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THE GREAT WORLD AND ITS RULERS
The eleventh year of Goldsmith's London struggle was now coming to a close amid strange excitement and change, which I may stop briefly to recall. Its reaction on literature and its cultivators will be seen, as, from the point at which we left him last, we follow Burke's upward ascent in the teeth of every disadvantage opposed to him. What Garrick had reported of the ministry in the summer was in the main correct. Though it had not broken to pieces, the King had exploded it; and there was Pitt and a new “arrangement.” The word was not ill chosen. Changes of ministry were now brought about without the conflict of principles or party, and by no better means than might be used for “arrangement” of the royal bedchamber. Lord Rockingham had hardly taken office when the Duke of Cumberland's death left him defenceless against palace intrigues; and their busy fomentors, the “King's friends” whom Burke has gibbeted in his Thoughts on Discontents, very speedily destroyed him. His Stamp Act repeal bill, his American Trading bill, his resolution against General Warrants, and his Seizure of Papers bill, were the signal for royal favor to every creeping placeman who opposed them; and on the failure of the latter bill Grafton threw up his office, saying Pitt alone could save them. Pitt's fame as well as peace would have profited had he consented to do that. But against his better self the King's appeals had enlisted his pride; and he had not strength, amid failing health, to conquer the impulse of vanity. He alone of all
men, he was told, could rally the people, reunite the nobles, and save the throne; he alone, the King wrote to him, could "destroy all party distinctions and restore that subordination to government which alone can preserve that inestimable blessing, liberty, from degenerating into licentiousness.” A wise thing, if it could have been accomplished; but a thing that was never even seriously intended. The system of which George the Third and Lord Bute were the inventors and Bubb Dodington the apostle, was no alliance of the throne with the people, but subordination of everything, including the great houses, to the throne. For party the King would have substituted prerogative; for faction, despotism; for occasional corruption of the House of Commons, its entire extinction as an independent house; and for the partial evils of a system which bound men firmly together for general public purposes, though it strengthened them sometimes for particular selfish ends, the universal treachery and falsehood of a band of reptile parasites, acknowledging no allegiance but at the palace and no service but the King's. No man better than Pitt should have known this; yet in an evil hour he consented to be Prime Minister, with the title of the Earl of Chatham.'
Rockingham retired, with hands as clean as when he
1 "Lord Rockingham and Dowdeswell are caressed by the King at court beyond expression," wrote Lord Temple on the 4th May; and in June the fate of the ministry was determined.- Rockingham Memoirs, i. 346. “Lord Rockingham himself told me," says Nicholls, “that the King never showed him such distinguished marks of kindness as after he had secretly determined to get rid of him.”— Recollections and Reflections during the Reign of George III. i. 22 (a book well worth reading for illustrations of this kind, though inspired by the most intense and unaccountable dislike of “the Burkes"). This was a habit observable in that prince to the last, and often remarked by ministers who trusted to it and were deceived.
%"Oh !” exclaims Gray, “that foolishest of great men that sold his inestimable diamond for a paltry peerage and pension. The very night it happened was I swearing it was a damned lie, and never could be. But it was for want of reading Thomas à Kempis, who knew mankind so much better than I.”—Gray to Warton. Works, iii. 264-266. But for the best that can be said on the matter, and for a general view of existing parties written with admirable feeling and eloquence, see Macaulay's second paper on Chatham, in the Essays, iii. 445–542.
entered office; without having bribed to get power or intrigued to keep it; without asking for honor, place, or pension, for any of his friends; and with that phalanx of friends unbroken. He was then, and for some years later, the only minister since the King's accession with whom Bute had not secretly tampered, or whom the favorite had publicly opposed ;' and the one great fault of his administration had sprung from a pedantry of honor. He thought that, in taxing America, the legislature had been impolitic and wrong; but he could not bring himself to think that the legislative power of the empire was not supreme over the colonies within its rule, and that it was not able to tax America as to commit any other as mad injustice. Surely, however, the very act to repeal the injustice acknowledged sufficiently the power to commit it; and to superadd a declaration of the power was to invite its future reassertion. It might be true; but it was galling, and not necessary. It was, in the same breath, an assertion of strength with a confession of weakness, and unwisely halted half-way between conciliation and a threat. Nor did anything so much as this give George Grenville his future strength in opposition, when, with his dogged yet solid and vigorous eloquence, he continued to maintain that there was no middle course between enforcing submission or acknowledging independence. Upon this question, therefore, it had been that the great Chief Justice Pratt, who enjoyed Pitt's chosen confidence, and whom Rockingham had on that ground singled out for elevation to the earldom of Camden, used the privilege so generously given resolutely to oppose the giver. The example was one, on the part of both minister and opponent, by which Pitt might of late have profited; but his noble nature had become clouded for a time. To many proffers from Lord Rockingham to serve with him, to accept him even as a leader, the only answer vouchsafed by Pitt had been a studied slight; and the only return now made by Chatham was an attempt to separate the
See Burke's “Short Account” in his Works, i. 207–209.
