ePub 版

nals of England under the House of Brunswick. Nor do we know of any method of treating the history of an important epoch which gives so lifelike a representation of the events with which it deals, as that which teaches by a judicious selection of correspondence. Its defectiveness, indeed, is in one respect inevitable; inasmuch as it offers but a partial view of events; and, by dealing with public affairs from its own point of view, distorts the relative importance of particular scenes and particular actors. In this manner, while the present works detail to us the policy of the Grenvilles with a prominence indicative of their Own supremacy in the political world, the Memoirs of Lord Rockingham, and those of Mr. Fox, necessarily give a totally different complexion to the political annals of the same period. It will thus be the task of the historian to reconcile these inevitable inequalities of partial narration; but until such an analysis has been made, it will be the task of the reviewer to examine the additional light which the more important of these historical sketches may throw upon hidden facts of government.

In dealing with works relating to periods of such magnitude and importance, it will of course be impossible to attempt continuous narration. The correspondence here begins with the dissolution of Lord North's Administration, and the consequent termination of the American war in 1782. It thence elucidates questions relative to the Rockingham, Shelburne, and Coalition Ministries; to the final establishment of Mr. Pitt's Government; and to the struggle of that period between the crown and the parliament. We shall therefore endeavour to point out the instances in which the present works serve to enlarge our knowledge of the political affairs to which they relate, by touching upon different subjects singly and disconnectedly.

The year 1782 opened with the final discomfiture of the war party, and of Lord North's Government. During twelve disastrous years, that minister had represented the party opposed to the conciliation of America, which under the preceding Administration of the Duke of Grafton (1766-1770) had inflicted a fatal blow

to British interests in that quarter. These twelve years were replete with great events. At their commencement, the United Kingdom retained the prestige and the power which it had acquired under Chatham. At its close, not only was that power and prestige annihilated, but the country, equally unable to support the war or to endure the government, pronounced against the policy of the administration, established a new one in its place, and recognized the independence of America.

On the 19th of March, 1782, Lord North, after encountering a variety of motions with the alternate fate of a minority and a majority seldom exceeding fifteen voices upon either side, communicated to Parliament the final beak-up of the war ministry. The Opposition was then constituted by two distinct parties in the State. That which commanded at once the greatest ability, and the greatest numerical force, was the more liberal branch headed by the Marquess of Rockingham in the House of Lords, and comprehending Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, Mr. Sheridan, and Lord John Cavendish, in the House of Commons. These were the genuine Whigs--a party so pure, and severely exclusive, that they formed in reality a political caste. The other. party was that of which Lord Chatham, up to his death in 1778, had been the head, and which now acknowledged the leadership of Lord Shelburne. The opinions of this party appeared to hold an intervening place between those of the Whigs and Tories. They may perhaps be assimilated to the Peelites' of the present day. The coalition of these parties now formed the obvious means of a new Government being established in 1782, much as the coalition of the parties headed by Lord John Russell, and of Lord Aberdeen formed an expedient dictated by the same consideration seventy years afterwards.

Very strong jealousies and antipathies had developed themselves between these parties, even before the out-break of the American war. Lord Chatham had on a former occasion endeavoured to form a combination with Lord Rockingham similar to that of 1782, and so high did the animosity run between the two parties, that Rockingham refused to give Chatham admission to his house. In

1782, however, after so long an es trangement from the Treasury bench, the love of office got the better of a love of jealousy and distrust; and the Whigs, on the condition of the Premiership of Lord Rockingham, agreed to share the sweets of official life with the party of Lord Shelburne. It was endeavoured to establish the Coalition Government which was thus formed, on a balance of jealousies. This equipoise, however, was lost within six months of its formation, by the death of Lord Rockingham. The King, who, distrusting the whole liberal body, preferred nevertheless the least anti-monarchical of the two, and had wished from the outset to see Lord Shelburne at the head of affairs, now insisted on his taking Lord Rockingham's place. Fox, meanwhile, determined to maintain the ascendancy of the Whigs, proposed the Duke of Portland in place of Rockingham, and to the prejudice of Shelburne. When he had submitted this proposal to the King, and was informed that the Treasurer's staff had already been committed to Lord Shelburne, he asked leave to nominate the new Secretary of State in Lord Shelburne's place; and on learning that that place was also already disposed of, resigned office in conjunction with the rest of the Whig leaders. Thus ended, in a few months, the Administration representing the fruit of twelve years of parlia mentary opposition.

