Page images

In January 1768 Lord Hillsborough, whose sympathies were with the Tory party, was appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies, and in October Shelburne, who was now one of the most trusted adherents of Chatham, was almost forced to resign. Shelburne had become obnoxious both to the King, the Bedford faction, and the Duke of Grafton. He utterly differed from the pacific policy of the Government, and he would have resisted by force the acquisition of Corsica by France. He now went with his follower Colonel Barré into opposition. Lord Camden, the Chancellor, was at variance with all the other members of the Cabinet, and remained for long periods absent from its meetings. The Duke of Grafton, the nominal Prime Minister, was outvoted on some of the most important questions, and desired only to resign. In July 1767 he had told the King that he could not continue at the head of the Treasury under existing circumstances, that he had accepted the foremost place merely for the sake of acting under Chatham, and not with any intention of being First Minister himself, and that unless Chatham was able and willing to grasp the helm he was resolved to retire." suaded with difficulty to continue in office if Conway remained, and then again to continue when Conway resigned, but he was fully conscious that he was unfit for his post, and incapable of controlling the discordant elements of the Government. He gave full rein to his feelings of disgust and of indolence, and remained for long periods in the country, only going once a week to London to discharge his duties as First Minister of the Crown.2

On every important question it touched, the ministry which was formed by Chatham pursued a course opposed to the policy of its chief. Beyond all other English statesmeu Chatham had been jealous of French power, conspicuous in denouncing the attempt to tax America, and fearless in the assertion of popular rights. His colleagues during the season of his prostration permitted France to obtain possession of Corsica, revived the disloyalty of America by imposing duties on certain goods imthen dwelt a good deal on the cer- more's Life of Lyttleton, pp. 736-738. tainty of a fixed resolution in the i Grenville Papers, iv. 27, 31. King not to change his army but only : Walpole's George III. iii. 391, the generals of that army.'—Philli. 392. Grenrille Papers, iv. 268.

He was per

ported into the colonies, and flung the country into a paroxysm of agitation by maintaining that the simple vote of the House of Commons was sufficient to disqualify Wilkes. They also justly aroused great indignation by a measure which was regarded as a flagrant violation of personal property for political purposes. Sir James Lowther, the son-in-law of Bute, a man of immense wealth and political influence in Cumberland and Westmoreland, but whose violence, arrogance, despotism, and caprice rose almost to the point of madness,' was engaged in a fierce political contest in those counties with the Duke of Portland, the head of the most important family of the Opposition. The property of Portland had been granted by the Crown, and Sir James Lowther discovered that a certain district containing many freemen, which had been for two generations in the undisputed possession of the Portland family, was not distinctly specified in the grant. Availing himself of the legal maxim that no lapse of time can destroy the rights of the Crown or of the Church, Lowther disputed the title of the Duke to this portion of his property, and obtained from the Crown a lease of the lands for himself. The notorious object of this transaction was the transfer of a few votes from the Opposition to the Government, and it appeared peculiarly iniquitous, for the latter refused to give the Duke of Portland access to the collection of grants in the office of the SurveyorGeneral, which might have enabled him to defend his rights.? Even among the supporters of the ministry it produced grave discontent, and it led to the Nullum Tempus Bill, which, though thrown out by the influence of Lord North in 1768, was carried without opposition in the following year, and secured landowners from all dormant claims on the part of the Crown after an undisputed possession of sixty years.

The ministry of Chatham had been warmly supported by the King, for Chatham had thrown himself cordially into the King's great object, the destruction of the previous system of government by party or by connection. 'I know,' wrote the King on the day he signed the warrant creating his minister an earl, 'the Earl of Chatham will zealously give his aid towards destroying all party distinctions and restoring that subordination to government which can alone preserve that inestimable blessing, liberty, from degenerating into licentiousness ;'' and in another letter he described the very end proposed at the formation of the present administration' as being 'to root out the present method of parties banding together.'? The patience and consideration with which the King acted towards Chatham during his illness forms one of the brightest pages of his reign, and for some time there was a cordial union between the Court and the Executive. The introduction of the Bedford faction into the Government was contrary to the wishes of the King, but he appears to have recognised the necessity. His objections to this faction were rather personal than political, and the condition of the Government was at this time extremely favourable to his designs. A feeble, uncertain, and wavering ministry, without any efficient head, and paralysed by the dissensions of its most important members, gave rare facilities for the exercise of his influence. Several of the ministers were personally attached to him. The discipline and unity of action of the King's friends gave them an overwhelming power amid the disintegration of parties. Bute, whose personal unpopularity and incapacity had greatly weakened the royal cause, was now wholly removed from politics, and in the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord North, the King had found a parliamentary leader who was prepared to accept office under the conditions he required, and who was in almost every respect pre-eminently fitted to represent his views.

