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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, Volume IV (of 4)
by Justin McCarthy and Justin Huntly McCarthy
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Transcriber's note:

Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers enclosed in curly braces, e.g. {99}. They have been located where page breaks occurred in the original book. For its Index, a page number has been placed only at the start of that section.

In the original volumes in this set, each even-numbered page had a header consisting of the page number, the volume title, and the chapter number. The odd-numbered page header consisted of the year with which the page deals, a subject phrase, and the page number. In this set of e-books, the odd-page year and subject phrase have been converted to sidenotes, usually positioned between the first two paragraphs of the even-odd page pair. If such positioning was not possible for a given sidenote, it was positioned where it seemed most logical.

In the original book set, consisting of four volumes, the master index was in Volume 4. In this set of e-books, the index has been duplicated into each of the other volumes, with its first page re-numbered as necessary, and an Index item added to each volume's Table of Contents.



A HISTORY OF THE FOUR GEORGES

AND OF WILLIAM IV.

by

JUSTIN MCCARTHY

and

JUSTIN HUNTLY MCCARTHY

In Four Volumes

VOL. IV.



Harper & Brothers Publishers New York and London 1901

Copyright, 1901, by Harper & Brothers. All rights reserved.



CONTENTS OF THE FOURTH VOLUME.

CHAPTER PAGE

LXIII. "OPENS AMID ILL OMENS" . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 LXIV. POPULAR ALARMS—ROYAL EXCURSIONS . . . . . . . . 15 LXV. GEORGE CANNING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 LXVI. THE CLOSE OF CANNING'S CAREER . . . . . . . . . 46 LXVII. "THE CHAINS OF THE CATHOLIC" . . . . . . . . . . 65 LXVIII. THE LAST OF THE GEORGES . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 LXIX. KING WILLIAM THE FOURTH . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 LXX. LE ROI D'YVETOT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114 LXXI. REFORM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122 LXXII. THE GREAT DEBATE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144 LXXIII. THE TRIUMPH OF REFORM . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159 LXXIV. THE EMANCIPATION OF LABOUR . . . . . . . . . . . 188 LXXV. THE STATE CHURCH IN IRELAND . . . . . . . . . . 205 LXXVI. "ONLY A PAUPER" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221 LXXVII. PEEL'S FORLORN HOPE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233 LXXVIII. STILL THE REIGN OF REFORM . . . . . . . . . . . 261 LXXIX. THE CLOSE OF A REIGN AND THE OPENING OF AN ERA 280 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 295



{1}

A HISTORY OF THE FOUR GEORGES.

CHAPTER LXIII.

"OPENS AMID ILL OMENS."

The closest student of history would find it hard indeed to turn to the account of any other royal reign which opened under conditions so peculiar and so unpropitious as those which accompanied the succession of George the Fourth to the English throne. Even in the pages of Gibbon one might look in vain for the story of a reign thus singularly darkened in its earliest chapters. George the Fourth had hardly gone through the State ceremonials which asserted his royal position when he was seized by a sudden illness so severe that, for a while, the nerves of the country were strained by the alarm which seemed to tell that a grave would have to be dug for the new King before the body of the late sovereign had grown quite cold in the royal vault. It would be idle, at this time of day, to affect any serious belief that the grief of the British people at this sudden taking off, had it come to pass, would have exceeded any possibility of consolation. George the Fourth was an elderly personage when he came to the throne, he had been known to his subjects as a deputy King for many years, his mode of living had long been a familiar subject of scandal among all classes of his people, and no one could have supposed that the prosperity of the country {2} depended to any measurable extent on the continuance of his life.

[Sidenote: 1820—Lord Liverpool's Administration]

George, however, recovered. His illness proved therefore to be only one among the unpropitious conditions which accompanied the dawn of his reign. Almost the next thing that was heard of him by the outer world was that he had inaugurated his work of government by calling on his ministers to assist him in obtaining a divorce from his wife. Not often, it must be admitted, has a sovereign just succeeding to a throne thus celebrated his attainment of regal rank. Then, again, the beginning of George the Fourth's reign was immediately followed by the explosion of a conspiracy belonging to an order uncommon indeed in the England of those days, almost wholly unknown to the England of our own time, and resembling in its principal characteristics some of the Nihilist or Anarchist enterprises common even still in certain parts of the European continent. Thus opened the first chapter of the reign of King George the Fourth. We shall have to go more fully into details, and we only print these few lines as what used to be called in former days the argument of our first chapters.

George was too unwell to stand by his father's bedside when the poor old King was passing, at last, out of that life which had so long been one of utter darkness to him. George, the son, had taken cold in his beloved pavilion at Brighton, and the cold soon developed into an illness so serious that for some days it was believed the now King was destined to succeed his father in the grave almost as soon as he had succeeded him in the sovereignty. George's life of excesses had not, however, completely worn out the fine constitution with which nature had originally endowed him, and despite the kind of medical treatment favored at that time, the old familiar panacea, which consisted mainly in incessant bleeding, the King recovered. He was soon able to receive the official addresses of loyalty, to despatch to Louis the Eighteenth and other European sovereigns his formal announcement of the fact that he had succeeded to the throne, his formal expressions of grief at {3} the loss of his beloved father, and his formal assurances of his resolve to do all he could to maintain harmonious relations with the rulers of foreign States. He retained the ministers whom he had found in office, and who were, of course, his own ministers. Lord Liverpool was Prime Minister, Lord Eldon was Lord Chancellor, Lord Palmerston was one of the younger members of the administration.

The times were troublous. Lord Liverpool's long tenure of office had been marked, so far as foreign affairs were concerned, by a resolute hostility to every policy and all movements which tended in a revolutionary direction, and to Lord Liverpool and his closest colleagues the whole principle of popular liberty was merely the principle of revolution. In home affairs Lord Liverpool had always identified himself with systems of political repression, systems which were established on the theory that whenever there was any talk of popular grievance the only wise and just course was to put in prison the men from whose mouths such talk came forth. On financial questions Lord Liverpool appears to have entertained some enlightened views, views that were certainly in advance of the political economy professed by most of his colleagues, but where distinctly political controversy came up he may be taken as a fair illustration of the old-fashioned Tory statesmanship. Eldon, the Lord Chancellor, had a great deal of shrewdness in his mental constitution, a shrewdness which very often took the form of selfishness; and although he exhibited himself for the most part as a genuine Tory, one is inclined to doubt whether he did not now and then indulge in a secret chuckle at the expense of those among his colleagues who really believed that the principles of old-fashioned Toryism were the only sound principles of government.

The first business of State into which the new sovereign threw his whole heart and soul was the endeavor to solemnize the opening of his reign by obtaining a divorce from his wife. He went to work at once with the set purpose of inducing his ministers to lend him their aid in the {4} attainment of this great object. Lord Eldon was more especially in his confidence, and with him George had many private interviews and much exchange of letters on the subject which then engrossed his attention. He accomplished his object so far that it was arranged to leave the name of his wife out of the Royal Liturgy. But even to set on foot the formal proceedings for a divorce proved a much more difficult piece of business. Pliant as the ministers were, inclined to be abject as some of them were in their anxiety to please their royal master, yet the men with whom George especially consulted could not shrink from impressing on his notice some of the obstacles which stood in the way of his obtaining his heart's desire. One of the main difficulties consisted in the fact that a great part of the evidence given against George's unhappy consort during the former investigations had been given by a class of witnesses upon whose statement it would be impossible for any regularly constituted court of law to place much reliance. Again and again in the correspondence which passed between the King and some of his ministers this weakness of his case is pointed out, and it is somewhat curious to find so complete a recognition of it by his advisers when we bear in mind what they had sanctioned before and were to sanction later on.

[Sidenote: 1820—Queen Caroline]

The Queen herself was on the Continent, and was threatening her immediate return to her husband's country unless some settlement was made with her which should secure her ample means of living and allow her to be formally recognized abroad as the wife of King George. Henry Brougham was acting as the Queen's principal adviser at home, and was doing his best to bring about some sort of compromise which might result in the Queen's accepting a quiet and informal separation on fair and reasonable terms. George, however, was not inclined to listen to conditions of compromise. He wanted to get rid of his Queen once for all, to be publicly and completely divorced from her, to be free from even a nominal association with her; and he was not inclined to accept any terms which merely secured him against the chance of her {5} ever again appearing within his sight. Brougham was disposed, and even determined, to do all he could for the unhappy Caroline, although now and then in one of his characteristic bursts of ill-temper he used to rail against the trouble she gave him by her impatient desire to rush back to England and make her appeal to public opinion there. There was a great deal of negotiation between the advisers on both sides, and the final offer made on the part of the King was that the Queen should have an allowance of 52,000 pounds a year—not, one would have thought, a very illiberal allowance for the daughter of a small German prince—and that she should be allowed to retain her titles, and should be authorized to use them at foreign courts, but that her name was not to appear in the Liturgy, and that she was not to appear officially in England as the wife of the sovereign. These terms were offered much against the will of the King himself, who still yearned for the divorce, the whole divorce, and nothing but the divorce. George yielded, however, to the urgent advice of his ministers, with the strong hope and belief still in his own heart that Caroline would not accept the conditions, and would insist upon presenting herself in England and asserting her position as Queen.