Thus far, the incidents we are relating are matters of history. But the present Memoirs reveal much of the under-current by which these results were brought about. Fox, it is clear, placed no confidence in the integrity of Shelburne; nor Shelburne in that of the King. When, then, we bear in mind that the integrity of Mr. Fox himself was not of the highest order, we may gain a fair notion of the exalted point of view from which Shelburne must have contemplated the morality of the sovereign! "Lord Shelburne said of the King," says the Duke of Buckingham, "that he possessed one art beyond any man he had ever known; for that by the familiarity of his intercourse he obtained your confidence, procured from you your opinion of different public characters, and then availed himself of

this knowledge to sow dissensions." (vol. 1, p. 27).

The Duke of Buckingham has also brought to light the fact, that Fox himself considered the Administration as defunct from the moment of Lord Rockingham's death; and that the proposal of the Duke of Portland was made simply in the character of an impracticable ultimatum, to justify the resignation of the Whigs. This is revealed by a letter of his own.

It must be admitted that this correspondence has served to offer some palliation of the conduct pursued by Mr. Fox towards Lord Shelburne, and to show that public as well as private considerations rendered it difficult for that minister to serve with him while he was undisputed master of the State.

It will be remembered that on the accession of the Rockingham Ministry, it was determined that an envoy should be sent to Paris to negotiate with Franklin, then at that capital, on the terms of a pacification with America. Mr. Thomas Grenville was the statesman selected for that purpose; and it would have been difficult to have made a more judicious selection. While, however, Mr. Grenville was thus publicly accredited in the name of the Government, Lord Shelburne, as it appears from this correspondence, took upon himself to send out a secret envoy without the knowledge of Mr. Fox, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. This envoy appears to have been charged with the special mission of thwarting Mr. Grenville, and defeating the policy of the majority in the cabinet. It is to be suspected that the king must have been cognisant of the matter, for it is difficult to understand in what manner an envoy proceeding in so anomalous a manner could otherwise have gained the confidence of the authorities in France. This is explained by the following selections from a letter given at length in these memoirs :

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

expressly told me that he would think over all the points likely to establish a solid reconciliation between England and America. For this very interesting communication which I had long laboured to get, he fixed the fourth day, which was last Saturday; but on Friday morning Mr. Oswald came, and having given me your letters, he went immediately to Franklin, to carry some to But when I came to lead the discourse (with Franklin) to the subject which he (Franklin) had promised four days before, I was a good deal mortified to find him put it off altogether till he should be more ready; and notwithstanding my reminding him of his promise, he only answered, it should be in some days. What passed between Mr. Oswald and me will explain the reason of this disappointment.


Mr. Oswald told me that Lord Shelburne had proposed to him, when last in England, to take a commission to treat with the Ame rican ministers; and that upon his mentioning it to Franklin now, it seemed perfectly agreeable to him, and even to be what he very much wished; Mr. Oswald adding that he wished only to assist the business. He mixed with this a few regrets that there should be any difference between the two offices; and when I asked upon what subject, he said, owing to the Rockingham party being too ready to give up every thing.

You will observe, though, for it is on that account that I give you this narrative, that this intended appointment has effectually stopped Franklin's mouth to me; and that when he is told that Mr. Oswald is to be Commissioner for England, it is but natural that he should reserve his confidence for the quarter so pointed out to him: nor does this secret seem only known to Franklin ; as Lafayette said, langhing, yesterday, that he had just left Lord Shelburne's ambassador at Passy. (i. pp. 34-36.)

This letter proceeds to mention the several points on which Oswald entered into separate and secret negotiation.

Now it is certain that this correspondence reflects more or less discredit upon the Whig coalition, in both its branches. It shows that there was neither honour now confidence in the composition of the Government. The conduct of Lord Shelburne was wholly indefensible, even on the supposition which a passage in the above letter certainly authorises, that Mr. Fox was not very solicitous for the honour of his country, under the delicate task and inevitable necessity of recognising the independence of a rebellious colony. The course open to Shelburne was undoubtedly that of a resignation, in the event of a majority

of the cabinet deciding against his views. On the other hand, it has lately been shown in the Memorials of Mr. Fox, published by Lord John Russell, that that minister was ready to degrade his country in the eyes of the Court of Berlin (see his letters to Frederic the Great); and there was, therefore, grave doubt whether Fox were not as insincere towards his country as was Lord Shelburne towards Fox. The indignation of the Rockingham Whigs, however, knew no bounds, as will be seen in the following extract from the answer of Mr. Fox :


St. James', June 10th, 1782.

