundantly shows that such convulsions are by no means their natural accompaniments. The evils to be feared at such a time are of another kind—the decline of morals when the dogmas with which they had been associated are abandoned, a relaxation of energy, a material, selfish, epicurean cast both of thought and character. The purest and noblest blood has been shed like water in connection with religious beliefs; but it has not been shed by the sceptic, but by the believer. Mohammedan fanaticism, the Crusades, the massacres of the Albigenses and of Edition: orig; Page: [309] St. Bartholomew, the long religious wars that desolated Europe, the savage persecutions of Protestants by Catholics, of Catholics by Protestants, and of witches by both, were due to a spirit which was very different from that of Voltaire. Regicide has found its strongest advocates in the writings of Jesuit theologians, and the fanaticism and heroism of revolt have never been more fully displayed than among the Huguenots of France, the Anabaptists of Germany, and the Covenanters of Scotland. But there is certainly no natural or necessary affinity between free-thinking in religion, and democracy in politics. In England, Hobbes, who was the first very considerable freethinker, constructed the political philosophy which is beyond all others favourable to despotism. Bolingbroke was the most brilliant leader of the Tory party. Hume was the best exponent of the Tory view of English history, and all his sympathies were with a benevolent despotism. Gibbon, as a quiet Tory member, steadily supported the American policy of North; and when the French Revolution broke out, his judgment of it was precisely similar to that of Burke. In France, Bayle wrote with horror of the democratic and seditious principles disseminated among French Huguenots, and there is no reason to believe that the great writers of the period of the ‘Encyclopædia’ were animated by a different spirit. Two only, Grimm and Raynal, survived till the Revolution. The first left France in disgust. The second wrote an eloquent letter, denouncing with the utmost detestation the events that were occurring. Of all the great French writers of the eighteenth century, Rousseau had the largest influence on the Revolution, and among those writers Rousseau was in religious matters one of the most conservative.

Voltaire in his theory of government was essentially monarchical. In a writer who was so voluminous, and at the same time so infinitely mobile and various, a perfect consistency cannot be expected; but in spite of occasional and warm eulogies of the constitutions of England, Holland, and Geneva, this aspect of his teaching is too evident to be overlooked. His admiration of the English Constitution was mainly based upon the freedom of thought and writing which it secured, and he seems to have been very slightly impressed with its Parliament. The whole tendency of his mind was to favour administrative Edition: orig; Page: [310] reform rather than organic change. His political writings display most eminently the admirable good sense and moderation of opinion, and the no less admirable good nature and humanity, which amid all his caprices, petulances, and meannesses, never wholly abandoned him; but they are quite as remarkable for what they omit, as for what they contain. He desired a complete abolition of the laws restricting or destroying the liberty of the press; of the laws against witches, and of the laws of religious persecution. It might not, he acknowledged, be prudent or necessary to admit Protestants to municipal or other dignities, or to permit them to build public churches; but their marriages should be fully legal; they should be as free as other citizens in educating their children, and inheriting property, and as long as they remained peaceful subjects, they should enjoy the full protection of the law. The penal code he desired to see thoroughly reformed. He advocated the abolition of torture, of mutilation, of all forms of agonising or prolonged death, and also a great restriction in the number of capital offences. He wished the extravagant penalties which French law decreed against sacrilege to be mitigated, and the law which insulted the body, and confiscated the property of the suicide, to be repealed. No one wrote better on the folly of punishing murder and robbery by the same capital penalty, and thus making it the direct interest of the robber to assassinate his victim; on the barbarity of making confiscation of goods an element of punishment, and thus beggaring the children for the crime of the father; on the injustice of keeping accused persons before their trial in solitary confinement, and restricting their right of examining their witnesses; on the evils of the excessive intricacy and diversity of French civil law, which varied in almost every province; on the necessity of improving the administration and condition of the prisons. Turning to other subjects, he wished to abolish the sale of offices, to diminish the taxes on articles of first necessity, to equalise taxation, to repeal the restrictions on the internal commerce of corn, to put an end to the enforced idleness of many Church holidays, to restrict the power of the priests in prescribing degrading penances, and excessive abstinences. He wrote with great fervour against the serfdom which still lingered in Franche-Comté, and some Edition: orig; Page: [311] other parts of France. He defended the right of the serfs in the Jura against their monastic oppressors, and he welcomed with enthusiasm the administration and the reforms of Turgot.

His keen and luminous intellect judged with admirable precision most of the popular delusions of his time. He exposed with great force the common error which confounds all wealth with the precious metals. He wrote against sumptuary laws. He refuted Rousseau's doctrine of the evil of all luxury. He had little sympathy with the prevailing tendency to aggrandise immeasurably the functions of the State, and he protested against the wild notions of equality that were coming into fashion. What should be aimed at, he wrote, is not ‘the absurd and impossible equality that would confound the servant and the master, the workman and the magistrate, the pleader and the judge. It is rather equality such as exists in Switzerland, where every citizen depends only on the law, which maintains the liberty of the weak against the ambition of the strong.’ ‘Men are essentially equal, but they are intended to play different parts on the stage of Life.’ At the same time, while strongly maintaining the necessity and expediency of different orders and ranks, he wrote with admirable wisdom about the excessive division of classes that prevailed both in France and Germany.1 ‘A merchant hears his profession so often spoken of with contempt that he is foolish enough to blush for it himself. Yet who is the more useful to the State—a well-powdered nobleman who knows exactly when the King rises and when he goes to bed, and who gives himself airs of grandeur while playing the part of a slave in the antechamber of a minister, or a merchant who enriches his country, sends his orders to India and Egypt, and contributes to the happiness of the world?’ He spoke with admiration of the custom in England—a custom, which, he says, was passing too much out of fashion—of younger Edition: orig; Page: [312] sons of the nobility going into commerce.1 He mentions that when Lord Townshend was Minister of the Crown, he had a brother who was a merchant in the City, and that, while Lord Oxford was governing England, his brother lived and died contentedly as a factor at Aleppo, and he predicted in a few admirable sentences the necessary growth of the commercial classes. ‘The gains of commerce having increased, and the revenues from public offices having diminished in real value, there is less wealth than formerly among the great, and more among the middle class, and this in itself diminishes the distance between men. There was once no resource for the small except to serve the great. Now industry has opened a thousand ways which were not known a hundred years ago.’2

And in perfect accordance with these ways of judging the present, were his views about the past. No previous writer can compare with him in the wideness and justness of his conception of history, and even now no historian can read without profit his essays on the subject. No one before had so strongly urged that history should not be treated as a collection of pictures or anecdotes relating to Courts and battles, but should be made a record and explanation of the true development of nations, of the causes of their growth and decay, of their characteristic virtues and vices, of the changes that pass over their laws, customs, opinions, social and economical conditions, and over the relative importance and well-being of their different classes.

Many of these views have so completely triumphed that they have become commonplace, but it is difficult to over-estimate the services of the great man who did the most, when they were yet unrecognised or contested, to popularise and to defend them. But beyond these Voltaire refused to go, and he had not the smallest sympathy with democratic ideas. Popular representation, and government by majorities, were completely foreign to his thoughts, and at a time when despotism was the prevailing form of government throughout Europe his strongest sympathies were with royal authority. He would probably have agreed with the saying of Plato,3 that when a young, Edition: orig; Page: [313] virtuous, enlightened and magnanimous despot is on the throne, and when he has found a great legislator to serve him, God himself can do little more for the happiness of the State. The power of the Sovereign was in his eyes the one efficient barrier against ecclesiastical encroachments, and the chief instrument in effecting reform. ‘Who would have thought,’ he wrote to D'Alembert in 1765, ‘that the cause of kings would be that of philosophers? but yet it is evident that the sages who refuse to admit two powers are the chief support of the royal authority.’1 ‘The greatest evil that can befall a state,’ he elsewhere said, ‘is a contested legislative power. The happiest years of the monarchy have been those of Henry IV., Lewis XIV. and Lewis XV. when these kings governed by themselves. There ought never to be two powers in a state. … The presence of philosophers is of great use to a prince and to a state, … for philosophers destroy superstition, which is always the enemy of princes.’2 Even on the rare occasions when he leaned towards a Republican Government, he showed himself utterly opposed to the idea of universal suffrage and political equality. ‘There never,’ he once wrote, ‘was a perfect government, for men are always influenced by passions, and if they had no passions they would need no government. The most tolerable of all governments is undoubtedly the republican, because it is that which places men most in their position of natural equality. Every father of a family ought to be master in his own house and not in the house of his neighbour; as a country is composed of many houses and many landed properties attached to them, it is contradictory that a single man should be master of these houses and of these properties, and it is natural that each master should have a voice in deciding on the welfare of the society. But should those who possess neither house nor land in the society have a voice? They have no more right to it than a clerk paid by merchants has to regulate their commerce, but they may be made partners if they have rendered some special service or have paid for their partnership.’3

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In general, however, Voltaire was quite indifferent to representative government, provided the Sovereign regulated his conduct by fixed law, gave religious and intellectual liberty to his people, and favoured administrative reform. Democratic government was equally repugnant to his judgment and to his tastes. All his leanings were towards rank and culture and refinement; and while sincerely desiring to improve the material condition of the masses of mankind, he had very little genuine sympathy with them, and an utter disbelief in their capacities. He could not forgive Shakespeare for his close contact and sympathy with common types of life and character, and for his complete disregard of the conventional elegancies and stateliness of the French stage; and his ignoble sneers at the humble origin of the Maid of Orleans, and at the poor relations of Rousseau, disclose a feeling which was expressed in innumerable passages in his confidential letters. ‘We have never,’ he once wrote, ‘pretended to enlighten shoemakers and servants.’ ‘The true public is always a minority. The rest is the vulgar. Work for the little public.’ ‘What the populace requires is guidance and not instruction—it is not worthy of the latter.’ ‘It is not the day-labourer, but the good bourgeois who needs instruction.’1 No English Tory indeed, of the eighteenth century, can have believed less in popular enlightenment, and especially in popular government, than this brilliant Frenchman. There is in all great writers, in addition to their definite teaching, a certain tone which runs through all they write, and greatly determines their influence on the world. That of Voltaire is very clearly marked. It is a mixture of scepticism, humanity, and practical good sense; with very little reverence and elevation, and without a tinge of mysticism or Edition: orig; Page: [315] fanaticism. Aiming at no high or impracticable ideal; turning away from self-analysis, self-denial, and useless speculation; meeting the perplexities of life with a smile of high-bred epicurean banter; seeking in all things for clear ideas and practical and tangible benefits, he accepted cheerfully the facts of life, applied the touchstone of his criticism to all the beliefs that were around him, and laboured steadily, within the limits of his ideals and of his sympathies, to make the world a wiser, happier, and better place than he found it. It is a philosophy which will always be that of a great part, and by no means the worst part of mankind, but it is not a philosophy which produces either passion, heroism, or Utopia, and no one who was thoroughly pervaded with the Voltairian spirit was ever a genuine Revolutionist.

Voltaire must indeed always stand out as the most truly representative figure of that portion of the eighteenth century which preceded the Revolution, and he was not less representative in his limitations than in his qualities. In the profound insight and the power of pursuing long trains of connected thought which constitute a great philosopher; in the higher imaginative gifts of a great poet; in the moral depth, purity, and seriousness of a great character; in the strong passions and sympathies which appeal to the deepest feelings in human nature, he was very deficient, but the world never saw a man more fitted to popularise great masses of obscure knowledge, and to influence widely and variously the opinions of men. Untiring industry, an extraordinary variety of interests and aptitudes, a judgment at once sound, moderate, and independent, a rare power of seizing in every subject the essential arguments or facts, a disposition to take no old opinions on trust and to leave no new opinions unexamined, combined in him with the most extraordinary literary talent. Never, perhaps, was there an intellect at once so luminous, versatile, and flexible; which produced so much; which could deal with such a vast range of difficult subjects without being ever obscure, tangled, or dull. What he wrote was often superficial in thought and knowledge, and marred by great faults of temper and character, but it was always transparently clear, almost always brilliant and graceful, admirably proportioned and admirably Edition: orig; Page: [316] arranged. He had the manners and some of the tastes of Court society; his wit was almost as conspicuous in conversation as in his writings, and though he was looked on with extreme disfavour by the rulers of France, he exercised a great influence on the chief sovereigns of his time. Frederick of Prussia, Catherine of Russia, Joseph II. of Austria, Gustavus III. of Sweden, Christian VII. of Denmark, Frederick of Hesse, and Stanislaus of Poland were among his friends, correspondents, or admirers; and chiefly through their influence a new spirit of enlightenment and tolerance began to pervade the legislation of Europe.

I have already mentioned the immense steps which had at this time been taken in the direction of religious toleration.1 It had been formally recognised, not only in the chief Protestant countries, but also in the wide dominions of the Empress of Russia. It had been practically admitted through the Austrian dominions. Even in Italy and Spain the power of the persecutor was effectually bridled, and the great persecuting order of the Jesuits was expelled from most European countries and finally suppressed by the Pope. In the half-century before the Revolution measures were taken formally abolishing torture in Prussia, Russia, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Hesse, Tuscany, and Sweden; where it was not abolished it fell into general disuse, and over a great part of Europe the penal codes were revised and mitigated in accordance with the principles of Beccaria and Voltaire.2 The remnants of serfdom, and of other feudal oppressions, were at the same time slowly but steadily disappearing. In Italy especially, where the philosophical movement was admirably represented by the writings of Beccaria, Filangieri, Genovesi, and Galanti, a great movement had long been in progress for the purpose of abolishing feudal and mediæval privileges relating to land or to exemptions from taxation. It had been begun as early as 1723 by Victor Amadeus in Piedmont. It was continued by the Lorraine princes in Tuscany, and it was soon carried out in Naples, Sicily, and Savoy.3 In Germany serfdom and many feudal Edition: orig; Page: [317] obligations still existed very widely up to the time of the Revolution,1 but the State serfs in Pomerania had been enfranchised as early as 1719.2 A similar measure was carried out on the State domains in Austria,3 while in Denmark the last traces of villenage were abolished by royal authority.4 In Poland, though serfdom continued, it had become, under the patronage of the King, a sort of fashion among the more enlightened nobles to give freedom to their peasants, and in the words of an excellent observer, ‘The peasantry of the North were travelling fast towards perfect and universal liberty.’5 The exclusiveness of rank was at the same time diminishing. Never before, except in the small republics of Italy, had commercial and mercantile interests occupied so great a place upon the Continent of Europe; and in France especially, the immense number of the new nobility recruited from these classes and from the professions, was one of the most characteristic features of the time. Men like Colbert and Louvois and Vergennes and Sartine and Necker, whose families had very recently risen from the humblest positions, directed in a great measure the Government, while the social influence of literature was continually increasing.