The Queen, meanwhile, had left Rome, where she had been staying for some time and where she complained of the want of deference shown to her by the Papal authorities. She was hurrying back to England, and had written to Brougham requesting him to meet her at Saint Omer, and there accordingly Brougham met her. Whether he was very urgent in his advice to her to accept the terms it is not easy to know; but, at all events, it is quite certain that she refused point-blank to make any concessions, that she left Brougham with positive abruptness, and hastened on her way to England. Among her most confidential advisers was Alderman Wood, the head of a great firm in the City of London, a leading man in the corporation of the City, and a member of the House of Commons. Many eminent Englishmen—among whom were Wilberforce, Canning, and Denman, afterwards Lord Chief Justice—were {6} were warm supporters of her cause, for the good reason that they sincerely believed her to be innocent of the more serious charges against her and deeply wronged by the conduct of the King. Even her most resolute enemies had to admit that whether her conduct in thus rushing back to England and forcing herself on public notice were wise or unwise, from the worldly point of view, it certainly seemed at least like the conduct of a woman proudly conscious of her own innocence, and determined to accept no compromise which might put her in the position of a pardoned sinner. The nearer she came to England the more cordial were the expressions of sympathy she received, and from the moment she landed on English shores her way to London became like a triumphal procession.

[Sidenote: 1820—The King's divorce proceedings]

In the mean time the King and his ministers had come to an agreement which was exactly what the King had struggled for from the first, an agreement that steps should be taken in the ordinary way, according to the legal conditions then existing, for the purpose of obtaining a divorce. The course to be adopted was to bring in a Divorce Bill, and endeavor to have it passed through both Houses of Parliament. The proceedings were to open in the House of Lords, and the Queen's leading defenders—for her cause was of course to be defended by counsel as in an ordinary court of law—were Brougham and Denman. The Queen's arrival in London was a signal for the most tumultuous demonstrations of popular devotion and favor towards her, and popular anger, and even fury, against all who were supposed to be her enemies. The house in which she took up her abode was constantly surrounded by vast throngs of her sympathizers, and she used to have to make her appearance at the windows at frequent intervals and bow her acknowledgments to the crowds below. Sometimes the zeal of her admirers found a different way of expressing itself, and the window-panes of many houses were broken because the residents were known to be on the side of the King and not of the Queen. Conspicuous public men who were known, or were believed, to have taken part against her were mobbed in the streets, and even the Duke {7} of Wellington himself was more than once the object of a hostile demonstration. So widely spread, so deeply penetrating was the feeling in favor of the Queen that it was said to have found its way even into the ranks of the army, and it was believed that some soldiers of regiments quartered in London itself were to be found carousing to the health of Queen Caroline. A crowd of Italian witnesses had been brought over to bear evidence against the Queen, and these foreign invaders, nearly all of humble rank, had to be sheltered in buildings specially erected for their protection in the near neighborhood of Westminster Hall, and had to be immured and guarded as if they were malefactors awaiting trial and likely to escape, in order that they might be safe from the outbreaks of popular indignation.

It told heavily for the case of the Queen, in the minds of all reasonable and impartial people, that while the King's foreign witnesses were drawn for the most part from a class of persons who might be supposed easily open to subornation and corruption, a great number of distinguished men and women came from various parts of Europe in which the Queen had resided to give evidence in her favor, and to speak highly of her character and her conduct. The manner in which the proceedings against the Queen were pressed on by the Ministry had one immediate result to their disadvantage by depriving them of the services of George Canning, then one of the most rising of European statesmen. Canning was strongly impressed with a belief in the Queen's innocence and he could not consent to become one of her formal public accusers, which he must have done were he to remain a member of the administration. Canning, therefore, after a time, gave up his place as a member of the Government, and he left the work of the prosecution, as it may be called, to be carried on by men less chivalrous and less scrupulous. It is not necessary to go at any length into the story of the proceedings before the House of Lords. These proceedings would have been made memorable, if there were nothing else to make them so, by the speeches which Brougham and {8} Denman delivered in defence of the Queen. Never perhaps in the course of history have the ears of a monarch's advisers been made to tingle by such sentences of magnificent and scathing denunciation poured out in arraignment of the monarch's personal conduct. Denman, indeed, incurred the implacable hostility of George because, in the course of his speech, he introduced a famous citation from Roman history which, although intended to tell heavily against the King, was mistakenly believed by some of the King's friends to convey a much darker and deeper imputation on the sovereign than that which was really in Denman's mind.

[Sidenote: 1821—Queen Caroline and the King's coronation]

The case may be briefly said to have broken down. In the House of Lords, where the friends of the sovereign were most powerful, there was only a majority of nine for the third reading of the Bill of Divorce, and the Bill if persevered in would yet have to encounter the House of Commons. The Government, therefore, made up their minds to abandon the proceedings, and thereupon the friends of the Queen exulted tumultuously over the victory they had won. But the struggle was not by any means at an end. The royal coronation had yet to come, and the King was anxious that the ceremonial should be got through at as early a date as possible. The Queen announced her determination to present herself on the Day of Coronation and claim her right to be crowned as Queen Consort of George the Fourth. Then the advisers on both sides went to work anew with the vain hope of bringing about something like a compromise which might save the sovereign, the Court, and the country from scandalous and tumultuous scenes. Again the Queen was offered the allowance which had been tendered to her before, on the old conditions that she would behave quietly and keep herself out of sight. Again she insisted that her name must be included in the Royal Liturgy, and again the King announced his resolve to make no such concession. Then the Queen once more made it known that her resolve was final, and that she would present herself at Westminster Abbey on the Coronation Day. George had been advised {9} that all historical precedents warranted him in maintaining that the King had an absolute right to direct the forms of the ceremonial to be used on such an occasion, and he declared that he would not allow the Queen to take any part in the solemnity or even to be present during its performance. The Queen wrote letters to the King which she sent to him through his Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool. George sent back the letters unopened to Lord Liverpool, with the announcement that the King would read no letter addressed to him by the Queen, and would only communicate with her through the ordinary official medium of one of his ministers.

The letters thus written on both sides have long since been published, and the perusal of them will probably impress most readers with the idea of a certain sincerity on the part of both the principal writers, the King and Queen. Let us speak as harshly and as justly as we may of the King's general conduct, of his mode of living, and of the manner in which he had always treated the Queen, we shall find it hard not to believe that there was in the depth of George's mind a fixed conviction that he had real cause of complaint against his unhappy wife. Let us, on the other hand, give the fullest recognition to the fact that although the scandalous levities in the conduct of the Queen abroad told heavily against her, we are none the less compelled to admit that her letters to the King, and her demand to be included in the Coronation ceremonies, seemed to be part of the conduct of a woman who will not and cannot admit that she has done anything to forfeit her place at her husband's side.

The whole story seems now so preposterously out of keeping with all the associations of a modern Court that it startles our sense of historical credibility when we find by the actual dates that men and women are still living who might have been carried by their nurses to see the crowds round Westminster Abbey on the Coronation Day of King George the Fourth. The Coronation took place on July 19, 1821, and the whole ceremony was got up in the most costly, the most gorgeous, and, as it would seem now {10} to a calm and critical reader of history, in the most theatrical style. The poor Queen did, indeed, make an attempt to take the place which she claimed in the performances at Westminster Abbey. "It was natural," says Miss Martineau, "that one so long an outcast and at length borne back into social life by the sympathies of a nation should expect too much from these sympathies and fail to stop at the right point in her demands." Miss Martineau adds, however, and her words will carry with them the feelings of every reader now, "It would have been well if the Queen had retired into silence after the grant of her annuity and the final refusal to insert her name in the Liturgy." The Queen, of course, failed to obtain an entrance to Westminster Abbey. It had been arranged by orders of the King that no one was to be allowed admission, even to look on at the ceremonial, without a ticket officially issued and properly accredited with the name of the bearer. The Queen, therefore, was allowed to pass through the crowded streets, but when she came to the doors of the Abbey the soldiers on guard asked for her ticket of admission, and of course she had none to present. Some of the friends who accompanied her indignantly asked the soldiers whether they did not recognize their Queen, the Queen of England; but the officers in command replied that their orders were strict, and the unhappy Caroline Amelia was literally turned away from the Abbey door. The King had accomplished his object.

