Изображения страниц

and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs! It is difficult to say which party is most culpable in these transactions. It was the duty of either party, instead of cherishing secret schemes or smothered resentment, to have submitted the question to the cabinet, and to have abided by that issue. Shelburne might have declaimed against the contingent dishonour of the country: Fox against the certain dishonesty of the minister. Utrum horum mavis accipe!

It is, however, only due to Mr. Fox thus to wipe away the stain attaching to the charge of his having thrown up the seals under the influence of a private pique, upon the promotion of Lord Shelburne to the Treasury; for it would have been obviously impossible, whatever were the shortcomings of his own administration, that he should have continued to serve in a Government thenceforth altogether directed by an alien policy. So much for political coalitions!

We now pass to the memorable coalition between Lord North and Mr. Fox, which resulted in the definitive establishment of the Shelburne party in power, under the Premiership of young Pitt.

On the 24th of February, 1783, (as Mr. Grenville writes to Lord Temple) Lord Shelburne, overwhelmed by the confederacy of Mr. Fox and Lord North, gave in his resignation. The correspondence seems, at this point, very strikingly to illustrate the confusion which ensued, and to show that it was only after a hard struggle, after all, that the coalition acceded to power.

"The offer," says Mr. W. Grenville, on the 26th, "has been made to Pitt of the Treasury, with carte blanche, which, after two days' deliberation, he has this day refused."


The King, therefore, immediately on the resignation of Shelburne's ministry, must have sought to reconstruct it by raising the defeated Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Premiership. On the 1st of March, he sent for Lord North; but positively declined to negotiate with Mr. Fox. ་ king's reluctance to see him," writes the Duke of Buckingham, "could not be overcome; upon that point his majesty was inflexible; and interview after interview followed, ending in the same unsatisfactory way, the country continuing to be kept in a state

of uncertainty and alarm, and, as Mr. Grenville describes it, wholly without any Government whatever."--p. 172.

The Whigs, however, had not coalesced with the Tories for nothing. The King at length endeavoured to tempt the cupidity of Lord North by offering him the Treasury, a scheme which would have at once excluded the party of Mr. Fox, who were determined to enter the Government upon at least equal terms. This proposal rejected, his majesty next suggested, as an ultimatum, to place a "neutral person" at the head of affairs. This "neutral person" Mr. Fox insisted should be no other than the Duke of Portland, whom he had previously endeavoured to prefer to Lord Shelburne upon the death of Rockingham. The Duke's "neutrality” was denied by the king, and the scheme rejected. It was not until the 20th of March, after an unparalleled delay of nearly a month, that an administration was finally formed by the concession of the King. His Grace of Portland became nominal Premier, the Government, meanwhile, being virtually directed by the two secretaries of state, Lord North and Mr. Fox. It was so contrived, however, that all the other offices of trust should be conferred upon the Whigs; and the new Administration, therefore, became more odious to the king than that of Lord Rockingham itself. Thus the Whigs came into power once more, using the Duke as a go-between, and Lord North as a cat's paw!

The steps which brought about the fall of this Administration are well known. Mr. Fox's India Bills, which proposed to transfer to a Whig Parlia mentary Commission, irresponsible to the crown, the whole executive power of India, were introduced on the 18th of November in the same year. There can be no doubt that this measure was a signal blunder. It promised, indeed, if accomplished, a vast extension of power to the Whig party. But there was a secret cabinet which had the ear of the sovereign, more powerful perhaps than the acknowledged government. This was regarded as headed by Lord Temple, and stood in the interest of the King and the Shelburne party. It is clear, from the correspondence published by the Duke of Buckingham, that the final defeat of these bills in the House of Lords,

which produced the king's dismissal of Ministers, was the work of a secret understanding between his Majesty and Lord Shelburne's party, of both of whom Temple was made the instru


