« PreviousContinue »
Far from the city's ceaseless hum,
The death of George II., in 1760, tions, true to his word, steady in his closed one of the most successful favour and protection to his public reigns of England. At home, the servants, not parting with his Minipopularity of the Stuarts, first bro- sters till compelled by the force of ken down on the field of battle, had faction.” If to this we add, that, been extinguished on the scaffold; through his whole life, he appeared abroad, the continental hostilities, to live for the cultivation rather of often threatening the overthrow of useful public virtues than of splenBritish influence, had closed in a did ones, we shall have a character series of encounters which gave the which might well and wortbily sus. last honours to the British military tain the functions of British royalty. name. The capture of Calcutta by He might not attract popular admi. Clive, in 1757, had laid the founda- ration, nor be a pillow for personal tions of an empire in India. The friendship to repose on.
He might successes of Amherst and Johnson be neither an Alfred nor a Charles at Crown-Point and Niagara, follow- II. But he might, and did, conduct ed by the capture of Quebec in 1759, manfully, with integrity, and in the had completed the conquest of Ca. spirit of the Constitution, a constitunada, and laid, in a country almost tional empire. The great Minister boundless, the foundations of a wes- of bis latter day was Lord Chatham tern empire. To complete the pice -a splendid innovation on the rou. ture of triumph, the victory of Hawke tine of ministry. A new political in Quiberon Bay, had destroyed the star, which had shot down to give chief feet of France within sightof her new energy to the state, and throw own shore. In the midst of all those sudden brightness over the decaying prospects of national prosperity, the system of the Newcastle Administra. old King suddenly died, at the age of tion. Chatham was the Premier on seventy-seven, after a reign of thirty- the accession of George III. ; but his three years. The King's character power was not of a nature to last. had been fitted for the time. He His personal haughtiness had grown was a firm, temperate, and sincere by success until it alienated his man, steady to the possession of his friends, and, finally, estranged his power, but unambitious of its in. sovereign. A division in the Cabicrease; not forgetting his natural net on the question of a Spanish ties to the place of his birth, but ho- war, shewed him that his dictatornest to the obligations of his throne, ship was at an end, and arrogantly, -attached to Hanover, but proud of to be less than the embodied minisEngland. History has now passed try, he threw up the seals. His sucsentence upon him, and it will not cessor, Lord Bute, was overthrown be reversed by time. “On whatever in his turn by three causes, each of side,” says a narrator of his reign, which at other times would have led “ we look upon the character of the way to fortune,—the favour of George II., we shall find ample mat- his King, the favouritism of the King's ter for just and unsuspected praise. mother, and his being a Scotsman. None of his predecessors enjoyed The rapid succession of ministerial longer felicity. His subjects were changes which, subsequently, for still improving under him in com some years left England with but merce and arts; and his own econo. the name of a government, had the my set a prudent example to the na- disastrous effect of teaching the tion, which, however, they did not people to look with scorn upon mifollow. He was in temper sudden nisterial ambition. When public men and violent; but this, though it in- trafficked alternately with the necesfluenced his private conduct, made sities of the King and the passions of no change in his public, which was the people, the nation soon learned generally guided by reason. He to consider office as a trade. All was plain and direct in his inten- revolutions are tests of character;
but a perpetual revolution, in the political virtue only to the rolls of shape of official changes, the hourly the Heralds' College; nothing more rise and fall of public men, the vio- just, natural, or congenial to the imlent professions of this day contrast- proving intelligence of the empire, ed with the violent abjurations of than that some of that vast barvest the next, the lofty pledges followed of ability and knowledge, which was by the abject compliances, the claims hourly growing up with the growing of the reigning Ministers to confi- influence of the middle orders, dence mingled