[Sidenote: 1821—Death of Queen Caroline]

The poor woman's story comes to an end very soon. On August 2, only a few days after the Coronation, it was made known to the public that the Queen was seriously ill. She was suffering, it appears, from internal inflammation, and the anxieties, the excitements, the heart burnings, the various agonies of emotion she had lately been undergoing must have left her poorly prepared. On August 7 her condition became so alarming to those around her that it was thought right to warn her of her danger. She quietly said that she had no wish to live, that she hoped not to suffer much bodily pain in dying, but that she could leave life without the least regret. She {11} died that day, having lived more than fifty-two years. It was her singular fate, however, that even in her death, which otherwise must have brought so much relief, she became a new source of trouble to her royal husband. George had made up his mind to pay a visit after his coronation to his subjects in Ireland, to "the long cherished isle which he loved," as Byron says, "like his bride." He had got as far as Holyhead on his way when the news reached him of the Queen's illness, and he thought that it would be hardly becoming for him to make his first public appearance in Ireland at such a moment, and to run the risk, perhaps, of having his royal entrance into Dublin accompanied by the news that his Queen had just died. Then, when the news of her death did actually reach him, it was still necessary to make some little delay—joy bells and funeral bells do not ring well together—and thus George, even as a widower, found his wife still a little in the way. The remains of Caroline Amelia were carried back to her native Brunswick, and there ended her melancholy story. It is impossible not to regard this unhappy woman as the victim, in great measure, of the customs which so often compel princes and princesses to leave reciprocal love out of the conditions of marriage. "The birds which live in the air," says Webster's immortal "Duchess of Malfi,"

On the wild benefit of nature, live Happier than we, for they can choose their mates.

Other women, indeed, might have struggled far better against the adverse conditions of an unsuitable marriage and have borne themselves far better amid its worst trials than the clever, impulsive, light-hearted, light-headed Caroline Amelia was able to do. There seems no reason to doubt that she had a good heart, a loving nature, and the wish to lead a pure and honorable life. But she was too often thoughtless, careless, wilful, and headstrong, and, like many others who might have done well under fair conditions, she allowed the worst qualities of her nature to take the command just at the very moment when there {12} was most need for the exercise of all that was best in her. Even with regard to George himself, it seems only fair and reasonable to assume that he, too, might have done better if his marriage had not been merely an arrangement of State. Perhaps the whole history of State marriages contains no chapter at once more fantastic and more tragic than that which closed with the death of Caroline Amelia, wife of George the Fourth.

[Sidenote: Death of Napoleon Bonaparte]

While the joy-bells of London were already chiming for the coronation of George the Fourth, the most powerful enemy George's country had ever had was passing quietly away in St. Helena. On May 5, 1821, the Emperor Napoleon died in his island exile. No words could exaggerate the sensation produced through the whole world by the close of this marvellous career. He was unquestionably one of the greatest figures in history. As a conquering soldier he has no rival in the modern world, and indeed all the history we know of, ancient or modern, can give but very few names which may bear comparison with his. Unlike Caesar and Alexander, he had made his way from the humble obscurity of common life, and, unlike Caesar, he did not seem to have had in him the intellectual greatness which must have made him, under any conditions, a master of men and of hemispheres. So far as mere dramatic effect is concerned, he was less fortunate than Caesar in his disappearance from the world's stage. Napoleon was doomed to pine and wither away on a lonely island in the South Atlantic for years and years, and there was something like an anticlimax in the closing scenes of that marvellous life-drama. It is pitiful and saddening now to read of the trumpery annoyances and humiliations to which his days of exile were subjected, and to read, too, of the unceasing complaints with which he resented what he regarded as the insults offered to him by his jailers. There was, indeed, much that was ignoble in the manner of his treatment by those who had him in charge, in the paltry indignities which he had to endure, and which he could not endure in the patient dignity of silence. The mere refusal to allow to him his title of Emperor, and to insist {13} that he should only be addressed as General Bonaparte, was as illogical as it was ungenerous; for if revolutionary France had not the right to make him an Emperor, she certainly could not have had the right to make him a General. Every movement he made and every movement made by any of his friends on the island was watched as jealously and as closely as if he had been some vulgar Jack Sheppard plotting with his pals for an escape through the windows or the cellars of his prison.

One cannot but regret that Napoleon could not have folded himself in the majestic mantle of his dignity and his fame, could not even, if it were needed, have eaten out his own heart in silence, and left his captors to work their worst upon him without giving them the satisfaction of extorting a word of querulous remonstrance. His captors, no doubt, were perpetually haunted by the dread that he might somehow contrive to make his escape, and that if he once got away from St. Helena the whole struggle might have to begin all over again. No doubt, too, his captors would have said, speaking in the spirit of the times, that Napoleon was not to be trusted like an honorable prisoner on parole, and that there was no way of securing the peace of the world but by holding him under close and constant guard. The whole story of those years of captivity is profoundly sad, and is one which may probably be read with less pain even by Frenchmen than by high-minded Englishmen. There has lately been given to the world in the pages of an American magazine, The Century, a continuation of the record once made by Dr. Barry E. O'Meara of his conversations with Napoleon during Napoleon's exile in St. Helena. Dr. O'Meara was a surgeon in the English navy, and was serving in the Bellerophon when Napoleon came on board. He was allowed to take care of Napoleon by the British Government, and, as he was an Irishman, he felt a certain sympathy with Napoleon and came to be treated by the fallen Emperor as a friend. He published a volume called "A Voice from St. Helena," in which he gave a detailed account of his talks with the great Emperor. The book was much read {14} at the time of its publication, and created a deep interest wherever it was read. From this work O'Meara left out many of the memoranda he had written down, probably because he thought they might give offence needlessly to living persons; but the withheld memoranda were all carefully preserved and passed into the hands of some of his descendants in New Jersey, and have after this long lapse of time been published at last. They tell us with painful accuracy of the petty annoyances constantly inflicted upon Napoleon, and of the impatience and fretfulness with which, day after day, he resented them and complained of them. We seem to live with the great dethroned Emperor in his hours of homeliest complainings, when every little grievance that burns in his heart finds repeated expression on his lips. Few chapters in the history of fallen greatness can be more touching than these pages.

Not all that Napoleon said about England, however, was mere complaint and disparagement. The world of London may be interested in learning from these reminiscences how Napoleon told Dr. Barry O'Meara that if he, Napoleon, had had any authority over the English Metropolis, he would have long ago taken measures for constructing an embankment on both sides of the Thames as it passed between Middlesex and Surrey. If Dr. O'Meara had embodied this suggestion in his public volume, Napoleon might unconsciously have become the projector of the Thames Embankment. Fas est ab hoste—the proverb is somewhat musty.



{15}

CHAPTER LXIV.

POPULAR ALARMS—ROYAL EXCURSIONS.

[Sidenote: 1820—The Cato Street conspiracy]

The plot which has been already mentioned as one of the unpropitious events that marked the opening of George the Fourth's reign was the famous Cato Street conspiracy. The conspiracy was nothing less than a plot for the assassination, all at once, of the whole of his Majesty's ministers. The principal conspirator was a man named Thistlewood, a compound of half-crazy fanaticism and desperate villany—a creature who believed that he had private vengeance to satisfy, and who had, at the same time, persuaded himself that no good could come to the people of England until an example had been made of the King's official advisers by the avenging hand of the lover of liberty. The novelty as well as the audacity of the plot created a perfect consternation all through England, and it became, for a while, the sincere conviction of a vast number of reasonable Englishmen that the whole political and social system of the kingdom was undermined by such plots, and that only the most strenuous exertions made by the champions of law and order could protect the realm from an outbreak of horrors far transcending any of those that had convulsed France during the worst days of the Revolution. It was soon made clear enough that Thistlewood's plot was a conspiracy which included only a very small number of men, and it has never been quite certain whether it was not originally put in motion by the machination of some of the paid spies and informers whom it was believed, at that time, to be the duty of the Ministry to keep in its service for the detection and the frustration of revolutionary conspiracy. It was the common practice of spies and informers, in those days, to go {16} about secretly in quarters where revolutionary conspiracy was believed to be in existence, to represent themselves to some of the suspected plotters as fellow-revolutionists and brother-conspirators, and thus to get into their confidence, and even to suggest to them some new form of conspiracy, in order that their willingness to accept the suggestion might mark them out as proper subjects for a Government prosecution and obtain for the informers the credit of the detection.