The changed spirit I have described was everywhere perceptible in the laws. It was still more perceptible in their administration, and the immediate impulse of reform all over Europe appeared to come from the sovereigns. The language of Condorcet in describing the condition of continental Europe in the period between the death of Descartes and the French Revolution, is very remarkable. In France, Spain, Hungary, and Bohemia, he says, the feeble traces of political liberty that had existed had disappeared, but these more or less real losses were more than compensated by the destruction of arbitrary aristocracies. The quality of man was more respected. Royal despotism destroyed the more grievous oppressions and humiliations of feudalism. A new spirit of equality passed into the laws. A kind of despotism arose which had been hitherto unknown in Europe. It was almost absolute by law, but it was at Edition: orig; Page: [318] the same time restrained by opinion, directed by enlightened views, and mitigated by a regard to its own interest, and it often contributed largely to the increase of riches, industry, and instruction, and sometimes even to that of civil liberty. Manners were softened by the decay of prejudices; by the growth of the industrial and commercial spirit; by the horror which the recollection of the religious wars had produced; by the diffusion of philosophic ideas of equality and humanity. Religious intolerance still lingered in the Statute-book, but it was now regarded as a matter of human prudence, a necessary homage to popular prejudices, a precaution against the effervescence of popular passions. It had lost its old character of ferocity and fanaticism. It took milder forms, and had of late years greatly diminished. Everywhere, and on all subjects, though slowly and perhaps reluctantly, the practice of governments has followed the march of opinion and even the ideas of the philosopher.1

This was the nature of the reform that Voltaire and his followers desired, and the revolution to which they looked forward was a peaceful and a happy destruction of superstition, barbarous laws, and feudal oppression, initiated and supported by royal authority. In a little treatise called the ‘Voyage of Reason,’ which he wrote as late as 1774, he enumerates with exultation the many and great reforms which had been accomplished during the century, and boasts that the spirit of enlightenment and toleration had descended upon all the chief Courts in Europe, and was not unknown even in the Vatican.2 ‘Everything I see,’ he once wrote, ‘scatters the seeds of a revolution which will indubitably arrive, and which I shall not have the happiness to witness.’ … ‘The young are indeed happy, for they will see great things.’3 ‘The general weariness of Christianity,’ wrote his follower Grimm, ‘which is manifested in all parts, and especially in Catholic States, the disquiet which is vaguely agitating the minds of men, and leading them to attack religious and political abuses, is a phenomenon as characteristic Edition: orig; Page: [319] of our century as the spirit of reform was of the sixteenth, and it foreshadows an imminent and inevitable revolution. One may say that France is the centre of this revolution, which will at least have this advantage over the preceding ones, that it will be effected without costing any blood.’1

It will appear, I think, from the foregoing considerations that the influence of Voltaire and his followers in producing the Revolution, though real, has been greatly exaggerated. The first important signs of political opposition, indeed, are not to be found in the writings of the philosophers, but in those conflicts between the Court and the Parliaments which fill a great part of the French history of the first seventy years of the eighteenth century.

The Parliament of Paris and the twelve provincial parliaments, which at this time existed in France, were not representative and legislative assemblies. They were judicial and magisterial bodies—High Courts of Justice consisting of the most eminent lawyers nominated by the Crown. They were divided into different chambers, and they exercised the highest jurisdiction in their several provinces, but they also exercised two functions which were of a political nature. They had a right of remonstrating against the edicts of the King, and they claimed the much more important power of a veto upon legislation. When the King issued an edict he sent it to the Parliament of Paris to be registered; it only acquired the force of law after this registration, and the Parliament claimed the right of delaying or withholding its sanction. This power, however, was contested, and the King possessed an authority, which, when fully exerted, completely annihilated it. He could go down to the Parliament, and by holding what was called ‘a bed of justice,’ could by his simple order compel the Parliament to register his edict on pain of banishment or exile. But such a measure was an extreme, and generally an unpopular one, and the fact that every law required the sanction, and was exposed to the criticism, of an independent judicial body, had a real importance in mitigating the despotism of the Government. The King was able to override the wishes of the Parliament; Edition: orig; Page: [320] but if that body was supported by strong public opinion; if any circumstances had contributed to weaken the authority of the Crown; and especially if a public loan depending for its success on the credit of the Government was required, the parliamentary opposition became very serious.1

The political powers of the Parliament had passed through several phases, which are not altogether free from controversy and obscurity. At first, and for a long period, the registration of edicts was probably nothing more than a legal form attesting their authenticity, but carrying with it no further power or responsibility. Under Lewis XI., however, the Parliament of Paris began, before registering edicts, to make remonstrances or observations about them to the King, and this grew into a recognised right. The dignity of the Parliament was much increased under Lewis XII., when the Court of Peers, drawn from the highest nobility, and exercising the highest jurisdiction, was united with it;2 and during the civil wars, and especially during the Fronde, its political power and activity were enormously increased. The strong government of Lewis XIV. reduced it again to complete political impotence. It was forbidden to remonstrate. It was at last allowed to make representations, but only eight days after it had duly registered the royal edict, and it was now mainly confined to its judicial functions. But in the weak Governments that followed the death of Lewis XIV. the Parliament regained its authority. It annulled the will of the late King; it settled the Regency, and it soon made itself a most powerful organ of opinion. The sale of offices had given it a great independence, for its members now held permanent and hereditary posts which they had purchased, and which they regarded as their absolute property.3 The Parliament consisted chiefly of men who had sprung from the richest families of the third estate; but it included some who Edition: orig; Page: [321] belonged or were allied to the first families in France, while its influence extended to the subordinate law courts and to all the humbler members of the legal profession.1 With the growth of industry and commerce that profession had been rising rapidly in importance, and all over France it looked up to the Parliament of Paris as its supreme representative.

A body so constituted, so widely connected, and with such great powers of obstructing and directing the administration of justice, only needed a popular cause to be very formidable. It found it in the dispute between the Jesuits and the Jansenists, when the Court supported the former, and the Parliament, representing a great body of public opinion, constituted itself the champion of the latter. For the first time for many years there was a direct, open, and serious opposition to the Crown. The immediate cause was the famous Bull Unigenitus, which had been promulgated at the inspiration of the Jesuits, in 1713, condemning one hundred and one propositions in a work of the Jansenist Quesnel, and among others several relating to free grace, which appeared almost literally extracted from St. Paul and St. Augustine. The dispute raged incessantly from the time of the promulgation of the Bull; and in 1730 and the two following years, it took a very acute form. An Archbishop of Paris attempted to compel his clergy formally to accept the Bull, and he excommunicated some who resisted. They consulted the lawyers, and forty Paris advocates drew up a memorial, inviting an appeal to the Parliament, and at the same time containing some sentences which, in a despotic monarchy, were deemed absolutely revolutionary. ‘By the constitution of the kingdom,’ they said, ‘the Parliaments are the Senate of the nation; the sovereign depositors of the laws of the State; the representatives of the public authority.’ They have supreme jurisdiction over all the members of the State. No one has a right to place himself above their decisions. ‘Laws are essentially conventions between those who govern, and those who are governed.’

These doctrines were censured by the Council of State as attacking the first principle of the French monarchy, which is, that the whole supreme power rests in the person of Edition: orig; Page: [322] the King. The advocates in their reply acknowledged this principle; but they still maintained that by the fundamental laws of the kingdom the Parliaments had a right of judging on appeal abuses of ecclesiastical authority. The lawyers of Paris and Rouen fully supported their colleagues, and the quarrel was envenomed by the appearance in the arena of several Bishops on one side, and of the Parliament of Paris on the other. The Parliament ordered the suppression of a number of Episcopal pastorals denying its jurisdiction and censuring the advocates, and in September 1731 it issued a decree asserting in the very words of old French laws that ‘the temporal power is independent of all other powers, that it alone has the right of restraining the subjects of the King, and that the ministers of the Church are accountable to the Parliament, under the authority of the monarch, for the exercise of their jurisdiction.’

Cardinal Fleury at this time directed the administration of France, and he deeply resented these proceedings. By the advice of his minister and of his Council, the King exiled eleven of the recalcitrant advocates; annulled the recent decree of Parliament; forbade the Parliament to engage in any discussion on ecclesiastical questions, or on the limits between the temporal and ecclesiastical power, and refused to see the members when they went to remonstrate against this restriction of their rights. On the other hand, the advocates of Paris refused to plead in the law courts until their exiled colleagues were recalled, and the members of the Parliament threatened to resign their offices, and thus stop the whole administration of justice if their jurisdiction and liberty were curtailed. They were summoned to Compiègne, and sternly rebuked by the King; but they pursued their course in defiance of the royal commands. They censured a new pastoral issued by the Archbishop of Paris, and forbade its distribution. The King at once annulled the order, and caused several of the offending members to be arrested and exiled. One hundred and fifty magistrates then resigned, leaving the Parliament House amid the acclamations of an immense crowd. Threats of degradation, exile, and confiscation, were freely employed by the Court; but in July 1732 a kind of truce was made, and the Parliament consented to resume its functions.

The quarrel, however, almost immediately revived. The Edition: orig; Page: [323] Court again attempted to prevent the Parliament from discussing ecclesiastical matters, and it determined to limit its power both of appeal and remonstrance. A bed of justice held to register a declaration with this object, was pronounced by the Parliament to be invalid on account of a technical flaw, and the Minister at once replied by exiling no less than 139 magistrates. Public opinion was now highly excited; the administration of justice was seriously impeded, and as the war of 1733 was just breaking out, Fleury feared a continuance of intestine troubles. The sentence of exile against the magistrates was accordingly recalled in November 1733. The declaration limiting the rights of the Parliament was suspended, and that body having for the present substantially triumphed, the conflict was for a time terminated.

Barbier, who has so fully related the proceedings of this time, notices that ‘the good City of Paris was Jansenist from head to foot.’ The Parisians in general, he admits, knew nothing, and cared nothing, about the theological distinctions that were at issue; but they detested Rome and the Jesuits, and they vehemently applauded the resistance of the magistrates. A political doctrine analogous to the Gallican theory of Catholicism now came into fashion. ‘As the whole Church,’ it was said, ‘is above the Pope, so the nation is above the King.’ Like James II. of England, Lewis XV. had contrived to throw into opposition the political forces which were naturally the strongest bulwarks of the throne. The Gallican form of Catholicism, while extremely jealous of Roman meddling, exalted the duty of passive obedience to the sovereign as highly as the Church of England, and on this point there was no difference between the Gallican and the Jansenist. A Parliament of magistrates invested with high judicial duties, and holding by right of purchase hereditary offices which conveyed the privileges of nobility, was an essentially aristocratic and conservative body. It had no sympathy with the school of freethinking which had arisen, and Voltaire's ‘Letters on the English’ had been one of the very numerous books which the Parliament of Paris had ordered to be burnt. But by the force of circumstances, and in the absence of any real representative system, this body had now become the chief bulwark against despotism, and the best Edition: orig; Page: [324] exponent of the popular feeling, and there was a great desire to aggrandise its power. A memoir was circulated arguing that the French Parliaments were coeval with the monarchy, and rightful representatives of the people, and that the power claimed by the King's Council over them was an usurpation. ‘The business of a sovereign,’ it continued, ‘is to maintain, and not to destroy the laws. This is his oath—this is the contract which he has made with his people. As he cannot make laws without the concurrence of Parliament, he ought to acquiesce in its refusals or remonstrances. If the magistrates abandoned their right of resistance, they would be false to their duties.’1

The peace of 1738, giving Lorraine to France, threw some credit over the Government of Lewis XV.; but it was almost the last gleam of success in his long and ignoble reign. During the war that preceded it, the conflicts between the Court and Parliament were suspended; but they revived in the last years of the life of Fleury, and again after a few years' interval, in 1747 and the following years. The questions at issue still related chiefly to the limits of ecclesiastical and temporal jurisdiction, and the right of Parliament as a judicial body to control the abuses of ecclesiastical power; but the Parliament also made some real attempts to check, by repeated remonstrances against new taxes, the financial ruin which was approaching. The tax known as ‘the tenth’ had been imposed as a war tax, and an attempt to continue it in time of peace caused violent and general discontent, and was resisted by several provincial Parliaments. A modified form known as ‘the twentieth’ was at last adopted; but it was only sanctioned by the Parliament at the express command of the King, and it was only collected with great difficulty, and sometimes by force of arms.2 From 1748 to 1758, discontent rose in Paris almost to the point of revolution. The popularity of the King had totally gone. He was sunk in the lowest and most degraded vice, almost indifferent to public affairs, and swayed to and fro by a succession of mistresses, and the extravagance of his Court was unchecked, while the finances of the country were all but ruined, and while Edition: orig; Page: [325] its industry was crushed by excessive and unequal taxation. The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 was extremely unpopular, for it terminated a costly war without obtaining for France a single advantage for the sacrifices she had made.

An attempt to put an end to the exemption from taxation which the clergy enjoyed, was resisted and failed, and the fanaticism of De Beaumont, who had been made Archbishop of Paris in 1746, fanned the Jansenist quarrel into a flame. He ordered his priests to refuse the Sacrament, even in the agony of death, to any one who could not show a ticket of confession, proving that he had accepted the Bull Unigenitus, and he also endeavoured to obtain a complete control over the hospitals of Paris. On both points he was resisted by the Parliament. Priests who had refused the Sacraments under these circumstances were prosecuted, imprisoned, or exiled. The Government interposed in their favour, and in several cases annulled their condemnation, and there were vehement recriminations between the Court and the Parliaments in which public opinion was unquestionably with the latter. Supported by the provincial Parliaments, the Parliament of Paris, in 1752, formally condemned the tickets of confession, forbade any ecclesiastics to refuse the Sacraments because those tickets were not produced, ordered its decree to be posted at the corners of every street in Paris, burnt a number of sermons and episcopal mandates, accused the Archbishop of Paris of ‘schismatic manœuvres,’ and of disobeying its orders, and even seized on his temporal possessions. The Government in February 1753 interposed by the form called a ‘main levée’ to prevent the confiscation, and ordered the Parliament, by letters patent, to abstain from any further action on the subject. The Parliament refused to register these letters, and declared its determination to resist. In the night of May 8 and 9, 1753, letters of ‘cachet’ were issued, and all the members of the Parliament of Paris, except those who formed the ‘grand chamber,’ were exiled, and ordered to leave Paris in twenty-four hours. The ‘grand chamber’ was the first of the seven chambers into which the Parliament of Paris was divided, and it was hoped that its members, as they consisted of the older magistrates, many of whom received pensions from the Court, would prove flexible. They declared, Edition: orig; Page: [326] however, that they shared the sentiments of their colleagues, and they were accordingly exiled to Pontoise, and afterwards to Soissons. The remonstrances drawn up by the Parliament against the invasion of the rights of the civil power by ecclesiastics, and of the rights of Parliament by the Court, were widely circulated, and exercised a great influence on opinion.