Dear Grenville,

I received late, the night before last, your very interesting letter of the 4th; and you will easily conceive that I am not a little embarrassed by the contents.


I have taken upon me to show your letter to Lord Rockingham, the Duke of Richmond, and Lord John (Cavendish), who are as full of indignation at its contents as one might reasonably expect honest men to be. With these two points we wish to charge Shelburne directly; but pressing as the King is, and interesting as it is both to our own situations and to the affairs of the public, which are, I fear, irretrievably injured by this intrigue, and which must be ruined if it is suffered to go on, we are resolved not to stir a step until we hear again from you. If this matter should produce a rupture, and consequently become more or less the subject of discussion, I am sensible the Canada paper cannot be mentioned by name; but might it not be said that we had discovered that Shelburne had withheld from our knowledge matters of importance to the negotiation? And with respect to the other point, might it not be said, without betraying anybody, that while the King had one avowed and authorised minister at Paris, measures were taken for lessening his credit, and for obstructing his enquiries, by announcing a new intended commission, of which the cabinet had never been apprised? &c. (i. p. 40.)

[ocr errors]

It appears certain from this letter, that Mr. Fox and his party had contemplated a retirement from the cabinet, even before Lord Rockingham's death. They proposed openly to assail Lord Shelburne in parliament; and they were ready, by implication at least, to assail the king also. Yet these were the Ministers of the Crown! And foremost among the assailants stood the First Lord of the Treasury,

and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs! It is difficult to say which party is most culpable in these transactions. It was the duty of either party, instead of cherishing secret schemes or smothered resentment, to have submitted the question to the cabinet, and to have abided by that issue. Shelburne might have declaimed against the contingent dishonour of the country: Fox against the certain dishonesty of the minister. Utrum horum mavis accipe!

It is, however, only due to Mr. Fox thus to wipe away the stain attaching to the charge of his having thrown up the seals under the influence of a private pique, upon the promotion of Lord Shelburne to the Treasury; for it would have been obviously impossible, whatever were the shortcomings of his own administration, that he should have continued to serve in a Government thenceforth altogether directed by an alien policy. So much for political coalitions!

We now pass to the memorable coalition between Lord North and Mr. Fox, which resulted in the definitive establishment of the Shelburne party in power, under the Premiership of young Pitt.

On the 24th of February, 1783, (as Mr. Grenville writes to Lord Temple) Lord Shelburne, overwhelmed by the confederacy of Mr. Fox and Lord North, gave in his resignation. The correspondence seems, at this point, very strikingly to illustrate the confusion which ensued, and to show that it was only after a hard struggle, after all, that the coalition acceded to power.

"The offer," says Mr. W. Grenville, on the 26th, "has been made to Pitt of the Treasury, with carte blanche, which, after two days' deliberation, he has this day refused."

The King, therefore, immediately on the resignation of Shelburne's ministry, must have sought to reconstruct it by raising the defeated Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Premiership. On the 1st of March, he sent for Lord North; but positively declined to negotiate with Mr. Fox. "The

king's reluctance to see him," writes the Duke of Buckingham, "could not be overcome; upon that point his majesty was inflexible; and interview after interview followed, ending in the same unsatisfactory way, the country continuing to be kept in a state

of uncertainty and alarm, and, as Mr. Grenville describes it, wholly without any Government whatever."-p. 172.


The Whigs, however, had not coalesced with the Tories for nothing. The King at length endeavoured to tempt the cupidity of Lord North by offering him the Treasury, a scheme which would have at once excluded the party of Mr. Fox, who were determined to enter the Government upon at least equal terms. This proposal rejected, his majesty next suggested, as an ultimatum, to place a neutral person" at the head of affairs. This "neutral person" Mr. Fox insisted should be no other than the Duke of Portland, whom he had previously endeavoured to prefer to Lord Shelburne upon the death of Rockingham. The Duke's "neutrality" was denied by the king, and the scheme rejected. It was not until the 20th of March, after an unparalleled delay of nearly a month, that an administration was finally formed by the concession of the King. His Grace of Portland became nominal Premier, the Government, meanwhile, being virtually directed by the two secretaries of state, Lord North and Mr. Fox. It was so contrived, however, that all the other offices of trust should be conferred upon the Whigs; and the new Administration, therefore, became more odious to the king than that of Lord Rockingham itself. Thus the Whigs came into power once more, using the Duke as a go-between, and Lord North as a cat's paw!