with the complaints should be gathered for the public of the fallen Ministers of treachery, use; that the hourly opening mine of rapidly turned the people into judges public genius should be worked for of all public men, erected a tribunal the benefit of the high concerns of of state offences in every street, and empire. summoning the multitude to a juris. All would have been fortunate if diction to which their reason was the operation could have stopped incompetent, left Government at the here. But the almost immediate remercy of their prejudices. The ge sult of abolishing this patent of the neral result was, to degrade all pub- great families, was to create a new lic servants in the national eye; but and singularly hazardous influence the immediate was, to shake the su in the State. The high aristocrats, premacy of the great families in the stiff with the privileges of generagovernment of the country. Chatham tions, suddenly assumed the fexibihimself had been an intruder on the lity of popular canvass. The popuproud aristocracy of the Cabinet. lace in their turn hailed their new But wherever his banner waved, vic allies, and rejoiced in their familiartory must have sat upon it; his ex- ity with the Peerage. The extremes traordinary powers were not made of society met. The old Court suit, to be repulsed by their frigid forms. with all its royal embroidery, was He could not enter by the gate, but
thrown off for the costume of the he boldly scaled the walls, and made club and the coffeehouse; the conhimself master of the citadel. The
power was adjourned from King, whom he could not conciliate, the Cabinet to the streets; and the he kept in awe; and the Ministry, men who would have frowned down, whom he could not coerce, he held with hereditary, haughtiness, the in obedience by the popular voice, slightest approach of the order imwhich followed all his enterprises. mediately below themselves, howBut in his fall he completely drew ever graced by learning and genius, down with him the veil which had sprang down at once to the lowest hitherto covered the ministerial grade, and bound themselves to the weakness of the great families. populace by a bond which will never They struggled long to regain their be dissolved, but in their own ruin. ancient right to dispose of the Cabi. On this overthrow of the ancient panet; but the struggle constantly be tentees of power, Burke was led to came more unsuccessful; until the write his famous pamphlet, entitled still greater son of that great man “ Thoughts on the Cause of the Prewho had first broke in upon their sent Discontents." The public claprivilege of possession, finished the mours which assailed Lord North's contest, by throwing open govern- Ministry, had grown at this period ment to men of all ranks, and making (1770) to a height which threatened public ability the ground of official dangerous tumult. Burke, the friend distinction.
and follower of Lord Rockingham, Yet no maxim is more unquestion and involved in his exclusion, natuable, than that all change in the old rally imputed a large share of the principles of a country is hazardous. clamour to the loss of his ministerial Nothing could seem more pregnant councils. But it is the characteristic with good than the dismissal of anti- and the value of his writings, that quated feebleness for young vigour; the particular topic always expands nothing more suited to infuse a new into the general instruction, and that wisdom in the national councils than even out of the barrenness of an the extinction of those obsolete pre eulogy on Lord Rockingham, he judices, which found their protec- could raise maxims for the wisdom tion only in wealth, and referred for of mankind. He thus describes the
origin of the aristocratic caste in The power of the great aristocratic statesmanship:
families was rooted in the country. “At the Revolution, the Crown, With a good deal less of popularity, deprived, for the ends of the Revo- they possessed a far more natural lution itself, of many prerogatives, and fixed influence. Long possession was found too weak to struggle of government, vast property, obliagainst all the difficulties which gations of favours given and recei. pressed on so new and unsettled a ved, connexion of office, ties of blood, Government. The Court was obliged of alliance, of friendship, the name to delegate a part of its powers to of Whig, dear to the majority of the men of such interest as could sup- people, the zeal, early begun and port, and of such fidelity as would steadily continued, to the royal faadhere to, its establishment. This mily, all these together formed a connexion, necessary at first, conti- body of power in the nation." nued long after convenient, and, pro- Inconsistency is the favourite to. perly conducted, might indeed, in all pic of the libellers of Burke. But situations, be an useful instrument the language which he held in this of Government. At the same time, pampblet is the language which he through the intervention of men of breathed from his expiring tongue; popular weight and character, the sacred honour for established insti. people possessed a security for their tutions, hatred of worthless change, just proportion of importance in the just respect for the natural influence State.”