[Sidenote: 1820—Origin of the conspiracy]

Thistlewood had been engaged in popular agitation for some sort of reconstitution of political society, and he had been once put on his trial for some alleged offence arising out of such an agitation. More lucky than many other of his contemporaries under similar conditions, he was brought before a jury who found him not guilty of the charge made against him. Now, if Thistlewood had been a sane member of even an Anarchist organization, he might have been softened in his feelings towards the existing order of things by finding that a jury had actually recognized the possibility of his being formally charged with an offence against the Crown and yet not being guilty. But Thistlewood regarded the bare fact that a charge had been made against him as a crime calling out for vengeance, and in his frenzy he got the idea into his head that Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, was the person on whom he was bound to take revenge. Accordingly, the unfortunate creature actually sent a challenge to Lord Sidmouth, inviting and defying him to mortal combat. Perhaps Lord Sidmouth would have acted wisely if he had taken no notice whatever of this preposterous challenge, but, at the same time, it is only fair to remember that Lord Sidmouth might think it dangerous to the public peace to allow a person to go unrebuked who had sent a challenge to a Minister of the Crown. Criminal proceedings were, therefore, taken against Thistlewood, and, instead of being committed to the protection of a lunatic asylum, the author of the challenge was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. When his prison time was over, Thistlewood came out a man inflamed with a desire for vengeance on all the ruling classes {17} in general, and on Ministers of the Crown in particular. Like the murderer in "Macbeth," he thought himself one whom the vile blows and buffets of the world had so incensed that he was reckless what he did to spite the world. He soon got around him a small gang of agitators as ignorant and almost as crazy as himself, and he initiated them into a grand scheme for dealing a death-blow to all the ministers at once, and then seizing on the Bank, Mansion House, and Tower of London, and from these strongholds proclaiming the existence of a provisional government.

Now the whole notion of such a plot as this, and any possible success coming out of it, may seem, at first sight, too crazy to be accepted by any set of men, however ignorant or however wicked, who were not downright lunatics. But it is certain that Thistlewood did find a small number of men who were not actually lunatics, and who yet were ready to join with him and to risk their lives in his enterprise. The first act in the plot was to be the assassination of the King's ministers. One of the professional spies in the employment of the authorities, a man named Edwards, was already in communication with Thistlewood and his friends. The plot had been for a considerable time in preparation, and it was put off for a while because of the death of George the Third, and the hopes entertained by the conspirators that the new King might go back to the political principles of his earlier years, discard Lord Liverpool, Lord Sidmouth, and his other Tory advisers, and thus render it unnecessary for patriotic men to put them to death in order to save the country.

When, however, it became apparent that George the Fourth was to keep around him the ministers who had served him when he was Prince Regent, it was determined that the work must go on. Edwards, the spy, was able to make it known to Thistlewood that there was to be a dinner of the members of the Cabinet on February 23, 1820, and the opportunity was thought to be placed by a kindly fate in the hands of the conspirators. Meanwhile the minister at whose house the dinner was to take place, Lord {18} Harrowby, was kept fully informed of all that was going on, and he wisely resolved to take no public notice of the scheme until the day for the dinner should arrive, when the instruments of the wholesale murder-plot could be suddenly arrested at the moment of their attempt to carry out their design. Thistlewood and most of his companions had their headquarters in the garrets of a house in Cato Street, Edgware Road, and there it was arranged among them that they should remain until one or two of their accomplices, who were kept at watch for the purpose, should come to them and report that the doomed dinner-guests had assembled. Then the conspirators were to repair to the neighborhood of Lord Harrowby's house in Grosvenor Square. One of the outpost men was to knock at Lord Harrowby's door, and the moment the door was opened all the gang were to rush in and put the ministers to death. Lord Harrowby took good care not to have any guests that evening, but the outpost men of the conspiracy were deceived by the fact that a dinner-party was actually going on at the house of the Archbishop of York next door, and when they saw carriages arriving there they felt sure this was the dinner-party for which they were waiting. They waited there until the last of the guests appeared to have arrived, and then set out to give notice to Thistlewood and his companions. Before the outpost men had got back to Cato Street the police were already there, and an attempt was made to arrest the whole of the conspirators. A scuffle took place, in which Thistlewood stabbed one of the policemen to the heart. The constituted authorities had contrived to make almost as much of a bungle as the conspirators had done; the military force did not arrive in time, and Thistlewood and some of his accomplices succeeded, for the moment, in making their escape. It was only for the moment. Thistlewood was arrested next day. There was nothing heroic or dramatic about the manner of his capture. He had sought refuge at the house of a friend in Moorfields, and he was comfortably asleep in bed when the house was surrounded and he was made prisoner. He was put on trial soon after, and, {19} with four of his accomplices, was sentenced to death, and on May 1 the five were executed.

[Sidenote: 1820—The government and the conspiracy]

The evidence at the trial made it clear to any reasonable mind that the plot was confined altogether to the small knot of ignorant desperadoes who held their councils in Cato Street, and to the informer Edwards, who had been in communication with them. The public were never allowed to know what had become of this man Edwards. Had he been pensioned by the Government and been allowed to pass into honorable and comfortable retirement, or was he to be arrested and put on his trial like other conspirators? Several attempts were made to get at the truth by means of questions to the ministers in the House of Commons, but no satisfactory reply could be extracted or extorted. Indeed, it seemed quite probable that the general feeling among the ruling classes at the time would have been that the Government had done a very good thing by employing a man to help in working up murderous conspiracies in order that such conspiracies should be frightened out of existence, and that it was quite right to protect and reward the emissaries who had rendered such faithful service. For a time there was a widespread and sincere belief that the Cato Street conspiracy was only one in a vast network of conspiracies from which nothing but the severest measures of repression could save England. The King himself in his royal message to Parliament was careful to make use of the Cato Street conspiracy as another and a crowning evidence of the necessity which existed for the wholesale application of the criminal law in order to save the State from the triumph of anarchy. A season of absolute panic set in and the most trivial political disturbance arising in any part of the country was magnified into another attempt of the emissaries of revolution to upset the Throne, pull down the Church, and turn the State into the republic of a rabble.

It is quite clear now to all readers of history that such attempts as those planned by the Cato Street conspirators can only exist at a time when stern and savage restrictions are set upon all efforts to obtain a free public hearing for {20} the discussion of political and social grievances. Where political wrongs can be arraigned in the open day, there is no occasion for the work of the midnight conspirator. Already in England public men were coming forward who were filled with the noble and patriotic desire to give the philosophy of history some share in the guidance of political life. Popular education had been totally neglected in England, and, indeed, the too common impression among the ruling classes was that the lower orders of the people could never be kept in due obedience to their superiors if they were permitted to make themselves unfit for their station by learning how to read and write. Even the criminal laws themselves bore terrible testimony to the prevailing ideas, by the fact that property was proclaimed as sacred a possession as life itself.

[Sidenote: 1820—Offences that entailed the death penalty]

In the early days of George the Fourth's reign Sir James Mackintosh, the famous historian, philosopher, and philanthropist, brought into the House of Commons a measure for abolishing the punishment of death in cases of the stealing of property to the value of five shillings, and he succeeded in carrying his measure through Parliament. Up to that time men and women had been executed, year after year, for stealing from a shop any goods of the value of five shillings, were the goods but a few loaves of high-priced bread carried off for the purpose of relieving the sufferings of a hungry family. Sir James Mackintosh's measure aimed at the abolition of the death penalty in a large number of other minor offences, but he only succeeded in robbing the gallows of its victims in two other classes of small offences as well as that which has just been mentioned.

At this time of day one reads with amazement the arguments which men like Lord Chancellor Eldon directed against the humane measures introduced by Sir James Mackintosh. Parliament and the country were solemnly warned that if such relaxation of the death punishment were sanctioned by law, the smaller class of tradesmen would have to give up their shops and their business altogether, because it would be utterly impossible for them {21} to keep any goods in their windows or on their shelves if the punishment of death were not maintained for the theft of a shawl or a snuff-box. At the same time it was well known to everybody who had eyes to see or ears to hear that numbers of shoplifters escaped punishment altogether because humane juries refused, even on the plainest evidence, to find a verdict of guilty where such a verdict would send the prisoner from the dock to the gallows. Many a jury, too, when it was impossible to doubt that a theft had been committed, acted on the ingenious plan of declaring in their verdict that the articles stolen, whatever their obvious market worth, were under the value of five shillings, thereby saving the offender from the doom of death. Thus the repressive power of the law was necessarily diminished by the uncertainty which common humanity put in the way of its regular enforcement, and that very barbarity of punishment which was intended to keep men back from crime by its mere terrors gave to the criminal only another chance of escape.