From this point the more vivid interest in the Memoirs of the Reign of George III. ceases. We have endeavoured to conduct the reader through the tortuous labyrinth by which the country passed from the firm but disastrous administration of Lord North to the firm and glorious government of Mr. Pitt. It is easy to trace the process by which that great man, at the age of twenty-four, found himself suddenly exalted to the head of affairs. During a year and a half, three successive ministries were created and destroyed. Yet the Administration preceding that brief period had endured for twelve years, and the Administration which followed it endured from 1783 into the following century, Never was a Government created with fairer prospects of durability than that which, in March, 1782, arose under the auspices of the Marquess of Rockingham. It was supported both by town and country—by the aristocracy and the people : it was required to triumpli simply over the prepossessions of the King, and the faction still headed by Lord North. Yet it fell, not from external agency, but from intestine disunion. It involved not simply a coalition of men, but a conflict of opinions. The government then formed in its place-formed, as Mr. Sheridan, then out of office, indignantly declared, "not of a coalition of parties, but of the shreds and remnants of parties"--was broken up by a coalition from without, after an existence of some eight months. Finally, the coalition of the two previously defeated parties-the North Tories and the Rockingham Whigsbeing, in turn, overthrown at once by royal and public displeasure, all the old elements of parliamentary government were exhausted. The splendid talents of the younger Pitt and the favour of the crown then brought a new generation into irresistible power. If we remember that the personal predilections of the sovereign formed a principal cause of the endurance of Lord North's ministry for twelve years, amid every complication of political blundering and military disaster,

we shall scarcely wonder that the same predilections should have supported, for seventeen years, an administration the greater part of which was passed in profound peace and in commercial enterprise.

We think that our readers will feel more interest in the stirring period of the Regency than in that to which the rest of the earlier Memoirs by the Duke of Buckingham refers. We pass, therefore, at once to the years 1811 and 1812, which witnessed the accession of the Prince of Wales, the assassination of Mr. Percival, the new complications of European affairs, the second American war, and the rise of the famous Liverpool Administration.


It will be remembered that, as the Houses of Parliament were about to adjourn for the Christmas of 1810-11, their festivities were suddenly arrested by the communication of the startling intelligence, that the machinery of government was at an end. intellect of his majesty had failed him. Mr. Percival was then at the head of the government; and it became essential at once to institute a Regency. It appears that the commission of the government of the country to the Prince of Wales was, from the first moment, acknowledged as inevitable; although it will be remembered that, on the earlier manifestation of the king's malady, twenty years before, Mr. Pitt was strenuously contesting this principle with Mr. Fox, when the recovery of the King terminated the discussion. The collateral relatives of his majesty were now, however, extinct, with the solitary exception of his royal highness of Gloucester; and between the sovereign and this prince there was little, perhaps, to choose. They may be described as standing on the two sides of the boundary of the worlds of sanity and insanity. The duke was, in truth, but just on the safe side of the confines: the king had gone over the border," while his return was seriously apprehended at once by the Whigs and the heir to the throne !


After continual ministerial defeats on subordinate questions of detail, the Regency Bill at length became law on the 5th of February, 1811. Our author fails to notice, however, the manner in which it was decreed that any bill could become law when the throne was (morally speaking) vacant. It was

determined that the Lord Chancellor should be considered as the presumptive exponent of the sovereign's will; and that the assent of this functionary should be held equivalent to the assent of the first estate of the realm. This

is one of those instances illustrative of the theory of our constitution which is laid down by Blackstone in the words, "that necessity is above all law." An emergency had arisen, for which the foresight of the constitution had never provided in actual terms. A legal casuist might assert, on the one hand, that every act of the Regency was illegal and null-that no government existed between the illness and the death of the king-and that, consequently, the battle of Waterloo was an act of piracy. It might, again, be asserted, on the other, with an equal amount of plausible sophism, that there was no law in our statute book which restricted the royal prerogative by any considerations of sanity: and that, therefore, the king, sane or insane, was equally entitled to the administration of public affairs. Parliament had heretofore been able to establish a commission de lunatico inquirendo on the sovereign, a verdict of unsound mind might have been returned in more than a single instance. It might be replied, however, at once to all this badinage, that such arguments might apply to the act of settlement, and to the act of the Hanoverian succession themselves-that the question at issue was based upon those acts, and merely strove to render the necessities of the state compatible with them, by an application of the principles which they recognised to an existing crisis in public affairs.



Jacobite lawyer, desirous of ridiculing the principles of the Hanoverian succession, and the earlier principles of the act of settlement, might have said plausibly enough, that there was a condition that the sovereign should be a Protestant, but that it was no condition that he should be of sound mind; and therefore, so predominant was the profession of religious opinion over the possessing intellectual capacity, that a madman and a Protestant would have been preferred to the most intelligent Catholic in the State!