The provincial Parliaments supported the Parliament of Paris, and the conflict became continually more bitter. The University of Paris and a number of legal bodies sent deputations congratulating the magistrates on their firmness. Swarms of anonymous or pseudonymous pamphlets and lampoons assailed the Government and the clergy. Seditious placards appeared upon the walls. Immense assemblages attended the funerals of those who had been refused the Sacraments on their deathbeds. Riots broke out in many quarters and numerous arrests were made. A spirit of fierce persecution seemed to animate those in power. Refusals of the Sacraments greatly multiplied. There was a new and severe persecution of Protestants, and a greatly increased stringency in the censorship of the press. For eight nights after the disgrace of the Parliament of Paris, the streets were patrolled by cavalry, and the palace of the archbishop was protected by a large body of soldiers. It was at this time that D'Argenson wrote: ‘The loss of religion in France cannot be attributed to the English philosophy; which has only influenced about a hundred philosophers in Paris, but to the hatred of the priests, which has now risen to excess. The ministers of religion can scarcely show themselves in the streets without being hooted, and all this comes from the Bull Unigenitus and from the disgrace of the Parliament.’1 A royal court established to fulfil the functions of the Parliament had no weight or influence, and words were spoken which seemed to belong to the time of the Revolution. There were rumours that all the Parliaments united would demand the assembly of the States-General to represent authoritatively the whole nation. A bishop of Montauban in 1753, in a pastoral which was suppressed by the Parliament of Toulouse, recalled the history of the conflict between the English Parliament and Charles I., and insinuated that another Parliament Edition: orig; Page: [327] might be the means of conducting another king to the scaffold.1 The suppression of the Chatelet, the law court which fulfilled some of the suspended functions of the Parliament, was expected, and D'Argenson relates the prediction of a magistrate, with which he himself agreed, that in that case ‘the shops would at once be closed, barricades would be thrown up in the streets, and in this way the Revolution would begin.’2 ‘Everything,’ wrote that very acute observer in March 1754, ‘is preparing the way for civil war. … It is the priests who are everywhere pushing on these troubles and this disorder. The minds of men are turning to discontent and disobedience, and everything seems moving towards a great revolution, both in religion and government.’3 ‘The evil resulting from our absolute monarchical Government,’ he wrote on another occasion, ‘is persuading all France and all Europe, that it is the worst of Governments. … This opinion advances, rises, strengthens, and may lead to a national revolution;’4 and he predicted forty years before the Revolution actually broke out, that a great diminution of kingly power ‘and even republicanism’ was the probable issue in France.5

The journals of D'Argenson between 1740 and 1756 are full of such predictions, and they paint with a wonderful sagacity the signs of the times. ‘A philosophic wind of free and anti-monarchical government blows upon us—it is passing into the minds of men. … A revolution may be accomplished with less opposition than is supposed, … it may be made by acclamation. … All orders are at once discontented. Everything is combustible. A riot may pass into revolt, and a revolt into a complete Revolution.’ ‘The words “nation” and “State” were never heard so often as now. They were never pronounced under Lewis XIV. There was then no idea corresponding to them. … This comes to us from the Parliament and from the English.’ ‘Our opinions are much influenced by the neighbourhood of England, and opinion governs the world. Who can say whether in the future, despotism will increase or diminish in France? For my part, I look forward to the latter, Edition: orig; Page: [328] and even to republicanism. I have seen in my life the respect and love of the people for royalty diminish. Lewis XV. has not known how to govern either as a despot or as a good chief of a republic, and woe to the royal authority when neither course is taken.’ The Government is ‘an extravagant anarchy.’ ‘No firmness, no resolution, no decision of any kind. It is a weathercock blown on in turns by the courtiers who surround it.’ ‘Weakness and submission to ill-directed impulses injure society much more seriously than the most refined malice. This reign is a proof, for with these faults it has produced more evil than the much more tyrannical reigns that preceded it.’1

It will be observed that the whole conflict I have described was almost unconnected with the philosophical, freethinking, and literary movement to which the Revolution has been too largely attributed. It had risen to a great height by the middle of the century before Voltaire had made any serious attack on the Christian faith, before the publication of the ‘Encyclopædia,’ before any of the important writings of Rousseau, Diderot, D'Alembert, Helvétius, or Holbach. At the same time, as Voltaire had truly said, a spirit of inquiry and reasoning, unknown in the previous reign, had long been abroad, and it weakened the empire of authority and tradition. It was at the end of 1753 that Chesterfield wrote the well-known letter to his son, in which he enumerates the signs of catastrophe which he saw gathering in France—the King at once despised and hated, ‘jealous of the Parliaments who would support his authority, and a devoted bigot to the Church that would destroy it’—his ministers disunited and incapable—the people poor and discontented—the clergy and the Parliaments irreconcilable enemies. ‘The French nation,’ he continued, ‘reasons freely, which they never did before, upon matters of religion and government, and begins to be spregiudicati: the officers do so too: in short, all the symptoms which I have ever met with in history previous to great changes and revolutions in government, now exist and daily increase in France.’2

Madame de Pompadour perhaps saved the country from an Edition: orig; Page: [329] immediate rising, by inducing the King in the summer of 1754 once more to reverse his policy. Employing as a pretext the birth of the prince who was afterwards Lewis XVI., he suppressed the unpopular royal Court, recalled and reinstated the Parliament of Paris, and released the magistrates who had been imprisoned. There was for a time great exultation in Paris, and it was increased when the King, having vainly endeavoured to induce the bishops to abandon their war against Jansenism, and especially the tickets of confession, exiled the Archbishops of Paris and Aix and the Bishops of Orleans and Troyes. For a time, the policy of the Court seemed completely changed. The Parliaments were left free to prosecute and punish priests who refused the Sacraments to those who had not accepted the Papal Bull. The persecution of Protestants was arrested. The ‘Encyclopædia,’ which had been suppressed, was again allowed to appear, and the Parliament of Paris was once more in close alliance with the Court, and took no resolution without consulting the King. There seldom was a stranger example of that extreme vacillation, that instability of policy which was rapidly educating the French people into habits of insubordination and opposition, and it is also curious to observe even at this time the complete absence of moderation and measure which is now the characteristic defect of French political life. In countries where constitutional government really flourishes, political disputes are habitually settled by compromise, and in the way of bargain. In France all political life is modelled after war, and it is the main object of the victorious party to pursue its advantage to the utmost.

Some priests were condemned by the Parliament to perpetual banishment; some who refused to appear before it were, in their absence, condemned to the galleys; numerous writings against the Parliament were burnt; the sentences were placarded in the most conspicuous parts of Paris, and the Parliament even went so far as to issue a decree declaring that the Bull was not a rule of faith, and forbidding any ecclesiastic, ‘of whatever order, quality, or dignity he might be, to attribute to it this character.’ The decree was evidently directed against the bishops, and it was no less evidently an invasion of their rightful spiritual province. Public opinion, however, strongly supported Edition: orig; Page: [330] it, and the hatred of the priests, and especially of the Jesuits, was such that they could scarcely appear without insult in the streets. The Archbishop of Paris, availing himself of the September vacation of the Parliament in 1756, issued an instruction excommunicating all priests who administered the Sacrament in obedience to orders from a secular tribunal, all Catholics who asked for such orders, and all magistrates who granted them, and he announced that more than sixty bishops were ready to support him. The Chatelet, as the Parliament was not sitting, took up the matter, and the instruction of the Archbishop was publicly burnt, amid the applause of a great multitude. The Archbishop retaliated by threatening with excommunication all who read the sentence of the Chatelet. The Chatelet forbade anyone to print or circulate this ‘mandement’ under penalty of corporal punishment, and in the space of a fortnight condemned to the fire the pastorals of seven other bishops who had expressed their concurrence with the Archbishop.1

The Government, alarmed at the fury of the religious war which appeared daily increasing, privately appealed to Benedict XIV., who was at this time governing the Church with eminent wisdom and moderation. It was impossible, however, for a Pope to abandon or retract a Papal Bull, and with the best intentions Benedict only fanned the flame. He issued a brief, declaring the Bull Unigenitus to be a law of the Church which could not be repudiated without danger to salvation; but in order to avoid scandal, the French priests were directed to administer the Sacraments to suspected Jansenists ‘at their own risk and peril,’ and to refuse them only to ‘notorious’ Jansenists. The King sent this brief to the bishops with an order to conform to it, but the Parliament refused all conciliation and issued a decree suppressing the Papal brief.2

It was evident that the Parliament was obtaining an entirely new position and authority in the State, and it was equally evident that a very formidable public opinion had suddenly arisen. Discussions about the fundamental laws of the State might be heard even among the common people in the market-place, and the question whether France was a tempered Edition: orig; Page: [331] and representative monarchy, or an uncontrolled despotism, like Turkey, was eagerly debated. If the King possessed the power he had frequently exercised, of giving his edicts the force of law by means of ‘beds of justice,’ in spite of the remonstrances of the Parliament, France was in fact a pure despotism; but the opinion was now becoming almost universal, beyond the limits of the Court and of the clergy, that no edict had the force of law which had not been registered by the free consent of the magistrates. ‘The people,’ wrote D'Argenson, ‘are become great lovers of Parliaments. They see in them a remedy for the vexations they suffer on all sides. All this foreshadows some revolt that is already smouldering.’ ‘If it should become necessary to assemble the States-General, they would not assemble in vain.’ The Parliaments were spoken of as the ‘National Government,’ ‘the true Monarch of France,’ ‘the source of legitimate power.’1

The provincial Parliaments had also begun to act in close concert with the Parliament of Paris, and the doctrine had grown up that they were all only parts, or according to the received phrase ‘classes’ of a single organic whole, which, in the absence of the States-General, was the permanent and legitimate representative of the nation. The Parliaments themselves supported this claim, and it was evident that if admitted it would completely transform the government of the country.

Another consequence of this religious war was a portentously rapid spread of religious scepticism. Anyone who has any real knowledge of life will have perceived that great changes of opinion among large masses of men are almost always effected, not by direct argument, but by a change of predispositions and sympathies. When the tide of opinion flows strongly against a class, the minds of men will be prepared to question or reject what they teach. The great literary movement against Christianity was conducted with genius and perseverance; but it would never have had a wide and popular influence, if men had not been prepared to receive it. It was the hatred excited by arrogant, persecuting, and meddling priests; it was the wrangling that constantly took place at marriages and deathbeds; it was the perpetual interference of Edition: orig; Page: [332] Jesuits with the relations of domestic life, that had gradually opened the French mind. It was noticed at the Carnival of 1756 that the most popular figures were ignoble caricatures of ecclesiastics, monks, and nuns,1 and a swarm of writings were now circulated from hand to hand, assailing the very foundations of the Christian faith.

The Court, alarmed at the growing claims of the Parliaments, desirous of obtaining a voluntary contribution from the clergy for the Seven Years' War, which was just breaking out, and justly indignant at the treatment by the Parliament of the Papal Bull, which had been recommended to it, turned violently to the other side. In December 1756, the King went down with great ceremony to the Parliament, and having held a bed of justice, he authoritatively enjoined the reception of the Bull as a decree of the Church; curtailed the judicial functions of Parliament in ecclesiastical cases, and peremptorily declared that he would enforce his decision by the full weight of his authority. Menacing signs of popular indignation appeared; but there was no actual outbreak, and the attempt of Damiens on the life of the King turned for the moment the popular sentiment. The next few years present a confused and stormy picture of conflict and vacillation. Great numbers of the magistrates resigned their offices. The courts of justice were again interrupted. Seditious placards again appeared in the streets. Nearly every new tax required for the war produced a wrangle, and the Parliament of Besanĉon having distinguished itself by its opposition to an unpopular tax, four of its members were thrown into prison, and twenty-eight exiled. The Parliament of Paris now described arrests by letters of ‘cachet’ as ‘the irregular methods of absolute power,’ and as contrary to the ‘rights of the nation.’ It remonstrated again and again, in terms which excited the warm admiration of Burke,2 against the extravagance and complete absence of any real control, that prevailed in French finances. It openly questioned the authority of beds of justice to compel it to register decrees, to which it had not fully consented. It maintained in concurrence with the provincial Parliaments the doctrine of the Edition: orig; Page: [333] unity of all the Parliaments of the nation, and of the existence of fundamental laws which the Sovereign could not disregard. On the other hand, the Chancellor in the name of the King sternly blamed the remonstrances of the Parliament, and emphatically asserted that the whole sovereign power of the country resided in the King. The Archbishop was recalled from exile; but soon on new provocation was again exiled, and the same system of alternate severity and indulgence was pursued in dealing with the magistrates. Freethinking and seditious writers were fiercely pursued, and in this respect there was little difference between the opposing parties. Among other instances of petty persecution, an advocate was struck off the rolls, by order of the Parliament of Paris, for having written against the refusal of Christian burial to actors.1

One great concession, however, was made to public opinion. A series of recent scandals had strengthened the hostility to the Jesuits, which had now become one of the strongest passions of the French mind. All the Parliaments were united in hatred of them, and the immoral or seditious sentiments in their writings were abundantly exposed. Their books were now publicly burnt. Their houses were suppressed. Their schools were closed, and at last, in 1764, to the great delight of the nation the order was absolutely banished from the soil of France.

The royal power, however, seemed evidently sinking. The disasters of Rossbach, Crevelt, Minden, Belleisle and Quebec fell with crushing effects, and the Peace of 1763 was the most calamitous and humiliating in modern French history. It was more so even than the Peace of Utrecht, for then at least the original object of the war had been accomplished by the maintenance of a Bourbon prince on the Spanish throne. By claiming absolute authority the monarchy incurred and accepted undivided responsibility; and it had given France neither internal peace, nor financial prosperity, nor military glory, and had led her into a disastrous conflict with a great constitutional kingdom. The splendour with which the genius of the elder Pitt irradiated English Parliamentary life, the soundness of English finance, the magnificence of the English conquests, had all their Edition: orig; Page: [334] part in discrediting by contrast the form of government existing in France. It had of late years become very common to compare the two countries, and there was hardly more than one point in which the comparison could at this time fill a Frenchman with legitimate pride. French contemporary literature, indeed, was in influence and genius the first in the world, yet almost every French writer had been treated as a criminal, and almost every French book of importance had incurred the hostility of the Government.

The question of taxation again gave rise to serious conflicts. The war had ended, but a burden of overwhelming weight still continued. In May 1763, a bed of justice was held in which edicts, removing some taxes but imposing others, were registered by express royal command. The Parliament of Paris protested against these forced registrations as ‘tending to the subversion of the fundamental laws of the kingdom,’ and some of the provincial Parliaments positively refused to register the edicts until detailed accounts of the finances of the nation had been laid before them. ‘The magistrates,’ it was said, ‘were not called together to register the royal edicts in order to approve of them blindly,’ and they ordered their remonstrances to be printed and disseminated. The King on his side suppressed these remonstrances, and the commanders of the provinces were directed ‘manu militari’ to obtain the registration of the edicts. Numbers of magistrates were arrested. Some signed in the presence and under the intimidation of soldiers. Eighty members of the Parliament of Rouen resigned. The Parliament of Paris in a strong remonstrance supported the provincial Parliaments, described the conduct of the Government in imposing its edicts by force of arms as placing the French nation in the position of a humiliated and subjugated people, and declared that these attacks on a ‘sacred and inviolable magistracy’ must shake the stability of the throne, and teach the people that what was maintained by force might be overthrown by force. No edicts, the Parliament now boldly said, were lawfully obligatory which had not been ‘freely registered,’ not only by the Parliament of Paris, but by all the Parliaments in France. The Government, alarmed at the resistance it encountered, modified its edicts, announced to the Parliaments that Edition: orig; Page: [335] the King was willing of his clemency to pardon their rebellion, invited them to communicate their views about possible improvements in the management of the finances, and enjoined an absolute silence on all that had happened.1

If the Revolution had at this time broken out it would probably have excited but little surprise. In the ‘Emile’ of Rousseau, which was published in 1762, there occurs the remarkable prediction that ‘Europe was approaching a state of crisis and the age of revolutions,’ and that none of its great monarchies were likely to last long.2 In the summer of the following year Wilkes was in Paris, and in an interesting letter to Lord Temple he described the violence with which the Parliaments were treated, and added, ‘The most sensible men here think that this country is on the eve of a great revolution.’3 Burke, looking on the subject from another side, showed clearly in a pamphlet published in 1769 how financial disorders were preparing the way for a great convulsion that might affect not only France but all Europe.4 The clergy, indignant at the expulsion of the Jesuits, at the contempt with which two Papal Bulls in favour of that order were treated, and at the rapid increase of sceptical writings and opinions, held a General Assembly in 1765, in which they condemned the writings of Helvétius, Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau, and declared that ‘the spirit of the century seemed to threaten the State with a revolution, which was likely to result in a general ruin and destruction.’5