Sir James Mackintosh had brought in his measures as successor, in that line of philanthropic reform, to the lamented Sir Samuel Romilly, whose melancholy death, already referred to, had created a profound sensation throughout England and abroad towards the close of the late reign. About the time when Mackintosh was thus making his partly successful attempt to put some check on the application of the death penalty, Henry Brougham was arousing the attention of Parliament and the country to the lamentable and disgraceful absence of anything like a system of national education. On June 28, 1820, Brougham brought forward the first definite proposal submitted to the House of Commons for a scheme of national education designed to apply to England and Wales. A parliamentary committee had been sitting for some time to make inquiries and receive evidence as to the state of education in the poorer districts of the land. This, too, was owing almost altogether to the energy and the efforts of Brougham, but the inquiries of the committee were resulting in nothing very practical, and Brougham therefore {22} went a step further than he had previously gone and brought forward his definite scheme for national education. It is hardly necessary to say that he did not succeed in carrying his measure, and that generations had yet to pass away before any real and comprehensive effort wag made by the State to establish such a system of popular education in these countries as had been known to Prussia and other European nations almost for time out of mind. But Brougham had at least started the question, and he never ceased to keep it moving during his long life. Other reformers, too, as well as Mackintosh and Brougham, were making their voices heard above, or at all events through, the din and clamor of the controversy between the friends of the King and the champions of the Queen. Lord John Russell may be said to have then begun his noble career as reformer of the system of parliamentary representation, and Mr. Lambton, afterwards to be better known as Lord Durham, made more than one bold effort in the same direction.

[Sidenote: 1821—George the Fourth visits Ireland]

Russell and Lambton were both unsuccessful just then. The time had not yet come when the question of parliamentary reform was to break up ministries, set the country aflame with agitation, and put a thick-witted Sovereign to the necessity of choosing between submission to the popular demand or facing the risk of revolution. But it might have been clear to reflective men that the days of unconditional loyalty to the will of a monarch had nearly run their course in England, and that the demand for a reform in the criminal law, a relaxation of the repression of free speech, the establishment of some system of popular education, and the adoption of a really representative principle in the construction of Parliament was destined before long to prove irresistible. The case of the reformers was emphasized by the widespread agricultural distress from which the country had long been suffering. The inevitable reaction had set in, too, after the spasmodic inflation of trade and commerce which had accompanied the long period of war. Even if the governing system of England had been as wise and humane as it was {23} unenlightened and harsh, the condition of the country would, of itself, have favored almost any demand for reform. As the Government system actually was, only a national prosperity of universal and impossible sleekness could have kept the people of England much longer indifferent to the necessity for reform in almost every department of the political and social system.

Meanwhile the new King was paying his round of State visits to Ireland, to Hanover, and to Scotland. We have seen already how the royal progress to Ireland was delayed by the inconvenient occurrence of the Queen's death. George soon, however, felt it proper to put away all affectation of grief, and to pay his visit to Ireland. Great hopes were entertained there for the beneficent results of the royal visit. George had been during his earlier days in political sympathy as well as boon companionship with Fox and with Sheridan. Fox had always shown himself a true friend to Ireland. The Irish national poet, Thomas Moore, had, in one of his songs, described the Banshee as wailing over the grave of him "on whose burning tongue truth, peace, and freedom hung." It was fondly believed in Ireland that the King was returning to the sympathies of his earlier days, and that his coming to the island must bring blessings with it. Daniel O'Connell, the orator and tribune of the Irish people, appears to have been thoroughly impressed with the same hopes and the same conviction, and he brought on himself some satirical lines from Byron in scorn of his credulity and his confidence. We shall soon have occasion to see what return O'Connell got for his loyalty and his devotion.

The last of the great Irish patriots of the past age, Henry Grattan, had been buried in Westminster Abbey the year before George's visit to Ireland. It was well that so pure-minded and austere a lover of his country should have been spared the necessity of taking any part in the ceremonials of welcome which attended the arrival of the new Sovereign in Ireland. George undoubtedly received what seemed to be a thoroughly national welcome, for it was fully believed all through the country that his visit was {24} to open a new era of peace, prosperity, and well-merited loyalty to Ireland. King George threw himself thoroughly into the spirit of the occasion. He acted his part with admirable effect. He was sympathetic, he was convivial, he was pathetic, he was boisterous, exactly as the theatrical effect of the moment seemed to call for the display of this or that emotion. In truth, the character of George the Fourth never can be thoroughly understood unless we are able to see how much of the artistic, in a certain sense, there was in his temperament. He had that peculiar gift which has lately come to be called "artistic"—sincerely by some critics, satirically by others—the gift which enables a man to throw his whole soul and spirit into any part which the occasion calls on him to act. George was almost always playing a part, but it was his artistic temperament which enabled him to believe that he actually felt at the moment the very emotions which he tried to express. The favorite dramatic type of the conscious hypocrite and the deliberate self-recognized deceiver is much less common in real life than it was believed to be at one period of our literary history. We may take it for granted that George fully believed himself to be acting with perfect sincerity on most of the occasions in his life when he had to utter eloquent sentiments appropriate to the scene and the hour, or to fling himself into the different humors of those whom, at different times, he was anxious to please.

[Sidenote: 1821—The King's reception in Ireland]

During his public performances—for thus they may properly be called—in Ireland, George was sometimes grave, sometimes gay; shed tears in some places, indulged in touches of buffoonery in others; and wherever he went seemed to be giving to those around him only the most sincere outpouring of his own humor and of his own heart. He appears thoroughly to have enjoyed his popularity, and to have regarded himself, for the hour, as the justly idolized hero of the land which he had come to redeem and to bless. The harbor where he first landed in Ireland, which was called Dunleary then, has been called Kingstown ever since, for its name was changed in honor of the monarch's {25} visit to his Irish subjects. The tourist who has just arrived at Kingstown by the steamer from Holyhead, and who takes his seat in the train for Dublin, may see from the window of the railway carriage an obelisk, not very imposing either in its height or in its sculptured form, which seems a little out of place amid the ordinary accessories of a railway and steamboat station. This is the monument which the grateful authorities of the Irish capital erected to commemorate the spot on which George the Fourth had set his august feet when he landed on the shores of Ireland. Except for the obelisk and the change of name there was not much done to keep the memory of the King green in the recollections of the Irish people.

On August 12 George landed at Dunleary, where anxious and enthusiastic crowds had long been waiting to welcome him. He was received with universal cries of "The King! God bless him!" to which he replied by waving the foraging-cap which he had been wearing, and crying out, "God bless you all; I thank you from my heart." Then he got into his carriage, and with a cavalcade of his attendants and a concourse of admiring followers he drove to the Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, some eight or nine miles' distance. When he arrived at the Lodge he alighted from the carriage and proclaimed to the crowd, "In addressing you I conceive that I am addressing the nobility, gentry, and yeomen of Ireland. This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I feel pleased being the first of my family that set foot on Irish ground. Early in my life I loved Ireland, and I rejoice at being among my beloved Irish friends. I always considered them such, and this day proves to me I am beloved by them." Then he went on to say that "circumstances of a delicate nature," to which it was needless to advert, had prevented him from visiting them earlier. Rank, station, and honor were nothing to him, but "to feel that I live in the hearts of my Irish subjects is to me the most exalted happiness." He wound up with the touching words, "I assure you, my dear friends, I have an Irish heart, and will this night give a proof of my affection towards you, as I am sure you will towards {26} me, by drinking your health in a bumper of whiskey punch."

[Sidenote: 1821—The King and the Primacy of all Ireland]

This speech may be taken as the keynote of George's behavior throughout the entire visit. On the 17th of the month he made his grand state entrance into Dublin in an open carriage drawn by eight horses, and he wore in his hat an enormous bunch of shamrocks, to which, by repeated gestures, he kept incessantly calling the attention of the crowd. More than once as he gazed upon his admiring followers he was observed to shed tears. Afterwards he attended reviews, showed himself at the theatre, was present at a great ball at the Mansion House, received an entertainment at Trinity College, and visited the residences of some of the Irish nobility. He talked to everybody, and sometimes in his conversation showed much of the good sense and shrewdness which really belonged to him, but in his demeanor towards the general multitude he always enacted the part of an enthusiastic Sovereign whose enthusiasm sometimes showed itself in the form of what might have been called, if he were not a Sovereign, outrageous mountebankcry. On Monday, September 3, he quitted the shores of Ireland. Just before his departure he received a deputation headed by Daniel O'Connell, who fell upon his knees, and in that attitude of loyal devotion presented his Majesty with a laurel crown. The King was particularly gracious to O'Connell, shook him warmly by the hand, and accepted gratefully the gift offered to him, and, for the time, O'Connell divided the applause of the crowd with the monarch. There was a renewed interchange of good wishes and blessings, and then the King got into his barge to be conveyed to the steamer, and several loyal Irishmen, in their enthusiasm, rushing to see the last of him, tumbled into the sea, and with some difficulty rescued themselves, or were rescued, from drowning.

