« ZurückWeiter »
« The last two monarchs being foreigners, and opposed by a native prince, who had numerous adherents, as well among the people as in some of the most illustrious houses, confided a large portion of their power to a few distinguished families, in order to secure possession of the crown. These families, strengthened by union and exclusive influence, became not only independent of, but in many respects superior to, the throne. Swayed by a predilection for their continental dominions, the first two sovereigns of the House of Hanover incurred severe animadversions from the members of opposition; and the necessity of frequent justifications rendering them still more dependent on the leaders of the ministerial party, reduced them almost to a state of pupilage.
“ But the new king (George III.) being exempt from foreign partialities, ascending the throne at a period when the claims of the exiled family were fallen into contempt, was enabled to emancipate himself from the restraint to which his ancestors bad submitted. The Earl of Bute formed the plan of breaking the phalanx which constituted and supported the ministry; and of securing the independence of the crown, by a moderate exertion of the constitutional prerogative. This plan in itself was well conceived and necessary, but the Earl of Bute was not a proper person to carry it into effect. He was not connected, either by blood or by familiar intercourse, with the leading families in England; he was not versed in the arts of popularity, nor used to the struggles of parliamentary opposition; and his manners were cold, reserved, and unconciliating. Prejudices were easily excited against him as a native of Scotland, and he could only oppose to a popular and triumphant administration, and a long established system, such friends as hope or interest might supply, and the personal esteem of the king, which was rendered less valuable by the odium attached to the name of favourite.”
I must confess that it was with some pain that I first read this remarkable paragraph, and not without some surprise.
That the system here described had been really the system of the reign, I had always indeed conceived ; and that it had been so represented by Mr. Burke, so early as the year 1770, I was well aware. But certainly I had not expected to see the system avowed by any one, writing, as it is understood, on the very best authorities, still less defended by one who proposed to himself the character of an historian of England. Yet such is the fact.
I cannot assent to the propriety of the opinions and principles of this writer, and yet I have no other history, at least, this is the most regular history that I have to offer you for your future study.
The history of Belsham is a work (as I have already mentioned) of more merit than would at first sight be supposed. But in the year 1793, after the breaking out of the French war, it loses the character of history, and becomes little more than a political pamphlet; and through the whole of the reign of his present majesty, it is so written that it must be considered as a statement, whether just or not, but certainly only as a statement of one side of the question; and must therefore, at all events, be compared with the statement on the other side, i. e. with the history of Adolphus.
On every account, therefore, I must present to you the work of Adolphus, and leave it to its influence on your minds.
But if this (which I have just read) be the paragraph with which it opens, if these be the principles on which it is written, and if the system just described be one which he conceives was reasonably recommended to the sovereign, I have no alternative but to state what I apprehend to be very serious objections to these principles and to this system ; and I must do so, however disagreeable may be the discussion (as it certainly is) into which I must thus be drawn.
The leading transactions of the reign, prior to the dispute with the American colonies, could furnish me indeed with no reflections of a more pleasing nature than can this paragraph of Adolphus. You will read them in the history, and you must be left to read them, not hear them from me; they scarcely fall within my province. But the principles of the system on which this or any other reign is conducted, really come within the description of the more appropriate topics of a lecturer on history. And I shall therefore, on the whole, make the ensuing lecture a mere comment on the paragraph I have read. And I have only further to observe, that while you are considering such points as will necessarily pass in review before us, you will in reality be considering the most delicate, curious, and critical questions that belong to the English constitution.
To return, therefore, to the paragraph I have just read. In the first place, I should hope that there is a certain air about the plan itself (as described by Adolphus), a certain want of proper sentiment that would, to youthful minds like yours, be not very congenial. I will speak of the necessity of it hereafter, but “ in limine," and on the first view of it, what is it?
The two first monarchs of the Brunswick line, it seems, confided a large portion of their power to a “few distinguished families.” But why? In order to secure possession of the crown. A very adequate reason, no doubt; and if they in consequence succeeded in their wishes, neither the people of England, nor any princes of that Brunswick line, should readily forget their obligation,
Again :-swayed, it seems, by a predilection for their continental dominions, the two first sovereigns of the house of Hanover incurred severe animadversion from the members of opposition, and the necessity of frequent justification, rendering them still more dependent on the leaders of the ministerial party, reduced them almost to a state of pupilage ; i. e. I fear, the leaders of this ministerial (then the Whig) party, not only supported their sovereigns, but did so considerably at the hazard of their good name; not only supported them as sovereigns of England, but as electors of Hanover; indulged them even in their predilections for their continental dominions, and had such merit with their sovereigns in consequence of the sacrifices they thus made, that these sovereigns could not avoid acceding to any wishes they expressed, and any measures they proposed.
