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SIR ROBERT WALPOLE.
HAVING delivered to you what I have to offer on the
subject of the union of Scotland, we must now return to the history of England, which we left at the accession of George I. The first object that claims our attention is the violence of the Whigs on their restoration to power. Of this violence, among the most durable monuments must be mentioned the articles of impeachment against Oxford, Bolingbroke, and Ormond, and the report of a committee of the House of Commons commissioned to collect and examine such documents as were connected with the peace of Utrecht. This report and these articles become interesting from the great events to which they relate, and the distinguished characters, whose private integrity and political reputation are concerned-Prior, Bolingbroke, Oxford ; and lastly, their accusers, the great leaders of the Whig party, Walpole and others.
It must be confessed that these documents are much degraded by the foul insinuations and expressions of virulence which they contain; but suppose these terms of virulence, these serious accusations made by the Whigs undeserved, there will still remain a very heavy weight of blame to be endured by the Tory leaders. They might not merit the title which they sometimes received of “the Frenchified ministry;" they might not have been guilty (I use the language of their Whig opponents) “of forming, without regard to the honour or safety of her late majesty, maliciously and wickedly, a most treacherous and pernicious contrivance and confederacy to set on foot a dishonourable and destructive negotiation,” &c. &c.; but they were too much disposed to secure themselves in power, and to make a peace at all
events, as a means to accomplish that end; they were too ready to make a peace with or without their allies; and their conduct was thus rendered not always wise, and sometimes even dishonourable.
In the writings of Mr. Coxe you will see the opinion of a very regular and respectable historian, and it is entirely against the Tory ministry. He is even more decided, and more disposed to reprobate their conduct, in his late work, “On Spain and the Princes of Bourbon," than before ; that is, the more he has read and examined, the more unfavourably he thinks of them. The war of the succession and the peace of Utrecht cannot indeed be properly estimated without a reference to his works, particularly his last work, on Spain. I conclude, from the general tenor of his expressions and manner, that he is prepared to say that Europe is at this moment suffering, and has never ceased to suffer, from the unpardonable faults and mistakes of the Tory ministry of Queen Anne.
We thus arrive at that particular period of our history which may be described under the general term of the era of the administration, or at least of the influence and administration, of Sir Robert Walpole. It is important because the Brunswick family were establishing themselves, during this interval, upon the throne of these kingdoms, and because in their success were involved the concluding fortunes of the Revolution. This great and happy renovation or assertion of the free principles of our mixed government had been with difficulty accomplished by the illustrious William. The splendid victories of Marlborough threw a glory around the Whigs, the party which he at last espoused; and for some time seemed to set at a distance all hopes of a counterrevolution in favour of the Stuarts; but these hopes had so revived about the close of the reign of Anne, and it was an experiment so novel and unpromising to bring a new race of princes from Germany to rule the kingdom, ignorant of its constitution, and even of its language, that a very considerable interest belongs to this part of our history from the uncertainty that on this account still hung over the issue of the great struggle that had been made for our liberties.
The merit of Sir R. Walpole has been always understood to be the transcendent merit of having most materially contributed to establish the present family on the throne, or, in other words, of having rendered at last triumphant, the great cause of the Revolution of 1688.
This is the first and great interest that belongs to these times, and to the character of this minister. There are, however, other subjects of curiosity connected with this era. It was still the classic age of England. The events and characters belonging to it are still illustrated in the immortal writings of Pope, of Addison, of Bolingbroke, and Swift. The parliamentary leaders were men of distinguished ability; Walpole, Pulteney, Shippen, Sir William Wyndham, Lord Hardwicke, Lord Carteret, Lord Chesterfield; and it was towards the close of the same era, that first arose the great orator of England, the first Mr. Pitt, who was afterwards destined to realize, on many occasions, even the splendid visions which have been given of the eloquence of Demosthenes by the enthusiastic admiration of Longinus.