This may be said to have ended the royal visit so far as history is concerned, for, although the King's return to England was delayed for several days by contrary winds, he had nothing more to do with his Irish subjects. Byron {27} wrote some satirical verses, which he prefaced with the words of Curran, the great Irish advocate and orator, describing Ireland like "a bastinadoed elephant kneeling to receive the paltry rider," and in which he made mockery of O'Connell's loyalty, paid a just and generous tribute to Grattan, and proclaimed sincerely his own love for Ireland and his thorough appreciation of her national cause. Then the royal visit was over, and the Irish people were soon to learn the value of the King's profession of sympathy with the wishes and the wants of his devoted Irish subjects. A curious illustration of the sincerity of these royal sentiments may be found in a letter written by the King not very long after to his Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, and marked "Most secret and confidential." The letter had reference to the appointment of a new occupant to the exalted office of Primate of All Ireland, and the King says, "I do not like, I cannot reconcile myself to have the Primacy of Ireland filled by an Irishman." The King, when writing this letter, appears to have been in one of his deeply religious moods. "I am too far advanced in life," he says, "not to give subjects of this description the most serious and attentive consideration. It is, alas! but too true that policy is too often obliged to interfere with our best intentions, but I do think where the head of the Church is concerned, especially at such a moment, we ought alone to be influenced by religious duty. Do not be surprised at this scrupulous language, for I am quite sincere." Very likely King George was quite sincere in this momentary burst of religious emotion. It was a part of his artistic nature to be able thus to fill himself with any emotion which helped out the performance he had in hand; but it is at least an odd comment on his recent emotions of love for the Irish people and absolute trust in their loyal devotion, that he could not reconcile himself to the idea of allowing any Irishman to occupy the position of Primate of All Ireland. There was no question in this of Protestant against Roman Catholic, and that Coronation Oath, which had in the former reign proved so formidable an obstacle to the recognition of any Catholic {28} claims, was in no wise brought into question. Nobody suggested that a Roman Catholic bishop should be made Primate of All Ireland, but it was strange that soon after George's reiterated professions of love for his Irish people, and absolute trust in them, he could not reconcile himself to the idea of any Protestant bishop, however meritorious, being raised to such an office if the Protestant bishop happened to be an Irishman.

[Sidenote: 1822—George the Fourth visits Scotland]

King George had to leave his capital again in order to visit other lands where he had subjects to gratify with the pleasure of his presence. He paid a visit to Hanover, and then to Scotland. George, it need hardly be said, was King of Hanover as well as of England, and he thought it right that he should illumine the Hanoverians with the light of his royal countenance. So he made his way to Hanover, taking Brussels in his course. He was accompanied thus far by the Duke of Wellington and other eminent persons, and he took the opportunity of surveying the field of Waterloo, and having all the striking points of the battle-field pointed out and explained to him by the Duke of Wellington. It would appear that the sovereign's personal survey of the field on which Napoleon's last great battle had been fought only served to strengthen the impression on his mind that he had himself taken a part, and even a distinguished and heroic part, in that immortal struggle. Here again the artistic nature asserted itself. No doubt it had long seemed to George that the heir to the English throne ought to have taken a leading part in a battle which was a turning-point in the history of England, and by degrees he had contrived to persuade himself into the belief that he had actually done the deeds required by the dramatic fitness of things, for it was well known that, at certain seasons of inspiration, he had described himself as leading a desperate charge at Waterloo. Then he pursued his way to Hanover, and he made much the same demonstrations of deep emotion as those which had delighted the crowds at Dunleary and in Dublin. Again and again he protested his love and his devotion for his Hanoverian subjects, again and again he accompanied {29} with voice and with gesture the singing of patriotic hymns, and on more than one occasion the royal eyes were seen to be streaming over with sympathetic tears.

All this, however, did not prevent him from sometimes making it known to the more intimate companions of his journey that he was greatly bored by the Germans in general, and that he was particularly disgusted with the Hanoverians. George had always some chosen favorite holding important personal office in his courtly retinue, and to him, in moments of relaxation, he occasionally let out his real feelings with regard to the ceremonial performances which he believed it his duty to get through. Then he visited Scotland, and was welcomed by enthusiastic crowds at Leith and in Edinburgh. While he was still on board the royal vessel at Leith he was waited on by several distinguished representatives of Scottish feeling, and among others by no less a personage than Sir Walter Scott. George was very gracious in his reception of the great novelist, and assured Sir Walter that he was the one man in Scotland whom he most wished to see. As had been the fashion during his visit to Ireland, there was a good deal of spirit-drinking when the King came to testify his gratitude for the loyal welcome given to him by his Scottish subjects. His Majesty poured out with his own hand some cherry brandy into a glass, which he tendered to Sir Walter Scott, and Sir Walter not merely drank off the liquid thus commended to him, but asked permission to keep the glass as a perpetual relic of the royal giver and of the august occasion. Thackeray tells the story of the incident in his lecture on George the Fourth, and we cannot do better than describe it in his own words: "When George the Fourth came to Edinburgh," says Thackeray, "a better man than he went on board the royal yacht to welcome the King to his kingdom of Scotland, seized a goblet from which his Majesty had just drunk, vowed it should remain forever as an heirloom in his family, clapped the precious glass in his pocket, and sat down on it and broke it when he got home." One can easily imagine how the sudden fate of the precious relic must have amused {30} and delighted the satirical genius of Thackeray, who could not quite forgive even Sir Walter Scott for having lent himself to the fulsome adulation which it was thought proper to offer to George the Fourth on the occasion of his visit to his kingdom of Scotland.

Thackeray, indeed, seems to have been a little too hard upon George, and to have regarded him merely as a worthless profligate and buffoon, who never really felt any of the generous emotions which the sovereign found it convenient to summon up at the appropriate seasons. Our own study of the character leads us to the opinion already expressed, that George did actually believe for the time in the full sincerity of the feelings he thought proper to call into action on the occasion of an important ceremonial, and that the feelings were no less genuine at the moment than those which came on him when the performance was over, and he had an opportunity of showing the new state of his mind in the reaction of weariness caused by the whole tiresome proceedings. George went through the usual rounds of visits in Scotland, and put on an appearance of absolute enjoyment during the public entertainments and popular acclamations which he had brought upon himself. He displayed himself frequently in a suit of Stuart tartan when he did not array himself in his costume as a field-marshal. We read that during the singing of royal songs he not only beat time to the chorus, but actually accompanied it with his voice. His parting words when he was leaving the shores of Scotland were the deep-toned and thrilling benediction, "God bless you all!" The loyal chroniclers of the time proclaimed that the visit to Scotland was a perfect success, and if the loyal chroniclers at the time were not in a position to know, how can we of a later date, who had not the advantage of being present at the scene, or even of being alive at the time, pretend to dispute the accuracy of their estimate?



{31}

CHAPTER LXV.

GEORGE CANNING.

[Sidenote: 1720-87—Canning and the King]

[Transcriber's note: the above dates are what were in the book, but 1820-37 would seem more logical.]

We have seen how the course of the proceedings taken against the Queen deprived the Liverpool Ministry of the services of its most brilliant member, George Canning. Canning had made up his mind from the beginning that he could not appear as one of the Queen's accusers, although he had consented, as a compromise, to the omission of her name from the Royal Liturgy. He had consented to this compromise because, although he did not believe in the worst of the charges against the Queen, he could not help admitting that there was much in her conduct which rendered her unsuitable as the reigning consort of the King; and at the time he did not understand that the King's disapproval of her actions was to take the form of a prosecution and a demand for divorce. He had applied to the King for leave to resign his office in the Ministry, and had only been induced to remain on the understanding that he was not expected to take any part in the public proceedings against the unhappy Caroline. When, however, it became evident that the whole question would be raised in the House of Commons, and that he must either give a silent assent to the course taken by the King's advisers or publicly condemn it there, he felt it his duty to send in his resignation of his place in the Ministry and to stand by his resolve. Canning withdrew from office and became, for the time, merely a private member of the House of Commons. King George got it into his mind that his former minister had deserted his cause at an anxious and critical moment, and the King, who was flighty enough in most of his purposes, seldom forgot what he regarded as an injury. He never forgave Canning, {32} although the time was now coming when hardly any choice was left him but to take Canning back into his service again, and under conditions that gave Canning a greater influence over public affairs than he had ever had before.

[Sidenote: 1720-87—The early life of Canning]

[Transcriber's note: see the note on page 31.]

After the group of illustrious men, which included the elder and the younger Pitt, Fox, Burke, and Sheridan, had disappeared from English public life, Canning was through the whole of his career the greatest Parliamentary orator and leader in England. Up to the time at which we have now arrived, he had not yet won his highest reputation as a statesman. He was born under conditions which might have been depressing and disheartening to one of different mould. His father was a man of old family and well connected, who had in his earlier years developed some taste for literature, and was regarded by most of his relatives as one who merely brought discredit on his kindred by his mean ambition to devote himself to the profession of letters. The elder Canning does not seem, however, to have had a capacity for making a real success in that way, and, indeed, it would appear as if he had too much of the often fatal gift of the amateur in his composition to allow him to concentrate his energies on any one pursuit. He sought for success in various fields and never found it, and he died soon after his son, George Canning, was born. The mother of the future statesman was thus left a widow while she was still young, and, as she had great beauty and believed that she had a vocation for the stage, she did her best to make a living for herself and her child by becoming a professional actress. She was not much of an actress, however, and, being unable to make any mark in London, she passed for a time into the provinces, and at last married an actor and disappeared from historical notice.