The confidence of the Whigs was now at its height. The Whig cabinet, which the predilections of the Prince were to substitute for that of

Mr. Perceval, was already named in the sacred circle of the Opposition leaders. Lord Grenville was to be premier: Grey, Whitbread, Erskine, Romilly, and other such ancient symbols of opposition, were at length to govern the state. Mr. Perceval was, no doubt, in a very hazardous position. While he ruled at Whitehall, Fox and Sheridan were ruling at Carlton House. Such a state of things has no parallel in our constitutional history. Such innocent favourites as Lord Bateman under the ministry of Lord North (see "Fox's Memoirs"), or the better known Sir Benjamin Bloomfield under that of Lord Liverpool, had often exerted a certain influence over the mind of the Sovereign. But here was the Ministry ruling at Whitehall, and the Par liamentary Opposition intervening be tween the cabinet and the throne!

In Moore's "Life of Sheridan," it is stated that the Prince of Wales sent immediately for Lords Grenville and Grey to draw up the answer which he should return to the Houses of Parliament. These statesmen, however, very properly refused a charge which should have fallen, of course, on the insulted Perceval. Ministers meanwile resorted to every scheme for their maintenance in power. Even Sheridan was brought over to their side; and it is from that circumstance that he first fell into disrepute with his own party. The course which negociations took at this juncture may thus be caught at a glance from the following extract from the Diary of Mr. Wil berforce :-

[ocr errors]

Wilberforce makes entry in his diary on the 1st and 2nd of February :- No one knows what the Prince means to do, whether to change his ministry or not. Lord Bathurst believes they are all to go out; but Perry, the editor of the Morning Chronicle, told Stephen that the Prince of Wales has examined the physicians at Carlton House as to the state of the King's health, and has determined against changing his ministers. Otherwise, it had been decided that Lord Grenville was to be First Lord of the Treasury, in spite of his letter to Perceval. I am assured that before the Prince determined upon keeping the present Ministers, he sent to Mrs. Fitzherbert and Lady Hertford, and they both advised it.'"— (vol. i. p. 30.)

[ocr errors]

Such is the story of a bed-chamber

[blocks in formation]

Thus, between physicians suborned into making all kinds of contradictory statements regarding the King's health, with a view of influencing the Prince on either side, and the ladies of the Court acting as the diplomatic functionaries employed by the different parties in the legislature, it becomes almost impossible to follow the labyrinth of plots which led at length to the re-establishment of the Tory administration under Mr. Perceval. But the following letter from the Prince, intimating to that minister the course upon which he had resolved, and finally settling the question at issue, bears strong impress, both in style and in matter, of Mr. Sheridan's inditing; and illustrates the conflict between the professional opinions recorded by the doctors in the Liverpool interest, and the unwilling abdications of power on the part of the Whig leaders :


"Carlton House, Feb. 4, 1811. "The Prince of Wales considers the moment to arrive which calls for his decision with respect to the persons to be employed by him in the administration of the executive government of the country, according to the powers vested in him by the Bill passed by the two Houses of Parliament, and now on the point of receiving the sanction of the Great Seal. The Prince feels it incumbent upon him, at this precise moment, to communicate to Mr. Perceval his intention not to remove from their stations those whom he finds there as his Majesty's official servants. At the same time the Prince owes it to the truth and sincerity of his character, which he trusts will appear in every action of his life, in whatever situation placed, explicitly to declare, that the irresistible impulse of filial duty and affection to his beloved and afflicted parent [the italics are the Duke's] leads him to dread that any act of the Regent's might, in the smallest degree, have the effect of interfering with the progress of the Sovereign's authority [recovery?]. This consideration alone dictates the decision now communicated to Mr. Perceval.

"Having thus performed an act of indispensable duty, from a just sense of what is due to his own consistency and honour, the Prince has only to add, that among the many blessings to be derived from his Majesty's restoration to health, and to the personal exercise of his royal functions, it will not, in the Prince's estimation, be the least,

that that most fortunate event will rescue him from a situation of unexampled embarrassment, and put an end to a state of affairs ill-calculated, he fears, to sustain the interests of the United Kingdom in this awful and perilous crisis, and most difficult to bo reconciled to the genuine principles of the British Constitution."-p. 32.

equal, in point of inconsistency, hyIt would certainly be difficult to pocrisy, and cant, this response of the Whig oracle of Carlton House. What were these " genuine principles of

the British Constitution" with which the Regent deemed his elevation irreconcileable? What was the value of all this profession of "truth and sincerity," in a letter containing the most obvious falsehood? Mr. Sheridan's good genius appears to have forsaken him in a critical moment, if we may ascribe to him the chief authorship of this letter; although, indeed, the Duke of Buckingham supposes that the obliquity of the phraseology is here and there to be referred to the inditing of Lord Sidmouth. The Duke very aptly observes :— "Be this as it may, its filial professions must be tested by a reference to the conduct of the assumed writer, when the King was in an equally pitiable state, and by his extravagant rejoicings as soon as he could display the resources of his new position."

