Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Mr. Burke, sketched with great accuracy of outline and strength of representation.

The accusations against Sir Robert Walpole, such as they were urged by his opponents in and out of parliament, in speeches and pamphlets, were these :-his fruitless negotiations, his destructive treaties, his subsidies with a view only to his majesty's foreign dominions, his votes of credit, his misapplication of the sinking fund, his discountenance of all proper measures for paying off the national debt, his disinclination to prosecute the Spanish war in the West Indies with the necessary vigour, and, in a word, his putting a country, taxed, burthened, and almost exhausted, to all the annual charges of war, whilst he deprived it of the possibility of reaping any of its advantages by remaining in all the inaction of peace. Finally, that it was during his adıninistration, and from the influence of his politics, that France became powerful and Austria declined.

Such were the accusations urged against Sir Robert, and enforced and adorned by the splendid talents of men like Bolingbroke, Pulteney, Shippen, and Sir William Wyndham. These accusations may become very properly subjects of your reflection. They are obviously open to much explanation and discussion ; several of them such, as a system like Sir Robert's was necessarily exposed to—a system of preventive and defensive politics.

Lord Orford claims for his father, what cannot, I think, be denied him, the praise of sound judgment, strong abilities, fortitude, calmness, patience, humanity, an easy pleasantry, sound patriotism, and a steady attachment to the family on the throne. These are very great, or very useful, or very agreeable qualities. I see not how they are to be refused to the character of Sir Robert. When these are considered in conjunction with the reasons that are mentioned by Burke for the praise which he so deliberately weighs out to him, the observation of Mr. Belsham may, I think, be acceded to: that “a man, upon the whole, better adapted to the station which he occupied, or better qualified to discharge the various and complicated duties of it, could nowhere be found.”

In the note book on the table you will see a character of Sir Robert by Hume, which appears in one of the early and now scarce editions of his essays.

I have now laid before you all I have to offer on those general subjects which are connected with the administration of Sir Robert Walpole.

But there is one to which I have not yet adverted, and which you will find fully detailed in the note-book on the table—the origin and progress of the dispute with Spain.

I cannot here go into the merits of this question; but nothing could be more humane and reasonable than the views and feelings of Sir Robert. I certainly wish to attract your attention to it, because among the great lessons of history one of the most important is the policy, the justice, the duty of the love of peace.

But what truth so obvious as the desirableness of peace ? Why insist upon an obligation which has only to be understood-and admitted—and which is understood as soon as it is proposed ?

The fact is, that the duty is assented to, but not acted upon. It is with the doctrines of peace as with the doctrines of toleration-men honour them in their words, not in their conduct; and, with loud protestations of the respect they bear them, are never easy unless they are violating them, never easy unless they are gratifying their irritable passions, and subjecting every one around them, in the one case to the superiority of their theological knowledge, and in the other to the terror of their arms.

This subject, therefore, of the dispute with Spain, you will do well to study. You may do it with convenience in Coxe; look also at the debates.

You may in this manner see, if you please, what your ancestors were on this occasion, and what you yourselves will probably be on all similar occasions. None of you can think ever to possess understandings more brilliant or more improved than were those of Pulteney, Sir William Wyndham, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Carteret; and it can only be by taking warning from their mistakes that you can hope to be more wise. I must again repeat that I could wish to attract your attention to these proceedings. I could wish to induce you to draw general conclusions in favour of moderate counsels, pacific sentiments, calm reasonings, and dignified for

bearance, on all occasions of our differences with foreign powers, on all occasions when any such momentous interest as the shedding of the blood of man can be at issue.

I must entreat you to observe how impossible it was for the minister, Sir Robert Walpole, to state the truth, and the whole truth, without rendering his hearers and the nation quite clamorous and outrageous; how impossible to state the case of Spain. I must entreat you to consider whether it is not always thus; I do not mean in our own nation exclusively, but certainly in our own, very particularly. I must entreat you to observe the popularity that then belonged to all warlike sentiments-the violent and offensive terms in which the Spaniards were spoken of on every occasion ; and you will then consider the free nature of our government, the ease with which popular sentiments are circulated, and how readily, in the progress of a quarrel, either of the parties, though right in the origin of the dispute, may become wrong and at last the real aggressor, from the very insulting and overbearing manner in which redress may be claimed.