1 Some very curious anecdotes of ii. 70-72. this singular personage will be found 2 Walpole's George III. iii. 143in Albemarle's Life of Rockingham,


The son of the Earl of Guilford, Lord North had entered Parliament in 1754, had accepted a lordship of the Treasury under Pitt in 1759, had been removed from office by Rockingham in 1765, and had again come into office

| Chatham Correspondence, iii. 21.

Ibid. iii. 137. 3 In 1778 Bute authorised his son to write to the papers, 'that he declares upon his solemn word of honour that he has not had the honour of waiting upon his Majesty but at his levee or drawingroom ; nor has he presumed to offer any advice or opinion concerning the

disposition of offices or the conduct of measures either directly or indirectly, by himself or any other, from the time when the late Duke of Cumberland was consulted in the arrangement of a ministry in 1765 to the present hour.'—See the Correspondence of George III. and Lord North,

i. p. xxi.

with Pitt as Joint Paymaster of the Forces. He belonged, however, to none of the Whig parties, and he possessed in the highest degree that natural leaning towards authority which was most pleasing to the King. Since the beginning of the reign there had been no arbitrary or unpopular measure which he had not defended. He supported the Cyder Act of Bute and opposed its repeal. He moved the expulsion of Wilkes. He was one of the foremost advocates of general warrants in every stage of the controversy. He defended the Stamp Act. He bitterly resisted its repeal. He defeated for a time the attempt to secure the property of the subject from the dormant claims of the Crown. Most of the measures which he advocated in the long course of his ministry were proved by the event to be disastrous and foolish, but he possessed an admirable good sense in the management of details, and he had many of the qualities that lead to eminence both in the closet and in Parliament. His ungainly form, his harsh tones, his slow and laboured utterance, his undisguised indolence, furnished a ready theme for ridicule, but his private character was wholly unblemished. No statesman ever encountered the storms of political life with a temper which it was more difficult to ruffle or more impossible to embitter. His almost unfailing tact, his singularly quick and happy wit, and his great knowledge of business, and especially of finance, made him most formidable as a debater, while his sweet and amiable disposition gave him some personal popularity even in the most disastrous moments of his career. Partly through political principle and partly through weakness of character he continually subordinated his own judgment to that of the King, and carried out with greatly superior abilities a policy not very different from that of Bute. The growing power of North drew the King more closely to his ministers, and he cordially adopted their views on the two great questions on which English politics were now chiefly concentrated. These questions were the Middlesex election and the renewed taxation of America.

" See a very striking account of his budget speech in 1767, in a letter

of Rigby.-Bedford Correspondence, iii. 408.


WHEN we last encountered Wilkes in this narrative he had retired to Paris after his duel with Martin, and had a few months later been outlawed on account of his refusal to appear to take his trial in England. He soon recovered his old health and spirits; but his political enthusiasm seems for a time to have died away in his admiration for the matchless charms' of an Italian courtesan named Corradini, with whom he was now violently enamoured. He projected a journey to Italy with her and with Churchill, and in the autumn of 1764 he met Churchill at Boulogne; but a great catastrophe interfered with their plan. Churchill was seized with a malignant fever, and died in a few days, at the early age of thirty-three, leaving a sadly stained and shameful memory, and a few volumes, which were once supposed to rival the poetry of Pope, but which have now almost wholly dropped out of the notice of the world. Wilkes soon after went on with his mistress to Italy. He spent several months between Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Naples; saw much of Winckelmann; was present at Naples at the miracle of St. Januarius, and kissed the phial on his knees; projected a history of England, a biography and annotated edition of the poems of Churchill, but soon found that extended literary undertakings were wholly unsuited to his tastes; and at length, having quarrelled with Corradini, he returned alone to France.1 He visited Voltaire at Ferney, and the old patriarch was much struck with his liveliness and wit. The Rockinghams had now come to power, and as they had been strongly opposed to the measures which had driven him from England, he expected much from their assistance.

The details of his journey through Italy will be found in a curious manu

script fragment of autobiography in the British Museum,

« PreviousContinue »