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dency of the South Sea Act, was a notorious and CHAP. dangerous corruption. He was seconded by Lord Townshend, and the Resolution passed unani- 1721. mously. On the 4th of February, the House, continuing their examinations, had before them Sir John Blunt, who, however, refused to answer, on the ground that he had already given his evidence before the Secret Committee of the Commons. How to proceed in this matter was a serious difficulty ; and a debate which arose upon it soon branched into more general topics. A vehement philippic was delivered by the Duke of Wharton, the son of the late Minister, who had recently come of age, and who even previously had received the honour of a dukedom, his father having died while the patent was in preparation. This young nobleman was endowed with splendid talents, but had early plunged into the wildest excesses, and professed the most godless doctrines; and his declamations against the “ villanous scheme," or on public virtue, came a little strangely from the President of the Hell-fire Club!* On this occasion he launched forth into a general attack upon the whole conduct of administration, and more than hinted that Stanhope had fomented the late dissension between the King and Prince of Wales. Look to his parallel, he cried, in
On the 29th of April, this year, the King issued a Proclamation against the Hell-fire Club. Wharton hereupon played a strange farce : he sent to the House of Lords, declared that he was not, as was thought, a “patron of blasphemy," and pulling out an old family Bible, proceeded with a sanctified air to quote several texts ! But he soon reverted to his former courses.
CHA P. Sejanus, that evil and too powerful minister, who
made a division in the Imperial family, and rendered the reign of Tiberius hateful to the Romans! Stanhope rose with much passion to reply: he vindicated his own conduct and that of the administration ; and in conclusion, after complimenting the Noble Duke on his studies in Roman history, hoped that he had not overlooked the example of the patriot Brutus, who, in order to assert the liberty of Rome, and free it from tyrants, sacrificed his own degenerate and worthless son! But his transport of anger, however just, was fatal to his health ; the blood rushed to his head ; he was supported home much indisposed, and relieved by cupping, but next day was seized with a suffocation, and instantly expired. Thus died James Earl Stanhope, leaving behind him at that time few equals in integrity, and none in knowledge of foreign affairs. His disinterestedness in money matters was so well known, that in the South Sea transactions, and even during the highest popular fury, he stood clear, not merely of any charge, but even of any suspicion with the public; and the King, on learning the news, was so affected, that he retired for several hours alone into his closet to lament his loss.
In the room of Stanhope, Townshend became Secretary of State; while Aislabie, finding it impossible to stem the popular torrent, resigned his office, which was conferred upon Walpole. But this resignation was far from contenting the public, or abating their eagerness for the report of the
Secret Committee. That Committee certainly dis- CHA P. played no want of activity: it sat every day from 9 in the morning till 11 at night, being resolved, as the Chairman expresses it, “ to show how the “ horse was curried !”* At length, on the 16th of February, their first Report was presented to the House. It appeared that they had experienced obstacles from the escape of Knight, from the taking away of some books, and from the defacing of others; but that the cross-examination of the Di. rectors and Accountants had supplied the deficiency. A scene of infamous corruption was then disclosed. It was found that last year above half a million of fictitious South Sea Stock had been created, in order that the profit upon that sum might be disposed of by the Directors, to facilitate the passing of the Bill. The Duchess of Kendal had 10,000l. ; another of the King's favourites, Madame de Platen, with laudable impartiality had the same sum; nor were the two nieces of the latter forgotten. Against these ladies no steps were, nor, perhaps, could be taken. But those persons in the administration accused of similar peculation were Secretary Craggs, his father the PostmasterGeneral, Mr. Charles Stanhope, Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Aislabie, and the Earl of Sunderland; and the Report added the various evidence in the case of each.
On the very day when this Report was reading
* Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Feb. 4. 1721.
CHAP. in the Commons died one of the statesmen accused XI.
in it, James Craggs, Secretary of State. His ill1721. ness was the small-pox, which was then very prevalent*, joined no doubt to anxiety of mind.
have been his conduct in the South Sea affairs (for his death arrested the inquiry), he undoubtedly combined great talents for business, with a love of learning and of literature; and his name, were it even to drop from the page of History, would live enshrined for ever in the verse of Pope. But the fate of his father was still more lamentable:
a few weeks afterwards, when the accusation was pressing upon him, he swallowed poison and expired. If we may trust Horace Walpole, Sir Robert subsequently declared that the unhappy man had hinted his intention to him.t
The other cases were prosecuted by the House with proper vigour, and singly, as standing each on separate grounds. The first that came on was that of Mr. Charles Stanhope, Secretary to the Treasury: he was a kinsman of the late Minister, and brother of Colonel William Stanhope, afterwards Lord Harrington. It was proved that a large sum of stock had been entered for him in the bank of Sir George Caswall and Co., and that his name had been partly erased from their books,
* See a list of its victims in that month in Boyer's Political State, vol. xxi. p. 196, &c.
+ Compare Walpole’s Reminiscences, (Works, vol. iv. p. 288. ed. 1798,) and Brodrick's Letter to Lord Midleton, March 16. 1721.
and altered to STANGAPE. On his behalf it was CHAP.
XI. contended that the transfer had been made without his knowledge or consent; but I am bound to 1721. acknowledge that I think the change of his name in the ledger a most suspicious circumstance. On a division he was declared innocent,. but only by a majority of three. On this occasion, according to Mr. Brodrick, “ Lord Stanhope, son to Lord “ Chesterfield, carried off a pretty many, by men“ tioning in the strongest terms the memory of the “ late Lord of that name.”* This respect to a living Minister would not surprise us, but it surely was no small testimony to the merits of a dead one.
The next case was Aislabie's. It was so flagrant, that scarce any member ventured to defend him, and none to divide the House: he was unanimously expelled and sent to the Tower, and afterwards great part of his property seized. Many had been the murmurs at Stanhope's acquittal ; and so great was the rejoicing on Aislabie's conviction, that there were bonfires that night in the City.
Lord Sunderland now remained. He was charged with having received, through Knight, 50,0001. stock, without payment; and the public outcry against him was fierce and loud, but, as I believe, unfounded. The charge rested entirely on hearsay testimony, on words which Sir John Blunt said that Knight had said to him: there was collateral evidence to shake it; and the character of Blunt him
* To Lord Midleton, March 7. 1721.