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“ building of Ships against Pirates — For making CHAP. “ of Oil from Sun-flower Seeds - For improving
XI. “ of Malt Liquors - For recovering of Seamen's 1720.
For extracting of Silver from Lead “ For the transmuting of Quicksilver into a mal“ leable and fine Metal — For making of Iron with “ Pit-coal — For importing a Number of large Jack “ Asses from Spain - For trading in Human Hair “ — For fatting of Hogs — For a Wheel for a Perpetual Motion.” *
But the most strange of all, perhaps, was “ For an Undertaking which shall in " due time be revealed.” Each subscriber was to pay down two guineas, and hereafter to receive a share of one hundred with a disclosure of the object; and so tempting was the offer, that 1000 of these subscriptions were paid the same morning, with which the projector went off in the afternoon. Amidst these real follies, I can scarcely see any difference or exaggeration in a mock proposal which was circulated at the time in ridicule of the rest,“ For the Invention of melting down Saw-dust and
Chips, and casting them into clean Deal Boards “ without Cracks or Knots!”
Such extravagancies mightwell provoke laughter; but, unhappily, though the farce came first, there
* Macpherson's Hist. of Commerce, vol. iji. p. 90. ed. 1805. Mr. Hutcheson observes, “ To speak in a gaming style, the “ South Sea stock must be allowed the honour of being the 6. Gold Table; the better sort of bubbles, the Silver Tables ; “ and the lower sort of these, the Farthing Tables for the « footmen !" (Treatises, p. 87.)
CHAP. was a tragedy behind. When the sums intended XI.
to be raised had grown altogether, it is said, to the 1720. enormous amount of three hundred millions *, the
first check to the public infatuation was given by the same body whence it had first
The South Sea Directors, craying for fresh gains, and jealous of other speculators, obtained an order from the Lords Justices, and writs of sciRE FACIAS, against several of the new bubble companies. These fell, but in falling drew down the whole fabric with them. As soon as distrust was excited, all men became anxious to convert their bonds into money; and then at once appeared the fearful disproportion between the paper promises and the coin to pay. Early in September, the South Sea Stock began to decline: its fall became more rapid from day to day, and in less than a month it had sunk below 300. In vain was money drained from all the distant counties and brought up to London, In vain were the goldsmiths applied to, with whom large quantities of stock were pawned : most of them broke or fled. In vain was Walpole summoned from Houghton to use his influence with the Bank; for that body, though it entered into negotiations, would not proceed in them, and refused to ratify a contract drawn up and proposed by the Minister. Once lost, the public confidence
* Tindal's Hist. vol. vii. p. 357.
+ Hutcheson's Second Postcript, Sept. 24. 1720. Treatises, p. 89. See also in my Appendix a letter from Lord Harvey to H. Walpole, Sept. 12. 1735.
could not be restored : the decline progressively CHA P. continued, and the news of the crash in France completed ours. Thousands of families were re
1720. duced to beggary; thousands more were threatened with the same fatė; and the large fortunes made, or supposed to be made, by a few individuals, served only by comparison to aggravate the common ruin. Those who had sported most proudly on the surface of the swollen waters were left stranded and bare by the ebbing of that mighty tide. The resentment and rage were universal.
“ I perceive,” says a contemporary, “the very name of a South Sea “man grows abominable in every county* ;” and a cry was raised not merely against the South Sea Directors, not merely against the Ministry, but against the Royal Family, against the King himself. Most of the statesmen of the time had more or less dabbled in these funds. Lord Sunderland lost considerablyt; Walpole, with more sagacity, was a great gainer #; the Duke of Portland, Lord Lonsdale, and Lord Irwin, were reduced to solicit West India Governments; and it is mentioned as an exception, that “neither Lords Stanhope, Argyle, nor “Roxburgh, have been in the stocks.”Towns
* Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Sept. 27. 1720. + Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Sept. 13. 1720.
I Coxe's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 730. Walpole sold out at the highest price (1000), saying, as he well might, “I am fully “ satisfied.” His wife continued to speculate a little longer on her own account.
$ Mr. Drummond to Mr. D. Pulteney, November 24. 1720. (Coxe's Walpole.)
CHAP. hend, I believe, might also be excepted. But the
public indignation was pointed chiefly against Sir 1720. John Blunt as projector, and against Sunderland
and Aislabie as heads of the Treasury; and it was suspected, how truly will afterwards appear, that the King's mistresses and several of his ministers, both English and German, had received large sums in stock to recommend the project. In short, as England had never yet undergone such great disappointment and confusion, so it never had so loudly called for confiscation and blood.
That there was some knavery to punish, I do not deny, and I shall presently show. It seems to me, however, that the nation had suffered infinitely more by their own self-willed infatuation than by any fraud that was or could be practised upon them. This should not have been forgotten when the day of disappointment came. But when a people is suffering severely, from whatever cause, it always looks round for a victim, and too often strikes the first it finds. It seeks for no proof; it will listen to no defence; it considers an acquittal as only a collusion. Of this fatal tendency our own times may afford a striking instance. Whilst the cholera prevailed at Paris and Madrid it was seen that the mob, instead of lamenting a natural and unavoidable calamity, were persuaded that the springs had been poisoned, and ran to arms for
During this time, express after express was sent to the King at Hanover, announcing the dismal
news, and pressing his speedy return. George had CHAP. intended to make a longer stay in Germany; but seeing the urgency of the case he hastened homewards, attended by Stanhope, and landed at Margate on the 9th of November. It had been hoped that his Majesty's presence would have revived the drooping credit of the South Sea Funds, but it had not that effect; on the contrary, they fell to 135 at the tidings that Parliament was further prorogued for a fortnight. That delay was necessary to frame some scheme for meeting the public difficulties, and this task, by universal assent, and even acclamation, was assigned to Walpole. Fortunately for that Minister he had been out of office when the South Sea Act was passed; he had opposed it as he had opposed all the measures, right or wrong, of Stanhope's and Sunderland's government, and its unpopularity, therefore, turned to his reputation with the country. Every eye was directed towards him; every tongue invoked him, as the only man whose financial abilities, and public favour, could avert the country's ruin. Nor did he shrink from this alarming crisis. Had he stood aloof, or joined the opposition, he would probably have had the power to crush the South Sea Directors and their abettors, and especially to wreak his vengeance upon Sunderland; and he is highly extolled by a modern writer for magnanimity in resisting the temptation.* But though
* Coxe's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 138.
A letter in his second