In the same assembly they once more asserted as against the Parliaments the entire independence of the ecclesiastical power in all things relating to God, and especially in the administration of the Sacraments, and declaring that the Bull Unigenitus was ‘a dogmatic judgment of the Universal Church,’ they pronounced that those who were refractory to it must, like other Edition: orig; Page: [336] public sinners, be publicly refused the Sacraments. The Parliament ordered this declaration to be suppressed, and a circular letter of the Archbishop of Rheims to be burnt. The King, on the petition of the bishops, cancelled this decree. The censured writings were assiduously circulated, together with pamphlets accusing the magistrates of ‘deliberately labouring to overthrow the throne and the altar,’ and petitions asking for the restoration of the Jesuits. At last in May 1766 an order of Council was published, ordering the observance of the Gallican maxims of 1682 fixing the bounds of the two powers, and it at the same time repeated the declaration of 1731 prescribing absolute silence on these questions.1

It was little more than a dead letter, and the contest between the Parliaments and the bishops continued with unabated virulence; but it no longer excited the same interest. The anti-Christian movement was now at its height, and the public had ceased to care about the Bull Unigenitus. The atrocious punishment of the Chevalier de la Barre, a young soldier of nineteen, who was condemned for blasphemy in 1766, tortured with horrible severity, and then beheaded, excited a deep-seated indignation, and innumerable writings were circulated advocating complete religious toleration, and attacking priests, monks, nuns, Christianity, and even Theism itself. Many who sold these writings were thrown into prison, and some were sent to the galleys; but it was plain that the anti-Christian literature represented the opinions, and met the demands, of the great body of the educated classes, and that crowds of administrators in all departments connived at or favoured its circulation. Atheism had penetrated into the monasteries, perhaps even into the episcopal palaces, and the sincere Catholics did nothing to make their religion respected. The faculty of theology selected this time to declare that religious intolerance was of the essence of Catholicism, and that it was the duty of princes to place their swords at the service of the faith.2 I have already mentioned the episcopal memorial of 1770, ‘on the evil consequences of liberty of thinking and printing.’3 What little devotion remained was of a very sickly character. A skull illuminated with tapers, and adorned with ribbons and pearls, Edition: orig; Page: [337] might at this time be commonly found in a devout lady's boudoir. It was called ‘La Belle Mignonne,’ and the devotee was accustomed to spend a portion of every day in prayer and meditation before it. The Queen was much addicted to this devotion, and the skull before which she prayed was said to be that of Ninon de l'Enclos.1

Nearly everything strong, masculine, and intellectual, was opposed to the Church, and the great favour which the chief sovereigns of Europe showed to the Encyclopædists reacted upon and elevated their position in France. Voltaire boasted with some truth, that their ideas were in the ascendant from St. Petersburg to Cadiz. How little the French Government itself, regarded papal anathemas, was shown by its conduct in 1768, when having quarrelled with the Pope, chiefly on a matter relating to Parma and Placentia, it seized upon the papal town and territory of Avignon, incorporated them for a time into the French monarchy, and refused to restore them till the end of 1773, when the Pope had at last yielded to the demand of France, Spain, and Naples, for the suppression of the Jesuits.2

The political questions at issue between the Parliaments and the Court were of a graver and more important character. Could the King impose taxes without the free consent of the Parliament? Could he legitimately, by a ‘bed of justice,’ compel the magistrates to register edicts of which they did not approve? Could he arrest, imprison, and exile them if they refused to obey? Had the Council of State, which was essentially the organ of the King, the power of annulling the decrees of the Parhament, and arresting the prosecutions which it ordered? What was the nature, and what were the relations, of the Parliaments? Were they merely a number of separate law courts, deriving all their force and authority from the Sovereign, or were they branches of one organic whole, of an institution which was one of the oldest parts of the French Government, and which had, by right, original and independent powers? Was the registration of the royal edicts, which was required before they obtained the force of law, a mere matter of form, Edition: orig; Page: [338] attestation, or verification, in which the magistrates acted the parts of witnesses or clerks, or did it mean that those edicts were to be submitted to their free judgments, and that they might be annulled by their veto? It is obvious that such questions touched the very foundations of French government, and they were not likely to be settled by archæological, historical, or juridical arguments, but by the pressure either of opinion or of force. If, as appeared at one time probable, the Parliaments established the position for which they contended, the French monarchy would at once cease to be a despotism. The Government would not be in the English sense representative; but it would have some affinity to the Government of Venice. The authority of the King would be tempered and controlled by a powerful and independent magistracy, partly concentrated in the metropolis, partly diffused through, and in some sense representing, the different provinces. If, on the other hand, the claims of the Parliaments were overthrown, the Government of France was essentially a pure autocracy.

The question was now brought clearly to an issue. ‘If they succeed,’ writes Barbier, ‘in diminishing the authority and the pretended rights of Parliament, there will no longer be any obstacle to a solid despotism. If, on the other hand, the Parliaments unite to resist by strong measures, this can only be followed by a general revolution in the State.’1 In March 1766, the Parliament of Paris having issued a decree protesting against the arrest and trial of some members of the Parliament of Brittany, the King appeared in person in the Parliament, and ordered the decree to be expunged from their records. He informed the magistrates that this affair in no way concerned them. He accused them of disregarding the fundamental rights of the Crown in pretending that they formed with the other Parliaments of the kingdom an indivisible body which was the representative of the nation and participated with the monarch in making the laws; and he proceeded in the most emphatic and explicit terms to affirm that the monarchy of France was an absolute and unlimited despotism. ‘It is in my person alone,’ he said, ‘that the sovereign power resides. It is from me alone that my Courts derive their existence and their Edition: orig; Page: [339] authority; it is to me alone that the legislative power belongs without dependence and without division; the whole public order emanates from me;’ and he concluded by threatening that if the Parliament continued the scandal of opposing his will, he would find himself obliged to employ the power he had received from God, to preserve his people from the fatal consequences of such attempts.1

It would be impossible to speak more plainly. In the face of the intense intellectual and political life that was now agitating the nation, in a country which boasted that it was at the head of civilisation, and addressing a great judicial body which was said to be as ancient as the monarchy itself, the King of France claimed a power which was essentially that of an Oriental despot. And the sovereign who used this language was not a Cæsar, a Frederick, or a Napoleon. He was contemptible in his abilities, sunk in sloth and in degrading vice, and he spoke not in the moment of victory or of brilliant prosperity, but at a time when his country was reduced by bad government to the verge of bankruptcy, and still lay under the shadow of a disastrous war and of an ignominious peace. Yet this language represented real power, and it was only the precursor of corresponding action. A few more years of altercations, remonstrances, resignations, imprisonments, exiles, and vacillations ensued, but at last the blow was struck. The occasion was the trial of the Duke of Aiguillon, who, having been accused of gross abuses in the government of Brittany, had asked for a trial before the Court of Peers, and had accordingly by the King's orders been arraigned before the Parliament of Paris. The trial began in April 1770. When it had proceeded in its regular course for rather more than two months, the King intervened, annulled the proceedings by letters patent, and declared the Duke exonerated from every charge. The Parliament retaliated by declaring that the Duke rested under grave suspicion, and forbidding him to exercise any of the functions of the peerage, till he was formally acquitted. The King at once annulled the sentence, and going down to the Parliament he carried away the registers of the trial.

Edition: orig; Page: [340]

The period of vacation followed, and soon the provincial Parliaments rallied round the Parliament of Paris and pronounced these proceedings a gross infringement of parliamentary rights. But the Chancellor Maupeou, who now guided the counsels of the King, was prepared to carry the strife to extremities. On December 7 a new bed of justice was held, and the Chancellor read to the Parliament a royal edict, in which the King declared that ‘he held his crown from God alone, that to him alone, without dependence or partition, belonged the legislative power, that the custom of making representations to him must not be converted by the magistrates into a right of resistance, that these representations had their limits, and that they could place none to his authority.’ He accused the magistrates of systematic opposition to the royal will and to his prerogative, and he peremptorily forbade the Parliaments of France by the use of the terms ‘unity,’ ‘indivisibility,’ and ‘classes’ to describe themselves as a single body. He declared this doctrine seditious. He forbade all correspondence between the Parliaments of the kingdom, all joint resignations and all delays in registering the royal edicts, and he threatened, if these offences were committed, that the guilty magistrates should be deprived of their offices and punished as rebels. After vain though angry remonstrances, this edict was transcribed in the registers.

The magistrates, insulted and branded before the country, had but one last remedy—that of refusing to perform their judicial functions. Four times the King ordered them to resume these functions, and four times they refused unless they received a pledge that the laws of France would be maintained, and the late edict revoked. The struggle was ended by a coup d'état. On the night of January 20, 1771, soldiers appeared by the bedside of every magistrate, demanding their signature to a paper stating whether or not they would resume their functions. A few, terror-stricken at the thought of imprisonment and exile, at first yielded, but afterwards recanted, while the great majority refused. A royal decree was then issued from the Council, exiling the magistrates, confiscating their offices, declaring them and their children incapable of filling any judicial post. The Parliament of Paris was absolutely suppressed, Edition: orig; Page: [341] and six new courts of justice appointed by the King were created in its place. The ‘Cour des Aides,’ which refused to recognise the new authority, was suppressed. Its magistrates were driven by soldiers from the bench, and their President Malesherbes—the same who in after years so nobly distinguished himself by his defence of Lewis XVI.—was exiled. The Chatelet was reorganised and made completely subservient to the Crown, and at the end of the year the work was completed by the suppression of the provincial Parliaments. One great act of the contest that led to the Revolution was thus terminated, and the royal authority remained triumphant, and absolute in France.

As might have been expected, public opinion was excited by these events. Large bodies of troops were assembled in the capital, and the new authorities put under strong military protection. Innumerable seditious placards and other writings appeared. Most of the subordinate courts of justice protested. The Cour des Aides and the Parliament of Rouen distinguished themselves by demanding a convocation of the States-General to decide the question at issue between the King and the magistracy. With a single exception, the princes of the blood were opposed to the policy of the King, and six of them headed by the Duke of Orleans, and followed by thirteen peers of France, drew up a protest against the recent violence, declaring that ‘it had ever been the right of the princes and peers of France to be judged only by the first and indestructible Corporation of the nation, and by judges who were by right immovable.’ Placards and anonymous letters urged the Duke of Orleans to put himself at the head of a Revolution, and it was the opinion of a well-informed contemporary observer,1 that if at this time a leader had been found, a most formidable rebellion might have broken out.2 Mlle de Genest, who was afterwards Mme de Campan, had become reader at the Court in 1767, and she tells us that twenty years before 1789 it had become a common subject of discourse, that the institutions of the ancient monarchy were falling into ruin, and that the Edition: orig; Page: [342] century would not close without some great revolution in France.1

The fact, however, remains that this great change, which swept away the last semblance of constitutional opposition and control in France, was effected by royal authority without the effusion of a drop of blood. It made a deep impression both in France and in other countries; from this time the predictions of revolution, which during the preceding years had been so frequent, almost absolutely ceased, and they did not again acquire any importance till the convocation of the Notables in 1787. On both sides of the Channel it had long been the custom to contrast the loyalty or servility of the French to their sovereign with the insubordination and jealousy of the English,2 and the destruction, without a serious effort of resistance, of an institution which had existed for many centuries, and which alone distinguished the French Government from pure despotism, appeared to contemporary observers to show that no real opposition to royal authority was possible in France. To foreigners, indeed, who could not follow the minor currents of passion and opinion, the submission seemed even greater than it was. The Edition: orig; Page: [343] account of the event in the ‘Annual Register’ is peculiarly interesting, as it is almost certainly from the pen of Burke. ‘The noble efforts,’ he writes, ‘of that faithful repository of the laws, and remembrancer of the ancient rights of the people, the Parliament of Paris, in the cause of liberty and mankind, have fatally terminated in its own final destruction. … That ancient spirit from which the Franks derive their name, though still gloriously alive in the breasts of a few, no longer exists in the bulk of the people. Long dazzled with the splendour of a magnificent and voluptuous Court, with the glare of a vast military power, and with the glory of some great monarchs, they cannot now, in the grave light of the shade, behold things in their natural state; nor can those who have been long used to submit without inquiry to every act of power … suddenly acquire that strength and tenor of mind which is alone capable of forming great resolutions and of undertaking arduous and dangerous tasks. Thus has this great revolution in the history and government of France taken place without the smallest commotion, or without the opposition that in other periods would have attended an infraction of the heritable jurisdiction of a petty vassal.’1

The public feeling on the question was stronger than Burke imagined, but the Parliament had powerful enemies. The courtiers and the priests detested it, while, on the other hand, Voltaire, separating himself on this occasion from what was undoubtedly the popular opinion, warmly and repeatedly expressed his approval of the act of the Government. In his eyes any political merits the Parliaments might possess were much more than counteracted by the hostility they had shown to toleration and to reform. As late as 1762 a young Protestant minister named Rochette had by order of the Parliament of Toulouse been hung in his shirt, with head and feet naked, ‘for having performed the functions of a minister of the so-called reformed Church,’ and it was the same Parliament which had been guilty of the atrocious judicial murder of Calas. The Edition: orig; Page: [344] Parliament of Paris had borne a leading part in the earlier persecutions of the Huguenots; it had instituted an annual procession in honour of the massacre of St. Bartholomew; it had steadily persecuted the party of freethinkers and burnt their books; it had come forward conspicuously in condemning loans upon interest, and in opposing the practice of inoculation and it was responsible for the recent disgraceful sentences against La Barre and against Lally.1 The abolition of the venality of judicial posts, which Voltaire had long desired, was decreed when the Parliament was abolished, and the multiplication of courts of justice was considered a real reform.

One of the most important results of the suppression of the Parliaments was that the opposition to the Court fell almost exclusively into the hands of men of letters, who had no practical experience in the conduct of affairs. Political writings immensely multiplied, and political speculation acquired a greatly increased importance. The events which have been hitherto recorded belong strictly to French history, but political doctrines at this time acquired an ascendency in France which speedily influenced surrounding countries, and was nowhere felt more powerfully than in England. Voltaire was now a very old man, and, though still in the zenith of his fame, his influence had greatly declined. He was looked upon as belonging to a bygone generation, and both religious and political thought had taken forms with which he had no sympathy. Believing that natural religion was not only true, but indispensably necessary to the well-being of society, he detested the aggressive atheism which had arisen, and on one occasion when Condorcet and D'Alembert expressed such opinions at a supper party, Voltaire ordered his servants to leave the room, saying that he did not choose them to hear such doctrines, as he had no desire to be robbed or murdered. On the other hand, he had a complete contempt both for speculative and democratic politics. His aim, as he once said, was not to make a revolution like that of Luther or Calvin, but to enlighten the minds of the rulers of men. He totally disbelieved in popular political judgments, and emphatically denied to his own countrymen, and especially to the Edition: orig; Page: [345] Parisians, the qualities of wisdom and sobriety that are necessary for self-government. But a new star had now arisen in the sphere of political thought. The diseased but splendid genius of Rousseau was acquiring that complete ascendency which it retained undiminished for many years. His wonderful eloquence, in which passion and reason were so finely blended, appealed with a transcendent force to the imaginations and the feelings of his contemporaries; and if Voltaire continued to be the favourite of good society, of the critic, the literary epicurean, and the sceptic, Rousseau had an immeasurably stronger influence over a far larger section of the French people.1

It is a well-known saying of Napoleon, that if Rousseau had never lived, there would have been no French Revolution; and in spite of its manifest exaggeration there is a sense in which this saying is not without plausibility. That which distinguishes the French Revolution from other political movements is that it was directed by men who had adopted certain speculative, à priori conceptions of political right, with the fanaticism and proselytising fervour of a religious belief, and the Bible of their creed was the ‘Contrat Social’ of Rousseau.