This may be indeed the case; but if it be, it is no very good preparation for the statement which Adolphus immediately subjoins.“ The new king,” says he, “ being exempt from foreign partialities, and ascending the throne at a period when the claims of the exiled family were fallen into contempt, was enabled to emancipate himself from the restraint to which his ancestors had submitted. The Earl of Bute formed the plan of breaking the phalanx," &c. &c.
The new king might be enabled by these circumstances (no doubt), but was the Earl of Bute therefore justified in advising him thus to emancipate himself? So much for the original conception of the plan, which Mr. Adolphus has thought well conceived. But was, indeed, this plan so necessary, as he states it to have been? You must consider this for yourselves.
You are supposed to be now reading that part of the history of England which bears upon this particular point. What was the pupilage to which George I. was reduced ? Did the Whig families presume to thwart him in his expensive treaties and entangled intrigues, to secure the great objects of his policy, the possession of Bremen and Verdun; i. e. (as he thought) the prosperity of his electoral dominions ? Far from it. Did not they consider their acquiescence as the price of his favour, or rather as the price that was to be paid for the expulsion of the Stuarts and the Revolution of 1688? Did not the Whig ministers and their sovereigns think the power and prosperity of each necessary to the best interests of the other? Was there more of pupilage and dependence in this connexion, than are always to be found in the connexion of men who are bound to each other by an interchange of benefits in support of laudable objects ?
What are we to say of Sir R. Walpole? Is not the great fault of Sir Robert at all times a too great anxiety for the personal favour of his sovereign; a too great readiness to make sacrifices to obtain it; an almost puerile terror of losing his place, when George II. began to reign, and had dismissed him with an intention of making Sir Stephen Compton minister; an unwillingness to lose it to the last moment of his administration, when Pulteney became triumphant ?
George I. seems to have had no difficulty in keeping his favourite minister, Lord Stanhope, in power. His courtier, the Earl of Sunderland, was always of far more consequence in the state than he deserved. Sir R. Walpole obtained not the superiority which he always merited, till his rivals were dead, or had been disgraced by the South Sea scheme. Sir Robert was, from the mere apprehension of losing his place, obliged to suffer his own personal enemy, and the enemy of his king and country, Lord Bolingbroke, to return. All the terms he could make with the sovereign and his mistress were, that this dangerous man should not appear again in the House of Lords. What is there here of pupilage in the sovereign ? The influence of Sir R. Walpole arose from his own personal merit; first, with the House of Commons; and, secondly, with Queen Caroline, who assisted him : not in managing the House of Commons, and thereby controlling the king ; but in managing the king, and therefore in appearing to that house as the man who was honoured with his confidence and favour.
The only two instances, in which the wishes of the sovereign were thwarted, were, when the Pelhams overpowered Lord Carteret, though the avowed favourite of his master, and when Mr. Pitt was admitted into office, though personally disliked by the king.
In the former of these instances, the Pelhams were more approved of by the country than their rival, Lord Carteret; they were known to be less ready than he, to go every length which the king might wish in the politics of the continent. That they afterwards made too great sacrifices to him in these points, particularly the Duke of Newcastle, more than they could well justify to themselves, only serves to show how important they thought the king's favour, and how necessary to their continuance in office.
In the last instance, of Mr. Pitt, was not the real objection to him the superiority of his merit? That he was conscious of his high talents, and had not the servility of those who have nothing but servility to depend upon. Yet, in the event, did not even Mr. Pitt submit to the German system of politics, when he became himself a minister ? Contrary to all his former opinions, repeatedly avowed with all the fervour of his eloquence, did he not declare that this system was a mill-stone round his neck, with which he entered into office? For what reason did he suffer it to remain there, but because he found the court too powerful ?
You will therefore consider, as you read the history, how far the Whig families, or ministers, did become (as Adolphus insists) not only independent of, but in many respects superior to the throne ; and, again, even admitting the fact, how far