of rank, birth, and property. The Having accounted for the rise of change was not in the writer, but in the aristocracy to power, he accounts the men. The French Revolution for their fall. In this statement, his was the boundary-line between the pencil is dipt in Rockingham colours: aristocrat of his first day and his last, but those colours were pure, and the the gulf which whoever passed left outline is admirably true. He tells his former robes on the edge, and us, that when the Court felt itself came out naked. He as powerfully beginning to grow strong, it began asserts the superior claim of the first also to feel the irksomeness of de- class of the nation to govern the pendence on its Ministers, and re. State in 1770, as he asserted it in the solved to deal with more complying full fury and tempest of 1793. Cabinets. “The greatest weight of “ One of the principal topics," he popular opinion and party connexion observes, “ of the new school, is a was then with the Duke of Newcastle terror of the growth of an aristocraand Mr Pitt. Neither of these held tic power, prejudicial to the rights his importance by the new tenure of of the Crown, and the balance of the Court; they were not, therefore, the Constitution. It is true, that the thought to be so proper as others for Peers have a great influence in the the services which were required by kingdom, and in every part of the that tenure. It happened, very fa- public concerns. While they are vourably for the new system, that men of property, it is impossible to under a forced coalition there rank- prevent it, except by such means as led an incurable alienation and dismust prevent all property from its gust between the parties which com- natural operation, - an event not posed the administration. Mr Pitt easily to be compassed, while prowas first attacked. Not satisfied with perty is power; nor by any means removing him from power, they en- to be wished, while the least notion deavoured by various artifices to exists of the method by which the spiruin his character. The other party rit of liberty acts, and of the means seemed rather pleased to get rid of by which it is preserved. If any parso oppressive a support, not percei. ticular Peers, by their uniform, upving that their own fall was prepa- right, constitutional conduct, by their red by his, and involved in it. Many public and their private virtues, have other reasons prevented them from acquired an influence in the coundaring to look their true situation in try, the people, on whose favour that the face. * * * * * The influence depends, will never be power of Mr Pitt was vast and me. duped into an opinion, that such rited, but it was in a great degree greatness in a Peer is the despotism personal, and therefore transient of an aristocracy, when they know
and feel it to be the pledge of their rity and national subordination; and own importance.
no more dreaming of an appeal to “I am no friend to aristocracy, in the multitude for the support of the sense, at least, in which that word their measures, than they would have is usually understood. If it were dreamt of allying them with their not a bad habit to moot cases on the blood; a genuine English aristocrasupposed ruin of the Constitution, I cy, doubtless bearing somewhat of should be free to declare, that, if it the disqualifications produced by must perish, I should rather, by far, time upon all things human, persee it resolved into any other form, haps too proud to be easily acces. than lost in that austere and inso- sible to the public feelings, too fully lent domination. But whatever my satisfied with their ancient posses. dislikes are, my fears are not from sion of prosperity to think, that while that quarter."
all went well with the Peerage, the It is clear, that in this passage, the nation could suffer any serious evil; writer alludes to an aristocracy as and too fond of the silk and ermine suming the sole functions of Govern- of their state to be prepared to cast ment,-notan English, buta Venetian them off, and grapple with those new aristocracy,-an oligarchy at once public difficulties which new times shielding itself from responsibility were bringing on, and which deby its numbers, and overawing the manded the whole unembarrassed people by its dark and sullen vio muscle and activity of the man. lence. The power to which he al. Still, in that class, there was a great ludes as the object of dread, is that safeguard for the Crown and the of a faction behind the throne. It is people; a nobleness more of mind equally clear, that even Burke's wis ihan even of rank; an embodying of dom mistook the true hazard of grave manliness, and generous and the Constitution, that in contempla pure principle, derived from an early ting the power of an intriguing Court, superiority to the motives and habits he overlooked the tyranny of an irre. which the common exigencies of sponsible populace; that in guarding things sometimes impose on men the Constitutional tree from the struggling through the obscurer ways southern, sickly breezes of Court of life; a patrician dignity, which patronage, he forgot the hurricane spread from the manners to the mind, that would shatter and root it out of and if it did not give full security the ground. But even bis sagacity against the assumption of a power may be forgiven for being unable to beyond their right, yet prevented all anticipate the horrors of revolution, the meaner abuses of the functions ary rage. It is to the honour of his of government, all personaland petty humanity that he was yet to learn the tyranny, all the baser tamperiogs depths of the popular heart, when with popular corruption, and all the convulsed and laid open by the sense ignoble jealousy, livid rancour, and of uncontrollable power; the ter- bloodthirsty persecution of power rible deposits of the revolutionary suddenly consigned to the hands of volcano, when once shaken and kin the multitude. dled into flame.
In adverting to the remedies proIt is also to be remembered, that posed for the renovation of the during this entire discussion, the State, he touches upon the two question is not of Whigs or Tories, grand expedients, which are now according to their later qualities. In received with such cheers, Triennial Burke's early day, the Whigs were Parliaments, and the exclusion of but another name for the landed in every man holding office, from Parterest, for the great body of family liament. His language on those and fortune of the country; the heating topics, shews how maturely habitual Ministers of the Crown, and he had formed his earliest political claiming to be all but the hereditary impressions. governors of the empire; but little - If I wrote merely to please the connected with any inferior class of popular palate, it would indeed be the State, and scarcely recognising as little troublesome to me as to anthe existence of the populace; hold- other, to extol those remedies so faing the highest doctrines on the sub- mous in speculation; but to which ject of allegiance, priestly autho. their greatest admirers have never