Meanwhile, the education of George Canning the son had been provided for by his uncle, a wealthy merchant and banker, Stratford Canning, whose son was afterwards famous as Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the "great Elchi" of Kinglake. This uncle seemed anxious to make reparation for the manner in which his dead brother had been {33} treated by the family in general. The young Canning was sent to Eton and to Oxford, and began to study for the bar, but he displayed such distinct talents for literature and for politics that there seemed little likelihood of his devoting himself to the business of law. He soon became known at Oxford as a charming poet, a keen and brilliant satirist, and a public speaker endowed with a voice of marvellous intonation and an exquisite choice of words. He made the acquaintance of Sheridan and of Burke; by Burke he was introduced to Pitt, and by Sheridan to Fox, and it is believed to have been on the suggestion of Pitt that he resolved to devote himself to a Parliamentary career. He married a woman who had a large fortune, and he obtained a seat in the House of Commons. In that House he remained silent for a whole session after his election, and devoted himself to a close study of the rules, the usages, and the manners of the representative chamber. In those far-off days it was considered becoming on the part of a young member of the House to observe a modest silence for a great part of his first session, and to make himself familiar with the assembly before he ventured on any public display of his eloquence. The time had not yet come when it was considered humanly possible for a member of Parliament to make his first speech on the very day of his first introduction to the House of Commons.

Canning's first speech was a distinct success. He was thought by some critics to have imitated too closely the magnificent rhetorical style of Burke, but the exquisite voice and the noble elocution of Canning were all his own and certainly could not have been improved by any imitation of the voice and manner of Burke. Many of Canning's friends took it for granted that the young member would ally himself with the Whig Opposition, but Canning at once presented himself as the devoted follower of Pitt. Canning was afterwards the foremost among the creators of the Anti-Jacobin, a famous satirical periodical set up to throw ridicule on the principles and sentiments of the French Revolution, and of all those who encouraged its levelling theories or who aped its exalted professions of {34} humanity and of universal brotherhood. Canning made his way rapidly in public life, and became an Under-Secretary of State three years after his election to the House of Commons. His next appointment was that of Treasurer to the Navy, and in 1807 he became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. A quarrel began between him and Lord Castlereagh, one of his colleagues, arising out of the unfortunate Walcheren expedition, and the quarrel resulted in a duel, after the fashion of the day, in which Canning received a wound.

[Sidenote: 1822—Canning and the governorship of India]

The policy of Castlereagh made as strong a contrast with the policy of Canning as even the contrast which was brought under the notice of every listener by the Parliamentary speeches of the two men. Canning was master of a polished eloquence which, at the time, had no rival in either House of Parliament. Castlereagh was one of the most singular and striking illustrations of the fact that a man may sometimes become a power in the House of Commons without the slightest gift of eloquence. Canning was a master of phrase, tone, and gesture. Castlereagh's language was commonplace, uncouth, and sometimes even ridiculous, and it happened only too often that in his anxiety to get his words out he became positively inarticulate. His policy represented the ideas of the Holy Alliance in their narrowest and most reactionary meaning; while Canning, although entirely opposed to the principles of mere revolution, had an utter contempt for the notion that a conclave of European sovereigns could lay down limits and laws for the growth and the government of all the European nationalities. The policy of Castlereagh has long since ceased to have any believers even among the advisers of autocratic sovereigns, while the policy of Canning is the recognized creed of statesmanship all over the civilized world.

Canning resigned his office as Foreign Secretary in 1809, and was for a short time sent on a special embassy to the Court of Lisbon. Then he became President of the Board of Control, which may be said to have divided at that time the management of our Indian possessions with the East {35} India Company, and he held this important office for about four years. Meanwhile he had resigned his seat for Newport, in the Isle of Wight, and had been elected as representative of the great and growing port of Liverpool in the House of Commons. The visitor to Liverpool at the present day can hardly go far through the great city without meeting some memorial of the veneration in which the illustrious name of Canning is held by the dwellers on the Mersey. A vacancy arose in the office of Governor-General of India, and the directors of the East India Company invited Canning to accept the splendid and commanding position. Canning at once made up his mind to close with the offer. The position would in many ways have suited his genius, his deep interest in the government of states, and the freshness of his ideas on all subjects connected with the growth of the Empire. Moreover, he knew that he had offended the King, and that George was not a man likely to forgive such an offence, and he thought he had reason to believe that, for the present at least, there was not much prospect for him of advancement in English political life. Many of his friends endeavored to persuade him against accepting a position which would make him an exile from England at a time when England's interests on the European continent required just such a genius as his to guide her foreign policy, and they felt sure that the time could not be far distant when he must be invited to resume his former place in the Administration. Canning, however, held to his purpose, accepted the offer of the East India Company, and went to Liverpool in order to take farewell of his constituency before setting out on his voyage to the scene of his new duties.

He stayed while in Liverpool at Seaforth House, the residence of Mr. John Gladstone, one of the merchant princes of Liverpool, whose son William Ewart Gladstone was afterwards to make the name of the family famous in history. During his stay at Seaforth House, Canning used to spend much of his time gazing out upon the sea, while the little boy William Ewart Gladstone played on the lawn near him. It was here that Canning heard the news {36} which led to an entire change in his purpose, and opened the way to his greatest success. His late colleague, his late rival, Castlereagh, was dead—had died by his own hand. Castlereagh had lately succeeded to his father's title, and had become Marquis of Londonderry; but as the marquisate was only an Irish peerage, he could still sit in the House of Commons as the chosen representative of an English constituency. His mind had seemed, for some time, to be darkened by troubles of which he gave no account to his friends, and he suddenly committed suicide. There are many conjectures and suggested explanations as to the immediate cause of the act, but all we know for certain is that the strong mind seemed suddenly to give way, and that Castlereagh could endure life no longer. Seldom, indeed, has the death of a public man in modern times been received with any such demonstrations as those which in many places followed the news that Castlereagh had done himself to death. In every community all over the country, and indeed all over Europe and the civilized world, there were those who proclaimed that the death of such a man was a positive blessing to the human race. Wherever men were struggling against despotism and suffering from tyranny, there were those who felt and who declared that the departure of Castlereagh from this world was a benefit to humanity at large.

[Sidenote: 1822—Canning as Foreign Secretary]

Yet the man himself had not a cruel or an ignoble nature. He had through all his life friends who loved him, and whose love his private character and conduct had well deserved. But he had made himself the English representative of the policy of the Holy Alliance at a time when every lover of liberty, and every believer in the development of free institutions and the beneficent results of their working, must have felt that even the excesses of the French Revolution gave no excuse for the deliberate setting-up of the doctrine of combined despotism. Men of liberal opinions were in an especially angry mood just then because England seemed to have gone in deliberately for the policy which authorized the "crowned conspirators," as Sydney Smith called them, to impose their edicts {37} on the whole continent of Europe. This condition of things may help to explain the cry of rejoicing with which the news of Castlereagh's suicide was received in so many places. The London crowd who followed the funeral procession to Westminster Abbey greeted the removal of the coffin with yells of execration. Byron wrote verses of savage bitterness about the dead man and his deed of self-murder—wrote some verses which no English publisher now would put into print.

The death of Castlereagh became a turning-point in the career of Canning. The whole voice of Liberal public opinion at once proclaimed that Canning was the only man left in the country who was capable of redeeming England's foreign policy from the discredit and disgrace brought upon it by Castlereagh's Administration. Even Lord Liverpool himself soon came to see that there was no other course left to him than to recommend the King to offer to Canning the place of Foreign Secretary. The King at first fought hard against the advice of his Prime Minister. The letters which passed between him and Lord Liverpool are a curiosity in their way. George had evidently persuaded himself that Canning was a monster of ingratitude, who had committed a positively unpardonable offence against his lord and master. Indeed, it was only by playing upon the King's personal vanity that Lord Liverpool at last brought him to accept the wholesome advice tendered to him. Lord Liverpool reminded George again and again that one of the noblest of a monarch's prerogatives was his power to grant forgiveness to any repentant sinner. George was probably beginning to be weary of the discussion, and perhaps had natural shrewdness enough to see that it could only end in one way. He therefore seemed to be taken by the appeal made to his generosity for pardon to a penitent offender, and he consented to make approaches to Canning with regard to the office of Foreign Secretary. At first, however, the King made so ostentatious a profession of his magnanimous desire to pardon the remorseful wrong-doer that Canning could not bring himself to accept the abject position which {38} his sovereign was arranging for him. He therefore declined at first to take any office under such conditions, and the King had to come down from his high horse and treat with his subject in less arrogant fashion. The King, at last, so far modified his language as to leave the prerogative of mercy out of the question, and Canning, by the advice of all his friends and supporters, consented to become once more a member of the Administration and to undertake the duties of Foreign Secretary.