Of the different topics that occur in the perusal of this part of our bistory, several are very striking, and there are some that can never lose their importance—the Septennial Bill, the South Sea scheme, the Peerage Bill, the rise and progress of the sinking fund, the national debt, the secret and open efforts that were made to restore the pretender, the long peace that was maintained between England and France, the struggles of the great Tory, Whig, and Jacobite parties, the views and language of each; the concerns of Ripperda, Atterbury, Bolingbroke; and considerable entertainment, and very rational entertainment, may be derived from such particulars as have come down to us, of the character and manners of the two first monarchs of the House of Brunswick, and more particularly of Queen Caroline, not to mention such anecdotes as remain of the German favourites and mistresses, by which these reigns were so unfortunately disgraced.
Such is a slight and general view of the attractions that this era of our history presents to those, who would wish reasonably to amuse their leisure, or usefully to employ their diligence in historical pursuits.
It happens, too, that the whole is put immediately within
the reach of every reader, by the labours of Mr. Coxe. His Memoirs of Sir Robert Walpole, in the first volume, give an authentic account of the views and situation of that minister from time to time, and of the measures that were the result. The two succeeding volumes contain the documents on which most of the representations contained in the first are founded. In the preface is given a reference to other great works connected with this subject-Boyer's Political State, and others. These works are voluminous, and seldom to be met with but in particular libraries in London (in the British Museum, for instance). In addition to the work of Coxe, we have also accounts of the public debates in the lords and commons, and we have Tindal's History.
On the whole, therefore, I would recommend to my hearers to take the modern publication of Belsham, and to read it in conjunction with Coxe; then to refer occasionally to the two volumes of the correspondence of Coxe, and to refer continually to the parliamentary debates, which may be read in Cobbett.
Tindal's History is valuable, and should be looked at when the subject is important. Smollett's work is a rapid perform
a ance, but not worthy of its author. Smollett was a man, not only possessed of a strong vein of coarse humour, but one of laborious activity and of a powerful mind, fitted therefore to succeed in a literary enterprise. On this occasion, however, it is understood that he was only desirous, and only employed, to draw up a narrative on the Tory side of the question. It was his fate, as it has been but too often the unhappy fate of men of genius, to be obliged to convert literature into a means of subsistence.
On the whole, Coxe's book and Belsham’s, with a reference to some of the principal debates, will be sufficient for the general reader. The preface to Coxe's work, and the notes, will give sufficient information to those who think it necessary to investigate to the utmost the whole, or any particular part, of this period of our annals.
It will be found often entertaining and instructive, to turn over the leaves of the London Magazine and the Gentleman's Magazine. Publications like these, when they can be had, give the manners and opinions living as they rise, and seem
to have been the precursors of the more ample and regular annual registers, which will hereafter afford so endless a field of amusement and inquiry to the philosophic readers of history.
I have hitherto said nothing of the continental politics of these times. They may be studied in Coxe, not only in his Life of Sir Robert Walpole, but in his second work, the Life of Sir Robert's brother, Horace Lord Walpole. Were Europe now what it once was, I should recommend them to be so studied very attentively, but I know not that such attentive study can now be thought very necessary. The intrigues and negotiations connected with them were complicated and tedious. They were the subjects of great controversy; Pulteney and the opposition contending, that the interest of Britain was sacrificed to Hanover: Walpole and his brother insisting, that the interest of Britain was steadily pursued. The volumes of Coxe afford ample opportunity to those who wish to study this part of the general subject, and two or three of the pamphlets he alludes to, will be found in all collections of pamphlets relating to these times, and may be looked at.
The chief reason why I should wish the continental politics and the documents connected with them to be considered, is, that they are a good study to a statesman, because courts, and cabinets, and ministers, and ambassadors are much the same at all times, with the exception of any such extraordinary crisis as has occurred during the opening and progress of the French Revolution; consequently, they who wish to know how they are to comport themselves, the chicanery they are to meet with, the acuteness and fine talents which they ought to possess (a point which our young men of family do not always consider, when they propose themselves for diplomatic situations), they who wish to know the caution with which they must proceed, when they act as ministers of state or ambassadors, may here find their lesson, and better given, perhaps, than in any other historical records that can be mentioned, because the documents furnished by Coxe are authentic, and many of them of a confidential nature. In this way then, and for this purpose, they may be studied to advantage.