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CHA P. eager speculators to use his hump for their desk.*
Law, the projector of this System, as it was called, at once became the greatest subject in Europe. “ I have seen him come to Court,” says Voltaire, “ followed humbly by Dukes, by Marshals, and by “ Bishops ;” and even Dubois, the Prime Minister, and Orleans, the Regent, might be said to tremble at his nod. Arrogance and presumption, the usual faults of upstarts, daily grew upon him: he said publicly, before some English, that there was but one great kingdom in Europe, and one great town, and that was France and Paris.t And at length he so far galled the pride or raised the jealousy of his countryman, Lord Stair, as to draw him into personal wrangling, and consequently interrupt the friendly correspondence between the French and British Governments. It was one main object of Stanhope's journey in January to re-establish harmony; but finding the two Scotsmen irreconcilable, and one of them supreme in France, he, in concert with Dubois, recalled Lord Stair to England, and appointed Sir Robert Sutton his successor. $ Thus ended Stair's celebrated embassy, which Lord Hardwicke truly calls most important in its objects, most brilliant and spirited in its execution. But this last great error kept him under
* Mém. de la Régence, tom. iv. p. 53. ed. 1749.
I Lord Stanhope to Abbé Dubois, Dec. 18. 1719. (Append. vol. i.) and Lord Stair's apologetic letters in the Hardwicke State Papers, vol. ij. pp. 603—615..
§ Hardwicke State Papers, vol. ii. p. 521.
disgrace, or at least out of employment, for twenty CHAP. years. In 1733, we find Horace Walpole write of him as one “ whose haughty intriguing character “ has drawn upon him the displeasure of the
The connection of Law with the French Governient was very profitable to the latter, who contrived to throw off 1500 millions of public debts from their shoulders upon his; but this very circumstance, and the natural revulsion of highwrought hopes, soon began to shake his air-built edifice. Two or three arbitrary Royal decrees to support him served only to prove that credit is not to be commanded. The more the public was bid to trust, the more they were inclined to fear, and the more eager they became to realise their imaginary profits. No sooner was the bubble touched, than it burst. Before the end of 1720, Law was compelled not only to resign his employments, but to fly the kingdom for his life: a few speculators were enriched, but many thousand innocent families ruined. Still, however, in the early part
To Baron Gedda, 1733. This, however, was after the Excise Scheme.
+ In 1723, Walpole wished to promote the restoration of Law in France, since the power might fall into much worse hands for England. (To Sir Luke Schaub, April 19. 1723.) But the public resentment was far too violent to admit of such a scheme. It is very remarkable as the strongest proof of the ascendency of Lord Stanhope over Dubois and the French Government, that it was he who, from Hanover, planned and counselled all the steps for the expulsion of Law and the restoration of public credit in France. (M. Destouches to Dubois, Sept. 8. 1720. See Appendix.)
CHAP. of that year the crash had not yet begun, and the w rage of speculation spread over from France to 1720. England. In fact, from that time downward, it
be noticed that each of the two countries has been more or less moved by the internal movements of the other ; and there has been scarcely any impulse at Paris which has failed to thrill and vibrate through every member of the British Empire.
As soon as the South Sea Bill had received the Royal Assent in April, the Directors proposed a subscription of one million, which was so eagerly taken, that the sum subscribed exceeded two. A second subscription was quickly opened, and no less quickly filled. The most exaggerated hopes were raised, and the most groundless rumours set afloat ; such as that Stanhope had received overtures at Paris to exchange Gibraltar and Port Mahon for some places in Peru! The South Sea trade was again vaunted as the best avenue to wealth ; objections were unheard or over-ruled; and the friends of Lord Oxford might exult to see his visions adopted by his opponents. * In August, the stocks, which had been 130 in the winter, rose to 1000! Such general infatuation would have been happy for the Directors had they not them
* “ You remember when the South Sea was said to be Lord “ Oxford's brat. Now the King has adopted it, and calls it his “ beloved child : though perhaps you may say, if he loves it no “ better than his son, it may not be saying much !” (Duchess of Ormond to Swift, April 18. 1720.
selves partaken of it. They opened a third, and cHAP,
XI. even a fourth subscription, larger than the former ; they passed a resolution, that from Christmas next their yearly dividend should not be less than fifty per cent. ; they assumed an arrogant and overbearing tone. “ We have made them Kings,” says a Member of Parliament, "and they deal with every “ body as such !”* But the public delusion was not confined to the South Sea Scheme; a thousand other mushroom projects sprung up in that teeming soil. This evil had been foreseen, and, as they hoped, guarded against by Ministers. On the very day Parliament rose they had issued a Royal Proclamation against “such mischievous and dangerous “ undertakings, especially the presuming to act as "a corporate body, or raising stocks or shares “ without legal authority.” But how difficult to enforce that prohibition in a free country! How impossible, when, almost immediately on the King's departure, the Heir Apparent was induced to publish his name as a Governor of the Welsh Copper Company! In vain did the Speaker and Walpole endeavour to dissuade him, representing that he would be attacked in Parliament, and that “ The Prince of Wales' Bubble” would be cried in Change Alley. t It was not till the Company was threatened with prosecution, and exposed to risk, that His Royal Highness prudently withdrew, with a profit of 40,0001.
• Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Sept. 13. 1720.
С НАР. Such an example was tempting to follow : the XI.
Duke of Chandos and the Earl of Westmoreland 1720. appeared likewise at the head of bubbles; and the
people at large soon discovered that to speculate is easier than to work. Change Alley became a new edition of the Rue Quincampoix. The crowds were so great within doors, that tables with clerks were set in the streets. In this motley throng were blended all ranks, all professions, and all parties; Churchmen and Dissenters, Whigs and Tories, country gentlemen and brokers. An eager strife of tongues prevailed in this second Babel; new reports, new subscriptions, new transfers, flew from mouth to mouth; and the voice of ladies (for even many ladies had turned gamblers) rose, loud and incessant, above the general din. A foreigner would no longer have complained of the English taciturnity.* Some of the companies hawked about were for the most extravagant objects : we find amongst the number, “Wrecks to be fished for on “the Irish Coast — Insurance of Horses, and other “Cattle (two millions) — Insurance of Losses by “ Servants — To make Salt Water Fresh For
building of Hospitals for Bastard Children - For
* A French traveller, a few years afterwards, declares that the “ Actions du Sud et les Galions d'Espagne" were almost the only subjects on which Englishmen would talk. In general, he says, we are quite silent. “ L'on boit et fume sans parler. Je “ connais un Anglais, qui, toutes les fois qu'on veut le forcer à “ rompre le silence, a coutume de répondre, que parler c'est “ gâter la conversation !" (Lettres d'un Français, tom. ii. p. 108. ed. 1745.)