[Sidenote: 1822-27—Canning's fitness for Foreign Minister]

This, we have said, was the turning-point in the career of Canning. It was also a turning-point in the modern history of England. The violence of the reaction against the principles of the French Revolution had spent itself, and the public mind of this country was beginning to see that the turbulence of democracy was not likely to be safely dealt with by the setting-up of despotism. Canning himself was a living illustration of the manner in which many great intellects had been affected by the course of events between the fall of Napoleon and the death of Castlereagh. Canning in his earlier days was in sympathy with the theories and doctrines of popular liberty, and we have seen that up to the time of his actually entering Parliament it was generally believed he would rank himself with the Whig Opposition. But, like many other men who loved liberty too, he had been alarmed by the aggressive policy of Napoleon, and he believed that the position of England was best guaranteed by the later policy of Pitt. Then came the Congress of Vienna, and the deliberate attempt to reconstruct the map of continental Europe, and to decree the destinies of nations according to the despotic principles of the Holy Alliance.

Canning soon recognized the fact, obvious enough, one might have thought, even to a man of intellect far lower than that of Canning, that the traditions, the instincts, and the feelings of a people must count for something in the form and manner of their government, and that there are forces at work in the hearts and minds of peoples which can no more be governed by imperial and royal decrees than can the forces of physical nature itself. He {39} had unconsciously anticipated in his own mind that doctrine of nationalities which afterwards came to play so momentous and so clearly recognized a part in the politics of the world. He saw how the policy of Castlereagh had made England the recognized ally of all the old-world theories of divine right and unconditional loyalty, and had made her a fellow-worker with the sovereigns of the Holy Alliance for the restoration of tyranny all over the European continent. He understood the nature and the meaning of the new forces which were coming up in political life; he saw that the French Revolution was not destined to end in the mere restoration of mediaeval despotism. He saw that the American Revolution had opened a new chapter in the history of the modern world, and that no man, whether he called himself Tory or Whig, was fit to be intrusted with the administration of England's foreign policy who had not learned the lessons taught by the closing years of the eighteenth and the opening years of the nineteenth century. Canning had much of that imaginative faculty without which there can hardly be any real statesmanship. Even his gift of humor helped him in this way. He was able to understand the feelings, the tempers, and the conditions of men with whom he had little opportunity of personal contact. He could bring himself into sympathy with the aspirations of peoples who were wholly foreign in race to him, and who would have been mere foreigners and nothing else in the eyes of many of his political colleagues.

If Lord Londonderry had lived and had continued, as no doubt he would have done, to hold the Foreign Office, he would have been England's representative at the Congress of Verona. The new chances opened by his death inspired that demand for the services of Canning which compelled the King at last to yield and invite Canning back to his old place. The Congress of Verona was in fact a reassembling of the Holy Alliance for the purpose of taking once more into consideration the disturbed state of Europe, and laying down once more the lines of the only policy which, according to the judgment of the despotic {40} sovereigns and their ministers, could restore peace to the Continent. The disturbances arose simply from the fact that some of the European populations were rising up against the policy of the Holy Alliance, and were agitating for the principles of constitutional government. The immediate and ostensible object for the summoning of the Congress was the fact that Greece had been trying to throw off the yoke of Turkey, and that the leading members of the Holy Alliance believed it was their business and their right to say what was to be done with Greece, and whether or not it was for their convenience that she should be held in perpetual bondage.

[Sidenote: 1822-27—England and the Congress of Verona]

But there were troubles also in Spain, because the Spanish sovereign had been giving way to the desire of his people for a system of constitutional government and for the recognition of the principle that a people has something to do with the making as well as with the obeying of laws. The restored Bourbon Government in France declared that it saw dangers to its own rights and its own security in these concessions to popular demand, made in a country which was only divided from French territory by the barrier of the Pyrenees. It was intimated in the clearest manner that the Bourbon Government of France would be prepared, if necessary, to undertake armed intervention in the affairs of Spain in order to prevent the Spaniards from thus setting a bad example to the subjects of the Bourbon dynasty. Then the condition of Poland was giving some alarm to the despotic monarchs of the Continent everywhere; for, if Poland were to rise and were allowed to assert its liberty, who could tell on what soil, sacred to despotism, other rebellious movements might not also break out. Therefore, the monarchs of the Holy Alliance were much perturbed, and came to the conclusion that, as the Congress of Vienna had not succeeded in enforcing all its edicts, the only wise thing would be to call together another Congress, to be held this time at Verona, and there go over all the work again with greater vigor and determination.

Now it was unavoidable that England should be invited {41} to take part in this Congress, seeing that, but for the assistance given by England, there would never have been a chance for even the Congress of Vienna to make any attempt at the regulation of Europe. Besides, it was well known that Lord Londonderry had been a main instrument in the formation and execution of the plans laid down by the Congress of Vienna, and although England, on that occasion, had not been able to go quite as far as her allies would have wished her to accompany them, yet it was not thought possible to leave England without an invitation to be represented at the Congress of Verona. On the death of Lord Londonderry it was resolved by the English Government to send the Duke of Wellington to Verona. The Duke had never professed any particular ideas of his own with regard to foreign policy, but he was the most loyal of men in obeying the instructions of those who were properly authorized to direct his movements, and in whom he could place his confidence. When Canning consented to accept office the Duke at once put himself into communication with the new Foreign Secretary, and wrote to him from Paris informing Canning of his belief that the Spanish question would be brought, in some shape or other, under the consideration of the Congress, and asking Canning for instructions as to the course which he ought to adopt. Canning despatched a reply to the Duke, one passage of which may be regarded as a full illustration of the new principle which he had determined to establish in England's foreign policy. The words of the great statesman cannot be read with too close an attention. Canning declares that, "If there be a determined project to interfere by force or by menace in the present struggle in Spain, so convinced are his Majesty's Government of the uselessness and danger of any such interference, so objectionable does it appear to them in principle as well as in practical execution, that when the necessity arises—or, I would rather say, when the opportunity offers—I am to instruct your Grace at once frankly and peremptorily to declare that to any such interference, come what may, his Majesty will not be a party."

{42}

[Sidenote: 1822-27—Canning and the Bourbons]

The Duke of Wellington faithfully obeyed the instructions which had been given to him. He made it clear to the Congress of Verona that England would not sanction any project for the interference of foreign sovereigns with the domestic affairs of Spain. When the Duke found that his arguments and his remonstrances were of no avail, he withdrew from the Congress altogether and left the members of the Holy Alliance to take on themselves the full responsibility of their own policy. Now it would be hardly possible to overrate the importance of the step thus taken by England at a great crisis in the public affairs of Europe. The reign of George the Fourth would be memorable in history if it had been consecrated by nothing but this event. The utter disruption between the old state policy and the new was proclaimed by the instructions which Canning sent to the Duke of Wellington, and which were faithfully carried out by the Duke. No English Government has, in later days, ventured to profess openly any other foreign policy than that announced by Canning. Other ministers in later times may have attempted, now and then, to swerve from it in this direction and in that, and to cover their evasion of it by specious pleas, but the new doctrine set up by Canning has never since his time found avowed apostates among English statesmen. It would have been well if such a principle could have inspired the foreign policy of England in the days when the French Revolution broke out, and if England had then proclaimed that she would be no party to any attempt made by foreign States to prevent the people of France from settling their own systems of government for themselves. Europe might have been saved a series of disastrous wars. France might have been relieved from counter-revolutions, seasons of anarchy, and seasons of military despotism. England might long have had friendly neighbors where even yet she has perhaps only concealed enemies.

The designs of the Holy Alliance soon made themselves manifest. The French Government had brought so much pressure to bear on the feeble King of Spain that he revoked the Constitution which, at a better moment, he had {43} granted to his people. There was an attempt at revolution in Spain, and the attempt was put down by the strong hand with the assistance of France, and the leading rebels were at once conducted to the scaffold. Portugal still kept those free institutions which England had enabled her to preserve, and still retained her sympathy with freedom. Canning soon saw that a part of the policy of the French Government was to bring Portugal also into subjection, and against this danger he provided by a bold announcement of policy. He declared in the House of Commons that if Portugal were, of her own accord, to engage herself in a war with France, the English Government would not feel bound to take any active part in the struggle, but that if the King of Spain were to accept or call in the assistance of the King of France to suppress Portugal, the Government of England would put its armies into the field to maintain its ancient ally. Then there arose a great question concerning the Spanish colonies and possessions across the Atlantic. The policy of France was to enable Spain to reconquer some of her American colonies which had long been withdrawing themselves from their condition of subjection, and the scheme of French statesmen evidently was that Spain would hand over some of her American possessions as a tribute of gratitude to France for the services she had rendered to the cause of absolutism in Spain.

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