The Prince soon vitally offended his ministers, by an insolent habit of corresponding with them through the subordinate officers of the court. In a letter to Earl Temple, we read

"That it was very hard for ministers to go on with a man who had secret advisers. They have taken the greatest offence at the Prince Regent's invariably communicating with them individually and officially, when in writing, through the medium of Macmahon and Turner, which is indecorous to them, and quite unprecedented even in the King's practice. Ministers have determined not to submit to it."

The same letter contains an amusing statement of the monomania which was then afflicting the old King:

"Your Lordship well knows the nature of the King's delusions. Suffice it that, within these eight-and-forty hours, he said to the Duke of Sussex, Is it not a strange thing, Adolphus, that they still refuse to let me go to Lady Pembroke (the old Counters), al

though every one knows I am married to her; but what is worst of all is, that that infamous scoundrel Halford (Sir Henry) was by at the marriage, and has now the effrontery to deny it to my face.'"-pp. 50-52.

Before we pass from the subject of the Prince Regent, let us advert to Lord Temple's account of a grand fête apparently given in honour of the imbecility of the King, and finely illustrative of the taste of his Royal Highness. Among the principal trophies felicitously designed to compliment the distinguished guests of the Prince, was a Spanish urn taken from the invincible Armada," à propos of the presence of his Excellency the Spanish ambassador! Next came the royal crown and his Majesty's cypher,splendidly illuminated,"


[ocr errors]

propos of the derangement of his Majesty's intellect! Then there were



sixty servitors," generally dressed in scarlet liveries, with the exception of a few "in a complete suite of ancient armour," as though standing out in bold relief to the radiant hues of royal servitude. Then came what Sir Samuel Romilly-himself a guest at this inaugurating banquet-terms "a fish-pond, running though a dining-table." Along the centre of a table two hundred feet long" (explains the Duke), "about six inches from the surface, a canal of pure wa ter continued flowing from a silver fountain, beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss and aquatic flowers. Gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet"!!! Sir Samuel Romilly remarks, that the incongruities of this marvellous entertainment were most happily characteristic of its princely designer.

It is singular to observe, as the year 1811 dragged its weary length along, how strangely the political predictions of that period were falsified in almost every particular. The return of the Whigs was generally anticipated, even by the Tory leaders. Had those leaders known how soon Perceval would have been lost to them, they would have made no doubt of such a result. It was anticipated that there would be a general coalition against the high party in



the State. There were then three classes of the Opposition: these were the "Old Opposition," whose leadership, on the death of Fox in 1806, had been accounted to devolve on Lord Grey the "New Opposition," formed by a secession from the government of Mr. Pitt, at first headed by Lord Grenville, but now virtually amalgamated with the elder Whigs and thirdly, the more anomalous party headed by the Marquess Wellesley and Mr. Canning. Of these two eminent statesmen, the former had quarrelled with Mr. Perceval, much as the latter had done so with Lord Castlereagh, although in Lord Wellesley's case no open hostility had ensued. It was now anticipated that the whole of this party would coalesce under the leadership of Lord Grenville; and assume the government of the country. Who, then, foresaw any event so improbable as the loss of Perceval and the accession of Lord Liverpool, during fifteen years of irresponsible power?

On this head we would especially commend to the notice of the public a letter addressed to Lord Buckingham in 1811, but too voluminous for quotation-(vol. i., pp. 122-28). Lord Wellesley, up to that time in Perceval's Cabinet, was, as it appears from this letter, in a very striking manner doing his utmost to eject Perceval from his own Administration, with a view of becoming its head, and of reinstating Canning. The claims of the different candidates were very nicely poised and it can hardly be doubted that if the destinies of this country had been committed to a Wellesley and Canning, instead of a Liverpool and Castlereagh administration during the remaining years of the war, the affairs of Europe would ever after have worn a very different complexion from that which they were destined to present.


There is much in the present work which throws light on the domestic relations of the Regent and his brothers. These illustrious princes appear to have constituted anything but a happy family. The Regent and the Duke of Cumberland were, very soon, scarcely upon, terms of acquaintance. Mr. W. H. Freemantle, who was frequently about the Court, was a constant correspondent of the then Marquess of Buckingham, who,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »