Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER VIII.

Appointed Paymaster General.-Lord Shelburn.—Coalition.-India Bill.—Mr. Pitt.—Mr. Burke elected Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow.- Reception in the new Parliament. Letter to Miss Shackleton.

Thus terminated the most hard and ably-fought party struggle in our history, and with it virtually the war in which it originated; but it did not leave Mr. Burke, as it found him, undisputed leader of his party

Mr. Fox, his political pupil and friend, who had been for some time treading closely on his heels, now advanced to an equality in the conduct of Par- · liamentary business, and finally took the lead. For this there were some obvious reasons. Inferior to his tutor, as a great and commanding orator, and what ought to be of more consequence to the country--as a wise and sound statesman, he frequently excelled most men in vigour of debate; but more especially possessed a peculiar tact beyond all his contemporaries and all his predecessors without exception, for being at the head of a political party. He enjoyed all the weight which birth and connexion (and these are essential objects among the Whigs of England) could give: his acquaintance with the great was necessarily extensive, and his friendships nearly as general ; with the young, by community of pursuits and pleasures, with the old and staid, by community of informa

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

censure.

tion and talent. His fortune was considerable, had it not been squandered, his temper in general easy, his thirst for popularity excessive, his manners were adapted to gain it, and his sacrifices to ensure it; his very faults and weaknesses were with many more matter of jest and favour than of

Some of his doctrines were more to the taste of the people, who placed confidence in his sincerity; and with scarcely a shilling he could call his own, they were pleased to think him in spirit the most independent.

In all these points he had the advantage over his coadjutor, who also suffered some loss of weight by his rejection at Bristol, by his disregard of the popular voice when he thought it ill-directed, by a more uncompromising temper, by being supposed a dependant of Lord Rockingham, and, among a certain class, by being a native of Ireland. There was unquestionably a jealousy of the merits and influence of Mr. Burke, even among many who advocated the same cause, which nothing but very uncommon powers and exertions enabled him to surmount, and of which he complained. Under all these disadvantages, however, he had kept the lead in the Commons for ten years; and, had Lord North fallen three years sooner, would have been made efficient Minister; the common opinion, early expressed at the table of Lord Rockingham, being, that “ he was the only man who could save the empire from dismemberment." Even just before that Minister's resignation, he himself remarks he had obtained a considerable share of public confidence, notwithstanding the jealousy and obloquy which had assailed him during much of his career. “I do not say I saved my country-I am sure I did my country much service. There were few indeed that did not at that time acknowledge it.”

That Mr. Fox should now prevail, with Westminster at his back, with unbounded popularity in the nation, and the advantage of that aristocratic feeling in his favour, obviously inherent in all our arrangements, is not surprising. Mr. Burke, who considered humility in the estimate of ourselves a species of moral duty, submitted to the sense of his party without a murmur. A vain man would have resented this; a weak one complained of it; an ambitious or selfish one probably taken advantage of it on the first opportunity to quit the connexion for ever, and throw the weight of his name and talents into the opposite scale.

In the division of the spoil of office, his share was a seat in the Privy Council, and the Paymaster-Generalship of the Forces, then the most lucrative office in the State, and remarkable for hay. ing been held by Lords Chatham, Holland, North, and Charles Townshend, previous to their becoming first Ministers. Considerable surprise was ex. pressed at his not being included in the Cabinet; one reason assigned for which was his desire to purge the office in question, though the real one perhaps was the necessities of his party, which required the Cabinet offices for men of greater family and Parliamentary interest, though of far inferior talents; and also for Lord Shelburne and his friends ; who enjoyed a large share of royal favour. It is also true that he drove no bargain on the subject; expressing to his friends sentiments similar to those of a great statesman of the present day*his willingness to serve, not where ambition might dictate, but where the general interests of govern. ment required.

Politics, in fact, unlike literature, is seldom a Republic. Party is Monarchy in miniature, where each must keep an appointed station for the benefit of all, and where other circumstances, independent of talents, must unite to constitute a chief.

But were a man in this country, of great capacity and attainments, though of little influence or fortune, such for instance as Mr. Burke, deliberately to choose his side in politics as he would a profession—that is, for the advantages it is likely to bring he would probably not be a Whig That numerous and powerful body is believed to be too tenacious of official consequence and prone to consider high rank, leading influence, and great family connexion, rather than talents of humbler birth, as of right entitled to the first offices of government; they are willing to grant emolument, but not power, to any other than lawyers who do not necessarily interfere with their views; an opinion which, notwithstanding the profession of popular principles, is believed to have made them sometimes unpopular, and driven many useful allies into the ranks of the Tories.

* Mr. Canning's speech at Liverpool, September, 1822.

His Majesty received his new servants unwillingly, nor is it matter for surprise ; it is hard for any man, and most of all perhaps for a king, to receive into his confidence those who for nearly 20 years together have thwarted his favourite views. So strong was the aversion to the Rockinghams, that Lord Shelburne, leader of another branch of Opposition, was offered the Treasury instead; but feeling the want of weight and connexion in Parliament, he prudently declined it. Lord Rockingham, in consequence, insisted upon certain stipulations, which were to concede independence to America, to introduce a system of economy into all the departments of the State, and to carry some popular bills through Parliament.

The ministerial labours of the Paymaster-General were more considerable than those of any Member of the Cabinet. His Reform Bill passed both Houses, though much mutilated, finding, what most reformers in time discover, that it is easier to propose public correctives when out of office, than to carry them into effect when in. Many good reasons, indeed, were assigned for the alterations; and, as it was, no similar purgation of ministerial influence is known in our history, 36 offices eligible to be held by Members of Parliament being at once abolished. He also declared his readiness, whenever the sense of the House would go with him, to adopt every part of the plan he had proposed.

The bill to regulate his own office was deemed a species of feat in ingenuity, labour, and know

« PreviousContinue »