The doctrine of the social contract was, indeed, far from new. It had been fully and ably expounded by Locke, and it may be found before Locke in the writings of Hooker, of the Jesuits, and of St. Thomas Aquinas. Society, according to the English Whig doctrine of the Revolution, was originally formed for the protection of the lives and properties of those who composed it, and who would otherwise have been perpetually at the mercy of the strongest. Its first object is that every man should be enabled to live in peace and security as long as he does not molest his neighbour, and to enjoy without disturbance the property which he has honestly acquired either by his own industry or by the favour of others. To attain these ends it is necessary for men to agree upon certain settled laws which are to be the standard of right and wrong in the community, the common measure deciding their controversies. It is also necessary to create an organisation which can execute and enforce these Edition: orig; Page: [346] laws, and punish those who infringe them. This cannot be done without expense, and as the object is one of common interest, it must be supported by common contributions. Everyone who enjoys a share of the protection, should pay his proportion out of his estate, and this should be as far as possible levied by his own consent. Unanimous consent, indeed, is practically impossible, but the consent of the majority by themselves or their deputies should be obtained. There is, however, such a thing as the consent of acquiescence, and there is such a thing as virtual representation, and all that is really necessary is that the acts of the Government should tend to the benefit, and express the wishes, of the whole community. The true theory of taxation is that society is a great joint-stock company in which all have shares, some more and some less, and it is right that all should be taxed at the same rate, and that each should pay in proportion to the number of his shares.1 The community has many and complex relations to external bodies, and it is found that in addition to the protection of life and property, there are within the country itself many ends useful to the whole body, which can be better accomplished by the machinery of government than by any other means, and in this manner the action of government is gradually extended. But the protection of property and the pursuance of common interests by common consent lie at the basis of the whole conception of the State, and no measures which are inconsistent with these primary ends of government can be obligatory.

Such, in a very few lines, was the substance of that Whig philosophy which was elaborated, chiefly by Locke, in opposition to the Tory theory of the Divine right of kings, and which generally prevailed in England during the eighteenth century. It is open to considerable criticism both from an historical and from a logical point of view, and no Government has ever strictly acted up to its requirements; but on the whole it furnishes an excellent working theory for free governments, a general criterion by which their aims and principles may be tested. It is altogether inconsistent with absolute monarchy; it establishes, as far as a doctrine can, the indefeasible right of every man to his own property, subject to the obligation of contributing his Edition: orig; Page: [347] proportion to the expenses of its protection and to the other common interests of society, and it guards against the general and most subtle vice of all governments, the subordination of the common interests to the interests of a class. At the same time, as Burke was never weary of urging, speculation has had only a slight part in directing the course of English politics. There have been fundamental laws, old traditional customs and understandings, numerous institutions representing with more or less fidelity the different interests, classes, and opinions in the country, and determining by their balance the preponderance of political power and the tendencies of political development. It is when one power has unduly encroached upon the others, when old laws or traditional observances are strained or violated, when a conflict arises between the public opinion of the nation and some of its institutions, when classes or interests or opinions have grown up which find no adequate recognition in the old framework of the Government, when in a word some practical grievance or uneasiness has disclosed itself, that changes are usually effected. And these changes have been commonly enlargements or modifications of existing institutions, made by practical politicians in obedience to the strong pressure of opinion, with very little regard to symmetry, logic, or consistency, but with the object of remedying particular grievances or satisfying particular wants. Speculative writers have afterwards defended them on general principles, but these have been to a great extent afterthoughts.

In France, however, the course of events was entirely different. Absolute monarchy having destroyed almost every organisation that could become a centre of opposition, and having prevented the growth of a school of practical and experienced reformers, politics came to be treated like a problem of geometry or ethics, to be worked out on general principles, with a complete disregard to the traditions and special circumstances of the nation. In Rousseau, the French found one of the most eloquent and seductive political writers who have ever lived, and he furnished the archetype or pattern on which the revolutionary school endeavoured to build. The ‘Contrat Social’ ranks with the ‘Wealth of Nations’ as one of the two political works of the eighteenth century which have had the Edition: orig; Page: [348] greatest practical influence upon public affairs; but while the influence of Adam Smith has been almost entirely for good, the political influence of Rousseau appears to me to have been almost wholly evil.

The first great characteristic of the theory of Rousseau, is the distinction which he draws between sovereignty and government. Sovereignty in every country resides in the whole mass of the population, and no government is morally legitimate, which does not rest upon a decision in which the whole nation takes part. The sovereign power is compelled, by the nature of things, to construct governments for the purpose of carrying on its affairs; but its sovereignty can never be fully or even partially alienated. It is absolutely inalienable. Neither conquest nor any kind of compact can affect it, and governments subsist only as its agents.

The inferences drawn from this proposition are as much opposed to the English notions of constitutional government, as they are to absolute monarchy. In the first place, the English theory of representative government is wholly erroneous. ‘The sovereignty cannot be represented, for the same reason that it cannot be alienated, because it consists essentially in the general will. The deputies of the people are not, and cannot be, its representatives; they are only its agents. They can conclude nothing definitely. Every law is null, which the people have not directly ratified. It wants the true character of a law. The English people imagines itself free; but it is wholly mistaken. It is free only during the election of its members of Parliament. Once they are elected, it is a slave. The idea of representatives is modern; it comes to us from the feudal government, from that iniquitous and absurd government which degraded the human species.’1

This doctrine has a manifest affinity to that which we have already traced among the Radicals of the school of Horne Tooke and Sawbridge, who maintained that members of Parliament were simply delegates, that their constituents should furnish them with binding instructions, and had a right to dictate authoritatively their conduct on every question that arose. No English Radical, however, had asserted that every law was Edition: orig; Page: [349] invalid, which had not been directly ratified by a popular vote.

A very important doctrine of the English Constitution is that the Sovereign, or supreme magistrate of the State, like all other magistrates, is invested with a political power which is at once guaranteed, defined, and limited by contract. In opposition to the theory of the Divine right of kings, the statesmen of the English Revolution placed the royal power in England in the hands of a dynasty, which received by parhamentary authority hereditary right to rule, subject to clearly defined conditions. Certain fundamental obligations were laid down by law, and the Sovereign swore that he would fulfil them. If he broke his compact with his subjects, they in their turn were released from their allegiance. As it was possible that a sovereign without breaking any fundamental law might desire to act in a way very injurious to the State, his power was so limited by the two Houses of Parliament, that his political action, if contrary to the national will, is speedily checked by obstacles which cannot be constitutionally surmounted. If, however, the Sovereign fulfilled the conditions of his trust, he reigned by a full and perfect right; it was made a crime of the first magnitude to impugn his authority, and in this manner the society, while guarding its own freedom, maintained the dignity of its ruler, and secured for itself the incalculable advantage of stability and continuity in the government.

In opposition to this doctrine, Rousseau maintained that there can be no contract whatever between the sovereign nation and its rulers or magistrates; that such a contract, though it may be expressed in words, embodied in oaths, and enrolled in the Statute-book, is absolutely null. ‘The sovereign authority can be no more modified than alienated. To limit it is to destroy it. There can only be one contract in the State, the original contract of association, and this alone excludes all others.’ From the highest to the lowest, every functionary of the Government depends upon the immediate will of people, is bound absolutely to obey them, and may at any time be arbitrarily dismissed. Such a course may not be expedient; but it is always legitimate. ‘If the people institutes hereditary government, either monarchical in a family, or aristocratical in Edition: orig; Page: [350] an order of citizens, this is not an engagement which it takes. It is a provisional form which it gives to the Administration, until it pleases it to ordain otherwise.’1

Voltaire, commenting on these passages, described them with great truth as nothing less than ‘a code of anarchy,’2 and Burke has devoted some admirable pages to exposing their fallacies and their dangers. ‘By this unprincipled facility,’ he wrote, ‘in changing the State as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies and fashions, the whole chain of continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.’3

A few more extracts will complete our view of this side of the teaching of Rousseau. In the first place, every member of the community has a natural and inalienable right to vote in every act of sovereignty, and as all laws are acts of sovereignty, those only are valid which have been directly sanctioned by universal suffrage, the majority binding the minority.4 ‘The moment the Government usurps the sovereignty, the social compact is broken, and all the simple citizens regaining by right their natural liberty are forced, but not morally obliged, to obey.5 Whenever the people are lawfully assembled in a sovereign body, all the jurisdiction of Government ceases, and the executive power is suspended.’6

It will be evident to anyone who has grasped the full meaning of these doctrines, that they would invalidate the legislation and the authority of every Government in Europe, with perhaps the exception of those small Swiss cantons, where the whole people assemble to make their laws; and it is also evident that they would make all settled government impossible, and all authority precarious, and would multiply incalculably the opportunities and temptations of change. This was one aspect of the teaching of Rousseau. But if his doctrines led on the one side to utter anarchy, they led on the other, not less clearly, to the most grinding tyranny. For the first condition of the social compact is, ‘the total alienation of each associate, with all his Edition: orig; Page: [351] rights, to the whole community.’ ‘As nature gives each man absolute power over his own limbs, so the social contract gives the body politic absolute power over its members,’ and makes it ‘the master of all their possessions.’ ‘The right of each individual to his own property is always subordinated to the right of the community to the whole.’1

The most efficient check which has been discovered in a free country against the tyranny, either of individuals or of majorities, is found in a strong representation of classes and interests. Montesquieu had especially insisted upon the importance of checks of this kind. Rousseau utterly repudiated them. The unity, the indivisibility, the homogeneity of the sovereign power is one of his favourite tenets. The existence of any separate orders or interests in the community, any division, restriction, or balance of power, he emphatically rejects. The absolute equality of all members of the body politic is one of his great doctrines. The absolute authority of the body politic, as expressed by universal suffrage, over its members is another.

I have already mentioned the religious policy which he deduced from these principles—the civil religion which he desired to impose, on pain of banishment or death, on every member of the community, the proposed expulsion from the State of all who held the doctrine of exclusive salvation. Opinions in as far as they relate exclusively to another world are, he admits, beyond the competence of the legislator; but whenever they appear likely to affect the conduct of men as members of the State, they should be brought under civil control. ‘Whenever the clergy form a distinct body, that body is master and legislator in their country. There are, therefore, two powers, two sovereigns in England and in Russia, as elsewhere. Of all Christian writers, the philosopher Hobbes alone saw rightly the evil and the remedy, when he dared to propose to unite the two heads of the eagle, and bring everything back to that political unity, without which no State or Government will ever be well constituted.’2

On the subject of education, his views are very similar. The father should be wholly lost in the citizen. It is for the State Edition: orig; Page: [352] to prescribe the form and substance of education, and even the amusements of the young, and, as in the Republic of Plato, to mould their minds systematically to its ends.1

Such sentiments fell in perfectly with the prevailing tendencies of French thought. It is not necessary here to enter into any discussion of the theory, which attributes to the Latin as distinguished from the Teutonic race a special tendency towards centralisation and unity. It is at least abundantly evident why such a tendency should have prevailed in France, and prevailed in it to a much greater degree than in the other Latin nations. Italy had been for many centuries divided into separate principalities differing widely in their character and government, and it contained several cities which were so illustrious from their art, history, commerce, or literature, that even the supreme majesty of Rome was unable to reduce them to moral insignificance. The provinces of Spain differed profoundly in their histories, characters, and institutions, and in Spain a large measure of local and provincial self-government had survived the loss of political freedom. But France was a highly centralised despotism, and Paris had no rival or counterpoise in its attractive influence. France, too, was a great military monarchy. The habits and ideals of military life coloured the whole thought of the nation, and the lines of national character were still further deepened by the unifying, organising, and intensely intolerant spirit of the Catholic Church. The result of this combination of influences has been, that the French political ideal has remained substantially unaltered amid the most violent changes of Government. Alike under the despotism of Lewis XIV and under the despotism of the Convention, it has been the great object of French statesmen to attain a complete unity of type; to expel or subdue all interests, elements, and influences, that do not assimilate with the prevailing spirit of the Government; to mould in a single die, to concentrate on a single end, all the forces of the nation.

The English political ideal has been essentially different. ‘I know but one policy,’ said one of the writers of the time of the English Revolution, ‘whereby to establish any Government, Edition: orig; Page: [353] of what sort soever it be, which is to take away all causes of complaint, and make all the subjects easy under it, for then the Government will have the whole strength of the people in its defence, whenever it shall want it.’1 English statesmen have commonly aimed at a Government, in which different interests, opinions, and classes, may expand as much as possible unmolested, and without friction or restraint, and in which the hand of authority is felt as lightly, and as rarely, as possible. They have believed that the largest sum of human happiness and useful performance, the highest level of self-reliance, the broadest foundations of stability and content, are likely to be attained, when each member of the community is given the fullest latitude and opportunity of pursuing the course which seems to him most fit, of gratifying as far as possible his tastes and idiosyncrasies, and even his weaknesses and prejudices, as long as he does not injure his neighbour. The virtue of the English Government has lain much less in the concentration of the national power, and the expulsion of hostile or heterogeneous elements, than in the strengthening by freedom of the spontaneous energies of the nation; in a diffused sense of security and comfort, and in the attachment to the Government which it produces.

As a consequence of this theory, there has been very little symmetry, or unity of plan, in English government. When competing interests or principles cannot both be fully satisfied, they are appeased by illogical but practical compromise. Many different types of institution directed to the same ends exist simultaneously. The main principles of measures are qualified. Schemes of policy are deflected now in this direction, now in that, to satisfy as far as possible eccentric forms of opinion, and while the general scope of a measure is governed by the wish of the majority, particular provisions are nearly always introduced to disarm the hostility, and satisfy the desires, of minorities.

The practical effects, however, of this characteristic of English politics have been greatly qualified by another influence, which like the foregoing is wholly foreign to the general tenor of the philosophy of Rousseau. It is the strong conservative Edition: orig; Page: [354] instinct, which in England endeavours to preserve a continuity of national life, by governing mainly under the forms, and through the institutions, of the past. Never to destroy an institution which works well; to keep up institutions if they discharge efficiently secondary uses even though their original and primary uses have become wholly obsolete; to remove abuses, and introduce changes according to immediate necessities, and not according to any settled plan, have been among the most permanent maxims of English politics. And the result has been the maintenance of an immense heritage of the past, which, though it does not any longer act in the way of restriction, does undoubtedly act in the way of bias and privilege. Opinions and modes of life may all develop themselves; but they do not develop on the same plane, and with equal advantages. The restraining hand of authority is little felt; but the ecclesiastical and aristocratical institutions of the past, with their vast ramifications, their multifarious social, educational, political, and economical influences, form deep grooves or channels, and in a very large measure determine the current of English life.

The destruction of the controlling influence of aristocracies, and of all local bodies, had produced upon the Continent a steadily increasing concentration of political authority; and exaggerations of the powers and functions of government scarcely less extreme than those of Rousseau may be found in the writings of Bossuet, and of the chief lawyers of the monarchy. In the case of Rousseau, however, this exaggeration was largely due to his adoption of the old Greek doctrine that the sphere of government is co-extensive with that of moral education,1 and especially to his admiration for the institutions of Lycurgus at Sparta, and of Calvin at Geneva. Its evil effects were greatly Edition: orig; Page: [355] increased by his persuasion that man is born good; that all his vices, and nearly all his calamities, are the result of external circumstances; that government is principally responsible for them, and that it may be made the instrument of raising him to almost ideal happiness. At the same time, though the political theory of the ‘Contrat Social’ was plain, logical, and consistent, and was accepted by great multitudes of Frenchmen in its broad and obvious signification, Rousseau himself recoiled from many of the conclusions that were drawn from it, and he tried, sometimes with much inconsistency, to evade or attenuate them. His book, he said, was simply an abstract or ideal theory of politics. His principles were exactly the same as those of Locke. His model was substantially the aristocratic republic of Geneva.1 He had drawn an ideal picture of a free nation; but he acknowledged that he did not see how the sovereign people could preserve its rights except in a very small state, in which all the citizens could assemble to legislate.2 In his ‘Considerations on the Government of Poland,’ he admitted the validity of legislation by representatives, provided they were controlled by imperative mandates.3 While maintaining under all forms of government the inalienable sovereignty of the nation, his sympathies were not with the democratic form. ‘A democratic government,’ he says, ‘is suitable for small, an aristocratic government for moderate, a monarchical government for great states.’ ‘A democratic or popular government is more subject than any other to civil wars and internal agitations, for there is no other government which tends so strongly and so constantly to change its form, and which requires more vigilance and courage to maintain.’ ‘If there were a people of gods, they would govern themselves as a democracy. So perfect a form of government is not suited for men.’ ‘It is contrary to the order of nature, that the many should govern, and the few be governed.’ ‘The best and most natural order is, that the wise should govern the multitude, provided one is sure that they govern it for the profit of the multitude, and not for their own.’4 ‘Government Edition: orig; Page: [356] belongs to the small number, the superintendence of government to the people at large.’ ‘There is no freedom where anyone is above the law; but a people is free, whatever may be the form of its government, when it recognises in the ruler, not the man, but the organ of the law.’1 In one of his letters he says that ‘the two main principles of government established in the “Contrat Social” are, that the sovereignty always belongs legitimately to the people, and that aristocratic government is the best.’2

He shows also in many places a great desire to qualify his very dangerous doctrine of the omnipotence of the sovereign people. The people, he says, must always act by law; and what is a law? ‘It is a public and solemn declaration of the general will on an object of common interest. I say on an object of common interest, for the law would lose its force and cease to be legitimate if the object was not of importance to all.’3 He imagined that he could guard against the dangers of a tyranny of majorities by extinguishing separate interests in politics, and arbitrarily restricting to purely common interests the sphere of the power which he had made omnipotent. ‘All that each man alienates by the social compact of his power, his goods, and his liberty, is the portion of which the use is required by the community;’ ‘but,’ he adds, ‘it must be acknowledged that the Sovereign alone is the judge of this requirement.’ When, however, the people of Athens decreed penalties or honours to particular individuals, it acted not as a sovereign, but as a magistrate. ‘By the nature of the social compact every act of sovereignty, that is, every authentic act of the general will, binds or favours equally all the citizens, so that the Sovereign knows only the body of the nation, and does not distinguish any of those who compose it. … The act of sovereignty is not a convention of a superior with an inferior, but a convention of the body with each of its members. It is legitimate, because it is based on the social compact; equitable, because it is common to all; useful, because it can have no other object than the general Edition: orig; Page: [357] good. … It cannot pass the boundaries of general conventions, and every man can freely possess the goods and the liberty which these conventions have left him; so that the Sovereign has never a right to burden one subject more than another, for then the affair becomes individual, and his power is no longer competent.’1

In his article on political economy in the ‘Encyclopædia," following exactly in the steps of Locke, he says that ‘the foundation of the social compact is property, and that its first condition is that every individual should be protected in the peaceful enjoyment of that which belongs to him.’ ‘The right of property’ he describes as ‘the most sacred of all rights of citizens, in some respects even more important than liberty itself.’ Taxation can only be legitimately imposed by the common will of the people, or by their representatives; and while he claims for the Government a great power of regulating successions, he examines the principles on which taxation should be imposed with a skill and equity that leave little to be desired. As a general principle, he maintains that taxation should be exactly proportioned to property, so that a man who possesses ten times as much as his neighbour should pay ten times more than him. But this principle should be modified by another—that there is a broad distinction between the necessaries and the superfluities of life, and that he who possesses only what is strictly necessary should pay nothing.

On the great question, however, whether the right of property existed antecedently to civil society, whether it was created or merely sanctioned and protected by the social contract, he shows some vacillation. In his early ‘Discourse on Inequality,’ copying very closely a well-known passage of Pascal, he speaks of the first man who enclosed a piece of land, and said ‘this is mine,’ as an impostor and usurper who founded civil society and thereby brought countless calamities upon mankind; but in the very same discourse he shows with much justice how the necessity of cultivating the soil necessarily led to private property in land. In one passage in his ‘Social Contract,’ he describes this contract as ‘that which changes usurpation into right,’ but in many other passages he acknowledges Edition: orig; Page: [358] fully a right of property anterior to the social compact, but contends that by that compact this right is under certain conditions surrendered to the community, and tries to show that these conditions were such as to preclude the danger of inequitable taxation and of partial confiscation. ‘If it is on the right of property,’ he says, ‘that the sovereign authority is founded, this right is that which ought to be most respected. It is inviolable and sacred so long as it remains a particular and individual right. As soon as it is considered as common to all the citizens, it is submitted to the general will, and that will can annihilate it. So the Sovereign has no right to touch the goods of one or of many, but may legitimately take the goods of all, as was done in Sparta in the time of Lycurgus. The abolition of debts by Solon was an illegitimate act.’1

The real difficulties of a system which invests a mere numerical majority with absolute power, Rousseau never faced. He states that the protection of property is a primary end of government, but realised property to any considerable extent is necessarily mainly in the hands of a few; and if an overwhelming preponderance of unlimited and uncontrolled voting and taxing power is given to those who do not possess it, is it likely that this power will not be abused? Where irresistible power is given, and where interest or passion impel, it is idle to trust to the cobweb barriers of metaphysical or ethical distinctions. The assertion of Rousseau that ‘the condition being equal for all, no one is interested in making it burdensome to the others,’ fails almost ludicrously to represent the real facts of the case. Whether legislators like it or not, there must always be diversities and antagonisms of interests, orders, and classes; there must always be envy, jealousy, covetousness, and hatred in the State, and the supreme end of statesmanship is to give security to every interest and class. This can only be done by giving to each some share, and not too large a share, of political power. Uncontrolled power is always abused, and a class may be as effectually reduced to impotence by being swamped as by being disfranchised. Is it probable, too, that adequate skill can be found in the legislators when no special competence is exacted Edition: orig; Page: [359] from the electors who choose them? It is the inexorable law of nature, established by all the competitions of life, that sound judgment and capacity belong to the few and not to the many, and that without judgment and capacity, human affairs can never be successfully conducted. The government of a great empire, with its infinitely various and intricate characters, relations, circumstances, and wants, is one of the most difficult as well as one of the most important duties that can be imposed upon man. The qualities of mind and character it requires are so numerous, the chances of error are so great, the consequences of political miscalculation are so terrible and so enduring, that the greatest intellect might well shrink from the task; and there is no other sphere in which superficial appearances are more often at variance with realities, or in which the distorting influence of passion is more frequently or more powerfully felt. Is it likely, is it conceivable, that the best and final form of human government should be that in which all power of choice and of control is ultimately vested in the least instructed, the least intelligent, and the most dependent portion of the community?

This was the system which Rousseau advocated, and which he advocated as of universal application. The shape or structure of the government might depend upon the special circumstances of the nation, but the sovereignty of the nation, its right to determine and at any moment to change its government, its right to give or refuse its sanction by universal suffrage to every law that was proposed, was absolutely inalienable. This was equally true of the rudest barbarians and of the most civilised communities, of nations which had but just emerged from centuries of despotism and of nations that had enjoyed for centuries the education of self-government. Under such a system, if it could have been maintained, the fires of the Inquisition would have burnt for at least a century after they were actually extinguished, and it is by no means certain that they would even now have been at an end. In truth, however, such theories bring their own sharp remedy, for they would speedily reduce any nation that adopted them to anarchy.

The notion that universal suffrage is an inalienable right has now become so familiar throughout Europe, that few persons Edition: orig; Page: [360] realise how strange it seemed in the writings of Rousseau. It is obvious, however, that in this, as in so many other points, his disciples have proved very inconsistent, for if a vote be a matter of natural right it is impossible to justify the exclusion from the franchise, of females who form half the population. In neither of the English-speaking communities had this theory received any countenance. The right of voting was always treated in them as a strictly civil right, to be regulated by each society in the manner most conducive to its interests. In England, the qualification for the counties differed from the qualification in the boroughs, and in these latter the right of voting was extremely various, ranging from a suffrage which was nearly universal, to a suffrage which placed the election of a borough member in two or three hands. And this variety of qualification was far from being regarded by the more enlightened statesmen of the eighteenth century as an anomaly or an abuse. It was, on the contrary, defended as one of the great merits of the Constitution. It is of the highest importance, it was urged, that the House of Commons should be various in its composition, containing representatives of many different orders, interests, capacities, aspirations, and opinions, and in no other way can a well-balanced and intelligent representation of the various classes and interests of society be so successfully and so easily attained as by making the electoral bodies very dissimilar. In the United States a similar policy prevailed. The subject was carefully considered by the very able men who framed the Constitution of 1787, and they deliberately determined to follow the English principle, and to leave untouched the great inequalities of suffrage prevailing in the different States. In no two State-Constitutions was the qualification of voters the same, but in all, or nearly all, a substantial property qualification was required.1

It would, however, be doing Rousseau a great injustice to suppose that he expected, preached, or desired any violent revolution. His sympathies with the wrongs of the poor were, indeed, very vivid and very generous. He sprang from among them himself. He never cared for the atmosphere of Court and Edition: orig; Page: [361] fashion in which the most eminent of his literary contemporaries moved. His own life, though stained with much ignoble vice, and weak and morbid even to insanity, was at least spent in honourable poverty, and in his long pedestrian journeys he had learnt to measure the great mass of practical oppression that still rested upon the poor. He has himself described, in his own inimitable style, the effect upon his mind when he found a peasant who had given him shelter, carefully concealing every sign of comfort and well-being, lest it should expose him to the exactions of subordinate agents of the Government.1 But violence and bloodshed of every kind were wholly alien to his character. Nor, indeed, did there seem much danger of a catastrophe, if unsophisticated human nature was as pure and as idyllic a thing as Rousseau and St. Pierre imagined. He taught, it is true—and surely with evident reason—that in periods of extreme danger, and when the ruin of the State could not otherwise be averted, it is right to create a dictatorship, and if necessary to suspend for a short time the operation of the laws.2 But when Helvétius wrote that everything was justifiable which the public safety required, Rousseau wrote upon the margin of the page his indignant comment, ‘The public safety is nothing if all the individuals are not secure.’3 ‘If it is meant that it is lawful for a Government to sacrifice an innocent man for the safety of the multitude,’ he elsewhere said, ‘I hold this maxim to be one of the most execrable that tyranny has invented, the most false that can be promulgated, and the most directly opposed to the fundamental law of society. So far from its being right that one should perish for all, all have engaged their lives and goods for the defence of each, in order that individual weakness might be always protected by public force and each member by the whole State.’4 It is a memorable fact that the writer who was the idol of Robespierre, and on whose works Marat was accustomed to deliver enthusiastic Edition: orig; Page: [362] commentaries, has left on record his deliberate conviction that ‘the blood of a single man is more precious than the liberty of the whole human race.’1

It is also a most curious fact that while the leaders of the French Revolution drew from the writings of Rousseau a system of cosmopolitan politics, which, aiming at a fraternity of democracies, discarded all national traditions, boundaries, sentiments, and institutions, it was the earnest desire of Rousseau himself to accentuate to the highest degree the spirit of a distinctive and exclusive patriotism. He had much more sympathy with the small Greek republics than with the Roman Empire, and his Swiss birth and education deeply coloured his views. On no point is he more consistent in all his political writings than in his preference for small states. He believed that in them alone true liberty could be attained; that they were far more conducive than great empires to the growth of civic virtue, and that it should be a fundamental object of the legislator in each country to deepen as much as possible the distinctive national type. When Burke showed, in opposition to the cosmopolitanism of the Revolution, how the affections dwindle and evaporate if they are withdrawn from the immediate and natural objects of home, family, class, and country, in order to be expended in a diffused and general philanthropy, he did little more than repeat the arguments of Rousseau.2 No writer had ever urged more powerfully that the moral fibre of nations is fatally relaxed when the spirit of an exclusive patriotism is enfeebled; that this spirit is the seed-plot of the highest virtues; that a strong and ineffaceable individuality is in each nation the best security of continued independence and Edition: orig; Page: [363] liberty, and that, at least for the purpose of maintaining that individuality, everything that is local, traditional, and distinctive in institutions and manners should be carefully preserved. His treatise ‘On the Government of Poland,’ which is one of the most instructive of his writings, is specially devoted to this theme. ‘It is national institutions,’ he wrote, ‘which form the genius, the character, the tastes, and the manners of a people; which give it its distinctive and exclusive type; which inspire an ardent love of country, founded on habits that can never be uprooted; which make life in other lands an intolerable burden.’1 By the strong discipline and organisation of government, the legislator should give the whole community the cohesion and the corporate feeling of an army. A broad distinction of privilege should separate the citizen from the alien, while education should be specially directed to strengthening national affections, and holding up national examples for imitation. Distinctive traditions, habits, institutions, dresses, and amusements should never be neglected, for they have all their part in giving strong individuality to the nation. It is curious that Rousseau and Burke, who so seldom agreed, appear to have both looked with warm favour on the Spanish bull fights.2

What I have written, is sufficient to show that although the works of Rousseau had an enormous influence on the French Revolution, they also contain much that is utterly and irreconcilably opposed to it, and it is probable that Rousseau would have looked with loathing and indignation on his disciples of the Convention and of the Committee of Public Safety. The name of ‘country,’ he once wrote, can only be odious and ridiculous where the citizens do not enjoy civil security, and where their goods, lives, and liberty are at the mercy of powerful men, and he added that as a matter of strict right the whole social compact would be dissolved if a single citizen perished who might have been succoured, if a single citizen was wrongfully Edition: orig; Page: [364] kept in prison, or a single trial was conducted with manifest injustice.1 Even the ‘Contrat Social’ itself is in truth utterly condemnatory of the proceedings of the French Revolutionists, for one of its fundamental doctrines is, that it is essential to every act of sovereignty that it should be submitted to the free and unintimidated vote of the entire community.

An author, however, cannot choose what part of his teaching will take root in the minds of his readers. The seed will germinate which suits the soil, and men will often adopt sweeping principles and conclusions, and completely neglect all the qualifications, safeguards, and counterpoises by which they had been elaborately fenced round. No one experienced this truth more eminently than Rousseau, and few writers have had a deeper and more various influence both on the passions and the reason of their contemporaries. He has left behind him much false and overstrained sentiment, much dangerous paradox, some pages of odious and abject indecency, but also many pages which in the purity and elevation of their thought as well as in the splendour of their language are among the very noblest in French literature. Some great men owe their eminence to the fidelity and skill with which they represent the prevailing spirit of their time. Another and a smaller class owe it to the power with which they can breast the stream, advocating and representing the truths and aspects of things that had hitherto been most neglected by their contemporaries. To this class, in much of his teaching, Rousseau pre-eminently belongs. It may be said of him, as it has been admirably said of Carlyle, that he was the great alterative medicine of his time.2 In the midst of an optimist, epicurean, sceptical, factitious, and self-complacent society, which habitually valued refinement more than nature, and intellect more than character, he appeared like a figure of another age, preaching a kind of belated and distorted Puritanism; denouncing the usages, tastes, and ideals of a fastidious and intellectual society; uttering words of warning which sounded through the speculation of his time like a passing bell across a marriage feast. Like Wordsworth in England, he introduced Edition: orig; Page: [365] into literature a new love and appreciation for natural scenery, for country tastes, for the simpler and more domestic aspects of human life. The fashion of morbid sentiment which he produced has for the most part passed away like the Byronic ideal or the Werther sentimentality, but the strain of deeper earnestness of feeling that runs through his works, the importance he attached to the cultivation of character, and to a religious attitude of mind, were very healthy elements in the philosophy of the eighteenth century. He was among the first modern writers who maintained that every Government should treat national education as one of its most essential duties. His own work on education, though vitiated in many respects by his fundamental error of the essential goodness of man as he comes from the hands of Nature, gave a powerful impulse to education throughout Europe, and it is to the ‘Emile’ of Rousseau that we mainly owe the great reforms of Pestalozzi. But the political principles which he planted so deeply in European society appear to me to have produced an amount of evil which it is not easy to over-estimate. His disciple inferred from his writings that no government is legitimate, which is not in accordance with the fluctuating wishes of a simple majority of the nation; that political power is not a trust but a right; that absolute political equality is the first principle of all just government; that all limitations of the sovereign power should be abolished; that the government of nations can be treated as a matter of speculation and abstract reasoning with little or no regard to traditions, antecedents, and special circumstances, and these doctrines are the true essence of the revolutionary spirit throughout Europe.

They have never been carried out consistently to all their consequences. No sane politician would apply any considerable part of them to the uncivilised portions of the world. Some of them are manifestly incompatible with any settled government; while, on the other hand, the restrictions by which Rousseau endeavoured to prevent their more dangerous results have been easily swept away by the strong currents of popular interest and passion. It is very remarkable that the States-General of 1789, which assembled at a time when the worship of Rousseau was at its highest point, and which consisted chiefly of his devoted disciples, Edition: orig; Page: [366] signally violated one of the first principles of his philosophy, by pronouncing the binding instructions of their constituents null and void, and by asserting their own competence to act in opposition to them. Had they not done so, the Revolution might have taken a different turn, for these instructions expressly bound the members to respect the monarchy and the essential portions of the ancient institutions of France.1

At the same time the doctrines of Rousseau had an enormous practical influence during the Revolution, and they have since then passed very widely into the political thought and habits of the leading nations of Europe. Their influence, it is true, is not wholly or mainly due to anything which Rousseau has written. It has been a consequence of advancing democracy, and it is a proof of the sagacity with which Rousseau divined its tendencies as well as furnished its doctrines. The Referendum in Switzerland, according to which any proposed legislative measure may, on the demand of 30,000 citizens or of eight cantons, be submitted to the direct vote of the whole people; the Napoleonic plebiscite, which submitted the form of government to a direct and universal vote; the establishment of manhood suffrage over a great part of Europe; the growing habit of treating representatives as simple delegates and binding their judgment by detailed and constant instructions, as well as the manifest decline of the hereditary principle in government, all belong to the philosophy of Rousseau. And the same influence may be seen in other forms. The system of balancing orders, interests, and opinions, and guarding against the tyranny of majorities and classes by artificial restrictions of law or custom, was long considered an essential part of English freedom. It supplies the explanation and the defence of a great part of the irregularities and apparent anomalies of the British Constitution. Its importance was one of the cardinal articles of the creed of Burke, and it was acted upon with singular ability and consistency by the men who founded the Constitution of the United States. In order to guard against the tyranny and the instability which are the characteristic dangers of democracy, they established organic laws which the two Houses of Congress cannot override, and a supreme and independent tribunal which Edition: orig; Page: [367] has a right to detemrine what things are beyond their competence, and they introduced articles into the Constitution forbidding any change in the organic laws except on the proposal of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress or of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the States, and requiring for the final enactment of such change the ratification of Legislatures or conventions in three-fourths of the States.1

In 1787 and the two following years, when the philosophy of Rousseau was reigning without a rival in France, John Adams published his ‘Defence of the American Constitution’ for the purpose of showing the necessity of establishing in every form of government a balance of powers, and Alexander Hamilton, Madison, and Jay supported the same position in the ‘Federalist,’ which contains some of the strongest arguments in defence of those limitations of the popular power, which Rousseau so emphatically repudiated. But it can hardly be doubted that in the century which has elapsed, the steady tendency has been to discredit in theory, and to weaken in fact, all those institutions which were intended to counterbalance or to restrict the absolute authority of the majority. The tendency, so largely due to Rousseau, among modern democracies, to assume like the democracies of ancient Greece an authoritative or paternal character, to attempt to mould the type of the community by regulating education and contracts, and interfering largely with individual action in all the relations of life, has, happily, encountered strong opposing influences, but it is at least sufficiently Edition: orig; Page: [368] accentuated to cause grave apprehensions to some of the foremost thinkers of our time.

The method of reasoning in politics also, which has been increasing, appears to me to belong much more to the school of Rousseau than to that of Burke. No good observer can have failed to notice how common it has become to treat certain, democratic formulas of representative government as if they were dogmas of religion or first principles of morals, to be applied, with a total disregard for expediency or particular circumstances, to nations that are wholly dissimilar in race, character, social conditions, and political antecedents. It is not too much to say that if such principles of government become dominant in Parliament, the speedy dissolution of this great and complex Empire will be inevitable.

In purely domestic questions the influence of French modes of thought is equally apparent. Thus in all questions relating to parliamentary reform or the extension of the suffrage, a disciple of Burke, starting with a strong sense of the presumption against organic change and of the many, various, and often unforeseen evils it may produce, would ask what is the specific disease it is desired to remedy; what part of the existing Parliament is peccant or an evil; what public opinion in the country is manifestly unsatisfied or unrepresented; how far the proposed measure would remedy this specific evil; how far it would do so without producing other and greater evils? If the answers to these questions established a clear case in favour of change he would accept the necessity, but he would strictly limit the change to the requirements of the case. It must be manifest to everyone that a wholly different order of thought and reasoning is now in the ascendant. The dread of organic change has enormously diminished. Arguments based on arithmetical computations, and on the alleged injustice of one district or class having a greater share of political power than another, are becoming continually more popular. Inequality in representation is more and more regarded as a synonym for injustice, and this method of reasoning is carried so far that we have seen statesmen expressing their opinion that although the extension of the franchise in a particular quarter of the Empire would undoubtedly aggravate the very evil which is most conspicuous Edition: orig; Page: [369] in the existing parliamentary system, it ought nevertheless to be granted because to withhold it would be to create an inequality. The old English doctrine that representation should be based not only on population but upon taxation has been discarded. Attempts to secure the competence of the representative body by maintaining a preponderance of intelligence in the electoral body, and to secure a balance and variety of representation by maintaining the diversities of the constituencies, are becoming completely obsolete. The rightful sovereignty of a mere numerical majority, in which the most ignorant and the least capable must necessarily preponderate, is becoming the first principle of English politics, and in this manner, for good or for evil, English parliamentary government is rapidly drifting from its ancient moorings. The star of Burke is manifestly fading, and a great part of the teaching of the ‘Contrat Social’ is passing even into English politics.

The ‘Contrat Social’ was published in 1762, but its great influence dates from a somewhat later period, and especially from the destruction of the Parliaments. In the reign of Lewis XVI. and in the earlier stages of the Revolution the enthusiasm for Rousseau almost amounted to adoration, and his statue was the first erected by the National Assembly.1 The school of the Economists, which also rose mainly in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, was in some respects a rival influence, for these writers were all intensely monarchical. Some of them, like Mercier de la Rivière, were enthusiastic advocates of despotism, and none of them had by temperament or taste the smallest tendency towards anarchy. But Quesnay, who was the leading figure in the school, though he utterly rejected Rousseau's notion of the sovereignty of the people, agreed with Rousseau in maintaining that the sovereign power must be at once single and irresistible, and that the whole system of a division and balance of power as it existed in England, and as it had been advocated by Montesquieu, was fundamentally vicious. Like Voltaire, the Economists considered what they call ‘a legal despotism’ the best form of government for effecting administrative Edition: orig; Page: [370] reforms, and Le Trosne argued that the situation of France ‘was infinitely superior’ to that of England because the French Government could change the whole state of the country in a moment without being trammelled by constitutional restrictions. The Economists contended for the absolute inviolability of private property, for the establishment in lieu of all existing imposts of a single tax to be paid by every man in strict proportion to his income, for universal and obligatory education by the State, for complete liberty of industry and commerce, for a total transformation of the internal administration. Severing themselves, like Rousseau, from the historical school of politicians, they had an utter disregard for the past, and they anticipated Bentham's doctrine that the great secret of government is to be found in the harmony of public with private interest, and in the establishment of government on a strictly utilitarian basis. No writers had before pointed out so clearly, or so powerfully, the essential evil of the whole existing system of commercial restraint, monopoly, prohibition, forced labour, fiscal mismanagement, and feudal burdens; and their doctrine that agriculture is the sole real source of national wealth, led them to bring into a special prominence the many and grievous wrongs of the country population. The rise of this school immensely increased the prevailing passion for political speculation, the desire for political experiment, the disregard for traditions and customs, the deep sense of the intolerable evils of existing laws and institutions. ‘There is scarcely a young man,’ wrote Grimm, in the first year of Lewis XVI., ‘who on leaving college does not form a project of establishing a new system of philosophy and of government, and scarcely a writer who does not think himself obliged to enlighten the human race about its first interests, and teach the powers of the earth the best method of governing their states.’1

And what was the nature of the government at the time when these ideas were seething and spreading through the nation? It was a despotism so absolute that Blackstone had a few years before classed France and Turkey together, as examples of the countries in which the personal liberty of the subject was most completely at the mercy of the Crown.2 The system of Edition: orig; Page: [371] arbitrary exile and of arbitrary imprisonment was in full force. There was nothing analogous to the English Habeas Corpus Act; no liberty of the press; no legalised religious liberty; no trial by jury; no national representation. The States-General had not met since 1614. The people had absolutely no voice in making the laws they obeyed, and, except in a very few provinces, with the destruction of the Parliaments the last semblance of control on the taxing powers of the Crown had been lost.

It is of course true that in France, as in all other despotisms, there were some unwritten, or even fully recognised, obstacles to the omnipotence of the Sovereign. Long-continued usage and precedent established lines of government which could not be safely abandoned. There were classes and interests and currents of opinion too powerful to be altogether disregarded, and the sale of hereditary offices had given a great number of officials in all departments vested interests and a large measure of practical independence. Montesquieu defended this venality of offices as a means of establishing permanent orders in the State, and as distinguishing monarchy from pure despotism, under which all subjects may at any moment be placed or displaced by the will of the Sovereign.1 The clergy retained a considerable power of self-government, and large classes of offices were reserved by law to the nobles. But the rightful power of the Sovereign as recognised by the heads of the French Church, and of the French law, and as asserted by a long succession of French kings, was almost without a limit. He claimed to be the sole representative of the nation, the sole source of legislative as of all other political power. ‘All the property of his subjects belongs to him, and in taking it he is only taking what is his own.’2 Under a strong sovereign like Lewis XIV. this unrestrained power was concentrated in the King. Under weak sovereigns like Lewis XV. and Lewis XVI. it passed chiefly into the hands of the King's ministers; of the King's Council, a body appointed by the Crown and revocable at pleasure; of the intendants and their delegates who carried on the government of the provinces.

Edition: orig; Page: [372]

France had at one time possessed a very large amount of local and provincial self-government, but the institutions around which it centred had been one by one either annihilated or reduced to impotence. Each province had formerly been under the direction of a governor who was a great local nobleman appointed for life, and occupying a position somewhat similar to that of an English lord lieutenant. But it had been the policy of Richelieu to take the government of the country from the aristocracy, and he did this, very effectually by placing all real power in the hands of a new class of functionaries called Intendants, who were removable at pleasure, unconnected for the most part with the provinces they ruled and frequently changed from one to the other. Lewis XIV. gave them almost unlimited powers, including that of life and death. It was for them and for their delegates to adjust the burden of taxation, to regulate all matters relating to the militia, the roads, the internal commerce, the public works, the administration of justice; and their power was so absolute that Law scarcely exaggerated when he said ‘that the kingdom of France was in reality governed by thirty intendants.’ Appeals to the Crown against abuses in the provinces were only illusory, for they were systematically referred to the intendants themselves.1

In the Middle Ages each province had possessed the very important institution known as the Provincial States. With some diversity of form, these States consisted of the three orders of nobles, clergy, and commons, and they had the right of voting and distributing the local, and even a part of the general taxation, and of directing the whole administration of the provinces. But chiefly under the influence of Richelieu, these provincial States had been totally abolished over three-fourths of France. For a time the provinces that were deprived of them retained the power of electing some functionaries, and they were therefore called ‘pays d'élection,’ but this too was soon abolished. Three-fourths of France was now divested of all local self-government and lay at the mercy of intendants appointed by the Crown, and of delegates appointed by the intendants. Of the eight provinces called the ‘pays d'état,’ which comprised Edition: orig; Page: [373] the remaining fourth, and still possessed provincial States, Languedoc and Bretagne alone retained some real vestiges of their old independence. The overwhelming powers conferred on the intendants; the severe restrictions imposed on the proceedings of the provincial States, and the influence the Government easily acquired over a large proportion of their members, were sufficient to reduce those bodies to complete subservience.1 In the towns the right of electing municipal functionaries had been abolished in 1692; municipal independence had received its death-blow when Lewis XIV. for the purpose of raising money began the system of putting up municipal offices for sale, and almost all real power in the towns was gradually absorbed by the central government and exercised through intendants.2

The judicial tribunals were equally dependent. The King by the intervention of the Grand Council claimed the power of revising and altering their decisions in the interests of the State and without any regard to the letter of the law. Intendants with the assistance of councillors chosen by themselves could withdraw trials from the regular tribunals, and condemn men to the galleys or even to death, and if a functionary had broken the law the power of the Crown was almost invariably exerted to withdraw him from the jurisdiction of the law courts.3

With the centralisation of government the division of classes steadily increased. In England the mixture of classes, and the presence in the country districts of a great number of families of the gentleman class, may be largely ascribed to three very dissimilar influences, the unpaid magistracy, field sports, and an established Church. The gratuitous administration of county government provides the country gentleman with an important sphere of duties and dignities; the national passion for field sports forms a sufficient counterpoise to the pleasures of the town; the established Church scatters over the country districts, and concentrates in the small cathedral towns, a multitude of families who represent in the most graceful, useful, and intelligent Edition: orig; Page: [374] form the life of the less opulent country gentleman. But in France the conditions were wholly different. A celibate priesthood drawn chiefly from the humbler classes has never had this social influence. The passion for field sports has always been less strong and less diffused than in England, though the game laws were in some respects much more oppressive.1 The French country gentlemen had themselves no magisterial powers or duties, though they possessed, and often grossly abused, a right of appointing petty judges to try petty cases in their several districts.2 With increasing centralisation and the excessive multiplication of Government employments, their sphere of influence had grown very narrow, and Arthur Young noticed that gratuitous public service, which was so common in England, was utterly foreign to French ideas.3 It had been one of the objects of the French kings, and especially of Lewis XIV., to draw all the leading members of the class to Paris, and to attach them to the Court; and before the Revolution broke out, great districts had been completely denuded of country gentry. Scarcely any but the poorer nobles lived in the country, and if members of the richer class were found there, it was almost exclusively in order to economise.4 Voltaire explained the general failure of French poets to describe rural scenes by the great disfavour with which country life was regarded by the educated classes in France.5 And besides this, the crushing taxation which fell upon land that was not privileged, and the heavy and degrading duty called the franc fief which was exacted from every member of the middle class who purchased privileged or seigneurial lands, drove those who had made fortunes in industrial Edition: orig; Page: [375] life from the land market unless they had previously purchased titles of nobility.1

