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Parliament is altogether a subordinate body, restricted in its functions and authority. He may even retain it, though more precariously, when Parliament has become the strongest body of the State, if the composition of that Parliament is so exclusive or aristocratic that he can sway it by the influences at his disposal. But whenever Parliament has become a direct expression of the people's will, and especially whenever the existence of a free press and the aggregation of a large proportion of the population in great towns has given popular opinion an irresistible volume and momentum, the withdrawal of the sovereign from the arena is equally essential to his security and to his dignity. The only political power he can reasonably be suffered to exercise is that of a suspensory veto, preventing hasty legislation, and above all delaying the decision of Parliament on great questions till they have been brought directly before the constituencies by an election. But this power --which should certainly be lodged somewhere in the Constitution-is exercised as efficiently and much less invidiously by the House of Lords, and the royal veto has accordingly fallen into desuetude and has not been employed since the reign of Anne.
The substantial, though still somewhat imperfect realisation of this ideal of constitutional monarchy, has, since the period of the Act of Settlement, been only slightly due to legislation, or at least to legislation which was intended to affect the position of the Crown. It has resulted partly from a series of historical facts growing out of the accession of the House of Hanover which have been described in a former volume, and partly from the steady subsequent growth of the popular element in the Constitution. The reigning sovereign has exactly the same legal power of vetoing bills passed by both Houses of Parliament as William III. or the Stuarts, but it is a power which it has become impossible to exercise with safety. The Cabinet, which has gradually drawn to itself nearly all the ancient powers of the Privy Council, which sits without the presence of the sovereign, and which determines the policy of the Government, is a body entirely unknown to the law and to the theory of the Constitution ; and it is no special enactnient, but only the silent strengthening of party government, that has virtually deprived the sovereign of his legally unrestricted power of choosing his ministers. Even the power so largely exercised by the Tudors and by James I. of changing the composition of the representative body by summoning previously unrepresented towns to send members to Parliament, was in theory untouched by the Revolution, and no less a writer than Locke defended the propriety of extinguishing the rotten boroughs and readjusting the proportion of members to electors by a simple exercise of prerogative. Such schemes soon became impossible, but the form which popular government has assumed in England is mainly to be attributed to the Whig party, who, while they have combated steadily the Tory doctrine of the Divine right of kings, and the conception of monarchy that flows from it, and have restricted within very narrow limits the political functions of the sovereign, have at the same time, unlike many continental Liberals, carefully respected his dignity and his office, and made it a main object to place both outside the sphere of controversy. But in the eighteenth century the Whig ideal was still far from its attainment, and George III. is the last instance of an English sovereign endeavouring systematically to impose his individual opinion upon the nation, and in a great degree succeeding in his attempt.
When George II. died, on October 25, 1760, his grandson and successor had but just completed his twenty-second year. The life of the young Prince had hitherto been very unsuitable for the task he was to fulfil. Since his thirteenth year, when his father died, he had lived entirely with his mother, and he exhibited during his whole career the characteristic merits and defects of a female education. His mother was a woman of a somewhat hard, reserved, and tortuous character; with few friendships and several bitter enmities; with a power of concealing her true sentiments which baffled even those who came in closest connection with her ; strict in the observance of her religious duties, and in her care of her nine children; eminently discreet in her dealings with a bad husband and a jealous father-in-law ; deeply imbued with
the narrow prejudices of a small German Court, fond of power, unamiable, and somewhat soured by adversity. The early death of her husband had deprived her of the prospect of a crown, and although after his death Leicester House ceased to be a centre of active opposition, the old King looked upon both the Princess and his grandchild with jealousy, and they had in consequence little intercourse with the Court circle, with the Whig ministers, and even with the other members of the royal family. The education of the young Prince was feebly and fitfully conducted; and it is remarkable that among his preceptors Scott had been recommended by Bolingbroke, while Stone had been suspected of Jacobitism. They appear to have discharged their functions very ill; for George III. was always singularly deficient in literary culture. Lord Waldegrave, who was much the ablest of his governors, described him as a boy of respectable abilities, but great constitutional indolence; scrupulous, dutiful, ignorant of evil, and sincerely pious, but neither generous nor frank ; harsh in his judgments of others, with strong prejudices, indomitable obstinacy, and great command over his passions, exceedingly tenacious of his resentments, and exhibiting them chiefly by prolonged fits of sullenness. His indolence he succeeded in completely overcoming, but the other lines of this not very pleasing picture continued during his whole life. He mixed very little in the world-scarcely at all with the young nobility. His mother said that their lax manners would probably corrupt her son. Her enemies declared that the real explanation of this strange seclusion was her own insatiable avarice of power, which made her wish beyond all things to establish a complete ascendency over his mind, and to withdraw him from every influence that could rival her own. Like most members of German royal families, she exaggerated the prerogative of monarchy to the highest degree, and her favourite exhortation, George, be a king !' is said to have left a deep impression on the mind of her son. The most important figure in the small circle was John, Earl of Bute, a Scotch nobleman who had held an office in the household of Frederick, Prince of Wales, had lived after his death for some years a life of more than common retirement in Scotland, and, on the establishment of the household of the young Prince, had been placed at the head of it as Groom of the Stole. He was a man of some literary and artistic taste, but of very limited talents, entirely inexperienced in public business, arrogant, reserved, and unpopular in his temper, and with extreme views of the legitimate powers of royalty. The very confidential relations of Bute with the Princess gave rise to a scandal which was widely spread and generally believed. He became the chief adviser or instructor of her son, and strengthened in his mind those plans for the emancipation of the royal authority which George III. pursued steadily throughout his whole life.