The steps which brought about the fall of this Administration are well known. Mr. Fox's India Bills, which proposed to transfer to a Whig Parliamentary Commission, irresponsible to the crown, the whole executive power of India, were introduced on the 18th of November in the same year. There can be no doubt that this measure was a signal blunder. It promised, indeed, if accomplished, a vast extension of power to the Whig party. But there was a secret cabinet which had the ear of the sovereign, more powerful perhaps than the acknowledged government. This was regarded as headed by Lord Temple, and stood in the interest of the King and the Shelburne party. It is clear, from the correspondence published by the Duke of Buckingham, that the final defeat of these bills in the House of Lords,

which produced the king's dismissal of Ministers, was the work of a secret understanding between his Majesty and Lord Shelburne's party, of both of whom Temple was made the instru


From this point the more vivid interest in the Memoirs of the Reign of George III. ceases. We have endeavoured to conduct the reader through the tortuous labyrinth by which the country passed from the firm but disastrous administration of Lord North to the firm and glorious government of Mr. Pitt. It is easy to trace the process by which that great man, at the age of twenty-four, found himself suddenly exalted to the head of affairs. During a year and a half, three suc

cessive ministries were created and destroyed. Yet the Administration preceding that brief period had endured for twelve years, and the Administration which followed it endured from 1783 into the following century. Never was a Government created with fairer prospects of durability than that which, in March, 1782, arose under the auspices of the Marquess of Rockingham. It was supported both by town and country-by the aristocracy and the people : it was required to triumph simply over the prepossessions of the King, and the faction still headed by Lord North. Yet it fell, not from external agency, but from intestine disunion. It involved not simply a coalition of men, but a conflict of opinions. The government then formed in its place--formed, as Mr. Sheridan, then out of office, indignantly declared, "not of a coalition of parties, but of the shreds and remnants of parties"-was broken up by a coalition from without, after an existence of some eight months. Finally, the coalition of the two previously defeated parties-the North Tories and the Rockingham Whigs-being, in turn, overthrown at once by royal and public displeasure, all the old elements of parliamentary government were exhausted. The splendid talents of the younger Pitt and the favour of the crown then brought a new generation into irresistible power. If we remember that the personal predilections of the sovereign formed a principal cause of the endurance of Lord North's ministry for twelve years, amid every complication of political blundering and military disaster,

we shall scarcely wonder that the same predilections should have supported, for seventeen years, an administration the greater part of which was passed in profound peace and in commercial enterprise.

We think that our readers will feel more interest in the stirring period of the Regency than in that to which the rest of the earlier Memoirs by the Duke of Buckingham refers. We pass, therefore, at once to the years 1811 and 1812, which witnessed the accession of the Prince of Wales, the assassination of Mr. Percival, the new complications of European affairs, the second American war, and the rise of the famous Liverpool Administration.

It will be remembered that, as the Houses of Parliament were about to adjourn for the Christmas of 1810-11, their festivities were suddenly arrested by the communication of the startling intelligence, that the machinery of government was at an end. The intellect of his majesty had failed him. Mr. Percival was then at the head of the government; and it became essential at once to institute a Regency. It appears that the commission of the government of the country to the Prince of Wales was, from the first moment, acknowledged as inevitable; although it will be remembered that, on the earlier manifestation of the king's malady, twenty years before, Mr. Pitt was strenuously contesting this principle with Mr. Fox, when the recovery of the King terminated the discussion. The collateral relatives of his majesty were now, however, extinct, with the solitary exception of his royal highness of Gloucester; and between the sovereign and this prince there was little, perhaps, to choose. They may be described as standing on the two sides of the boundary of the worlds of sanity and insanity. The duke was, in truth, but just on the safe side of the confines: the king had


gone over the border," while his return was seriously apprehended at once by the Whigs and the heir to the throne!

After continual ministerial defeats on subordinate questions of detail, the Regency Bill at length became law on the 5th of February, 1811. Our author fails to notice, however, the manner in which it was decreed that any bill could become law when the throne was (morally speaking) vacant. It was

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »