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GEORGE II. PELHAM. REBELLION OF 1745, ETC.
E left the English history at the close of the adminis
tration of Sir Robert Walpole ; the next era that I will propose to
is the interval between that event and the peace of 1763.
To this era we turn with some curiosity. We have heard much of the events by which it was distinguished; much of the great statesmen and lawyers by whom it was adorned. The nation, in the mean time, as we may judge from the effect, must have made a great progress in its commerce, agriculture, manufactures, and literature; in its general opulence and general intelligence. Of all these things we are somewhat eager to know the history.
But on this occasion we meet with a severe disappointment. We find the history written only by Smollet; and we learn, upon inquiry, that the work was drawn up as a Tory history (agreeably, however, to Smollet's principles), because a bookseller, in the exercise of his trade, had perceived that such a history would obtain a sale.
Belsham’s History is but short; and, though a work of more merit than is generally allowed, not written in a manner, even in these earlier volumes, sufficiently calm and dignified. The Annual Registers do not begin till the year 1758; and the London Magazine and Gentleman's Magazine comprehend some of the materials of history rather than a history itself. Above all, we have no authentic debates. In four volumes is comprised every thing of this kind that can now be offered to our notice. Under the feigned names of the Roman senate and the senate of Lilliput, some of the speeches of those who took a part in the debates were published in the London and Gentleman's Magazines ; but at length even this
imperfect and mutilated information was denied. The public were prevented from knowing the arguments and views of their statesmen, not only by order of the lords, the hereditary protectors of the community, but by the commons, the very representatives of the community; and there is for some time, in the debates of both houses, a total chasm and blank. After all that we have heard of the eloquence of Murray and of Pitt, nothing can be more grievous than our disappointment in this part of our general inquiries.
I have already noticed to you the very strange ignorance of the real nature of this subject, shown by the House of Commons on a former occasion, and even by such a man as Pulteney, while the leader of opposition. It is now better understood. And as, on the one hand, every reasonable man will see that the houses of parliament should always have the right of excluding strangers when they think fit; so, on the other, it is equally clear that this right should be exercised as seldom as possible—by no means so often as men of violent and arbitrary dispositions would think desirable. You who hear me will, I trust, if any of you should ever sit in parliament, be very careful how you interfere with the publicity of the debates; in other words, how you presume to assassinate the talents of your country, stifle the free spirit of its constitution, and destroy the instruction of after ages.
On the whole it will appear, from all the particulars I have mentioned, that we have no very good means of appreciating wbat I may call the fair, open, regular politics of the country, We must judge, as well as we can, from the events that took place, the measures carried by the different administrations, the general characters of those that composed them.
We are allowed a slight glance into another part of the general subject, the intrigues and cabals of the times. The Diary of Doddington, Lord Melcombe, has been published. It is generally amusing, and sometimes important: amusing, because it gives some idea of the way in which public men of more talents than principle usually reason and act, and of the way, too, in which they are treated by ministers and those who want their services at the cheapest rate; important, because it gives some idea of Mr. Pelham, the Duke of Newcastle, and other distinguished men of the times, and
above all, because it affords the only insight we can as yet obtain into the education and manners of his present majesty when young, as well as into the characters of those who were around him, his tutors and governors, his friend the Earl of Bute, Prince Frederick his father, and the Princess Dowager.
The public can seldom reach any knowledge of this peculiar kind. Those who are usually about a court are unfit to make any proper use of their advantages, and indeed they seldom try. The slightest particulars, therefore, are eagerly seized and meditated upon by every philosophic reader of history; and this book of Doddington must by no means be neglected.
With Doddington may be read a book that has been lately published by Lord Holland—the Memoirs of Lord Waldegrave, from the year 1754 to 1758.
The book is very deserving of perusal, as it affords us the observations of a very sensible man on the occurrences that passed before his eyes, while in the confidence of George II. and the governor of the late king. It somewhat disappoints the reader, for more might have been expected than is found on the subject of the young prince, the princess dowager, and Lord Bute, though valuable hints are given; and on the political principles of Pitt, Mr. Fox, and others; but the book must be read, and will be read, as well as the preface and the letters of Mr. Fox (afterwards Lord Holland), with entertainment and instruction. Characters are given, and well drawn; the style is very easy, clear, and idiomatic; the style of a polished man, rather than of a scholar, accustomed to the company of people of rank and talents.