The new sovereign came to the throne amid an enthusiasm such as England had hardly seen since Charles II. restored the monarchy. By the common consent of all parties the dynastic contest was regarded as closed, and after two generations of foreign and unsympathetic rulers, the nation, which has always been peculiarly intolerant of strangers, accepted with delight an English king. The favourable impression was still further confirmed when the more salient points of the private character of the King became generally understood. Simple, regular, and abstemious in all his tastes and habits, deeply religious without affectation or enthusiasm, a good son, a faithful husband, a kind master, and (except when he had met with gross ingratitude) an affectionate father, he exhibited through his whole reign, and in a rare perfection, that type of decorous and domestic virtue which the English middle classes most highly prize. The proclamation against immorality with which he began his reign; the touching piety with which, at his coronation, he insisted on putting aside his crown when receiving the sacrament; his rebuke to a Court preacher who had praised him in a sermon; his suppression of Sunday levees; his discouragement of gambling at Court; his letter of remonstrance to an Archbishop of Canterbury who had allowed balls in his palace; his constant attendance and reverential manner at religious services; his solemn and pious resignation under great private misfortunes, contrasted admirably with the open immorality of his father, his grandfather, and his great-grand
Walpole's Memoirs of
See e.g. Lord Waldegrave's Memoirs, p. 53. Gcorge II. ii. 204, 205.
father, and with the outrageous licentiousness of his own brothers and of his own sons. He never sought for popularity; but he had many of the kingly graces, and many of the national tastes that are most fitted to obtain it. He went through public ceremonies with much dignity, and although his manner in private was hurried and confused, it was kind and homely, and not without a certain unaffected grace. Unlike his two predecessors, he was emphatically a gentleman, and he possessed to a rare degree the royal art of enhancing small favours by a gracious manner and a few well-chosen words. His country tastes, his love of field-sports, his keen interest in the great public schools, endeared him to large classes of his subjects; and, though he was neither brilliant nor witty, several of his terse and happy sayings are still remembered. He was also a very brave man. In the Wilkes riots, in 1769, when his palace was attacked; in the Lord George Gordon riots, in 1780, when his presence of mind contributed largely to save London; in 1786, when a poor madwoman attempted to stab him at the entrance of St. James's Palace; in 1795, when he was assailed on his way to Parliament; in 1800, when he was fired at in a theatre, he exhibited the most perfect composure amid danger. His habit in dating his letters, of marking, not only the day, but the hour and the minute in which he wrote, illustrates. not unhappily the microscopic attention which he paid to every detail of public business, and which was the more admirable because his natural tendency was towards sloth. In matters that were not connected with his political prejudices, his sincere appreciation of piety and his desire to do good sometimes overcame his religious bigotry and his hatred of change. Thus he always spoke with respect of the Methodists, and especially of Lady Huntingdon; he supported Howard, and subscribed to a statue in his honour; he supported the Lancaster system of education, though Lancaster was a Dissenter, and was looked upon with disfavour by the bishops ; he encouraged the movement for Sunday-schools. He was sincerely desirous of doing his duty, and deeply attached to his country, although stronger feelings often interfered both with his conscientiousness and with his patriotism.
It is not surprising that a sovereign of whom all this may