party from its chief. This was steadily resisted. Savile, Dowdeswell, Lord John Cavendish, the Duke of Richmond, the Duke of Portland, Fitzherbert, and Charles Yorke (Burke could only refuse future office, he had none to resign), persisted in resigning office; and the only important members of the late administration who remained were the two whom Cumberland had induced to join it, General Conway (with whom William Burke remained as under-secretary) and the Duke of Grafton.
With these, though strongly opposed in views as well as temper, were now associated two men of remarkable talents, personal adherents of Chatham; Lord Camden as Chancellor and Lord Shelburne as a Secretary of State : the latter a young but not untried statesman, and distinguished not merely for political ability, but also for such rare tastes and independent originality of character that men of science and letters, such men as even Goldsmith, had come to regard him as a friend. The next ingredient in the strange compound was Charles Townshend, perhaps the cleverest and certainly the most dangerous man in the whole kingdom. Admirably did Horace Walpole remark that his good-humor turned away hatred from him, but his levity intercepted love. He was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the lead of the House of Commons; and his opinions no man knew, save that they were simply the opinions of the House of Com
He had with equal ability advocated every shade of opinion; as the majority had with equal impartiality voted the same. Burke called him the child of the house, and said he never thought, did, or spoke anything but with a view to it; that he adapted himself to its disposition every day, adjusted himself before it as at a looking-glass, saw of himself only what was reflected there, and was infinitely above having any opinion apart from it. Certainly no man, for his brief reign, was ever so popular in it, or in the extravagance of his inconsistencies so nearly approached to its own. The light of his ascending star is compared, by no partial witness, to the majesty of Pitt's descending glory; nor does it seem doubtful that his later influence
in debate transcended even the great commoner's. But a man is not remembered in history for his mere predominance in the House of Commons; and he who exactly suits that audience and “hits the House between wind and water” may be found to have lost a nobler hearing and missed much worthier aims. Little spoken of, indeed, as Charles Townshend now is, it seems necessary to call to mind, when any modern writer pauses at his once famous name, that as well in the copious abundance of his faults as the wonderful brilliancy of his parts he had far outstripped competition; and must have ranked, even beyond the circle of his contemporaries, for the most knowing man of their age but for his ignorance of “common truth, common sincerity, common honesty, common modesty, common steadiness, common courage, and common sense. Want ing these qualities, and having every other in surprising abundance, he most thoroughly completed the charm of powerful trouble which Chatham was now preparing, and in which every shade of patriot and courtier, King's friend and republican, Tory and Whig, treacherous ally and open enemy, were at length most ingeniously united. Nobody knew anybody in this memorable cabinet, and all its members hated each other. Soon did even its author turn sullenly away from the monstrous prodigy he had created and leave it to work its mischief unrestrained.
Poor Conway first took the alarm, and got the Duke of Grafton to urge the necessity of having some one in the lower house on whom real reliance could be placed. There will be “a strong phalanx of able personages against us,” he said ; "and among those whom Mr. Conway wishes to see support him is Mr. Burke, the readiest man on all points,
1 Curious incidental notices of Townshend will be found in the Autobiography of Jupiter Carlyle, who first met him as a fellow-student in Leyden. I may now also refer the reader to Charles Townshend, Poet and Statesman, a volume lately published by Mr. Percy Fitzgerald.
? Walpole's George III. iii. 102. A view of these affairs, somewhat differing from that which I have taken, but very masterly, has been interwoven by Lord John Russell with the Memorials of Fox, i. 111-122.