Certainly important lessons may be drawn from these proceedings by the inhabitants of this country; and I must now finally observe, as I have before mentioned, that such lessons, in every free country like this, may be very safely drawn, for in any such country there is no chance of any improper tameness or pusillanimity. In any such country personal courage will always be the indispensable requisite of every man, and the counsels of such a country will always be of a warlike, violent, and unjust, rather than of a reasonable, pacific, and equitable nature. The danger is always on that side; and not only the philanthropist, but the statesman, in such a country as ours, can seldom be better employed than in countenancing and propagating, by every means in his power, a love of peace, habits of caution, patience, and good temper, habits of real magnanimity; for what, after all, is magnanimity but the union of such qualities with the fearlessness of danger ?

Having thus endeavoured to direct your thoughts to these transactions, and to what I conceive the proper inferences to be deduced from them, I must make one observation more. I have hitherto mentioned the conduct of Sir Robert, during the progress of this dispute with Spain, only to praise it; a

a

more painful task remains. I must dismiss it with endeavours to hold it out to you as a proper subject, in one respect, of

your censure.

In the course of these discussions Sir Robert had not done the Spanish cause justice; he had not told his own country the whole truth. (This I have already observed.) His excuse might be, and it may be admitted, that this was not the way to procure peace; that there was no chance for peace but his own continuance in power. Yet his patience, his good temper, his reasonableness, his exertions, great and meritorious as they were, in the cabinet and in the senate, were all unavailing. He found them to be so.

In defiance of every effort he could make, his eloquence, his influence, his management, his sacrifices of every kind, the event turned out to be, that the two nations were hurried into a war, and that he had no comfort left but that of having strenuously laboured to prevent so fatal a termination of their differences.

There is even more than this to be considered. It appears that the king was eager for the war; that Sir Robert was counteracted by the cabinet, blamed by many of his personal friends, reviled by the nation. The question, therefore, which is asked by Coxe should be asked by every reader,—Why did he not resign? Why did he not endeavour to make some impression upon his countrymen by throwing up his emoluments and his honours? This argument, at least, they could not but have felt. Why was not his own honest fame as a statesman, and his character with posterity, as dear to him as they ought to have been ? Why did he not refuse his sanction to a system of conduct which he thought precipitate, violent, and unreasonable?

It cannot be necessary, it cannot be proper, that a minister should have recourse to so strong a measure as the resignation of his office on light grounds and at every turn. Others are to have their opinions as well as himself; mutual concessions and sacrifices may be made by honourable men faithfully co-operating in the administration of a government. But when points of principle in themselves sacred, when questions of importance, like the alternatives of peace and war, are at issue, then indeed it is not possible for a man of intelligence or spirit to proceed longer in his doubtful path amid the

blended confines of right and wrong; he must no longer assent to what he does not approve. He can discharge no more necessary duty to his country than to avow his opinion and act upon it. It may be that his opinion is right, and a salutary effect may be produced. But on every supposition, one good will at least be attained—he will give an example of public virtue.

The path of honour is always the path of wisdom; and they who survey the situation of Sir Robert from the moment that he suffered himself to be persuaded by the king to continue in office (for he had the merit of proffering his resignation), will see no reason to call in question this great and universal maxim of human conduct. Sir Robert retained his place but two years, his place rather than his power, without comfort to himself or advantage to his reputation. Life itself he retained but a few years longer; what, then, were his gains in return for the mortifications he endured ?

It is difficult, indeed, for men properly to engage in the affairs of mankind without being deeply interested in them. It is still more difficult to be thus interested, and at the same time to view them from that commanding height, and with those sentiments of philosophic criticism with which they will come at length to be surveyed by posterity. Yet such is the magnanimity, such the comprehensiveness of judgment which are, and which ought to be, expected from the rulers of mankind, and it is therefore with no pleasure that we observe the character of Sir Robert so strongly marked by the great fault of all statesmen-an inordinate love of power; that we observe him clinging to office, till he was torn and driven from it, and even in his fall, casting on it that longing, lingering look which was unbecoming him, as a man of spirit, and unworthy of him as a man of virtue.

It is with no pleasure that we afterwards see him depressed and uncomfortable, because when he was no longer the minister of the crown, no longer the centre round which the business of the empire revolved, he necessarily became an individual visited, like other individuals, only by those who cherished him for his amiable and social qualities, or who respected him for his talents and his virtues.

Every attention appears to have been paid to him by those

« ForrigeFortsett »