Among the peasants, however, the desire for land was very strong. Their savings were generally invested in it. Land naturally sold best in small quantities, and the landlords were in general very willing to sell. Many of them had ceased to take any interest in their estates and had been ruined by the extravagance of Paris and of the Court, and many others were glad to get rid of large tracts of unproductive land which peasants were ready to purchase and cultivate, or had found profitable openings for their capital in the purchase of Government employments and in the rapidly expanding sphere of industrial life. If the peasants were unable to raise the whole of the purchase money, it was usually commuted into a perpetual fixed rent. Under these various influences possibly a fourth part, certainly not less than a fifth part, of the soil of France had passed before the Revolution into the possession of peasant proprietors.2

In this fact there was laid the foundation of a great part of the future conservatism of France, but its immediate effects were as far as possible from conservative. The small proprietor, who had usually purchased with money borrowed on hard terms, soon found himself struggling with difficulty and want, and exposed to various exactions from which as a tenant he had been exempt. The tithes were less severe than in England,3 but falling on a much poorer population they were bitterly resented, and they strengthened the anti-ecclesiastical spirit in the Edition: orig; Page: [376] country districts, while hatred of the many feudal privileges of the nobles became one of the strongest feelings of the French mind. These privileges were of many kinds, and they had many different origins. One class were essentially of the nature of property—rights or dues or tributes which had been reserved when the land was conceded to the peasant, and which were the conditions, and, in part at least, the price of the purchase. Another large class were derived from the period when the nobles discharged many of the duties of sovereignty, and conducted in person the administration of the provinces, and they continued to be exacted when the services for which they had originally been imposed were no longer rendered; while others again were relics of ancient serfdom. There were fixed annual payments of the nature of ground rents. There were tributes in kind, of wine and corn and chickens. There were duties to a feudal lord when a farm changed hands; duties or tolls on markets, fairs, auctions, bridges, ferries, high roads, weights and measures. There were rights to the property of those who were condemned to death; to the property of those who died without an heir; to the property of foreigners who died on the domain of the lord. There were exclusive rights of hunting, shooting, keeping pigeons and rabbit warrens, and there were many quaint, antiquated, and sometimes degrading rights of homage of a purely honorary description. The monopoly which the feudal lord possessed of the right of building mills, baking-ovens, and winepresses, and the obligation imposed on the peasant of giving annually a certain number of days' labour gratuitously to his feudal lord, were among the most oppressive portions of the system. In some provinces the lord had the right of selling his wine for thirty or forty days before that of the peasant could be brought into the market.

The feudal burdens varied greatly in their amount; and in some districts, especially Languedoc, Dauphiné, and the Lyonnais, much land was ‘allodial’ or exempt.1 But over by far the greater part of France the feudal system was in full force. It was less severe than in Germany and some other countries where serfdom was still general, and it had been slightly alleviated in the course of the century. The number of the days of Edition: orig; Page: [377] forced labour had been by custom reduced; many ancient tolls had been abolished, and it was the spirit of the law courts to construe strictly the right to feudal services, and to recognise only those which were distinctly authorised by title deeds, and which were therefore usually due to an ancient contract. But when all this is admitted, it remains true that the small proprietor as well as the peasant found himself involved in a perfect maze of intricate, vexatious, oppressive, and often ruinous obligations for which he seemed to receive no corresponding advantage. While some parts of the system were plainly unjust, being payments for services that were no longer rendered, other dues were strictly of the nature of property, being elements of a regular sale. Even the most legitimate, however, were now resented, and the resentment became the stronger because those to whom they were paid lived chiefly in the towns and had lost the power and the popularity both of landlords and administrators. With frequent sales of land the feudal rights had constantly changed hands. They often passed into the hands of men who had no other connection with the soil. A great part were in the possession of the Church. Another, and perhaps still larger, part had been acquired by the middle classes.1 The incessant subdivision of small farms had at the same time broken many feudal dues into minute fractions, greatly increased the cost of their collection, and given rise to a vast amount of complication and obscurity, and as a consequence to much expensive and irritating litigation.2

D'Argenson as early as 1751 had very wisely recommended their compulsory purchase, and such a measure was actually carried out with great success in Piedmont twenty years later by Charles Emmanuel III. In France, however, these rights were preserved with little change till the Revolution, and they gave that movement some of its worst and most distinctive characteristics. Famine, avarice, and revolutionary incitements Edition: orig; Page: [378] conspired in producing a great revolt against feudal rights. All classes were thrown into the same category, and it became the main object of the peasantry to annihilate all without compensation. Hence the atrocious Jacquerie which formed one of the most hideous scenes of the first act of the Revolution; the burning of castles in order to destroy the muniment rooms and the title deeds they contained; the frequent murder of the feudal lords. The Constituent Assembly attempted to abolish feudal obligations by a discriminating and statesmanlike measure purchasing that portion of them which was clearly of the nature of property, but it was unable to induce the excited peasantry to accept the decree, and at last in 1793 the Convention crowned the work of revolution by sweeping away without compensation the whole feudal system, including many money dues which had been purchased, and as it was believed secured, by the most legitimate contracts.

While the feudal system turned the peasantry against the nobles, other causes not less powerful were arraying them against the Government. If there had been at this time a really strong, intelligent, and reforming despotism, it would have certainly represented a large portion of public opinion. Such a Government, provided it is not under clerical influence, has always been popular in France, and it would have found a wide sphere for its exertions. It might have employed the strength of the Executive in placing the taxation of the country on a broad and equitable basis; sweeping away a crowd of invidious class privileges, obsolete and barbarous laws, commercial and industrial restraints; giving a very ignorant population some measure of technical and agricultural education, and stimulating by the many means in its power material prosperity. If it had made France respected abroad and prosperous at home, if it had given her a sound and equal administrative system as well as religious and intellectual liberty, it would have fulfilled the desire both of Voltaire and the Economists, and it would have found so much public support that it might probably have defied all the efforts of the revolutionary school of Rousseau.

A Government of this kind, however, is easily conceived but rarely realised, and the despotism of France was weak and imbecile, and corroded with unrighteous privilege. The taxation of Edition: orig; Page: [379] the country had grown to a colossal height through the wars of Lewis XIV., and subsequent mismanagement had greatly aggravated the burden. There are few subjects of inquiry more difficult than a comparison of the financial condition of France before and after the Revolution. The great change in the value of money throughout Europe; the special increase in the national wealth of France; the complete alteration of the whole system of taxation; the extreme complexity, obscurity, and confusion in which the finances of ancient France were involved; the habit of deferring accounts till several years after they had become due, and the frequent false representations which were given upon authority, create many pitfalls for the historian. Much research has, however, been devoted to the subject, and in the opinion of one of the best judges, the annual imposts borne by the French people at the outbreak of the Revolution, including the tithes and local dues and taxes, may be estimated at eight hundred and eighty millions of livres, while the whole wealth of the country was less than one-third of what it became eighty years later. According to this estimate the taxation of France in 1789 bore a higher proportion to its wealth, than under any of the Governments up to the fall of Napoleon III. with the single exception of the Reign of Terror.1

Under any circumstances such taxation would have been burdensome, but it was rendered intolerable by its enormous, its scandalous injustice. The whole noble class and the whole body of the clergy were exempted from the greater part of it. From the ‘taille’ or personal tax, which was the heaviest tax in France and which had increased tenfold in two centuries, they were in nearly all cases absolutely free; and although they did pay the capitation tax and the tax called the ‘vingtième,’ they paid it on a separate and a lower scale. The number of the so-called ‘privileged’ individuals is said to have been not less than 270,000, and it was continually increasing by the sale of offices which carried with them the privilege of nobility. Necker mentioned that in his time there were no less than 4,000 of these offices. Yet even this does not by any means measure the whole amount of the exemptions. There were many thousands of petty offices which did not confer the rights of nobility, but Edition: orig; Page: [380] which freed those who held them from the ‘taille’ and reduced some of their other taxes to small dimensions.1 There were whole towns which had secured for themselves considerable exemptions,2 and nearly all over France the full weight of the taxation fell mainly upon the small peasantry, upon the classes of the community who were the most poor and the most helpless. At a time when the passion for equality was at its height this astounding inequality of the poor crushed by taxation in order that the rich might be relieved, was continually before the eyes of the people. There was probably not a parish, not a village, in the country districts in which it was not illustrated by examples. An historian who has examined with great care the details of French taxation has estimated that over a great part of France the class which was ‘taillable,’ and which consisted chiefly of the farmers of the country, paid on an average out of every 100 francs of their nett revenue no less than 53 francs in direct taxation, 14 francs 28 centimes in tithes, and 14 francs 28 centimes in feudal dues, leaving less than a fifth part for the support of themselves and their families.3

It has been estimated by the same historian that the proportion of taxation to revenue, borne in several provinces by those who were ‘taillable,’ was about five times as great as at present,4 and its enormity was mainly due to the exemptions enjoyed by almost all the wealthier members of the community. For the poor there were no such exemptions. The capitation tax, especially, pursued the humblest and the most helpless. The workman who gained but fivepence a day for his labour, sometimes paid eight, nine, or ten livres of capitation, and the tax was paid even by those wretched beings who hovered round the gutters of the great towns in search of rags or broken bottles, or pieces of iron, or who sold old hats and clothes through the streets.5

The system of taxation was as arbitrary as it was unjust. The King's Council decided the amount which each province should pay, and had even the right of increasing the ‘taille’ by a Edition: orig; Page: [381] simple ‘arrêt,’ until Necker in 1780 induced the King to consent that this should in future only be done by a regular law registered by Parliament.1 In the ‘pays d'élection’ the inten-dants and their subordinates exercised an almost absolute power in assigning to each district and individual their proportion of the burden. Enormous abuses naturally grew up; despotic power was encountered by concealment and falsehood, but on the whole those who possessed wealth and influence were usually favoured. Many branches of the revenue were farmed out, and the ‘fermiers’ were not less extortionate and oppressive than the Irish tithe proctors, to whom they bore a marked resemblance.

The exemption of the nobles from taxation originated at a time when they were a small body, and its justification was the gratuitous military service they were then bound to render. But after the institution of standing armies this reason no longer existed, while the amount of the taxes was vastly increased. Montesquieu described the gigantic armies of his day as ‘a new malady,’ which had spread over Europe and which was threatening its chief countries with absolute ruin.2 It was impossible that the whole burden of supporting them should rest permanently on the poor, and some feeble efforts were accordingly made to diffuse it. The taxation of the privileged classes began after the Peace of Ryswick with the capitation tax and the ‘tenths,’ and from this time French finance ministers steadily endeavoured to mitigate the inequality.3 It gradually became a settled maxim among them, that every increase of taxation should be met by augmenting the ‘twentieth,’ which applied to the property of all classes, rather than the ‘taille,’ from which the privileged classes were exempt, and a serious effort was made to amend the shamefully low valuation upon which the Edition: orig; Page: [382] privileged classes paid the former tax. Something was done in this direction, though slowly and imperfectly, but the further prosecution of the scheme appears to have been abandoned in 1782 through the opposition of the Parliaments.1 In the mean time the inequality of taxation was becoming continually more intolerable through the double process of an increasing aggregate burden and of an increasing number of exemptions. The character, numbers, and position of the French aristocracy had wholly changed, since Richelieu and Lewis XIV. had drawn the more important and opulent members from the management of their estates to the dissipations of Paris, and since Mazarin had begun the system of annexing hereditary titles to the magistracy, and to a crowd of other offices purchased from the King.2 It had become so easy to buy nobility with money, that Turgot scarcely exaggerated when he wrote that ‘the class of the nobles comprised the whole class of the rich,’3 and it was this class which was refusing to bear its reasonable proportion of the burdens of the State.

The injustice was glaring and intolerable, but it was not peculiar to France. It may be found during the eighteenth century in almost every leading country on the Continent,4 and it is one of the points in which the contrast between English and continental Governments is most remarkable. The predominating influence of a landed aristocracy in England may indeed be plainly seen in laws which artificially foster the agglomeration of land. It may be seen in the severity of the game laws. It has been seen by some writers in the continued lowness of the land tax, but such writers forget the number and magnitude of the special burdens on land, and the immense change which has taken place in the relative Edition: orig; Page: [383] importance of real and personal property since the Revolution, and they forget also the remarkable fact that the so-called land tax was originally imposed, not solely on land, but also on personal property, and that it is personal property and not land which has since been exempted.1 Land was, however, exempted from the succession duties which Pitt's Acts of 1789 and 1796 imposed on personal property, and the law of distress gives landlords a preferential claim as creditors in the case of the insolvency of their tenants. But in general the richer classes in England have never claimed any exemption from taxation, while they have readily accepted many special burdens, and when they secured for themselves a virtual monopoly of places of dignity and power their usual method was to make those offices either absolutely gratuitous or exceedingly underpaid. As Tocqueville has truly said: ‘For centuries the only inequalities of taxation in England were those which had been successively introduced in favour of the necessitous classes. … In the eighteenth century it was the poor who enjoyed exemptions from taxation in England, in France it was the rich. In the one case the aristocracy had taken upon its own shoulders the heaviest public charges in order to be allowed to govern. In the other case it retained to the end an immunity from taxation, in order to console itself for the loss of government.’2 It is true that the position of the English working classes in relation to taxation was not quite so favourable in the eighteenth century as at present, when all the articles of first necessity and all the raw materials of industry are untaxed, but still they had no special burdens, and they had many special exemptions. Arthur Young relates the enthusiasm and the astonishment with which a French mob during the Revolution received a short speech which he made them, on the difference between taxation in England and France. ‘We have many taxes,’ said the English traveller, ‘in England which you know nothing of in France, but the tiers état, the poor, do not pay them. They are laid on the rich. Every window in a man's house pays, but if he has no more than six windows he pays nothing. A seigneur with Edition: orig; Page: [384] a great estate pays the vingtièmes and tailles, but the little proprietor of a garden pays nothing. The rich pay for their horses, their carriages, their servants, and even for liberty to kill their own partridges; but the poor farmer pays nothing of all this, and what is more we have in England a tax paid by the rich for the relief of the poor.’1

To complete the picture of the evils of French administration, we have to remember the enormous multiplication of pensions, sinecures, and absurdly overpaid offices reserved exclusively for the privileged classes, and the enormous multiplication of judicial and other offices habitually put up for sale. The sale of offices extended to the army, the navy, the ordnance, and even the ecclesiastical employments about the household.2 The burden of the militia fell wholly on the peasantry; and as married men were exempted, it was one cause of the commonness of improvident marriages among them, which contrasts so remarkably with the rareness of such marriages in our day.3 Unpaid labour was exacted twice a year for making and repairing the roads. The sale of salt was a strict monopoly of the Government, and its price, making full allowance for the alteration in the value of money, was eight times as high as in the present day.4 Bread was made artificially dear by the restrictions on the internal commerce of corn; similar restrictions were imposed on the internal commerce of wine and brandy, and the system of jurandes placed every trade on the basis of monopoly, and forbade the workmen to migrate in search of more profitable markets for their industry. Endless tolls and restrictions and ancient privileges interlaced and