The general conclusion from the whole is very unfavourable to all the statesmen concerned ; that they contended rather for power than for the prevalence of any political principles ; that they constituted factions in the state rather than parties : great constitutional principles were, however, sometimes at issue, though apparently not felt and considered to be such at the time. Lord Waldegrave himself seems to have had no very enlarged or proper ideas of our constitution; to have been a man with no political views himself, and attributing none to other people. I conclude my notice of this work by observing, that a mistake may be made with regard to the
princess dowager; she was entitled to the affection and respect of the young prince, the future king, as his mother. The question is, whether she was or was not converting her maternal influence into a means of political power, and whether she was or was not ambitious to rule by the assistance of Lord Bute, and rule on Tory principles. But to return to the point of history at which we set out.
The labours of Mr. Coxe do not exactly close with the Life of Sir Robert Walpole. He has also published memoirs of Sir Robert's brother, the first Horace Walpole. And it is to these we must have recourse when we first turn to the era which we are more immediately considering.
I will now proceed to advert to some of the more particular occurrences of this interval from 1743 to 1763, in the order in which they appeared.
In the first place, I have already mentioned, and must again mention, the intrigues that took place on the fall of Sir Robert. They are worth your consideration. A general notion of them may be formed from Coxe's Life of Sir Robert, favourable to him no doubt ; but the fact seems to be, that all the parties concerned in these transactions had their follies and their faults; the public perhaps the least so, but even the public was not without them, as will be seen when we are considering those of their statesmen.
Pulteney, for instance, seems to have made, when in opposition, a very improper declaration that he would never take office. A public man may certainly propose himself as a sort of inquisitor of all other public men; but on one supposition, that he takes no favours from any administration ; this is a necessary proviso. He then may occupy a very elevated situation, and deserve and obtain the applauses of his country; for this is a sort of merit that is very great, and is intelligible. But men of talents, as well as good sense and honesty, may even more materially contribute to the service of their country, by going into office, and advancing its interests, foreign and domestic, civil and religious, by becoming such ministers as the former (the men of honesty and good sense), may safely patronise. This is a merit of a still higher nature, and for a virtuous and intelligent statesman to exclude it from his view is in fact to abandon the government of a country to every presumptuous, self-interested man that will undertake it. Pulteney, however, seems to have attempted to adhere (when power was within his reach) to the ill-judged declarations which he had made when in opposition; and when it was his business to form an administration, he seems to have entertained the unreasonable expectation, that he could still keep his consequence without being seen in any one responsible situation or post; not in opposition; not in office; not even as a neutral critic; but merely as a commoner made into a peer; placed calmly to survey the proceedings of the administration he had constructed, without any means of influencing their movements; without any duty to discharge to the public; i. e. in other words, without any right to receive their praises.
What was the result? He had scarcely finished his negotiations with the court when he found too late that he had attempted impossibilities. He was almost insulted with his insignificance, even by the Duke of Newcastle. He was so mortified as to have meditated a renewal of his opposition. This indeed would have crowned his mistakes; and he is said, in the agonies of his shame and disgust, to have trampled the patent of his peerage under his feet.
The most edifying part of these transactions is the view which Pulteney had himself formed of his plans and situation. “ If,” says he, “ avarice, ambition, or the desire of power had influenced me, why did I not take (and no one can deny but I might have had) the greatest post in the kingdom? But I contented myself with the honest pride of having subdued the great author of corruption; retired with a peerage which I had at three different periods of my life refused ; and left the government to be conducted by those who had more inclination than I had to be concerned in it. I should have been happy if I could have united an administration capable of carrying on the government with ability, economy, and honour.”
Public men are not to indulge themselves in dreams like these : they are not to suppose that they subdue a bad minister, or a set of bad men, unless they do their best to form a better administration ; unless they hazard their own characters, and embark their own labours in a new system: bad